Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kempthorne, John

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KEMPTHORNE, Sir JOHN (1620–1679), vice-admiral, son of John Kempthorne, an attorney at Modbury, Devonshire, and afterwards lieutenant of horse for Charles II, was born in 1620. He served his apprenticeship to the sea with the master of a Topsham vessel, and continued for many years sailing from Exeter and other ports of the west country. Afterwards he would seem to have entered the service of the Levant Company, and to have commanded ships trading to the Mediterranean. In 1649 he married a young person described as ‘belonging to Sir Thomas Bendish's lady, ambassador in Turkey.’ In 1657 he commanded a ship, apparently the Eastland Merchant, which was captured by a noted Spanish cruiser Papachino (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 10 Sept. 1657, 11 Nov. 1658), but was shortly afterwards released and sent home. Papachino himself was captured the next year by a small squadron under Captain Bonn of the Phœnix; he was brought to England and committed to the Tower, from which, a year later, he was exchanged (ib. 9 March 1659, 2 April 1660), probably through the good offices of Kempthorne (Campbell, ii. 261). The story, as related by Campbell, is inaccurate in details.

Kempthorne, at this time a man of substance and repute, was a brother of the Trinity House (Eg. MS. 928, f. 1). In 1664 he entered the king's service, and was appointed captain of the Kent, from which he was moved in the course of the same year to the Dunkirk, and afterwards to the Royal James as flag-captain to Prince Rupert. After the battle of 3 June 1665 he was appointed to the Old James, whose captain, the Earl of Marlborough, had been killed; and the following year he was flag-captain to the Duke of Albemarle, on board the Royal Charles, in the four days' fight off the North Foreland. He was immediately afterwards appointed by the duke and Prince Rupert to be rear-admiral of the blue squadron, and as such, with his flag in the Defiance, took part in the battle of 27 July 1666. In April 1667, still in the Defiance, he commanded a squadron at Lisbon, and, coming home in June, had joined Sir Thomas Allin in the Sound, when they received news that De Ruyter had burnt our ships in the Medway, and that the French fleet had entered the Channel. The French, in fact, came no nearer than Brest; but their information was positive, and after a council of war they withdrew the squadron into Catwater. Five days later, when they learned that the French had gone to Brest, they came out again into the Sound, and through July and August, under the command of Kempthorne, but with many councils of war, the ships cruised off the north-west of Ireland, between Blackrock and Rockall. Towards the end of September the squadron returned to Portsmouth, and the next year Kempthorne hoisted his flag in the Warspite, from which he was shortly afterwards moved to the Mary Rose. In December 1669, having taken out the English ambassador for Morocco to Tangier, he was on his way to Sallee when, on the 8th, he retook an English vessel which had been captured by the Algerines, and had on board a prize crew of twenty-two Moors, whom he seems to have sold as slaves; our consul at Cadiz bought two of them (ib. 928, f. 87). At Sallee he was not allowed to land, and on his way back, being driven northwards by a violent gale, he fell in, off Cadiz on 29 Dec., with seven Algiers ships of war. One of these chased a Scotch and a French merchant ship which were in sight, the other six attacked the Mary Rose, and were pressing her hard, when a lucky shot, striking their admiral between wind and water, compelled her to haul off, and the others followed her example. The Mary Rose, with her rigging much cut, eleven men killed and seventeen wounded, got into Cadiz the next day, and in the spring returned to England with the Mediterranean trade. On 30 April he was knighted, in recognition, it was notified, ‘of his very great valour and conduct shewn against the pirates of Algiers.’ In 1671 he had his flag in the Victory, and in 1672 in the St. Andrew, in which he took a prominent part in the battle of Solebay, the rear of the blue squadron being, under the circumstances of the action, the van of the fleet [see Montagu, Edward, first Earl of Sandwich]. He still had his flag in the St. Andrew, as rear-admiral of the blue squadron, in the battle of 11 Aug. 1673, after which he was promoted to be vice-admiral of the blue, and the following year, 31 Oct. 1674, was ordered a pension of 200l. while not employed (Eg. MS. 928, f. 173).

In 1675 he was appointed commissioner of the navy at Portsmouth, and held that office till his death, though hoisting his flag on board the Royal Charles, in the summer of 1678, as second in command of the home fleet under Sir Thomas Allin. He died on 19 Oct. 1679. He left three sons: John, Morgan, and Rupert, all successively captains in the navy. John afterwards took service under the East India Company; Morgan died in command of the Kingfisher in the Mediterranean, in 1681, of wounds received in an action with a fleet of seven Algerine pirates; Rupert, who seems as a lad to have been of an unruly disposition (see a letter of 21 Feb. 1680 from his ‘tender but grosslie abused mother,’ in Eg. MS. 928, f. 268), was appointed commander of the Half-Moon fireship, in October 1690, and died in 1691, ‘killed in a rencounter at a tavern in England.’ Kempthorne also had a daughter; she would seem to have married Sir William Reeves (ib. f. 137), who was killed when in command of the Sovereign in the action of 11 Aug. 1673. The Captain William Kempthorne mentioned by Charnock (Biog. Nav. i. 169) may have been a nephew, but was not a son.

[Campbell's Lives of the Admirals, ii. 261; Charnock's Biog. Nav. i. 111; Lists in the Public Record Office; Egerton MS. 928.]

J. K. L.