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Royal Naval Biography/Yorke, Joseph Sydney


Vice-Admiral of the White; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; Member of Parliament for Reygate; and a Director of Greenwich Hospital.

This officer is the youngest son of the late Right Hon. Charles Yorke, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain[1], by Agneta, second daughter and co-heiress of the late Henry Johnson of Berkhamstead, Esq., and was born in London, June 6th, 1768.

Mr. Yorke entered the naval service Feb. 15th, 1780 3 and after serving some time as Midshipman in the Duke of 98 guns, commanded by the late Sir Charles Douglas, Bart., removed with that distinguished officer into the Formidable, another second rate, bearing the flag of the late Lord Rodney, to whom he acted as Aid-de-Camp at the great battles fought off Guadaloupe, April 9th and 12th, 1782, in which the French fleet was totally defeated, and Admiral the Count de Grasse, taken prisoner[2].

A general peace followed the above glorious event; and the Formidable having returned to England, our young officer, after a short interval, joined the Assistance of 50 guns, Commodore Sir Charles Douglas, stationed on the coast of America; and subsequently the Salisbury of 50 guns, Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, bearing the broad pendant of the late Admiral J. Elliot, in which ship he continued on the Newfoundland station nearly three years, in the capacity of Master’s Mate.

Mr. Yorke was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, June 16th, 1789, and served as such on board the Adamant of 50 guns, Rear-Admiral Sir R. Hughes, Bart. Thisbe frigate, and Victory of 100 guns. In the following year he was elected M.P. for Reygate[3], in Surry, in which borough his family has considerable property. Lieutenant Yorke continued in the Victory during the Spanish and Russian merits; and in the month of February, 1791, was promoted to the command of the Rattlesnake sloop of war, in which vessel he cruised in the Channel, until the commencement of the war with the French Republic, when he was made Post into the Circe of 28 guns, by commission dated Feb. 4, 1793, and placed under the orders of the late Admiral Earl Howe. The Circe was actively employed in the Channel Soundings, Bay of Biscay, &c; and Captain Yorke had the good fortune to capture several of the enemy’s large privateers, and a number of merchant vessels; he also took the Espiegle French corvette close to Brest harbour, and in sight of a very superior French squadron.

In the month of August, 1794, he removed into the Stag of 32 guns; and after serving some time on the above station, and the coast of Ireland, was ordered to join the North Sea fleet, at that period commanded by the late Lord Duncan. On the 22d Aug. 1795, our officer being in company with a light squadron under the orders of Captain James Alms, gave chace to two large ships and a cutter. At 4h 15’ P.M. the Stag brought the sternmost ship to close action, which continued with much spirit for about an hour, when the enemy struck, and proved to be the Alliance, Batavian frigate of 36 guns and 240 men; her consorts, the Argo of the same force, and Nelly[4] cutter of 16 guns, effected their escape, after sustaining a running fight with the other ships of the British squadron. In this spirited action, the Stag had 4 men slain and 13 wounded, and the enemy between 40 and 50 killed and wounded.

Captain Yorke continued to command the Stag, and cruized with considerable success against the armed and trading vessels of the enemy, until the month of March, 1800, when he was appointed to the Jason of 36 guns; and in the following year removed to the Canada, 74, which ship formed part of the western squadron during the continuance of the war. On the renewal of hostilities in 1803, our officer was again called into service, and commanded successively the Prince George, 98, Barfleur, 98, and Christian VII. of 80 guns, (the latter a Danish ship with round quarters built from one of Admiral Chapman’s models,) until June 22, 1810, when he was superseded on being appointed one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty[5], on which occasion he vacated his seat in Parliament, but was immediately re-elected. Some time previous to this, when his brother the Earl of Hardwicke obtained the Blue Ribband while Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Captain Yorke, as his proxy, received the honor of knighthood[6].

On the 31st July, 1810, Sir Joseph was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral of the Blue; and in the month of Jan. following, he hoisted his flag on board the Vengeur of 74 guns, and assumed the command of a strong squadron, with which, and a large body of troops intended to reinforce Lord Wellington’s army in Portugal, he arrived in the Tagus March 4; in consequence of this reinforcement the French army, under Marshal Massena, broke up from Santarem, and began its retreat into Spain. We next find the Rear-Admiral cruizing off the Western Isles, with a squadron consisting of three sail of the line and two frigates, for the protection of the homeward bound East India fleet, the whole of which reached England in safety.

At the general election in Oct. 1812, Sir Joseph Yorke was chosen M.P. for Sandwich[7]. And on the 4th June, 1814, obtained the rank of Vice-Admiral. He was nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and in the course of the same year presented with the freedom of the borough of Plymouth.

The Vice-Admiral retained his seat at the Board of Admiralty until the month of April 1818, when he resigned it; since which he has been on half-pay. He is at present M.P. for Reygate, having been returned for that borough in the summer of 1818[8], and re-elected in 1820.

Sir Joseph Yorke married, first, in April 1795, Elizabeth, daughter of James Rattray, of Atherstone, in North Britain, Esq.; and by that lady, who died Jan. 29, 1812, has several children, one of whom, Charles Philip, a Commander in the Navy, born April 1799; served as a Midshipman of the Queen Charlotte in the battle of Algiers[9], and obtained the commendations of his Captain (Sir James Brisbane) for his conduct on that memorable occasion. Sir Joseph married, secondly, May 22, 1813, Urania, dowager Marchioness of Clanricarde, and daughter of George, twelfth Marquis of Winchester.

Country Seat.– Sydney Lodge, a beautiful residence, situate on the margin of the Southampton River.

Town Residence.– 14, New Burlington Street,

  1. Lord Chancellor Yorke was the second son of Philip, 1st Earl of Hardwicke, who had also held the same high office. He received the seals in 1770, and was created a Peer by the title of Baron Morden; but dying before the patent had passed the Great Seal, it did not take effect, and was never afterwards completed, though it had passed through the Privy Seal Office, and every other form. His eldest son however, on the demise of his uncle, the late Earl of Hardwicke, succeeded that nobleman both in title and estates.
  2. An account of this decisive conflict will be found under the head of Admiral William Peere Williams Freeman, the senior surviving officer of those who were present on that memorable occasion. It is here necessary to remark, that many of the British ships were near the Ville de Paris at the moment of her submission, and among others the Formidable.
  3. He represented Reygate in Parliament until the year 1806, and was then returned for the borough of St. Germains, Cornwall.
  4. Called the Vleigheld by James, but in the Gazette account described as above.
  5. Captain Yorke’s brother, the Right Hon. C. Yorke, formerly Secretary of War and Secretary of State, was about the same time nominated First Lord Commissioner, in which post he continued for two years. During the period of the two brothers sitting at the board, the Break-water in Plymouth Sound was decided upon and commenced; the dock-yard at Pembroke, and the improvements in Sheerness-yard, were also determined upon; the iron tanks, iron cables, and round bows of the ships of war, were generally introduced in the service, together with other essential improvements. Previous to Sir J. Sidney Yorke resigning his seat at the Admiralty, the round sterns were also brought forward, at the suggestion of Sir R. Seppings, and their utility strenuously supported by our officer.
  6. Philip, Earl of Hardwicke, was made. Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1801, where his administration was highly approved, and where he gave great satisfaction, by displaying, in very difficult times, much wisdom, firmness, judgment, and moderation. He is a K.G., and stands high in the political world; and as a private man, a father, and husband, his character ranks with the best.
  7. The borough of Sandwich generally returns a naval officer as one of its representatives.
  8. The following lines were addressed to Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke, on his retirement from the Admiralty:

    Hail to thee, friend of the storm-beaten tar,
    Hail to thee, Yorke! ever faithful and brave;
    In peace a consoler, undaunted in war,
    Hail to thee, Yorke, from a son of the wave.

    Though thy hand be withdrawn from directing the helm,
    Though thy voice in the Board-room no longer be heard,
    Not a heart of more worth throbs in Albion’s proud realm,
    Not an Admiral more valued, more loved, and revered.

    When old Neptune his Tritons may harness again,
    When wild echoes awake that now slumbering lie,
    Let thy standard be reared on the high-swelling main,
    And with Yorke we’ll embark – to conquer or die.

    The widow still sigh’d at misfortune’s decree,
    The tears of the orphan fell frequent, though soft;
    These, by some disregarded, were pitied by thee –
    And for Yorke grateful wishes shall now soar aloft.

    Then hail to the friend of a storm-beaten tar,
    Hail to a Chief, ever faithful and brave;
    In peace still beloved, and undaunted in war –
    Hail to thee, Yorke! from a son of the wave.

    An Old Shipmate.

  9. See p. 225, et seq.