Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Troubridge, Thomas (1758?-1807)

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TROUBRIDGE, Sir THOMAS (1758?–1807), rear-admiral, born in London about 1758, was son of Richard Troubridge. He was admitted on the foundation of St. Paul's school, London, on 22 Feb. 1768, ‘aged 10’ (Gardiner, Register of St. Paul's School, p. 139). It is doubtfully said (Naval Chronicle, xxiii. 1) that he made, as a boy, a voyage to the West Indies in a merchant ship. All that is certainly known is that he entered the navy on board the Seahorse frigate on 8 Oct. 1773, in the rating of ‘able seaman,’ and was then described as born in London, aged 18. He was three years younger, and the rating may have been nominal. Nelson, who joined the Seahorse a few days later, and was certainly born in 1758, was also entered as aged 18. In the Seahorse Troubridge went out to the East Indies. On 21 March 1774 he was rated midshipman; on 25 July 1776 he was rated master's mate, and on 13 May 1780 he was moved, as a midshipman, into the Superb, flagship of Sir Edward Hughes [q. v.], by whom, on 1 Jan. 1781, he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Chaser, a small vessel which he had bought for the navy, and now newly commissioned. From the Chaser he was moved, two months later, 3 March 1781, to his old ship, the Seahorse, and in her was present in the battle off Sadras on 17 Feb., and in that off Trincomalee on 12 April 1782. On the 13th he was moved as junior lieutenant to the Superb, and in her was present in Hughes's third and fourth actions. By degrees he was moved upwards, till on 10 Oct. he became first lieutenant of the Superb, and on the 11th was promoted to the command of the Lizard sloop. On 1 Jan. 1783 he was posted to the Active frigate, and in her was present in Hughes's fifth action off Cuddalore. He was afterwards moved into the Defence, and later on into the Sultan, as flag-captain to Hughes, with whom he came home in 1785.

In 1790 he went out again to the East Indies in the Thames frigate, and on his return to England was appointed to the Castor frigate of 32 guns, which, in May 1794, had the ill luck to fall in with a division of the Brest fleet and be captured. Troubridge, as a prisoner, was moved into the French 80-gun ship Sanspareil, and in her was bodily present in the battle of 1 June. The Sanspareil was captured, and Troubridge, on his return in her to England, was appointed to the 74-gun ship Culloden, in which early in 1795 he went out to the Mediterranean, and was present in the unsatisfactory action off the Hyères on 13 July. In the Culloden he continued in the Mediterranean under the command of Sir John Jervis (afterwards Earl of St. Vincent) [q. v.], and led the line in the battle of Cape St. Vincent, 14 Feb. 1797, when his gallant bearing and determined conduct called forth an expression of warm approval from the admiral.

In July the Culloden, with a few other ships, was detached under the orders of Nelson for an attack on Santa Cruz. While yet some distance from the town a thousand men, detailed for the landing party, were put on board the frigates, and sent in under the immediate command of Troubridge, in the hope of surprising the fort above the town during the night. The approach of the frigates was delayed by foul wind and tide, and day dawned before they got within a mile of the landing-place. As surprise was now out of the question, Troubridge rejoined the squadron, which had closely followed the frigates, and told Nelson that he thought that by seizing the heights above the fort it could be compelled to surrender. Nelson assented, and at nine o'clock the men were landed. The enemy, however, had occupied the heights in force, and the attempt was unsuccessful. At nightfall Troubridge re-embarked the men, and the next day Nelson recalled them to their own ships. In describing this affair Captain Mahan has contrasted Troubridge's ‘failure to act at once upon his own judgment’ with Nelson's independent ‘action at St. Vincent and on many other occasions’ (Life of Nelson, i. 301), but has apparently overlooked the fact that the details of the landing had been agreed on in private conversation with his admiral, and that Troubridge had thus less discretionary power than an officer could have when no details had been settled. When this plan of attack was given up, it was resolved to attempt landing at the mole by night; but this met with very partial success. Several of the boats missed the mole, or were broken up in the surf, and at daylight Troubridge, who was left on shore in command [see Nelson, Horatio, Viscount], found himself in presence of a numerically overwhelming force of men and guns. It is very probable that the men were for the most part a very raw militia, and that the guns had no competent gunners, so that when Troubridge sent Captain (afterwards Sir Samuel) Hood to offer a cessation of hostilities, on the condition of being permitted to embark his men without hindrance, the governor of the town readily and indeed cheerfully agreed to the terms.

In the following year the Culloden was again one of the squadron detached to serve under Nelson in the Mediterranean, and took part in the search for the French fleet which preceded and led up to the battle of the Nile. On the evening of 1 Aug., when the squadron, on approaching the French, was drawing into line of battle, and Troubridge, who had been some distance astern, was pressing on to get into station, the Culloden struck heavily on the shoal which runs out from Aboukir Island, and there remained. All Troubridge's efforts to get her afloat seemed in vain, and he had the pain of seeing the battle without being able to take part in it. The next day the ship was got off, but in a sinking state. She was making seven feet of water in an hour, and her rudder had been torn off. Troubridge, however, was a man of energy and resource, and managed to patch her up sufficiently to enable her to go to Naples, where she was refitted. In accordance with Nelson's very strong wish, Troubridge was given the gold medal for the battle, and the first lieutenant of the Culloden was promoted after a short delay. At Naples and off Malta Troubridge's services were closely mixed up with those of Nelson. In the end of 1798 he was sent to command the small squadron on the coast of Egypt, but rejoined Nelson in March 1799, when he was again detached to take possession of Ischia, Procida, and Capri, and to maintain the blockade of the Bay of Naples. In June he was landed at Naples for the siege of St. Elmo, which he reduced, as he afterwards did Capua and Gaeta, and Civita Vecchia, securing the evacuation of the Roman territory by the French. In recognition of these services he received the order of St. Ferdinand and Merit from the king of the Two Sicilies, and was created a baronet on 30 Nov. 1799. He was then sent as senior officer off Malta, and, though occasionally visited by Keith or by Nelson, had virtually the command of the blockade till May 1800, when the Culloden was ordered home.

Troubridge was then for a few months captain of the Channel fleet off Brest, under Lord St. Vincent, with whom, in March 1801, he became a lord of the admiralty, and with whom he retired from the admiralty in May 1804. On 23 April 1804 he had been promoted to the rank of rear-admiral. In April 1805 he was appointed to the chief command in East Indian seas, to the eastward of Point de Galle, and went out with his flag in the Blenheim, an old worn-out ship, formerly a three-decker, which had been cut down and now carried seventy-four guns. Shortly after passing Madagascar, and having with him a convoy of ten Indiamen, he fell in with the French admiral, Linois, in the Marengo, with two large frigates in company. Linois, probably mistaking the Blenheim for an Indiaman, approached, with a view to seize so rich a prize, but, finding out his mistake, and notwithstanding the disparity of force, hauled his wind and made off. Even had the Blenheim been a ship to chase with, Troubridge would not have felt justified in leaving the convoy; as it was, he had also the certain knowledge that the chase would be useless. He pursued his voyage and joined Sir Edward Pellew [q. v.], till then commander-in-chief in East India and China. Pellew was strongly convinced of the inadvisability of dividing the station, when the exigencies of war might make prompt action under one commander essential to success; and as Troubridge, properly enough, maintained that they had no power, by any agreement between themselves, to alter the disposition of the admiralty, Pellew referred the matter to them, with a full statement of his reasons. The result was an order to Pellew to resume command of the whole station, and to Troubridge to take the chief command at the Cape of Good Hope.

Meantime the Blenheim had been ashore in the Straits of Malacca, and had sustained so much damage that in the opinion of many of her officers she was no longer seaworthy; and when, after much difficulty, she arrived at Madras to refit, her captain, Bissell, represented that there would be great danger in attempting to take her to the Cape. Troubridge, however, had great confidence in himself, and was probably unwilling to remain on Pellew's station longer than necessary. There had been no quarrel, but by the blunder of the admiralty the relations between them were not altogether friendly. He insisted on sailing at once in the Blenheim, and such confidence was reposed in his ability that many passengers from Madras embarked in her. She left Madras on 12 Jan. 1807, and with her the Java, an old Dutch prize frigate, and the Harrier brig. On 1 Feb., near the south-east end of Madagascar, they got into a cyclone, from which the Harrier alone emerged. When last seen by her, both the Blenheim and Java had hoisted signals of distress; but the Harrier herself was in great danger and could do nothing. She lost sight of them in a violent squall, and there can be no doubt that they both foundered. When the news reached the East Indies, Pellew sent Troubridge's son, then in command of the Greyhound, to make inquiries as to the fate of the ships. The French governor of Mauritius gave him every assistance in his power, and sent an account of pieces of wreck which had been cast ashore in different places; but nothing could be identified as belonging to either of the missing ships, nothing that could give any positive information as to their fate.

Troubridge married, about 1786, Mrs. Frances Richardson, and left issue a daughter, besides one son, Edward Thomas Troubridge, the heir to the baronetcy, who is separately noticed.

An anonymous portrait of Troubridge belonged in 1868 to Captain F. P. Egerton, R.N.

[Ralfe's Nav. Biogr. iv. 397; official letters, pay-books, and logs in the Public Record Office; Nicolas's Letters and Despatches of Viscount Nelson, passim; Clarke and McArthur's Life of Nelson; James's Naval History. Troubridge's correspondence with Nelson (1797–1800) has been recently acquired by the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 34902, 34906–17).]

J. K. L.