Sir Thomas Briggs

1780-1852. Born in Southampton in 1780, he was the son of Stephen Briggs, the chief surgeon at Madras, and of Magdalena Pasley, the youngest sister of Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley. His cousins included Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Malcolm and Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm.

On 10 September 1791 Briggs entered the Navy aboard the Bellerophon 74, commanded by his uncle, Captain Thomas Pasley, with whom he moved to the Vengeance 74 in the Medway shortly afterwards. From April 1793 he served aboard the Meleager 32, Captain Charles Tyler, being present at the occupation of Toulon from August, and in the Corsican campaign from February 1794. When Tyler was appointed in quick succession to the prize San Fiorenzo 36, and then in 1795 to the Diadem 64, Briggs followed him, and he was thus present at the Battle of Genoa on 13-14 March and the Battle of Hyeres on 13 July. In August 1796 he removed with Tyler to the Aigle 32, and he was commissioned lieutenant on 28 September 1797.

In 1798 he was appointed to the Ville de Paris 110, Captain Hon. George Grey, the flagship of Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent in the Tagus, and shortly afterwards transferred to the Princess Royal 98, Captain John Dixon, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Thomas Lennox Frederick off Cadiz.

On 10 July 1799, Briggs was given the acting command of the recently captured French sloop Salamine 16, and after serving at the siege of Genoa, which culminated on 4 June 1800, he was officially promoted to the rank of commander on 30 June. Continuing with the Salamine, on 20 August he captured a four-gun French privateer, and on 21 January 1801, being in company with the Caroline 36, Captain William Bowen, he captured a four-gun xebec. These successes were tarnished by the death of his first lieutenant, a Mr McGrath, who succumbed to his wounds having been stabbed in Leghorn on the previous 31 August by an unknown assassin.

On 24 March 1801, the Salamine was at Minorca when Briggs was despatched by Captain Manley Dixon of the Généreux 74 to warn Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren of the presence of the Brest fleet. After falling in with Warren off Sardinia two days later, they fell in with the enemy on the next morning but were unable to bring them to battle before losing them during the ensuing night. On 23 April, the squadron arrived in Aboukir Bay in the hope of finding the French there, by which time the invasion of Egypt, which had begun on 8 March, was in full swing. By 30 May, the Salamine was at Constantinople delivering dispatches to the ambassador, Lord Elgin, and Briggs would later be rewarded for his participation in the Egyptian campaign with the Turkish Gold Medal and the Order of the Crescent by the Ottoman Empire.

Sir Thomas Briggs

He was posted captain on 24 July 1801 and appointed to succeed the late Captain Charles Hare aboard the Madras 54, which flew the flag of Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton off Egypt in the spring of 1802 before returning to Malta, where she remained during the brief peace. When a mutiny broke out aboard the Gibraltar 80, he temporarily replaced Captain William Hancock Kelly as her commander following that officer’s court martial and dismissal on 8 March 1803. Within a matter of weeks, he exchanged with Captain Frederick Ryves into the Agincourt 64, and after the renewal of war with France he saw duty in the Mediterranean Fleet under Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. The Agincourt returned to the Downs with a convoy in September 1804 after a month-long passage, and she then went around to Chatham to be paid off and undergo repairs.

At the end of March 1805, the Agincourt sailed from Chatham for the Long Reach, and with Briggs resuming command she sailed for Torbay in early May to join the Channel Fleet. At the end of the month, she was employed as part of the escort for Lieutenant-General Sir Eyre Coote’s expedition to the West Indies, which was to rendezvous at Cork, and on 19 June she left the Irish port, serving thereafter in the Downs, where she briefly flew Admiral Lord Keith’s flag, then in the autumn in the North Sea.

On 14 December 1805, Briggs exchanged with Captain Henry Hill into the twelve-pounder frigate Orpheus 32, in which he returned to Yarmouth on 29 April 1806 with two foreign vessels which had been detained off the Texel whilst attempting to deliver masts to the Dutch fleet. On 23 May she arrived at Sheerness for docking, and on 24 June she sailed for Portsmouth to arrive on 2 July, prior to setting out for the West Indies with several ships under convoy on 22 July.

Remaining in the West Indies, the Orpheus took the French privateer Guadeloupe 3 on 25 September 1806 and the Spanish privateer Susanna 4 on 12 November, whilst on 20 November her barge, under the command of Lieutenant George Ballard Vine, captured the Spanish schooner Dolores 3 off Campeche. Disaster followed on 23 January 1807 when she drove on to a coral reef near Jamaica and was wrecked, although providentially the Elephant 74, Captain George Dundas, was in the vicinity and was able to bring off her crew. Captain Briggs was famously rescued from the bowsprit of the sinking Orpheus by seventeen-year-old Midshipman Henry Belsey of the Elephant, who was destined to save the lives of many seamen in an otherwise inauspicious career. Briggs and his officers were cleared of blame for the frigate’s loss at the statutory court-martial, and on 10 April he arrived at Falmouth aboard the packet Lady Arabella after a forty-six-day passage from Jamaica.

On 27 April 1808 he was given the temporary command of the Theseus 74 off Lorient, acting for Captain John Beresford, and during September it was reported that he was to join the ex-Danish frigate Venus 36, which had been taken in the previous September by the British Fleet at the bombardment of Copenhagen, and which sailed out of Portsmouth at the end of October. It was then announced on 7 November that he was to join the eighteen-pounder Clorinde 38, which was described as ‘a beautiful French frigate’.

After undergoing a refit, the Clorinde sailed from Plymouth on 26 December 1808 for Spithead, where it was announced in the early days of 1809 that she was to take a convoy to the Cape of Good Hope and then proceed to the East Indies. She was also to give passage to the Naval Commissioners William Shield, who had been appointed to the Cape, and Henry Inman, who had been appointed to Madras. Sailing on 22 January with eight Indiamen in convoy, she was forced to return days later having lost her mainmast in a particularly violent storm which also damaged several of her charges and forced others to seek sanctuary in various ports along the south coast. The Clorinde put to sea again on 22 February to collect the convoy, and she departed the Cape on 5 May. Sadly, Captain Inman became deranged during the voyage, and he died shortly after arriving in the Calcutta Roads on 4 July.

Remaining in Indian waters, the Clorinde was at Madras in September 1809 and visited Vizigapatnam in early October with the Modeste 36, Captain Hon. George Elliott, before heading for Calcutta. She captured the privateer Henri 8 on 28 January 1810, and on 3 February arrived at Colombo with a convoy from Madras. She was present at the later stages of the campaign to capture the Isle de France from July to December, and on 27 February 1811 arrived at Colombo with troops from that expedition. During June she escorted a convoy from Bombay to Penang, and she then proceeded to China before returning to Penang. She was back at Madras from Bengal by the beginning of May 1812, from where she departed for Penang and China on the 29th. During April 1813 she was struck by lightning whilst sailing for Trincomale, in which incident fifteen men were reported killed.

On 27 November 1813 the Clorinde departed Calcutta for Madras, and in February 1814 left the latter port for Point de Galle with three ships in convoy, and with Briggs being accompanied by his new wife. Sailing for England from Ceylon on 3 March, she reached the Cape on 2 May, St. Helena two weeks later, and on 2 June departed that island with the China convoy and the frigates Semiramis 36, Captain Charles Richardson, and Phoenix 36, Captain William Henry Webley. Shortly after arriving in the Downs on 5 August, she sailed for Sheerness to refit, whereupon Briggs left her.

At the end of September 1814, he was appointed to succeed Captain Adam Drummond aboard the Leviathan 74 after that vessel had arrived home from Jamaica. Embarking the eminent politician George Canning, who had been appointed the ambassador to Portugal, together with Canning’s family and secretary, she sailed from Portsmouth on 6 November but had to put into the Portland Roads days later due to adverse weather. Once back at sea, she then also had to seek shelter in Plymouth Sound. Eventually arriving at Lisbon on 28 November, the Leviathan was detained whilst Canning awaited the delivery of his furniture from England and a proper reception ashore could be arranged.

By February 1815 the Leviathan was at Cork under orders to take a convoy to Madeira and the West Indies, but with Napoleon returning to power in France she instead sailed for the Mediterranean in early April to join Admiral Lord Exmouth’s fleet. Following the end of the war, Briggs embarked Caroline, the Princess of Wales, at Genoa on 14 November, and after visiting Napoleon’s palace at Elba they arrived on 26 November at Palermo. Departing Sicily on 5 December, the Leviathan proceeded to Malta, by April 1816 she was with the fleet at Mahon, and she had arrived back at Portsmouth by the end of May to be paid off on 19 July.

Whilst out of employment, Briggs visited Paris in the winter of 1817, and following his return from France he attended Court in April 1818. On 18 May he was appointed the flag-captain to Admiral Sir George Campbell, the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth aboard the Queen Charlotte 100, and it was to the admiral’s house that Briggs fled with his wife and infant when his own house caught fire in December, leaving a nurse badly burned and a neighbour dead of apparent fright. During September 1819 he dined with the Prince Regent on the occasion of the royal’s visit to Portsmouth.

Briggs gave evidence at the trial of Quuen Caroline in 1820 which was considered to be honest, but favourable towards her

In August 1820 Briggs was called to the House of Lords to give evidence in a case against Queen Caroline in relation to an alleged loose relationship with a servant during 1815, when as the Princess of Wales she had sailed on the Leviathan from Genoa to Palermo. He earned praised for the plain and honest delivery of his disposition, which was seen as favourable to the Queen. In September he was one of a dozen officers invited to dine with the King on his visit to Portsmouth, and in October he was recalled to face further questions from the Attorney General in the House of Lords in the case against the Queen. Shortly afterwards, in February 1821, he relinquished the command of the Queen Charlotte at Portsmouth following the death of Admiral Campbell.

On 25 September 1823 Briggs and his family took passage from Portsmouth aboard the Glasgow 44, Captain Bentick Cavendish Doyle, to take up the position of resident commissioner at Bermuda, which island he reached on 16 October. His wife and four children returned home in October 1824 but then sailed out again in December 1825, and he remained in position until 1829, when he returned to Portsmouth with his family on 15 November aboard the transport Wanderer.

It had originally been reported that he would take up the position of commissioner at Sheerness in early 1829, but this appointment was then amended to that of commissioner at Malta. Prior to sailing for the Mediterranean, he visited Cheltenham in December, where he remained until the spring of 1830, and he was at Court in July. On 20 November he finally sailed from Portsmouth for Malta with his family aboard the Rainbow 28, Commander Sir John Franklin, although this vessel was detained for some time in Plymouth Sound awaiting orders, thereby requiring Briggs and his family to take lodgings ashore. On 16 December she eventually arrived at Gibraltar after a ten-day passage, and Briggs inspected the dockyard facilities on the Rock.

Having been placed on the retired list in 1830, Briggs was reinstated and promoted rear-admiral on 27 June 1832, being titled ‘Rear-Admiral Superintendent’ at Malta, and being allotted a flagship, the Ceylon 32, Lieutenant Herbert Schomberg. He temporarily commanded the Mediterranean station in 1833 following the death of Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Hotham, for which service he was awarded the G.C.M.G. in July, and he celebrated the bestowal of the honour by giving a grand ball to six hundred people. After hosting the Archduke Frederick of Austria to a visit in September 1837, he remained as superintendent of the Malta dockyard until 1838 when he returned to Portsmouth on 23 April with his flag flying aboard the Portland 50, Captain David Price.

He was further promoted vice-admiral on 23 November 1841, and whilst out of employment enjoyed his position as a leading member of society, visiting Buxton with his family in July 1844, attending a huge state ball given by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in May 1845, and joining further royal celebrations in May 1848 and April 1849.

Briggs was advanced to the rank of admiral on 2 September 1850, he attended another levee in March 1851, and from 13 September 1851 he served as the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth with his flag aboard the Victory 100, commanded by his son-in-law, Captain George Bohun Martin. This appointment entailed further royal duties, as when he took the steam vessel Sprightly across to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight to visit the Queen, and when he received her again in March 1852 for her conveyance to Osborne House.

Admiral Briggs died at Admiralty House, Portsmouth, after a short illness on 18 December 1852.

During 1814 in India, he married Isabella Harriet Trepaud, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Major-General Elisha Trepaud, with whom he had three sons, the eldest of whom, Lieutenant George Campbell Briggs, born in 1819, died of sunstroke in the East Indies on 1 April 1845. His only daughter, Isabella, married Captain George Bohun Martin.

Briggs was described as a kindly and hospitable man who was devoted to his profession, and who was to be seen every day at the dockyard during his shore-going appointments.