Sir Alexander Arthur Hood 1st Viscount Bridport
1726-1814. He was born at Thorncombe, near Axminster, on 2 December 1726, the second son of the Reverend Samuel Hood, vicar of Butleigh in Somerset, and of his wife Mary Hoskins. He was the younger brother of Samuel, Admiral Viscount Hood, and first cousin of Captain Alexander Hood, and of Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood.
Alexander Hood was educated during his childhood by his father and on 19 January 1741 entered the navy as a captain’s servant aboard the Romney 50, Captain Thomas Smith, to be joined a few months later by his elder brother. He continued to serve on the Romney until 22 April 1743 under Captain Thomas Grenville, and on 9 May joined the Princess Mary 60, once more with Captain Smith. In December of the following year, he followed Smith to the Royal Sovereign 100, in March 1745 joined the Exeter 60, Captain Thomas Lake, and in May 1746 the Hawk 8, Commander Frederick Hyde. On 2 December 1746 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Bridgwater 20, Captains Charles Knowles and Christopher Hill.
In the autumn of 1748 and following the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, he went on half pay and was not re-employed until January 1755 when he served as a lieutenant under Captain Charles Saunders of the Prince 98 in the Mediterranean. On 23 March 1756 he was promoted commander of the sloop Merlin 10, and on 10 June was posted to the Prince 80 as flag captain to Rear-Admiral Saunders who had been appointed second-in-command in the Mediterranean. Hood’s brother received his promotion to captain six weeks later. He afterwards followed Saunders with all his officers to the Culloden 74, and then in May 1757 to the St. George 90, returning home with Saunders in the summer of 1758.
His next permanent appointment was to the new frigate Minerva 32 on 5 January 1759, and he subsequently fought under Admiral Sir Edward Hawke at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November. Having remained in the Bay of Biscay with the Minerva, he earned great praise for his recapture of the Warwick 60 from the French on 23 January 1761, although she had been down-gunned to 34 guns in the five years since she had been taken. The engagement lasted over six hours and cost the Minerva fourteen men killed and thirty-four wounded. Hood remained in the Minerva until September, after which he took the new Africa 64 out to the Mediterranean, remaining there until the peace of 1763.
In September 1763 he declined the command of the Thunderer 74, surmising correctly that the Admiralty had intended this post for his brother, and in December he was appointed to the yacht Katherine. He held this position, as well as that of treasurer of Greenwich Hospital, until he was appointed to the Robust 74 in December 1777.
On 27 July 1778 he commanded this ship in Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser’s division at the Battle of Ushant, and he took the side of his divisional commander against the commander-in-chief, Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel at his subsequent court-martial. His evidence was highly controversial with Hood admitting to the court that changes had been made to his logbook prior to his giving evidence, claiming it to have been initially ‘ill-written’. Although the court accepted his explanation many people did not, and the term ‘hooded’ came into the vocabulary to explain a false testimony. After the court martial Hood resigned his commission and returned to the command of the Katherine until his promotion to rear-admiral on the same day as his brother, 26 September 1780.
Following the fall of the government in 1782 he made himself available for employment once more. He raised his flag aboard the Queen 90, Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland, as part of the Channel fleet under Admiral Lord Howe, taking part in the April-August campaign, and later sat on the court-martial into the loss of the Royal George on 29 August. He was present at the Relief of Gibraltar and the Battle of Cape Spartel on 8 October, by which time Captain William Domett had served a month as his flag-captain. After the ending of hostilities in the spring of 1782, and before he lowered his flag, he took a leading role in preventing those ships waiting to be paid off from turning to mutiny in Portsmouth during March.
He became M.P. for Bridgwater in 1784, and upon vacating that seat in 1790 the M.P for Buckingham, sitting in the interest of the prime minister, William Pitt and speaking on naval matters only. On 24 September 1787 he was promoted vice-admiral, being a beneficiary of Lord Howe’s reforms at the Admiralty, and during the Dutch Armament he was due to replace Vice-Admiral William Hotham in command of the Downs squadron when that officer broke his arm in a post-chaise accident in late October, although in the event the fleet was decommissioned within a matter of days. On 7 May 1788 he was nominated a K.B., and he briefly flew his flag aboard the London 90, Captain William Domett, in the grand fleet during the Spanish Armament of 1790.
At the outset of the French Revolutionary War in 1793 he was appointed third-in-command of the Channel fleet with his flag in the Royal George 100, remaining with that ship and with his flag-captain William Domett for the next seven years. He participated in the unsuccessful Channel Fleet cruises of July- August and October – December, and was promoted to the rank of admiral on 12 April 1794. Two months later he commanded the rear squadron at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, his flagship being badly damaged during the action of 29 May and being in the thick of the battle on 1 June, suffering twenty men killed and seventy-two wounded. He was rewarded for his part in the victory by being created Baron Bridport of Cricket St. Thomas in the Irish peerage, and he also received the gold medal. However, at this time his gout was so discomforting that on 5 July he sought a temporary leave of absence in the hope that he would quickly recover and not feel bound to strike his flag.
During the last months of 1794 and the early part of the following year the fleet generally remained at anchor off the Isle of Wight, where in the absence of Lord Howe he had to deal with the Culloden mutiny on 4 December. In 1795 he assumed temporary command of the fleet due to Admiral Lord Howe’s ill-health, and in the course of conveying an expedition to Quiberon Bay his fleet of fourteen heavy sail of the line came upon the French Brest fleet which two days previously, on 17 June, had chased off Vice-Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis. By daybreak on 23 June, in what would become known as the Battle of Groix, his van was up with the enemy stragglers, but despite their capture of three ships Bridport was unable to completely defeat the French. Nevertheless, the public celebrated a great victory, somewhat unaware of the weakness of the French fleet and the opportunity that had been lost. Historians came to consider his performance less than satisfactory, possibly because his battle was viewed with the benefit of hindsight following later emphatic victories by Jervis, Duncan, and Nelson.
On 15 March 1796 he became a vice-admiral of England and on 31 May Baron Bridport in the English peerage. He remained as acting commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet because of Howe’s ill-health until 1797 when the position was made permanent, even though he also wished to stand down on account of his own poor health. His captain of the fleet from 1797-99 was Rear-Admiral Charles Pole.
Meanwhile in the autumn of 1795 the fleet had been reformed into detached squadrons with the largest force remaining at Spithead whilst Bridport lived ashore in Somerset or London. This arrangement left him open to criticism over the failure to prevent General Lazare Hoche’s expedition to Ireland in December 1796. It was claimed that he had failed to provide his subordinate admiral, Vice-Admiral John Colpoys, with enough ships to initially confront the French, had failed to concentrate his own fleet at Torbay, and had lost time in getting the fleet to sea and then failed to find the French before they had returned to port. There was no doubt that he had been taken by surprise, mainly because he had assumed that the French would dare not to sail in winter.
When the Spithead mutiny erupted in the Channel fleet on 16 April 1797 Bridport found himself helpless between the mutineers, by whom he was treated with respect, and the Admiralty, whom he castigated for having kept him in the dark over the mutineers’ earlier petitions. In turn he could be condemned for not having informed the Admiralty of the ill-feeling in the fleet until the discontent had become irreversible. What reputation he had was enhanced by the calmness he showed in adversity, forbidding the captains to resist the mutineers and showing some sympathy to the men, however he disapproved of Lord Howe’s placation of the seamen following the mutiny and was outraged that he had been pushed aside. More than ever he wished to retire.
After the return to duty the fleet hugged the coastline off Brest and Ushant with only occasional replenishment at Torbay and Spithead. On 25 April 1799 the French fleet of twenty-five sail of the line under Admiral Bruix did get to sea and escaped to the Mediterranean whilst Bridport scoured the coast of Ireland looking for them, but by August they were back in Brest. Bridport remained on station until his relief by Admiral Lord St Vincent on 26 April 1800, with Admiral Sir Alan Gardner having commanded the fleet for the first three months of that year when Bridport had been absent ashore. On his resignation from the Channel fleet command, one that was in all probability enforced upon him, he was allowed to promote John Larmour to the rank of post captain and James Hillyar to the rank of commander.
He had been created lieutenant-general of marines in 1799 and general of marines a year later. On 10 June 1801 he was created Viscount Bridport, and he died at Cricket St. Thomas on 2 May 1814, being buried at Butleigh, Somerset. At the time of his death, he was the ‘father of the fleet’ being the senior admiral on the list.
On 21 August 1758 he married Mary West, daughter of the Reverend Richard West, from whose fortune and connections with the Grenville and Lyttleton families he greatly benefited. After her death in September1786 he married Maria Sophia Bray of Edmonton on 26 June 1788, a niece of Viscount Cobham who was related to William Pitt. He had no issue and his Irish titles devolved upon a branch of his brother’s family.
Bridport was handsome when younger, and of ‘middle size with a pleasing manner and figure’. He was somewhat less enterprising than his brother, and apart from their speech he was little like him. His features were ruddy, he was balding with a hook nose but sharp twinkling eyes, and in his latter serving years was viewed as a grand-fatherly figure. Even though subordinates viewed him as autocratic he was known to the mutineers as ‘Our father and friend’. The seamen also knew him as Lord Breadbags, this being a pun on his title. He had a gentlemanly manner and was very rich, being both a friend to prizemoney and a prosperous landowner, which was in contrast to his brother who was poor. In old age he was described as ‘rich and penurious’. Bridport was undoubtedly brave, reserved, kind, affable, modest, was shrewd and sensible, but not totally competent.
A Tory, his appointment to the Channel fleet, so long delayed in the hope of Lord Howe’s recovery, caused much controversy before, during and after his tenure. Sir Edward Pellew, who nicknamed him the ‘Old Lady’, described him as a mixture of spleen and arrogance and believed him despised by the whole service, although in turn Hood disliked Pellew The Earl of St. Vincent, who had despised him since the Keppel-Palliser affair of 1778, severely criticised Bridport for his conduct in command of the Channel Fleet and was one of many officers to write disparagingly of Bridport’s record, although by the late 1790’s the latter was old, sick and worn-out. Similarly, Lord Howe was offended by the lack of respect Bridport offered him subsequent to his relinquishing the Channel command, and Bridport clearly had no liking for his predecessor. The Board of Admiralty appear to have shown great loyalty in keeping him in his post for so long, even after the King had suggested his removal. His secretary for many years was John Henderson.