1713-87. He was born on 17 April 1713, the fourth son of Samuel Graves, cousin of Admiral Lord Thomas Graves, and uncle of Admiral Sir Thomas Graves.
Having entered the Navy in November 1732 and passed his examination on 6 October 1739 he was commissioned lieutenant on 3 March 1740. During 1741 he served with his uncle Captain Thomas Graves in the Norfolk 80, being present at Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon’s attack on Cartagena on the Spanish Main.
In 1743 he was promoted commander of the sloop Bonetta 8 at Jamaica by Admiral Sir Chaloner Ogle, and on 11 September 1744 was posted captain to the Rippon’s Prize 20 on that station, serving with her for the next three years until she was taken out of service and broken up. In the autumn of 1747 he joined the thirty year-old Enterprise 40 at Jamaica, paying her off in the following year.
He subsequently commanded the Duke 90 at Plymouth from July 1756, and in March 1757 commissioned the new Princess Amelia 80, leaving her later in the year. He had the Barfleur 90 in Vice-Admiral Charles Knowles’ attack on the Basque Roads in September. He then appears to have briefly commanded the Scorpion 10 and in 1759 rejoined the Duke, seeing action at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November. Bar a short time in the Venus 36 he remained with this vessel, latterly on harbour service at Plymouth, until he became a rear-admiral on 21 October 1762. He was further promoted to vice-admiral on 24 October 1770.
On 28 March 1774 he was appointed the commander-in-chief of the North American station, and after arriving on 30 June he attempted to carry out the ‘Boston Port Bill’. Unfortunately his instructions were unclear and a force consisting of the flagship Preston 50, Captain John Robinson, and thirty smaller vessels was unequal to the task of keeping order, not least because they had peace-time establishments aboard. Consequently the American rebels had no difficulty in importing supplies and building up a force of privateers.
In 1775 Graves was joined by three 64’s, the Somerset, Captain Edward Le Cras, Asia, Captain George Vanderput, and Boyne, Captain Broderick Hartwell, but even so his ill-advised attack on the rebel privateer base of Falmouth on 17 October was not a success, and indeed it was subsequently condemned by his own government. He also failed to act in concert with, or gain an understanding with, the army and his idea that troops should lay waste to American property from April 1775 was not acted upon by the commander-in-chief, General Thomas Gage. It was thus no surprise that Graves became a convenient scapegoat in the eyes of the weak ministry as the rebellion gained strength, and on 27 January 1776 he was replaced off Boston by Rear-Admiral Lord Shuldham, returning home aboard the Preston.
As some compensation for his recall the first lord of the admiralty Lord Sandwich, who had wished to stand by Graves, ordered the immediate promotion of his nephews. In September 1777 he refused the command at Plymouth, demanding an active position which was never likely to be offered to him.
He became an admiral on 29 January 1778 and died at his seat at Hembury Fort near Honiton on 8 March 1787.
He married firstly Elizabeth Sedgwick of Staindrop, County Durham, and following her death in 1767 he married Margaret Spinkes of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire. He did not have any children.
Graves was regarded as an honest, bluff seaman. In 1775 he infamously fought a street brawl in Boston with the Crown’s customs collector, Benjamin Hallowell’s, the father of Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell, during which the unarmed civilian broke Graves’ sword over his knee and gave him a black eye.