Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Caldwell, Benjamin

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CALDWELL, Sir BENJAMIN (1737?–1820), admiral, third son of Charles Caldwell, solicitor to the customs in Dublin, by Elizabeth Heywood, was born in Liverpool 31 Jan. 1738–9. In 1754 he was entered at the Royal Academy at Portsmouth, and in 1756 was appointed to the 50-gun ship Isis. In March 1759 he was removed to the Namur, bearing Admiral Boscawen's flag. He was in her at the defeat of De la Clue's squadron in Lagos Bay, 18–19 Aug., and afterwards in the defeat of M. de Conflans in Quiberon Bay, 20 Nov. From 1760 to 1762 he was a lieutenant of the Achilles; and after commanding the Martin sloop for three years was in 1765 posted into the Milford frigate. He afterwards commanded the Rose, and from 1775 to 1779 the Emerald of 32 guns on the North American station; on 25 Dec. he was appointed to the Hannibal of 50 guns, and in the beginning of 1781 was moved into the Agamemnon of 64 guns. During the summer and autumn the Agamemnon was in the Channel fleet under Vice-admiral Darby, and was afterwards one of the small squadron with Rear-admiral Kempenfelt [q. v.] in the Bay of Biscay, December 1781. After the affair of 12 Dec. the Agamemnon was detached to pick up any stragglers of the scattered French convoy, and succeeded in capturing five more of them. She returned in time to sail with Sir George Rodney for the West Indies, where she had a brilliant share in the action off Dominica, 12 April 1782. She remained on the West Indian and North American station till the peace, and was paid off in May 1783. Caldwell was M.P. for Knocktopher in the Irish house of commons 1776–83, and for Harristown 1783–90. In 1787 he commanded the Alcide for a short time, and for a few months during the Spanish armament of 1790 commanded the Berwick. On 1 Feb. 1793 he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the white, and towards the close of the year hoisted his flag in the Cumberland of 74 guns, in the fleet under Lord Howe. In April 1794 he became rear-admiral of the red, and transferred his flag to the Impregnable of 98 guns, still in Lord Howe's fleet, and took part in the action of the 1st of June, in which the Impregnable had thirty-one men killed or wounded. Caldwell was, nevertheless, left unmentioned in the official despatches of Lord Howe (Naval Chronicle, xi. 8). In consequence the gold medal was withheld from him, as it was from the other flag-officers and captains who had not been specially mentioned; and though it was very quickly understood that Howe had committed a serious blunder, and that the admiralty had offered a gross insult to several deserving officers, the mischief was done. Collingwood alone had it afterwards in his power to force the admiralty to acknowledge their mistake [see Collingwood, Cuthbert, Lord]. On 4 July 1794 Caldwell was advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue, and in the following September was sent out to the Leeward Islands, with his flag in the Majestic, to join Sir John Jervis. Jervis shortly afterwards returned to England, leaving Caldwell commander-in-chief. In the following June, however, he was superseded by Sir John Laforey; and as his rank fully entitled him to the command, he was apparently led to suppose that the supersession was a continuation of the same insult which had withheld the gold medal. He returned to England in the Blanche frigate, and neither applied for nor accepted any further appointment. His advancement to the rank of admiral, 14 Feb. 1799, came, as matter of course, by seniority. His name was markedly omitted from the honours conferred at the end of the war, and, though the connection is not obvious, it was not till after the death of George III that, in May 1820, he received a tardy acknowledgment of injustice and wrong by being nominated an extra G.C.B. Caldwell married (7 June 1784) Charlotte, daughter of Admiral Henry Osborn, by whom he had a son, Charles Andrew. He died at his son's house, near Basingstoke, in November 1820.

[Naval Chronicle, vol. xi., with a portrait; Charnock's Biog. Navalis, vi. 530; Ralfe's Nav. Biog. i. 384; Gent. Mag. 1820, vol. xc. pt. ii. p. 565; Burke's Landed Gentry.]

J. K. L.