Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Keats, Richard Goodwin

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KEATS, Sir RICHARD GOODWIN (1757–1834), admiral, elder son of the Rev. Richard Keats, curate of Chalton in Hampshire, afterwards head-master of Blundell's school, Tiverton, and rector of Bideford (d. 1812), was born at Chalton on 16 Jan. 1757 (Harding, History of Tiverton, vol. ii. bk. iv. pp. 91, 116). He entered the navy in 1770, on board the Bellona, with Captain James Montagu [q. v.], whom he accompanied to the Captain in 1771, when Montagu was promoted to be rear-admiral, and went out as commander-in-chief at Halifax. He then served in the Kingfisher and Mercury sloops with the admiral's son, Captain James Montagu, and in 1776 was moved into the Romney, carrying the flag of Admiral Montagu as commander-in-chief at Newfoundland. In April 1777 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Ramillies, with Captain Robert Digby [q. v.], and in her took part in the action off Ushant on 27 July 1778. In June 1779 he was moved with Digby to the Prince George, in which ship Prince William Henry, afterwards King William IV, was for upwards of two years midshipman of his watch, and contracted with him an admiring and lifelong friendship. In the Prince George Keats was present at the relief of Gibraltar in January 1780, and again in April 1781. In September 1781 the Prince George went out to North America, and Keats, following Digby to the Lion, was promoted on 18 Jan. 1782 to command the Rhinoceros, fitted as a floating battery for the defence of New York. In May he was transferred to the Bonetta sloop, one of the squadron which captured the Aigle frigate and two smaller vessels on 15 Sept. 1782 [see Elphinstone, George Keith, Viscount Keith]. Keats continued in the Bonetta on the North American station after the peace, and till January 1785, when he returned to England, and the ship was paid off. During the next four years he resided for the most part in France, and on 24 June 1789 was promoted to post rank, at the particular request, it is said, of the Duke of Clarence. In September he was appointed to command the Southampton frigate in the Channel, and the next year was moved into the Niger. In April 1793 he commissioned the London, fitting for the Duke of Clarence's flag. It was afterwards determined that the duke should not hoist his flag, and the London was paid off.

In May 1794 Keats was appointed to the Galatea of 36 guns, one of the frigate squadron employed under Sir John Borlase Warren [q. v.] and Sir Edward Pellew [q. v.] on the coast of France, and in June to July 1795 in the disastrous landing of the French royalists at Quiberon. He continued on the same service through 1796, and on 23 Aug. drove the 40-gun frigate Andromaque ashore near the mouth of the Garonne. The pilot, it is said, refused to take the Galatea among the shoals; but Keats, on his own responsibility, followed the French frigate till she struck. The next morning he was joined by the Artois and the Sylph brig, and the wreck of the Andromaque was set on fire. In the mutiny of May 1797 Keats, with several of the other captains, was put on shore; but in June he was appointed to the Boadicea, again for service on the coast of France, and employed for the most part in maintaining a close watch on Brest, and in stopping the coasting trade by which the fleet and arsenal were supplied with stores. In September 1798, when a powerful squadron intended for the invasion of Ireland put to sea, Keats, having no force to stop it, sent the news home with such happy promptitude that Warren, then at Plymouth, was able to intercept it. In writing privately to Warren, he said: ‘My fortune sprung and watched the game, which, notwithstanding your present situation, yours will take you to the death of.’ Keats continued on this difficult and arduous service till 1800, when he was detached by Lord St. Vincent as senior officer off Ferrol, where he had the good fortune to make some rich prizes.

In March 1801 he was appointed to the 74-gun ship Superb, in which in June he joined the squadron off Cadiz, under Sir James Saumarez, afterwards Lord De Saumarez [q. v.] On 5 July, while the Superb was detached off San Lucar, Saumarez received news of a French squadron having anchored at Algeciras, and, without waiting for the Superb, sailed at once in search of the enemy. Keats, understanding that he was purposely left to maintain a watch on Cadiz, remained off that port till the 9th, when the Spanish squadron put to sea, and Keats, preceding it, joined the admiral at Gibraltar. He then first learned of the repulse sustained by Saumarez on the 6th, and was still at Gibraltar, when on the evening of the 12th the allied French and Spanish squadron, now consisting of ten sail of the line, got under way from Algeciras. Saumarez weighed and followed, though with only five sail of the line. In the darkness of the night and a fresh easterly wind his ships were a good deal scattered, the enemy was lost sight of, and about nine o'clock Saumarez, hailing the Superb, directed Keats to make sail ahead and attack the enemy's rear so as to delay them. The result is without a parallel in naval history. As the Superb set her courses and top-gallant sails, going between eleven and twelve knots, she was soon out of sight of the English ships, and about half-past eleven ranged abreast of a three-decker, known afterwards to be the Real Carlos of 112 guns. She shortened sail, and fired her port broadside into what she knew must be an enemy. Many of her shot struck into another Spanish three-decker, the San Hermenegildo, about a quarter of a mile further to the south. The people of the San Hermenegildo, in the surprise and confusion, assuming that the Real Carlos was an English ship, and that the shot came from her, opened fire on her. On board the Real Carlos they were equally confused, thought they were between two enemies, and fired wildly on both sides. As the Superb fired a second broadside, it was seen that the Real Carlos was on fire, and with a third broadside she passed on. The officers of the San Hermenegildo noticing the fire, and still under the misapprehension that the Real Carlos was an English vessel, resolved to go under her stern and blow her up. In this attempt the two ships fell on board each other, the flames seized them both, and they burnt and blew up, with the loss of almost all their men. The Superb had meantime engaged and captured the Saint Antoine, a French ship with a heterogeneous crew formed out of all the nationalities of Europe, and other English ships coming up completed the victory by driving the combined fleet in headlong rout into Cadiz. Keats's narrative of the exploit was edited by Tucker (cf. Chevalier, Histoire, iii. 59–65).

During the short peace the Superb remained in the Mediterranean under the command of Sir Richard Bickerton, and on the renewal of the war in 1803 was off Toulon, when Nelson assumed the command on 8 July. Nelson knew Keats only by reputation, but only three days after he had joined the fleet he wrote of Keats as ‘one of the very best officers in his majesty's navy;’ ‘I esteem his person alone as equal to one French 74, and the Superb and her captain equal to two 74-gun ships’ (Nelson to Hugh Elliot, 11 July 1803). The Superb continued attached to the fleet under Nelson during the watch off Toulon, and the voyage to the West Indies in the spring and summer of 1805. But the long service had spoiled her once fine sailing, and the ship that in July 1801 had passed ahead of her consorts as if they were riding at anchor, was in May 1805 the dummy of the fleet, though Nelson, to console her commander, told him ‘she did all which is possible for a ship to accomplish’ (Nelson to Keats, 19 May 1805).

On the return from the West Indies and the reinforcement of Cornwallis by the greater part of Nelson's squadron [see Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson], the Superb returned to Spithead with the Victory on 18 Aug. She was still refitting when Nelson again sailed on 15 Sept.; nor did she join the fleet till 15 Nov., to find that Trafalgar had been fought. Sir John Duckworth [q. v.] had hoisted his flag on board the Superb, and he now took her to the West Indies, to fight in the battle of San Domingo, on 6 Feb. 1806. As the action began, with the band on the poop playing ‘God save the king!’ and ‘Nelson of the Nile,’ Keats brought out a portrait of Nelson, which he hung on the mizen stay, where it remained throughout the battle untouched by the enemy's shot, though dashed with the blood and brains of a seaman who was killed close beside it. The Superb afterwards returned to Cadiz, and in May to England, when Duckworth struck his flag; and Keats, joining Lord St. Vincent off Brest, was sent in command of a squadron of five or six sail of the line to watch Rochefort. In April 1807 he was relieved by Sir Richard Strachan [q. v.], and in August was ordered to hoist a broad pennant on board the Ganges, one of the ships going into the Baltic with Admiral Gambier [see Gambier, James, Lord Gambier].

On 2 Oct. he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and the following April, with his flag in the Mars, he convoyed the military expedition under Sir John Moore [q. v.] to Gottenburg, where he joined the fleet under Sir James Saumarez. He then moved into his old ship the Superb, and being left in command of a squadron in the Great Belt, seized a number of Danish merchant ships, and so enabled some ten thousand Spanish troops, till then in the French service, to escape the prison to which they would otherwise have been consigned. These troops he afterwards convoyed to Gottenburg, where they embarked on board transports sent from England to carry them to Spain. In acknowledgment of this important service Keats was made a K.B., and was granted to his arms—Ermine, three mountain cats argent—the honourable augmentation, On a canton argent, the Spanish flag over an anchor surrounded by a wreath of laurel, with the motto ‘Mi patria es mi forte.’

After the sailing of the transports Keats resumed his station in the Great Belt, where, during the early and severe winter, the Superb and several other ships were caught in the ice. With much difficulty they cut their way to Hawke's Road (Winga Sound), and there wintered. The following summer Keats was again joined by Saumarez, and was ordered to convoy the trade to Gottenburg; but his charge having accumulated to upwards of four hundred sail, he proceeded with it to England. He was then appointed second in command of the expedition to the Scheldt, under Sir Richard Strachan, from which he returned in September.

In November 1809 the Superb, then nearly nine years in commission, was paid off, and Keats, after a few months on shore, hoisted his flag on board the Implacable (July 1810), with Captain George Cockburn [q. v.], in which he was sent to take command of the squadron off Cadiz, and to assist in the defence of that place, then threatened by the French. On 1 Aug. 1811 he was advanced to be vice-admiral, and having remained on the Cadiz station for upwards of a year, he joined Sir Edward Pellew off Toulon, with his flag on board the Hibernia of 120 guns. His health had been for some time much broken, and in October 1812 he was compelled to resign his command and return to England. In the following spring he was appointed governor of Newfoundland and commander-in-chief of the ships on the station, with an intimation that as soon as his health permitted he should be moved to a more active command. The peace, however, prevented this, and after three years of comparative rest Keats returned to England. On the death of Sir John Colpoys [q. v.] in 1821 he was appointed governor of Greenwich Hospital. On 27 May 1825 he attained the rank of admiral. He died on 5 April 1834, and was buried in the mausoleum of the hospital, his funeral being, at the express desire of the king, conducted with all military honours, and attended by the lords of the admiralty, the naval officers of the king's household, and very many other naval officers. Sir William Hotham [q. v.], himself one of the pall-bearers, noted ‘the pall borne by six full admirals; a very solemn and imposing ceremony’ (Hotham MS.).

A bust by Chantrey was placed in the chapel of the hospital by William IV, with an inscription recording their early service together, as well as the king's ‘esteem for the exemplary character of a friend, and his grateful sense of the valuable services rendered to his country by a highly distinguished and gallant officer.’ Keats's fame was built up by countless minor excellencies rather than by any achievement of transcendent brilliance. The writer of the memoir in the ‘United Service Journal’ says: ‘It may be questioned whether the great nautical talents he possessed were ever called into full play; for we, who knew him well, have no scruple in placing him at the very head of our naval phalanx, having shown himself second to none in gallantry, genius, or talent.’ Keats married in 1820 Mary, eldest daughter of Francis Hurt of Alderwasley in Derbyshire, but left no issue.

[United Service Journal, 1834, ii. 210; Ralfe's Nav. Biog. ii. 487; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. i. 342; Gent. Mag. 1834, i. 653; Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, freq. (see index); James's Naval Hist.; Chevalier's Hist. de la Marine française.]

J. K. L.