Sir Richard Hughes

c1729-1812. He was the elder son of Captain Sir Richard Hughes and the grandson of Captain Richard Hughes, both of whom served as the commissioner of Portsmouth Dockyard. His mother was Joanne Collyer, and he was also a distant cousin of Admiral Sir Robert Calder.

After entering the Royal Academy at Portsmouth in 1739, Hughes first went to sea three years later aboard the Faversham 44, commanded by his father. On 2 April 1745 he was commissioned lieutenant whilst serving in the Mediterranean aboard the Burford 70, Captain Edward Strange, and he immediately joined the Stirling Castle 70, Captain John Fawler, remaining with her until the peace. In 1752 he was appointed to the Advice 50, the flagship of Commodore Thomas Pye, going out to the West Indies.

He was promoted commander of the newly commissioned Spy 10 on 6 February 1756, serving in the Downs, and on 10 November was posted into the Hind 20 in which he captured the privateers Ardencourt 14 and Difficile 10 when in company with the Trident 64, Captain John Tinker, and Lowestoft 28, Captain Robert Haldane. In January 1758 he commissioned the new Active 36, serving under the orders of Commodore Richard Howe off France before leaving her in December.

In the following April Hughes took the Falmouth 50 out to the East Indies in Rear-Admiral Samuel Cornish’s squadron that arrived in October. Following the death of Captain Vincent Pearce in December he commanded the York 60 in the East Indies, and in early 1761 he was present at the reduction of Pondicherry before returning home through illness. That November he was appointed to the Portland 50, and after serving in home waters he conveyed the British ambassador to Kronstadt.

From her commissioning in April 1763 until 1766 Hughes commanded the frigate Boreas 28 in the Downs, and from 1767-70 the guardship Firm 60 at Plymouth. He then commissioned the new Worcester 64 in January 1771, serving as a guardship at Portsmouth until January 1774, during which period his father was created a baronet in 1773 upon the occasion of the king’s visit to the dockyard. In October 1776 he was appointed to the Centaur 74, cruising in home waters and off the coast of France.

From June 1778-80 he was the resident commissioner at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and he was also sworn in as the lieutenant governor in August 1778 with instructions to act as commander-in-chief in the absence of a senior officer. On 23 September 1780 he became a baronet on the death of his father, and he was fortunate to be advanced to rear-admiral in the promotion intended to bring Sir Samuel Hood and Richard Kempenfelt into the rank of flag officers on 26 September.

Hughes returned to England in July 1781, becoming acting commander-in-chief in the Downs that winter with his flag aboard the Dromedary 26, Captain John Stone. During the Channel fleet campaign of April-August 1782 he flew his flag briefly in the Princess Amelia 80, Captain Billy Douglas. He was later aboard the Portsmouth guardship Warspite 74, Commander John Reynolds, and he sat on the court martial into the loss of the Royal George on 29 August before commanding a division at the Relief of Gibraltar on 18 October with his flag aboard the Princess Amelia 80, Captain John Reynolds.

Although he had a distinguished career, Hughes is most famous for his dispute with the young Captain Horatio Nelson in the 1780’s.

Two weeks later he sailed for the West Indies with eight sail of the line to assist and, upon the ending of hostilities, to replace Admiral Hugh Pigot as the commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands. Transferring his flag to the Leander 50, Captain John Reynolds, and later in the same year to the Adamant 50, Captain William Hancock Kelly, Hughes mostly lived ashore at Barbados, drawing severe criticism from the young Captain Horatio Nelson who labelled him a ‘fiddler’ who did not behave like an admiral. Nelson also compelled him to inflict the navigation laws on American ships trading in the West Indies which was contrary to the wishes of the local merchants, and Hughes had the gall to accept the thanks of the home authorities for this enforcement despite refusing Nelson the funds to cover his own legal costs for doing so. A further dispute with Nelson arose when the young captain refused to obey the commissioner at Antigua, Captain John Moutray, when Hughes appointed him to act in his absence as commander-in-chief, this being an appointment it was not in Hughes’ power to make.

In the summer of 1786 he returned home, and after sailing out in June 1789 he was until May 1792 the commander-in-chief at Halifax, Nova Scotia with his flag aboard the Adamant 50, Captain David Knox, and when this officer was obliged to retire through illness in 1790, Acting-Captain William Johnstone Hope.

Hughes become a vice-admiral on 21 September 1790, was promoted admiral on 12 April 1794, and died at East Bergholt, Suffolk, on 5 January 1812.

He married Jane Sloane, a very talkative women as Nelson found out, and by her had two sons who pre-deceased him and two daughters, of whom Rosy was apparently equally as wearing as her mother, and who Lady Hughes attempted to press on Nelson during their voyage out to the Leeward Islands. On his death Hughes’ baronetcy passed to his brother.

He was easy-going and of a friendly disposition, but too soft and talentless for Nelson who accused him of ‘bowing and scraping’ too much. Collingwood remarked of Hughes that ‘nothing but nonsense can be expected’. Whilst serving on the Advice he lost his eye when he raised a table fork inversely to kill a cockroach, and a companion jokingly attempted to prevent him from doing so but instead deflected the fork into Hughes’ eye. A keen violin player, his service made him a very wealthy man.