Mitchell, David (DNB00)

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MITCHELL, Sir DAVID (1650?–1710), vice-admiral, was bound apprentice to the master of a Leith trading vessel. Afterwards he was mate of a ship in the Baltic trade, and in 1672 was pressed into the navy. His conduct and appearance attracted attention; he was placed on the quarter-deck, and on 16 Jan. 1677-8 was promoted to be lieutenant of the Defiance in the Mediterranean with Captain Edward Russell, afterwards Earl of Orford [q. v.], whom in March he followed to the Swiftsure, and again in August 1680 to the Newcastle. In May 1682 he was appointed lieutenant of the Tiger, and on 1 Oct. 1683 promoted to the command of the Ruby. Whether in compliment to his patron Russell, who retired from the service on the execution of his cousin William, or finding that he no longer had any interest, he also seems to have retired. He may have commanded ships in the merchant service, or followed the fortunes of Russell, and acted as his agent in his political intrigues at home and in Holland. After the revolution he was appointed to the Elizabeth of 70 guns, and in her took part in the battle of Beachy Head, 30 June 1690. In 1691, when Russell was appointed to the command of the fleet, Mitchell was appointed first captain of the Britannia, his flagship, an office now known as captain of the fleet. He was still first captain of the Britannia at the battle of Barfleur, 19 May 1692, and in the subsequent operations, culminating in the burning of the French ships in the bay of La Hogue, 23-4 May.

For his conduct on this occasion Mitchell was appointed by the king one of the grooms of the bedchamber, and on 8 Feb. 1692-3 was promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue. In March, with his flag in the Essex, he commanded the squadron which convoyed the king to Holland. During the year he served with the main fleet under the command of the joint admirals, and in October escorted the king back from Holland. In February 1693-4 he had command of a squadron to the westward, for the guard of the Channel and the protection of trade; and on his return from this service he was knighted. In May he joined the grand fleet, now again under the command of Russell, whom he accompanied to the Mediterranean. When Russell returned home in the autumn of 1695, Mitchell was left commander-in-chief, till superseded by Sir George Rooke [q.v.], who brought out his commission as vice-admiral of the blue, and with whom he returned to England in the spring of 1696. During the rest of the year he was second in command of the fleet in the Channel, under Rooke; and in 1697 commanded a detached squadron cruising on the Soundings till the conclusion of the peace. In January 1697-8 he was sent with a small squadron of ships of war and yachts to bring the czar Peter to England. He was afterwards, at the czar's request, appointed to attend on him during his stay in this country, and to command the squadron which convoyed him back to Holland. In this connection several anecdotes of doubtful authenticity are related (Campbell, iii. 426). It is also said that the czar invited him to Russia, with the offer of a very lucrative post, which Mitchell declined.

In June 1699 he was appointed one of the lords commissioners of the admiralty, in which post he remained till April 1701, when the Earl of Pembroke was made lord high admiral. He was afterwards usher of the black rod; and on the accession of Queen Anne, when Prince George became lord high admiral, Mitchell was appointed one of his council, in which office he continued till April 1708. It was apparently in 1709 that he was sent to Holland ‘to negotiate matters relating to the sea with the States-General.’ He died at his seat, Popes in Hertfordshire, on 1 June 1710, ‘about the 60th year of his age’ (inscription on his tombstone). He was buried in the church at Hatfield beneath a slab, on which a lengthy inscription summarises his services. It also bears the arms of Mitchell of Tillygreig, Aberdeen (1672). Le Neve (Pedigrees of the Knights, p. 461), says, ‘He bears arms but hath no right,’ and tells an absurd story how, as ‘a poor boy from Scotland,’ he was pressed from a Newcastle collier, and was pulled out from under the coals, where he had hidden himself. The arms on an escutcheon of pretence which he assumed were by right of his wife Mary, daughter and coheiress of Robert Dod of Chorley in Shropshire, by whom he had one son, died an infant. Dame Mary died 30 Sept. 1722, aged 62, and was also buried in the church at Hatfield; but the slab, bearing the inscription, ‘Heare lyes the body,’ &c., is now in the churchyard (information from the sexton of Hatfield; cf. Burke, Hist. of Commoners, i. 298).

[Boyer's Hist. of Queen Anne (App. ii.), p. 53; Campbell's Lives of the Admirals, iii. 423; Charnock's Biog. Nav. ii. 105; inscriptions on the tombstones at Hatfield; that on Mitchell's is printed in John Le Neve's Monumenta Anglicana, 1700-15, p. 188.]

J. K. L.