Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hood, Alexander (1727-1814)

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HOOD, ALEXANDER, Viscount Bridport (1727–1814), admiral, younger brother of Samuel, viscount Hood [q. v.], entered the navy on 19 Jan. 1740–1, a few months before his brother, on board the Romney, as captain's servant, with Captain Thomas Smith, and remained in her with Captain Grenville till 22 April 1743. On 9 May he was appointed to the Princess Mary, again with Smith, who rated him midshipman; in December 1744 he followed Smith to the Royal Sovereign; in March 1745 to the Exeter, and in May 1746 to the Hawk, from which he was promoted on 2 Dec. 1746 to be lieutenant of the Bridgwater: in her he continued employed in convoy and cruising service till October 1748, when the ship was put out of commission and Hood placed on half-pay. In January 1755 he was appointed lieutenant of the Prince, with Captain Charles Saunders [q. v.] On 23 March 1756 he was promoted to the command of the Merlin sloop, fitting out in the river, and on 10 June 1756, six weeks senior to his elder brother, he was posted to the Prince George, in which Saunders, now a rear-admiral, hoisted his flag as second in command in the Mediterranean. Charnock's statement that in the spring of 1757 he commanded the Antelope, and destroyed the Aquilon in Hyères Bay, is erroneous; one of many instances of confusion between the two brothers. Alexander Hood was flag-captain to Saunders during the whole of his Mediterranean command, following him to the Prince, Culloden, and St. George. On his return to England he was appointed on 5 Jan. 1759 to the Minerva frigate of 32 guns, attached during the summer and autumn to the fleet off Brest under Sir Edward Hawke, and more particularly in October and November to the small squadron off the Morbihan under Captain Duff, with which she was present at the total defeat of the French fleet on 20 Nov. Continuing in the Minerva, on 23 Jan. 1761, in the Bay of Biscay, Hood fell in with the Warwick, a small, heavy-sailing 60-gun ship, which had been captured by the French in 1756 [see Shuldham, Molyneux, Lord Shuldham], and was now, with a reduced armament, being utilised as a trooper and storeship. Though not superior in guns, her heavier scantling gave her a material advantage, and Hood gained well-deserved credit by her capture, after a stubborn contest of more than six hours. The loss of the Warwick in men was returned as fourteen killed and thirty-two wounded; that of the Minerva as thirteen killed and thirty-three wounded, of whom three died within four days. The Warwick, when she struck, seems to have had only the mizen-mast standing; the Minerva presented a better appearance, but her main and mizen masts went by the board a few hours after the action terminated. In the following summer the Minerva was one of the small squadron under Anson, serving as a guard of honour to bring over the Princess Charlotte, and in September Hood was moved into the Africa, which he commanded in the Mediterranean till the peace.

Hood wrote from Hagley to the secretary of the admiralty on 10 Sept. 1763, declining a commission to be captain of the Thunderer at Portsmouth, on the grounds that ‘it must be meant for Captain Samuel Hood,’ and that it was not convenient for him to accept the command, doubtless owing to his recent marriage. In due course he was told that the commission was intended for his brother; but his biographers have imitated the mistake of the admiralty, adding that he commanded the Thunderer for the next three years.

In December 1763 Hood was appointed to the Katherine yacht. On 23 Sept. 1766 he succeeded Sir Charles Saunders as treasurer of Greenwich Hospital, but continued in command of the Katherine till December 1777, when he was appointed to the Robust of 74 guns, one of the fleet under Keppel in the following year, in the action off Ushant on 27 July, and in the autumn cruise. In his evidence before the court-martial on Keppel [see Keppel, Augustus, Viscount], Hood, who had been in Palliser's division, and felt himself implicated in the attack which had been made on Palliser, showed a bias against the commander-in-chief. When the Robust's log was called for, Hood admitted that it had been altered by his directions after the court-martial was ordered. The log, he said, had in the first instance been written up carelessly, and ‘when he found it was likely to be produced in court, he judged it proper to revise and correct it.’ The alteration was no doubt ill-judged; but the court accepted his explanation. Public opinion, which then ran in favour of Keppel, was not so lenient, and the word ‘hooded’ came for a short time into general use as an epithet applicable to false testimony. Any one conversant with ships' logs of that date will, however, accept Hood's opinion that ‘log-books, kept in the manner that ships' log-books are, ought not to be implicitly taken as evidence’ (Minutes of the Court-martial on Admiral Keppel, p. 27).

After the court-martial Hood resigned the command of the Robust, was reappointed to the Katherine, and continued in her till promoted to be rear-admiral of the white, on 26 Sept. 1780, the same day on which his brother was made rear-admiral of the blue. In September 1782, after the death of Rear-admiral Kempenfelt, he was appointed to a command in the grand fleet under Lord Howe, and hoisted his flag on board the Queen of 90 guns, in which he took part in the relief of Gibraltar and the skirmish off Cape Spartel. In the general election of 1784 he was returned to parliament as member for Bridgwater, but was shortly afterwards elected member for Buckingham. On 24 Sept. 1787 he was promoted to be vice-admiral of the white, and in the following year was nominated a knight of the Bath. During the Spanish armament in 1790 he hoisted his flag for a short time on board the London, as fourth in command of the fleet assembled at Portsmouth; he was also appointed rear-admiral of England. In February 1793 he was appointed second in command of the Channel fleet under Lord Howe; he hoisted his flag in the Royal George, and on 12 April 1794 became admiral of the blue; but continuing in his command, had a full share in the operations culminating in the action of 1 June 1794. For his services on this occasion he received the gold medal and chain, in common with the other flag-officers, and was on 12 Aug. 1794 created a peer of Ireland, under the title of Baron Bridport of Cricket St. Thomas in Somerset. During the following autumn and spring, though occasionally at sea, he remained for the most part at St. Helens. In June 1795 it was requisite to convoy the expedition to Quiberon [see Warren, Sir John Borlase], and in consequence of Howe's failing health the command temporarily devolved on Lord Bridport. With fourteen sail of the line, of which eight were three-deckers, under his immediate command, he sailed from St. Helens on 12 June, and, having parted from Warren on the 19th off Belle Isle, remained on the coast as a measure of further security against the French fleet, which he supposed to be still at Brest. It was, in fact, in his immediate neighbourhood, had chased the small squadron under Cornwallis only two days before [see Cornwallis, Sir William], and was sighted by Warren on the evening of the 19th. He immediately sent off a despatch-boat to Bridport with the intelligence, and followed with his own squadron, which included three ships of the line. He did not, however, succeed in joining Bridport, and on the morning of the 22nd the two fleets were in sight of each other. The French were inferior both in numbers and force, and still more in efficiency; the ships were for the most part in very bad condition, the men were neither sailors nor gunners, and the officers were equally ignorant of tactics, seamanship, and discipline. Aware of this, the French admiral, Villaret-Joyeuse, was unwilling either to fight or fly, and attempted to retreat leisurely and in good order. But with his officers good order was unattainable, and by daylight on the 23rd the leading English ships were up with and among the rearmost French. A partial action followed, resulting in the capture of three French ships, overwhelmed by numbers, and unable, from want of training, to make any efficient resistance. That their whole fleet was not taken or driven on shore is attributed by French writers to Bridport's excessive caution (Chevalier, p. 211). English writers have laid the fault rather on the admiralty, who had not furnished him with pilots; but it must be remembered that Bridport, as a young man, had commanded a cruising frigate on the same coast for two years, and had seen how under somewhat similar circumstances, and in total ignorance of the pilotage, Hawke had dealt with an unwilling enemy. On the other hand Bridport had as yet no full knowledge of the disorganisation of the French navy, and his experiences of the last war, in 1778 and in 1782, had taught him to respect both French tactics and French gunnery. In England his victory was spoken of as a brilliant achievement. On 15 March 1796 he was appointed vice-admiral of England, and on 31 May his Irish peerage was converted into a peerage of Great Britain.

The fleet returned to Portsmouth at the end of September, and was to a great extent broken up into detached squadrons which cruised off Ushant or Cape Clear, with a powerful reserve at Spithead. Bridport, though nominally under Howe's orders, continued in the command, directing the movements, but without taking any active part in them, and residing principally in London. It was not till 18 Dec. 1796 that he hoisted his flag and prepared for sea on receiving news of the threatening attitude of the Brest fleet. The French fleet, as the expedition to Ireland, put to sea on the 16th [see Pellew, Edward, Viscount Exmouth]; but it was not till the 25th that Bridport had vague intelligence of the movement. He at once made the signal to weigh; but in obeying the order the Sans Pareil fouled the Prince, the Formidable fouled the Ville de Paris, and the Atlas got aground. With five of his ships thus temporarily disabled he felt compelled to anchor again; it was not till 3 Jan. 1797 that he was at last able to get to sea. Meantime the French expedition had miscarried, and was on its way back to Brest, where it arrived while Bridport was vainly looking for it in Bantry Bay or off Mizen Head. After cruising for a month off Ushant he returned to Spithead on 4 Feb. During March he was again off Ushant, and anchored at Spithead on the 30th.

Though the growing discontent among the seamen had been mentioned at the admiralty, it was not supposed to be of any immediate importance [see Howe, Richard, Earl Howe]. On 12 April information was received of the resolution of the men to mutiny, and accordingly on the 15th orders were sent to Bridport to put to sea without delay. At 1 p.m. he made the signal to prepare to sail, on which the men of the Queen Charlotte manned the rigging and gave three cheers. Their example was followed on board the other ships of the fleet. The Royal George's men were called on deck; they came, but refused to unmoor till their application for an increase of pay and provisions was answered (Log of the Royal George). On the afternoon of the 21st the mutineers hoisted the red flag at the Royal George's foretop masthead, on which Bridport's flag was struck by order of the captain (ib.) Against Bridport personally the men had no complaint; he was out of the ship at the time, but they wrote to him as their ‘father’ and their ‘friend,’ disclaiming any intention of offering him personal offence. On the 23rd he came on board, rehoisted his flag, and addressed the crew, saying that he brought with him the promise of the admiralty to concede all their demands and the king's pardon for all past offences. These assurances the men accepted and returned to their duty. The fleet dropped down to St. Helens, and the mutiny appeared to be at an end; but on 7 May, when Bridport again made the signal to prepare to sail, it broke out anew. The men stated that their demands had not been granted, their grievances had not been redressed, and that they believed the promises of the admiralty were a shuffling pretence. This second outbreak was more dangerous than the first; the men were exasperated by what they conceived to be an attempt to trick them; many of the flag-officers and captains were sent ashore, and at one moment it seemed that Sir John Colpoys [q. v.] would be hanged; for a week the fleet was in the possession of the mutineers. The crisis was ended on 15 May by the exertions and influence of Lord Howe, and on the 16th the fleet put to sea under the command of Bridport, who now became in name, as he had long been in reality, the commander-in-chief.

From this time the conduct of the war in the western seas assumed a new phase, and the blockade of Brest became more stringent. For the next three years the Channel fleet under Bridport's command kept the sea with a persistence till then unknown. Drawing back occasionally to Torbay, or refreshing by detachments in the Sound or at Spithead, by far the greater part of the time was spent off Ushant. For days and weeks together the entry in the Royal George's log appears each noon ‘Ushant. E. 3 or 4 leagues.’ Frequently in fine weather the ships were inside the Black Rock, and immediately off the entrance of the harbour. But, notwithstanding, the French fleet succeeded in putting to sea on the night of 25 April 1799. At noon of the 25th, the English fleet being in with the Black Rock, saw thirteen of the enemy's ships at anchor and five under way in the outward roads (Log of the Royal George). The next day they were no longer there; the Nymphe frigate had seen the tail of them going round the Saintes in the early morning; and Bridport, without any intelligence to guide him, and suspecting a new attempt on Ireland, fell back to Cape Clear, and for the next month ranged along the coast of Ireland from Mizen Head to Achill Head, while the French fleet was harmlessly traversing the Mediterranean [see Elphinstone, George Keith, Viscount Keith; Jervis, John, Earl of St. Vincent]. In August it returned to Brest, and was again blockaded by Bridport till April 1800, when he was relieved by Lord St. Vincent. On 10 June 1801 he was advanced to the dignity of viscount in the peerage of Great Britain. He accepted no further command, and died 2 May 1814.

Hood's first wife was Mary, daughter of the Rev. Richard West, D.D., prebendary of Winchester, by Maria, daughter of Sir Richard Temple, thus forming a direct connection with the families of Lyttelton and Grenville, with which he had long been associated in friendly relations. It is said that he received a handsome fortune with Miss West. The date of the marriage given in Burke's and Foster's peerages is 1761; but as Hood was in active service during the whole of that year, some time after April 1763, when the Africa was paid off, would seem a more probable date. After the death of his first wife in 1786 he married in 1788 Maria Sophia, daughter of Thomas Bray of Edmonton. She survived him several years, and died at the age of eighty-five in 1831. By neither wife had he any issue, and on his death the English titles became extinct; the Irish barony passed, by the terms of the patent, to the younger branch of his brother's family, in favour of which the viscountship was recreated in 1868.

A portrait of Hood in 1764 by Reynolds is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich; it represents a handsome man, young-looking for his age, then thirty-seven. Another portrait, also by Reynolds, belongs to Lord Hood, by whom it was lent to the exhibition at South Kensington in 1867; another by Abbott, in the National Portrait Gallery, is engraved in Jerdan's ‘National Portrait Gallery,’ vol. iv. Sir William Hotham [q. v.] describes him as ‘about the middle size, with a very good figure and pleasing countenance, and with much both the appearance and manner of a gentleman. In chief command,’ he says, ‘he was supposed to have been cautious, and had not perhaps that spirit of enterprise or general professional talent which marked Lord Hood. The brothers were not like each other, excepting in their voice. They differed also in their general habits, for Lord Bridport was rather penurious and rich, and Lord Hood quite the reverse and very poor’ (Hotham MS.)

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. vi. 153; Naval Chronicle, i. 265; Ralfe's Nav. Biog. i. 202; official letters and other documents in the Public Record Office; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs; James's Naval Hist. (ed. 1860); Schomberg's Naval Chronology; Patton's Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and St. Helens; Chevalier, Hist. de la Marine française sous la Première République; Troude's Batailles Navales de la France, toms. i. ii. iii.]

J. K. L.