Illustrated epoch: 1774 – British Royal Navy
James Tiberius Robertson was born on the 13th of May 1727 in a small trading post of the Robertsons of MacCait near Cawdor. He is the second son of the youngest cousin of Dougal Hamish Robertson of MacCait.
In 1743 the family Robertson succeeded in enrolling the sixteen-year-old James Tiberius by requesting due favors in favor of the merchant Dougal Hamish Robertson of MacCait from an unspecified member of the Admiralty at the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth, founded in 1733. Thus, he was kept away from the impending rebellion of the Scottish Jacobites in 1745 and protected him from its catastrophic effects.
After three years at the Royal Naval Academy, he graduated in 1746 with a special distinction in Marine Tactics and began his career with the Royal Navy in the rank of a Midshipman-by-order.
The first two years at sea were not easy. After the initial seasickness was over, he faced repeated reprisals from other midshipmen who had gained their rank through years of service at sea. In addition, graduates of the Royal Naval Academy were offered a reduced minimum time at sea of four instead of six years until a certification as Lieutenant was allowed.
Despite all this, Midshipman-by-order James Tiberius Robertson spent two years doing exemplary service at sea and was promoted to Midshipman in 1748. His accomplishments were now acknowledged by the long-serving crewmembers, who now saw him as a “full-fledged” sailor, distinguished by loyalty not only to his superiors but also to his subordinates.
After another two years in 1750 he got his certification by the Lieutenant’s Examination Board and the promotion to the Passed Midshipman.
With the commissioning of the HMS Dolphin in 1751, James T. Robertson was assigned to be 3rd Lieutenant of the 24-gun frigate. Several times he distinguished himself by special achievements in voluntary prize crew and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in 1752 and to 1st Lieutenant in 1754.
On the 18th of February 1756 followed the transfer to the on that day launched First-Class Ship of the Line HMS Royal George with 100 guns.
On the 20th of November in the Annus Mirabilis 1759 he distinguished himself during the Seven Years’ War in the Battle of Quiberon as 1st Lieutenant aboard the HMS Royal George. He recognized a tactical error of the French Ship of the Line Superbe very early. The french vessel wanted to support the French flagship Soleil Royal, which was under attack by the HMS Royal George. Based on his assessment of the tactical situation which he reported to Captain John Campbell and Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, the Superbe could be sunk with only one broadside of the HMS Royal George. The Soleil Royal had to flee to Lee sloping and anchored at nightfall in the Bay of Quiberon. In an attempt to escape the next morning, she ran aground and was set on fire by her own crew. Under the command of Lieutenant Robertson, a volunteer prize crew managed to capture the figurehead of the Soleil Royal as a trophy.
As a result of the naval battle in the Bay of Quiberon Lieutenant Robertson was promoted to the rank of Commander on the 21st of February 1761 and transferred to the newly commissioned sloop HMS Druid, a two-masted vessel with ten four-pounder guns and twelve swivel guns. Until the end of the war in 1763, his priority task was the reconnaissance along the French and Spanish coasts. Through brilliant tactics, Commander Robertson managed to capture eight French merchant ships and one frigate during those two years.
Shortly before the end of the war, the HMS Druid was cruising off the coast of southern France. In particular, the absence of two supply vessels resulted in an acute shortage of food. Commander Robertson’s plan was to land west of Saint Tropez, avoid the citadel above the city by land and plunder the fishing village and farms nearby. However, one of his prize crews under the leadership of an inexperienced Midshipman brought no food supplies on board, but the alleged hostage Jessica Renee Vidame de Cogolin. Since the Vidame was only a nobleman by name, she was completely worthless as a hostage. Nevertheless, she was quartered by Commander Robertson on board the HMS Druid, looked after and entertained by him. By the time of the Peace of Paris on the 10th of February 1763, the Commander and the Vidame had come closer, which eventually led to their marriage shortly after their arrival in Britain on the 30th of April 1763.
Due to his special achievements, the First Naval Lord Admiral Augustus Harvey suggested Commander Robertson to His Majesty King George III. for further promotion in the same year. Commander Robertson had expressed his desire to the admiral, to be given command of a research mission. In this type of operation civilian passengers were also taken on board, who supported the research purpose. So it was possible for him to let his wife participate in the mission as a nature artist. On his birthday the 13th of May 1764 he was appointed Captain of the new frigate HMS Cawdor and a long lasting research and exploration mission to the Caribbean Sea, the South Atlantic and the South Pacific. Their continuing mission, even in 1774: To search out new islands and new civilisations, to boldly go where no Briton has gone before.