Palliser, Hugh (DNB00)


PALLISER, Sir HUGH (1723–1796), admiral, of an old family long settled in Yorkshire, was son of Hugh Palliser, a captain in the army, who was wounded at Almanza. His mother was a daughter of Humphrey Robinson of Thicket Hall, Yorkshire. He was born at Kirk Deighton in the West Riding on 26 Feb. 1722–3. In 1735 he was entered as a midshipman on board the Aldborough, commanded by her brother, Nicholas Robinson. Two years later he moved, with Robinson, to the Kennington, in which he remained three years. He was then for a few months in 1740 in the Deptford storeship and in the Tiger, and early in 1741 joined his uncle in the Essex. He passed his examination on 12 May 1741, and, continuing in the Essex, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on 18 Sept. 1741. In the beginning of the winter Robinson was superseded in the command by Richard Norris, son of Sir John Norris (1660?–1749) [q. v.] and Palliser, continuing with him, was first lieutenant of the Essex, in the action off Toulon, on 11 Feb. 1743–4 [see Mathews, Thomas; Lestock, Riohard]. Afterwards Palliser, with some of the other lieutenants of the Essex, preferred a charge of cowardice and misconduct against Norris, who fled from his trial and died in obscurity.

On 3 July 1746 Palliser was promoted to be commander of the Weasel, and on 25 Nov. to be captain of the Captain, going out to the West Indies with the broad pennant of Commodore Legge. On Legge's death (19 Sept. 1747) Palliser was moved into the 50-gun ship Sutherland, and in the following March was severely wounded by the accidental explosion of the arm-chest, so that he was obliged to return to England for the recovery of his health. By December he was appointed to the Sheerness frigate, in which he was sent out to the East Indies with news of the peace. He joined Boscawen on the Coromandel coast in July 1749, and returned to England in the following April, when the ship was ordered round to Deptford and was paid off.

In January 1753 Palliser was appointed to the Yarmouth, guardship at Chatham, from which in March he was moved to the Seahorse, a small frigate employed during that and the next year on the coast of Scotland in the prevention of smuggling and of treasonable intercourse with France and Holland. In the end of September 1754 the Seahorse was ordered to refit at Sheerness; thence she went to Cork, and sailed in January 1755, in charge of a convoy of transports, for Virginia. By taking the southern route, a course with which the navigators of the day were not yet familiar, he avoided the winter storms, and arrived in the Chesapeake in less than eight weeks, with the ships in good order and the men in good health. After waiting some months in Hampton Roads, he sailed for England on 26 July, Commodore Keppel taking a passage with him, and arrived at Spithead on 22 Aug. [see Keppel, Augustus, Viscount]. A month later he was appointed to the Eagle at Plymouth, and on joining her was sent early in October on a cruise off Ushant, where he captured several vessels coming home from Newfoundland. Within a fortnight he wrote that he had 217 prisoners on board, and he had sent some away. His cruise continued, apparently with equal success, till 22 Nov.

During 1756 the Eagle was one of the fleet cruising off Ushant and in the Bay of Biscay under Hawke, Boscawen, or Knowles, and in 1757 was with Holburne off Louisbourg. During the summer of 1758 Palliser commanded the Shrewsbury in the fleet off Ushant under Anson; and in 1759, still in the Shrewsbury, took part in the operations in the St. Lawrence leading up to the reduction of Quebec. In 1760 he was with Sir Charles Saunders [q. v.] in the Mediterranean, and for some time had command of a detached squadron in the Levant. In 1762 he was sent out to Newfoundland with a small squadron to retake St. John's; but that service had been already accomplished, and he returned to England. In April 1764 he was appointed governor and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland, with his broad pennant in the Guernsey. This was then a summer appointment, the ships coming home for the winter; but in Palliser's case was twice renewed, in 1765 and 1766, during which time he acted as a commissioner for adjusting the French claims to fishing rights, and directed a survey of the coasts, which was carried out by James Cook [q. v.] afterwards known as the circumnavigator.

In 1770 Palliser was appointed comptroller of the navy, and on 6 Aug. 1773 was created a baronet. On 31 March 1775 he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and was shortly afterwards appointed one of the lords of the admiralty, under the Earl of Sandwich [see Montagu, John, fourth Earl of Sandwich]. In the same year, by the will of his old chief, Sir Charles Saunders, he came into a legacy of 5,000l., and was appointed lieutenant-general of marines in succession to Saunders. On 29 Jan. 1778 he was promoted to be vice-admiral of the blue; and in March, when Admiral Keppel was appointed to the command of the Channel fleet, Palliser, while still retaining his seat at the admiralty, was appointed to command in the third post under him.

For three days (24–27 July) the English and the French fleets were in presence of each other, Keppel vainly trying to bring the enemy to action. On the morning of the 27th Palliser's squadron was seen to have fallen to leeward, and Rear-admiral Campbell, the captain of the fleet, made a signal to it to make more sail. This was a matter of routine, and it does not appear that Keppel had personally anything to do with the order; but Palliser was much annoyed, and his annoyance increased when Keppel was enabled, by a shift of wind, to bring the enemy to action without waiting for the line to get into perfect order, or for Palliser to get into his place. After a partial engagement the two fleets drew clear of each other, and Keppel made the signal to reform the line, hoping to renew the battle. Palliser, however, did not obey. He had attempted, with the rear squadron, to renew the action at once, and had wore towards the enemy, but, finding himself unsupported, wore back again. In spite of signals and messages, he did not get into his station till after nightfall. When the next day broke the French fleet was not in sight, and Keppel returned to Plymouth.

Keppel made no complaint of Palliser, and the fleet soon left for a cruise off Ushant. In its absence the failure was ascribed in the newspapers to Palliser's conduct, and on the return of the fleet Palliser rudely desired Keppel to write to the papers and contradict the report. Keppel refused, whereupon Palliser applied to the admiralty for a court-martial on Keppel, which resulted in an acquittal. The London mob celebrated the triumph of the popular party by gutting Palliser's house in Pall Mall, and by burning Palliser in effigy. In York they are said to have demolished the house of Palliser's sister, who went mad with the fright (Walpole, Letters, vii. 180). The story was probably exaggerated.

The court-martial on Keppel had pronounced the charges ‘malicious and ill-founded.’ Palliser consequently resigned his appointments, and applied for a court-martial on himself. Keppel was directed to prepare the charge, but positively refused to do so. The admiralty, under the presidency of the Earl of Sandwich, were determined that the court should sit and should acquit their colleague. The court was packed in a way till then unknown: ships were ordered to sea if their captains were supposed to be hostile; ships were called in if their captains were believed to be favourable. The trial lasted for twenty-one days; but there was no prosecutor, there were no charges, and the proceedings were rather of the nature of a court of inquiry. Finally, after three days of loud and angry contention, the court found that Palliser's ‘conduct and behaviour were in many respects highly exemplary and meritorious;’ but, they added, they ‘cannot help thinking it was incumbent on him to have made known to his commander-in-chief the disabled state of the Formidable, which he might have done.’ They were of opinion that in other respects he was ‘not chargeable with misconduct or misbehaviour,’ and acquitted him accordingly, but neither unanimously nor honourably. A fair and independent court, with a capable prosecutor, would probably have arrived at a very different conclusion.

Palliser at once requested to be reinstated in the offices which he had resigned. Though Lord Sandwich shrank from granting this request, he appointed Palliser governor of Greenwich Hospital next year, on the death of Sir Charles Hardy the younger [q. v.] A strong but vain protest was made by the opposition in the House of Commons. Keppel, in the course of the debate, said ‘he had allowed the vice-admiral behaved gallantly as he passed the French line; what he had to complain of was the vice-admiral's neglect of signals after the engagement; for if the lion gets into his den and won't come out of it, there's an end of the lion.’ On the downfall of the ministry no attempt was made to disturb Palliser at Greenwich. He became an admiral on 24 Sept. 1787, and died at his country seat of Vach in Buckinghamshire, on 19 March 1796, ‘of a disorder induced by the wounds received on board the Sutherland,’ which for many years had caused him much suffering. He was buried in the parish church of Chalfont St. Giles, where there is a monument to his memory. He was unmarried, and bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to his illegitimate son. The title descended to his grand-nephew, Hugh Palliser Walters, who took the name of Palliser, and from him to his son, on whose death it became extinct. Till 1773 Palliser always signed his name Pallisser; in the summer of 1773 he dropped one s, and always afterwards signed Palliser. His portrait, by Dance, was in the possession of the last baronet, who gave a copy of it to the Painted Hall at Greenwich. It has been engraved.

Palliser's character was very differently estimated by the factions of the day, and his conduct on 27 July 1778 remains a mystery; but the friend of Saunders, Locker, Mark Robinson, and Goodall can scarcely have been otherwise than a capable and brave officer. It is possible that the pain of his old wounds rendered him irritable, and led to his quarrel with Keppel. It was characteristic of Lord Sandwich to utilise it for party purposes.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. v. 483; Naval Chron. xxxix. 89; European Mag. 1796, p. 219; Minutes of the Courts-Martial on Keppel and Palliser (published); Keppel's Life of Keppel; Considerations on the Principles of Naval Discipline (1781); Parl. Hist. xx. xxi.; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; Official Letters, &c. in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.