Harry Powlett, 6th Duke of Bolton
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He was the second son of Harry Powlett, 4th Duke of Bolton and Catherine Parry. Educated at Winchester (1728–1729), he joined the Royal Navy, becoming a lieutenant aboard Shrewsbury on 4 March 1740. He was promoted to captain of the Port Mahon on 15 July 1740, and was moved to Oxford in July 1741. While commanding Oxford, he took part in the Battle of Toulon, and later gave damaging evidence against Richard Lestock.
He was moved to Sandwich in March 1745, and shortly thereafter to Ruby. Ruby, with Defiance and Salisbury, was dispatched from Plymouth to the fleet off Brest on 11 April 1746. Before finding the fleet under Admiral William Martin on 22 May, he was able to capture the French frigate Embuscade. He was given command of Exeter in November 1746 and was sent to the East Indies to serve under Rear-Admiral Thomas Griffin and Admiral Edward Boscawen. He was employed by Boscawen at the Siege of Pondicherry to take soundings off Pondicherry, in order to arrange the dispositions of the naval blockade of the town.
Upon returning to England in April 1750, Captain Powlett charged Griffin with misconduct for failing to engage eight French ships at Cuddalore, a decision which had been generally unpopular among Griffin's captains. Griffin was, indeed, found guilty of negligence, and suspended from his rank for a time. He, in turn, court-martialed Powlett on charges including cowardice, which Powlett attempted to escape by going on half-pay. Meanwhile, he entered the House of Commons in 1751 as Member of Parliament for Christchurch. On 7 May 1752, he married Mary Nunn (died 1764), by whom he had one daughter:
- Lady Maria Henrietta Powlett (died 30 March 1779), married John Montagu, 5th Earl of Sandwich
Despite Powlett's evasions, he was court-martialled on 1 September 1752, but Griffin's charges failed for want of evidence, and he was acquitted. The incident proved somewhat sensational, and concluded in a duel between the two officers in 1756 on Blackheath. He was appointed to command Somerset in January 1753.
Both Powlett's rapid rise to a captaincy and his willingness to engage in courts martial of his superiors were a result of his patronage connections. His father's support of Walpole had made him a Lord of the Admiralty in 1733, a post which he retained until 1742. Even after leaving the Admiralty, the Bolton political connections remained sufficiently strong to ensure his continued promotion. However, he had apparently already become a figure of satire: he is believed to have inspired the character of "Captain Whiffle" in The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748).
In 1754, he became known as Lord Harry Powlett on his father's succession to the Dukedom, and replaced his elder brother Charles in the family constituency of Lymington. Appointed to command Barfleur on 4 February 1755, he petitioned the Duke of Newcastle, then Prime Minister, for promotion to flag rank, on the strength of his family's support of the government. However, a damaging accident to his reputation occurred soon after, while acting with Admiral Hawke's fleet off France. Sent on 22 August 1755 to chase a sail to the south-east, he became detached from the fleet. While waiting at the rendezvous on 25 August, the ship's carpenter reported Barfleur's sternpost to be dangerously loose, and Powlett returned to Spithead for repairs. In October, he was court-martialled for separating from the fleet and returning to port without justification. He was admonished on the first charge and acquitted on the second, the carpenter being dismissed as incompetent; but it was popularly felt that the carpenter had been scapegoated, and Powlett hereafter received the sobriquet of Captain Stern-post.
Notwithstanding this incident, the Bolton influence proved irresistible, and he was promoted Rear Admiral on 4 June 1756 and Vice-Admiral of the White on 14 February 1758. Feeling ran strongly against him, despite his promotions, and he never again received a naval command, even at the outbreak of the Seven Years' War. Supposedly, Boscawen requested Powlett's appointment as his second-in-command in 1756, but it was refused by George II, who shared in the general low opinion of Powlett. In 1761, he again changed constituencies, and was returned as MP for Winchester.
His wife died in 1764, and on 8 April 1765, he married Katherine Lowther (died 21 March 1809), daughter of Robert Lowther, by whom he had two daughters:
- Lady Amelia Powlett, died unmarried
- Lady Catharine Margaret Powlett (1766 – 17 June 1807), married William Vane, 1st Duke of Cleveland
A lukewarm supporter of the government, he was intermittently at odds with George Grenville. However, upon succeeding to the dukedom in July 1765 by his brother's suicide, he threw off his political connections and became a supporter of the crown alone. Bolton was sworn of the Privy Council on 10 December 1766. He was given the sinecure post of Vice-Admiral of Dorset and Hampshire (held by several Dukes of Bolton) in 1767, and promoted Admiral of the Blue on 18 October 1770 and Admiral of the White on 31 March 1775.
In 1778, he went into opposition with the government over its handling of the American Revolution, and joined Vice-Admiral Bristol in opposing the court-martial of Admiral Keppel. His political activity diminished after 1780, although in 1782 he was appointed Governor of the Isle of Wight and Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire. He died at Hackwood Park at Winslade in Hampshire on 25 December 1794, and his dukedom became extinct. His distant cousin George Paulet succeeded to the Marquessate of Winchester and other titles, while Bolton Hall, Bolton Castle, Hackwood Park and most of his estates devolved upon his brother's natural daughter Jean Browne-Powlett, wife of Thomas Orde, who adopted the additional surname of Powlett.
- Crimmin, P. K. (2004). "Powlett , Harry, sixth duke of Bolton (1720–1794)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2006-11-21.