Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan, lived from 1 July 1731 to 4 August 1804. He was an admiral in the Royal Navy who defeated the Dutch fleet at the Battle of Camperdown. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Adam Duncan was born in Dundee. He was the son of Alexander Duncan of Lundie, Provost of Dundee, and Helen, daughter of John Haldane of Gleneagles. He went to school in Dundee and then entered the Royal Navy, following in the footsteps of his mother's brother, Captain Robert Haldane. He went on to serve under his uncle on HMS Trial and HMS Shoreham. In 1755 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, then in 1759 to commander. In command of HMS Royal Exchange and then HMS Valiant he took part in the ongoing conflict with France.
In 1763 Duncan returned home on half pay. Despite his repeated efforts to gain another naval command he spent much of the next fifteen years on the family estate at Lundie or in Dundee. On 6 June 1777 he married Henrietta, daughter of Robert Dundas of Arniston. It seems that his new father-in-law could pull strings unavailable to Duncan himself, because in late 1778 he was given command of HMS Suffolk and then of HMS Monarch. After another gap, this time of two years, he commanded a series of vessels from 1782, before being promoted to commodore in 1787, vice-admiral in 1793, and rear admiral and commander-in-chief of the North Sea fleet in 1795.
For two years his main role was enforcing a blockade of the Dutch fleet in their home ports. But in October 1797 the Dutch fleet put to sea, apparently intent on carrying an invasion force to Ireland. Duncan's fleet intercepted the Dutch off the village of Camperdown in the Netherlands and in a bloody battle on 11 October 1797 completely defeated the Dutch fleet. The news was received with huge enthusiasm at home, and on 21 October Duncan was raised to the peerage as Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, and Baron Duncan of Lundie. He was also awarded a large annual pension and given the freedom of the cities of London and Dundee.
Duncan retained his command of the North Sea fleet until he retired in 1801. He died three years later at the age of 73, and was buried in Lundie. Admiral Duncan has been remembered in a series of ships named HMS Duncan, and in 1997 a statue of him was erected in Dundee.