Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brenton, Edward Pelham

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BRENTON, EDWARD PELHAM (1774–1839), captain in the royal navy, younger brother of Vice-admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton [q. v.], was born at Rhode Island on 20 July 1774. He entered the navy in 1788, and, after serving in the East Indies and in the Channel fleet, waa made lieutenant on 27 May 1795. His services in that rank in the North Sea, on the Newfoundland station, and in the West Indies, call for no special notice. On 29 April 1802 he was made commander, and on the renewal of the war in 1803 was appointed to the command of the Merlin, and employed in the blockade of the north coast of France. On 16 Dec. 1803 he succeeded in a gallant attempt to destroy the Shannon frigate, which had got on shore not far from Cape Barfleur, and had been taken possession of by the French. In January 1805 he was appointed to the Amaranthe brig, in which he cruised with some success in the North Sea; and in 1808 he was sent to the West Indies, where, for his distinguished gallantry in the attack on a small French squadron under the batteries of St. Pierre of Martinique, he was advanced to post rank, his commission being dated back to 13 Dec. 1808, the day of the action. Anticipating his promotion, the admiral. Sir Alexander Cochrane, had appointed him acting captain of the Pompée (74), bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Cockburn, under whose immediate command he served with the brigade of seamen landed for the reduction of Martinique. He afterwards returned to Europe, with the commodore, in the Belleisle, in charge of the garrison, who, according to the capitulation, were to be conveyed to France and there exchanged. As, however, the French government refused to restore an equivalent number of English, the prisoners, to the number of 2,400, were carried to Portsmouth and detained there till the end of the war. Captain Brenton was afterwards employed in convoy service, and in August 1810 was appointed to command the Spartan frigate, in succession to his brother [see: {sc|Brenton, Sir Jahleel}}]. In the course of 1811 the Spartan was sent to North America, and continued on that station during the greater part of the war with the United States, but met with no opportunity of distinguished service. She returned to England in the autumn of 1813, when Brenton went on half-pay; nor did he ever serve again, with the exception of a few months in the summer of 1815, when he acted as flag-captain to Rear-admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell.

Brenton now devoted a large portion of his time to literary pursuits, and published in 1833 a 'Naval History of Great Britain from the year 1783 to 1822,' 5 vols. 6vo; and in 1838 the 'Life and Correspondence of John, Earl of St. Vincent,' 2 vols. 8vo. As an office of rank, who had been actively employed during all the important part of the period of his history, his opportunities of gaining information were almost unequalled; but he seems to have been constitutionally incapable of sifting such evidence as came before him, and to have been guided more frequently by prejudice than by judgment. The plan of his work is good and comprehensive, but the execution is feeble, and its authority as to matter of fact is of the slenderest possible. In addition to these more important literary labours, he took an active, and latterly an absorbing, part in he promotion of temperance societies, in the establishment and conduct of the Society for the Relief of Shipwrecked Mariners, and more especially of the Children's Friend Society, the intention of which was, in many respects, better than the results. These, in fact, drew down on him and his management much harsh criticism, which he felt severely, and which to a serious extent embittered the closing years of his life. He died suddenly on 6 April 1839. He married, in March 1803, Margaret Diana, daughter of General Cox, by whom he had a large family.

In addition to the more bulky works already mentioned, he was also the author of 'The Bible and Spade: an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Children's Friend Society.' 1837, 12mo; and of several pamphlets on 'Suppression of Mendicity,' 'Poor Laws,' 'Juvenile Vagrancy,' and similar subjects.

[Marshall's Royal Nav. Biog. v. (suppl. part i.) 411; Memoir of Captain Edward Pelham Brenton, with Sketches of his professional Life and Exertions in the Cause of Humanity as connected with the Children's Friend Society, &c.; Observations upon Brenton's Naval History and Life of the Earl of St. Vincent, by his brother, Vice-admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton, 1842, 8vo, a very one-sided view of Captain Brenton's great merits as an historian and as a philanthropist; Quarterly Review, lxii. 424, a severe, but not too severe, article on the Life of Lord St. Vincent.]

J. K. L.