Rodney, George Brydges

, a celebrated naval commander, was the second son of Henry Rodney, esq. of Walton on Thames, and Mary, eldest daughter and coheir to sir Henry Newton, knight, envoy- extraordinary to Genoa, LL. D. judge of the high-court of admiralty, and chancellor of the diocese of London. His father, as a naval officer, commanded the yacht in which king George I. attended by the duke of Chandos, used to embark in going to or coming from Hanover, and in consequence, asked leave that his son might be called George Brydges. He was born in Dec. 1717. At the desire, or by the command, of his royal and noble god-fathers, he entered early into the navy, and in 1742 he was lieutenant in the Namur, commanded by admiral Matthews. In November of the same year, he was promoted by the admiral to the command of ili Plymouth, of shrty gtttts; on returning home he was removed into the Sheerness, a small frigate; and in 174i he was npp.iinied to the command of the Lucliowcastle, of furty-iour guns. In this ship he does not appear | to have continued long, for in May 1746, he was captain of the Eagle, a new ship of sixty guns, then employed as a cruiser on the Irish station. While here he captured two large privateers. He continued in the Eagle during the remainder of the war, and was one of the commanders under the orders of rear-admiral Hawke, when in 1747 he defeated L’Etendiere’s squadron. On this occasion capt. Rodney behaved with much spirit, and may be said to have then laid the foundation of that popularity he afterwards in so high a degree possessed. On the conclusion of the war he was, in March 1749, appointed to the Rainbow, a fourth rate, and in May following was nominated governor and commander-in-chief in and over the island of Newfoundland. Immediately afterwards he proceeded thither with the small squadron annually sent there in time of peace, for the protection of the fishery. Some time after his return in 1753 he married Miss Compton, daughter of Charles Compton, esq. and sister to Spencer, then earl of Northampton. In 1757 he was engaged, under the command of admirals Hawke and Boscawen, to attempt a descent on the coast of France, near Rochefort; and in 1759 he was advanced rear-admiral of the blue. In this same year he was sent to bombard Havre de Grace, where a large force was collected for the purpose of attempting an invasion of this country. He executed the trust committed to him so completely, that the town itself was several times on fire, and the magazines of stores and ammunition burnt with fury upwards of six hours, notwithstanding the exertions used to extinguish it. Thus had admiral Rodney the happiness of totally frustrating the design of the French court; and so completely did he destroy their preparations, that the fort itself, as a naval arsenal, was no longer during the war in a state to annoy Great Britain. In 1761 admiral Rodney was very instrumental in the capture of the islands of St Pierre, Granada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent, when the whole Caribbees came into the possession of the English. For his skill and bravery in the war, he was, after the conclusion of it, raised to the dignity of a baronet. In 1768, after an expensive, and to sir George Rodney a ruinous, contest with Mr. Howe, he was elected member of parliament for Northampton. In the month of October 1770 he was progressively advanced to be vice-admiral of the white and red squadrons, and in the month of August 1771, to be rear-admiral of Great Britain. In the very | arly part of this year he resigned the mastership of Greenwich hospital, to which he had been appointed in 1765, and was immediately after made commander-in-chief on the Jamaica station, whither he repaired, having his flag on board the Princess Amelia of 80 guns. The appointment of this ship to that service was intended as a particular and pointed compliment, it being extremely unusual to send a three-decked ship on that station, except in time of actual war. It is said the command in India was offered to him, which he declined, entertaining hopes of being appointed governor of Jamaica in case of the death of sir William Trelawney; but in this he was disappointed. After his return to England at the expiration of the time allotted for the continuance of his command, he retired to France, where he lived some years in obscurity, hoping to retrieve the losses he had suffered at the Northampton election. It is said that the French king wished to take advantage of his pecuniary embarrassments, and through the duke de Biron made him the most unbounded offers if he would quit the English for the French service. In reply to this proposal he said,“My distresses, sir, it is true, have driven me from the bosom of my country, but no temptation can estrange me from her service. Had this offer been voluntary on your part, I should have deemed it an insult, but I am glad to learn it proceeds from a source that can do no wrong.” The duke was so struck with the patriotism of the admiral, that he became attached to him as a friend, and is said to have advanced him a sum of money to revisit England, and solicit a command.

Before this event the French had united with the Americans in a war against this country, and about the close of 1779, the chief command of the Leeward islands was given to sir George Rodney, upon which he hoisted his flag on board the Sandwich. From this time he was very successful against his majesty’s enemies, but our limits do not allow us to particularize all the advantages that resulted from his services during the remainder of the war of which we are speaking. In the first year he had done enough to obtain a vote of thanks from the House of Lords, and the freedom of the cities of London and Edinburgh; but his great triumph was on the 12th of April, 1782, in an engagement in the West Indies with count de Grasse. This battle was fought among the islands of Guadaloupe, Dominique, the Saintes, and Marigalante. As soon as the | day broke admiral Rodney threw out the signal for close action, and every vessel obeyed it most scrupulously. The British line was formed at the distance of one cable’s length between each ship. As the ships came up separately, they ranged close alongside their opponents, passing along the enemy for that purpose, giving and receiving, while thus taking their stations, a most dreadful and tremendous fire. The action continued in this manner till noon, when admiral Rodney resolved to carry into execution a manoeuvre which he expected would gain him a complete and decisive victory: for this purpose, in his own ship, the Formidable, supported by the Namur, the Duke, and the Canada, he bore down with all the sail set on the enemy’s line, within three ships of the centre, and succeeded in breaking through it in a most masterly style. As soon as he had accomplished this, the other ships of his division followed him, and they all wore round, doubled on the enemy, and thus they placed between two fires those vessels which, by the first part of the manoeuvre, they had cut off from the rest of the fleet. As soon as admiral Rodney and the vessels which followed him, wore, he made the signal for the van to tack, by which means they gained the windward of the French, and completed the disorder and confusion in which the breaking of the line had thrown them. One consequence of the breaking of the line was, that opportunities were given for desperate actions between single ships. The whole loss of the enemy on this occasion amounted to eight ships; one had been sunk, and another blown up after she had been taken, and six ships remained in possession of the conquerors. It was esteemed remarkably fortunate, and glorious for the victors, that de Grasse’s ship, the Ville de Paris, was the only first rate man-of-war that had ever, at that time, been taken and carried into port by any commander of any nation. And this ship was on the present occasion fought so well, that when it struck there were but three men left alive and unhurt on the upper deck.

The British nation were so sensible of the bravery displayed both by officers and men in this action, and of the importance of it as the only means of preserving the remainder of the West India islands, that they manifested the most excessive joy when intelligence of the victory arrived. It came extremely seasonable in other points of view. Neither by land, nor by sea, except where admiral Rodney had been engaged, had we been able to meet the enemj | on any occasion with great and decisive advantage; and, in too many instances, we had retired from the contest not in the most honourable manner. As the means of obtaining more favourable terms of peace, this important victory was hailed with joy and exultation; and as admiral Rodney was looked up to as the cause of it, the gratitude of the nation towards him was deeply felt, and expressed in warm and glowing language. It was recollected that the fortune of sir George Rodney had been peculiarly singular, as well as highly glorious in the war. Within little more than two years he had given a severe blow to each of our three powerful continental enemies, the French, Spaniards, and Dutch. He had in that time taken an admiral of each nation; added twelve line of battle ships, all taken from the enemy, to the British navy; and destroyed five more. He received the unanimous thanks of both houses of parliament; and his majesty added dignity to the peerage of the realm, by calling the victorious admiral to a seat in the upper house, by the title of baron Rodney, of Rodney Stoke, in the county of Somerset.

It has been observed that the victory of the 12th of April was gained by putting in practice an entirely new system of naval tactics, the adoption of which formed an era in our naval history, and may be regarded as the cause of the glorious victories by which the fame of British seamen has been raised to such a pitch of glory; and the maritime power of our enemies in the late war, has not only been crippled, but absolutely annihilated. It has been said, in order to derogate from the honour of the admiral, that, in the instance of the 12th of April, it was the effect of chance, and not effected by the foresight of sir George Rodney. This idea has been satisfactorily exposed and refuted. The only question on the subject is, whether the honour of the plan is due to admiral Rodney or Mr. Clerk, the author of a treatise on “Naval Tactics;” but on this our limits will not permit us to enter.

With the brilliant victory of the 12th of April sir George closed his professional career; to his title was added a pension of 2000l. to descend to his heirs. He died in London the 24th of May, 1792. For his important services to the West Indian islands in particular, a temple was built to receive his statue at Spanish Town, Jamaica.

A contemporary of the noble admiral said, that as an officer of nautical abilities, none were his superiors, and

| but few his equals. He possessed a bold and original genius, which always carried him direcily to the object he had in view. As a man, he was benevolent, generous, and friendly. He has been known to be writing his private letters, and dictating to three secretaries at the same time. “In private life he displayed the manners of an accomplished gentleman and he who, when called by his country, could hurl its thunders against the foes, and lead its navies to almost undeviating victory, was, in peace, the ornament of domestic society, and a pattern of that elegant and polished behaviour, which almost always distinguishes the higher orders among us.1
1 Cbarnock’s Biog. Navalis. Collins’s Peerage, by sir E.>rydges,-=-Rees’s Cyclopædia.