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Edward Hawke

Edward HawkeBorn: 21-Feb-1710
Birthplace: London, England
Died: 17-Oct-1781
Location of death: Sunbury, Middlesex, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Military

Nationality: England
Executive summary: British admiral, Seven Years' War

Edward Hawke, 1st Baron Hawke, British admiral, was the only son of Edward Hawke, a barrister. On his mother's side he was the nephew of Colonel Martin Bladen (1680-1746), a politician of some note, and was connected with the family of Fairfax. Edward Hawke entered the navy on the 20th of February 1720 and served the time required to qualify him to hold a lieutenant's commission on the North American and West Indian stations. Though he passed his examination on the 2nd of June 1725, he was not appointed to a ship to act in that rank until 1729, when he was named third lieutenant of the "Portland" in the Channel. The continuance of peace allowed him no opportunities of distinction, but he was fortunate in obtaining promotion as commander of the "Wolf" sloop in 1733, and as post captain of the "Flamborough" in 1734. When war began with Spain in 1739, he served as captain of the "Portland" in the West Indies. His ship was old and rotten. She nearly drowned her captain and crew, and was broken up after she was paid off in 1742. In the following year Hawke was appointed to the "Berwick", a fine new vessel, and was attached to the Mediterranean fleet then under the command of Thomas Mathews. The "Berwick" was manned badly, and suffered severely from sickness, but in the ill-managed battle of Toulon on the 11th of January 1744 Hawke gained great distinction by the spirit with which he fought his ship. The only prize taken by the British fleet, the Spanish "Poder", surrendered to him, and though she was not kept by the admiral, Hawke was not in any degree to blame for the loss of the only trophy of the fight. His gallantry attracted the attention of the king. There is a story that he was dismissed the service for having left the line to engage the "Poder", and was restored by the king's order. The legend grew not unnaturally out of the confusing series of courts martial which arose out of the battle, but it has no foundation. There is better reason to believe that when at a later period the Admiralty intended to pass over Hawke's name in a promotion of admirals, the king, George II, did insist that he should not be put on the retired list.

He had no further chance of making his energy and ability known out of the ranks of his own profession, where they were fully realized, until 1747. In July of that year he attained flag rank, and was named second in command of the Channel fleet. Owing to the ill health of his superior he was sent in command of the fourteen ships detached to intercept a French convoy on its way to the West Indies. On the 14th of October 1747 he fell in with it in the Bay of Biscay. The French force, under Desherbiers de l'Étendučre, consisted of nine ships, which were, however, on the average larger than Hawke's. He attacked at once. The French admiral sent one of his liners to escort the merchant ships on their way to the West Indies, and with the other eight fought a very gallant action with the British squadron. Six of the eight French ships were taken. The French admiral did for a time succeed in saving the trading vessels under his charge, but most of them fell into the hands of the British cruisers in the West Indies. Hawke was made a knight of the Bath for this timely piece of service, a reward which cannot be said to have been lavish.

In 1747 Hawke had been elected M.P. for Portsmouth, which he continued to represent for thirty years, though he can seldom have been in his place, and it does not appear that he often spoke. A seat in parliament was always valuable to a naval officer at that time, since it enabled him to be useful to ministers, and increased his chances of obtaining employment. Hawke had married a lady of fortune in Yorkshire, Catherine Brook, in 1737, and was able to meet the expenses entailed by a seat in parliament, which were considerable at a time when votes were openly paid for by money down. In the interval between the war of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, Hawke was almost always on active service. From 1748 until 1752 he was in command at home, and he rehoisted his flag in 1755 as admiral in command of the Western Squadron. Although war was not declared for some time, England and France were on very hostile terms, and conflicts between the officers of the two powers in America had already taken place. Neither government was scrupulous in abstaining from the use of force while peace was still nominally unbroken. Hawke was sent to sea to intercept a French squadron which had been cruising near Gibraltar, but a restriction was put on the limits within which he might cruise, and he failed to meet the French. The fleet was much weakened by ill-health. In June 1756 the news of John Byng's retreat from Minorca reached England and aroused the utmost indignation. Hawke was at once sent out to relieve him in the Mediterranean command, and to send him home for trial. He sailed in the "Antelope", carrying, as the wits of the day put it, "a cargo of courage" to supply deficiencies in that respect among the officers then in the Mediterranean. Minorca had fallen, from want of resources rather than the attacks of the French, before he could do anything for the assistance of the garrison of Fort St. Philip. In winter he was recalled to England, and he reached home on the 14th of January 1757. On the 24th of February following he was promoted full admiral.

It is said, but on no very good authority, that he was not on good terms with Pitt (afterwards earl of Chatham), and it is certain that when Pitt's great ministry was formed in June 1757, he was not included in the Board of Admiralty. Yet as he was continued in command of important forces in the Channel, it is obvious that his great capacity was fully recognized. In the late summer of 1757 he was entrusted with the naval side of an expedition to the coast of France. These operations, which were scoffingly described at the time as breaking windows with guineas, were a favorite device of Pitt's for weakening the French and raising the confidence of the country. The expedition of 1757 was directed against Rochefort, and it effected nothing. Hawke, who probably expected very little good from it, did his own work as admiral punctually, but he cannot be said to have shown zeal, or any wish to inspirit the military officers into making greater efforts than they were disposed naturally to make. The expedition returned to Spithead by the 6th of October. No part of the disappointment of the public, which was acute, was visited on Hawke. During the end of 1757 and the beginning of 1758 he continued cruising in the Channel in search of the French naval forces, without any striking success. In May of that year he was ordered to detach a squadron under the command of Howe to carry out further combined operations. Hawke considered himself as treated with a want of due respect, and was at the time in bad humor with the Admiralty. He somewhat pettishly threw up his command, but was induced to resume it by the board, which knew his value, and was not wanting in flattery. He retired in June for a time on the ground of health, but happily for his own glory and the service of the country he was able to hoist his flag in May 1759, the "wonderful year" of Garrick's song.

France was then elaborating a scheme of invasion which bears much resemblance to the plan afterwards formed by Napoleon. An army of invasion was collected at the Morbihan in Brittany, and the intention was to transport it under the protection of a powerful fleet which was to be made up by uniting the squadron at Brest with the ships at Toulon. The plan, like Napoleon's, had slight chance of success, since the naval part of the invading force must necessarily be brought together from distant points at the risk of interruption by the British squadrons. The naval forces of England were amply sufficient to provide whatever was needed to upset the plans of the French government. But the country was not so confident in the capacity of the navy to serve as a defense as it was taught to be in later generations. It had been seized by a most shameful panic at the beginning of the war in face of a mere threat of invasion. Therefore the anxiety of Pitt to baffle the schemes of the French decisively was great, and the country looked on at the development of the naval campaign with nervous attention. The proposed combination of the French fleet was defeated by the annihilation of the Toulon squadron on the coast of Portugal by Edward Boscawen in May, but the Brest fleet was still untouched and the troops were still at Morbihan. It was the duty of Hawke to prevent attack from this quarter. The manner in which he discharged his task marks an epoch in the history of the navy. Until his time, or very nearly so, it was still believed that there was rashness in keeping the great ships out after September. Hawke maintained his blockade of Brest until far into November. Long cruises had always entailed much bad health on the crews, but by the care he took to obtain fresh food, and the energy he showed in pressing the Admiralty for stores, he was able to keep his men healthy. Early in November a series of severe gales forced him off the French coast, and he was compelled to anchor in Torbay. His absence was brief, but it allowed the French admiral, M. de Conflans (1690?-1777), time to put to sea, and to steer for the Morbihan. Hawke, who had left Torbay on the 13th of November, learned of the departure of the French at sea on the 17th from a lookout ship, and as the French admiral could have done nothing but steer for the Morbihan, he followed him there. The news that M. de Conflans had got to sea spread a panic through the country, and for some days Hawke was the object of abuse of the most irrational kind. There was in fact no danger, for behind Hawke's fleet there were ample reserves in the straits of Dover, and in the North Sea. Following his enemy as fast as the bad weather, a mixture of calms and head winds would allow, the admiral sighted the French about 40 miles to the west of Belleisle on the morning of the 20th of November. The British fleet was of twenty-one sail, the French of twenty. There was also a small squadron of British ships engaged in watching the Morbihan as an inshore squadron, which was in danger of being cut off. M. de Conflans had a sufficient force to fight in the open sea without rashness, but after making a motion to give battle, he changed his mind and gave the signal to his fleet to steer for the anchorage at Quiberon. He did not believe that the British admiral would dare to follow him, for the coast is one of the most dangerous in the world, and the wind was blowing hard from the west and rising to a storm. Hawke, however, pursued without hesitation, though it was well on in the afternoon before he caught up the rear of the French fleet, and dark by the time the two fleets were in the bay. The action, which was more a test of seamanship than of gunnery, or capacity to manoeuvre in order, ended in the destruction of the French. Five ships only were taken or destroyed, but others ran ashore, and the French navy as a whole lost all confidence. Two British vessels were lost, but the price was little to pay for such a victory. No more fighting remained to be done. The fleet in Quiberon Bay suffered from want of food, and its distress is recorded in the lines: "Ere Hawke did bang / Mounseer Conflang / You sent us beef and beer; / Now Mounseer's beat / We've nought to eat, / Since you have nought to fear."

Hawke returned to England in January 1760 and had no further service at sea. He was not made a peer until the 20th of May 1776, and then only as Baron Hawke of Towton. From 1776 to 1771 he was first lord of the Admiralty. His administration was much criticized, perhaps more from party spirit than because of its real defects. Whatever his relations with Lord Chatham may have been he was no favorite with Chatham's partizans. It is very credible that, having spent all his life at sea, his faculty did not show in the uncongenial life of the shore. As an admiral at sea and on his own element Hawke has had no superior. It is true that he was not put to the test of having to meet opponents of equal strength and efficiency, but then neither has any other British admiral since the Dutch wars of the 17th century. On his death on the 17th of October 1781 his title passed to his son, Martin Bladen.

Wife: Catherine Brook (m. 1737)
Son: Martin Bladen (b. 1744, d. 1805)

    UK Member of Parliament for Portsmouth (1747)


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