Lord Molyneux Shuldham
@1717-98. He was born at Ballymulvy, County Longford, the second son of the Reverend Lemuel Shuldham and of his wife, Elizabeth Molyneux.
Shuldham entered the Navy in 1732 aboard the Cornwall 80, Captain George Forbes, the future Earl of Granard, serving thereafter in the Solebay 20, Captain Charles Fanshawe, and Falkland 50, Captain Fitzroy Lee. Having passed his lieutenant’s examination on 25 January 1739 and being commissioned on 31 August, he was appointed to the Tilbury 60, Captain Robert Long, serving in the West Indies and participating in Rear-Admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle’s unsuccessful attack on Cartagena in Spanish South America during the spring of 1741. He had risen to become the Tilbury’s first lieutenant when she was destroyed by fire with the death of many of her crew in the West Indies on 21 September 1742 after an argument between a marine and a purser’s boy had got out of hand. At the resulting court martial the officers were acquitted of all blame for the ship’s loss.
He was promoted commander of the bomb Blast 8 on the Jamaican station on 1 May 1744, which commission was confirmed by the Admiralty on 31 May 1746. In the meantime the Blast was captured by a couple of Spanish privateer xebecs off Black River on 9 November 1745 following an astonishing defence of over four hours, and after suffering the appalling casualties of thirty-nine men killed and thirty-eight wounded from a crew of one hundred and thirteen. Having battered the Blast into a floating wreck the Spanish called on Shuldham to surrender, but the young commander stood by the colours even as the enemy boarded. One privateer attempted to shoot Shuldham in the face, but when his gun misfired struck him to the deck with the butt and stamped on his prone body. Instantly a British seaman shot the Spaniard dead. Once the colours had been struck the Spanish laid into the Blast’s crew with great severity whilst the wounded Shuldham was removed to one of the xebecs to suffer further ill-treatment until a French officer came to his rescue. To his credit the Spanish governor at Havana behaved impeccably by restoring Shuldham’s property, dismissing the xebec commanders after allowing Shuldham the opportunity to sanction their immediate execution, and gifting him letters of credit to ease his period of imprisonment in Spain.
After eventually returning to England Shuldham was posted captain of the Sheerness 20 on 12 May 1746, serving off Scotland, and in December 1748 he moved to the Queenborough 24 before commissioning the new Unicorn 28 in March of the following year. In this vessel he sailed from Spithead for the Mediterranean with a Turkish ambassador in February 1750, and remaining on that station thereafter under the orders of Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel he was with the squadron that paid a visit to the Dey of Algiers in July. The Unicorn returned to Portsmouth in October to much relief, as she had earlier been given up for lost in the Bay of Biscay, and having gone out once more to the Mediterranean she arrived back at Spithead on 23 May 1752 from Gibraltar and Lisbon prior to being paid off in June.
Shuldham’s next appointment was to the Seaford 20 in October 1754, which vessel was in the Downs in January 1755 and sailed in the following month for France before entering Plymouth. Here in March he removed to the Warwick 60, going around to Spithead in May with several other men-of-war to join the Grand Fleet where his command remained until taken into port in July to be sheathed and fitted out for the Leeward Islands. On 13 August she sailed for the West Indies in a small squadron under the orders of Rear-Admiral Thomas Frankland, pausing at Madeira before leaving those islands on 3 September to arrive at Antigua at the beginning of October, and thereafter going out on a cruise. In early December she was anchored at Barbados, and shortly afterwards she captured a French snow bound for Martinique, but in January 1756 she had to put back to Barbados after springing her bowsprit.
Once more Shuldham suffered the misfortune of losing his ship when the Warwick was captured off Martinique with the loss of one man killed and three wounded on 11 March 1756 by the French Prudente 74 and the frigates Atalante 32 and Zéphyr 32. The defeat was largely attributed to his crew being ridden with sickness, whilst his sluggardly command was unable to use her lower deck guns due to her lack of seaworthiness and the sharp practice of the French small arms men. Sensationalist stories would later reach home of her crew refusing to fight, and of the French hanging Shuldham and his officers as pirates, although neither was true. After a period of imprisonment in Martinique and at Poitiers in France Shuldham returned to England in March 1758 aboard a cartel.
Upon being acquitted for the loss of the Warwick he was appointed to commission the newly launched Panther 60 at Sheerness in July 1758, going out to the Leeward Islands in November with Commodore Robert Hughes’ squadron where the knowledge he had gained as a prisoner of the French on the island of Martinique was held to be of great benefit. His vessel was subsequently present at the reduction of Guadeloupe under Commodore John Moore during the spring of 1759, and remaining in the Leeward Islands he exchanged with Captain John Montagu into the Raisonnable 64 during July.
On 8 January 1762 Shuldham lost yet another ship when the Raisonnable was wrecked on a reef unknown to the pilots whilst engaging the batteries at Fort Royal, Martinique. He nevertheless commanded a division of boats in the capture of the French island shortly afterwards, and in May he was temporarily appointed by Rear-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney to his flagship, the Marlborough 70. Several days later he transferred to the Rochester 50, from which he moved again within a matter of weeks to Rodney’s new flagship, the Foudroyant 80. He remained with this vessel into the early summer of 1763 before sailing for home in command of the frigate Levant 28, to arrive at Portsmouth in August in the company of Rodney’s squadron.
Shuldham was re-employed in December 1766 aboard the guardship Cornwall 74 at Plymouth which he retained for the usual three years, and from November 1770 he commanded the newly commissioned Royal Oak 74 during the Spanish dispute over the Falkland Islands, remaining with her as she served as a guardship at Plymouth before later sailing for Portsmouth to join Rear-Admiral Richard Spry’s squadron of six sail of the line which was under orders to cruise in the Atlantic on exercises during July 1771.
In February 1772 he was appointed the commodore and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland with his flag aboard an old command, the Panther 60, Captain Cornthwaite Ommanney. Hoisting his flag at Portsmouth on 19 May and sailing out with thirteen vessels including sloops some weeks later, he was no sooner on station than he had to send home for reinforcements to counter the excessive number of French men-of-war which had arrived in those waters. By December it was being reported at home that he had been able to prevent the French incursions into British fishing waters, and he arrived at Falmouth on the14th of that month, having in company a Native American chief, with his squaw, who was desirous of discussing trading arrangements with King George.
In March 1773 Shuldham attended the Lord Mayor’s Ball at the Mansion House, and on 9 May he arrived at Portsmouth to raise his flag once more aboard the Panther and set sail several days later for Newfoundland. His return in early November was following a very brisk passage, and after wintering in England, as was the custom, he put out of Portsmouth for Newfoundland with the Panther and Captain Ommanney once more at the end of May 1774, although on this occasion his voyage was interrupted by adverse winds and he was obliged to harbour in Plymouth for some days during June. The Panther returned to England that November where a month earlier Shuldham had been elected without opposition as the M.P. for Fowey at the General Election, a seat that he would retain for the next ten years in the interest of Lord North’s Government.
Shuldham was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral on 31 March 1775, and at the end of July the Chatham 50, Captain John Raynor, was ordered to fit out at Portsmouth for his flag in accordance with his appointment as the second-in-command in North America. Shortly afterwards, at the beginning of August, it was announced that he was to replace the recalled Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves as the commander-in-chief. On 27 September he took leave of the King at Court, and on 3 October hoisted his flag aboard the Chatham at Portsmouth to sail on the 19th for Boston, although within days he had to put back because of adverse winds. On 30 December he eventually arrived at Boston with fifteen transports and victuallers in convoy, despite rumours that a squadron of Continental frigates had been sent to intercept him, and Shuldham officially replaced Graves as the commander-in-chief in North America on 27 January 1776.
Promoted vice-admiral on 3 February 1776, news of his delayed arrival in North America had not even been received in England before the decision to replace him with Vice-Admiral Lord Howe was made in the same month, there having been representations from senior admirals and at an upper governmental level that the post required a more experienced officer. Some commentators even demanded to know why he had been nominated for the command in the first place, given that in their opinion he had achieved nothing notable in his career to date, and much was made of the fact that his initial appointment had been made by his good friend, the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich. At the same time an attempt to compensate him for the loss of his command was made with the announcement that he would be raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Shuldham.
Unaware yet of his recall, Shuldham evacuated the fleet and the army under the command of General Sir William Howe from Boston on 17 March 1776, and after destroying some works further down the coast the combined force reached Halifax from Nantucket on 3 April. Provisions at that being port being short, they did not remain long but sailed from Nova Scotia on 10 June on a secret expedition. Two weeks later Shuldham’s replacement, Lord Howe, arrived at Halifax. By the 26th the fleet was off Sandy Hook and Shuldham commanded the Navy in the early stages of the New York campaign from July-October prior to being succeeded by Lord Howe.
On 5 January 1777 Shuldham left New York aboard the Bristol 50, Captain John Raynor, to reach Portsmouth on 25 February, whereupon he travelled up to London to attend the King the next day and kiss hands on being created an Irish peer. Reportedly turning down the West Indian and Mediterranean commands, in March he accepted the position of commander-in-chief at Plymouth, one of his key roles being to send out vessels to counter the growing menace to home waters of the American privateers. During the early years of his command his flag flew predominantly aboard the Blenheim 90 and the Cambridge 80, both commanded by Captain Broderick Hartwell.
On Christmas Day 1778, in the absence of Commodore Sir John-Lockhart Ross who had been ordered to attend the court-martial of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel pertaining to the dispute over the Battle of Ushant, and with his flag flying aboard the Foudroyant 80, Captain Charles Hudson, Shuldham sailed from Portsmouth with seventeen sail of the line and seven frigates in escort of nearly three hundred sail comprising Commodore Joshua Rowley’s Leeward Islands reinforcement and convoys for Plymouth, New York, Ireland, and the East Indies. After seeing them safely out into the Western Approaches he returned to Portsmouth with the Channel Fleet’s ten sail of the line on 25 January 1779, at which time his flag was flying on the Defiance 64, Captain Samuel Goodall. Shortly afterwards he attended a levee with his friend, Admiral Keppel, whose court-martial acquittal was celebrated.
By August 1779 Shuldham was back in command at Plymouth when the Allied fleet appeared off the town during the Channel Fleet’s Retreat. In November he was replaced by Rear-Admiral James Gambier whilst he attended Parliament, and in January 1780 he visited Bath before again returning to Parliament. He was back at Plymouth by June with his flag flying on the Dunkirk 60, Captain John Milligan, and with Gambier continuing to serve for some months as his subordinate Shuldham continued in command until the end of the war in 1783 whilst still finding time to visit Court in August 1781 and Bath in December of that year.
Shuldham did not see any active service following the end of the American War of Independence, but he continued to move in the highest of social circles, such as attending a party on the Thames at Oxford with Lord Sandwich in June 1788, and enjoying a dinner with the Prince of Wales, Admiral Lord Rodney, Admiral Hugh Pigot and other senior officers in February 1789. Again with several other senior officers he played an official role in the funeral of King George’s younger brother, the Duke of Cumberland, in September 1790, and he reappeared in the newspapers in November 1794 when a farm at Englefield Green, Surrey, that he had inherited on his marriage to a widow four years earlier, was burgled
Shuldham was promoted to the rank of admiral on 24 September 1787 and he died at Lisbon on 30 September 1798. His corpse under the escort of his widow and two servants was taken aboard the Colossus 74, Captain George Murray, to be returned home for burial, but it was temporarily lost when that vessel was wrecked in the Scilly Isles on 10 December. Once his body was eventually discovered at the end of the year it was laid to rest at Wyredsbury, Buckinghamshire on 9 January 1799. At the time of his death Shuldham was junior only to Admiral Lord Howe on the admirals’ list.
He had no issue from his marriage at St. James Church, London, on 4 October 1790 to Margaret Irene Sarney, the widow of John Harcourt of Ankerwycke Park, Buckinghamshire, and his barony lapsed on his death.
Shuldham was a particular friend of Lord Sandwich, the first lord of the Admiralty, who respected his capabilities far more than did the rest of the cabinet or Shuldham’s peers, and who fought hard both to retain him in the North American command and to offer him the Leeward Islands command. The friendship continued after Sandwich left office, and not only did Shuldham loan the profligate politician £8,000 in 1784 but he also offered to provide for his children. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1777. During 1778 it was alleged by supporters of Captain William Brereton that Shuldham was responsible for the defamation and eventual dismissal from his ship of that officer. He was also a close friend and supporter of Admiral Viscount Keppel.