Sir Joshua Rowley

1734-90. He was born in Dublin on 1 May 1734, a son of Sir William Rowley, Admiral of the Fleet, who died on 1 January 1768, and of his wife, Arabella Dawson. He was the father of Admiral Sir Charles Rowley and Admiral Bartholomew Rowley, and the uncle of Admiral Sir Josias Rowley and Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Martin.

Rowley’s initial service was with his father in the Mediterranean, and he was present at the Battle of Toulon in February 1744 where his father flew his flag aboard the Barfleur 90, Captain Merrick de l’Angle. He was commissioned lieutenant on 2 July 1747.

In 1752 he was aboard the Penzance 44, Commodore Charles Saunders, and having been promoted commander he recommissioned the hoy Raven 10 at Woolwich for service at Newfoundland.

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Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley

On 14 December 1753 he was posted captain of the frigate Rye 24, serving in the Irish Sea, and in March 1755 he recommissioned the French-built Ambuscade 40, serving in the Bay of Biscay. January 1756 saw him recommission the Harwich 50 for the Western Squadron, capturing the letter-of-marque Fortune carrying troops and supplies to Canada on 4 May, and the privateers Saint-Jacques on 22 August, and the Rubis 22 whilst in company with the Lowestoffe 28 Captain Robert Haldane, on 4 April 1757.

In October 1757 Rowley commissioned the new Montagu 64 for the Mediterranean under the orders of Admiral Henry Osborn. He was present at the action off Cape de Gata on 28 February 1758, where three of our French sail of the line surrendered and the remaining ship, the Oriflamme 50, was driven ashore by the Montagu in consort with the Monarch 74, Captain John Montagu.

Returning to serve under Captain the Hon. Richard Howe in the Channel, he was involved in the combined operation that attacked Cherbourg in August 1758, but was wounded and taken prisoner alongside Captain John Elphinstone whilst directing the troops in their disastrous re-embarkation at St. Cast, where over seven hundred casualties were incurred and another seven hundred men taken prisoner. Rowley was quickly exchanged and returned to the Montagu, and on 20 November 1759 his ship fought as the sixth in line at the Battle of Quiberon Bay.

He next went out to the Leeward Islands serving under Commodore Sir James Douglas in the following year, and after returning home he joined the Superb 74 which had been commissioned in November 1760, and in which he was employed in the expedition against Belleisle during June 1761. In 1762 he was awarded by the East India Company and the City of London for successfully driving off a French squadron commanded by Commodore Ternay d’Alsac whilst escorting their trade in June. He later sailed to North America in 1762 and was paid off in March 1763.

Rowley thereafter remained unemployed until October 1776 when he was appointed to the newly commissioning Monarch 74. Throughout 1777 his command was largely based at Spithead as a guardship, but on undertaking a cruise he did capture an American privateer. In January 1778 he succeeded the promoted Rear-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barington as a colonel of marines, and he later took a transport convoy out to Gibraltar where after putting in to Cadiz he suffered some shabby treatment from the Spanish authorities who were clearly preparing for war.

On 27 July 1778 the Monarch led the line at the Battle of Ushant where she suffered two men killed and nine wounded. Transferring to the Suffolk 74 at the end of the year, with the rank of commodore, and with Hugh Christian as his flag captain, Rowley was ordered to take seven sail of the line as reinforcements to Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron in the Leeward Islands. He departed with an East India convoy under his protection for the first part of the voyage, both elements having been joined for the initial part of their journey by a strong squadron commanded by Vice-Admiral Lord Shuldham. The reinforcements reached St Lucia on 12 February 1779, although the Russell 74 had been obliged to turn back after a collision with an East Indiaman, and a month later on 19 March Rowley was elevated to flag rank.

Having been ordered to patrol off Martinique, he was unable to stop the Comte de Grasse entering the port with four sail of the line, but he fought at the Battle of Grenada on 6 July 1779, where he was praised for his initiative whilst suffering seven men killed and twenty-five wounded aboard his flagship, the Suffolk. Three days after Rear-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s action with Rear-Admiral La Motte-Picquet on 18 December, Rowley’s division of four sail of the line took the French frigates Fortunée 32, Blanche 32 and Elise 28.

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Battle of Martinique 1780

In March 1780, upon Admiral Sir George Rodney’s arrival to take command of the Leeward Islands station, Rowley transferred to the Conqueror 74, Captain Thomas Watson. Commanding the rear division, he was one of several officers castigated by Rodney for failing to support him against the Comte de Guichen at the Battle of Martinique on 17 April, although the failure was largely due to a misunderstanding of orders. Continuing in the Leeward Islands campaign, Rowley led the van in the skirmishes with de Guichen in May, but although he fought well and rescued the Albion 74, Captain George Bowyer, his relationship with Rodney remained poor as he bitterly resented the commander-in-chief’s earlier criticism. During this action Captain Watson lost his life, and the badly damaged Conqueror was obliged to repair to St. Lucia, with Captain Archibald Dickson assuming command. Rowley subsequently raised his flag aboard the Terrible 74, and transferred in July to the Princess Royal 90, both commanded by Captain John Duckworth.

He was afterwards sent with Commodore Hon. Robert Boyle Walsingham and ten sail of the line to reinforce Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker at Jamaica, but his squadron of eight sail of the line were caught in the tremendous hurricane of 4-12 October 1780, two being lost. From 1782-3 he commanded the Jamaican station with his flag aboard various vessels including the Ramillies 74, Captain Sylverius Moriarty, the Resource 28 and Diamond 32, commanded in succession by his son, Captain Bartholomew Rowley, the London 90, Captain James Kempthorne, the Ajax 74, Captain Nicholas Charrington and the Preston 50, Captain George Martin.

On 10 June 1786 Rowley was created a baronet, on 24 September 1787 he became a vice-admiral, and he died at his seat, Tendring Hall, Suffolk, on 26 February 1790.

Rowley married Sarah Burton, daughter of the future governor of the Bank of England on 18 March 1759 and had seven sons and three daughters. In addition to Admiral Sir Charles Rowley and Admiral Bartholomew Rowley his eldest son William became an M.P. and a daughter, Philadelphia, married Admiral Sir Charles Cotton.

He was a brave and adequate officer in the eyes of many, although not Admiral Lord Hood who viewed him through contemptuous eyes and called him ‘our friend Jos’. His nephew, the future Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Martin, entered the service with him as a cabin boy in 1776. He was also a patron of Captain Philip Beaver.