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Hotham, William (1736-1813) (DNB00)


HOTHAM, WILLIAM, first Lord Hotham (1736–1813), admiral, third son of Sir Beaumont Hotham, bart., and descended in the direct line from Sir John Hotham (d. 1645) [q. v.], was born on 8 April 1736. He received his early education at Westminster School; in 1748 entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth, and in 1751 was appointed to the Gosport on the North American station. He afterwards served in the Advice in the West Indies, and the Swan sloop in North America, and passed his examination on 7 Aug. 1754. On 28 Jan. 1755 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the St. George, bearing the flag of Sir Edward (afterwards Lord) Hawke [q. v.], with whom he moved into the Namur, the Antelope, and Ramillies, and by whom he was promoted to the command of a 10-gun polacca. From her he was appointed to the Fortune sloop, and pending her return to port was placed in temporary command of the Syren of 20 guns, in which he fought a sharp but indecisive action with the Télémaque, a 26-gun frigate. After joining the Fortune he fell in with a large French privateer of 26 guns, which he carried by boarding. For this service he was posted to the Gibraltar frigate on 17 Aug. 1757; in November he was appointed to the Squirrel, and on 17 April 1758 to the Melampe of 36 guns, employed during the next twelve months in the North Sea. On 28 March 1759, being in company with the Southampton [see Gilchrist, James], the Melampe fell in with two French frigates of equal, or rather superior force, one of which, the Danaë, was captured after an action lasting through the night. The Melampe was afterwards attached to the grand fleet under Hawke, but was principally employed in independent cruising, though forming part, in April 1761, of the squadron engaged under Keppel in the reduction of Belle-Isle [see Keppel, Augustus, Viscount]. On 20 May 1761 Hotham was moved into the Æolus frigate, and, continuing till the end of the war on the same service, was very successful in the capture or destruction of the enemy's privateers and merchant ships.

From 1766 to 1769 Hotham commanded the Hero guardship at Plymouth, and in her, in the spring of 1769, went out to the Mediterranean, with the relief for the garrison of Minorca. From 1770 to 1773 he commanded the Resolution at Portsmouth. In 1776 he was appointed to the Preston of 50 guns, and with a commodore's broad pennant joined Lord Howe on the North American station [see Howe, Richard, Earl Howe]. In 1777, when Howe was absent on the expedition against Philadelphia, Hotham was left senior officer at New York, and, in co-operation with Sir Henry Clinton the elder [q. v.], was endeavouring to secure a passage up the Hudson when the fatal news arrived of Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga. Continuing at New York, in the following July he took part under Howe in the preparations for the defence of Sandy Hook against the expected attack of D'Estaing and in the subsequent operations off Rhode Island. After the scattering of the fleets by the storm of 12 Aug., the Preston fell in with the 80-gun ship Tonnant alone and disabled, and boldly engaged her till the arrival of some of her consorts compelled Hotham to provide for his own safety. He was then sent to the West Indies in command of a reinforcement for Barrington, under whom he had a share in the brilliant action in the Cul-de-Sac of St. Lucia on 15 Dec. 1778 [see Barrington, Samuel].

During the summer of 1779 Hotham was stationed at Barbadoes, and early in 1780 moved his broad pennant to the Vengeance of 74 guns, in which he assisted in the several rencounters with the French fleet on 17 April, 15 and 19 May [see Rodney, George Brydges, Lord]. When Rodney afterwards proceeded to the coast of North America, Hotham was left senior officer at the Leeward Islands, and was in Port Castries of St. Lucia during the hurricane of 10–12 Oct. The Vengeance was blown from her anchors and tailed on to the rocks, but by cutting away her masts and throwing her after guns overboard, she got off, and, the wind happily veering, escaped without further damage. It was, however, found necessary for her to go to England, and in the following spring Hotham was sent home in charge of the convoy from St. Eustatius. Of the departure and the wealth of this convoy the French had fairly accurate information, and despatched a squadron of eight ships of the line besides frigates, under the command of M. de la Motte Picquet, to waylay it on its approach to the Channel. In this they fully succeeded. Every available English ship had gone with Darby to the relief of Gibraltar [see Darby, George], and on 2 May La Motte Picquet fell in with the convoy some twenty leagues to the west of the Scilly Islands. Hotham, whose force consisted of two ships of the line and three frigates, was powerless. He signalled the merchantmen to disperse and make the best of their way independently, and for the men-of-war to close with the Vengeance. The French, however, avoided the battle-ships and gave chase to the richly laden merchantmen, many of which they captured. The remainder got into Bearhaven, where they were joined by the commodore.

In 1782 Hotham, again as commodore, commanded the Edgar in the grand fleet under Howe at the relief of Gibraltar and the rencounter with the allies off Cape Spartel. On 24 Sept. 1787 he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the red, and during the Spanish armament of 1790 hoisted his flag on board the Princess Royal. On 21 Sept. 1790 he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue, and in February 1793, with his flag in the Britannia, went out to the Mediterranean as second in command under Lord Hood, with whom he co-operated during the campaigns of 1793 and 1794, more especially in taking charge of the blockade of the French fleet in Golfe Jouan in the autumn of 1794 [see Hood, Samuel, Viscount]. On the departure of Hood for England, Hotham succeeded to the chief command, and in the following March was at Leghorn, when he learnt that the French were again at sea. Martin, the French admiral, had, against his own judgment, been forced out by the stringent orders of the Directory. In point of numbers his fleet was equal to that of the English, but of the crews more than three-fourths were at sea for the first time, and were totally ignorant of their duties (CHEVALIER, ii. 174). On 12 March the two fleets were in sight of each other, and Martin, who understood the inferiority of his ships, resolved to avoid an action. But the wind and various accidents during the night retarded his retreat. A partial and very straggling encounter followed, renewed again on the 14th, when two of the French ships, the Caira and Censeur, were captured. The rest escaped, for the English fleet was scattered, and Hotham, not fully alive to the disorganisation of the French navy, refused to follow up the success, notwithstanding the pressing remonstrances of Nelson, who had distinguished himself in command of the Agamemnon, and who asserted his belief that, had the victory been pushed home, ‘we should have had such a day as the annals of England never produced’ (cf. Nelson's letter to his wife, 1 April). It appeared, however, from the admiral's despatch that the French fleet was numerically equal or superior, and its real inferiority was not known at home; two ships had been captured, and the victory won for Hotham and his comrades the thanks of both houses of parliament. On 16 April Hotham was advanced to the rank of admiral, and on 13 July again fell in with the French fleet, under somewhat similar circumstances, in nearly the same locality, and with nearly the same result. The Alcide, a 74-gun ship, struck her flag, but before she was taken possession of she caught fire and was totally destroyed, the greater part of her crew perishing with her; some two hundred were taken up by the English boats. That, with a numerical superiority of twenty-three ships against seventeen, Hotham ought to have brought on a decisive action, has been very generally admitted even by French writers (cf. Chevalier, ii. 198). Nelson in still stronger language spoke of the affair as this ‘miserable action’ (cf. letter to his brother, 29 July).

Hotham had succeeded to the chief command by the accident of Hood's resignation. A good officer and a man of undaunted courage, he had on several occasions done admirably in a subordinate rank; but he was wanting in the energy, force of character, and decision requisite in a commander-in-chief. It does not appear to have been the intention of the admiralty that he should continue in that position; and in November 1795 he was relieved by Sir John Jervis, afterwards Earl of St. Vincent [q. v.], and returned to England. He saw no further service. On 7 March 1797 he was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Baron Hotham of South Dalton, near Hull; and on the death of his nephew, the son of his second brother, he also succeeded to the baronetcy, 18 July 1811. He died on 2 May 1813. He was unmarried, and the titles on his death passed to his younger brother Beaumont [q. v.]

[Burke's Peerage; Charnock's Biog. Nav. vi. 236; Ralfe's Nav. Biog. i. 261; Naval Chron. ix. 341; official letters and other documents in the Public Record Office; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; James's Naval History; Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson; Chevalier's Histoire de la Marine française (i.) pendant la Guerre de l'Indépendance américaine, and (ii.) sous la première République; Brun's Guerres Maritimes de la France—Port de Toulon, ii. 263–77; Pouget's Vie du Vice-amiral Comte Martin.]

J. K. L.