Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Locker, William

LOCKER, WILLIAM (1731–1800), captain in the navy, second son of John Locker [q. v.], was born in the official residence attached to the Leathersellers' Hall in February 1730–1. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, and entered the navy in 1746 as ‘captain's servant’ (equivalent to the modern rank of naval cadet) on board the Kent, with his kinsman Captain Charles Windham. In 1747 he went out to the West Indies in the Vainqueur sloop with Captain Kirk, whom he followed to the Vulture; from her he was moved into the Cornwall, the flagship of Rear-admiral Charles Knowles [q. v.], in which he was present at the reduction of Port Louis. In June 1748 Kirk was posted to the Elizabeth, and Locker, rejoining him, returned to England. At the peace he entered the service of the East India Company, and made two or more voyages to India and China; but on the prospect of war in 1755 he rejoined the navy as master's mate of the St. George, the flagship of Sir Edward Hawke [q. v.] during the autumn. He passed his examination on 7 Jan. 1756; and in June, when Hawke went out to the Mediterranean in the Antelope, he took Locker with him and promoted him, on 4 July, to be lieutenant of the Experiment of 20 guns and 160 men, with Captain John Strachan [q. v.]

In January 1757 Jervis, then a lieutenant of the Culloden, was appointed to the temporary command of the Experiment during Strachan's illness, and thus for two important months was Locker's shipmate [see Jervis, John, Earl of St. Vincent]. After an indecisive engagement with a large French privateer on 16 March, Jervis returned to the Culloden, and the Experiment was again commanded by Strachan, when, off Alicante on 8 July, she captured the Télémaque, a privateer of 20 guns and 460 men. Confiding in this enormous superiority in men, the Télémaque endeavoured to lay the Experiment on board, and, after two attempts, partially succeeded, but ‘they could enter their men only from their forecastle.’ Only a few were thus able to get on board, and these were immediately killed; meantime ‘our great guns,’ as Locker wrote to his father, ‘which we kept constantly plying, loaded with round and grape, killed such numbers that most of them left their quarters; and Captain Strachan, observing that the officers endeavoured to rally their men … ordered me to take the men and enter her; which they no sooner saw than they all, or best part of them, got off the deck as fast as they could. We had only two or three men wounded in boarding.’ The result of this remarkable action was the loss to the Télémaque of 235 men killed and wounded, while the Experiment lost only forty-eight. Locker himself had a wound in the leg. At the moment he thought little of it; but he never completely recovered from its effects.

In December 1758 Locker was moved, with Strachan, to the Sapphire of 32 guns, which was attached to the fleet off Brest through the summer and autumn of 1759, and was present at the defeat of the French in Quiberon Bay on 20 Nov. In March 1760 he was taken by Hawke into his flagship, the Royal George, and, moving up in rotation, became first lieutenant in July 1761; on 7 April 1762 he was promoted to the command of the Roman Emperor fireship. His son has recorded that ‘he always regarded this period as the happiest of his services. He was received into the personal friendship of his admiral, and profiting by his advice and experience, he matured much of that professional knowledge which he had previously gained’ (Lives of Distinguished Naval Commanders).

In 1763 Locker was appointed to the Nautilus sloop and sent out to Goree to withdraw the garrison on the place being restored to the French. The Nautilus afterwards went on to the West Indies, was employed for three years in the Gulf of Mexico and on the coast of North America, and was paid off in 1766. On 26 May 1768 Locker was advanced to post rank. From 1770 to 1773 he commanded the Thames frigate on the home station, and in 1777 commissioned the Lowestoft for the West Indies. Horatio Nelson, then just promoted, was at the same time appointed one of the Lowestoft's lieutenants, and remained with Locker for about fifteen months; he was at this time barely nineteen, and the stamp of Locker's teaching and of his experience of Hawke was deeply impressed on his young mind. More than twenty years afterwards (9 Feb. 1799) he wrote to Locker: ‘I have been your scholar; it is you who taught me to board a Frenchman by your conduct when in the Experiment; it is you who always told me “Lay a Frenchman close and you will beat him;” and my only merit in my profession is being a good scholar. Our friendship will never end but with my life, but you have always been too partial to me’ (autograph in the possession of Mr. F. Locker-Lampson; Nicolas, iii. 260).

In 1779 Locker's health gave way and he was compelled to invalid, nor was he able to undertake any further active employment. In 1787, on the prospect of war with France, he was appointed to regulate the impress service at Exeter; in the armament of 1790 he commanded the Cambridge as flag-captain to Vice-admiral Thomas (afterwards Lord) Graves, then commander-in-chief at Plymouth; and in 1792 he was for a short time commodore and commander-in-chief at the Nore. On 15 Feb. 1793 he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Greenwich Hospital, where he died 26 Dec. 1800.

Much of the interest attaching to Locker is as the teacher, friend, and correspondent of Nelson. During his later years he compiled materials for a naval history. These took for the most part the form of biographical anecdotes, which, although often incorrect in detail, are generally true in substance and in spirit. He was much assisted by Admiral John Forbes [q. v.], who, though for many years confined to his chair, ‘retained an extent of information and an accuracy of memory regarding naval affairs beyond any officer of his time’ (E. H. Locker). Locker had, however, no literary experience, and probably shrank from the labour of reducing his accumulated stores to form. He handed them over to John Charnock [q. v.], who translated so much of them as suited his purpose into the ‘genteel’ verbiage of the ‘Biographia Navalis.’ It was also at Locker's suggestion, and with the assistance derived from him beforehand, that five years after his death Charnock undertook and wrote his ‘Life of Nelson.’ In both works the principal value is derived from the contributions of Locker.

In 1770 he married Lucy, the daughter of Admiral William Parry, and granddaughter of Commodore Charles Brown [q. v.] Mrs. Locker died in 1780, leaving two daughters and three sons, the youngest of whom, Edward Hawke Locker [q. v.], is separately noticed. A portrait of Locker, by Gabriel Stuart, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich; another, by Abbott, belonged to Mr. F. Locker-Lampson.

[Information from Mr. F. Locker-Lampson; official documents in the Public Record Office; biographical sketch by E. H. Locker in the Plain Englishman, iii. 560 (reprinted in Knight's Half-Hours with the Best Authors, vol. i.); E. H. Locker's Lives of Distinguished Naval Commanders; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, v. 373; Literary Life of Benjamin Stillingfleet, i. 177; Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, freq.]

J. K. L.