1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vernon, Edward

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VERNON, EDWARD (1684-1757), English admiral, was born in Westminster on the 12th of November 1684. He was the second son of James Vernon, secretary of state from 1697- 1700, a scion of an ancient Staffordshire family who is best remembered by three volumes of his letters to the duke of Shrewsbury, which were published in 1841; and his mother was Mary, daughter of Sir John Buck of Lincolnshire. Edward Vernon was sent to Westminster school at the age of seven; and remained there till he was sixteen. Outside its walls he studied, with a view to his future profession, such branches of knowledge as geometry, geography and the construction of military weapons. He entered the navy in 1701, and from that time until 1707 took part in many expeditions in the Mediter- ranean and the West Indies. He served with Sir George Rooke at the taking of Gibraltar in July 1704; and on his return to England Queen Anne acknowledged his gallantry with the present of two hundred guineas. He next served in the West Indies with Commodore Sir Charles Wager, a brave seaman, who afterwards rose to the highest position at the admiralty in the Whig ministry of Walpole, and was pitted against Vernon both in the House of Commons and at the polling-booth. In 1715, and again in 1726, Vernon assisted in the naval operations in the Baltic, supporting Sir John Norris in the first enterprise, and on the latter serving under his old chief, Sir Charles Wager. During the long supremacy of Walpole little opportunity arose for distinction in warfare, and Vernon's energies found relief in politics. At the general election of 1722 he was returned for both Dunwich in Suffolk and Penryn in Cornwall, but chose the latter constituency. In the succeeding parliament of 1727 he was again chosen member for Penryn; but he failed to retain his seat after the dissolution in 1734. At this period the English people regarded the Spaniards as their legitimate enemies, and the ill-feeling of the two countries was fanned both in poetry and in prose. The political antagonists of Walpole charged him with pusillanimity to Spain. With Pulteney and most of his associates this battle-ground was selected rather from expediency than from principle; but Vernon represented the natural instincts of the sea-captain, and with the sailor as with the soldier the motto was " No peace with Spain." In debate he spoke often, and frequently with effect, but his language always savoured of extravagance. He pledged himself in 1739 to capture Porto Bello with a squadron of but six ships, and the minister whom he had assailed with his invectives sent him, as vice-admiral of the blue and commander of the fleet in the West Indies, to the enterprise with the force which he had himself called sufficient. Vernon weighed anchor from Spithead on the 23rd of July 1739 and arrived off Porto Bello on 20th November. Next day the combat began with a bombardment of an outlying fort which protected the mouth of the harbour, and on the 22nd of November the castle and town surrendered with a loss on the English side of only seven men. The joy of the nation knew no bounds. Vernon's birthday was celebrated in 1740 in London with public illuminations, and 130 medals were struck in his honour. In February 1741 in a by-election at Ports- mouth Vernon was again sent to parliament. At the general election in the following May he was returned for Ipswich, Rochester and Penryn, and all but succeeded in winning Westminster.[1] He elected to sit for Ipswich. A larger squadron was placed under Vernon's command at the close of 1740, and with this force he resolved upon attacking Cartagena. After a fierce struggle, the castle, which stood at the harbour's entrance, was gained; but in the attack upon the city the troops and sailors failed to act in concert, and, with the numbers of his forces thinned by combat and by disease, the British admiral retired to Jamaica. The incidents of this disastrous attempt are described in Smollett's Roderick Random, chap, xxxi., &c. A similar enterprise in July 1741 against Santiago de Cuba met with a similar reverse, and Vernon attributed the defeat to the divided command of the British forces. During his command he did a good deal for the health of his crews. He first introduced the custom of mixing the rum served to the sailors in the West Indies with water. The word " grog " is said to be derived from the nickname of " old Grog " given him by the sailors, because he wore a peculiar grogram boat-cloak. He landed at Bristol on the 6th of January 1743, and on the 24th of January received the freedom of the city of London. When the country dreaded the march of Prince Charles to London, the fleet in the Downs was placed under the command of Vernon; but his jealous disposition brooked no interference from the admiralty, and on the 1st of January 1746 he struck his flag and handed over the command to another. His next act was to describe his grievances in a couple of angry pamphlets, revealing the communications of his official chiefs, and for this indiscretion he was struck off the list of flag officers (April 11, 1746). He continued to represent the borough of Ipswich until his death, but with this proceeding his public services practically ceased. He died suddenly at Nacton in Suffolk, the 30th of October 1757, and was buried in the church of the village.

Vernon's gallantry was unquestioned; but his valour not infrequently degenerated into foolhardin'ess, and he dwelt more often than is usual with British seamen on the merits of his own exploits. His politics were those of the Tory party, and his differences with the Whigs and with his colleagues in the services led to his publishing several pamphlets on his political conduct. A Memorial of Admiral Vernon from Contemporary Authorities was printed by W. F. Vernon for private circulation in 1861.

  1. Grego's Parliamentary Elections (London, 1886), pp. 95-106.