William Bedford

1764-1827. He was born in March 1764 and was probably a younger son of William Bedford and of his wife, Dorothea Kempe.

Bedford was given a lieutenant’s commission on 12 September 1781, and from April 1783 until April 1786 served aboard the Plymouth guardship Crown 64, Captain Samuel Reeve. During the Dutch Armament from July-October 1787 he was a lieutenant aboard the Edgar 74, Captain Charles Thompson, and in the Russian Armament of 1791 he served on the Formidable 90, Captain Henry Nicholls, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Hon. John Leveson-Gower.

By the summer of 1794 he was the first lieutenant of the Queen 98, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Alan Gardner in the Channel, and he commanded her at the Battle of the Glorious First of June after her captain, John Hutt, was mortally wounded during an action with the French fleet on 29 May. Over the course of the three-day engagement the Queen suffered greatly, losing thirty-six men killed and sixty-seven wounded, and after forcing the surrender of the Jemmapes 74, she had the misfortune to lose her prize when it was rescued by eleven French ships which then threatened the Queen herself. Along with all the first lieutenants of ships engaged in the battle, Bedford was promoted commander on 5 July, being appointed to the Flirt 14 for purposes of rank only, and on 15 August he was posted captain to the vacancy on the Queen caused by Hutt’s death.

For the next five years Bedford remained with Gardner as his flag-captain in the Channel Fleet. During the autumn of 1794 the admiral was at sea with a dozen sail of the line before returning to Portsmouth in December, and in the last week of March 1795 the Queen entered Portsmouth for a refit, from which she departed for Spithead four weeks later. Bedford was in command of the Queen at the Battle of Groix on 23 June, although on this occasion, with his ship being in the rear of the fleet, no casualties were incurred. Thereafter, Gardner’s squadron continued at sea throughout the summer on what was described as the longest cruise the admiral had ever experienced.

Bedford was the long-term flag-captain to Admiral Lord Gardner.

On New Year’s Eve 1795 it was reported that Gardner’s squadron was to put to sea to protect Rear-Admiral Hugh Cloberry Christian’s outgoing Leeward Islands fleet; however, the wind remained obstinately foul and they could not sail. On 9 February 1796 the squadron finally did get under way from St. Helens in escort of the West Indies convoy, but it was then obliged to return when the wind veered. It eventually departed again on the 23rd with the Africa and Mediterranean convoys also under escort, and it returned to Portsmouth at the end of March.

In June 1796 Gardner, Bedford, and all their officers, transferred to the Royal Sovereign 110, and on 11 August the admiral’s squadron put out to blockade Brest before returning to Portsmouth on 6 October. They remained at readiness throughout November to put to sea at short notice, and in early December the Royal Sovereign arrived at Portsmouth from Plymouth. On 3 January 1797 Bedford’s command sailed out with the Channel Fleet to counter the French invasion of Ireland, but by then the first wave of the French force had already returned home and the fleet returned to Spithead on 3 February having achieved nothing.

The Royal Sovereign was present when the Spithead Mutiny broke out on 16 April 1797 and disaffection was still raging when she and five other sail of the line under Gardner’s orders put down to St. Helens on 24 April, resulting in the admiral being sent ashore on the evening of 8 May. Although boats from his flagship were soon sent into Portsmouth seeking his return, Gardner initially refused to go aboard for two days until the emblem of the mutiny, the yard-ropes, were removed. By June the Royal Sovereign was at sea once more under Bedford’s command, cruising off Ushant, and at the beginning of November the admiral’s squadron entered Plymouth where the ships underwent a refit.

At the end of May 1798 Gardner’s squadron sailed on a cruise, and in early July it was detached from the Channel Fleet to re-victual in Cawsand Bay. Here, adverse winds detained it from rejoining the commander-in-chief until the end of the month. The rest of the summer was spent with the fleet off Ushant, although in October the squadron briefly entered Plymouth before returning to its station, and it had to run for Torbay after encountering extreme gales at the start of November, remaining at that anchorage for a couple of weeks. Gardner then took his squadron out on a cruise to return to Torbay in early December, and after departing once more to patrol off Brest it was back to water in Torbay on 10 January 1799.

Following the breakout of the Brest Fleet on 25 April 1799, Gardner’s squadron set out on 16 May to join Admiral Lord Bridport off southern Ireland, and the Royal Sovereign was one of sixteen sail of the line that were sent to reinforce Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent off Cadiz. Arriving off Cape Finisterre on 4 June, the Royal Sovereign was then detached with three other sail of the line for the Tagus to convey home the prizes taken at the Battle of the Nile, and she departed for Plymouth on 22 June to arrive on 13 July. Shortly afterwards, Gardner struck his flag and travelled to Bath to recover his health whilst the Royal Sovereign under Bedford’s command continued to serve with the Channel Fleet.

By December 1799 the Royal Sovereign was once more flying Gardner’s flag with the Channel Fleet, cruising on the French coast until winter storms drove the ships well to the west of Ushant, whereupon they returned to Torbay at the beginning of January. She thereafter continued with the Channel Fleet at sea for the first three months of 1800 until Gardner’s squadron sailed for Plymouth with seven sail of the line to re-victual. On 21 April she sailed for Torbay where Gardner re-assumed command of the fleet, putting to sea at the turn of the month, and she was back at Plymouth with several other vessels at the beginning of August. Shortly afterwards Bedford left her, as Gardner had struck his flag to take up command of the Irish station

In October 1800, Bedford commissioned the Battle of Camperdown prize Leyden 64 at Chatham, which at the end of January 1801 sailed for Yarmouth from Sheerness to serve in the North Sea. Unfortunately, one of her first actions was to ram a Dutch merchantman off Scotland, forcing the latter vessel to return to port. Throughout the early spring she was at Yarmouth before going out on a cruise at the end of March, but she was back in port with Admiral Archibald Dickson’s squadron before the end of the week. On 12 April she sailed with Dickson’s squadron to briefly cruise off the Dutch coast before returning three days later, and a longer cruise was undertaken in early May before returning on the 17th. The Leyden was then sent around to Portsmouth with the expectation that she would deliver troops to Egypt, but in the event she was not required to fulfil this duty

By the beginning of June 1801, the Leyden was serving with Dickson’s squadron off the Netherlands, during the second week of July she was in the Downs, and a week later a telegraph sent her off to Portsmouth with sealed orders. Shortly afterwards she was back in the Downs to take on board Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s flag, prior to the attack on the French invasion flotilla at Boulogne in August. During this mission Bedford volunteered to serve in the squadron’s boats under the orders of a junior officer, but the offer was declined by Nelson. The Leyden continued in the Downs thereafter, sailing briefly with Nelson for the coast of France at the beginning of October before flying the broad pennant of Commodore John Sutton. She also saw service off Dungeness and Margate until the end of November when she was sent around to Chatham to be paid off.

Although the war with Revolutionary France continued until the end of March 1802, Bedford appears not to have been re-employed after the Leyden had been paid off, and over the course of the next year he spent a great deal of time in Bath with the great and good of society.

In March 1803, following the resumption of hostilities, he was appointed to the veteran ship of the line Thunderer 74 at Chatham, sailing for the Nore on 9 April, and reaching Plymouth four days later. On 28 May he assisted the Minotaur 74, Captain Charles Moore Mansfield, and the Albion 74, Captain John Ferrier, in the capture of the French frigate Franchise 40, Captain Pierre Roche Jurien de la Graviere, which had been returning from the expedition to Saint Domingue, and which was bought into the Navy under her own name. In June, serving with the Channel Fleet, Bedford sent a French ship from Saint-Domingue into the Devonshire port, and on 26 July his command captured the fast new Bordeaux privateer Vénus 16, after she had displayed the temerity to fire upon the Thunderer off Lorient. A long chase of the French privateer Bellona 36 off Le Havre in October was less successful, however.

At the end of October 1803, the Thunderer arrived with several other men of war in Beerhaven Bay from where she went around to cruise off the mouth of the Shannon. By December she was back with the squadron in Beerhaven Bay under the orders of Bedford’s old patron, Admiral Lord Gardner, and after a brief visit to Plymouth at the end of the year she returned to Ireland to join Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Calder’s patrolling squadron.

During May 1804 the Thunderer was in Cawsand Bay with elements of the Channel Fleet before she sailed on 16 May to join the blockade of Brest, and she briefly visited Portsmouth in August before resuming that duty. In September she entered Plymouth to be docked for substantial repairs, and by 24 October she was ready for sea, being ordered to take on vegetables and bullocks for the fleet, prior to sailing for Brest on 4 November. Within days of being at sea she fell in with a cartel carrying French prisoners who had been rescued from the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue by British forces, but who had attempted to carry the vessel into Morlaix, only to be foiled when the commanding officer had managed to raise a signal of distress to the Thunderer. During December she was sent with a detachment of the Channel Fleet to Cork, and here she managed to go aground in Beerhaven Bay within six feet of a ledge of rocks before heaving off, although with damage that required her to be sent back to England for docking. Her arrival at Plymouth in the beginning of February was heralded by her signal guns announcing her distress after she had grounded once again, this time on Penlee Point; however, the tide eased her off an hour later, and after entering harbour she was paid off.

When Admiral Lord Gardner was asked to temporarily take over the command of the Channel Fleet off Brest in March 1805, Bedford moved with all his officers and crew into the Hibernia 110 as flag-captain to his old mentor, and they sailed for the fleet at the end of the month. In early July, Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis resumed his command of the station, whereupon the Hibernia returned to Plymouth and Gardner struck his flag to head up for London. Bedford thereafter retained the Hibernia as flagship to Rear-Admiral John Leigh Douglas, who reached Portsmouth in early August and despite reports that she had been sent to reinforce Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder’s fleet off Ferrol, by the end of September she was back off Brest where she remained with the Channel Fleet for the rest of the year.

On 8 January 1806 the Hibernia with Douglas’ flag entered Plymouth, and whilst at that port her launch overset in appalling weather. Although a lieutenant and several men reached the shore, the bodies of eighteen seamen and a midshipman were later washed up on Wembury Beach. At the end of the month Bedford was appointed to the Prince of Wales 98, whose crew he found calm and efficient, but expectations that he would re-hoist the flag of Rear-Admiral John Leigh Douglas at Portsmouth for service with a flying squadron were dispelled when his new command was sent around to Plymouth for Vice-Admiral Edward Thornbrough to take her as his flagship. Again, reports suggested that Bedford would remove to the Kent 74 at Plymouth, but it appears likely that he remained with the Prince of Wales flying Thornbrough’s flag until that officer was invalided home in June. Thereafter his command remained on patrol off Rochefort for the summer before joining the fleet off Brest with the occasional return to Torbay.

In his later career, Bedford was flag-captain to Admiral Lord Gambier.

In May 1807 Bedford was appointed to the command of the Ville de Paris 110, which was fitting out at Plymouth, and which raised the flag of Admiral Lord Gardner on 21 July before sailing to join the Channel Fleet five days later. At the beginning of January 1808 she entered Plymouth to refit, whereupon the sickly Gardner struck his flag and Bedford took the opportunity to get married. After rejoining the Channel Fleet in February, the Ville de Paris arrived at Plymouth on 13 May to take on the flag of the new commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet, Admiral Lord Gambier, an officer whom Bedford would come to consider weak, and who would certainly prove to be so.

At the end of June 1808, Bedford was appointed to the newly commissioned Caledonia 120 as flag-captain to Gambier, and he took the crew of the Ville de Paris with him. Described admiringly as a ‘floating castle’, the Caledonia worked down to Cawsand Bay on 24 September, and thereafter she served off Brest and Ushant with occasional returns to Torbay. Bedford was still with her at the controversial Battle of the Basque Roads on 11 April 1809, causing no little difficulty beforehand by referring Rear-Admiral Eliab Harvey’s vitriolic comments about the commander-in-chief on to Lord Gambier himself, which resulted in the former officer being sent home. On 5 May the Caledonia reached Portsmouth and Bedford was a prominent witness at Harvey’s court-martial in May, and Gambier’s in July. Meanwhile, the Caledonia remained at Portsmouth until a Channel Fleet was ordered to be formed in November.

On 20 February 1810, the Caledonia, flying Rear-Admiral Francis Pickmore’s flag, sailed with a small squadron for Cadiz, and on 3 July she passed Plymouth on her return from Spain to enter Portsmouth. In August, Bedford was appointed the captain of the Channel Fleet, but he remained with the Caledonia which sailed from Plymouth with the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Harry Neale for the French coast, and with Captain Henry Hugh Spence in command of the vessel. The Caledonia returned to Portsmouth from the Basque Roads on 7 December, and Bedford remained as captain of the fleet to Lord Gambier until that officer resigned in April 1811, although during this period the commander-in-chief appears to have been residing ashore.

In December 1811, Bedford was appointed to the guardship Princess of Wales 98 at Sheerness, but later that month he was sent to Plymouth to succeed Captain John Harvey aboard the Royal Sovereign 100. Having acted as a pallbearer at Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton’s funeral in Plymouth on 6 March he sailed for the Basque Roads, and by May he was flying his broad pennant as a commodore in command of five-sail of the line on that station. The Royal Sovereign returned to Plymouth on 17 July for a refit before sailing out again three weeks later.

After reaching flag rank himself on 12 August 1812, Bedford left the Royal Sovereign. In November he was appointed the captain of the fleet to Admiral William Young in the North Sea, serving aboard the Impregnable 98, Captain George MacKenzie. Whilst retaining this position he suffered a personal loss on 29 October 1813 when his secretary, John White, drowned when taking a boat out to the Impregnable off Deal.

Following the end of the war in April 1814 Bedford saw no further service. In May 1815 he attended the Prince Regent’s levee, and on 19 July 1821 he was promoted a vice-admiral. During the autumn of 1823 he was listed as a fashionable arrival at Cheltenham, and he also became a leading member of the Naval Club at Plymouth.

Admiral Bedford died at Stone Hall, Stonehouse, near Plymouth, on 13 October 1827 after several days’ illness.

In February 1808 he married Susan, the third of nine daughters of Captain Robert Fanshawe, the naval commissioner at Plymouth, and in so doing he would become a brother-in-law to Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thomas Byam Martin, Admiral John Chambers White, and Admiral Hon. Sir Robert Stopford. The couple had a son and a daughter.

Bedford was religious and in the opinion of at least one correspondent was a little naive.