Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Robert Barrie Papers, 1812-1831

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, August 2009

Summary Information
Title: Robert Barrie papers
Creator: Barrie, Robert, 1774-1841 and Cockburn, George, Sir, 1772-1853
Inclusive dates: 1812-1831
Bulk dates: 1814-1815
Extent: 61 items
Rear Admiral Sir Robert Barrie was commander of HMS Dragon in the War of 1812; commissioner of Kingston, Ontario, Dock Yard; and head of the Royal Navy in Canada, 1819-1834. Among his papers are personal letters to family and orders from Admiral Sir George Cockburn, both describing British naval action on the American coast during the War of 1812.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1964. M-1329.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format:

The Barrie papers have been microfilmed

Preferred Citation:

Robert Barrie Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The correspondence series is organized chronologically with the two non-correspondence documents at the end.


Robert Barrie was born May 5, 1774, in St Augustine, Florida, to Dr. Robert Barrie of Sanquhar, Scotland, and Dorothea (Dolly) Gardner. His father died a year later, and in 1784, Dolly moved her family back to Preston, England. She soon married textile manufacturer George Clayton.

On June 5, 1788, Barrie entered the Royal Navy and worked under his uncle Captain Alan Gardner. Two years later he was appointed midshipman on the Discovery for Captain George Vancouver's voyage to the Pacific. Upon return to England in 1795, Barrie was promoted quickly to lieutenant, then to commander in 1801, to captain of the Sloop Calypso in 1802, and served as captain of the Pomone between 1806 and 1811.

In 1812, Barrie became the captain of the HMS Dragon and commodore in charge of the British squadron. In this year he played an important role in the blockade of Chesapeake Bay and captured 85 American vessels. Barrie participated in many battles on the Atlantic coast during the War of 1812, including the British attack on the Penobscot River region in Maine in 1814.

After the war, Barrie married Julia Wharton Ingilby (c.1795-1836), daughter of Sir John Ingilby, in Warrington (Cheshire), England. They moved to France, and had four daughters and one son.

In January 1819, Barrie moved to Canada as the commissioner of the dockyard at Kingston, located on Point Frederick. There he commanded the inland waterways of the Canadas, such as the Great Lakes and the port of Quebec, and prepared the navy for possible future engagements with the United States. He was called back to England in 1825, and was promoted to commodore first class before returning to Kingston in 1827. He relocated permanently to England in 1834, when the dockyard establishment was broken up, and, shortly after, was knighted Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Order (KCH) by King William IV, promoted to Rear Admiral in 1837, and made Knight Commander of Bath (KCB) in 1840. Barrie died on June 7, 1841, in Swarthdale, England.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection contains correspondence of Rear Admiral Sir Robert Barrie, commander of HMS Dragon in the War of 1812, commissioner of Kingston, Ontario, Dockyard, and head of the Royal Navy in Canada, 1819-1834.

Included are 15 letters written by Barrie to his mother Dorothea (Mrs. George Clayton) and 4 to Miss Eliza Clayton in England from HMS Dragon , in which he details British naval action on the American coast, the blockade of Chesapeake Bay, and an expedition up the Rappahannock; he comments on the quality of American forces and on rumored peace negotiations. Admiral Sir George Cockburn wrote 30 letters and orders written to Barrie, most of which are dated 1812-1815. He describes the activities of other British ships under his command, discusses prisoner exchanges in Washington and Baltimore, and relates plans for the destructive assault on Washington. The postwar letters concern Barrie's position as naval commissioner in Canada.

Of special interest are a list of "Mates and Midshipmen" serving on board the HMS Dragon in 1815, and a song, sung at a public dinner on December 15, 1815, that celebrates his naval victories on the coast of America (lyrics only).

Subject Terms

    • Canada--History, Military--19th century.
    • Canada--History--War of 1812--Naval operations.
    • Chesapeake Bay (Md. and Va.)--History, Naval.
    • Cumberland Island (Ga.)--History.
    • Great Britain. Royal Navy--Officers.
    • Great Britain. Royal Navy--History--War of 1812.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Naval operations.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Prisoners and prisons.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Songs.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-59
    Documents [series]
    Box   1 Folder   60
    List of Mates and Midshipmen,  1815
    Commemoration Song,  1815
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library has various related resources including:

    • Viscount Melville papers: Barrie to Melville, July 22-August 6, 1812.
    • War of 1812 collection: Joseph Williamson to Norman Williams, October 25, 1814.
    • Letters of Sir George Cockburn, located within the War of 1812 collection, the Viscount Melville papers, the Pulteney Malcolm papers (November 8, 1812), and the John Wilson Croker papers.

    Duke University, Special Collections Library has a large collection of Barrie manuscripts: Sir Robert Barrie Papers, 1765-1953.


    Brock, Thomas L., Berrie's Biographical entry from: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

    Brock, Thomas L. Commodore Robert Barrie and his Family in Kingston, 1819-1834. Kingston Historical Society, Kingston Ontario, 1975.