Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thompson, Edward
THOMPSON, EDWARD (1738?–1786), commodore and author, son of a merchant of Hull, received his early education at Beverley and afterwards at Hampstead under Dr. Cox, formerly of Harrow. He is said to have made a voyage to Greenland in 1750. In 1754 he entered on board an East Indiaman and made a voyage to the East Indies. On his return to England he entered on board the Stirling Castle, a 64-gun-ship, being rated midshipman. Two years later, on 16 Nov. 1757, he passed his examination and was promoted to be lieutenant of the Jason, in the North Sea and the Channel; ten days later, in December 1758, he was moved into the Dorsetshire with Captain Peter Denis [q. v.], and in her shared in the long blockade of Brest through the summer of 1759, and in the battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 Nov. In March 1760 he accompanied Denis to the Bellona, in which he stayed till the end of the war. He was then put on half-pay.
He had already shown some turn for literature, and during the next few years devoted himself wholly to it. His amusing satire ‘The Meretriciad’ (1755?), in which he celebrates the charms of ‘Kitty’ Fisher and some of her associates, reached a sixth edition in 1765. It was followed by the ‘Demi-Rep’ (1756), by the ‘Courtesan,’ and by several other ‘Meretricious Miscellanies,’ as the author called them. None of these works bore the author's name. They were collected in 1770 under the collective title of ‘The Court of Cupid.’ In the previous year he had issued his boisterous ode entitled ‘Trinculo's Trip to the [Stratford] Jubilee.’ That he was not very judicious in his choice of friends is shown by his dedication of it to ‘John Hall’ [Stevenson, q. v.], to whom he expressed anxiety to ‘laugh to the last like Aretin.’
Of greater interest was his ‘Sailor's Letters, written to his Select Friends in England during his Voyages and Travels in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, from the year 1754 to 1759’ (2 vols. 12mo, 1767), which depicts the social life of the navy, as well as giving a graphic account of the battle of Quiberon Bay.
In 1771, through the influence, it is said, of Garrick, he was promoted to the rank of commander and appointed to the Kingfisher, a small vessel employed in the North Sea on preventive service. At the end of the year he was moved into the Raven, in which he went out to the Mediterranean, where Sir Peter Denis, the commander-in-chief, promoted him to be captain of the Niger by a commission that was confirmed by the admiralty and dated 2 April 1772. In June he brought the Niger home and was again for some years on half-pay. In 1773 he altered from the old play of Charles Shadwell [q. v.] ‘The Fair Quaker: or the Humours of the Navy,’ which was produced at Drury Lane on 11 Nov. 1773 and printed within the year. Miss Pope played the title rôle and the revival was a success (Genest, v. 398). It still possesses a certain interest as bearing upon contemporary naval life. In 1775 he published ‘The Case and Distressed Situation of the Widows of the Officers of the Navy,’ dated from ‘St. James's Street,’ and in the following year his two-act masque called ‘The Syrens,’ which was given at Covent Garden, and printed during 1776. The dedication, to Mrs. Vaughan, is dated from Kew.
In May 1778 Thompson was appointed to the Hyæna, a small frigate, which early in 1779 he took out to the West Indies, returning to England with convoy in September. In December the Hyæna was attached to the fleet which under Sir George Brydges Rodney (afterwards Lord Rodney) [q. v.] relieved Gibraltar, and was sent home with despatches. In August 1780 she went out to New York in charge of convoy, and from there to Charlestown and Barbados. On 29 March 1781 Thompson wrote from Barbados, ‘I am now, by command of the admiral, going to take Berbice and establish the colonies of Demerara and Essequibo according to capitulation.’
On this service he continued during the greater part of the year, organising the government of the colonies and taking such measures for their defence as were possible with very inadequate resources. Rodney had returned to England; Sir Samuel Hood (afterwards Lord Hood) [q. v.], whom he left in command, had gone to New York, and in November, Thompson, at the very urgent request of the merchants, convoyed their trade to Barbados. Finding that there was no provision for convoying it thence to Europe, he took on himself the responsibility of doing it, and after calling at St. Kitts and vainly endeavouring to persuade the commanding officer of the troops to co-operate with him in an attempt to recover St. Eustatius, he sailed for England, where he arrived in the end of January 1782. Unfortunately, in his absence, the Guiana colonies were captured by a small French squadron; and on 1 April Thompson was tried by court-martial on the charge of having left his station and returned to England without orders. The court, however, pronounced what he had done to be ‘necessary, judicious, and highly meritorious,’ and honourably acquitted him. In the following year he was appointed to the Grampus of 50 guns, in which he went out to the west coast of Africa as commodore of the small squadron there. In 1784 he visited Charles Murray, the British consul at Madeira, and while there wrote his ‘nautic poem’ entitled ‘Bello Monte,’ in which he describes the discovery of the island. He died, unmarried, on board the Grampus on 17 Jan. 1786. His portrait was engraved by A. McKenzie (Bromley, p. 381).
Thompson edited ‘The Works of Oldham’ (3 vols. 8vo, 1771); of Andrew Marvell (3 vols. 4to, 1776); and of Paul Whitehead (1777, 4to). His poems, which procured for him in the navy the distinguishing name of Poet Thompson, have been long since deservedly forgotten; but some of his sea songs still find their way into naval song-books, notably ‘Loose every Sail to the Breeze,’ and ‘The Topsail shivers in the Wind.’
[Brydges's Censura Literaria, iv. 307; Official letters, &c., in the Public Record Office, where the minutes of the court-martial are unfortunately missing; Thompson's Sailor's Letters; Brit. Mus. Cat.]