Sir Digby Dent

1739-1817. He was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on 16 November 1739, the son of Captain Cotton Dent who died in January 1761 when a captain of Greenwich Hospital, and of his wife Catherine Bowerbank. He was the nephew of Commodore Digby Dent, who briefly held the post of comptroller of the Navy in 1756 and served as an extra commissioner of the Navy until his death in June 1761. His grandfather was Commodore Digby Dent, who died in 1737.

Having been commissioned lieutenant on 4 February 1758, Dent was posted captain of the Queenborough 24 in the East Indies on 7 July, and fought in Vice-Admiral George Pocock’s action with the French off Negapatam on 3 August. Remaining in the East Indies and transferring to the Salisbury 50 later that year, he fought in Pocock’s action with the French on 10 September 1759, suffering thirty-six casualties and being unable to manoeuvre his ship because of the damage sustained. The next day he was appointed to the Newcastle 50 to replace Captain Colin Michie who had been killed in the engagement, and his commission was confirmed by the Admiralty on 19 February 1760. He had the Falmouth 50 from January to September 1760 when he exchanged with Captain William Brereton into the Tiger 60, retaining her to July 1761 when she was hulked. He eventually returned to England in 1762 aboard a Dutch East Indiaman.

In May 1763 Dent recommissioned the Deal Castle 24, being sent on a diplomatic mission to Cadiz in September and returning in the following year. From October 1765 until March 1766 he was indisposed through illness and Lieutenant William Blair commanded in his stead. He was based in the Medway during 1766, and he went on half-pay until joining the Boreas 28 in the Channel during May 1768. After going out on a cruise she sprung a leak, and once taken into Portsmouth to be overhauled in August she was condemned.

In April 1770 he joined the Dolphin 24 at Deptford, departing for the East Indies via Brazil in July and remaining with her for the next two years , during which time the Dolphin played a formal part in a durbar near Madras in 1771 in honour of the Sultan of the Carnatic. In April 1773 he was appointed to the Seahorse 20, prior to her being paid off in early June.

In June 1775 Dent recommissioned the Arethusa 32, which had been long commanded by Captain Andrew Snape Hamond, being stationed in the Downs to guard against American privateers, and also to be engaged in convoy duty to St. Helena from where he returned to Portsmouth on 16 August. He retained this frigate but a short time into the following year and in December 1776 recommissioned the Princess Amelia 80, raising the flag of Admiral Sir Thomas Pye aboard her at Portsmouth in 1778. During the King’s review of the fleet at Spithead on 4-5 May 1778 Dent was knighted.

In December 1778 he was appointed to the Vigilant 64 in succession to Captain Robert Brice Kingsmill who had resigned the command in protest at the court-martial of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel. He took this vessel out to the Leeward Islands under the orders of Commodore Joshua Rowley that month, and was present at the Battle of Grenada on 6 July 1779, although his ship did not suffer any casualties as it had been detached to protect the transports. He then joined the Royal Oak 74 in August, and he brought her home with the Leeward Islands convoy for repairs that were effected at Portsmouth that winter.


Dent fought at the Battle of Grenada in 1779

In May 1780 he left Portsmouth in command of the Royal Oak which was now the intended flagship of Vice-Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot in North America, and on his voyage to that station under the orders of Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves he captured a valuable French West Indiaman. At the end of August he removed to the Raisonnable 64, returning with her to Portsmouth in November and delivering despatches to the Admiralty. During the voyage the Raisonnable was so badly damaged by heavy weather that she had to be paid off in January 1781, although in the meantime Dent had began commissioning the new Repulse 64 in December. In January 1781 he and Captain John Dalrymple formed a court of Inquiry which found Captain Evelyn Sutton of the Isis 50 not guilty of misconduct or cowardice in his failure to sufficiently engage the Dutch Rotterdam 50 on 31 December. This judgement was considered to be erroneous and Sutton was later reprimanded by a court-martial.

He went on to command the Repulse in the Channel fleet, at the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, and during the Channel fleet’s campaign from June-November. Towards the end of the year he was appointed to the Cumberland 74, but he almost immediately invalided from her when she was ordered to join Commodore Sir Richard Bickerton’s reinforcements for the East Indies station, being succeeded by Captain William Allen.

Dent did not see any further service but became a superannuated rear-admiral in 1787, and died near Dublin on 15 March 1817.

He married Elizabeth Greentree of St. Helena on the island on 5 April 1762, by whom he had three sons and six daughters. He became a widower on 4 November 1786 when his wife died in childbirth at their home in Fareham, Hampshire. He subsequently married Elizabeth Boy or Bay on 22 October 1793 at Abbeville, Boulogne, by whom he had another son. One of his four sons, Commander Digby Dent, died on 15 November 1798 having just assumed the captaincy of the Saturn 74 after her captain, Jacob Waller, had died whilst walking the quarterdeck only a few weeks previously.. Earlier, he had served under Captain Horatio Nelson in the West Indies aboard the Boreas 28, and had acted as the best man at Nelson’s wedding to Frances Nisbet on 12 March 1787.

Dent was a patron of Vice-Admiral Bendall Littlehales and Captain William Mounsey. He was one of several officers named by Lord Robert Manners as lacking character and ability as a sea officer.

My thanks to Geri H. Buurman-Dent for clarifying Admiral Dent’s marriages and for providing additional information!