Open main menu


HAMILTON, Sir EDWARD (1772–1851), admiral, younger brother of Admiral Sir Charles Hamilton [q. v.], was born on 12 March 1772, and is said to have served actually on board the Hector with his father in the West Indies from 1779 to 1781. He was then sent to school at Guildford, and in 1787 re-entered the navy on board the Standard with Captain Chamberlayne. On 9 June 1793 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Dido with his brother, and in 1794 was personally engaged at the siege of Bastia and the reduction of the Girolata fort. In July 1794 he was appointed to the Victory, then carrying the flag of Lord Hood in the Mediterranean, and continued in her, with Rear-admiral Man, and afterwards with Sir John Jervis, till promoted to command the Comet fireship, 11 Feb. 1796, in which he was shortly afterwards sent to the West Indies. On 3 June 1797 he was advanced to post rank and appointed to the Surprise, a small frigate, formerly the French corvette Unité. In her he was employed on convoy service to Newfoundland, and in July 1798 to Jamaica, where he was placed under the orders of Sir Hyde Parker, and is said during the next eighteen months to have taken or destroyed upwards of eighty of the enemy's privateers, armed vessels, and merchant ships, the net proceeds of which, counting only those brought in, amounted to 200,000l. In October 1799 he was sent off Puerto Cabello to look out for the Spanish frigate Hermione, expected shortly to sail from that port. The Hermione had been a British frigate, but on 22 Sept. 1797 had been seized by her crew, who, after murdering their officers, had taken the ship into La Guayra. There they handed her over to the Spaniards, who fitted her out with forty-four guns and a complement of nearly four hundred men. A large proportion of the mutineers had been since captured and hanged, but every officer on the station felt that the presence of the Hermione under the Spanish flag was an insult to the navy and to England. The Surprise anchored off Puerto Cabello on 21 Oct., and finding the Hermione moored inside, with no apparent intention of stirring, while the Surprise's provisions were running low, Hamilton resolved to cut her out. The ship was moored head and stern between two large batteries, commanding the entrance of the port, and mounting some two hundred guns. After two days spent in examining the position, on the evening of the 24th Hamilton announced his intention to the ship's company. It was received with the utmost enthusiasm; the boats were armed and left the ship a little before midnight, carrying about one hundred men. On their way they were discovered by the Hermione's launch, rowing guard a mile in front of the ship. She was beaten back, but the noise of the conflict gave the alarm both to the Hermione and batteries. The Spaniards went to quarters and opened a warm but random fire in the direction of the boats, in the midst of which the first boat, containing Hamilton himself, the gunner, and some ten men, pushed alongside and boarded. They were for several minutes unsupported on the Hermione's quarter-deck, but the other boats coming up, the Spaniards, after a fierce struggle, were beaten below; the cables were cut, sail made, and the ship towed out of the harbour, the batteries opening their fire on her as she passed out, regardless of the fate of their own men. The loss of the Spaniards was 119 killed and 97 wounded; of the English only twelve men wounded, which is the more extraordinary as the ship was not taken by surprise. Hamilton himself, however, was severely wounded. The stock of a musket had been broken over his head, he had various flesh wounds in both legs, and a severe contusion of the loins, the effects of which he felt through the rest of his life. But the feat of arms was unsurpassed in the annals of the navy. The king conferred on him the honour of knighthood by letters patent, as well as the naval gold medal; the Jamaica House of Assembly voted him a sword of the value of three hundred guineas, and the city of London conferred on him the freedom of the city in a gold box, which was delivered to him in person at a public dinner at the Mansion House on 25 Oct. 1800, the anniversary of his brilliant exploit. Returning home in the Jamaica packet in April 1800 for the re-establishment of his health, Hamilton was captured by a French privateer and taken to France. At Paris he is said, on what seems doubtful authority, to have been personally examined by Bonaparte; he was at any rate exchanged very shortly afterwards, and on his return to England was appointed to the Trent of 36 guns (23 Oct.) He refused a pension of 300l. a year offered by the admiralty in consideration of his wounds, thinking it would be made an excuse for not employing him again. During the year 1801 he was actively engaged in the blockade of the northern coast of France; but on 22 Jan. 1802, while the ship was lying at Spithead, he was tried by court-martial for seizing up in the main rigging the gunner and his mates, who, as he alleged, had grossly disobeyed his orders. It would seem not improbable that the terrible blow on the head received in cutting out the Hermione had to some extent affected his brain; but the evidence was clear that the offence of the men was trivial, and their punishment excessive and illegal. Hamilton was accordingly dismissed the service, but was specially reinstated in the following June. In June 1806 he was appointed to the royal yacht Mary, which, and afterwards the Prince Regent, he commanded till 1819. On 2 Jan. 1815 he was nominated a K.C.B., and was created a baronet on 20 Oct. 1818. He became rear-admiral on 19 July 1821, vice-admiral 10 Jan. 1837, admiral 9 Nov. 1846, and died in London 21 March 1851.

Hamilton married in 1804 Frances, daughter of John Macnamara of Llangoed Castle, Brecon, by whom he had issue two sons and two daughters. His eldest son, John James Edward, having died in 1847, he was succeeded in the baronetage by his grandson, Edward Archibald.

[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. ii. (vol. i. pt. ii.) 821, and xii. (vol. iv. pt. ii.) 430; O'Byrne's Nav. Biog. Dict.; Naval Chronicle, v. 1 (with an engraved portrait), and vii. 164, 531; United Service Mag. 1851, pt. i. p. 648; Ralfe's Nav. Biog. iv. 132; James's Naval Hist.; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage.]

J. K. L.