Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Narbrough, John
NARBROUGH, Sir JOHN (1640–1688), admiral, son of Gregory Narbrough of Cockthorpe, Norfolk, was baptised at Cockthorpe on 11 October 1640. His early career in the navy was closely associated with that of Sir Christopher Myngs [q. v.], who was probably a relation or connection. Whether he first went to sea with Myngs is, however, doubtful. He has himself recorded that he made more than one voyage to the coast of Guinea and to St. Helena, apparently in the merchant service; he mentions also having been in the West Indies, presumably with Myngs. In 1664 he was appointed to be lieutenant of the Portland, and during the next two years he followed Myngs very closely; was with him successively in the Royal Oak, Triumph, Fairfax and Victory, and when he was mortally wounded on 4 June 1666. For his conduct in this battle Narbrough was promoted to the command of the Assurance, from which he was moved some months later to the Bonaventure. In May 1669 he was appointed to the Sweepstakes, of 300 tons, with 36 guns and 80 men, for a voyage to the South Seas, and sailed from the Thames on 26 Sept. In November 1670 the Sweepstakes passed through the Straits of Magellan, and on 15 Dec. arrived in Valdivia Bay, where, after some friendly intercourse with the Spaniards, two of her officers, with the interpreter and a seaman, being on shore with a message, were forcibly detained. The governor alleged that he was acting on orders from the governor-general of Chili, and declared his inability to let them go. Narbrough attributed it to the old prohibitive policy of the Spaniards, and believed that they wished to seize the ship. It is probable that there was also some idea of reprisal for the ravages of the buccaneers in the West Indies and on the Spanish Main [cf. Morgan, Sir Henry]. Being unable to recover his men, having neither force nor authority to wage a war of reprisals, and finding the Spanish ports thus closed to him, Narbrough judged it best to return; and accordingly, repassing the Straits in January, he arrived in England in June 1671.
In 1672 he was second captain of the Prince, the flagship of the Duke of York, and in the battle of Solebay, 28 May, was left in command when Sir John Cox, the first captain, was slain, and the Duke of York shifted his flag to the St. Michael. By Narbrough's exertions the ship was fit for service again in a few hours, and the duke rehoisted his flag on board the same evening. Narbrough was then appointed first captain of the Prince, but on the duke's retiring from the command was moved into the Fairfax, in which in November he sailed for the Mediterranean in charge of convoy. By the end of May 1673 he was back in England, and was appointed to the St. Michael, but was shortly afterwards moved into the Henrietta, which he commanded in the action of 11 Aug. On 17 Sept. he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the red, and on the 30th was knighted by the king at Whitehall.
In October 1674 he was sent out to the Mediterranean as admiral and commander-in-chief of a squadron against the Tripoli corsairs. As the bey paid no attention to the complaints which were laid before him Narbrough blockaded the port, and through the summer and autumn of 1675 captured or destroyed several of the largest Tripoli frigates; on 14 Jan. 1675–6 the boats of the squadron under the immediate command of Lieutenant Shovell of the Harwich, the flagship, forced their way into the harbour of Tripoli, and there burnt four men-of-war; and in February four others were very roughly handled at sea, though they managed to escape into port. These successive losses brought the bey to terms; he consented to release all English captives, to pay 80,000 dollars as compensation for injuries, and to grant several exclusive commercial privileges. The treaty was afterwards ratified by the new bey whom a popular revolution placed at the head of the government, and Narbrough returned to England early in 1677.
Within a very few months he was ordered back to the Mediterranean to punish and restrain the piracies of the Algerine corsairs. In the autumn of 1677 and during 1678 he waged a successful war of reprisals against the ships of Algiers, blockading their ports, destroying their men-of-war, seizing their merchant ships, and finally, in November 1678, capturing five large frigates which the corsairs had newly fitted out in the hopes of recouping their losses. This so far broke the spirit of the Algerines that in May 1679 Narbrough was able to leave the command with Vice-admiral Herbert [see Herbert, Arthur, Earl of Torrington], and return to England with a great part of the fleet.
In March 1680 he was appointed a commissioner of the navy, and so he continued till September 1687, when he hoisted his flag in the Foresight as commander-in-chief of a small squadron sent to the West Indies. In the end of November he was at Barbados, and, at the desire of the Duke of Albemarle, went to the scene of a wreck near Cape Samana in St. Domingo, where an attempt was being made to recover the treasure [see Phipps, Sir William; Dartmouth MSS.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. v. 135–6]. Here he was joined by Lord Mordaunt, then in command of a Dutch squadron, and wishing, it has been supposed, to sound Narbrough as to his adhesion to the reigning king [see Mordaunt, Charles, third Earl of Peterborough]. This ‘treasure fishing’ was carried on with some success for several months; but the crews became very sickly. Narbrough himself caught the fever, and died on 27 May 1688. It was proposed to embalm the body, and so take it to England; but, that being found impossible, it was buried at sea the same afternoon, the bowels being carried to England and buried in the church of Knowlton, near Deal, in which parish he had acquired an estate, where a handsome monument bears the inscription, ‘Here lie the remains of Sir John Narbrough.’
Narbrough was twice married. First, on 9 April 1677, at Wembury in Devonshire, to Elizabeth, daughter of Josias Calmady; she died on 1 Jan. 1677–8, being, according to the inscription on her monument in Wembury Church, ‘mightily afflicted with a cough, and big with child.’ Secondly, on 20 June 1681, at Wanstead in Essex, to Elizabeth, daughter of Captain John Hill of Shadwell; she survived him, afterwards married Sir Clowdisley Shovell [q. v.], and died 15 April 1732. By his second wife he had five children, of whom two sons and a daughter survived him. The elder son, John, born in 1684, created a baronet 15 Nov. 1688, and his brother James, born in 1685, were both serving with their stepfather, Shovell, as lieutenants of the Association, and were lost with him on 22 Oct. 1707. The daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1682, married in 1701 Thomas d'Aeth, created a baronet in 1716, in whose family the Knowlton property still remains. A portrait of Narbrough, believed to be the only one, is at Knowlton Court.[Charnock's Biog. Nav. i. 245; A particular Narrative of the burning in the Port of Tripoli, four men-of-war belonging to those Corsairs by Sir John Narbrough, Admiral of his Majesty's Fleet in the Mediterranean, on the 14th of January 1675–6, together with an Account of his taking afterwards five barks laden with corn, and of his farther action on that coast, published by Authority, 1676. Narbrough's Journal is printed in An Account of several late Voyages and Discoveries to the South and North: Printed for Samuel Smith and Benjamin Walford, 1694. The original is in the Bodleian Library. See also Duckett's Naval Commissioners, 1660–1760, and Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. vii. passim (Fleming MSS. at Rydal). The family history is given in a very full notice by the Hon. Robert Marsham-Townshend in Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vi. 502. The Mariner's Jewel, or a Pocket Compass for the Ingenious … from a MS. of Sir John Narbrough's and methodised by James Lightbody, seems to be partly pocket-book memoranda and partly common-place book.]