Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Napier, Charles (1786-1860)
NAPIER, Sir CHARLES (1786–1860), admiral, born on 6 March 1786, was the eldest son of the Hon. Charles Napier (1731–1807) of Merchiston Hall, Stirlingshire, captain in the navy, by Christian, daughter of Gabriel Hamilton of West Burn; grandson of Francis Scott Napier, fifth lord Napier; first-cousin of the half-blood of General Sir Charles James Napier [q. v.], of Henry Edward Napier [q. v.], and of General Sir William Francis Patrick Napier [q. v.] He entered the navy in 1799 on board the Martin sloop, then on the coast of Scotland; in 1800 he was moved into the Renown, carrying the flag of Sir John Borlase Warren [q. v.] in the Channel, and afterwards in the Mediterranean, where, in November 1802, he was moved into the Greyhound, and served for a few months under Captain (afterwards Sir) William Hoste [q. v.] He then served in the Egyptienne in a voyage to St. Helena in charge of convoy, and in 1804–5 in the Mediator and Renommée off Boulogne. On 30 Nov. 1805 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Courageux, one of the little squadron with Warren when he captured the Marengo and Belle Poule on 13 March 1806. He afterwards went out to the West Indies in the St. George, and from her was appointed acting-commander of the Pultusk brig, a promotion which the admiralty confirmed to 30 Nov. 1807. In December 1807 he was present at the reduction of the Danish islands, St. Thomas and Santa Cruz. In August 1808 he was moved into the 18-gun brig Recruit, and in her, on 6 Sept., fought a spirited but indecisive action with the French sloop Diligente. Napier had his thigh broken, but refused to leave the deck till the engagement ended by the fall of the Recruit's mainmast. In February 1809 he distinguished himself at the reduction of Martinique; and still more in the capture, on 17 April, of the Hautpoult of 74 guns, which was brought to action by the Pompée, mainly by the gallant manner in which the little Recruit embarrassed her flight during the three days of the chase (Troude, Batailles navales de la France, iv. 32; cf. art. Fahie, Sir William Charles). The commander-in-chief, Sir Alexander Forester Inglis Cochrane [q. v.], was so well pleased with Napier's conduct that he commissioned the Hautpoult as an English ship under the name of Abercromby, with Napier as acting-captain of her; the promotion was confirmed by the admiralty to 22 May 1809, the date of their receiving Cochrane's despatch. He was afterwards appointed to the Jason frigate, in which he returned to England with convoy.
Much to his disgust, he was then placed on half-pay; and during the session 1809–1810 he attended classes in Edinburgh; but dancing, driving, or hunting, probably occupied more of his time. At the end of the session, resolving to pay a visit to his cousins, then in the Peninsula, he got a passage out from Portsmouth, landed at Oporto about the middle of September, and joined the army just in time to take an amateur's share in the battle of Busaco, in which he received a smart flesh wound in the leg. He afterwards accompanied the army in its retreat to the lines of Torres Vedras, and remained with it till November, when he made his way southward to Cadiz, stayed some weeks with his brother there in garrison, took lessons in French and Spanish under more charming professors than at Edinburgh, and so returned to England.
Early in 1811 he was appointed to the Thames frigate, and in her for the next two years was actively engaged on the west coast of Italy, and more especially of Naples, stopping the coasting trade, intercepting the enemy's supplies, and destroying their batteries. Sometimes alone, sometimes in conjunction with other frigates or sloops, the Thames during these two years captured or destroyed upwards of eighty gunboats and coasting vessels, generally after a sharp engagement with covering batteries or musketry on shore; Napier also reduced the island of Ponza, which, though strongly armed and with a garrison of 180 regular troops besides militia, yielded in confusion when the Thames, followed by the Furieuse, ran the gauntlet of the batteries under a press of sail, and anchored within the mole. It was probably the credit of this success which led to Napier's transference in the following month to the Euryalus, a much finer frigate. The change took him away from his familiar cruising ground to the south coast of France; but the work was of the same nature, and was well or, in some instances, brilliantly performed. Having driven all the coasting trade from Toulon to the eastward into Cavalarie Bay, where it was protected by batteries and a 10-gun xebec, on 16 May 1813 the boats of the Euryalus and of the 74-gun ship Berwick went in, destroyed the batteries, and brought out the xebec and twenty-two trading vessels, large and small, with the very trifling loss of one man killed and one missing. In June 1814 the Euryalus was one of a squadron convoying a fleet of transports to North America, where Napier took a distinguished part in the expedition against Alexandria, and in the operations against Baltimore. In the summer of 1815 he returned to England, and on 4 June was nominated a C.B.
Shortly after this he married Frances Elizabeth, daughter of Lieutenant Younghusband, R.N., and widow of Lieutenant Edward Elers, R.N.; by Elers she had four young children, who afterwards took the name of Napier. For a few weeks he and his bride lived at Alverstoke, in Hampshire, but, on the news of the occupation of Paris by the allies, they started thither in a curricle, which they took across the Channel. They afterwards settled for a time at Versailles, where they were joined by the children; and, tiring of that, drove on—always in the curricle, the children, with their nurse, following in a four-wheeled carriage—as far as Naples, where they spent a great part of 1816. Afterwards they went back through Venice to Switzerland, where they stayed some time; and in the winter of 1818 they returned to Paris. Here Napier took a house, and, having succeeded to a handsome fortune, lived in good style. In 1819 he entered into a speculative attempt to promote iron steamers on the Seine, and being the moneyed man of the company, and at the same time quite ignorant of business, was allowed to spend freely for the good of the concern, without receiving any profit.
In 1820 he took a house near Alverstoke, and for the following years led an unsettled life, sometimes at Alverstoke, sometimes in Paris, St. Cloud, or, later on, at Havre. In 1827 ‘the steam-boat bubble completely burst,’ and left Napier a comparatively poor man. He settled down at Rowland's Castle, near Portsmouth, but, after many endeavours to get employed in the navy, was appointed in January 1829 to the Galatea frigate, and, by special permission, was allowed to fit her with paddles worked by winches on the main deck. During the commission he carried out a series of trials of these paddles, as the result of which it appeared that in a calm the ship could be propelled at the rate of three knots, and that she could tow a line-of-battle ship at from one to one and a half; the paddles could be shipped or unshipped in about a quarter of an hour, and were on one occasion shipped, turned round, and unshipped again in twenty minutes. Of the many attempts that were made to render a ship independent of the wind this seems to have been the most successful; but it was rendered useless by the adoption of steam power in the navy.
During the first two years of her commission the Galatea was twice sent to the West Indies, and once, in August 1830, to Lisbon, where Napier was instructed to demand the restitution of certain British vessels which had been seized by Dom Miguel, at that time the de facto king of Portugal. In the summer of 1831 he was sent to watch over British interests in the Azores, where the partisans of the little queen, the daughter of Dom Pedro, had established themselves in Terceira in opposition to Dom Miguel. The queen's party gained strength, and ultimately organised an invasion of Portugal. Napier came into close intercourse with the chiefs of the party, and took a lively interest in Portuguese affairs. The Galatea was paid off in January 1832, and after a year on shore, during which he unsuccessfully contested the borough of Portsmouth in the general election, in February 1833 he was formally offered the command of the Portuguese fleet in the cause of Dona Maria and her father, Dom Pedro. After some negotiation he accepted it, on the resignation of Admiral Sartorius [see Sartorius, Sir George Rose], and, to avoid the penalties of the Foreign Enlistment Act, went out to Oporto under the name of Carlos de Ponza. He wrote to his wife on 30 April: ‘If nothing unexpected happens, in one month I hope either to be in Lisbon or in heaven.’ But it was 28 May before he sailed from Falmouth, and 2 June before he arrived at Oporto. He was accompanied by a small party of English officers, mostly old shipmates, including his stepson, Charles Elers Napier, a lieutenant in the navy, and by a flotilla of five steamers, carrying out about 160 officers and seamen, and an English and Belgian regiment.
On 8 June Napier received his commission as vice-admiral, major-general of the Portuguese navy, and commander-in-chief of the fleet, and on 10 June he hoisted his flag. The force at his disposal consisted of three vessels of from 40 to 50 guns, 18-pounder and 32-pounder carronades, and two corvettes, besides some small steamers, the aggregate crews of which numbered barely more than one thousand, but were mostly English, with a large proportion of old men-of-war's men; all the superior officers were English. On 20 June the little squadron sailed from Oporto, conveying a small army, under the command of Count Villa Flor, afterwards Duke of Terceira. The troops were landed at the south-eastern corner of Portugal, near the mouth of the Guadiana, and, marching along the coast, secured the several southern ports without difficulty. At Lagos the sea and land forces separated. Villa Flor went north, and captured Lisbon; Napier with the squadron put to sea on 2 July, and on the 3rd sighted the squadron of Dom Miguel off Cape St. Vincent. In material force this squadron was very far superior to that of the queen, although in fighting efficiency it was inferior. After waiting two days for favourable weather the action began. Napier's flagship grappled with one of the enemy's two line-of-battle ships, boarded, and hauled down her flag; the other tried to make off, but was chased, and struck after a merely nominal resistance. Two 50-gun ships were also captured; the smaller craft escaped. The victory was creditable to Napier and his officers; but Napier's statement ‘that at no time was a naval action fought with such a disparity of force’ implies more than the fact: the disparity was only apparent. The Miguel officers were incompetent, the crews untrained, and both officers and men bore so little goodwill to the cause that most of them volunteered immediately for the queen's service.
Napier returned to Lagos, and there organised his force, now nearly treble what it was on the morning of 5 July, and, with his flag on board one of the captured line-of-battle ships, put to sea again on the 13th. The next day he received official news of his promotion to the rank of admiral, and of his being ennobled in the peerage of Portugal as Viscount Cape St. Vincent. At the same time a virulent attack of cholera broke out in his squadron, and in the flagship worst of all. In five days she buried fifty men, and had two hundred on the sick list. As the best chance of shaking off the deadly infection, Napier steered away to the westward, and the ship ‘had not proceeded many leagues ere the disease most suddenly disappeared.’ By the evening of the 24th the squadron was off the mouth of the Tagus, when Napier learned that Lisbon had surrendered to the Duke of Terceira the night before. He entered the river the next day, and paid a visit to Rear-admiral Parker, commanding the English fleet then lying there [see Parker, Sir William, (1781–1866)], when he was much gratified at being received according to his Portuguese rank. ‘When I came on shore,’ he wrote to his wife, ‘I was hailed as the liberator of Portugal, was cheered, kissed, and embraced by everybody.’ Dom Pedro conferred on him the grand cross of the order of the Tower and Sword. In England his victory had been considered an English success, and at a large public meeting, with the Duke of Sussex in the chair, resolutions were now unanimously carried in favour of Napier being restored to his rank in the English navy. But, in fact, the removal of his name from the ‘Navy List’ was a matter of course when it was officially known that he had gone abroad without leave. When he returned to England and reported himself at the admiralty, his name was, equally as a matter of course, restored to its former place.
Meanwhile Napier's position in Lisbon was by no means easy. At first he exulted in having the full control of the dockyards. But everything was in a wretched condition. ‘I soon found out,’ he wrote, ‘that from the minister to the lowest clerk in the establishment I was opposed by every species of intrigue.’ Worn out by insuperable difficulties, he sought relief in more active operations, and, though not without considerable opposition, obtained leave to make an attempt on the northern ports, which were still held for Dom Miguel. Accordingly, about the middle of March, he sailed from Setuval, and landing his men, about one thousand marines and seamen, in the Minho, entered on a very remarkable campaign, with the result that ‘in ten days the whole of the Entre-Douro-e-Minho was secured, the siege of Oporto raised, and the enemy cut off from one of the richest provinces of Portugal.’ Miguel's garrisons, it must, however, be noted, offered no more than a pretence at resistance. Napier was none the less received in triumph by the populace at Oporto, and Dom Pedro raised him to the dignity of a count, as Count Cape St. Vincent, a title afterwards changed to Count Napier St. Vincent, and invested Mrs. Napier with the order of Isabella.
A few weeks later Napier conducted another expedition against Figuera, which was abandoned to him. He then marched inland and summoned Ourem, which also surrendered. With the conclusion of the civil war Napier's work was done. He still hoped to carry out the reforms he had contemplated, but in June he went to England for a few weeks. On his return to Lisbon the queen was declared of age, and on 24 Sept. her father died. Napier submitted to the new minister of war a scheme for the government of the navy, and on its rejection he sent in his resignation. The queen on 15 Oct. relieved him of the command, but desired him to retain ‘the honorary post of admiral.’ He struck his flag the same day, and on 4 Nov. sailed for England in the packet.
Considered solely in reference to the business for which he had been engaged, Napier's conduct was admirable, but it is incorrect to describe him as an enthusiast fighting in the cause of constitutional freedom; he had, in fact, refused to stir till he received six months' pay in advance, and a policy of life insurance for 10,000l. His services were worth the money, but have no claim to be ranked as patriotic. Napier employed himself for the next two years in writing ‘An Account of the War in Portugal between Don Pedro and Don Miguel’ (2 vols. post 8vo, 1836), a book in which the author's achievements and his share in the war are unpleasantly exaggerated.
About the same time he purchased a small estate in Hampshire, near Catherington, formerly known as Quallett's Grove, but to it he now gave the name of Merchistoun, in memory of the old place in Stirlingshire which he had sold in 1816.
In January 1839 Napier commissioned the 84-gun ship Powerful, which was sent out to the Mediterranean in the summer, when the troubled state of the Levant made it necessary to reinforce the fleet under Sir Robert Stopford [q. v.] In June 1840 he was sent in command of a small squadron to watch the course of events in Syria; and on 10 Aug. was ordered to hoist a blue broad pennant as commodore of the second class, and to go off Beyrout. It was then that he first learned the intention of the English government, in concert with Russia, Austria, and Prussia, to support the Turk, and to compel Mohammed Ali to withdraw. Notwithstanding the formidable name of the alliance, there was no force on the coast except Napier's squadron; and though he could threaten Beyrout, which the Egyptians held with a force of fifteen thousand men, he could not do anything till, early in September, much to his disgust, he was joined by the admiral. Brigadier-general Sir Charles Smith too had come out, with a small body of engineers and artillerymen, to command the operations on shore. But Smith fell sick, and the military officer next in seniority was a lieutenant-colonel of marines, a man of neither ability nor energy. The admiral consequently directed Napier to take the command of the forces on shore, and the commodore thus found himself general of a mixed force of marines, engineers, artillery, and Turks. Though in appearance and manner a sailor of the old school, Napier had, since his experience at Busaco, believed himself to be a born general; but vanity and desire for theatrical effect characterised much of his military work. On 20 Sept. he wrote to Lord Minto, the first lord of the admiralty: ‘I wish you would send out as many marines as can be spared; and if Sir Charles Smith does not return I trust an engineer of lower rank may be sent out, who will not interfere with me. I have begun this business successfully, and I feel myself quite equal to go on with it, for it is nothing new to me.’ But a few days later, when he learned that a detached squadron was to be sent against Sidon, under the command of Captain Maurice Berkeley [q. v.] of the Thunderer, he wrote very strongly to the admiral, complaining that he should have all the ‘fag’ of the service, while a junior was to have the opportunity of distinction. Stopford gave way, and appointed him to command the expedition, which returned within two days, having taken possession of Sidon without much difficulty.
On his return to the camp Napier found the admiral intent on a combined attack on Beyrout. The marines were sent to their ships, and Napier, in command of the Turks, advanced through the mountains to the position of the Egyptian army, on the heights to the south of the Nahr-el-Kelb. On 10 Oct., as he was preparing to attack, he received a formal order to retire and hand over the command to Sir Charles Smith, who had just returned from Constantinople with a firman appointing him commander-in-chief of the Turkish army. Napier judged that to attempt a retreat at that time might be disastrous, and took on himself to disobey the order. For some time the battle raged fiercely; at a critical moment a Turkish battalion quailed and refused to advance; Napier threw himself among them, and, as he expressed it, ‘stirred them up with his stick,’ or pelted them with stones, till, to avoid the attack of the commodore in their rear, they drove out the less furious enemy in their front. The result of the victory was immediate. The Egyptians evacuated Beyrout; and Napier, mollified by so brilliant a close to his command, went on board the Powerful without reluctance.
Acre was now the only position on the coast held by the enemy. By the end of October the admiral had instructions to take possession of it also, and accordingly the fleet went thither. On 2 Nov. the ships anchored some distance to the southward, and went in with the sea-breeze on the afternoon of the 3rd. Their fire was overwhelming; within two hours most of the enemy's guns were silenced, and the explosion of the principal magazine virtually finished the action. The next morning the town surrendered. Napier's conduct, however, had given rise to much dissatisfaction. In order to see more clearly what was going on, Stopford moved his flag to the Phœnix steamer, and ordered Napier in the Powerful to lead in from the south against the western face. He was to anchor abreast of the southern fort on that side, the ships astern passing on and anchoring in succession to the north of the Powerful. Contrary to his orders, and without any apparent reason, he passed outside the reef in front of the town, came in from the north, and anchored considerably to the north of the position assigned him, thus crowding the ships astern, and leaving the space ahead unprovided for. It was not till after some delay that the admiral succeeded in placing a ship in the vacant position (Codrington, pp. 202–3). The next morning he sharply expressed his disapproval of Napier's conduct, on which Napier applied for a court-martial. The general wish in the squadron was that the dispute might be settled amicably, in order not to lessen the credit of the action. Stopford, who was a very old man, wrote that a difference of opinion did not imply censure, to which Napier, in a rude note, replied: ‘I placed my ship to the best of my judgment; I could do no more.’ Stopford condoned the offence, but the many officers in the fleet who had suffered by Napier's capricious disobedience neither forgave it nor forgot it.
It was, however, necessary to strengthen the squadron off Alexandria, and Napier was ordered to take command of it. He arrived there on 21 Nov., and understanding, by the copy of a letter addressed to Lord Ponsonby, the ambassador at Constantinople, that the government would approve of recognising Mohammed Ali as hereditary pasha, subject to his restoring the Turkish fleet and evacuating Syria, he forthwith proposed, agreed to, and signed a convention on these terms; and that without authority, without instructions, and without consulting the admiral, from whom he was not forty-eight hours distant. The first intelligence that Stopford had of the negotiation was the announcement that the convention was signed. He immediately repudiated it, and wrote to that effect both to Napier and the pasha. The Porte protested against it as unauthorised, and the several ministers of the allied powers at Constantinople declared it null and void. The home governments took a more favourable view of it, and, though they refused to guarantee the succession to Mohammed Ali's adopted son, the convention was otherwise accepted as the basis of the negotiations. Napier himself considered this as a complete justification of his conduct; but Captain (afterwards Sir) Henry John Codrington [q. v.], then commanding the Talbot, wrote with justice to his father of Napier's behaviour: ‘It was not only disrespectful to an officer of Sir Robert Stopford's rank and services, but it was highly ungrateful. In this convention business there is not a spark of gratitude to his kind old chief; but indeed I don't think the soil fitted for a plant of that nature. I wonder what commander-in-chief will ever trust him again’ (ib. p. 213).
On 2 Dec. 1840, in acknowledgment of the capture of Acre, all the captains present were nominated C.B's., and Napier, as second in command, was made a K.C.B. He also received from the European sovereigns of the alliance the order of Maria Theresa of Austria, of St. George of Russia, and of the Red Eagle of Prussia. From the sultan he received a diamond-hilted sword and the first class of the Medjidie, with a diamond star. In January 1841 he was sent on a special mission to Alexandria and Cairo, to see the convention duly carried out. He rejoined the Powerful early in March, and being then sent to Malta obtained a month's leave and went home. His fame and his achievements, with a good deal of embellishment, had been noised abroad. At Liverpool and Manchester he was cheered by crowds and entertained at civic banquets. He was presented with the freedom of the city of London; he was invited by Marylebone and by Falmouth to stand for parliament, and, as his leave was within a couple of days of expiring, he applied to Lord Minto for an extension. ‘It takes time,’ he said, ‘to make inquiries before pledging oneself.’ For such a purpose the application was refused, whereupon Napier requested to be placed on half-pay. This was done, and at the general election he was returned to the House of Commons as member for Marylebone.
During the next few years he was mainly occupied with parliamentary business, speaking on naval topics, more especially on proposals to improve the condition of seamen, and on the necessity of increasing the strength of the navy. His ideas, in themselves frequently sound, were spoiled by the extravagance or inaccuracy of their presentment; and though some of them found favour with the ministers, they had little difficulty in showing others to be absurd or impracticable. He was busy, too, in writing his ‘History of the War in Syria’ (2 vols. post 8vo, 1842), a book deprived of most of its value by want of care and accuracy. On 9 Nov. 1846 he attained the rank of rear-admiral, and in the following May hoisted his flag on board the St. Vincent, of 120 guns, in command of the Channel fleet. In August the fleet was sent to Lisbon, and Napier, on the ground that it would be a compliment to the Portuguese, applied for permission to assume his Portuguese title. Lord Palmerston refused in a semi-bantering letter: ‘We cannot afford to lose the British admiral Sir Charles Napier, and to have him converted into a Portuguese count.’ During the greater part of 1848 the squadron was on the coast of Ireland, and in December was sent to Gibraltar and the coast of Morocco, to restrain and, if possible, to punish the insolence and depredations of the Riff pirates.
In April 1849 the squadron returned to Spithead, and Napier was ordered to strike his flag. He had expected to hold the command for three years, and the disappointment perhaps gave increased bitterness to the many letters which he wrote to the ‘Times’ denouncing the policy of the admiralty. Many of these, as well as some of earlier date, were collected and edited by Sir William Napier under the title of ‘The Navy, its Past and Present State’ (8vo, 1851). Many of the reforms which he urged were salutary, and many of his criticisms just; but the tone of the book as a whole was offensive to the service. He had already applied for the Mediterranean station when it should be vacant; but the admiralty and the prime minister were agreed that they could not trust to his discretion. This led to further correspondence, and to an extraordinary letter to Lord John Russell, in which Napier maintained that the appointment of Rear-admiral Dundas [see Dundas, Sir James Whitley Deans] to the command was defrauding him of his just rights, and, recapitulating the several events in which he had taken part, arrogated to himself the whole of the merit. This letter, with others which he published in the ‘Times’ of 19 Dec. 1851, brought down many well-substantiated contradictions (Times, 23 and 27 Dec.), and was cleverly travestied in verse with historical notes (Morning Herald, 9 Jan. 1852).
On 28 May 1853 he was promoted to be vice-admiral, and in February 1854 was nominated to the command of the fleet to be sent to the Baltic. Popular enthusiasm indulged in the most extravagant expectations as to what the squadron might accomplish if war with Russia should be declared (EARP, p. 14), and at a semi-public dinner at the Reform Club on 7 March there was a great deal of ill-timed boasting (Times, 8 and 9 March). It was reported that Napier promised, within a month after entering the Baltic, either to be in Cronstadt or in heaven: words corresponding to those—then unpublished—which he had addressed to his wife twenty years before, on sailing to take command of the Portuguese fleet. At the time Napier's idea, which was shared by the admiralty and the general public, was that what had been done at Sidon and at Acre was to be repeated at Cronstadt or Helsingfors. But when the admiral got into the Baltic he realised, in view of the frowning casemates of Sveaborg or Cronstadt, or Reval or Bomarsund, that it was not for line-of-battle ships to engage a first-class fortress. What, under the circumstances, ships could do was done. The Russian ports were absolutely sealed; but beyond this most stringent blockade nothing was attempted, though Bomarsund was captured, mainly by a land force of ten thousand men specially sent from France.
The reality fell so far short of what had been expected that everybody asked who was to blame. Napier, in no measured language, laid the blame on the admiralty, for not having supplied him with gunboats, and on his fleet, as very badly manned and still worse disciplined (Earp, freq.; Times, 7 Feb. 1855; Codrington, p. 497). The admiralty and public opinion, on the other hand, laid the blame on Napier himself, on his capricious humour or want of nerve, which—there were people who said—had been destroyed by too liberal and long continued potations of Scotch whisky; while others referred to his own published words: ‘Most men of sixty are too old for dash and enterprise. … When a man's body begins to shake, the mind follows, and he is always the last to find it out’ (The Navy, &c., pp. 73, 100; cf. Edinburgh Review, cxviii. 179 n.).
In July 1855 Sir Charles Wood, then first lord of the admiralty, recommended Napier for the G.C.B. He declined to accept it, and wrote at length to Prince Albert, as grand master of the order, explaining his reasons and stating his grievances. His enemies, real or imaginary, were numerous, and the abusive language which he scattered around continually added to them. In 1855 he was elected M.P. for Southwark, and in and out of parliament devoted himself to denouncing Sir James Graham and the board of admiralty. During the intervals of his attendance in the House of Commons he resided almost entirely at Merchistoun, where he had all along taken great interest in experimental farming, considering himself an authority, more especially on turnips and lambs. He became an admiral on 6 March 1858, and died on 6 Nov. 1860.
The angry and often unseemly quarrels of his later days gave an impression of Napier as much below his real merits as that previously entertained was above them. As a man of action, within a perhaps limited scope, his conduct was often brilliant; but his insolence and ingratitude to Sir Robert Stopford, his selfish insubordination, and his arrogant representation of himself as the hero of the hour, left very bitter memories in the minds of his colleagues.
As a young man, from his very dark complexion, he was often spoken of as Black Charley; and frequently, from the eccentricities of his conduct—many of which are recorded by his stepson—as Mad Charley. His portrait by T. M. Joy [q. v.], now in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, is an admirable likeness, though, as has been frequently pointed out, it makes him look too clean and too well dressed, points on which Napier was notoriously negligent. Another portrait of Napier in naval uniform, by John Simpson, is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. A partial observer has described him in 1840 as ‘about fourteen stone, stout and broad built; stoops from a wound in his neck, walks lame from another in his leg, turns out one of his feet, and has a most slouching, slovenly gait; a large round face, with black, bushy eyebrows, a double chin, scraggy, grey, uncurled whiskers and thin hair; wears a superfluity of shirt collar and small neck-handkerchief, always bedaubed with snuff, which he takes in immense quantities; usually his trousers far too short, and wears the ugliest pair of old shoes he can find’ (Elers Napier, ii. 126). As years went on he did not improve, and in November 1854 his appearance on shore at Kiel, in plain clothes, used to excite wonder amounting almost to consternation.
By his wife (d. 19 Dec. 1857) he had issue a son, who died in infancy, and a daughter, married in 1843 to the Rev. Henry Jodrell, rector of Gisleham, in Suffolk. Of his stepchildren, who took the name of Napier, the eldest, Edward Delaval Hungerford Elers Napier, is separately noticed. The second, Charles George, who was with Napier through the Portuguese war, and both then and afterwards was spoken of as an officer of great promise, was captain of the Avenger frigate, and was lost with her on 20 Dec. 1847 (O'Byrne).[The Life and Correspondence of Admiral Sir Charles Napier, by his stepson, General Elers Napier (2 vols. 8vo, 1862), loses much of its value and interest by the intensity of its partisanship; Napier's own works, named in the text; Earp's History of the Baltic Campaign of 1854; Letters of Sir H. J. Codrington (privately printed); Times, 7 Nov. 1860, 23 Jan. 1862; Mrs. Jodrell's Letter to the Editor of the Times in reply to an attack upon her father's conduct of the Baltic Fleet; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates; Gove's Sir Charles Napier in the Mediterranean and the Baltic and elsewhere.]