Whetstone, William (DNB00)

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WHETSTONE, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1711), rear-admiral, was probably son of John Whetstone, who in 1655 was master of the Swiftsure, flagship of (Sir) William Penn in the expedition against Jamaica. On 30 July 1689, from which date he took post, he was appointed captain of the hired ship Europa, employed during the next two years in convoying victuallers for the army in Ireland. In the autumn of 1692 he commanded the Crown, and in July 1693 was appointed by the joint admirals to the York of sixty guns. In July 1696 he was appointed to the Dreadnought, which he commanded on the Newfoundland station and in the Channel till July 1699, when the ship was paid off. In February 1700–1 he was appointed to the Yarmouth, from which, in the following June, he was moved to the York, to command a squadron going out to Jamaica, and with the local rank of rear-admiral. The detailed history of the York is a curious comment on the state of the navy at that period. In going from St. Helens in July, this newly commissioned ship sprung her mainmast badly, and had to put into Plymouth, where it was found necessary to get a new mainmast. She did not sail from Plymouth till 14 Sept., when she went to Kinsale. She stayed there till the end of October, and on 12 Nov. was back at Plymouth, having carried away her foremast and bowsprit. On 21 Dec. she sailed for Cork, and having sustained some more damage on the way, was surveyed at Cork and pronounced unfit to go to the West Indies. In February 1701–2 Whetstone moved into the Canterbury, and finally sailed from Cork on 14 March. In May he joined Vice-admiral John Benbow [q. v.] at Port Royal. In July he was left by Benbow to command at Jamaica, while he himself went over to the mainland to look for a French squadron that had been reported in that neighbourhood. When the squadron returned to Port Royal Whetstone was president of the court-martials which tried the several captains who had shamefully conspired against their admiral [see Kirkby, Richard]; on the death of Benbow on 4 Nov. 1702, Whetstone succeeded to the command, which he held till the following June, being then superseded by Vice-admiral John Graydon [q. v.], with whom he returned to England in October.

In January 1703–4, to mark his approval of Whetstone's conduct while having temporary rank, and at the same time to separate him from the charges against Graydon, Prince George promoted him to be rear-admiral of the blue, over the heads of other captains, his seniors, and especially of Sir James Wishart [q. v.] Sir George Rooke, with whom Wishart was then serving, took the matter up very warmly, and it was eventually settled by promoting Wishart and antedating his commission. In March 1703–4 Whetstone had command of a squadron in the Channel; on 18 Jan. 1704–5 he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the white; on 17 Feb. he was appointed commander-in-chief in the West Indies, and on 22 Feb. he was knighted. With his flag on board the Montagu he arrived at Jamaica in the middle of May. The smaller vessels under his command made several valuable prizes; but the strength of his squadron was insufficient to permit him to attack any of the Spanish settlements, and to an invitation to declare in favour of King Charles, the governor of Cartagena replied that ‘he knew no sovereign but King Philip.’ In December 1706 Whetstone returned to England.

In May 1707 he was appointed to command a squadron off Dunkirk, with special instructions to look out for that very active corsair, M. de Forbin. In June he had further orders to convoy the trade for the White Sea as far as the Shetland Islands. This he did in force, and did not part company with the merchant ships till they were well past the Shetlands. Two days afterwards Forbin fell in with them and captured fifteen. Whetstone had even exceeded his orders, which were clearly insufficient against such an enemy as Forbin; but as it was necessary to sacrifice somebody to the popular indignation, it was more convenient to sacrifice Whetstone than the lord high admiral or his council. Whetstone was accordingly superseded from his command, and was not employed again. He seems to have died in the spring of 1711. On 7 May 1711 letters of administration were granted to his widow, Maria Whetstone. He is therein described as ‘of Bristol.’

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. ii. 290; Journal of Sir George Rooke (Navy Records Soc.), p. 258; Burchett's Transactions at Sea, p. 697; Lediard's Naval History, p. 824; Mémoires du Comte de Forbin, ii. 240; official letters, appointments, &c., in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.