Sir Nathaniel Dance (20 June 1748 – 25 March 1827) was an officer of the Honourable East India Company who had a long and varied career on merchant vessels, making numerous voyages to India and back with the fleets of East Indiamen.
He was already aware of the risks of the valuable ships he sailed on being preyed on by foreign navies, having been captured by a Franco-Spanish fleet in 1780 during the East Indies campaign of the American War of Independence.
His greatest achievement came during the Napoleonic Wars, when having been appointed commodore of one of the company’s fleets, he came across a French squadron under Rear-Admiral Comte de Linois, which was raiding British shipping in the area.
Through skilful seamanship and aggressive tactics he fooled the French commander into thinking that the British convoy was escorted by powerful naval forces, and the French decided not to risk attacking the convoy.
Dance compounded the deception by taking his lightly armed merchants and chasing the French away, despite the considerable disparity of force.
Having saved the convoy from almost certain destruction, Dance was hailed as a hero, lavishly rewarded with money and a knighthood, and spent the last years of his life in comfortable retirement.
James Dance was a successful lawyer of the city, but shortly after the birth of Nathaniel, he abandoned his wife to live with an actress, and in time established himself as a successful actor and playwright in Drury Lane.
Elizabeth Dance and her family were instead cared for by James’s father, and Nathaniel’s paternal grandfather, George Dance the Elder, a prominent architect for the City of London.
Nathaniel lived with his grandfather until 1759, when he went to sea under the patronage of Nathaniel Smith, a high-ranking official in the Honourable East India Company.
With Smith’s support, Dance rose through the ranks of the service, by 1780 having made eight voyages to India, as well as one to the Mediterranean and one to the West Indies.
While making his ninth voyage to India as first officer on Royal George when a combined Spanish and French fleet captured his ship in the Action of 9 August 1780.
Dance was taken to Spain, where he spent six months on parole.
He became commander of the Lord Camden in January 1787, making another four voyages to India aboard her, before being appointed commander of a new ship, the Earl Camden, in which he sailed to China in January 1803.