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Royal Naval Biography/Sotheron, Frank

Vice-Admiral of the White; and Member of Parliament for Nottinghamshire.

This officer is the third and youngest son of the late William Sotheron, of Darrington, near Pontefract, co. York, Esq. He was born in 1765, and entered the naval service in 1776, as a Midshipman on board the Bienfaisant, of 64 guns, commanded by the late Admiral M‘Bride, under the auspices of which gallant officer, he completed the first six years of active duty. Being lent for awhile to the Arethusa frigate, he bore a part in the well-fought battle between that ship and la Belle Poule, June 17, 1778[1]; and on his return to the Bienfaisant, was in the action between Keppel and d’Orvilliers, off Ushant[2]. He was also present at the capture of the Caraccas convoy, the defeat of Don Juan de Langara, and the relief of Gibraltar by the fleet under Sir George B. Rodney, circumstances which have already been adverted to in our memoir of H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence[3].

In the ensuing summer we find the Bienfaisant cruizing after a large private ship of war, which was known to have sailed from Brest and proceeded to St. George’s Channel. Captain M‘Bride’s look out was ineffectual, until Aug. 13th, when being off Kinsale, early in the morning, he perceived a strange vessel in chace of some merchantmen that had sailed from Cork on the preceding day, under his protection. He immediately made sail; and at 7 A.M., got within pistol-shot of the stranger, then under English colours. On being hailed by the Bienfaisant, she hauled them down, and hoisted French. A smart action, commenced on both sides with musketry, now took place; and, at the expiration of an hour and ten minutes, the enemy struck, having had 21 men killed and 35 wounded, with her rigging and sails cut to pieces. The Bienfaisant had 3 men killed and 20 wounded; and the Charon, a 44-gun ship, which came up at the close of the engagement, had 1 man wounded. The prize proved to be le Comte d’Artois, of 64 guns and 644 men, commanded by the Chevalier Clonard, who was slightly wounded.

Le Comte d’Artois was not destined to be a solitary captive; for, in the course of the following month, the Bienfaisant also captured la Comtesse d’Artois, another French privateer.

At the close of 1780, Mr. Sotheron removed with his gallant commander into the Artois frigate, which had been taken from the French a few months before, and was considered to be the finest vessel of her class in the world. This ship formed part of the force employed to watch the motions of the Dutch squadron, which was then ready for sea in the Texel; and our young officer was consequently present, in the month of Aug. 1781, at the engagement off the Dogger Bank, between Sir Hyde Parker and Admiral Zoutmann[4]. On the 3d Dec. in the same year, the Artois captured the Hercules and Mars, Dutch privateers, mounting 24 nine-pounders and 10 cohorns each, the crews of which amounted to 310 men, 22 of whom were slain and 35 wounded. The Artois had only 1 killed and 6 wounded. She is also represented as having formed part of the fleet under Admiral Barrington, when that officer intercepted a French convoy bound to the East Indies, on which occasion the Pegase of 74 guns, l’Actionnaire a 2-decker armed en flute, and ten sail of transports, fell into the hands of the British[5].

During the remainder of the war Mr. Sotheron served in the Artois, off the Irish coast. He afterwards proceeded to Newfoundland, where he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, by Admiral Campbell, in 1783, and served in that capacity on board the Danac and Mollis frigates, during the ensuing three years. We subsequently find him in the Kingfisher sloop, from which vessel he removed into the Trusty, 50, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Cosby, on the Mediterranean station[6].

Mr. Sotheron’s next appointment was about 1792, to be first Lieutenant of the Romney, another 50-gun ship, carrying the flag of Rear-Admiral Goodall,in the Mediterranean; and in the course of the same year, he obtained the command of the Fury, of 14 guns, employed in affording protection to the trade between England and Portugal. He subsequently accompanied the expedition under his old patron Rear-Admiral M‘Bride[7] and the Earl of Moira, sent to assist the French royalists in Normandy and Brittany, but which returned to port in consequence of no favourable opportunity presenting itself for commencing operations with any prospect of success. The Fury was afterwards attached to Commodore Sir J. B. Warren’s squadron, stationed off the French coast, and assisted at the capture of la Vipere, a national corvette, mounting 18 guns.

Captain Sotheron was advanced to post rank Dec. 11, 1J93; and in the following year we find him commanding the Monarch, a 74-gun ship, bearing the broad pendant of Sir James Wallace, with whom he removed into his old ship the Romney, on that officer being appointed Commander-in-Chief at Newfoundland.

Towards the latter end of 1796, a French squadron under the orders of M. de Richery invested that settlement, and destroyed property to a considerable amount. The enemy’s armament consisted oef seven sail of the line and three frigates, on board of which were embarked 2,000 troops. The ships under Sir James Wallace were at this period detached on various services; neither would they, if collected, have been of sufficient force to prevent the depredations committed by the invaders. Sir James, however, resolved upon making a vigorous defence, and by his judicious arrangements, aided by the bravery and vigilance of Captain Sotheron and the other officers of his small squadron, consisting of the Romney, two frigates, and two sloops, completely baffled the designs of the enemy, who, after a fruitless attempt to obtain possession of the colony, returned to Europe.

Captain Sotheron’s next appointment was to the Latona frigate, on the Newfoundland station, where he continued during the two following years. Subsequent to his return to England, he was actively employed in the North Sea, and occasionally commanded a light squadron off the coast of Holland, the operations of which will be detailed under the heads of Captains Mackenzie and Slade, in our next volume. In the autumn of 1799, the Latona formed part of the expedition sent against the Helder; and after the surrender of that fortress went with Vice-Admiral Mitchell to attack the Batavian ships of war lying at anchor in the Vlieter channel, but which surrendered without making any resistance, in consequence of the spirit of disaffection manifested by their crews[8]. For his services on this occasion, Captain Sotheron, in common with the other officers of the fleet, received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament.

Our officer continued in the North Sea during the remainder of the war, and was fortunate enough to capture several of the enemy’s armed vessels. In the spring of 1802, he was sent abroad with despatches; and some time after the renewal of hostilities, obtained the command of the Excellent, 74, attached to the Mediterranean fleet, under the orders of Lord Nelson, by whom he was entrusted with the defence of the Bay of Naples; on which service we find him at the time when the ancient Neapolitan government was displaced by the French army, and the throne of that kingdom usurped by Joseph Buonaparte. In this state of affairs, the very prudent arrangements made by Captain Sotheron, prevented the mischief that would otherwise have ensued. From this period we lose sight of him until Aug. 1, 1811, on which day he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral.

On the vacancy occasioned in the representation for Nottinghamshire, by the resignation of Lord William Bentinck, in 1814, Rear-Admiral Sotheron was unanimously elected M.P. for that county, in conjunction with Captain Lord Newark, now Earl Manvers (of whom a memoir will appear in our next volume, and whose name is endeared to all his professional brethren by a recent act of princely munificence[9]); and thus was presented the novel spectacle, of the midland shire of England represented in the senate by two naval officers.

In 1816, on the demise of his eldest brother, Colonel Sotheron, who served for the borough of Pontefract in several parliaments. Rear-Admiral Sotheron, as heir-at-law, succeeded to the family estates in the counties of York and Nottingham. He was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral Aug. 12, 1819; and still continues to represent Nottinghamshire, having been returned to every succeeding Parliament since his first election[10].

Our officer has been twice married. His first wife died on the 29th May, 1812. His present lady, to whom he was united Nov. 13, 1813, is the eldest daughter of Wilson Braddyll, of Connhead Priory, co. Lancaster, Esq. His heir is Lucy Sarah Sotheron, an only child.

Country Seat.– Kirklington Hall, Southwell, co. Nottingham.

Town Residence.– 14, Harewood Place, Hanover Square.

  1. See p. 195, et seq.
  2. The Arethusa, Captain Samuel Marshall, was attached to the Channel fleet, commanded by the Hon. Admiral Keppel, who on the above-mentioned day, being off the Lizard, discovered and pursued four French men of war. In the evening the Milford frigate came up with, and detained the Licorne, of 32 guns and 230 men. The Arethusa, and Alert cutter, chaced the other vessels out of sight of the fleet. At night Captain Marshall arrived up with la Belle Poule, and informed her commander, that his orders were to conduct him to the British Admiral; with which the Frenchman refused to comply, and a desperate engagement ensued, and was continued with great obstinacy for two hours. By this time the combatants had approached close to the French coast, from whence a number of boats came out and towed la Belle Poule into a place of safety. The Arethusa’s main-mast fell over the side, and she was otherwise so disabled, that it was with the utmost difficulty she could clear the land. Her loss amounted to 8 men killed and 36 wounded. By the French accounts her opponent had 40 slain and 57 wounded. The Alert came up with a schooner mounting 14 guns, which she captured after a smart action. The Pallas of 32 guns, was taken on the 18th by the Foudroyant, Courageux, and Robust.
  3. Towards the close of the year 1779, Captain M‘Bride was ordered to Gibraltar with Admiral Rodney, for the purpose of relieving that fortress. On the 8th Jan. 1780, the British fleet had the good fortune to capture the whole of a Spanish convoy, laden with naval stores, &c, the commander of which, in the Guipuscoana, of 64 guns, surrendered to the Bienfaisant. On the 16th of the same month, Sir George Rodney fell in with a squadron under Don Juan de Langara; and in the engagement which ensued, it was the lot of Captain M‘Bride to be very particularly concerned. An outline of that affair will be found in a note at p. 3, et seq. In addition to which we must here observe, that the St. Domingo, at the moment of her destruction, was in action with the Bienfaisant; and that, had the awful explosion of the former, by which every soul on board perished, been retarded only a few moments, the latter must inevitably have shared her fate. After this event, which occurred in the midst of a tremendous storm, the Bienfaisant compelled the Phoenix, of 80 guns, Langara’s flag ship, which had already received a severe drubbing from the Defence, to surrender. Captain M‘Bride immediately took possession of his prize; but, as the smallpox was on board the Bienfaisant, he felt anxious to prevent the infection from being spread amongst the prisoners, and therefore sent a proposal to the Spanish Admiral, stipulating, that neither officers nor men should be removed from the Phoenix, provided Don Juan would be responsible for their conduct; that incase they should fall in with any Spanish or French ships of war, he would not suffer the officer put in charge of the prize, to be interrupted in conducting and defending her to the last extremity, agreeably to his orders; that if, meeting with superior force, the Phoenix should be retaken, and the Bienfaisant fight her way clear, Langara, his officers and men, should hold themselves prisoners of war to Captain Macbride, on their parole of honor; and that, should the Bienfaisant be captured, and the Phoenix escape, the Spanish Admiral, &c. &c. should be freed immediately. – Don Juan readily assented to these conditions; and, from the subsequent conduct of himself and his officers, no doubt can he entertained of his intending most strictly to adhere to them.

    Excepting those who were wounded by the wreck of the ill-fated St. Domingo, it is remarkable, that the Bienfaisant escaped, in the above conflict, without a single man being hurt. The Phoenix was carried safely into Gibraltar, from whence Admiral Langara, who had been wounded, was allowed to depart upon his parole. The liberal and polite behaviour of the British to him and his countrymen, made a sensible impression on their minds, and was confessedly of great advantage to the English prisoners in Spain.

  4. See note §, at p. 175.
  5. See p. 15, et seq.
  6. Commodore Cosby hoisted his broad pendant on board the Trusty in 1786, and held the chief command in the Mediterranean till the month of Sept. 1790; but, with the exception of his embassy to the Emperor of Morocco, no event occurred during that period that is worthy of record. It was in 1788 that this mission was undertaken. At that period, some apprehensions were entertained, that the commerce of Britain might sustain a predatory interruption from the Barbary corsairs; Commodore Cosby was therefore directed to visit the different states, and to arrange such terms with the Emperor of Morocco, as might ensure the safety of the English traders. He accomplished the negociation and treaty with the greatest exactness and precision, and to the entire satisfaction of Government. He was afterwards advanced to the rank of Admiral of the Red; and died at Bath, Jan. 10, 1808, in his 78th year.
  7. Admiral M‘Bride, whose professional gallantry has often been the theme of praise, died in the course of the year 1800.
  8. See p 414, et seq.
  9. The Editor had the gratification of being present at a meeting of the Members of the Naval Charitable Society, when the secretary of that institution announced that Earl Manvers, in addition to a former donation of twenty guineas, had ordered 1865l. 9s. 6d., the amount of his half pay between Jan. 1, 1812, and Mar. 31, 1820, to be added to their funds, together with all future half-pay to which his Lordship may be entitled from the navy, the present annual amount of which is 264l. 5s. 6d.!!!
  10. Vice-Admiral Sotheron appears to have had a pension granted him so far back as Feb. 8, 1796; its present amount, according to the regulation of Nov. 27, 1815, is 300l. per annum. We regret our inability to state the circumstances under which he received the severe wounds for which it was conferred.