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Rear Admiral James Alexander Gordon
Artist Andrew Morton
Date 1839
A half-length portrait slightly to right
wearing rear-admiral's full-dress
uniform, 1833-43, together with his
collar and star as a Knight Commander
of the Bath and the Lissa medal. His
left hand rests on his sword belt.
Capt. James Gordon from
BRITAIN - Vol V  1808 - 1811
by William James
Born about 1782, the son of Charles Gordon of Wardhouse, Aberdeenshire,  
he enlisted in the navy at the age of 11 in 1793 and rose rapidly in the ranks.
At an early age he was present in the 'Goliath', 74 guns, at the Battles of St
Vincent in 1797 and the Nile, 1798. He served in the West Indies, the
Mediterranean and the Adriatic. While commanding the frigate 'Active', 38
guns, in the Mediterranean, he played a distinguished part in Captain William
Hoste's action off Lissa in 1811. Hoste's three frigates and a 22-gun sixth-
rate comprised the sole Royal Naval strength in the Adriatic. They fought an
action against an attacking Franco-Venetian squadron off the island of Lissa,
where the British were based and although outnumbered managed to defeat
the invaders. All four British captains were awarded gold medals, and a
pension of ₤300.00.  In the same year Gordon lost a leg (carried off by a 36
pounder) while capturing the Franco-Venetian 'Pomone', 40 guns, near Corfu.

In 1814 he commanded a squadron against the Americans. In August 1814
he entered the Potomac with his squadron, reduced Fort Warburton (later
called Ft. Washington) and other batteries and subsequently forced the City
of Alexandria to capitulate. He seized twenty-one American merchant vessels,
loaded as much of the goods from the town's warehouses as he could
manage before making his way back down the river to rejoin the fleet. He was
involved in the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in the action against Baltimore. It
was his squadron’s bombardment and rockets that led Francis Scott Key to
write the Star Spangled Banner. He also took part in the operations against
New Orleans in 1814-’15.

In 1827 he was appointed governor of the royal hospital at Plymouth. In 1840
he became lieutenant governor of Greenwich hospital, and in 1853 was
advanced to the post of governor of the same.  He died 8 January 1869 just
before it closed. Exceptionally, he was buried (under a handsome granite
tombstone) in the officers' enclosure of its old burial ground, adjacent to the
National Maritime Museum, although other burials there had ceased in 1857.
Altogether his naval service lasted nearly 76 years, and he was the last
survivor of Lord Nelson’s captains. He was created a K. C.B, in 1815; G.C.B.
in 1854; his career culminated with his promotion to Admiral of the Fleet in
(*note Admiral of the Fleet being the highest ranking of admiral.)

Naval historian Brian Perrett has put forward a theory that C.S. Forester
based his character Horatio Hornblower on Admiral James Gordon’s life in his
The Real Hornblower: The Life and Times of Admiral Sir James
Gordon, GCB
. An interesting and compellingly presented theory, Perrett
outlines the similarities in the career of the fictitious Hornblower to the real-life
career of Adm. Gordon.
Admiral James Alexander Gordon, GCB
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