Sir George Eyre

1769-1839. He was born on 23 April 1769, the fourth and youngest son of Anthony Eyre, the M.P. for Boroughbridge from 1774-84, and the descendent of an old and prominent Nottinghamshire family which had been supporters of the Stuarts. His mother was Judith Letitia Bury, and he was related to Admiral John Gell.

After being educated at Harrow and an academy in Chelsea, Eyre entered the Navy in 1782 aboard the Resistance 44, Captain James King, which vessel convoyed the trade out to Jamaica. On 2 March 1783, his ship captured the French frigate Coquette 24 off Turk’s Island, this vessel being commanded by a nephew of the Comte de Grasse. Eyre returned to England with the sickly Captain King aboard the frigate Diamond 32, Captain Bartholomew Rowley, in the summer of 1783.

He was next appointed to the Assistance 50, Captain William Bentinck, flying the broad pennant of Commodore Sir Charles Douglas, which sailed for Halifax in October 1783. There he furthered his naval education with cruises aboard the Mercury 28, Captain Hon. Henry Stanhope, and the Atalanta 14, Commander Thomas Foley, before returning to England at the end of 1786 aboard the Assistance. At the beginning of 1787 he joined the newly commissioned Adventure 44, Captain Francis Parry, who served as the commodore off Guinea that summer before returning to the Downs in October, and who then went out to the African coast in January 1788 to return home in May. Upon Parry being invalided out of the Adventure in October, Eyre joined the Nautilus 16, Captain John Trigge, going out to Newfoundland in May 1789 and returning to England that winter.

During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he was employed aboard the Queen Charlotte 100, Captain Sir Roger Curtis, the flagship of Admiral Lord Howe, and on 28 November 1790 he was commissioned lieutenant. He briefly served on the Scipio 64, Captain Edward Thornbrough, which was paid off in December, and the Aquilon 32, Captain Hon. Robert Stopford, which was in commission from the end of April 1791, prior to going out to the Mediterranean in November to remain on that station for the next couple of years.

Upon the commencement of hostilities with France in February 1793, Eyre joined the St. George 98, Captain Thomas Foley, the flagship of his kinsman, Rear-Admiral John Gell, whose squadron had the immense good fortune to capture a French privateer, the Genéral Dumourier 20, and her prize, the Spanish galleon St. Jago, on 14 April, the two vessels carrying merchandise to the value of nearly £1,000,000. After distinguishing himself ashore at the occupation of Toulon from August, Eyre was invited to join the flagship Victory 100, Captain John Knight, by Admiral Lord Hood, the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.

The sloop Speedy, Eyre’s first command.

On 20 February 1794 he was promoted commander of the sloop Speedy 14, serving at the reduction of Bastia during the Corsican Campaign, before this vessel was captured by the French Toulon Fleet on 9 June, just three days before its inconclusive engagement with the Mediterranean Fleet in the Golfe Jouan. Initially taken aboard the French flagship and threatened with execution by a ‘commissar’ from the French convention, he and his crew were force-marched and imprisoned in harsh circumstances at Antibes, before the Speedy’s crew were transferred to Aix-en-Provence and placed in the common prison. A month later, Eyre and his officers were given parole at Romans-sur-Isiere, and he was exchanged in May 1795. His court martial at Sheerness on 11 November aboard the Garland 28 fully acquitted him, his officers, and the sloop’s company, for the loss of the Speedy.

Now able to resume his career, Eyre was appointed to the sloop Albacore 18, which was due to set out for Jamaica in January 1796; however, on 6 February he was posted to the Prompte 28 in order to join Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Christian’s expedition to the Leeward Islands, which had first attempted to depart Spithead in the previous November, and with which he eventually sailed on 16 March. After arriving in the West Indies, his command was present at the capture of St. Lucia in May, and on 30 July was part of a small squadron which took ten Dutch merchantmen off the coast of Surinam. She saw some service with Commodore John Dilkes of the Madras 54 off Berbice in the early part of 1797, and in July returned home as part of the escort to a large and valuable convoy from the Leeward Islands. Her stay in England was but of a short duration, for in early October she sailed from St. Helens with a valuable convoy for the West Indies.

Seeing service on the Jamaica station, Eyre was appointed to the Regulus 44 by Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker in succession to the sickly Captain William Carthew in the summer of 1798, in which vessel he cruised successfully for the next year. Amongst many prizes, her most illustrious success occurred on 11 July when Eyre sent in the captured French schooner Pouline 4 and five boats under heavy fire to cut out three vessels from Aguada Bay on the north-west coast of Puerto Rico. Giving passage to Vice-Admiral Richard Bligh, and having left Jamaica with a convoy of one hundred and twenty vessels in the summer of 1799, the Regulus reached the Downs on 19 September, She then took a convoy around to Portsmouth at the beginning of October, and she was back in the Downs on the 27th. A brief visit to Sheerness was followed by her departure for the Texel on 2 November, although her return must have been imminent, for on 20 November Eyre was introduced to the King by the Duke of Portland at a small levee. The Regulus was eventually paid off in January 1800.

In early February 1801 it was announced that Eyre had been appointed to the temporary command of the St. George 98, which vessel sailed from Portsmouth on 7 February to join the Channel Fleet. This commission was of a short duration, for by the end of that month the St. George had been sequestered by Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson for the Baltic Expedition. It has also been reported that Eyre may have briefly commanded the San Josef 114 during the early months of 1801, but that apart, he did not enjoy any further employment for the next five years, being left on the beach upon the resumption of hostilities with France in 1803.

In July 1806 he was appointed to recommission the Ardent 64 at Chatham, and after taking her around to Portsmouth on 23 September, he promptly exchanged with Captain Ross Donnelly into the Narcissus 32 and returned in command of that frigate to Chatham to join the newly launched Magnificent 74. On 12 December she arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs, and on New Year’s Eve put out for the Channel Fleet. On 23 April 1807 she sailed from Falmouth for Plymouth to fit a new main-mast, from where she put out on 18 May to join Rear-Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey’s squadron in the Bay of Biscay. Shortly afterwards she became attached to that portion of the Mediterranean Fleet which was blockading Cadiz, and she remained on this duty until June 1808, at which time she was dispatched to join Vice-Admiral Edward Thornbrough at the blockade of Toulon. During November, she assisted Captain Lord Cochrane of the Impérieuse 38 in evacuating Fort Trinidad at Rosas.

In the summer of 1809, Eyre was ordered to command a small squadron of three sail of the line and seven frigates in the Adriatic, which force would become known as ‘The Corfu Squadron’. In October he sailed south for the Ionian Sea with some of his ships to assist Captain John William Spranger of the Warrior 74 in the capture of a number of Greek islands including Zante and Cephalonia, and in March 1810, he led the Navy at the attack on the island of Santa Maura, the modern-day Lefkada. The Magnificent was rendered redundant in this operation as she could not work inshore, and upon joining Colonel John Oswald at the head of the troops on an attack on the enemy embrasures, Eyre was wounded in the head by a musket-ball. In the same incident, three other balls passed through his clothing without causing any further injury. Briefly relinquishing the direction of his squadron to Captain Sir Charles Brisbane, Eyre was nevertheless able to resume his command by the time that the French surrendered the island on 16 April. Such was the esteem in which his subordinate captains held him during this period, that they presented him with what was described as ‘a handsome piece of plate’.

Whilst continuing to command the Corfu Squadron, in September 1810 Eyre and the Magnificent were recalled to Palermo to join Rear-Admiral George Martin amidst concerns that the Toulon Fleet was threatening to launch an expeditionary force. Once back in the Ionian Sea he led the blockade of Corfu, and in February 1811 his force captured some thirty vessels from Otranto bound for the island’s relief. Further up the Adriatic, his subordinate, Captain William Hoste of the Amphion 32 led his squadron of four frigates to victory over a larger French frigate squadron at the Battle of Lissa on 13 March. Eyre remained in command of the Corfu Squadron until being superseded by Captain Charles Rowley in the early summer.

Rejoining the Mediterranean Fleet, the Magnificent rendered valuable service off Spain by embarking two hundred and eighty-five men of the Oropesa garrison in Valencia during October 1811, and she also participated in the skirmish with the Toulon Fleet in November. On the early evening of 26 January 1812 she arrived at Plymouth to enter quarantine, whereupon Eyre was given leave to recuperate from his ill health. Travelling up to London, he was knighted for his services in command of the Corfu Squadron by the Prince Regent at a levee on 9 April.

H.M.S. Spartiate at Rio de Janeiro

Eyre did not undertake any further employment during the Napoleonic War, but he was nominated a colonel of marines on 4 June 1814. On 2 January 1815 he was created a K.C.B. and after being promoted rear-admiral on 12 August 1819 he attended the Prince Regent at a levee on 26 November, although his personal situation at this time obliged him to turn down an offer from the First Lord of the Admiralty to assume the command of the Cape station, a position which would have included jurisdiction over St. Helena where Napoleon was incarcerated.

In early 1823 Eyre was appointed the commander-in-chief on the South American station, although it was not until late July that he went with his family to reside at Ryde in Kent whilst his flagship, the Spartiate 74, Captain Gordon Falcon, was being prepared and manned. Eventually sailing from Portsmouth on 19 September, foul winds sent her scuttling for Plymouth before he finally succeeded Commodore Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy at Rio de Janeiro on 17 November. Unfortunately, the Spartiate was soon found to be so leaky that she was making two feet of water in her hold a day, and with her lower masts proving to be rotten she remained at Rio out of necessity. By September 1825 Eyre and Captain Falcon had exchanged with the newly promoted Rear-Admiral Graham Eden Hamond into the Wellesley 74, in which he arrived at Montevideo on 5 January 1826 to oversee British interests at a time when Brazilian forces were blockading the River Plate. By the spring he was back at Rio, and after being relieved by Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Waller Otway on 14 October he reached Spithead aboard the Wellesley on 10 December to strike his flag a few days later. Going up to London, he enjoyed a brief stay at the Brunswick Hotel in Jermyn Street.

Shortly after his return to England in 1826, Eyre refused the offer of the command of an expedition to Lisbon on account of his ill-health and gout. Remaining ashore, in June 1828 he and a number of senior naval officers attended a dinner with the Duke of Clarence, and in May 1829 he visited Leamington Spa, presumably to take the waters for his health. Having been raised to the rank of vice-admiral on 22 July 1830, he was presented to the newly proclaimed King William IV at a huge levee a few days afterwards, and he was back at Leamington Spa in November. Thereafter he appears to have retired to Derbyshire, for towards the end of October 1836 he attended a ball given by the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House, and he became a regular attendee of the annual January dinner given by the South Derbyshire Conservative Association at Derby. In May 1838 he was invested with the K.C.M.G by Queen Victoria.

Sir George Eyre died of a sudden illness on 15 February 1839 at the Rectory, Carlton, in Derbyshire.

He was married at Doncaster on 1 November 1800 to Georgiana, the daughter of Sir George Cooke of Wheatley near Doncaster, and had issue eight children including Major-General Sir William Eyre. He resided at the Manor Hall, Hatfield, near Doncaster during the early 1800’s, and in 1815 at Cuckney in Nottinghamshire.