Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duff, Robert

DUFF, ROBERT (d. 1787), vice-admiral, cousin of William Duff, first earl of Fife, was promoted to commander's rank on 4 Dec. 1744, and in 1746 had command of the Terror bomb on the coast of Scotland. On 23 Oct. he was posted to the Anglesea, a new ship of 44 guns, which he commanded on the coast of Ireland and the home station till the peace in 1748. In 1755 he was appointed to the Rochester of 50 guns, which was employed during the following years on the coast of France either in independent cruising or as part of the grand fleet. In 1758 Duff was with Commodore Howe in the squadron covering the expeditions against St. Malo, Cherbourg, and St. Cas; and in 1759 was senior officer of the little squadron stationed on the south coast of Bretagne to keep watch over the movements of the French in Morbihan, while Hawke with the fleet blockaded Brest. He was lying at anchor in Quiberon Bay, his squadron consisting of four 50-gun ships and four frigates, when, on the morning of 20 Nov., his outlook gave him intelligence of the French fleet to the southward of Belle Isle. He hastily put to sea and stood to the southward, chased by the French. Suddenly the English ships tacked to the eastward, their men manning the rigging, cheering and throwing their hats into the sea. They had just made out the English fleet in hot pursuit of the French, which, partly owing to its turning aside to chase Duff's squadron, was overtaken before it could get into a safe anchorage [see Hawke, Edward, Lord]. Duff had no actual share in the battle which followed, but by reason of the prominent part he took in the overture his name is closely connected with the glories of that great day. He was afterwards appointed to the Foudroyant, a crack ship of 80 guns, in which he accompanied Rear-admiral Rodney to the West Indies, and took part in the reduction of Martinique, January and February 1762. On 31 March 1775 he was promoted to be rear-admiral, and in April was sent out as commander-in-chief at Newfoundland. In September 1777 he was appointed to the command of the Mediterranean, with his flag in the Panther. When the siege of Gibraltar was begun in 1779, Duff co-operated with the garrison so far as the very limited force at his disposal permitted; but the government, not being able to strengthen his command, recalled him early in the following year. He had been promoted to be vice-admiral on 29 Jan. 1778, but held no further command after his return to England in 1780. During his later years he was grievously afflicted with gout, an attack of which in the stomach caused his death at Queensferry on 6 June 1787.

He married in 1764 Helen, the daughter of his cousin the Earl of Fife. By her he had several children, whose descendants are now numerous. It may be noted as a curious coincidence that his grand-nephew, George Duff, who was slain at Trafalgar in command of the Mars, had before the battle the command of the inshore squadron, watching the motions of the enemy in Cadiz.

[Charnock's Biog. Navalis, v. 444; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs, vol. iii.]

J. K. L.