James Bremer

Sir James Bremer
Born 26 September 1786
Portsea, Hampshire, England
Died 14 February 1850 (aged 63)
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1802–1850
Rank Rear-Admiral of the Blue
Commands held East Indies and China Station
Wars Napoleonic Wars
First Anglo-Burmese War
First Anglo-Chinese War
Awards CB (1815)
KCH (1836)
KCB (1841)
China War Medal (1842)

Sir James John Gordon Bremer, KCB, KCH (26 September 1786 – 14 February 1850) was a British Royal Navy officer. He served in the Napoleonic Wars, First Anglo-Burmese War, and First Anglo-Chinese War. In China, he served twice as commander-in-chief of British forces.

Born in Portsea, Portsmouth, Bremer joined the Royal Naval College as a student in 1797. While serving in the East Indies, he became commander of HMS Rattlesnake in 1807. He was promoted to captain in 1814 and was nominated a CB the following year. After becoming commander of HMS Tamar, he was sent to Melville Island, Australia, in 1824 to establish a colony. Under his leadership, the north coast of Australia from 129° to 135° longitude was claimed as British territory.

Bremer served twice as commander-in-chief of British forces in the First Anglo-Chinese War from 1839 to 1841. During the war, he took formal possession of Hong Kong Island for the United Kingdom in 1841. He was made a KCB the same year. In 1846, he was appointed second-in-command of the Channel Fleet and was superintendent of Woolwich Dockyard from which he retired in 1848. He died in 1850, having risen to the rank of rear-admiral.

Early career

Bremer was born on 26 September 1786 in Portsea, Hampshire, England.[1] He was the only son of Royal Navy Lieutenant James Bremer (who went missing in the East Indiaman Halswell off the coast of Dorset, England, on 6 January 1786) and his wife Ann, daughter of Captain James Norman. In 1794, he joined the Royal Navy as a first-class volunteer on board the flagship of HMS Sandwich at the Nore of Rear-Admiral Skeffington Lutwidge, from which he was discharged in June 1795. On 8 October 1797, he became a student of the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth, and re-embarked on 2 April 1802 as a midshipman on board HMS Endymion of Captain Philip Durham. Until July 1805, Bremer served in the flagship of HMS Isis under Vice-Admiral James Gambier and Rear-Admiral Edward Thornbrough, on the Newfoundland and North Sea stations. Shortly after passing his examination, he was appointed sub-lieutenant of the gun-brig HMS Rapid. On 3 August 1805, he became a lieutenant on board HMS Captain as part of William Cornwallis' force in pursuing a French fleet in Brest, France.[2]

On 9 May 1806, Bremer was appointed to HMS Diana of Captain Thomas James Maling in the Mediterranean Station, from where he proceeded to the Davis Strait. On 6 October, he served on board HMS Imogen of Captain Thomas Garth in the Mediterranean. On 28 May 1807, he was appointed to the Psyché of Captain William Wooldridge in the East Indies, where he became commander of HMS Rattlesnake on 13 October.[2] He became a captain on 7 June 1814.[3] On 4 June 1815, he was nominated a Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath (CB).[2]


On 18 September 1823, Bremer was appointed commander of HMS Tamar. In February 1824, he was sent to Melville Island, Australia, to establish a colony.[2][3] The site was intended as a military settlement to secure British trade in the region. It was hoped that a market would open to British merchants in the Malay Archipelago.[4] In June 1824, Bremer arrived in Sydney where he spent a month collecting troops and stores.[5] On 24 August 1824, he left Port Jackson, Sydney,[6] on board the Tamar, accompanied by the Countess of Harcourt and the Lady Nelson.[5][7] The ships transported Royal Marines and 44 convicts guarded by the 3rd Regiment.[4] After sailing through the Torres Strait,[5] he arrived in Port Essington on 20 September. The north coast of Australia from 129° to 135° longitude was declared British territory.[6] Bremer rejected Port Essington as a settlement due to its lack of fresh drinking water.[7] On 26 September, the party landed at King Cove in Melville Island to build a settlement, which was named Fort Dundas on 21 October.[5] However, the site was unhealthy, expensive to maintain, and did not develop into an advantageous commercial trading post. In November 1828, orders were given to abandon the post.[4]

In November 1824, Bremer sailed for India where he served in the First Anglo-Burmese War.[5] On 25 January 1836, he was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order (KCH).[2] In 1837, Port Essington was again selected as a possible trading station by Baron Glenelg. Bremer, who commanded the Alligator and Britomart, was again given charge of the expedition. He established a new post in October 1838, calling it Port Victoria. The port was active until 1843 and by 1849, Port Essington was abandoned after it had no commercial or military value. Under the encouragement of New South Wales Governor George Gipps, Bremer left Port Essington for China in June 1839, with the ships under his command, after news of trouble in the Chinese city of Canton.[5]


Bremer (left of centre) requesting Chinese officials aboard HMS Wellesley to surrender Chusan a day before the British captured the island

Rear-Admiral Frederick Maitland, commander of the East Indies and China Station, died in November 1839. As the senior naval officer, Bremer took over as commander-in-chief of British forces in the First Anglo-Chinese War as commodore.[8] He was replaced by Rear-Admiral George Elliot in July 1840, but after Elliot's return home in November 1840, Bremer again assumed the post until the arrival of Sir William Parker in August 1841.[3][9] Bremer commanded the capture of Chusan (5–6 July 1840),[10] Second Battle of Chuenpi (7 January 1841),[11] Battle of the Bogue (23–26 February),[12] Battle of First Bar (27 February),[13] Battle of Whampoa (2 March),[12] and Battle of Canton (18 March).[14]

After Plenipotentiary Charles Elliot declared the cession of Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom on 20 January 1841,[15] Bremer reported on 26 January that he "proceeded to Hong Kong, and took formal possession of the island in Her Majesty's name, and hoisted the colours on it, with the usual salutes and ceremonies."[16] This area became known as Possession Point.[17] On 1 February, he issued a joint proclamation with Elliot to the inhabitants, declaring the island British territory.[15] On 24 August, he left China aboard the Atlanta with Elliot.[18] For his services, Bremer received a vote of thanks from both houses of parliament, and on 29 July, he was made a Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath (KCB).[2][3]

Later career

On 30 April 1846, under Admiral Francis Augustus Collier, Bremer was appointed second-in-command of the Channel Fleet, with his broad pennant on board HMS Queen. On 24 November, he became superintendent of the Woolwich Dockyard, where he commanded the yacht William and Mary.[2][3] He retired from the dockyard on 13 November 1848. On 15 September 1849, Bremer was appointed to Rear-Admiral of the Blue.[19][20] He served as a magistrate in Devonshire.[2] He died of diabetes mellitus on 14 February 1850 at Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.[1]


On 27 March 1811, Bremer married Harriet, daughter of Royal Marines officer Thomas Wheeler and widow of Reverend George Glasse. They had two sons and four daughters:[21]

After Harriet's death in 1846, Bremer married Jemima Mary Harriet (1801–1879), the eldest daughter of Royal Navy officer James Brisbane, on 8 February 1848 at Tunbridge Wells.[28][29]



  1. 1 2 Laughton, J. K.. "Bremer, Sir James John Gordon (1786–1850)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/3313.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 O'Byrne, William Richard (1849). "Wikisource link to Bremer, James John Gordon". Wikisource link to A Naval Biographical Dictionary. John Murray. Wikisource.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Stephen, Leslie (1886). Dictionary of National Biography. Volume 6. New York: Macmillan and Co. pp. 256–257.
  4. 1 2 3 Scott, Ernest (1988). Australia - Cambridge History of the British Empire. Volume 7 (Part 1). Cambridge University Press. pp. 129–130. ISBN 0-521-35621-0.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bach, J (1966). "Bremer, Sir James John Gordon (1786 - 1850)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  6. 1 2 "Melville Island - Culture and History". The Sydney Morning Herald (25 November 2008). Retrieved 7 June 2011.
  7. 1 2 Satham, Pamela (1989). The Origin of Australia's Capital Cities. Cambridge University Press. p. 276. ISBN 0-521-40832-6.
  8. Ouchterlony, John (1844). The Chinese War. London: Saunders and Otley. pp. 37–38.
  9. Urban, Sylvanus (1850). The Gentleman's Magazine (1850). Volume 188. London: John Bowyer Nichols and Son. p. 535.
  10. The London Gazette: no. 19930. p. 2991. 15 December 1840.
  11. The London Gazette: no. 19976. p. 1162. 7 May 1841.
  12. 1 2 The London Gazette: no. 19984. p. 1426. 3 June 1841.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 19987. p. 1502. 11 June 1841.
  14. The London Gazette: no. 19987. p. 1503. 11 June 1841.
  15. 1 2 The Chinese Repository (1841). Volume 10. pp. 63–64.
  16. The London Gazette: p. 1424. 3 June 1841. Issue 19984.
  17. Tsang, Steve (2004). A Modern History of Hong Kong. London: I. B. Tauris. p. 16. ISBN 1-84511-419-1.
  18. Martin, Robert Montgomery (1841). "Colonial Intelligence". The Colonial Magazine and Commercial-Maritime Journal. Volume 6. London: Fisher, Son, & Co. p. 488.
  19. The London Gazette: no. 21021 p. 2883. 21 September 1849.
  20. Burke, J. Bernard (1850). St. James's Magazine, and Heraldic and Historical Register. Volume 2. London: E. Churton. pp. 41–42.
  21. Burke, J. Bernard (1852). A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, for 1852. Volume 1. London: Colburn and Co. p. 138.
  22. "Deaths". The Sydney Morning Herald. 21 September 1877. p. 8.
  23. Urban, Sylvanus (1866). The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review. Volume 1. London: Bradbury, Evans, & Co. p. 770.
  24. "Deaths". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 February 1868. p. 8.
  25. Urban, Sylvanus (1844). The Gentleman's Magazine. Volume 22. London: John Bowyer Nichols and Son. p. 644.
  26. Burke, John (1847). The Patrician. Volume 3. London: E. Churton. p. 501.
  27. "Deaths". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 January 1891. p. 1.
  28. Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, for 1850 (1850). Volume 17. Edinburgh: Sutherland and Knox. p. 200.
  29. The Annual Register, or a View of the History and Politics of the Year 1848. Volume 90. London: George Woodfall and Son. p. 186.
  30. "Ipswich - Culture and History". theage.com.au. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  31. Western Australian Land Information Authority. "History of country town names – B". Retrieved 2007-05-30.
  32. Hopper, S.D.; Nicolle, D. (2007). "Diamond gum (Eucalyptus rhomboidea: Myrtaceae), a new threatened species endemic to the Bremer Range of the Southwest Australian Floristic Region". Nuytsia 17: 185. ISSN 0085-4417. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  33. "N.T. Island to Be Re-named". The Canberra Times 8 (2045). 31 March 1934. p. 2. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Bremer.
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Maitland
Commander-in-Chief, East Indies and China Station
January 1840 – July 1840
Succeeded by
Sir George Elliot
Preceded by
Sir George Elliot
Commander-in-Chief, East Indies and China Station
November 1840 – August 1841
Succeeded by
Sir William Parker
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