The War of 1812 Magazine
Issue 13: June 2010
Documents, Artefacts and Imagery
A Miniature Depicting Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo, KCB
By John R. Grodzinski
Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo (1782 – 1816) is perhaps best remembered as the commander of the Royal Navy on the inland waters of British North America during the War of 1812. His actual titles between 1813 and 1815 were, Senior Officer on the Lakes from May 1813 to May 1814, and thereafter he was the Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels on the Lakes of Canada. Yeo was recalled to England in March 1815 and was replaced by Commodore Edward Owen.
Yeo was born in Southampton, England in 1782 and joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer in 1793. He became a midshipman shortly thereafter and was a lieutenant by 1797; by 1805, Yeo was a commander and in 1807, became post captain. He earned praise for his daring in engagements against the French and their allies. Yeo’s most famous action occurred in 1809, when, with only 400 men (including Portuguese soldiers), he reduced the 1,200 man garrison of Cayenne in French Guiana. Yeo was knighted by the Portuguese Prince Regent in March 1810 and by George III on 21 June 1810. Yeo also captured the U.S. brig Vixen, while in command of the 20 gun sloop HMS Southampton during 1812.
Yeo was appointed to his command in the Canadas in February 1813, which also included raising a broad pennant as commander of the Lake Ontario squadron. Thus Yeo held both tactical and operational level commands. His focus on the former conflicted with his responsibilities for the latter. Yeo hoarded manpower and resources for his own squadron at the cost of British naval forces on Lakes Erie and Champlain. Yeo’s proprietary attitude toward his own squadron placed him in direct conflict with Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, the commander-in-chief of British North America.
Yeo deflected any criticism made towards him. Following the loss of the Lake Champlain flotilla during the Plattsburgh Expedition of September 1814, Yeo submitted formal charges against Prevost that succeeded in having him recalled in disgrace. Yeo the gained a post Napoleonic Wars squadron command and died of fever at sea in 1818.
Images of Yeo are rare. The best known depiction of Yeo is from a painting by A. Buck that has been used in various prints. Yeo is depicted in a dress coat of a captain and on the coat are his awards including the Knight Companion Order of the Bath (awarded 2 January 1815), the Knight Commander of the Portuguese Order of St Bento d’Avis (awarded in 1809) and the gold medal commemorating the capture of Cayenne in January 1809.
Another image of Yeo had recently been found that is held in a private collection. This example is a colour miniature of Yeo set in a pin-back. Yeo is shown in a captain’s dress coat, sporting the gold medal for Cayenne. Yeo was the only naval officer to receive the gold version of this medal, which had helped in confirming the identity of the sitter of the portrait. There is also a hair clipping mounted in the reverse of the miniature, which was common for the period. The miniature itself was most likely painted in the Canadas.
Special thanks to Sim Comfort for his assistance in preparing this article and for permission to use the images of the miniature.
Images Courtesy Sim Comfort Collection
Laughton, J.K (with revisions by Michael Duffy), “Sir James Lucas Yeo.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. On-line edition accessed 9 June 2010.
Malcomson, Robert. Lords of the Lake: The War of 1812 on Lake Ontario. Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 1998, 115 – 118.
Tancred, George. Historical Record of Medals and Honorary Distinctions Conferred on te British Navy, Army and Auxiliary Services. London: Spink & Son, 1891, 148.
No. XIX Sir James Lucas Yeo, KCB and KC. The Annual Biography and Obituary for the Year 1819, Volume III. London, 1819, 370, 371.
This medal was ordered struck by the Prince Regent of Portugal for the officers and men of Yeo’s ship, HMS Confiance. Gold, silver-gilt and bronze versions of the medal were struck in England. The obverse of the medal depicts the Prince Regent of Portugal, while the reverse has an inscription reading “Cayenne Relieved from the French 14 Jan 1809.” The medal was suspended from a ribbon. The medal was also awarded to the Royal Marine detachment aboard Confiance.
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