Admiral Jean-Baptiste-Philibert WillaumezNaval officer who served notably in the East Indies during the Revolution and later at Saint-Domingue
Born: August 7, 1763
Place of Birth: Belle-Isle-en-Mer, Morbihan, France
Legion of Honor: Grand Officer
Died: May 17, 1845
Place of Death: Suresnes, France
Arc de Triomphe: WILLAUMEZ on the south pillar
The son of a captain of artillery, Jean-Baptiste-Philibert Willaumez decided on a naval career and initially embarked as a pilot in 1777. After transitioning to serve as a helmsman, he served in the Indies and then on board the ship La Louise until it was shipwrecked on October 28, 1778. Willaumez was saved from the shipwreck and he returned to France to Lorient. Next he served as an assistant pilot on Ville-de-Paris in the harbor of Brest in 1780 and then in 1781 he was named second pilot on the frigate Amazone and he sailed to America. That March Willaumez was given command of a lugger taken from the British and ordered to take it back to Lorient. After doing so he rejoined the Amazone and he served at multiple battles including the action of Saint-Eustache, the action of Saint-Christophe, and the action of Saint-Barthélemy. Willaumez then went on to serve under the Count de Grasse at the combats of April 9th and 12th, 1782. That July he fought at the combat of Cape Henry where he was wounded by three wounds to the cheek and the left leg. After the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War, Willaumez served on merchant ships sailing to the Caribbean. In 1786 he was sent on the frigate Astrée to the Eastern Indies.
In 1791 Willaumez was promoted to ensign of vessel and he embarked on the frigate Recherche under d'Entrecasteaux searching for the lost expedition of La Pérouse. He served throughout their search, was promoted to lieutenant of vessel, and named a Knight of Saint Louis during the voyage. The expedition began to unravel as news of events in France reached them as they stopped in Batavia, also known as the Dutch East Indies. After d'Entrecasteaux died, Auribeau replaced him as commander and he handed his ships over to the Dutch to keep them out of the French Republic's control. In response, Willaumez refused to remove the tricolor and he was imprisoned by the Dutch in February of 1794. That August he was transported on a Dutch ship to Île de France and then he embarked as a volunteer on the frigate Prudente. During this time Willaumez helped Captain Renaud break the British blockade and he was wounded in the left hand in a combat against HMS Diomede and HMS Centurion at the Battle of Île Ronde. He next was given command of the corvette Léger and sent to France to take the dispatches and papers of d'Entrecasteaux back to France. Willaumez arrived in France in February of 1795 and the next month he was promoted to captain of vessel.
Willaumez was given command of the ship Pluton and he served under Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse for the remainder of 1795. At the end of the year he took command of the frigate Régénérée to sail to Île-de-France and serve as part of Admiral Sercey's squadron in the East Indies. Willaumez took part in the naval battle in the Strait of Malacca and throughout the campaign helped capture British merchant ships. In 1798 he was ordered to return to France and after arriving there he remained in Paris for a time. In September of 1799 Willaumez took command of three frigates and a corvette at Saint Malo. In 1801 he was sent as part of the expedition to Saint-Domingue and after arriving there he was detached to cover the south. In September of 1802 Willaumez took command of the frigate Poursuivante and he served against the rebels in the west and the south of Saint-Domingue. During the blockade of Saint-Domingue by the British, Willaumez entered into battle with HMS Hercule on June 29, 1803 and afterwards he returned to Môle Saint-Nicolas. Next he set sail for the United States and Chesapeake Bay before returning to France.
Willaumez was promoted to rear admiral in March of 1805 and he was given command of the light squadron of Brest under Admiral Ganteaume. In a sortie that August he and his command ship Alexandre engaged the HMS Hibernia. That December Willaumez was given command of a squadron of six ships and two frigates and sent to attack the British in the vicinity of the Cape Town. He set sail that December and after arriving near South Africa he then turned and headed for Brazil. Willaumez stopped at Bahia, Brazil and then his squadron made their way to Cayenne. Next they sailed for the Bahamas where they were separated by a storm. Willaumez stayed at Havana for four months, finally setting sail for France at the end of 1806. After returning to France, he quit his command and was not actively employed again until May of 1808 when he took command of the squadron of Brest. In February of 1809 Willaumez made a sortie to try and reach Rochefort but his ships were blockaded by the British. Others accused him of compromising the success of the operation by being slow to act and he lost his command. In 1811 he was given a command in Zuyderzée which he retained until the middle of 1812. Afterwards, he was unemployed in French Empire. After the restoration of the Bourbons, Willaumez continued to have a successful naval career.
Updated January 2017
© Nathan D. Jensen