Visitors to Guernsey will soon become familiar with the names de Sausmarez and de Saumarez (differentiated by a single “s”) as they tour the island. In the eight hundred or so years since arriving on Guernsey the family has had quite an impact and numerous locations bear the family name, most notably Sausmarez Manor just along the lane from the Bella Luce in St Martins, and Saumarez Park in the parish of Castel. One of the most famous members of this notable Guernsey family was Admiral James de Saumarez, the first Baron de Saumarez.
Born James de Sausmarez in St Peter Port on March 11th, 1757, James was the nephew of John de Sausmarez of Sausmarez Manor. Being descended from a family of notable seafarers, he joined the British Navy as a midshipman in 1770 at the age of just thirteen, at which point he dropped the second “s” in his surname. James de Saumarez enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant in 1778 having previously commanded the Lady Parker, tender to HMS Chatham. A second command followed (of an 8-gun galley named Spitfire) before serving under Vice Admiral Hyde Parker as third lieutenant on Victory. In 1782 he was promoted to commander and saw out the rest of the American Revolutionary War commanding various ships and distinguishing himself in the defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of the Saintes.
Following a decade ashore, during which time he married Martha le Marchant (a marriage that brought what is now known as Saumarez Park into the family) and started a family, Saumarez returned to sea in 1793 as Britain returned to war with the French (part of the French Revolutionary Wars). Commanding the frigate HMS Crescent he was directed to engage the French frigates Réunion and Sémillante which had been disrupting British merchant shipping in the English Channel. On October 20th HMS Crescent attacked and captured Réunion, sustaining just one casualty against Réunions eighty plus. As a reward, Saumarez was knighted by King George III.
HMS Crescent engaging the French frigate Réunion
Following a period commanding the Channel Islands fleet, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars kept Saumarez busy, with him engaging the French and Spanish as part of the Battles of Cape St Vincent, the blockade of Cadiz, and the Battle of the Nile under Nelson’s command in 1798. Saumarez was Nelson’s second in command at the Battle of the Nile, where he forced the surrender of the Peuple Souverain and the 80-gun Franklin, however these two most famous British naval commanders of the period had an awkward, often strained relationship despite being courteous and speaking well of one another. Following a disagreement over tactics following the Battle of the Nile, in which Saumarez criticised Nelson’s decision to double the French line (as he felt it risked exposing their own ships to friendly fire), Saumarez was ordered to escort the captured prizes back to England. It was the last time that they were to serve together.
"I could have formed no opinion of Orion that was not favourable to her gallant and excellent commander and crew"
Admiral Lord Nelson, speaking of James de Saumarez
The Battle of Algeciras
In 1801 Saumarez was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue and was created a Baronet. His squadron engaged the French and Spanish fleets in the Battles of Algeciras and the Gut of Gibraltar, and when peace briefly came between 1802 and 1803 he returned home to Guernsey. At the outset of the Napoleonic Wars he was tasked with defending the Channel Islands and thus missed seeing action at the Battle of Trafalgar. His final stint of active service was commanding the Baltic Fleet during the Napoleonic Wars from 1808-1814, with HMS Victory as his flagship. In 1814 he was appointed Admiral, rising then to Rear Admiral and later Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom before becoming Commander in Chief, Plymouth. Saumarez served in the Royal Navy for over fifty years in total until 1827,
In 1831 Saumarez’s low-level hereditary title was elevated to a peerage and he was made the first Baron de Saumarez. James de Saumarez passed away on October 9th, 1836, at home in Guernsey aged 79.
Saumarez Park, in Castel near Cobo Bay, was property that Saumarez acquired through marriage and became the family seat. It remained in the family until the death of the fourth Baron in 1937, at which point it was acquired by the States of Guernsey and is now the venue for various events such as the annual Le Viaer Marchi and North Shows, with the National Trust of Guernsey's Folk & Costume Museum’s housed within the grounds near the Victorian Walled Garden.
The rose garden at Saumarez Park.
A set of three ceremonial swords that belonged to Admiral de Saumarez (that are still owned by the family) are currently displayed at Castle Cornet, whilst Saumarez Park (Guernsey’s largest public park) is open year-round.