Sir Benjamin Caldwell

1739-1820. He was born in Liverpool on 31 January 1739, the third son of Charles Caldwell, a solicitor to the Customs in Dublin, and his wife Elizabeth Heywood.

In 1754 he entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth and two years later joined the Isis 50, Captain Edward Wheeler. In 1759 he moved to the Namur 90, Captain Matthew Buckle, which was the flagship of Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen, and in which ship he fought at the Battles of Lagos Bay on 18 August 1759, and Quiberon Bay on 20 November. Having been commissioned lieutenant on 20 March 1760 he joined the Achilles 60, Captain Hon. Samuel Barrington.

On 24 May 1762 he was promoted commander of the sloop Martin, serving off Africa and in the West Indies, and retaining her for the next three years. On 1 April 1765 he was posted captain of the frigate Milford 28 in England, this vessel being paid off in October 1766, and he afterwards commanded the Rose 20 from the spring of 1768 until late 1771 at Boston.

In November 1775 he recommissioned the Emerald 32, going out to North America in the following May and commanding a division of boats in the landings on Long Island during the New York campaign of July – October 1776. He then led a small squadron off the Virginia Capes in mid-1777, and participated in the Philadelphia campaign from 25 August to 22 November. On 31 March 1778 he effected the capture of the disabled rebel frigate Virginia 28 off Hampton, Virginia, which vessel was bought into the service.


Sir Benjamin Caldwell

After returning to England he joined the new Hannibal 50 on Christmas Day 1779, conveying the East India trade to St. Helena in the following spring. In March 1781 he commissioned the brand new Agamemnon 64, serving initially in the Bay of Biscay, but whilst on passage to the East Indies during the Channel fleet’s campaign of June to November 1781 he fell in with the allied fleet of forty-seven ships off the Lizard on 30 August and took news of their whereabouts to Plymouth. Remaining thereafter in European waters, he formed part of Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt’s squadron which on 12 December outwitted a French fleet and attacked its convoy in the Bay of Biscay, the Agamemnon picking up five prizes in the aftermath.

After sailing out to the Leeward Islands in February 1782 he was despatched in company with the Magnificent 74, Captain Robert Linzee, to monitor the French fleet at Martinique, and on 8 April he sent news of their sailing from that island to Admiral Sir George Rodney at St. Lucia. His ship performed well in the resulting Battle of the Saintes on 12 April, at a cost of fourteen members of his crew killed and twenty-two wounded. Following the battle he sailed under the orders of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood to North America before returning to Barbados, and the Agamemnon was eventually paid off at Chatham on 16 June 1783.

After the peace he largely remained unemployed until the French Revolutionary War, bar a few months in command of the Alcide 74 during the Dutch armament from October 1787, and the Berwick 74 from August to December during the Spanish Armament of 1790.

On 1 February 1793 he was promoted rear-admiral, serving in the Channel fleet at the end of the year with his flag aboard the Cumberland 74, Captain Thomas Louis, and he participated in the chase of Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron on the 18 November 1793. In April of the following year he transferred to the Impregnable 98, Captain George Westcott, in which ship he fought at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, and where his flagship lost seven men killed and twenty-four wounded. It was generally regarded that the Impregnable had fought the enemy from too far to windward, and Caldwell found himself not mentioned in despatches and thus, in line with many other officers, he did not qualify for a gold medal.

After being promoted vice-admiral on 4 July 1794 he served as commander-in-chief of the Leeward Isles with his flag aboard the Majestic 74, Captain Westcott, although in the event this was little more than as a temporary replacement for Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis who had returned home. Upon being relieved by Admiral Sir John Laforey in June 1795 Caldwell took the opinion that he had been slighted once more, and having returned to England aboard the frigate Blanche 32, Captain Charles Sawyer he made no further request for employment.

On 14 February 1799 Caldwell was promoted admiral, and he participated in an official capacity at Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s funeral on 9 January 1806. He again failed to win honours at the end of the war in 1815 and was only belatedly rewarded with a G.C.B. in 1820. Somewhat embittered, he died at his son’s home, Farleigh House, near Basingstoke on 1 November that year, being junior in rank to only the Duke of Clarence and Earl of St. Vincent.

He married Charlotte, daughter of Admiral Henry Osborn on 7 June 1784, who predeceased him by a year, dying at their residence in Charles Street, Berkeley Square on 20 September 1819. Earlier in that decade they had lived at 28 Barnes Terrace in Barnes. They had one son, Charles Andrew.

Caldwell was of a rather sombre appearance, his portrait showing a concerned expression and sad eyes, with plump cheeks and a thin, long nose. He was not regarded as a particularly brilliant officer.