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Royal Naval Biography/Waldegrave, William


RIGHT HONORABLE
WILLIAM LORD RADSTOCK,

(Of Castletown in the Queen’s County, Ireland.)

Admiral of the Red; Knight Grand Cross of the most honourable Military Order of the Bath; and President of the Naval Charitable Society[1].

The family of Waldegrave, formerly written Walgrave, of which this nobleman is a member, is denominated from a place of their own name in Northamptonshire, where they resided before the year 1200. His Lordship is the second son of John, third Earl of Waldegrave, by Lady Elizabeth, aunt of the present Marquis of Stafford[2], and was born July 9, 1758.

The profession of the navy was his own particular choice, and he was happily placed under the tuition of such officers as were calculated to improve his early genius for nautical science. Having gone through the inferior gradations of service in the Mediterranean and Western Seas, he was promoted to the command of the Zephyr sloop, about 1775; and on the 30th May, 1776, advanced to the rank of Post-Captain in the Rippon, of 60 guns, bearing the broad pendant of Sir Edward Vernon.

Captain Waldegrave’s time passed on in the usual routine of service until Aug. 10, 1778, on which day the Commodore, being on a cruise off the coast of Coromandel, fell in with a French squadron under M. Tranjolly. An action ensued, and was maintained with great obstinacy for two hours; when the enemy availing himself of the crippled condition of the British ships, made sail and steered for Pondicherry, On the 21st Sir Edward again got sight of them, but their superiority in sailing prevented his being able to bring them to action; they however quitted the coast, which gave the Commodore an opportunity of taking possession of the anchorage in Pondicherry road, by which means he was enabled to co-operate with the army in the reduction of that place. In October it surrendered to the British arms.

In the above action the number of ships on each side were equal. Those of the English mounted 148 guns; the French 180. The loss sustained by the former, consisted of 11 killed and 53 wounded[3]. That of the enemy was never ascertained. The Sartine French frigate, mistaking the British for her own squadron, was afterwards taken.

The climate of the East Indies not agreeing with Captain Waldegrave’s health, he returned to England, and immediately on his arrival was appointed to the Pomona of 28 guns. In this ship he captured the Cumberland, American privateer, of 20 guns and 170 men. This was an important service, for the enemy’s vessel had been particularly destructive to our trade. Some months after he removed into la Prudente, of 38 guns and 280 men; and after making a voyage to the Baltic, was attached to the Channel Fleet.

On the 4th July, 1780, Captain Waldegrave, having been sent by Sir Francis Geary to cruise off Cape Ortegal, in company with the Licorne, of 32 guns, fell in with, and after an obstinately contested action of four hours, captured la Capricieuse, a new French frigate, pierced for 44 guns, but mounting only 32, with a complement of 308 men, above 100 of whom, including her commander, were either killed or wounded. Upon taking possession of the prize, she was found in so disabled a state, owing to her gallant defence, that upon the report of a survey held by the carpenters of the British frigates, Captain Waldegrave ordered her to be burnt.

La Prudente bore the brunt of the above action, and was consequently a greater sufferer than her companion. She had four midshipmen and 13 seamen killed; her second Lieutenant, one midshipman, and 26 men wounded. The Licorne had only three men slain and seven wounded.

In the spring of 1781, Captain Waldegrave accompanied Admiral Darby to the relief of Gibraltar[4]; and towards the close of that year he assisted at the capture of a number of French transports, that were proceeding with troops and stores to the West Indies, under the protection of M. de Guichen. The skill displayed by the British squadron on this occasion, in presence of an enemy’s fleet nearly double in numbers and force, deserves to be recorded. The following are the particulars of this affair, which reflected credit on all present; In the month of November, 1781, the French fleet, consisting of nineteen sail of the line, many of which were first and second rates, besides two 64-gun ships, armed en flute, and several frigates, put to sea from Brest, to escort their East and West India trade safe to a certain latitude. The British Government were no sooner apprized of this, than a squadron of twelve sail of the line, one ship of 50 guns, and four frigates, under the command of Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt, was despatched to intercept them. On the 12th December, at day-break, about being thirty-five leagues to the westward of Ushant, the enemy were discovered, and appeared much dispersed, the ships of war being very considerably to leeward of the merchantmen. With a force so much beyond his own, the Rear-Admiral could not in prudence hazard a general action; but having the weather-gage, he determined to sail parallel with the enemy, and to watch a fit opportunity of bearing down upon their rear, and cutting off their charge. In the course of a few hours the van and centre of the French fleet had shot considerably a-head of the rear, and the merchant vessels, under the protection of four or five frigates, had fallen considerably to leeward. Upon observing this, the British squadron bore up in line of battle a-head, the van engaging the rear of the enemy; the remainder of the ships passed to leeward, and effectually cut off and captured fifteen of the transports, and sunk four of the frigates that had rashly endeavoured to protect them. This manoeuvre having brought his squadron above half a league to leeward of the enemy, and the wind blowing directly fair for the coast of England, Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt formed his ships into two divisions, the first of which took the prizes in tow, and the other kept up a running fight with the French Fleet; and in this order, under a great press of sail, he carried the whole of the captured vessels into Plymouth, in the face of the enemy, and in spite of their utmost endeavours to prevent him.

Having terminated his progress through the American war with infinite credit, the state of Captain Waldegrave’s health required him to seek a milder climate than that of England; he accordingly repaired to the Continent, where he remained several years, during which period he visited Paris, Marseilles, Constantinople, Smyrna, and several of the islands in the Archipelago, and made a tour of the greater part of Greece.

In 1790, a dispute took place with Spain, relative to a settlement which had been made on the western coast of America, in 1788; and preparations, both naval and military, were recurred to by each party, in consequence of it; but the court of Madrid being conscious of its utter inability to enter into a contest with, Great Britain, applied for the assistance of France. The National Assembly, however, exhibited great reluctance to enter into a war about so insignificant an object; and a convention was soon after signed at the Escurial, by which, not only the settlement of Nootka Sound was restored, but the free navigation of, and the right of fishery in those seas, were conceded to Great Britain[5]. During this discussion Captain Waldegrave commanded the Majestic, of 74 guns.

We find no farther mention of our officer until the commencement of the year 1793, when he was appointed to the Courageux, of 74 guns, and in the following spring accompanied Vice-Admiral Hotham to the Mediterranean.

By this time, Louis XVI. like our Charles I, had experienced a violent death on a public scaffold; and France, towards the end of the eighteenth century, like England, about the middle of the seventeenth, had declared herself a republic. With an energy seldom practised, even in limited monarchies, this new commonwealth smote all her enemies, and carried terror and desolation on her victorious banners; while, wonderful to relate, her own provinces were a prey to domestic factions and civil wars.

The squadron under Vice-Admiral Hotham was speedily followed by the main body of the fleet destined to act, under the orders of Lord Hood, in concert with the Royalists of the Southern departments of that distracted country.

Upon the arrival of his Lordship in the Mediterranean, he proceeded off Toulon, the inhabitants of which place and Marseilles, had manifested evident signs of a disposition to free themselves from the oppressive yoke of their new masters. Lord Hood availed himself of these dissensions to open a negotiation with the commandant, and principal residents of Toulon, for the delivering up of the town, arsenal, forts, and shipping to his Britannic Majesty, in trust for the reigning King of France, at the re-establishment of peace and order in that country.

The general committee of the sections of Toulon having acquiesced with the proposals made by the British Admiral, the necessary arrangements were made for the landing of 1500 men, which was accomplished by noon on the 28th August[6]. The disembarkation was completed under the immediate protection of two frigates, supported by the Courageux, and three other line-of-battle ships; and the same day the British fleet, and a Spanish squadron under Don Juan de Langara, anchored in the outer road of Toulon, the greater part of the French Fleet at that anchorage removing into the inner harbour. On the following day Captain Waldegrave and the late Lord Hugh Seymour Conway, were sent to England with Lord Hood’s despatches, giving an account of this important event. Those officers being ordered to proceed by different routes, the former proceeded to Barcelona, and from thence across the Spanish peninsula.

Our officer returned to the Mediterranean, with instructions for Lord Hood’s further proceedings, by the way of Holland, Germany, and Italy, and on his arrival resumed the command of the Courageux, in which ship he terminated his services as a Captain. On the 4th July, 1794, he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, a short time previous to which he had been nominated a Colonel of Marines.

His promotion to a flag obliged Rear-Admiral Waldegrave to return to England by land. He subsequently held a command in the Channel Fleet. On the 1st June, 1795, he was made a Vice-Admiral; and in the fall of the same year, he again sailed for the Mediterranean. During the succeeding spring he was sent with five ships of the line to negotiate with the Tunisians. His mission was of a peculiarly arduous and delicate nature; notwithstanding which, however, he executed it to the complete satisfaction of those by whom he had been deputed[7]. On the night previous to his quitting Tunis, the boats of Vice-Admiral Waldegrave’s squadron, under the direction of Captain Sutton, of the Egmont, cut out of the bay several armed vessels[8].

From this period, excepting the unprecedented length of time which the ships were kept at sea, nothing remarkable occurred until the 14th Feb., 1797, when Sir John Jervis, with fifteen sail of the line, encountered and defeated a Spanish fleet, consisting of twenty-seven ships, seven of which mounted from 112 to 130 guns. The particulars of this memorable event, which completely defeated the projected junction of the navies of France, Holland, and Spain, and thus preserved to Great Britain its proud dominion of the ocean, will be found in our memoir of the Earl of St. Vincent, then Sir John Jervis, from whom Vice-Admiral Waldegrave received the following letter, in acknowledgment of the very essential services he had rendered[9]:

Victory, in Lagos Bay, Feb. 16, 1797.

“Sir.– No language I am possessed of can convey the high sense I entertain of the exemplary conduct of the Flag-Officers, Captains, Officers, Seamen, Marines, and Soldiers, embarked on board every ship of the squadron I have the honour to command, present at the vigorous and successful attack made upon the fleet of Spain on the 14th instant. The signal advantage obtained by his Majesty’s arms on that day, is entirely to be attributed to their determined valour and discipline; and I desire you will accept my grateful thanks for your service on that occasion.

“I have the honour to be, Sir,
“Your most obedient humble servant,
“J. JERVIS.

“The Hon. Win. Waldegrave,
&c. &c. &c.”

Soon after the above glorious event, the subject of this memoir was nominated Governor of Newfoundland, and Commander-in-Chief of the squadron employed on that station. This appointment he held for several years, during which he devoted his whole attention to the welfare of that island, and obtained very particular approbation.

It was at that period the regulation for the Governor of Newfoundland to return to England at the fall of the year, and remain there during the winter months. In consequence of this custom Vice-Admiral Waldegrave had the gratification of assisting in the solemn ceremonies of a day devoted to thanksgiving for the splendid triumphs that the Almighty had vouchsafed to the fleets of Britain; On the 10th Dec. 1797, their late Majesties and all the royal family, attended by the great Officers of State, and the Members of both Houses of Parliament, went in procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral, to return thanks for the glorious naval victories obtained by Lord Howe, June 1, 1794; by Admiral Hotham, Mar. 13, 1795; by Lord Bridport, June 23, 1795; by Sir John Jervis,


Addenda

LORD RADSTOCK. (p. 56). His Lordship is a Commissioner of the Church and Corporation Land Tax; a Vice-President of the Asylum, and of the Mary-le-bone General Dispensary.


  1. The Naval Charitable Society was instituted in 1791, for the relief of the indigent orphans, widows, and children of Sea Officers, and also of Officers themselves reduced by misfortune to indigence. From that period to the latter end of the year 1821, acceptable and necessary relief was supplied in no less than two thousand one hundred and ninety-two cases of distress. The balance in hand at the commencement of 1822, was 1,147l. 10s. 1d. besides 30,000l. Consols. Petitions from non-subscribers, or their relatives, are deemed inadmissible. Lord Radstock is also a Vice-President of several benevolent institutions, unconnected with the Navy.
  2. Lord Radstock’s uncle, James, the second Earl of Waldegrave, married Maria, daughter of Sir Edward Walpole; she afterwards became the consort of the late Duke of Gloucester, brother of King George III, and died in August, 1807.
  3. The Rippon had 4 slain and 15 wounded.
  4. See p. 4, and note ‡, at p. 33.
  5. See p. 40.
  6. See p. 46.
  7. The naval Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Jervis, and Sir Gilbert Elliot, Viceroy of Corsica.
  8. See Admiral Sir John Sutton.
  9. we should have added, that he also received a note from the heroic Nelson, accompanied by the sword of the second Captain of the St. Nicholas, as a proof of his esteem for the noble manner in which he conducted himself. See p. 814.