1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe (Black Dick)

Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe
(also known as: Black Dick)
English sailor

RICHARD HOWE, EARL HOWE (1725-1799), English admiral, was born in 1725. By his father Emanuel Scrope Howe, second Viscount Howe in the Irish peerage, he was descended from an old family, several members of which attained distinction in war or in politics; and his mother was the daughter of Baron Kielmansegge, master of the horse to George I. when elector of Han-over. Leaving Eton at the age of fourteen, Howe entered the navy as midshipman on board the " Severn,1' whiclj then formed one of a squadron under Anson destined foi an expedition against Spain in the Pacific. Nothing is recorded as to the manner in which he conducted himself in the actions in which the squadron engaged, but he at any rate succeeded in winning the approval of his com mander, and in his twentieth year was made lieutenant. Shortly after this he was appointed to the command of a sloop-of-war, the " Baltimore," in which with the aid of the "Greyhound" frigate, commanded by Captain Noel, he signalized himself by defeating off the coast of Scotland two French vessels, of greatly superior metal to his own, which were carrying supplies and reinforcements to the Pretender. On his arrival in England he found that pre-vious to this action he had been raised to the rank of post-captain, and he served in this capacity on the coast of Guinea and on the Jamaica station. In 1748 he returned to England, and after spending three years chiefly in the study of naval tactics, he was in 1751 appointed to the " Glory," of 44 guns, and employed on the coast of Africa. In May 1752 he was commissioned to the "Dolphin" frigate, in which he was employed for some years in pro-tecting the trade in the vicinity of Gibraltar. Shortly after his return to England he was appointed in 1755 to the " Dunkirk," and joined the squadron of Admiral Boscawen, bound for America. In the course of the voyage thither Howe took a prominent part in capturing two French men-of-war, the " Alcide " and the " Lys." This action was virtually the commencement of the seven years' war with France, in the course of which Howe in command of a small squadron succeeded in capturing from the French the island of Chauss6, and, after obtaining a commission to the " Magnanime," distinguished himself in the attacks made on the Isle of Aix, St Malo, and Cherbourg, mani-fested conspicuous courage and readiness of resource at the disaster of St Cas, and in the action with the French fleet under De Conflans disabled two of the enemy's ships. Shortly before the close of the war Howe had married, and by the death of his brother Viscount Howe had inherited the family titles and estates. From 1758 till 1782 he represented Dartmouth in parliament; in the latter year he was raised to the British peerage as Viscount Howe. In 1763 he re-ceived a seat at the board of admiralty, and in June 1765 he was appointed to the important office of treasurer of the navy, which he retained till August 1770. In October of this latter year he was made rear-admiral of the bluj, and nominated commander in chief of the fleet intended to be employed in the Mediterranean in view of a probable rupture with Spain, which, however, did not take place. In 1775 he was promoted rear-admiral of the white, and in the following year he received the command of the squadron despatched to America, but owing to the insufficiency of his force he achieved no exploit of importance. After his return to England he was in September 1782 appointed to the command of the Channel fleet, and ordered to proceed to the relief of Gibraltar, then besieged by the combined land and sea forces of France and Spain, when after suc-ceeding in supplying the garrison with stores and provisions he engaged at long ranges the united fleet which numbered 44 sail to his 34, and caused them to retreat to Cadiz. In January 1783 Howe succeeded Keppel as first lord of the admiralty, an office which he resigned in the folic wing April, but again accepted under the Pitt ministry, holding it till July 1788. In July 1787 he was made admiral of the white, and shortly afterwards was raised to an earl-dom. In 1790 he was appointed to the command of a fleet intended to operate against the Spaniards, but peace was concluded before any action took place. On the com-mencement of the war with France after the Revolution he obtained the chief command in the Channel, and on the 1st of June 1794 gained a great victory over the French fleet off Ushant, dismasting ten of the enemy's ships and taking seven, one of which, the " Vengeur," sank as she was being towed away. On the 9th August of the same year he resumed the command of the Channel fleet, but in none of his cruises was he fortunate enough to meet any of the enemy's vessels; and during the greater part of 1795 and 1796 ill health compelled him to remain on shore. In May 1797 he resigned his command. In the same year he was appointed with full powers to treat with the mutineers in the British fleet at Portsmouth and Spithead, and completely succeeded, through the confidence they had in the friendliness of his intentions, and by the firm and judicious measures he adopted, in eradicating the causes of discontent. During the latter years of his life Lord Howe suffered much from ill health; and he died under a violent attack of gout, August 5, 1799. A splendid monument was erected to Howe in St Paul's Cathedral.

Lord Howe is entitled to the exceptional praise of never having failed to bear himself with credit and success in any of his enter-prises. The qualities in which he excelled were coolness, firmness, seamanship, and caution—an excess of the lattervirtue,however, tending perhaps on some occasions to diminish the lustre and completeness of his victories. He introduced a new and thorough system of naval tactics, evolutions, and signals, and bestowed careful and minute attention on all the details of the service. In person he was tall and well-proportioned. His countenance was strongly marked, somewhat harsh in expression except when softened by his genial smile, and dark in complexion—although the sobriquet of Black Dick by which he was known in the navy was not due to this circumstance, but to a mezzotinto portrait of himself which hung in his cabin. The benevolent friendliness of his disposition secured him the strong affection and confidence as well as respect of his seamen, while no professional jealousy prevented him from doing full justice to the achievements of his officers.

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