Baker, Thomas (1771?-1845) (DNB01)

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BAKER, Sir THOMAS (1771?–1845), vice-admiral, of an old Kentish family, and a descendant, direct or collateral, of Vice-admiral John Baker (1661–1716) [q. v.], was born about 1771. He entered the navy in 1781 on board the Dromedary storeship, and was borne on her books till 1785. He was then for three years in the service of the East India Company, but in 1788 returned to the navy. After serving on the home Halifax, and East India stations, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on 13 Oct. 1792. In 1793 he had command of the Lion cutter, in 1794 of the Valiant lugger, and on 24 Nov. 1795 was promoted to be commander for good service in carrying out despatches to the West Indies. In 1796-7 he commanded the Fairy sloop in the North Sea, and on 13 June 1797 was posted to the Princess Royal, apparently for rank only. In January 1799 he was appointed to the 28-gun frigate Nemesis, in which, on 25 July 1800, when in command of a small squadron off Ostend, he met a number of Danish merchant vessels under convoy of the frigate Freya. It was a favourite contention of neutrals that the convoy of a ship of war was a guarantee that none of the vessels carried contraband, and that they were therefore exempt from search. This the English government had never admitted, and, in accordance with his instructions. Baker insisted on searching the Danish ships. The Freya resisted, but was quickly overpowered, and, together with her convoy, was brought into the Downs. After some negotiations [see Whitworth, Charles, Earl] the affair seemed to be amicably arranged, and the Freya and her convoy were restored; but the Emperor of Russia made it a pretext for renewing the 'armed neutrality,' which he induced Denmark to join, a coalition which immediately led to the despatch of the fleet under Sir Hyde Parker (1739–1807) [q. v.] and the battle of Copenhagen. Baker's conduct had received the entire approval of the admiralty, and in January 1801 he was appointed to the 36-gun frigate Phoebe, which he commanded on the Irish station till the peace of Amiens in October 1801.

On the renewal of the war in 1803 he commissioned the Phoenix of 42 guns, attached to the Channel fleet under (Sir) William Cornwallis off Ushant and in the Bay of Biscay. On 10 Aug. 1805, being then to the north-west of Cape Finisterre, he fell in with and, after a brilliant and well-fought action of rather more than three hours' duration, captured the French 46-gun frigate Didon, which had been sent off from Ferrol on the 6th with important despatches from Villeneuve to Admiral Allemand, who was on his way to join him with five sail of the line. In consequence of the capture of the Didon, Allemand never joined Villeneuve, and his ships had no further part in the campaign. On 14 Aug. the Phoenix with her prize joined the English 74-gun ship Dragon, and the next day the three ships were sighted by Villeneuve, who took for granted that they were a part of the English fleet under Cornwallis looking for him; and, not caring to risk an encounter, turned south to Cadiz, and the fate that befell him off Cape Trafalgar. Baker meantime took his prize to Plymouth, and, returning to his former station, on 2 Nov. sighted the French squadron of four ships of the line under Dumanoir, escaping from Trafalgar. Knowing that Sir Richard John Strachan [q. v.] was off Ferrol, he at once steered thither, and the same night joined Strachan, to whom he gave the news which directly led to the capture of the four French ships on 4 Nov., the Phoenix with the other frigates having an important part in the action. A fortnight later Baker was appointed to the Didon, from which, in May 1806, he was moved to the Tribune, which he commanded for the next two years in the Bay of Biscay with distinguished success. In May 1808 he joined the Vanguard as flag-captain to Rear-admiral (Sir) Thomas Bertie [q. v.] in the Baltic. On leaving her in 1811, he spent some time in Sweden; and from 1812 to 1815 commanded the 74-gun ship Cumberland in the West Indies, in the North Sea, and in charge of a convoy of East Indiamen to the Cape. In 1814 the Prince of Orange conferred on him the order of William of the Netherlands, and on 4 June 1815 he was made a C.B. He was appointed colonel of marines on 12 Aug. 1819, was promoted to be rear-admiral on 19 July 1821, was commander-in-chief on the coast of South America from 1829 to 1833, was nominated K.C.B. on 8 Jan. 1831, became vice-admiral on 10 Jan. 1837, and was awarded a good-service pension of 300l. a year on 19 Feb. 1842. He died at his residence, The Shrubbery, Walmer, Kent, on 26 Feb. 1845. Baker married the daughter of Count Routh, a Swedish noble, and by her had several children; his second son, Horace Mann Baker, died a lieutenant in the navy in 1848.

[O'Byrne's Nav. Biog. Dict.; Marshall's Roy. Nay. Biog. ii. (vol. i. pt. ii.), 829; James's Naval History, vols. iii. and iv.; Chevalier's Hist. de la Marine Française, vol. iii.; Troude's Batailles Navales de la France, vol. iii.; Gent. Mag. 1845, pt. i. p. 436.]

J. K. L.