The Naval Bradbys of the Hamble
Justin Reay FSA FRHistS
The Bradby family was well-known in the Hamble and Southampton area from the end of the 17th century, first as mariners, then ship-owners, ship-builders and landed gentry. Several members served in the Royal Navy in the age of sail, of whom James senior (1738-1809) achieved the highest rank, becoming Rear Admiral of the Blue. While not one of the iconic sea-officers of his extraordinary generation, he represents a family who gave – and continue to give in the modern era – sound service to their country in the navy.[i]
In this the Hamble Bradbys are comparable with other naval dynasties such as the Howards, Cochranes, Rowleys, Hoods, Howes and Parkers, and it is surprising that a study of this naval dynasty – one of the few from the area close to the naval area of southern England – has not been published before this brief essay.
Rear Admiral James Bradby
James senior served mainly in the Home and Channel fleets and saw little action during the American Revolutionary and French Revolutionary Wars, but as commander of the Thunderer, 74, he was in Fielding’s engagement off the Isle of Wight in 1779 which precipitated the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. This appointment to Thunderer was a considerable step up from his previous command of a fireship, the Pluto, and would have required Bradby to pass examination by the Navy Board to command a ship-of-the-line.
The Britannia, for which the first family document listed in the sources below provides a number of operational orders and fleet administration letters, is the 100-gun 1st rate ship-of-the-line which was in Nelson’s weather column in the line at Trafalgar in 1805 as the flag-ship of the Earl of Northesk under the command of Charles Bullen. In 1780 Britannia had just returned from the American station during the Revolutionary War and was Vice Admiral George Darby’s flag-ship in the Channel Fleet; for Bradby to be appointed the flag-ship’s commander (not the Flag Captain) was a significant honour and again another big promotion from the 3rd-rate Thunderer. The orders extant in this volume in the Bradby-Ridley-Wilson family’s archives appear to reflect a quiet cruise in home waters but the fleet’s various voyages in 1780 and 1781 from Torbay across the Channel and the Bay of Biscay to Cadiz and Gibraltar came at a very critical period, with the expectation of a major fleet action against the French or Spanish at any time. In the event this was avoided only by chance.
Bradby’s order book encompasses a period when he was at the height of his professional career, in command of a very important warship at a particularly critical period for Great Britain. The Britannia was the flag-ship of the commander-in-chief of the Channel Fleet, George Darby, Vice Admiral of the Blue and include a few documents of special interest, for example, a fleet order for the line of battle in which Britannia, as the fleet commander’s flag-ship, is given its due place at the head of the Centre Division. Victory, then the flag-ship of Vice Admiral Francis Samuel Drake, is shown at the head of the Van Division, and the Prince George, flag-ship of Rear Admiral Digby, as the lead ship of the Rear Division. The order book also contains detailed and intriguing notes about provision for treating large numbers of sick and hurt seamen under tents – presumably during a period when a shore hospital was unavailable.
Bradby was sailing in illustrious company. With Darby in Britannia was Rear Admiral Sir Richard Kempenfelt, who acted as Darby’s Flag Captain. Bradby and the Britannia came under Kempenfelt’s command at Spithead in November 1781 and, according to Bradby family legend, he visited Kempenfelt in the ill-fated Royal George at Portsmouth in August 1782, a few hours before she heeled over and sank at her moorings with the loss of 900 men including Kempenfelt.
As the operational commander of the senior squadron’s flag-ship, Bradby’s every action would have been under scrutiny by fellow officers in the fleet, which included such experienced and gimlet-eyed professionals as John Jervis, Sir Richard Bickerton, Lord Mulgrave and Richard Calder. Bradby’s transfers from September 1782 to the 50-gun 4th-rates Trusty and then the Salisbury must have been seen by him as a demotion. However his move to smaller ships subsequent to leaving Britannia does not indicate any disapproval by his peers and should be understood in the light of a plethora of more senior captains in peacetime clamouring to retain any command. Indeed, Bradby seems to have been well regarded, and as Trusty was a new ship being commissioned and Salisbury was undergoing a major refit, his role was to oversee their working up for operational duty, a tedious but important and challenging task which other good commanders such as Nelson had also occasionally been required and directed to undertake. Rather than any disapproval of his professional competence – his meteoric rise from un-rated small ship commander to Captain of a 1st rate ship-of-the-line is ample demonstration of the regard in which he was held by the Admiralty and by his influential peers – this apparent demotion was probably due to the laying-up in ordinary of many capital ships during the short peace from the end of 1782 and his lack of seniority (based on date of commission) compared to many other senior Captains; as a Post Captain his rise to flag rank was assured over time.
Bradby had a brother, three sons and two nephews in the navy.[ii] His brother Daniel retired as an undistinguished Lieutenant at the age of 59. His sons were: James junior, Bonamy, and Matthew Barton Bradby, all of whom were commissioned.
Captain James Bradby Junior and his brothers
James junior was an active small-ship commander; he was mentioned in dispatches as Captain of the 20-gun sloop Ariadne during the attack on the Bruges Canal in 1798, and as commander of the frigate Andromeda, 32, became a squadron Commodore in 1801 escorting a convoy to join Admiral Sir Thomas Duckworth in the West Indies. It is probable that it is James junior whom the author Patrick O’Brian used as the model for the Captain James Bradby whose (somewhat premature) death in April 1800 loosens a command chain enabling the fictional Royal Navy officer Jack Aubrey to be posted to the Sophie; O’Brian frequently used the names, and often the professional exploits, of real naval people of the period and possessed personal copies of all the various lists of sea-officers in the Georgian navy; James’ early death noted in the lists may have caught O’Brian’s eye while searching for just such a solution. James junior’s memorial tablet at St Andrew’s Church, Hamble, states that he died on 4 June 1801, and the National Maritime Museum’s maritime memorials record for him states that he contracted yellow fever, a common cause of death for sailors on the West Indies station at this period, and that he died at Martinique. However, a report in French newspapers of 4th July 1801, recorded in several English newspapers, indicates that he was thought to have died of wounds sustained in a stiff action against the French frigate La Cocarde off Guadaloupe on 28th May.[iii]
There is some confusion about the key dates and final naval rank for Bonamy, who was named for his mother’s Guernsey family. What is known is that he passed for Lieutenant on 19th November 1790, and was Third Lieutenant in Majestic, 74, (Captain Charles Cotton) at the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794.[iv] According to the memorial tablet in Hamble church which he shares with his brother James junior, he died on 22 July 1795 at the age of 27 (not 22 as given in the family’s pedigree), and the NMM’s record states that he also died of yellow fever at Martinique. His commands are not known, no listing for his promotion to Captain is recorded in the London Gazette and his highest rank is given as Lieutenant in David Bonner Smith’s list of naval officers, but he is stated to be a Captain on the memorial tablet at Hamble and in Bradby family records.[v]
Bradby family legend has it that Matthew Barton Bradby was the youngest Post-Captain of the period, but he was not made Post until 1810, when he was 30 – several other officers of his generation achieved that key rank at a much younger age, Samuel Hood Linzee for example at the age of 20, Thomas Lord Cochrane in his early 20s, and his cousin Thomas made a Post Captain at 17! However, Matthew was a high achiever in a competitive profession; he passed for Lieutenant in July 1796, at the age of 16 and was gazetted Commander in May 1802, at the young age of 22.[vi] He retired from the Service in the 1820s; having inherited much of his father’s estate he farmed and took up the family’s former interest in building small boats on the Hamble, but kept his connections with the navy, ultimately with tragic consequences. He was drowned in a freak accident in the Solent, sailing his own yacht, the Catherine, from a review of the Fleet’s “gun day” at Portsmouth; the yacht was struck by lightning and capsized, claiming the lives also of Matthew’s friends, Vice Admiral Sir Joseph Yorke with whom he had sailed as Lieutenant in the Jason, Captain Thomas Young, and Bradby’s personal coxswain, all of them weighed down by heavy boat cloaks and sea-boots and drowning before they could be reached.
Lieutenant Thomas Bradby of Southampton
Of Admiral Bradby’s two ‘naval’ nephews, from the Southampton branch of the family, James was born in 1786 and went to sea young as a Gentleman Volunteer; according to family tradition he served (probably as Officer’s Servant) under his cousin Captain James Bradby junior in Ariadne, in which James junior’s younger brother Bonamy was a lieutenant. Young James was still alive in 1798 when James Bradby junior made his will naming his cousin as a beneficiary of his “quadrant and spiing glasses as soon as he should become a Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Service”, but he was lost at sea soon soon after while returning home in an unknown ship.
Admiral Bradby’s other nephew, Thomas Bradby, born in 1788, deceased 1871, also entered the Service young, at the age of eight. He too was in Ariadne as a Gentleman Volunteer with his cousin James junior as commander; this small warship then had three Bradbys serving in her, Bonamy having moved to Majestic by 1794. The journal covers the period when Ariadne was in the Thames, the North Sea and off the western coast of Ireland. Thomas (known to the family as Tom) followed his cousin in 1800 as a Midshipman to James junior’s new command, the frigate Andromeda; in her they sailed from Portsmouth, escorting a convoy to the West Indies, where in March they blockaded islands in French hands and engaged enemy warships. James junior apparently died at Martinique of disease later in 1801 (but see the note above). Thomas then entered the frigate Magnanime where he was rated Able, part of the necessary path to a commission. In her he returned to England, landing in February 1802, and during the Peace of Amiens (October 1801 – May 1803) he was at school at Southampton with his younger brother Edward (who became an officer in the British Army in India), his only known formal education. His journals show that his hand is clear and his spelling not as idiosyncratic as many another Midshipman of the period, so he must have received some schooling at home before he went to sea, and would have also benefitted from the attentions of his cousins or other officers in the Ariadne in respect of writing, drawing and mathematics, as was required by the Service in the absence, on such a small vessel, of an appointed schoolmaster.
On the resumption of hostilities, Thomas saw service in the West Indies, the Channel, the Baltic, the Norwegian Sea, the north-eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Southern Ocean (where he landed at St Helena during Napoleon’s exile there), the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. He had the patronage of his uncle’s and cousins’ friends in the Service, notably his uncle Matthew’s friends the Duke of Clarence and Sir Joseph Yorke, a naval officer of distinction with whom Tom sailed as Midshipman twice and who became a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. Tom served on 1st and 2nd-rate flagships as a senior midshipman (probably as a Master’s Mate as his personal journal contains many mathematical workings and navigation notes), and left the operational fleet to return to England for his Lieutenant’s examinations, passing in July 1809 at the age of 21, a reasonably young age for such a promotion to a commission, having already served at sea for 11 years. He entered the 3rd-rate Triumph under Samuel Hood Linzee (a distant paternal kinsman of Lord Samuel Hood) on an extended cruise, and moved to the armed schooner Rolla, 10, as Second Lieutenant in 1811 – in which he took part in the capture of the French brig l’Espoile, 16 – and then moved to the Alphaeus, a 36-gun frigate, usually an opportunity to shine in wartime.
According to Bradby family correspondence, Thomas was disgruntled at the slowness of promotion, and became more so at the general peace after 1815 when he was placed on the half-pay list as a senior Lieutenant (equivalent to the modern rank of Lieutenant Commander); he is shown in the half-pay lists in 1848 as a Commander (i.e. a senior Lieutenant in command of an unrated warship, not a Commander in the modern ranking, which came into the Royal Navy only in 1914, and specifically not a Captain), and appears not to have been to sea after the Alphaeus was paid off in 1817. There are no records of his having command of a rated warship and his commonly given title of ‘Captain’ is an honorific, not an established rank.
Thomas Bradby’s early Journal as a Volunteer in the Ariadne is typical of “young gentlemen’s” personal journals in the age of sail, and has some naval interest.[vii] Such journals rarely survive and those that do follow a similar format to Midshipman’s Journals, copying the hourly entries of the official “ships’ logs”, and often also including detailed, annotated views of coastlines and anchorages, which the version in the Bradby family collection does not. Entries were made up each evening from the chalked watch-and-watch logs held in the cockpit from which the official Master’s Journal would also be written up each half-day; Bradby’s entries are generally neat and show a growing familiarity with his profession. The remark “Very Bad Indeed” is boldly written across a page, which may have been written by James Bradby Junior, exasperated that his young charge did not copy the watch logs accurately or write clearly enough. It would be useful to compare the handwriting of these comments with James junior’s hand in his manuscript signal book for Ariadne, now in the archives of the National Maritime Museum (SIG/B/56). The Ariadne did not rate a Navy Board sailing master (James junior was his own ‘Master and Commander’) or a schoolmaster, so the scrawled remark and accompanying corrections on other pages may have been made by the Captain, or by another officer or a Master’s Mate – that is, either a lower deck Navy Board Warrant officer or a senior Royal Navy Midshipman – any of whom could have been Tom’s “sea-daddy”, teaching him navigation and maritime mathematics.
Thomas’s journal as a Midshipman, continued privately as a Lieutenant, is particularly interesting as it contains, in addition to operational and environmental data, several very attractive sketches of warships at distance and in detail, and appealing portraits, some of which are worthy of wider display. This, together with the somewhat sentimental selection of poems and homilies it also contains, may interest social historians too. It is interesting that there are occasional dated entries extending beyond his time in the Triumph, demonstrating that this journal was with him for several years.
Thomas used the spare pages for private observations, to copy poetry and homilies, and for the very fine sketches he made of ships and people. There are no examples of the precise coloured and silhouette drawings of anchorages and sea-marks which every Midshipman was encouraged to make, although there is an unfinished measured architectural drawing, perhaps of the Arco de Rua Augusta at Lisbon, which he landed at when in the Triumph.
Such logs were the personal property of Midshipmen and, signed by each of his commanders as he moved from ship to ship, were shown to the Navy Board panel at his Lieutenant’s examination; it would not have been archived in the public records. However, there is scope for further research into the Bradby naval dynasty, in the personal Lieutenant’s Journals kept by each of the Bradbys, archived at TNA (ADM/53 series), and in the entries made by the commissoned Bradbys in their respective vessels’ Watch Lieutenants’ Logs kept by Lieutenants succeeding each other watch and watch, and archived at the National Maritime Museum (now part of the Royal Museums Greenwich) under the series reference ADM/L/P. The NMM holds the Lieutenant’s Logbook for James Bradby senior (at ADM/L/P/390) in the Prince Frederick from 1 October 1758 to 30 September 1760.
© Justin Reay FSA FRHistS 2012-13
This essay discusses the naval careers of nine members of the Bradby families of Hamble and Southampton across two centuries. It derives from research undertaken on behalf of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, encompassing manuscript documents of naval interest and privately-printed family records and recent manuscript notes which belong to the Bradby-Ridler-Wilson family of Oxford, loaned to the author to study for his advisory report as potential acquisitions by the Bodleian, and from material in primary and secondary sources confirming, expanding upon and sometimes correcting those documents.
The Bradby-Ridler-Wilson Family naval papers:
1. The order book of Captain (later Rear-Admiral) James Bradby senior, as commander of His Majesty’s Ship Britannia, 100 guns, between July 1780 and April 1782 when she was the Channel Fleet flag-ship of Admiral George Darby and later of Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, and as commander of the Trusty, 50 and the Salisbury, 50 between September 1782 and January 1784;
2. A personal Journal of Proceedings of H M sloop Ariadne, 20, from August 1798 to August 1799 under the command of Captain James Bradby junior, kept by Thomas Bradby, Gentleman Volunteer;
3a. A personal Journal of Proceedings of H M Ship Christian VII, 80, commanded by Captain Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke, at moorings in Portsmouth Harbour and en voyage to the Downs between May and September 1808, kept by Thomas Bradby, Midshipman.
3b. A personal Journal of Proceedings of H M Ship Triumph, 74, Captain Samuel Hood Linzee, in squadron cruising to Lisbon, Madeira, Cadiz and Gibraltar between January and August 1809, with many professional and personal notes, mathematical workings, and sketches, kept by Thomas Bradby, Midshipman [later Lieutenant].
Other Sources consulted:
Printed and manuscript Primary Sources:
National Maritime Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich :
- ADM/L/P/390 : Navy Board Lieutenant’s Logbooks for H M Ship Prince Frederick 1758-1761: Lt. James Bradby [snr] 1 Oct. 1758 – 30 Sept. 1760;
- HOL/27 : manuscript orderbook for the Pluto fireship, Cdr James Bradby [snr], 1779, including signals for Fireships;
- Maritime Memorial M2482, Captain James Bradby [jnr] and Captain Bonamy Bradby, St Andrew’s Church, Hamble, record online at www.rmg.co.uk/memorials accessed March 2012;
- SIG/B/11 (formerly SM14) : manuscript signal book, (incomplete), also used as a notebook for sailing directions, kept by Captain James Bradby [snr], 1781;
- SIG/B/56 (formerly SIG/M/187) : manuscript signal book entitled ‘Signals at first established for the division of gun vessels at St Helens in February 1798 under the command of James Bradby 2d. Esqr. Captain of the ARIADNE. Corrected and a new code given out in April following’: also containing ‘Additional signals to be made by Ships or Vessels that may have been reconnoiting [sic] Dunkirk’ issued by John Lawford, and details of coastal signal stations.
Naval Chronicle, vol VI, 1801 p172 and p259 (notices of the death of James Bradby junior and promotion into the Dedaigneuse frigate of Lieutenant Matthew Bradby)
Pappalardo, B Royal Navy Lieutenants’ Passing Certificates 1691-1902 (TNA 2001)
De Poggi, AC A Narrative of the Proceedings of His Majesty’s Fleet under the Command of Earl Howe, from the Second of May to the Second of June M.DCC.XCIV (1796)
The Aberdeen Journal Wednesday June 2, 1802 (notice of Matthew Bradby’s promotion to Commander)
Admiralty List of Sea-officers of the Royal Navy (1831)
Beatson, R Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783 (1804)
Colledge, JJ and Warlow, B (eds) Ships of the Royal Navy (2010)
Gentleman’s Magazine, vol 101, 1831 p.459
London Gazette, May 12th 1801 (account of the Andromeda’s blockade of the French islands)
The Morning Post and Gazetteer London, Friday August 28th 1801 (?erroneous report of James junior’s death in action)
O’Byrne, W Naval Biographical Dictionary (1849)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry for Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke by J K Laughton, revised by Andrew Lambert (2004)
Portsmouth Telegraph or Mottley’s Naval and Military Journal, Monday December 1, 1800 (sailing of the Andromeda, Captain Bradby)
Smith, DB Commissioned Sea-officers of the Royal Navy (National Maritime Museum, Greenwich 1954)
Syrett, D and DiNardo RL (eds) The Commissioned Sea-officers of the Royal Navy, 1600-1815 (Navy Records Society 1994)
The Times, Monday May 9th 1831, p.3 (report of the loss of the Catherine and deaths of Admiral Yorke and Captains Bradby and Young)
[i] At least nine members of the Hamble and Southampton Bradbys have held commissions in the Royal Navy, of which one was of flag rank and three were full Captains; while the Cochrane dynasty’s record of 24 commissioned sea officers, nine of flag rank is probably unsurpassed (see Justin Reay, ‘The Fighting Cochranes: a naval dynasty like no other ’, Trafalgar Chronicle, 2013), the Bradbys’ meritorious service in this context is outstanding
[ii] Of interest to the author, a William H Bradby is noted as being amongst the Midshipmen of HM Ship Cumberland attacking a French convoy in the Bay of Rosas in November 1809; London Gazette, December 2 1809
[iii] Consultation of the Andromeda’s journals, and her action dispatches and list of dead and wounded in The National Archives would clarify this
[iv] De Poggi 1796, p65; David Bonner Smith 1954; if Bonamy was 22 when he died in 1795, he would have been under age to pass for Lieutenant in 1790 – however, as we will see with Matthew Bradby that is not proscriptive
[v] NMM Maritime Memorials, qv; however, neither Bonner Smith nor Syrett & DiNardo list James senior’s promotion to Admiral and the various contemporary and modern sea officer lists are notoriously incomplete
[vi] To pass for Lieutenant candidates had to be 18 years of age, so Matthew’s underage candidacy was technically illegal but common enough not to attract too much comment, Nelson himself being under age on commission. The ages of all the Bradby officers is taken from the Bradby Pedigree, a private family compilation in typescript and manuscript which may not be accurate in respect of birth dates and ages
[vii] Note that this is not a Midshipman’s Journal, which was an official document which would have been signed by each of the Midshipman’s commanders to be handed to the Navy Board at his examination for a commission to Lieutenant; this volume is a personal journal kept as a Gentleman Volunteer, possibly under encouragement from his cousin as good practice for the future