Paulet, Harry (1719-1794) (DNB00)

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PAULET or POWLETT, HARRY, sixth Duke of Bolton (1719–1794), admiral, second son of Harry Paulet, fourth duke of Bolton, and nephew of Charles Paulet, third duke of Bolton [q. v.], was born in 1719, and in August 1733 entered the navy as a scholar in the academy in Portsmouth Dockyard. On 9 March 1739 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and on 15 July 1740 to be captain of the Port Mahon attached to the fleet off Cadiz, under Rear-admiral Nicholas Haddock [q. v.] By Haddock he was moved in July 1741 to the Oxford of 50 guns, which he was still commanding on 11 Feb. 1743–4 in the action off Toulon. In the subsequent courts-martial his evidence was strongly against Richard Lestock [q. v.]; he swore positively that Lestock had reefed topsails on the morning of the battle, and that he, following the vice-admiral's motions, had done so also. But while Powlett swore that the Oxford reefed topsails because the Neptune did, Stepney, the flag-captain, swore that the Neptune did nothing of the sort, and the Neptune's captains of the tops agreed with him.

In March 1745 Powlett was appointed to the Sandwich, guardship at Spithead, and a few months later to the Ruby. In November 1746 he was appointed to the Exeter, in which he went out to the East Indies, and continued there under the admirals Thomas Griffin [q. v.] and Edward Boscawen [q. v.] On his return to England in April 1750 he brought charges of misconduct against Griffin, who was tried by court-martial and dismissed the service. Two years later Griffin brought several charges of misconduct against Powlett, who was ordered to be tried by a court-martial which assembled on 1 Sept. 1752. Many of the charges were extremely serious, including misappropriation of stores, not engaging the enemy and abject cowardice when engaged, as well as gross breaches of discipline, which ought to have been tried at once, on the spot. After five years Griffin could produce no witnesses in support of his accusations; the court at once acquitted Powlett, but no further action was taken against the malicious slanderer.

In January 1753 Powlett was appointed to the Somerset, guardship at Chatham; on 26 Aug. 1754, by the succession of his father to the dukedom, he became, by courtesy, Lord Harry Powlett; and on 4 Feb. 1755 he was appointed to the Barfleur of 90 guns, attached to the grand fleet under Sir Edward Hawke, which sailed in July for a cruise to the westward. On 22 Aug. Powlett was ordered to chase a sail that was seen to the south-east; during the night he lost sight of the fleet, and for the next two days cruised independently, going on the 25th to Hawke's rendezvous, intending to await Hawke's return. But the carpenter reported that the stern-post was loose, and was dangerous. Powlett ordered the first lieutenant and master to examine the defect, and, acting on their report, he returned to Spithead, where, on 20–22 Oct., he was tried by court-martial for separating from the fleet and for returning into port. For separating from the fleet he was admonished, but on the charge of returning into port he was acquitted. It was afterwards shown by the dockyard officials that the carpenter's report was grossly exaggerated. The admiralty accordingly cashiered the carpenter as incompetent; but public opinion, based on sentiment rather than on evidence, held that the blame rested with Powlett, and that he was the actual author or suggester of the carpenter's report. Powlett was thenceforth known as ‘Captain Stern-post.’ He had no further service: it was said that the king agreed with the popular notion.

On 4 June 1756 he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral of the white, and on 14 Feb. 1759 to be vice-admiral of the white. It was reported that Boscawen wished him to accompany him to the Mediterranean, as second in command, but that the king would not sanction the appointment. From 1762 to 1765 he represented Winchester in parliament; on 5 July 1765, by the death of his elder brother, he succeeded as sixth Duke of Bolton. He became admiral of the blue on 18 Oct. 1770, and admiral of the white on 31 March 1775; but had no further interest in naval affairs, beyond signing and, indeed, organising the memorial to the king, protesting against the court-martial on Keppel in December 1778. He was governor of the Isle of Wight from 1766 to 1780; and on 6 April 1782 was again appointed governor of the Isle of Wight and lord lieutenant of Hampshire. He died at his seat of Hackwood in Hampshire, on 25 Dec. 1794. He was twice married; but dying without legitimate male issue, the title became extinct. The name has often been written Paulet. The spelling Powlett is from his own signature.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. v. 5; Doyle's Baronage; Minutes of Courts-Martial, Commission and Warrant Books and other documents in the Public Record Office. The version of the stern-post incident in Johnstone's Chrysal is a tissue of misstatements.]

J. K. L.