Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blackwood, Henry (1770-1832)
BLACKWOOD, Sir HENRY (1770–1832), vice-admiral, fourth son of Sir John Blackwood, bart., of Ballyleidy, co. Down, and of Dorcas, Baroness Dufferin, and Claneboye, was born on 28 Dec. 1770. In April 1781 he entered the navy as a volunteer on board the Artois frigate, with Captain Macbride, and in her was present at the battle on the Doggerbank. He afterwards served with Captains Montgomery and Whitshed, and for four years in the Trusty with Commodore Cosby in the Mediterranean. In 1790 he was signal midshipman on board the Queen Charlotte with Lord Howe, by whom he was made lieutenant 3 Nov. 1790. In 1791 he was in the Proserpine frigate with Captain Curzon, and towards the close of that year obtained leave to go to France in order to improve himself in the French language. During the greater part of 1792 he was in Paris, and on one occasion was in considerable danger, having been denounced as a spy, and eventually had to fly for his life. He was almost immediately appointed to the Active frigate, from which, a few months later, he was transferred to the Invincible at the special request of Captain Pakenham. Of this ship Blackwood was first lieutenant on 1 June 1794, and as such was promoted, along with all the other first lieutenants of the ships of the line, on 6 July. He was immediately appointed to the Megæra, and continued in her, attached to the fleet under Lord Howe and afterwards Lord Bridport, until he was promoted to the rank of captain 2 June 1795. After a few months in command of the guardship at Hull he was appointed to the Brilliant frigate, of 28 guns, which for the next two years was attached to the North Sea fleet under the command of Admiral Duncan. Early in 1798 the Brilliant was sent out to join Admiral Waldegrave on the Newfoundland station; and on 26 July, whilst standing close in to the bay of Santa Cruz in quest of a French privateer, she was sighted and chased by two French frigates of the largest size, by admirable seamanship, promptitude, and courage, Blackwood succeeded in checking the pursuit and in escaping (James, Naval History, ed. 1800, ii. 250). His conduct at this critical time was deservedly commended. Early in 1799 the Brilliant returned to England, and Blackwood was appointed to the Penelope frigate, of 36 guns, in which, after a few months of Channel service, he was sent out to the Mediterranean, and employed during the winter and following spring in the close blockade of Malta. On the night of 30 March 1800 the Guillaume Tell, of 80 guns, taking advantage of a southerly gale and intense darkness, weighed and ran out of the harbour. As she passed the Penelope, Blackwood immediately followed, and, having the advantage of sailing, quickly came up with her: then — in the words of the log — 'luffed under her stern, and gave him the larboard broadside, bore up under the larboard quarter and gave him the starboard broadside, receiving from him only his stern-chase guns. From this hour till daylight, finding that we could place ourselves on either quarter, the action continued in the foregoing manner, and with such success on our side that, when day broke, the Guillaume Tell was found in a most dismantled state' (Log of the Penelope, kept by Lieutenant Charles Inglis). At five o clock the Lion, of 64 guns, and some little time afterwards the Foudroyant, of 80 guns, came up, and after a determined and gallant resistance the Guillaume Tell surrendered; but that she was brought to action at all was entirely due to the unparalleled brilliancy of the Penelope's action. Nelson wrote from Palermo (6 April 1809) to Blackwood himself: 'Is there a sympathy which ties men together in the bonds of friendship without having a personal knowledge of each other? If so (and I believe it was so to you), I was your friend and acquaintance before I saw you. Your conduct and character on the late glorious occasion stamps your fame beyond the reach of envy. It was like yourself; it was like the Penelope. Thanks; and say everything kind for me to your brave officers and men' (Blackwood's Magazine, xxxiv. 7).
On the peace of Amiens the Penelope was paid off; and in April 1803, when war again broke out, Blackwood was appointed to the Euryalus, of 36 guns. During the next two years he was employed on the coast of Ireland or in the Channel, and in July 1805 was sent to watch the movements of the allied fleet under Villeneuve after its defeat by Sir Robert Calder. On his return with the news that Villeneuve had gone to Cadiz, he stopped on his way to London to see Nelson, who went with him to the Admiralty, and received his final instructions to resume the command of the fleet without delay. Blackwood, in the Euryalus, accompanied him to Cadiz, and was appointed to the command of the inshore squadron, with the duty of keeping the admiral informed of every movement of the enemy. He was offered a line-of-battle ship, but preferred to remain in the Euryalus, believing that he would have more opportunity of distinction; for Villeneuve, he was convinced, would not venture out in the presence of Nelson. When he saw the combined fleets outside, Blackwood could not but regret his decision. On the morning of 21 Oct., in writing to his wife, he added: 'My signal just made on board the Victory — I hope to order me into a vacant line-of-battle ship.' This signal was made at six o'clock, and from that time till after noon, when the shot were already flying thickly over the Victory, Blackwood remained on board, receiving the admiral's last instructions, and, together with Captain Hardy, witnessing the so shamefully disregarded codicil to the admiral's will (Nelson Despatches, vii. 140). He was then ordered to return to his ship. 'God bless you, Blackwood,' said Nelson, shaking him by the hand; 'I shall never speak to you again.' 'He' (and it was Blackwood himself that wrote it) 'not only gave me the command of all the frigates, for the purpose of assisting disabled ships, but he also gave me a latitude seldom or ever given, that of making any use I pleased of his name in ordering any of the sternmost line-of-battle ships to do what struck me as best' (ibid. vii. 226).
Immediately after the battle Collingwood hoisted his flag on board the Euryalus, but after ten days removed it to the Queen, and the Euryalus was sent home with despatches and with the French admiral. Blackwood was thus in England at the time of Lord Nelson's funeral (8 Jan. 1800), on which occasion he acted as train-bearer of the chief mourner, Sir Peter Parker, the aged admiral of the fleet.
After this Blackwood was appointed to the Ajax, of 80 guns, in which he joined Lord Collingwood off Cadiz on the first anniversary of Trafalgar, and early in the following year was detached with the squadron under Sir John Duckworth in the expedition up the Dardanelles. At the entrance of the straits, on the night of 14 Feb., the Ajax caught fire through the drunken carelessness of the purser's steward, and was totally destroyed, with the loss of nearly half the ship's company. Blackwood himself was picked up hanging on to an oar, well nigh perished with the cold, after being nearly an hour in the water. During the following operations in the straits he served as a volunteer on board the flagship, and arrived in England in May. He was now offered the situation of pay-commissioner at the navy board, which he declined, preferring to be appointed to the command of the Warspite, of 74 guns. In this, after some uneventful service in the North Sea, he again went out to the Mediterranean, where the principal duty of the fleet was the very harassing blockade of Toulon. Here, for some time during the summer of 1810, Blackwood had command of the inshore squadron, and on 20 July had the credit of driving back a sortie made by a very superior French force. He returned to England at the end of 1812, but remained in command of the Warspite for another year. In May 1814, on the occasion of the visit of the allied sovereigns, he was appointed captain of the fleet under the Duke of Clarence, a special service which was nominally rewarded by a baronetcy. On 4 June 1814 he attained the rank of rear-admiral, and in August 1819 was nominated a K.C.B., and appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies, from which station he returned in December 1822. He became vice-admiral on 19 July 1821, and from 1827 to 1830 he commanded in chief at the Nore; and still in the full vigour of life he died after a short illness, differently stated as typhus or scarlet fever, on 17 Dec. 1832, at Ballyleidy, the seat of his eldest brother, Lord Dufferin and Clanboye.
He was married three times, and left a large family, the descendants of which are now numerous. His portrait, presented by one of his sons, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.
[Blackwood's Magazine, xxxiv. 1; Marshall's Royal Naval Biog. ii. (vol. i. part ii.) 642.]