Boscawen, Edward

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Boscawen, Edward

Rear-Admiral (1747-55). Vice-Admiral (1755-58) and Admiral (1758-61)

born August 19, 1711, Tregothnan near Falmouth, Cornwall, England

died January 10, 1761, Hatchlands Park, Surrey, England


Edward Boscawen was the third son of Hugh Boscawen, 1st Viscount Falmouth (1680–1734) by his wife Charlotte Godfrey.

In 1723, Boscawen joined the British Navy aboard the Superb (60) who was sent to the West Indies with Admiral Francis Hosier.

In 1726, Boscawen was reassigned to the Canterbury, Hector and finally Namur under Admiral Sir Charles Wager.

In 1729, Boscawen was aboard the Namur when she sailed into Cadiz and Livorno following the Treaty of Seville that ended hostilities between Great Britain and Spain.

On May 25 1732, Boscawen was promoted lieutenant and in August he rejoined his old frigate the Hector (44) in the Mediterranean.

Until October 16 1735, Boscawen served aboard the Hector (44) and was then promoted to the Grafton (70).

On March 12 1736, Boscawen was promoted by Admiral Sir John Norris to the temporary command of the Leopard (50). His promotion was confirmed by the Board of Admiralty.

In June 1738, Boscawen was given command of the Shoreham (20). He was ordered to accompany Admiral Edward Vernon to the West Indies in preparation for the oncoming war with Spain.

During the War of Jenkins' Ear, in 1739, Boscawen had his first opportunity for action and when the Shoreham (20) was declared unfit for service, he volunteered to accompany Vernon and the fleet sent to attack Porto Bello. In November, during the siege of Porto Bello, Boscawen was ordered with Sir Charles Knowles to destroy the forts. The task took three weeks and 122 barrels of gunpowder to accomplish but the British levelled the forts surrounding the town. Vernon’s achievement was hailed in Britain as an outstanding feat of arms. When the fleet returned to Port Royal, Jamaica the Shoreham (20) had been refitted and Boscawen resumed command of her.

At the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession, in 1741, Boscawen was part of the fleet sent to attack another Caribbean port, Cartagena de Indias. Large reinforcements had been sent from Great Britain, including 8,000 soldiers who were landed to attack the chain of fortresses surrounding the Spanish colonial city. The Spanish had roughly 6,000 troops made up of regular soldiers, sailors and local loyalist natives. The siege lasted for over two months during which period the British troops suffered over 18,000 casualties, the vast majority from disease. Vernon’s fleet suffered from dysentery, scurvy, yellow fever and other illnesses that were widespread throughout the Caribbean during the period. As a result of the battle, Prime Minister Robert Walpole’s government collapsed and George II removed his promise of support to the Austrians if the Prussians advanced into Silesia. Boscawen had however distinguished himself once more. In March, the land forces that he commanded had been instrumental in capturing Fort San Luis and Boca Chica Castle, and together with Knowles, he destroyed the captured forts when the siege was abandoned. For his services he was promoted to command the Prince Frederick (64) to replace Lord Aubrey Beauclerk who had died during the siege.

In May 1742, Boscawen returned in the Prince Frederick (64) to England where she was paid off and Boscawen joined the Fleet commanded by Admiral Norris in the newly built Dreadnought (60). In the same year, he was returned as a Member of Parliament for Truro, a position he held until his death. Still the same year, he married Frances Evelyn Glanville with whom he had three sons and two daughters.

In 1744 the French attempted an invasion of England and Boscawen was with the fleet under Admiral Norris when the French fleet were sighted. The French under Admiral Rocquefeuil retreated and the British attempts to engage were confounded by a violent storm that swept the English Channel. Whilst cruising the Channel, Boscawen had the good fortune to capture the French frigate Médée. At the end of the year, Boscawen was given command of the Royal Sovereign, guardship at the Nore anchorage.

In 1745, Boscawen was appointed to another of his old ships Namur (74). He was given command of a small squadron under Vice-Admiral Martin in the Channel.

In 1747, Boscawen was ordered to join Admiral Anson and, on May 14, took an active part in the first Battle of Cape Finisterre. The French fleet was almost completely annihilated with all but two of the escorts taken and six merchantmen. Boscawen was injured in the shoulder during the battle by a musket ball. On July 15, Boscawen was promoted rear-admiral of the blue and was appointed to command a joint operation being sent to the East Indies. With his flag in the Namur and five other line of battle ships a few smaller men of war and a number of transports Boscawen sailed from England on November 4. On the outward voyage Boscawen made an abortive attempt to capture Mauritius by surprise but was driven off by French forces.

In 1748, Boscawen resumed his travel and, on July 29, finally arrived at Fort St. David near the town of Cuddalore where he took over command from Admiral Griffin. Boscawen had been ordered to capture and destroy the main French settlement in India at Pondichéry. Factors such as Boscawen’s lack of knowledge and experience of land offensives, the failings of the engineers and artillery officers under his command, a lack of secrecy surrounding the operation and the skill of the French governor Joseph François Dupleix combined to thwart the attack. The British forces amounting to some 5,000 men captured and destroyed the outlying fort of Aranciopang. This capture was the only success of the operation and after failing to breach the walls of the city the British forces withdrew. Over the monsoon season Boscawen remained at Fort St David. Fortunately, for the Admiral and his staff, when a storm hit the British outpost Boscawen was ashore but his flagship the Namur went down with over 600 men aboard.

In 1750, Boscawen returned to England.

In 1751, Anson became First Lord of the Admiralty and asked Boscawen to serve on the Admiralty Board. Boscawen remained one of the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty until his death.

On 4 February 1755, Boscawen was promoted vice-admiral and given command of a squadron on the North American Station. Despite the fact that Britain and France were not formally at war, preparations were being made for a conflict by then considered inevitable. The British admiralty received intelligence that the French were assembling a squadron of partially disarmed French ships of the line to carry reinforcements to Canada. On April 27, Boscawen got to sea from Portsmouth with his squadron (11 ships of the line, 1 frigate and 1 sloop), convoying two regiments. He sailed to the entrance of the gulf of the Saint-Laurent, near the southern coast of Newfoundland, to intercept the French squadron. On May 3, the French squadron finally put to sea from Brest after much delay. Thick fog both obstructed Boscawen's reconnaissance and scattered the French ships. On June 7, the weather having somewhat cleared, 7 isolated French vessels were spotted by Boscawen's squadron who chased them. During the morning, the British squadron was within 10 km of them, crowding all sail in pursuit. Four of the French vessels managed to disappear in the fog. On June 8, the British squadron caught up with the 3 remaining French ships off Cape Ray off Newfoundland. Towards 11:00 a.m., the Dunkirk (60), came abreast of the Alcide (64) to windward, within short speaking distance. The Torbay (74) (Boscawen's flagship), displaying a red flag as a signal to engage, was not far off. Captain Hocquart called out: "Are we at peace, or war?" He later declared that Howe, Captain of the Dunkirk, replied in French: "La paix, la paix". Hocquart then asked the name of the British Admiral and on hearing it said: "I know him; he is a friend of mine." Being asked his own name in return, he had scarcely uttered it when the batteries of the Dunkirk (60) belched flame and smoke, and volleyed a tempest of iron upon the crowded decks of the Alcide (64). She returned fire, but was forced at length to strike her colours. Rostaing, second in command of the troops, was killed and 6 other officers and about 80 men were killed or wounded. At the same time, the Lys (64) (armed as a flute with only 22 guns) was attacked and overpowered by the Defiance (60) and Fougueux (64). She had on board 8 companies of the battalions of La Reine and Languedoc. The third French ship, the Dauphin Royal (74) (armed as a flute with only 24 guns), escaped under cover of a rising fog. In this engagement, Boscawen made 1,500 men and captured pay amounting to £80,000. The British squadron then headed for Halifax to regroup but a fever spread through the ships and the Boscawen was forced to return to Great Britain. The fever killed almost 2,000 of his men.

In 1756, Boscawen returned to the Channel Fleet and was commander-in-chief at Portsmouth during the trial of Admiral John Byng. Boscawen signed the order of execution after the King had refused to grant the unfortunate admiral a pardon.

In October 1757, Boscawen was second in command under Admiral Edward Hawke.

On February 7 1758, Boscawen was promoted to Admiral of the blue squadron and ordered to take command of the fleet (23 ships of the line and 18 lesser vessels) destined to the expedition against the fortress of Louisbourg in North America. In June and July, he took command of the siege of this fortress. On this occasion rather than entrust the land assault to a naval commander, the army was placed under the command of Major-General Jeffrey Amherst assisted by [[Wolfe, James|Lieutenant-colonel James Wolfe. Louisbourd finally surrendered on July 26. In the Autumn, Boscawen sailed for England. On October 27, he entered the Soundings where he sighted the French squadron returning from Québec. However, Boscawen was unable to engage this squadron due to foul weather. On November 1, he arrived at Spithead. Soon after his arrival, he was awarded the Thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his service. The King made Boscawen a Privy Counsellor in recognition for his continued service both as a member of the Board of Admiralty and commander-in-chief.

On April 14 1759, Admiral Boscawen left Spithead with 3 ships of the line and some frigates, to reinforce the squadron on the Mediterranean station and to take over for a time the chief command of this squadron. On April 27, Boscawen arrived at Gibraltar. There he made arrangements as to the dispositions of cruisers and convoys. On May 3, he sailed from Gibraltar. On May 16, Boscawen joined Vice-Admiral Broderick off Cap Sicié, near Toulon, and assumed command of the British squadron for the coming operations in the Mediterranean. His aim was to prevent another planned invasion of Great Britain by the French. When the British arrived off Toulon, a French squadron was almost ready for sea. The French were carefully observed to prevent them from leaving without being detected and followed. On June 7, Boscawen chased 2 French frigates and drove them into a fortified bay near Toulon. On June 8, Boscawen ordered three of his ships to destroy the two French frigates trapped into this bay. The ships were gallantly taken in. However, they were becalmed while under the batteries and, after a sharp engagement of 2 hours, they had to be recalled without having accomplished their object. All were badly damaged aloft. Boscawen continued to maintain the blockade of Toulon but, at the beginning of July, he was compelled to go to Gibraltar for provisions and repairs. He reached Salou, near Tarragona, on July 8 and remained there till July 24. On August 4, he finally reached Gibraltar. Two of his frigates were ordered to cruise off Malaga and between Estepona and Ceuta to keep watch for the French fleet. On August 17, the Gibraltar (20) sighted the French squadron who had sailed from Toulon and had passed the straits of Gibraltar. As soon as informed, Boscawen sent off an officer to the Gibraltar (20), ordering her to keep sight of the foe and from time to time to signal to him accordingly. His squadron was not quite ready for sea and Boscawen's flag-ship, the Namur (90), in particular, had not so much as a single sail bent. Still, a little before 10:00 p.m., the whole fleet, of 13 ships of the line and two 50-gun ships besides frigates, was out of the bay. On August 18, Boscawen's fleet engaged the French squadron in the Battle of Lagos. By 5:00 p.m., the outnumbered French ships set all possible sail to get away. During the night of August 18 to 19, Boscawen pursued the French squadron. On August 19, battle resumed near Lagos in Portugal and the British captured two ships of the line and destroyed two others. After the battle, Boscawen despatched Captain Matthew Buckle in the Gibraltar (20) to Great Britain with dispatches. As soon as his fleet had repaired damages, Boscawen returned to Great Britain, in accordance with his instructions. Boscawen's reward was a generalship in the Marines.

In 1760, Admiral Boscawen returned to sea for the final time and took his station off the west coast of France around Quiberon Bay. After a violent attack of what was later diagnosed as Typhoid fever he came ashore.

On January 10 1761, Boscawen died at his home in Hatchlands Park in Surrey. His body was taken to St. Michael’s Church, Penkivel, Cornwall where he was buried.


This article borrows most of its texts for the period before 1755 from the Wikipedia article Edward Boscawen, retrieved on February 2 2014

The section on the period after 1755 is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.

Other sources

Admiral Edward Boscawen, born in Cornwall