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Royal Naval Biography/Foote, Edward

Vice-Admiral of the Blue.

This officer is the youngest son of the Rev. Francis Hender Foote, of Charlton Place, Bishopsbourne, near Canterbury, by Miss Mann, daughter of Robert Mann, of Linton, co. Kent, Esq., (who was a great contractor for clothing the army, in the time of Sir Robert Walpole,) and sister of the late Sir Horatio Mann, Bart, and K.B., many years Minister at Florence[1]. He was born about the year 1767; and in 1791, we find him serving in the East Indies as Commander of the Atalante sloop, from which vessel he exchanged into the Ariel, and returned to England in the month of Aug. 1J92. At the commencement of the war with the French republic, he was appointed to the Thorn, of 16 guns; and on the 7th June, 1794, promoted to the rank of Post-Captain.

Towards the latter end of the same year, Captain Foote obtained the command of the Niger, of 32 guns, in which ship he assisted at the capture of a French convoy, May 9, 1795[2]. On the 12th April, 1796, he destroyed l’Ecurieul, of 18 guns and 105 men, near the Penmarks. The Niger afterwards proceeded to the Mediterranean, and was present at the battle off Cape St. Vincent, Feb. 14, 1797[3]. In October following, Captain Foote was appointed to the Seahorse, of 46 guns and 281 men, in which frigate he cruized for some time on the coast of Ireland, where he assisted at the capture of la Belliqueux, a French privateer, of 18 guns and 120 men. He subsequently returned to the Mediterranean station; and on the 27th June, 1798, after a chase of twelve hours, and a close action of eight minutes, off the island of Pantellaria, captured la Sensible, a French frigate of 36 guns and 300 men, including a General of division and his suite, passengers, bound to Toulon, with an account of the capture of Malta, by the forces under General Buonaparte. On this occasion the Seahorse had 2 men killed, and 16 wounded. Among the latter was Mr. Willmott, the first Lieutenant. The enemy’s ship had 18 killed, and 37, including her commander, wounded. Among the effects on board the Sensible, were found a brass cannon formerly taken from the Turks, and which Louis XIV. had presented to the Knights of Malta; also a gilt-silver model of a galley.

In the spring of 1799, when the approach of the French fleet from Brest rendered it necessary for Lord Nelson, then at Palermo, to collect all his line-of-battle ships about him, Captain Foote was directed to take charge of the blockade of the Bay of Naples, and co-operate with a land force consisting of a few regular troops of four different nations, and with the armed rabble commanded by Cardinal Ruffo, his Sicilian Majesty’s Vicar-General and confidential agent[4]. On the 22d May, the Seahorse anchored off Procida, where Captain Foote found the Perseus bomb, San Leon and Mutine brigs, a Neapolitan frigate, and several gun-boats, the whole of which he took under his orders.

The transactions in that quarter during the ensuing summer, have been much" discussed both at home and abroad; and, owing to the perversion of facts, not generally with that candour, or even accuracy, which the very peculiar difficulty of the service appears to have demanded. From the statement given by Captain Foote, to Lord Nelson, of his proceedings subsequent to the above date, and the various letters he was afterwards obliged to publish, in consequence of a shameful attack on his professional character, which had been long established for ability and integrity, considerable light has been thrown on this subject[5]. It was on this occasion that Lord Nelson, in the excess of his zeal, had recourse to a strong measure; which not only created great discussion, but drew serious blame on his conduct both at home and abroad. On the 24th June, his Lordship having unexpectedly arrived in the Bay of Naples, with seventeen sail of the line, on board of which were embarked 1700 troops, threw out the annulling signal, and declared the Treaty to be invalid, on the ground that “Captain Foote had been deceived by Cardinal Ruffo, who was endeavouring to form a party hostile to the views of his sovereign.” This charge having, since Lord Nelson’s death, been brought into publicity, by the indiscreet manner of treating it, in a work published by a Mr. Harrison, which he professed to be “Genuine Memoirs of Lord Nelson,” drew forth a spirited and satisfactory vindication from Captain Foote; and it must be admitted, that treaties signed by those having the power, which was the case with that officer at the moment of the signature, for he was then unquestionably first in command on the station, ought to be held most sacred; and that, even if Lord Nelson had good cause to disapprove of the terms of a treaty so signed, he had no right to break it. If in this instance, however, his Lordship acted at variance with his long established character for humanity, and his great professional reputation, it certainly did not arise from any dishonorable principle, or want of feeling; and was an error, not of professional integrity, but of political judgment; in which, as well as in various other instances of his life, he resembled the renowned Blake; of whom Dr. Johnson in consequence said, “We must then admit, amidst our eulogies and applauses, that the great, the wise, and the valiant Blake, was once betrayed to an inconsiderate and desperate enterprise, by the resistless ardour of his own spirit.”

On the 28th June, Captain Foote was sent to Palermo, for the purpose of embarking their Sicilian Majesties; on his arrival at that place, he learnt that those august personages had decided upon returning to Naples in their own frigate, the Sirena, lest they might hurt the feelings of such naval officers as had remained faithful to them; but that their Majesties wished him to convoy them, and the transports, with troops on board, and also to embark their treasure and staff in the Seahorse. The Prime Minister, Sir John Acton, at the same time assured Captain Foote, that the King and Queen were very sensible of the service he had done them in the Bay of Naples. Upon which, our officer availed himself of what appeared a favorable opportunity to perform his promise to the republican garrisons of Revigliauo, and Castel-à-Mare; and, at the Minister’s request, explained to him the terms of the capitulation which he had granted; frequently observing, that the reliance those garrisons had placed in his intercession, had principally induced them to submit without the effusion of blood; which Sir John, who well knew the immense strength of the latter fortress, must be aware would have been very great, if they had made a determined resistance; and concluded with begging, as a personal favor, that the capitulation might be regarded as sacred; to which the Minister replied, by assuring him, that on his account the most obnoxious persons should only be confined during the then very unsettled state of the Neapolitan dominions.

Their Sicilian Majesties sailed from Palermo, July 3, under the protection of the Seahorse, and reached Naples Bay on the 8th of the same month. Immediately on his arrival, Captain Foote received orders to proceed to another part of the coast, on a particular service.

During the night of the 29th July, the Seahorse, then at anchor off Leghorn, parted her cable and went on shore between the mole head and the powder magazine; the gale continued with great fury for sixteen hours, and forced the ship into eleven feet water. After remaining nine days in this perilous situation, and having been lightened of every thing except the chests and bedding, she was, on the 7th Aug., by the assistance of four pontoons, that lifted her eighteen inches forward, and the great exertion of all on board, hove near two cables’ length through three feet and a half of mud and sand, and the following day towed into Leghorn Mole.

In consequence of this unfortunate accident, the Seahorse was obliged to return to England towards the end of October. Previous to his departure from the Mediterranean, Captain Foote received the following very flattering letter from Lord Nelson; which, together with his sending the Seahorse to Palermo, for the purpose of receiving their Sicilian Majesties, are a sufficient proof that his Lordship did not think any infamy attached to Captain Foote’s conduct during the operations at Naples, as has been by others insinuated.

Palermo, Sept. 14, 1799,

“My dear Sir,

“I did not send your box by the Goliath, as I thought it probable that some event might bring you to Palermo; and to say the truth, I did not like to trust it in a four-gun cutter; therefore it must, I fear, remain in my possession a little longer.

“I can assure, you, my dear Sir, that it affords me infinite pleasure to convey to you this distinguished mark of his Sicilian Majesty’s’ approbation. The despatch expresses – for most important services when left with the command in the bay of Naples, when Lord Nelson was obliged to order Commodore Troubridge to join him, and for taking Castel-à-Mare.


“I hope that what I have wrote to Darby and Duckworth will please you, for believe me, with the very greatest esteem,

“Your obliged humble Servant,
Captain Foote.“Nelson.”

The box alluded to in the above, was an elegant snuff-box, with the initials F. R. in small diamonds, worth about three or four hundred guineas.

In the month of May, 1800, the Seahorse conveyed Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton, and General Sir Ralph Abercromby, to the Mediterranean; the latter returned to England in that ship, Sept. 28th following. During the ensuing summer, Captain Foote was in attendance on their late Majesties at Weymouth. He afterwards escorted ten sail of East Indiamen to Calcutta, at which place he arrived the latter end of Jan. 1802. Whilst on the India station, he was sent to secure the stores of la Sensible frigate, which had been wrecked a few miles to the southward of the Molliwally Shoal. The ship having filled with water to the gun-deck, rendered the operations peculiarly difficult; the skill of Captain Foote, however, surmounted the obstacles that presented themselves, and he succeeded in saving every thing valuable, except the provisions. The Seahorse, soon after her arrival in England, (Oct. 4, 1802) was put out of commission.

For several years, during the late war, Captain Foote commanded, first the Princess Augusta, and afterwards the Royal Charlotte, yachts. On the 12th Aug. 1812, he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral; and soon after hoisted his flag as second in command at Portsmouth, where he continued until Feb., 1815. His commission as Vice-Admiral bears date July 19, 1821. Our officer married, Aug. 24, 1803, the eldest daughter of the late Vice-Admiral Patton. That lady died at Nice, in France, about December, 1816.

Residence.– Southampton.

  1. Vice-Admiral Foote’s grandfather was a Barrister, and it is said, sat in Parliament for a Cornish borough.
  2. See p. 287.
  3. See p. 21, et seq.
  4. In our memoir of Sir Benjamin Hallowell (See Note † at p. 472,) we have already alluded to the ineffectual attempt made by the King of the two Sicilies, to expel the French from his territories, as well as from those of the Holy Pontiff. On the 23d Jan. 1799, the Neapolitan army having been previously dispersed, a body of the republican troops under General Championet, notwithstanding the obstinate resistance they met with from the lazzaroni, or mob of Naples, possessed themselves of that place, from which the King and his family had already withdrawn, and been conveyed to Palermo in Lord Nelson’s flag-ship, the Vanguard. On the 2d April following, a detachment from his Lordship’s squadron, under the orders of Captain Troubridge, entered the bay, and after taking possession of Procida, Ischia, Capri, and the other islands in that neighbourhood, proceeded to blockade the city and adjacent towns, for the purpose of preventing the enemy in those places from getting any supplies of corn, or other articles, by sea. The ships of the line being required at Palermo to reinforce their Admiral, the command of the vessels left on that service devolved upon Captain Foote, about the middle of May.

    “I shall not lake any notice,” says Captain Foote in the statement alluded to, “of the various letters which I received from the Cardinal; they will prove, if investigated, how very little he knew about the force that was under my orders, or what was possible to be done by a few small ships of war; and that he kept advancing without any fixed plan, or project, trusting entirely to the chapter of accidents [The above passage appears to refer to the period when Cardinal Ruffo was advancing with his “Christian army” from Calabria towards Naples.].

    “On the 9th of June, I received a letter from the Cardinal, in which he mentioned, that, on the 13th or 14th, he should be at the Tour del Greco; and he gave me some signals, by which I was to know, when the Royal Army reached that place; at which time, I was to give him all the assistance that lay in my power, by sea; accordingly, on the 13th, I stood into the bay, and it appeared to me, that the coast, from Portici to Castel-aMare, was in a state of insurrection; but I saw no signals.

    “Innumerable requests were made to me, for assistance, but no one could tell me for certain, where the Cardinal was. I supplied the chief of the Tour del Greco with powder, musket-ball, and cannister; and seeing the French and Neapolitan colours flying on the fort of Granatelli, I immediately stood for it, having the Neapolitan frigate Sirena, and two gunboats, with me. This fort was garrisoned by upwards of 200 men, who kept up a constant fire on a party of royalists, who were in the king’s palace, at Portici, and just outside of it, which they returned with musketry, and from one piece of artillery; when close in with Granatelli, I fired a few shot at it, and the republican colours were hauled down, and the royalists rushed in, putting the whole of the garrison to the sword. Shortly after, a certain D. Constantino di Felippis came on board, and acquainted me, that he commanded about 4,000 royalists, that he meant to attack Villema the next day, when I promised to assist him as much as I possibly could.

    “The Cardinal, as I have since learnt, instead of being at his rendezvous, the Tour del Greco, at the appointed time, was at Nola; but as to any direct information, I had none, not receiving any letter from him between the 9th and 17th of this month. Some country people informed me that the Republicans had a camp of 800 infantry and 120 cavalry, near the Tour del Annunciato, which was protected on the sea-side by ten gun-boats and two mortar-boats I had written to the Count de Thurn for three gallies, which were then not much wanted at Procida; but, instead of their coming, I only received excuses about the weather (which, no doubt, was at one time threatening, but it afterwards cleared up); this caused me to write a positive order, and the gallies were sent; but the Count de Thurn, at the same time, informed me, that his instructions were quite independent of my orders, and that he could not receive any but from his Sovereign, or those who were his superiors. Reference may be had to my letters on this subject, but I do not wish it to be renewed, as I am on very good terms with the Count de Thurn, and am perfectly satisfied that the evil originated in his having secret orders – which, if I had not acted cautiously, might, in consequence of those left with me, have been attended with very fatal consequences. On the evening of the 13th, the Cardinal (or rather the Russians) took the fort of Villema, and the bridge of Mudalena. Carracioli’s gun-boats annoyed them a good deal, the weather preventing my approaching sufficiently close with the frigates; but if the gallies had been with me, I should certainly have taken some of the gun-boats, or caused them to retreat. On the 14th the weather was bad; and it was not until the 15th, the day the gallies joined me, that I could venture so deep into the bay as the castles of Revigliano, and Castel-à-Mare, which capitulated on terms mentioned in my letter book [The garrison of Revigliano surrendered as prisoners of war, Captain Foote promising to intercede with his Sicilian Majesty in their behalf. The terms granted to Castel-à-Mare were, that the garrison and men belonging to the flotilla, should march out of the fort with military honors, and ground their arms on passing the last barrier; such of them as chose to avail themselves of the protection of the British flag, to be received on board the Seahorse, the remainder to dispose of themselves as they might think proper. See “Captain Foote’s Vindication,” p. 105 to 111.], which circumstance I considered of the utmost consequence – for if their garrisons, or friends, amounting to about 1000 men, had availed themselves of the opportunity, to concert with the republicans at Annunciato, and make an attack on the rear of the Cardinal’s army, his enterprise must inevitably have failed.

    “On the 17th I informed the Cardinal, that I should immediately join the gun-boats and mortar-boats [Among this number were those given up at Castel-à-Mare.] at the Piedi Grotta, with a view of attacking Castel Uovo; and on the 18th, I sent Captain Oswald, of the Perseus, with a letter to the Commandant of that Fort, in the hope of its opening the way to a negotiation. On the night of the 17th, I had sent an officer to the Cardinal, who told him that the rebels, and the French, particularly the latter, had refused to capitulate to an Ecclesiastic; that his means were scarce sufficient to reduce determined and obstinate people; and that he wished me to try what I could do, by offering to hearken to the terms; they might have to propose. I received a very insolent verbal answer from the Commandant of Castel Uovo [“We desire a republic, one and indivisible; we will die to obtain it; this is our answer. Get away, citizen! quickly, quickly!”

    N.B. The rest of the garrison of Castel Uovo were so much displeased with the Commandant, that they complained of him, and he was displaced.], which I made the Cardinal acquainted with, and that it was my intention to attack it by every means in my power; to which his Eminence replied, “That it was no longer time to hearken to capitulations, and that it became necessary to think seriously of attacking Fort St. Elmo.”

    “The next day, (the 19th) to my great surprise, I received a letter from the Cardinal, requesting me to cease hostilities, and not to re-commence them whilst the flag of truce was flying, as a negotiation had taken place. The same night I sent an officer to the Cardinal, to acquaint him, that the British were not accustomed to grant so long a suspension of arms; and that, as my Sovereign was a principal ally of the King of the Two Sicilies, I claimed a right to be made acquainted with what was going on. The Cardinal sent word back, that the Chevalier de Micheroux conducted the treaty, and that he had sent my letter to him, that he might inform me what steps were taken. Not receiving a line from the Chevalier de Micheroux, I informed the Cardinal that I thought nothing could be more prejudicial to the interest of his Sicilian Majesty than the having such a multiplicity of chiefs – and that I knew of no other than his Eminence, who was specially charged with the interests of the King of Naples, and that I could act with no other person. The Cardinal told the officer whom I sent, that he knew nothing of what was going on; that he stood in great need of the aid of the Russians; that he would not give them the least ground for complaint – and that it was the Russians who conducted the treaty. On the 19th, I received a plan of a capitulation, already signed by the Cardinal, and the Chief of the Russians, with a request that I would put my name to it. In answer, I informed the Cardinal, that I had done so, because I considered him as the confidential agent of his Sicilian Majesty – and that some advantage would result from the capitulation, otherwise he would not have signed it; but I could not say I approved of such a manner of treating, and that I could not be answerable for its consequences. I also made some observations relative to St. Elmo’s capitulating, which may be seen in my letter book.

    “At length, on the 22d, 1 received a letter from the Chevalier de Micheroux, with the capitulation in form, already signed by the Cardinal and the Chief of the Russians. I replied to the Chevalier de Micheroux, that I had signed where he pointed out; but that I protested against every thing that could be in the least contrary to the honor and rights of my Sovereign and the British nation.

    “I signed this capitulation – lest, on a reverse of fortune, or the arrival of the enemy’s fleet, it might have been asserted, that my refusal was the cause of such misfortunes as might occur, and because I considered that the Cardinal was acquainted with the will and intention of his Sovereign; and the Count de Thurnhad told me, that the Chevalier de Micheroux was authorized to act in a diplomatique character. “The result of all this is, that with a very small force, I have had to conquer difficulties, which were only got the better of by that terror which the British flag inspires; that I never was consulted by the Cardinal relative to the capitulation; and that I had neither instructions, nor any document, to assist or guide me.”

    The following is the plan of the capitulation for the forts of Nuovo and Uovo, as translated by Captain Foote.

    Article I. The Forts Nuovo and Uovo shall be delivered into the hands of the commanders of the troops of the King of the Two Sicilies, and those of his Allies, the King of England, the Emperor of all the Russias,and the Ottoman Porte, with all warlike stores, provisions, artillery, and effects of every kind now in the magazines, of which an inventory shall be made by commissaries on both sides, after the present capitulation is signed.

    Art. 2. The troops, composing the garrison, shall keep possession of their forts until the vessels which shall be spoken of hereafter, destined to convey such as arc desirous of going to Toulon, are ready to sail. The evacuation shall not take place until the moment of embarkation.

    Art. 3. The garrisons shall march out with the honours of war, arms and baggage, drums beating, colours flying, and lighted match, with each two pieces of artillery; they shall lay down their arms on the beach.

    Art. 4. Persons, and property, both moveable and immoveable, of every individual of the two garrisons, shall be respected, and guaranteed.

    Art. 5. All the said individuals shall have their choice of embarking on board of cartels, which shall be furnished them to go to Toulon, or of remaining at Naples, without being molested either in their persons, or families.

    Art. 6. The conditions contained in the present capitulation are common to every person of both sexes now in the forts.

    Art. 7. The same conditions shall take place with respect to the prisoners which the troops of His Majesty the King of the Two Sicilies, and those of his Allies, may have made of the Republican troops, in the different engagements which took place before the blockade of the forts.

    Art. 8. Messieurs the Archbishop of Salerno, of Micheroux, of Dillon, and the Bishop of Avelino, detained in the Forts, shall be put into the hands of the commandant of the Fort St. Elmo, where they shall remain as hostages until the arrival of the individuals, sent to Toulon, be ascertained.

    Art. 9. All the other hostages, or state prisoners, confined in the two forts, shall be set at liberty, immediately after the present capitulation is signed.

    Art. 10. All the articles of the said capitulation must be fully approved of by the commandant of Fort St. Elmo before they can be executed.

    (Signed)* F. Card. Ruffo, V. G.
    (Signed)* Kerandy Neut Prescaje.

    (Signed)* Bonieu Kubuffuterre.
    (Signed)* Edward James Foote.

    Commanding the ships and vessels of his Britannic Majesty in the Bay of Naples.

    * I could not decypher the signatures of the Russian and Turkish commanders, and I am therefore by no means certain that they are correctly spelt. – E. J. F.

  5. See a pamphlet entitled “Captain Foote’s Vindication of his conduct, &c. &c.” published by Cadell and Davies, London, anno 1807.