Royal Naval Biography/Pakenham, Thomas
HON. SIR THOMAS PAKENHAM,
Admiral of the Red; Knight Grand Cross of the most Honourable Military Order of the Bath.
The Pakenhams are an ancient English family, originally seated at Pakenham, co. Suffolk; from whence they removed to Lordington, in Sussex, where Sir Hugh died, in the time of Henry VII. His daughter, Anne, married to Sir William Sydney, was mother of Sir Henry, who went to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, in 1576, accompanied by his cousin Edmund Pakenham, the immediate ancestor of Thomas, first Lord Longford, father of the subject of this memoir, and grandfather of the present Earl of Longford, and of the Duchess of Wellington.
Sir Thomas Pakenham, of whose services we are about to present a brief sketch, is the fourth and only surviving son of the above-mentioned nobleman, who was raised to the Peerage in right of his wife, Elizabeth, sole heiress of Michael Cuffee, Esq., nephew and heir of Ambrose Aungier, Earl of Longford, which lady was created Countess of Longford subsequent to her lord’s demise.
Our officer was born in the year 1757; went to sea at an early age, and was advanced to the rank of Post-Captain, March 2, 1780. In the following year we find him commanding the Crescent, of 28 guns; in which frigate he accompanied Admiral Darby to the relief of Gibraltar; and was afterwards sent to Minorca. On his return from thence, in company with the Flora, Captain Williams (now Admiral Freeman), he fell in with two Dutch frigates, and a sharp contest ensued. Captain Pakenham losing his main and mizen-masts, whereby his guns were rendered useless, was compelled to strike his colours; but Captain Williams more fortunate, subdued his opponent, and prevented the enemy from taking possession of the Crescent. In this unequal conflict, the latter ship had 26 men killed, and 67 wounded.
About three weeks after the above action, the same officers fell in with two large French frigates, and being unable to cope with them, separated. The enemy succeeded in retaking the Flora’s prize, and the Crescent had likewise the misfortune to fall into their hands.
In the month of July following, Captain Pakenham was tried by a court-martial at Portsmouth, for having struck his colours to the Dutch frigate, and the following highly honourable sentence was pronounced: “The Court are unanimously of opinion, that the Hon. Captain Pakenham throughout the action, in a variety of instances, behaved with the coolest and ablest judgment, and with the firmest and most determined resolution; and that he did not strike the Crescent’s colours until he was totally unable to make the smallest defence; the court therefore doth unanimously and honourably acquit the Hon. Captain Pakenham.
“The Court cannot dismiss Captain Pakenham, without expressing their admiration of his conduct on this occasion, wherein he has manifested the skill of an able and judicious seaman, and the intrepidity of a gallant officer; and from the great and extraordinary number of killed and wounded on board the Crescent, as well as the state she was in at the time of her surrender, their highest approbation of the support given by the officers and men to their Captain, and of their courage and steadiness during the action; a circumstance that, at the time it reflects honour on them, does no less credit and honour to the discipline kept up by Captain Pakenham.”
Our officer’s next appointment was to the Minerva frigate; and at the commencement of the war with revolutionary France, in 1793, we find him commanding the Invincible, of 74 guns, attached to the Channel Fleet, under the orders of Earl Howe. On the glorious 1st June, in the following year, that ship acquired at least her due portion of renown, having, by her heavy and animated fire, in a little while, so crippled and annoyed a French 84-gun ship, that she bore up and became an easy conquest to the Queen Charlotte. On this memorable day, the Invincible lost her main-top-mast; had her fore and main lower-masts and yards shot through; rigging and sails much cut; 14 men killed and 31 wounded. So little, however, did her commander think of his ship’s casualties, that on seeing the crippled state of the Queen Charlotte, he sent an officer expressly to say to the Commander-in-Chief, that the Invincible was sufficiently manageable to bear his flag. The boat that conveyed this message afterwards took possession of the subdued ship.
The honours that were conferred upon Earl Howe and his brave associates, were commensurate with the victory they had achieved; and will be found fully detailed at p. 78 of this volume. Captain Pakenham was one of the officers who were named in his Lordship’s official despatch, as having particular claim to his notice, and subsequently honoured with a gold medal for their distinguished conduct.
In the spring of 1795, the subject of this sketch was appointed to the command of the Juste, of 84 guns; and upon a promotion of Flag-officers taking place on the anniversary of the above battle, he was nominated Colonel of a division of marines. He afterwards held the office of Master-General of the Ordnance in Ireland.
During the late war, our officer does not appear to have served afloat. He was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Feb. 14, 1799; Vice-Admiral, April 23, 1804; Admiral, July 31, 1810; and created an extra G.C.B. May 20, 1820.
Sir Thomas Pakenham married, in 1785, Louisa, daughter of the Right Hon. John Staples, and has a numerous family.