Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brenton, Jahleel

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BRENTON, Sir JAHLEEL (1770–1844), vice-admiral, eldest son of Rear-admiral Jahleel Brenton, the head of a family which had emigrated to America early in the seventeenth century, was born in Rhode Island on 22 Aug. 1770. When the war of independence broke out, Mr. Brenton, then a lieutenant in the navy, adhered to the royalist party, and his wife and children were sent to England. He himself was in 1781 promoted to the command of the Queen, armed ship, on board which ship his son Jahleel was entered as a midshipman. For two years the boy served under his father's immediate command, and on the peace in 1783 was sent to school at Chelsea, where, and afterwards in France, he continued till 1787, when he again entered the navy as a midshipman. In 1790, having passed his examination, and seeing no chance of either employment or promotion, he accepted a commission in the Swedish navy, and took part in the battles of Biorkosund on 3 and 4 June, and of Svenskasund on 9 July. In later life, when deeply impressed by religious ideas, he 'felt and acknowledged the guilt of this step.' On 20 Nov. 1790 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the English navy, and returned home in consequence. His service during the succeeding years, mostly in the Mediterranean, does not require any special notice. In the battle off Cape St. Vincent he was, still a lieutenant, on board the Barfleur, and in the course of 1798 he obtained from the commander-in-chief an acting order to command the Speedy brig, though he was not confirmed in the rank till 3 July 1799. His conduct on several occasions in action with the enemy's gunboats won for him the approval of the admiralty and his post rank, 25 April 1800, when he was appointed temporarily to the Genereux prize, giving up the command of the Speedy to Lord Cochrane, who rendered her name immortal in the history of our navy. In the following January he was appointed to the Caesar, as flag-captain to Sir James Saumarez, and had thus an important part in the unfortunate battle of Algeziras on 6 July, and in the brilliant defeat of the allied squadron in the Straits on 12 July 1801. He continued in the Caesar, after the peace, till March 1802, when he obtained leave to return to England, chiefly, it would seem, in order to be married to Miss Isabella Stewart, an American lady to whom he had been long engaged.

In March 1803 he was appointed to the Minerve frigate, but had only just joined her when a severe wound, given by a block falling on his head, compelled him to go on shore; he was not able to resume the command till June, and in his first cruise, having chased some vessels in towards Cherbourg in a thick fog, the ship got aground under the guns of the heaviest batteries (2 July 1803). After sustaining the enemy's fire for ten hours, and failing in all attempts to get her off, Brenton was compelled to surrender. He and the whole ship's company were made prisoners of war, and so the greater number of them continued till the peace in 1814; but Brenton himself was fortunate in being exchanged in December 1806 for a nephew of Masséna, who had been taken prisoner at Trafalgar. He was shortly afterwards tried for the loss of the Minerve, and on his honourable acquittal was at once appointed to the Spartan, a new frigate of 38 guns, ordered to the Mediterranean. The service there was arduous and honourable, but years passed away without leading to any especial distinction. In October 1809 the Spartan was part of the force engaged in the reduction of the Ionian Isles, and in May 1810, whilst cruising in company with the Success, of 32 guns, and the Espoir brig, chased a small French squadron into Naples. This consisted of the Ceres frigate of the same force as the Spartan, though with about one-fourth more men, the Fama frigate of 28 guns, a brig, a cutter, and seven gunboats. Brenton, feeling certain that the French ships would not come out in the face of two frigates, despatched the Success to the southward, and on the morning of 3 May stood back towards Naples, hoping to tempt the enemy to come out. They had anticipated his wish, and having taken on board some 400 soldiers, in addition to their already large complements, met the Spartan in the very entrance of the bay, about midway between Ischia and Capri. The action that ensued was extremely bloody, for the Spartan's broadsides told" with terrible effect on the crowded decks of the Ceres and her consorts, while on the other hand the heavy fire of the gunboats inflicted severe loss on the Spartan. Brenton himself was badly wounded in the hip by a grapeshot, and during the latter part of the fight the Spartan was commanded by her first-lieutenant, Willes, the father of the present Admiral Sir George Ommanney Willes. The brig was captured, but, the Spartan's rigging being much cut, the Cérès and Fama succeeded in getting under some batteries in Baia Bay (James, Naval History, edit. 1859, v. 115). For his gallant and skilful conduct of the action Willes was deservedly promoted; and Captain Brenton's bravery, his tactical skill, and the severity of his wound won for him sympathy and admiration which forgot to remark on his mistaken judgment in sending the Success away mistaken, for the resolve of the enemy to come out was formed quite independently of the Success's absence. The Patriotic Fund at Lloyd's voted him a sword, value one hundred guineas; the king of the Two Sicilies presented him with the Grand Cross of St. Ferdinand; he was made a baronet on 3 Nov. 1812, and a K.C.B. on 2 Jan. 1815.

Brenton's wound made it necessary for him to return to England, which he was permitted to do in the Spartan; and for nearly two years he was on shore, suffering much pain, aggravated by the loss of all his property by the failure of his agents, and by the loss of a prize appeal which involved him to the extent of 3,000l. This liability, however, some friends took on themselves, trusting to have it made good from the bankrupt's estate; and a pension of 300l. in consideration of his wound relieved him of this pressing pecuniary anxiety. In March 1812, having partly recovered from his wound, he accepted the command of the Stirling Castle, 74 guns, in the Channel; but feeling that his lameness and the occasional pain incapacitated him for active service, he soon resigned the appointment. Towards the close of 1813 he was appointed commissioner of the dockyard at Port Mahon, and on the abolition of that establishment at the peace he was sent to the Cape of Good Hope in the same capacity. The establishment there was also reduced on the death of Napoleon in 1821, and Brenton returned to England in January 1822. He then for some time had the command of the royal yacht, and afterwards of the guardship at Sheerness. He attained his flag in 1830, and in 1831, on the death of Captain Browell, was appointed lieutenant-governor of Greenwich Hospital. In course of seniority he would have been included in the promotion on the queen's coronation, and have been made a vice-admiral; but that being incompatible with his office at Greenwich, the rank was held in abeyance, though given him, with his original seniority, on his retirement in 1840. His health had during all these years been very broken, and he died on 3 April 1844.

During a great part of his life he devoted much time and energy to business connected with religious or charitable organisations, and in assisting his brother [see {{sc|[[Brenton, Edward Pelham (DNB00)|Brenton, Edward Pelham}}], of whom he wrote a memoir referring chiefly to these pursuits. He was also the author of 'The Hope of the Navy, or the True Source of Discipline and Efficiency' (cr. 8vo, 1839), a religious essay; 'An Appeal to the British Nation on behalf of her Sailors' (12mo, 1838); and some pamphlets. He was twice married: his first wife died in 1817, and in 1822 he married a cousin, Miss Harriet Brenton, who survived him. He left only one son, Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, who, after taking his degree at Oxford, became a nonconformist minister; on his death, without issue, the baronetcy became extinct.

[Memoir of the Life and Services of Vice-admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton, Bart., K.C.B., edited by the Rev. Henry Raikes, Chancellor of the Diocese of Chester, 8vo, 1846 a ponderous work, smothered in a confused mass of religious meditation; a somewhat abridged edition, edited by Sir L. Charles L. Brenton, was published in 1855; some of Sir Jahleel's official correspondence, whilst at the Cape, with Colonel (afterwards Sir Hudson) Lowe is in Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 20139, 20189-91, 20233.]

J. K. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.36
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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266 i 14f.e. Brenton, Sir Jahleel: after Sheerness insert He was colonel of marines 1825-30