Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townshend, George (1715-1769)

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TOWNSHEND, GEORGE (1715–1769), admiral, born in 1715, was eldest son of Charles, second viscount Townshend [q. v.], by his second wife, Dorothy (d. 1726), sister of Sir Robert Walpole, first earl of Orford of that creation. He entered the navy in 1729 on board the Rose of 20 guns, with Captain Weller, apparently on the Carolina station. After two years and a half in her, he served for four and a half in the West Indies, in the Scarborough, also a 20-gun frigate, with Captain Thomas Durell, and for the first part of the time with Lieutenant Edward Hawke (afterwards Lord Hawke) [q. v.] He passed his examination on 23 Oct. 1736, being then, according to his certificate, near twenty-one, which appears to be fairly correct. On 30 Jan. 1738–9 he was promoted to be captain of the Tartar, which he commanded on the Carolina station till November 1741. In December he was appointed to the Chatham, and two years later to the Bedford of 70 guns, in which he went out to the Mediterranean, took part in the action off Toulon on 11 Feb. 1743–4 [see Mathews, Thomas; Lestock, Richard], continued there under Vice-admiral William Rowley [q. v.], and in the summer of 1745 was appointed by him to command a detached squadron on the coast of Italy, with the rank of commodore.

His first duty was to co-operate with the insurgent Corsicans, and, hearing from them that they had three thousand men under arms, he posted his ships and bombs before Bastia, and on the night of 6–7 Nov. destroyed the batteries and reduced the town to ashes. It then appeared that the three thousand men had yet to be raised, and it was not till the 18th that the insurgents were able to take possession of the town. Towards the end of the month he reduced the forts of Mortella and San Fiorenzo; but the Corsican patriots were so busy fighting among themselves—‘alternately dining together and squabbling’—that nothing could be effectively done. This unsatisfactory state of things continued for some months. On 7 April Townshend wrote to the admiralty that the dissensions were so violent that nothing could be done without a number of regular troops; and on 8 May that as his whole force was imperatively needed to maintain the blockade of the Genoese coast, he was of opinion that, for the time, the revolt in Corsica should be left to itself. To the difficulty of disunion among the patriots was added that of the presence in the neighbourhood of a French squadron reported as fully equal in force to that with Townshend. In March he had stretched across to Cartagena, and, having watered at Mahon, was on his way to Cagliari to consult with the Sardinian viceroy, when he ‘saw four large ships and two smaller ones, which he made out to be French men-of-war.’ Having with him only one ship, the Essex, besides the Bedford, and two bombs, Townshend judged that the ‘disproportion of force put his engaging them out of the question till he could pick up the rest of his squadron.’ But with this French squadron on the coast, he added, ‘nothing can be attempted against Corsica.’

After considering this letter and one in similar terms to Vice-admiral Henry Medley [q. v.], the commander-in-chief, the admiralty sent out an order for a court-martial to inquire into Townshend's conduct and behaviour. This was done on 9 Feb. 1746–7, with the result that the court was convinced that Townshend ‘did not meet with a squadron of the enemy's ships, nor see or chase any ships so as to discover them to be enemies.’ They concluded, moreover, that Townshend's report upon the vicinity of the French squadron was based upon purely hearsay evidence. The court was therefore of opinion that Townshend's letters were written ‘with great carelessness and negligence,’ and ‘contained very false and erroneous accounts of Captain Townshend's proceedings.’ The court adjudged the captain to write letters to the admiralty and to Medley ‘acknowledging and begging pardon for his fault and neglect,’ and to be severely reprimanded by the president. Horace Mann, who had formed a very poor opinion of Townshend's capacity and education (Doran, Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence, i. 227), wrote to Walpole that if he had been capable of writing an intelligible letter in his own language he would not have found himself suspected of cowardice; and that he had omitted to state that he had only one ship besides his own (ib. p. 156). But Mann wrote in ignorance and prejudice; for Townshend's letters are perfectly intelligible, and the fact of his having with him only one ship besides his own is clearly stated, and the ship named.

After this Townshend continued in the Mediterranean till towards the end of the year, when he returned to England, and paid the Bedford off in December. During the spring and early summer of 1748 he commanded the vessels on the coast of the Netherlands and in the Scheldt, with a broad pennant in the Folkestone; and from November 1748 to November 1752 was commodore and commander-in-chief at Jamaica, with his broad pennant in the Gloucester. On 4 Feb. 1755 he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the white, and again sent out to Jamaica, as commander-in-chief, with his flag in the Dreadnought. He returned to England in 1757 and had no further service, but became vice-admiral in 1758, admiral in 1765, and died in August 1769. [Charnock's Biogr. Nav. iv. 434; Official letters, &c., in the Public Record Office, especially Captains' Letters, T, vols. xii–xviii.; Admiralty, Home Office, vol. cix.; and Minutes of Courts-Martial, vol. xxx.]

J. K. L.