Hughes, Richard (DNB00)

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HUGHES, Sir RICHARD (1729?–1812), admiral, is said to have been born in 1729 (Foster, Baronetage). His grandfather, Captain Richard Hughes (d. 1756), and his father, Sir Richard Hughes, first baronet (d. 23 Sept. 1780), were both in turn for many years commissioners of the navy at Portsmouth. Rear-admiral Robert Hughes (d. 1729), whose daughter was mother of Admiral Sir Robert Calder [q.v.] seems to have been his granduncle (cf. Charnock, iii. 165, 232, v. 43, 293).

In 1739 Hughes was entered at the Royal Academy at Portsmouth, and three years later joined the Feversham, commanded by his father. On 1 April 1745, while acting lieutenant of the Burford in the Mediterranean, he passed his examination, and was declared in the certificate to be 'upwards of 21. The next day he was promoted by Vice-admiral Rowley to be lieutenant of the Stirling Castle, and continued serving in her till the peace. In 1752 he was appointed to the Advice, going out to the West Indies with the broad pennant of Commodore Pye; in her he lost the sight of one of his eyes, which was accidentally pierced by a table-fork. On 6 Feb. 1756 he was promoted to be commander of the Spy, and was posted to the Hind on 10 Nov. In January 1758 he was appointed to the Active, one of the squadron employed during the summer on the coast of France under Commodore Howe [see Howe, Richard, Earl]; and in February 1759 to the Falmouth, one of the ships sent out under Rear-admiral Samuel Cornish [q.v.] to join Vice-admiral Pocock in the East Indies. In the following January he was moved into the York, and in her participated in the reduction of Pondicherry in 1760-1. He was shortly afterwards obliged by ill-health to return to England, and in November 1761 he was appointed to the Portland, for service on the home station; in her, in the following summer, he carried the Earl of Buckinghamshire, as ambassador to Russia, to Cronstadt. In April 1763 he was transferred to the Boreas frigate for occasional service, including the convoying troops to Goree in the spring of 1766. From May 1767 to May 1770 he commanded the Firm guardship at Plymouth, and the Worcester guardship at Portsmouth from January 1771 to January 1774. In 1777 he was appointed to the Centaur, and in June 1778 was sent out as resident commissioner of the navy at Halifax, and also, in express terms, `commander-in-chief of his Majesty's ships and vessels which shall from time to time be at Halifax, when there shall be no flag officer or senior officer present.' This office he held till 26 Sept. 1780, when he was promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue; in the previous April he had succeeded to the baronetcy, on the death of his father. In 1781 he was commander-in-chief of the squadron in the Downs, and in 1782, with his flag in the Princess Amelia, commanded a division in the grand fleet under Lord Howe at the relief of Gibraltar, and the encounter with the allies off Cape Spartel. He was afterwards sent out to the West Indies to reinforce Admiral Pigot, and on Pigot's returning to England remained as commander-in-chief, with his flag in the Leander, and afterwards in the Adamant, the larger ships being ordered home.

The period of his command was marked by two incidents of interest, mainly from their connection with the career of Nelson. In 1785 Hughes, on the representations of the merchants, had been induced to waive the enforcement of the navigation laws with respect to vessels of the United States trading in the West Indies. But Nelson pointed out to him that the suspension of the act exceeded his legal power, and Hughes, accepting Nelson's view, was afterwards thanked by the treasury, for his action, to the annoyance, of Nelson, who considered that the thanks were due to himself alone, and that Hughes had rather deserved a reprimand (Laughton, Letters of Lord Nelson, p. 28). The other incident arose out of the admiral's giving Captain Moutray, the naval commissioner at Antigua, an order to act as commander-in-chief of the ships there in the absence of a senior officer. Hughes was probably misled by the terms of his own commission at Halifax a few years before; but as Moutray was on half-pay, with no executive authority from the admiralty, the order was irregular, and Nelson refused to obey it, thus drawing on himself an official admonition (ib. p. 31). Hughes appears to have been an amiable, easy-tempered man, without much energy or force of character. `Sir Richard Hughes,' Nelson wrote, `is a fiddler; therefore, as his time is taken up tuning that instrument, … the squadron is cursedly out of tune. He lives in a boarding-house at Barbadoes, not much in the style of a British admiral. He has not that opinion of his own sense that he ought to have; he does not give himself that weight that I think an English admiral ought to do'(ib.pp. 25, 34).

In the summer of 1786 Hughes returned to England, and in 1789, again in the Adamant, went out as commander-in-chief at Halifax, from which he returned in May 1792. He became a vice-admiral on 21 Sept. 1790, and admiral on 12 Sept. 1794, but had no further service, and died 5 Jan. 1812. He married Jane, daughter of William Sloane, nephew of Sir Hans Sloane, and had issue two sons, who died before him, and a daughter. The baronetcy passed to his brother Robert, in whose line it is still extant [see under Hughes, William, 1803-1861].

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. vi. 180; official letters and other documents in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.