Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Griffin, Thomas (d.1771)

GRIFFIN, THOMAS (d. 1771), admiral, said to have belonged to a younger branch of the family of Lord Griffin of Braybrooke, which merged in that of Lord Howard of Walden. He is described as of the parish of Dixton Hadnock in Monmouthshire (Lists of Members of Parliament, Arundel, 1754). He entered the navy about 1711, and on 28 Oct, 1718 was promoted by Sir George Byng to be a lieutenant of the Orford. In July 1730 he was appointed first lieutenant of the Falmouth with Captain John Byng; and on 1 April 1731 was promoted to be captain of the Shoreham frigate, which he commanded for two years in the West Indies and on the coast of Carolina, and paid off in March 1733. In 1735 he commanded the Blenheim, guardship at Portsmouth, and bearine the flag of Vice-admiral Cavendish, and in 1738-1739, commanded the Oxford in the Channel. In 1740 he was appointed to the Princess Caroline, which went out to the West Indies in the fleet under Sir Chaloner Ogle. At Jamaica, Vernon hoisted his flag on board the Princess Caroline, and Griffin was moved into the Burford, Vernon's former flagship. He commanded the Burford in the unsuccessful attack on Cartagena, March-April 1741 [see Vernon, Edward], and is mentioned as having cleared the passage into the inner harbour by removing a ship which had been sunk in the entrance. In the followmg September he took the Burford to England, and was afterwards involved in a series of unpleasant quarrels with his officers, whom he had turned out of their cabins in order to accomodate some passengers whom he brought from Jamaica. The officers, naturally enough, now complained of this treatment, alleging that Griffin had been ‘pretty well paid for it.’ Griffin denied this, maintaining that what he had done was in accordance with the custom of the service, and retaliated by charging his officers with being ‘a drinking, disorderly set’ (Captains' Letters, September 1741). The affair seems to have been smoothed over, at any rate as far as Griffin was concerned, and he was appointed to the Nassau guardship at Portsmouth, from which he exchanged into the St. George, and commanded her during the summers of 1742 and 1743. In October 1743 he was appointed to the Captain of 70 guns, one of the fleet under Sir John Norris [q. v.] during the early months of 1744, and afterwards under Sir John Balchen [q. v.] in his last fatal cruise to the coast of Portugal. In January 1744-5 the Captain and three other ships of the line, under the command of Griffin, as senior officer, were cruising broad off Ushant, when, on the 6th, they sighted three French ships, which they chased. These were two ships of the line, homeward bound from the West Indies, and the Mars, a small English privateer, which they had captured two or three days before. On being chased, the Mars bore up, and was followed by the Captain, which captured her and took her to England. The other ships not only did not capture, but did not engage the Frenchmen [see Brett, John; Mostyn, Savage]; and the question naturally arose how it was that the senior officer, in one of the largest ships of the squadron, turned aside to chase and capture the comparatively insignificant privateer. Griffin alleged that when he bore away he believed that the Mars was a man-of-war, and that the two larger ships were merchantmen. The statement could not fail to excite hostile criticism, for the Captain was at the time the leading ship and nearest to the enemy, and on board the other ships no one doubted that the two large Frenchmen were ships of the line. The popular outcry was very great, and it was demanded that Griffin's conduct should be strictly inquired into; but the admiralty was pleased to consider his explanation sufficient, and he continued through the year in command of the Captain, cruising with some success against the enemy's privateers in the Channel. On the news of Commodore Barnett's death in the East Indies [see Barnett, Curtis] Griffin was ordered to go out to fill the vacancy, and hoisted a broad pennant in the Princess Mary of 60 guns, in which he arrived off the mouth of the Ganges in December 1746. One of his first measures on superseding Captain Edward Peyton [q. v.], who, as senior officer, had acted as commander-in-chief since Barnett's death, was to place him under close arrest, and send him a prisoner to England, charged with gross misconduct. A couple of months afterwards; he went, down to Fort St. Davids, where, and at Trincomalee, he remained for the next two years, during which time he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the red on 5 July 1747, and vice-admiral of the blue on 12 May 1748. In July 1748 he was relieved by Boscawen, and, after refitting at Trincomalee, sailed for England on 17 Jan. 1748-9. At that time the admiralty had expressed perfect satisfaction with his conduct, but on the arrival of the Exeter in England in April 1750, her captain, Powlett [see Powlett, Henry, Duke of Bolton], preferred against him several charges of misconduct and neglect of duty, and especially with having let slip an opportunity on 10 June 1748, while lying at St. Davids, of bringing to action a French squadron which appeared in the offing. On these charges Griffin was tried by court-martial on 5-7 Dec. 1750, was found guilty of negligence, and sentenced to be suspended from his rank and employment as a flag-officer during the king's pleasure (Minutes of the Court-martial). His interest was sufficient to have this sentence favourably brought before the king in council on 24 Jan. 1752, when he was reinstated in his rank (Gent. Mag. 1752, xx. 41). Charnock states that to this restoration was added a limiting clause that he should not be advanced to any higher rank, but that his services to the ministry as member of parliament for Arundel (1754-61) obtained a remission of this limitation. The story, however, is not supported by any evidence. Several months after his own reinstatement Griffin, with surprising effrontery, preferred charges of misconduct against Captain Powlett. One of these charges was ‘that he did not permit every officer to possess the cabin allotted to him by the custom of the navy.’ The charges made under the circumstances, and after the lapse of more than four years, were so evidently the outcome of malice that it is astonishing the admiralty entertained them. A court-martial was, however, ordered and assembled on 1 Sept. 1752, when, Griffin having no witnesses, Powlett was at once acquitted.

Griffin's conduct in neglecting to engage the enemy on two occasions left a stain on his reputation which neither the favourable judgment of the admiralty, nor the clemency of the king in council, has cleared away. There were other grounds for his unpopularity in the service. He seems to have endeavoured to atone for his shyness before the enemy by overbearing treatment of his subordinates, and, notwithstanding the restoration of his rank, the admiralty exercised a wise discretion in never employing him again. He rose, however, in due course, through the several grades, and was admiral of the white at his death in 1771. He had for several years previously retired to Wales, where he lived wholly secluded from public affairs.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. iv. 224; Bentson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; An Enquiry into the Conduct of Captain Mostyn, being Remarks on the Minutes of the Court-martial and other incidental matters, by a Sea Officer (1745); Narrative of the Transactions of the British Squadrons in the East Indies during the Late War … by an Officer who served in those Squadrons (1751); official letters and other documents in the Public Record Office. The minutes of the court-martial were published by Griffin in 1751, together with ‘Mr. Griffin's Appeal to the Right Hon. the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty … against the Sentence passed on him at a Court-martial,’ &c. There are some interesting letters to Anson in Addit. MS. 15955, ff. 280-308, in one of which he alludes to his w—e, which may presumably mean his wife.]

J. K. L.