Royal Naval Biography/Stephens, Philip

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(late wilkinson.)
Vice-Admiral of the Blue.

This officer is a nephew of the late Sir Philip Stephens, Bart.[1], many years Secretary, and afterwards one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty; under whose auspices he went to sea at an early age; was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, about the year 1790; and made a Post-Captain, Sept. 5, 1794.

From this period till the year 1797, Captain Wilkinson commanded the Hermione, of 32 guns, on the Jamaica station. His next appointment was to the Success, another frigate, in which he cruized for some time on the coast of France, and then removed into the Unicorn of the same force, and likewise employed in Channel service. He subsequently obtained the command of the Naiad, of 38 guns, on the same station.

In the month of Oct. 1801, the Naiad took the ground near Isle Rhé, and had nearly been wrecked. On the second day after she struck, the French Commodore sent off craft, with spare cables and anchors, and politely informed Captain Wilkinson of the preliminaries of peace being signed between France and England; this conduct accounted for the batteries not firing on the Naiad, whilst ashore within range of them.

Our officer was soon after appointed to the Hussar, of 38 guns, on board which ship an explosion took place towards the latter end of the year 1802, and produced an alarm so sudden and terrific, that several of her crew jumped overboard; and the weather being extremely severe, they in consequence perished.

On the 6th Jan. 1804, Captain Wilkinson parted company with Sir Edward Pellew, under whose orders he had been cruizing off Ferrol, bound to England with despatches. In the night of the 8th, the Hussar, then going at the rate of seven knots an hour, struck on the southernmost part of the Saintes, and was bilged. The following day the crew took possession of a small island, inhabited by fishermen, whose boats they immediately began to equip for the purpose of transporting themselves either to the fleet off Brest, or to England, as circumstances might admit. At day-light, on the 10th, the ship being still apparently whole, Captain Wilkinson sent a party to destroy her by fire; and on their return embarked in his barge, and left the island, accompanied by the remainder of his crew in 13 fishing boats, the whole of which being badly found, were obliged to bear up during the night, and run into Brest harbour. Fortunately, Captain Wilkinson succeeded in getting on board a British cruizer, and thus escaped a captivity of ten years duration, to which his officers and men were subjected.

In the summer of the following year, he commanded the Gorgon, of 44 guns, stationed as a guard-ship in the Shannon; and some years afterwards, the Courageux, of 74 guns, employed in the Baltic. He was made a Rear-Admiral, Dec. 4, 1813; and on the 19th July, 1821, advanced to the rank he now holds.

The subject of the foregoing sketch married, in 1804, Sophia, daughter of William Worth, of Hayneford, near Norwich, Esq.

  1. Sir Philip’s daughter married Viscount Ranelagh; and on the death of that nobleman, who had but a life interest in the estates of his father-in-law, Admiral Wilkinson, to whom they devolved, assumed the cognomen of Stephens. For the sake of convenience, the former alone will be used in this sketch. Should the Vice-Admiral die without issue, the property will again revert to the Ranelagh family.