Mathews, Thomas (DNB00)

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MATHEWS, THOMAS (1676–1751), admiral, eldest son of Colonel Edward Mathews (d. 1700), and of Jane, daughter of Sir Thomas Armstrong [q. v.], was born in October 1676 at Llandaff Court, the seat of the family for many generations, now the palace of the bishops of Llandaff. He entered the navy about 1690, on board the Albemarle with Sir Francis Wheler. It is uncertain whether he was in her at the battle of Beachy Head; it is believed that he was at the battle of Barfleur. In 1697 he was a volunteer in the Portland with Captain James Littleton [q. v.], and on 31 Oct. 1699 was promoted by Vice-admiral Aylmer to be a lieutenant of the Boyne, his flagship in the Mediterranean (Add. MS. 28124). On 15 March 1699–1700, on the king's direction to the admiralty to appoint Mathews as a lieutenant to the Deal Castle, he was called before the board, and deposed that before he had been appointed by Aylmer to act as a lieutenant, he had been examined and had passed (Admiralty Minutes); there is no mention of any certificate. In 1703 he was with Graydon in the West Indies, and was promoted by him to be captain of the Yarmouth. He took post from 24 May 1703. In 1704 he commanded the Kinsale in the Channel, and in October 1708 was appointed to the Gloucester, from which he was moved shortly afterwards to the Chester, a new ship of 50 guns. In the spring of 1709 the Chester was attached to the Channel fleet under Lord Berkeley, when it fell in, on the Soundings, with the little squadron of Du Guay Trouin. Trouin himself in the Achille escaped, though with difficulty; but his prize, the Bristol, was regained, and the Gloire, overtaken by the Chester, was brought to action and captured (Laughton, Studies in Naval History, p. 322). In 1710 the Chester was part of the force under Commodore George Martin for the reduction of Nova Scotia, and covered the main attack; when Martin went home, Mathews remained as senior officer, and the following summer joined the fleet under Sir Hovenden Walker [q. v.] at Boston. The Chester was then sent to convoy some transports to New York, and, having been a good deal shattered in a heavy gale, was afterwards ordered to make the best of her way to England.

For the next few years Mathews settled down at Llandaff Court, but in January 1717–18 he was appointed to the Prince Frederick, apparently to wait till the Kent was ready. On 31 March 1718 he took command of the Kent, which went out to the Mediterranean in the fleet under Sir George Byng, afterwards Viscount Torrington [q. v.], and had a distinguished share in the action off Cape Passaro, materially assisting in the capture of the Spanish admiral [cf. Master, Streynsham]. After the battle Mathews was detached in command of a small squadron in the more especial object of closely blockading Messina, and intercepting George Camocke [q. v.], rear-admiral in the Spanish service, if he should attempt to escape. In January, however, Camocke did manage to escape in a small boat, and during the next eighteen months the service of the different detachments of the fleet was practically limited to the blockade of Sicily. In the autumn of 1720 Mathews returned to England with the admiral. From 1722 to 1724 he commanded a squadron in the East Indies against the pirates. His efforts, however, were unavailing. The pirates were, indeed, somewhat overawed by the neighbourhood of the king's ships, and their ravages ceased for the time; but their strongholds were unassailable, and they repulsed an attempt on the island of Kolaba, a little to the southward of Bombay, made by the squadron in co-operation with a body of Portuguese troops from Goa.

On his return in 1724 Mathews again settled down to a country life at Llandaff, virtually retired from the service, and was passed over in the promotions to flag rank. The purchase of an estate formerly belonging to the family and the wish to rebuild the house would seem to have determined him to accept the burden together with the emoluments of office; and in 1736 he was appointed commissioner of the navy at Chatham, an employment then understood as distinctly civil. When, however, war with Spain broke out and war with France appeared imminent, Mathews obtained the restoration of his rank, involving promotion at one step, 13 March 1741–2, to be vice-admiral of the red, and his appointment as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and plenipotentiary to the king of Sardinia and the States of Italy.

A man at the age of sixty-six, thus undertaking new duties and the renewal of long-forgotten and imperfect experiences, could scarcely have been expected to succeed without the goodwill and hearty co-operation of his subordinates; and this the government neglected to secure for him. Rear-admiral Lestock [q. v.], then in temporary command in the Mediterranean, had been for some years senior officer in the Medway while Mathews was commissioner at Chatham, and their relations had not been friendly. It was said that Mathews, on accepting the command, stipulated that Lestock should be recalled; and though the matter was perhaps not put thus crudely, we have his own statement to the Duke of Newcastle that ‘I took the liberty of giving your Grace my opinion in regard to Mr. Lestock before I left England. I did the same to Lord Winchelsea and Lord Carteret’ (Mathews to the Duke of Newcastle, 3 Jan. 1743–4). Lestock, however, was not recalled, and the ill-feeling which showed itself at once on Mathews's arrival was only prevented from breaking out in open quarrel by the fact that Mathews's duties at Turin kept him very much away from the fleet. But they also kept him away from the exercise of the command. He had never been at sea with the fleet, and was a comparative stranger to every officer under his command when the combined fleets of France and Spain sailed from Toulon on 10 Feb. 1743–4, and stood towards the south in a long and straggling line ahead. The English fleet left Hyères roadstead at the same time, closely attending on the allies; but during the 10th they never succeeded in getting into line, though the signal to form line was kept up all the time, and was still up when night fell. Mathews then made the signal to bring to, intending that the several ships should first get into their station; and those in the van and centre so understood it and obeyed it in that sense. Lestock, with the ships of the rear division, brought to where he was, some miles astern, and drifted still further away during the night.

At daybreak on the 11th the rear was separated from the rest of the fleet by a gap which was scarcely lessened during the whole day. Mathews wished to wait for Lestock's ships to close up, but found the allies slipping away to the southward and likely to escape him. This, he quite well understood, was what they wanted to do. Between France and England war had not been declared, and the primary object of the French fleet was to lend its support to the Spanish to break the blockade; if that could be done without fighting, so much the better. But besides that, the French also intended, or Mathews believed that they intended, to make for the Straits of Gibraltar, to join the Brest fleet, and thus the more effectually to cover the invasion to be attempted from Dunkirk [see Norris, Sir John, d. 1749]. This it was Mathews's obvious duty to prevent. It was therefore impossible for him to allow the allies to get away to the south while he was waiting for Lestock. He was obliged to fight, and at once. About one o'clock he made the signal to engage; and in the Namur, closely followed by Captain James Cornewall [q. v.] in the Marlborough, ran down towards the rear of the allies, and brought the Spanish admiral to close action. In doing this, however, he neglected to haul down the signal for the line of battle; the two signals were flying simultaneously, and, under the existing circumstances, were irreconcilable. No one knew what to do. Those whose heads were clear and hearts were sound did close the enemy and engage [see Hawke, Edward, Lord Hawke]; but many were muddle-headed, some were perhaps shy, and Lestock—it was averred—was wickedly glad to see his commander-in-chief in difficulties, and would do nothing to help him out. Thus left to themselves, the Namur and Marlborough suffered very severely, and though they beat the Spanish ships opposed to them out of the line, the Marlborough was dismasted and the Namur temporarily disabled.

About five o'clock the French tacked to the assistance of the Spaniards. The ships of the English van thought that the object of this manœuvre was to double on and overwhelm them, and tacked to the northward [see West, Temple]. There were no directing signals; the admiral had apparently lost his head, and no one ventured to take his place. A sort of panic set in, and the English fleet fled to the northward, the French appearing to chase them, but in reality intent only on rescuing the Spaniards. The Spaniards even neglected to secure the Marlborough, disabled, deserted, and wellnigh defenceless though she was. They did, however, recapture the Poder, and, content with that and with having saved the Spanish admiral, turned back, steering again to the southward. The English, on the other hand, continued during the night standing to the north; it was only towards daybreak of the 12th that they recovered themselves, and turned to the south, following the enemy in line of battle. The enemy now had no inclination to stay; but several of their ships were disabled and in tow; the Poder, which was the worst, they abandoned to the English, and she was burnt by Mathews's order. Still, the allies' retreat was very much hampered by the other crippled ships, and by nightfall the English fleet, in fair line, was within three or four miles of them, when Mathews again made the signal to bring to. At daybreak on the 13th the enemy was almost out of sight to the south-west; Mathews gave up the chase, and, after trying to get back to Hyères roads, finally reached Port Mahon in the early days of March. His health had been for some time failing, and in August 1744 he was allowed to resign the command and to return home overland.

As the result of the battle the blockade was fairly broken; reinforcements and supplies were sent to the Spanish army in Italy, and the course of the war was turned in favour of the allies. But what specially enraged the people of England was the too evident fact that the English fleet had met a Franco-Spanish fleet of inferior force, and had gained no decisive advantage over it, if, indeed, it had not been worsted. Feeling, both afloat and ashore, ran exceedingly high; and the House of Commons in 1745 passed an address to the king praying that an official inquiry might be held. There were, in consequence, a great many courts-martial; some ten or a dozen captains were tried for misconduct and cashiered. Lestock, who in popular opinion was the main, if not the sole cause of the miscarriage, was acquitted, promoted, and employed again. Mathews was also tried in 1746 on charges preferred against him by Lestock, charges of having taken the fleet into action in an irregular and confused manner, of having neglected to give the necessary orders, of having fled from the enemy, and of having afterwards given up the chase when there was every prospect of being able to bring the enemy to action on advantageous terms. And these charges were all maintained by the evidence. It was alleged in his favour that Mathews had fought bravely; it was proved against him that he had deserted the Marlborough, the Poder, and the Berwick; and after a trial of unprecedented length he was sentenced to be dismissed the service, June 1747. Meantime Mathews was busying himself at Llandaff Court, building a new house in place of the old one, which he had directed to be pulled down while he was in the Mediterranean. And the result of the trial seems to have affected him little. He believed the sentence to be iniquitous, and the outcome of parliamentary faction (cf. Walpole, Letters, i. 350)—with which, indeed, in its final stage, it seems to have had nothing to do—and he did not regard it as a reflection on his honour. In 1749, feeling himself in failing health, he settled in Bloomsbury Square, London, and there he died 2 Oct. 1751. He was buried in St. George's, Bloomsbury.

Both in his public and private capacities, by his friends and his enemies, Mathews is described as a choleric old man of the traditional John Bull type. ‘I dare to say,’ wrote Walpole to Mann, ‘Mathews believes that Providence lives upon beef and pudding, loves prize-fighting and bull-baiting, and drinks fog to the health of Old England’ (ib. i. 207); and again, speaking of the debate in 1745 in the House of Commons, ‘Mathews remains in the light of a hot, brave, imperious, dull, confused fellow’ (ib. i. 350). Horace Mann [q. v.], who felt personally injured by the diplomatic mission which had been added to Mathews's naval duties, and who stood aghast at the way in which the neutrality of Naples had been won [see Martin, William, (1696?–1756)], wrote: ‘'Tis wonderful how void Admiral Mathews is of common sense, good manners, or knowledge of the world. He understands nothing but Yes or No, and knows no medium’ (Doran, Mann and Manners, i. 157); and again: ‘Mathews has sent me a ridiculous note wrote by the claw of a great lobster, by way of thanks for a present I sent him of some Cedrati and Marzolini cheeses, which are more delicate than our cream cheeses in England. “I am much obligd to you for yr kinde present. the sweetmeats is good; so, sayes sume of my Gentlmn is the cheeses. but its to good for me. I love nothing after the French fashion”’ (ib.) As a matter of fact, however, Mathews's writing and spelling were much better than those of most naval officers or country squires of the time; and while Walpole and his correspondents spoke of him as ‘Il Furibondo,’ irascible in temper and brutal in manners, those who knew him well described him as hot-tempered indeed, and sometimes brusque, but warm-hearted, kindly, and affectionate; a clear-sighted magistrate, a capable farmer, and a keen sportsman.

He was twice married: first in 1705 to Henrietta, daughter of S. Burgess of Antigua; she died about 1740, leaving issue one son, Thomas, a major in the army; secondly, about 1745, to Millicent, daughter of Rawdon Powell of Glamorganshire. His portrait, painted during his residence at Chatham, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich. It represents him in the laced blue coat with red facings and the red waistcoat affected by naval officers before the prescription of uniform, and gives the idea of being a good likeness. It has been engraved.

[A memoir in the Red Dragon, the National Magazine of Wales (December 1884), vi. 481, is written with familiar knowledge of the family history, by a connection of the family, who has also kindly supplied some further particulars. That in Charnock's Biog. Nav. iii. 252, is very imperfect. Official letters and minutes of the courts-martial in the Public Record Office; Low's Hist. of the Indian Navy, i. 101 et seq.; Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs, vol. i.; Doran's Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence, vol. i. freq.; Walpole's Letters (Cunningham), vol. i. freq.; Troude's Batailles Navales de la France, i. 291; Rivière's La Marine française sous le Règne de Louis XV, p. 175; Brun's Guerres maritimes de la France, Port de Toulon, tom. i. livres x. et xi.; Vida de D. Juan Josef Navarro, por D. Josef de Vargas y Ponce. The charge and finding of the court-martial have been published; so also has the correspondence between Mathews and Lestock after the battle; and there are many pamphlets relating to the Mediterranean command, mostly scurrilous and worthless; a fairly complete set of them is in the library of the Royal United Service Institution.]

J. K. L.