Saunders, Charles (DNB00)

SAUNDERS, Sir CHARLES (1713?–1775), admiral, born about 1713, was probably a near relative (there is no mention of him in George's will, which seems to negative the suggestion that he was a son) of Sir George Saunders [q. v.] He entered the navy on board the Seahorse towards the end of 1727 under another kinsman, Captain Ambrose Saunders. The latter died in 1731, and the boy was sent to the Hector under the command of Captain Solgard, with whom he served in the Mediterranean till 1734. He passed his examination on 7 June 1734, being then, according to his certificate, twenty-one, but he was not improbably three or four years younger. On 8 Nov. 1734 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Exeter with Captain Yeo. In July 1738 he was appointed to the Norfolk, and in June 1739 to the Oxford, from which he was moved a fortnight later to the Sunderland, and on 14 Aug. to the Centurion, then fitting out for her celebrated voyage under Captain George (afterwards Lord) Anson [q. v.], at, it is said, ‘the particular request’ of Anson.

On 19 Feb. 1740–1 Saunders was promoted by Anson to be commander of the Trial brig, in which he reached Juan Fernandez in a deplorable state: himself, the lieutenant, and three men only being able to do duty. After leaving Juan Fernandez the Trial was condemned and scuttled as not seaworthy, Saunders and the crew moving into a Spanish prize which Anson commissioned as a frigate, giving her commander post rank on 26 Sept. 1741. In the following April, when Anson was preparing to leave the coast of America, this frigate also was destroyed, her officers and men being divided between the Centurion and Gloucester. The latter was abandoned and burnt in crossing the Pacific. In November, when the Centurion arrived at Macao, Saunders, charged with Anson's despatches, took a passage home in a Swedish merchant ship, and arrived in the Downs towards the end of May 1743. On 1 June his commissions as commander and as captain were confirmed to their original date, and on 29 Nov. he was appointed to the Plymouth, from which, on 20 Dec., he was moved to the Sapphire of 44 guns, employed during the following spring in watching Dunkirk under the orders of Sir John Norris [q. v.] In March 1745 he took command of the Gloucester, a new 50-gun ship, on the home station, and in her, in company with the Lark, on 26 Dec. 1746, captured a Spanish homeward-bound register-ship, valued at 300,000l. Saunders's share would amount to from 30,000l. to 40,000l.

In August 1747 he was appointed to the Yarmouth of 64 guns, in which he had a distinguished share in the defeat of the French squadron under M. de l'Etenduère on 14 Oct. [see Hawke, Edward, Lord]. In conjunction with his old messmate, Philip Saumarez [q. v.], then commanding the Nottingham, he attempted to stop the flight of the two French ships which escaped, but had not got within gunshot of them when Saumarez was killed, and the Nottingham gave up the pursuit. In December he was moved into the Tiger, which was paid off on the peace. In April 1750 he was elected member of parliament for Plymouth. In February 1752 he was appointed to the Penzance as commodore and commander-in-chief on the Newfoundland station. In April 1754 he was appointed treasurer of Greenwich Hospital, a lucrative office which he held for the next twelve years; and in May was returned to parliament as member for Hedon in Yorkshire, which he continued to represent till his death. In January 1755 he was appointed to the Prince, a new 90-gun ship, which, however, remained at Spithead through the year, and in December Saunders resigned the command on being appointed comptroller of the navy.

On 4 June 1756 he returned to active service, being then promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and sent out to the Mediterranean as second in command under Sir Edward Hawke. By Hawke's return to England in January 1757 he was left commander-in-chief till May, when he was relieved by Vice-admiral Osborn. On 14 Feb. 1759 he was promoted to be vice-admiral of the blue, and appointed commander-in-chief of the fleet for the St. Lawrence, which sailed from Spithead on the 17th, and, having waited at Halifax till the river was clear of ice, entered it in the beginning of June. By the end of the month he arrived in the neighbourhood of Quebec, with twenty-two ships of the line, thirteen frigates, numerous small craft, and transports carrying some eight thousand troops, under the command of Major-General James Wolfe [q. v.]; and notwithstanding the repeated attempts of the enemy, by means of fire-ships and fire-rafts, to prevent their approach, succeeded in occupying such positions off Quebec and in the lower river as completely cut off the possibility of any supplies or reinforcements reaching the garrison, and covered the movements of the troops at the wish of the general. The most friendly spirit prevailed between the two services, and rendered possible the decisive action which immediately led to the fall of Quebec and the conquest of Canada. The brilliance of the little battle, with Wolfe's glorious death, caught the popular imagination, and has prevented many from seeing that it was but the crowning incident of a long series of operations all based on the action of the fleet which alone rendered them possible.

On the surrender of Quebec Saunders withdrew from the St. Lawrence with the greater part of the fleet, and sailed for England. In the entrance of the Channel he had intelligence of the Brest fleet having put to sea, and immediately turned aside to join Hawke. He had scarcely done so, however, when he had news of its having been practically destroyed in Quiberon Bay, on which he resumed his route, landed at Cork, and proceeded by land to Dublin, where he arrived on 15 Dec. Happening to go to the theatre, he was received with a loud burst of applause from the whole house. On coming to London he had a flattering reception from the king, and, on taking his seat in the House of Commons on 23 Jan. 1760, the thanks of the house were given him by the speaker. In April he was appointed commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, where he remained till the peace. On 26 May 1761 he was installed, by proxy, as a knight of the Bath. In August 1765 he was appointed one of the lords of the admiralty; and on 16 Sept. 1766 to be first lord, an appointment which, it was said, caused some dissatisfaction among his seniors on the list [see Pocock, Sir George]. He resigned it in less than three months; nor did he afterwards undertake any service, though on 23 April 1773 he was again nominated to the command in the Mediterranean. He was promoted to the rank of admiral on 18 Oct. 1770, and died at his house in Spring Gardens, of an access of gout in the stomach, on 7 Dec. 1775. On the 12th he was privately buried in Westminster Abbey. Saunders married, in 1750, the only daughter of James Buck, a banker in London, but, dying without issue, bequeathed the greater part of his very considerable property to his niece Jane, wife of Richard Huck-Saunders [q. v.]

A portrait by Reynolds, belonging to the Earl of Lichfield, has been engraved by McArdell; another, by Brompton, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, where there are also two paintings, by Dominic Serres [q. v.], of the unsuccessful attempts made by the French to destroy the fleet in the St. Lawrence in 1759.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. v. 116; Naval Chronicle, viii. 1; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; official letters, commission and warrant-books, and other documents in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.