Open main menu


HOPSONN, Sir THOMAS (1642–1717), vice-admiral, of a family settled at Lingwood (or Ningwood) in the Isle of Wight since the time of Henry VIII (Worsley, Hist. of the Isle of Wight, p. 260), was born there in 1642 (Brayley, Hist. of Surrey, ii. 396), and seems to have entered the navy in 1662 (ib.) The tradition that he was a tailor's apprentice at Bonchurch, and ran away to sea to take part in an engagement with a French ship, rests on no historical foundation (Naval Chron. iii. 111; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 172). The first official mention of him that can now be traced is in 1672, when he was appointed second lieutenant of the Dreadnought, in which he was probably present in the battle of Solebay on 28 May 1672, and in the actions of 1673. On 10 Dec. 1676 he was appointed first lieutenant of the Dragon with Sir Roger Strickland [q. v.] in the Mediterranean; on 5 Nov. 1677 he was moved with Strickland into the Centurion, then fitting out; and on 10 Dec., still with Strickland, was turned over to the Mary. In her he again went to the Mediterranean, where he was appointed by Vice-admiral Herbert to the command of the Tiger Prize on 21 March 1677–8, from which date he took post. On 10 Jan. 1681–2 he was appointed to the Swan, and on 18 May 1688 to the Bonadventure, one of the ships ordered to the Nore under Sir Roger Strickland on the expectation of the Dutch invasion. Hopsonn does not seem to have taken any part in the revolution, but to have readily accepted it when accomplished. He was afterwards appointed to the York, of 60 guns, which he commanded in the battle of Beachy Head, 30 June 1690, in the rear division of the red squadron, under the immediate orders of Sir George Rooke [q. v.], who is said to have formed a high opinion of his gallantry, and from that time to have selected him as his associate. In the battle of Barfleur, 19 May 1692, Hopsonn commanded the St. Michael, the second ahead of the Neptune, carrying Rooke's flag, still as rear-admiral of the red. During the early months of 1693 he was senior officer in the Medway. In May he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue, and with his flag in the Breda joined Rooke as second in command of the squadron which sailed in the end of the month in convoy of the trade for the Mediterranean, and which was scattered by Tourville off Cape St. Vincent on 18 June. On his return to England Hopsonn hoisted his flag on board the Russell as vice-admiral of the blue in the squadron going to the Mediterranean under Sir Francis Wheler [q. v.], whom he left at Cadiz in the early days of February 1693–4, coming back with the homeward trade. In August 1694 he commanded the squadron off Dunkirk, and again, in September 1695, on the coast of France. In 1699 he commanded a squadron of observation in the channel, and in June 1701 convoyed the troops to Ireland under the immediate orders of the king.

On 28 Jan. 1701–2 he was promoted to be vice-admiral of the white, and authorised to wear the union flag at the fore, as second in command, under Rooke, of the expedition against Cadiz, which sailed from Portsmouth on 19 June 1702. After failing at Cadiz, Rooke resolved to attack the French-Spanish fleet at Vigo. This was done on 12 Oct. The allies had protected themselves by a boom of masts and cables frapped together to the thickness of nine feet, buoyed up in its length by empty casks, moored with anchors at its extremities, and flanked by two of their largest ships. Against this formidable obstacle Hopsonn in the Torbay, an 80-gun ship, was directed to lead in; and with a fresh, fair breeze and a press of sail he broke through it, leaving a clear passage for the rest of the squadron. The action soon became general. The Torbay was set on fire by a fireship, but happily escaped, partly by ‘the diligence of the officers and men,’ but still more by the extraordinary accident of the fireship having on board a large quantity of snuff, the blast of which as she blew up extinguished the flames. The Torbay had, however, sustained so much damage that Hopsonn shifted his flag to the Monmouth; but the victory was already won, and the French were busy setting fire to their own ships. Hopsonn's brilliant service was rewarded, on his return to England, with knighthood, 29 Nov. 1702, and a pension of 500l. a year, with a reversion of 300l. to his wife if she survived him. It is stated in the inscription on his monument in Weybridge Church that Vigo ‘was the last of forty-two engagements he had been in, in some of which he received many honourable wounds for the service of his country. Towards the latter end of his days he chose this place [sc. Weybridge] for the retreat and repose of his old age, where he died in peace 12 October 1717, aged 75’ (Brayley, ii. 396). He represented Newtown, Isle of Wight, in parliament from 1698 to 1705, and in the return of 1700 is described as ‘of Weybridge in the county of Surrey.’ There is a fine portrait by Michael Dahl in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, the gift of George IV.

Hopsonn's wife, Elizabeth, survived him, and was named his executor jointly with Sir John Jennings [q. v.], Captain Edward Hopsonn, both ‘of Weybridge,’ and Brigadier William Watkins ‘of Walton-upon-Thames.’ The will, dated 4 Jan. 1716–17 (proved 7 Nov. 1717), mentions a son James, and two daughters, Grace and Martha, all minors; ‘my grandson, George Watkins (a minor), son of my late daughter, Mary Watkins;’ and a living daughter, Elizabeth, wife of John Goodall.

It is suggested by Charnock (Biog. Nav. iii. 128) that the Edward Hopsonn (d. 1728) named as an executor, and who in later life wrote his name Hopson, was a brother of Sir Thomas. Neither of their wills gives any support to this supposition, which the great difference in their age seems to contradict. Edward Hopsonn is first mentioned as lieutenant of the Breda in 1693, took post from 24 July 1696, and died vice-admiral in command of the West Indian station on 8 May 1728. His will, dated 13 April 1720 (proved 27 July 1728), mentions his wife Jane and one son, Edward, a minor; his mother, still living; and a sister, Jane, widow of Richard Downer, deceased, in the Isle of Wight.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. ii. 50; commissions and appointments in the Public Record Office; will at Somerset House; Burchett's Transactions at Sea; Lediard's Naval History; Memoirs relating to the Lord Torrington (Camden Soc.), p. 93.]

J. K. L.