Royal Naval Biography/Bickerton, Richard Hussey

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Baronet; Admiral of the White; Lieutenant-General of the Royal Marines; Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; Knight of the Imperial Ottoman Order of the Crescent; a Vice-President of the Naval Charitable Society; and Fellow of the Royal Society.

The immediate founder of this family was a Captain in the 4th regiment of Dragoons, and signalized himself in Flanders, where he died. The subject of the following memoir is the only surviving son of the late Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton, Bart. M.P.[1] by Marie-Anne, daughter of Thomas Hussey, of Wrexham in Denbighshire, Esq.; was born Oct. 11, 1759; entered the naval service in Dec. 1771 as a Midshipman on board the Marlborough 74, commanded by his father, with whom he removed, Oct. 1773, into the Princess Augusta yacht; and from her was discharged, June 1774, into the Medway, of 60 guns, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Mann, Commander-in-Chief on the Mediterranean station, with whom he continued till 1776, and was then lent to the Enterprise frigate, commanded by Sir Thomas Rich, as affording a better opportunity for him to learn his duty. He afterwards joined the Invincible, of 74 guns, Captain Hyde Parker, and returned to England in Nov. 1777.

In December, 1777, Mr. Bickerton was made a Lieutenant, and appointed to the Prince George; but soon after left that ship, and accompanied Captain Middleton (afterwards Lord Barham), into the Jupiter, of 50 guns.

On the 20th Oct. 1778, the Jupiter, then commanded by Captain Reynolds, afterwards Lord Ducie, being on a cruise in the Bay of Biscay, in company with the Medea, a small frigate, fell in with the Triton, a French line-of-battle ship. At 5 P.M. the Jupiter brought the enemy to close action, in which she was joined by the Medea; but unfortunately, at the commencement of the engagement, a 36-pound shot entered the bow of the latter, under water, and compelled her to bring to, for the purpose of stopping the leak it had occasioned. Captain Reynolds, however, continued the action with great bravery till eight o’clock, when the French ship made sail, and bore away for Ferrol; where it was reported that she arrived, with the loss of her Captain, and 200 men killed and wounded. The gallantry of Captain Reynolds and his officers was greatly enhanced by the circumstance of the Medea having been totally prevented from affording him any effectual assistance.

On the return of the Jupiter to England, Captain Reynolds made a point of recommending all his officers, and obtained the rank of Commander for his first Lieutenant, Mr. Bickerton; a sufficient proof of the able and proper manner in which that gentleman had conducted himself.

At the close of 1779, a squadron, under Captain Charles Fielding, was sent to intercept a fleet of Dutch merchantmen, said to be destined to France, laden with warlike stores. On the 2d Jan. 1780, they were discovered a little to the westward of the Isle of Wight, escorted by two ships of the line and two frigates, commanded by Admiral Count Byland. The British Commodore desired that he might be allowed to search the merchant vessels, which the Count persisted in refusing, and fired at the boats in their attempt to board them; to resent which insult the Commodore ordered a shot to be directed a-head of the Dutch Admiral, who instantly discharged a broadside into the Namur, and upon her returning it, struck his colours. On this occasion the Commodore employed Captain Bickerton, then in the Swallow sloop of war, to assist him in detaining such Dutch ships as might fall in his way, and expressed himself highly pleased with the vigilance he displayed. Seven of the merchant vessels, laden with naval stores, were detained, and Count Byland was given to understand, that he was at liberty to hoist his colours and prosecute his voyage with the remainder. The Dutch Admiral accepted the former part of the proposal, and saluted the British flag, but declined proceeding without the whole of the vessels, and sailed into Spithead. From the darkness of the night, many of the transports with stores escaped, and got safe into Brest.

Towards the end of the same year, the Swallow was ordered to the West Indies; and in Feb. 1781, Captain Bickerton was present at the capture of St. Eustatia, by the naval and military forces, under the respective commands of Sir George Rodney, and General Vaughan[2].

On the 8th of the same month, Captain Bickerton was posted into the Gibraltar, of 80 guns; and in the skirmish which took place between the British and French fleets under the respective commands of Sir Samuel Hood and the Count de Grasse, April 29th following, he commanded the Invincible, of 74 guns[3].

Captain Bickerton was subsequently appointed in succession to the Russel, and Terrible, both 74’s; but finding the latter unfit for service, he exchanged into the Amazon frigate, and was ordered to England. The Amazon was paid off in the month of February, 1782. In September following, he obtained the command of the Brune, another frigate; but in consequence of the peace which took place in 1783, she was soon after put out of commission.

Our officer was not called upon again till January 1787, when he commissioned the Sybil, and proceeded to the Leeward Islands; on which station he remained, under the orders of that excellent officer, the late Sir William Parker, till the year 1790; but as general tranquillity then prevailed throughout Europe, he was not concerned in any transaction immediately deserving of record.

In February 1792, he succeeded to the title, on the demise of his father[4]; and in the following year commanded the Ruby, of 64 guns. He afterwards removed to the Ramillies, 74, and cruised with Lord Howe, in the Bay of Biscay, during the autumn of 1794.

In Oct. 1794, the Ramillies carried General Sir John Vaughan to the West Indies, where she continued till July, 1795, and was then ordered to Newfoundland, from whence she returned to England in the month of November following. During the whole of the ensuing year, Sir Richard Bickerton served in the North Sea, under Admiral Duncan. In 1797, he was appointed to the Terrible, of 74 guns, forming part of the Channel fleet, at that period commanded by Lord Brwlport, on which service he continued till promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral, Feb. 14, 1799. In the autumn of that year, he hoisted his flag at Portsmouth, as Assistant PortAdmiral; a situation requiring an extraordinary degree of vigilance and activity.

On the 13th May, 1800, Sir Richard sailed for the Mediterranean, in the Seahorse, being appointed to a command on that station, under Lord Keith. The lamented Generals Abercromby and Moore, and the present Lord Hutchinson, were passengers on board the same frigate.

Previous to the expedition against the French in Egypt, Sir Richard Bickerton was employed during a period of five months in the blockade of Cadiz; he afterwards proceeded with Lord Keith to Alexandria, which port he blockaded until it surrendered to the British arms.

The naval and military Commanders-in-Chief, in their public despatches, speak in the most honourable terms of the vigilance, activity, and judicious conduct, of all the sea-officers who were employed to co-operate with the army on this expedition; and Lord Keith, in his letter to the Admiralty, Sept. 2, 1801, bears the following liberal testimony to the merits of the subject of this memoir, and the officers who were immediately under his command; “The Captains and Commanders of the ships appointed for guarding the port, have executed that tedious and anxious duty with diligence and success. During my absence from the squadron, the blockade has been conducted much to my satisfaction by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton.”

On the news of peace arriving in Egypt, Lord Keith returned to England, leaving our officer at Alexandria, to superintend the embarkation of the French army; a service that was conducted with so much celerity, as to excite from the republican General Menou, not only his grateful acknowledgments, but the flattering compliment that “the vigilance of Sir Richard’s squadron had accelerated the reduction of that place, as it cut them off from all supply.”

During the Rear-Admiral’s stay in Egypt, he had the honor of being invested by the Capitan Pacha, with the insignia of the Turkish Order of the Crescent. The ceremony was performed on the spot where the battle was fought, which decided the fate of that country[5].

During the short-lived peace, Sir Richard Bickerton commanded in the Mediterranean, with his flag in the Kent, of 74 guns. On the 23d April, 1804, he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral of the Red, and about the same time hoisted his flag on board the Royal Sovereign, a first rate; and when Lord Nelson went in pursuit of the combined squadrons to the West Indies, he was left by his Lordship to command on that station[6]. In the spring of 1805, he was called upon to take a seat at the Board of Admiralty, where he remained until the early part of 1812, at which period he succeeded Sir Roger Curtis, as Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. During his stay at that port, a large fleet was assembled at Spithead, for the purpose of being reviewed by his present Majesty, then Prince Regent, and the allied monarchs[7]. Previous to the departure of the Duke of Clarence, who commanded on that occasion, H.R.H. issued the following, in general orders:

“H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence cannot quit this anchorage, and resign the command of the distinguished Officers, Seamen, and Royal Marines, he has had under him, on this particular and very flattering occasion, without expressing his entire approbation of the Attention that has been shewn by all descriptions of officers and men whilst under his orders.

“If H.R.H. does not particularize individuals, it is only because he has every reason to be most perfectly satisfied with the conduct of all; but H.R.H. nevertheless must express his particular thanks to Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton, Bart., and also to Rear-Admiral the Hon. Henry Blackwood, Captain of the Fleet, for their marked attention and great assistance on this occasion. Impregnable, June 25, 1814.”

Our officer was promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral, Nov. 9, 1805; Admiral, July 31, 1810; nominated a K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and succeeded the late Sir Richard Onslow as Lieutenant-General of the Royal Marines, Jan. 5, 1818[8]. He married, Sept. 25, 1788, Anne, daughter of the late Dr. James Athill, of the island of Antigua.

Residence.– Upwood, in Huntingdonshire. A property which originally belonged to Henry Cromwell, Esq. a brother of Sir Oliver Cromwell, who lived there in quality of a justice of the peace.

  1. The late Sir Richard Bickerton was made a Lieutenant about the year 1745; became a Post-Captain in 1759; bore apart in the battle between Sir Edward Hughes and M. de Suffrein, June 20, 1783; was Commodore of the squadron at the Leeward Islands in 1786; and subsequently held the chief command at Plymouth. In 1773, when his late Majesty reviewed the fleet at Portsmouth, he had the honor of steering the royal barge, and on that occasion was knighted. His patent of Baronetcy bears date May 19, 1778. During his professional career, he repeatedly distinguished himself in a very eminent manner, nobly earning the honors which his Sovereign as liberally bestowed on him, anil which he transmitted unsullied to his son.
  2. Early in 1781, Sir George B. Rodney received intelligence of the commencement of hostilities between Great Britain and Holland, and instructions for the immediate attack of the Dutch settlements in the West Indies. These were executed with the same promptitude with which they had been conceived; and the island of St. Eustatia was taken possession of on the 3d Feb. A fine Dutch frigate, of 38 guns and 300 men, and five other vessels of war, from 14 to 26 guns each, all ready for sea, were taken in the road, together with upwards of one hundred and eighty sail of merchantmen, many of them richly laden.

    Sir George Rodney having learnt that a valuable Dutch fleet had sailed for Europe 36 hours previous to his arrival in the bay, despatched a small squadron in pursuit; by which means the whole were captured, and brought back to St. Eustatia. On the English Commodore, Reynolds, coming up with the enemy’s convoying ship, the Mars, of 54 guns, an action commenced, which lasted but for a few minutes; when the Dutch Commander being killed, she struck her colours.

    Soon after the capture of St. Eustatia, the island of Saba, St. Martin’s, and all the other Dutch colonies in that quarter, excepting Curaçoa, fell into the possession of Great Britain.

  3. See Retired Captain John N. Inglefield, in our next volume.
  4. The late Sir Richard Bickerton, at the period of his decease, was representative in parliament for the city of Rochester.
  5. The following is an account of the ceremony that took place on the occasion:

    On the morning of the 8th Oct. 1801, Sir Richard Bickerton, accompanied by the Turkish Admiral of the Gallies, and suite, and those officers of the British Navy who had been particularly selected, proceeded from General Hutchinson’s tent, to that of his Highness the Capitan Pacha, and were received by the whole Turkish line, under arms, with music playing and colours flying. The Capitan Pacha, attended by the Pacha of Egypt, the Chief-General of his Highness’s army, and the Reis Effendi, were seated upon a most magnificent sopha. The three latter rose at the approach of the British officers; but his Highness received them sitting. They were placed in chairs on each side of the sofa; Sir Richard Bickerton on the right of the Capitan Pacha. The general officers of the Turkish army and navy stood at the back of their chairs; behind them were ranged his Highness’s retinue, arrayed in their different badges of distinction; and round the tent, in front, were drawn up his body guard.

    His Highness was dressed in a white robe of beautiful Persian satin, over which was the robe of state, worn only on particular occasions, made of the finest led cloth, and on it was placed, below the breast, two aigrettes of large diamonds; and in a sash of rich satin, round his waist, was fixed a dagger, the handle of which was so thickly covered with diamonds, as to render it impossible to discover of what other materials it was made. On his head he wore a superb turban, with rows of pearls placed on the different folds. His rich dress, his venerable appearance, having a very long black beard, which he was continually stroking, altogether made a most interesting figure. The other grandees that were seated on the same sofa were as magnificently dressed, in all respects, excepting the red robe.

    Having been served with coffee and sweetmeats, according to custom, the ceremony began by his Highness investing Sir Richard Bickerton with a pelice, the star and red ribband, and medal of the Order of the Crescent; all of which being properly arranged, he was desired to kneel, at which time the Grand Seignior’s firman was read, impowering his Highness to confer the honour of Knighthood, which was immediately performed on the Rear-Admiral; upon whose rising a royal salute was fired, and other demonstrations of satisfaction, agreeable to the Turkish custom. The star is most beautifully set with diamonds, and the pelice is valued at 300l.

    Sir Richard Bickerton having retired to his seat, the senior Post-Captain was invested in the same form with the pelice and gold medal of the Order, and was knighted; and then the other three Captains in succession.

    Four Commanders, and Lieutenant Withers, of the navy, were then knighted in the same manner, but only received a gold medal of the Order, without the pelice.

    The same ceremony had been performed on General Hutchinson, and the general officers of the army, the day before.

    During the whole of the ceremony music was playing. After the ceremony was finished, a long history was read, stating the power and magnificence of the Grand Seignior, and consequently the value the knights were to set upon the different honours conferred. This finished, they were treated with sherbet; they then arose dressed in their finery, and departed on their horses in the same form they came; at which time another salute was fired.

    Sir Richard afterwards obtained his sovereign’s permission to wear the insignia of the Order, and the Royal license to bear, in allusion thereto, a Crescent, and certain other appropriate honourable augmentations to. his family arms, together with supporters.

  6. As Lord Nelson in the year 1801, had written to the Lord Mayor, on not receiving the thanks of the city of London for the victory he had obtained off Copenhagen, so in 1804, he addressed a second letter to the same municipal officer, on receiving thanks that had not been merited. In this admirable remonstrance his Lordship declared, that no man set a higher value on the thanks of his fellow citizens of London, than he did; but that he should feel as much ashamed to receive thanks for a line of service in which he had not moved, as he should feel hurt at having a great victory, alluding to that of Copenhagen, passed over without notice. He justly observed, that the port of Toulon had never been blockaded by him; but on the contrary, that every opportunity had been afforded by his fleet for the enemy to put to sea, in order that the hopes and expectations of his country might be realized. His Lordship then concluded with the following testimony to the talents of Sir Richard Bickerton: “Your Lordship will judge of my feelings, upon seeing that all the junior Flag-Officers of other fleets, and even some of the Captains, have received the thanks of the Corporation of London, whilst the junior Flag-Officers of the Mediterranean fleet are entirely omitted. I own it has struck me very forcibly; for where the information respecting the junior Flag-Officers and Captains of other fleets was obtained, the same information could have been given of the Flag-Officers, &c. of this fleet; and it is my duty to state, that more able and zealous Flag-Officers and Captains do not grace the British navy, than those I have the honor and happiness to command. It likewise appears, my Lord, a most extraordinary circumstance, that Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton should have been, as second in command in the Mediterranean fleet, twice passed over by the Corporation of London once after the Egyptian expedition, when the first and third in command were thanked, and now again. Conscious of high desert, instead of neglect, the Rear-Admiral had resolved to let the matter rest, until he could have an opportunity personally to call on the Lord Mayor, to account for such an extraordinary omission; but from this second omission, I owe it to that excellent officer not to pass it by. And I do assure your Lordship, that the constant, zealous, and cordial support I have had in my command from both Rear-Admiral Sir R. Bickerton, and Rear-Admiral Campbell, has been such as calls forth all my thanks and approbation. We have shared together the constant attention of being more than fourteen months at sea, and are ready to share the dangers and glory of a day of battle; therefore it is impossible I can allow myself to be separated in thanks, from such supporters.”
  7. See p. 11.
  8. General Officers and Colonels of Marines were first appointed in the year 1759, on which occasion Admiral Boscawen was nominated General, with a salary of 2000l. per annum; Vice-Admiral Saunders, Lieutenant-General, 1200l. per annum; and Captains, Sir Piercy Brett, Hon. Augustus Keppel, and Viscount Howe, Colonels, 800l. per annum each. Since that period a Major-General, and a fourth Colonel, have been added to the original establishment.