Hon. Sir George Cranfield Berkeley

1753-1818. He was born on 10 August 1753, the second surviving son of Augustus, the 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 he 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 on her voyage to her marriage in Denmark, he transferred to the Guernsey 50 under Commodore Hugh Palliser, the governor-designate of Newfoundland, spending time surveying the coasts of that island and the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the sailing master, Joseph Gilbert. He next joined the frigate Alarm 32, Captain John Jervis, serving in the Mediterranean during 1769, and from that 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.

In the autumn of 1775, Berkeley sought election to the House of Commons in the opposition interest for the constituency of Gloucestershire, and in what became an astronomically expensive campaign, the close of the poll in May 1776 saw him lose by 2,873 votes to 2,919 to the Tory candidate, William Bromley-Chester. Berkeley petitioned the House of Commons, denigrating the ‘partiality’ of the high sheriff and claiming a rigged poll, but this action proved unsuccessful.

Sir George Cranfield Berkeley

Meanwhile, he remained unemployed by the Admiralty until 1778, in which year he joined his patron, Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel, after war had broken out against France. As a lieutenant aboard the flagship Victory 100, Captain Jonathon Faulknor, he fought at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July, and it was he who was suspected of writing the anonymous article which alleged that Keppel’s subordinate, Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, had been guilty of cowardice or sabotage during that inconclusive engagement. The disruption that followed amongst the higher echelons of the officer corps, resulting in the controversial court martials of both Keppel and Palliser, would be unparalleled in the history of the Navy.

On 3 September 1778 Berkeley was promoted commander, and he was soon appointed to the fireship Firebrand, serving in the Channel. He gave evidence at Palliser’s court martial in April 1779, and in the same month his fireship was ordered to Spithead. On 26 July she arrived at Plymouth from the Grand Fleet to be taken into dock for a refit, in the course of which it was learned that the allied fleet had entered the Channel. Berkeley sought permission from Vice-Admiral Lord Shuldham, the commander-in-chief at Plymouth, to go down the coast and procure a swift-sailing vessel to take to sea so that he could warn Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, who was out to the westward with the British Fleet. During the ensuing ‘Channel Fleet Retreat’, it was reported that Berkeley was employed in the construction of a boom across the harbour entrance at Plymouth, and during the absence in Ireland of Commander Lord Charles Fitzgerald, he equipped and manned that officer’s cutter, the Tapageur, and sent her out to sea under his first lieutenant in the company of the Stag 32, Captain Robert Palliser Cooper, to monitor a number of French frigates which were off the coast. On 1 September, Hardy’s fleet appeared off Plymouth and the Firebrand with several other men-of-war went out to join it.

Despite Berkeley’s laudable conduct at Plymouth during the allied threat of invasion, Lord Shuldham was denied permission to promote him, apparently due to his choice of politics, and when he left the Firebrand in February 1780 it was to join the sloop Fairy 14 under orders for Newfoundland. Arriving at St. Johns on 8 May after a passage of twenty-nine days, Berkeley immediately undertook a successful cruise in which he captured nine privateers, including the Wilkes 14 on 11 June after a chase of forty hours, and the Griffin 14 ten days later. His command was also present on 10 September when the frigate Vestal 28, commanded by his cousin, Captain George Keppel, captured the privateer Phoenix 16, and more importantly the American packet Mercury, which was carrying incriminating papers that proved the catalyst for the British declaration of war upon the Netherlands.

Berkeley finally achieved his promotion to post captain with his appointment to the Vestal on 15 September 1780, and whilst returning to Spithead after delivering the Newfoundland convoy to Lisbon and Oporto, he captured the letter-of-marque Fair American 18 on 7 November and three days later re-took the West Indiaman Camden. After arriving at Portsmouth on 14 November he sailed to join the Grand Fleet a month later, but he was ashore in Gloucester on 8 January 1781 where he was nominated once more to sit for election to parliament, although again he was unsuccessful. Rejoining the Vestal, he sailed around to Cork to collect transports in March, from where his frigate departed with several other men-of-war and a convoy on the 28th to participate in the relief of Gibraltar by Vice-Admiral George Darby’s fleet on 12 April. During this operation, Berkeley was praised for his destruction of two gunboats below the fortress of Cueta.

At the end of May 1781, the Vestal sailed for Newfoundland with Rear-Admiral Richard Edwards’ squadron, and in addition to her involvement in several captures, Berkeley’s command re-took a West Indiaman from a privateer several weeks later. After spending the season at Newfoundland, she arrived back at Spithead from Lisbon on 21 December.

In January 1782 Berkeley was appointed to the frigate Recovery 32, which had begun her career in the British service as the Minerva 32 before being captured by the French in 1778 with the death of Captain John Stott, and she had then been recaptured by the Courageux 74, Captain Lord Mulgrave, in January 1781. Serving in the Channel Fleet, she was present at Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington’s action with a French convoy on 20 April, and eight days later she arrived at Plymouth with the French Actionnaire 64, which had struck to the Queen 98, Captain Hon. Frederick Maitland. The Recovery was taken into Portsmouth Harbour shortly afterwards, prior to being released in early June. During July it was reported that she had narrowly avoided capture when looking into Brest, and that she had then raced back to Plymouth to report that the allied fleet was at sea.

In early August 1782 Berkeley was appointed to the Pégase 74, which had also been taken in Admiral Barrington’s action on 20 April, and following her commissioning at Portsmouth, she left harbour for Spithead on 11 September. Not long afterwards, she was dispatched to assist the disabled ships from the homeward-bound Jamaica convoy which had been devastated by the Central Atlantic Hurricane on 16 September, on which duty she was cruising off the Scilly Isles in October before returning to Portsmouth towards the end of the month having seen nothing of the stricken vessels. She afterwards put out with other men-of-war on a cruise, and in December she arrived at Portsmouth with news that she had fallen in with an enemy convoy, presumed to be sailing from Brest to Cadiz, and which had been under the escort of ten sail of the line. She remained at Spithead with the Channel Fleet over the new year, and on 19 January 1783 she sailed with Commodore John Elliot’s squadron for the West Indies before returning to Spithead days later after a sloop had been sent to recall the force following the signing of the preliminary articles of peace. The Pégase was paid off at Portsmouth on 14 April, on which occasion her officers and crew paraded through the streets of the town, with the hands reportedly declaring that they could not have served under a better captain than Berkeley.

Returning to politics now that hostilities had ended, Berkeley finally entered the House of Commons with his election to the seat of Gloucestershire on 28 April 1783, and on 22 July he was in attendance with other notables at the presentation of the British ambassador, the Duke of Manchester, to the court of Versailles. His next naval employment was the command of the Magnificent 74, to which he was appointed in June 1787, and which served the usual three-year stint as a Portsmouth guardship until the spring of 1789. In April of the latter year, he was rewarded for his support of William Pitt’s government by being appointed the Surveyor-General of the Ordnance under the patronage of his wife’s uncle, the Duke of Richmond, and upon undertaking the role, he was required to seek re-election for Gloucestershire, which he achieved unopposed. At the end of 1790 he commissioned the thirty-year-old frigate Niger 32, and after being presented to the King, he sailed out to inspect the fortifications on the islands in the West Indies during January 1791 with two Army officers. He returned from this duty in July, whereupon he left the Niger. In resuming his role at the Ordnance, he preferred charges against a Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser of the Artillery for disobedience of orders.

Following the commencement of the French Revolutionary War in early 1793, Berkeley returned to service in March with his appointment to the Marlborough 74 at Chatham, although he was still in Parliament during the same month where he had to retract a comment accusing his political opponent, Charles James Fox, of being a friend of the French General Charles François Dumouriez, thereby implying a republican sympathy. At the end of May, the Marlborough made her way down to Blackstakes to take on her powder and guns, and she eventually arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs on 10 August to participate in the Channel Fleet’s autumn cruise and in the chase of Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron on 18 November.

The Battle of the Glorious First of June

During the first few months of 1794 Berkeley was back in the House of Commons, and after rejoining the Marlborough when the Channel Fleet put to sea in May, his command paid dearly for her endeavours in breaking the French line at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, being devastated by the Impétueuex 74 and Mucius 74, and then raked by the Montagne 120. Such was her involvement in the thick of the action that she was even fired upon by two British ships, and by the end of the battle she was a dismasted hulk with casualties numbering twenty-nine men killed and ninety wounded, these being the second highest in the fleet after those suffered by the Brunswick 74. Berkeley was one of those injured, having been hit on the head by langridge shot, which wound required him to be helped below leaving Lieutenant John Monkton to deputise for him. It was subsequently stated that part of his skull had been ‘exfoliated’ by the blow, although when it was reported in early October that he was laid up at Portsmouth, the malady attributed to him was that of gout. Meanwhile, whilst he recuperated from his injuries, the promoted Commander Monkton acted for him in command of the Marlborough. Even though he was one of the few officers awarded a gold medal for his part in the battle, rumours soon began circulating to the effect that Berkeley’s own part in the engagement had been less than honourable, and as late as ten years later he would win libel damages of 1,000 guineas after the Royal Standard had published a letter describing him as a ‘shy cock’ who had ‘skulked in his cockpit’. The 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.

From January 1795 until ordered back to sea at the end of May, he was active in Parliament where he maintained his regular jousts with the eminent Whig politician, Charles James Fox; however, he left his position at the Ordnance in June upon accepting a colonelcy of marines. Having taken the Marlborough’s crew with him, Berkeley commanded the Formidable 98 in the Channel Fleet during the remainder of 1795, on which vessel he arrived at Plymouth from Quiberon Bay in mid-September. For a large part of 1796 Captain George Murray acted for him when parliamentary duty called him away, but in November of that year he arrived at Portsmouth to reassume command of the Formidable on her return to port.

In early April 1797 it was reported that Berkeley was in command of the Formidable when she sailed from Plymouth with Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis’ squadron, and although he was not aboard her during the Spithead mutiny that month, the ship being commanded by Lieutenant William Love, reports stating that her men remonstrated with other vessels for continuing the insurrection after their demands had been met indicated that his command of the vessel had been an equitable one. Whilst he remained ashore suffering from gout, the Formidable 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.

In December 1797, realising that he could expect no favours from the Admiralty, Berkeley applied directly to William Pitt for a commodore’s broad pennant with a suggestion that he could command a squadron off Ferrol; however, he was advised that the prime minister could not interfere in naval affairs. A request from his brother, the Earl of Berkeley, to see him reappointed to the Ordnance also fell on deaf ears, and instead he had a stint ashore with the Sussex Sea Fencibles from the spring of 1798, whilst also attending to his duties in Parliament.

Raised to flag rank on 14 February 1799, Berkeley cancelled his annual visit to the Gloucester Assizes in March and instead hoisted his flag aboard the Mars 74, Captain John Monkton. Joining a division of the Channel Fleet in Cawsand Bay, he departed Plymouth in April with five sail of the line to cruise off Ireland, and in June he commanded off the coast of France whilst the commander-in-chief, Admiral Lord Bridport remained ashore. During the campaign precipitated by the breakout of the Brest Fleet on 25 April, he blockaded five Spanish sail of the line in Rochefort with six sail of the line until relieved in early July by his senior, Rear-Admiral Charles Morice Pole. By the middle of the month he was back at Plymouth, and in September he sailed to join the Channel Fleet under Bridport off Brest, making the occasional return to Torbay with that force.

On 28 January 1800 the Mars with Berkeley’s flag arrived at Portsmouth, and he spent a short time in Parliament before sailing from Plymouth in early April to command the Inshore Squadron close into the Black Rocks off Brest. A month later he was unable to prevent a convoy getting into the French base, nor was he able to engage the six sail of the line which came out of Brest to attend it. A brief visit was made to Plymouth on 23 May, but he was soon back at sea where he drew the disapprobation of the new commander-in-chief, Admiral Lord St. Vincent, for regularly failing to remain on his dangerous station throughout the night, for seeking to return to Spithead on any pretext, and for failing to bring the ships under his command up to the required standard. He was back at Plymouth at the beginning of August, and as he was still suffering from gout he requested permission to go ashore, which was granted. For the next twelve months, bar some service in Parliament, he remained in relative obscurity.

In August 1801 Berkeley’s overtures for the governorship of Madeira proved unsuccessful, and remaining in Parliament, he caused some controversy three months later by accusing the poor in his neighbourhood of being ‘arrogant’ and the overseers ‘indolent’. He did earn the appreciation of at least one constituent, the scientist and physician, Edward Jenner, whose monetary claim for the discovery of inoculation was approved.

During the peace, which was reached in the spring of 1802, Berkeley spoke out in Parliament in opposition to Henry Addington’s new government, and in particular against Lord St. Vincent’s attacks on the Navy Board, which had resulted from the new first lord of the Admiralty’s tour of inspection of the dockyards in August. In due course he voted against the resulting Commission of Naval Enquiry, claiming that the most appropriate institution to investigate the Navy Board was the Navy Board itself.

When war with France recommenced in 1803 Berkeley remained out of employment, but he remained an active force in Parliament, accusing the Admiralty of negligence, and describing armed vessels sent to the coast of France as ‘cockle-shells’. Somewhat optimistically, he approached St. Vincent for an East Indian command in the latter part of 1803, but his political leanings meant that there was little prospect of a return to service until after the fall of the government in May 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 investigating St. Vincent’s conduct when ordering the impressement of David Bartholomew on 17 December 1803. Yet still, his tentative approaches for a command at sea were negated by a lack of encouragement from the prime minister, William Pitt, possibly because Berkeley’s political sympathies had become realigned to his half-sister’s brother-in-law, Lord Grenville. It was during this period, in June 1804, that he brought the successful libel action against the Royal Standard which had published a letter that denigrated Berkeley’s efforts at the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

In December 1804 he was appointed to the chief command of the Sea Fencibles on the coast of England, and in January 1805 he arrived at Portsmouth, where he decided to base his office. Throughout the rest of the year he was busy as usual in parliament, although at the beginning of August he was at Weymouth to hold a long conference with the King, who was taking his annual holiday at the resort, and he spent some time thereafter inspecting the defences along the coast.

The Leopard – Chesapeake affair.

Berkeley was promoted vice-admiral on 9 November 1805, and he returned to favour in February 1806 following Pitt’s death and the installation of Lord Grenville as prime minister. In April he was appointed to the command of the North American station which had become vacant due to the death of Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell, and after kissing the King’s hand on 14 May, he joined his temporary flagship, the Ville de Milan 38, Captain Sir Robert Laurie, which vessel dropped down to St. Helens a fortnight later before sailing on 2 June with a convoy for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Arriving at Halifax on 22 July, Berkeley thereafter flew his flag aboard the Leopard 50, Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys, although he mostly resided ashore. Berkeley abided by Admiralty orders in using force to recover British deserters from the American service, and it was under his command that the infamous Leopard-Chesapeake incident occurred on 22 June 1807. Even though the Duke of Portland’s administration had replaced Lord Grenville’s, he was not held responsible for the political fall-out that followed, but in a probable sop to the ex-colonists who viewed his conduct with detestation, he was recalled. Even so, the Admiralty delayed his return so that he would miss a parliamentary debate on the issue, and he eventually sailed from Halifax aboard the Leopard on 27 February 1808 to reach home in early April, whereupon he was promptly received at court.

Although he had been re-elected unopposed for Gloucestershire, Berkeley refrained from any further parliamentary activity in 1808, although his opposition to the government was commented upon. At the end of the year he raised his flag board the Conqueror 74, Captain Edward Fellowes, and in January 1809 he arrived at Lisbon to assume command of the Portuguese station, his first task being to take possession of two dozen Danish vessels in the Tagus, together with two Russian sail of the line, whilst also making preparations to evacuate Lisbon following the French invasion of Portugal. Transferring his flag to 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, by October he had three other sail of the line under his command. During his time in Portugal, 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. His relationship with the Admiralty nevertheless remained fractious, and in terms of naval activity there was little opportunity for distinction.

Raised to the rank of admiral on 31 July 1810, Berkeley had nine ships of the line and several frigates in the Tagus by April 1811, and in the same month he was appointed to the Portuguese Board of Admiralty. Remaining with the Barfleur, in November 1811 Captain John Smith Cowan became his acting flag-captain in succession to Captain Henry Hume Spence. Berkeley left this, his final duty, in May 1812, and he arrived at Plymouth aboard the Barfleur on 21 July.

Seeking a peerage, it was much to his indignation that 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. No longer a member of Parliament after leaving his seat in May 1810, he retired to Chichester where he appears to have led a quiet life.

Having spent some time at Lisbon in ill health during 1815, Admiral Berkeley died at South Audley Street, Grosvenor Square, London, on 25 February 1818.

On 23 August 1784 at Goodwood in Sussex 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, a seat he purchased at great expense 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 1802-4. 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, combative, impetuous, imprudent, and of a strong personality. He was a patron of Rear-Admiral Sir Michael Seymour and was lauded by the Duke of Wellington as the best naval officer he had dealt with. To the contrary, 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. When he was the commander-in-chief of the American station, he frequently wrote directly to the prime minister with complaints about Admiralty policy, an abuse he was able to perpetuate through his support of the government and the influence of his brother, the Earl of Berkeley. It little helped diplomatic relations that he despised the Americans and would have been content to see an earlier war with them, or to provoke a slave rising. Despite his highly influential aristocratic connections, his financial situation was not of the best.