Joseph Peyton

1725- 1804. He was the second of three sons of Commodore Edward Peyton, who died in 1749 having suffered from depression after being criticised by the East India Company for failing to defeat a French force on the Coromandel Coast, and then being placed under arrest by his successor.

On 4 June 1743 Peyton was commissioned lieutenant of the Essex 70, Captain Richard Norris, and he was a witness at the various court martials which followed the British defeat at the Battle of Toulon in February 1744.

He was promoted commander of the sloop Savage 8 on 23 March 1756, employed in cruising in the Downs and the North Sea, and in which he captured the privateer Pluton on 2 February 1757.

Having been posted captain on 2 December 1757, Peyton joined the Prince George 80, which sailed from St. Helens with the trade towards the end of March 1758 flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Thomas Brodrick, the commander-in-chief designate in the Mediterranean. On 13 April, some one hundred and eighty miles to the west of Ushant, a fire took hold in the boatswain’s storeroom, and for the next five hours Peyton kept the quarterdeck whilst attempting to save the ship. Eventually concluding that the Prince George was beyond salvation, he ordered the gunports opened to allow the vessel to sink in the heavy seas, rather than allowing her to blow up at risk to the merchant vessels, which in any event had kept their distance. After being collected from the stern ladder by a boat, he was later picked up by the sloop Alderney. The Prince George burned for a total of six and a half hours before she sank, and of a crew just short of seven hundred and fifty men only two hundred and sixty survived. Admiral Brodrick, who had been prevailed upon to leave in the barge an hour before Peyton, stripped naked and took to the sea in the belief that the overmanned boat would overset, and after swimming for an hour he was picked up by a merchant vessel.


Peyton fought at the Battle of Lagos in 1759

Taking passage with Brodrick to Gibraltar aboard the Glasgow 20, Captain Andrew Wilkinson, on 14 May Peyton was appointed the admiral’s flag captain aboard the St George 90, and on 13 June they exchanged into the Prince 90. This vessel led the Mediterranean squadron when it proceeded to Leghorn at the end of September, and which cruised off Corsica in the autumn. During the early part of 1759 the squadron blockaded Minorca, in April it was at Gibraltar, by which time Admiral Edward Boscawen had superseded Brodrick as the commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and thereafter it cruised off Toulon. The Prince was present at the Battle of Lagos on 18 August, following which Brodrick was charged with blockading what remained of the Toulon Fleet in Cadiz, however in December storm damage required his squadron to seek shelter in the same port. When the French sailed in the early days of January 1760 the Prince was still out of action for want of a rudder, and Broderick had to transfer to another vessel to go in chase of the enemy. Eventually, with the admiral’s flag aloft once more, the Prince returned to Portsmouth in March from the Straits of Gibraltar and performed quarantine before being taken into the harbour on the 30th.

Once she was released from dock in June 1760, the Prince took up duties as a private ship in the Bay of Biscay, returning to Portsmouth towards the end of August, and later serving under the orders of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke off the French coast. On 27 May 1761 she sailed out of Portsmouth Harbour, and on 14 October departed with the trade from Portsmouth for the Downs where she hoisted the broad pennant of Commodore Sir Piercy Brett.

On 24 December 1761 Peyton was appointed to the frigate Aquilon 28 which at the time was in the Mediterranean, but before he could join her she sailed for the Leeward Islands under Captain Chaloner Ogle to warn Rear-Admiral George Brydges Rodney that the Brest fleet had been despatched to those waters. Instead, on 18 February 1762, Peyton was appointed to the Minerva 28, cruising out of the Downs, and briefly taking aboard the broad pennant of Commodore John Moore on that station. At the end of June she sailed for Portsmouth from where she departed on 7 August for Newfoundland with a small squadron commanded by Commodore Hugh Palliser, who had instructions to recapture St. Johns. In the event, a force from New York had already been sent to drive the French out and Palliser’s squadron returned to Spithead at the end of October after a nineteen-day passage. The Minerva subsequently visited Halifax and New York from where she returned in early January 1763 to join Vice-Admiral Francis Holburne’s squadron at Portsmouth, prior to being ordered around to Sheerness to be paid off on 3 February.

On 24 October 1766 Peyton was appointed to the guardship Belleisle 64 at Plymouth, which in March 1768 arrived at Cove to collect troops for Gibraltar, making the return voyage with a homeward-bound regiment to arrive at Plymouth in early May. After the usual three-year term he left the Belleisle at the end of October 1769. On 8 January 1771 he was appointed to the Modeste 64, which was commissioning at Portsmouth during the Falkland Islands dispute with Spain, and at the end of March was fitting out for an expedition to Jamaica, although this was cancelled upon the dispute being settled. He retained the Modeste for but a short while until 9 April.

A period of six and a half years on the beach followed before he was appointed to the Cumberland 74 on 29 December 1777, and after commissioning her at Portsmouth he took her out of the harbour for Spithead towards the end of May 1778. Here she remained for some time in want of more men. In due course she was able to join the Grand Fleet, and he commanded her at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July, although being one of the stern-most ships she played little part in the engagement. In the following month she was stationed off Brest to keep watch on the French fleet. Temporarily ceding the command to Captain Hugh Dalrymple, Peyton was called as a witness at the court martial of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel in January 1779 where his evidence in the dispute over the management of the Battle of Ushant was considered to be of value to Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser. It was therefore unsurprising that he was called by the Admiralty to sit upon Palliser’s own court martial in April.

Returning to sea, he commanded the Cumberland in the Channel Fleet’s Retreat of August 1779, and in the Moonlight Battle off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780. During April the vessel was docked and copper-sheathed at Plymouth, and after Captain Harry Harmood had briefly acted for him in the autumn, Peyton was back at the helm when the Cumberland took a number of transports from Portsmouth to Ireland in February 1781. She participated in the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April and in the Channel Fleet campaign of June-November. In September he took up the position of captain of the Channel Fleet to Vice-Admiral George Darby aboard the Britannia 100, a position he held until the admiral’s resignation in April 1782, following which he saw no further service as a captain.

Peyton was advanced to flag rank on 24 September 1787, and in September 1788 he was appointed the commander-in-chief at Halifax, although shortly after raising his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Leander 50, commanded by his eldest son, Captain Joseph Peyton, he was recalled to the Admiralty by an express and instead given the Mediterranean command. Before setting sail, he presided over a court martial aboard the Edgar 74 in November at Portsmouth concerning charges against Captain George Dawson of the Phaeton 38, relating to ‘tyranny, oppression, malversation, suttling and such like’. Departing for the Mediterranean on 19 December after another visit to the Admiralty, he arrived at Gibraltar on New Year’s Eve. In July 1789 his squadron visited Tangiers and later in the year was at Leghorn and Naples. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he despatched ships to monitor the Spanish fleets at Cadiz, Ferrol, and Corunna. He was promoted vice-admiral on 21 September 1790 and later that year was at Lisbon before proceeding to Gibraltar. By July he was at Leghorn, and at the end of his tenure the Leander arrived back at Portsmouth on 10 March 1792.

In June 1793 Peyton was presented to the King upon being appointed the commander-in-chief in the Downs, and on the 13th he raised his flag aboard the Andromache 32, Captain Theophilus Jones, although thereafter he generally flew his flag on whichever vessel was available. During August his cruisers supported the Army by blockading Dunkirk, and on 15 September 1794 he rapidly dispatched a squadron of one 64-gun ship, a 50-gun ship, and four frigates to pursue a French squadron of five frigates and a corvette which had chased a lugger into the Downs that morning, the latter eventually being blocked up at Ostend. Similarly in November, he dispatched another squadron in search of three French frigates which had been spotted off the North Foreland.

Wakehurst Place By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

He continued in the Downs thereafter with his flag more permanently aboard the Leopard 50, Captain William Swaffield, although he struck it on 19 April 1795 to head for Portsmouth to serve as the president of the court martial which investigated Captain Anthony James Pye Molloy over alleged misconduct at the Battle of the Glorious First of June. Here he flew his flag initially aboard the Boyne 98, Captain George Grey, which vessel was destroyed by fire on 1 May at a time when Peyton was not aboard. Thereafter his flagship was the Glory 98. He was advanced to the rank of admiral on 1 June 1795, and he returned to the Downs after the end of Molloy’s trial.

In February 1796 he received the first instructions by the new telegraph system from the Admiralty, although ironically, he could not forward them to Admiral Adam Duncan off the Texel as the sea was too rough to send out a boat. In the spring he flew his flag briefly aboard the Savage 14, Commander Grosvenor Winkworth, and then permanently from October on the Overyssel 64, Captain William Swaffield. In November Captain John Young became the captain of the Overyssel, whilst Rear-Admiral John Bazely temporarily acted as the commander-in-chief in the Downs from the end of that month whilst Peyton took leave.

On 3 March 1797 he re-hoisted his flag aboard the Overyssel to resume duty in the Downs, and consequently was in command when the mutiny in the North Sea fleet broke out on 27 May. At one point the mutineers took control of the Overyssel before she found herself under the powerful cannon of the experimental Glatton 54, Captain Henry Trollope. Following three days of negotiation the men returned to duty. Captain Young died at Deal in November 1797, but Peyton continued with his flag in the Overyssel with Captain John Bazely, the son of the admiral, until September 1798 when he went aboard the Wassenaar 66, Captain Charles Craven. He was eventually succeeded in command of the downs station by Admiral Skeffington Lutwidge in March 1799.

He retired to his property in Wakehurst Place, near Ardingly in Sussex, which he had inherited from a distant relative in 1776. Three tragedies dogged his later years: his gardener committing suicide by hanging in August 1799, his youngest son, Thomas, dying at sea when captain of the Monarch 74 in October 1801, and a nephew losing his arm in a shooting accident in the grounds of Wakehurst in November 1802.

Admiral Peyton died on 22 September 1804 at Wakehurst, and he was buried in the Wakehurst Chapel in Ardingly Church.

In 1746 he married Katherine, a daughter of Commander John Strutt. She died at Wakehurst Place on 27 February 1794 after having issue five surviving sons and two daughters. Of the sons, Joseph became a superannuated rear-admiral, John a rear-admiral, Edward entered the clergy, William became an administrator in the Navy Office and the father of Commodore Sir John Strutt Peyton, and Thomas died in command of the Monarch 74 in 1801.

Peyton was described as an officer who strictly controlled his ship in line with the Articles of War, and who was a ‘tight hand’, harsh, and disagreeable. By 1798 he was on bad terms with Captain Bazely.