Charles Fielding

1738-1783. He was born on 2 July 1738, the second son of Lieutenant-Colonel Hon. Charles Fielding, and his wife, Anne Palmer, the widow of Sir Brook Bridges. He was the younger brother of Colonel William Fielding, grandson of the 4th Earl of Denbigh and 3rd Earl of Desmond in Ireland. He was the father of Rear-Admiral Charles Fielding.

Fielding went to sea at an early age and was commissioned lieutenant on 19 May 1757. He was promoted commander of the sloop Swallow 10 on 14 April 1760, joining the Western Squadron, and posted captain of the Flamborough 20 on 27 August. In March 1761 he succeeded Captain Charles Douglas aboard the Unicorn 28, serving off Brest in 1762, taking transports out to Gibraltar in the spring of 1763, and being paid off later that year.

Charles Fielding

From June 1769 Fielding had the Portsmouth-based guardship Achilles 60, and in August of the following year he joined the Rainbow 44, taking her out to Africa before leaving her at the end of 1771. In May 1772 he joined the Plymouth-based guardship Kent 74, in which he participated in the royal fleet review of 1773. On 4 July 1774 the Kent was badly damaged by an explosion on her poop deck whilst saluting the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir James Douglas at Plymouth, and at least six men were killed and thirty-nine wounded, of who two died in hospital, although other reports gave the killed figure as eleven. He left this vessel in May 1775.

On 26 February 1776 he joined the new Diamond 32 at Chatham, taking her out to North America in July as escort to a division of Hessian troops, and joining the operations which saw the capture of New York during July- October 1776. Towards the end of November he was detached on a cruise, but was obliged to put into Marta’s Vineyard by the weather. Here a boat carrying a flag of truce was fired upon by the rebels with the result that one man was wounded. Landing his marines to exact retribution, Fielding lost another man killed in a skirmish but was able to set the rebel property alight and bring off their stock.

On 18 January 1777 the Diamond inadvertently opened fire on a transport at Rhode Island, killing five men, with the result that his first lieutenant, John Duckworth, was brought to court martial but eventually acquitted of any blame after the case was re-opened at the instigation of Vice-Admiral Lord Howe. On 20 February the Diamond grounded off Warwick Neck in Narrangansett Bay and settled on her beam-ends, in which vulnerable position she had to endure a prolonged assault by the rebels ashore to which she could respond with only two cannon. Even so, the rebel fire was so poor and Fielding’s preservation of his men below decks so disciplined that no casualties were suffered, and with only seven shot holes below deck she was able to escape on the next tide. On 14 March 1777 the Diamond drove ashore and fired the rebel galley Spitfire, and he captured their privateer Buckskin on 17 September.

Having taken over the command at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Fielding earned further praise for his sagacity in detaching the Raisonnable 64 and Centurion 50 to assist Vice-Admiral Lord Howe in the face of the threat posed to Rhode Island by the French fleet under the Comte d’Estaing during August 1778. When Vice-Admiral Hon John Byron arrived at Halifax in late August he decided that he required the benefit of Fielding’s local knowledge to assist him in North American waters and so added the Diamond to his own force which sailed for the Leeward Islands at the end of the year. 

In early 1779 he succeeded the late Captain John Wheelock to the command of the Sultan 74, arriving at Spithead from the Leeward Islands on 22 March 1779, and he commanded the Namur 90 from April, serving in the Channel fleet retreat of August 1779. Next being placed in command of a detached squadron of six sail of the line, one 50-gunner and five frigates and sloops, he stopped a Dutch convoy under the orders of Count van Bylandt in the Channel on 31 December 1779 and requested that it be searched for contraband. The request being refused, Fielding stood off for the night but on New Year’s Day sent in his boats which, being fired upon by the Dutch, led him to instruct his powerful squadron to open fire. The Dutch promptly struck, there were no casualties, and Fielding’s squadron took nine prizes home, but the event undoubtedly hastened the entry of the Dutch into the war. He left the Namur in March 1780.

In the late spring of 1780 he commissioned the crack new frigate Minerva 38 for service in the Channel, returning to London with despatches in December and being presented to the King at a levee. He then conveyed Prince Frederick from Margate to Ostend in January and took part in the relief of Gibraltar of 12 April 1781 following which he was detached on a cruise and sailed so close to the Cadiz batteries that he was fired upon with three men being wounded, one fatally. In June he left Portsmouth and was engaged in the conveyance of the Lisbon trade. On 8 October he captured the American privateer Hercules 20 off Cape Clear, and he remained with the Minerva until the latter part of 1781 when he went ashore for a few months.

His next appointment was to commission the brand new Ganges 74 in March 1782, which vessel was attached to the Channel fleet after being manned with many ‘Persons in Confinement as Debtors to the Crown’. Following the relief of Gibraltar on 18 October Fielding was wounded in the arm during the action with the Spanish fleet off Cape Spartel, by a splinter, but although the injury was not at first deemed serious he contacted gangrene and after returning to England died a few weeks later at Brompton on 11 January 1783.

He married Sophia Finch, third daughter of Hon. William Finch and sister to the 9th Earl of Winchelsea, and a woman of the bedchamber to Queen Charlotte, on 29 February 1772. They had three daughters and a son, also named Charles, who became a rear-admiral.

Fielding was described as having an overly gloomy and melancholy disposition, and of adhering ferociously to the rules to the detriment of his happiness and success. His name was often spelt ‘Feilding’ in contemporary works.