Sir Alexander Arthur Hood 1st Viscount Bridport

1726-1814. He was born on 2 December 1726 at Thorncombe, near Axminster in Somerset, the second son of the Reverend Samuel Hood, vicar of Butleigh, and of his wife, Mary Hoskins. He was the younger brother of Samuel, Admiral Viscount Hood, and the first cousin of Captain Alexander Hood and Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood.

Alexander Hood was educated by his father, and on 19 January 1741 he 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 he joined the Princess Mary 60, once more with Captain Smith. He followed that officer to the Royal Sovereign 100 in December of the following year, during March 1745 he joined the Exeter 60, Captain Thomas Lake, and from May 1746 he was employed on the Hawk 8, Commander Frederick Hyde. On 2 December 1746 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Bridgwater 20, Captains Charles Knowles and Christopher Hill.

He went on half pay in the autumn of 1748 following the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, and he was not re-employed until January 1755, from which date he served as a lieutenant under Captain Charles Saunders aboard the Prince 98 in the Mediterranean.

On 23 March 1756 Hood was promoted commander of the sloop Merlin 10, which was in the Downs during early May before sailing out with a convoy, and on 10 June he was posted to the Prince 90 as flag captain to the promoted Rear-Admiral Saunders, who had been appointed second-in-command in the Mediterranean. This vessel joined the fleet off Minorca in August. On 29 November he followed Saunders with all his officers to the Culloden 74, in which he continued to serve in the Mediterranean, and on 1 June 1757 he transferred to the St. George 90, returning home in May 1758.


Viscount Bridport

His next appointment was to the new frigate Minerva 32 on 5 January 1759, which sailed from Spithead to join the Grand Fleet in Torbay during May. She entered Falmouth at the end of the month from the fleet off Brest, and she continued to serve with that force in the summer, making the occasional visit to Plymouth. On 17 September she chased four French vessels off St Louis, forcing three of them aground, and when the pilot declined to take the Minerva inshore, Hood took the helm under fire from three batteries, with the result that one vessel was burned and the other two so badly holed by the frigate’s guns as to be deemed unserviceable. The Minerva returned to Plymouth to repair damage to her main mast, and she was later present at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November.

In early March 1760 the Minerva was at Cork, and although she entered Plymouth from her cruise off Ireland on the 16th, she returned to Irish waters at the end of the month. Reports in April credited her with chasing an enemy privateer which had overset and sunk, and by August she was back at Plymouth, to which port she was taken in at the beginning of October having sprung her foremast in a cruise out to the westward.

Towards the end of 1760 the Minerva put out of Portsmouth for the Bay of Biscay, and Hood earned great praise for his recapture from the French of the Warwick 60, which vessel was armed en-flute with 34 guns and was in passage for the Isle de France with stores and a detachment of seventy-four soldiers. The engagement lasted over six hours at pistol-shot and cost the Minerva fourteen men killed and thirty-four wounded, in addition to her foremast and bowsprit. The Warwick lost her foremast, and she entered Portsmouth with her captor on 3 June. During the same cruise, the Minerva captured a 16-gun privateer, and that prize took another enemy privateer whilst sailing for Spithead. Shortly after his arrival in England, Hood was presented to the King. Thereafter his command saw service in the Downs during the summer.

On 5 August 1761 he was appointed to the newly commissioned Africa 64, which he took out to the Mediterranean from Plymouth in December. Remaining on that station, in early 1763 his command broke free from her moorings at Gibraltar in a heavy gale and drove onto Europa Point with the loss of her bowsprit. On 5 February 1763 she arrived at Lisbon in ten days from Gibraltar, and she returned to Spithead with several troop transports at the beginning of April.

In September 1763, with the country now at peace, Hood declined the command of the Thunderer 74, surmising correctly that the Admiralty had intended this ship for his brother. Instead, he was appointed to the yacht Katherine in December, and he held her command for the next seventeen years, as well as the position of treasurer of Greenwich Hospital from September 1766.

With the American War of Revolution escalating, Hood returned to active service after a fourteen-year absence with his appointment to the Robust 74 on 17 December 1777. This vessel was fitting out at Chatham, and on 27 March 1778 she sailed for Blackstakes to take on her ordnance and powder, prior to joining the Grand Fleet at Portsmouth. He commanded this ship gallantly in Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser’s division at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July, and he took the side of his divisional commander against the commander-in-chief, Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel, at the latter’s subsequent court-martial in the following January. His evidence was to prove highly controversial following his admission to the court that changes had been made to his logbook because it had been initially ‘ill-written’. Although the court accepted his explanation many people did not, and the term ‘hooded’ came into the vocabulary as an example of a deliberate mislead. Following Keppel’s acquittal, Hood’s residence in Harley Street was one of those attacked by the mob, with his windows being broken and furniture smashed. He resigned his command of the Robust to be replaced by Captain Phillips Cosby on 31 March and returned to the command of the Katherine until his promotion to rear-admiral on the same day as his brother, 26 September 1780. In the interim, he was voted the freedom of Exeter in June 1778.

Following the fall of Lord North’s government in the spring of 1782, Hood made himself available for employment once more, but it was not until some days after the drowning of Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt aboard the Royal George 100 at Spithead on 29 August that he set off for Portsmouth to assume the late officer’s duties. Here he raised his flag aboard the Queen 90, Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland, as part of the Channel Fleet under Admiral Lord Howe, with one of his first duties being to sit on the court-martial into the loss of the Royal George. He was present at the Relief of Gibraltar on 8 October and the ensuing Battle of Cape Spartel, by which time Captain William Domett had served a month as his flag-captain, and after returning to England, he attended a levee with the King in December.

In February 1783 he re-hoisted his flag aboard the Queen at Portsmouth as commander of the port in place of Admiral Sir Thomas Pye, and during March, after the ending of hostilities, he took a leading role in preventing those ships waiting to be paid off from turning to mutiny. Shortly afterwards he lowered his flag.

Hood became the M.P. for Bridgwater in 1784, and upon vacating that seat in 1790 he became the M.P for Buckingham, sitting in the interest of the prime minister, William Pitt and speaking on naval matters only. In the meantime, on 24 September 1787 he had been promoted vice-admiral, being a beneficiary of Lord Howe’s reforms at the Admiralty. A month later, at the time of the Dutch Armament, he was selected to replace Vice-Admiral William Hotham in command of the Downs squadron when that officer broke his arm in a post-chaise accident, but in the event the fleet was decommissioned within a matter of days of his appointment. On 7 May 1788 he was nominated a K.B. amidst rumours that he would take on the command of the East Indies station, and during the Spanish Armament of 1790 he briefly flew his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Victory 100 whilst awaiting the arrival of his brother, prior to transferring on 28 July at Torbay into the London 90, Captain William Domett, and in October to the Royal Sovereign 110. During this period rumours suggested that he would take on the Jamaican command if hostilities commenced, but with the dispute being settled, he struck his flag at Portsmouth on 16 November and returned to London.

At the outset of the French Revolutionary War in 1793 rumours again suggested that Hood would have the West Indies command, but instead he was appointed the third-in-command of the Channel Fleet. Hoisting his flag at Portsmouth aboard the new Royal George 100, Captain William Domett, he participated in the unsuccessful Channel Fleet cruises of July-August and October –December. By this time the health of the commander-in-chief, Admiral Lord Howe, was giving cause for concern, and it seemed only a matter of time before Hood would accede to the chief command of the Channel Fleet.

He was promoted to the rank of admiral on 12 April 1794 and concurrently was ordered to sea with six sail of the line. Two months later, he commanded the rear squadron under Howe at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, his flagship being badly damaged during the preceding action on 29 May and finding itself in the thick of the battle on 1 June. Over the four days of engagements the Royal George suffered casualties of 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. At this time his gout was so discomforting that on 5 July he sought a temporary leave of absence, and he did not return to the Royal George at Portsmouth until 10 August. During the remaining months of 1794 the fleet generally remained at anchor off the Isle of Wight, and in the absence of Lord Howe it was Bridport who had to deal with the mutiny aboard the Culloden 74, Captain Thomas Troubridge, on 3 December.

The Battle of Groix

In January1795 he assumed temporary command of the fleet once more due to Lord Howe’s ill-health, and after attending the Admiralty with Howe a few days previously, he raised his flag aboard the Royal George at Spithead on the 17th of the month. At this stage of the war a full blockade of the French coast was not the adopted policy, and having remained at Portsmouth for several weeks, he struck his flag on 17 March to go up to London where he reportedly turned down the command of the Mediterranean Fleet which had been vacated by his brother.

Towards the end of May 1795 Bridport was recalled from his country seat after Howe had arrived at Portsmouth in a poor state of health, and leaving London on 3 June, he took the fleet down the Channel nine days later. Whilst 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 Vice-Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis’ squadron. By daybreak on 23 June, in what would become known as the Battle of Groix, his van came up with the enemy stragglers, but despite the capture of three ships, Bridport was unable to completely defeat the French. Nevertheless, the public celebrated a great victory, being unaware of the weakness of the French navy. Historians came to consider that his performance was less than satisfactory however, particularly as his battle could be viewed with the benefit of hindsight following later emphatic victories by Jervis, Duncan, and Nelson.

After blockading the remnants of the French fleet in Lorient, Bridport returned from the French coast to Portsmouth on 21 September 1795 and upon going up to London, he received the thanks of the Houses of Parliament in the Commons from the Speaker. Meanwhile the Channel Fleet was reformed into detached squadrons with the largest force remaining at Spithead whilst he resided ashore in Somerset or London. On 15 March 1796 he became the vice-admiral of England and on 31 May was created Baron Bridport in the English peerage. He returned to Portsmouth on 6 April to sit on the Court of Inquiry into Vice-Admiral Cornwallis, who had refused to take passage to the West Indies in a frigate, but he was back in London with other naval officers for an audience with the King later that month. Remaining as a largely passive acting commander-in-chief of the Channel Fleet in Howe’s continuing ill-health, Bridport also wished to stand down on account of his own poor health and a belief that the fleet was too small to adequately fulfil its duties.

He was summoned to the Admiralty from his home near Chard in Somerset on 19 December 1796 upon news that the Brest Fleet was at sea, and he left London for Portsmouth four days later to raise his flag aboard the Royal George. An attempt by the fleet to sail on Christmas Day ended in confusion, and after heavy snow and thick weather set in, it was not until 3 January 1797 that the wind came into his favour and he was able to put to sea. After initially cruising off Brest he headed for Ireland but failed to find the French fleet, which in the meantime had delivered General Lazare Hoche’s expedition to Ireland, and he returned empty-handed to Spithead on 3 February. His failure to intercept Hoche came as a surprise to many who believed that he would surely have fallen in with the French, and the criticism of his lax arrangements now came to a head. 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. 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. There was some talk of a court-martial, and indeed, shortly after reaching Portsmouth he went up to London for a long interview with the first lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, amidst speculation that he would seek his own court martial to vindicate his conduct.

On 2 March 1797 he took a dozen sail of the line to sea from Portsmouth to guard the mouth of the Channel in the hope of catching a Spanish squadron which was reportedly bound for Brest, and after cruising off Ushant he returned to Portsmouth at the end of the month. A few days later, Lord Howe finally resigned the command of the Channel Fleet and Bridport, who had gone up to London, became the official commander-in-chief. He was back at Portsmouth just in time to witness the eruption of the Spithead mutiny on 16 April, and he found himself in a helpless situation between the mutineers, by whom he was treated with respect, and the Admiralty, whom he castigated for keeping him in the dark over the men’s earlier petitions. In turn he was liable to condemnation for not having informed the Admiralty of the ill-feeling in the fleet until that 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 at the end of the mutiny, and was so outraged to be pushed aside that more than ever, he wished to retire.

Bridport considered himself to be undermined by the Admiralty and Lord Howe during the Spithead Mutiny in 1797

Mindful of keeping the men busily employed, and of avoiding any reoccurrence of the previous December’s failure, Bridport hugged the coastline off Brest and patrolled off Ushant once the fleet returned to duty with only the occasional replenishment at Torbay and Spithead. At beginning of July 1797, the fleet was off the Devonshire coast before entering Torbay, from where it soon put out again. During August it was cruising off Ushant, prior to coming into Torbay at the end of the month where a number of ships suffered gale damage. After escorting the North American trade out to a safe latitude on 22 September, the fleet was off Plymouth days later, and it then resumed patrols between the Scilly Isles and Ushant. On 14 November Bridport arrived at Portsmouth, but he was soon back off Brest upon news that the French fleet had moved into the outer harbour; however, when it became clear that there was no imminent threat, he retired to his Somerset residence before the end of the month from where he continued to conduct the administration of the fleet.

In mid-January 1798, having arrived in London from Bath, Bridport attended the Admiralty for a conference with the first lord, and he also attended a levee with the King before setting off for Portsmouth where the fleet had orders to sail. He was in London once more at the end of February when news arrived that the Cadiz fleet was apparently out, and along with several captains he rushed off to Portsmouth. The haste proved to be unnecessary, and it was not until early April that he put to sea to cruise off the French coast before entering Torbay a month later. The fleet was back off Ushant in June, and after a further visit to Torbay, Bridport was off Brest on 15 August with fourteen sail of the line when it appeared evident that the French were planning to come out. His blockade prevented them from doing so until he was compelled to return to Devon on 12 September because of heavy storms, and in his absence a French force did set sail. Bridport raced to sea and received intelligence that the French were bound for Ireland, but on 12 October the enemy were brought to account at the Battle of Tory Island by Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren, whereupon Bridport stationed his fleet off Ushant in case he should be able to intercept any French stragglers.

In January 1799 he was at Bath whilst he continued to command the business of the fleet, and at the end of March he stayed the night at Salisbury before proceeding to Portsmouth to re-hoist his flag. Setting sail on 7 April, the fleet passed Plymouth and Falmouth on its way down Channel for Brest. On 25 April the French fleet of twenty-five sail of the line under Vice-Admiral Etienne Eustache de Bruix did get to sea after Bridport’s fleet was blown off the coast by a strong gale. Throughout May he scoured the coast of Ireland looking for the enemy, but it was soon surmised that Bruix had sailed for Cadiz, and at the end of the month he was ordered to transfer ships to that station. On 13 June the remainder of his fleet arrived at Plymouth, and two weeks later he struck his flag and set off for London for a short break.

In early August 1799 he received orders to return to sea, hoisting his flag at Torbay in command of about thirty sail of the line, and concurrently he became a lieutenant-general of marines as a result of promotions caused by the death of Lord Howe. On 1 September the fleet put to sea from Torbay with the West Indies and Lisbon convoy, and it then made for Ushant to keep watch on the French fleet, which had entered Brest. By late September the Channel Fleet was back at Torbay where it appears to have remained for the next month, and when it did put to sea, contrary winds forced it back to the Devonshire refuge on 2 November. The return was but a brief one, for it was soon back keeping a watch on Brest until it returned to Devon to revictual in December with rumours circulating that Bridport was about to retire in favour of Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent.

For the first three months of 1800 he was absent ashore whilst Admiral Sir Alan Gardner commanded the fleet, and he was finally replaced by St. Vincent on 26 April. On his resignation from the 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.

Bridport had been promoted general of marines in 1800, and on 10 June 1801 he was created Viscount Bridport. Thereafter he lived a quiet life, 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. His residence was at Cricket Lodge in Somerset, and he had a property in Harley Street.

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 seamen who mutinied in 1797 as ‘Our father and friend’. The sailors 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 perhaps 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 it had to be accepted that he 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.