HMS Chaser

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Chaser, 1781
Type: Sloop ; Armament 18
Disposal date or year : 1781
Disposal Details : Captured

29 Dec 1846
The Oldest Lieutenant in the Navy.- At Lancaster, on the 29th of December, 1846, died Lieutenant John Denis De Vitré, R.N., in the 90th year of his age, for many years the oldest lieutenant in Her Majesty's service. This veteran entered the naval service in 1770, and in 1781 was made a lieutenant at Bombay. Between the periods of 1778 and 1781 he was actively engaged in the East Indies, under his friend and patron, Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, and was in several engagements with the combined fleets of France and Hyder Ali. In the latter year, when Lieutenant of the Chaser, 18-gun ship, and whilst cruising off the Madras coast, she was fallen in with by the Bolona, French frigate, of 36 guns, and after engaging her in a severe but unequal contest for two hours and upwards, was compelled to surrender. For four months the officers of the Chaser were kept as prisoners of war on board the French vessel, but were afterwards most unjustifiably transferred to the tender mercies of Hyder Ali, under whom it is well known all English prisoners were most cruelly treated. Lieutenant De Vitré was chiefly confined in a loathsome dungeon at Bangalore, but was occasionally marched under a vertical sun to other places of confinement whilst heavily laden with irons; and his prison allowance was gradually reduced to three pice a-day, wherewith to eke out a miserable existence. He was subjected to these cruelties for nearly two years. Many were the brave who at this time sank under their privations and sufferings, and the subject of this brief sketch continued. for some years after his return home, in a weak and shattered state of health. He afterwards proceeded to the West Indies, but his health giving way he was invalided home, and never again resumed active service, excepting for a very short period, when he commanded the Biter gun-brig at the mutiny of the Nore. Notwithstanding all these hardships he attained the very advanced age above recorded ; and it believed that he was the last survivor of all the British prisoners who had been in confinement under the tyrant Hyder Ali, or his still more inhuman and perfidious successor Tippoo Sultan.