Hugh Bromedge

c1714-92. It is believed that he originated from Worcestershire.

Having previously commanded a privateer, the Vulture, Bromedge entered the Navy in 1744, and from November 1745 until June 1748 he served as a masters’ mate aboard the Folkestone 44, Captains Thomas Gregory and Samuel Scott, which vessel was employed in European waters. He spent the next eight years in the merchant service before returning to the Navy and being commissioned lieutenant on 21 September 1756, seeing service aboard the Swift 8, Commander Walker Farr. On 9 November he was taken aboard the Royal George 100, Captain Peter Denis, which vessel he appears to have left six weeks later.

During the early part of 1759, he commanded the cutter Duke William in home waters in anti-smuggling operations, and on 13 January she arrived at Tower Wharf to deposit three pirates who were escorted to the Marshalsea Prison at Southwark. On 3 April Bromedge was promoted commander of the unrated sloop Wolf 8, in which he was present at Rear-Admiral George Brydges Rodney’s bombardment of Le Havre in July. He retained her until February of the following year when she was taken into Portsmouth Harbour, although it seems that he also commissioned the Laurel 12 at that port for Captain Phillips Cosby from 25 September until 3 October 1759.

The Bombardment of Le Havre in 1759.

In August 1760 Bromedge was appointed to the sloop Happy 8, being employed initially in the Downs and off Essex. During September 1762 his command was despatched from the Yarmouth Roads to offer assistance to the Humber 40 and several ships from her convoy which had surprisingly gone aground in moderate weather upon the Happysborough Sands. Bromedge retained the Happy until April 1763, and he was then reappointed to her on 22 November when his successor as captain, Dennis Every, was dismissed the service for confining his sailing master without due cause. During January 1764 the Happy assisted in the conveyance of the Prince of Brunswick from the Helvoet Roads to England for his marriage to Princess Augusta, and at the beginning of 1765 Bromedge was ordered to leave the Scottish coast and fit the Happy out for service in the Channel.

On 14 September 1766, the Happy drove ashore on Wintertonesse Beach near Great Yarmouth after missing stays in a gale, and she was totally wrecked. Bromedge was brought to the customary court martial at Portsmouth on 8 November aboard the guardship Dorsetshire 68, and he was found not guilty for the loss of his command.

On 6 March 1772 he was appointed to the sloop Savage 8, being ordered out to the Mediterranean in November with dispatches for the governor of Gibraltar and the naval commander-in-chief. By the beginning of 1775 his command was serving at Boston, and he retained her thereafter on the North American station, being present at Halifax in the early part of 1776 before returning to New York. Shortly afterwards, it was reported that the Savage had taken the Boston packet Sheppard, and she then assisted in the capture of three well-laden American vessels off the Virginia Capes, including one of ten carriage guns which she carried into Boston. On 7 April her watering party was attacked by five hundred rebels on Staten Island, and although the Savage’s gunfire reportedly killed twenty-four of the enemy, Bromedge was unable to bring off his men. A month later, on 17 May, he delivered dispatches to Vice-Admiral Lord Molyneux Shuldham and General Sir William Howe at Halifax. He retained the Savage until she was wrecked on 16 September in a heavy gale off Scatarie Island, Nova Scotia, her crew being saved; however, his loss of a second vessel would pale into insignificance in comparison to the personal difficulties that would arise from his capture earlier that month of the ‘Boston Packet’, which he had deemed to be a rebel.

On 28 March 1777 Bromedge was appointed to the storeship Buffalo 30, which had previously seen service as the Captain 64, and which was put into commission at Chatham. She arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs on 7 June, prior to sailing for New York three days later with a convoy of twenty-seven troop transports and victuallers, and in December she left that city for Rhode Island with another convoy.

On 23 March 1778 the Buffalo arrived at Portsmouth with the Chatham 50, Captain Hon William Cornwallis, and three transports carrying invalids from Halifax, having several days previously intercepted a French sloop of war off Plymouth which had apparently been spying on the coast. When the sloop had failed to adhere to Bromedge’s instruction to bring-to, he had fired a gun at her which the Frenchman had returned, and two further shots had then been exchanged before the Buffalo had poured a whole broadside into the sloop, which did have the effect of bringing her-to. Upon being interviewed, her commander had advised Bromedge that, but for the inferiority of his vessel, he would have undertaken an engagement. As the two countries were not yet at war, the sloop had then been allowed to return home.

When the Buffalo was reinstated as a 60-gun vessel in the spring of 1778 Bromedge was at last posted captain, some nineteen years after his previous promotion, and with his seniority dating from 29 April. His new command sailed from Spithead for the Downs that month to serve as a guardship, where she initially flew the flag of Vice-Admiral Matthew Buckle. During the first days of January 1779, she raised the flag of Rear-Admiral Francis William Drake and sailed with a convoy for Portsmouth where the latter officer briefly served as the temporary commander-in-chief during Admiral Sir Thomas Pye’s absence at the court-martial of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel.

Gloucester Castle Prison, where Bromedge was incarcerated in the early 1780’s.

After returning to her usual station in the Downs with Drake’s flag, the Buffalo was docked at Portsmouth in July 1779, but with the allied fleet approaching the Channel, she was ordered back to sea despite being described as ‘battered and worn-out’. During the Channel Fleet’s retreat in August she spent several fretful days windbound at Spithead, and she eventually sailed on the 29th to join Admiral Sir Charles Hardy off Plymouth two days later. After serving with the fleet for the rest of the year, the Buffalo was with the squadron under Captain Charles Fielding which detained a Dutch convoy on 31 December.

In January 1780 the Buffalo sailed for the Downs with a convoy, and on 2 February she arrived at Plymouth. Soon difficulties began to emerge between Bromedge and his officers, with reports in March stating that he would be brought to a court martial. He was still in command when the Buffalo arrived at Spithead from Plymouth in April to join the Grand Fleet, but he left her on 6 May, and on the penultimate day of the month he was honourably acquitted at a court martial brought by his officers for ‘malpractices’, as the members of the court could ‘not prove their assertions’ .

Bromedge’s final command was the ancient Dutch prize Princess Caroline 54 which he joined in June 1781 and fitted out at Woolwich, prior to sailing from Portsmouth with a large convoy for the West Indies on 12 February 1782. On 3 June she departed Port Royal, Jamaica, with five cartels carrying French prisoners taken at the Battle of the Saintes, and in the course of her voyage home she captured the privateer Tartare 24 on 28 June off Georgia. She then sailed for Savannah to land the prisoners taken in that engagement, in the course of which detour her prize sunk off Tybee Island, taking with her two lieutenants and thirty-one men of the prize crew, and leaving just ten men to be saved. Savannah itself was in a state of confusion due to evacuation orders which had been received from the commander-in-chief, General Sir Guy Carleton, and the Princess Caroline took on board the governor of Georgia, Sir James Wright. On 3 July she arrived off Charleston before sailing for England eight days later to land Governor Wright at Cork on 6 August. Eventually reaching Plymouth on 30 August, the Princess Caroline then went around to Portsmouth to land one hundred and twenty French soldiers on Gosport Beach for transfer to the Fortune prison, these being men who had been taken at the Battle of the Saintes. Meanwhile, it would appear that the cartels which had departed Jamaica with her had already reached Brest. Bromedge left the Princess Caroline after she sailed around to the Thames to be paid off on 27 November.

Although he did not see any further service, Bromedge’s story was far from over, for by now a court had found that his seizure of the Boston Packet in 1776 had been illegal, and he was ordered to pay the owners £500 in compensation. When he refused to do so he was imprisoned in June 1783 as a debtor in Gloucester Castle, and he remained there for at least the next year, during which incarceration he contacted gaol fever.

Captain Bromedge died in Bristol on 18 August 1792.

He married Mary Franklin on 17th July 1733 at Lincoln’s Inn Chapel, Holborn, and they had one son, John, who was commissioned a lieutenant in the Navy in 1759.

Many thanks to Julie Smith for providing so much valuable information of Hugh Bromedge.