Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thornbrough, Edward
THORNBROUGH, Sir EDWARD (1754–1834), admiral, son of Commander Edward Thornbrough (d. 1784), was born at Plymouth Dock on 27 July 1754, and went to sea in 1761 as servant to his father, then first lieutenant of the Arrogant of 74 guns, in the Mediterranean. In her he continued for two years, and for the next five was borne on the books of the Firm guardship at Plymouth, during which time he was presumably at school. In 1768 his name was put on the books of the Téméraire, also a guardship, though in 1770 she went out to Gibraltar. In 1771 he was similarly borne on the books of the Albion at Spithead. In April 1771 he joined the Captain going out to North America with the flag of Rear-admiral John Montagu [q. v.], the boy's father being her second lieutenant. On 15 April 1773 he was promoted by Montagu to be lieutenant of the Cruizer, and in September was moved back to the Captain, which was paid off in August 1774. In October he was appointed to the Falcon sloop, in which he again went out to North America. The Falcon was one of the ships that covered the attack on Bunker's Hill on 17 June 1775. On 8 Aug., while endeavouring to bring off a schooner that the Falcon had driven on shore, several of the party were killed, and Thornbrough, with many others, was wounded. He was sent home, invalided; and in March 1776 he joined the Richmond frigate, again on the North American station, in which he continued till she was paid off in July 1779. In September Thornbrough joined the guardship in the Downs; in April 1780 he was appointed to the Flora with Captain William Peere Williams (afterwards Freeman) [q. v.], and was her first lieutenant when she captured the French frigate Nymphe off Ushant on 10 Aug. 1780.
For this action Thornbrough was promoted, 14 Sept. 1780, to command the Britannia, a small hired ship employed in the protection of trade in the North Sea and in convoy service to North America. On 24 Sept. 1781 he was posted by Rear-admiral Thomas Graves (afterwards Lord Graves) [q. v.] to the Blonde frigate, which in July 1782 was wrecked near Seal Island, on her way from before Boston to Halifax with a prize laden with naval stores. Thornbrough, with the crew, escaped with difficulty to an uninhabited islet, where, after two days of great distress, they were rescued by an American cruiser. As a return for the generous treatment which Thornbrough had previously shown to some prisoners, he and his people were now landed on the coast of Nova Scotia. A court-martial acquitted him of all blame for the loss of the frigate, and in January 1783 he was appointed to the Egmont, commissioned for the East Indies, but paid off at the peace. A few months later he commissioned the Hebe, which he commanded on the home station for six years, during part of which time Commodore John Leveson Gower [q. v.] hoisted his broad pennant on board, and Prince William Henry (afterwards William IV) served as one of her lieutenants. The Hebe was paid off in October 1789, and in July 1790 Thornbrough was appointed to the Scipio, one of the ships commissioned on account of the difference with Spain, and paid off in December, when that dispute was settled.
On 21 Dec. 1792 Thornbrough joined the Latona frigate, which was commissioned in anticipation of the war with France, and during 1793–4 was attached to the Channel fleet under the command of Lord Howe. For the spirited way in which, on 18 Nov. 1793, she approached a French squadron and endeavoured to delay it till the line-of-battle ships could get up, Thornbrough was publicly commended by a letter from the admiralty, ordered to be read to all the ships' companies; and in the battle on 1 June 1794, being stationed abreast the centre of the line to repeat the admiral's signals, she was taken into the thick of the fight to assist the Bellerophon when hard pressed by the enemy (James, i. 171). A few weeks after the battle Thornbrough was appointed to the Robust of 74 guns in the Channel, and especially attached to the squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren [q. v.] through the summer of 1795, and in the unfortunate expedition to Quiberon in co-operation with the French royalists. For the next three years the Robust continued one of the Channel fleet, but in the autumn of 1798 Thornbrough was again detached under Warren to the coast of Ireland, and had an important share in the capture of the French squadron off Tory Island on 11 Oct., a service for which he, and all the captains, officers, and men of the squadron, received the thanks of parliament. In February 1799 he was moved into the Formidable of 98 guns, one of the squadron which in June went to the Mediterranean with Sir Charles Cotton [q. v.]
On 1 Jan. 1801 Thornbrough was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and was at the same time ordered to hoist his flag in the Mars, one of the Channel fleet then off Brest, where he remained till the peace, generally in command of the inshore squadron. From March 1803 to March 1805 he commanded in the North Sea under Lord Keith; he afterwards was for a few months captain of the fleet to Lord Gardner, and in July hoisted his flag on board the Kent, in which in October he was ordered to join Nelson off Cadiz. The news of Trafalgar prevented his sailing, and on 9 Nov. he was promoted to be vice-admiral and hoisted his flag in command of a detached squadron in the Bay of Biscay and afterwards in the Channel, till in October 1806 he was obliged by ill-health to go on shore. By the following February he was again afloat, and, with his flag in the Royal Sovereign, joined Collingwood in the Mediterranean [see Collingwood, Cuthbert, Lord], where he remained for nearly three years, when, in December 1809, the state of his health again obliged him to resign his command. From August 1810 to November 1813 he was commander-in-chief on the coast of Ireland. On 4 Dec. 1813 he became admiral. On 2 Jan. 1815 he was nominated K.C.B., and from 1815 to 1818 he was commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. He was made G.C.B. on 11 Jan. 1825, vice-admiral of the United Kingdom on 10 Jan. 1833, and died at his residence at Bishop's Teignton on 3 April 1834. He was three times married, and left issue. His son, Edward Lecras Thornbrough, died a rear-admiral in 1857.
Thornbrough's career is remarkable for the very exceptional and continuous nature of his sea service. From 1761 to 1818—a period of nearly sixty years—he was only twice unemployed for more than a year, once after the Spanish armament of 1790, and again at the end of the war, after his Irish command. This exclusive devotion to his profession implied both the excellence and the limitations of his ability. ‘As a practical seaman,’ wrote Sir William Hotham [q. v.], ‘he had very few rivals and certainly no superior; and this knowledge of a seaman's duty extended to the managing of a fleet, which he did better than any man I ever served with. … Having been sent to sea very early in life, his knowledge was principally confined to his profession. This was one reason, perhaps, why he did not succeed Lord Collingwood in the Mediterranean command, where a great deal is required beyond the knowledge of a seaman. He is a remarkably powerful man with a pleasing countenance; and at seventy-three has scarcely the appearance of more than fifty.’
[Service-book, official letters, and other documents in the Public Record Office; Ralfe's Nav. Biogr. ii. 357; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biogr. i. 165; United Service Journal, 1834, ii. 204; Gent. Mag. 1834, ii. 209; James's Naval History.]