Foote, Edward James (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


FOOTE, Sir EDWARD JAMES (1767–1833), vice-admiral, youngest son of the Rev. Francis Hender Foote, rector of Bishopsbourne, near Canterbury, and, on the mother's side, nephew of Sir Horace Mann [q. v.], was born at Bishopsbourne on 20 April 1767. In 1779 he was entered at the naval academy at Portsmouth, and in 1780 joined the Dublin of 74 guns, under Captain Samuel Wallis. In November he was moved into the Belle Poule frigate, and in her was present in the action on the Dogger Bank, 5 Aug. 1781. He shortly afterwards joined the Endymion frigate, in which he was present in the battle of Dominica, 12 April 1782. After the peace he was appointed to the Europa, bearing the flag of Vice-admiral Gambier, on the Jamaica station; served as acting lieutenant of the Swan, the Antelope, and the Janus, and was confirmed in the rank on 12 Aug. 1785. In 1787 he was for a few months in the Royal Sovereign, and in September 1788 was appointed to the Crown, going out to the East Indies with the broad pennant of Commodore Cornwallis, by whom, in the summer of 1791, he was made commander of the Atalanta sloop. He was afterwards transferred to the Ariel, which he brought home and paid off in October 1792. In 1793 he commanded the Thorn sloop, and on 7 June 1794 was advanced to post rank, and appointed to the Niger frigate, in which for the next two years he was employed in the Channel and on the coast of France. He then joined the Mediterranean fleet under Sir John Jervis, and had the good fortune, on the early morning of 14 Feb. 1797, to bring the first positive intelligence of the immediate proximity of the Spanish fleet, and, a few hours later, to assist in its defeat. The Niger shortly afterwards returned to England, and attended the king at Weymouth during the autumn; on going back to Spithead, Foote was, at the king's especial desire, appointed to the Seahorse of 38 guns, and ordered out to the Mediterranean. He was on his way to join the detached squadron under Sir Horatio Nelson, when, off the coast of Sicily, on 26 June 1798 he fell in with and captured the French frigate Sensible of 36 guns, carrying General Baraguay d'Hilliers and his staff. From his prisoners Foote learned the destination of the expedition; he at once made sail for the coast of Egypt, and in company with the Terpsichore arrived off Alexandria on 20 July. After seeing the French ships there and in Aboukir Bay, the frigates went in search of Nelson, but, not meeting with him, returned to Egypt on 17 Aug., when they found that the French fleet had been meantime destroyed. On the departure of Nelson for Naples, Foote remained attached to the blockading squadron; but the following spring he rejoined Nelson at Palermo, and in March was sent with Captain Troubridge into the Hay of Naples, where, on Troubridge being called away in May, he was left as senior officer [see Troubridge, Sir Thomas; Nelson, Horatio, Viscount]. In this capacity, on 22 June, he, in conjunction with Cardinal Ruffo and the Russian and Turkish admirals, signed the capitulation of the forts Uovo and Nuovo; a capitulation which Nelson, on arriving in the bay two days later, pronounced invalid, and refused to carry into effect. Nelson does not seem to have seriously blamed Foote for his share in the transaction, considering that he had yielded to the false representations of Ruffo, who had received express orders not to admit the rebels to terms; nor, on the other hand, did Foote present any remonstrance against the capitulation being annulled. On the contrary, throughout July, August, and September—in which month he was ordered home—he repeatedly addressed Nelson in terms of gratitude and devotion, which went far beyond the submission required from a junior officer (Nicolas, Nelson Despatches, iii. 517 n., 518). It was not till 1807, after Nelson's death, that he, publicly at least, found out what wicked things had been done in the Bay of Naples in 1799, and published a 'Vindication' of his conduct, which had never been attacked, and a virulent criticism of Lord Nelson's, which he had till then inferentially approved of. The fact was that he had learned from Harrison's 'Life of Nelson' that the great admiral had described the capitulation as 'infamous,' a term correct enough when applied, as Nelson had applied it, to the conduct of Ruffo, but which Nelson's personal bearing towards Foote had clearly shown was not applied to him. That Foote had exceeded his powers was perfectly certain; he had been guilty of an error of judgment and a weakness which Nelson had pointed out and had condoned; Ruffo's treating with armed rebels, contrary to the orders of his sovereign, was on a totally different footing.

On his return to England in the early part of 1800, Foote, still in the Seahorse, was again sent out to the Mediterranean, with Sir Ralph Abercromby [q. v.] and staff as passengers, and in charge of a convoy of store-ships and transports. He was appointed to attend on the king at Weymouth during the summer of 1801, and was then sent to India in charge of convoy. In October 1802 the Seahorse was paid off, and the following year, at the particular desire of the king, who had conceived a strong partiality for him, Foote was appointed to the royal yacht Princess Augusta, in which he remained till promoted to flag rank in August 1812. It is said that he would have much preferred active service, but that, as his attendance seemed grateful to the king in his derangement, he felt that the yacht was his proper sphere of duty. In 1814 he hoisted his flag as second in command at Portsmouth, but struck it at the peace, and had no further service, becoming in due course a vice-admiral in 1821. He was nominated a K.C.B. in 1831, and died at his house in the neighbourhood of Southampton on 23 May 1833. He was twice married: first, to Nina, daughter of Sir Robert Herries, banker; secondly, to Mary, daughter of Vice-admiral Patton; and had issue by both wives.

[Ralfe's Naval Biography, iii. 130; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. i. 558; United Service Journal (1833), pt. ii. p. 379; Gent. Mag. (1833), vol. ciii. pt. ii. p. 180; Foote's Vindication of his Conduct (1807); Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, iii. 477.]

J. K. L.