- J. K. Laughton
- , revised by Julian Gwyn
Sawyer, Herbert (b. in or before 1730, d. 1798), naval officer, details of whose parents and upbringing are unknown, entered the navy in 1747. He served for six years, more than half the time in the Gloucester with Commodore George Townshend on the Jamaica station. On 30 August 1753 he passed his lieutenant's examination when it was stated that he was 'more than 22'. On 4 March 1756 he was promoted lieutenant, and in 1757 he was serving in the Grafton, one of the fleet off Louisbourg, under Vice-Admiral Francis Holburne. On 19 May 1758 he was promoted to the command of the sloop Happy, from which, in October, he was moved to the Swallow, one of the squadron on the coast of France, under the orders of Lord Howe. On 26 December he was posted to the Chesterfield, and in February 1759 he was appointed to the Active (28 guns), in which he continued during the war, and in which off Cadiz on 21 May 1762, in company with the sloop Favourite, commanded by Philemon Pownoll, he captured the Spanish treasure ship Hermione, with a total cargo of over £500,000 in cash and bullion; of this Sawyer's share amounted to £65,053 13s. 9d., one of the largest amounts realized at one haul in the period. Now an extremely wealthy man, Sawyer married the daughter of a Lisbon merchant.
Sawyer was appointed to the Boyne in 1777, joined Rear-Admiral Samuel Barrington in the West Indies in 1778, and took part in the defeat of d'Estaing at St Lucia on 15 December; he was in the action off Grenada, under Vice-Admiral John Byron on 6 July 1779, and in the autumn returned to England. In 1780–81 he commanded the Namur in the channel, and at the relief of Gibraltar in April 1781, but quitted her when she was ordered to the West Indies in December. From 1783 to 1785 he commanded the guardship Bombay Castle at Plymouth.
Sawyer was next appointed commodore of the small peacetime North American base at Halifax, and his principal task was to guard the coasts against American intruders and, with the military, ensure the safety of the new settlements of disbanded soldiers and loyalist refugees. Upon his arrival in June 1785 he authorized the frigate Mercury to escort a merchant vessel to Boston to fetch a shipment of live cattle, in an attempt to break the monopoly of the Nova Scotia suppliers. It was the first time since March 1776 that a British warship had freely entered the harbour. When her captain refused to salute the state flag flying from Castle William, a mob assaulted the landing party, led by her captain, and besieged them in a magistrate's home. After days of negotiations to effect their release, they made their departure. In 1787, while visiting Quebec with his ships, Sawyer was embarrassed by a French squadron of three ships of the line and four frigates, which sailed unchallenged along the Nova Scotia coast bound for Boston. He returned to England without orders in August 1788, and never again went to sea.
On 24 September 1788 Sawyer was promoted rear-admiral. He became vice-admiral on 1 February 1793, and admiral on 1 June 1795, but his failing health did not permit him to accept any command. He died at Bath on 4 June 1798. His eldest son, Sir Herbert Sawyer, who was also later in command of the North American squadron, at the outset of the Anglo-American War of 1812–14, died an admiral in 1833.
- J. Gwyn, ‘The culture of work: in the Halifax naval yard before 1820’, Nova Scotia Historical Society, Journal 2 (1999)
- P. Webb, ‘British squadrons in North American waters, 1783–1793’, Northern Mariner, 5 (April 1995), 19–34
- R. A. Evans, ‘The army and navy at Halifax in peacetime, 1783–1793’, MA diss., Dalhousie University, 1970
- J. Charnock, ed., Biographia navalis, 6 vols. (1794–8)
- GM, 1st ser., 60 (1790), 540
- R. Beatson, Naval and military memoirs of Great Britain, 2nd edn, 6 vols. (1804)