Sir Edward Hughes

c1716-94. He was born at Hertford, the son of an alderman, Edward Hughes, and of his wife, Elizabeth Chichele.

On 4 January 1735 Hughes entered the navy aboard the newly commissioned Dunkirk 60, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Digby Dent, in which vessel he served at Jamaica. In September 1736 he removed on that station to the Kinsale 40, Captain John Forrester, and in July 1738 to the Diamond 40, Captain Charles Knowles, serving at the reduction of Porto Bello in November of the following year. In February 1740 he joined Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon’s flagship, the Burford 70, Captain Thomas Watson.

He was commissioned lieutenant on 25 August 1740 of the fireship Cumberland, Commander Robert Maynard, and in the following year he was present aboard the Suffolk 70, Captain Thomas Danvers, at the bombardment of Cartagena on the Spanish Main. During June 1741 he moved to the Dunkirk 60, Captains Thomas Cooper and Charles Wager Purvis, in which he was present at the Battle of Toulon on 11 February 1744. In July of that year, he joined the Stirling Castle 70, Captain Cooper, and following that officer’s cashiering for failings at the Battle of Toulon, Captain John Fawler, and he removed on 2 December 1745 to the Marlborough 90, Captain Richard Watkins, coming home to England in the following year.


Sir Edward Hughes

In June 1747 Hughes joined the Warwick 60, Captain Robert Erskine, in order to take passage out to North America where he expected to secure advancement under the friendly eye of his old commander, Commodore Knowles. During the voyage out, the Warwick fought an engagement in the Atlantic with the Spanish sail of the line Glorioso 74, but received scant support from her consort, the Lark 44, Captain John Crookshanks. The latter was suspended with Hughes assuming temporary command of the Lark in September, and on 6 February 1748 he was posted captain in Crookshanks’ stead, an occurrence that caused the latter, who had been dismissed at his court-martial for failing to support the Warwick, to claim that Hughes had poisoned Commodore Knowles against him. Thereafter, the Lark served on the Jamaican station before arriving at Portsmouth at the beginning of June 1750 with a large amount of money which was transported up to London by several wagons. She was subsequently paid off at Deptford in July.

Hughes was not re-employed until January1756, when he commissioned the new Deal Castle 24 at Deptford. By May she was at Portsmouth, and she then saw service in the Channel Islands under Commodore Hon. Richard Howe, taking possession of Chausey Harbour. On 12 August she arrived back at Portsmouth with several French prisoners from a homeward-bound West Indiaman which had been captured by a privateer, and four days later she was taken into dock.

Hughes was next appointed to the Intrepid 64 on 20 August 1756, which vessel was serving at the time in the Mediterranean, and whose captain, James Young, had been summoned home to attend the trial of Admiral Hon. John Byng. Although it was reported that Hughes would take several of his officers with him out to the Mediterranean to join the ship, she appears to have been under the command of her first lieutenant, Alexander Schomberg, when she arrived back at Portsmouth in the middle of November. Instead, it is possible that Hughes took the Devonshire 66 to sea for Captain John Moore.

In the summer of 1757 he was appointed to the Somerset 70, in which he sailed for Nova Scotia from Portsmouth at the beginning of July. The ship was fortunate to survive a severe gale on 25 September when she sprung her mainmast and saw her longboat washed overboard within three miles of a lee shore. In April 1758 she departed Halifax with Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Hardy’s squadron, and she was present at the siege and reduction of Louisbourg during June – July. Upon returning to England with Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen’s squadron, the Somerset was with the remnants of that separated force when on 27 October they fell in with the French Quebec squadron under Commodore Louis Charles du Chaffault. Unfortunately, the stormy weather prevented a full engagement, and the French were able to escape under calmer conditions the next morning; however, the Somerset did manage to recapture a homeward bound East Indiaman, the Carnarvon, which she sent into Milford Haven. After returning to Portsmouth on 2 November, the Somerset entered dock.

On 13 February 1759, having been provisioned for eight months, the Somerset with the flag of Rear-Admiral Charles Holmes sailed with his squadron from Portsmouth following a lengthy delay waiting for a fair wind, and having transports for New York under convoy. By the summer she had joined Vice-Admiral Charles Saunders off Louisbourg, whose squadron sailed for Quebec to assist General James Wolfe’s army in capturing the city in September. On 10 December Saunders landed at Cork in a fishing boat having come back to Europe aboard the Somerset, and days later, whilst off Crookhaven, Hughes’ command had to cut away all her masts to prevent her from foundering in a storm. She was warped into Crookhaven for initial repairs, and on 21 January she arrived at Portsmouth under jury masts to be taken into dock.

At the beginning of May 1760, the Somerset sailed out of Portsmouth Harbour for Spithead to join Saunders’ Mediterranean-bound squadron, which sailed later that month. At the end of July, she was detached with a small squadron under Captain Hugh Palliser of the Shrewsbury 74 in search of a French squadron apparently heading for Constantinople, and the British force spent some time until the end of the year blockading that enemy in Souda Bay on the island of Candia, the modern-day Crete. By April 1761 the Somerset was back with Saunders at Gibraltar, under whom she continued to serve.

In September 1762 Hughes transferred to the Blenheim 90, again serving as the flag captain to Saunders, and this vessel came home to Portsmouth in January 1763. A brief return to the Mediterranean appears to have followed before she reached Plymouth in early April to be put into quarantine. A riot amongst her crew took place when she came to be paid off at that port, and some of her men who had been transferred to the Pearl 32, Captain Charles Saxton, were retrieved by their erstwhile shipmates.


Hughes’ career was defined by his five battles with the Bailli de Suffren

Hughes remained on half-pay until January 1771, when he recommissioned the Somerset 70 at Chatham to serve as a guard-ship at Portsmouth, a command he held for the next thirty-three months.

In October 1773 he was knighted and appointed the commander-in-chief in the East Indies, and he sailed for that station in November with his broad pennant aboard the Salisbury 50, Captain George Walters. A trouble-free five years was spent in India prior to his return to Portsmouth on 14 May 1778 aboard the Salisbury in escort of two East Indiamen. Here he learned for the first time that on 23 January 1778 he had been promoted rear-admiral, and after going up to London he was presented to the King.

In July 1778, just two months after coming home, Hughes was once again ordered to the East Indies as the commander-in-chief, although he did not sail until the following spring. During the interim he was invested as a Knight of the Bath before the King in London on 9 December, attended a levee near the end of the year, and was employed as the temporary commander-in-chief at Portsmouth whilst Admiral Sir Thomas Pye presided over Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel’s court-martial arising from the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778. At the end of the trial on 11 February 1779, Hughes was prominent amongst Keppel’s followers in celebrating his acquittal.

Having been further delayed in February 1779 by news that the French fleet had come out of Brest, Hughes departed England for the East Indies on 3 March with his flag aboard the Superb 74, Captain Robert Simonton, and with six sail-of-the-line under his orders. On 5 April he arrived at Madeira before departing ten days later, and he re-took Goree on the African coast from the French during his voyage down the Atlantic. After his arrival in India, little of note occurred over the next eighteen months as there was only an insignificant French presence on the sub-continent. During December 1780 he destroyed Hyder Ali’s pirate fleet at Mangalore, during which operation Captain Simonton’s new command, the Sartine 32, sank after hitting a rock, leading to a complaint from that officer of having been ordered inshore against his professional judgement.

Hughes was promoted vice-admiral on 26 September 1780 in accordance with seniority, and he continued with his flag aboard the Superb 74, Captain Henry Ball. During November 1781 he joined Major Sir Hector Munro in the capture of Negapatam from the Dutch, and arriving at Trincomale on 4 January 1782, he co-operated once more at the capture of that colony from the Dutch.

Hughes returned to Madras on 8 February 1782, by which time Captain William Stevens had become his flag-captain aboard the Superb, and in addition to receiving three sail-of-the-line as reinforcements, he learned of the arrival in Indian waters of the brilliant Commodore Bailli de Suffren with twelve French sail of the line. Hughes immediately placed his fleet under the Madras batteries, so that when Suffren did arrive with a convoy, he declined to give battle and sailed away. Hughes set sail after him, and slipping past the French men-of-war during the night, he took six prizes out of the convoy. The Battle of Sadras followed in gusty conditions on 17 February and proved indecisive, although Captain Stevens was killed in the action.

Returning to Trincomale with Captain Hon. Dunbar MacLellan acting as his flag-captain, Hughes fought the French again on 12 April 1782 at the Battle of Providien. During the engagement his centre became isolated, culminating in the massive loss of fifty-nine men killed and ninety-six wounded aboard the Superb alone, the former figure including his first lieutenant, who was the son of Captain James Alms of the Monmouth 64. On the next day Hughes brought his fleet to anchor and foiled Suffren’s plan of attack, and there followed a confusing episode in which Hughes refused to exchange prisoners with Suffren as he felt that he did not have the authority to do so. The British prisoners were then handed over to Hyder Ali, which could only be regarded as a horrifically barbaric act by the French commodore.

On 5 July 1782, whilst Hughes was at anchor off Negapatam with eleven sail of the line, Suffren arrived with twelve ships; however, the ensuing Battle of Negapatam on 6 July in gusty conditions was once more indecisive. During this battle Hughes’ latest flag-captain, Hon. Dunbar MacLellan, lost his life. Receiving intelligence on 20 August that Trincomale was at danger from the French, Hughes headed for that port only to find that Suffren had preceded him. Fortunately, the Frenchman’s brilliant plan of attack at the Battle of Trincomale on 3 September was subverted by the mutinous behaviour of his captains, and once again an indecisive action followed between the twelve British and fourteen French sail of the line. In this action, where Henry Newcome acted as his flag-captain, Hughes lost three more of his captains killed, and it was subsequently considered that he had forsaken a good opportunity to earn a victory.

On 1 November 1782, a hurricane swept in overland which forced Hughes to sea from Madras and dismasted the Superb, obliging him to transfer his flag to the Sultan 74, Captain Andrew Mitchell. The majority of his fleet managed to reach safety at Bombay where it was joined by reinforcements brought out from England by Commodore Sir Richard Bickerton, although Hughes’ replacement, Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, was lost in passage with his flagship, the Cato 60. Having returned to the Bay of Bengal with eighteen sail of the line, Hughes attacked with a numerical superiority when he met Suffren again on 20 June 1783 at the Battle of Cuddalore; however, the French with fifteen sail of the line won a strategic victory by successfully defending that port.

Rarely had five consecutive battles between the same opponents failed to produce an overall victory, although the general consensus was that Hughes had done well and that Suffren had under-achieved. The mere fact that Hughes had lost eighty-one men killed and one hundred and ninety-two wounded aboard his flagship alone over the five battles bore testimony to his determination and the intensity of the struggle.

By the time that the Battle of Cuddalore was fought, the articles of peace had already been signed in Europe, and when news reached the Indian Ocean, Hughes took passage home aboard the Sultan 74, Captain Thomas Troubridge, as the Superb had previously been wrecked off Tellicherry on 7 November 1783. On 15 January 1785 the Sultan reached the Cape, by 10 March she was at St. Helena, and she arrived at St. Helens on 17 May. Going up to London, Hughes met with the Home Secretary before enjoying a conference with the King and arranging the delivery to the Queen of a female buffalo which he had brought back from India.

In May 1790, at the commencement of the Spanish Armament, it was reported that he would hoist his flag at the Nore, but in the event this appointment did not take place. Hughes did not see any further service but on 1 February 1793 he was promoted admiral. He died at his seat at Luxborough, Essex, on 17 January 1794 and was buried at St. Mary and All Saints, Lambourne.

He was married twice. He married his first wife, Ann Peters, the widow of Dr. Charles Peters, in 1753, but within a couple of years she died in childbirth. His second wife, Ruth Wheeler, whom he married on 7 November 1765 at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, was apparently twice a widow, and she was the mother of Captain Henry Ball who died in 1792. Being childless from both marriages’ Hughes’ immense fortune, estimated at approximately £40,000 a year as commander-in-chief in the East Indies, devolved upon his wife’s grandson and Captain Ball’s nephew, who subsequently became a famous socialite and dilettante revelling in the sobriquet of ‘Golden Ball’.

Exceedingly benevolent, Hughes handed out a fortune to worthy causes in the years following his return from the East Indies. A friend of the first lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich, he took the future Admiral Robert Montagu, the first lord’s son by his mistress Martha Ray, to the East Indies, and later lent Sandwich large sums of money amounting to £14,000 after the war and £10,000 without security in 1788. Prior to these transactions his wife had also loaned Sandwich money. The financial favouritisms were perhaps a reward to Sandwich for having enabled Hughes’ accumulation of wealth through his long posting to the profitable East Indies station.

Hughes was a brave, diligent, steady, dogged, honourable officer, who was not blessed with a brilliant tactical ability but did adhere rigidly and determinedly to the fighting instructions. He was known to his men as ‘Old Hot and Hot’ for his favouring of very hot food, and he obviously enjoyed a great deal of it, for his figure could only be described as rotund.