Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Delavall, Ralph

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1216181Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14 — Delavall, Ralph1888John Knox Laughton

DELAVALL, Sir RALPH (d. 1707), admiral, grandson of Sir Ralph Delavall, first baronet of Seaton Delavall in Northumberland, after serving as volunteer and lieutenant through the second and third Dutch wars, took post rank from 6 Jan. 1672–3, and was in April 1674 appointed to command the Constant Warwick. He does not seem to have had any further service afloat till the eve of the revolution, when, on 1 Oct. 1688, he was appointed to the command of the York. It would thus appear that he was considered well affected to the reigning sovereign; but, with the great bulk of naval officers, he readily accepted the change of government, was shortly afterwards promoted to be rear-admiral, and on 31 May 1690 was deputed by the officers of the fleet to present a loyal address to the king and queen. On this occasion he was knighted, and promoted to be vice-admiral of the blue, in which rank with his flag on board the Coronation, and in consequence of the absence of Russell, the admiral of the blue, he commanded the blue or rear squadron in the battle of Beachy Head, 30 June 1690. Following the complaints of the Dutch, it is customary to attribute the unfortunate result of that battle to the lukewarmness or shyness of Lord Torrington [see Herbert, Arthur, Earl of Torrington], but no such charge was made against Delavall, who, keeping the blue squadron in good order, stoutly maintained the action for five hours against a distinctly superior force of the enemy. On the inquiry made by the lords-commissioners of the admiralty, Delavall's evidence was to the effect that the Dutch loss was due to their own want of conduct, and to the disorderly way in which they bore down to the enemy. Delavall was afterwards president of the court-martial on Torrington; and if, as has been said, he was no friend of the prisoner, the more perfect is the acquittal pronounced by the court of which he was president.

During the autumn months of 1690, and during the spring and summer of 1691, Delavall had command of a powerful squadron cruising in the Channel or blockading Dunkirk. In January 1691–2, he convoyed the Mediterranean trade to the Straits, bringing back the homeward-bound fleet; and continued cruising for the protection of the trade, till on 13 May 1692, with his flag on board the Royal Sovereign, he joined the main fleet under Russell, and, as vice-admiral of the red squadron, took a distinguished part in the battle of Barfleur, 19 May, and in the subsequent operations, having the immediate command of the detached squadron which burned (22 May) the Soleil Royal and two other French ships in Cherbourg (Journal of Rev. Richard Allyn, chaplain of their Majesties' ship Centurion, 8vo, 1744). In the following January, on the temporary disgrace of Russell, Delavall was one of the three admirals to whom the command of the fleet was jointly entrusted, the other two being Killigrew and Shovell. The commission was unfortunate. Public opinion, enraged by the loss of the Smyrna convoy [see Rooke, Sir George], did not scruple to say that Killigrew and Delavall were acting in the interest of King James, an allegation unsupported by a tittle of evidence, and contradicted by the whole course of Delavall's service since the revolution (Burnet, Hist. of Own Times, Oxford edit. iv. 180). The clamour, however, was so violent as to necessitate his being relieved of the command; nor did he serve again at sea, though he was made a lord of the admiralty 1693, serving till May 1694. In a list of ‘Flag Officers unemployed at sea,’ 30 March 1701 (Home Office Records, Admiralty, No. 10), his name appears as admiral of the blue ‘by a dormant commission,’ the first beginning, it would seem, of a retired list. He represented Great Bedwin in parliament as a tory, 1695–8, but afterwards lived in retirement at Seaton Delavall, and there died 23 Jan. 1706–7. His remains were brought to Westminster and interred in the nave of the abbey, but no stone now marks the spot. His wife, by whom he had two sons and three daughters, survived him.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. ii. 1; Campbell's Lives of the Admirals; Lediard's Nav. Hist.; Chester's Westminster Registers; official documents in Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.