Open main menu


HOLBURNE, FRANCIS (1704–1771), admiral, second son of Sir James Holburne of Menstrie, co. Edinburgh, first baronet, entered the navy in 1720 as a volunteer on board the St. Albans; passed his examination on 28 Jan. 1725–6; on 12 Dec. 1727 was promoted to be lieutenant, and took post from 14 July 1739. In 1740 he commanded the Dolphin frigate in the Channel and North Sea. In 1745–6 he commanded the Argyle in the West Indies, and in December 1747 was appointed to the Kent in the Channel and the Bay of Biscay. In September 1748 he exchanged into the Bristol, but was almost immediately afterwards moved into the Tavistock, a worn-out 50-gun ship, in which he was sent to the Leeward Islands as commodore and commander-in-chief. His principal work was diplomatic rather than naval. By the terms of the treaty of 1684 Tobago was neutralised; but early in 1749 it came to Holburne's knowledge that M. de Caylus, the governor of Martinique, had established a fortified post there. As his whole squadron consisted of one rotten ship of 50 guns and two equally rotten 20-gun frigates, it was impossible for him to prevent this by force. He knew that de Caylus, who was a naval officer, was aware of this; but upon Holburne's remonstrances the fortifications were dismantled and the garrison withdrawn. Holburne returned to England in 1752. On 5 Feb. 1755 he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue, and in the following May, with his flag in the Terrible, he sailed with a strong squadron to reinforce Boscawen, whom he met off Louisbourg on 21 June, and with whom he returned to England in November [see Boscawen, Edward, 1711–1761]. In 1756, with his flag still in the Terrible, he commanded in the third post in the fleet under Hawke or Boscawen off Brest and in the Bay of Biscay, and in the following January sat as a member of the court-martial on Admiral Byng. On 24 Feb. 1757 he was promoted to be vice-admiral of the blue, and after many delays sailed from Cork on 7 May with a fleet of ships of war and transports intended for the reduction of Louisbourg, which had been restored to the French by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. It was not, however, till 9 July that the expedition reached Halifax; the French had taken advantage of the delay to strengthen the garrison and collect a numerous fleet, and Holburne, in consultation with the general, the Earl of Loudoun, decided that nothing could be done without more force. As the season, however, wore on, he determined to parade his fleet before Louisbourg, possibly in the hope that the French would accept his challenge. Their effective strength, however, was terribly reduced by a pestilence, and they remained in port; but while Holburne waited on the coast his fleet was caught on the night of 24 Sept. by a violent storm, which drove some of the ships on shore, and wholly or in part dismasted almost all. After such refit as was possible Holburne returned to England, where he arrived in the beginning of December. A few days later he was appointed to the command in chief at Portsmouth, a charge which he held, either continuously or more probably with a break, for the very unusual term of eight years, the latter part of the time being enlivened by a curious inquiry into an alleged plot in November 1764 to set fire to all the dockyards. The several commanders-in-chief and resident commissioners were ordered to investigate the matter; but this was done with the utmost secrecy, and the report cannot now be found. On 5 Aug. 1767 Holburne attained the rank of admiral of the blue, and of admiral of the white on 28 Oct. 1770; about the same time he was appointed rear-admiral of Great Britain. He was one of the lords of the admiralty from February 1770 to January 1771, when he accepted the post of governor of Greenwich Hospital, in which he died 15 July 1771.

Holburne married at Barbadoes the widow of Edward Lascelles, collector of the island, and by her had one son, Francis, who in 1772, on the death of his cousin, Sir Alexander, the third baronet, and a captain in the navy, succeeded to the baronetcy. A portrait of Admiral Holburne, with his son as a little boy, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. v. 33; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; Entick's Hist. of the late War; official correspondence in the Public Record Office; Troude, Batailles Navales de la France, i. 340.]

J. K. L.