Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cunningham, Charles

CUNNINGHAM, Sir CHARLES (1755–1834), rear-admiral, a native of Eye in Suffolk, entered the navy, from the merchant service, in 1775, as a midshipman of the Æolus frigate. In 1776 the Æolus went to the West Indies, where Cunningham was transferred to the Bristol, carrying the flag of Sir Peter Parker. In June 1779 he received an acting order as lieutenant, and towards the end of the year was for a short time first lieutenant of the Hinchingbroke with Captain Horatio Nelson. Continuing on the same station he was, in September 1782, appointed to command the Admiral Barrington brig, and sent by Sir Joshua Rowley to cruise for the protection of Turk's Island, to the north of St. Domingo; but during the brig's absence at Jamaica for provisions the French occupied Turk's Island, and repelled an attempt to regain it, made by Captain Nelson in the Albemarle (Nelson Despatches, i. 73). The Admiral Barrington was paid off at Jamaica in May 1783, and Cunningham returned to England in the Tremendous. In 1788 he went to the East Indies in the Crown with Commodore Cornwallis, by whom he was made commander into the Ariel sloop on 28 Oct. 1790. On the declaration of war with France in February 1793, Cunningham, then in command of the Speedy brig, went out to the Mediterranean with despatches, and remained attached to the Mediterranean fleet. On 12 Oct. 1793, having assisted in the capture of the Modeste and Impérieuse frigates, he was made post into the latter, renamed the Unité. In April 1794 he exchanged into the Lowestoft, and in the summer assisted at the siege of Calvi, a service for which he, together with the other frigate captains, was specially mentioned in Lord Hood's despatch (ib. p. 477 n.), which he had the honour of carrying home overland. He left Calvi on 11 Aug. and reached London on 1 Sept. In April 1796 he was appointed to the Clyde frigate, in the North Sea, and in May 1797 was refitting at the Nore when the mutiny broke out. Cunningham was, however, not absolutely dispossessed of the command, and succeeded, after seventeen days, in bringing his men back to their duty. During the night of 29 May the Clyde slipped her cables, and before morning was safe in Sheerness harbour. Her defection was the signal to many other ships to do likewise, and within a week the fleet had returned to its allegiance. Continuing in the Clyde, in the North Sea, and in the Channel, he had the fortune to meet the French frigate Vestale in the Bay of Biscay, which he captured without serious difficulty; for though of nominally the same number of guns, the Vestale mounted only 12-pounders on her main deck, while the Clyde carried 18-pounders (James, Nav. Hist. 1860, ii. 384). The capture, which was creditable enough to Cunningham, and not discreditable to the captain of the Vestale, was commended by Lord Keith, with absurd exaggeration, as ‘one of the most brilliant transactions which have occurred during the course of the war;’ and the king, being in the theatre at Weymouth when he received the news, commanded it to be communicated to the audience, on which ‘Rule Britannia’ was sung in wild chorus by the whole house. After a very active and successful commission, extending over more than six years, the Clyde was paid off in June 1802. In May 1803 Cunningham was appointed to the Prince of Orange, and for a few months commanded a squadron keeping watch on the Dutch in the Texel; but in September he was nominated a commissioner of the victualling board, and in 1806 was appointed commissioner of the dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich. He held this post till April 1823, when he was appointed superintendent of the dockyard at Chatham; and in May 1829 retired with the rank of rear-admiral. On 24 Oct. 1832 he was created knight commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, and died on 11 March 1834. He was twice married, but had been left a widower for some years, living latterly with his daughters in the neighbourhood of Eye.

[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. ii. 75; United Service Journal, 1834, pt. ii. p. 84.]

J. K. L.