Admiral Sir Edward Hughes
The following is an extract from the book "Biographia Navalis or Impartial Memoirs of the Lives and Characters of Officers of the Navy of Great Britain" by John Charnock, 1798, Vol VI, page 65, Hughes, Sir Edward.
My interest here is in my ancestor Arthur Cuthbert (1734?-1788) who was secretary to Adm Sir Edward Hughes and appears to also have been his business partner. They both appear to have made considerable fortunes during their time in India.
Biographia Navalis has a number of pages on Adm Sir Edward Hughes and these read as follows:
Hughes, Sir Edward, was son of a private gentleman of good family, possessed of a respectable property in Hertfordshire. Of the town of Hertford, if we mistake not, his father was many years and alderman, and once, if not oftener, mayor. The subject of this memoir was early in life intended for the naval service, and accordingly went to sea when very young; but the first extraordinary mention we find made of him is that he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, as a reward for his services under Mr Vernon, at the capture of Porto Bello, his first commission in that station being dated
August 25, 1740. Our next account of him is in the year 1747, at which time he continued to hold the same rank, and went out to Louisburg passenger in the Warwick, with a particular and special recommendation to commodore Knowles. The encounter which took place between the ship in which he embarked, and the Glorioso Spanish ship of war, carrying seventy guns, have been already related in our account of the captains Crookshanks and Erskine (see vol V, pages 150 and 170). The former gentleman has been particularly severe on the conduct of Mr Hughes relative to that affair. He charges, in the first instance, captain Erskine with having sent of Mr Hughes in a clandestine manner, but the Montague Bilander, with a complaint against Mr Crookshanks to the commodore, and that Mr Hughes took that opportunity of very unwarrantably misrepresenting his conduct. On the 5th September Mr Hughes was appointed, by order from commodore Knowles, to command the Lark pro tempere, as successor to captain Crookshanks, who was suspended. Captain Crookshanks in his narrative, takes occasion to make many complaints against the behaviour of Mr Hughes, while continuing in this station; but we must beg leave to observe, that it is one of the frailties of human nature to condem, and in terms perhaps rather too harm, those whom we suspect of thinking us to have acted improperly.
The trial of captain Crookshanks being concluded, and he suspended from all command, Mr Hughes was regularly appointed, by the commodore, to the command of the Lark, by commission bearing date February 6th, 1747-48. This was afterwards allowed by the admiralty, and Mr Hughes took rank as post captain according to that date. We hear nothing further of him till the beginning of the year 1756, when he was appointed captain of the Deal Castle, a ship of twenty-four guns. He is said to have been sent out to the Mediterranean in the month of September, a passenger on board the Ambuscade, to take command of the Intrepid, as successor to captain Young., who was ordered home to England as an evidence on the approaching trial of Mr Byng. We have not, however, any certain particulars that can, in the smallest degree, warrant our positively asserting he did hold
the command just stated. In 1757 he was captain of the Somerset, of seventy-four guns, on the American station, and continued in the same ship nearly during the remainder of the war*, employed at the latter part of it on the Mediterranean station*. He does not appear to have held any subsequent command after this till the latter end of the year 1770, when, on the prospect of a rupture with Spain relative to the Falkland Islands, he was again appointed captain of the Somerset. He remained in this ship during the three succeeding years, and at the conclusion of the time was appointed to the East India station with the rank of commodore. He accordingly proceeded thither in the Salisbury, of fifty guns; and, after remaining there till the year 1777, returned to Europe, being succeeded in his command by Sir Edward Vernon, and having met with no occurrence, while absent there, singular enough to attract our notice.
On the 23 January, 1778, he was raised to the rank of rear-admiral of the blue, and in the beginning of the ensuing year was again appointed to command in chief in the East Indies. A short time previous to this he was honoured with the order of the Bath. He hoisted his flag on board the Superbe, of 74 guns, and proceeded for India with the following force, exclusive of the flag ship; the Exeter and Burford, of seventy guns; the Eagle, Belleisle, and Worcester, of sixty-four guns each; the Vengeance, of seventy-four guns, accompanied him part of the way, and then parted company for the West Indies. On his passage to India he reduced, without difficulty, the French settlement of Goree, on the coast of Africa; and on his arrival in India, finding the enemy had no naval force in that quarter capable of contending with his squadron, the Belleisle, together with the Asia and Rippon, which the rear-admiral found there under commodore Vernon, were ordered to England with that gentleman soon afterwards.
* In 1758 he served also with the highest credit on the American station, in the memorable and successful expedition against Louisburg, under the auspices of Mr Boscawen; as he afterwards did in that undertaken against Quebec, by General Wolfe and Sir Ch. Saunders.
* A short time before the peace took place he was removed, by Sir C. Saunders, from the Somerset to the Blenheim, of ninety guns, Sir Charles having his flag on board the ship last mentioned.
Everything remained in almost a perfect state of tranquillity*, far as the French were concerned, till the end of the year 1781. All the settlements on shore* that had been possessed by the enemy having been reduced by the army, and the squadron meeting with no opponent, the admiral was obliged to content himself with the satisfaction of continuing undisturbed master of those seas*. At last however, France, who had long been preparing to re-establish an equality, if not superiority of force in that quarter, and had accordingly dispatched thither several small reinforcements, which, on account of their apparently contemptible strength has passed unobserved, or, at least, had been permitted to proceed unmolested from Europe, made a grand effort, by sending out a squadron consisting of five ships of the line, besides several others armé en flute, under the orders of monsieur de Suffrein, a man universally nd deservedly esteemed on of the ablest commanders the enemy had in their service.
* The only occurance worthy notice was the following little successful enterprise undertaken by Hyher Ali's naval force, which is that related by the vice-admiral himself, in a letter from Bombay, dated January 2, 1781.
"On the 8th December, being off Mangalore, the principle seaport of Hyder Ali on the Malabar coast, I saw two ships, a large snow, three ketches, and many smaller vessels, at an anchor in the road with Hyder Ali's colours flying on board them. Standing with the squadron close into the road, I found them to be vessels of force, and all armed for war: on which I anchored as close to the vessels as possible, with safety to the ships, and ordered the armed boats of the squadron to attack and destroy them, under cover of the fire of the company's two armed snows, and of the prize ships cut out of Calicut road, which were anchored in shoal water and close to the enemy's ships. This service was conducted on the part of our boats wth a spirit and activity that do much honour to the officers and men employed in them. In two hours they took and burnt two ships. one of twenty-eight, the other of twenty-six guns; one ketch, of twelve guns, was blown up by the enemy at the instant our boats were boarding her; another ketch, of ten guns, which cut her cables and endeavoured to put to sea, was taken; and the third ketch with the smaller vessels were all forced on shore, the snow only escaping into the harbour, after having thrown everything overboard to lighten her."
* Pondicherry and Mahè, belonging to the French; Trincomalè and Negapatam, to the Dutch.
* On the 19th of March 1779, he was advanced to be rear-admiral of the red; and on the 26th of September, 1780, to be vice of the blue.
The French chef d'escadre arrived in India at the latter end of the year 1781, and immediately prepared, with the utmost activity and resolution, to contest that naval superiority which the British squadron had so long and so uninterruptedly possessed. Sir Edward, who on his part had been joined by the Monarca, of seventy guns; the Hero, of seventy-four; the Monmouth, of sixty-four, and the Isis, of fifty, from England, was, as may be supposed, not backward in advancing to the contest. The enemy were far superior in force, their squadron consisting of twelve ships of the line, six frigates, and eight large ships armé en flute; while the British armament consisted but of nine two-decked ships, one of them carrying fifty guns only, a twenty gun ship and a fire ship. The French chef d'escadre appeared off Madras on the 15th of February, having in company five or six prizes, taken from the English during his passage from the Isles of Bourbon. No material event took place on that day, but on the succeeding, five of the English prizes were recaptured by the British squadron, together with the Lauriston, one of their large ships armé en flute, having on board a great number of French officers, together with three hundred soldiers belonging to the French regiment of Lausanne, and a lading of the greatest consequence to the enemy, consisting of cannon, ammunition, and military stores of different kinds.
On the 17th, at daylight, the enemy's squadron was seen in the northeast quarter, at the distance of three leagues. There was very little wind, and even that, soon flattened to a perfect calm. Light airs occasionally sprung up during the day, but they were of very short continuance; and calms succeeded them for such long intervals as to prevent the squadrons from nearing each other, till about four o'clock in the afternoon, the enemy, who, practicing a new manoeuvre, had formed their squadron in a double line; then taking advantage of their weatherly position, and a very light breeze which favoured their attempt, bore down on the English squadron, so that their headmost ships became abreast of the Superbe, on board which Sir Edward had his flag. There was not sufficient wind for the ships of the British van to tack and get into action, so that the Superbe, the Exeter, the Monarca, the Hero, and the Isis, were obliged to sustain, for three hours, a
very unequal combat against eight of the best ships in the enemy's squadron.
Monsieur Suffrein having, however, suffered considerably in the encounter, took advantage of a smart breeze of wind which sprung up from the south-east about six o'clock; and in about half an hour afterwards, it being then nearly dark, hauled his wind and stood to the north-east. Of the British squadron, the Superbe and Exeter in particular, had received so much injury in the action, that the admiral found it necessary to proceed to Tincomalè to refit. He arrived there on the 24th, and having used the utmost expedition in procuring such repairs as were absolutely necessary for the purpose of rendering his ships fit for service, was enabled to put to sea with the squadron on the 4th of March. The admiral proceeded to Madras, but without having been fortunate enough to discover the enemy. On the 30th the Sultan, of 74 guns, and the Magnanime of sixty-four, which had been dispatched from England, joined him. Although these ships arrived in a very reduced and sickly state, owing to the scurvy which raged violently among the crews, the admiral resolved not to proceed to Madras, but to Tincomalè, to land the sick, thinking that measure most advisable for the good of the service, although it was more than probably that he might fall in with the enemy on his passage, crippled as two of his ships were.
Sir Edward was not disappointed in his conjecture: on the 8th, at noon, the enemy was discovered in the north-east quarter; not withstanding which, the British squadron held its course, for its intended port. The enemy continued in sight for the three succeeding days without any encounter taking place; but on the 12th, monsieur Suffrein having obtained the weather-gage, in consequence of Sir Edward having bore away for Tincomalè, which was then only fifteen leagues distant, the enemy, conscious of their own superiority, crouded sail to get up with the rear of the British. Sir Edward, who, to use his own words, did not, in the circumstances he then found himself, either seek or shun and action, then resolved to engage the enemy, rather than risk the appearance of wishing to avoid them. At nine in the morning the signal was made for the British squadron to form a line; but the enemy,
who were then about six miles distant, spent upwards of three hours in manoeuvring; and at last, about fifteen minutes past noon, bore away for the purpose of commencing the action. Five of their van stretched forward to attack that of the British, while the remainder of their force, consisting of seven ships, attacked with their utmost fury the Superbe, Monmouth, and Monarca, which formed Sir Edward's centre. Monsieur Suffrein, in the Hero, together with the L'Orient, attacked the Superbe within pistol shot. The French admiral, after receiving a severe fire for about nine minutes, which did that ship considerable damage, stood on to attack the Monmouth, making thereby room for the ships in his rear to come up and attack the Superbe. This partial engagement which, from the conduct of the enemy, fell particularly heavy on the flag-ship and the Monmouth, continued with great fury until near seven o'clock, when the enemy drew off in great disorder: their flag-ship, the Hero, was so considerably damaged that Suffrein was obliged to remove on board the Hanibal, another seventy-four belonging to his squadron. In short, the general condition of their ships after the action ceased, leaves but little room to doubt it would have ended in their total defeat, had the weight of the encounter been more equally distributed.
The loss sustained by the Superbe was extremely heavy, amounting to fifty-nine men killed, and ninety-six wounded; among the former were two of the lieutenants, and the master. The enemy continued at anchor and in sight for five days, during which time both parties were busily employed in repairing their damages, as well as could be done at sea, neither being in a condition to renew the attack. On the 19th the enemy got under sail, and taking advantage of the sea breeze, stood in for the centre of the British squadron with an apparent intention of engaging, under the hope, as Sir Edward himself imagined, of getting possession of the Monmouth, which was completely dismasted, and incapable of making any resistance. Such however, was the disposition made by the English admiral, and such had been the diligence not withstanding the reduced state of many of the crews, which had been used to put the ships, the Monmouth excepted, in
condition for defence, that on a nearer approach, finding every thing prepared for their reception, they thought proper to haul their wind, stand to the eastward, and finally, for a time, to quit those seas, where they hoped to have become victorious, and to have reigned triumphant.
Sir Edward having repaired his ships, and in some measure refreshed their crews at Tincomalè, according to his original intention, sailed from thence, in search of the enemy, about the 20th of June; but during the year the remainder of the year no encounter took place. He was joined during this time by Sir R Bickerton, who had been dispatched, early in the year 1782, from England with a strong reinforcement, consisting of the Gibraltar, of eighty guns, the Cumberland and Defence, of seventy-four; the Inflexible, Africa , and Sceptre, of sixty-four: besides which the Bristol, of fifty guns, a single ship, had reached him. Hostilities had ceased in Europe early in the year 1783, but intelligence of this event had not reached India in the month of June, when, on the 13th, being off Cuddalore, which was then besieged by general Stuart, the enemy's squadron appeared in sight from the southward. A variety of unconsequential, and, of course, uninteresting manoeuvres took place between this time and the 20th, when the enemy, apprised, as it is supposed, of the havock made by the scurvy among the crews of the different ships, particularly of those that had arrived under commodore Bickerton, and having also the advantage of the weather gage, bore down about four o'clock in the afternoon, beginning the action with an heavy cannonade, which was returned with greatest spirit but the British fleet (it had in this skirmish for it could scarcely be called an engagement, ninety-nine men killed and four hundred and thirty one wounded). It continued three hours, when the enemy thought proper to haul off. On the 22nd they were again descried to windward, off Pondicherry, and the admiral immediately made sail towards them; but no encounter took place. The scurvy had by this time caused such havock in the squadron, in which there were nearly fifteen hundred men unfit for duty, more than half of them in the last stage of the disorder, that the admiral fount it
absolutely necessary to proceed to Madras, where he arrived on the 25th, and received information that peace had taken place. Hostilities of course mutually ceased, and the fleet returned to England, at intervals, in divisions. After his arrival Sir Edward never took upon him any command. On the 24th September, 1787, he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the red; as he afterwards was, on the 1st of February, 1793, to be admiral of the blue. He died at his seat at Luxborough, in Essex, in a very advanced age, on the 17th February, 1794.
It is almost needless, in case of a person so lately deceased, to say much in commendation of those manifold private virtues which all who knew him must admit him to have possessed. As to his services they stand on record, and from their nature require not the assistance; either of panegyric or praise; we shall therefore content ourselves with saying, that after acquiring a most princely fortune in India, he returned to his native country neither arrogant on account of his wealth, nor presuming on his worldly prosperity, but retaining, to the last moment of his life, a benevolence which proved him truly worthy of the riches he had acquired, and which he appeared ever ready to distribute, on all proper occasions (unlike some persons who have acquired fortunes in the same quarter, and have been afterwards only distinguished for their meanness of prodigality) as though he considered himself only the almoner of other's wealth, and not the possessor of his own. It is elsewhere truly and concisely said of him, that, in private life, the goodness of his heart lead him to acts of benevolence which, though not ostentatious in themselves, will remain recorded in the memories of many.