Sir Francis Laforey

1767-1835. He was born on 31 December 1767 in the colony of Virginia, North America, the son of Vice-Admiral Sir John Laforey and of his wife, Eleanor Farley.

Laforey was educated at Freshford near Bath in the early 1780’s. Having been commissioned lieutenant on 26 August 1789, he saw service aboard the Andromeda 32, Captain Prince William Henry. On 22 November 1790, he was promoted commander of the fireship Conflagration 8, which appointment appears to have been for purposes of rank only, as it seems that he did not take her to sea.

In June 1791 he recommissioned the sloop Fairy 16 which went out of Portsmouth Harbour for Spithead on 6 August and sailed at the end of the month for the Leeward Islands, on which station his father was the commander-in-chief. At the beginning of the French Revolutionary War in 1793 he was still commanding the Fairy under his father’s orders in the Leeward Islands, and following the capture of Tobago in April he left for home with despatches to arrive at the Admiralty on 1 June. As was customary for a bearer of such good news, he was posted captain four days later on 5 June, being appointed to the Champion 24 for purposes of rank only.

In August 1793 he was appointed to the veteran frigate Carysfort 28, which was fitting out at Deptford and served with the Channel Fleet in the spring of 1794. Despite being poorly manned, on 29 May off Land’s End his frigate re-took the frigate Castor 32, which had been captured by the French nineteen days previously whilst under the command of Captain Thomas Troubridge, and still had twenty of her original British crew aboard. This success was somewhat diminished by the French crew’s unfamiliarity with their new prize, leading to their surrender in seventy-five minutes. Laforey and his men were eventually awarded the prizemoney for this capture after a protracted dispute.

The recapture of the Castor by Laforey’s Carysfort.

The Carysfort departed Portsmouth at the beginning of August 1794 with the Lisbon and Mediterranean convoys, in the course of which duty she caught a large Dutch ship off Cape Ortegal towards the end of the month after that vessel had been captured by the French several days previously. Before arriving at Plymouth on 21 September the Carysfort also recaptured a couple of British merchantmen that had been taken by a squadron of French frigates. After a brief visit to Spithead, she was back at Plymouth by the end of October, and on 2 February 1795 she came into Plymouth from Lisbon with two more recaptured vessels. By March she was lying at Spithead and Laforey left her shortly afterwards.

In early May 1795 his father was re-appointed to the chief command in the Leeward Islands and Laforey took him out from Portsmouth in command of the frigate Aimable 32. Leaving her in July after his arrival, he commanded the Beaulieu 40 for a short time when Captain Edward Riou was invalided home, and he subsequently had the Ganges 74 on the same station from the end of December.

In April 1796 Laforey assumed command of the Scipio 64 on a temporary basis whilst Captain Robert M’Douall transferred into the Ganges in order to raise a commodore’s flag at Martinique in the absence of Admiral Laforey, who had sailed for Barbados. He assisted Captain Thomas Parr of the Malabar 54 in the capture of the Dutch islands of Demerara and Essequibo on 23 April, and Berbice on 2 May, in addition to which territories a number of richly laden merchantmen were also seized. During this period his father was relieved by Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Cloberry Christian, and Laforey joined the admiral for his passage to England aboard the Majestic 74, Captain George Westcott. Sadly, Sir John Laforey died of yellow fever on 14 June in the course of this voyage, and Francis succeeded to the family baronetcy as a consequence.

In April 1797 he commissioned the new eighteen-pounder frigate Hydra 38, and one of his first duties was to sit on the court martial of the leading Nore mutineer, Richard Parker, in June. After serving on the North Sea station and out of the Downs for the rest of the year without incident, the Hydra sailed for Portsmouth in early January 1798, from where she departed on the 23rd for the island of St. Marcou off the Normandy coast, which had been seized by Captain Sir William Sidney Smith three years earlier to operate as a forward base against the French. Here Laforey served under the orders of Captain Sir Richard John Strachan of the Diamond 38 in an unsuccessful attack on the French flat-bottomed boats in the Caen Roads on 7 April, and the failure of this mission allowed the latter vessels to attack St. Marcou a month later, although this sortie also proved to be unsuccessful. Shortly afterwards, on 31 May, the Hydra, assisted by the bomb Vesuvius, Commander Robert Fitzgerald, and the cutter Trial, Lieutenant Henry Garrett, destroyed the French frigate Confiante 36 after chasing her onto the sands near Beuzeval, some ten miles from Le Hâvre,

In July 1798 the Hydra sailed from Portsmouth for Plymouth to undergo repairs, and by October she was back off Le Havre where Laforey led a squadron of five frigates in the blockade of a slightly larger French force. She returned to Spithead at the end of October, but on 6 November intelligence that the French were on the move sent the squadron scurrying back to sea again, albeit with a two-day delay due to adverse weather. Another storm then dispersed Laforey’s force and drove the Hydra towards Calais, and it was not until the 12th that she was able to regain her station off Le Havre. By then any threat from the French squadron had dissipated, and at the end of December the Hydra re-entered Portsmouth from St. Marcou.

In the first week of January 1799, the Hydra departed Portsmouth with the West Indies convoy, giving passage to the newly appointed Army commander-in-chief in the region, Lieutenant-General Thomas Trigge, and his suite. Arriving at Barbados in mid-February, the Hydra remained in the Leeward Islands and took many prizes over the next eighteen months. On 28 October 1800 she sailed from Port Royal, Jamaica, and on 8 November departed Tortola with a homeward-bound convoy of eighty ships. Within a week, storms had dispersed the fleet, and the Hydra eventually arrived in the Downs on 5 January 1801, having aboard the crew of a merchantman which had foundered three weeks previously. On 23 January reached Sheerness where Laforey left her.

He did not long remain on the beach, for by now the dispute with the Armed Neutrality of Russia, Denmark and Sweden had escalated, and in February 1801 he recommissioned the Powerful 74, sailing from Sheerness for the Nore and thence to Yarmouth on 25 March. From here his command sailed with Rear-Admiral Thomas Totty’s squadron which arrived in the Baltic on 9 May, but as the Danish fleet had already been defeated at the Battle of Copenhagen an accord was met with the other powers and the British fleet was able to return home. During August the Powerful sailed for Cadiz with Vice-Admiral Charles Morice Pole’s reinforcements for Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez’ squadron in the Straits of Gibraltar, from where she went out to the West Indies at the end of the year with three other sail of the line, arriving at Jamaica to join Rear-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth’s fleet in early February. The Treaty of Amiens came into effect soon afterwards, and although the fleet observed the activity of the French for a short while it was soon recalled, and the Powerful returned home to Portsmouth in June 1802 with several other men of war to go around to Sheerness and be paid off.

HMS Spartiate

Laforey was not immediately re-employed when hostilities resumed with the French in the spring of 1803, and it was only towards the end of April 1804 that he was appointed to the Spartiate 74 at Plymouth. Attached to the Channel Fleet off Brest, he re-entered Plymouth on 6 June and was back again on 30 June, having brought home Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis as a passenger. Whilst in Plymouth Sound a mutineer from the Montagu 74, Captain Robert Waller Otway, was hung aboard the Spartiate on 5 July. Five days later she sailed with supplies for the fleet off Brest, and by October she was with Rear-Admiral Hon. Alexander Cochrane’s squadron off Ferrol. Here in the following month adverse winds prevented the Spartiate from intercepting a Spanish frigate which apparently had three million dollars aboard. She was back at Plymouth on 4 December to deliver Cochrane’s dispatches, whereupon she was taken into the Barnpool to refit. During this period the weather was so cold that when a seaman was killed after falling from aloft, the accident was attributed to his frost-bitten hands.

The Spartiate sailed to rejoin the Ferrol squadron in the last week of January 1805, and she participated in the chase of the Rochefort squadron after that force had broken out on 11 January, it being later reported that she had fallen in with a damaged French sail of the line, but had lost her main topgallant mast in pursuing her, allowing the enemy to escape. The squadron reached the Cape Verde Islands on 20 March where the Spartiate struck rocks and knocked off her false keel. After effecting rudimentary repairs she followed the squadron under the watchful eye of the Circe 32, Captain Jonas Rose, and reached Barbados on 7 April to undertake further repairs. On 12 May Laforey put to sea with the meagre naval resources available at the island on reports that the French fleet was in the offing, but when eleven sail were seen to the windward of Martinique it was deemed sensible to withdraw. By the time that the Mediterranean Fleet under Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson arrived at Barbados on 4 June in search of the Toulon fleet, the Spartiate had been joined by Rear-Admiral Cochrane flagship Northumberland 74, and she was ordered to attach herself to Nelson’s force for its return across the Atlantic whilst the other vessel remained in the Caribbean.

The Spartiate subsequently fought at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, where she took her place as the last ship in Nelson’s column. Due to protracted employment at sea she was by now a dull sailor, yet although she arrived late into the action she was able to assist in the capture of the Spanish Neptuno 80 after being obliged to fight the allied van when it had come about. During the battle she sustained casualties of three men killed and twenty injured. On 2 December she arrived at Plymouth to refit, and amidst heavy snowfall she proceeded up the Hamoaze to land her French prisoners. Going up to London, Laforey participated in Lord Nelson’s funeral service on 9 January 1806, and days later he suffered a personal tragedy when an unmarried sister died.

By the second week of March 1806 the Spartiate was fit for service, and she sailed from Cawsand Bay on 3 April to join a strong squadron under Rear-Admiral Eliab Harvey that had been detached from the Channel Fleet to patrol off Cape Finisterre. She re-entered Plymouth at the end of July to re-victual, but her stay lasted barely a week before she departed for the Channel Fleet off Brest with supplies. Whilst in the Bay of Biscay she was present when Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Louis’ squadron intercepted the French frigate Présidente 40 on 27 September, the honour for her capture going to the brig Dispatch 18, Captain Edward Hawkins, which had engaged her superior opponent and inflicted enough damage for the Spartiate and other vessels to come up and enforce the French frigate’s surrender. Another brief refit at Plymouth followed in mid-November, whereupon she joined the blockade of Rochefort under Commodore Richard Keats.

The Spartiate returned to Plymouth from Channel Fleet duty in early January 1807, but as there was no dock available for her she was ordered around to Spithead on 10 January. She was released to return to the Rochefort station on 20 February to serve under Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan, and on 29 June she arrived at Plymouth once more, only to again be sent around to Portsmouth as there was no dock available for her repairs. It was not until 14 September that she eventually sailed for Plymouth to take on bullocks for the fleet, and thence she departed to rejoin Strachan off Rochefort.

In January 1808 the French Rochefort squadron of six sail of the line and two frigates escaped after Strachan’s blockading squadron had been blown off the coast, and the Spartiate was with the latter force when it sailed into the Mediterranean, passing Gibraltar on 10 February and reaching Palermo eleven days later to join Vice-Admiral Edward Thornbrough. By now the Rochefort squadron had entered Toulon from where the combined French fleet under Vice-Admiral Honoré Ganteaume had put to sea on 7 February with the intention of delivering troops and supplies to Corfu. Although Thornbrough and Strachan’s force made a rendezvous with Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood near Marettimo on the western tip of Sicily on 2nd March, the British were unable to bring the French to battle. Remaining with the Mediterranean Fleet, the Spartiate thereafter formed part of the blockade off Toulon, and she was at Malta in December.

Continuing in the Mediterranean, the Spartiate was at Palermo in the spring of 1809, and she participated in the capture of the islands of Ischia and Procida off Naples in July by General Sir John Stuart. On 17 August she arrived at Gibraltar from Malta with a convoy for England, and after passing Cadiz on 13 September, she arrived at Portsmouth on 21 October to undergo quarantine. Laforey left the ship when she was paid off at Portsmouth shortly afterwards, and upon going up to London he was presented to the King during a levee at the turn of the year.

Laforey was promoted rear-admiral on 31 July 1810, and upon being appointed the commander-in-chief of the Leeward Isles he was again presented to the King. Hoisting his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Naiad 38, Captain Henry Hill, he proceeded to Plymouth and on 26 October transferred to the Dragon 74, Captains Thomas Forrest, which arrived at Barbados on 1 December, having given passage to the wife and daughter of the outgoing commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Hon. Sir Alexander Cochrane. Immediate visits to Guadeloupe and Antigua were undertaken, and Laforey was a regular visitor to the other islands during his tenure. In 1812 he was praised by the Spanish for his efforts in sending relief to Venezuela following the Caracas earthquake on 26 March.

In February 1812 Captain Francis Augustus Collier had joined the Dragon as Laforey’s flag-captain, and the latter also flew his flag in November aboard the Tribune 36, Captain George Reynolds, the Grampus 50 with Captain Collier from January 1813, and the Vestal 28, Captain Samuel Bartlett Deecker. On 9 February 1814, upon being relieved by Rear-Admiral Philip Durham, Laforey hoisted his flag aboard the Queen 98, Captain Lord John Colville, and set sail from Barbados for the Surinam River following reports that an American frigate, presumed to be the Constitution 44, had chased a British brig into that waterway. The mission proved to be fruitless, and on 4 May the Queen sailed from St. Thomas’ with a convoy of over three hundred vessels to arrive home in late June, whereupon Laforey struck his flag for the last time.

On 2 January 1815 he was created a KCB, and on 12 April was one of many officers invested with the honour at a ceremony conducted by the Prince Regent. He was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral on 12 August 1819, being presented at Court shortly afterwards, as he was in July 1821 and on several occasions during the remainder of his life, but he otherwise maintained a low profile, other than being announced as a ‘fashionable arrival’ at the Royal Hotel, Margate, in August 1829 and at Bryant’s Hotel, Conduit Street, London in June 1831.

Laforey was advanced to the rank of admiral on 22 July 1830, and he died on 17 June 1835 at Brighton, having moved to 9 German Place from Stein’s Hotel in August 1833. He was buried in St. Nicholas Churchyard.

Laforey never married, and upon his death the Laforey baronetcy became extinct.

He was a popular and esteemed officer.