Royal Naval Biography/Bertie, Albemarle

Baronet; Admiral of the White; Knight Commander of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath.

The Berties are supposed to have come from Berteland, on the borders of Prussia, with the Saxon Conquerors. Leopold de Bertie was Constable of Dover Castle in the time of Ethelred, and the village of Berested in Kent is supposed to derive its name from this family.

The subject of this sketch was born Jan. 20, 1755; and in 1778, we find him serving as First Lieutenant of the Fox, a 28-gun frigate, one of the repeaters to Admiral Keppel’s fleet, in the action with that of France under M. d’Orvilliers[1]; and on the trial of the Commander-in-Chief for his conduct on that occasion, Mr. Bertie appears to have been examined respecting the cheering between the Fox and the Formidable, on which so much stress was laid. Subsequent to the above action the Fox was taken, after an obstinate engagement, in which her commander, the Hon. Thomas Windsor, was severely wounded, by la Junon, French frigate, of 32 guns and 220 men.

Our officer obtained Post rank, March 21, 1782, in the Crocodile, of 24 guns, stationed in the Channel. At the time of the Spanish armament, he was appointed to the Latona frigate, and about the year 1792, to the Edgar, of 74 guns, in which latter ship he assisted at the capture of le General Dumourier, a French privateer, and her prize the St. Iago, having on board upwards of two millions of dollars, besides some valuable packages to the amount of between two and three hundred thousand pounds sterling.

Captain Bertie afterwards removed into the Thunderer, of 74 guns, and was present at the defeat of the French fleet by Earl Howe, June 1, 1794[2]. In 1795 we find him serving under the orders of Sir John Borlase Warren, on an expedition to the coast of France[3].

Our officer subsequently commanded the Renown, 74, Windsor Castle, a second rate, and Malta, of 80 guns. He joined the latter vessel in 1801, a period when, in consequence of the immense preparations made by the enemy for the invasion of Great Britain, the government thought it necessary to adopt every method that prudence could dictate for its defence. To this end, among other arrangements, the Malta and another ship of the line, were stationed at St. Helen’s, for the purpose of examining all vessels coming into Portsmouth harbour, and preventing any designs formed by the enemy being carried into effect. During the time the Malta lay at this anchorage, a fire broke out in the Dispensary. The conflagration was spreading in a rapid and alarming manner towards the magazine; when notice being given to Captain Bertie, its further ravages were happily prevented by his calm and collected presence of mind, and effective orders upon the occasion. The alarm and confusion that seized the crew was such as induced many to attempt quitting the ship; but owing to the spirited conduct of her Commander, the whole were soon restored to their former state of tranquillity, on finding all danger was removed by the judicious orders he had given for the purpose.

The Malta was paid off at Plymouth in the spring of 1802; and on the 23rd April 1804, Captain Bertie was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral. After serving for some time in the Channel Fleet, he was appointed to the chief command at the Cape of Good Hope, on which station, and in the Indian Seas, he continued several years, during which the ships under his orders were very successfully employed, as will be seen by referring to the memoirs of Rear-Admiral Sir Josias Rowley, Captain Willoughby, &c.

Our officer was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral April 28, 1808; created a Baronet, Dec. 9, 1812; became a full Admiral, June 4, 1814; and was nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815. Sir Albemarle Bertie married, July 1, 1783, Emma, second daughter of the late James Modiford Heywood, of Marristow-House, co. Devon, Esq.; his lady died in March 1805.

Residence.– Nether-Hall, Dadham, Essex.

  1. The British and French fleets, under the respective commands of the Hon. Admiral Keppel and M. d’Orvilliers, the former consisting of thirty ships of the line, carrying 2,178 guns, and 18,588 men; the latter of thirty-one ships, mounting 2,216 guns, and manned with 21,950 men, came in sight of each other on the 23rd July, 1778. The French Admiral, who had the advantage of the wind, shewed no inclination for battle, which obliged the British commander to continue chasing to windward until the 27th, when a favourable shift of wind enabled him to fetch the enemy. Upon which M. d’Orvilliers edged down in a close line-of-battle, and opened his fire on the headmost ships. The signal was instantly made to engage, and a furious cannonade was maintained for near two hours, as the fleets passed on contrary tacks. Admiral Keppel then wore to renew the action; but observing that the Formidable, bearing the flag of his second in command, Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, and some other ships of that officer’s division, which had been piincipally engaged, were incapable, from the damages they had sustained, of obeying the signal made for that purpose, he bore down to join them, and formed his line-of-battle a-head. The night was employed in preparing for a renewal of the conflict. At day light the next morning, the body of the enemy’s fleet was only visible from the mast head, steering with all sail set, for Brest. M. d’Orvilliers, to deceive Admiral Keppel, had left three of his fastest sailing ships, with orders to station themselves at proper distances, and to carry the divisional lights of the Flag-Officers. It was in vain for the British Admiral to think of a pursuit, and he therefore returned to port to refit his fleet. The loss sustained by the English in this battle was 133 killed, and 365 wounded. The enemy had 165 slain, and 479 wounded.

    Not long after this affair, many violent disputes arose, and unpleasant insinuations were thrown out, relative to the conduct of Admiral Keppel and Sir Hugh Palliser, which ended in a court-martial held on the former, at the instigation of the Vice-Admiral. The trial commenced on the 7th Jan. 1779, and agreeable to an act of parliament passed for the purpose, was held at the Governor’s house at Portsmouth. The court sat until the llth February, when they decided, “that the charge against the. Hon. Admiral Keppel was malicious and ill-founded, it having appeared that the said Admiral, so far from having, by misconduct or neglect of duty on the days therein alluded to, lost an opportunity of rendering essential service to the state, and thereby tarnished the honour of the British navy, behaved as became a judicious, brave, and experienced officer.” On the following day Admiral Keppel received the thanks of both houses of parliament for his eminent services; the city of London also bestowed upon him every mark of honour and respect in its power; and the whole nation resounded with his applause; while the resentment against Sir Hugh Palliser was so strong, that it constrained him to resign all his employments, and retire for a time from public life. But, notwithstanding the high degree of national favour and esteem in which Admiral Keppel now stood, he deemed it prudent to resign his command, and withdraw from a situation wherein he found himself not acceptable to those in power. His resignation was followed by that of Lord Howe, and several others; so great was the aversion to the naval administration of Earl Sandwich and his colleagues, one of whom was Sir Hugh Palliser himself.

  2. See p. 75, et seq.
  3. See p. 169.