Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fremantle, Thomas Francis

FREMANTLE, Sir THOMAS FRANCIS (1765–1819), vice-admiral, third son of John Fremantle of Aston Abbots in Buckinghamshire, was born on 20 Nov. 1765, and at the age of twelve entered the navy on board the Hussar frigate, on the coast of Portugal. Two years later he was moved into the Jupiter, and shortly afterwards into the Phœnix with Sir Hyde Parker. He was in the Phœnix when she was lost on the coast of Cuba in the hurricane of October 1780 (Beatson, Nav. and Mil. Memoirs, v. 92; Ralfe, Nav. Biog. i. 379). After this he served in many different ships on the Jamaica station, where, in March 1782, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and where he remained till December 1787. During the Spanish armament in 1790 he was again with Sir Hyde Parker, in the Brunswick, and in the following year was promoted to the command of the Spitfire sloop. At the beginning of the war in 1793 he commanded the Conflagration, and in May was promoted to be captain of the Tartar just in time to sail with Lord Hood for the Mediterranean. For the next four years, in the Tartar, Inconstant, or Seahorse, he was attached to the Mediterranean fleet, and was, in an especial degree, associated with Nelson, who formed a very high estimate of his professional character and abilities. In the Tartar he led the way into Toulon when Hood occupied it on 27 Aug. 1793, and was afterwards, in 1794, engaged under Nelson in the reduction of Bastia. In the action off Toulon on 13 March 1795 [see Hotham, William, Lord] the Inconstant took more than a frigate's part, following up the French 80-gun ship Ça-Ira and so hampering her retreat as to lead to her capture. Fremantle's conduct on this occasion won for him the very warm praise of Lord Hotham (James, i. 286; Ekins, Naval Battles, p. 222), and a perhaps still higher testimony from Sir Howard Douglas (Naval Gunnery, 2nd edit. p. 255) as to the splendid gunnery practice of his ship. The Inconstant was afterwards attached to the squadron under Nelson, on the coast of Genoa [see Nelson, Horatio, Viscount], taking part in these extended operations, and more particularly in the capture of a number of the enemy's gunboats at Languelia on 26 Aug. 1795, in the capture of the Unité corvette on 20 April 1796, in the evacuation of Leghorn on 27 June 1796 (the success of which Sir John Jervis officially attributed to Fremantle's ‘unparalleled exertions’), and in the capture of Elba on 10 July 1796. He was then sent to Algiers to arrange some matters with the dey, and to Smyrna in charge of convoy, returning in time to assist in the capture of Piombino on 7 Nov., and to be left as senior officer in those waters when Jervis drew down to Gibraltar.

The Inconstant being ordered home, Fremantle exchanged on 1 July 1797 into the Seahorse, one of the inshore squadron off Cadiz, under Nelson, and Fremantle himself was with Nelson in the barge on the 10th, the occasion on which, as Nelson afterwards wrote, ‘perhaps my personal courage was more conspicuous than at any other period of my life’ (Nicolas, i. 11). A few days later the Seahorse was one of the ships detached with Nelson to Teneriffe, where, in the attack on Santa Cruz on the morning of the 25th, Fremantle was severely wounded. On rejoining the fleet Nelson hoisted his flag on board the Seahorse for a passage to England, the wounded admiral and captain being both together taken care of by Mrs. Fremantle, who had accompanied her husband, and under her kindly nursing both were convalescent when the ship arrived at Spithead on 1 Sept. In August 1800 Fremantle was appointed to the Ganges of 74 guns, in which, in the following year, he went up the Baltic and took a full part in the battle of Copenhagen. When the war was renewed in 1803 he again had command of the Ganges in the Channel, and in May 1805 was appointed to the Neptune. In her he joined the fleet off Cadiz and shared in the glories of Trafalgar, the Neptune being the third ship in the weather line, the Téméraire alone coming between her and the Victory. After the battle Fremantle remained under the command of Collingwood till December 1806, when he returned to England, having been appointed to a seat at the admiralty. In the following March, however, he was appointed to the William and Mary yacht, in which he continued till his promotion to flag rank on 31 July 1810. A month later he was appointed to a command in the Mediterranean, and in April 1812 was sent into the Adriatic in charge of the squadron employed there. During the next two years he was engaged in a series of detached but important and curiously interesting operations, including the capture of Fiume on 3 July 1813 and of Trieste on 8 March 1814. When, shortly after this, he left the Adriatic, he was able to write: ‘Every place on the coasts of Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, and Friuli had surrendered to some part of the squadron under my orders, the number of guns taken exceeded a thousand, and between seven hundred and eight hundred vessels were taken or destroyed during my command.’ Fremantle's services were recognised not only by his own government, which nominated him a K.C.B., but also by the governments of our allies. He was made a baron of the Austrian States, a K.M.T., and K.S.F. In 1818 he was nominated a G.C.B. and appointed to the command-in-chief in the Mediterranean, but held it for little more than eighteen months, dying at Naples on 19 Dec. 1819.

Independent of his actual achievements in war, Fremantle had among his contemporaries a distinct reputation as a disciplinarian. The excellent gunnery order of his ships has been already referred to; what is even more remarkable is that in the very first years of the century, when in the Ganges, he inaugurated a system of petty courts of inquiry formally held by the officers for the examination of defaulters. He wrote of it in his note-book as having worked most satisfactorily, but added that he had felt obliged to give it up in deference to the opinion of his brother-officers. It was not till after the lapse of more than sixty years that the admiralty prescribed the somewhat similar system which remained in force for some time, till the reform of courts-martial and the abolition of flogging seemed to render it no longer necessary.

By his wife, Elizabeth daughter of Richard Wynne of Falkingham, Lincolnshire—she died 2 Nov. 1857—Fremantle had a numerous family. The eldest son, Thomas Francis, was created a baronet in 1821, in acknowledgment of his father's services, and in 1874 was raised to the peerage as Lord Cottesloe [see Supplement]. Another son, Admiral Sir Charles Howe Fremantle, G.C.B., served with distinction in the Crimean war, was afterwards commander-in-chief at Plymouth, and died in 1869.

[James's Naval History, ed. 1860; Gent. Mag. 1820, vol. xc. pt. i. p. 87; Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson (see index at end of vol. vii.); Foster's Peerage; private journals, &c., kindly communicated by Rear-admiral Hon. E. R. Fremantle, C.B.]

J. K. L.