Sir Richard King 1st Baronet

1730-1806. Born on 10 August 1730 at Gosport, he was the third but sole surviving son of Curtis King, a sailing master and master-attendant at Deptford, and of his wife Mary, sister to Commodore Curtis Barnett.

In 1738 he entered the service aboard the Portsmouth guardship Berwick 70, Captain Peter Solgard, on which vessel his father was the sailing-master, and he then served with his uncle, Commodore Curtis Barnett, in the Mediterranean aboard the Dragon 60, in the Channel aboard the Prince Frederick 70 from 1742, and in the East Indies aboard the Deptford 50 and Harwich 50 from 1744. On 1 February 1746, three months before his uncle’s death, he was promoted lieutenant, and he returned to England from the East Indies at the cessation of hostilities in 1748.

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Captain King was sent home with dispatches after the Navy’s capture of Calcutta in 1757

After a period of unemployment he went out to the East Indies in 1754 aboard the Tiger 60, Captain Thomas Latham, and after moving to Rear-Admiral Charles Watson’s flagship, the Kent 64, Captain Henry Speke, he was promoted commander of the Kingfisher 10 on 23 July 1756.. He subsequently captained the fireship Blaze, and he joined the boats of the squadron as a volunteer in the landing party at the capture of Calcutta and Hoogly in 1757. The Blaze having been decommissioned, King returned to England with Rear-Admiral Charles Watson’s despatches on board the sloop Pilot, enduring a desperate voyage around the Cape and reaching England after a five-month journey. Somewhat surprisingly he was not immediately posted captain, being appointed instead to the sloop Bonetta 14 in January 1758, and going out to the Leeward Islands in April. Here on 29 January 1759 he was posted captain of the frigate Rye 20.

He returned home escorting a convoy in January 1760, having transferred in the previous spring to the Ludlow Castle 44, and was appointed to the Argo 28, cruising off France and in the North Sea, and taking the privateer Duc de Biron 20 on 11 June 1761. After the declaration of war by Spain he returned to the East Indies, departing in February 1762 and giving passage to Colonel William Draper who would lead the land forces in an expedition against Manila. Here on 31 October the Argo joined the Panther 60, Captain Hyde Parker, in the capture of the rich galleon Santisima Trinidad, earning the captains alone approximately 30,000 guineas in prize money. After transferring to the Grafton 68 King returned to England in the following year in company with the Lenox 74, Captain Robert Jocelyn, and the captured galleon.

Thereafter Captain King remained unemployed until December 1770 when he recommissioned the Northumberland 70 during the Spanish dispute. He was shortly afterwards appointed to the new Ardent 64, but instead in March 1771 commissioned the new Asia 64, which remained at Portsmouth for three years as a guardship.

In January 1778 he was appointed to the Monmouth 64, moving to the Pallas 36 shortly afterwards and going out to Newfoundland in May. Having participated in the occupation of St. Pierre and Miquelon on 14 September under the orders of Commodore John Evans he exchanged with Captain Thomas Davy into the Europe 64 and returned to England where he briefly served under the orders of Vice-Admiral Lord Shuldham at Plymouth.

In January 1779 he was appointed to the Exeter 64 which went out to the East Indies in March with Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes’ force, and he was soon ordered to fly his broad pennant as commodore and second-in-command with Henry Reynolds acting as his flag-captain. At the Battle of Sadras on 17 February 1782 the Exeter was overpowered by three Frenchmen at the rear of the English line and left with no masts standing, whilst also suffering the heavy casualties of ten men killed and forty-five wounded. When Captain Reynolds was killed at his side King found himself soaked blood and brains, but nevertheless when his sailing master asked ‘what is to be done?’ he replied ‘nothing is to be done but to fight her until she sinks.’ A fortunate change in wind allowed the van to come back and assist him, and after two hours the brave Exeter was saved.

With Captain Charles Hughes acting as his flag-captain King remained on the Exeter to fight at the Battles of Providien on 12 April 1782, and he later shifted his broad pennant to the Hero 74 with Hughes as his flag captain, in which he fought at the Battles of Negapatam on 6 July and Trincomale on 3 September 1782, following which Theophilus Jones became his flag captain. At the final battle with the French, that of Cuddalore on 20 June 1783, King had a speaking-trumpet shot out of his hand.

1782 --- by Dominic Serres --- Image by © The Gallery Collection/Corbis

Battle of Trincomale 1782

On 2 June 1784 Commodore King was knighted, having reached England from the East Indies in the previous month with the first division of Hughes’s fleet. He was promoted rear-admiral on 24 September 1787, and from 1790-1 was commander-in-chief in the Downs with his flag in the Dictator 64, Captain Richard Rodney Bligh. He was thereafter employed in the Russian armament of 1791 under Vice-Admiral Lord Hood with his flag aboard the Saint George 98, Captain John Samuel Smith, before serving as a junior admiral at Spithead with his flag in the St. George, Captain Thomas Hicks. On 18 July 1792 he was created a baronet, and he went out to Newfoundland as lieutenant-governor and commander-in-chief with his flag in Assistance 50 Captain John Samuel Smith, returning home that winter. Having been promoted vice-admiral on 1 February 1794 he went out to Newfoundland again in the spring aboard the newly commissioned Stately 64 with the same officer.

King returned to England at the end of 1793 and after becoming M.P. for Rochester in the Admiralty interest he was appointed commander-in-chief at Plymouth in December 1794 with his flag in the Cambridge 80, Captain Richard Boger, a position he retained until 1799. He remained as MP for Rochester until 1802.

On 1 June 1795 he was promoted admiral and he died on 7 November 1806.

Admiral King married Susannah Margaret Coker of Mappowder, Dorset on 30 November 1769 and had three daughters in addition to Vice-Admiral Sir Richard King and another son, Robert, who died in 1793. His youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married Admiral Sir Charles Rowley. His London address was Devonshire Place, Marylebone, his country address was Bellevue, Kent.

As well as being exceedingly wealthy, King was apparently a kind, good-hearted man. A supporter of William Pitt in Parliament, he spent over £5,000 on two electoral campaigns, losing the first at Rochester in the by-election of 1792 but being elected unopposed in 1794.