Hon. William Clement Finch

1753-1794. He was born on 25 May 1753, the third of eight sons and four daughters of Heneage Finch, the 3rd Earl of Aylesford, and of his wife Lady Charlotte Seymour, the daughter of the Duke of Somerset. He was the older brother of Captain Hon. Seymour Finch, and the brother-in-law of the Earls of Suffolk and Dartmouth. Captain Lord Robert Manners was his first cousin

Finch was educated at Westminster between 1764-5 and having entered the navy was commissioned lieutenant on 7 July 1772, seeing service aboard the Panther 60, Captain Cornthwaite Ommanney, with the broad pennant of Commodore Molyneux Shuldham at Newfoundland, on which vessel his brother, Seymour, also served.

He was further promoted commander with seniority from 10 April 1776, having left Portsmouth for Newfoundland six days previously aboard the new Cygnet 14 in the company of Vice-Admiral John Montagu’s flagship Romney 50, Captain Elliott Salter, and with twelve transports. The Cygnet returned to Plymouth with a convoy from that station on 4 December and was paid off.

Having been appointed to the recently purchased Camel 22 in December 1776, Finch arrived at Portsmouth from the Downs on 7 March 1777 and was posted captain with seniority from 18 March. At the end of the month, he sailed with a convoy of transports for North America to arrive at New York on 28 May with the bulk of his charges, although three transports, together with two other escort vessels, had become detached three weeks previously. In June the Camel was sent from New York to Antigua with despatches, and after arriving on 22 July she was immediately ordered to convoy the Leeward Islands trade home, on which service she departed St. Kitts on 5 August with the Weazle 16, Commander Charles Hope, and the Druid 14, Commander Peter Carteret. A month later, on 4 September, the convoy was attacked by the American frigate Raleigh 32. During the opening stages of the engagement Commander Carteret was killed, but the enemy was eventually driven off by the men of war with the assistance of several armed merchant vessels, and by early October the Camel was back at Spithead.


Finch’s command, HMS Terrible, was so badly damaged at the Battle of the Chesapeake that she had to be scuttled

In December 1777 Finch was ordered to commission, much to his disdain, the new Porcupine 20 at Deptford, this being a distinctly un-weatherly vessel. By the middle of March 1778 she was at Spithead, and on the 25th she sailed for North America with urgent despatches for Vice-Admiral Lord Howe. Her arrival at Philadelphia in early May brought about operations that saw the commander-in-chief withdraw from that city and sail north to defend New York from the French fleet in July. Meanwhile, despite Finch’s contempt for his ship, the Porcupine managed to re-take two prizes and also capture a French ship laden with three hundred hogsheads of tobacco whilst returning to Portsmouth from Philadelphia on 22 July. Upon landing in England, Finch immediately took a post-chaise up to London with Howe’s dispatches.

After returning to the Porcupine, Finch sailed from Portsmouth on 10 August 1778 to join the Grand Fleet at Plymouth, and on 21 September, whilst at sea in search of the Brest fleet, he had the great fortune to capture a homeward-bound French East Indiaman, the Modeste, which he sent into Plymouth. The rich cargo aboard this vessel, which had been loaded at Canton in China, would provide him with a prize purse of some £62,000, and this amount, when added to another £12,000 or so that he had earned three months previously, would see him accumulate a fortune of some £12.5milion pounds in today’s money, and would lead to him being accorded the nickname ‘Goldfinch’. A threat to his newfound riches arose in November when it was announced that the officers of the Grand Fleet were laying claim to a share of the prize, as that force had allegedly been in sight at the time of the capture; however, it does not appear that the fleet officers were successful in this claim. At the end of October, the Porcupine entered dock at Portsmouth, but she appears to have returned to sea shortly afterwards, for on 6 December she arrived at Plymouth from Cadiz to land a diplomat.

On 19 April 1779 Finch was appointed to the re-commissioned Amazon 32 at Chatham, which frigate formed part of Commodore George Johnstone’s squadron off Le Havre in July. Having then entered Portsmouth, she was the victim of a tragedy when her longboat overset with the loss of twenty-three men, women and children. On 24 July she sailed for Jersey, and whilst forming part of the Channel Fleet in its August retreat she was sent with a small squadron under Captain Sir Hyde Parker of the Phoenix 44 to monitor some three hundred French transports in Le Havre. Returning to St. Helens on 3 September, she sailed from Spithead with the Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir Charles Hardy towards the end of October, and on 2 November came into Plymouth with news that the allied fleet was at sea. The Amazon was next attached to Captain Francis Reynolds’ squadron which sailed for the North Sea from Portsmouth on 1 December in search of John Paul Jones’ squadron but returned empty-handed to the Downs at the beginning of January 1780. She then went around to Portsmouth on 22 January before departing for Plymouth at the end of the month.

On 9 April 1780 the Amazon, together with a number of transports, sailed out of Plymouth to join the Leeward Islands-bound reinforcements commanded by Commodore Hon. Robert Boyle Walsingham. Contrary winds delayed their passage, and having touched at Madeira on 10 June they did not arrive in the Caribbean until July. Here, Finch’s command served under the orders of Commodore William Hotham, and she miraculously survived the Great Hurricanes in October despite being carried out to sea and almost oversetting. Even so, she lost at least twenty men drowned, and by the time she reached Antigua on 17 October she was little more than a wreck.

Prior to the Battle of Fort Royal on 29 April 1781, it was the Amazon, patrolling off Point Salines on the southern tip of Martinique, which discovered the French fleet further to the south of the island, and which reported its presence to Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood. During the engagement itself she was sent along the line of battle to relay the admiral’s instructions. She later served with Rear-Admiral Francis Samuel Drake’s squadron which was sent to protect Tobago in May 1781 but had to retreat before the French fleet, following which she was dispatched by Admiral Sir George Rodney with troops for the protection of St. Lucia.

After exchanging with Captain Richard Bickerton into the Terrible 74 on 25 July 1781, Finch sailed north with Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood’s fleet on 10 August and fought at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September. His vessel was so badly damaged during this lamentable action, losing four men killed and twenty-one wounded, that she was scuttled a week later, and he returned home aboard the packet Cumberland with Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves’ despatches.

On 2 May 1782 Finch was appointed to the Polyphemus 64 following her recent launching, and such was the requirement for ships to join the fleet that she was not even copper-bottomed before going to sea. Towards the end of June, she was ordered around to Spithead to join the Grand Fleet, but it was not until the beginning of August that she sailed for the Downs from the Nore, and she eventually arrived off St. Helens on 10 August. Two weeks later, she sailed to join a squadron in the North Sea which went out in search of the Dutch Fleet, arriving off the Texel on 4 September before departing for Portsmouth to arrive three days later. She was present on 18 October at the Relief of Gibraltar and the resulting action off Cape Spartel where five men were wounded including her sailing master and purser, and Finch left her in favour of Captain John Ford when she was ordered out to the Leeward Islands at the end of the year.

Following the end of the American Revolutionary War, Finch purchased Albury Park near Guildford in Surrey from his brother and settled into life as a gentleman farmer who developed the gardens on his estate whilst enclosing the village green and displacing a number of villagers. In June 1790 he put his name forward for election to Parliament as a member for Surrey, and he was elected to hold the seat for the next four years. He was briefly recalled to naval duty during the Spanish Armament of 1790 when he commissioned the thirty-year-old Arundel 74 in September, which vessel was previously the Warspite and had subsequently served as a hospital and receiving ship, but she was paid off in December without having apparently gone to sea.

From October 1793 until May 1794 Finch had the Portsmouth-based Excellent 74. He was advanced to flag rank on 4 July 1794, and he died after a long illness on 30 September.

He married Mary Brouncker of St. Kitts on 2 August 1789 and had three sons and two daughters. His address was given as Albury, Surrey, and he was M.P for Surrey from 1790-4 in the Treasury interest, although he did not speak in Parliament.

Enjoying the most aristocratic of connexions, Finch seems to have held a high level of self-esteem and entitlement.