Sir Thomas Troubridge
1758-1807. He was born in London of Irish descent and uniquely humble origins, being the only son of Richard Troubridge, a baker in the Strand, and of his wife Elizabeth Squinch. He was the father of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Thomas Troubridge.
Troubridge was educated at St. Paul’s School in London from 1768 and went to sea on a merchantman bound for the West Indies five years later. On 8 October 1773 he entered the navy as an able seaman aboard the frigate Seahorse 24, Captain George Farmer, at the instigation of the venerable Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, whose gout Troubridge’s sister had nursed as a child. Going out to the East Indies and enjoying the company of Horatio Nelson as a shipmate, he was rated midshipman on 21 March 1774, and was appointed master’s mate on 25 July 1776. He was present at the operations off Pondicherry from 10-25 August 1778, and on the latter day he led the boarding party in the capture of the French frigate Sartine 32.
In recognition of his efforts at the capture of the Sartine Troubridge was taken aboard the Superb 74, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, and he was commissioned lieutenant on 1 January 1781. He next joined the small Chaser 18, which was commanded by Lieutenant Robert Montagu, and he rejoined the Seahorse with Montagu after that officer was posted her captain on 3 March 1781. He fought at the Battles of Sadras on 17 February 1782, and Trincomale on 12 April, and after rejoining the Superb on the next day he fought in Hughes’ next two actions with the Balli de Suffren at Negapatam on 6 July and Trincomale on 3 September. By 10 October he had risen to become the first lieutenant of the Superb, and the next day he was promoted to the command of the sloop Lizard, remaining in the East Indies.
On 1 January 1783 he was posted captain of the frigate Active 32 in which he was present at the Battle of Cuddalore on 20 June 1783. After moving to the Defence 74 in December he exchanged with Commodore Andrew Mitchell into the Sultan 74 as flag-captain to Hughes in November 1784, and he returned to England in 1785.
During the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790 he recommissioned the frigate Thames 32 in June and went out to the East Indies to serve under Commodore Hon. William Cornwallis in action against Tippoo Sahib. On returning to England the Thames was paid off in 1791.
In February 1793 Troubridge recommissioned the Castor 32, going out to the Mediterranean with the fleet in May and serving at the occupation of Toulon from August. Whilst escorting the outward bound Newfoundland convoy from the Channel Islands his command was captured off Cape Clear on 10 May 1794 by the Patriote 74 from Rear-Admiral Joseph Marie Nielly’s squadron. Happily Captain Francis Laforey’s Carysfort 28 recaptured the Castor nineteen days later on 29 May. Meanwhile Troubridge was taken aboard Nielly’s Sans Pareil 80, and after being placed in the boatswain’s storeroom during the Battle of the Glorious First of June he spent the entire action haranguing his guard before having the good fortune to see her captured by the British.
After returning to England at the helm of the Sans Pareil as her prize-master, Troubridge was acquitted for the loss of the Castor and appointed to the Culloden 74 in the Channel fleet. On 3 December the crew mutinied whilst Troubridge and his officers were ashore at Spithead, and although Admiral Lord Bridport, Vice-Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis and Rear-Admiral John Colpoys were unable to persuade them to return to their duty, the popular and silver-tongued Captain Hon. Thomas Pakenham of the Invincible managed to do so. The ringleaders were tried within the week despite being Pakenham’s pledge to the contrary, and on 13 January five men were hung at the yardarm of the Culloden.
In May 1795 the Culloden was sent out to the Mediterranean, and on 13 July was in the fore of the action with the French off Hyères, losing two men killed and five wounded. In October Troubridge was detached in command of two sail of the line and three frigates in a fruitless chase of Commodore Honoré Ganteaume who had broken out with one sail of the line, five frigates, and a corvette. Upon Admiral Sir John Jervis’ arrival as commander-in-chief he placed Troubridge in command of the inshore squadron off Toulon, and in a five-month period not one French ship got to sea. During this time Troubridge also had the good fortune to capture a Spanish ship valued at 30,000 guineas. On 10 December 1796 his brilliant seamanship saved the Culloden from destruction when she was driven from her anchorage at Gibraltar in the same storm that saw the loss of the Courageux on 18 December.
On 14 February 1797 the magnificently trained Culloden led the line at the Battle of St. Vincent, Troubridge having speedily repaired her after a collision two days previously, and he was warmly praised by the commander-in-chief for his gallant conduct. During the action he lost ten men killed and forty-seven wounded. After assisting in the bombardment of Cadiz he was conspicuously unsuccessful in an attempt to land a party of seamen and marines in the attack on Santa Cruz from 21-25 July. The failure was possibly down to his being unwell, although in a characteristic display of belligerence he later brilliantly negotiated a cease-fire with the Spanish following the severe wounding of his senior officer, Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.
In 1798 he led the squadron of ten reinforcements sent to reinforce Nelson in the Mediterranean, but the Culloden drove on to a shoal at the commencement of the Battle of the Nile on 1 August and did not see any action. Although she was re-floated the next day it was in a state of poor repair, and it took all of Troubridge’s renowned determination and resource to nurse her to Naples. Nevertheless, following heavy canvassing from Admiral Earl of St. Vincent and Nelson, and at the personal direction of the King, he eventually received a gold medal along with all the other victorious Nile captains.
Troubridge served off Malta in the autumn of 1798, and then held an independent command off Egypt before being replaced by Captain Sir William Sidney Smith in March 1799. His services were rewarded by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, although he plainly detested the behaviour of the court, and his particular dislike of Emma Hamilton led to his estrangement from his friend Nelson. During the breakout of the Brest fleet from 25 April he was summoned from Naples to join Nelson off Sicily. From 29 June he began attacking French garrisons in collaboration with Neapolitan forces, capturing Procida, Ischia and Capri despite the hopelessness of his allies, and then leading the assault against the French garrisons around Naples. On 30 November 1799 he was further rewarded for his outstanding service by being created a baronet.
Following her capture on 18 February 1800, Troubridge was offered the command of the French prize Généreux 74 but declined it. During the early months of that year he was ordered to hoist a broad pennant as senior officer at the blockade of Malta, where once again he complained bitterly at the lack of Neapolitan support, believing that King Ferdinand could have done far more for the beleaguered Maltese population. His health deteriorated over the following months as he suffered jaundice and the coughing up of blood, and he returned to England aboard the Culloden in May.
In the meantime Admiral Lord St Vincent had been appointed the commander-in-chief in the Channel on 26 April 1800, and as soon as Troubridge was fit for duty he became the earl’s captain of the fleet aboard the Ville de Paris 110, Captain Hon George Grey. In no time he was bullying the complacent captains at his master’s behest, and over the following winter his tenacity and perseverance shone through as the fleet maintained its rigorous blockade.
From 1801-4 he was a lord of the Admiralty in the service of St Vincent, assisting the first lord in his zealous and aggressive reforms which included controversial tours of the royal dockyards and naval installations from August 1802. This campaign inevitably led to huge political fallout when the scale of the pervading corruption was uncovered. In the midst of the upheaval, in November 1802, he was called to give evidence against the traitor, Colonel Edward Despard, having typically taken the trouble to spy on a treasonable meeting from a rooftop.
On 23 April 1804 Troubridge was promoted rear-admiral, and in April 1805 with his flag aboard the aged cut-down Blenheim 74, Captain Austen Bissell, he went out as joint commander-in-chief of the East Indies, being apportioned a territory to the eastward of Point de Galle on Ceylon. The posting was something of a surprise to him, as following the fall of a government he had supported he had not expected an offer of employment. On 6 August 1805, being in passage some one hundred miles to the east of Mauritius, he fell in with the redoubtable Rear-Admiral Durand Linois’ Marengo 74 and Belle Poule 40. After a brief engagement the French fled from his ten sail convoy as soon as they identified the Blenheim as a man-of-war.
He then joined Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, who to that date had commanded the whole of the East Indian station and could not have been more outraged that the incoming prime minister, William Pitt, had given Troubridge the more lucrative eastern portion of the newly divided station. Unfortunately Pellew and Troubridge, two of the finest officers in the navy, were neither renowned for their patience or tact, and they quarrelled bitterly to the point that they almost resolved to decide the issue on the field of honour. The dispute was referred to the Admiralty for further adjudication, and consequently Troubridge was ordered to return to the Cape. This change of heart gave the impression that the initial division of the station had been a political move by Pitt, who had cause to detest both Pellew and Troubridge.
With the Blenheim having in the meantime been damaged by grounding in the Straits of Malacca, Captain Bissell advised Troubridge during a refit at Madras that she was not fit to undertake a voyage to the Cape. Nevertheless the impulsive rear-admiral insisted upon sailing, being eager to get away from Pellew before their differences developed into an outright feud, and indeed his powers of persuasion were so characteristically effective that a number of passengers decided to undertake the voyage with him.
The decision proved to be tragic. Departing Madras on 12 January 1807 in company with the Java 36, Captain George Pigot, and brig Harrier 18, Captain Justice Finlay, the Blenheim foundered with the former vessel in a cyclone to the south-east of Madagascar on 1 February. The rear-admiral’s son, Captain Edward Troubridge, who in a clear case of nepotism had rapidly been posted captain by his father, was sent by Pellew to enquire of the French at Mauritius as to the Blenheim’s fate, but as the Harrier had last seen the flagship flying the flag of distress there could be little doubt that she had been lost with a total loss of life.
Troubridge had married Frances, the daughter of Captain John Northall and the widow of Henry Richardson of Marylebone on 20 December 1787. She died on 13 June 1798 having left issue one son, Edward, and a daughter, Charlotte, as well as a number of children from her former marriage. Troubridge owned a house in Plymouth that was kept by his vastly older sister.
He was zealous, fiery, honourable, resolute, brave beyond measure, dutiful, quick-tempered, excitable, moody, single-minded, direct, brusque and did not suffer fools gladly. In essence he was a true British bulldog. His language was as direct as his behaviour and as intemperate, and was rendered the more vigorous by his increasing deafness. His physical stature was impressive, he had a confident visage and a mature yet young looking face, and he spoke with an Irish influence in his accent.
The Earl of St. Vincent considered Troubridge to be the finest officer in the service, and in turn Troubridge was the old admiral’s leading acolyte, sharing many of his foibles including the tackling of apparent injustice and an irrational hatred of Scotsmen. He fell out with Lord Nelson over his ridiculous behaviour with Lady Hamilton and the Neapolitan Court, although this was partly through his own jealously. His feelings for Sir William Sidney Smith were so ill that he famously stated ‘he makes me sick!’, and he also held a dislike of both Admiral Lord Keith and Admiral Sir Manley Dixon.