Sir Charles Morice Pole

1757-1830. Born on 18 January 1757, he was the second son of Reginald Pole of Stoke Damerel in Devon, and of his wife, Anne Buller. His elder brother, Reginald Pole-Carew, was a member of parliament for all but a few years during the period 1782-1816.

In January 1770 Pole entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth after an earlier education at Plympton Grammar School, and two years later he joined the frigate Thames 32, Captain William Locker, serving in home waters.

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A young Captain Pole

In December 1773 he was appointed to the Salisbury 50, Commodore Sir Edward Hughes, the commander-in-chief in the East Indies, and by him was promoted lieutenant of the Seahorse 24, Captain John Alexander Panton, on 26 June 1777. He remained on this ship until 1778 when he removed to the Rippon 60, carrying the broad pennant of Commodore Sir Edward Vernon, and he took part in the action with the French off Pondicherry on 10 August before commanding the battalion of seamen ashore at the reduction of that base. On 17 October 1778 he was promoted commander of the sloop Cormorant 14 in succession to Commander William Owen who had lost his life in an alcohol-fuelled accident, and in which vessel he returned to England with Vernon’s despatches, arriving in March 1779.

Within two weeks of coming home he was posted captain on 22 March 1779, and on 1 April he joined the Britannia 100, flagship of Vice-Admiral George Darby, being present during the August retreat up the Channel. In July 1780 he moved to the frigate Hussar 28 and went out to North America with a convoy under the charge of Captain John MacBride. Shortly after arriving on that station he took the Spanish Nuestra Sĕnora del Buen Consejo 64 armed en-flute, but unfortunately, due to the error of the pilot, the Hussar was lost in the Hell’s Gate, New York, on 23 November with the loss of about one hundred and fifty souls, as well as the pay chests of the British army. After being fully acquitted at the subsequent court martial Pole returned to England with Vice-Admiral Marriott Arbuthnot’s despatches.

He was next appointed to commission the brand new Success 32 in the spring of 1781, in which frigate he captured the privateer Eclair in the Channel on 2 October. In March 1782 he was ordered to convey the ill-gunned store ship Vernon 22 out to Gibraltar. During the passage he fell in with the huge frigate Santa Catalina 34 on 16 March, and deciding that an engagement would guarantee the escape of the valuable Vernon he brought the Spaniard to action and effected a surrender inside two hours. Sadly bitter luck attended this brilliant feat, for when an unrecognised squadron appeared in view Pole mistook them for the Spanish and burned the Santa Catalina, only to find that the strangers were in fact two British frigates and a convoy under the command of Captain Robert Man. In June 1782 the Success took a convoy out to Jamaica, returning home to be paid off in November 1783.

After the peace Pole remained unemployed until the late summer of 1786, when after being appointed to the Medway-based guardship Scipio 64 he joined the Plymouth based guard-ship Crown 64, retaining her from the autumn of 1786 until October 1788. In 1789 he was appointed a groom of the bedchamber to Prince William, and returning to active service he was appointed to commission the new frigate Melampus 36 in May during the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790, being sent to reconnoitre the Spanish Atlantic ports before paying her off in November. In March 1791 he recommissioned the Illustrious 74 during the Russian armament before paying her off six months later.

At the commencement of the French Revolutionary War he recommissioned the Colossus 74 in February 1793, going out to the Mediterranean in May and serving in the occupation of Toulon from 27 August. In the following year he joined Admiral Lord Howe’s Channel fleet, having formed part of the reinforcement which left Plymouth under Rear-Admiral George Montagu on 3 June following the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

Pole was promoted a rear-admiral on 1 June 1795 and from September briefly flew his flag aboard the Trident 64, Captain Theophilus Jones. Continuing in the Colossus, Captain Henry Jenkins, he set sail on 16 November 1795 for the Leeward Islands as second-in-command to Rear-Admiral Hugh Christian but shared in the tribulations which resulted in the loss of many lives and the expedition’s return to port. After transferring to the Carnatic 74, Captain Henry Jenkins, he set sail once more on 12 April 1796 and joined the Leeward Islands campaign that ran from April-June. He returned home with Christian aboard the Beaulieu 44, Captain Lancelot Skynner, in October.

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Admiral Pole in later life

Pole became captain of the fleet to Admiral Lord Bridport aboard the Royal George 100 in the Channel in March 1797, and he found himself sent to the Admiralty with first hand news of the Great Mutiny of 16 April. Two years later he hoisted his own flag aboard the Royal George, commanded by Captain William Domett, and he participated in the campaign that resulted from the French fleet’s breakout from Brest on 25 April 1799. Towards the end of the campaign in July he led a squadron that was unable to engage five Spanish sail of the line from Ferrol in the Basque Roads, the enemy having anchored well inshore under the protection of French mortar batteries. By September his squadron had returned to Torbay and he retained his flag in the Channel fleet through to the following spring.

In May 1800, following Admiral Lord Bridport’s resignation from the Channel fleet command, Pole was appointed commander-in-chief and governor in Newfoundland with his flag aboard the Agincourt 64, Captain George Ryves. This was the briefest of tenures, as he returned home at the end of the year.

He was promoted vice-admiral on 1 January 1801, and on 17 June arrived aboard the Aeolus 32, Captain John William Spranger, to replace the homesick Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson as commander-in-chief in the Baltic with his flag aboard the St. George 98, Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, his captain of the fleet being Henry Nicholls. With the Battle of Copenhagen already won there was little for him to do other than bring the fleet home, which he did at the end of July despite the difficulty of navigating the Great Belt in the face of strong head winds. He was created a baronet on 12 September, and after a brief spell off Ireland he commanded off Cadiz with twelve sail of the line from the Baltic fleet until the peace.

Pole was never to be employed at sea again but his service to the navy was far from over. During 1802 he was elected M.P. for Newark, and he quickly earned a reputation for his conscientious attendance of the house. From 1803-6 he chaired the Committee of Naval Abuse, which had been set up by the Earl of St Vincent’s board to look into naval affairs following the tour of naval facilities in August 1802. Making its first report in May 1803, this body unearthed enough fraudulent activities,, briberies, and peculations to lead to the impeachment of the new first lord of the Admiralty, Viscount Melville.

Having been promoted admiral on 9 November 1805 and officiated at Nelson’s funeral on 9 January 1806, Pole became a lord of the admiralty in the ‘Ministry of the Talents’ in February 1806. He retained this position until October when he resigned upon receiving the offer of second in command in the Channel fleet to the Earl of St. Vincent. In the event he did not take up this position as the new first lord, Thomas Grenville, would not guarantee Pole’s succession to the chief command upon St. Vincent’s eventual retirement. From 1806 until 1818 he sat as M.P for Plymouth at St. Vincent’s instigation, priding himself as an industrious member independent of party restrictions. He was never afraid to speak his mind, as illustrated when he condemned the appointment of Sir Home Riggs Popham as captain of the fleet sent under Admiral Lord Gambier in the Baltic campaign of 1807 because of his lack of seniority and character.

On 2 January 1815 Pole was nominated a K.C.B., on 20 February 1818 he was nominated a G.C.B, and on the accession of his old comrade, King William IV, he became a master of the robes. He became an admiral of the fleet on 22 July 1830 and died at his seat, Aldenham Abbey, Hertfordshire, on 6 September that year.

On 8 June 1792 he married Henrietta, the daughter of John Goddard, a Rotterdam trader living at Woodford Hall in Essex, by whom he had three daughters, the youngest of whom predeceased him. He purchased Aldenham Abbey in 1812.

Pole was not a great orator, but he was a good administrator and was recognised as fair and beyond reproach in his chairmanship of the committee of naval abuse. St. Vincent had earlier described him as ‘an old woman’, but was happy to appoint him chairman of the committee, having previously recommended him for the vital parliamentary seat of Westminster. He fought patiently for the benefit of the navy in Parliament.

Modest yet strong on discipline, Pole was fair with his men and was admired for his attention to duty. On one occasion his barge men refused to be picked up from their capsized boat until he had been found. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, and a lifelong friend of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson.