Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/151

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

been done he went to Calcutta, and, while the Romney was refitting, was up country in attendance on the governor-general, the Marquis Wellesley. He afterwards joined the commander-in-chief, Vice-admiral Rainier, at Penang, was sent to Madras, and again into the Red Sea. At Suez he had charge of the embarkation of the troops for India; at Jeddah he brought the negotiations with the Arabs to a satisfactory end; and sailed for England, where he arrived early in 1803. There had been already some objections made to the expenditure on the repairs of the Romney at Calcutta; and though the bills drawn by Popham had been paid, the amount was charged as an imprest against him. A strict investigation was now ordered, and on 20 Feb. 1804 the navy board reported, with many details, that the expenditure had been ‘enormous and extraordinary.’ The admiralty handed the papers over to the commissioners of naval inquiry, saying that they had neither power nor time to investigate an expenditure which ‘appeared to have been of the most enormous and profligate nature.’

It was not till 13 Sept. 1804 that Popham could obtain a copy of the report, and then without the papers on which it was based. In the following February they were laid on the table of the House of Commons. As early as August 1803 Popham had had printed, and circulated privately, ‘A Concise Statement of Facts relative to the Treatment experienced by Sir Home Popham since his return from the Red Sea.’ This was now published, and appeared to show that further investigation was necessary. On 7 May 1805 the House of Commons appointed a select committee to examine into the business; but the navy board had already been desired to reconsider their report, and had been obliged to admit that it was inaccurate. Their revised report, dated 1 April 1805, showed that evidence had been taken irregularly and improperly; the testimony of commissioned officers had been refused; Popham himself had not been heard. Sums of money had been counted twice over, and the whole expenditure had been exaggerated from a little over 7,000l. to something more than ten times that amount. The commissioners of the navy feebly explained that they had placed implicit reliance on the accuracy and industry of Benjamin Tucker [q. v.], and that their confidence had been misplaced. The select committee of the House of Commons reported in a sense equally conclusive; and Popham's innocence of a charge which should never have been made was established. Lord St. Vincent appears to have had a strong prejudice against Popham, and it is not improbable that Tucker believed that Popham's ruin would not be displeasing to his patron, who had no personal knowledge of the matter.

In the summer of 1804, while the charges were still pending, the lords of the admiralty had appointed Popham to the 50-gun ship Antelope, one of the squadron on the Downs station, under the command of Lord Keith. In December they moved him to the Diadem of 64 guns in the Channel, and, after the report of the select committee had been delivered, directed him to hoist a broad pennant as commodore and commander-in-chief of an expedition against the Cape of Good Hope, in co-operation with a land force under Sir David Baird [q. v.] On 4 Jan. 1806 the squadron, with the transports, anchored near Robben Island; but the landing was not completed till the morning of the 7th, and after a feeble resistance Cape Town and the whole colony surrendered on the 10th. In April Popham was informed by the master of an American merchantship that the inhabitants of Monte Video and Buenos Ayres were groaning under the tyranny of their government, and would welcome a British force as liberators. In consultation with Baird he resolved to take advantage of what seemed a favourable opportunity of gaining possession of these places, and with some twelve hundred soldiers, under the command of Brigadier-general William Carr Beresford (afterwards Viscount Beresford) [q. v.], sailed from Table Bay a few days afterwards. In the middle of June the expedition arrived in the Rio de la Plata; on the 25th the troops, which, including a marine battalion, numbered about sixteen hundred men, were landed near Buenos Ayres. The resistance of the Spanish troops was merely nominal, the governor fled to Cordova, and on 2 July the town surrendered and was taken possession of by Beresford. A few days later, however, the inhabitants, who had discovered the smallness of the English force, rose in their thousands and overwhelmed Beresford, who, with the garrison of about thirteen hundred men, became prisoners. Popham could do nothing beyond blockading the river, till the arrival of reinforcements in October permitted him to take the offensive and to occupy the harbour of Maldonado. On 5 Jan. 1807 he was superseded by Rear-admiral Charles Stirling, and ordered to return to England, where, on his arrival in the middle of February, he was put under arrest preparatory to being tried by court-martial on a charge of having withdrawn the squadron from the Cape of