Foley, Thomas (1757-1833) (DNB00)

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FOLEY, Sir THOMAS (1757–1833), admiral, second son of John Foley of Ridgeway in Pembrokeshire, where the family had been settled for several centuries, a nephew of Thomas Foley, a captain in the navy (d. 1758), who had been round the world with Anson in the Centurion, was born in 1757, and entered the navy on board the Otter in 1770. After serving in her on the Newfoundland station for three years he was in 1774 appointed to the Antelope, going out to Jamaica as flagship of Rear-admiral Clark Gayton [q. v.] While in her he was repeatedly lent to the small craft on the station, and saw a good deal of active cruising against the colonial privateers. He returned to England in the Antelope in May 1778; on the 25th was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and on the 28th was appointed to the America, with Lord Longford. In her, he took part in the operations of the fleet under Keppel [see Keppel, Augustus, Viscount] in 1778, and Sir Charles Hardy [q. v.] in 1779. In October 1779 he was appointed to the Prince George with Rear-admiral Robert Digby [q. v.], in which he was present at the capture of the Spanish convoy off Cape Finisterre on 8 Jan. 1780, the defeat of Langara off Cape St. Vincent on 16 Jan. and the subsequent relief of Gibraltar [see Rodney, George Brydges, Lord]. Continuing in the Prince George when she went to North America in 1781, and afterwards to the West Indies with Sir Samuel Hood [see Hood, Samuel, Viscount], Foley was present as a lieutenant in the attempted relief of St. Kitts, and in the engagements to leeward of Dominica on 9 and 12 April 1782. In the following October, on the invaliding of Captain Elphinstone [see Elphinstone, George Keith, Lord Keith], he was for a few weeks acting captain of the Warwick at New York, and on 1 Dec. was confirmed in the rank of commander, and appointed to the Britannia, armed ship. In her he continued after the peace and till the beginning of 1785, when he brought her to England and paid her off. From December 1787 to September 1790 he commanded the Racehorse sloop on the home station, and from her was advanced to post rank on 21 Sept. In April 1793 he was appointed to the St. George of 98 guns as flag-captain to Rear-admiral John Gell [q. v.], with whom he went to the Mediterranean, took part in the operations at Toulon (August–December 1793), and, when Gell invalided, continuing as flag-captain to Rear-admiral Sir Hyde Parker (1739–1807) [q. v.], assisted in driving the French squadron into Golfe Jouan (11 June 1794), and in defeating the French fleet in the two engagements off Toulon (13 March, 13 July 1795). In March 1796 he accompanied Parker to the Britannia, in which he remained with Vice-admiral Thompson, who relieved Sir Hyde towards the close of the year. As flag-captain to the commander in the second post, Foley thus held an important position in the battle off Cape St. Vincent on St. Valentine's day, 1797. He was shortly afterwards appointed to command the Goliath of 74 guns, one of the ships sent into the Mediterranean under Captain Troubridge in May 1798 to reinforce Rear-admiral Sir Horatio Nelson [see Nelson, Horatio, Viscount; Troubridge, Sir Thomas]. He thus shared in the operations of the squadron previous to the battle of the Nile, in which he had the distinguished good fortune to lead the English line into action. In doing so he passed round the van of the French line as it lay at anchor, and engaged it on the inside; the ships immediately following did the same, and a part at least of the brilliant and decisive result of the battle has been commonly attributed to this manœuvre. It has also been frequently and persistently asserted that in doing this Foley acted solely on his own judgment, and that Nelson, had time permitted, would have prevented him. But this assertion is distinctly contradicted by the positive statements of Sir Edward Berry [q. v.] in his ‘ Narrative,’ that Nelson's projected mode of attack was ‘minutely and precisely executed,’ and also by the fact that Captain Miller of the Theseus, writing a very detailed account of the commencement of the battle, gives no hint that the Goliath's manœuvre was at all unexpected by him or the other captains who followed Foley (Laughton, Letters and Despatches of Viscount Nelson, pp. 151, 156). The probable explanation of the apparent contradiction would seem to be that the advisability of passing inside had been fully discussed between the admiral and the captains of the fleet, and that the doing or not doing it was left to the discretion not only of the captain of the leading ship but of all the others. If this was the case, Foley merely exercised the right of judgment which Nelson had entrusted, not to him alone, but to whoever happened to lead (Herbert, pp. 40–3; Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, 1885, xxix. p. 916). The Goliath continued on the Mediterranean station, attached to the command of Lord Nelson, till towards the close of 1799, when she was sent home. In the following January Foley was appointed to the Elephant of 74 guns for service in the Channel fleet. In 1801 she was sent into the Baltic, in the fleet under Sir Hyde Parker; and when it was decided to attack the Danish position at Copenhagen, Nelson, on whom the duty devolved, hoisted his flag on board her, his own flagship, the St. George, drawing too much water for the contemplated operations. It was thus that Foley, as flag-captain, assisted in drawing out the detailed instructions for the several ships to be employed on this service, and, in Nelson's own words, with ‘his advice on many and important occasions during the battle’ (Nicolas, Nelson Despatches, iv. 304, 315). Immediately after the battle Nelson went back to the St. George, and the Elephant, continuing attached to the fleet, returned to England in the autumn, when she was paid off. In September 1805, when Nelson was going out to resume the command of the fleet off Cadiz, he called on Foley and offered him the post of captain of the fleet. Foley's health, however, would not at that time permit him to serve afloat, and he was obliged to refuse (Herbert, p. 41). On 28 April 1808 he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and in 1811 was appointed commander-in-chief in the Downs, in which post he continued till the peace. On 12 Aug. 1812 he became a vice-admiral; was nominated a K.C.B. in January 1815, a G.C.B. on 6 May 1820, and attained the rank of admiral on 27 May 1825. In May 1830 he was appointed commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, where he died 9 Jan. 1833. He was buried in the Garrison Chapel, in a coffin made of some fragments of oak kept from his old ship Elephant when she was broken up.

Foley married, in July 1802, Lady Lucy Fitzgerald, youngest daughter of the Duke of Leinster, and cousin, on the mother's side, of Sir Charles and Sir William Napier. During his married life he had lived for the most part at Abermarlais, an estate in Carmarthenshire, which he purchased about 1795, apparently with his share of a rich Spanish prize which had been the subject of a very singular law case (ib. p. 16). He left no issue, and after his death Lady Lucy resided principally at Arundel till 1841, when she moved to the south of France, where, in the neighbourhood of Marseilles, she died in her eightieth year in 1851. Foley is described as ‘above six feet in height, of a fine presence and figure, with light brown hair, blue eyes of a gentle expression, and a mouth combining firmness with good humour’ (ib. p. 40). His portrait by Sir William Beechey is now in the possession of Mr. H. Foley Vernon of Hanbury Hall, Worcestershire; an engraved copy is prefixed to Herbert's ‘Memoir.’

[Life and Services of Admiral Sir Thomas Foley, by J. B. Herbert (Cardiff, 1884, reprinted with additions from the Red Dragon, vol. v.); Marshall's Royal Naval Biography, i. 363; Nicolas's Nelson Despatches.]

J. K. L.