Alan Gardner 1st Baron

1742-1809. Born on 12 April 1742 at Uttoxeter, he was the third surviving son and the eighth of eleven children of Lieutenant-Colonel William Gardner of the 11th regiment of the Dragoon Guards, and of his wife Elizabeth Farrington, originally from Preston. He was the father of Vice-Admiral Lord Alan Hyde Gardner, Major-General Hon. William Henry Gardner and Rear-Admiral Francis Farrington Gardner.

On 1 May 1755 Gardner joined the Medway 60, Captain Peter Denis, attached to the Western Squadron, this ship later being commanded by Captain Charles Proby, and in January 1758 he moved to the Dorsetshire 70, once more commanded by Captain Denis. He fought at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November 1759, and after being commissioned lieutenant on 7 March 1760 he rejoined Denis aboard the Bellona 74, which was still attached to Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s fleet. He took part in the capture of the Courageux 74 in August 1761 after Captain Robert Faulknor had succeeded to the command.

On his twentieth birthday, 12 April 1762, he was promoted commander of the sloop Raven 10, which he recommissioned for service in the Basque Roads before paying her off in March 1763. He was posted captain on 17 May 1766, joining the Preston 50 which was the elected flagship of Rear-Admiral William Parry at Jamaica, and which he recommissioned and took out to the West Indies in August. From 1768-70, during which period he had married a Jamaican heiress, he commanded the frigate Levant 28 after exchanging with Captain Basil Keith, and he paid her off upon returning to England in the latter year.

In January 1774 Gardner was appointed to the Maidstone 28, and he took her out to Jamaica three months later. He left that station with a convoy for England in April 1777, and once the Maidstone was refitted and coppered at Sheerness he was sent back across the Atlantic with another convoy for New York. On 27 March 1778 the Maidstone drove the rebel privateer Columbus 16 ashore off Point Judith, Rhode Island, where she was burned by boats from Gardner’s squadron. In the summer the frigate was sent to cruise off Virginia to look out for the approach of the Comte d’Estaing’s Toulon fleet, and when it was discovered Lieutenant James Vashon was despatched to inform the commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Lord Howe, who was able to prepare the defence of New York in July 1778.

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Admiral Lord Gardner

Thereafter the Maidstone was despatched on a cruise in which she captured the rebel privateers Greenwich on 20 April, Fly on 6 September and General Glover on 19 September, in addition to a large French private ship, the Lyon 40, off Cape Henry on 4 November 1778. During the latter action Gardner was wounded. Struggling against the weather, he earned much praise for sailing to Antigua rather than settling for the easier option of deserting his station and enjoying a fair wind for England.

Remaining in the Leeward Islands, Gardner succeeded the late Captain John Wheelock aboard the Sultan 74 in May, the appointment being made by Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron. On 6 July 1779 he commanded this vessel at the Battle of Grenada with great distinction, being one of three ships in the van exposed to the fire of the whole French fleet and sustaining casualties of sixteen men killed and thirty-nine wounded. The following year the Sultan was with Commodore Hon. William Cornwallis in his brief and inconclusive action with Commodore de Ternay on 20 June 1780, after which she returned to England with a convoy and was paid off.

After a short period of unemployment Gardner was appointed to the Duke 98 at the end of 1781, which sailed out to the Leeward Islands that winter under Admiral Sir George Rodney and fought well at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782, suffering seventy-three casualties after she passed through the rear of the enemy’s line. Gardner later voyaged with the fleet under Admiral Hugh Pigot to North America, and after returning to Jamaica remained there until the peace, whereupon the Sultan sailed for England and was paid off in June 1783.

From 1786-9 Gardner was commander-in-chief on his wife’s home island of Jamaica, going out aboard the Europa 50, Captain James Vashon, and transferring with his broad pennant to the Expedition 44, Captain Vashon, who was succeeded by the alcoholic Captain Hon. John Whitmore Chetwynd, and following that officer’s death, Captain Henry Nicholls from 1 December 1788. Here Gardner was obliged to deal with a dispute between Prince William and his first lieutenant, Isaac Schomberg when the two officers fell out aboard the Pegasus 28.

After returning home he commanded the Courageux 74 during the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790, which ship had been recommissioned for him by Commander George Countess, and was later recommissioned under him in February 1791 for the Russian armament prior to being paid off in September. From 19 January 1790 until March 1795 Gardner also served as a lord commissioner of the Admiralty, becoming M.P for Plymouth on 1 February 1790, a seat he would hold until 1796 when he was elected to parliament for the notable seat of Westminster.

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The Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794

On 1 February 1793 he was promoted rear-admiral, and having been appointed commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands he sailed out with his flag aboard the Queen 98, Captain John Hutt on 26 March 1793 at the head of a squadron of seven men of war. On 14 June he was joined off Martinique by the French Royalist ships Ferme 74 and Calypso 36, but when he launched an attack with eight hundred royalists joining eleven hundred British troops the former farcically managed to attack their own men when landing, forcing a retreat in the face of what was deemed to be republican aggression. Bar the evacuation of some royalist islanders who were facing execution nothing was achieved, and having insufficient resources with which to do anything substantial Gardner returned to England in October.

Joining the Channel fleet, he commanded the second division of the central squadron at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, instructing his crew not to fire until they were close enough ‘to scorch the Frenchmen’s beards’. The Queen was much mauled when forcing the surrender of the Jemmapes 74, but Gardner was unable to take possession because eleven French vessels came to her rescue. During the battle and skirmishes beforehand the Queen suffered casualties of thirty-six men killed and sixty-seven wounded, the former figure including Captain Hutt, who fell on the 29th when the Queen was constantly in action. For his part in the victory Gardner was created a baronet on 9 September, and in the same year was appointed a major-general of marines, having become a colonel two years earlier and also been promoted vice-admiral in accordance with seniority on 4 July 1794.

William Bedford assumed the role of Gardner’s flag captain on Hutt’s demise and remained in this position until 1800, during which period Gardner served as second in command of the Channel fleet to Admiral Lord Bridport, his role becoming official upon Admiral Lord Howe’s resignation in April 1797. Gardner was with the fleet in the action off Lorient on 23 June 1795, although his flagship did not suffer any casualties, and in the summer of 1796 he transferred with Captain Bedford and his flag to the Royal Sovereign 110. In the course of the mutiny at Spithead which erupted on 16 April he famously tried to harangue the men of the Queen Charlotte back to their duty when they were in the middle of negotiations with officials from the Admiralty. Wiser heads ensured that he was escorted off the ship before his violent outburst could provoke the more militant mutineers into bringing the incident to an unfortunate end. He was afterwards dismissed his own ship, and although he was later re-instated he initially refused to come aboard for two days until the emblem of the mutiny, the yard-ropes, were removed. Only Lord Howe’s intervention on the third day brought him back to the cheers of his men.

On 14 February 1799 Gardner was promoted admiral, and with his flag still flying aboard the Royal Sovereign 100, Captain William Bedford, he was sent to the Tagus to convey home the prizes taken at the Battle of the Nile, prior to returning to his station off Brest. In the same year he rejected the command of the Portsmouth station, and after temporarily commanding the Channel fleet for the first three months of 1800 he showed scant respect to the new commander-in-chief, Lord St Vincent, who arrived to take up his post on 26 April. His enmity caused the latter to suspect, probably correctly, that the conspiratorial attitude of the Hood brothers towards him had been instilled in Gardner, At the same time the King, who had wished that his gratitude be expressed to Gardner for his service under Lord Bridport, had mistakenly thought that Gardner’s inclination was not to command the fleet

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Admiral Gardner could not hold his famed temper when he met the Spithead Mutineers in 1797

Somewhat as a recompense for missing out on the Channel fleet command Gardner replaced Vice-Admiral Robert Kingsmill as commander-in-chief of the Irish station on 30 August 1800, and on 23 December he was ennobled as Baron Gardner in the Irish peerage. His flag flew at Cork aboard the Princess Charlotte 38 commanded by his son, Captain Francis Farrington Gardner, one of only two captains on his station. After leaving the post on the cessation of hostilities in 1802 he undertook a thousand mile tour of the North and Midlands.

With war returning he was briefly commander-in-chief at Portsmouth during the spring of 1803, and being re-appointed to the Irish station he took passage with his flag in the Dryad 36, Captain John Giffard, for Cork where he shifted into the Trent 36, Commander Walter Grossett. In March 1805 he sailed in the Trent to assume the temporary command of the Channel Fleet from the weary Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis. Arriving off Brest on 3 April, he transferred his flag into the new Hibernia 110, Captain William Bedford, with Rear-Admiral Edward Thornbrough assuming the duties of his captain of the fleet. Twelve days later Admiral Ganteaume’s fleet appeared off the Black Rocks but quickly retreated when the British entered the Brest approaches, and Gardner never had another opportunity of bringing it to battle. Some accused Gardner of having missed his chance as he was old, out of spirits, and unable to grasp the complexities of the situation, however until Cornwallis resumed his command on 6 July he kept the French safely bottled up in Brest during what was a particularly dangerous time for his country.

Returning to his Irish command, he failed to obtain the sponsorship of Lord Grenville to run again for his parliamentary seat of Westminster and hence demanded an English peerage, entering the House of Lords on 27 November 1806 as Baron Gardner of Uttoxeter. He again briefly commanded the Channel fleet from 1807 with his flag aboard the Ville de Paris 110, Captains Hon. Alan Hyde Gardner and William Bedford, who later transferred with him to the Hibernia 110. He also selected Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth to replace Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez as his second-in-command. Suffering from ill health, he was forced to resign his post in 1808.

Gardner died at Bath on New Year’s Day 1809.

He married Susanna Hyde Gale, daughter and heiress of Francis Gale of Liguania, Jamaica, and widow of Sabine Turner, in Kingston Jamaica on 20 May 1769. They had nine sons and a daughter, and his eldest son, Vice-Admiral Alan Hyde Gardner, succeeded to his titles.

Gardner served as M.P for Plymouth from 1790-6 and for Westminster with his political adversary Charles James Fox from 1796-1806, becoming a candidate for this seat at the request of prime minister William Pitt, and sustaining a severe verbal assault from Fox’s supporters amongst the mob during the hustings. He was a friend of Pitt’s father, Lord Chatham. When Gardner spoke, or ‘sounded off’ in the House of Commons the Whigs loved to mimic him.

He was renowned for being pugnacious and irascible, zealous and forceful, exceedingly brave, excitable, nervous and bellicose. Whilst on fleet duty he often stayed awake at night pacing his stern gallery to ensure that the ship astern did not ram his. Collingwood viewed him as the perfect disciplinarian and admirably suited for the command of a fleet, whilst St. Vincent described him as ‘zealous and brave with the worst nerves possible’. He had heavy black eyebrows, flaring nostrils, a strong jaw, and missing upper teeth. The seamen knew him as ‘Old Junk’, as it was said that he kept his ships at sea until they were on salt junk. The wife of the first lord of the admiralty, Lady Spencer, accused him of having a ‘childish fondness for his men’ His flag-lieutenant for much of the time between 1796 and 1804 was Henry Morris, brother of Amherst Morris who was the first lieutenant of the Nymphe at her capture of the Cleopatra in 1793.