William Lechmere

1752- 1815. Born in Powick, Worcestershire, he was the son of an elderly father, Richard Lechmere, and of his wife, Elizabeth Corfield, and was also the nephew of the Whig politician, Lord Nicholas Lechmere, and of Captain Edward Lechmere, both of whom predeceased him.

Lechmere was commissioned lieutenant on 20 December 1774, and he was promoted commander on 23 September 1782 by Vice-Admiral John Campbell, the commander-in-chief at Newfoundland. Appointed to the Thorn 14, which had recently been recaptured off Florida by the Arethusa 32, Captain Sir Richard Pearson, this vessel arrived at Portsmouth from Halifax on 13 December and was paid off in February 1783. Two months later, she was recommissioned by Lechmere after being docked at Sheerness, and she sailed for Newfoundland once more in June.

During the first three years of the peace following the end of the American Revolutionary War, he continued to command the Thorn on the Newfoundland station, coming home each winter as was the custom. As part of the sloop’s duties, she was sent to Quebec in the summer of 1784 with orders to survey the St Lawrence River, and she eventually left North America and returned with dispatches to Portsmouth in October 1785 to be paid off in November.

Lechmere was one of many officers posted captain on 21 September 1790 during the Spanish Armament, being appointed to the Venus 36, although he probably never took that frigate to sea. Thereafter, he remained unemployed for the next four years, including through the first sixteen months of the French Revolutionary War.

HMS Thunderer depicted in a storm two years before Captain Lechmere joined her.

At the end of June 1794, he was appointed to the Saturn 74 after she had undergone extensive repairs at Portsmouth, and serving in the Downs, she flew the flags at various times of both Vice-Admiral Joseph Peyton and Rear-Admiral George Vandeput. In October she departed St. Helens with a convoy for the West Indies, and after seeing it to a designated position she returned to Portsmouth. Here she was taken into the harbour to be paid off on 21 November, with her officers and men being turned over to the Brunswick 74, Captain Hon. Charles Fitzgerald.

Late in 1795, Lechmere was ordered to hoist the broad pennant of Commodore John Willet Payne aboard the Jupiter 50, in order to collect Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the betrothed of the Prince of Wales, from Cuxhaven. Bad weather delayed the mission until March 1795, and the princess eventually arrived at Gravesend on 4 April. During August the Jupiter was in the Downs from where she put out with Admiral Adam Duncan’s fleet on news that a Dutch fleet was at sea, and in October she sailed from the Leith Roads for the North Sea in the company of the Dictator 64, Captain William Bligh, with instructions to protect the Archangel and Hudson’s Bay trade.

In January 1796 he joined the thirty-year-old St. Albans 64, which was fitting out at Sheerness for the flag of Vice-Admiral George Vandeput, and which sailed for Lisbon with a convoy and a squadron of frigates in April. After arriving at Lisbon on 10 May, Vandeput’s squadron remained in the Tagus or occasionally cruised off the coast, and when the outward-bound Mediterranean convoy arrived in August, the St. Albans escorted it to Gibraltar before returning to Lisbon. In late November the reduced squadron captured a richly laden Spanish ship from Havana.

The St. Albans continued to serve off Lisbon with Vandeput’s flag in the early part of 1797 until departing for Halifax at the end of February following the admiral’s appointment to the command of that station. After capturing the Spanish privateer Atrebedo on 28 February, she reached Nova Scotia where Lechmere transferred with Vandeput to the Resolution 74 on 25 May. The next year passed without incident and the Resolution returned to England to be paid off in October 1798.

There followed a long period of unemployment before Lechmere was appointed to the command of the Thunderer 74 on 2 April 1805, which ship had been completely fitted and manned at Plymouth by the beginning of June, and which sailed to join the Channel Fleet on the 13th. She was present at the Battle of Cape Finisterre on 22 July, losing seven men killed and eleven wounded, and as a result of the inconclusive nature of that engagement, Lechmere returned to Portsmouth with Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder aboard his flagship, the Prince of Wales, as he was required as a witness at that officer’s court-martial. The Prince of Wales was eventually released from quarantine on 9 November, and in the meantime Lechmere’s first lieutenant, John Stockham, commanded the Thunderer at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October.

In January 1806 Lechmere was appointed to the Prince 98 in place of Richard Grindall, who had been promoted to flag rank, although it appears that he did not join the ship until early April. Serving in the Mediterranean, the Prince returned to Plymouth in early October from the Straits of Gibraltar for a refit.

His next command was the Dreadnought 98, which he recommissioned in December 1806 at Portsmouth, sailing to join the Channel Fleet at the end of February 1807 and entering Torbay with Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez’ squadron on 8 May. During August, the Dreadnought was briefly in Cawsand Bay with Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth’s squadron before sailing from Plymouth for the fleet on 8 September, and she later reached Torbay in late September with the bulk of the fleet under the commander-in-chief, Admiral Lord Gardner. On 26 January 1808 she came into Plymouth from the blockade of Brest, prior to returning in early February to that employment.

Having been appointed a colonel of marines in October 1807, Lechmere was advanced to flag rank on 28 April 1808, whereupon he left the Dreadnought and saw no further active service. He was promoted vice-admiral on 12 August 1812.

Admiral Lechmere died at his residence, Hill House, Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire, on 12 December 1815 and was buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Hanley Castle, Worcestershire.

On 31 October 1787 at St. Martins in the Fields, Westminster, he married Elizabeth Dashwood-King, a daughter of Sir John Dashwood King of West Wycombe. The couple appear to have had three sons and five daughters, including Commander Charles Lechmere, who with many of his officers and crew died off the coast of Africa on 9 November 1822 whilst commanding the Leven. Another son, John, also rose to the rank of commander, whilst his second daughter, Mary, married the son of Admiral Lord James Saumarez in 1814.

Lechmere’s residence was at Steeple Aston in Oxfordshire, but his will showed his address as Halton, Buckinghamshire.