Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peyton, Edward (d.1749)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

PEYTON, EDWARD (d. 1749), commodore, entered the navy in 1707 as a volunteer per order on board the Scarborough. He afterwards served as a volunteer on board the Kingston in the expedition to the St. Lawrence in 1711, and as a midshipman in the Aldborough and Elizabeth. He passed his examination on 4 Aug. 1715, and on 30 April 1727 was promoted by Sir Charles Wager [q. v.] to be a lieutenant of the Royal Oak in the fleet off Cadiz. In July 1728 he was appointed to the Gibraltar, and in June 1734 to the Dursley galley. On 4 April 1740 he was promoted to be captain of the Greyhound frigate on the home and Lisbon station. He afterwards commanded the Kennington on the Lisbon station and in the Mediterranean, and early in 1744 was appointed to the 60-gun ship Medway, one of the squadron under Commodore Curtis Barnett [q. v.], which sailed in May for the East Indies. After leaving Madagascar, the Medway, with the Diamond frigate in company, was sent to blockade the Straits of Malacca, where she captured a large French merchant ship, which was added to the squadron as a 40-gun ship of war under the name of the Medway's Prize.

On Barnett's death, 2 May 1746, the command devolved on Peyton, who, on receiving intelligence of a French squadron having come on the coast, sailed from Fort St. David's to look for it. On 25 June he fell in with it off Negapatam, superior in number of ships and men to that with Peyton, but inferior in discipline, equipment, and in all the qualities which distinguish ships of war from merchant vessels. It consisted, in fact, of such ships as La Bourdonnais, the governor of Mauritius, had been able to get together and equip out of the resources of the colony, manned to a great extent by negroes, and commanded by himself, a retired merchant captain. But of this Peyton was ignorant; he had with him but six ships, one of which was a 20-gun frigate; and seeing before him a squadron of nine large ships, which, by means of paint and quakers, appeared to carry more guns than they did, he avoided coming to close action. After a distant cannonade the two squadrons separated for the night. The next day the position was the same; the French lay-to waiting for the English to attack, and Peyton, still under the impression that the enemy's force was vastly superior, called a council of war, and, without difficulty, obtained from it a resolution in favour of retiring to Trincomalee.

La Bourdonnais, on his part, went to Pondicherry, where he hoped to obtain guns, powder, provisions, and other necessary stores. These, however, were refused by the jealousy of Dupleix, the French governor-general, and La Bourdonnais, having refitted as he best could, sailed in quest of Peyton, whom he met on 6 Aug. again off Negapatam. For three days La Bourdonnais vainly endeavoured to bring him to close action, and then returned to Pondicherry. Peyton made the best of his way to the Hooghly, where he remained, though he knew that Madras was exposed to attack. It was captured on 10 Sept., and on 3 Oct. a hurricane caught La Bourdonnais's ships in the open roadstead, and wrecked, shattered, or dispersed them. But even the knowledge of this disaster could not tempt Peyton south, and he was still in the Hooghly in December, when Commodore Thomas Griffin [q. v.] arrived as successor to Barnett.

Griffin, on understanding the state of affairs, put Peyton under arrest and sent him to England, where, as no charges were preferred against him, he was released. He died shortly afterwards, on 4 April 1749; 'oppressed,' according to Charnock, 'with grief and indignation at the treatment he had experienced.' He was married, and had issue, with others, a son Joseph, who died an admiral in 1804 and left numerous descendants to the navy [see Peyton, Sir John Strutt]. Charnock, who may be considered as representing the opinion of Admiral John Forbes [q. v.], who must have known Peyton personally, considers that Peyton's conduct was not reprehensible. It is quite possible that Peyton was not wanting in personal courage; it can scarcely be doubted that he was wanting both in the judgment and in the high moral courage needed in an efficient commander.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. v. 55; Commission and Warrant Books and Passing Certificate in the Public Record Office; a Narrative of the Transactions of the British squadrons in the East Indies during the late war. … By an officer who served in those squadrons (8vo, 1751); Orme's Hist. of the Military Transactions … in Indostan, 2nd edit., i. 63; Mémoire pour le Sieur de la Bourdonnais, avec les pièces justificatives (1750), pp. 40 et seq.; Mémoires historiques de B. F. Mahé de la Bourdonnais … recueillis et publiés par son petit-fils (1827), pp. 60 et seq.]

J. K. L.