William Hotham 1st Baron in the Irish Peerage

1736-1813. Born of Yorkshire stock on 8 April 1736, he was the third son of Sir Beaumont Hotham Bart and his wife Frances Thompson. He was the brother of Beaumont Hotham, the judge, and uncle of Vice-Admiral Sir William Hotham and Vice-Admiral Hon. Sir Henry Hotham.

After being educated at Westminster School, and from August 1748 the Royal Naval Academy, Portsmouth, Hotham entered the Navy aboard the Gosport 44, Captain Thomas Pye, in July 1751, voyaging to Halifax and later serving in the Leeward Islands from 1752 with this officer’s broad pennant aboard Advice 50.further service came off North America in the sloop Swan, Commander William Langdon.

He passed for lieutenant on 7 August 1754 and on 18 January 1755 was appointed a lieutenant of the St George 90, Captain John Storr, flagship of Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke. After continuing with this officer aboard the Namur 90, then Antelope 50, Captain Thomas Saumarez, going out to the Mediterranean, and briefly on that station the Ramillies 90, he was appointed commander with seniority from 19 November 1756 of a ten-gun polacre and then immediately given the sloop Fortune 14. Before he could join the latter he held the temporary captaincy of the Syren 20 for Captain Thomas Collingwood, in which he fought an indecisive action with the privateer Télémaque 26, being wounded by a musket ball in the shoulder. Upon falling in with the Fortune shortly afterwards he assumed the command of her, and after escaping from four French sail of the line near Alicante he captured another 26-gun French letter of marquee, this vessel far out-gunning her smaller opponent but being carried by boarding.

He was recalled to England, and on 17 August 1757 was posted captain of the frigate Gibraltar 20. Lord Anson then appointed him to the Squirrel 20 in November, and on 17 April 1758 to the Melampe 36, an ex-French privateer which he commissioned for the Navy, and in which he cruised for the next year in the North Sea. On 28 March 1759 he fought a night action with two French frigates off Yarmouth, taking one of them, the Danae 38, after the Southampton 36, Captain James Gilchrist, had arrived on the scene some eighty minutes into the action. His command later formed part of Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s fleet, and in the early spring of 1761 served in Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel’s expedition to Belleisle. After transferring to the Aeolus 32 on 20 May 1761 he enjoyed immense success against the enemy in the Channel, capturing several privateers. During the summer of 1762 he served once more with Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s fleet, and he took the Formidable on 20 August 1762 and destroyed the San Josef at Aviles on 2 September 1762 before being paid off in November 1763.

From 1766-9 he commanded the guardship Hero 74 at Plymouth in which he went out to the Mediterranean with relief for the garrison at Minorca in the latter year, and in December 1770 commissioned the new Resolution 74 for the Falkland Islands dispute, serving thereafter for the usual three years as a guardship at Portsmouth or in the Medway.

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The British land in New York 1776

In 1776 he raised a broad pennant aboard the Preston 50, Captain Samuel Uppleby, going out to North America with a convoy of eighty-five sail. Arriving on 12 August, he served as second-in-command to Vice-Admiral Lord Howe during the course of the July-October New York campaign, leading the amphibious assaults on Long Island, and later assisting Commodore Sir Peter Parker in the occupation of Rhode Island on 8 December 1776. During the first three months of 1777 he cruised successfully in the Chesapeake and Delaware rivers, taking many prizes but on one occasion being driven out to sea by a storm for three weeks, and he was then was the senior officer at New York whilst Howe prosecuted the Philadelphia campaign from 25 August. In this capacity he led the unsuccessful sortie up the North River to rescue Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne. During the following year he served at the defence of Sandy Hook in July 1778 and operations off Rhode Island in August 1778 where he came upon the Tonnant 80 in a disabled condition, but after engaging her was forced to discontinue the action when French reinforcements appeared.

On 3 November he sailed in command of two 64’s three 50’s, two frigates and fifty-nine transports ferrying five thousand soldiers to join Rear-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington in the Leeward Islands, and five days after his arrival took part in the Battle of St. Lucia on 15 December, earning praise for his efficient landing of the troops prior to the action. The following summer he was at Barbados, and he was appointed a colonel of marines on 19 March 1779. In early 1780 he moved into the Vengeance 74, Captain John Holloway, in which he was present under Admiral Sir George Rodney at the Battle of Martinique on 17 April and the subsequent Leeward Islands campaign where he led the van excellently during the fleet skirmish on 19 May.. After Rodney set sail for North America Hotham became the senior officer in the Leeward Islands with five sail of the line.

During the Great Hurricanes of October 1780 the Vengeance was driven onto rocks at St. Lucia and only by discarding all her guns and cutting away her masts could she be saved. The next spring Hotham, in command of two sail of the line and three frigates, returned to Europe with a convoy containing most of the booty from Rodney’s raid on St. Eustatius on 3 February 1781. The French received intelligence of the track of this convoy, and with Vice-Admiral George Darby’s Channel fleet otherwise engaged in the relief of Gibraltar they sent eight sail-of-the-line under Admiral La Motte-Picquet to intercept it. On 2 May the convoy was discovered by the French off the Scilly Islands and although Hotham ordered a closing of ranks amongst the men-of-war most of the merchant ships scattered on his instructions but were easily caught.

During 1782 he hoisted his broad pennant on the Edgar 74, Captain William Cayley, serving under Admiral Lord Howe in the April-August cruises and sitting on the court-martial into the loss of the Royal George on 29 August. He thereafter participated in the relief of Gibraltar and the action off Cape Spartel on 18 October, and his pennant was finally struck on the peace of 1783.

On 24 September 1787 he was promoted rear-admiral, being a beneficiary of Lord Howe’s reforms at the Admiralty, and with the Dutch Armament commencing he was promptly ordered to raise his flag aboard the Prince George 98, which was commissioning under Captain Alexander Edgar at Chatham, and to assume command of a squadron in the Downs. Shortly afterwards, on 25 October, he broke his arm when a post chaise in which he was returning to London from Deal overturned near Dartford and he was replaced by Vice-Admiral Alexander Hood. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he raised his flag aboard the Princess Royal 98, Captain John Holloway, as commander of the rear division of the Channel fleet. He was promoted vice-admiral on 21 September, and remaining with his flagship and flag captain was employed in Vice-Admiral Lord Hood’s fleet during the Russian armament of 1791.

From April 1793-4 he was second-in-command to Hood in the Mediterranean with his flag aboard the Britannia 100, Captain John Holloway, being present at the occupation of Toulon from 27 August 1793. With eight sail of the line he led the blockade of the French fleet in the Golfe Jouan during the autumn of 1794 after Hood’s failure to bring them to action on 12 June, and following Hood’s departure in November 1794 he became commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. However, with only fourteen poorly manned sail of the line he was scantily equipped to deal with the enemy.


The Battle of Genoa 13-14 March 1795

On two occasions Hotham engaged superior French fleets under Rear-Admiral Pierre Martin, but instead of concentrating on obtaining a victory he seemed more intent on keeping his meagre fleet intact. During the Battle of Genoa from 13 to 14 March, his force took the Censeur 74 and Ca Ira 80, but although he received the thanks of Parliament his disposition had been unconvincing and it was felt by many that he could have done better. In June 1795 he was joined by Rear-Admiral Robert Man with nine sail of the line, on 16 April 1795 he was promoted admiral and in July Captain Holloway assumed the position of captain of the fleet with Commander Shuldham Peard becoming Hotham’s flag captain aboard the Britannia. The second battle on 13 July again ended without a conclusive result, although the French Alcide 74 struck her colours and was then destroyed by fire. On this occasion Captain Horatio Nelson led his critics, calling it ‘a miserable little action’.

In addition to his failings in battle Hotham was roundly condemned for allowing the men of Rear-Admiral Robert Linzee’s flagship, the Windsor Castle 98, to exclude Captain William Shield, and for also keeping a lax watch on Toulon, allowing one squadron of a sail of the line and five frigates to roam the Mediterranean. It was therefore to the relief of most of his captains that he was superseded by the more aggressive Vice-Admiral Sir John Jervis in November.

On 7 March 1797 he was created Baron of South Dalton near Hull in the Irish peerage. He died on 2 May 1813 at his seat of South Dalton Hall in Yorkshire, and was succeeded in his titles by his brother Beaumont who outlived him by a mere ten months.

Hotham was unmarried, although whilst commanding in the Mediterranean he enjoyed the favours of a woman known ironically as ‘the commander of the fleet’. A poor leader and even worse disciplinarian of the Mediterranean fleet, he was undoubtedly courageous and brave but he had little zeal or strength of character and disliked difficult situations. Nelson thought him to be useless, and he was certainly ultra-cautious. His great friend Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador at Naples, said that Hotham was ‘not quite awake enough for the Mediterranean command, although he was the best creature imaginable.’ He was also accused of having a lethargic mind, and Windham said of him in 1794 that his ‘soul had gone down to his belly and never mounts higher now.’ Sir Gilbert Elliot called him ‘a piece of perfectly inert formality’. As a younger man however, he had been an excellent frigate commander and a great director of amphibious landings, and he was viewed as an able deputy. He was a friendly and sociable gentleman who was well beloved by his contemporaries, including the irascible Lord Hood.