Sir Francis Samuel Drake 1st Baronet

1728-89. He was baptised on 14 September 1729, having been born a year before at the ancestral Drake home of Buckland Abbey in Buckland Monachorum, Devon. He was the fourth born but third surviving of Sir Francis Henry Drake, the 4th baronet in the line of succession from the conqueror of the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drake, and of his wife, Anne Heathcote. His immediate elder brother was Vice-Admiral Francis William Drake.

Samuel Drake was schooled at Plymouth from the age of twelve, and only entered the Navy at the age of sixteen as something of an afterthought on behalf of his widowed mother, the boy having returned from school to the family home without a plan for his future.

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Sir Francis Samuel Drake was descended from the great Elizabethan adventurer of the same name.

He was commissioned lieutenant on 21 August 1749 and served aboard the Torrington 44, Captain Thomas Hutchenson, going out to Newfoundland in 1751 and North America in April 1753. Further employment was aboard the Otter 14, Commander Edward Le Cras, and from the early part of 1755 Commander Alexander Innes, although a clash of personalities with the latter officer saw him transferred in May to the Windsor 60, Captain Samuel Faulkner. Meanwhile, to the wrath of his family, he had quickly squandered a patrimonial inheritance and then made matters worse by marrying a penniless young woman.

Drake was promoted commander of the newly commissioned sloop Viper 10 on 30 March 1756, and was posted into the Biddeford 20 on 15 November of the same year. On 11 March 1757 he exchanged with his ailing brother, Francis William, into the Falkland 50 as part of a special arrangement between his oldest brother and the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Anson. Going out to North America with the Highland Regiment in July, he commanded her in the Leeward Islands through 1758, and sailed for St Helena to bring home the East India convoy in the spring of 1759. He then served under Commodore Robert Duff off Brittany in the autumn of 1759, and fought at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November.

During 1760 he sailed with the Falkland under the orders of Commodore Robert Swanton to relieve Quebec, and thereafter saw employment with Admirals Sir James Douglas and Rear-Admiral George Rodney in the Leeward Islands, being present at the surrender of Dominica in January 1761 and the capture of Martinique in June 1762. In November 1762 he transferred to the Rochester 50, and he retained her until paid off at Chatham in April 1764.

After a substantial period of unemployment he commanded the guard-ship Torbay 74 at Plymouth from 1772-5.

Drake commissioned the Russell 74 in September 1777, sailing for North America with Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron’s fleet on 9 June, but being forced back to Lisbon as a consequence of the great storm which disrupted the expedition. In December he sailed under the orders of Vice-Admiral Lord Shuldham from Plymouth with the West and East India convoys, but whilst still in the Channel his ship rammed a merchantman, the London, which sunk inside a half-hour with one hundred fatalities. The Russell was obliged to return to Spithead where the opportunity was taken to copper-bottom her, and this allowed Drake to sit on Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel’s court-martial subsequent to the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778. The verdict in Keppel’s favour pleased him, as his preferment was for the commander-in-chief over his rival, Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser.

In May 1779 he sailed with Vice-Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot’s convoy for North America, the force being temporarily diverted to protect Jersey from a French invasion, but after joining the expedition to attack Charleston in the spring he had to return to New York before its capture on 11 May 1780, the Russell and the other sail of the line being unable to cross the bar. He remained for a short time in command at New York, and then hoisting a broad pennant with Captain Robert Haswell serving under him he sailed with the Russell to join Admiral Sir George Rodney in the Leeward Islands in June, prior to returning with Rodney to North America at the onset of the hurricane season.

The promotions to rear-admiral on 26 September 1780 were extended to include Drake as he was one of the few officers prepared to fight for the government. He raised his flag aboard the very spacious Princesa 70, Captain Sir Thomas Rich, later shifting it to the Gibraltar 80, with his flag captain at this time being Charles Knatchbull. When Rodney sailed to attack St. Eustatius on 3 February 1781 Drake was left on watch Martinique with six sail of the line covering four French ships. He later served under Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood in the blockade of Martinique, and the Gibraltar was one of the few ships engaged in the action with Vice-Admiral De Grasse on 29 April, her casualties being the second highest in the fleet.

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Drake was third in command at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782

In May Drake was sent to protect Tobago with six sail of the line, but unfortunately de Grasse arrived there with the French fleet before him and he was obliged to retreat to Barbados. He shifted his flag back to the Princesa when sailing with the fleet to North America in August, and he commanded the van at the Battle of the Chesapeake on 5 September 1781. As a result of damage to his flagship he temporarily transferred to the Alcide 74, Captain Charles Thompson.

Drake sailed back to the West Indies with Hood in December, and was present at the action off St. Kitts on 25/26 January 1782. He subsequently commanded the van under Rodney at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782, and he was honoured for his part in the victory by being created a baronet on 28 May and being granted the freedom of the City of London. He remained in the West Indies until the peace, towards the latter end of which time he became ill with fever. After returning home in 1783 he saw no further active service.

On 12 August 1789 Drake was appointed a junior lord of the admiralty, a position he held for only three months before his death on 18 November after being taken ill at an Admiralty Board meeting. In the same year he had been nominated as the M.P. for Plymouth in the Admiralty interest but he never took his seat.

Drake was firstly married at the age of twenty-two to Elizabeth Hayman of Deal, a young lady of humble birth whom his family initially disowned but later came to admire for her intelligence. She died in the early part of 1787. On 22 January 1788 at Dunsborough House, Ripley, Surrey Drake married a somewhat high maintenance lady half his age, Pooley Onslow, the daughter of the M.P for Guildford, Lieutenant-Colonel George Onslow. He did not have any issue from either marriage. In 1775 he bought a home known as ‘Prospect’ to the north of Plymouth and about seven miles from the family home at Buckland Abbey. He later purchased the Send Grove estate near Guildford after returning from the West Indies in 1783.

Drake was much admired for his abilities by Rodney. He was known as ‘Sammy’ to his family and after his early misadventures settled down to be an active, zealous and dedicated officer.