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Paper submitted to Port Towns and Urban Cultures Conference, Portsmouth, July 2013, by Lorna M. Campbell and Heather Noel-Smith.

Slides to accompany this presentation are available from Sildeshare here.


This presentation will look at the post-war political and social activism of Napoleonic era naval officers. We will focus on three individuals, Sir Henry Hart, George, 3rd Earl Cadogan, and Thomas Groube all of whom served together as junior midshipmen aboard the frigate HMS Indefatigable under Captain Sir Edward Pellew. Their naval careers spanned the period of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from the late 1790’s to 1815 and beyond. Following their retirement from service afloat, all three had long and active civilian lives during which they participated in local and national government and supported and contributed to a wide range of charitable and cultural causes. This paper highlights how a common tradition and colleagueship forged in the larboard berth of a fighting warship could produce widely differing political outlooks, but a shared commitment to public duty.

Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and the expansion of the press

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of 1793 – 1815 witnessed not only the ascendency of British naval sea power, but also a corresponding expansion of printed media; the number of newspapers and journals rose yearly and many towns and cities had greater access to popular media than ever before. As a result, the names of naval officers, their activities within the service and their involvement in issues ashore, became more widely known. Naval actions and engagements, promotions and prizes were regularly reported in a range of service journals and the national press. These included The Naval Chronicle, the preeminent naval periodical founded in 1799; The Gentleman’s Magazine a monthly digest of news and commentary, including naval affairs, founded in 1731; and The London Gazette, the official journal of record of British government, founded in 1665 and still published today.

This was also the great era of the political cartoonists; George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson and James Gilray, whose work significantly shaped the public perception of sailors and naval officers. National naval news was also carried in the ever expanding regional press along with additional reports on the successes, or otherwise, of local naval officers.

Changing status of naval officers

As a result of Britain’s notable naval victories and increasing press coverage, the public perception and social status of naval officers changed considerably from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. The image of the naval officer as coarse, unrefined tar, so prevalent during the earlier decades of the eighteenth century, was replaced by the impression of sailors as iconic national heroes. Naval officers were increasingly seen as socially desirable public figures and sought after husbands, as famously illustrated by Jane Austen’s novels Mansfield Park and Persuasion. In the words of the National Maritime Museum’s Amy Miller

the naval officer had evolved to illustrate the qualities of refined sentiment, hard work and high principals.

The navy’s post war activities, including the suppression of the slave trade and Admiral Lord Exmouth’s Bombardment of Algiers, which freed Christian slaves and suppressed Algerine piracy, all contributed to the public perception of the naval officer as moral exemplar and responsible social actor.

Naval officers as political figures

The generation of officers who went to sea in the 1790s largely entered the post 1815 peace as respected public figures and many played a significant part in local and national politics and social actions. This social status was partially founded on their public profile, and by the confidence that the post nominal letters RN engendered. Between 1790 and 1820 one hundred senior naval officers served in Parliament, and between 1820 and 1832 a further 54 took seats in the upper house. Many more served as local judges, magistrates, aldermen and councillors.

Captain Sir Edward Pellew

The three naval officers that this papers focuses on all served together during their formative years as midshipmen on the famous frigate HMS Indefatigable under the command of Captain Sir Edward Pellew. Pellew, a Cornishman from relatively humble origins, made his name early in his naval career as a successful and daring frigate captain. He served in the Royal Navy for over forty years, eventually retiring from active service in 1822 as Admiral Lord Exmouth. In retirement he rose to the highest naval office, Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom.

Throughout his career, Pellew had a reputation for nurturing the careers of his junior officers. Though justly criticised for over-promoting his own sons, nevertheless Pellew also went to great lengths to support and educate many of his young officers, regardless of their interest or standing. Pellew tried to instil in all his officers a strong sense of duty and service, qualities that are apparent in the careers of the three officers presented here.

Research methods

A wide range of original source materials have been used to trace the naval careers, civilian lives and cultural and charitable activities of Hart, Cadogan and Groube. These include Admiralty records and naval sources including muster and pay books, service records and published service biographies, such as Marshalls’ Naval Biography. Non-naval sources have also been used to provide an accurate picture of the lives of these officers outwith the service. These can be broadly divided into two categories; genealogical sources including birth, marriage and death records, wills, tax records and property deeds; and publications and manuscripts including articles from the local and national press, and manuscript letters from a variety of public archives and private collections.

Sir Henry Hart

Henry Hart was born in 1781 in Wilmington Sussex, the eighth child of a family of minor gentry. He joined the navy in 1796 as a volunteer from the East India Company and rose to the rank of post captain, eventually becoming rear admiral in retirement. Hart spent most of his twenty-year naval career serving with Admiral Sir Edward Pellew and Admiral Sir John Gore. During this time he saw service in the Channel, the Mediterranean and the East and West Indies. Hart took part in a number of noted naval actions including the celebrated Droits de L’Homme frigate engagement.

Later in his career, Hart undertook diplomatic service in Panama and Muscat. He finally retired from active naval service in 1835 and was knighted for his diplomatic services in 1836.

Sir Henry Hart – Greenwich Hospital

Following his retirement from active service, Hart was appointed as a Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital in 1845. Attempts were being made to reform the terrible conditions revealed in a report by Sir John Liddell MD, Inspector-General of the Royal Hospital. In order to facilitate these reforms Prime Minister Robert Peel appointed “deserving naval officers”, among them Hart, to act as Commissioners. Although the new Commissioners supported some of Liddell’s reforms others were rejected on the grounds of cost and the hospital finally close in 1869.

Sir Henry Hart – Naval Charities

Like many of his fellow naval officers, Hart supported a wide range of naval and maritime charities and benevolent funds, including the Seaman’s Hospital and the Marine Society, of which he was appointed committee member in 1854.

Sir Henry Hart – Irish Election Petitions

Although not hugely active in local or national politics, Hart’s supported a number of conservative causes. In 1838 he supported the Subscriptions in Aid of Irish Election Petitions, a fund raising campaign by conservatives to support Protestant candidates in the Irish elections. And in 1851 The Times reported that Hart attended a meeting of the Protestant Alliance, which resolved to petition parliament for the repeal of the Maynooth endowment act, which granted government funds to the Catholic Seminary of Maynooth.

Sir Henry Hart – Slavery case

Hart was also an energetic supporter of a number of social causes. As far back as 1819, while serving in the West Indies as captain of the Sapphire, Hart had acted as one of the judges in a landmark case that successfully prosecuted two slave traders in Jamaica under the Slave Felony Act for attempted violation of the Abolition Law.

Sir Henry Hart – Fund for Promoting Female Emigration

Later in life Hart was involved in a number of charities to support destitute and fallen women.

The Fund for Promoting Female Emigration was a scheme established in 1850 that linked philanthropy and political economy. The Fund, which was patronised by Queen Victoria, raised money to encourage deserving women in reduced circumstances to emigrate and paid their passage to the colonies. This was intended to benefit the women themselves and redress the gender imbalance of the colonies. However the society, to which Hart was a subscriber, quickly ran into financial difficulties.

Sir Henry Hart – London Female Mission

The London Female Mission was a charity that provided asylum and refuge to destitute women of all ages. The Mission was partially funded by Quakers and Congregationalists and had its headquarters in Red Lion Square where many Evangelical Societies met. Despite the Mission’s radical connections, both Hart and his wife, Lady Maria, were supportive members of several of the Mission’s committees.

Sir Henry Hart Hart – Technological inventions

Hart also saw himself as something of an inventor and technological improver and in 1848 patented a device to prevent chimneys smoking. This innovation was reported in The Times as follows:

Our admirals in these peaceable times really do valuable civil service. From the list of patents granted in the last week we find the following, Sir Henry Hart, Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, Rear Admiral in our navy, for improvements in apparatus for preventing what are called smoky chimneys. Patent granted July 13th for 6 months.

The invention won the Society of Arts Medal and shortly after The Times carried an advert for the patented chimney “as used at Greenwich hospital”.

The Honourable George Cadogan – naval career

Our second naval officer, the Honourable George Cadogan was born in 1783, the eighth son of the 1st Earl Cadogan. Cadogan joined the navy in 1795 as a Volunteer First Class aboard HMS Indefatigable. He served in the navy for 25 years, but had a somewhat chequered career, during which he experienced mutiny, captivity and court martial. However he retired from the service with honours in 1813 and was decorated for his part in the capture of Zara in the Mediterranean. After he retired from active service, Cadogan was appointed Naval Aide de Camp first to King William IV and later to Queen Victoria. When Cadogan died in 1864 he had reached the rank of third most senior admiral in the British navy.

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – Political activities

Despite being only eighth in line to inherit his father’s title and estate, all seven of Cadogan’s brothers pre-deceased him and in 1832 he became 3rd Earl Cadogan. Cadogan took his seat in the House of Lords on 1831 and supported a number of causes that threatened to impact on the rights of landowners and rural constituents. For example he was a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on several railways and in 1834 spoke and voted against the Extension of the Great Western Railway Bill.

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – Protectionist Party

Later in 1846 The Morning Post reported that Cadogan was present at a meeting for the Protectionist Party, described as:

an entertainment, nominally only a social meeting, but in reality assuming the character of an important political demonstration

The Protectionists were backbench Tories who split from Peel and other senior Tories over the repeal of the Corn Laws. Many Protectionists represented farming and rural constituencies and vehemently opposed the repeal.

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – Naval charities

Like his shipmates, Cadogan also supported a large number of naval and maritime charities. He was a member of the Royal Navy Club, a charity that exists to this day, whose primary purpose is to support the widows and dependents of naval officers above the rank of commander. Cadogan was also a supporter of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners Benevolent Society and was present at the founding of The Church for the Seamen of the Port of London, as reported by The Kentish Gazette in 1846. In addition, Cadogan was a donor and annual subscriber to the Royal Naval Benevolent Society, although The London Standard reported his resignation in 1847 over the secretary’s alleged persecution of a female claimant.

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – Cultural activities

It seems however, that Cadogan’s real passion lay with cultural activities. An enthusiastic collector and antiquarian, he was a trustee and member of both the Society of Antiquaries and the British Museum. The Morning Post also reported in 1833 that Cadogan presided over a dinner held in aid of the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund, a “most useful charity” instituted in 1765, for supporting indigent and infirm actors and actresses, and relieving their widows and children.

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – Walter Scott and Abbotsford Subscription

Cadogan was also a friend of the author Sir Walter Scott, who presented him with a terrier named after a character from one of his popular romantic novels. Cadogan is pictured here with the terrier Fenn in this portrait by Sir Francis Grant. After Scott’s death in 1833, Cadogan contributed to the Abbotsford Subscription, a fund that was attempting to raise money to secure Scott’s house and estate for his family after it had been placed in the hands of creditors when Scott suffered financial ruin following the banking crisis that struck Edinburgh in 1825. The Kentish Gazette reported that Cadogan attended a meeting of the Abbotsford Subscription at the Mansion House in London with the Lord Mayor in the chair. During the meeting, Cadogan raised a resolution stating that “he could not refrain from offering his sincere testimony to the pre-eminent qualities of the great author’s head and heart.”

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – Nelson Memorial Committee

Cadogan’s aesthetic and naval interests came together when he was elected to the Nelson Memorial Committee, which proposed:

that a general subscription be raised for the purpose of erecting a National Monument in a conspicuous part of this Metropolis in commemoration of his glorious achievement.

The Committee raised funds by public subscription and when a competition was launched for designs for a monument in Trafalgar Square, Cadogan was a member of the sub-committee chaired by the Duke of Wellington, which selected the winning entry by William Railton.

George, 3rd Earl Cadogan – the Beau Ideal of a son of the sea

In some respects, Cadogan can be regarded as the archetype of the cultured, aristocratic element of the Royal Navy. The Parisian cultural magazine Les Sylphides, reported on a performance by the Society of Amateurs of Music in London, which featured the Honourable George Cadogan on the bassoon. The group was said to have played with “talent and remarkable ensemble”.

In her book The Idler in France, published in Paris in 1841, the Countess of Blessington described Captain Cadogan as:

frank high-spirited and well bred – the very beau ideal of a son of the sea, possessing all the attributes of that generous race, joined to all those said to be peculiar to the high-born and well educated.

Thomas Groube – naval service

Our third and final officer, Thomas Groube was born to a mercantile family in Falmouth in 1774. He joined the navy in 1794 and served afloat for 19 years, much of the time with Sir Edward Pellew. Groube followed Pellew to India in 1805 when the Admiral was appointed to the post of Commander in Chief of the East Indies Station, and he remained there for a number of years after his patron’s return, serving as the Governor of the Naval Hospital at Madras.

On returning to the UK and retiring from the navy, Groube began a long and active involvement in local politics in Honiton, Devon, where he was elected to the new civic role of alderman. It was here at Honiton that Groube became deeply involved with the Congregational church.

Thomas Groube – civilian activities

Unlike his former Indefatigable shipmates there is no evidence that Groube was involved with naval charities, despite the fact that he continued to use the appellation RN after his name. Instead, he appears to have been more concerned with social and church politics, which resulted in him being regularly mocked by the Tory press while at the same time being lauded by the Whig papers.

Thomas Groube – Income Tax protests

An article in The Western Times in March 1842, concerning protests about the introduction of Income Tax, reported that:

A memorial to the queen numerously and most respectably signed is this day forwarded form Honiton and one also from Ottery against the income tax. That true friend of the poor man Captain Groube RN has most perseveringly accomplished it amidst clerical scorn and Tory sneers. His efforts to promote the best interests of this country are beyond all praise.

Thomas Groube – Income Tax protests
A rather different account of the same event was reported a month later by the Tory Exeter and Plymouth Gazette.

At twelve o’clock the hour fixed for the meeting, the Whig radicals headed by Mr Isaac John Cox, the “kind hearted” Captain Groube, and Mr Gustavus Smith assembled in the room when to their great surprise (for they had calculated on having it all their own way) they were soon followed by a numerous body of the conservatives and in a few minutes the looks of Mr Gustavus Smith unwittingly indicated and foreshadowed the defeat of his party.

In case readers of the Gazette were to misunderstand the apparent complement to the “kind hearted” Captain Groube, the designation is both italicised and in quotation marks.

Thomas Groube – Anti Corn Law Bazaar

In addition to the income tax protest, another radical cause taken up by Groube in 1842 was opposition to the Corn Laws. The Manchester Times reported that Captain Groube was among those who attended the Great National Anti Corn Law Bazaar held at the Manchester Theatre Royal early in that year.

Thomas Groube – Shore scandal

In addition to the civic role of Alderman, Groube was also elected to the largely archaic public position of Portreeve of Honiton. In 1844 he used this office to intervene in a high profile and acrimonious dispute between an evangelical Anglican curate, Revd James Shore, and the Bishop of Exeter. Groube used his historical position to call a public meeting to give the persecuted curate a platform from which to state his grievances. These activities were reported by both sides of the press and gained Groube the title “radical alderman” from the Tory newspapers.


Hart, Cadogan and Groube are typical of many of the post Napoleonic War generation of naval officers in that they went on to serve in public office at both local and national level. They brought to their civilian lives ideals and attitudes that clearly showed the influence of their early training under Captain Sir Edward Pellew and which years of naval service had established; a sense that their hard-won laurels deserved respect and recognition from authority and a deep seated belief that duty and honour were closely entwined.

Each of these officers are unique in their own way, their characters formed not just by their social standing, religious beliefs and political outlook, but by the dangerous and demanding actions, both belligerent and humanitarian, of their naval careers.

Groube combined firm conviction in his radical political stance with an ability to outmanoeuvre his opponents, which reminds one very much of Pellew in his heyday as a frigate commander in the late 1790s. After his death, Groube’s obituaries remembered him as generous and warm hearted but also possessed of unwavering determination to fight for causes that he believed to be just.

Hart demonstrated several gifts in the course of his career, not least his ability to undertake successful diplomatic missions, and his civilian life revealed an admirable commitment to bettering the lives of those less fortunate. He also combined skill at invention with a pragmatic eye for the material benefits that could accrue from technological innovation, both abilities that would have earned his former captain’s approbation.

Cadogan was a more complex man. He began his naval service as an enthusiastic volunteer who quickly gained Pellew’s admiration and affection, but as his career progressed he struggled to command and almost lost one ship to mutiny. At the end of the Napoleonic wars he was decorated for his heroic actions at the siege of Zara, but a few years previously he had been court martialed, and acquitted, on charges of tyranny and cruelty. While contemporary commentators regarded him as the quintessential cultured and charming naval officer, some historians have accused him of tyranny on a par with the notorious Captain Hugh Pigot, whose cruelty resulted in the bloody Hermione mutiny. Despite these apparent contradictions, it is clear that, like his former shipmates, Cadogan placed high value on duty, integrity and honour and that he did not shirk from public service.

his generation was, as we have seen, an important one in that public recognition of naval officers was increasing as a result of the expanding press. These officers carried the experience they gained during their naval service into the post-war period and they continued to serve in public offices and charitable institutions in the towns and cities where they built their civilian lives. Thomas Groube, Henry Hart and George Cadogan may have had radically different social and political backgrounds, which caused them to take very different paths once they re-joined civilian society, but all continued to serve the country for which they had fought together.