Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shipley, Charles

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SHIPLEY, Sir CHARLES (1755–1815), general, and governor of Grenada, West Indies, was the son of Richard Shipley of Stamford, Lincolnshire, and of Copt Hall, Luton, Bedfordshire, a captain of cavalry, by his wife Jane, daughter of Robert Rudyerd, of Wormley, Hertfordshire. The latter was great-grandson and representative of Sir Benjamin Rudyerd [q. v.] of West Woodhay, Berkshire. Charles Shipley was born at Copt Hall on 18 Feb. 1755. On the death of his mother's only brother, Captain Benjamin Rudyerd of the Coldstream guards (who was aide-de-camp to Lord Stair at the battle of Dettingen, and whose various accomplishments are celebrated by Smollett in the ‘Memoirs of a Lady of Quality’ as those of Mr. R——), his mother became sole heiress of the families of Maddox and Rudyerd, but, owing to the extravagance of his father, Charles Shipley inherited little besides his pedigree.

On 1 April 1771, after passing through the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, Shipley received a commission as ensign and practitioner engineer. In the following year he went to Minorca. On 4 March 1776 he was promoted to be lieutenant and sub-engineer. He returned to England in 1778, and was stationed at Gravesend as engineer on the staff under Colonel Debbieg, the commanding royal engineer of the Chatham or Thames district.

From 1780 to 1783 he served in the Leeward Islands, and in 1788 he again went to the West Indies and was stationed at Antigua. Early in 1792 he returned to England to be tried by court-martial for disobedience to regulations in that he employed his own negroes in Antigua on government fortification work. The court sat at the Horse Guards from 23 Feb. to 1 March, found Shipley guilty, and sentenced him to be suspended from rank and pay for twelve months, at the same time stating that they fully recognised that Shipley's departure from regulations did not proceed from any corrupt or interested motive.

On 15 Aug. 1793 Shipley was promoted to be captain. At the solicitation of Sir John Vaughan, commander-in-chief in the West Indies, he again applied to be sent thither, and embarked in November with his family in the government storeship Woodley. After leaving Plymouth severe storms compelled them to put into Gibraltar and Cadiz for some weeks, and when at length they arrived within a few miles of Barbados, they were captured by the French corvette Perdrix. The prisoners were confined in hulks at Guadeloupe, and suffered great hardships; but Shipley's wife was set free, and eventually managed to extort the liberation of her husband from the French republican general, Victor Hugues. Her fortitude was highly praised by the Duke of Clarence, afterwards William IV, to whom Shipley sent an account of his release.

On 6 May 1795 Shipley was promoted to be major in the army. In May 1796 he sent home reports on the defences of Martinique and of Prince Rupert's Head, Dominica. On 20 Oct. he was appointed commanding royal engineer of the Windward and Leeward Islands. In February 1797 he accompanied Sir Ralph Abercromby as commanding royal engineer of his expedition to Trinidad, when the Spaniards surrendered the island on the 17th. He also accompanied Abercromby as commanding royal engineer, and took part in the unsuccessful attack on Porto Rico in the following month. On 11 Sept. 1798 he was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel in the royal engineers.

In 1799 Shipley was sent by Lieutenant-general (afterwards Sir) Thomas Trigge in the Amphitrite to examine the coasts in the neighbourhood of the Surinam river with a view to a landing-place for a military force to attack Surinam. Trigge, in his despatch dated Paramaribo, 22 Aug. 1799, states that Shipley executed this service with great zeal and judgment. Surinam surrendered on 20 Aug., but was soon retaken. Shipley also took part, during March, in the capture of the islands of St. Bartholomew, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and of Santa Cruz. On 21 and 22 June 1803 he commanded a detachment of infantry at the capture of St. Lucia. In April 1804 an expedition was sent under Brigadier-general (afterwards Sir) Charles Green, temporarily commanding in chief in the Leeward Islands, against Dutch Guiana. Shipley accompanied it as commanding royal engineer, and, having landed with Lieutenant Arnold of the royal engineers and a small party, reconnoitred the defences of Surinam, which was again captured. Green, in his despatch to Lord Camden, dated 13 May 1804, Paramaribo, admitted obligations to Shipley, as commanding engineer, ‘far beyond my power to express.’

On 13 July 1805 Shipley was accordingly promoted colonel in the royal engineers, and on 12 June 1806 brigadier-general to the forces serving in the West Indies. In this year, under orders from the board of ordnance, he made the circuit of the coast of Jamaica, and explored the interior by crossing the island in various directions with a view to a survey. In 1807 he accompanied the expedition from Barbados against the Danish West India islands under General Bowyer and Rear-admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. They arrived before St. Thomas on 21 Dec., when Shipley was sent ashore to demand from the governor, von Scholten, the surrender of St. Thomas and St. John, which capitulated next day. On 23 Dec. the expedition sailed for Santa Cruz, and Shipley was again sent on shore to negotiate terms. The governor would only capitulate if some of his officers could be allowed to inspect the British ships and troops, and, having done this, could satisfy his honour that the British force was so strong that resistance would be hopeless. Shipley agreed, the inspection was made, and the island capitulated on 25 Dec. 1807.

On 22 March 1808 Shipley was knighted, and in the same year he sent home proposals for strengthening the defences of the island of St. Thomas. In January 1809 he took part in the expedition against Martinique under lieutenant-general Sir George Beckwith. He landed on 30 Jan. and commenced operations against Pigeon Island, in which he was admirably supported by Captain (afterwards Sir) George Cockburn (1772–1853) [q. v.] of H.M.S. Pompée and his bluejackets. The night after the batteries opened fire the enemy were obliged to capitulate, and Pigeon Island fell to the British on 4 Feb., to be followed by Fort Bourbon and Fort Royal, and on 23 Feb. by the whole island of Martinique. Shipley received the thanks of both houses of parliament for his conduct.

In February 1810 he commanded the second division of the army in the successful operations against Guadeloupe. Brigadier-general Harcourt, in his despatch of 7 Feb., expressed his indebtedness to Shipley during the operations, and especially in the action of 3 Feb. at Ridge Beaupaire, St. Louis, in front of Bellair.

Shipley was promoted to be major-general on 4 June 1811. On 27 Feb. 1813 he was appointed governor of the island of Grenada, in succession to Lieutenant-general Frederick Maitland.

After the return of Napoleon Bonaparte from Elba, a naval and military expedition, under Admiral Sir Philip Durham and Lieutenant-general Sir James Leith [q. v.], was sent to secure the French West India islands on behalf of the king of France, from whom they had revolted, and in June 1815 Martinique and Marie Galante were reoccupied without trouble. Guadeloupe, however, held out for Bonaparte, and did not yield without severe fighting. The attack was made by the British on 8 and 9 Aug. 1815, and Shipley commanded the first brigade. The enemy were defeated at all points. Negotiations followed, and on 10 Aug. Guadeloupe surrendered. Both naval and military commanders in their despatches expressed the highest praise of the ‘distinguished and indefatigable engineer,’ Sir Charles Shipley. Shipley received, by the command of the prince regent, a medal for Martinique with a clasp for Guadeloupe, accompanied by a letter from the Duke of York, then commander-in-chief.

In July 1815 Shipley declined promotion out of the corps of royal engineers, to which he had belonged all his service, and of which he was senior regimental colonel. He preferred to wait for his battalion. Ever careless of personal exposure, excessive fatigue at the attack on Guadeloupe brought on an illness which ended in his death at his seat of government at Grenada on 30 Nov. 1815. He was buried in the church of St. George's, Grenada, amid the regret of all classes.

Shipley married at Gravesend, in May 1780, Mary, daughter of James Teale, by his wife Mary, daughter of Dr. Ralph Blomer, prebendary of Canterbury. Lady Shipley died at Boulogne (where she was assigned a residence by Louis XVIII in consideration of her husband's services in the French West Indies) on 6 Aug. 1820, and was buried in the English burial-ground there; her remains were removed and reinterred in the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral. Their youngest daughter, Elizabeth Cole (d. 1828), married in 1809 Henry David Erskine, twelfth earl of Buchan.

Shipley was a skilful engineer and a thorough soldier. His administration of the government of Grenada was both mild and just, and he completely dispelled those party feuds to which small colonies are prone.

A portrait was painted by Eckstein and engraved by Cook.

[War Office Records; Despatches; Royal Engineers Records; London Gazette; Memoir in Jerdan's National Portrait Gallery, vol. iv. 1833; Field of Mars, 2 vols. 4to, 1801; United Service Journal, 1835; Gent. Mag. 1780–1816, vols. l.–lxxxiv.; Conolly Papers; Patrician, iv. 368–9; Evans's Cat. of Engraved British Portraits; Debrett's Peerage.]

R. H. V.