Open main menu

Royal Naval Biography/Hope, William Johnstone


SIR WILLIAM JOHNSTONE HOPE,


One of the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral; Senior Vice-Admiral of the Blue; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; Knight of the Order of Malta and of the Turkish Order of the Crescent; a Commissioner of the Board of Longitude; Member of Parliament for Dumfries-shire; Fellow of the Royal Society; a Vice-President of the Pitt Club of Scotland ,and a Member of the Royal Caledonian Hunt.

The surname of Hope is of great antiquity in Scotland. John de Hope, the immediate ancestor of the subject of this memoir, is said to have come from France, in the retinue of Magdalene, Queen to James V., anno 1537; settling in Scotland, he married Elizabeth dimming, by whom he had a son, Edward, who was one of the most considerable inhabitants of Edinburgh in the reign of Queen Mary; and being a great promoter of the Reformation, was chosen one of the Commissioners for that Metropolis to the General Assembly in 1560.

The said Edward was father of Henry Hope, a considerable merchant, who married Jaqueline de Tott, a French lady, and by her had two sons; I. Henry, ancestor of the great and opulent branch of the Hopes, long settled at Amsterdam; and II. Thomas, an eminent lawyer[1], great-grandfather of Charles, 1st. Earl of Hopetown; whose grandson, John, a merchant in London, married Mary, only daughter of Eliab Breton, of Fortyhill, Enfield, co. Middlesex, Esq. by Mary, daughter and co-heiress of Sir William Wolstenholme, Bart.

William Johnstone Hope, the third and youngest son by the above marriage, was born at Finchley, in the county of Middlesex, Aug. 16, 1766, and entered the naval service in the year 1776, under the patronage of his uncle, the late Commissioner Hope[2]. The vessel in which he commenced his professional career was the Weazle, of 14 guns; and he afterwards accompanied his relative, successively, into the Hind, Crescent, Iphigenia, and Leocadia; serving in the West Indies, on the coast of Guinea, in the North Sea, and at Newfoundland.

From the Leocadia, Mr. Hope was removed into the Portland of 50 guns, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Campbell, on the Newfoundland station; and in Oct. 1782, he obtained the rank of Lieutenant in the Daedalus frigate, to which he was re-commissioned after the peace of 1783.

The Daedalus was employed on the coast of Scotland until 1784, when she was paid off at Chatham. We next find our officer serving as Flag-Lieutenant to the late Admiral Milbanke, Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth, with whom he continued till the spring of 1786, when he joined the Pegasus frigate, at the particular request of her Commander, H.R.H. Prince William Henry, whom he accompanied to Newfoundland, Halifax, and the West Indies[3]. On the latter station Lieutenant Hope exchanged into the Boreas, of 28 guns, at that time commanded by the heroic Nelson; and he remained in that ship until Nov. 30, 1787, on which day she was put out of commission at Sheerness.

Our officer was subsequently nominated one of the Lieutenants of the Victory, a first rate, fitting for the flag of Earl Howe; but as the disturbances in the United Provinces of Holland were speedily suppressed, by the vigorous measures of Great Britain and of Prussia, he was soon afterwards paid off, and for a short time remained on half-pay. His next appointment was to the Adamant, of 50 guns, in which ship the late Sir Richard Hughes hoisted his flag as Commander-in-Chief on the North American station, and sailed for Halifax about the month of June, 1789.

Early in 1790, Lieutenant Hope obtained the command of the Rattle sloop; and in the month of June following, (Captain Knox, of the Adamant, being under the necessity of retiring from active service, through ill health) he was chosen to act as Captain of that ship, which still bore Sir Richard Hughes’s flag. From a circumstance nearly similar, our officer shortly afterwards received another appointment. Toards the latter end of the same year, Captain Lindsay, of the Penelope frigate, resigned his commission, and Captain Hope was nominated to succeed him. He accordingly took the command of the Penelope, pro forma, and then returned to the Adamant. The Board of Admiralty, however, did not think proper to confirm his commission for the former ship; and the latter having been ordered home, he paid her off at Plymouth in the summer of 1792.

From this period we find no mention of Captain Hope till Jan. 1793. He then commissioned the Incendiary fireship; and continued in that vessel until Jan. 9, 1794, on which day he was advanced to the rank of Post-Captain in the Bellerophon, of 74 guns, at that time bearing the broad pendant, and subsequently the flag of the late Sir Thomas Pasley, who, it will be remembered, commanded a division of Earl Howe’s fleet in the actions of May 28 and 29, and the ever memorable battle of June 1, in the same year, a general outline of which will be found in our memoir of Admiral Lord Gambier[4].

On the 28th May, the republican fleet being discovered to windward, Rear-Admiral Pasley led on his own division with firmness and intrepidity to the attack. Towards the evening the Bellerophon brought the Revolutionnaire, of 110 guns, to action, and maintained the unequal contest for upwards of an hour, before any other of the British ships could arrive to support her. Being then disabled, she bore down to the main body of the fleet; and the darkness of the night soon after put an end to the partial action that had taken place between the advanced division and the rear of the enemy’s line. At the dawn of the ensuing day, both fleets appeared drawn up in order of battle; and on Lord Howe making the signal to break through the French line, the Bellerophon immediately obeyed and passed between the fifth and sixth ships in the enemy’s rear, accompanied by the Queen Charlotte and Leviathan. The rest of the British being at this time in the act of passing to leeward, and without the sternmost ships of the French line, the enemy wore for the purpose of succouring their disabled vessels; which intention, by reason of the disunited state of his fleet, and having no more than the two crippled ships, the Bellerophon and Leviathan, at that time near him, Earl Howe was unable to frustrate. During the two succeeding days, the long and tedious interval between the skirmish last mentioned, and the final, the glorious termination of this so long pending contest, a thick fog prevented a renewal of the action; but the hostile fleets, in the short spaces of time when the atmosphere became less obscure, were constantly visible to each other.

Early in the morning of the 1st June, the British fleet, having previously had the good fortune to obtain the weather-gage, bore up for the purpose of bringing the enemy to a general and decisive action. Needless is it to say, that after a long and bloody battle, a total defeat of the French armament was effected. The loss sustained by the Bellerophon was trivial, considering how much she had been exposed; it amounted to no more than 4 men killed and 27 wounded. Rear-Admiral Pasley lost a leg on the occasion, and was soon afterwards rewarded for his gallant conduct with the dignity of a Baronet of Great Britain, and a pension of 1,000l. per annum[5].

For his share in this brilliant affair, Captain Hope was presented with the gold medal, then first instituted by his late Majesty, as a mark of honorable distinction for naval services; and, in common with the other officers of the fleet, received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. He continued to command the Bellerophon till Jan. 1795; and in the month of March following, was appointed to the Tremendous, another 74, attached to the Channel fleet, in which ship he remained till the ensuing May; when, at the request of Admiral Duncan, he joined the Venerable, of the same force, bearing the flag of that officer, under whom he served for some time in the North Sea. Unfortunately, however, he received a violent contusion on the head, on board one of the Russian men of war, at that period acting in conjunction with the British squadron, and was in consequence obliged to resign his command. This accident, which happened about the month of Oct. 1796, was no doubt a source of much chagrin to Captain Hope, as it deprived him of the honor of participating in the victory obtained over the Dutch fleet, off Camperdown, on the 11th Oct. 1797. In the course of the same year, he was employed to equip ten sail of gun-brigs at Leith, by the particular desire of the Lord Lieutenant of Edinburgh, the country at that period expecting to be invaded by France.

Our officer’s next appointment was in Feb. 1798, to the Kent, a third rate of the largest class, then recently launched, and fitting for the flag of Lord Duncan; who, as soon as the ships destined to remain under his orders had repaired the damages sustained in the late action, returned again to his station, and by his continued vigilance almost annihilated the Dutch trade. The particulars of the expedition against Holland, by the combined forces of Great Britain and Russia, in the autumn of 1799, are fully detailed in our memoir of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Hamilton, Bart.[6] On that occasion Captain Hope was present at the capture of the Helder, and the surrender of a Dutch squadron, commanded by Rear-Admiral Storey; and was afterwards charged with the official despatches to the Admiralty, announcing the important event. On his arrival in London, he had the gratification of receiving his Sovereign’s personal thanks for his services, together with a purse of 500l., for the purpose of purchasing a sword. At a shortly subsequent period, the Emperor of Russia was also pleased to send him the ribband and cross of a Knight of the Order of Malta[7].

At the commencement of 1800, Lord Duncan resigned the command in the North Sea; and in the ensuing month of June, the Kent was sent to reinforce the fleet under the orders of Lord Keith, on the Mediterranean station. In the course of the same year an attack was meditated upon the city of Cadiz, and Captain Hope nominated to the command of a battalion of seamen, to be landed with the army; but in consequence of the representations which were made by the Spanish Governor of the miserable situation of the inhabitants, who were then suffering beneath a violent epidemic disease, the enterprise was abandoned, and the fleet returned to Gibraltar.

In the month of December, Captain Hope received Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby, with his staff, on board the Kent, at Gibraltar, and conveyed him from thence to Egypt. He was subsequently employed in the blockade of Alexandria; and remained upon that station till Cairo surrendered to the British arms[8]. As the service then required the Kent to be appropriated to the flag of Sir Richard Bickerton, and as Captain Hope was not disposed to serve under a Flag-Officer, he was allowed to return to Europe; but previously to his departure, the Commander-in-Chief was pleased, in compliment to his professional merit, to offer him the situation of First Captain of the Fleet. Particular circumstances, however, with which we are unacquainted, induced him to decline the proposal.

A general peace soon afterwards took place; in consequence of which Captain Hope remained on half-pay until the renewal of hostilities, in the spring of 1804; when he was appointed to the Atlas, of 74 guns, originally a 3-decker, fitting at Chatham, and afterwards employed off the Texel. This command he held for about three months, at the expiration of which time he was obliged, from ill health, to come on shore; and we find no farther mention of him till early in 1807, when he was called on to take a seat at the Board of Admiralty, which he vacated in the year 1809. He was nominated a Colonel of Royal Marines, Aug. 1, 1811; advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1812; appointed Commander-in-Chief at Leith, in Nov. 1813; created a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and re-appointed to the chief command on the coast of Scotland, in the spring of 1816, where he continued until Sept. 1818. In Jan. 1820, he again became a Lord of the Admiralty, on which occasion he succeeded Sir Graham Moore, who had been appointed to the command in the Mediterranean. His promotion to the rank of Vice-Admiral took place Aug. 12, 1819.

Sir Wm. Johnstone Hope is representative in Parliament for the shire of Dumfries[9]. He married 1st, July 8, 1792, the Lady Anne Johnstone Hope, eldest daughter of James, 3d Earl of Hopetoun, and by her (who died at Roehill, N.B. in Aug. 1818,) had issue four sons, three of whom are officers in the Royal Navy, and two daughters. 2dly. Oct. 30, 1821, Maria, daughter of Sir John Eden, Bart., of West Auckland and Windlestone, co. Durham, and relict of Frederick William, 7th Earl of Athlone.

A portrait of Sir William Johnstone Hope, in the uniform of a Post-Captain, is prefixed to his Memoir in the Naval Chronicle, v. 18, p. 269.



  1. Sir Thomas Hope was Advocate to Charles I. Three of his sons being at the same time Lords of Session, it was thought indecent that he should plead uncovered before them, which was the origin of the privilege the King’s Advocates have ever since enjoyed.
  2. Charles Hope, Esq. Commissioner of Chatham Dock-yard, died Sept. 10, 1808.
  3. See p. 7, et seq.
  4. See Note at pp. 75, 6, 7 and 8.
  5. Sir Thomas Pasley died at Chilland-cottage, near Winchester, Nov. 29, 1808, aged 75 years. (See Sir Pulteney Malcolm.)
  6. See p. 414, et seq.
  7. Knights of the Order of Malta, anciently styled Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and afterwards Knights of Rhodes, were first instituted in the year 1043. H.I.M. the Emperor of all the Russias, is the Grand Patron of the Order, the insignia of which has never, we believe, been conferred on more than two British officers; viz. Sir W. Johnstone Hope, and the late Sir Home Riggs Popham, a memoir of whom will be found in the “Annual Biography and Obituary for 1822.”
  8. For the commendations bestowed by the naval and military Commanders-in-Chief upon the officers of the fleet employed on the coast of Egypt, and for other interesting particulars relative to the campaign in that quarter, the reader is referred to pp. 54, 129, 259, and 313 of this volume.
  9. In June 1800, whilst absent in the service of his country, Captain Hope was elected M.P. for the Dumfries district of Burghs; and in Oct. 1804, the county of Dumfries having lost its representative, by the death of General Sir Robert Laurie, he was unanimously returned as the knight of that shire; and on that occasion, agreeably to an ancient local custom, was invested with a sword immediately after the election.

    At the general election which succeeded the dissolution of Parliament, in Oct. 1806, he was again chosen for the same place, after encountering a violent opposition, raised against him under the influence of the party then in power, in which scarcely any means were left untried that presented a probability of thwarting his views.