Sir Edward James Foote

1767-1833. Born 20 April 1767, he was the fourth and youngest son of the Reverend Francis Hender Foote, rector of Bishopsbourne, near Canterbury, and of his wife, Catherine Mann. He was the nephew of Sir Horatio Mann, the King’s minister in Tuscany for over fifty years.

In February 1779 Foote entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth, his name being carried on the books of the bomb Aetna 8 and the Prince George 90, both commanded by Captain Philip Patton, and in 1780 he joined the Dublin 74, Captain Samuel Wallis, serving in the Channel. In November he transferred to the recently captured French frigate Belle Poule 36, Captain Philip Patton, and he fought at the Battle of the Doggersbank on 5 August 1781. He next moved to the Endymion 44, Captain James Gambier, who suffering from ill health was succeeded by Captain Tyrell Smith later that year, and on 12 April 1782 he witnessed the Battle of the Saintes before returning to England to be paid off in August 1783.

During October 1783 he joined the Europa 50, Captain Hon. Michael de Courcy, carrying the flag of Vice-Admiral James Gambier at Jamaica, and on 12 August 1785 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Janus 44, Captain John Pakenham, having previously been an acting-lieutenant in the sloop Swan 14, Commander Francis Cole, and brig Antelope 50, Lieutenant Robert Causzor. In 1787 he joined the Royal Sovereign 100, Captain James Samber, which was due to carry the flag of Admiral Hugh Pigot, the designate commander-in-chief during the Dutch Armament, but did not in the event put to sea.

Sir Edward James Foote

In September 1788 Foote was appointed fourth lieutenant of the Crown 64, Captain James Cornwallis, carrying the broad pennant of Commodore Hon. William Cornwallis, which sailed for India in February 1789. Remaining on that station, he was promoted acting-commander of the sloop Atalanta 14 in the autumn of 1791, and after being sent to investigate the strength of the French in the Mahe Roads he moved with the rank of commander from 1 October to the Ariel 16. In this vessel he returned to England, paying her off in October 1792.

In June 1793 he recommissioned the sloop Thorn 14, and on 7 June 1794 was posted captain, joining the crack but ancient frigate Niger 32 in October, and serving for the next two years in the Channel. He distinguished himself in his lone conveyance of a convoy to Oporto, and was present under the orders of Captain Sir Richard Strachan at the capture of a French convoy near Granville on 9 May 1795. On 27 April 1796 he drove the lugger Ecureuil 18 aground near the Penmarcks and destroyed her in the face of fierce resistance, and in the following January took two lucrative Spanish prizes.

On 14 February 1797 Foote brought news of the approach of the Spanish fleet to Admiral Sir John Jervis at great danger to his own command, and thus witnessed the Battle of St. Vincent. His frigate was afterwards present at the Spithead mutiny which broke out on 16 April, and was detached by the delegates with some freighters for the Thames so that word of the mutiny could be spread at the Nore. Upon entering Sheerness for repairs the dockyard workers and loyalists amongst the crew fought with the mutineers, and although the Niger gave the appearance of joining the Nore mutiny when it broke out on 12 May she in fact remained loyal. As a reward she was placed in the King’s service at Weymouth during the autumn, and in October Foote was appointed on his Sovereign’s insistence to the command of the Seahorse 38 in succession to the convalescent Captain Thomas Fremantle.

On 16 January 1798, being in company with the Melampus 36, Captain Graham Moore, the Niger took the privateer Belliqueuse 18 off Ireland, and in March was sent to join the Mediterranean fleet. On 27 June 1798 having been detached to join Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson’s squadron, she took the Sensible 36, Captain Bourdé, off Sicily after a twelve hour chase and eight minute action, in which she inflicted casualties of eighteen men killed and thirty-seven wounded. One of the French officers captured was General Baraguay d’Hilliers, who with his staff was on his way to Egypt to join General Buonaparte’s expedition. Having intelligence of the French destination, Foote arrived at Alexandria on 20 July with the Terpsichore 32, Captain William Gage, where he discovered the French fleet, and after searching vainly for Nelson he returned to Aboukir Bay sixteen days after the Battle of the Nile on 1 August to find that the enemy had been all but destroyed.

Foote remained off Egypt until the spring of 1799 when he sailed with Captain Thomas Troubridge to join Nelson at Palermo. In the summer, as the senior British officer in the Bay of Naples, he signed the capitulation of the Neapolitan rebels with the Russian, Turkish and Neapolitan Royalist allies, a treaty which was annulled by Nelson on 24 June on the flimsy excuse of a misinterpretation of the situation by the supposedly loyal Cardinal Ruffo. The annulment resulted in the execution of many rebels who had initially given themselves up in good faith. Foote, although he expressed his misgivings, initially accepted Nelson’s interference, but in 1808 he published a thorough vindication of his own conduct. Whilst Nelson faced much criticism for having countermanded him, many felt that Foote had exceeded his authority in signing the treaty, and that he was guilty of an error of judgement.

Foote was afterwards despatched to Leghorn where the Seahorse went aground on 29 July and was taken off with great difficulty having thankfully suffered little damage. During the winter she returned to Portsmouth for a refit then in May was sent out to the Mediterranean once more with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton, and Generals Sir Ralph Abercromby, Lord Hutchinson and Sir John Moore, who she conveyed to Egypt. Returning to England the Seahorse formed part of the escort of a five hundred ship convoy in December, and in the spring cruised off Le Havre.

In 1801 Foote was again in attendance on the King at Weymouth, and on 1 September sat on the court-martial into the loss of the Hannibal 74 at the Battle of Algeciras on 5-12 July. Leaving England a week later, he conveyed a merchant fleet of ten sail to India, and on that station in March 1802 was sent by Vice-Admiral Peter Rainier to salvage his former capture, the Sensible 36, after she had gone aground on the Molliwally Shoal. After returning to England Foote paid the Seahorse off at Portsmouth in October 1802.

In1803 he was appointed to the royal yacht Princess Augusta, a position he held with that on the yacht Royal Charlotte until promoted rear-admiral on 12 August 1812. This posting was in deference to the comfort of the disturbed King George, and at the expense of his own career.

Foote was a great favourite of King George III and sacrificed a great part of his career to placate the troubled monarch.

At the beginning of 1813 Foote took a convoy out from Portsmouth to the Mediterranean with his flag aboard the Aboukir 74, Captain Thomas Browne, and he succeeded Rear-Admiral Arthur Legge in command of the squadron off Cadiz, this being to the great delight of the press who made great play of Leg and Foot standing up to the enemy. The San Josef 110, Captain Henry Bourchier, was intended for his flagship and Lieutenant Hugh Patton as his flag-lieutenant, but before the former could join him Foote was replaced in April by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard King and instead he became the second in command at Portsmouth, his flagship initially flying aboard the Medway 74, Lieutenant Charles Cumby, and thereafter the Gladiator 44, Commander Charles Hewitt.

In June 1814 Foote sailed for Cherbourg in command of a squadron of eight sail of the line, flying his flag aboard the San Domingo 74, Captain Samuel John Pechell, to bring back to Portsmouth some eight thousand members of the Russian Imperial Guard, but in the event the troops were not ready for embarkation. In July he took a squadron to Bordeaux in order to bring home the remainder of Field Marshal the Marquis of Wellington’s army, flying his flag aboard the Montagu 74, Captain Peter Heywood. Having superintended their embarkation he returned to Portsmouth aboard the Dublin 74, Captain Thomas Elphinstone, where he resumed his position as second-in-command aboard the Gladiator 44 until striking his flag in February 1815.

He became a vice-admiral on 19 July 1821, and ten years later on 19 May 1831 was created a K.C.B.

Admiral Foote died on 23 May 1833 after a short illness at his residence, Highfield House, near Southampton, where he had lived for many years.

He was married twice, initially on 22 January 1793 at the British Ambassador’s residence in Madrid to Nina Herries, the illegitimate daughter of the banker Sir Robert Herries, the service being taken by the chaplain to the Swedish minister. By her he had a son and two daughters, the elder of who predeceased him, however during his absence in India during 1801-2 she became intimate and had a child with a gentleman by the name of Owen Jones, and she fled her children for Dieppe. The marriage was dissolved in July 1803 after hearings in the House of Lords and a court case in which Foote was awarded five thousand pounds. He was married secondly at Titchfield on 24 August 1803 to Mary Patton, the eldest daughter of the vice-admiral and his old captain, but who died at Nice in December 1816 at the age of 33 having borne him four daughters. Whilst serving in the Channel Foote took a house at Warsash near Portsmouth.

He was greatly admired by King George III, and was a friend of the novelist Jane Austen and her brother, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Francis William Austen.