Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lestock, Richard

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LESTOCK, RICHARD (1679?–1746), admiral, was the second son of Richard Lestock, captain in the navy and magistrate for the county of Middlesex. It is said that the father belonged to the family of Lestocq, formerly owning large estates in Picardy (information from M. Witasse of Amiens), but the exact relationship is doubtful; the arms on his monument, which are not recognised by Burke (General Armoury), are not those of Lestocq (Nobiliaire de Picardie), and the circumstances of his family's settlement in England are unknown. It seems more probable that he was ‘of an obscure family in the parish of Stepney’ (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 453). As early as 1667 the elder Lestock commanded the Gabriel fireship (Charnock, i. 294). He afterwards had employment in the mercantile marine, and with other commanders of merchant ships was called before the board of admiralty on 26 Dec. 1690, and, declaring himself willing to serve in the navy, was appointed on 6 Jan. 1690–1 to be captain of the Cambridge, and took post from that day (Admiralty Minute-book). He died at Ashton in Northamptonshire, in his seventy-first year, in May 1713 (Baker, Hist. of Northampton, ii. 128).

The younger Richard is said (Add. MS. 24436, f. 52 b) to have been born on 22 Feb. 1679; it is more probable that he was born some years earlier. There is no record of his earliest service in the navy. In April 1701 he was appointed third lieutenant of the Cambridge, in November lieutenant of the Solebay, in January 1701–2 of the Exeter, in February 1703–4 of the Barfleur, flagship of Sir Clowdisley Shovell [q. v.] in the battle of Malaga. In the following year he was again with Shovell in the Britannia, and was promoted to command the Fowey on 29 April 1706, from which date he took post. After the capture of Alicante [see Leake, Sir John] he was sent home with despatches, and returning to the Mediterranean was employed with good success against the enemy's privateers in the Straits of Gibraltar; but on 14 April 1709, on her passage from Alicante to Lisbon, the Fowey fell in with two of the enemy's 40-gun frigates, and was captured after a running fight of several hours. Lestock was shortly afterwards exchanged, and on his return to England was tried by court-martial for the loss of his ship and fully acquitted 31 Aug. 1709 (Minutes of the Court-martial). In 1710 he commanded the Weymouth in the West Indies with Commodore James Littleton [q. v.]; in 1717 he commanded the Panther in the Baltic with Sir George Byng [q. v.]; and in 1718 he was second captain of the Barfleur, Sir George Byng's flagship, in the battle off Cape Passaro, and in the subsequent operations in Sicilian waters. In 1728 he was appointed to the Princess Amelia, and in 1729 to the Royal Oak, in the fleet under Sir Charles Wager [q. v.] On 21 Feb. 1732 he was moved into the Kingston, to go out to the West Indies as commander-in-chief at Jamaica. On 6 April he received his instructions and an order to wear a red broad pennant. He was directed to sail at once, but touching at Plymouth, contrary winds detained him there till the end of the month; he did not sail till the 29th. But on 19 May Sir Chaloner Ogle (d. 1750) [q. v.] was appointed ‘commander-in-chief of the ships at Jamaica, in the room of Commodore Lestock’ (Admiralty Minute-book). On 15 June a letter was written to Lestock by the lords themselves, ordering him to strike his flag and return to England. In this, the only official letter on the subject, no reason is assigned; but Lestock, writing from Port Royal on 21 Nov., reporting the arrangements he had made for his passage, adds: ‘My affair being without precedent I cannot say much, but such a fate as I have met with is far worse than death, many particulars of which I doubt not will be heard from me when I shall be able to present myself to my lords of the admiralty’ (Captains' Letters, L. vol. vii.) Without any further official explanation or investigation he was appointed on 22 Feb. 1733–4 to be captain of the Somerset, one of twenty-nine ships commissioned on the same day as a precautionary measure, on account of the war of the Polish succession (Beatson, i. 23, iii. 8; Admiralty Minute-book).

The Somerset was stationed as guardship at Chatham and in the Medway, and in her Lestock continued till April 1738, when he was turned over to the Grafton, employed on the same service. In August 1739 he was moved to the Boyne, one of the ships which in the following year went out to the West Indies with Sir Chaloner Ogle. As a captain, Lestock was senior to the Earl of Granard and four others, including Nicholas Haddock [q. v.] and Ogle, who were all promoted to flag rank before him; Granard and Haddock in May 1734. The date suggests that Lestock was passed over for the same mysterious reasons which led to his recall from Jamaica. Charnock (Biog. Nav. iii. 338) wrongly asserts that he retired from the service between 1731 and 1740. He was actually in command of a ship during the whole time.

In the West Indies Lestock was authorised to fly a broad pennant as commodore and third in command of the fleet under Vice-admiral Edward Vernon (1684–1757) [q. v.], and took part in the operations against Cartagena, actually commanding in the attack on Fort San Luis on 23 March, when the Boyne suffered severely and had to be warped out of action. On the return of the fleet to Jamaica Lestock was ordered home, with most of the larger ships. With his broad pennant in the Royal Caroline he arrived in England in the end of August, and was shortly afterwards appointed to the Neptune, to command a large reinforcement going out to the Mediterranean. His sailing was, however, delayed for several weeks, and he did not join Haddock till the end of January 1742, and then with the ships so shattered by bad weather, and the crews so disabled by sickness and death, that the long-expected reinforcement was of no immediate use (Walpole, Letters, Cunningham's ed., i. 95; see Haddock, Nicholas). ‘The Neptune arrived with a jury foremast and bowsprit, 250 people sick on board, and had buried 54 in the passage’ (Haddock to Duke of Newcastle, 1 Feb. 1741–2). On 13 March 1741–2 Lestock was promoted to be rear-admiral of the white. When, a couple of months later, Haddock was compelled by his weak health to return to England, Lestock succeeded temporarily to the command, and he both hoped and expected to be appointed to it from England. Other officers—notably Vernon and Mathews—who had been passed over for their flag, had been restored with their original seniority; he applied to have the same favour shown to him (Lestock to Duke of Newcastle, 8 May 1742), and was bitterly disappointed when he learned that Mathews was on his way out to supersede him [see Mathews, Thomas].

It has been said that between Lestock and Mathews there was a quarrel of long standing, and that Mathews, in accepting the command, had stipulated that Lestock should be recalled (Beatson, i. 153). On their first meeting, when Lestock went on board Mathews's flagship, he was publicly reprimanded in a very blunt manner for not having sent a frigate to meet the admiral at Gibraltar (ib.) During the next eighteen months, however, the two were seldom together, Mathews being much occupied by his diplomatic duties away from the fleet, though from time to time he wrote complaining of the responsibility which Lestock's bad health threw on him (Mathews to Duke of Newcastle, 2 Aug.–1 Oct. 1743). Honest and hearty co-operation between the two seemed impossible. Accordingly in the action off Toulon on 11 Feb. 1743–4, when Lestock, who on 29 Nov. 1743 had been promoted to be vice-admiral of the white, commanded the rear of the fleet, he was determined to do nothing to help Mathews, whose orders were confused and signals faulty. He obeyed the letter of the signals and of the ‘Fighting Instructions,’ careless, it would seem, of the disgrace which fell on the British flag. On the night of the 10th the rear division was a long way astern and to windward of its station; but when Mathews made the signal to ‘bring to’ for the night, Lestock, ignoring the signal for the line of battle, at once brought to, and, allowing his squadron to drift, was at daybreak on the 11th some five or six miles astern. Repeated signals were made to him to close the line; he could not or would not obey them, and remained astern during the whole day. When Mathews made the signal to engage, he argued that, as the signal for the line was still flying, he was bound primarily to keep the line, and to engage only when he could do so in the line. After the action, Mathews, dissatisfied with his conduct and his explanation of it, suspended him from his command and sent him to England, where, on the request of the House of Commons, he was tried by court-martial in May 1746. The trial lasted through the whole month, and ended in a unanimous acquittal. The finding has often been spoken of as a gross miscarriage of justice; the meaning of the signals was clear, and in presence of the enemy, when battle was once joined, it was the duty of every ship to be alongside one of the enemy's. But the court, considering the regulations in force at the time, could come to no other decision on the technical, as distinct from the moral question.

Two days after his acquittal Lestock was promoted to be admiral of the blue, 5 June 1746, and appointed to command a squadron destined, in the first instance, to operate against Quebec, but diverted from that end to an expedition against Lorient. This proved a miserable failure, and the troops were brought back after an ignominious repulse (Vie privée de Louis XV, ii. 290; Troude, i. 308; Gent. Mag. 1746, p. 601). But beyond convoying them there and back again the fleet had little share in the work, and it does not appear that Lestock was responsible for this fiasco. On his return to Portsmouth he was ordered to strike his flag, which he did, meekly protesting and hoping to be employed in the following spring (Correspondence of John, fourth Duke of Bedford, i. 177); but he had no further chance, dying of gout in the stomach, 13 Dec. 1746.

Nothing in Lestock's official conduct or correspondence warrants the reputation for remarkable ability which is often assigned him, principally on the ground of the successful issue to which he brought his court-martial and his quarrel with Mathews (Walpole, Letters, i. 350). There are many indications of his being, in reality, a confused, puzzle-headed man, quite unable to clear himself in a difficult situation like that in which he was placed at the battle of Toulon.

Lestock married and had issue. The wife, Sarah, who died 12 Sept. 1744, described herself in her will, dated 4 Feb. 1741–2, as formerly of Chigwell Row in Essex, and now of Portsmouth (cf. Notes and Queries, 6th ser. vi. 287). A Richard Lestock, baptised at Chigwell, 14 July 1723 (Lysons, Environs, iv. 126), may thus probably have been her son. If so, he presumably died young. James Peers, who was promoted by Lestock, 26 Aug. 1732, to be captain of the Kingston at Jamaica, is spoken of as his son-in-law (Captain Windham to Lestock, 25 Aug. 1732); the promotion, however, was not confirmed; Peers did not get post rank till 1741 and died in November 1746. In Sarah's will no child is mentioned except Elizabeth, who proved the will 9 Jan. 1746–7. This daughter married James Peacock, a purser in the navy; had two sons, Lestock and James. Mrs. Lestock seems to have been on bad terms with her husband. Lestock in his will, dated 17 July 1746, left absolutely all his property to William Monke of London, apothecary, with the exception of 200l. to ‘my honoured friend Henry Fox, now secretary-at-war,’ to buy a memento. During Lestock's later years he is said to have been ‘under the shameful direction of a woman he carried with him,’ to whose evil influence the failure at Lorient is attributed (Tindal, Continuation of Rapin's History of England, ix. (of the continuation) 271). His portrait is in Holland House (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 452).

[The memoir of Lestock in Charnock's Biog. Nav. iii. 336 is very imperfect. Official documents in the Public Record Office throw much light on the possible causes of his misconduct. The minutes of the court-martials on Lestock and Mathews are important and curious. The charge, the defence, and the finding of the court have been published. Among the many pamphlets on the subject the only one that deserves notice is A Narrative of the Proceedings of his Majesty's Fleet in the Mediterranean and the combined Fleets of France and Spain, from the Year 1741 to March 1744, including an accurate Account of the late Fight near Toulon, and the Causes of our Miscarriage. By a Sea Officer (8vo, 1744). It has been attributed to Lestock himself, but was more probably inspired by him.]

J. K. L.