Robert Roddam

1719-1808. He was born at Roddam Hall, near Alnwick in Northumberland, the second of three sons of Edward Roddam of Roddam, and of his wife Jane Skelly.

In 1735 Roddam entered the navy aboard the Lowestoft 20, Captain Charles Drummond, seeing service in the Leeward Islands for the next five years. Remaining in the Caribbean, he was further employed aboard the Russell 80 and Cumberland 80, both vessels commanded by Captain Harry Norris and flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle. Thereafter, he served aboard the Boyne 80, Captain Thomas Watson, the flagship of Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon. During his time in the West Indies he participated in the attack on Cartagena in 1741, and the occupation of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and on one occasion he fortuitously survived a cannon shot that tore off part of his coat.

On 2 November 1741 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and he joined the Superbe 60, Captain William Harvey. This officer proved to possess an excessively cruel nature, and he was cashiered largely on Roddam’s evidence at Plymouth in August 1742. Roddam next joined the Monmouth 70, Captains Charles Wyndham and Henry Harrison, on which vessel he served for some four years off France.

Admiral Robert Roddam, 1719-1808 *oil on canvas *76.4 x 63.2 cm *ca 1783

Admiral Robert Roddam

On 7 June 1746 he was promoted commander of the sloop Viper 10, which was launched at Poole on 11 June. An inauspicious first voyage saw her lieutenant attempt to press some shipwrights at Southampton and suffer a fractured skull in the scuffle that ensued, only being saved from more serious injuries by the intervention of some passers-by. On 26 July the Viper arrived at Spithead, and after putting out on a cruise in the second week of August, she sent in a French privateer mounting four cannons. Thereafter she enjoyed a fruitful period cruising, taking the privateers Nuestra Sĕnora de la Candelaria on 15 October, which vessel was sent into Oporto, the Cherbourg-based Demisha 8, which was captured off Bolt Head on 27 December and taken into Plymouth, and the Demouchy on 7 January 1747. In early February the Viper was dispatched from Spithead to reconnoitre the French ports, prior to entering Plymouth at the end of March. She was then attached to Vice-Admiral George Anson’s fleet in the Channel, being detached with a strong force that was sent to cruise in the Bay of Biscay. Whilst under Anson’s command, Roddam earned the approbation of that great officer by taking his new command to sea in severe weather after more senior captains had baulked at the prospect.

In June 1747 the Viper put out from Plymouth to join Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Warren’s Channel Fleet which had appeared off that port, and on the 20th of that month she captured the Spanish privateer Nuestra Sĕnora del Pilar. Following Roddam’s participation in the storming of Cedeiro Bay, near Cape Ortegal, where twenty-eight merchantmen were burned and five more captured, he was posted captain on 9 July.

Joining the sixth-rate Greyhound 20, one of Roddam’s first tasks was to escort nine troop transports from Leith to the Dutch coast in September 1747. On 5 October his new command put out from the Downs with an East India convoy, although it is not clear how far she escorted those merchantmen, and in June 1748 she left Greenwich with two vessels under her convoy which were giving notables a passage to the Dutch coast. She continued to operate out of the Downs throughout the summer, and she remaied in commission after the peace of 1748.

In 1749 the Greyhound was at New York, where in April Roddam married the daughter of the governor, Admiral Hon. George Clinton. On 4 June 1750, at a time when Roddam was ashore, a nurse to the family of Colonel William Ricketts was killed when the Greyhound fired a second warning shot at the Army officer’s boat after it had failed to lower a pennant, leading a jury ashore to return a verdict of wilful murder. A further tragedy occurred in January 1751 when Roddam’s wife died in New York after a lengthy illness. The Greyhound returned to Portsmouth with Governor Clinton in early September, and she was paid off shortly afterwards.

From 30 January 1753 into January of the following year Roddam had the guardship Bristol 50 at Plymouth without incident, and on 13 May 1755 he was appointed to the Greenwich 50, which was then at Spithead, prior to taking her out to Jamaica in the early autumn. After the commencement of the Seven Years War in 1756 his command remained on that station, and she quickly sent in five prizes. Unfortunately, having sailed from Jamaica on 20 January 1757 to escort a convoy through the Windward Passage, she was captured on 16 March by a French squadron of five sail of the line and two frigates off Cape Cabron, Saint-Domingue, despite resisting sustained attacks over a period of twelve hours. Roddam was treated with scant courtesy by his captors and imprisoned at Cap François, but in June he and his men were allowed to return to Jamaica on parole. Having been brought to a court martial on 14 July aboard the Marlborough 74 in Port Royal Bay, he was honourably acquitted for the loss of his ship, whereupon he returned to England in a packet and was formally exchanged by the French.

He next was appointed to the Colchester 50 on 4 June 1759 and was employed with Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s fleet off France that autumn. Towards the end of November, his command took a homeward-bound French West Indiaman into Plymouth. Being in a leaky state, the Colchester was twice returned to Plymouth for a refit, and when she was finally considered to be sea-worthy, she was sent out to St. Helena in the spring of 1760 to meet a homeward-bound convoy. Upon returning to England the Colchester rejoined the Channel Fleet, but she was paid off on 22 December when deemed to be unfit for service.

For the next ten years, including the last three of the Seven Years War, Roddam remained out of employment, seemingly spending time in Northumberland, but also visiting the Hotwells in Bristol during 1769. At the time of the Falkland Islands dispute in 1770 he was appointed on 7 December to the Portsmouth guardship Lenox 74, and in the following January this vessel was taken into dock to be fitted out for the East Indies. In the event this posting was cancelled, yet Roddam remained with the Lenox until December 1773, flying the flag of Admiral Thomas Pye at Portsmouth from March of the latter year.

In 1776 he succeeded to the family estates on the death of his brother, and on 17 March 1777 he was appointed to the Cornwall 74. Ten days later he kissed the King’s hand before joining his new command at Chatham. During July the Cornwall was ordered to join the fleet of observation assembling at Spithead, and she was soon despatched to cruise in the Channel. Towards the end of the year she was at the Nore, and she then received orders to act as a guardship in the Downs over the winter.

On 23 January 1778 Roddam was promoted rear-admiral, and in May he was appointed to the command at the Nore and in the Medway with his flag aboard the Conquestador 60, Captain James Orrock, a position he was to hold for the next five years. In January 1779 he sat on Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel’s court martial which considered the management of the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778, although his absence through illness on one of the days led to a temporary adjournment. Roddam’s sympathies in the dispute between the differing factions in the Navy became evident when he attended a ball with Keppel and other leading Whigs at Portsmouth on 12 February to celebrate that officer’s acquittal.

He was further promoted vice-admiral on 19 March 1779, whilst news of his death aboard the Conquestador at the beginning of 1780 proved to be precipitate, as did reports later that month that he was to succeed Admiral Pye at Portsmouth. In August 1781 he attended a levee at St. James’ Palace, and in the following January he was again at court, prior to setting off for Chatham to take command of a squadron of five sail of the line and four frigates that was to put to sea on a secret expedition. The prevailing view was that this force would be employed against the Dutch; however, a change of government led to the cancellation of the expedition. In April 1783 Roddam was appointed the port admiral in the Medway with his flag aboard the Prince Edward 60, Captain Orrock, transferring a month later to the Goliath 74, Captain Sir Hyde Paker, before he struck his flag on 16 May.

By Roddam Hall by Andrew Curtis, CC BY-SA 2.0,

After a period of unemployment, during which he returned to Northumberland, Roddam flew his flag at Portsmouth as port admiral from early May 1789 aboard the Barfleur 98, commanded by his brother-in-law, Captain Robert Calder. In November he took leave of absence, with the command devolving on Captain Robert Onslow, and he attended a levee at court in the following month. He resumed his command in the early days of 1790, and one of his first acts was to host Prince Edward in February. During April he took a brief leave of absence once more, but with tensions arising in what became known as the Spanish Armament, he earned praise for the alacrity with which he got ships ready for sea. On 3 June, upon the arrival of Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington, he removed his flag to the Royal William 84, Captain George Gayton. Continuing to receive both royal and foreign dignitaries, he rejoined Calder aboard the Duke 98 in August 1791 towards the end of the Russian Armament, and he remained as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth until June 1792.

Roddam became an admiral on 1 February 1793 but did not see any further service. During his retirement he joined a committee in Kent that was formed to advance improvements in agriculture and industry, whilst in October 1795, at the age of 75, he married 18-year-old Ann Harrison, who enjoyed an income of £10,000 a year. Described as ‘benevolent’, and serving as a local magistrate, he continued to live at his ancestral seat in Roddam, Northumberland, where he received his ex-brother-in-law, Vice-Admiral Calder, in 1806.

Admiral Roddam died at Morpeth on 31 March 1808, and he was buried in the churchyard of Roddam village.

He was married three times. His first marriage was on 24 April 1749 to Lucy Clinton, the daughter of Admiral of the Fleet Hon. George Clinton, the governor of New York. She passed away in January 1751. His second marriage in March 1775 was to Alithea Calder, the sister of the future Admiral Sir Robert Calder, and this union lasted seventeen years until her death in June 1792. Lastly, he married Ann Harrison of Northumberland on 24 September 1795, who died in August 1807. He had one daughter who married into the clergy in 1802. His estates passed to his godson, William Stanhope, the great-grandson of his first cousin, who inherited the name Roddam in 1806 and was commissioned lieutenant in 1812. Roddam’s grand niece married Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood.

Roddam was a very capable and well-regarded officer who was always prepared to risk his reputation in the line of duty, and it was said that he was happiest at sea with his own kind. He did much to improve Roddam Hall following his inheritance in 1776.