Admiral Sir HUGH PALLISER, Bt 1723-1796

Admiral of the Blue

See his portrait

Source - Charnock, J. Biographia navalis from 1660 to the present time. 6v. 1794-98.

PALLISER, Sir Hugh, Bart. - This brave man, and judicious officer, was descended from an ancient and respectable family possessed of a considerable estate at Newby-wisk, in Yorkshire. His father, the younger son of a numerous family, was a captain of foot. He married the daughter of Humphrey Robinson, esq. of Thicket-hall, in the county of York, and was severely wounded in the battle of Almanza. His two elder brothers were also wounded, and died lieutenant-colonels in the army: but the eldest of them having nearly ruined the Yorkshire estate, sold it and settled in Ireland, where he improved his fortune, lived to the age of one hundred, and entailed six hundred pounds a year on the subject of this article. Another of the family was tutor and friend of the celebrated Locke; died archbishop of Cashel, and made considerable endowments on the college of Dublin.

Sir Hugh Palliser was born at Kirk Deighton, in the county of York, on the 26th of February, 1722. He was sent early to sea under the protection of his relation, a captain in the navy. He was attached to his profession, so that he soon gained the character of a skilful seaman and an able officer, together with the friendship as well as good opinion of his superiors, amongst whom were to be reckoned lord Anson, admiral Boscawen, and sir Charles Saunders. Under their auspices, without the aid of high birth, powerful connexions, or party interest, he gradually rose to eminent stations in both the military and civil branches of the naval service.

He also received honourable marks of approbation from his sovereign, though experiencing what officers of the most eminent merit had encountered before him, the jealousy and ill-will of the envious, which attach to the nature of all popular governments like that of Britain. These in the end instigated the attack of a powerful party upon sir Hugh, who declared himself equally zealous for the public service under all administrations, without courting or professing to be of any party.

He was made lieutenant in 1742; in that station he became first of the Essex, commanded by captain Richard Norris, in the engagement off Toulon, on the 11th of February, 1744. Captain Norris being backward and behaving ill, was ordered to be tried by a court-martial; but the court construing the order to be only for a court of enquiry, the captain was permitted to quit at Mahon, and never appearing again, he was struck off the list. The behaviour of the lieutenants of the Essex was much approved of, and the house of commons voted the court-martial proceedings arbitrary, partial, and illegal. The great trials shortly ensued, when several officers, and amongst them, admiral Lestock, paid many compliments to the abilities and judgement of lieutenant Palliser, notwithstanding a material part of his evidence tended to operate against that admiral.

In July 1746 lieutenant Palliser was promoted to be commander of the Weazle sloop; and, on his station off Beachy Head in a very short time he captured four French privateers which acquired him, on the 25th of November following, the rank of post captain in the Captain, of seventy guns, under commodore Legge, just appointed commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands, on whose death captain Palliser moved into the Sutherland, of fifty guns, that he might accommodate the senior captain (afterwards sir George Pococke) with the large ship. The Sutherland having been dismasted in an hurricane, captain Palliser lost the opportunity of sharing with the rest of the fleet in the capture of a very large French convoy, which had been dispersed by sir Edward Hawke.

An additional misfortune afterwards befell him in the same ship when cruising to the leeward of Martinico: being in want of water he proceeded to Prince Rupert's bay, Dominica, at that time inhabited by only a few straggling French, and savages. Having ordered a party of marines to land for the protection of the waterers, the armourer, in taking the arms out of the chest on the quarter-deck, by some carelessness, struck fire: this communicated to the cartouche boxes therein, and occasioned all the arms to go off. The captain, who was then sitting on the other arm-chest on the opposite side of the deck, was immediately wounded and disabled from moving, by a ball, which entered on the left side of his back, and was taken out at his right groin; another struck his right hip, and a third his left shoulder. The armourer and his mate were both killed, but the captain, having youth and health on his side, with able assistance, recovered contrary to the expectations of the surgeons themselves. He remained ever after lame in the left leg, having a perpetual and sometimes very excruciating pain, which at length occasioned his death.

Notwithstanding this accident he persevered in following the service, being in commission for the Sheerness frigate, on the peace with France and Spain in 1748, and was sent express to admiral Boscawen, in the East Indies, with news of that event. In 1750 he was appointed to the Yarmouth guard-ship at Chatham; and shortly afterwards moving into the Seahorse, a twenty-gun ship, was ordered to the coast of Scotland, to endeavour the interception of the dissaffected who had projected schemes with the court of France, for returning secretly to Scotland in order to raise new disturbances there. Many plans were unsuccessfully laid to entrap him; and the captain having orders to enter all such volunteers as offered, they forged an indenture for one of that description, alledging that he was an apprentice to the master of a ship, and engaged the judge of the vice-admiralty court of Scotland to proceed against captain Palliser for entering him; but the captain refusing to let the man be taken out of the king's ship, the next time captain Palliser went on shore he was arrested by warrant from the judge of the vice-admiralty court, and imprisoned for some days in the Tolbooth prison at Edinburgh, until the lords of sessions interposed their authority, superceded the warrant and released the captain. The master of the vessel who countenanced the forged indenture fled the country.

In the beginning of the year 1753 he was appointed captain of the Bristol, a ship of fifty guns, ordered to be fitted at Plymouth for a guard-ship. He did not, however, long continue to hold this command, for government having determined to send general Braddock with an army to Virginia, to drive the French from their encroachments on the back settlements of that province, commodore Keppel was ordered with two fifty-gun ships and some frigates to Virginia, and captain Palliser, with the Seahorse and Nightingale, was directed to convoy the transports, having on board two regiments from Ireland, to Hampton in Virginia. He sailed in January 1755, but, instead of going the usual tract, he ran to the southward as far as the Tropic, thus avoiding the bad weather at that season of the year, and found commodore Keppel, general Braddock, and the ships with them, had arrived a very short time before at Hampton very much damaged by the heavy gales they met within the usual tract. The ship's companies were extremely sickly, and the commodore had provided hospitals for the troops under captain Palliser's convoy, expecting they would arrive in the same condition. On the contrary, they all appeared in very good health, and proceeded immediately up the river Potomack to Alexandria, where no king's ships, or any ships so large as the transports, had ever been seen before. Here was held the first congress, consisting of the commanding general, commodore, and all his majesty's governors of the colonies; and here the provincial troops of Virginia, under captain (since president Washington) joined the king's troops. After general Braddock's death and defeat, commodore Keppel returned a passenger to England, in the Seahorse, with captain Palliser.

Hostilities having commenced with France in September 1755, captain Palliser was commissioned to the Eagle, of sixty guns. On the 30th May, 1757, being on a cruize off Ushant, in company with the Medway, of sixty guns, they in the night fell in with and gave chace to a French East India ship, named the Duc D'Aquitain, mounting fifty guns, all French eighteen pounders, on two decks, and four hundred and ninety-five men. She had landed her cargo at Lisbon, and was on her way to Port L'Orient. At day-light she appeared with her lower tier run out. The Medway shortened sail to clear ship; this gave the Eagle, she being clear for action, the opportunity to pass her and begin the attack at two ship's lengths, so that almost every shot took place. After a short but very sharp action she struck as the Medway came up, having fifty-one men killed, and the number of wounded not ascertained, with ninety-seven shot-holes through both sides. Her main and mizen-masts fell just as she struck. The Eagle had ten men killed and thirty-two wounded, with twenty-one shot through her sides. The commander of the Medway was very unjustly reflected on, for it is certain that nothing but his ship not being clear prevented his beginning the action, for he afterwards gave repeated proofs of his bravery in several actions during that war.

In July 1758, captain Palliser being then commanded of the Shrewsbury, of seventy-four guns, to which ship he had been appointed in the early part of the year, lord Anson detached him with a squadron to cruize as near the entrance of Brest as he could with safety, in order to watch the French fleet in the road. Whilst on that service he fell in with a fleet of coasters, under convoy of two frigates, which he drove on shore at the entrance of the bay D'Hodiernes, and captured some of the trading vessels.

In the year 1759 he was, with admiral Saunders, on the successful expedition against Quebec; on which occasion he commanded the body of seamen which landed and took possession of the Lower Town. In 1760 he served under the same admiral in the Mediterranean, who detached him with an equal force after a small French squadron which had slipped out of Toulon, and were gone up the Levant to parade and persuade the Turks that the French fleets were not blocked up by the English. Captain Palliser chaced them into the Turkish ports, under protection of the grand signor's batteries, in the harbours of Zudia, in Candia, and Napol di Malvazca, in Morea. Nothing but respect to the neutrality of the grand signor's ports prevented their destruction; and the English ambassador at the port made a proper use of the event, to the disgrace of the French and the high honour of the British name at Constantinople.

In 1762 he was dispatched with three ships of the line and a frigate to retake St. John's in Newfoundland; but on his arrival he found that lord Colville and colonel Amherst had anticipated that service: and, after the peace in 1764, he was sent out thither again as governor and commodore for the protection of that Fishery, against the encroachments of the French, having under him a fifty-gun ship, the Guernsey, which bore his broad pendant, and several frigates. He then met with a French commodore with a similar force pretending to regulate their own fisheries and settle disputes with ours, but, in reality, increasing them; wherefore commodore Palliser warned the French commodore to quite the coast, informing him that the sovereignty of the island belonged to Great Britain, and that he would not suffer any foreign authority to interfere with his government. On account of this and other spirited exertions, the French ambassador, in London, presented many memorials against governor Palliser; but the latter was well supported by the ministry. Amongst other things the French pretended that Cape Ray was Point Rich, thereby introducing a claim to the fishery all along the west coast of Newfoundland. In support thereof they alledged that the English chart misnamed those places, and that the names therein had been transposed for the purpose of curtailing their bounds. Their ambassador produced a French chart sent to him, in which those places were named agreeable to the claim they contended for. But this commodore Palliser soon confuted, by shewing, that all the English charts were extant before Point rich was made a boundary point. He happened to have in his possession a French chart, being an impression from the same plate as that which the French ambassador produced. Point Rich and Cape Ray were there placed the same as in the English charts. He clearly fixed the fraud of altering the plate and transposing those names with the French government, for the purpose of supporting the encroachments. Of this transaction the French ambassador himself seemed to be ashamed.

In 1770 commodore Palliser was appointed comptroller of the navy, and elected an elder brother of the Trinity House. In 1773 he was created a baronet; in 1774 chosen representative in parliament for Scarborough; in 1775 promoted to be a flag-officer; and, as at that time it was a rule that a comptroller of the navy should not hold his seat at the board with his flag, he was appointed on of the lords of the admiralty, as successor to the earl of Bristol. In the same year his great friend, sir Charles Saunders, died, leaving him a legacy of 5000L and sir Hugh Palliser succeeded him as lieutenant-general of marines. On the 29th of January, 1778, he was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral of the blue.

Towards the end of 1777, and in the beginning of 1778, the warlike preparations made by the French manifested their intentions to support the revolted English colonies against the mother country. The American war at this time was very unpopular, and all possible means were made use of, according to a well-known phrase, both within and without doors, to retard the operations of government. There were notwithstanding many well-intentioned persons of rank in the opposition, who, though they disapproved the American war, could not silently behold the armaments of a natural enemy going forward; they therefore gave early intimation of the danger: of this number was admiral Keppel, who at that time resided on the Continent, and was in the habit of corresponding with sir Hugh Palliser. When the opposing fleet of England was preparing, the latter laboured much, and at length succeeded in bringing about the appointment of the former to the chief command, being himself selected to serve under him in the third station: with this admiral Keppel expressed himself well pleased, and informed sir Hugh, by letter, that he was one of the very few he could depend on. The indecisive action which took place with the enemy on the 27th of July following, is not only too well known to be now described, but has been already sufficiently enlarged on in our account of the commander-in-chief. The subsequent disagreement between those officers seemed converted into mischievous consequences, as we have already very forcibly remarked, by the rancour of party and the wickedness of interested persons. Doubtless both the admirals were unitedly zealous in doing their duty to the utmost against the insidious designs of France, the ambitious and hereditary enemy of their country; but as the event of the 27th of July, was unsatisfactory to the nation in general, the opposition took advantage of the discontents to inflame the country against the ministry, first by suggesting that admiral Keppel had orders not to act with vigour against the enemy; and, when the falsity of that assertion was exposed, by attributing, as a second charge, the ill success of the fleet to the difference between admiral Keppel and sir Hugh Palliser, in political principles on the American war, they coloured the aspersion by referring to the situation of the latter as an active lord of the admiralty; they of course represented him as the supporter of the existing administration, and by implication subservient to certain pretended views of debasing their friend the commander-in-chief. Thus the whole weight of popular opposition was employed to transfer the cause of disappointment to the junior officer: this was done while both parties were again absent at sea, and apparently on the same confidential and friendly footing as before.

The fleet returned to Spithead on the 26th of October, and sir Hugh Palliser finding that many envious insinuations and gross falsehoods had made strong impressions to his prejudice, he traced and discovered them, as he supposed, industriously circulated from dangerous quarters, on which he demanded, but could not obtain what he demanded, a fair discussion. Sir Hugh then took such decisive steps as brought on him the disagreeable but absolute necessity of calling for courts-martial on admiral Keppel and himself, that each might have an opportunity of vindicating his own conduct, and the nation be satisfied where the blame lay. The trials accordingly commenced; that of Mr. Keppel ended in the manner well-remembered and already stated: and, in conclusion, sir Hugh Palliser was acquitted, and the sentence declared, that his behaviour, on the 27th and 28th of July, was highly meritorious and exemplary, than which nothing could be more honourable.

During these commotions, sir Hugh Palliser having resigned the lieutenant-generalship of marines, and his seat in parliament, to accommodate a timid ministry who stood in awe of a powerful opposition, his majesty, on his honourable acquittal, was graciously pleased soon afterwards to appoint him governor of Greenwich-hospital, on the death of sir Charles Hardy. He was again chosen representative in parliament for the borough of Huntingdon; but at the ensuing general election, his old connexions and friends having coalesced with the opposition, his and their own enemies, he declined appearing any longer in so public a character, and retreated to the comforts of retirement with the most valuable blessings that heaven can bestow in this life, contentment, peace, and purity of mind.

He died admiral of the white, governor of Scarborough-castle, one of the elder brethren of the trinity-house, and governor of Greenwich-hospital, at his country seat, the Vache, in Buckinghamshire, on the 19th of March, 1796, aged seventy-four, in consequence of a disorder induced by the wounds received on board the Sutherland, in 1747, as mentioned in the former part of this narrative. The title descends to his great nephew, Hugh Palliser Walters, esq. And he left considerable sums for charitable purposes, with many legacies; but the bulk of his fortune, real and personal, he willed to his natural son, George Palliser, esq. A suitable monument is erected to his memory in the parish church of Chalfont St. Giles's, in the county of Bucks, where his remains are interred.

An anonymous writer, who certainly was no relative or interested person, from his having much mistated the manner in which he received his fatal hurt, gives the following character of him.

"As a professional man, he was found superior to most of his contemporaries [sic] in maritime skill, judicious in his dispositions and decisive in their consequent operations; in private life, conciliating in his manners and unshaken in his friendships; the wife and salutary laws which he caused to be enacted for the benefit of his country, and the comfort and happiness of the poor fishermen in Newfoundland, during his government of that island, are proofs of a sound mind, of a humane and benevolent disposition."

To this character we have briefly to add from ourselves, that however his friends may wish he had in some few points acted differently from what he did, his most violent enemies cannot but confess their own malignity, in having endeavoured to attach, as crimes to him, things which never existed even in his thought, and in having reprobated those very errors which their own conduct fatally gave birth to.

It is no difficult matter to draw a conclusion from facts after they have taken place; and we believe no moderate man will, at the present day, deny, that if the popular voice had been less clamorous, neither party would have proceeded to the lengths they did; the service would not have been rent into contending factions and parties, and the public cause of the country would have been materially benefited. No one can dispute on the one hand that the vice-admiral possessed a warm temper, and in too great a degree for a cautious or designing man; so on the other can no one disbelieve him to have possessed honour, judgement, and intrepidity.

For more than the last fifteen or sixteen years of his life he seldom or ever lay down on a bed from the constant pain in his leg, which he bore with the most manly fortitude. He was under the necessity of composing himself in an easy chair, sleeping at intervals; and when awake he placed the wounded limb on the contrary knee, in which position he employed himself in rubbing the bone (for it was literally no more) to assuage the pain till sleep again insensibly overtook him.

[Footnotes omitted from original extract- TJS]

Note by TJS: Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser was cousin to William Palliser, Archbishop of Cashel.

The ancestry of Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser

Other websites:

Captain Cook Memorial raised by Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser

Palliser's Act, Newfoundland, 1775

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