Sir Richard Bickerton 1st Baronet

1727-92. He was born on 23 June 1727, the third son of a captain in the 4th Dragoon Guards, Henry Bickerton of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, and of his wife Mary Dowdall of Carrickfergus, County Antrim. He was the father of Admiral Sir Richard Hussey Bickerton and the uncle of Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Hussey Moubray.

After an education at Westminster School, Bickerton entered the navy in March 1739 at the outbreak of the War of Jenkins’ Ear and served in the West Indies aboard the Suffolk 70, Captain Thomas Davers. He saw further duty for a few months during 1743 in the Mediterranean aboard the Stirling Castle 70, with Captain Davers briefly commanding this ship before giving way to Captain William Cleland. Thereafter he served in the Channel aboard the St. George 90, Captain Hon. John Byng, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, the Duke 90, Captain Davers, and the Victory 100, Captain Samuel Faulkner with the flag of Admiral Sir John Balchen.

In the early months of 1744 he removed to the Cornwall 80, Captain Charles Holmes, which vessel became the flagship of the promoted Vice-Admiral Thomas Davers, who had been appointed the commander-in-chief at Jamaica. On 8 February 1746 he was promoted lieutenant by his patron, and although Davers died of yellow fever in October, Bickerton remained in the West Indies aboard the Worcester 60, Captain Thomas Andrews, until the end of the War of the Austrian Succession in October 1748.

Further service came from 1753 aboard the Portsmouth guardship Fougueux 64, Captains Richard Hughes, George Brydges Rodney, John Douglas and Richard Spry, the Royal George 100, Captains John Campbell and Matthew Buckle, which vessel flew the flag of Vice-Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen in North America at the beginning of the Seven Years War in 1756, and from early 1758 the Namur 90, again with Admiral Boscawen and Captain Buckle in North America. He was a member of the boarding party that carried the Bienfaisant 64 at Louisbourg on 25 July 1758, and as a reward for his part in this affair he was promoted commander of the fireship Aetna by Boscawen with seniority from 2 August.

In the spring of 1759 the Aetna was at Spithead prior to sailing for the Mediterranean with Boscawen’s fleet. Following the Battle of Lagos on 18-19 August Bickerton was posted captain of the Culloden 74 for purposes of rank on 21 August, and he immediately joined the Glasgow 20, in which he returned to Portsmouth on 14 September with dispatches from Vice-Admiral Thomas Brodrick off Cadiz where seven French sail of the line were under blockade.

In November 1759 it was reported that the Glasgow had been appointed to take the trade out to the West Indies, and in early 1760 she arrived at Antigua with a convoy from London before proceeding to Jamaica. Remaining on that station, Bickerton took several prizes, and in April 1761 he exchanged with Captain Richard Carteret into the Lively 20 in order to return home with the trade. During the course of this voyage he undertook a chase of a 26-gun French privateer off the Isles of Scilly in July but was unable to run her down.

640px-George_III_reviewing_the_Fleet_at_Spithead_22_June_1773 (1)

Admiral Bickerton received a knighthood for steering the royal barge at the fleet review of 1773. He received a baronetcy for doing the same thing five years later. It certainly paid to be a friend of the first lord of the Admiralty!

In the autumn of 1761 a number of newspapers carried a report that on 11 October the Lively had been anchored a mile offshore from the British occupied island of Belleisle off the French coast when she had been surrounded by three French men-of-war, which had then sent six large boatloads of men to board her. Her perilous situation had been noticed by the garrison ashore which had launched four boats containing eighty-five men, and these had heroically captured five of the French boats and driven the other off, inflicting casualties of fifteen men killed and nineteen wounded, as well as taking some seventy-eight prisoners.

By March 1762 the Lively was back on the Jamaican station where Bickerton joined the Port Mahon 20, and he commanded this vessel at the reduction of Havana in August. Although the Admiralty appears to have appointed him to the Devonshire 66 following the return home of Captain George Darby with dispatches, that ship remained in the Leeward Islands under the command of Captain Samuel Marshall until September when Captain Matthew Barton transferred into her from the Téméraire 74 to be replaced on the latter vessel by Bickerton. Arriving at Jamaica with Hon. Augustus Keppel’s squadron on 6 November, the Téméraire was sent on a cruise to the Spanish Main with the Orford 68, Captain Marriot Arbuthnot, and the Nottingham 60, Captain Chaloner Ogle, and she returned with the former to Port Royal in January 1763 with two Spanish register ships bound from Caracas to Spain that were valued at 900,000 guineas. With the Seven Years War having drawn to a close in February, the Téméraire then returned to Spithead from Jamaica via Cadiz at the beginning of July and she was paid off in August.

At the end of November 1766 Bickerton was appointed to the French-built frigate Renown 32, which on 25 March 1767 arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs. In April she went out to Jamaica, from where Bickerton returned to England in July 1768 in command of the Ferret 14, having exchanged two months earlier with Captain Hon. George Murray. After her arrival home the Ferret was promptly paid off.

At the beginning of 1771 he commissioned the new Marlborough 74 which operated as a guardship at Chatham from the early summer, and which also flew the flag of the commander-in-chief in the Medway, Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Denis. During June 1772 he commanded the yacht Augusta in order to take his great friend, Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, from Spithead to Plymouth, and although in May 1773 the Marlborough was ordered down to Blackstakes to take on gunpowder and guns and await further instructions, Bickerton was once more seconded to the command of the yacht Augusta, and on 24 June he was knighted for the honour of having steered the King’s barge at the Spithead naval review. Months later, in November, he left the Marlborough having almost completed the usual three years in command.

Intriguingly, on 4 January 1774, Bickerton joined the Earl of Sandwich aboard an ‘ice boat’ on the West-Meadow at Godmanchester in Huntingdonshire, where a large number of spectators saw the vessel apparently achieve an incredible speed of thirty miles an hour. In June he took Sandwich to Portsmouth from Sheerness aboard the Augusta, and that September he joined the First Lord of the Admiralty and a group of other gentlemen of the Huntingdon sect in a boating party upon Whittlesea Meer, south of Peterborough. In July 1775 he was again accorded the honour of carrying Lord Sandwich from Portsmouth to the Thames aboard the Augusta.

Bickerton returned to active service by being appointed to the recommissioned Terrible 74 at the end of October 1776, and taking leave of Lord Sandwich he set off for Portsmouth in January 1777 to assume his command. Putting out on a cruise on 15 March, the Terrible captured the American privateer Rising States 16 from Boston in the Bay of Biscay on 15 April. She returned from the cruise on 3 May, and thereafter made several more from Portsmouth over the next twelve months.

Bickerton’s friendship with the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, provided him with many career opportunities!

During the King’s review of the fleet at Spithead in May 1778 he once more steered the royal barge, and as a reward was created Baronet Bickerton of Upwood in Huntingdonshire. Continuing with the Terrible, on 27 July he fought at the Battle of Ushant where his command suffered considerably, having reportedly been raked by a French flagship and two 74-gun ships. He subsequently gave evidence for the prosecution at the court-martial of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel in January 1779, but when asked whether he had any comment to make with regard to neglect by the commander-in-chief during the Battle of Ushant he responded ‘I do not’.

Remaining with the Channel fleet, and having escorted a convoy out to sea in company with the Ramillies 74, Acting-Captain Thomas Allen, Bickerton had the good fortune to receive intelligence of the course of a homeward bound Martinique convoy from a neutral ship on 13 April 1779. This information allowed the British ships to drive off the accompanying frigates and snap up seven prizes worth about 20,000 guineas apiece. His command later formed part of the Channel fleet under Admiral Sir Charles Hardy in the August Retreat, and during the same year Captain Roger Curtis temporarily acted for him aboard the Terrible.

In March 1780, having recently attended a meeting at Huntingdon of the principle electors, Bickerton commissioned the new Fortitude 74, which was launched near Greenland Dock at Rotherhithe, and in August he accompanied Lord Sandwich on an official visit to Chatham Dockyard. The Fortitude was attached to the Channel fleet’s during the latter part of its June-December campaign before she was forced to separate in severe weather, and off Cape Ortegal on 27 November she had to make her escape from the French fleet of thirty-eight sail of the line which was returning to Brest from Cadiz. He was back in London during January 1781 before leaving to rejoin his ship at Portsmouth, and on 12 April his command was present at the second relief of Gibraltar. After returning to Spithead with the fleet he left the Fortitude in June, and by the middle of August he was back in command of the yacht Augusta, embarking the King and Prince of Wales at Greenwich for a cruise down the Thames to visit the naval vessels and establishments at Sheerness, the Nore and Chatham.

In November 1781 it was announced that Bickerton would take a squadron out to the East Indies with a broad pennant as commodore to reinforce Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, and having kissed the King’s hand at a levee he set off to join the ex-Spanish flagship Fenix, which had been renamed the Gibraltar 80, and with Captain Thomas Hicks serving as his flag-captain. After a six week delay, apparently caused by the need to repair defects to one of the merchant vessels whose owner was a man of great influence, he eventually sailed from Portsmouth on 6 February 1782 with five other sail of the line and a frigate, together with troop transports and the East Indies convoy. He was at Madeira on 7 March and off Brazil in mid-April, having altered course to avoid a French fleet at Cadiz that had been seeking to intercept him, but his squadron took many months longer than anticipated to reach its station and when it finally arrived at Madras on 19 October the ships were ridden with scurvy.

It so happened that Hughes’ fleet had been driven to sea from Madras two days before Bickerton’s arrival, and when the latter reached Bombay on 28 November 1782 he had still not made a rendezvous with the commander-in-chief. Only in the early part of 1783 did the two forces gather at Bombay, and on 17 March they finally departed for the Bay of Bengal. On 20 June 1783 Bickerton participated in the indecisive Battle of Cuddalore, and on 18 September departed Madras for Bombay with six sail of the line, reaching the latter on 3 November and then sailing home via the Cape to arrive at Portsmouth on 10 June 1784.

In August 1786 Bickerton was appointed the commander-in-chief in the Leeward Isles, and in October he raised his broad pennant at Chatham aboard the Jupiter 50, Captains Thomas Hicks. Towards the end of the month he attended a levee with the King prior to taking up the appointment, but in November it was announced that he had relinquished the position. There was later speculation that he would take an expedition out to the East Indies, but this appointment was awarded to Commodore Hon. William Cornwallis, who set sail in February 1789.

In July 1789 Bickerton was appointed the commander-in-chief at Plymouth, flying his flag aboard the newly commissioned Impregnable 98, Captain Thomas Byard, and he again entertained the King on the occasion of the Naval Review on 18 August. During May 1790 he canvassed in Rochester for election to Parliament as the city’s M.P., and although he was back at Plymouth to raise his flag on 21 May there were suggestions in the Press that with the Spanish Armament developing he would raise his flag aboard the Gibraltar 80 and sail for the East Indies. Instead, in July, he was ordered to join the Grand Fleet in Torbay with his flag aboard the Impregnable, and he took passage there from Portsmouth aboard the sloop Fury at the end of the month. He remained with the fleet until sailing from Portsmouth for Plymouth on 25 November, and at the end of January 1791 he resumed command of the port from Vice-Admiral Thomas Graves, who had acted as the commander-in-chief in his absence. From April-September 1791 his flag was aboard the Cambridge 80, Captain Thomas Hicks, and thereafter with the same officer aboard the St. George 98.

Bickerton was still holding the position of commander-in-chief at Plymouth when he died of an apoplectic fit in London on 25 February 1792.

He married Mary Anne Hussey of Wrexham on 2 January 1758 and in addition to Sir Richard Hussey Bickerton had another son who died young, and two daughters.

From 1790 until his death Bickerton was the M.P. for Rochester in the Admiralty interest. He was a great friend of Lord Sandwich, the first lord of the Admiralty from 1771-82.