William Burgundy Champain (1759 – 1818)

James Champain, the 18th century wine merchant whose life and times I’ve been exploring in recent posts, had nine children by his first wife Hannah Hawkins, of whom eight seem to have survived. I’ve mentioned the marriages of three of James’ daughters – Elizabeth, Sally and Frances – in previous posts. They married William Edwards, William Walker and Joseph Fletcher respectively. I’ve also discovered that another daughter, Ann, married William Horabin in Exeter in 1782. As for James and Hannah Champain’s four sons, we know that the elder two, James junior and John, were both ‘in the East Indies’ when James senior made his will in 1781. The youngest son, George Hawkins Champain, was not yet of age at this date: I’ve yet to find any other references to him.

A midshipman or apprentice naval officer (Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1799, via en.wikipedia.org)

A midshipman or apprentice naval officer (Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1799, via en.wikipedia.org)

As for James’ third son, William Burgundy Champain, who was born in Edmonton in 1759, we know that he was already a lieutenant in ‘His Majesty’s Navy’ when his father made his will, and had been promoted to captain by the time his stepmother Ann Champain made her will in 1802. A number of records relating to William Champain can be accessed online, making it possible to construct an outline of his naval career.

Naval records in the National Archives chart Willaim Champain’s rise through the ranks. For example, he was an 8th Lieutenant in 1780, a 4th Lieutenant in 1782 and a 2nd Lieutenant in 1787. 

A ship of the East India Company at Blackwall

A ship of the East India Company at Blackwall

A register of ships employed in the service of the East India Company in the year 1785-6 notes that William Champain served on the Chapman which sailed to China under Captain John Fox. This suggests that, like his two older brothers, William spent at least part of his career supporting Britain’s expanding trade empire in the Far East. 

However, the conflicts between Britain and France sparked by the French Revolution of 1789 seem to have diverted William Champain’s naval career in the direction of the Americas. There is an account in William James’ Naval History of Great Britain of an attack in December 1798 on French positions on the Caribbean island of Margarita by troops from HMS Zephyr, commanded by Captain William Champain.

Apparently William was promoted to the rank of ‘post captain’ on 1st January 1801 (a post captain was a captain by rank, but without command of a ship). The National Archives seems to have a considerable amount of correspondence by William Champain, in its collection of Captains’ Letters from the early 1800s.

On 28th December 1804, William Champain, Captain R.N., wrote a letter, sent from his ship HMS Jason, then at Woolwich, to Colonel Thomas Picton, regarding the enquiry by Colonel William Fullarton into the colonial administration on the island of Trinidad during Picton’s time in office there. William Champain expresses ‘indignation’ at ‘the very malignant aspersions with which that gentleman [i.e. Fullarton] has thought proper to stigmatise the conduct of the naval officers during that period’. Champain claims that ‘every atom’ of what Fullarton has asserted regarding the navy is ‘perfectly false’. He refers to his own service at the time ‘on the Spanish main’ and rejects Fullarton’s claims that he and his fellow naval officers were involved in ‘predatory excursons…for private purposes’.

Apparently the Jason was launched at Woolwich in the same year, under the command of Captain William Champain, and served in the Leeward Islands as the flagship of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. William James’ naval history describes the capture on 13th October 1805, of the French ship the Naiade, by the Jason, under William Champain’s command (also mentioned here). 

HMS Jason capturing French frigate La Seine, 1798

HMS Jason capturing French frigate La Seine, 1798

Command of the Jason passed to another officer in 1806. According to one source, William Champain then commanded the Amelia, also in the Leeward Islands, from 1806 to 1807. 

William, who seems to have remained a bachelor, made his will in 1815, when he was 56 years old. By this time he seems to have retired to the city of Bath. However, I’m grateful to my fellow researcher Christine Hoey for pointing out that William actually died at Hythe, Kent, on 15th August 1818. I’ll share a transcript of his will in the next post.

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