Louis, Thomas (DNB00)

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LOUIS, Sir THOMAS (1759–1807), rear-admiral, a native of Exeter, born in 1759, entered the navy in 1770 on board the Fly sloop with Commander Graham, from which in 1771 he was moved into the Southampton frigate with Captain John Macbride [q. v.] In 1774 he was in the Kent, and in 1775 in the Thetis again with Graham, at that time a captain. On 18 July 1777 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Bienfaisant, again with Macbride, and in her was present in the action off Ushant on 27 July 1778; the Channel cruise of 1779; the defeat of Langara off Cape St. Vincent on 16 Jan. 1780, and the consequent relief of Gibraltar. Louis was appointed prize-master of the Phœnix, the Spanish flagship, which had struck to the Bienfaisant, with instructions to take her to Gibraltar, a task of great difficulty, in her shattered condition and in stormy weather, but he safely carried it out. Rodney then gave him an acting order, as captain of the Phœnix, to take her to England. The commission was not confirmed, and Louis returned to the Bienfaisant. He was still in her when, on 13 Aug. 1780, she captured the Comte d'Artois off the Old Head of Kinsale. In January 1781 he followed Macbride to the Artois, and on 9 April was promoted to command the Mackworth, armed vessel, employed during the year in the protection of the coasting trade. He was afterwards regulating captain, on the impress service, at Sligo till he was advanced to post rank on 20 Jan. 1783. During the peace he remained on half-pay, residing at Torquay; but in 1793 he was appointed to the Quebec frigate, as flag-captain to Macbride, now a rear-admiral and commander-in-chief in the Downs. He afterwards commanded the Cumberland, and in 1794 the Minotaur, in the squadron under Rear-admiral George Montagu [q. v.] During the following years the Minotaur was attached to the Channel fleet under Lord Howe or Lord Bridport; but towards the end of 1797 she was sent to join the Mediterranean fleet then off Cadiz, and was one of the ships under Captain Thomas Troubridge [q. v.] which in June 1798 reinforced the small squadron under Sir Horatio Nelson [q. v.], and won the battle of the Nile on 1–2 Aug. On that night the Minotaur anchored next ahead of the Vanguard, and supported her in a manner which called forth the warmest praise of Nelson. The latter had just received a severe wound in the head, and at the time believed it to be mortal. He desired Captain Berry to hail the Minotaur and tell Louis to come to see him. He could not die, he said, till he had thanked him for his conduct.

Louis continued under the immediate orders of Nelson during 1799, employed in the operations on the coast of Italy, and especially in the reduction of Gaeta and Civita Vecchia (cf. Nicolas, iii. 433), for which service the king of Naples conferred on him the order of St. Ferdinand and Merit. After the burning of the Queen Charlotte in March 1800, Lord Keith hoisted his flag on board the Minotaur during the siege of Genoa [see Elphinstone, George Keith, Viscount Keith]. Keith afterwards moved into the Foudroyant, but the Minotaur continued under his command, and was present in the operations on the coast of Egypt in 1801. In 1802 Louis returned to England, and was placed on half-pay. On the renewal of the war he was appointed to the Conqueror, but was shortly afterwards, 23 April 1804, promoted to be rear-admiral, and with his flag in the Leopard, commanded off Boulogne during the year. In March 1805 he was sent out in the Ambuscade frigate to join Nelson off Toulon; he then hoisted his flag on board the Canopus of 80 guns (Nicolas, vi. 374), and took part in the chase of the allied fleet to the West Indies and back. Still in the Canopus he was, in October, with the fleet off Cadiz, and was sent with a detachment of six ships to fill up with water and fresh provisions at Gibraltar and Tangier. The night before he left he dined with Nelson on board the Victory, and on taking leave, said, ‘You are sending us away, my lord; the enemy will come out, and we shall have no share in the battle,’ to which Nelson replied, ‘My dear Louis, I have no other means of keeping my fleet complete in provisions and water but by sending them in detachments to Gibraltar. The enemy will come out, and we shall fight them, but there will be time for you to get back first. I look upon Canopus as my right hand, and I send you first to insure your being here to help to beat them’ (ib. vii. 63 n.) The news of these ships being at Gibraltar, however, reached Villeneuve on the 18th, and was apparently the determining cause of his putting to sea on the 19th; on the 21st the battle of Trafalgar was fought in Louis's absence.

In November the Canopus was one of the squadron left before Cadiz under Sir John Thomas Duckworth [q. v.], which went with him to the West Indies, and fought the battle of St. Domingo on 6 Feb. 1806, a brilliant piece of service, for which Louis, as second in command, was rewarded with a baronetcy, and was presented by the committee of the patriotic fund with a vase valued at 300l. From the West Indies Louis, still in the Canopus, joined Lord Collingwood before Cadiz, and in November was detached, in command of a small squadron, to examine the defences of the Dardanelles (James, iv. 214), as a preliminary to the forcing the passage by the squadron under Duckworth in February 1807. On the return through the Strait on 3 March the Canopus was struck by some of the huge stone shot fired by the Turks; her wheel was carried away, and her hull much damaged, but she had only three men wounded. The squadron afterwards went on the coast of Egypt, and was left by Duckworth under the command of Louis. But Louis died on board the Canopus on 17 May 1807.

Louis married in 1784 Jacquetta, daughter of Samuel Belfield; she died in 1824, having issue three daughters and four sons, the eldest of whom, Sir John Louis, the second baronet, died an admiral in 1863. The second son, Matthew, was a colonel in the royal artillery. In the earlier navy lists, in which Louis's name appears as a lieutenant, it is spelt Lewis; but whether he himself so wrote it is doubtful. As a captain he certainly wrote it Louis. A miniature, belonging to the family, was lent to the Naval Exhibition of 1891.

[Naval Chron. (with an engraved portrait), xvi. 177; Georgian Era, ii. 524; Nicolas's Despatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, freq. (see Index at the end of vol. vii.); James's Naval Hist. (edit. of 1860).]

J. K. L.