William Hancock Kelly

1751-1811. Baptised on 6 August 1751, he was the son of Arthur Kelly of Kelly, Devonshire, and of his wife Mary Tucker of Coryton Park, Kilmington, Devon.

Kelly was commissioned lieutenant on 16 May 1776 and commanded the brig Hope 14 in North American waters with this rank during 1777-8. His vessel was fortunate to escape capture by the French fleet at the defence of New York in July 1778 when the Nova Scotia convoy she was bringing in was warned off by loyalist craft. He was later employed as a lieutenant of the Sultan 74, Captain Alan Gardner, seeing service in the Leeward Islands during 1779.


Captain Kelly spent a great deal of his career in command of the Spanish-built HMS Gibraltar

He was promoted commander on 7 April 1782, and having been posted captain on 8 August 1783 he commissioned the Adamant 50 for the flag of Admiral Sir Richard Hughes in the Leeward Islands where he remained until coming home and being paid off in September 1786.

During February 1793 Kelly briefly commanded the St. George 98, followed equally briefly by the Windsor Castle 98. In April he recommissioned the frigate Solebay 32, going out to the Leeward Islands where his ship was severely affected by yellow fever, almost all of his officers succumbing. He was present at the capture of Martinique and commanded a battalion of seamen ashore at the reduction of Fort Bourbon during the campaign of January – December 1794. . After the capture of the Pique 38 by the Blanche 32 on 5 January 1795 his vessel arrived on the scene and took the defeated French frigate in tow to the Saintes. In February he captured a sixteen-gun privateer, and he later had the Veteran 64 on the same station before she was paid off in October 1796.

During February 1797 Kelly commissioned the French prize Juste 80 but paid her off in June. In July he joined the Gibraltar 80, serving in the Channel, with the Mediterranean fleet in the spring of 1799, and participating in operations following the breakout of the Brest fleet on 25 April. In February 1800 the Gibraltar hit the ground in Finisterre Bay but sustained little damage, and after a brief period in Plymouth she rejoined the Channel fleet in June, later sailing for Gibraltar. She was attached to Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren’s squadron that left its station at Cadiz to search for Rear-Admiral Ganteaume’s during that officer’s cruise of January – July 1801.

The Gibraltar continued in the Mediterranean after peace was declared, and in August 1802 received further orders to remain on that station with a number of other sail of the line. Having expected to return home her crew rose in mutiny, but being unable to gain any support from the other vessels the men were unable to prevent the officers regaining control. Two ringleaders were found guilty of insurrection and executed aboard the Gibraltar but the sympathetic Kelly allowed four other ringleaders to go free without facing a court martial. As a result he was himself court-martialled and dismissed his ship, being temporarily succeeded by Captain Thomas Briggs and then permanently by Captain George Ryves. The senior officer at Gibraltar, Commodore Sir Richard John Strachan, urged the Admiralty to rescind Kelly’s removal in March 1803, but with the intractable Earl of St. Vincent as first lord such a plea was never likely to succeed.

Kelly commanded the Téméraire 98 from the end of August 1804 until February 1805 in an acting capacity for Captain Eliab Harvey, serving off Ferrol under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder. He then briefly had the Caesar 80, but his active employment came to an end when he was promoted rear-admiral on 9 November 1805, and further promoted to vice-admiral on 31 July 1810.

Kelly died on 2 May 1811 at his brother’s residence of Kelly House, Launceston, Cornwall.

He married Sally Morton, the daughter of a Nevis judge, and he was the father of Lieutenant Magnus Morton Kelly and of a daughter. His residence at the time of his death was St. Andrews, Devon.