Samuel Hood 1st Viscount

1724-1816. Born at Thorncombe, near Axminster on 12 December 1724, he was the eldest son of a humble clergyman, Samuel Hood of Butleigh in Somerset, and of his wife, Mary Hoskins. He was the elder brother of Admiral Alexander Hood, Viscount Bridport, and the first cousin of the father of Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel and Captain Alexander Hood.

His father was initially wary of entering his sons in the naval service, and it was not until 6 May 1741 that Samuel Hood first went to sea as a midshipman with Captain Thomas Smith aboard the Romney 50, on which ship his younger brother Alexander was already serving. He was then rated a seaman under Captain Thomas Grenville, whom he followed to the Garland 20 in April 1743, and he saw further service from November under Captain George Rodney in the Channel aboard the new Sheerness 20. From September 1744 he was in the newly commissioned Ludlow Castle 44 under Rodney as a midshipman before leaving that ship on 23 January 1746 and moving to the Exeter 60, Captain Thomas Smith. Later that year, when serving as an acting-lieutenant aboard the frigate Winchelsea 50, Captain Henry Dyve, he was wounded in the hand during the capture of the French frigate Subtile 26.

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Rear-Admiral Lord Hood in 1784

Hood was promoted lieutenant on 17 June 1746, and in March 1748 was appointed to the newly commissioned Greenwich 50, Captain John Montagu, sailing several months later to Newfoundland aboard the Princess Louisa 60, flagship of Rear-Admiral Charles Watson, and returning home in November. There followed a period of unemployment before he was appointed to the guard ship Invincible 74, Captain Robert Pett, at Portsmouth in January 1753, leaving her for the Terrible 74 with the same officer in May.

Hood was promoted commander of the sloop Jamaica 10 on 10 May 1754, which vessel he took out to North America and the Bahamas. On 22 July 1756, whilst serving with Commodore Charles Holmes’s squadron off Louisbourg, the Admiralty posted him captain of the Lively 20 in England. Within the month, and being unaware of his elevation, he was promoted to become Holmes’s flag captain aboard the Grafton 70 in which he returned home at the end of the year.

In January 1757, reasoning that the absence of their captains at Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byng’s court-martial would see many ships in need of an acting commander, Hood applied for employment and was rewarded with a temporary appointment to the Torbay 74 for Captain Hon. Augustus Keppel, moving on 1 April to the Tartar 28 for the invalided Captain John Lockhart. Transferring on 30 April to the Antelope 50 in an acting-capacity for Captain Thomas Saumarez, he drove the Aquilon 50 ashore in Audierne Bay on 14 May after an eighty-minute action, with his own ship barely escaping the perilous rocks. The Antelope lost three men killed and thirteen wounded in this action, as opposed to thirty killed and twenty-five wounded aboard the enemy.

In recognition of this feat Hood was given command of the tiny frigate Biddeford 20 in July, serving in Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s fleet, and capturing two privateers, the Victoire on 30 July and Romieu on 30 September. In the following year he joined the Vestal 32, temporarily carrying Rear-Admiral George Rodney’s flag at the destruction of the fortifications of the Isle of Aix. On 21 February 1759 he defeated the French Bellone 36 in a tough action off Cape Finisterre, and in July helped Rodney destroy the invasion flotilla at Le Hâvre, earning praise and, even more significantly respect, from this difficult officer. In May 1760 he was sent out to the Mediterranean at his own request for reasons of health where he remained for the remainder of the Seven Years War, capturing the letters of marquee Marquise de Pilles on 21 December 1760, and Saint-Antoine on 18 January 1761. The Vestal returned to England in April 1763 and she was paid off two months later.

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Hood’ service with Admiral Lord Rodney spanned forty years and was a mixture of professional respect and mutual loathing.

In September 1763 Hood recommissioned the guardship Thunderer 74 at Portsmouth in which he transported a regiment of foot to North America in 1765 before paying her off in the following year. In April 1767 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the North American station in succession to the late Vice-Admiral Philip Durell, going out in the Launceston 44, Captain John Gell. Whilst on station he flew his broad pennant aboard the Romney 50, Captain John Corner, and for a few weeks in 1770 Captain Hyde Parker, prior to leaving for England at the end of October with Captain Robert Linzee in command.

In January 1771 Hood joined another guard ship, the Royal William 80 at Portsmouth, retaining her until paid off in May. In November 1773 he was appointed to the Marlborough 74 which he commanded until July 1776, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir James Douglas at Portsmouth. This appointment ended in tragedy when the ship was badly damaged with the loss of eighteen men women and children following an accidental explosion in the fore magazine. He immediately commissioned the Courageux 74 for guardship duties at Portsmouth with the crew of the Marlborough joining him, in which ship he later cruised in command of a small squadron in the western approaches from 27 December 1777 for about three weeks. With French war clouds gathering once more, he accepted the vital position of commissioner of Portsmouth dockyard and governor of the Naval Academy later in January 1778, even though this role was normally reserved for those officers unlikely to be recalled to a combative role.

On 20 May 1778 he was created a baronet following the King’s review of the fleet at Spithead, the monarch taking an instant liking to Hood and facilitating his elevation from the civil position to flag rank on 26 September 1780. Flying his flag aboard the Barfleur 90, Captain John Inglefield, he sailed in December with reinforcements of eight sail of the line and a convoy to join Admiral Sir George Rodney, becoming second-in-command in the Leeward Islands over the heads of more senior officers who would not serve because of political conflicts. He had initially rejected the first lord of the Admiralty’s overtures after claiming to be in ill-health, but to the surprise of many Lord Sandwich asked him to reconsider and he accepted. He joined Rodney at St Lucia in January 1781 and was stationed between Montserratt and Nevis to prevent any interference with the expedition against St. Eustatius on 3 February. Subsequent to this event he typically criticised Rodney both indirectly and directly for his avaricious intentions at the detriment of the war effort, describing the commander-in-chief’s actions as ‘Flemish accounting’.

With Captain John Knight joining him as his flag captain he afterwards commanded the blockade of four French sail of the line at Martinique with his own seventeen sail of the line, although he plagued Rodney with letters suggesting that his position to leeward of the island would render him useless should a French fleet arrive. When it did on 28 April 1781 Vice-Admiral de Grasse’s twenty sail of the line effected a junction with the four ships in Fort Royal, whilst Hood’ s fleet was stranded to leeward of the island, just as he had envisaged. After a small and unhappy engagement known as the Battle of Fort Royal on 29 April, one that saw four of Hood’s van ships damaged, the French withdrew to Fort Royal and Hood retired to rejoin Rodney at Antigua.

When Rodney returned home through illness shortly afterwards Hood took command of the fleet, and with the hurricane season approaching sailed for North America in the hope of finding De Grasse there. His flag-captain during this period was his cousin, Captain Alexander Hood. On 28 August he joined Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves at New York with fourteen sail of the line, and he was second-in-command to this officer, although not engaged, at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September. It was later suggested that his conduct in support of an officer who was clearly inferior to him in abilities was hardly adequate, indeed some commentators accused him of a lack of bravery in failing to support the battered ships of the van with his unscathed rear division. In effect though, he was hamstrung by the rigid Fighting Instructions and thereafter would do all he could to see them altered. Once a further attempt to rescue Lord Cornwallis’s army in the Chesapeake had failed, Hood returned to New York on 2 November and nine days later, believing that the Marquis de Vaudreuil was heading south with twelve sail of the line and troops, and fearing that the thirteen Spanish sail of the line at Cuba would attack Jamaica, he sailed back to the West Indies.

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The Battle of St. Kitts 1781

On his return voyage he was joined by an additional four sail of the line which had been transferred to his command by the new commander-in-chief at New York, Rear-Admiral Hon. Robert Digby. This meant that Hood now had seventeen sail of the line at his disposal, the badly damaged Terrible 74 having been consigned to the deep off the Capes of Virginia. Not all his dealings with Digby had been so amicable however, and the two men had engaged in a letter war over prize-money and the loan of seamen to bolster Hood’s scurvy-affected ships.

After arriving at Barbados on 5 December, Hood learned a month later that de Grasse had sailed for St. Kitts, and on 25/26 January he brilliantly outfoxed the French admiral in an action off the Basseterre Roads by drawing the enemy out of his anchorage as if to give battle and then slipping in himself. The performance of his twenty-two ships against the enemy’s twenty-four sail of the line and two 50-gun ships was the naval highlight of the war, but in the end it proved to be fruitless, as the island’s garrison could no longer defend its position ashore. Having repulsed several attacks, and facing a strengthened opposition of thirty-two sail of the line, Hood ordered his ships to slip their cables and escape to sea on the night of 14 February, a feat they managed magnificently.

Arriving back at Barbados, and with Captain John Knight having reassumed the duties of flag-captain from Alexander Hood, he was shortly rejoined by Rodney with reinforcements from England. On 9 December his division fought the opening moves of the Battle of the Saintes against huge odds, the Barfleur engaging seven Frenchmen alone, and on 12 April Hood led the rear squadron in the main battle. De Grasse’s flagship Ville de Paris struck to him, the only three-decked French ship to be taken, and a week later he led the force which attacked the French stragglers in the Mona Passage. Hood subsequently criticised Rodney bitterly for failing to continue the battle, and of putting his own pocket before the service, but he was somewhat compensated by being created Baron Hood of Catherington, Hampshire, in the Irish peerage on 12 September and being awarded the freedom of the City of London. He rejoined Rodney off Cape Tiburon on 25 April and having monitored the remnants of the French fleet at Cape François until the end of May with twenty sail of the line he returned to Jamaica.

Following Rodney’s controversial recall to England Hood served as second-in-command to Admiral Hugh Pigot until the peace, sailing with the fleet when it went north to America, and being detached with a dozen sail of the line to cruise off Boston in an attempt to intercept part of the French fleet under du Vaudreuil. Having received intelligence that a French and Spanish force was planning to unite near Cap Francois, Hood left for the Caribbean once more on 22 November, arriving on 4 December to learn that the expedition was daily expected. In the event peace discussions delayed its despatch and the union between the allies never took place. Hood eventually arrived back at Spithead with his squadron on 26 June 1783.

In 1784 he stood in the cause of William Pitt against the formidable Charles James Fox at the election to the Westminster constituency, and on 17 May was returned with the most votes. He was extremely popular with the electors but his seamen intimidated the Foxites in a violent campaign that saw the death of a constable from Wapping who had been shouting ‘No Fox’. During 1786 Hood flew his flag at Portsmouth aboard the guardship Triumph 74, Captain John Knight, and from 1787-8 he was the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth with his flag in the Barfleur 98, Captain Knight. On 24 September 1787 he was promoted vice-admiral, and he supported Lord Howe in the controversial yellowing of admirals, although Howe resigned over the matter on the 16 July 1788. In the same month Hood joined Lord Chatham’s Board of Admiralty, remaining there for the next five years.

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The evacuation of Toulon – December 1783

In the election of July 1788 Hood lost his Westminster seat and was obliged to take up the position of M.P for Reigate from August 1789, but during 1790 he was returned for Westminster with a poll of Fox 3,516, Hood 3,217 and Tooke 1,697. From August 1790 to August 1791 he flew his flag in the Victory 100, Captain Knight, whilst serving as commander-in-chief of a fleet of thirty-six sail of the line preparing to confront the Russians in their war with Turkey. At Spithead in 1792 aboard the Duke 98, Captain Knight, he presided at the court-martial of the Bounty mutineers who had risen against Captain William Bligh in the Pacific Ocean on 28 April 1789.

In February 1793 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet with his flag aboard the Victory 100, Captain Knight, having failed to secure the Channel command due to the King’s favour of Admiral Lord Howe. Making full use of his position of first sea lord he was able to obtain the cream of the fleet in deference to the Channel command, and he secured the services of Rear-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker as his captain of the fleet prior to his replacement in 1794 by Captain John Inglefield. Hood sailed on 22 May with eight under-manned sail of the line. In July he despatched Captain George Lumsdaine on a devious mission to Tripoli and Tunis in which he fully intended a French squadron to seize a small British vessel, thereby giving him the excuse to seize all French shipping on that coast. Lumsdaine, not having been fully informed of his intentions, withdrew before the French presence and was later brought to a court martial for failing to obey Hood’s orders, although he was deservedly acquitted.

Co-operating with the French Royalists and the Spanish Hood occupied Toulon on 27 August, having overcome a feeble attempt by republican officers within the French fleet to dispute the entrance to the harbour. By now his fleet had risen to twenty-one sail-of-the-line. Attempting to hold Toulon with his fractious allies caused him immense problems, not least because of a ham-fisted attempt by the Spanish to promote Admiral Don Francisco Gravina to a rank senior to Hood in order that he could assume the chief command. By the end of September the town was surrounded by revolutionary troops and on 17 December it was decided to evacuate. Fifteen thousand civilians were taken aboard the allied ships whilst the Spanish Admiral Don Juan de Langara and the British volunteer Captain Sir William Sidney Smith were left to blow up those French ships not ready for sea. Unfortunately their efforts were only partially successful, and notwithstanding the political and logistic confusion he had been subjected to Hood was blamed for what the public perceived to be a disappointing failure in not destroying the French fleet and evacuating all the royal supporters.

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Admiral Lord Hood

Still seeking a forward Mediterranean base, Hood next tried to take Corsica between 8 February and 10 August at the invitation of the island’s nationalist leader Pasquale Paoli. On 4 April, having failed to gain support from the army commanders for whom he had little time, Bastia was attacked by twelve hundred men under Lieutenant-Colonel William Villettes and two hundred and fifty seamen under Captain Horatio Nelson. On 21 May Bastia surrendered, but three weeks later news came that the Toulon fleet was at sea, all be it under a reluctant admiral, Pierre Martin, who knew that his fleet was no match for the Spanish, let alone the British. Due to unfavourable winds Hood was unable to carry out an attack on this fleet in the Golfe Jouan on 12 June, and his well-laid down battle plans were nullified over the next windless days as the French fortified their position on shore. Throwing up the opportunity of battle in favour of returning to the siege of Calvi, the last French stronghold on Corsica, he left Vice-Admiral William Hotham to blockade the French fleet.

Shortly afterwards, and having been already promoted admiral on 12 April, Hood was recalled to England, apparently because of a dispute with the government, although his state of health was mentioned as the official reason. Sailing home aboard the Victory on 11 October, it was after he anchored at Spithead that he was ordered to strike his flag by the new First Lord, Earl Spencer, because of his remonstrations about the inadequacy of the Mediterranean Fleet.

On 27 March 1794 his wife was created Baroness Hood of Catherington and in March 1796 Hood became governor of Greenwich Hospital, becoming Viscount of Catherington on 1 June. He was present at the launch of such vessels as the Courageux 74 at Deptford in 1800, and he officially received the body of Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson in preparation for that officer’s funeral on the 9 January 1806, but he did not serve again.

Hood was created a G.C.B in 1815 and on 27 January 1816 died at Greenwich, being buried in the old hospital cemetery. To the end of his life he retained his sagacity, the position of governor of Greenwich and a positive outlook towards the next life.

On 25 August 1749 Hood married Susannah Linzee, daughter of the mayor of Portsmouth and sister of the future Admiral Robert Linzee. She died in 1806, leaving a son Henry, who left the navy shortly after seeing duty as his father’s servant aboard the Romney. Henry became a chamberlain to Queen Caroline, with his wife being a lady in waiting, and both attempted to facilitate her entry to the coronation of King George IV. Henry was also a lover of the Queen. Hood’s granddaughter married Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Mason.

Respected for his ability, Hood did not let difficulties overcome him, was courageous and zealous in battle and with his tongue. Haughty and imperious, Hotham said ‘he has something about him that puts inferior officers in much awe, and he is a stranger to nervous diffidence.’ Certainly he was never afraid to talk himself up, and he could be intolerant, arrogant and charm-less. He was a poor subordinate and an autocratic character who thought he was better than anyone else and did not have time for anyone who failed to share his views. Being an officer of the old school, he did little to maintain the discipline of the Mediterranean fleet during his period of command, as was no doubt gleefully highlighted by his eventual successor and implacable enemy, Sir John Jervis. Nevertheless, he kept his fleet in order at sea, and his instructions were always clear and precise. During and because of his experiences in the American Revolutionary War he became a great innovator of tactics.

Hood was a Portland Whig and Pittite, and a friend of the second Lord Chatham, Lord Howe, and Sir William Hotham. He seldom attended Parliament and seldom spoke, but when he did it was with a grace and eloquence that belied his profession. The King admired him greatly, and Hood reciprocated with an intensity and lack of shame that could almost be termed ‘toadying’. Admired by most, Nelson was furious at his dismissal by the Admiralty in 1795. Although he had shared a mutual respect with Rodney in his early years they were not so close when they reached flag rank, and Rodney preferred to call him an ‘old apple woman’.

Religious but poor, unlike his rich brother Admiral Lord Bridport, Hood’s London address was 12 Wimpole Street, and his Bath address 5 Queen Square. His secretary in the French Revolutionary War was John M’Arthur. During the 1780’s he suffered ill-health with his liver.