Vernon, Edward (1684-1757) (DNB00)

VERNON, EDWARD (1684–1757), admiral, second son of James Vernon [q. v.], secretary of state under William III, was born in Westminster on 12 Nov. 1684. At the age of seven Edward was sent to Westminster school, where, in the course of eight or nine years, he acquired a familiar knowledge of Latin and Greek; he is said to have also studied mathematics and astronomy. He entered the navy on 10 May 1700, as volunteer per order, or king's letter-boy, on board the Shrewsbury, flagship of Sir George Rooke [q. v.], in the operations in the Sound. In March 1700-1 he was appointed—again as a v.p.o.—to the Ipswich; in June he was discharged to the Mary galley, and afterwards from her to one of the ships forming the fleet off Cadiz in the summer of 1702. On 16 Sept. he was promoted by Rooke to be lieutenant of the Lennox with Captain (afterwards Sir William) Jumper [q. v.] On 25 Sept. the Lennox parted from the fleet and returned to England with a convoy of empty victuallers. In the following spring she took the trade out to Lisbon, returning to the Downs by the end of April. In May she was with the Channel squadron cruising between Ushant and Scilly. In July she went out to the Mediterranean with the Levant trade; in October and November she was at Smyrna; in December she returned to England, and was paid off on 13 March 1703–4. Vernon had already been appointed to the Barfleur, flagship of Sir Clowdisley Shovell [q. v.], which he now joined, and in her went out to the Mediterranean, and was present in the battle of Malaga. In December he was moved into the Britannia, Shovell's flagship in the Mediterranean, and at the capture of Barcelona in 1705. On 22 Jan. 1705–6 he was made captain of the Dolphin frigate, and ten days later was moved into the Rye, which he commanded in the Mediterranean during 1706 and 1707, returning to England in October with the fleet commanded by Shovell, but escaping Shovell's fate. On 21 Nov. 1707 he was moved from the Rye to the Jersey of 50 guns, which he took out to the West Indies in the following April, and commanded on that station for the next four years, under Commodore (afterwards Sir Charles) Wager [q. v.] and Commodore James Littleton [q. v.], whom he helped to break up a Spanish squadron off Cartagena, July 1710, and with whom he returned to England in the autumn of 1712. In March 1715 he was appointed to the 50-gun ship Assistance, one of the fleet in the Baltic under Sir John Norris [q. v.] in 1715–16, and under Sir George Byng [q. v.] in 1717. She was paid off on 22 Oct. 1717, and for the next eighteen months Vernon was on half-pay. In March 1719 he was appointed to the Mary, a 60-gun ship, and was again with Norris in the Baltic in the summers of 1719–1720–21. He then went on half-pay, and in 1722 was returned to parliament as member for Penryn. In April 1726 he was appointed to the 70-gun ship Grafton, one of the fleet in the Baltic that summer under Sir Charles Wager, and in 1727 under Norris. In the winter she joined the fleet under Wager, at Gibraltar, and returned to England in May 1728, on the conclusion of hostilities with Spain.

It is now not difficult to see that the treaty of Seville insured a speedy renewal of war. Its commercial clauses necessarily led to smuggling on the one hand, to violent repression on the other. The well-known case of Robert Jenkins [q. v.] occurred in 1731, and there were others of a similar kind both before and after. Rear-admiral Stewart, the naval commander-in-chief, could see that the fault lay largely with the merchants at Jamaica (Engl. Hist. Review, iv. 742–4); but at home the merchants whose goods were seized could make their complaints heard in parliament, and the angry feeling against the Spaniards gave Walpole's enemies a definite point of attack on the government. In these debates Vernon distinguished himself by his vehement invective. He specially insisted on the weakness of the Spanish colonies; and as Porto Bello was the most hateful of these, being the port from which the guarda-costas fitted out, he urged that Porto Bello should be destroyed. Nothing but determination was needed; it might be done, he himself would undertake to do it, with six ships. It was natural to believe that in promoting Vernon to the rank of vice-admiral, 9 July 1739, and appointing him to the command of an expedition to the West Indies, the government was gladly getting rid of a man who had made himself obnoxious (Campbell, Lives of the Admirals, iv. 8); but though this consideration may have had weight, Vernon was not only an officer of longer service and more active experience than any other then available, but was also well and favourably known to Wager, at this time first lord of the admiralty, and to Norris, admiral of the fleet, and in daily consultation with Wager. Far from being, as has been supposed, a mere parliamentary job, Vernon's appointment may be fairly considered as due mainly, if not entirely, to the recommendation of these two men, with whom he had long served.

No declaration of war was made till 19 Oct.; but on 19 July Vernon received his instructions ‘to destroy the Spanish settlements in the West Indies and to distress their shipping by every method whatever;’ and on the 23rd he put to sea with eight ships of the line and one frigate. The frigate and three of the line-of-battle ships were, however, detached for independent service on the coast of Portugal, and it was with only five ships that Vernon arrived at Jamaica, where he was shortly afterwards joined by Commodore Charles Brown [q. v.] in the Hampton Court. This gave him exactly the six ships that had been spoken of, and with these he came off Porto Bello on the night of 20 Nov. The next morning the squadron stood in to attack, the Hampton Court leading. The fortifications were nasty enough to look at. The entrance of the harbour was narrow and was commanded on the left hand by the Iron Castle (San Felipe de todo Hierro); on the right, but nearer the town, by the Gloria Castle (Santiago de la Gloria); and was raked by San Geronymo, still higher up. By position, structure, and size, these were formidable; but they had been neglected during the long peace, and though for several months war had appeared imminent, they were quite unprepared for it. Of their two hundred guns, the greater number, especially in the Iron Castle, were dismounted; there were no carriages for them; there was a very small quantity of ammunition; and the garrison was far below even its peace complement. Everything had been left for the morrow; gun-carriages were going to be made; the forts were going to be put in order; for four years the president of Panama had been urging that it should be done, but it was still undone when the English squadron appeared before the fort (Don Dionisio Martinez de la Vega, president of Panama, to the king of Spain, 12 Feb. 1740, N.S., in Home Office Records, Admiralty, No. 77).

Vernon's order was for his ships to pass into the harbour within two hundred yards of the Iron Castle, giving it as they passed a warm fire, but not staying to silence it. But as the ships drew in with the land, the breeze failed; off the Iron Castle they were becalmed, and the attack thus became more serious than had been intended. The first three ships poured in a close and sustained fire; the Burford, carrying Vernon's flag, was the fourth, and keeping somewhat closer in, her fire and the musketry from her tops drove the Spaniards from their few effective guns. The signal was made for the boats to land, which they did under the very walls of the castle, in front of the lower battery. There was no breach; but the sailors climbed in through the embrasures, and pulled up the marines; and without any further opposition such of the Spaniards as had not already escaped surrendered at discretion. The next day the other forts and the town capitulated; all the ships in the harbour, including three guarda-costas, were taken possession of; the brass guns were carried off; the iron guns were destroyed, and the forts were blown up.

This was the celebrated capture of Porto Bello, the news of which caused the people of England to go mad with excitement and joy. As an achievement of war it was a very small thing, for the Spaniards had done what they could to make it easy; but the feeling against the government was running very high, and Vernon's success was counted as a great party victory. Both houses of parliament voted their thanks; London voted him the freedom of the city; and London and all the principal cities and towns sent congratulatory addresses to the king. Innumerable medals were struck for the use of the people; base in metal, abominable in workmanship, patriotic in sentiment, and all showing Vernon's head with the legend ‘He took Porto Bello with six ships.’ There are more than a hundred varieties of these in the British Museum (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. ii. 70). In different parts of England and Scotland Porto Bellos sprang into existence, and Vernon's Head was, for many years, a favourite sign for the public-houses.

Even before the capture of Porto Bello, Vernon had been considering what operations were to follow, and how, with the force at his disposal, he was to carry out his instructions to ‘destroy the Spanish settlements.’ His letters at this time are peculiarly interesting, and show how clearly he understood what the policy of England ought to be. ‘The most sensible loss to Spain,’ he wrote, ‘would be to take the island of Cuba from them, as what would be of most detriment to them and service to Great Britain;’ but considering, he continued, the populousness of the island, its neighbourhood to the French at Hispaniola, the great cost of transport, and the uncertainty of such attempts, ‘the best advice I can think of giving is to lay aside all thoughts of such expensive land expeditions, as all advantages may be better and cheaper procured by keeping a strong superiority at sea in these seas; by which means, let who will possess the country, our royal master may command the wealth of it,’ and much more to the same effect (Vernon to Newcastle, 31 Oct. 1739, Home Office Records, Admiralty, No. 77). At home, however, neither people nor government had any thought of complying with Vernon's advice, and it was determined to send out to him not only a reinforcement of ships far in excess of what could be wanted for any purely naval purpose, but also a large land force, the whole to be employed as a land expedition.

Vernon, meanwhile, insulted Cartagena by an ineffective bombardment from the sea on 6 March 1740, and reduced and took possession of Chagre on the 24th. Such cruising as was possible was also done, and watch was kept on such Spanish ships as came out to the West Indies; but, from a naval point of view, the event of the year was the issue on 21 Aug. of the celebrated memorandum forbidding the serving out of raw spirits to the ships' companies. In home waters the established daily ration for each seaman was a gallon of beer, and for this a quart of ‘beverage’ wine had been substituted on the coast of Portugal or in the Mediterranean; but in the West or East Indies brandy, rum, or arrack had taken its place, and the equivalent measure was half a pint. This was served out ‘neat’ a little before noon. In the West Indies new rum was so issued, with the result that there was a very great deal of drunkenness and of crime. On 4 Aug. 1740 Vernon addressed a general order to the captains and surgeons of his squadron, and found it to be their unanimous opinion that ‘the pernicious custom of the seamen drinking their allowance of rum in drams, and often at once, is attended with many fatal effects;’ it impaired their health, ruined their morals, and made them slaves to every brutish passion. It was also the unanimous opinion that the best remedy was to mix the rum with water, and this was accordingly ordered. Rum was to be ‘no more served in species,’ but the daily allowance was to be mixed with water in the proportion of one quart of water to each half-pint of rum, and to be served out at two servings in the day, about eleven in the forenoon and about five in the afternoon. It was perhaps the greatest improvement to discipline and efficiency ever produced by one stroke of the pen, and though, as issued by Vernon, only a station order, was very quickly accepted throughout the service and adopted by the admiralty. The seamen did not altogether approve of the curtailment of their privileges, and called the official mixture ‘grog,’ which is said to have been Vernon's nickname in the squadron—derived, it is said, from his having a grogram boat-cloak. The drink, however, soon became popular, and the name has been hallowed in naval memory by hundreds of traditions. It was only forty years old when Dr. Thomas Trotter [q. v.] described Neptune as ordering his attendant sprites to

    Bid Vernon mix a draught for me
    To toast his native land;

and continued—

    The sacred robe which Vernon wore
    Was drenched within the same [the grog tub];
    And hence his virtues guard our shore,
    And grog derives its name

(Notes and Queries, 1st ser. i. 168).

The large reinforcement of twenty-five ships of the line under Sir Chaloner Ogle arrived at Port Royal on 7 Jan. 1740–1, and with it a force of nine thousand soldiers under Brigadier-general Wentworth, who had succeeded to the command on the death of Major-general Lord Cathcart. Nothing more unfortunate could have happened, for Wentworth had neither ability nor experience, but had an enormous amount of self-conceit. The point of attack was left to Vernon's judgment, and he had already decided to reduce Cartagena, which it was thought could scarcely offer any serious resistance to such a formidable armament as was gathered at Port Royal. But the divided command, the incompetence of Wentworth, and the natural antipathy between the two characters caused delays which proved fatal. It was not till 3 March that the fleet came off Cartagena, and not till the 9th could they decide where to land. Two small forts were then reduced, and in the afternoon the landing began; but as Wentworth could not make up his mind as to what guns or stores he wanted, everything was put on shore, and thus four days were wasted. Vernon urged on the general that, to the army, delay was most dangerous, for the wet season was approaching. Wentworth laid the blame on the engineers. Vernon replied that wilful delay was treachery, and that any engineer guilty of it ought to be tried by court-martial and shot. It was, however, not till the 23rd that the soldiers had their batteries ready for the attack of Fort St. Luis, which defended the left or northern side of the Boca-Chica. San Luis was then reduced in a leisurely way, after which the ships cut the boom that blocked the Boca-Chica, and passed into the harbour. On 1 April Vernon wrote announcing this success, and expressing a hope that the city must soon fall. The people at large took an anticipation for a reality, and struck medals to celebrate the conquest, and sang ballads, such as—

    We did so cannonade, and such breaches we made,
    And so many of their houses set in a flame,
    They did submit to fate and the town surrender
    To Admiral Vernon, the scourge of Spain.

They were leaving Wentworth out of the reckoning. The troops did not land till the 5th, and though Vernon urged that even then an immediate assault on San Lazaro—a hill fort which dominated the city—would be successful, and that the surrender of the city must follow as a matter of course, Wentworth refused to attempt it till he had allowed the Spaniards four days more to recover from their panic and strengthen their defences. Contrary, then, to all advice, Wentworth resolved to assault, and, having made no preparations, was beaten off with very great loss. Nothing further was done or could be done. The wet season set in, and the men were falling down very fast. Vernon was very angry, but, as he had no command over the soldiers on shore, he could do nothing beyond endeavouring to sting Wentworth into exertion, and that was impossible. Of the 6,600 men who had been landed, more than half were either dead or in hospital dying. On 17 April the miserable remnant were re-embarked and the fleet returned to Port Royal, leaving a few ships to demolish the forts which had been taken. The failure has very commonly been spoken of as a naval one—as Vernon's—and still more commonly as due to the ill-feeling between Vernon and Wentworth, and especially to Vernon's violent temper and savage tongue. This is the view which has been popularised by Smollett (Roderick Random, chaps. xxviii–xxxiii.); but, in point of fact, Smollett, though on board one of the ships (in a very humble capacity), was not in a position to know anything beyond what he could actually see on the rare occasions when he was permitted to be on the poop. Of the relations of Vernon and Wentworth, of their letters or conversations, he was and must have been altogether ignorant. The letters show that there was no quarrel before the ill-judged attack on San Lazaro; and that though Vernon did repeatedly urge Wentworth to exertion and point out the danger of delay, it was always in language of scrupulous courtesy.

Towards the end of May a large part of the fleet was sent home under Commodore Richard Lestock [q. v.], and Vernon, with Ogle, Wentworth, the other generals, and Trelawny, the governor of Jamaica, determined that an attack should be made on the island of Cuba. Santiago was the point decided on, and as the defences were sufficient to prevent the ships going into the harbour, they went to Guatanamo, a deep roomy inlet about sixty miles off, which had been known to English navigators as Walthenham, and to which Vernon now gave the name of Cumberland Harbour. Here the troops were landed, but did nothing beyond making a few predatory excursions to neighbouring villages. Vernon and Ogle were urgent on Wentworth to advance against Santiago, but he refused. The road, he said, was impassable for artillery. Time passed away in writing letters and holding councils of war; sickness broke out among the soldiers; many died, many were sent to hospital; the rest re-embarked in December, and returned to Port Royal. There they were joined by two thousand fresh soldiers from England, and the council of war decided on an attack on Panama. After a delay of nearly three months, Wentworth, who had gone to Porto Bello, found out that he had not sufficient force, and the expedition accordingly returned to Port Royal.

But the ill-feeling between Vernon and Wentworth, between the naval and military officers, could no longer be restrained. On 4 April Vernon wrote to Wentworth, in so many words, that it was principally owing to his (Wentworth's) ‘inexperience, injudiciousness, and unsteady temper’ that his Majesty's affairs had prospered so ill; that he had said this before, and, to avoid any misrepresentation, thought it better to give it under his hand. He concluded: ‘I am sorry I have been more unsuccessful in preserving a good correspondence with you than any gentleman I ever had to act with before.’ There were probably many angry meetings, for the quarrel seems to have been very bitter on both sides. In the end they were both recalled. Vernon sailed for England in the Boyne on 19 Oct., and after a rough passage, ‘with much blowing weather and a great tumbling sea,’ made St. David's Head on 26 Dec. 1742, and was compelled to anchor for some days under the island of Lundy. It is a stock instance of the dangerous tendency of Rennell's current after bad weather in the Atlantic.

During his absence Vernon had been again elected member of parliament for Penryn; he had also been elected for Ipswich, and had preferred to sit for that place, having bought Nacton, an estate in Suffolk. After his return he was on shore for a couple of years, attending pretty constantly in parliament, making himself, as an independent member, obnoxious to the government, and writing many pamphlets on matters relating to the navy; but, as these were anonymous, it is only possible to identify a few of them, and those doubtingly. One which may pretty confidently be attributed to Vernon—‘An Enquiry into the Conduct of Captain Mostyn’ [see Mostyn, Savage]—is an able but bitter criticism on the state of the navy at the time. In April 1745 Vernon was promoted to the rank of admiral of the white, and appointed to command the ships in the North Sea. The threatening rebellion which broke out in the latter part of the year rendered this command one of peculiar importance; and though the French proved unable or unwilling to attempt any further naval operations in the Stuart interest, Vernon was considered to have prepared for all possibilities with skill and judgment. He became, however, extremely dissatisfied with the treatment he received from the admiralty, which refused him the title and privileges of commander-in-chief, and on 1 Dec. 1745 he wound up his complaint by assuring their lordships that their relieving him from the command by a successor would be the only favour he would think of troubling them with. He was accordingly superseded by Vice-admiral William Martin (1696?–1756) [q. v.]

Shortly afterwards his correspondence with the admiralty and the Duke of Bedford was given to the public. He was officially called on to explain this publication (Corbett to Vernon, 4 April 1746), and, his answer being considered insufficient, he was summoned to attend the board. The titles of two pamphlets—‘A Specimen of Naked Truth from a British Sailor, a sincere well-wisher to the Honour and Prosperity of the present Royal Family and his Country,’ and ‘Some Seasonable Advice from an Honest Sailor, to whom it might have concerned, for the service of the Crown and Country’—were read to him, and he was required to give a categorical answer and say ‘Aye or no, whether he was the author or publisher of those pamphlets.’ This he refused to do. ‘He apprehended,’ he said, ‘they had no right to ask him that question, and that he was under no obligations of answering it. If his continuing an officer in the service was an eyesore to any one, he was now grown to be an old man, and had reason to be tired with being treated in so contemptuous a manner.’ He was told he might withdraw, and two days afterwards, 11 April 1746, he was informed officially that the case had been laid before the king, who ‘had been pleased to direct their lordships to strike his name out of the list of flag officers.’ This, however, did not prevent his continuing to take a warm interest in service questions, and on these he frequently spoke in the House of Commons. He died suddenly at Nacton on 30 Oct. 1757. Six years later his nephew, Francis Vernon, lord Orwell (afterwards Earl of Shipbrook), erected a monument to his memory in the north transept of Westminster Abbey (the monument was designed and sculptured by Rysbrack. See Neale, Westm. Abbey, ii. 207). His portrait, by Charles Phillips, belongs to Lord Vernon, also a bust by Roubiliac. A copy of each (both have been very frequently engraved) is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich. His portrait by Gainsborough is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Vernon married Sarah, daughter of Thomas Best of Chatham, and by her had three sons, who all died young.

[Memorial of Admiral Vernon, by W. F. Vernon (London, 1861), is presumably correct as to the family details, but is extremely incorrect in the account of his early service; so also is Life of Admiral Vernon, by an Impartial Hand (London, 1758, 12mo). Charnock's Memoir (Biogr. Nav. iii. 349) is better, but imperfect; that here given is from the Commission and Warrant books, Pay-books, and Logs in the Public Record Office; the Log of the Lennox for 1702–4 here referred to is that kept by Vernon himself, and is signed by him. The correspondence relating to the capture of Porto Bello is in Home Office Records, Admiralty, No. 77; that relating to the Cartagena expedition is in No. 91. This last has been printed, with slight and unimportant verbal alterations, in Original Papers relating to the Expedition to Carthagena (2nd edit. 8vo, 1744). So, also, Original Papers relating to the Expedition to the Island of Cuba (8vo, 1744), and Original Papers relating to the Expedition to Panama (8vo, 1744). There can be little doubt that these were published by Vernon himself. An Account of the Expedition to Carthagena, with explanatory notes and observations (3rd edit. 8vo, 1743), is attributed to Captain (afterwards Admiral) Sir Charles Knowles [q. v.] A Journal of the Expedition to Carthagena, with notes, in answer to a late pamphlet entitled An Account of the Expedition to Carthagena (2nd edit. 8vo, 1744), is from the soldier's point of view; so also is an Account of Admiral Vernon's attempt upon Carthagene in the West Indies (Sloane MS. 3970). Continuacion á los comentarios del Marques de S. Felipe, desde el año de 1733, por Don Joseph del Campo Raso, vol. iv. (Madrid, 1793, 4to), gives an account of the siege of Cartagena, but from English sources, though with a Spanish colouring. That it is so is proved by the dates, which are given—unwittingly—in old style. Journal kept by Augustus Hervey, afterwards Earl of Bristol (Addit. MS. 12129). Original Letters to an Honest Sailor (8vo, 1746? [not dated]) is a collection of letters addressed to Vernon between 1739 and 1746 by Wager, Pulteney, Duke of Bedford, Lord Vere Beauclerk, and others, with an account of his last interview with the admiralty and his dismissal from the service. The two pamphlets whose titles were then read to him contain his correspondence with the admiralty during his command in the North Sea. The originals are in the Public Record Office. Some of his speeches in the House of Commons will be found in Parliamentary History.]

J. K. L.