Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wright, Lawrence

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916148Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 63 — Wright, Lawrence1900John Knox Laughton

WRIGHT, LAWRENCE (d. 1713), commodore, is first mentioned as lieutenant of the Baltimore in 1665. In 1666 he was in the Royal Charles, flagship of George Monck, first duke of Albemarle [q. v.], in the four days' fight and in the St. James's fight. He is said to have been almost continuously employed during the next twenty years of peace and war, but the details of his service cannot now be satisfactorily traced; those given by Charnock are not entirely trustworthy; some of them appear very doubtful. He is said to have taken post as a captain from 1672. On the accession of James II he was appointed to command the Mary yacht, and in March 1687 was moved into the Foresight, in which he carried out Christopher Monck, second duke of Albemarle [q. v.], to Jamaica. Albemarle died within a year of his taking up the governorship, and Wright returned to England with the corpse. He arrived in the end of May 1689, and in the following October was appointed to the 60-gun ship Mary as commodore and commander-in-chief of an expedition to the West Indies, with orders to fly the union flag at the main (Admiralty Minute, 6 Feb. 1689–90), and with instructions ‘to act according to the directions of General Codrington in all things relating to the land service,’ and ‘in enterprizes at sea to act as should be advised by the governor and councils of war, when he had opportunity of consulting them.’ He was, ‘when it was necessary, to spare as many seamen as he could with regard to the safety of the ships,’ and he was not ‘to send any ship from the squadron until the governor and council were informed of it and satisfied that the service did not require their immediate attendance’ (cf. Secretary's Letters, iii. 21, December 1689).

The squadron, consisting of eight twodecked ships of the smallest size, with a few frigates and fireships, sailed from Plymouth on 8 March 1689–90, and after a stormy passage reached Barbados on 11 May, with the ships' companies very sickly. It was not till the end of the month that Wright could go on to Antigua and join Codrington, who combined the two functions of governor of the Leeward Islands and commander-in-chief of the land forces. It was resolved to attack St. Christopher's by sea and land. This was done, and St. Christopher's was reduced with but little loss. St. Eustatius also was taken possession of; and in August the squadron went to Barbados for the hurricane months. In October Wright rejoined Codrington at St. Christopher's, and it was resolved to attack Guadeloupe; but while preparations were being made, Wright received orders from home to return to England. He accordingly went to Barbados, which he reached on 30 Dec. The want of stores and provisions delayed him there, and before he was ready to sail counter orders reached him, directing him to remain and co-operate with Codrington. But he had sent two ships to Jamaica; two others had sailed for England in charge of convoy; and those that he had with him were in a very bad state, leaking badly, and with their lower masts sprung. In order to strengthen his squadron as much as possible, he hired several merchant ships into the service; but it was the middle of February before he could put to sea; and when he at last joined Codrington at St. Christopher's, a serious quarrel between the two threatened to put a stop to all further operations.

The details of the quarrel were never made public, but it may be assumed that it sprang out of the ill-defined relations of the two men, and the probable confusion in the minds of both between the governor and the general, who was, in fact, only a colonel in the army. It is probable that Wright saw the distinction as marked in his instructions more clearly than Codrington did; but the quarrel seems to have been very bitter on both sides. However, after some delays, the attack on Guadeloupe was attempted; the troops were landed on the island on 21 April, but by 14 May little progress had been made; and on report of a French squadron in the neighbourhood, Wright put to sea, came in sight of it, and chased it. As his ships were foul and some of them jury-rigged, the enemy easily outsailed him; and, finding pursuit useless, he recalled his ships and returned to Guadeloupe, when it was resolved to give up the attack, avowedly at least, in consequence of great sickness among the ships' companies and the troops, though it is possible that Wright, and perhaps even Codrington, realised that the appearance of the French squadron threatened the absolute command of the sea which was a primary condition of success (Colomb, pp. 255–6). The squadron returned to Barbados, where Wright himself was struck down by the sickness, and, on the urgent advice of the medical men, turned the command over to the senior captain, Robert Arthur, and took a passage to England.

In the West Indies party feeling ran extremely high; most of the officials, as military men, taking the side of Codrington, and attributing the failure at Guadeloupe to Wright's disaffection or cowardice. The merchants, too, whose trade had been severely scourged by the enemy's privateers, while the English ships, by the governor's orders, were kept together to support the attacks on the French islands, attributed their losses to Wright's carelessness, if not treachery, and clamoured for his punishment. Numerous accusations followed him to England, and he was formally charged ‘with mismanagement, disaffection to the service, breach of instructions, and other misdemeanours.’ Charnock says that there was neither trial nor investigation. This is erroneous. On 20 May 1693 the joint admirals presided at a court-martial, which, after ‘duly examining the witnesses upon oath,’ after ‘mature deliberation upon the whole matter,’ and ‘in consideration that Mr. Hutcheson, late secretary to the governor, was the chief prosecutor, and in regard of the many differences that did appear to have happened betwixt the governor and Captain Wright,’ were of opinion that ‘the prosecution was not grounded on any zeal or regard to their majesties' service, but the result of particular resentments,’ that it was ‘in a great measure a malicious prosecution,’ and resolved that Wright was ‘not guilty of the charge laid against him.’ The influence of the accusers was, however, so strong that the sentence of the court was virtually set aside, and Wright had no further employment till, after the accession of Anne, he was appointed on 14 May 1702 commissioner of the navy at Kinsale, from which post he was moved to the navy board as extra commissioner on 8 May 1713. It was only for a few months; he died in London on 27 Nov. 1713.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. i. 317; Lediard's Naval Hist. pp. 644–7; Duckett's Naval Commissioners; Minutes of the Court Martial, in the Public Record Office; Colomb's Naval Warfare (1st ed.), pp. 249–57.]

J. K. L.