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Royal Naval Biography/Stopford, Robert

Vice-Admiral of the Red; and Knight Commander of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath.

The noble family of Stopford is said to derive its descent from Nicholas de Stockport, Baron of Stockport, one of the eight barons of the palatinate, created by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, who settled in that county previous to the Norman Conquest. The first ancestor of the subject of this memoir, of whom we have certain information, was James Stopford, an officer in the parliamentary army, who repaired to Ireland during the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell, and carved out a fortune for himself in that kingdom. From him descended James, second Earl of Courtown and first Baron Saltersford, who married Mary, daughter and co-heiress of Richard Powis, of Hintlesham-Hall, co. Suffolk, Esq. and niece of George, the late Duke of Montagu.

Robert Stopford, the third son by the above marriage, was born Feb. 5, 1768; went to sea at an early age; served some time in the Prince George, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Digby, on the American station[1]; and obtained the rank of Post-Captain Aug. 12, 1790, in which year we find him commanding the Lowestoffe frigate, employed in the Channel.

Captain Stopford’s next appointment was to the Aquilon, of 32 guns, stationed in the Mediterranean, from whence he returned to England with H.R.H. Prince Augustus, now Duke of Sussex, as his guest. The Aquilon was subsequently attached to the fleet under the orders of Earl Howe, and repeated the signals of the rear division in the memorable conflict of June 1, 1794[2].

In the autumn of the same year our officer was removed into the Phaeton of 38 guns, and continued on Channel service until Feb. 1795, when he received orders to join the squadron destined to escort her Serene Highness the Princess Caroline of Brunswick from Germany to Great Britain[3]. He afterwards rejoined the grand fleet, and on the 7th June following assisted at the capture of eight vessels laden with wine and naval stores from Bourdeaux; in effecting which service and endeavouring to bring out a corvette that had sought refuge under a battery on the south end of Belleisle, the Phaeton had 1 man killed, 7 others wounded, and 2 guns dismounted.

Nine days after this event, the detachment commanded by Vice-Admiral Cornwallis, of which the Phaeton formed a part, fell in with a French fleet, consisting of one 3-decker, twelve 74’s, fourteen frigates, and three smaller vessels, from which the British squadron with difficulty escaped[4]. Captain Stopford subsequently drove on shore l’Echoue, of 28 guns; and, in company with the Anson, captured la Daphne, of 30 guns and 276 men, and la Flore, of 36 guns.

Towards the latter end of February, 1798, the Phaeton joined the squadron under Sir John Borlase Warren, cruising off l’Isle Dieu. On the 8th March several vessels, laden with naval stores and provisions, from Rochefort bound to Brest, were captured; and six days after, nine others were brought out of the Pertuis d’Antioche. On the 22d the squadron chaced a large French frigate, which at midnight Captain Stopford brought to action; but his opponent running into shoal water, he was obliged to haul off. The enemy in endeavouring to effect his escape into the river Garonne, struck upon the Olive rocks, near the Cordovan Light-house, and sustained considerable damage.

In addition to the above services performed by Captain Stopford, during the time he commanded the Phaeton, he appears to have taken, or assisted in capturing, a national corvette of 20 guns; nine privateers mounting in the whole 152 guns, and manned with from 130 to 50 men each; and two other armed vessels.

Early in the spring of 1799, our officer was appointed to the Excellent of 74 guns, in which ship he captured l’Arethuse French corvette, a national cutter, and several merchant vessels. After cruising for some time with the Western squadron he was ordered to the Leeward Islands, from whence he returned with a broad pendant in the summer of 1802.

On the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, Captain Stopford commissioned the Spencer of 74 guns, at Plymouth, and was employed off Ferrol and Corunna during the ensuing winter. In the autumn of 1804 he joined Lord Nelson’s fleet in the Mediterranean; and afterwards accompanied that officer to the West Indies, in pursuit of the combined fleets of France and Spain. On the 9th Nov. 1805, his long and active services were rewarded with an appointment to a Colonelcy of Royal Marines; and about the same period he was returned to Parliament as one of the members for Ipswich, in Suffolk.

Under the heads of Sir Alexander Cochrane, and Sir Richard G. Keats, will be found an account of the action fought off St. Domingo, Feb. 6, 1806, in which the Spencer bore a conspicuous part. The loss she sustained on that occasion amounted to 18 killed and 50 wounded; in the latter list were Captain Stopford, Lieutenant Harris, one Subaltern of marines, and a Midshipman. After the battle she was sent with the prizes to Jamaica.

We next find Captain Stopford employed in the expedition against Copenhagen, which ended in the capture of the Danish fleet, and a vast quantity of naval stores[5]. On the 28th April, 1808, he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and appointed to a command in the Channel fleet. Early in the following year, a detachment under his orders obliged three French frigates to run ashore near the Sable d’Olonnes; in the execution of which service the British had 3 men killed and 31 wounded, besides being much cut up in the masts and rigging from the fire of the enemy’s batteries[6].

After the above affair Rear-Admiral Stopford blockaded a French squadron in Aix Roads; and previous to the arrival of Captain Lord Cochrane, who had been sent from England to conduct the enterprise, handsomely volunteered to undertake an attack upon the enemy with fire-ships; and, when the attempt was made, his judicious arrangement of the boats, afforded the greatest satisfaction to Lord Gambier, the Commander-in-Chief, who in his public despatches strongly testified to his zealous co-operation. The Rear-Admiral also received the thanks of parliament for his conduct on that occasion.

In the autumn of 1810, our officer was nominated to the command of the squadron employed at the Cape of Good Hope, and proceeded thither in the Scipion, of 74 guns. A few months after his arrival on that station, he received intelligence of the death of Vice-Admiral Drury, which took place March 6, 1811, when about to depart from Madras, on an expedition against Java. The Rear-Admiral immediately hastened towards Batavia for the purpose of conducting the naval part of the armament; but did not form a junction with Commodore Broughton, who had conducted it from Malacca, until the 9th August, whereas the troops had been landed on the 4th of that month, and the place capitulated on the 8th. As, however, the enemy were still in possession of some very strong posts, the arrival of the Scipion and three frigates from the Isle of France proved extremely beneficial, and considerably facilitated the operations of the army, the advanced guard of which, under Colonel Gillespie, on the 10th curried with the bayonet a strong position in advance of the works at Muster Corneliis. The main body of the enemy occupied these works, strongly entrenched, and guarded by several redoubts and a numerous artillery. For some days a cannonade was carried on, by which several of their batteries were silenced; and on the 26th, a general assault was ordered by the commander of the forces, Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, who had with him the royal marines of the squadron. The gallantry with which it was conducted was irresistible; the lines were forced, the fort was captured, and the whole of the defending army of 10,000 men, killed, taken, or dispersed. General Jannsen, the Governor of Java, with difficulty escaped during the engagement, with a few cavalry, to the distance of thirty miles, where he collected all his remaining force for the defence of the rest of the island. Sir Samuel Auchmuty, however, pushed his success with vigour; and marching to Samarang, whither the Dutch Governor had retired, took possession of it on the 12th September, without opposition, the enemy having withdrawn to a position on the road to Solo, the residence of the native Emperor of Java. This post was attacked on the 16th, by Colonel Gibbs, with such success that on the following day an armistice was agreed on, which terminated in the surrender of the European troops, and the delivery of the whole island to the British arms. The adjacent isle of Madura, which had been occupied by the French, was included in the capitulation signed on the 18th; and thus not a vestige was left of the eastern dominion of the Gallo-Batavian empire. The loss sustained by the navy in the above operations amounted to 15 men killed, and 55 officers and men wounded. That of the army was very considerable. On the 10th Jan. 1812, the thanks of parliament were voted to the officers and men of both services employed on the expedition.

After the subjugation of Java, Rear-Admiral Stopford relinquished his assumed command and returned to his former station, where he continued until superseded by RearAdiniral Tyler. He arrived in England, with his flag on board the President frigate, in the spring of 1813; since which he has not been afloat. He was made a Vice-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1812, and nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815.

Sir Robert married, June 29, 1809, Mary, daughter of Commissioner Fanshawe, of his Majesty’s Dock-yard at Plymouth.

Residence.– Lyndhurst, Hants; and Buckland Abbey, Devon.

  1. See p. 3, et seq.
  2. See p. 75, et seq.
  3. The squadron, consisting of the Jupiter, a 50-gun ship, Phaeton and Latona frigates, Lark, Hawke, and Martin sloops, and four armed cutters, under the command of Commodore Payne, sailed from the Nore on the 2d March, and after encountering very tempestuous weather, anchored off Cuxhaven on the 7th; but it was not until the 28th that H.S.H. embarked on board the Jupiter. The Princess landed at Greenwich, from a royal yacht, to which she had removed on her arrival off Gravesend, April 4, 1795.
  4. Vice-Admiral Cornwallis, with one 3-decker, four 74’s, two frigates and a sloop, on his return from the pursuit of a French convoy, fell in with the above fleet near the Penmarks, and by a series of masterly manoeuvres effected a retreat which reflects as much honor on those concerned, as would the achievement of the most brilliant victory. The late Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, who died at Plymouth Feb. 23, 1812, commanded the Mars on this occasion, and sustained the brunt of the enemy’s attack. Nothing can be more expressive than the Vice-Admiral’s own words in his official despatch, wherein he speaks of the very meritorious conduct of the officers and men whom lie commanded on the occasion:–

    “Indeed, I shall ever feel the impression which the good conduct of the Captains, Officers, Seamen, Marines, and Soldiers in the squadron, has made on my mind; and it was the greatest pleasure I ever received, to see the spirit manifested by the men, who, instead of being cast down at seeing thirty sail of the enemy’s ships attacking our little squadron, were in the highest spirits imaginable. I do not mean the Royal Sovereign alone; the same spirit was shown in all the ships, as they came near me; and although (circumstanced as we were) we had no great reason to complain of the conduct of the enemy, yet our men could not help repeatedly expressing their contempt of them. Could common prudence have allowed me to let loose their valour, I hardly know what might not have been accomplished by such men.”

    The squadron under Vice-Admiral Cornwallis consisted of the Royal Sovereign, 110 guns; Mars, Bellerophon, Triumph, and Brunswick, 74’s; Phaeton and Pallas frigates; and Kingfisher sloop. The damage the ships received was very inconsiderable, excepting in their stern frames, which were much shaken by the repeated firing of the guns. The squadron lost not a man, and only 12 were wounded on board the Mars. For their spirited conduct on this occasion, the Vice-Admiral, Captains, &c. received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament [Admiral Cornwallis died July 5, 1819.].

  5. See p. 79.
  6. See Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham.