Sir Thomas Byam Martin

1773-1854. He was born on 25 July 1773 at Ashtead House, Surrey, the third surviving son of Captain Sir Henry Martin, who died in 1794 having been commissioner of Portsmouth dockyard from 1780-90, and the M.P. for Southampton and influential Comptroller of the Navy from 1790 until his death. Sir Thomas Byam Martin’s mother, Eliza Anne Parker, was the widow of St. Ledger Hayward Gillman, and was originally from Cork, one of his uncles had been the Governor of Carolina, another served as joint-secretary to the Treasury, and one of his cousins became the governor of Amboyna.

Educated at Freshford near Bath, Southampton Grammar School and Guildford, Martin was entered to the ship’s books of the Canada 74, Captain Hon. William Cornwallis, in 1780, the Foudroyant 80, Captain Sir John Jervis, from 1782, and the Orpheus 32, Captain George Campbell, from 1783.

Sir Thomas Byam Martin

In August 1785 he entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth, and in April 1786 first went to sea as a captain’s servant aboard the Pegasus 28 commanded by HRH Prince William, who had been steered away from a potentially damaging relationship with Martin’s sister. After seeing service off North America, Newfoundland and the West Indies Martin followed the Prince with the rest of the Pegasus’ crew to the Andromeda 32 in March 1788, seeing service in the Channel, the West Indies and North America.

After the Andromeda was paid off in the summer of 1789 Martin served for four months aboard the Portsmouth guardship Colossus 74, Captain Hugh Cloberry Christian, and from November was employed on the Southampton 32, Captain Richard Keats. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he was aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Robert Calder, and the Royal George 100, Captain Thomas Pringle, both being flagships of Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington. He was commissioned lieutenant on 22 October aboard the Canada 74, Captain Lord Hugh Seymour, who was succeeded by Captain Erasmus Gower after being injured in an accident, but this was but a brief employment of several weeks. He saw further Channel service over the next two years with the Inconstant 36, Captain George Wilson, and the Juno 32, Captain Sam Hood.

On 22 May 1793 Martin was promoted commander and appointed to the sloop Tisiphone 18, which had previously been a fireship, taking her out to the Mediterranean with Vice-Admiral Lord Hood’s fleet. In July Hood despatched him under the orders of Captain George Lumsdaine of the Iris 32 on a somewhat vague mission to Tripoli and Tunis which involved the delivery of dispatches and presents to the relative consuls and local potentates. Having discovered a French squadron within the harbour at Tunis the squadron withdrew, however, on returning to the fleet Lumsdaine was brought to a court martial by Hood for having failed to allow the French to seize the Tisiphone, which outrage would have allowed the British to attack all French shipping on the African coast.

Thereafter Martin served at the occupation of Toulon from August 1793, and on 5 November he was posted captain by Hood to the frigate Modeste 36, which had been captured from the French off Genoa one month earlier. He soon earned praise for safely escorting a convoy from Gibraltar to the fleet after the French made a sortie against it, and he subsequently joined the force which in February 1794 began the campaign to take Corsica. The Modeste eventually returned to England in convoy under the orders of Commodore Hon. John Rodney in December.

In early 1795 he assumed the acting command of the Artois 38 for Captain Edmund Nagle and joined Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren’s raiding squadron in the Channel. During his brief period with this vessel prior to returning to Plymouth in March he chased the French frigate Néréide 32 into the Basque Road where he assisted the Pomone 44, Commodore Warren, and Galatea 32, Captain Richard Keats, bring out part of a convoy.

Martin was next appointed to the twelve-pounder frigate Santa Margaretta 36, sailing under the orders of Rear-Admiral John Colpoys from Portsmouth on 17 March 1795 for the Channel, and capturing the corvette Jean Bart 18 with the assistance of the Cerberus 32, Captain John Drew, twelve days later. He then departed for Cork to serve under Vice-Admiral Robert Kingsmill where he cruised off Ireland with the Polyphemus 64, Captain Lumsdaine. On 24 September he was in company with the Polyphemus when they recaptured a homeward-bound merchantman from Jamaica, and both vessels then spent some time in the expected track of the Jamaica fleet to protect it from a French squadron that had been sent out to intercept it.

At the end of April 1796 Martin escorted a convoy out of the River Shannon for the Downs, and on 8 June, whilst in company with the Unicorn 32, Captain Thomas Williams, he captured the crack French frigate Tamise 36 off the Scilly Isles, which vessel had previously been the British Thames. In the same engagement the Unicorn took the French frigate Tribune 44. Later that month, he sailed north to the River Clyde to take custody of the Dutch frigate Jason 36, whose crew had mutinied, and in company with the sloop Penguin 16, Commander John King Pulling, he escorted her to Cork and from there to Plymouth where she was added to the Navy as the Proselyte 32. In July he captured a Guernsey smuggling vessel that was sent into Plymouth, and by the end of August he was back at Cork. He had further success when he took the French privateers Buonaparte 16 and Vengeur 18 on 24 and 25 October respectively between Cape Clear and the Scilly Islands.

In December 1796 Martin was appointed to the new fir-built frigate Tamar 38, which against his better judgement sailed for Jamaica from Portsmouth in the following February with a convoy and a crew of whom he disapproved. Nevertheless, once in the West Indies he enjoyed great success against the enemy privateers, capturing nine of them with a total firepower of fifty-eight cannon, and being rewarded by the islands of Barbados, Antigua and Martinique. He was also involved in Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey’s aborted attack on Puerto Rico in April 1797.

After exchanging with Captain Thomas Western, Martin departed the Leeward Islands on 5 November 1797 in command of the Dictator 64 with a convoy in order to return to England for the benefit of his health. At the beginning of January 1798, the Dictator left Portsmouth for Plymouth with a convoy, and in June she collected troops from Portsmouth which were originally destined for Ireland, but were then disembarked at Plymouth on the last day of that month.

In August 1798 Martin was appointed to the Fisgard 38, which as the experimental Resistance 42 had been captured from the French a year previously, and on 20 October he brilliantly captured the Immortalité 42 off Brest, which frigate had survived the Battle of Tory Island on 12 October. During the engagement his crew suffered casualties of ten men killed and twenty-six wounded, and his command incurred a great degree of damage. Surprisingly, Martin’s exceptional achievement in having captured a second French frigate when commanding crews that could only be described as raw and frigates that were old, worn and in need of constant attention, did not see him invested with any honour, although he did receive awards from the cities of London, Plymouth, and Exeter.

On 30 June 1799 the Fisgard arrived back at Plymouth after a cruise on the coast of Spain where she had sunk two vessels from a convoy which had sought sanctuary under the guns of a fort. She was later employed off Brest before returning to Plymouth with a frigate squadron in early November. Going out once more, she helped rescue men from the Ethalion 38, Captain John Clarke Searle, after that frigate had gone aground on the Saintes near Brest on 25 December,

Coming out of Plymouth dock in early February 1800, the Fisgard continued to send prizes into that port, and amongst her many captures was the corvette Dragon 14 on 5 May when in company with the Cambrian 40, Captain Arthur Kaye Legge. Next joining Commodore Sir Edward Pellew’s expedition to Quiberon Bay in June, Martin commanded a daring attack in the Quimper River on the 23rd of that month where three batteries were destroyed, and on 1 July he organised the destruction of the Terese 20 and some twenty other vessels near Noirmoutier island, although during this escapade nearly a hundred men, including two from his own command, were taken prisoner. Further captures were the privateers Gironde 16 on 7 July and Alerte 14 in August, whilst his boats also undertook a number of cutting-out expeditions. On 30 September the Fisgard took the Spanish brig Vivo 14 which was two days out of Ferrol, and she was also present at the capture of the French frigate Venus 32 when in company with the Indefatigable 44, Captain Henry Curzon, on 22 October 1800 in the Bay of Biscay. On this occasion the enemy frigate, which was bound from Brest to Senegal, submitted without offering any resistance.

In February 1801 the Fisgard returned to Plymouth having survived a potential shipwreck on the Saintes by what was termed ‘good management’ and a fortunate shift in the wind. Continuing with the Channel Fleet, and frequently escorting victuallers to the vessels at sea, she went out of the Devonshire port with a squadron commanded by Admiral Sir Henry Harvey in March, and at the end of April came under fire from the French batteries when closing towards Brest with Admiral Hon William Cornwallis in order to count the French fleet. In the latter part of the summer Martin commanded a squadron of frigates off Corunna where his squadron’s boats cut out the Neptuno 20 on 20 August, and he later enjoyed a five-week cruise off Brest and Rochefort. Eventually, on 26 October, Martin vacated the command of the Fisgard in favour of Captain Michael Seymour, his resignation reportedly being on the grounds of his health.

In May 1803, on the resumption of hostilities with France, Martin recommissioned the Impétueux 80 at Plymouth for service with the Channel fleet, and as before he was frequently required to return home through poor weather conditions or to replenish, as in August when he took on board twenty live oxen at Plymouth for the fleet. Service with Commodore Sir Edward Pellew’s squadron off Ferrol followed before he departed that force on 15 November for Plymouth, and he then remained in Cawsand Bay for some time. Towards the end of the month it was reported that the Impétueux’s masts had been sprung and her quarterdeck flooded during a severe gale, and that one officer had even been washed out of his cot. Her troubles with the bad weather continued into January 1804 when after putting to sea to join the Channel fleet she was driven back within twenty-four hours, and at the end of that month she sprung her bowsprit in another storm.

Continuing to serve with the Channel Fleet off Brest and with the Inshore Squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, the boats of the Impétueux assisted the survivors of the wreck of the Magnificent 74, Captain William Henry Jervis Ricketts, when that vessel struck an uncharted reef near the Black Rocks on 25 March 1804, although some of Martin’s crew were amongst the eighty-six men who were unfortunately taken prisoner when their boats were blown ashore. Martin later performed a similar service during the wreck of the Venerable 74, Captain John Hunter, at Torbay on 24 November, earning great praise for his efforts.

In December 1804 the Impétueux went into Plymouth to refit, and from January to April 1805 Martin remained on sick leave at Cheltenham with Captain John Erskine Douglas temporarily replacing him at his behest, but resorting to far greater levels of discipline than Martin had hitherto enforced. He briefly returned to command the Impétueux in the Channel Fleet before returning to Plymouth at the end of September, whereupon Captain John Lawford acted for him prior to his leaving his command for good on 22 December 1805, presumably on account of his poor health.

In May 1807, after nearly eighteen months ashore, Martin was appointed to the Prince of Wales 98, taking passage to join her off Rochefort at the beginning of June in the Hibernia 110, Captain John Conn, and with the intention of hoisting the flag of Rear-Admiral Hon. Michael de Courcy. However, on 22 July, much to his outrage, Martin learned that he had been superseded on the Prince of Wales as she had been nominated to replace the London 98 as the flagship of Admiral Sir James Gambier for the Copenhagen Expedition, and that an officer who was his junior, Sir Home Riggs Popham, had been appointed as the captain of that fleet. He spent the next few months in high dudgeon at the ill treatment he believed he had received from the Admiralty.

The destruction of the Russian sail of the line Sewolod.

Towards the end of November 1807 Martin was appointed to the Implacable 74, which as the Duguay-Trouin had been captured on 4 November 1805 by Commodore Sir Richard Strachan’s squadron. After recommissioning her at Plymouth during the early months of 1808 he sailed at the end of March to join the Baltic Fleet, and a month later was stationed off Helsingborg. On 24 August, whilst under the orders of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood and being attached to the Swedish fleet in the Baltic, he forced the Russian Sewolod 74 to succumb in half an hour, whereupon she drove aground and surrendered. However, before he could take any further action he was recalled by Hood due to the proximity of the Russian fleet. During the engagement the Implacable suffered casualties of six men killed and twenty-six wounded. The Sewolod was run down by Hood and destroyed a couple of days later, and for his part in the action Martin received the Swedish Grand Cross of the Order of the Sword. He was subsequently sent home to England with Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez’ dispatches and reached London on 14 November.

Returning to the Implacable in March 1809, Martin resumed service in the Baltic where he was ordered to attack the Russian trade off Finland, and where he inflicted much destruction on the shipping coming out of St. Petersburg. On 7 July he directed a boat attack which captured nine merchantmen in the Gulf of Narva, but seventeen men were killed and thirty-seven wounded in this escapade which was commanded by a lieutenant, and the high level of casualties led to the receipt of a note of displeasure from Saumarez. The Implacable arrived back at Torbay on 22 November, prior to going around to Plymouth to be docked and refitted, and early in 1810 Martin retired ashore with the command of the Implacable passing to Captain George Cockburn.

In August 1810 he was presented to the King upon being appointed to the yacht Royal Sovereign, and on 1 August 1811 he was promoted rear-admiral, whereupon he gave up the command of the yacht. In January 1812 it was announced that he was to be appointed the second-in-command at Plymouth, but in April, with his flag flying on the Aboukir 74, Captain Thomas Browne, and having failed in his request for a Channel fleet appointment, he sailed to join the Baltic Fleet once more. Here he spent two months from July in assisting the Russian army defend Riga against the French led by Marshal Etienne Jacques Joseph Alexandre Macdonald, and after taking Russian vessels under his command he threatened the French base at Danzig with the result that Marshal Nicolas Charles Oudinot’s siege train was unable to leave that port for Riga before the winter. He was rewarded for his efforts in the successful defence of Riga by the Tsar and was later personally thanked by that monarch on the occasion of his visit to Portsmouth.

By the middle of November 1812 the Aboukir had returned to Portsmouth, allowing Martin to assume the duties of second in command at Plymouth with his flag in the Prince Frederick 64, Commander Thomas Saunders Grove. In September 1813 he departed the Devonshire port aboard the Creole 38, Captain Robert Forbes, to visit San Sebastian in northern Spain in order to liaise with the Marquis of Wellington, returning later that month to Falmouth and immediately setting off for London with dispatches.

In July 1814, following Napoleon’s abdication and peace with France, he departed Harwich for Helvoetsluys aboard the sloop Griffin 16, Commander George Hewson, with Sir George Wood of the Royal Artillery and the surveyor of the Navy, Joseph Tucker, in order to superintend the distribution of the French fleet and naval stores at Antwerp. Having returned to London at the end of August he rejoined the Prince Frederick at Plymouth, and in October he took on the temporary command of the station in the absence of the sickly Vice-Admiral William Domett, flying his flag aboard the Impregnable 98, Captain Robert Hall, until superseded by Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth in January 1815. Thereafter he flew his flag aboard the newly commissioned prison ship Ganges 74, Lieutenant James Spratt, at Plymouth.

Martin was a lifelong freind of King william IV

Although it has been stated that Martin was knighted in 1814 this appears to be erroneous and is probably due to confusion with his namesake, Vice-Admiral Sir George Martin. He was however created a K.C.B. on 2 January 1815, and on 4 April arrived at Deal from Plymouth aboard the Akbar 50, Captain Charles Bullen, prior to sailing for the Schelde where it was intended he command a fleet co-operating with the Duke of Wellington. Within three weeks he had returned to England, whereupon he sailed for Plymouth once more and re-hoisted his flag aboard the Ganges, being in the Devonshire port at the time of Napoleon’s second abdication in June. He was subsequently invested with his knighthood by the Prince Regent in late November, and in December was appointed deputy comptroller of the navy in succession to Captain William Shield.

On 9 February 1816 Martin was appointed comptroller of the navy in succession to Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Thompson, being responsible for the reduction of the war-time fleet to a peacetime standing. He served as the M.P. for Plymouth from 1818-31, initially sitting in the Admiralty interest, and became a vice-admiral on 12 August 1819, was nominated a G.C.B. on 3 March 1830, and promoted admiral on 22 July 1830. He was replaced as comptroller by Rear-Admiral Hon. George Heneage Dundas in 1831 as a result of his opposition to the new government presided over by Earl Grey.

In 1833 Martin declined the Mediterranean command due to his wife’s ill health and also because of his mistrust of the government. In 1847 he joined Admirals Sir James Alexander Gordon, Sir William Gage, and Hon. Sir Thomas Bladen Capel on a committee to decide which of the Napoleonic actions should qualify for gold medals, and he became admiral of the fleet on 13 October 1849. During this period, he also officiated at the funerals of King George IV and King William IV. On the approach of the Crimean War in 1853 he returned to Portsmouth where he chaired a committee that rejected the use of poison gas weapons, as had been advocated by Admiral the Earl of Dundonald.

On 25 October 1854 Martin died at the official residence of his son, the Admiral Superintendent’s House at Portsmouth, and he was buried in the family vault at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

On 9 August 1798 he married Catherine Fanshawe, one of nine daughters of Captain Robert Fanshawe, the resident commissioner at Plymouth dockyard, and as a consequence he became a brother-in-law to Admirals William Bedford, Sir John Chambers White, and the Hon. Robert Stopford, as well as to Admiral Sir Arthur Fanshawe and Captain Robert Fanshawe. The couple had three daughters and three sons, the two elder of whom, Sir William Fanshawe Martin and Sir Henry Byam Martin, became admirals, whilst the third, Robert Fanshawe Martin, died as a lieutenant-colonel in India on 13 July 1846. His brother-in-law, Arthur Fanshawe, acted as his flag-lieutenant for some time at Plymouth. On his father’s death in 1794 he inherited £3,000, being the equivalent to over a quarter of a million pounds in today’s money. His address was given as Somerset Place, Middlesex, and later as 53 Wimpole Street, and he owned an estate at Grovewich, near Wantage in Berkshire

As a youngster Martin fought regularly with his friend, Prince William, whose considerable influence, in addition to that of Martin’s family, helped his career prosper. When a junior officer he looked far younger than his actual age, which given his early rise could have been problematical, and he took many years to conquer seasickness. Although not blessed with any greater ability than his contemporaries he was a popular, diligent, and hard-working officer who was of an easy nature and adored by his men. In his early days he was a protégé of Captain Sam Hood, whilst Admiral Sir John Colpoys was a family friend.

Martin was considered an excellent fit to fill the civil post of comptroller, being diligent and with a shrewd business acumen. His tenure was the second longest in the post. A Tory by persuasion who detested the Whiggish Admiral Earl of St. Vincent, he was not a willing M.P. at first, but was obliged to sit in parliament as comptroller by the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool. His father-in-law was a powerful force in Plymouth politics, so given his family history and his marriage Martin was always destined for a political role.