Hon. John Leveson-Gower

1740-92. He was born on 11 July 1740, the second son of the 1st Earl Gower who served as the privy seal, and of his third wife Mary Tufton, daughter of the 6th Earl Thanet and the widow of the courtier Anthony Grey, Earl Harold. He was the much younger half-brother of the politician Granville Leveson-Gower, the 1st Marquess of Stafford, who did much to advance his career.

Having received a private education, Leveson-Gower joined the Navy and was commissioned lieutenant on 18 November 1758. Having been rapidly promoted commander in 1759 he had the fireship Salamander under the orders of Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen at Gibraltar, being present at the Battle of Lagos on 18 August. In early 1760 he was placed in command of the sloop Kingfisher which was refitting at Portsmouth but which he probably never took to sea.


“Leveson-Gower, John (1740-1792)” by Anthony Whitworth

On 30 June 1760 he was posted captain of the frigate Flamborough 24, serving off Lisbon, and from her he transferred just two months later to the Quebec 32, being employed in the Mediterranean until the peace, during which period he captured the French privateer Phoenix 18 off Cape Palos on Christmas Eve 1760. The Quebec was paid off in June 1763.

In December 1763 he commissioned the Africa 64, and he served off Guinea and in the West Indies before returning home to pay her off in November 1765. Having recommissioned the Aeolus 32 in January 1766 and sailed out in March, he was employed in the Mediterranean through to the following year. In January 1769 he recommissioned the Aeolus’ sister ship Pearl 32, serving in home waters and going out to Newfoundland for each of the next three seasons, although in December 1770 he commissioned the new Warwick 50 during the Falkland Islands dispute but was not required to take her to sea. In November 1773 he recommissioned the guardship Albion 74 at Plymouth, retaining her until November 1775.

In late 1776 Leveson-Gower was appointed to the Valiant 74, cruising successfully against rebel trade in the Bay of Biscay, and on 27 July 1778 he fought at the Battle of Ushant. Following the resulting political dispute over Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel’s management of the battle he was one of those officers who sided with their commander and in protest resigned their commissions.

After the change of government he returned as a commodore and captain of the fleet to Admiral Lord Howe in March 1782, serving aboard the Victory 100, Captain Henry Duncan, and participating in the April -August cruises before sitting on the court-martial into the loss of the Royal George on 29 August. He was later present at the relief of Gibraltar on 18 October and the subsequent action with the Spanish off Cape Spartel, and in March 1783 he toured the disaffected ships at Portsmouth with Admiral Lord Howe following the delay in paying off those crews not required for peacetime service.

From January to April 1783, and December 1783 to 1790 he was a junior lord of the Admiralty under Lords Howe and Chatham. During the summer of 1785 he carried his broad pennant aboard the Hebe 38, Captain Edward Thornbrough, for a cruise around Great Britain with the young Prince William, and in 1787 he raised his broad pennant aboard the Edgar 74, Captain Charles Thompson, to command a squadron of observation during the Dutch Armament, although in the event this force did not take to sea. On 24 September 1787 he was promoted rear-admiral, and in the following year again hoisted his flag on the Edgar 74, Captain Thompson, cruising for two months in the Channel with six sail of the line and two frigates. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he was initially captain of the fleet to Lord Howe aboard the Queen Charlotte 100, Captain Sir Roger Curtis, but from August flew his flag aboard the Illustrious 74, Captain Alexander Edgar in command of a division of the fleet. The Russian Armament of 1791 saw him employed under Vice-Admiral Lord Hood with his flag initially aboard the Illustrious 74, Captain Charles Morice Pole, and later on the Formidable 98, Captain Henry Nicholls.

Leveson-Gower died of an apoplectic fit whilst shaving at his residence, Bill-Hill, near Wokingham in Berkshire on 15 August 1792, and he was buried at Barkham Church.

On 5 July 1773 he married Frances, daughter of the great Admiral Boscawen, by whom he had five sons including John, born a year later, who became a general and politician, Edward, who retired as a rear-admiral, and Augustus, who drowned as a captain in 1802. He also had two daughters, whilst his youngest son took holy orders. He inherited Bill-Hill on the death of his mother in 1785 after she had purchased the estate as a widow, and he added the nearby Barkham House estate two years later. Leveson-Gower was MP for Appleby from 1784-90, and then Newcastle-Under-Lyme which he represented until his death.

Generally known as Leveson, he was a staunchly loyal follower of Admiral Keppel and the Rockingham sect, and was one of the leading officers to refuse to serve the Lord North administration following the political fall out arising from the Battle of Ushant. He was the patron of Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel James Ballard.

He was reputed to be a pleasant man to those he liked, but sported a ferocious temper that particularly afflicted those he did not. He was unpopular with his subordinates, being somewhat prone to bullying, particularly in bringing an off-duty watch up on deck for no valid reason other than to keep them on their toes. An early riser, his rage was none the better for it, nor was his language. He was not afraid to bad-mouth his subordinates for their plumpness, and in 1785 abused John Bazely, one of his midshipmen, for having the misfortune to be the son of Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser’s flag-captain.