Sir John Laforey

1729-96. The second son of Lieutenant-Colonel John Laforey, the governor of Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, and of his wife, Mary Clayton, his ancestors were Huguenot refugees who had settled in England during the reign of William III. He was the father of Admiral Sir Francis Laforey.

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Laforey commanded a division of boats at the burning of the Prudent at Louisbourg in 1757

On 12 April 1748 Laforey was commissioned lieutenant, and on 24 May 1755 was promoted commander of the sloop Ontario in North America by Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel. Having joined the sloop Hunter 10 in December 1756 he went out to North America in the following April and was at Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen’s capture of Louisbourg. During the latter stages of the campaign he commanded a division of boats under Captain George Balfour which attempted the cutting out of the Prudent 74 and Bienfaisant 64 from the harbour. Although he successfully boarded the former he was obliged to abandon and fire her when she was found to be aground.

As a reward for his efforts he was posted the next day to the recently captured frigate Echo 24 by Boscawen, this being 26 July 1758. In 1759 he was present at the capture of Quebec, and in 1760 sailed for the Leeward Islands where the Echo took the privateers Fier on 6 March, Superbe on 9 April, and Syen on 8 July. He later took part in the reduction of Martinique at the beginning of 1762 under Rear-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney in the same vessel. Shortly afterwards he removed into the frigate Levant 28 on the same station, returning to England in 1763.

Laforey remained unemployed for the next seven years, spending part of the interim period on personal business in America. During the Spanish dispute of 1770 he commissioned the Pallas 36 in October, retaining her until the beginning of the following year.

From the summer of 1776 he commanded the Ocean 90, serving in the Channel and flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser when the fleet assembled at Portsmouth in the early summer of 1778. On 27 July, by which time Palliser had removed to the Formidable 90, he fought at the Battle of Ushant, and he was resolute in defence of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel’s conduct when a witness at the resulting court-martial.

In November 1779 he was appointed the commissioner of the navy in the Leeward Islands, being based at Antigua and enjoying the authority to act as commander-in-chief in the absence of that officer. Following the controversial capture of St. Eustatius on 3 February 1781 he accused Admiral Sir George Rodney of over-inflating the value of stores sequestered on the island, and subsequently he had a similar dispute with Admiral Hugh Pigot over the commissioning of captured vessels.

Laforey returned to England in 1783, taking over as commissioner at Plymouth in the following April with the result that when he became due for promotion to the rank of rear-admiral on 24 September 1787 he was passed over, as was the custom, because he held a civil position. At the time there prevailed a great degree of contention over the method of promoting officers to flag rank, resulting in Admiral Lord Howe’s resignation as the first lord of the Admiralty on 16 July 1778. Laforey clearly felt aggrieved at being denied his flag for the reasons of holding a civil position, although the waters were somewhat muddied with the suggestion that his previous support of Admiral Keppel was the real reason for refusing him a promotion. On 10 November 1789 however he was promoted rear-admiral with his seniority backdated to 1787, he was further mollified by being created a baronet on 3 November, and in 1789 he was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Leeward Isles with his flag in the Trusty 50, Captain John Drew.

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Laforey’s support of Admiral Keppel following the Battle of Ushant was held to have retarded his career, but he finished with a potentially rewarding stewardship of the Leeward Islands station.

Following the commencement of the French Revolutionary War in 1793 he captured Tobago on 15 April in co-operation with Major-General Cornelius Cuyler and four hundred and seventy men, the naval force consisting of a mere sloop and a schooner in addition to his flagship. Three men were killed and twenty-five wounded in the operation which saw Fort Scarborough carried with cold steel. In July he returned home, having been succeeded by Rear-Admiral Alan Gardner, and he spent some time recuperating at Bath.

Laforey became a vice-admiral on 1 February 1793 and his promotion to admiral on 1 June 1795 coincided with his re- appointment as commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, going out in the frigate Aimable 32, commanded by his son, Francis. He had to use every exertion to put down French inspired Negro revolts in St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent’s and Dominica, whilst the Dutch islands of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice were captured under his command. He was bitterly criticised by the West Indian merchants however for his failure to prevent Victor Hugues’s cruisers swarming over his station and snapping up prize after prize. His own disillusionment at this criticism and his persistent poor health brought about a lethargy in the execution of his duty, but an end to his period in command was delayed by the bad weather that twice forced his successor, Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Christian, to curtail his outward voyage to the Leeward Islands.

After eventually being relieved by Christian on 24 April 1796, Laforey took passage home aboard the Majestic 74, Captain George Westcott, but died on 14 June from the effects of yellow fever just two days before the ship reached England. He was buried at Portsea on 21 June with full military honours, Admiral Sir Peter Parker being the chief mourner.

In 1763 he married Eleanor Farley, a daughter of Francis Farley, who was a lieutenant-colonel of artillery and an Antiguan landowner and council member from whom Laforey inherited a healthy estate. They had one son, Admiral Sir Francis Laforey, and two daughters, one of whom married Captain Anthony James Pye Molloy.

Laforey supported Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel and the Whigs in the dispute following the Battle of Ushant in 1778, and was an early patron of Captain James Anderson. Prince William described him as a ‘proud imperious fellow’ who was not on good terms with the people at Plymouth during his time as a commissioner there, and the future king also took the opportunity to describe Laforey’s wife as a typically disagreeable West Indian, and his daughter, Mrs Molloy, as being ‘ridiculously affected’.