Sir Richard Onslow 1st Baronet

1741-1817. Born on 23 June 1741 to a prominent family, he was a younger son of Lieutenant-General Richard Onslow, the governor of Plymouth from 1759-60, and of his second wife, Pooley Walton. He was the younger brother of the Rockingham Whig politician George Onslow, who died in 1792 having outspokenly opposed his old colleagues in the American Revolutionary War, the nephew of the renowned speaker of the House of Commons, Arthur Onslow, and the great-nephew of Admiral Sir George Walton.

Enjoying his illustrious patronage, Onslow quickly rose through the ranks of the Navy and on 17 February 1758 was promoted lieutenant of the Sunderland 50, Captain Hon. John Colville, by Vice-Admiral George Pocock in the East Indies. During March of the following year he transferred to the Grafton 70, Captain Richard Kempenfelt, and he made a further move in March 1760 to Pocock’s flagship, the Yarmouth 64.


Onslow was the nephew of the respected and long-serving Speaker of the House of Commons, Arthur Onslow.

Having returned to England, he was promoted commander of the newly commissioned sloop Martin 14 on 11 February 1761, serving in the North Sea before entering Sheerness in December. He was posted captain of the Humber 44 on 14 April 1762, in which he sailed from Yarmouth on 7 September in escort of the Baltic trade consisting of sixty-one vessels. As a consequence of pilot error the Humber and two of her convoy were lost four days later on the Happysborough Sands off the coast of Norfolk, although all but one man survived. Onslow was duly acquitted of his ship’s loss at the subsequent court martial, and on 29 November 1762 he was appointed to the Phoenix 44, commanding her in the Mediterranean prior to paying her off at Portsmouth towards the end of May 1763.

From January 1766 he commanded the Aquilon 28, joining her at Portsmouth where she was reportedly being fitted out to serve on the coast of Guinea; however, in March she was sent express to Gibraltar with instructions for the governor regarding an expected dispute between Portugal and Spain. She remained in the Mediterranean thereafter, visiting Cadiz, Marseilles and Genoa, and arriving at Lisbon from Gibraltar at the end of the year. During the early part of 1768 she visited Minorca, Lisbon and Cadiz, by July she was at Naples prior to sailing for Corsica and Leghorn, and she arrived at Spithead to be paid off in July 1769.

Onslow commissioned the frigate Diana 32 in October 1770 at the onset of the Falkland Islands dispute, sailing for the Mediterranean in January 1771 and then departing for Jamaica on 23 May under the orders of Vice-Admiral Sir George Rodney. He returned to Spithead in command of the Achilles 60 on 1 April 1773, and this vessel was paid off later that month.

On 31 October 1776 Onslow was appointed to the St Albans 64, which served as a guardship at Plymouth that autumn and sailed out of Portsmouth in February 1777, although at this time she was extremely short-handed. There is every probability that this was a short cruise, for it was reported that on 21 March, ‘Captain Onslow’ was shot in the shoulder by two highwayman near Hounslow whilst returning to London from Bath after he had refused to step out of his chaise, having already handed over a quantity of money and silver.

In April 1777 the St. Albans took a particularly troublesome convoy out to New York from Portsmouth, and when she arrived on 16 June it was with a very sick crew. She served throughout the defence of New York in July 1778 and in the skirmishes off Rhode Island during August, but Onslow was fortunate to retain his ship when she went aground off Cape Cod whilst the fleet was proceeding to Boston in search of the French. Later in the year the St. Albans formed part of the squadron despatched under Commodore William Hotham to reinforce the Leeward Islands, arriving at Barbados from New York on 10 December. She participated in Rear-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington’s repulse of Vice-Admiral Comte d’Estaing fleet off St. Lucia on 15 December, and Onslow superintended the landing of the troops on the island before his command returned to England with a convoy of one hundred and fifty sail and two other men-of-war in the summer of 1779, passing Portsmouth for the Downs on 31 July. Despite the fact that she was in poor repair, the St. Albans was ordered to supplement the Channel Fleet following its retreat in August, and she sailed from Portsmouth to join that force in the first week of September.

In February 1780 Onslow and his officers and men transferred to the Bellona 74, which came out of dock at Chatham to allow the St. Albans to go in, and in recognition of his new appointment he was received at Court where he kissed the King’s hand. Joining Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington’s squadron off Ushant in April, the Bellona next escorted a convoy of six East Indiamen from the Downs to Portsmouth in May before serving in the Channel Fleet campaign of June-December. Sailing in company with the Marlborough 74, Captain Taylor Penny, she captured the Dutch vessel Princess Caroline 54 in the Downs on 30 December, the enemy apparently being unaware that the countries were at war, and striking her colours when Onslow ran the lower deck guns out after a half-hour action. The Bellona lost one man killed and two wounded in the engagement, the Dutch vessel four men killed and a dozen wounded.

Onslow’s command was with Vice-Admiral George Darby at the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, serving thereafter with the Channel Fleet. On 14 December she arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs and then joined up with Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt’s squadron. Shortly afterwards she appears to have entered dock, for in February 1782 she was reported as nearly ready for sea. Participating in the Channel Fleet campaign from April -August, she served with Kempenfelt’s squadron off Brest during May, sailed out of Spithead with Vice-Admiral Mark Milbanke’s squadron on 28 August, and was with the fleet under Admiral Lord Howe during its relief of Gibraltar on 18 October and the subsequent action off Cape Spartel. Following this operation, the Bellona went out with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Hughes to the Leeward Islands, but she did not see any significant service on that station, and with peace being declared she returned to Portsmouth on 18 May 1783 with Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Samuel Drake’s squadron, being paid off in June.

Onslow remained unemployed until his appointment to the Triumph 74 at Portsmouth in October during the Dutch Armament of 1787, but this vessel’s poor condition saw her detained in Portsmouth Harbour until November, when it was reported that she would sail around to Chatham to be paid off and repaired. His next appointment, on 31 March 1789, was to the Magnificent 74, in which he sailed from Portsmouth on 11 July for Weymouth to attend the King and his family, and to embark them on a short cruise. The Magnificent was present in the Naval Review at Plymouth on 18 August, and Onslow temporarily commanded at Portsmouth in November and December, and again in April 1790 when Vice-Admiral Robert Roddam took leave of absence. His command was with Roddam’s squadron which sailed out of harbour for Spithead on 10 May 1790, and she remained employed throughout the Spanish Armament that year, with Onslow being appointed a colonel of marines on 21 September. During the Russian Armament in 1791 the Magnificent was at Portsmouth, prior to paying off on 5 September, and after retiring ashore Onslow was at Bath in December.


The highlight of Onslow’s career was the Battle of Camperdown in 1797

Following the resumption of hostilities with France, he was promoted rear-admiral on 1 February 1793 and vice-admiral on 4 July 1794, although during this period he remained on the beach whilst making the customary social visit to Bath. From December 1795 he briefly held the command of the Plymouth station with his flag aboard the Cambridge 80, Captain Richard Boger, in which capacity he detained a Dutch squadron of five men of war on 4 March 1796, amongst which the Zeeland 64, Braakel 54 and Tholin 36 were added to the Navy. His tenure terminated when he struck his flag in favour of the returning Vice-Admiral Sir Richard King on 16 July.

In December 1796 Onslow was appointed the second-in-command to Admiral Adam Duncan on the North Sea station with his flag aboard the Nassau 64, Captain Edward O’Bryen, although with his senior on leave he managed the station from Great Yarmouth for several months. When the Nassau’s crew joined the general mutiny which broke out on 27 May 1797 he removed to the loyal Adamant 50, Captain William Hotham, and he joined Duncan in parading off the Dutch coast to maintain the pretence of a blockade. Transferring his flag on 25 July to the Monarch 74 with Captain O’Bryen, he led the rear squadron at the Battle of Camperdown on 11 October when his flagship was the first to break the enemy line and fought magnificently. In addition to being awarded a baronetcy nineteen days later, he received a hundred guinea sword and the freedom of the City of London, whilst on Lord Mayor’s Day in November the carriage in which he and Duncan were travelling was taken in tow by the mob on Ludgate Hill and carried in triumph to the Guildhall. He then attended the service of thanksgiving at St. Pauls Cathedral in December for the naval victories.

Returning to duty, Onslow continued as the second-in-command in the North Sea, patrolling off the Texel in March 1798 where the Dutch were rapidly reconstructing their fleet, before returning to Yarmouth. He sailed once more for the Texel in early May to rendezvous with Commodore John M’Dougall, who had been patrolling off the coast, and he returned to Yarmouth on the 14th with a large number of Dutch ships, including a dozen or so which had been sailing for Greenland. As a consequence of these captures some two hundred Dutch prisoners were dispatched to confinement in Norwich. He then returned to the Texel where he enforced a strict blockade, and he commanded the North Sea fleet when it sailed with a Russian squadron under Vice-Admiral Michael Makaroff in July before being relieved by Duncan in August, allowing him to briefly return to Yarmouth towards the end of that month. Once back at sea, he took possession of Texel Island during October, but by December both he and Duncan were indisposed and Vice-Admiral Archibald Dickson was summoned to command the fleet.

Onslow was promoted to the rank of admiral on 14 February 1799, and retiring into obscurity he was appointed a lieutenant-general of marines in May 1814 following the death of Admiral Lord Bridport and the elevation of the Earl of St. Vincent to the rank of general. On 2 January 1815 he was created a G.C.B.

Admiral Onslow died at Southampton where he had taken up residence on 27 December 1817, having typically made provision for a simple funeral on the basis that his men would have had far less money spent on their own funerals.

On 1 June 1773 at St. Martins in the Fields he married Anne, the only daughter of Commodore Matthew Michell of Chiltern, Wiltshire, and they had five sons, two of whom died young, along with four daughters. In December 1800 his eighteen year old daughter Frances, known as ‘Batter Pudding’ to the seamen, married the sixty-one year old Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. The eldest of his sons, Sir Henry Onslow, became a captain in the Royal Artillery, and another son, John James Onslow, entered the Navy in 1810 aboard the Surveillante 38, Captain Sir George Ralph Collier, and was eventually posted captain in 1834.

A smallish balding man with reddish colouring and of a rustic appearance, Onslow was reputed to be abrupt and uncomfortable with strangers, and often displayed a sharp temper. He was nevertheless of a generous character to his friends and family and was a kindly loving father. His amiability amongst his fellow officers was illustrated by his formation of the Naval Society Dining Club in 1765. Reputedly, he was struggling financially at the time of the Battle of Camperdown.