Sir William Young

1751-1821. Born on 16 August 1751, he was the son of Admiral James Young and of his wife, Elizabeth Bolton, who died in his childhood having also had issue four daughters. His father later married Sophia Vasmer, with whom he had a daughter and another son, the future Vice-Admiral James Young.

In April 1761 Young entered as a cabin servant aboard the Guernsey 50, Captain James Smith, before transferring to the Wasp 8 in which he served under several different commanders until December 1762. He returned to the Guernsey in October 1764, which by now was under the command of Captain Hugh Palliser, the commander and chief and lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland.

After passing his lieutenant’s examination on 10 January 1769 he was commissioned lieutenant on 12 November 1770 and joined the Plymouth-based sloop Nautilus 16, Commander James Howell Jones. In May of the following year he was appointed to the Trident 64, Captain Charles Ellys, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Sir Peter Denis in the Mediterranean.

A rather unflattering caricature of Admiral Sir William Young

In 1775 Young joined the Portland 50, flagship in the Leeward Islands of his father, Vice-Admiral James Young, and on 10 May 1777, having reached the position of first lieutenant, he was promoted commander of the sloop Snake 16, a French vessel recently captured by the Seaford 20, Captain John Colpoys.

On 23 September 1778 he was posted captain of the modest frigate Hind 28, serving on the North American, Newfoundland and Channel stations and capturing the American privateers Harlequin 16 on 17 June 1780, Eagle and Hope on 22 July, and Macaroni 14. This frigate was paid off in March 1782 and two months later he joined the Ambuscade 32, serving in the Downs until April 1783 and taking the French privateers Petits Gens de Armes and Commander de Dunkerque in his first month, and Middlebourg 13 a month later.

During the Dutch Armament of October – December 1787 he commanded the Perseverance 36, and in the Spanish Armament of 1790 he commissioned the Crescent 36 in May before being paid off in the winter once the dispute had been settled

At the commencement of the French Revolutionary War Young was appointed to the Fortitude 74 in early 1793, and he went out to the Mediterranean with the fleet in May, being employed at the occupation of Toulon from August and in the Corsican campaign from February 1794. Whilst on detached duty under Commodore Robert Linzee he made an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the Martello Tower on the north-west coast of Corsica, his ship being plied with red-hot fire and receiving casualties of six men killed and fifty-six wounded. Such was the impression gained by the strength of the tower that several were later built around the south coast of England as a line of defence against any possible French invasion.

On 4 July 1794 he was nominated a colonel of marines, and continuing in the Mediterranean he was present at Admiral William Hotham’s actions with the French at the Battle of Genoa on 11-14 March, the Fortitude suffering casualties of one man killed and four wounded, and at the Battle of Hyéres on 13 July. In the meantime he had been promoted rear-admiral on 1 June 1795 and once this news was received he returned to England

From November 1795 until February 1801 Young was a junior naval lord of the Admiralty to the first lord, Earl Spencer. In this capacity he took part in the negotiations with the seamen’s delegates after the Spithead Mutiny had broken out on 16 April 1797, but he disapproved of Admiral Lord Howe’s placation of the men and the removal of officers. This disapproval was set at nought in comparison to his outright objections against Commodore Home Riggs Popham’s controversial combined operation with the Army to destroy Ostend on 19 May 1798, a mission that in general was doomed to failure by the Admiralty’s scepticism and lack of support. During his period in office Young brought the wrath of Admiral the Earl of St Vincent down upon his head for having written a disciplinary letter to the exemplary Captain Thomas Foley, which was described as ‘mixing gall in ink’. Unsurprisingly Young, who had been promoted vice-admiral on 14 February 1799, left his post when St. Vincent became first lord of the Admiralty in 1801, and he was to remain out of employment for the next three years.

With St. Vincent’s departure from the Admiralty and the return to office of William Pitt’s government in May 1804, Young was immediately installed as the commander-in-chief at Plymouth in succession to Admiral Sir John Colpoys when that officer joined the Board of Admiralty. During his six year tenure in the post he flew his flag aboard the Salvador Del Mundo 112, commanded by Captain John Dilkes until October 1804, followed by Captain John Cooke until May 1805, who was succeeded by Captain John Loring, and from 1807 by Captain Thomas Wolley.

On 9 November 1805 Young was promoted admiral, but in the same year he courted more controversy when he was accused of being excessively greedy by Captain Lord Cochrane. Apparently against the traditions of the service, he had by copying out direct Admiralty orders entitled himself to fifty per cent of the seventy-five thousand guineas Cochrane had taken in prize-money whilst cruising in the Atlantic. Young retaliated to this criticism by ordering Cochrane out to sea when his command, the frigate Impérieuse 38, was clearly unfit to leave port, a vindictive instruction which could easily have killed the entire crew.

Young was a favourite of the Pittie faction in Parliament and was a personal friend of the first lord of the Admiralty in the 1790’s, Earl Spencer

In March 1807 Young travelled from Plymouth to preside over the court-martial into the conduct of another of his bête noire’s, Commodore Home Riggs Popham, on board the Gladiator 44 at Portsmouth following that officer’s controversial decision to attack and capture Buenos-Aires in June 1806. Many believed his appointment to the presidency was because the Admiralty required a stooge who would ensure that the establishment’s favoured guilty verdict was achieved. In July he visited the Admiralty where he apparently refused the command of the Copenhagen expedition, which instead was given to another Admiralty favourite, Admiral James Gambier, who then subsequently forced the surrender of the Danish capital on 7 September. There was also some speculation at this time that Young would resume his seat on the Board of Admiralty, and that he would resign his Plymouth command due to ill health, but in the event neither happened and by the beginning of August he was back at his post in Devon.

Following the inconclusive Battle of the Basque Roads on 11 April 1809 Young was a member of the panel that sat on Admiral Lord Gambier’s court martial, and once again he upset Lord Cochrane with his apparently biased attitude towards the defendant, and where he was prominent in the bullying and silencing of witnesses. In June 1810 Admiral Sir Robert Calder succeeded him at Plymouth, and although it was reported that Young was expected to take up the command of the Channel Fleet he was to be disappointed in that wish.

From the early months of 1811 until the peace of 1814 Young was the commander-in-chief in the North Sea with his flag in the Downs aboard the Christian VII 80, Captain Edward Griffith Colpoys, and with Rear-Admiral William Bedford becoming his captain of the fleet in 1812. He commanded a fleet of thirteen sail of the line in 1811 off the Schelde whilst blockading fifteen commanded by Vice-Admiral Eduoard Missiessy, although he returned home in October as it was clear the French were unable to man their vessels. At the beginning of 1812 he left for London on leave with Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan acting in his stead, and during this period he threatened to resign on not being appointed to succeed the late Admiral Sir Charles Cotton in the Channel, the post instead being given to Admiral Lord Keith. Resuming his command at the end of April, he raised his flag aboard the Impregnable 98, which had been fitted out at Portsmouth by Captain George Mackenzie, and which was commanded from 1813-14 Captain John Wentworth Loring. During 1814 his fleet was based in the Texel where it was subjected to a series of fire-raft attacks.

Young was nominated a K.C.B. in July 1814 and a G.C.B. on 2 January 1815. He died in Queen Anne Street, London on 25 October 1821 after a short illness, although he had been in poor health for several years.

A short little man who appeared to antagonise more people than most and to press his own interests relentlessly, Young’s difficult character could well be gauged by his comment to the effect that Captain Sir William Sidney Smith had deserved to be captured in 1796 because of his impudence. Detractors, of whom there were many, knew him as ‘Billy Young’ and viewed him as an establishment reactionary who was somewhat cunning and loathing of the new breed of sea-officer. Nevertheless, during his time at the Admiralty he made every effort to improve the conditions of the seamen, and at the time of his death he was the deputy president of the Naval Charitable Society. Admiral Sir William Hotham was to describe him as diligent, clear-thinking and well informed, and of a formal manner with a high degree of integrity. His many senior appointments were reflective of the fact that he was a favourite of the Pittite faction, and their favouritism towards him could be evidenced by the time he spent with Lord Spencer in his country seat at Althorp, Northamptonshire at the beginning of 1802.