Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 32.djvu/323

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LEAKE, Sir JOHN (1656–1720), admiral of the fleet, second and only surviving son of Richard Leake [q. v.], was born at Rotherhithe in 1656. He was serving with his father, on board the Royal Prince, in the action of 10 Aug. 1673, when his elder brother, Henry, was killed. After the peace he went into the merchant service, and is said to have commanded a ship for two or three voyages up the Mediterranean. He is also said to have succeeded his father as gunner of the Neptune, that is, in May 1677, which, as he was then barely twenty-one, seems improbable. It is much more likely that his appointment as gunner was some years later. On 24 Sept. 1688 he was promoted to command the Firedrake, which was attached to the fleet under the Earl of Dartmouth, and was in the following year with Admiral Herbert in the action off Bantry Bay, 1 May 1689, when Leake distinguished himself by setting fire to the Diamant, a French ship of 54 guns, by means of the 'cushee-piece,' which his father had invented. The Diamant's poop was blown up, and with it many officers and men; her captain, the Chevalier Coetlogon, was dangerously wounded (Troude, i. 193); and though the ship was eventually saved, Herbert was so well pleased with the attempt that two days later he posted Leake to the command of the Dartmouth of 40 guns. In September 1688, in fitting the shells for this cushee-piece at Woolwich, one of them had exploded, and killed Leake's younger brother, Edward. Whether from this accident, or from his more extended acquaintance with the gun, Leake seems to have formed an unfavourable opinion of it, and neither to have used it nor recommended it for further service, a neglect which is said to have caused some coolness between him and his father.

From Bantry Bay the Dartmouth was sent to Liverpool, to convoy the victuallers and transports for the relief of Londonderry. On 8 June she joined the squadron under Sir George Rooke [q. v.], and proceeded to Lough Foyle. A council of war decided that it was impracticable for the ships to force the passage to the town. It was not till some six weeks later, 28 July, when positive orders to relieve the town had been received, that the Dartmouth and two victuallers, the Mountjoy and Phoenix, were permitted to attempt to force the boom. The accounts vary in detail. The generally received story is that the Mountjoy and Phoenix broke the boom by their impact, while the Dartmouth engaged and silenced the batteries (Macaulay, Hist. of England, cabinet edit. iv. 245); but the more probable story, told by Leake's nephew and biographer, is that the ships, being becalmed, did not break the boom, but that it was cut through by a party of men from the boats of the fleet (Life of Sir John Leake, p. 17). In any case, the credit of the success was largely due to Leake and his two companions, the masters of the merchantmen [see Douglas, Andrew, d. 1725]. The Dartmouth was paid off at the close of the year, and Leake was appointed to the Oxford of 54 guns, in which he went to Cadiz and the Mediterranean with Admiral Henry Killigrew [q. v.] In May he was moved into the Eagle, a 70-gun ship, and coming home with Killigrew, was in the fleet under the joint admirals at the reduction of Cork in September. The Eagle continued attached to the grand fleet under Russell during 1691; and in the battle of Barfleur, 19 May 1692, was the third ahead of the admiral, where the principal effort of the French was made. She thus sustained much damage, both in masts and hull, and had 220 men killed or wounded out of a crew of 460 [see Russell, Edward, Earl of Orford]. In compliment to her gallant service, perhaps also in compliment to Leake's service at Londonderry, or to old friendship with his father, Rooke, though vice-admiral of the blue squadron, hoisted his flag on board the Eagle, 'notwithstanding the ill condition she was in,' for the purpose of destroying the enemy's ships in the bay of La Hogue, a service which was very thoroughly carried out on 23-4 May.

In December the Eagle was paid off, and Leake was appointed to the Plymouth, from which, in July 1693, he was moved to the Ossory of 90 guns. In her he went with Russell to the Mediterranean in 1694 and 1695, and continued till the peace in 1697. On the death of his father, in 1696, his wife and friends made interest to obtain for him the office of master-gunner, thus vacant, and Russell wrote in his behalf to the Earl of Romney, master-general of the ordnance. Leake, however, declined the appointment, preferring to take his chance of promotion in the navy. In 1699 he commanded the Kent, in 1701 the Berwick, and on 13 Jan. 1701-2 was appointed to the Association (Commission and Warrant Book). Two days later, 15 Jan., he was nominated by the Earl of Pembroke, then lord high admiral, to be first captain of the Britannia under his flag. It does not appear, however, that the earl ever hoisted his flag; and though Leake is named in the official lists as first captain of the Britannia, Robert Bokenham being the second, it seems very doubtful whether he really held that command (cf. Memoirs