Sir Thomas Francis Fremantle

1765-1819. He was born on 20 November 1765, the third son of John Fremantle of Aston Abbots in Buckinghamshire, and of his wife, Frances Edwards. He was the elder brother of Sir William Fremantle, a prominent member of Lord Grenville’s party who served in the ‘Ministry of all the Talents’ in 1806. His three brothers all joined the Army.

In July 1777 Fremantle entered the Navy aboard the frigate Hussar 28, Captain Elliott Salter, serving off Portugal, and on 1 December 1779 he joined Captain Hyde Parker on the Phoenix 44, which vessel was wrecked on Cuba in the Great Hurricanes of October 1780. He remained in Jamaica after the crew had been rescued, joining the Ruby 64, Captain John Cowling, and removing with that officer to the Ramillies 74 in February 1781 and the Sandwich 90 in February 1782.

Still in the West Indies, he was commissioned lieutenant on 13 March 1782 and placed in command of the French-built brig Port Antonio 12 before moving three weeks later to the Vaughan 16, Commanders David Stow and Francis Pickmore. After nine months with this vessel he removed to the Tickler 12, which had the misfortune to be captured off the north coast of Cuba by the French Triton 64 on 1 April 1783 in the dying stages of the war. The crew were taken prisoner to Havana but were quickly exchanged, and upon returning to Jamaica Fremantle was able to obtain passage home aboard a merchantman.

Sir Thomas Francis Fremantle

His next appointment was to the Camilla 20, Captain John Hutt, in which he served for three years in the West Indies as her first lieutenant before he returned home in December 1787 to take up residence in London. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he briefly served upon the Brunswick 74 from May -October, again captained by Sir Hyde Parker.

On 3 November 1790 Fremantle was promoted commander for purposes of rank only to the Adventure 44, and at the end of March 1791 he recommissioned the fireship Spitfire 8 at Sheerness, which vessel was in the Downs in May prior to sailing for Spithead to join the Grand Fleet during the Russian Armament. The Spitfire returned to Sheerness at the end of August where she was paid off in September, and Fremantle thereafter lived in London for the next two years.

In February 1793, following the commencement of the French Revolutionary War, he was appointed to the fireship Conflagration 14, which vessel was ordered to be loaded with combustibles and prepared for Channel service, and which was ready to leave Portsmouth Harbour in April. However, on 16 May Fremantle was posted captain and he joined the Tartar 28, sailing with Vice-Admiral Lord Hood to the Mediterranean. On 27 May his new command assisted the Mermaid 32, Captain John Trigge, in the capture of the privateer Général Washington 20.

At the commencement of the occupation of Toulon in August 1793 Fremantle’s command led the Mediterranean fleet into the port, and during April 1794 she was attached to the force off Bastia during the Corsican campaign. On 1 June the Tartar departed Naples with a small convoy under the orders of Captain Augustus Montgomery of the Inconstant 36 to reach Smyrna on the last day of the month, during which voyage the Romney 50, Captain Hon. William Paget, captured the French frigate Sybille 40 at Mykonos. By the end of the year the Tartar was back with the fleet off Toulon.

Removing to the Inconstant 36 in March 1795, Fremantle greatly enhanced his reputation at the Battle of Genoa on 13-14 March by his handling of the Inconstant in co-operation with his sailing master John Fryer, formerly of the Bounty, enabling him to harry the Ca Ira 80 to such effect that her capture was effected by heavier ships. Ironically, at the end of the engagement the Inconstant was called upon to take in tow the Courageux 74, whose captain, Augustus Montgomery, had been Fremantle’s immediate predecessor aboard the frigate.

On 25 March he recaptured the brig Speedy which he sent into Leghorn, and in command of a small frigate squadron he then visited Algiers and voyaged to southern Greece in an unsuccessful search of three French frigates before returning to Corsica with a convoy. In July it was reported that he had taken two rich French prizes bound from Marseilles to Constantinople laden with gold and gifts for the Grand Seignor and Vizier, and these ships were estimated to be valued at about 250,000 guineas. He next assisted Captain Horatio Nelson off Genoa in support of the Austrian Army in the autumn of 1795.

Whilst cruising off Tunis in the spring of 1796, Fremantle learned that a French vessel had been seen off Cape Bon to the east of the Gulf of Tunis, and proceeding there on 20 April he ordered the corvette Unité 28 to strike to him, which she did without resorting to an engagement, although her crew attempted, unsuccessfully, to set her on fire. This prize was bought into the Navy as the Surprise. He then earned the praise of the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jervis, for his part in the evacuation of Leghorn following General Joachim Murat’s attack on 27 June, where amongst those whose rescue he supervised were his future wife, her parents and her four sisters. In the following month he served under Nelson at the capture of Elba in order to protect four thousand French royalists who had previously been landed on the island, and he remained in the Mediterranean as the senior officer when Jervis evacuated the fleet to the Tagus in the autumn, undertaking a mission to Algiers and convoy duty to Smyrna. In April 1797 he returned to Elba to evacuate the island in forty transports when it was deemed that its occupation was no longer necessary

Fremantle was appointed to the Seahorse 38 in July 1797 in succession to Captain George Oakes who was invalided home in the Inconstant. From 3 to 10 July he was involved in the skirmishes with the Spanish flotilla off Cadiz, being present in Nelson’s barge when a larger Spanish launch was fought off with heavy casualties to the enemy. He then served under Nelson in the unsuccessful raid on Santa Cruz, Tenerife from 21 to 25 July, receiving a serious wound in the upper part of his arm and returning home with the injured Nelson under the care of Mrs Fremantle, who had been aboard the Seahorse. Upon reaching Spithead on 1 September he took lodgings in Portsmouth where he continued to be unwell and bed-ridden for some weeks.

Being obliged to resign his command, Fremantle took up residence in Bolton Row, Piccadilly, and spent time sightseeing in London, yet he remained in constant pain as a partial consequence of the rudimentary skills of the Seahorse’s surgeon in initially attending to his wound. Eventually the Fremantles took a cottage at Purbrook near Portsmouth for a month, the rent for which was somewhat eased by the granting of a £200 pension. In 1798 they took a house in the village of Swanburn, Buckinghamshire, where Fremantle acted as the local squire, on one occasion even assisting in the quelling of a riot.

In August 1800 he returned to active duty when appointed to recommission the Ganges 74, joining the Channel Fleet in its cruise off Brest during October, but receiving a petty rebuke from the Admiralty which almost caused his commander-in-chief, Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent, to resign in protest. At the beginning of March 1801 the Ganges sailed from Portsmouth to join the fleet preparing to sail for the Baltic, and on 2 April, despite his misgivings over the aggressive approach to the Danes, Fremantle commanded her at the Battle of Copenhagen. At the commencement of the action he had to pilot the Ganges into battle himself after his sailing master had been killed and the pilot had lost an arm, and by its conclusion his ship had suffered casualties of seven men killed and one wounded. To Fremantle lay the responsibility after the battle of transferring his desperately wounded friend Captain Thomas Boulden Thompson, who had lost a leg, from the Bellona to the Isis. He was then sent by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker with despatches to St. Petersburg whilst Captain James Brisbane took the Ganges back to the Channel, and during a friendly visit he spent some time sightseeing.

In October 1801, having rejoined his command, Fremantle went out to the West Indies under the orders of Commodore William Essington, arriving at Jamaica at the end of November and with his crew enjoying surprisingly good health. The same could not be said for him however, and he was invalided home in January aboard the Ambuscade 36, Captain John Colville, along with Captain Thomas Foley.

During the peace he fought and lost the election for Aylesbury, whilst a long-running dispute with Lieutenant Henry Rice, who had accused him when captain of the Ganges of being un-gentlemanly, un-manly, base and dishonest, reached its conclusion with the trial of the junior officer in February 1803 on Fremantle’s prosecution for issuing a challenge to a duel. The judge found fault on both sides and advised Fremantle to be more temperate in future, but nevertheless fined Rice and imprisoned him for a month in the King’s Bench.

On the resumption of war in 1803 Fremantle rejoined the Ganges in July at his own request, initially serving with the Channel fleet off Brest and then sailing for Cork from Portsmouth with a body of troops in October. He was afterwards stationed on the Ferrol blockade, the tedium of which was somewhat relieved by his brewing of beer, and occasionally dining ashore with the French frigate captains. After returning from Spain in November 1804 the Ganges was paid off.

Fremantle replaced the ailing Captain Sir Thomas Williams aboard the Neptune 98 in May 1805, and he took her out of Plymouth with bullocks and supplies for the Channel Fleet off Brest that month. By the end of September he had joined the enlarged Mediterranean fleet under Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson off Cadiz, and he commanded the Neptune at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October where she was third in line behind the Victory. The Neptune’s gunnery helped subjugate the biggest ship in the world, the Santisima Trinidad 130, which she fought almost to the point of surrender, suffering ten men killed and thirty-four wounded in the process, but despite his best efforts Fremantle was unable to save the Spanish ship in the storm that followed, although he did secure the Victory 100 and tow her into Gibraltar.

Fremantle’s Neptune engages the mighty Santisima Trinidad at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Thereafter continuing to serve without event in the Mediterranean Fleet, the Neptune arrived home in October 1806, and after a short period of quarantine Fremantle travelled up to the Admiralty with dispatches from the commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood.

In December 1806 he took up a position as a lord of the Admiralty and was returned as the M.P. for Sandwich at the instigation of the Grenville faction, his brother taking up a post in the same administration as a junior secretary to the Treasury. Fremantle relinquished this post on the fall of the ministry in March 1807 to take command of the William and Mary yacht, a posting he held until his elevation to the rank of rear-admiral on 31 July 1810. During this period he lived ashore at Sandbourne with his devoted family, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law at Oxford.

In August 1810 Fremantle was presented to the King on being appointed to a command in the Mediterranean at Palermo, going out in early September aboard the Fortunée 36, Captain Henry Vansittart, and transferring his flag to the Ville de Paris 110, Captain Francis Beaufort, pending the arrival of Captain George John Honey. In the summer of 1811 he was aboard the Rodney 74, Captain John Duff Markland, and whilst with the Mediterranean fleet he took part in the skirmishes with the Toulon fleet between July and November.

In June 1812 he arrived at Malta to take on troops for service in the Adriatic where he became the senior officer with his flag aboard the Milford 74, Captain Markland, capturing Fiume and Trieste during a campaign from January to October 1813. Upon Captain Markland’s return home with dispatches in the autumn the command of the Milford passed to Captain Westby Percival. Unfortunately, despite making a fortune in prize-money, Fremantle was to squabble repeatedly with his subordinate commander, the energetic Captain Sir William Hoste, and he demonstrated few of the admirable characteristics which had been his when he too was a captain.

On 2 January 1815 he was nominated a K.C.B. and having returned home he briefly held the command of the Channel Islands station from May with his flag in the Wye 24, Captain Andrew Green during Napoleon’s return to power.

In 1817, having previously been honoured with the equivalent of a knighthood by the Emperor of Austria in 1814, Fremantle became a Baron of the Austrian Provinces in Germany for his capture of the strategic bases on the Dalmatian, Croatian, Istrian and Friulian coasts during the Adriatic campaign of 1812-14. In April 1818 it was announced that he had been appointed the commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean with his headquarters in Italy, and on 4 March 1819, having resided for some time in Florence, he raised his flag aboard the Rochefort 74, Captain Andrew Green, which had arrived at Leghorn after a stormy passage, and he sailed for Malta to relieve Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Penrose. On 20 February of the same year he was nominated a G.C.B.

Fremantle was further advanced to vice-admiral on 12 August 1819, but he died of an inflammation of the bowels after a two-day illness in Naples on 19 December. He was given a state funeral in the city with a cortege numbering some sixty carriages, and he was later buried in the Upper Barracca Gardens in Valetta, Malta. His flagship returned to Portsmouth with Lady Fremantle and family in March 1820.

He married the heiress Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Wynne, of Falkingham in Lincolnshire on 12 January 1797, who at the time of their meeting had been living in Italy for many years with her parents and four sisters. She was small and petite in stature if not character, and after living to a grand old age she died on 2 November 1857. They had six sons and four daughters, the eldest son of whom, Thomas, became a baronet in honour of his father’s services in 1821, being raised to the peerage as Lord Cottesloe in 1874 after political service. The second son, Sir Charles Howe Fremantle, was born on 1 June 1800, entered the navy in 1812, and was posted captain in 1826. He later served as an admiral in the Crimean war and as the commander-in-chief at Plymouth, and the port of Fremantle in Australia was named after him. The youngest son Stephen, born on 30 August 1810, entered the service in 1823 and was posted captain in 1842. Fremantle’s patron, the Duke of Buckingham, was a godfather to one son, as was Sir Hyde Parker to another son, and Fremantle showed much loyalty to this officer. His wife’s father was a close friend of Hon. George Grey, Admiral Earl of St. Vincent’s flag captain

Fremantle was stocky with a round face and fiery dark eyes. In his younger days he possessed a lively and charming character, but with age came intolerance and a short temper, together with a tendency not to suffer fools gladly, although conversely he could not tolerate Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood’s apparent severity and reserve. He was popular and a good officer, and was determined and aggressive in pursuing his duty. His ships were renowned for their expertise in gunnery and he had the reputation of being an innovative and keen disciplinarian. He was nevertheless devoted to his children and wept openly when having to leave them to return to sea. A devotee to red wine, he also cared greatly for a Spanish pug dog, Nympha, which came into his possession during the Battle of Trafalgar. He did not speak in Parliament, and in contemporary publications his name was often spelt ‘Freemantle’.