Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hoste, William

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HOSTE, Sir WILLIAM (1780–1828), captain in the navy, descended from an inhabitant of Bruges, who sought a refuge in England in the sixteenth century, was the second son of Dixon Hoste, rector of Godwick and Tittleshall in Norfolk. He was born at Ingoldisthorpe, then the property of his father, on 26 Aug. 1780, and entered the navy in April 1793 on board the Agamemnon, and under the express care of Captain Nelson [see Nelson, Horatio, Viscount Nelson], with whom he continued, almost without interruption, for the next five years, following him from the Agamemnon to the Captain, to the Irresistible, and to the Theseus, and being present in the two actions off Toulon, 14 March and 13 July 1795, in the battle off Cape St. Vincent, and, though not landed, at Santa Cruz. Continuing in the Theseus with Captain R. W. Miller [q.v.], he was made lieutenant on 8 Feb. 1798; and after the battle of the Nile was promoted to the command of the Mutine brig in succession to Capel [see Capel, Sir Thomas Bladen], who left her at Naples, where Hoste was received with the utmost enthusiasm, the queen presenting him with a diamond ring, and sending two hundred guineas and six pipes of wine to the crew of the brig. From Naples he went on to Gibraltar and joined the fleet off Cadiz, where his promotion was confirmed 3 Dec. 1798. He continued to command the Mutine for the next three years, attached to the squadron under Nelson, till Nelson returned to England, and afterwards to the main fleet under Lord Keith, to whom he was comparatively unknown. With the impatience of twenty-one, he conceived that he was neglected, and that Keith must be his enemy. Nelson would seem to have shared his feelings, and wrote to Hoste's father (21 Nov. 1801) that his ‘son William has not had justice done him.’ On 7 Jan. 1802 Hoste was posted by Lord St. Vincent, first lord of the admiralty, but the promotion did not reach him till May; and meanwhile, being sent to Alexandria, he contracted a fever, followed by inflammation of the lungs, which left lasting ill effects behind it. From Alexandria he had gone to Athens, where he was nursed by Lady Elgin; and the news of his promotion, according to his own account, completely restored his health. At Malta he received his commission to the Greyhound frigate, which he expected to take home almost immediately; but the year slipped away while she was employed on the coast of Italy and at Gibraltar, and she did not return to England till April 1803.

In November 1804 Hoste was appointed to the Eurydice, in which he went out to Gibraltar, cruised on the coast of Africa as far as Goree, and, returning to Portsmouth, took out convoy to Malta. In September 1805 he joined the fleet off Cadiz, where Nelson, who treated him ‘as a son,’ moved him (13 Oct.) into the Amphion of 36 guns, ‘one of the finest and most desirable ships on the station.’ In the belief that there was no immediate prospect of action, Hoste was sent to Algiers with presents for the dey. He left the fleet on 15 Oct. and returned to Gibraltar on 9 Nov., when he heard of Trafalgar and of the death of his patron. ‘Not to have been in the battle,’ he wrote to his father, ‘is enough to make one mad; but to have lost such a friend besides is really sufficient to almost overwhelm me. … I like my ship very much; as the last gift of that excellent man I shall ever consider her, and stay in her during the war.’ Through the summer of 1806 the Amphion was on the coast of Naples and Sicily under the orders of Sir W. Sidney Smith [q.v.] and (30 June) was employed in the transport of the little army which, on 4 July, won the battle of Maida, and afterwards co-operated with General Brodrick in the reduction of Reggio, Cotrone, and other places on the Calabrian coast. In June 1807 she returned to England to refit, and after being six months in the dockyard sailed again for the Mediterranean. In April 1808 she was off Toulon, watching the French squadron which had just returned from its cruise to Corfu [see Collingwood, Cuthbert, Lord], and on 12 May had a sharp encounter with the Baleine, armed storeship, lying in the Bay of Rosas, under three heavy batteries. The Baleine was driven ashore, but could not be destroyed. The commander-in-chief, however, expressed his warm approbation of Hoste's conduct, and in August sent him to the Adriatic, where, sometimes under the orders of a senior officer, but also often independent, he continued carrying on a brisk and successful partisan war, destroying signal stations, cutting out gunboats, making a large number of prizes, and almost completely stopping the coasting trade. ‘From 23 June 1808 to Christmas day 1809 the Amphion took or destroyed 218 of the enemy's vessels.’ ‘It looks well on paper,’ Hoste wrote, ‘but has not put much cash in our pockets, owing to the difficulty attending their being sent to port;’ most of them, including several of considerable value, had to be destroyed. At Christmas 1809, while the Amphion and a sloop dominated the Adriatic, there were at Ancona and Venice four French frigates, several brigs and schooners, and numerous gunboats, besides a Russian squadron of four ships of the line and two frigates at Trieste. ‘The truth is,’ Hoste wrote, ‘they are afraid of the weather, and are very badly manned; we are well manned, and do not care a fig about the weather.’ In January the Amphion was joined by the Active of 36 guns [see Gordon, Sir James Alexander], and in February by the Cerberus, a 32-gun frigate; and with these under his command he harassed the French positions with renewed vigour. On 23 April 1810 he wrote: ‘We have been very fortunate since we left Malta in March, and have taken and destroyed forty-six sail of vessels, some of which are very good ones, and will bring us in a little pewter. … I was at Fiume the other day … and took a prize, and a very good one, from under their very guns, in open day.’ On 28 June he landed the marines and small-arm men of his little squadron at Grao, where there were several vessels laden with naval stores and guarded by a detachment of French soldiers. After a sharp skirmish Hoste took the town, made prisoners of the garrison of forty men, brought out five of the vessels, and burnt eleven, besides fourteen of small size (James, v. 120).

Hoste was now established at Lissa. Besides preying on the traffic by which the French occupation was supported, he was watching the frigate squadron which the French were organising. In September the squadron put to sea, made a dash at Lissa, where they found and recaptured some of the English prizes, and were back in Ancona before Hoste had any exact intelligence of their movements (ib. v. 122). In November the English squadron was joined by the Volage of 22 guns [see Hornby, Sir Phipps]; and, after being driven to Malta to refit, it arrived again off Lissa just as, on 11 March, the French commodore, Dubourdieu, sailed from Ancona with the intention of occupying the island. He had with him three French 40-gun frigates and three Venetian frigates, one of which was also of 40 guns, with five smaller vessels, and carrying, in addition to their complements, some five hundred troops, the proposed garrison of Lissa. On the morning of 13 March 1811 the two squadrons came in sight of each other; and Dubourdieu, in the Favorite, leading down to the English line, attempted, after a short cannonade, to lay the Amphion on board. But a howitzer, loaded to the muzzle with musket-bullets, swept the Favorite's deck as she closed with her men crowded on the forecastle; her loss was thus very severe; Dubourdieu himself was killed; and partly from the loss of men, partly from the damage to her rigging, partly too from Hoste's admirable manœuvring, the ship went ashore, where she was abandoned and set on fire. Meantime, after an extremely sharp action, the Flore, another French frigate, struck to the Amphion (although she afterwards escaped), and a few minutes later the Venetian Bellona also struck. The Corona, another Venetian, after having been warmly engaged with the Cerberus, struck to the Active; when the Danae, which had been very roughly handled by the little Volage's 32-pounder carronades, and the Carolina hauled their wind and fled. Hoste himself was severely wounded by the explosion of a chest of musket cartridges, and the total loss of the English in killed and wounded was 190; that of the enemy amounted to upwards of seven hundred. Owing to the vast numerical superiority of the enemy and the decisive result, the action off Lissa was considered one of the most brilliant naval achievements during the war. Hoste and his colleagues received the gold medal, and the several first lieutenants were promoted (James, v. 233–245; Chevalier, pp. 387–90). The four frigates with their prizes arrived at Malta on 31 March, when the garrison spontaneously turned out to cheer them.

The Amphion was now found in such a bad state that she was ordered to England, which she reached in June; and on reporting himself at the admiralty Hoste was desired to choose his ship and station. He was at once appointed to the Bacchante, a 38-gun frigate, but it was a full year before she was ready for sea. In June 1812 she sailed for the Mediterranean, where, on joining the commander-in-chief, Hoste was again sent into the Adriatic to carry on the same desultory warfare as formerly in the Amphion, but now on a larger scale, and under the orders of Rear-admiral Fremantle [see Fremantle, Sir Thomas Francis], who had with him three sail of the line and six or seven frigates. The Bacchante was fortunate in being frequently detached on independent cruises; in one of which (18 Sept. 1812) she captured eight gunboats, with their convoy of eighteen trading vessels, on the coast of Apulia; in another (11 June 1813), at Giulia Nova, near Ancona, she captured a similar flotilla of seven gunboats with seventeen vessels in convoy; and these are only two instances out of many similar. In December 1813 she was sent to assist the Austrians and Montenegrins in the attack on Cattaro, which surrendered on 5 Jan. 1814, as soon as Hoste had, in what was denounced as ‘a very unmilitary manner,’ established a battery of heavy guns and mortars on the top of a rugged hill which dominated the enemy's position. From Cattaro Hoste immediately crossed over to Ragusa, which also surrendered on the completion of a battery on the top of a hill supposed to be inaccessible.

The labour of these sieges, the hardships and the exposure to wet and cold, undermined Hoste's health, already feeble, and he was obliged to return to England invalided. In July 1814 he was made a baronet, and at the same time was granted the augmentation to his arms: In chief, a naval crown with the gold medal pendent therefrom and the word ‘Lissa;’ and as a crest, Out of a naval crown, an arm holding a flag, on which the word ‘Cattaro.’ On the reorganisation of the order of the Bath in 1815 Hoste was nominated a K.C.B. After his return to England Hoste's health continued delicate, and for many years he had no service. In 1822 he accepted the command of the Albion guardship at Portsmouth, and in 1825 was appointed to the Royal Sovereign yacht. A cold, caught in January 1828, settled on his lungs; he fell into a decline, and died in London on 6 Dec. 1828.

Hoste's long and successful command in the Adriatic, his brilliant victory at Lissa, and his reduction of Cattaro have given him a naval reputation far beyond that achieved by any other officer of his age and rank. His constant endeavour was to act as became a pupil of Nelson, to whose memory he formally appealed at Lissa, as the two squadrons approached each other, in making the signal ‘Remember Nelson.’ In private life his letters, happily printed, show him to have been of a gentle, affectionate nature, tenderly attached to his family, and sacrificing opportunities of enriching himself to relieve the embarrassments of his father, to which, it is said, he applied 50,000l. out of 60,000l. which he gained while in the Adriatic (Service Afloat, p. 68 n.) In April 1817 Hoste married the Lady Harriet Walpole, daughter of the third Earl of Orford, by whom he had issue three sons and three daughters. The eldest son, William Legge George, who succeeded to the baronetcy, died a rear-admiral in 1868.

[Memoirs and Letters of Captain Sir William Hoste, Bart., by his widow, the Lady Harriet Hoste (2 vols. 8vo, 1833), with an engraved portrait from a picture in the possession of the family. An abridgment of this, with some supplemental matter, was published in 1887 under the title of Service Afloat, or the Naval Career of Sir William Hoste. See also Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. iii. (vol. iii.) 470; James's Naval History (edit. of 1860); Chevalier's Histoire de la Marine française sous le Consulat et l'Empire; Mrs. Herbert Jones's Sandringham, Past and Present; Foster's Baronetage.]

J. K. L.