Kirkby, Richard (DNB00)


KIRKBY, RICHARD (d. 1703), captain in the navy, passed his examination for the rank of lieutenant under order of 28 March 1689. On 10 July 1690 he was appointed second lieutenant of the St. Michael, and was shortly afterwards promoted to be commander of the Success, employed in the convoy of the coasting trade. In 1694 he was appointed to the Southampton, with Admiral Russell in the Mediterranean, one of the ships present at the capture of the Content and Trident on 18–19 Jan. 1694–5, but excluded from sharing in the prize-money [see Killigrew, James]. In 1696 the Southampton returned to England, and was sent out to the West Indies, where Kirkby is said to have ‘behaved in a way very much to his credit’ (Charnock). The Southampton, however, does not appear to have been either a comfortable or a well-disciplined ship. Her chaplain was discharged, on her return from the Mediterranean, on account of some unpleasantness with the captain; the boatswain was broken and flogged, by sentence of court-martial, for disobedience and insolence; a seaman was sentenced to be flogged and ‘towed ashore’ for ‘scandalous actions, to the great corruption of good manners;’ and on her return from the West Indies in 1698 Kirkby himself was tried on charges of embezzling, plunder, and of cruelty and oppression. The alleged embezzlement admitted of a satisfactory explanation, and he was acquitted of cruelty, though it appeared that he had punished a seaman for straggling by ordering him to be ‘tied up by the right arm and left leg for several hours,’ the right foot being, however, allowed to rest on the deck. In February 1700–1 Kirkby was appointed to the Ruby, and again sent out to the West Indies. He arrived at Barbadoes in November, and in March went on to Jamaica. There he was moved into the Defiance. The death of Rear-admiral Martin had left him ‘the eldest officer under the flag;’ and though in May he was superseded from this position by the arrival of Rear-admiral Whetstone, he remained the senior captain on the station. He was thus second in command of the squadron which sailed in August under Vice-admiral Benbow [q. v.], and which met the French squadron off Santa Marta on the 19th. Benbow's signals to close the enemy and engage were not obeyed; a mutinous, disobedient, or cowardly spirit took possession of almost all the captains; and Kirkby, as the senior, appears to have been the prime mover in the crime. The result was that after a running skirmish of five days, those English ships that engaged were beaten off, and Benbow was himself mortally wounded. On the return of the squadron to Jamaica, Kirkby and his fellow-mutineers were tried by court-martial. One had died previously, two were suspended, one was cashiered, Kirkby and Wade were sent home in the Bristol [see Acton, Edward], and were shot on board her on 16 April 1703, two days after her arrival in Plymouth Sound. Kirkby had written a long letter to the secretary of the admiralty, alleging that the admiral's injudicious and ignorant conduct was the cause of his defeat; that the court-martial was ordered in dread of an inquiry into his own fault, and that the same dread had made him desirous of hurrying on the execution, which the court-martial had not agreed to. His plea, however, is contradicted by the evidence of the court-martial, the witnesses, whether belonging to other ships or to the Defiance, agreeing with remarkable unanimity in the details of Kirkby's misconduct.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. ii. 329; Burchett's Transactions at Sea; Lediard's Naval Hist.; minutes of courts-martial, letters and other documents in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.