Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Boscawen, Edward (1711-1761)
BOSCAWEN, EDWARD (1711–1761), admiral, third son of Hugh, first Viscount Falmouth [q. v.], and of Charlotte, eldest daughter of Charles Godfrey, and his wife, Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough and mother of the Duke of Berwick, was born on 19 Aug. 1711. On 3 April 1726 he joined the Superbe, of 60 guns, one of the ships which sailed for the West Indies with Vice-admiral Hosier on 9 April [see Hosier, Francis]. In the Superbe he continued for nearly three years. For the next three years he was in the Canterbury, the Hector, and the Namur, bearing the flag of Sir Charles Wager, all on the home station or in the Mediterranean. On 8 May 1732 he passed his examination, and on 26 May was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. In August he was appointed to the Hector, on the Mediterranean station. On 16 Oct. 1735 he was discharged into the Grafton, and from her was, on 12 March 1736-7, promoted by Sir John Norris to command the Leopard. It was only for a couple of months, but the admiralty confirmed the commission, and in June 1738 he was appointed to the Shoreham of 20 guns. In June 1739 he was sent out to the West Indies, and was already there when the orders for reprisals against the Spaniards came out. In November, when Vernon sailed for his celebrated attack on Porto Bello, the Shoreham was refitting at Jamaica, and as she could not be got ready in time, Boscawen was permitted to serve on board the flagship as a volunteer; and after the capture was specially employed, under Captain Knowles, in demolishing the forts. He continued in the Shoreham under Vernon's command during 1740; and early in 1741 was attached to the expedition against Cartagena. In the naval operations such a ship as the Shoreham had little share; but on shore, whilst the soldiers were hesitating in front of the castle on the left side of the Boca Chica, Boscawen, in command of five hundred men, seamen and marines, surprised by night, took and destroyed a formidable battery on the right or south side, 17-18 March 1740-1. On 23 March he was promoted to the command of the Prince Frederick, vacant by the death of Lord Aubrey Beauclerk [q.v.]; and when the idea of success against Cartagena was given up, Boscawen was again told oft* to assist Captain Knowles in the laborious, if not brilliant, duty of demolishing such of the forts as had fallen into English hands. In May 1742 the Prince Frederick returned to England, and in the following month Boscawen was appointed to the Dreadnought of 60 guns. In this ship he was employed on the home station during 1743, and was with the main fleet when Sir John Norris permitted the French to escape off Dungeness, 24 Feb. 1743-4. A few weeks later, 28 April, whilst on an independent cruise in the Channel, he had the fortune to pick up the French frigate Medee, the first capture made in the war. This prize, though a fine ship, was found, on survey, of too weak scantling for the English navy; she was therefore put up for sale and bought by a company of merchants, in whose private service, bearing the name of Boscawen, she cruised with good success for the next eighteen months, at the end of which time she almost fell to pieces by the weight of her own guns and masts (Voyages and Cruises of Commodore Walker, 1762).
Towards the end of 1744, Boscawen was appointed to the Royal Sovereign guardship at the Nore, and commanded her, with the superintendence of all the hired vessels from the river, during the critical year 1745. In January 1745-6 he was appointed to his old ship, the Namur, now cut down from a 90-gun ship to a 74, and during 1740 was employed in the Channel under Vice-admiral Martin, and in command of a small squadron cruising on the Soundings. In the spring of 1747 the Namur formed part of the fleet under Anson, and had an important share in the overwhelming victory over the French squadron off Cape Finisterre on 3 May, when Boscawen was severely wounded in the shoulder by a musket-ball. In recognition of his services, the promotion of flag-officers on 15 July was extended so as to include him, and he was shortly afterwards appointed, by a very unusual commission, commander-in- chief by sea and land of his majesty's forces in the East Indies. With a squadron of six ships of the line, four smaller vessels, and a number of transports and Indiamen, he sailed from St. Helens on 4 Nov. 1747 ; waited at the Cape six weeks, 29 March to 8 May 1748, to allow some missing ships to come in, and to refresh the troops; and having failed in an attempt to carry Mauritius by surprise, 23-25 June, finally arrived at Fort St. David on 29 July. Boscawen's instructions pointed out the reduction of Pondicherry as the first object of the expedition : and the land force- at his disposal, which, with soldiers, marines, small-arm men from the fleet, and eleven hundred sepoys, amounted to upwards of five thousand men, seemed to warrant a belief in speedy success. But, on the other hand, no secrecy had been preserved in England, and the twelve months which had elapsed since Boscawen's appointment was noised abroad had given ample time for information to be- sent out from France, and for the adoption of every defensive measure which the skill and ingenuity of Dupleix could suggest. The garrison was thus nearly as strong in point of numbers as the assailants: and though a larger proportion were sepoys, there were at least eighteen hundred Europeans. A still more fatal error had been committed in giving Boscawen special instructions to be guided in the siege operations by the opinion of the engineers, a body of men whose pedantic ignorance of their profession, and whose utter want of practical training, had, but a few years before, brought ruin to the expedition against Cartagena. Boscawen, who had gone through that deadly experience, now again found himself hampered by the same clog and under the same circumstances of a sickly and stormy season drawing on, and rendering the utmost despatch the first condition of success. He was thus compelled to waste eighteen most valuable days in the reduction of an utterly insignificant outlying fort; to pitch his camp in a remote and inconvenient situation; to land all the stores at such a distance that the transport proved a very serious difficulty; and to attack on a side where, by reason of inundations, the ap- proaches could not be pushed within eight hundred yards; and all because the engineers knowing nothing beyond the teaching of the schools, and that very imperfectly, neither could nor would understand that the exceptional circumstances required, and the covering force of the ships' guns warranted,, some departure from the narrow rules of abstract theory. The result was much the same as at Cartagena. The sickly season- set in whilst prospect of success was as distant as ever; and after a thousand of the Europeans had died, the siege had to be raised, and the ships sent for the monsoon months to Acheen or Trincomalee, the admiral himself remaining with the army at Fort St. David. In November he received advice of the cessation of arms, with orders to remain till further instructed of the con- clusion of the peace. He was still at St. David in the following April, when on the 12th a violent hurricane struck the coast. Most of the ships were happily at Trincomalee; those few that were with the admiral were lost; amongst these the flagship, the Xamur, with upwards of six hundred men on board, went down with all hands ; the admiral, with his immediate staff, and the sick in hospital, who had the fortune to be on shore, alone escaped. In October, having received definite intelligence of the peace, Boscawen sailed for England, where he arrived in the course of April 1750.
Since June 1741 Boscawen had nominally represented Truro in parliament. In June 1751 he was nominated by Anson as one of the lords commissioners of the admiralty; and through all the stormy changes of the following years he retained his seat on that board till his death. On 4 Feb. 1755 he was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral, and appointed to command a squadron ordered to North America as a check on the encroachments of the French, who had sent out large reinforcements covered by a squadron of ten effective ships. With eleven sail of the line Boscawen sailed on 27 April, with instructions to attack the French wherever he should find them; which instructions were duly communicated to the Due de Mirepoix, the French minister in London. The duke had replied that they would consider the first gun fired at sea in a hostile manner as a declaration of war— a threat, however, upon which they were, just at that time, quite unprepared to act. On 10 June Boscawen fell in with three of the French ships—the Alcide, of 64 guns, the Lys, and Dauphin Royal, disarmed, and acting as transports. The two former were captured, but the Dauphin Royal escaped into the fog which shielded the rest of the French fleet, and enabled it to get safely into the river "St. Lawrence. As nothing more could be done, Boscawen went to Halifax to refresh his men, amongst whom a virulent fever had broken out. This, however, continued to rage even in harbour; landing the men did not lessen the death rate, and the admiral determined to take the squadron home without further delay; but before it could reach Spithead it had lost some two thousand men.
During the next succeeding years Boscawen at frequent intervals commanded a squadron in the Channel, off Brest, or in the Bay of Biscay; at other times he was sitting at the admiralty; and as one of the lords commissioners signed Admiral John Byng's instructions on 30 March 1750; signed the order for his court-martial on 14 Dec.: and as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth signed the immediate order for his execution on 14 March 1757 [see Byng, Hon. John]. Of the responsibility of this measure he has therefore a full share; he was, in an emphatic degree, a consenting party to the death of Byng; and there is no doubt whatever that to him, schooled by disasters arising out of criminal ignorance and negligence, death appeared the just reward of conduct such as that of which Byng had been found guilty; nor should it be forgotten that in his extreme youth, as a lad on board the Superbe in the West Indies, he must often have heard unfavourable criticisms on the conduct of Byng in leaving the ship, at his own request, just as she was ordered on a disagreeable and dangerous service.
In October 1757 Boscawen was appointed second in command of the main fleet under Hawke; and on 8 Feb. 1758, being advanced to the rank of admiral of the blue, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the fleet fitting out for the siege of Louisburg. The operations there were entirely military, the work of the fleet being merely that of a covering force, to guard against any possible attempt at relief. After the capitulation, the admiral, with the greater part of the fleet, returned to England, and on 6 Dec. received the thanks of the House of Commons for his services during the campaign. On 2 Feb. 1759 he was sworn a member of the privy council, and a few days later was appointed to the command of a squadron ordered to be got ready for the Mediterranean. He sailed from St. Helens on 14 April with fourteen ships of the line and two frigates, his flag being, as in the preceding year, on board the Namur, a new ship of 90 guns. At Toulon a French fleet, consisting of twelve ships of the line, commanded by M. de la Clue, was under orders to sail for Brest and join the fleet intended to cover the invasion of England; and as Hawke kept watch off Brest, Boscawen kept watch off Toulon, with the determination that neither the invasion of England nor the junction of the fleets should take place unopposed. It was, however, Boscawen's immediate object to tempt or goad De la Clue to come out, to try and break or force the blockade; and when lighter measures failed he sent in three ships to attack two which were lying further oiit than the rest. This attempt was repelled by the batteries; and the ships, having suffered a good deal of damage, were towed out. But it was necessary that they should go to Gibraltar to refit; and as the whole fleet was in want of water, Boscawen determined to proceed thither, taking measures to prevent the possibility of the enemy slipping through the Straits unperceived. He anchored in Gibraltar Bay on 4 Aug., and was still there on the evening of the 17th, when the Gibraltar frigate came in about half-past seven, making the signal that the enemy was in sight. Many of the English ships were still refitting, with topmasts struck or sails unbent; but before ten o'clock they were all at sea in pursuit. In point of material strength the two fleets were very nearly equal, for the French ships were larger, carried heavier guns and more men; but, by some error or negligence, five of them parted company during the night, leaving the admiral with only seven. The English also, in the hurry of putting to sea, had got somewhat separated; but the two divisions were at no great distance from each other, and were together before they overtook M. de la Clue's squadron about half-past one on the afternoon of 18 Aug. The brunt of the battle fell on the French rearmost ship, the Centaure, of 74 guns, commanded by M. de Sabran. Her defence was obstinate in the extreme: it lasted for fully three hours, and ended only when the ship was a wreck, and the captain and nearly half the ship's company had been killed. This stubborn resistance gave the other ships a chance of escaping; two of them did escape, and got clear off; De la Clue, with the four others, ran by the next morning into neutral waters in Lagos Bay, and imagined himself safe; but the neutrality, of Portugal, or of any state not in immediate position to enforce it, was then but lightly esteemed; and indeed the question had been raised (Bynkershoek, Quæstionum Juris Publici Libri duo, 1737, p. 03) whether an enemv chased into neutral waters might not lawfully be attacked. At any rate, Boscawen did not hesitate. De la Clue, who was mortally wounded, ran his ship on shore and set fire to her; another was burnt in the same way. The Modeste and the Temeraire endeavoured to defend themselves, but were at once overpowered and taken. The scattered remnants of the fleet were driven into Cadiz, and were there blockaded by a detached squadron under Vice-admiral Brodrick; whilst Boscawen, having finished the work to which he had been appointed, returned to England, and anchored at Spithead on 1 Sept. The glaring violation of Portuguese neutrality was, of course, the subject of loud complaints and of special diplomacy (Ld. Mahon, Hist. of England, vol. iv. Appendix, p. xxxv; Ortolan, Regles Internationales et Diplomatic de la Mer, ii. 316, 425); but as Boscawen's conduct was fully approved and accepted by the English government, the further question is indeed of national, but not of personal interest.
The eminent service which Boscawen had rendered in a time of great difficulty was rewarded by his appointment as general of marines, bringing with it a salary of 3,000l. a year, and he was also presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh. During a great part of the following year he commanded the fleet in Quiberon Bay, which by Hawke's victory, closely following on his own, had become, for the time and for the rest of the war, an anchorage for our fleet as commonplace as Spithead or Cawsand Bay. So secure indeed and undisturbed was it, that Boscawen took possession of a small island near the river Vannes, and had it cultivated as a vegetable garden for the use of the sick. It was the end of his service; after a short attack of bilious, or perhaps what is now called typhoid, fever, he died on 10 Jan. 1761, at Hatchlands Park, in Surrey, a seat which, in the words of his epitaph, 'he had just finished at the expense of the enemies of his country.' He was buried in the parish church of St. Michael Penkivel, in Cornwall, where there is a handsome monument to his memory, inscribed by 'his once happy wife, as an unequal testimony of his worth and of her affection.'
Boscawen's fame undoubtedly stood and stands higher than it otherwise would have done by reason of the opportune nature of his victory in Lagos Bay. Cold criticism is apt to say that there was nothing remarkable in fourteen ships winning a decisive victory over seven. But the enemy's fleet was in reality twelve; and that he had the good fortune to find it divided was apparently owing quite as much to Boscawen's prompt decision as to De la Clue's incapacity. And, in fact, it is his ready and decisive courage which has been handed down by tradition as the distinguishing feature of his character. He habitually carried his head cocked on one side, in consequence of which he was sometimes familiarly spoken of as 'Wry-necked Dick' (Naval Chronicle, xi. 100); but his true nickname, the name which the sailors who knew him and adored him delighted in, was 'Old Dreadnought.' There can be no question that this came directly from the ship which he commanded when a young captain, at the beginning of the French war, for it was and is the custom of seamen to give the name of the ship to the captain if the qualities agree. But the story told of Boscawen, possibly true, though unsupported by any evidence, is that whilst in the Dreadnought the officer of the watch went into his cabin one night and, waking him, said, 'Sir, there are two large ships, which look like Frenchmen, bearing down on us; what are we to do?' 'Do?' answered Boscawen, turning out and going on deck in his nightshirt; 'do? damn 'em, fight 'em!' That there was no such fight is quite certain; but whether the story is true or not true, it illustrates the popular opinion of Boscawen's character, and is a lucid commentary on the prompt decision which overwhelmed De la Clue.
But besides this Boscawen has a special reputation for the persistent efforts which he made to improve the health and comfort of the seamen. In his boyhood at the Bastimentos, as afterwards at Cartagena, at Pondicherry, or at Halifax, he had had forced on him the disastrous effects of sickness, if merely from the point of view of efficiency; the study of his men's health thus became with him almost an instinct; and in an age when anything like hygiene was little attended to, he was one of the first who gave it a prominent consideration; and it was more particularly he who brought Sutton's ventilating apparatus into common use, by having it fitted on board the Namur when preparing for her voyage to the East Indies. There is no exaggeration in the statement on his monument that 'with the highest exertions of military greatness he united the gentlest offices of humanity; his concern for the interest, and unwearied attention to the health, of all under his command, softened the necessary exactions of duty and the rigours of discipline.' And yet his discipline was undeniably severe; nor would he allow any relaxations or comforts which seemed to him likely to render the ship less efficient as a man-of-war. This is well illustrated by a sentence from a letter to the admiralty, written only six months before his death (8 July 1760), respecting the accommodation of the Torbay, which had been reported as very cramped, though she had carried his flag in 1755 without any complaints. 'All the officers,' he wrote, 'swung in hanging cots, and where stowed with conveniency. After I left the ship, Captain Keppel permitted canvas cabins to be built, which I suppose remain, and prevent the stowing the officers so well as when there were none. … I never permit, nor I have not for many years, nor ever will, in any ship that I go to sea in, standing cabins. In the Dreadnought, in 1744, cruising to the westward in thick weather, I fell in with thirteen sail of the enemy's ships; and in taking down the officers' cabins to clear! ship and bring the stern chase to bear upon the enemy, I found much bottled liquor, which being directed to be thrown overboard, much of it was drunk by the seamen, that when I was engaged soon after were so drunk as not to be able to do their duty; and had the French done theirs, I must have inevitably been taken. This determined me against cabins, and I have never altered my resolution.'
He married, in 1742, Frances, daughter of William Evelyn Glanville, of St. Clair, Kent, and by her had three sons and two daughters. The two elder sons died unmarried; the third, George Evelyn, succeeded his uncle as third Viscount Falmouth. Of the daughters, one married Admiral Leveson-Gower; the other married Henry, fifth duke of Beaufort. His widow, who is spoken of as 'the accomplished Mrs. Boscawen,' resided for many years at Rosedale, Richmond, formerly the home of Thomson the poet (British Museum, Add. MS. 27578, ff. 120-7, where are some verses addressed to her by Pye), and died in 1805. A portrait of Boscawen, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is in the National Portrait Gallery; a copy is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, to which it was presented by Lord Falmouth.
[Charnock's Biog. Nav. iv. 310; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; official letters and other documents in the Public Record Office.]