1727- 77. Baptised on 17 November 1727, he was the third of four sons of Robert Banks and his wife, Ann Horsley. His only sister, Mary Banks, bore an illegitimate daughter, Jean-Mary, through her relationship with Charles Powlett, the 5th Duke of Bolton. He was a distant cousin of the famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks.
Banks was commissioned lieutenant on 31 March 1756 and promoted commander of the newly acquired fireship Proserpine 16 on 23 March 1757, in which he joined the raid on Rochefort by Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s fleet in September. From 30 November he had the sloop Viper 10, but he left her when she sailed for Jamaica on 15 December and instead joined the bomb Granado 8, which he retained until 19 January 1758.
On 3 January 1759 he was appointed to the sloop Swallow 14 at Portsmouth, which was engaged in convoy duty out of Portsmouth that spring and brought troops from Jersey into Portsmouth on 27 May. There followed more duty in the Channel Islands, and in the delivery of provisions to Hawke’s fleet off Brest. On 27 July the Swallow brought a French transport taken by Hawke’s squadron’s boats into Portsmouth, and she was employed in escorting victualler convoys to Hawke’s ships in September and October, although Banks also briefly commanded the frigate Thames 32 on a temporary basis in September for Captain Stephen Colby.
In November 1759 the Swallow took news of the break out of the Brest fleet to the British force in Quiberon Bay and was then dispatched by Hawke with an express to the Admiralty announcing that his fleet was in chase of the French. This pursuit would eventually result in the overwhelming British victory at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November. The Swallow saw further service in the Bay of Biscay during the remainder of the year, and she returned to Plymouth in January 1760 where she remained with the Grand Fleet for the next few months.
Banks was posted captain of the Rose 20 on 14 April 1760, and at the end of May undertook a reconnaissance of Le Havre before returning to Portsmouth on 4 June. His command later went out to the Leeward Islands from Portsmouth with the governor designate of Guadeloupe, Campbell Dalrymple, and she arrived on her new station via Madeira on Christmas Day with four ships in convoy. Remaining in the Leeward Islands, she captured the privateer Revanche on 13 November 1761, whilst it had also been reported that Banks commanded the Echo 24 for Captain John Lendrick for some period over the winter. In January 1762 he commanded the Rose during the invasion of Martinique, and his was one of the vessels detached under Captain Hon. Augustus John Hervey to effect the bloodless capture of St. Lucia.
After transferring to the frigate Lizard 28 in the Leeward Islands on 7 February 1762, Banks arrived at New York from Antigua in early June following a two-week passage, having aboard his command Major-General Hon. Robert Monckton, who had led the Army in the capture of Martinique and was to undertake the role of the governor of New York. The Lizard then sailed from Sandy Hook on 30 June in escort of seven transports carrying troops from North America to serve at the reduction of Havana, but on 21 July near the North Caicos, her convoy was chased by two French sail of the line and three frigates, leading to the capture of five transports and the loss of five hundred troops. During November the Lizard was off Cap Nicolas Mole where her boats captured a French merchantman but suffered a half-dozen men wounded in the process, and in the early months of 1763 she took several prizes whilst serving under the orders of Rear-Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel on the Jamaican station. Returning home, the Lizard arrived at Spithead from Jamaica at the end of May 1763 after a speedy voyage in which she also carried treasure from the capture of Havana. She was paid off in June.
On 17 December 1769, after six years unemployment, Banks was appointed to the Niger 32 in the room of Captain Andrew Wilkinson. Taking her out from Spithead to Gibraltar in May 1770, his command visited Cadiz in July, Lisbon in August, Leghorn in September, the Greek islands in October and then Smyrna in November. During the latter mission she served under the orders of Commodore Michael Clements of the Dorsetshire 68; however, although that vessel was allowed to proceed up to Constantinople, the Niger and another frigate were not permitted to do so. By January1771 Clements’ small squadron was back at Gibraltar, and on 17 July the Niger embarked the popular lieutenant-governor of Minorca, Major-General James Johnston, and his suite to deliver them to Marseilles. This proved to be Banks’ last significant duty in the Mediterranean, for in August he exchanged with Captain Philip Durell into the Pembroke 60 on account of his poor health and sailed for home. The Pembroke arrived at Portsmouth on 12 October and she went round to Chatham in January 1772 to be paid off.
On 31 July 1775 Banks assumed the command of the newly commissioned Renown 50 at Portsmouth, which he took her out of harbour on 21 September. Allegations later surfaced from a man named Thomas Christopher Banks, who claimed to be his heir and relative, that Banks was arrested on 23 September, presumably for debt, but this accusation has not been verified. A day later, the Renown sailed for Plymouth with the Experiment 50, Captain Robert Keeler, to collect livestock before heading for Boston. The two vessels took a number of prizes on their way out which were sent back to England, but they parted three days after leaving the Azores.
After arriving in North American waters, Banks commanded a small squadron with orders to patrol the Nantucket Roads, although he was accused of standing by whilst the American privateer Hancock 32, Captain John Manley, captured a British merchantman a mere two miles away on 25 January 1776. A further report claimed that one of the Renown’s lieutenants was killed in an engagement with two privateers which managed to escape in the night, whilst in May the Renown was attacked by five fireships in the North River and eventually driven away from Boston by rebel batteries and inclement weather. This flight resulted in the capture by colonial forces of several valuable transports which sailed into Boston in ignorance of the Army’s earlier withdrawal.
In June 1776 the Renown was at Halifax where she was ordered to complete her provisioning and join Vice-Admiral Lord Howe’s fleet. She subsequently served in the New York campaign during July to October when Banks flew a broad pennant and led a small squadron which created a diversion in the Hudson’s River, allowing troop landings to take place. Remaining in command of the Renown, Banks served at the occupation of Rhode Island on 8 December, and with Commodore Sir Peter Parker’s squadron in the following months. By now however, he was suffering from ill-health and over the next few months he remained under constant medical care.
Captain Banks died on 18 June 1777 at Newport, Rhode Island, where he was interred with the honours of war.
On 21 February 1760 at St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea, he married the wealthy heiress Christian Green of Findon in Sussex. She died seven months later on 29 September, leaving her estates in Essex to Banks.
In early 1776 Banks was accused by an American master in the merchant service of ill-treating him and his contemporaries after their capture, principally by ordering them to strip off and be searched for money. The same master confirmed that another British captain had treated them with the expected courtesy.
Banks was a rich man as a result of his prize-taking, his marriage, his own family’s wealth, his inheritance of the Overton Lead Mines in Derbyshire, and his inheritance of the assets of a cousin, Captain George Banks of the Coldstream Guards. Thomas Christopher Banks, who claimed to be his relative, later asserted that his father had leant Captain Banks money before his inheritances, and that prior to sailing for North America in the Renown, Banks had named Thomas Christopher as his main beneficiary. Thomas Christopher then claimed that Banks’ sister Mary had destroyed the will so that she and her illegitimate daughter, Jean-Mary, would be the beneficiaries. Jean-Mary later inherited all of the Duke of Bolton’s estates.
My thanks to Sarah Murden for providing so much information on Banks’ personal life.