Sir Edward Griffith Colpoys
c1768-1832. The son of Edward Griffith and his wife, Anne Colpoys, he was the nephew of Admiral Sir John Colpoys. The family appear to have originated from Cashel and Emly in the west of Ireland.
Griffith entered the navy under the patronage of his uncle who was captaining the Royal George 100, flagship to Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Harland in the Channel at the end of 1778, moving later to the Monarch 74, Captain Francis Reynolds, and going out to the West Indies in October 1780. Following his participation in the major battles on that station, including that of the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782, he was promoted lieutenant on 15 May 1783, and he served with his uncle in the Mediterranean aboard the Phaeton 38, which vessel flew the broad pennant of Commodore Sir John Lindsay on that station until the following year, and which was eventually paid off in April 1785.
In early 1794 he was employed as the first lieutenant of the Boyne 90, Captain George Grey, the flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis in the campaign against the French West Indian islands which had commenced in January. During April he was promoted commander, and after serving aboard the sloop Avenger 16 at the captures of Guadeloupe and St. Lucia, he was posted captain of the Undaunted 28 on 21 May, which vessel has recently been captured from the French as the Bienvenue 20. He was still commanding this frigate at the beginning of July, although it was later reported, probably erroneously, that she was under his predecessor, Captain William Bryer, when she departed St. Kitts with the homeward-bound convoy on 30 July to arrive in the Channel in the middle of September.
Griffith was next appointed flag captain to his uncle aboard the London 98 in the Channel Fleet, taking up this position in January 1795, however Rear-Admiral Colpoys was temporarily fulfilling the position of commander-in-chief at Portsmouth when the London fought at the Battle of Groix on 23 June, suffering casualties of three men wounded. Griffith continued in this ship in the Channel whilst briefly returning to Plymouth from Quiberon Bay on 30 August to re-victual and refit. In December the London grounded when coming into Portsmouth, and she was only preserved through the capability and bravery of her first lieutenant, Edward William Campbell Rich Owen, who withstood being swept away in the course of fitting a substitute rudder.
During 1796 the London flew Vice-Admiral Colpoys’ flag as his squadron undertook several cruises in the Channel, and in the autumn she briefly flew the flag of Vice-Admiral Charles Thompson in the same employment. Surprisingly, given his reputation as a fair and popular officer, Griffith found himself confined and put ashore along with his disliked uncle during the Spithead Mutiny which erupted on 16 April 1797, and he was later removed from the command of the London by the Admiralty.
In September 1797 he joined the thirty-eight-year-old frigate Niger 32, putting out of Portsmouth on 6 November with the East India convoy which he saw to a safe latitude. On Christmas Day his command captured the St. Malo based privateer Delphine 4 off Start Point, and she saw service off the French coast until the following March when Griffith turned her over to Captain Mathew Henry Scott.
Towards the end of 1798 he joined the Triton 32 in an acting capacity for Captain John Gore, enjoying some success in capturing the privateers Arraigne 5 on 28 September, Rosée 14 in December when under the orders of Captain Sir Harry Neale of the San Fiorenzo 36, and Impromptu 14 on New Year’s Eve. The Triton returned to Cawsand Bay on 5 January 1799, and a week later she sailed for Portsmouth where Captain Gore resumed the command.
In April 1799 Griffith joined the eighteen-pounder frigate Diamond 38, departing St. Helens on 24 April with a small East India convoy, arriving at Madeira eight days later, and sending a captured Spanish vessel laden with brandy into the Hampshire port. By 12 July she was back at Spithead, having reportedly been chased by four Spanish frigates during part of her voyage home. In March 1800 she sailed out of Plymouth on a cruise, and towards the end of April, whilst maintaining a watch on a frigate in St. Malo, her boats cut out a brig laden with brandy and salt. She returned to Plymouth shortly afterwards, and in June joined Commodore Sir Edward Pellew’s expedition to Quiberon Bay. Unfortunately, she was required to return to the Devonshire port in early July after striking a rock whilst in Quiberon Bay, an incident that had caused her to jettison her cannon and stores, and which saw her carry an obstruction in her hull back to Plymouth where it was extracted. She was soon back in action, patrolling off Brest and capturing the privateer brig Rancune 14 on 27 September.
On 20 January 1801 the Diamond entered Plymouth from the Channel Fleet before putting out on a cruise towards the end of the month. She was at Lisbon in February, and on 26 March she drove the prolific French privateer Mouche ashore on the island of Gomera in the Canary Islands. She returned to Plymouth in early May, and on 20 July put out from that port once more. The Diamond was not always a lucky command for Captain Griffith, as evidenced when she caught fire on the point of engaging two French frigates off Lorient, nevertheless there was some meagre consolation when she joined the Fisgard 38, Captain Thomas Byam Martin, and Boadicea 38, Captain Charles Rowley, in the capture of the Spanish sixth-rate Neptuno 20 off Corunna on 20 August. She subsequently returned to Plymouth on 8 October.
During February 1802 the Diamond cruised off Cornwall in the Preventative Service, in the course of which employment she lost two cables in Mounts Bay during a heavy storm and was only preserved by her third cable. Whilst undergoing a fortnight’s refit at Plymouth a fire ignited by the boiling over of a pitch kettle was extinguished after the boats of the fleet had been called alongside in preparation to evacuate the crew. She subsequently saw service in the Channel before sailing from Torbay at the end of April to deliver the commander-in-chief of the Channel Fleet, Admiral Hon William Cornwallis, to his home at Lymington, prior to proceeding to Portsmouth. She then went out to Lisbon, and whilst returning to Portsmouth with dispatches on 22 May she went aground to be hauled off an hour later after sending up distress signals. With the French Revolutionary War having come to an end she was paid off in the following month.
Upon the renewal of war with France in 1803 Griffith was appointed to the Dragon 74 in July, and she sailed in early September with bullocks for the Channel Fleet. She served under the orders of Commodore Sir Edward Pellew off Ferrol in the autumn, and she entered Plymouth on 14 December for a refit after a short period with the Channel Fleet off Brest, during which she had ventured into the Outer Harbour within a mile and a half of a French force consisting of eight sail of the line and four frigates. On 2 January 1804 she set off to rejoin the Channel Fleet but was detached to reinforce Pellew’s squadron off Ferrol and Corunna, and she continued with that force when the commodore was succeeded by Rear-Admiral Hon. Alexander Cochrane. After eventually departing the squadron on 26 July, she was back at Plymouth by 4 August and then underwent a refit at Portsmouth during the autumn. Putting out of the harbour towards the end of November, she sailed to join the Channel Fleet in early December but was suddenly recalled for reasons unknown.
On 15 January 1805 the Dragon entered Portsmouth from the Channel Fleet in need of further docking after going aground off Portland, and having gone out of harbour on 22 February she put to sea on 4 March for the Channel Fleet. Just over a fortnight later she was back to fit for foreign service, and on 19 April she sailed from St. Helens under the orders of Rear-Admiral John Knight in escort of General Sir James Craig’s army of five thousand men for the Mediterranean. Upon joining the fleet that was congregating under Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder to meet the allied threat, she fought at the Battle of Cape Finisterre on 22 July, suffering minimal casualties. When the Phoenix 36, Captain Thomas Baker, captured the French frigate Didon 40 on 10 August, the Dragon found herself in the company of both vessels when all three were unsuccessfully chased by elements of Vice-Admiral Pierre Villeneuve’s fleet after it had come out of Ferrol. Following a return to Portsmouth, the Dragon sailed again to join the Channel Fleet on 17 October, but Griffith was back in the Hampshire port to give evidence at Calder’s court-martial into his conduct at the Battle of Cape Finisterre, with the trial lasting from 23-26 December.
On New Year’s Eve 1805 the Dragon departed Falmouth to resume service with the Channel Fleet, and on 10 March 1806 she joined Vice-Admiral Edward Thornbrough off Ferrol, the report of her arrival being a relief to those back home as there had been some concern for her safety. On 15 June she arrived at Plymouth before putting out towards the end of the month, and after three years’ service Griffith left her in July to be succeeded once more by Captain Mathew Henry Scott.
In October 1807 Griffith commissioned the new ship of the line Sultan 74, which had been recently launched at Deptford, and which arrived at Portsmouth from the Nore on 13 February 1808 and thereafter proceeded to the Mediterranean. On 13 August she was lying at Port Mahon, Minorca when her jib-boom was struck by lightning, and the resulting shock saw nine men killed. She then joined the fleet off Toulon and was present in Rear-Admiral George Martin’s attack on the French ships of the line Robuste 80 and Lion 74 at Cette on 25 October 1809. After exchanging with Captain John West of the Excellent 74 at Palermo in November in order that he could return to England, Griffith arrived at Portsmouth with a convoy in mid-March 1810 after a twenty-six-day passage from Minorca, and the Excellent was paid off in the following month.
He returned to duty in May 1811 on being appointed captain of the fleet to Admiral William Young in the North Sea aboard the Christian VII 80, Captain George Charles M’Kenzie, in the course of which employment he spent a few days at his seat in Bishops Waltham at the end of the year. He appears to have relinquished the post on being promoted rear-admiral on 12 August 1812.
In April 1813 Griffith was appointed the commander-in-chief at Halifax under the orders of the commander-in-chief of the North American station, Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren. He raised his flag at Portsmouth on the 28th aboard the Bonne Citoyenne 20, Captain Pitt Burnaby Greene, and transferred it a month later to the cut-down Majestic 54, Captain John Hayes, to sail at the beginning of June with a large convoy. During the voyage to Nova Scotia a fire broke out near the magazine but was providentially contained before the three hundred barrels of gunpowder the Majestic was carrying could be ignited.
Griffith was to enjoy a reputation for keeping the ships of his squadron at sea whenever possible, and accordingly whilst at Halifax his flag largely remained aboard the receiving ship Centurion 50, Captains William Skipsey, Justice Finlay from June 1814 and David Scott from October 1814. At the end of March 1814 he received a new superior officer when the belligerently anti-American Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane arrived at Bermuda to assume the command of the North American station. In September, with the co-operation of an army led by Lieutenant-General Sir John Sherbrooke, and with his flag flying aboard the Dragon 74, Captain Robert Barrie, Griffith set out to attack the New England privateer haven of Portland, but learning that the American frigate Adams 26 was in the Penobscot River he diverted there instead. The frigate was destroyed by the Americans on 3 September to prevent its capture after a fierce engagement, and Griffith was back at Halifax by the end of the month.
Upon the recall of Admiral Cochrane at the end of the American war in the spring of 1815, Griffith was given the chief command of the North American station, and he sailed for Bermuda at the end of March aboard the frigate Pomone 38, Captain John Richard Lumley. This proved to be a short stay, for having taken passage aboard the Bulwark 74, Captain Farmery Predam Epworth, he was soon back at Halifax with his flag once more aboard the Centurion. In the spring of 1816 he again visited Bermuda, and in early June he arrived back at Halifax with his flag in the Akbar 50, Captain Charles Buller. At this time he was expecting to be relieved by Rear-Admiral David Milne who had already been appointed to the North American command, but with that officer being asked to second Admiral Lord Exmouth in the expedition to confront the Barbary States over Christian slavery Griffith continued in his post. During the autumn his squadron visited the Bay of Fundy, and when the Akbar departed for England he transferred his flag to the Forth 40, Captain Sir John Louis, in which he arrived at Bermuda on 17 November for the winter season. On 24 April 1817 Admiral Milne finally arrived at Bermuda, and coming home in the Forth, Griffith landed at Portsmouth on 7 June following a four-week voyage. At the end of the month he was presented to the Prince Regent at a levee.
In November 1818 it was announced that Griffith was to resume his command of the North American station in succession to Admiral Milne, and in March 1819, just prior to his departure, he was again presented to the Prince Regent at a levee. After raising his flag at Portsmouth in early April aboard the Newcastle 50, Captain Arthur Fanshawe, he sailed to arrive at Bermuda on 6 June via Plymouth and Madeira. Two weeks later he departed the island with his family aboard the Newcastle for Halifax, and shortly after arriving in Nova Scotia he headed to Quebec for a brief visit before returning to Halifax. Over the winter he remained at Nova Scotia as there was a fever raging on Bermuda, and it was not until the autumn of 1820 that he embarked on the Newcastle to sail south to the latter island for the winter.
Following the death of his uncle on 4 April 1821 Griffith assumed the name of Colpoys, and in the summer of that year he visited Quebec once more. When news arrived of his promotion to vice-admiral on 19 July he raised his new flag aboard the Newcastle at Halifax on 17 September. Upon being succeeded by Rear-Admiral William Charles Fahie he left Halifax on 12 December aboard the Newcastle to arrive at Portsmouth on Christmas Eve, having experienced a constant gale on the twelve-day voyage home. His service was recognised in early February 1822 when he attended a levee with the King at Carlton House.
After eight years spent in quiet retirement it was reported in August 1829 that Griffith was to be appointed to command a newly merged West Indian and North American station, and on 28 January 1830 he hoisted his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Winchester 52, Captain Charles James Austen. Having put back to St. Helens because of rough weather, his flagship finally sailed out in early February and was at Tenerife by 25 February before proceeding the next day for Barbados. In mid-March she left the latter island for Jamaica to arrive at Kingston on the 25th, and by 15 May she was at Bermuda. Here Griffith transferred to the Hyacinth 18, Commander Robert Jackson, as the Winchester had briefly returned to Jamaica, and when the latter vessel did rejoin he sailed for Halifax in July.
On 27 October 1830, whilst returning to Bermuda for the winter, the Winchester struck rocks twice within twenty miles of the island, and it was decided that she should depart for England to effect repairs. Not long afterwards Captain Austen was injured when falling from a mast and was invalided back to England, and when the news reached home Captain Hon. George Trefusis was ordered out to the West Indies in February to assume the captaincy of the Winchester, which in the meantime had taken Colpoys to Barbados. Towards the end of March the Winchester with her new captain was at Jamaica with most of Colpoys’ squadron, and in that same month the admiral dispatched the Hyacinth to Cartagena to offer protection to British people and property as a civil war had broken out in that region. On 28 May the Winchester under Captain Lord William Paget left Bermuda for home with Colpoys shifting with Captain Trefusis into the North Star 28, which had been brought out to the West Indies by Paget. Shortly afterwards Colpoys received the happy tidings that he had been created a K.C.B. on 19 May. By September 1831 his flag was aboard the Ranger 28, Captain William Walpole at Bermuda, and at the end of the year he was rejoined by the Winchester and Lord Paget at Barbados.
On 2 April 1832 the Winchester left Bermuda for Barbados, she was at Jamaica on 14 May preparing to sail for Havana shortly afterwards, and a summer visit to Halifax followed from where she sailed south on 21 October, by which time Captain Trefusis had succeeded Lord Paget as Colpoys’ flag-captain
Admiral Colpoys died after a protracted illness at Ireland Island, Bermuda, on 9 November 1832 and he was buried in the Royal Naval Cemetery.
He married Lady Mary Anne Adair, the widow of a judge, Hon Sir John Wilson, who had died in 1793. His eldest son, Captain Edward Griffith Colpoys, who had been in command of the Cruizer 18, died aged 32 at the Cape on 28 June 1831 whilst returning from India for the benefit of his health, and his youngest son, Henry Maxwell Griffith Colpoys, rose to the rank of commander in the Navy and died aged 29 in January 1833 when the packet Calypso in which he was a passenger after leaving the Winchester supposedly foundered having last sailed from Halifax. A third son, John Adair Griffith Colpoys, entered the clergy. One of his daughters married Captain Arthur Fanshawe in 1820. In 1794 he lived at Covent Garden, Middlesex, in 1804 at Wishford near Salisbury, and thereafter at Northbrook House, Bishops Waltham near Winchester in Hampshire.
Griffith Colpoys was described as tall, spare and elegant, his manners austere and considered. A skilled seaman, fair, astute and an esteemed officer, his removal from his command in the Spithead mutiny was all the more curious for the fact that his crews were held to be content, and he regularly gave shore leave. He clearly trusted his senior officers and cared for his men, whilst his younger officers responded to his interest in their development. To this end he made sure that they were schooled not only in basic seamanship, but also dancing, French, drawing and social skills, often inviting them to his residence in pursuit of the latter. He could be reserved and non-familiar with his officers but was always held to be a gentleman. He was a protégé of the Earl of St. Vincent.