Hawke, Edward (DNB00)
HAWKE, EDWARD, Lord Hawke (1705–1781), admiral of the fleet, born in London in 1705, was only son of Edward Hawke, barrister, of Lincoln's Inn. His father's family was settled for many generations at Treriven in Cornwall. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Nathaniel Bladen of Hemsworth in Yorkshire, grand-daughter of Sir William Fairfax of Steeton [q. v.], and sister of Colonel Martin Bladen [q. v.] In 1718 his father died, and Hawke, left the ward of his uncle, Martin Bladen, entered the navy on 20 Feb. 1719–20 as a volunteer on board the Seahorse, commanded by Captain Thomas Durell, and served in her on the North American and West Indian station till 1725, when, on her coming home, he passed his examination on 2 June. The same day he entered, with the rating of able seaman, on board the Kinsale, with Captain Richard Girlington, and served in her on the west coast of Africa and in the West Indies, including a month with the squadron off Porto Bello under Hosier, till she paid off at Woolwich on 11 July 1727. He may have afterwards been in the fleet off Cadiz and at Gibraltar, 1727–8 (cf. Burrows, p. 113), but this cannot be verified. On 11 April 1729 he was promoted to be third lieutenant of the Portland, commanded by Captain Rowzier, in the Channel. On 25 Nov. he was moved into the Leopard with Captain (afterwards Sir Peter) Warren; and on her paying off a month later (22 Dec.) he was placed on half-pay, till, on 19 May 1731, he was appointed fourth lieutenant of the Edinburgh with Sir Chaloner Ogle [q. v.], one of the fleet sent to the Mediterranean under Sir Charles Wager [q. v.] On her coming home he was discharged, 27 Dec., and after a fortnight on half-pay was appointed (15 Jan. 1731–2) to the Scarborough with his old captain, Durell, and again sent to the North American station. On 10 Nov. 1732, being then at Boston, he was discharged to the Flamborough for a passage to the Kingston, carrying the broad pennant of Sir Chaloner Ogle as commander-in-chief at Jamaica. On 24 Dec. he joined the Kingston as first lieutenant; on 13 April 1733 he was promoted by Ogle to be commander of the Wolf sloop, and again, on 20 March 1733–4, to be captain of the Flamborough. In her he continued till 5 Sept. 1735, when, on her arrival in England, she was paid off, and Hawke placed on half-pay. The service during these years, not only in the Flamborough, but in the Wolf, the Scarborough, and still earlier in the Seahorse, seems to have been uneventful, the time being mostly spent in monotonous cruises or uninteresting passages, varied only by occasionally careening or refitting. No training could have been more severe, or better calculated to turn out a thorough seaman.
For nearly four years Hawke continued on half-pay, and during this time, probably in the course of 1737, he married Catherine, daughter and sole heiress of Walter Brook of Burton Hall in Yorkshire, inheriting also, through her mother, the properties of Scarthingwell, Towton, and Saxton. The Brooks were already connected with the Bladens, and the marriage, though it proved one of affection, was probably suggested by Colonel Bladen; for Hawke was at this time thirty-two, and the bride but seventeen. Two daughters, born in the early years of their married life, died in infancy, and were buried at Barking in Essex on 13 Sept. 1739 and 3 April 1740. On the first threatening of the war with Spain, Hawke commissioned the Portland (30 July 1739) for service in the West Indies. She sailed early in October, and for nearly four years was employed in the tedious duty of watching over Barbadoes and the adjacent islands, protecting the trade and convoying it to the coast of North America, with occasional visits to Boston in the hurricane season. It was a time of war; but no Spanish ships came in her way, and the French attempt to support Spanish interests resulted in costly failure. The Portland was old, rotten, and barely seaworthy. In a gale of wind outside Boston on 15 Nov. 1741 she lost her masts, and the ship herself was in very great danger. She managed, however, to get to Barbadoes, where Hawke reported that on taking out the stumps of the old masts they were found to be so rotten that they crumbled to powder, and that a stick was driven a full yard into the foremast. In the course of 1742 Mrs. Hawke joined her husband at Barbadoes, and returned to England with him in the following January. The Portland was paid off on 17 March, and was soon afterwards broken up.
In June 1743 Hawke was appointed to the Berwick, a new ship of 70 guns. The war with Spain, the imminence of war with France, and the large fleets already on foot in the West Indies, the Mediterranean, and the Channel, rendered seamen scarce, and increased the difficulty of manning a newly commissioned ship. It was more than two months before the Berwick was able to drop down the river, and then with a crew largely composed, as Hawke wrote to the admiralty on 23 Aug., of ‘very little, weakly, puny fellows, that have never been at sea, and can be of little or no service.’ The passage out to the Mediterranean tried such a ship's company severely. On 27 Oct., shortly after leaving Gibraltar, Hawke reported that 123 of his working men were sick with fever or scurvy, and falling down by tens and twenties every day. ‘A great number of them,’ he wrote, ‘are lately come from the East Indies, and others are raw men picked up by the press-gangs in London.’ Towards the middle of November the Berwick arrived at Port Mahon almost disabled; but a few weeks' care and rest did wonders, and she finally joined the fleet in the roadstead of Hyères on 11 Jan. 1743–4. It was the first time that Hawke had seen a fleet since he had been with Ogle in the Edinburgh; nor, though the war had been going on for upwards of four years, had he yet seen a shot fired in anger. On 8 Feb., when the allied fleet put to sea from Toulon, the English fleet also getting under way to follow them, the Berwick was in the squadron under the command of Rear-admiral Rowley, which led on the port tack, formed the van of the fleet in the action of the 11th [see Lestock, Richard; Mathews, Thomas; Rowley, Sir William], and in an intermittent manner, though in fairly good order, engaged the French division of the allies, with which were two or three of the leading Spanish ships. The others astern were much scattered; but the English centre, opposed to them, was also in disorder, and there was no directing head. The Berwick beat her immediate antagonist, the Spanish Neptuno, out of the line, and was left without an opponent. Astern the Poder, by herself, was keeping at bay a number of the English ships, which ‘were a-barking’ at her (Narrative of the Proceedings of His Majesty's Fleet in the Mediterranean, by a Sea-Officer, 1744, p. 60), feebly endeavouring to obey Mathews's contradictory signals. Hawke, on his own responsibility, wore out of the line, ran down to the Poder, and engaged her within pistol-shot. His first broadside is said to have killed twenty-seven men, and to have dismounted several of her lower-deck guns. In twenty minutes she was dismasted; after a brave but unavailing defence she struck her colours, and was taken possession of by a party from the Berwick under Mr. Lloyd, her first lieutenant. They were scarcely well on board her when it was seen that the French had tacked and were standing towards them; the English fleet had also tacked, and was retiring to the northward. The Berwick and her prize were left alone, and Hawke, hailing Lloyd to return to his ship, was, without waiting for him to do so, obliged to make sail after the fleet. Lloyd, after an extraordinary and adventurous cruise in a boat full of Spanish prisoners, succeeded in getting on board the Royal Oak, while the Poder, with the prize crew on board, was retaken by the French. The next morning Lloyd rejoined his ship, and in the afternoon was sent to give Rowley an account of his proceedings, and to acquaint him that seventeen men had been left on board the Poder. Rowley promised to ‘endeavour to save the prize and give Captain Hawke the honour of carrying her to Minorca,’ and spoke in high terms of Hawke's conduct. He directed the Berwick and Diamond to go down to the Poder, then some distance astern of the allied fleet, in company with a French ship, which, on the approach of the English, left her to her fate. The Essex, however, by Mathews's order, had anticipated Rowley's ships, and set the Poder on fire, much to Hawke's annoyance. He wrote to Mathews complaining that another should have been ordered to burn the prize which he took, and asking him to order Captain Norris and his officers to restore the colours and things which they had taken out of her. Norris, however, kept the trophies; and a few months later fled into Spain to escape a probable sentence of death for cowardice.
For the next eighteen months Hawke continued attached to the Mediterranean fleet, though often on detached command at Gibraltar, off Cadiz, or on the coast of Genoa. The service is now chiefly noticeable because the severe drill accustomed him to the routine of squadrons. On 3 Aug. 1745 he was moved by Rowley, then commander-in-chief, into the Neptune, with orders to return to England in charge of the homeward trade. He arrived in the Sound on 20 Sept., and for the next year was on shore, apparently not in very good health. In June 1746 he was summoned as a witness on the trials of Lestock and Mathews, but did not attend. On 30 March 1747 he was appointed to the Mars, but before she was ready for sea he was advanced to flag rank on 15 July. The very large promotion then made was specially extended in order to include Boscawen [see Anson, George, Lord Anson], and for this purpose several most respectable officers were retired. Hawke's name was still little known to the incompetent administration then at the admiralty, and after the death of his uncle Bladen, in 1746, he had no political interest. It was determined to pass him over. The king, however, who had taken a strong interest in the discussions concerning the battle of Toulon, is said to have declared that ‘he would not have Hawke “yellowed;”’ he was accordingly promoted to be rear-admiral of the white. A week later he hoisted his flag on board the Gloucester, and on 3 Aug. was appointed second in command of the fleet in the Channel under Vice-admiral Sir Peter Warren.
Warren was in indifferent health, and proposed that the squadron should go out under the command of Hawke, hoping that by the time it returned his health would be re-established. Anson felt very uneasy about sending the fleet to sea ‘under so young an officer,’ and with great reluctance yielded to the proposal. During the next fortnight Warren's health got worse, and on 5 Sept. he was obliged to resign the command. On the 8th orders were sent to Hawke to take the independent command and cruise between Ushant and Cape Finisterre. These orders he did not receive for nearly a month; but his original instructions had taught him that the first object of his cruise was to intercept a French convoy expected to sail from Rochelle. Spanish galeons too were spoken of as likely to be on the way to Cadiz, and the temptation to send part of his force to look for them must have been great. He decided, however, that treasure-hunting might wait, that to crush the enemy in arms was his first duty, and he kept his ships together. On 12 Oct. he was broad off Rochelle, nearly midway between Ushant and Finisterre, in a ‘situation,’ he wrote, ‘very well calculated for intercepting both the outward and homeward bound trade of the enemy.’ Two days later his efforts were rewarded by his outlying vessels signalling the French fleet in sight. He had then with him fourteen ships of the line, mostly of 60 guns, but two were of 70 and two of only 50. His own flagship, the Devonshire, was of 66 guns, though these were heavier than usual. She had been built as an 80-gun ship, but had proved so crank that she had been cut down to a two-decker. The enemy when sighted was reported to have twelve large ships; three of them were, however, merchantmen; there were really only nine ships of war. Of these one was of 50 guns, and another of 60; the rest were larger, including three of 74 guns and one of 80. The difference of force was thus nothing like what is shown by the mere numbers of the ships; still the French admiral, M. de l'Étenduère, conceived that the odds against him were too great, and Hawke, seeing that he was intent only on favouring the escape of the convoy, ‘made the signal for the whole squadron to chase.’ The result was decisive; as the English ships came up with the rear of the enemy they engaged; and so, successively creeping on towards the van, took the whole line except the two leading ships, the one of 80 and the other of 74 guns, which, owing chiefly, it was thought, to a blunder of Captain Fox of the Kent, made good their escape. The Content, the 60-gun ship, was with the convoy, which also got away, though Hawke, by promptly sending out the news to the West Indies, insured the capture of the greater part of it. The action, by far the most important and most brilliant of the war, had the misfortune of coming after Anson's of 3 May; and the acknowledgments of the admiralty, of which Anson was a member, were almost ungracious. For a victory over an enemy of barely one-third of his strength Anson had been made a peer. Hawke, for a victory as decisive over a nearly equal force, was merely made a knight of the Bath, the reward which had been given to Sir Peter Warren, Anson's second in command.
On the return of the fleet with the prizes to Portsmouth, Warren resumed the command, and during the rest of the war Hawke continued with him, for the most part cruising in the Bay of Biscay. On 12 May 1748 he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue. He had already, in December 1747, been elected member of parliament for Portsmouth by the interest of the Duke of Bedford, then first lord of the admiralty. For nearly thirty years Hawke continued to represent Portsmouth, but he rarely spoke in the house. There is not even any record of his having taken part in the debates of 1749 on the new articles of war and the reform of naval discipline. On 26 July 1748 he succeeded Warren in command of the home fleet, a charge which he held continuously during the next four years, for the most part at Portsmouth, but during 1750 in the Thames and Medway. Of this service the notices are scanty. Probably Hawke's chief work was in assisting or in advising Anson in the important changes which he introduced. As commander-in-chief at Portsmouth he was president of the remarkable courts-martial on Rear-admiral Knowles and his captains in December and February 1749–50 [see Holmes, Charles, and Knowles, Sir Charles], and of that on Vice-admiral Griffin in December 1750 [see Griffin, Thomas]. In November 1752 he struck his flag, but in February 1755 was again ordered to hoist it on board the St. George at Portsmouth. On 16 July he was appointed to the command of the western squadron, with orders from the lords justices (22 July) to go to sea with sixteen sail of the line, and cruise between Ushant and Cape Finisterre in order to intercept a French squadron which, under the command of M. Du-Guay, had been cruising in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar and had put into Cadiz. He was instructed in precise words ‘not to go to the southward of Cape Finisterre’ unless positive intelligence should show it to be necessary; and accordingly, while Hawke was cruising in the Bay of Biscay, Du-Guay, by making a long stretch to the westward, succeeded in getting safely into Brest. On 29 Sept. Hawke returned to Spithead. It was quite time, for the weather had been bad, and the ships' companies were very sickly. During the winter he was employed as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, and in the spring was again in the Bay of Biscay, keeping watch on the enemy's ships in Rochefort. He returned to Spithead on 8 May 1756.
Early in June, on the news of Byng having withdrawn to Gibraltar [see Byng, John], Hawke was sent out to take the command in the Mediterranean, and with him Saunders to replace Rear-admiral West, and Lord Tyrawley to supersede General Fowke as governor of Gibraltar. The Antelope, with this ‘cargo of courage,’ as it was called, arrived at Gibraltar on 4 July. Byng, West, and all the commissioned officers of the Ramillies and Buckingham, were ordered on board the Antelope for a passage to England, and Hawke hoisted his flag on board the Ramillies. On 10 July he put to sea with instructions to do everything possible for the relief of Minorca, but if he found the enemy already in possession of it, then ‘to endeavour by all means to destroy the French fleet in the Mediterranean,’ to prevent their landing troops or supplies on the island, and ‘to annoy and distress them there as much as possible.’ It was too late. On 15 July he had certain intelligence that Fort St. Philip had surrendered, that the French were in full possession of the island, and that the fleet had returned to Toulon. His hope that it might again put to sea was not realised, and his work was limited to re-establishing the prestige of the English flag and putting a check on the insults of such petty states as Tuscany and Malta (Burrows, pp. 272–4; Laughton, Studies in Naval History, p. 220).
On the approach of winter the greater part of the fleet was recalled from the Mediterranean, a small force only remaining under Saunders. Hawke arrived in England on 14 Jan. 1757. On 24 Feb. he was promoted to be admiral of the blue. His health was much shaken, both by the worry of his command and also by the loss of his wife, to whom he appears to have been sincerely attached, and who had died during his absence on 28 Oct. 1756. Contemporary gossip said that a coolness approaching to a quarrel sprang up between him and Pitt. Hawke, it was said, publicly contradicted Pitt's statements in favour of Byng, and refused to accept Pitt's disapproval of some incidents of his late command (Burrows, pp. 271, 276). The details are untrustworthy, but the relations between the two men seem to have been far from cordial. When the new government was formed in June, with Pitt as its virtual head, Anson was reappointed first lord of the admiralty, but was unable, notwithstanding his wish, to give Hawke a seat at the board (ib. p. 277). In August, however, when Pitt was devising the expedition against Rochefort, it was Hawke who was selected for the command. The credit of the appointment has been generally attributed to Pitt. It would seem to be more probably due to Anson.
Pitt had learned that on the land side Rochefort was practically undefended, and that the arsenal and dockyard might be destroyed by a comparatively small force. Some seven thousand troops under the command of Sir John Mordaunt [q. v.] were told off for this service, and Hawke was to command the covering fleet. On 5 Aug. the two commanders-in-chief received their instructions, Hawke's being ‘to act in conjunction and to co-operate with Sir John Mordaunt in the execution of the services prescribed to him,’ while Mordaunt was directed ‘to attempt, as far as shall be found practicable, a descent on the French coast at or near Rochefort; to attack, if practicable, … that place,’ and to destroy its docks, shipping, magazines, and arsenals.
Within a week from the date of these instructions the fleet and army were ready, but the navy board had not provided a sufficient number of transports; and in remedying the miscalculation nearly a month slipped away. The troops did not embark till 6 Sept., and on the afternoon of the 8th the expedition sailed from St. Helen's. Twelve days later it was fog-bound in the entrance to the Basque Roads, and it did not pass into the roadstead till the 23rd. A half-finished fort on the island of Aix was at once reduced by the Magnanime and Barfleur, but it was found that the renegades, who had been shipped as pilots, were quite ignorant of the place. A sounding party, under the immediate command of Rear-admiral Brodrick, was sent to make independent observation. It returned late on the evening of the 24th, and on the 25th a council of war was held. From Brodrick's report it appeared that the troops might be landed on a hard sandy beach in Chatelaillon Bay, that the transports might anchor about a mile and a half from the shore, the ships of war not within two miles. The general did not consider this encouraging; the ships, he said, at this distance could not cover the landing, nor a retreat if the army should sustain any reverse; and such a reverse was extremely probable. The enemy, he argued, was well prepared; and most likely had a large army waiting for them behind the sandhills of Chatelaillon Bay. Hawke confined himself to laying before the council the possibility of putting the men on shore; this, he said, he was ready to do; as to the further operations, it was for the soldiers to decide. But the soldiers, after much hesitation, determined to do nothing. On the 29th Hawke sent them a formal message that if they had no military operations to propose he would take the fleet home. The general assented. The fleet left the anchorage on 1 Oct., and arrived at Spithead on the 6th.
A very angry public feeling was excited by the news of the failure. It was asserted that there were secret political reasons for it; that Rochefort had been spared as an equivalent for the sparing of Hanover, and as the price of more favourable terms in the convention of Kloster-Seven (Potter to Pitt, 11 Oct. 1757; Correspondence of the Earl of Chatham, i. 277; Chesterfield, Letters to his Son, 10, 26 Oct., 4, 20 Nov.; Horace Walpole to Conway, 13 Oct.) It was, however, on Mordaunt, not on Hawke, that indignation or suspicion fell (Burrows, p. 331), and on 22 Oct. Hawke again put to sea to look for the homeward-bound fleet of Du Bois de la Mothe. He fortunately missed it, so that it carried into Brest the terrible pestilence which raged there instead of at Portsmouth during the winter (Poissonier-Desperrières, Traité sur les Maladies des Gens de Mer, p. 97, 2nd edit. 1780). He returned to Spithead on 15 Dec. On 12 March 1758 he again sailed, on information that the French were preparing a large convoy for America. In the beginning of April he learned that it was putting to sea; on the 3rd he chased it into St. Martin's in the Isle of Ré; on the 4th he looked into Basque Roads. Inside the Isle of Aix were five ships of the line, which threw overboard their guns and stores, and escaped on to the mud flats; the next day, with the assistance of boats from Rochefort, they got into the river. Hawke had all along vainly urged on the admiralty his want of bomb-vessels and fireships; without these he could do nothing more than cut adrift the buoys with which the flying enemy had marked their anchors and guns, and send a working party on shore at Aix to destroy the new fortifications in progress. He returned to Portsmouth, leaving a small squadron, under Captain Keppel of the Torbay, to blockade the convoy in St. Martin's. He had effectually prevented the sailing of the French expedition for many months, but was discontented at having been unable to destroy it altogether. The admiralty also were discontented; they knew that the fault was their own, and naturally vented their spleen on Hawke, whose return was coldly acknowledged. Four days' leave was curtly refused him. On 10 May he received an order to put the squadron designed for a secret expedition under the command of Captain Howe [see HOWE, RICHARD, Earl Howe]. Howe waited on Hawke with their lordship's letter about four o'clock in the afternoon, and at seven o'clock Hawke replied in an outspoken and angry letter, protesting against the conduct of the admiralty towards him during the past twelve months, more especially now in appointing Howe over his head, and finally acquainting them that he had struck his flag.
The admiralty were astounded, but Hawke could not be spared. They sent for him to attend the board; explanations and assurances were given and accepted, and on 17 May he resumed his command. Howe was still to command the secret expedition; and, to prevent the difficulty of his corresponding directly with the admiralty, independent of the commander-in-chief, Anson himself was to hoist his flag, Hawke going with him as second in command. This he would seem to have meant as a formal acknowledgment that he accepted the admiralty's explanations; and a month later (18 June) he applied to Anson to be sent home, on the pretext of a severe feverish cold, a complaint he was very subject to. He did not again hoist his flag till 13 May 1759, when he took command of the western squadron. It was known that the French were contemplating an invasion of England, or more probably of Ireland; that troops were mustered in the Morbihan; flat-bottomed boats for their transport were collected at Havre, and every exertion was to be made, by uniting the Toulon and Brest squadrons, to obtain command of the Channel. In the Mediterranean Boscawen was watching the Toulon squadron, which he eventually destroyed in the Straits of Gibraltar and Lagos Bay on 18 and 19 Aug. [see Boscawen, Edward]. Nearer home Rodney destroyed the flat-bottomed boats at Havre in July [see Rodney, George Brydges, Lord Rodney]; it was for Hawke to keep watch over the fleet in Brest, a service which he carried out with a persistence till then unknown, thereby practically initiating a revolution in naval strategy. The technical details of the blockade, as well as the measures which he took for the victualling of the fleet and for the frequent refreshing of the men by short visits to Plymouth, two or three ships at a time, deserve close study. ‘The relief of the squadron,’ he wrote on 4 Aug., ‘depends more on the refreshment of the ships' companies than on cleaning the ships. … As to myself, it is a matter of indifference whether I fight the enemy, if they should come out, with an equal number, one ship more or less. … What I see I believe, and regulate my conduct accordingly’ (cf. Nicolas, Nelson Despatches, vi. 192). He held Brest a sealed port from May to November. At times, indeed, he was compelled by a strong westerly gale to take refuge in Torbay or the Sound; but as soon as the weather moderated he was again on his post, sometimes at anchor under Point St. Mathieu, at others standing out to seaward, but with a chain of vessels stretching into the very entrance of the Goulet. Never before had a fleet been able to keep the sea for such a time, nor did any fleet again do so for the next forty years. Walpole has absurdly described Hawke as a man of steady courage, ‘but really weak, and childishly abandoned to the guidance of a Scotch secretary’ (Memoirs of the Reign of George II, ii. 240). As a matter of fact, many of his letters are in his own handwriting; and his courage on the day of battle was not more conspicuous than his freedom from all fear of responsibility, his carelessness about making things smooth at the admiralty, or the pains he took in maintaining the well-being of his fleet. He insisted on due supplies of fresh beef and vegetables; he condemned bad beer, summarily dismissed incompetent medical officers, and peremptorily refused to discuss with the navy board his right to do so.
November set in with very bad weather. After struggling against a tremendous westerly gale for three days the fleet put into Torbay on the 9th, went out on the 12th, but on the 13th was again driven in. The Ramillies, which had carried Hawke's flag through the summer and autumn, was in need of a thorough refit. Hawke shifted his flag to the Royal George, and put to sea on the 14th. On the 17th he had news that the French fleet was at sea. He was then off Ushant, and concluded that it must have gone round to embark the troops in Morbihan. The wind, blowing hard at S.S.E., drove him to the westward; it was still adverse through the 18th and 19th. On the morning of the 20th, being then some forty miles to the west of Belle Isle, the Maidstone frigate made the signal for seeing a fleet. No time was lost in the pedantic evolutions favoured by the ‘Fighting Instructions.’ The enemy was making off. Hawke made the signal ‘for the seven ships nearest them to chase, and draw into a line of battle ahead of the Royal George, and endeavour to stop them till the rest of the squadron should come up, who were also to form as they chased.’ Happily the French admiral, Marshal de Conflans, had been tempted out of his course in chase of the frigate squadron which, under Captain Duff, had for months past been keeping watch on the Morbihan coast. He had not time to recover his lost ground and reach the sheltering rocks and shoals of Quiberon Bay before the headmost ships of Hawke's irregularly formed line were on him. ‘All the day (in Hawke's own words) we had very fresh gales at N.W. and W.N.W. with heavy squalls. Monsieur Conflans kept going off under such sail as all his squadron could carry and at the same time keep together, while we crowded after him with every sail our ships could bear. At half-past 2 P.M., the fire beginning ahead, I made the signal for engaging. We were then to the southward of Belle Isle; and the French admiral headmost soon after led round the Cardinals, while his rear was in action. About 4 o'clock the Formidable struck, and a little after the Thésée and Superbe were sunk. About 5 the Héros struck and came to an anchor, but it blowing hard, no boat could be sent on board her. Night was now come, and being on a part of the coast among islands and shoals, of which we were totally ignorant, without a pilot, as was the greatest part of the squadron, and blowing hard on a lee shore, I made the signal to anchor.’
During the night, and the early morning of the 21st, two of the English ships, Resolution and Essex, struck on the Four, and were irrecoverably lost, though most of their men were saved. The French flagship, Soleil Royal, ran ashore near Croisic and was burnt; so also the Héros, which, after striking, was endeavouring to escape. Besides these five ships, taken or destroyed, seven, throwing overboard their guns and stores, ran up the Vilaine, where four of them broke their backs. The other nine escaped to the southward, some into the Loire, some into Rochefort; but in either case their service during that war was at an end. The circumstances of the action—the short November day, the gale, the rocks, the ‘hawk-like swoop’ of the English fleet, the destruction of the French, and the relief from the tension of the last few months, during which an invasion had appeared imminent—all combined to raise popular enthusiasm in England to an unwonted pitch. Afloat, it appeared to the seamen as if the country expressed its gratitude coldly. The heavy weather of November continued through December. The fleet was safely anchored in Quiberon Bay, but the communication with England was interrupted; the supplies of fresh provisions became irregular; the ships' companies, no longer sustained by the excitement of a prospective battle, fell sick. The situation was shortly described in the familiar doggerel:—
Ere Hawke did bang
You sent us beef and beer:
Now Mounseer's beat,
We've nought to eat,
Since you have nought to fear.
Hawke meantime was engaged in a curious correspondence with the Duc d'Aiguillon, the commander-in-chief of the French army, relative to the exchange or surrender of prisoners. He demanded the men of the Héros, who had escaped by a breach of faith. D'Aiguillon of course refused: it is, indeed, now recognised that a ship in the position of the Héros has a right to escape if she can; but in 1759 the victor's theory was that a ship, by striking her flag, surrendered, ‘rescue or no rescue.’ The severity of the French loss is illustrated by Hawke's letter to the admiralty (2 Dec.): ‘As the number of men much wounded on board the Formidable was very great and very nauseous, I desired the Duc d'Aiguillon would send vessels to take them on shore. … The wounded were sent for. He also sent an officer to desire that I would send on shore five companies of the regiment of Saintogne and 140 militia on the terms of the cartel. … As only about 120 of the French soldiers survive, I consented that they should go on shore on parole given.’
His work being finished, on 16 Dec. Hawke requested to be relieved. He had, he wrote, been thirty-one weeks on board, without setting his foot on shore. It was not, however, till 17 Jan. 1760 that he was permitted to return to England. On the 21st the king received him at court in the most flattering manner. On the 28th he received the thanks of the House of Commons, conveyed by the speaker in a glowing eulogium. The government was less enthusiastic; and a pension of 1,500l., afterwards increased to 2,000l. a year for two lives, was the sole official acknowledgment of the greatest victory at sea since the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Personal pique on the part of Pitt, and personal jealousy on the part of Anson, probably explain the government's niggardly recognition (cf. Burrows, p. 422). Their neglect has reacted on historians, who seem scarcely to have recognised the importance of the victory. So far as England was concerned, Quiberon Bay was the decisive action of the war; not only did it put an end to the long-cherished scheme of invasion, but for the time it completely destroyed the naval power of France. During the rest of the war no French squadron ventured to sea; the Bay of Biscay was an English sea; Quiberon Bay and Basque Roads were the anchorages of the English fleets, and their islets were cultivated as cabbage gardens for the refreshment of English seamen.
To Hawke's career, too, the battle was decisive. It left nothing further for him to do. His command in Quiberon Bay from August 1760 to March 1761, or at Spithead and in the Bay of Biscay from April to September 1762, was uneventful; though during these last months he was enriched by the capture of several valuable Spanish ships by his cruisers. He struck his flag for the last time on 3 Sept. 1762. On 21 Oct. he was promoted to be admiral of the white, and on 21 Dec. to be rear-admiral of Great Britain; on 21 Oct. 1765 to be vice-admiral of Great Britain, and on 15 Jan. 1768 to be admiral and commander-in-chief of the fleet.
In September 1766 Pitt, then Earl of Chatham, constant in his dislikes, passed over Hawke, and selected Sir Charles Saunders [q. v.] to be first lord of the admiralty. Hawke was nevertheless, it is said, one of the first to call on Saunders with his congratulations. Saunders, however, held the office for only a couple of months, and on his resignation Hawke was appointed, 28 Nov. 1766. Walpole, often merely the retailer of ignorant gossip (Memoirs of the Reign of George III, iv. 205, 257), Junius, who wrote what he thought might be pleasing to Chatham (5 March 1770, 17 Jan. 1771), and other scurrilous opponents of the government (Gent. Mag. 1770, p. 63), have represented Hawke as an incapable administrator, a charge entirely unsupported by any evidence. Proof positive of the efficiency of a naval administration in time of peace is difficult to obtain; but it was openly stated that his guiding maxim was ‘that our fleet could only be termed considerable in the proportion it bore to that of the House of Bourbon,’ and that, while he broke up fourteen ships of the line during his term of office, he built or laid down twenty-eight (Burrows, p. 455). That in 1778 the English navy was found to be below the necessary strength cannot be attributed to Hawke's mismanagement; he retired from office seven years before, and on 25 June 1779 it was stated without contradiction in the House of Lords that ‘Hawke left 139 sail of the line behind him, 81 of which were at that time ready for sea’ (cf. Parl. Hist. xx. 976).
After his retirement from the admiralty in January 1771 Hawke resided mostly at Sunbury-on-Thames. On 20 May 1776 he was created a peer by the title of Baron Hawke of Towton; but he took little or no part in public affairs. His health was much broken during his later years, and he was much affected by the tragical death of Chaloner, his youngest son, on 17 Sept. 1777 (Collins, Peerage, 1779, viii. 334; Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham, vi. 483, 490). His second son, Edward, a lieutenant-colonel in the army, had also died on 2 April 1773. With the exception of his signing, in December 1778, the protest of the admirals against the court-martial ordered on Keppel [see Keppel, Augustus, Viscount Keppel], his name scarcely came before the public, though the scanty remains of his private correspondence show the interest he continued to take in naval matters [see Geary, Sir Francis]. In one of the latest of his letters, 26 Aug. 1780, he wrote to Geary on his return from his summer cruise: ‘I wish the Admiralty would see what was done in former times; it would make them act with more propriety both for the good of officers and men. … For God's sake, if you should be so lucky as to get sight of the enemy, get as close to them as possible. Do not let them shuffle with you by engaging at a distance, but get within musket-shot if you can; that will be the way to gain great honour, and will be the means to make the action decisive.’ He died at Sunbury on 17 Oct. 1781. ‘Lord Hawke is dead,’ wrote Walpole to Mann on the 18th, ‘and does not seem to have bequeathed his mantle to anybody.’ He was buried by the side of his wife in the church of North Stoneham in Hampshire, where a monumental inscription records, without exaggeration, that ‘wherever he sailed victory attended him.’ Besides a daughter, Catherine, who is described as ‘the comfort of her father's life in his declining years,’ he left one son, Martin Bladen, who succeeded to the title as second baron.
Hawke's actions have very commonly been spoken of as a series of happy chances, recognised as such by the government which dealt out its rewards with a sparing hand. A close study of his career proves that his successes were due rather to care and foresight. Alike as captain and admiral his anxiety for the health and comfort of his men was incessant. Far in advance of his age, he arrived, however imperfectly, at a solution of the difficult problem of how to keep a ship's company healthy; and his discipline appears to have been strict, but kindly. His reproof of impiety, his care for the happiness of his men, his manly decision and dignified deportment worked a rapid though silent reformation through the whole fleet (Gent. Mag. 1832, pt. i. p. 611). Whether he was a consummate tactician must be, to some extent, matter of opinion. Unlike Nelson, he left no theoretical exposition of his views; his teaching was purely practical, but his two great actions were fought—in defiance of the ‘Fighting Instructions’—on the soundest tactical principles.
A full-length portrait of Hawke, by Francis Cotes, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich, to which it was presented by the third Lord Hawke. Another similar picture, the property of Lord Hawke, is at Womersley Park, near Pontefract.
[The Life of Hawke was in 1883 written at full length, from official and family records, by Captain Montagu Burrows, R.N., Chichele professor of history at Oxford. To this further search in the admiralty records has enabled the present writer to add some few particulars of early service. All other memoirs have been written on very imperfect information, and teem with misstatements; the notices in Barrow's Life of Anson are more than usually inaccurate. M. de Conflans's despatches will be found in Troude's Batailles Navales de la France, i. 381.]