Philip Boteler

c1731-87. It is believed that he originated from a wealthy and long-established Hertfordshire family.

Boteler entered the Navy as a captain’s servant in 1743, joining the Harwich 50, Captain Philip Carteret, and going out to the East Indies. He was present at the Battle of Negapatam on 25 June 1746 and remained with that vessel under Captains William Admas, Richard Clements, and Richard Tiddleman, until May 1750 when the Harwich was paid off after returning to England with Rear-Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen’s squadron.

On 23 February 1756 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Bedford 64, Captain James Douglas, with which ship he remained for the next five years, participating in the Louisbourg Expedition in the autumn of 1757, the siege of Louisbourg in the summer of 1758, and the siege of Quebec in the summer of 1759 under Captain Thorpe Fowler. As a senior lieutenant aboard the Bedford under Captain John Lockhart, he was present in the expedition against Belleisle in the spring of 1761.

Boteler was promoted commander on 16 June 1761, and he joined the bomb Thunder 8 at Plymouth. During July this vessel escorted a convoy to Milford Haven, and she sailed for the Leeward Islands from Portsmouth on 18 October with Rear-Admiral George Brydges Rodney’s squadron to serve in operations against Martinique during January-February 1762.

He was posted captain on 26 March 1762 and immediately appointed to the Penzance 44 by Rodney, which ship he commanded for the remainder of the year. In the summer he was present at the reduction of Havana and thereafter his command escorted a convoy from Jamaica to England, arriving at Plymouth in early October. After going around to the Thames, the Nottingham was paid off at Chatham at the beginning of December.

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The capture of Boteler’s Ardent in 1779 resulted in his court-martial and dismissal from the navy.

On 20 September 1764 Boteler was appointed to the frigate Shannon 28 which was fitting out at Woolwich, taking her out to the coast of Africa from Plymouth in the ensuing January with the Edgar 60, Captain George Collier, and sloop Hound 10, Captain William Gardner, with orders to demolish a French fort on the Gambia River. He left his command whilst she was still off Africa and returned home, remaining unemployed for the next thirteen years.

At the end of January 1778 Boteler was appointed to commission the new Actaeon 44, which completed her fitting out at Deptford in the middle of April. Designated for service in the North Sea, she delivered a convoy to Portsmouth from the Downs in June. During January 1779 he sat on the court martial at Portsmouth of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel which enquired into that officer’s conduct of the Battle of Ushant on the previous 27 July.

Although appointed to the Ajax 74 on 19 January 1779, Boteler left her on 16 April, and his next command was the Ardent 64, which he recommissioned at Portsmouth in June. His captaincy of this vessel lasted a mere two months, for she was captured by the allied fleet off Plymouth in the Channel on 17 August, three days after she had left Portsmouth to rendezvous with Admiral Sir Charles Hardy’s fleet. It little helped that the Ardent had carried a very raw crew, Boteler had no idea that the allied fleet was off the coast, she had missed a signal of recall which had been sent out by Hardy, and her private signals had been correctly answered by the enemy. Such had been her misplaced confidence that the Ardent had been in the act of reefing her main course when she had first come under fire from the frigate Junon 32, and although Boteler had then given orders to wear ship, the Ardent had been further attacked by the Gentille 32. Taken completely by surprise, struggling to clear for action, and under pursuit by two more frigates and a couple of ships of the line, Boteler had only fired a single broadside before striking his colours. During the brief action the Ardent had lost five men killed and eight wounded.

The loss of the Ardent quickly became subject to controversy, for despite an acceptance that his bravery was beyond doubt, contemporaries found it incredible that Boteler had sailed into the allied fleet without recognising them as such. Reports also suggested that some of his officers had been unhappy with his conduct, that the surrender had astonished his men, and that it had in fact been the marines who had struck the colours.

In December 1779 Boteler was granted parole by France and he arrived back in London, taking a hotel in Jermyn Street. The court martial into the loss of his ship was convened on 2 March 1780 aboard the Victory 100 in Portsmouth Harbour under the presidency of Rear-Admiral John Evans. Although the deficiencies of his crew were acknowledged and his first lieutenant spoke in his favour, the third lieutenant damningly concluded that the Ardent could have been saved. Found guilty, the verdict was ‘that it appears that Captain Philip Boteler did not do the utmost to prevent the King’s ship falling into the enemy’s hands; and that therefore he ought to be dismissed from His Majesty’s service’. His officers were acquitted of any blame for the loss of the Ardent, whilst the ship was subsequently recaptured at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782.

Following his dismissal from the Navy Boteler disappeared into obscurity, and he died suddenly at Abergavenny on 8 July 1787, having reputedly been a generous benefactor to the poor in the area.

He married Mary Farnley in London on 12 October 1753 and had at least one son.