Royal Naval Biography/Capel, Thomas Bladen

A Companion of the most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1798.]

This officer is descended from Sir William Capel, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1493; and the youngest son of William, fourth Earl of Essex, by his second Countess, Harriett, daughter of Colonel Thomas Bladen. He was born Aug. 25, 1776.

We are not aware of the manner in which Mr. Capel passed his time as a Midshipman; but early in 1798, we find him serving as junior Lieutenant of the Vanguard 74, bearing the flag of Sir Horatio Nelson, by whom he was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Mutine sloop of war, immediately after the glorious battle in Aboukir bay, on which occasion he did the duty of signal officer.

On the 13th Aug. 1798, Captain Capel sailed for Naples with a duplicate of the Rear-Admiral’s despatches, and letters for different official personages, among which was one addressed to the chief magistrate of the British metropolis, accompanied by the sword of M. Blanquet, the senior French officer who survived the battle. From Naples, Captain Capel proceeded overland to England, where he arrived on the 2d Oct., and gave the first intelligence of the defeat sustained by the republican fleet.

On the 27th Dec. following, Captain Capel, (to whom Nelson had referred the Board of Admiralty for further information respecting the battle, at the same time describing him as “a most excellent officer,”) was advanced to post rank, and early in the following year appointed to the Arab of 22 guns. From this vessel he afterwards removed into the Meleager 32, in which ship he had the misfortune to be wrecked on the Triangle rocks, in the Gulf of Mexico, June 9, 1801[2]. Early in 1803, he obtained the command of the Phoebe frigate, and proceeded to the Mediterranean, where he continued to serve until after the death of his noble friend, the lamented Nelson.

In the month of April 1805, when that gallant hero proceeded down the Mediterranean in pursuit of the French fleet from Toulon[3], Captain Capel was left with five frigates and two bombs to cover Sardinia, Sicily, and the route to Egypt, from any troops that might be sent to land in those places. For some time previous to the battle of Trafalgar, the Phoebe was employed under the directions of Sir Henry Blackwood, watching the combined fleets in Cadiz harbour; and after that memorable event, Captain Capel, by his extraordinary exertions, saved one of the prizes, the Swiftsure of 74 guns; and, together with Captain Malcolm, of the Donegal, subsequently brought out the Bahama, a ship of the same force.

In December following, Captain Capel sat as a Member of the Court Martial assembled at Portsmouth, to try Sir Robert Calder, for his conduct after the action with Villeneuve on the 22d of the preceding July. At the latter end of 1806, he assumed the command of the Endymion frigate, on the Mediterranean station; and in the succeeding year, accompanied the expedition to the Dardanelles, and conveyed the British Ambassador to and from Constantinople[4]. During the operations carried on between Feb. 19, and March 3, the Endymion received two shot, each weighing upwards of 700 pounds, and had 3 men killed and 10 wounded. Sir John Duckworth, in his letter to Lord Collingwood, dated March 6th, makes particular mention of Captain Capel’s " zealous attention and assiduity" during the time he was placed in the stream of the Bosphorus, for the purpose of ascertaining when the squadron could stem the current, and for a watchful observation of the movements of the Turks, as well as to facilitate communication with the Porte.

Our officer continued to command the Endymion until the summer of 1810, and was then appointed to the Elizabeth of 74 guns. About the month of July 1811, he removed into the Barham; and at the latter end of that year, to the Hogue of the same force. In the latter he was employed in North America during the whole period of the war with the United States; and for a considerable portion thereof, was senior officer upon the northern part of the coast, where the ships under his orders were particularly active and successful in their annoyance of the enemy[5].

Captain Capel at present commands the Royal George yacht, to which he was appointed Dec. 15, 1821. He was nominated a C.B. in June 1815.

Our officer married, May 10, 1816, the only daughter of F. G. Smyth, of Upper Brook Street, London, Esq.

Agent.– Thomas Stilwell, Esq.

  1. Among the eminent men of this family, whose founder was Sir William Capel, Lord Mayor of London, we find a Giles Capel, who was knighted by Hen. VIII. for his valour in different battles. Arthur, first Lord Capel, who, during the civil wars, took part with Charles I., raised several troops of horse at his own expence, defended Colchester with great bravery, and after the surrender of the garrison was beheaded, with the Duke of Hamilton, Earl of Cambridge, &c. &c., in express violation of the promise of quarter given by the rebels: “he was a man,” says Lord Clarendon, “in whom the malice of his enemies could discover very few faults; and whom his friends could not wish to see better accomplished.” * * * * “In a word, he was a man, that whoever after him, deserves best of the English nation, he can never think him self under valued, when he shall hear that his courage, virtue, and fidelity, is laid in the balance with, and compared to, that of Lord Capel.” Arthur, the son of this nobleman, was created Earl of Essex, April 20, 1661; held several important situations in the diplomatic line, and exhibited a noble instance of prudence, integrity, and moderation, as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, from whence he was recalled in 1677; and being afterwards accused as one of the conspirators in the “Rye House Plot,” was committed to the Tower, where he was found with his throat cut, July 13, 1683; a catastrophe which is yet involved in mystery. His only son, Algernon, second Earl of Essex, was a Lord of the Bedchamber to King William, and attended him in all his campaigns. The following mention will be found of him among the “Anecdotes of the Court of Queen Anne” – “He is a good companion; loves the interests of his country; hath no genius for business, nor will ever apply himself that way. He married my Lord Portland’s daughter. The Queen continues him in her regiment, and has made him Brigadier-General. He is a well-bred gentleman, brown compkxioned, and well-shaped; but his mouth is always open.”

    Hampton Court, a splendid building in Herefordshire, with a considerable estate annexed, was knocked down by Squibb, at Garraways, in 1808, for 64,000l. The grand junction canal passes through Cashiobury Park, Herts., the present residence of the Earl of Essex, and which is said to have been the seat of the Kings of Mercia, till Offa gave it to the monastery of St. Albans. The proprietors at first intended to make a tunnel under Crossley Hill, but were spared the enormous expence which would have attended such a measure, by the liberality of his Lordship.

  2. See Captain William Henry Dillon.
  3. See Vol. I, note at p. 589, et seq.
  4. See Vol. I. pp. 316, et seq.; 799, et seq.; and 808, et seq.
  5. See Captains F. P. Epworth, Sir P. B. V. Broke, Hyde Parker, and H. Pyne.