Category Archives: Naval Biography

Rear Admiral Sir Home Popham

Admiral Sir Home Popham
Home Popham was born at Gibraltar in 1762 while his father, Joseph, was Britain’s consul in Tetuan, Morocco. His father was apparently a devotee of both marriage and fatherhood. Home allegedly had twenty siblings and some twenty-three half-siblings.

He wasn’t immediately destined for the navy. In 1776, he enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge. He went on a couple of short voyages while at Cambridge, and in 1778 he made a firm decision joining the navy aboard HMS Hyena, commanded by family friend Captain Edward Thompson, and was present at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent where Hyena was a repeating frigate.

Hyena paid off in 1782 as the American Revolution was winding down. Captain Thompson was promoted to commodore and given command of a small squadron off the coast of West Africa. He brought young Home along with him as a marine surveyor. Shortly thereafter Popham was promoted to lieutenant.

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Robert Surcouf

Statue of Robert Surcouf in Saint Malo

Statue of Robert Surcouf in Saint Malo

Robert Surcouf was as close to a born privateer as one was likely to find. Born on December 12, 1773 in Saint Malo, both his mother and father’s families had produced famous privateers among them René Duguay-Trouin.

He was reputed to be a rowdy young man, prone to fighting, and he was packed off to sea in March, 1789, aboard the slaver Aurore. In February, 1789, Aurore with a load of slaves was caught in a tropical cyclone and wrecked in East Africa. The ship was repairable and Surcouf came to the captain’s attention through his energy and perseverance while removing the rapidly decomposing bodies of 400 dead slaves from the hold of the ship so it could be made seaworthy. He was hired on as first mate in that captain’s next ship.  That ship was also wrecked and Surcouf signed onto the French corvette Bienvenue which was bound for Lorient to be paid off. He arrived back in Brittany in January 1792. Continue reading

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Captain Sir William Hoste

hoste
William Hoste was born in 1780 at Ingoldisthorpe, Norfolk. His father was an Anglican minister. Young William seems to have been destined for a life at sea from an early age. His father had sufficient social connections to get young William entered on the books of HMS Europa at age five. Through the good offices of his landlord, the elder Hoste was introduced to Horatio Nelson, then commanding HMS Agamemnon, who agreed to take William on board as his servant in April 1793.

Hoste quickly impressed Nelson and became one of his favorites. He was rated midhipman in February 1794. When Nelson moved to HMS Captain in 1796, Hoste followed him. He was with Nelson at the Battle of St. Vincent and again at the Tenerife where Nelson lost his arm. After than battle, Nelson had Hoste promoted to lieutenant at age 18. Following the Battle of the Nile, he was made commander into HMS Mutine and was made post into HMS Greyhound in 1802.

Hoste was an energetic officer and had several successes in the Mediterranean. His initiative and daring led Admiral Collingwood to send him on an independent cruise into the Adriatic. It turned out to be profitable for both as Hoste took or sunk over 200 ships in about 18 months. Collingwood sent Hoste back to the Adriatic in 1810, this time leading a small squadron consisting of his own frigate HMS Amphion (36), HMS Active (36), and HMS Cerberus (32). This deployment culminated in the Battle of Lissa, described below. Hoste returned to the Adriatic in 1812 in command of the 38-gun HMS Bacchante and actively collaborated with local forces allied with Britain to harry the French and their allies.

Unfortunately, his long service in the Mediterranean ruined his health. He acquired malaria and repeated infections in his lungs, returning to England in 1814. He was made baronet upon his return and knighted in 1815. In 1817 he married and had 6 children before his death from tuberculosis in 1828.

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Admiral Sir Edward Codrington

codrington
The era of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars contained hundreds of highly dedicated naval officers whose names have been largely forgotten and appear as obscure footnotes in equally obscure books. Indeed, when one advances outside the circle of Howe, Jervis, Cornwallis, Nelson, and Parker few of the names of even the brightest lights of the era are recognizable to the modern eye. One of those is Admiral Sir Edward Codrington. Continue reading

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Admiral Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan

duncan
One of the crucial figures in British naval history at the time of the mutinies at Spithead and The Nore was Admiral Adam Duncan. Often history has a way of inserting the right man at the right place at the right time and Admiral Duncan can be single handedly credited with keeping the Dutch fleet in port while the British government flailed about trying to resolve the mutinies. Continue reading

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Vice Admiral Sir Richard Goodwin Keats

admiral richard goodwin keats
The British Navy during the Age of Sail produced more than it’s share of exemplary combat commanders.

One of those was certainly Vice Admiral Sir Richard Goodwin Keats. A man of whom Nelson wrote, “I esteem his person alone as being equal to one French 74…”

Keats proved he was equal to much more than a French 74 in the aftermath of the Battle of Algeciras.

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Admiral Alexander Hood, 1st Viscount Bridport

lord-bridport
We’re slowly but surely working our way through the mutiny of the Channel Fleet at Spithead and the the North Sea Fleet at The Nore with the help of Mainwaring’s Floating Republic.

We’ll take a time out from the action to introduce characters who are central to the story. One of these is Admiral Lord Bridport, commander of the Channel Fleet.

Alexander Hood, brother of Samuel Hood, was born in 1726 and entered the navy at age 15. He was appointed a lieutenant in 1746 and served in that rank for ten years before being promoted to commander. He caught the eye of Rear Admiral Sir Charles Saunders and served as his flag captain before commanding a frigate with some distinction at the Battle of Quiberon Bay and in single ship actions.

He was promoted to rear admiral in 1780. At the end of the American Revolution he went on half pay and served in the House of Commons. He was recalled to the colors when war broke out with Revolutionary France and fought under Lord Howe at the Glorious First of June. For his heroism he was created Lord Bridport.

On 23 June 1795, with his flag in HMS Queen Charlotte, he fought the inconclusive Battle of Groix against the French off the Île de Groix and captured three ships. Wikipedia says he was criticized within the navy for failing to win a more decisive victory, though that seems hard to credit as it doesn’t seem much less decisive than most of the other sea battles of the era.

In that same year he succeeded to command of the Channel Fleet and held that command until his retirement in 1800.

Some accounts of the Spithead mutiny paint Bridport as somewhat feckless and indecisive during this crisis. I’m not certain that assessment bears up under analysis.

He died in 1814.

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Captain Sir Henry Trollope

trollope
Sir Henry Trollope was the son of the Reverend John Trollope of Bucklebury, Berkshire. He was born on Apri 20, 1756. His father was a younger brother of the minor nobility and had the family connections to get Henry posted to the flagship of Rear Admiral John Montagu when he was sent to sea in April 1771. Montagu remained his patron. He returned home in 1774 and immediately joined HMS Asia under Captain George Vandeput which was returning to North America.

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The Breeze at Spithead, Part 2: Valentine Joyce,

The differences between the mutinies occurring sequentially at Spithead and The Nore can best be explained by the leadership.

The self styled “President of the Fleet” during the mutiny at The Nore was a failed midshipman, failed teacher, named Richard Parker. The head of the mutiny at Spithead is unknown but the presumed guiding hand was provided by a 27 year old quartermaster’s mate from the HMS Royal George, the flagship of Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport.

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Captain Robert Faulknor


We wrote earlier about the heroism and early death of Captain Robert Faulknor.

Faulknor is an interesting character who demonstrates much of what was right and wrong of the system used by the British Navy to select and promote officers during the Age of Sail.

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