Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brett, John (d.1785)

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BRETT, JOHN (d. 1785), captain in the royal navy, was probably the son or near kinsman of Captain Timothy Brett, with whom he went to sea in the Ferret sloop about the year 1722, with the rating of captain's servant. In May 1727 he followed Timothy Brett to the Deal Castle, and in the following November to the William and Mary yacht. On 2 March 1733-4 he was promoted to be lieutenant; in 1740 he commanded the Grampus sloop in the Mediterranean; and on 25 March 1741 was posted into the Roebuck of 40 guns by Vice-admiral Haddock, whom he brought home a passenger, invalided, in May 1742. In November 1742 he was appointed to the Anglesea, and in April 1744 to the Sunderland of 60 guns. He was still in the Sunderland and in company with the Captain, Hampton Court and Dreadnought, when, on 6 Jan. 1744-5, they fell in with, and did not capture, the two French ships, Neptune and Fleuron [see Griffin, Thomas; Mostyn, Savage]. Fortunately for Captain Brett's reputation, the Sunderland had her mainmast carried away at an early period of the chase, and he thus escaped a share of the obloquy which attached to the others. He was afterwards sent out to join Commodore Warren at Cape Breton, and took part in the operations which resulted in the capture of Louisburg. In 1755 he commanded the Chichester in the squadron sent under Rear-admiral Holburne to reinforce Boscawen on the coast of North America. On 19 May 1756 he was appointed to the St. George, and on 1 June was ordered to turn over to the Namur. Three days afterwards a promotion of admirals came out, in which Brett was included, with his proper seniority, as rear-admiral of the white. He refused to take up the commission, and it was accordingly cancelled (Admiralty Minutes, 4 and 15 June 1756). No reason for this refusal appears on record, and the correspondence that must have taken place between Brett and the admiralty or Lord Anson has not been preserved. It is quite possible that there had been some question as to whether his name should or should not be included in the promotion, and that this had come to Brett's knowledge; but the story, as told by Oharnock, of his name having been in the first instance omitted, is contradicted by the official list. From this time Brett lived in retirement, occupying himself, to some extent, in literary pursuits. In 1777-9 he published 'Translations of Father Feyjoo's Discourses' (4 vols. 8vo); and in 1780 'Essays or Discourses selected from the Works of Feyjoo, and translated from the Spanish' (2 vols. 8vo). A letter, dated Gosport, 3 July 1772 (Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 30871, f. 138), shows that he corresponded with Wilkes on friendly terms, and ranked himself with him as 'a friend of liberty.' He speaks also of his wife and children, of whom nothing further seems to be known. He died in 1785.

[Official Documents in the Public Record Office; Charnock's Biog. Nav. v. 67; Gent. Mag. li. 34. lv. 223.]

J. K. L.