Blomefield, Thomas (DNB00)

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BLOMEFIELD, Sir THOMAS (1744–1822), baronet, of Attleborough, Norfolk, general and colonel-commandant royal artillery, to whose untiring labours as inspector of artillery and superintendent of the royal foundries the progress of the British artillery was largely due, was son of the Rev. Thos. Blomefie1d, M.A., rector of Hartley and Chalk, Kent, and chaplain to the Duke of Dorset, and was born on 16 June 1744. He was destined for the navy, and shipped in the Cambridge, 80 guns, when that vessel was commissioned by his fat, her‘s intimate friend, Sir Piercy Brett, in September 1755. How long he remained afloat does not appear. but on 9 Feb. 1758 he entered as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where his abilities attracted the notice of Müller, then professor of fortification and artillery whose friendship he retained ever after. In the unusually short period of eleven months he passed out as a lieutenant-fireworker, and soon after, when only fifteen, was appointed to command a bomb-ketch, under the orders of Admiral Rodney, at the bombardment of Havre, subsequently joining the fleet under Admiral Hawke engaged in blockading M. de Conflans at Quiberon (the arduous nature of these blockading duties is strikingly brought out in Burrow’s Life of Admiral Lord Hawke). He next served in the West Indies, at the capture of Martinique, the siege and capture of the Havannah, and afterwards at Pensacola and Mobile. In 1771, while a first-lieutenant, he became personal aide-de-camp to General Conway, then master-general of the ordnance, a post in which he was continued by Conway's successor at the Ordnance, Lord Townshend. In 1771 Blomefield, who had become a captain-lieutenant, resigned his appointment as aide-de-camp, and proceeded to America as brigade-major to Brigadier Phillips, royal artillery. Among his services at this period was the construction of flosting batteries on the Canadian lakes; he was also actively engaged with the army under General Burgoyne until severely wounded by a musket-ball in the head in the action preceding the unfortunate convention at Saratoga. In the spring of 1779, Blomefield resumed his duties as aide-camp to the master-general, and in the following year attained the rank of captain. and was appointed inspector of artillery and super-intendent of the Royal Brass Foundry. Never was the need of military supervision over military manufactures more apparent. It is recorded that when, in consequence of the complaints of Admiral Barrington at a most critical period in 1779, the elder Congreve was sent down to inspect the powder on board the king’s ships, only four serviceable barrels were found in the whole fleet. The guns were not less inferior in quality; bursting with attendant loss of life was of frequent occurrence, and would doubtless have been more frequent but for the roguery of the powder-contractors. Attacking these abuses vigorously. Captain Blomefield, in the very first year of his office, condemned no fewer than 496 pieces of ordnance in proof; and so fully were the advantages of the new rules recognised, that in 1783 a royal warrant was issued reorganising the whole department, which was placed under his orders. From this period dates the high character of British cast-iron and brass guns. Blomefield continued inspector of artillery up to his death. He became a lieutenant-colonel in 1793, colonel in 1800, major-general in 1803, and colonel commandant of a battalion in 1806. In 1807 he was selected to command the artillery in the expedition against Copenhagen, a service admitted to have been admirably carried out, although it is now generally lamented that some more justifiable means could not have been found by the government of the day for attaining the end sought. For his share in this duty Blomefield received the thanks of parliament and was created a baronet. It is remarked that this was the last occasion on which, in accordance with long-established custom, a claim was lodged by the commander of the British artillery on the church-bells of the captured city. No reply appears to have been given to the application. Blomefield, who married a daughter of Chief-justice Eardley Wilmot, by whom he had one child, attained the rank of general in 1821. He died at his residence on Shooter's Hill on 24 Aug. 1822. His professional journals and other papers were subsequently presented to the Royal Artillery Institution, Woolwich, by his son, the second baronet.

Blomefield was a good mathematician, an excellent chemist, and most laborious in experiments in gunnery. His private character and the result of his labours were thus described by one who knew him intimately: 'There was no display of his merits shown in his manner; all his duties and experiments were silently and unassumingly carried on, with a natural reserve and undeviating courtesy, so that it was only a close observer who could duly appreciate his value. His being generally and greatly esteemed arose as much from his being the perfect gentleman as from the ingenious turn of his mind, for there was no glare or obtrusion seen, but rather a strong desire to improve the service with us little show as possible. . . . The recent sieges of Copenhagen and in the Peninsula, where the mode of battering assumed a rapidity unknown on former occasions, strongly marked the confidence his brother officers had in the weapons placed in their hands, and surprised the enemy, who were known to declare that they could not have nut their own ordnance of the same description to so severe a test. The complete success of these objects of his most serious and careful pursuit will be duly appreciated by those capable of judging of their merits. To such as are not, it may be allowed to suggest that many gallant lives have been saved to their country and their families by the constant and most anxious endeavours he at all times pursued to put safe and perfect machines into the hands of the gallant defenders of his majesty's dominions' (Duncan, Hist. R. Art. ii. 159).

[Gent. Mag. xcii. 370; Kane's List of Officers Royal Art. (revised ed., Woolwich, 1869); Duncan's Hist. Royal Artillery (1872).]

H. M. C.