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Woodriff, Daniel (1756–1842)

by Douglas Campbell Tilghman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Daniel Woodriff (1756-1842), naval officer, was born on 17 November 1756, the son of John Woodriff, of Deptford, Kent, England, shipwright and carpenter's mate who died probably in 1761. His brother Allen was carpenter in H.M.S. Centaur. When 6 he joined H.M.S. Ludlow Castle as servant to his uncle George Woodriff, master gunner. In December 1767 he was admitted to the Royal Hospital School at Greenwich, and in 1770 was apprenticed to John White, a captain engaged in the Jamaica trade. In 1778 he was impressed into the navy. After two years service in the North Sea he was transferred to the Britannia guardship and in 1782 commissioned lieutenant. He then commanded the Dependance, used for evacuating Loyalists from South Carolina and Georgia. After eleven years service on the American Station and in the West Indies, during which he married the daughter of a Loyalist who had been killed in the American war, he returned to England, and in 1792 was sent to Australia in the Kitty, primarily to bring out supplies and convicts, but also to make a report on the naval defences of Port Jackson. After his return in 1794 he was promoted commander, served off the coast of Flanders and then acted as resident agent for the Transport Board at Southampton and Lynn. He received the personal thanks of the commander-in-chief for his work in evacuating the British troops from the Low Countries.

After a term as superintendent of prisoners of war, in April 1802 Woodriff was gazetted post captain and next year appointed to command H.M.S. Calcutta in David Collins's expedition to found a new settlement in Bass Strait. He remained with Collins in Port Phillip Bay until December but, to the annoyance of both Collins and Governor Philip Gidley King, Woodriff then refused to go to the Derwent when Collins decided to move the settlement; because of his instructions to bring to England as quickly as possible the naval stores awaiting him at Port Jackson, he felt he had no alternative but to go at once to Sydney to collect them, for the Ocean transport was sufficient for the move to Van Diemen's Land. While in Port Jackson he helped to check the convict insurrection planned to support the one at Castle Hill, and was granted 1000 acres (405 ha) at Penrith. Portion of this grant is still owned by his descendants.

Woodriff sailed in March 1804. Next year, while convoying some 200 merchantmen, he engaged a French fleet of ten sail which included four ships of the line, though his ship, H.M.S. Calcutta, was only a converted East Indiaman mounting forty-eight 9-pounders (4 kg) and four 12-pounders (5.5 kg). All but one of his convoy escaped, but eventually Woodriff had to surrender and was taken to France as a prisoner of war. In June 1807 he was exchanged on the orders of Napoleon and, after being honourably acquitted for the loss of the Calcutta, he was appointed superintendent of prisoners of war at Forton. In 1814 he was appointed resident commissioner at Port Royal, Jamaica, where he instituted important economies. In 1822 he resigned and returned to England, living first at Gosport and later at Greenwich. In 1831 he was created a C.B., and in 1837 was made one of the four resident captains at Greenwich Hospital, preferring that position to rear admiral's rank.

Woodriff's visits to Australia in 1792 and 1804 had convinced him of the urgent need of a naval squadron based on Port Jackson, and he kept urging this on the Admiralty until his death on 25 February 1842. His portrait and three oils of the celebrated fight are in the National Library, Canberra. His first wife, Asia, died some time after 1823; the date of his second marriage is unknown, but his widow, Sarah, died in January 1860 aged 90. His three sons, Daniel James (1788-1860), John and Robert, all served with their father in the Calcutta in 1803-04 and became naval officers. Daniel James, who became a captain, was master's mate in the Bellerophon at the battle of Trafalgar, and for a short time took charge of the ship when all her officers were killed or badly wounded. His diary is in the National Library, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (Lond, 1849)
  • D. C. Tilghman, ‘Captain Daniel Woodriff, C.B., R.N.’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 32, no 3, Feb 1962, pp 143-61.

Citation details

Douglas Campbell Tilghman, 'Woodriff, Daniel (1756–1842)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/woodriff-daniel-2813/text4027, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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