Leake, John (1656-1720) (DNB00)

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LEAKE, Sir JOHN (1656–1720), admiral of the fleet, second and only surviving son of Richard Leake [q. v.], was born at Rotherhithe in 1656. He was serving with his father, on board the Royal Prince, in the action of 10 Aug. 1673, when his elder brother, Henry, was killed. After the peace he went into the merchant service, and is said to have commanded a ship for two or three voyages up the Mediterranean. He is also said to have succeeded his father as gunner of the Neptune, that is, in May 1677, which, as he was then barely twenty-one, seems improbable. It is much more likely that his appointment as gunner was some years later. On 24 Sept. 1688 he was promoted to command the Firedrake, which was attached to the fleet under the Earl of Dartmouth, and was in the following year with Admiral Herbert in the action off Bantry Bay, 1 May 1689, when Leake distinguished himself by setting fire to the Diamant, a French ship of 54 guns, by means of the 'cushee-piece,' which his father had invented. The Diamant's poop was blown up, and with it many officers and men; her captain, the Chevalier Coetlogon, was dangerously wounded (Troude, i. 193); and though the ship was eventually saved, Herbert was so well pleased with the attempt that two days later he posted Leake to the command of the Dartmouth of 40 guns. In September 1688, in fitting the shells for this cushee-piece at Woolwich, one of them had exploded, and killed Leake's younger brother, Edward. Whether from this accident, or from his more extended acquaintance with the gun, Leake seems to have formed an unfavourable opinion of it, and neither to have used it nor recommended it for further service, a neglect which is said to have caused some coolness between him and his father.

From Bantry Bay the Dartmouth was sent to Liverpool, to convoy the victuallers and transports for the relief of Londonderry. On 8 June she joined the squadron under Sir George Rooke [q. v.], and proceeded to Lough Foyle. A council of war decided that it was impracticable for the ships to force the passage to the town. It was not till some six weeks later, 28 July, when positive orders to relieve the town had been received, that the Dartmouth and two victuallers, the Mountjoy and Phoenix, were permitted to attempt to force the boom. The accounts vary in detail. The generally received story is that the Mountjoy and Phoenix broke the boom by their impact, while the Dartmouth engaged and silenced the batteries (Macaulay, Hist. of England, cabinet edit. iv. 245); but the more probable story, told by Leake's nephew and biographer, is that the ships, being becalmed, did not break the boom, but that it was cut through by a party of men from the boats of the fleet (Life of Sir John Leake, p. 17). In any case, the credit of the success was largely due to Leake and his two companions, the masters of the merchantmen [see Douglas, Andrew, d. 1725]. The Dartmouth was paid off at the close of the year, and Leake was appointed to the Oxford of 54 guns, in which he went to Cadiz and the Mediterranean with Admiral Henry Killigrew [q. v.] In May he was moved into the Eagle, a 70-gun ship, and coming home with Killigrew, was in the fleet under the joint admirals at the reduction of Cork in September. The Eagle continued attached to the grand fleet under Russell during 1691; and in the battle of Barfleur, 19 May 1692, was the third ahead of the admiral, where the principal effort of the French was made. She thus sustained much damage, both in masts and hull, and had 220 men killed or wounded out of a crew of 460 [see Russell, Edward, Earl of Orford]. In compliment to her gallant service, perhaps also in compliment to Leake's service at Londonderry, or to old friendship with his father, Rooke, though vice-admiral of the blue squadron, hoisted his flag on board the Eagle, 'notwithstanding the ill condition she was in,' for the purpose of destroying the enemy's ships in the bay of La Hogue, a service which was very thoroughly carried out on 23-4 May.

In December the Eagle was paid off, and Leake was appointed to the Plymouth, from which, in July 1693, he was moved to the Ossory of 90 guns. In her he went with Russell to the Mediterranean in 1694 and 1695, and continued till the peace in 1697. On the death of his father, in 1696, his wife and friends made interest to obtain for him the office of master-gunner, thus vacant, and Russell wrote in his behalf to the Earl of Romney, master-general of the ordnance. Leake, however, declined the appointment, preferring to take his chance of promotion in the navy. In 1699 he commanded the Kent, in 1701 the Berwick, and on 13 Jan. 1701-2 was appointed to the Association (Commission and Warrant Book). Two days later, 15 Jan., he was nominated by the Earl of Pembroke, then lord high admiral, to be first captain of the Britannia under his flag. It does not appear, however, that the earl ever hoisted his flag; and though Leake is named in the official lists as first captain of the Britannia, Robert Bokenham being the second, it seems very doubtful whether he really held that command (cf. Memoirs relating to the Lord Torrington, Camd. Soc., p. 81). On 1 June he was reappointed to the Association, but in July was moved to the Exeter, and sent out as governor and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland, where, before the end of October, he completely broke up and ruined the French fishery, destroying the fishing-boats and stages, and capturing upwards of thirty of their ships. He returned to England in November, and on 10 Dec. was promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue. On 1 March 1702–3 he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue, and in the summer, with his flag in the Prince George, he followed Sir Clowdisley Shovell q. v.] to the Mediterranean, returning to England and anchoring in the Downs just before the great storm of 27 Nov. 1703, when, of all the ships in the Downs, the Prince George was the only one that rode out the gale.

In February 1703–4 Leake was knighted, and a few days afterwards he sailed for Lisbon with a large convoy of transports. At Lisbon he joined Sir George Rooke, with whom he continued during the year, taking part in the reduction of Gibraltar on 23 July, and the battle of Malaga on 13 Aug. On the return of the fleet to Gibraltar, Leake, having shifted his flag to the Nottingham, was left in command of a small squadron for its protection. He was at Lisbon refitting when he had news that Gibraltar was attacked by the French under M. de Pointis. He put to sea at once, but after relieving and strengthening the garrison, he went back to Lisbon for stores and provisions, and coming again into Gibraltar Bay on 25 Oct., surprised there an enemy's squadron of three frigates and five smaller vessels, which he captured or destroyed. Then having intelligence that the French fleet was on the point of returning in force, and being apprehensive for the safety of a fleet of transports destined for Gibraltar, he put to sea in order to convoy it in; but learning that it had got safely to Gibraltar, he went on to Lisbon. He was there reinforced by Sir Thomas Dilkes [q. v.], and by a number of Dutch and Portuguese ships, so that in March 1704–5 he put to sea with a fleet of thirty-five sail of the line. Coming into Gibraltar Bay on the 10th, he found there five French ships of the line, which were all captured or destroyed (Troude, i. 256–7). The rest of the French fleet, which had been blown out to sea, had taken shelter in Malaga Roads, but hearing of the presence of the English in such force, they shipped their cables and made the best of their way to Toulon. Leake had meanwhile gone to Malaga in quest of them, and did not get back to Gibraltar till the 31st. Five days afterwards the enemy raised the siege, in commemoration of which the Prince of Hesse presented Leake with a gold cup. Leake then returned to Lisbon, where in June he was joined by the fleet from England under Shovell and the Earl of Peterborough. He again hoisted his flag on board the Prince George, and as second in command took part in the operations leading up to the capture of Barcelona. After which Shovell, with the greater part of the fleet, returned to England, leaving the command with Leake, who arrived at Lisbon on 16 Jan. 1705–6.

He sailed thence on 27 Feb. to attack the galeons at Cadiz fitting for the West Indies. These had, however, been warned of his intention, and had sailed on the 25th. It appears that he then cruised to the westward for three weeks (Burchett, p. 690); but on 22 March he received an order from the Earl of Peterborough—who held a commission as commander-in-chief jointly with Sir Clowdisley Shovell [see Mordaunt, Charles, third Earl of Peterborough]—to bring the fleet at once off Valencia, and there land such troops, stores, and money as he might have for the army. Of troops and stores he had at that time none, and the money he had already sent; but against an easterly wind he made the best of his way to Gibraltar, where he arrived on 30 March. There he was joined by Commodore Price with several ships of tne line, English and Dutch, and a considerable number of transports. But he also received letters from the Archduke Charles, the titular king of Spain, desiring him to hasten to Barcelona, then besieged by a French army, supported by the fleet from Toulon under the Count of Toulouse.

The easterly wind prevented his sailing till 13 April, and meantime he received another letter from Peterborough, dated 18 March, repeating the order for him to come to Valencia, and a third from King Charles, dated 20 March, reiterating the wish that he should make the best of his way to Barcelona. In a council of war it was decided that the king's business was the more pressing, and that they ought to take the troops to Barcelona. On 18 April the fleet was off Altea, where Leake received further orders from Peterborough, dated 27 March, to land the troops at Valencia. A few hours later another letter, dated 7 April, ordered that only part of the troops should be landed at Valencia, and that the rest should be put on shore at Tortosa, or at any rate not nearer Barcelona. A council of war again resolved in favour of the king; but as they had no intelligence of the strength of the French fleet, and were led to suppose that it was numerically superior, it was further resolved to wait till the following noon for Sir George Byng, who was expected from Lisbon with a strong reinforcement. The next day came news of Byng having been seen off Cape Gata, and on the forenoon of the 20th he joined the fleet, which immediately made sail for Barcelona. Unfortunately, they were now met by a fresh northerly wind, and after three days beating to windward, they were still off Altea on the 23rd, when they were joined by a further reinforcement under Captain (afterwards Sir Hovenden) Walker. The wind then came fair, and at daybreak on the 27th they were within a few leagues of Barcelona. Leake was now apprehensive that, on sight of the fleet, then numbering fifty-three sail of the line besides frigates, on the one hand, the Count of Toulouse would effect a hasty retreat, and on the other the enemy on land might deliver an assault and capture the place even then, before he could relieve it. A fast sailing squadron under Byng was therefore sent on in advance, to engage and detain the French fleet. The Count of Toulouse had, however, retired the day before, on the news of Leake's approach, And Byng, without opposition, landed a large body of troops, who marched at once to defend the breach.

At ten o'clock in the forenoon the Earl of Peterborough joined the fleet in a country boat, accompanied by other boats carrying some 1,400 soldiers. He went on board the Prince George and hoisted the union flag at the main, as commander-in-chief, Leslie's flag, as vice-admiral, remaining at the fore. But the relief of Barcelona had been already achieved. At two o'clock the fleet came into the roadstead ; Peterborough struck his flag and went ashore ; the troops were landed, and three days later the French raised the siege. From first to last, the relief was Leake's doing, not only without, but in defiance of Peterborough's orders. That Peterborough, at the time, admitted this is clear from the fact that no official reprimand for disobedience was given, no charge preferred, no order for' a court-martial issued; but many years afterwards he seems to have persuaded himself that it was he, Peterborough, who relieved Barcelona, in spite of the dilatory proceedings of Leake.

Towards the end of May, Leake, with the fleet, sailed from Barcelona, received the submission of Cartagena, and, in co-operation with the land forces, took the city of Alicante by storm and reduced the citadel, July and August. Majorca and Iviza surrendered in September, and on the 23rd Leake sailed for England, arriving at Portsmouth on 17 Oct. Both publicly and officially his reception was very flattering ; the queen made him a present of 1,000l., and the prince gave him a gold-hilted sword and a diamond ring valued at 400l. During 1707 he is said to have commanded in the Channel, but it does not appear that he was at sea ; the French fitted out no fleet, and were carrying on the war with predatory squadrons [cf. Acton, Edward; Balchen, Sir John]. Consequent on the death of Sir Clowdisley Shovell, Leake was promoted, on 8 Jan. 1707-8, to be admiral of the white, and on 15 Jan. to be admiral and commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, with the union flag at the main. On the passage out he fell in with and captured a large fleet of the enemy's victuallers, which he took to Barcelona, then threatened with famine as a result of the French victory at Almanza. When Leake landed to pay his respects to the king, he was received with almost royal honours. He then, at the kind's request, went to Vado and brought back the newly married queen and a large reinforcement of troops. On landing at Barcelona, the queen presented Leake with a diamond ring of the value of 300l. The fleet afterwards co-operated with the troops in the reduction of Sardinia and Minorca, and in the end of October Leake returned to England. On 25 Dec. 1708 he received a new commission as admiral and commander-in-chief from the Earl of Pembroke, and on 20 May 1709 was appointed by patent rear-admiral of Great Britain. No fleet worthy of his rank was, however, fitted out ; and after one or two suggested expeditions had been given up, Leake was sent to cruise in the Channel, in command of a squadron of only five ships. It is said that on his return he complained of this as derogatory to his rank ; and that, in consequence, the Earl of Pembroke was removed from the post of lord high admiral. But there is no real reason for supposing that a trivial mistake of this kind had anything to do with Pembroke's retirement [see Herbert, Thomas, Earl of Pembroke]; on which, in November 1709, Leake was appointed one of the lords of the admiralty. On the resignation of the Earl of Orford in the following vear, the queen nominated Leake to succeed him as first lord; Leake, however, declined the appointment, but accepted the extraordinary and, till then, unknown one of chairman of the board. In September 1712 the Earl of Strafford was appointed first lord of the admiralty, but the change was merely nominal, for Strafford was detained abroad as pleni potentiary at Utrecht, and Leake continued, as before, to act as chairman. Meantime, in 1711, he had for some months command of the fleet in the Channel ; and in July 1712 was sent to take possession of Dunkirk, according to the treaty. Though still commander-in-chief, it does not seem that he actually hoisted his flag in 1713. From 1708 to 1714 he represented the city of Rochester in three successive parliaments.

Leake's appointment as chairman of the board of admiralty and the patent as rear-admiral of Great Britain died with the queen, and they were not renewed by George I. Leake, though nominally a whig, had kept himself clear from the bitterness of faction. But the advisers of the king held that at that time there could be no neutrality ; and Leake, with many others, was practically shelved. He was granted a pension of 600l., which, in view of the high offices he had held, he considered paltry ; but he refused to allow his claims to be represented to the king, and retiring to a house which he had built near Greenwich, he died there on 21 Aug. 1720. He was buried in Stepney Church, under a monument which he had erected some years before, on the death of his wife.

He married Christian, daughter of Captain Richard Hill, and by her had one son, Richard, a captain in the navy, who died in March 1720, at the age of thirty-eight. His wife's sister, Elizabeth, married Stephen Martin, who served with Leake as midshipman of the Firedrake at Bantry Bay, as lieutenant of the Eagle at La Hogue, and as captain during the greater part of Leake's career as admiral. Martin is always spoken of as Leake's brother-in-law ; and his son, Stephen Martin Leake [q. v.], was Leake's adopted son and heir. JEe has described his uncle and father by adoption as ' of middle stature, well-set and strong, a little inclining to corpulency,' with a florid complexion, open countenance, and sharp, piercing eyes ; 'though he took his bottle freely, as was the custom in his time in the fleet, yet he was never disguised, or impaired his health by it;' 'a virtuous, humane, generous, and gallant man.' On his being returned for the third time for Rochester in 1713, he presented the corporation with his portrait, by De Coning ; it is now in the guildhall of Rochester (information from Mr. Prall, town clerk). Another portrait, by Kneller, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich. A third portrait, by Jonathan Richardson, is at Trinity House.

[The principal authority for the life of Leake is the Life by Stephen Martin Leake (privately printed, 1750), which, though written by a man roll of prejudice, and ignorant of much that belongs to the naval service and to naval history, appears to be largely based on Leake's papers, and, as such, is by no means deserving of the very sweeping condemnation given it by Lord Stanhope in his History of the War of the Succession in Spain, solely on the ground that its statements are at variance with those in Carleton's Military Memoirs, and that it exalts Leake's reputation at the expense of Peterborough's, especially in the matter of the relief of Barcelona and the capture of Alicante. But if Lord Stanhope had examined the official correspondence he would have found that Martin Leake's story is fully substantiated, and that the account in Carleton s Memoirs is so wide of the truth as to destroy all their claim to credit. Unfortunately the originals of this correspondence cannot be found, with the exception of one letter dated 24 March, 1705-6, Cape Spartel E.b.S. IS. 15 leagues,' enclosing a copy of Peterborough's order dated 'Valencia, 10 March, 1705-6' (Home Office Records, Admiralty, No. 18). This, however, in conjunction with the original papers printed in Dr. Freind's Account of the Ean of Feterborough's Conduct in Spain, chiefly since the raising the siege of Barcelona in 1706 (1707 ; by a dependent, and altogether in favour of Peterborough), compared with Impartial Remarks on the Earl of Peterborough's Conduct (1707; in answer to the preceding), and with the neutral narrative of the secretary of the admiralty in Burchett's Transactions at Sea, checks and confirms the correspondence as printed, either by, or, at any rate, with the sanction of Leake himself, in An Impartial Enquiry into the Management of the War in Spain (1712). The memoirs in the Naval Chronicle (xvi. 441) and in Charnock's Biog. Nav. (ii. 166) are mere abstracts of the Life by Martin Leake, and have no original value. The account of the transactions in the Mediterranean given by Lord Stanhope in the War of the Succession in Spain, or the History of Queen Anne, is derived entirely from Carleton's Memoirs, and from a biographical point of view has no value at all. Macaulay's well-known description of the relief of Barcelona in his essay on the War of the Succession in Spain is merely a lively paraphrase of the story as told by Stanhope. Colonel Arthur Parnell, in his War of the Succession in Spain, is the only modern writer who has given weight to the Impartial Enquiry, &c. ; and his criticism on the historical demerits of Carleton's Memoirs is quite in accordance with the independent opinion of the present writer. From a professional point of view the strategy of Leake's several campaigns, as described by Burchett, has been recently examined by Admiral P. H. Colomb, in Naval Warfare (1891). See also Campbell's Lives of the Admirals, vol. iii. ; Lediard's Naval History; Burnet's History of his own Time; Troude's Batailles navales de la France ; commission and warrant books and list books in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.