Brett, Peircy (DNB00)

BRETT, Sir PEIRCY (1709–1781), admiral, was the son of Peircy Brett, a master in the navy, and afterwards master attendant of the dockyards at Sheerness and at Chatham. After serving his time as volunteer and midshipman, he was, on 6 Dec. 1734, promoted to the rank of lieutenant and appointed to the Falkland with Captain the Hon. Fitzroy Lee. In her he continued till July 1738, when he was appointed to the Adventure, and a few months later to the Gloucester, one of the ships which sailed under Commodore Anson for the Pacific in September 1740. On 18 Feb. following Brett was transferred to Anson's own ship, the Centurion, as second-lieutenant, and in this capacity he commanded the landing party which sacked and burned the town of Paita on 13 Nov. 1741. After the capture of the great Acapulco ship, Brett became first-lieutenant, by the promotion of Saumarez, and was appointed by Anson to be captain of the Centurion on 30 Sept. 1743, when he himself left the ship on his visit to Canton. On the arrival of the Centurion in England the admiralty refused to confirm this promotion, although they gave Brett a new commission as captain dated the day the ship anchored at Spithead, and a few months later, under a new admiralty of which Anson was a member, the original commission was as confirmed, 29 Dec. 1744 [see Anson, George, Lord].

In April 1745 Brett was appointed to command the Lion, 60 guns, in the Channel; and on 9 July, being then off Ushant, he fell in with the French ship Elisabeth of 64 gun's, a king's ship, nominally in private employ, and actually engaged in convoying the small frigate on board which Prince Charles Edward was taking a passage to Scotland. Between the Lion and Elisabeth a severe action ensued, which lasted from 5 p.m. till 9 p.m., by which time the Lion was a wreck, with 45 killed and 107 wounded out of a complement of 400; and the Elisabeth, taking advantage of her enemy's condition, drew off, too much injured to pursue the voyage. The drawn battle was thus as fatal to the Stuart cause as the capture of the Elisabeth would have been; for all the stores, arms, and money for the intended campaign were on board her, and the young prince landed in Scotland a needy and impoverished adventurer.

Early in 1747 Brett was appointed to the Yarmouth, 64 guns, which he commanded in the action off Cape Finisterre on 3 May; he was shortly afterwards temporarily superseded by Captain Saunders, but was reappointed in the autumn, and continued in the same ship till the end of 1750, during the latter part of which time she was guardship at Chatham. In 1752 Brett was appointed to the Royal Caroline yacht, and in the following January, having taken the king over to Germany, received the honour of knighthood. In February 1754 he was one of a commission appointed to examine into the condition of the port of Harwich, which was found to be silting up by the waste of the cliff. He continued in command of the yacht till the end of 1757, and in January 1758 was appointed to the Norfolk as commodore in the Downs. During Anson's cruise off Brest in the summer of 1758 he acted as first captain of the Royal George, in the capacity now known as captain of the fleet. He afterwards returned to the Norfolk and the Downs, and held that command till December 1761, during which period, in the summer of 1759, he was employed on a commission for examining the coasts of Essex, Kent, and Sussex, with a view to their defence against any possible landing of the enemy. His report (15 June 1759) is curious and interesting as showing the extraordinary ignorance of the government as to the nature of the country within a hundred miles of London. Early in 1762 he was sent out to the Mediterranean as second in command, and was soon after promoted to be rear-admiral. He came home the following year, after the peace, and did not serve again at sea, though from 1766 to 1770 he was one of the lords commissioners of the admiralty under Sir Edward Hawke. He became a vice-admiral on 24 Oct. 1770, admiral on 29 Jan. 1778, and died on 14 Oct. 1781. He was buried at Beckenham in Kent, where there is a tablet to his memory in the church.

He married in 1745 Henrietta, daughter of Mr. Thomas Colby, clerk of the cheque at Chatham, by whom be had two sons, who died in infancy, and a daughter, who married Sir George Bowyer. The Peircy Brett whose name appears in later navy lists as a captain of 1787 was a nephew, the son of William Brett, also a captain in the navy, who died in 1769. Lady Brett survived her husband but a few years; she died in August 1788, in the eighty-first year of her age, and was buried in the same vault in the church at Beckenham.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. v. 239; Gent. Mag. li. 517. 623; Official Letters, &c. in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.36
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
284 i 9f.e. Brett, Sir Peircy: for He became a vice-admiral read He was colonel of marines 1760-2 and M.P. for Queenborough 1754-74. He became a vice-admiral of the blue on 18 Oct. and of the white