Edward Riou was born in 1762 into a Huguenot family that had moved to Britain from Switzerland about sixty years earlier.
His father, Etienne Riou, was born in 1720. He joined the army, and became known by the English equivalent name of Stephen. He went to Geneva to study architecture and undertook tours of Italy and Constantinople. He also became associated with the Society of Dilettantes.
Stephen married Dorothy Dawson on 6 January 1755 at St. Martins in the Fields, London. They had three children. The oldest, Philip, served in the Royal Artillery, and died a senior colonel at Woolwich in 1817. The Riou’s only daughter, another Dorothy, was born in 1764 and married Colonel Lyde Browne of the 21st Fusiliers in
The Riou’s second son was Edward. He was supposedly born in 1762 at Faversham in Kent though his lieutenant’s certificate of 1780 has him being twenty years old, meaning born in 1758. At the age of 12, Edward went to sea joining the Royal Navy. He served in HMS Barfleur, flagship of Sir Thomas Pye at Portsmouth and then in HMS Romney on the Newfoundland station with Vice-Admiral John Montague. Back in Britain, Riou joined HMS Discovery on 22 February 1776 as a midshipman under Captain Charles Clerke on Cook’s Third Voyage.
Riou remained in Discovery until 6 September 1779 when he was transferred to be a midshipman in Resolution. He kept a log.1 He also made surveys and drew charts, including one of Avacha Bay at Kamchatka. During the voyage Riou, or “Young Neddy” as he was known, acquired a native dog at Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand. The dog apparently bit several of Riou’s colleagues so when he was ashore one day the dog was given a mock trial, found guilty, killed and cooked. This event came to be known as the “Trial of the Cannibal Dog”.2 The instigator of the episode was Alexander Home, whose memoirs provided details.
On his return to Britain, Riou was promoted to lieutenant (on 28 October 1780). He served in the West Indies in HMS Scourge. On 3 February 1782 he was discharged from duty, due to illness, and went to the Royal Navy Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth, Hampshire. He re-entered service in April 1783 and served in HMS Ganges, a guardship at Portsmouth, until June 1784. He was then on half pay for nearly two years before being appointed in March 1786 to HMS Salisbury, flagship of Rear-Admiral John Elliot, in Newfound-land waters. In November 1788, he was again placed on half pay.
In April 1789, Riou received an appointment that would change his career.
He was given command of HMS Guardian with orders to sail to Port Jackson (Sydney) with stores, cattle, and convicts.3 They sailed from Spithead on 8 September and safely reached Cape Town. Near Prince Edward Island on 24 December 1789, whilst Riou attempted to obtain fresh drinking water from a passing iceberg, the ship struck submerged parts of the iceberg and was holed. Riou sent the small boats away with as many men as they could hold aiming for Cape Town. Some were picked up by a French merchant ship, and safely landed at the Cape on 18 January 1790.
Meanwhile, Riou, was battling to keep the ship afloat and, with the help of the remaining crew and some convicts still in the ship, the Guardian was nursed back to the Cape on 21 February 1790. She was towed into False Bay before being run onto the beach and broken up.
Riou returned to Britain, where he was hailed as a hero, and promoted to commander in September. A court martial was held as a formality for having lost his ship, but Riou was completely exonerated. Further promotion to captain followed on 4 June 1791. In 1793, Riou took command of HMS Rose and sailed to the West Indies. He was present at operations against Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1794.
In 1795, he transferred to HMS Beaulieu. Unfortunately, his health was poor, and he returned to Britain. When Riou recovered he had a short period in charge of the royal yacht, Princess Augusta, before, in 1799, he was given command of HMS Amazon, a new 5th rate of 38 guns.
Amazon joined the Baltic Fleet in 1801and took part in the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April.4 Two days before the battle, Riou took Hyde Parker, the British commander-in-chief, and Lord Nelson inshore to examine the Danish defences around Copenhagen. Riou remained in close attendance on Nelson and all the frigates and small craft were placed under Riou’s orders “to perform such service as he is directed by Lord Nelson”. During the battle, Riou was severely wounded in the head by a splinter and then killed when cannon-shot cut him in two. Nelson wrote later that “In my poor dear Riou the country has sustained an irreparable loss” and “In that case, poor dear Riou might have been saved; but his bravery attempted what I directed three sail of the line to assist him in”.
Edward Riou left a will,5 in which he mentioned his mother, his brother, Philip, and sister, Dorothy.
Point Riou in southeast Alaska is named after him and a Second World War British destroyer escort, HMS Riou was also named after him. There is a memorial to Riou in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.
- ADM 51/4529/41-4; Log. 5 vol.; 22 February to 29 November 1779 (vol. 4, 18 January 1779 to 25 July 1779 is missing).
- Salmond, Anne. The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas. Allen Lane. 2003. Reviewed in Cook’s Log, page 7, vol. 26, no. 3 (2003).
- Cook’s Log, page 22, vol. 30, no. 4 (2007).
- Cook’s Log, page 42, vol. 28, no. 1 (2005).
- PROB 11/1356. Proven on 27 April 1801.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 47, volume 34, number 2 (2011).