Hon. Constantine John Phipps, Lord Mulgrave

1744-92. He was born on 30 May 1744, the eldest of four sons of Constantine Phipps of Mulgrave Hall in Yorkshire, 1st Baron Mulgrave in the Irish peerage, and of his wife Lady Lepell Hervey, the granddaughter of the 1st Earl of Bristol and sister of Admiral Augustus John Hervey, the 3rd Earl of Bristol. His younger brothers included Captain Hon. Charles Phipps and General Hon. Henry Phipps, who became the 1st Earl Mulgrave and served as the foreign secretary from January 1805 to February 1806, and the first lord of the Admiralty from 1807-10.

Having received an education at Eton, in early 1759 Phipps joined the Monmouth 70, commanded by his uncle, Captain Hon. Augustus John Hervey, which ship maintained a much-praised watch over the French fleet in Brest that autumn. After removing with Hervey to the Dragon 74, Phipps was present at the reduction of Martinique and St. Lucia in early 1762. He was promoted lieutenant of the Dragon on 17 March by the commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, Rear-Admiral George Brydges Rodney, and in this capacity he was wounded at the reduction of Havana that summer.

On 24 November 1763 he was appointed to command the sloop Diligence 10 by Rear-Admiral Lord Alexander Colville, the commander-in-chief in North America, and he was posted captain of the Terpsichore 26 by the Admiralty on 20 June 1765; however, this advancement was for purposes of rank only and he remained in North America with the Diligence. During late 1765 it was reported that he had arrived at Wilmington, North Carolina, with the ‘stampt paper’ for that province, and the Diligence eventually returned to Portsmouth from South Carolina in April 1766.


Lord Mulgrave

Later in April 1766, Phipps joined his old school friend, the naturalist Joseph Banks, in sailing for Newfoundland aboard the Niger 32, Captain Sir Thomas Adams, which vessel had instructions to protect the fisheries and undertake surveys of the coast. The commission allowed Banks and Phipps to botanise, and he also built a house and established a garden at Croque on the northern coast of Newfoundland.

Having returned home in January 1767, he was appointed to the frigate Boreas 28 on 10 June 1767, although after reaching Portsmouth from Plymouth this vessel was ordered into dock on 3 July for repairs. She was still awaiting a fair wind to sail out to Spithead in the middle of August, and she eventually departed Cowes a month later to patrol between Plymouth and Start Point. A cruise off Guernsey followed, and she resumed her station off Devon in early October after a brief return to Portsmouth. She was back at St. Helens on 25 October, and when seeking to reach her post off Devon in November, she was driven all the way back to the Downs by strong winds which caused a great deal of damage and threatened to sink her. Reaching Portsmouth on 19 November, the Boreas returned to her station off Devon. In March 1768 she was docked once more at Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, in August 1767, for apparently no other reason than he was the brother-in-law of the Earl of Bristol, Phipps’ father had been created Baron Mulgrave in the Irish peerage, thereby entitling his son to be known as ‘The Honourable Constantine Phipps’.

On 19 March 1768 Phipps was elected the M.P. for Lincoln, coming second out of three candidates in a very close poll, and resigning the command of the Boreas, he became a keen attendee of the House of Commons. Speaking frequently on all matters and taking a stand with the opposition to the government in the early years of his political career, he would be toasted regularly with others such as Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke for his devotion to ‘Liberty’.

Despite his commitment to parliament, Phipps’ active mind still yearned for exploration and adventure, and on 16 April 1773 he was appointed to the sloop Racehorse 18 in command of an expedition which also included the bomb Carcass, Captain Skeffington Lutwidge. Setting out from Gravesend in June to seek a north-west passage to Japan, the mission also included an undertaking to make observations in astronomy, natural history, and philosophy. Pausing at Whitby on 10 June, the expedition later fell in with various Greenland whalers which brought news of its progress back to an anticipatory Britain. In the event, the vessels got no further than the eighty-first parallel above Spitzbergen in the Arctic Ocean before becoming encircled in ice for two weeks. Arriving back at Woolwich in late September, the Racehorse was paid off in October, and on the last day of the month Phipps attended a levee at St. James’ Palace, this being one of several conferences he had with the King, to whom he also presented his journals and maps in August 1774. As a result of the voyage, Phipps published the first scientific account of the hitherto little-known polar bear, an encounter with which would also become legendary in the life story of a young Horatio Nelson, who had been employed as a coxswain aboard the Carcass.

Canvassing in the radical interest for a seat at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the general election of October 1774, Phipps came a distant and disappointing third in a poll of four. Being a strong opponent of any form of American independence, his political affiliation began veering toward the government, and in particular the first lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich. In addition to enjoying a reputation as an impressive and assiduous parliamentary performer, Phipps also had the benefit of Joseph Banks’ support, and thus it became a matter of when, not if, he would return to parliament in the administration’s interest.

Upon his father’s death in the south of France on 13 September 1775, Phipps succeeded to the Irish peerage as Lord Mulgrave, inheriting an annual income of £16,000 or the equivalent of about £2m in today’s money. On 31 January 1776 he was unopposedly elected M.P. for Huntingdon in the room of Sandwich’s late son, William Augustus Montagu, having earlier been lent £2,000 by the first lord to secure the seat. He visited Chatham Dockyard with Sandwich and other Admiralty commissioners in July, and on 1 August his younger brother Charles was posted captain, the elevation being a direct result of Mulgrave’s new affiliations.

On 6 November 1776 he was appointed to the Ardent 64, although he remained in the House of Commons for some days defending the state of the Navy and Lord Sandwich in debates that became distinctly heated. His new command sailed from Chatham to Blackstakes to take on powder on 13 November, and on 23 December she arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs. She then spent several weeks fitting out before sailing on a cruise, from which she returned on 16 February to be taken into Portsmouth Harbour. Mulgrave immediately took advantage of her docking to return to the House of Commons.

The Ardent, with Mulgrave back at the helm, left Portsmouth Harbour for Spithead in the last week of May 1777, and although rumours emanating from Falmouth in July claimed that she had sunk with all hands off the Scilly Isles, these were soon discounted as ill-founded. Cruising in the Bay of Biscay, she sent several American prizes into Portsmouth, including one carrying a number of distinguished French officers and a German count who had had been sailing for America to take up service with the colonial forces, and whose attempts to pass themselves off as common seamen had been subverted by the elegance of their diction. The Ardent was back in Portsmouth to land the mercenaries at the end of August before returning to her cruising ground.

On 31 October 1777 Mulgrave broke off the chase of two vessels near Cape Finisterre to assist a mast-less French ship that was wallowing in a state of evident distress. Sending twenty men over to pump out the water, he brought the French seamen aboard the Ardent to refresh them and then remained in company for another four days, seeing the vessel safely into Lorient. The Ardent returned from another cruise on 20 November, and such was Mulgrave’s haste to resume his seat in the House of Commons that he was rebuked for turning up in naval uniform.

On 15 December 1777, to the surprise of nobody, Mulgrave was appointed a lord of the Admiralty under Lord Sandwich, and he became the leading spokesman for the Admiralty in the House of Commons. He was also immediately re-elected without opposition as the M.P for Huntington. In February 1778 his good friend and first lieutenant from the Racehorse, Captain Henry Harvey, commissioned the Courageux 74 for him whilst he continued to attend to his parliamentary duties throughout the spring.


Lord Mulgrave regularly spoke for the Admiralty in the House of commons

By June 1778, Mulgrave had taken command of the Courageux in the Grand Fleet under the command of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel, and he fought at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July in Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser’s division. Here, he distinguished himself by setting his ship at the massive French three-decked Ville de Paris 104, which had strayed well to leeward of the line of battle. In passing her to windward with her jibboom scraping by, he delivered such a massive broadside that any other British ship passing to windward could have secured a capture. In the event this did not happen, as they all passed to leeward. During the battle the Courageux suffered nineteen casualties.

By the autumn of 1778 Mulgrave was back in the House of Commons and in the thick of the debates which resulted from the indecisive nature of the Battle of Ushant. During the opening months of 1779 Captain Henry Harvey temporarily assumed command of the Courageux whilst Mulgrave gave evidence as a witness at Keppel’s court martial. Unable to hide his support for his fellow lord of the Admiralty, Sir Hugh Palliser, he caused a rumpus and was ultimately censured by the court for refusing to give a direct answer when asked by Vice-Admiral John Montagu as to whether he had seen any instance of neglect in Keppel’s duty. Following the popular commander-in-chief’s acquittal, Mulgrave’s London residence in Harley Street was one of those attacked by the mob, and his windows were broken. Thereafter, he remained in Parliament for the next few weeks as the arguments raged on, and on 10 April he set off for Portsmouth to attend Palliser’s court martial, at the favourable conclusion of which he raced back to parliament to continue the debate.

Meanwhile, the Courageux had entered Portsmouth to be coppered and refitted on 1 April 1779, and under Mulgrave’s command she continued with the Grand Fleet, serving under Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, of whom he initially approved. She was present during the Retreat in August, and Mulgrave appears to have remained in command of her until reappearing in the House of Commons in December.

For the first five months of 1780, he continued to sit in the House of Commons before retaking command of the Courageux to be employed under Admiral Francis Geary in the Channel Fleet campaign of June – December. He was able to undertake a few days leave of absence in August, and upon rejoining the fleet, he served under Vice-Admiral George Darby from September, whom he admired for pulling together the disparate political opponents of that force. Towards the end of December, it was reported that Mulgrave had been instructed to assume command of a squadron of six sail of the line carrying five months provisions, although when he did set out on a cruise on the 28th it was just in company with the Valiant 74, Captain Samuel Granston Goodall. Within days, reports surfaced that they had captured nine Dutch East Indiamen valued at least £200,000 each without the necessity of firing a shot, although later reports from the City of London stated that just two Dutch vessels had been taken.

On 4 January 1781, with support from the Valiant, the Courageux effected the capture of the French frigate Minerve 32 off Brest, this being a highly skilled action considering the rough seas which prevented Mulgrave’s command from opening her lower gunports. The French vessel, commanded by the Chevalier de Grimouard, maintained a fierce if futile resistance for over an hour which did her great credit, losing the use of all her masts and suffering the enormous casualties of fifty men killed and twenty-three wounded, the latter including her gallant captain. The Courageux lost ten men killed and seven wounded, the former including Mulgrave’s long-serving valet, who had been standing alongside him, and whose loss he mourned considerably. The captured vessel had previously been the British Minerva 32, Captain John Stott, which had been taken by the French frigate Concorde 32 on 2 August 1778.

Mulgrave later commanded the Courageux at the Relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, and upon spending a little time ashore, he visited Bath and attended a levee in June. Returning to serve in the Channel Fleet campaign from June-November, his squadron consisting of three ships of the line, two frigates and three fireships sailed for the Dutch coast in early July with instructions to attack the port of Flushing. Unfortunately, the pilots were unable or unwilling to navigate his ships through the shoals and he returned without having achieved anything. By end of November, he was back in the House of Commons in his usual role of defending the Admiralty, although he caused some controversy with his assertion that the French Navy was now stronger than the British Navy. Meanwhile his brother, Captain Hon Charles Phipps, acted for him in command of the Courageux, participating in Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt’s brilliant attack on the Comte d’Estaing’s convoy on 12 December.

With matters becoming increasingly difficult for the government, it was muted in February 1782 that Mulgrave might replace Sandwich as the first lord of the Admiralty. Ever loyal, he continued to mount a steadfast defence of his patron’s record, but the government fell in March, and he left the Admiralty when a new board was commissioned on 1 April. Resuming command of the Courageux, he was employed in the Channel Fleet campaign of April – August, serving mostly with Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt off Brest, and he was present at the relief of Gibraltar on 18 October. His command suffered four men wounded during the action with the allied fleet off Cape Spartel days later, whilst a midshipman was killed at his side, the young gentleman being identified in the newspapers as the illegitimate son of the Earl of Bristol.

By December 1782 Mulgrave was back in the House of Commons, and in February he made plain his opposition to the peace preliminaries by expressing his concerns about the permanency of France’s intentions, and in insisting that New York, Long Island, and Charleston should have been retained until the American loyalists had been given restitution for their financial losses. He was supportive of William Pitt’s government which came to power in December 1783, and having lost the support of Sandwich in the political fall-out of the Fox-North coalition, he became the M.P for Newark on 1 April 1784 in the Duke of Newcastle’s interest. On 23 April he was installed as a privy councillor at St. James Palace, and he became the joint Paymaster of His Majesty’s forces, a sinecure which gave him two thousand guineas a year.

On 14 May 1790 he arrived at Chatham to visit the Leviathan 74, which was being constructed in accordance with French designs, as had been ordered by him when serving as a lord of the Admiralty. Throughout the early stages of the Spanish Armament he continued with his duties in Parliament, and he became a peer of the United Kingdom on 24 June when he kissed the King’s hand. The Leviathan was launched on 23 July, and after being rigged and copper-sheathed, she was eventually commissioned when he assumed command on 28 October. She was still not ready for sea however, and although a crew of prime seamen had been assembled, she was continuing the process of fitting out when he visited her again on 9 November. With the Spanish dispute coming to a resolution there was little prospect of her putting to sea, and sure enough, on 24 November, she was paid off.

Mulgrave resigned his position as paymaster of the forces in early 1791, but despite suffering from ill-health, he was still speaking in the House of Lords in 1792.

Lord Mulgrave died at the age of forty-eight in Liege on 10 October 1792, and his body was brought back to England for internment in the family vault. His English peerage became extinct, but his younger brother Hon. Henry Phipps M.P, succeeded him in his Irish peerage.

On 20 June 1787 at St. James Church, he married the rich 17-year-old heiress Anne Elizabeth Cholmley of Howsham in Yorkshire, but she died in London on 22 April 1788 when giving birth to his only child, a daughter, who was also christened Anne Elizabeth. She later married General Sir John Murray.

A great friend of the influential naturalist and botanist, Joseph Banks, Mulgrave was involved in societies for the improvement of naval architecture, and reputedly had the best nautical library in England. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, being well versed in mathematics and astronomy and having a keen interest in fauna and to a lesser degree flora. In 1780 his recommendations that the sick seamen at Portsmouth be exposed to fresh air rather than confined in Haslar Hospital was held to be the main reason for their rapid recovery. A keen socialite, he was a supporter of the arts and was viewed as witty and highly intelligent, being an effective and industrious officer and administrator. Perhaps he could therefore be forgiven for being viewed as a man who had an air of superiority.

Known as ‘the marine lawyer’ for his assiduous study of the law, Mulgrave was often mimicked in Parliament for his thoughtful, deliberate speeches, and his light, undignified speaking voice. Even so, he was often praised in the newspapers for these very same traits, and he was considered to be a man of exceptional abilities who deserved to be listened to. He became a strong ally of Lord Sandwich, who relied heavily upon his advice, although apart from the advancement of his brother Charles, the first lord of the Admiralty neither allowed Mulgrave the early promotion of his friends, nor the comfort of a regular acting-captain because of the precedents it would set. Neither did Sandwich adhere to Mulgrave’s concerns about appointing Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood to high command, which given that officer’s abilities was probably just as well. Mulgrave frequently crossed swords with leading members of the House of Commons, and Charles James Fox claimed as late as 1784 that his language had been unbecoming of a gentleman and an educated man.

Mulgrave was a patron of Admiral Hon. Thomas Pakenham, as he was of Captain William Pryce Cumby and of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Berry, whose early education he personally funded.