1902 Encyclopedia > George Brydges Rodney, Admiral Rodney

Baron Rodney
British admiral

GEORGE BRYDGES RODNEY, BARON RODNEY (1718-1792), English admiral, second son of Henry Rodney of Walton-on-Thames, was born there on 19th February 1718. His father had served in Spain under the earl of Peter-borough, and on quitting the army obtained command of the king's yacht. George was sent to Harrow when quite young, and on leaving entered the navy. By warrant dated 21st June 1732 he was appointed as volunteer on board the " Sunderland," a fourth-rate. While serving on the Mediterranean station under Admiral Haddock he was made lieutenant in the " Dolphin," his promotion dating 15th February 1739. In 1742 he attained the rank of post-captain, having been appointed to the "Plymouth," 9th November. After minor services of an active character in home waters, he obtained command of the "Eagle," sixty guns, and in. this ship took part in Hawke's victory off Ushant, 14th October 1747, over the French fleet under L'Etanduere. On that day Rodney gained his first laurels for gallantry, under a chief to whom he was in a measure indebted for subsequent success. On 9th May 1749 he was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Newfoundland, with the rank of commodore, it being usual at that time to appoint a naval officer, chiefly on account of the fishery interests. Returning home, he was elected M.P. for Saltash in May 1751, and married his first wife, Jane Compton, sister to the earl of Northampton, 3d February 1753. During the Seven Years' War Rodney rendered important service. In 1757 he had a share in the expedi-tion against Rochefort, commanding the "Dublin," seventy-four. Next year, in the same ship, he served under Admiral Boscawen at the taking of Louisburg (Cape Breton). On 19th May 1759 Rodney became a rear-admiral and was shortly after given command of a small squadron intended to destroy a large number of flat-bottomed boats and stores which were being collected at Havre for an invasion of the English coasts. He bom-barded the town for two days and nights without ceasing, and inflicted great loss of war-material on the enemy. In July 1760, with another small squadron, he succeeded in taking many more of the enemy's flat-bottomed boats and in blockading the coast as far as Dieppe. Elected M.P. for Penryn in 1761, he was in October of that year appointed commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands station, and within the first three months of 1762 had reduced the important island of Martinique, while both St Lucia and Grenada had surrendered to his squadron. During the siege of Fort Royal his seamen and marines rendered splendid service on shore. At the peace of 1763 Admiral Rodney returned home, having been during his absence made vice-admiral of the Blue and voted the thanks of both Houses of Parliament.

In 1764 Rodney was created a baronet by patent of 21st January, and the same year he married Henrietta, daughter of John Clies of Lisbon. From 1765 to 1770 he was governor of Greenwich Hospital, and on the dissolution of parliament in 1768 he successfully contested Northamp-ton at a ruinous cost. When appointed commander-in-chief of the Jamaica station in 1771 he lost his Greenwich post, but a few months later received the office of rear-admiral of Great Britain. Till 1774 he held the Jamaica comm and, and during a period of quiet was active in improv-ing the naval yards on his station. Sir George struck his flag with a feeling of disappointment at not obtaining the governorship of Jamaica, and was shortly after forced to settle in Paris. Election expenses and losses at play in fashionable circles had shattered his fortune and now broke up his family till the eve of war with France. In February 1778, having just been promoted admiral of the White, he used every possible exertion to obtain a com-mand from the Admiralty, to free himself from his money difficulties. By May he had, through the splendid generosity of his Parisian friend Maréchal Biron, effected the latter task, and accordingly he returned to London with his children. Sir George was enabled to remit at once to his benefactor the full loan, and it is worthy of record that the English Government in later years awarded pensions to the marechal's daughters in recognition of their father's chivalrous act. That an attempt was made by the French ministry during the war crisis to seduce Bodney into accepting high rank in the French navy is undeniable from the evidence we possess, but the details of the common version must be accepted with reserve, excepting the undoubted instant rejection of the offer. To the English cabinet the honour of both Bodney and Biron remained untarnished, if we may judge of the former by his letters, public and private, and of the latter by the pension awarded to his relatives.

Sir George was appointed once more commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, 1st October 1779, but did not sail till 29th December. He captured a Spanish convoy bound to Cadiz on 8th January 1780, and eight days later defeated the Spanish admiral Don Juan de Langara off Cape St Vincent, taking or destroying seven ships. On 17th April an action, which, owing to the carelessness of some of Rodney's captains, was indecisive, was fought off Martinique with the French admiral Guichen. Rodney, acting under orders, captured the valuable entrepôt of St Eustatius, and by his strong measures for stopping illegal and contraband trade evoked an attempt at censure on the part of his political opponents. After a few months in England, recruiting his health and defending himself in parliament, Sir George returned to his command in February 1782, and a running engagement with the French fleet on 9th April led up to his crowning victory off Dominica, when on 12 th April with thirty-five sail of the line he defeated Comte de Grasse, who had thirty-three sail. The French inferiority in numbers was more than counterbalanced by the greater size and superior sailing qualities of their ships, yet five were taken and one sunk, after eleven hours' fight-ing. This important battle saved Jamaica and ruined French naval ptrestige, while it enabled Rodney to write— " Within two little years I have taken two Spanish, one French, and one Dutch admirals." A long and wearisome controversy exists as to the originator of the manoeuvre of " breaking the line " in this battle, but the merits of the victory have never seriously been affected by any difference of opinion on the question. A shift of wind broke the French line of battle, and advantage was taken of this by the English ships in two places.

Rodney arrived home in August to receive unbounded honour from his country. He had already been created Baron Rodney of Rodney Stoke, Somerset, by patent of 19th June 1782, and the House of Commons had voted him a pension of £62000 a year. From this time he led a quiet country life till his death, which occurred on 24th May 1792, in London, while on a visit to his son. Next to Nelson we may fairly place Rodney, not only because of his well-merited successes, but for masterly decision and confident boldness in grappling with fleets of the three chief maritime states of Europe while in the plenitude of their power. He fought his equals in naval science, but conquered by superior practical skill.

See General Mundy, Life and Correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney, 2 vols., 1830 ; Rodney letters in 9th Report of Hist. MSS. Com., pt. iii. ; "Memoirs" in Naval Chronicle i. 353-393; and Charnock, Biographia Navalis v. 204-228. Lord Rodney published in his lifetime (probably 1789) Letters to His Majesty's Ministers, &c, relative to St Eustatius, &c., of which there is a copy in the British Museum. Most of these letters are printed in Mundy's Life, vol li., though with many variant readings. (G. F. H.)

The above article was written by: G. F. Hooper, Admiralty Library, Whitehall, London,

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