Hon. Sir George Cranfield Berkeley
1753-1818. He was born on 10 August 1753, the second surviving son of Augustus, 4th Earl of Berkeley, and of his wife Elizabeth Drax. He was the grandson of a previous first lord of the Admiralty, Vice-Admiral James Berkeley, and the cousin of both Admiral Viscount Keppel and Captain George Keppel.
Berkeley was educated at Eton from 1761-6 and entered the navy aboard the yacht Mary in 1766 under the patronage of his cousin, Rear-Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel. After serving as a queen’s page to Princess Caroline Matilda of Denmark on her voyage to that kingdom he transferred to the Guernsey 50 under Commodore Hugh Palliser the governor designate of Newfoundland. There he spent time with the sailing master, Joseph Gilbert, who was a future master to Captain James Cook, surveying the coasts of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence before joining the frigate Alarm 32, Captain John Jervis, in the Mediterranean during 1769. From this vessel he was transferred into the Trident 64, Captain Charles Ellys, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Denis, who promoted him to the rank of lieutenant with his seniority becoming effective from 5 January 1774.
Later in 1774 Berkeley returned to England in order to seek election for the constituency of Gloucestershire in the opposition interest. It was an expensive campaign with estimates of the cost to each party reaching 100,000 guineas. In losing, Berkeley faced the additional disappointment of remaining unemployed by the Admiralty until 1778, in which year he joined his patron, Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel, in returning to duty against the French. As a lieutenant aboard the flagship Victory 100, Captain Jonathon Faulknor, he fought in the Battle of Ushant on 27 July, following which he was suspected of writing an anonymous article indicating that Keppel’s protagonist in the ensuing fall-out, Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, was guilty of cowardice or sabotage.
On 3 September 1778 Berkeley was promoted commander and was soon appointed to the fireship Firebrand in the Channel. In 1779 he joined the staff of Vice-Admiral Lord Shuldham, the commander-in-chief at Plymouth, but this officer was refused permission to promote him, ostensibly due to his choice of politics, and Berkeley therefore went out to Newfoundland in the sloop Fairy 14 without having been made post. He enjoyed a successful cruise in which he captured nine privateers, including the Wilkes 14 on 11 June 1780 and the Griffin 14 two ten days later, and he was also present on 10 September 1780 when the frigate Vestal 28 commanded by his cousin, Captain George Keppel, took the American packet Mercury which was carrying incriminating papers that resulted in the British declaration of war upon the Netherlands.
Berkeley finally achieved his promotion with his posting to the Vestal on 15 September 1780, and returning to England he participated in the relief of Gibraltar by Vice-Admiral George Darby’s fleet on 12 April 1781, being praised for his destruction of two gunboats below the fortress of Cueta. In January 1782 he was appointed to the frigate Recovery 32 which had began life as the Minerva, serving under Admiral Lord Howe in the Channel, and in Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington’s action with a French convoy on 20 April 1782. He briefly commanded the convoys’ captured escort, the Pégase 74, before going on half-pay and re-entering politics with his election to the seat of Gloucestershire.
His next employment was the command of the Magnificent 74, serving the usual three-year stint as a Portsmouth guardship until the spring of 1789. He commissioned the thirty year-old Niger 32 in January 1791, going out to the West Indies before leaving her in August, and concurrently he held the office of the surveyor-general of the Ordnance from April 1789 until June 1795.
Berkeley returned to sea in command of the Marlborough 74 in March 1793, taking part in the Channel fleet’s autumn cruise and in the chase of Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron on 18 November. The Marlborough paid dearly for her endeavours at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, being devastated by the Impétueuex and Mucius, and then raked by the Montagne, leaving her a dismasted hulk. Such was her involvement in the thick of the action that she was even fired upon by two British ships, and her casualties numbering twenty-nine men killed and ninety wounded were the second highest in the fleet after the Brunswick. Berkeley was one of the injured with a langridge wound to the head which required him to be helped below, Lieutenant John Monkton deputising for him.
Despite the fact that Berkeley was awarded a gold medal for his part in the Battle of the Glorious First of June, rumours soon began circulating to the effect that his own part in the engagement had been less than honourable, and ten years later he won libel damages of 1,000 guineas after the Royal Standard publication described him as a ‘shy cock’ who had ‘skulked in his cockpit’. This denigration was undoubtedly the work of his political enemies, for it was clearly understood by his fellow officers that there were no grounds for such an accusation. It was also particularly unfair, given that part of his skull had been ‘exfoliated’ by the wound. Whilst he recuperated from his injuries Commander Monkton acted for him in command of the Marlborough.
Having taken the Marlborough’s crew with him Berkeley commanded the Formidable 90 in the Channel from the spring of 1795 until December 1797, although Captain George Murray acted for him when parliamentary duty called him away in 1795-6, and neither was he aboard the ship during the Spithead mutiny of April 1797 when she was commanded by Lieutenant William Love. The Formidable later sailed for the Texel with the intention of becoming Admiral Adam Duncan’s flagship, but as the Battle of Camperdown had taken place in the meantime she was instead despatched to Plymouth to become Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Thompson’s flagship. Suffering from gout, Berkeley did not remain with her but was superseded once more by Captain Monkton in December 1797, and he had a stint ashore with the Sussex sea fencibles in 1798 before being raised to flag rank on 14 February 1799. From 1795-9 he was also a colonel of marines.
Hoisting his flag in the Mars 74, Captain John Monkton, Berkeley joined the Channel fleet off Brest shortly after his promotion and took over a squadron operating off Portugal. During the campaign spawned by the breakout of the Brest fleet on 25 April 1799 he blockaded five Spanish sail of the line in Rochefort with six sail of the line until relieved by his senior, Rear-Admiral Charles Morice Pole. During the summer of 1800 he commanded the inshore squadron close in to the Black Rocks off Brest, although he drew the disapprobation of the commander-in-chief, Lord St. Vincent, for regularly failing to remain on that dangerous station throughout the night. Suffering still from gout, he soon requested permission to go ashore, which was granted.
During the peace he spoke out in Parliament against Lord St. Vincent’s attacks on the Navy Board which resulted from the first lord of the Admiralty’s tour of inspection of the dockyards in August 1802, accusing the Admiralty of negligence, and describing armed vessels sent to the coast of France as ‘cockle-shells’. Somewhat optimistically he nevertheless approached St. Vincent for an East Indian command but his choice of politics prevented his return to service until after the fall of the government in 1804. When Lord Melville became first lord of the Admiralty he appointed Berkeley inspector of the Sea Fencibles, and he spent the next year on these duties as well as taking a leading part in the investigation of St. Vincent’s action pertaining to the impressement of David Bartholomew on 17 December 1803.
Berkeley was promoted vice-admiral on 9 November 1805 and in February 1806 assumed command of the North American station which had become vacant due to the death of Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell. He ostensibly flew his flag aboard the Leopard 50, Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys, although for most of the time he lived ashore. Under his command the infamous Leopard-Chesapeake incident occurred on 22 June 1807. Berkeley abided by Admiralty orders in using force to recover British deserters from the American service, and he was not held responsible for the political fall-out that followed. Nevertheless, and probably as a sop to the ex-colonists, he was recalled, although the Admiralty delayed this so that he would miss a parliamentary debate on the issue. He eventually returned home in April 1808.
In January 1809 he arrived at Lisbon to assume command of the Portuguese station, his flag flying aboard the Barfleur 98 commanded by his son-in-law, Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy, and with his 22 year-old nephew Maurice Berkeley serving as his flag-lieutenant. In November 1811 Captain John Smith Cowan was placed in acting command of the flagship in succession to Captain Henry Hume Spence. Berkeley enjoyed great success in his support of the army, being lauded by Viscount Wellington for his attention to all aspects of his command, and he also managed to keep the French from taking control of the Spanish fleet at Ferrol
Berkeley left this, his last duty, in May 1812, having been promoted admiral on 31 July 1810 and created Lord High Admiral of the Portuguese Navy. Despite seeking a peerage he was simply created a K.B. on 1 February 1813 and a G.C.B. on 2 January 1815, as it was considered that his services did not warrant any further reward.
Having spent some time at Lisbon in ill health during 1815 Berkeley died at South Audley Street, Grosvenor Square, on 25 February 1818.
On 23 August 1784 he married Emily Charlotte, the daughter of Lord George Lennox and the sister of the Duke of Richmond, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. His eldest daughter, Anne Louisa Emily, married Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, whilst the second daughter, Georgina, married Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Francis Seymour. His elder son became General Sir George Berkeley and later entered parliament, as did his younger son, Grenville. Berkeley’s address was given as Wood End, near Chichester, Sussex.
From 1783 to 1810 he was the M.P. for Gloucestershire in the interest of his brother, the 5th Earl Berkeley, and with a friendship towards the Prince of Wales. He became renowned as a fervent supporter of William Pitt and a bitter opponent of the supporters of Charles James Fox, and of Henry Addington during the latter’s premiership from 1802-5. When Pitt failed to reward his loyalty Berkeley’s allegiance became unclear. During his long and active parliamentary career he voted against the abolition of slavery and introduced a bill to curb the unlicensed sale of beer.
Berkeley was well built, kind-hearted, and of a strong personality. He was a patron of Rear-Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, and was lauded by Wellington as the best naval officer he had dealt with, but one of his chief detractors, the Earl of St. Vincent, claimed that his ship was not a credit to him and that he sought to spend as much time as he could at Spithead to the detriment of his duty.