Sir Richard Onslow 1st Baronet

1741-1817. Born on 23 June 1741 to a prominent family, he was a younger son of Lieutenant-General Richard Onslow, the governor of Plymouth from 1759-60, and his second wife, Pooley Walton. He was the younger brother of the Rockingham Whig politician George Onslow, who died in 1792 having outspokenly opposed his old colleagues in the American Revolutionary War, the nephew of the renowned speaker of the House of Commons, Arthur Onslow, and the great-nephew of Admiral Sir George Walton.

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Onslow was the nephew of the respected and long-serving Speaker of the House of Commons, Arthur Onslow.

Enjoying his superior patronage, Onslow quickly rose through the ranks of the navy and on 17 February 1758 Vice-Admiral George Pocock in the East Indies promoted him lieutenant of the Sunderland 50, Captain Hon. John Colville. During March of the following year he transferred to the Grafton 70, Captain Richard Kempenfelt, and he made a further move in March 1760 to Pocock’s flagship, the Yarmouth 64.

Having returned to England he was promoted commander of the newly commissioned sloop Martin 14 on 11 February 1761, and was posted captain of the Humber 44 on 14 April 1762 in which he was sent to escort the Baltic trade. Due to pilot error this ship and much of her convoy was lost on the Haysborough Sands off the coast of Norfolk in September, although only one man lost his life aboard the Humber. Onslow was duly acquitted of her loss at the subsequent court martial and soon afterwards was appointed to the Phoenix 44, commanding her in the Mediterranean prior to paying her off in 1763.

From the beginning of 1766 he commanded the Aquilon 28 on the coast of Guinea, to North America, and thereafter in the Mediterranean before paying her off in July 1769. During the Falkland Islands dispute he commissioned the Diana 32 in October 1770, and in the following March went out to Jamaica under the orders of Vice-Admiral Sir George Rodney. He returned to England in command of the Achilles 60 in the early part of 1773 and she was paid off in April.

At the end of October 1776 Onslow joined the St Albans 64, serving as a guardship at Plymouth that autumn and taking a troublesome convoy out to New York in the spring of the following year where she arrived in June with a very sick crew. He served throughout the defence of New York in July 1778 and in the skirmishes off Rhode Island during August, but was fortunate to retain his ship when she went aground off Cape Cod whilst the fleet was proceeding to Boston in search of the French. Later in the year his command formed part of the force despatched under Commodore William Hotham to reinforce the Leeward Islands. He took part in Rear-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington’s repulse of Vice-Admiral Comte d’Estaing off St. Lucia on 15 December, and superintended the landing of the troops on the island before returning to England with a convoy in the summer of 1779. Despite the fact that the St. Albans was in poor repair she was attached to the Channel fleet during its retreat of August 1779.

In February 1780 Onslow and his officers and men transferred to the Bellona 74, joining Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington off Ushant in April 1780 and serving in the Channel fleet campaign of June-December. With the assistance of the Marlborough 74, Captain Taylor Penny, he captured the Dutch vessel Princess Caroline 54 on 30 December 1780, and he was with Vice-Admiral George Darby at the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781. In the Channel fleet campaign from April -August 1782 he served with Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt off Brest, and he was present under Admiral Lord Howe during his operation to relieve Gibraltar on 18 October. Thereafter the Bellona went out with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Hughes to the Leeward Islands but did not see any significant service, and she returned to England at the peace, being paid off in June 1783.

Onslow’s next significant employment was the conveyance of the King on a short cruise off Weymouth aboard the Magnificent 74 in the summer of 1789. He remained employed throughout the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790, and during 1791 commanded the Magnificent at Portsmouth. In the meantime he had been nominated a colonel of marines on 21 September 1790.

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The highlight of Onslow’s career was the Battle of Camperdown in 1797

Following the resumption of hostilities with France he was promoted rear-admiral on 1 February 1793 and vice-admiral on 4 July 1794, although during this period he remained on the beach. From December 1795 he briefly held the Plymouth command with his flag aboard the Cambridge 80, Captain Richard Boger, detaining a Dutch squadron of five men of war on 4 March, amongst which the Zeeland 64, Braakel 54 and Tholin 36 were added to the navy.

Later in 1796 Onslow was appointed second-in-command to Admiral Adam Duncan on the North Sea station with his flag aboard the Nassau 64, Captain Edward O’Bryen. When her crew joined the mutiny which broke out on 27 May 1797 he removed to the loyal Adamant 50, Captain William Hotham, and he joined the commander-in-chief in parading off the Dutch coast to maintain the pretence of a blockade. Transferring his flag on 25 July to the Monarch 74, Captain Edward O’Bryen, he led the rear squadron at the Battle of Camperdown on 11 October where his flagship was the first to break the enemy line. In addition to being awarded a baronetcy nineteen days later he received a hundred guinea sword and the freedom of the City of London.

Onslow continued as second-in-command in the North Sea until his promotion to the rank of admiral on 14 February 1799, although by then he had retired ashore ill. He was appointed a lieutenant-general of marines in May 1814 following the death of Admiral Lord Bridport, and on 2 January 1815 was created a G.C.B.

Onslow died at Southampton on 27 December 1817, having typically made provision for a simple funeral on the basis that his men would have had far less money spent on their own funerals.

In 1773 he married Anne, the daughter of Commodore Matthew Michell of Chiltern, Wiltshire, and had five sons, two of whom died young, and four daughters. In 1801 his eighteen year old daughter Frances, known as ‘Batter Pudding’ to the seamen, married the sixty-one year old Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. The eldest of his sons, Sir Henry Onslow, became a captain in the Royal Artillery, and another son, John James Onslow, entered the Navy in 1810 aboard the Surveillante 38, Captain Sir George Ralph Collier, and was eventually posted captain in 1834.

A smallish balding man with reddish, seaman-like colour and of a rustic appearance, Onslow was reputed to be abrupt and uncomfortable with strangers, and often displayed a sharp temper. He was nevertheless of a generous character to his friends and family and was a kindly loving father. His conviviality amongst his fellow officers was illustrated by his formation of the Naval Society Dining Club in 1765.