Sir Thomas Pye
1711?- 85. Of aristocratic stock, he was the second son of Henry Pye of Faringdon, Berkshire, from his second marriage to Anne, sister of the first Earl Bathurst. His grandfather was Robert Pye, a Civil War parliamentarian, and he was the uncle of the poet laureate, Henry James Pye.
Thomas Pye entered the navy as a volunteer aboard the Lark 40, Captain John Gray, in May 1727, serving initially in the West Indies and the Mediterranean with this vessel before seeing further duty in the Torrington 40, Captain Robert Fytche, and Rose 20 Captain Charles Cotterell. He passed for lieutenant on 12 June 1734 and was promoted to that rank aboard the Preston 50 with Captain Cotterell on 18 April 1735. Thereafter he moved with Cotterell to the Rippon 60, going out to Portugal before being paid off in My 1737. He then served successively from 1739 in the Bristol 50, Captain William Chambers, from 1740 in the Elizabeth 70, Captain Edward Falkingham, in the Channel and Mediterranean, and then the Warwick 60, Captain John Toller, in the Mediterranean.
On 13 April 1741 Pye was posted captain and was ordered to commission the new Seaford 20 for service in home waters and the Bay of Biscay, which vessel was captured by the French off Portugal on 16 June 1744. After being exchanged he joined the Norfolk 80 in August 1744, serving in the Mediterranean where he performed such excellent service in the Adriatic disrupting supplies to the Spanish Army in Italy that the King congratulated him. He returned home four years later on the cessation of hostilities.
Continuing in peacetime employment through the good officers of his connections, Pye joined the Norwich 50, in which he sailed for North America. He next commissioned the new Humber 44 in April 1749, going out to West Africa in 1750, and in April 1751 the Gosport 44, voyaging to Nova Scotia two months later.
In February 1752 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands with his broad pennant aboard the Advice 50, but in October 1755 he was superseded by Commodore Thomas Frankland who promptly suspended him on the 18th for continuing to fly his broad pennant. Pye was sent home with charges of ‘fraud, peculation and neglect of duty’ hanging over him, but on reaching England was informed by the Admiralty that he should have remained on station to sit a court-martial, and that by implication his coming home was a sign of guilt. Distrusting Frankland’s influence in the Leeward Islands Pye waited for a court martial in home waters, which he eventually faced from 1-4 March 1758. He was acquitted of the major charges against him but was found guilty of carelessness. His political connections may have saved him from dismissal, but it was to be a long time before he was trusted with another appointment, and tellingly his time on the beach was during the course of the Seven Years War. In accordance with seniority he was promoted rear-admiral on 8 July 1758.
In June 1763 Pye was appointed commander-in-chief at Plymouth with his flag in the Kent 74, Captain Edward Vernon, and on 21 October 1762 was promoted vice-admiral. From 1766-9 he was once more commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands with his flag initially aboard the Lark 32 and from 1767 the Chatham 50, both commanded by Captain Charles Buckner. From 1771-4 he was commander-in-chief at Portsmouth with his flag on the newly commissioned Royal Oak 74, Captain George Balfour, and then the Barfleur 98, Captain Edward Vernon. On 24 June 1773 he was knighted on the quarterdeck of his flagship Barfleur by the king, who dined aboard that evening, and he was also immediately advanced to the rank of admiral.
From May 1777 until March 1783 he was once more commander-in-chief at Portsmouth with his flag initially the Barfleur 90, Captain Mark Milbanke, and where he presided over the controversial court-martial on Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel following the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778, despite his attempts to avoid this unwelcome duty by pleading ill-health. As the political controversy raged he was not required to sit on the court-martial of Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser as the Government, being anxious to ensure a not-guilty verdict, installed their own man.
In late 1780 Pye was prevailed upon by Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington to take command of the Channel fleet in his stead following Admiral Francis Geary’s resignation and Barrington’s falling out with the administration. In the meantime, on 26 September 1780, he was made lieutenant-general of marines.His tenure finished in difficult circumstances when in March 1783 the seamen at Portsmouth reacted with mutinous behaviour to the delay in being paid off.
Admiral Pye died at his residence in Suffolk Street, London on 26 December 1785, his wife having predeceased him by twenty-three years. He had no legitimate issue.
An awkward, ungainly man, his men knew Pye as ‘Nosey’ in deference to his most outstanding facial feature. Notwithstanding his appearance he considered himself a ladies man and had a notorious reputation with regard to his private life. One notable mistress, the married novelist Anna Bennett, bore him two children, one of whom, Harriet Pye Bennett, became a renowned actress. He had little ability, was considered ‘inept’, a subject of ridicule and contempt, and rose to the rank of admiral solely on the influence of the Bathurst family. Pye was fully aware of his social limitations, blaming a life at sea from the age of 14 for his lack of a rounded education which was well illustrated by his appalling spelling and grammar.
He was MP for Rochester in the government interest from 1771-4 but was unseated by an electorate who clearly despised him.