Francis Holburne

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Sir Francis Holburne
Admiral Holburne with his son, Francis Holburne (1752-1820) in a 1756 portrait by Joshua Reynolds
Born 1704
Died 15 July 1771
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Rank Admiral
Commands held Portsmouth Command
Greenwich Hospital
Battles/wars War of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War

Admiral Sir Francis Holburne (1704 – 15 July 1771) was a Royal Navy officer who also served as a Member of Parliament.

Naval career[edit]

Francis entered the Navy in 1720 as a volunteer aboard HMS St Albans, passing his examinations in 1725.[1] He began his career in 1727 with a promotion to lieutenant and was promoted to Captain in 1739.[1]

Francis was appointed commodore and commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands in 1748.[1] In 1749, after the War of the Austrian Succession, he was sent to Barbados to help secure the execution of the treaty terms.

Admiral Holburne was still ambitious and keen to make plans for his future. He aroused some resentment amongst his peers with Admiral Lord Boscawen describing him in a private letter to his wife as being ‘Rich and contrived to insinuate himself into the good graces of Lord Anson’.

Francis had known Lord Morton as an intimate family friend and may well have owed his advancement in the Navy to Archibald Campbell, Duke of Argyll who "took him by the hand in his younger days and made him a Captain.

He was appointed a member of the court-martial that was convened to try Admiral John Byng. The trial began in December 1756 and ran until March 1757.[1] When the Tribunal was examined before the House of Lords, "all the court martial seemed terrified....except old Admiral Holbourne, who cursed and swore at the bar of the House, because Byng was not shot out of the way, without giving him the trouble of coming from Portsmouth".

Later in 1757, as Vice Admiral of the Blue, Holburne embarked on a command at Halifax, Nova Scotia to capture Louisbourg as part of the Louisbourg Expedition led by Lord Loudon.[1] There were many delays, and fever had struck his fleet, causing much of it to remain in port. On the night of 24 September they were caught up in a violent storm which drove the 60-gun Tilbury onto the shore, sank the 14-gun Ferret and dismasted most of the remainder of his fleet.[2] Holburne sent the most heavily damaged ships back to England while he wintered in Halifax with the rest of the fleet. On 4 February 1758 he was named Vice Admiral of the White and thereafter returned to England, with his North American command transferring to Admiral Edward Boscawen.[3][2]

Port Admiral[edit]

On arrival in London Holburne was also appointed to the post of Port Admiral at Portsmouth, which largely discontinued his active service at sea.[4] In 1760 Francis made political capital of his position as Port Admiral when he stood for Provost in his native lands at Inverkeithing. It is reported that he unscrupulously brought in armed press gangs to a trades meeting and with his sword drawn and by intimidation and bribery secured the return of his party.

As his port commission progressed, and encouraged by his friend and patron Lord Argyll, he contested the seat of Stirling Burghs at the 1761 General Election, beginning a career in politics. He was returned as MP for Stirling and in 1768 he represented Plymouth, holding the seat until his death in 1771. He was made a Lord of the Admiralty under the North administration, holding office until he was made Governor of Greenwich Hospital, by way of retirement, in January 1771.[1] He died several months later, in July 1771 at the age of 67, and was buried at Richmond, in Surrey.

In July 1761, some three years after the loss of HMS Invincible, the 70-gun HMS Dorsetshire ran aground on the Horse Sands. Her loss caused Holborne to issue an order to all naval shipping masters, " sound out the channels, which they should do several times by way of refreshing their memories, this being the second great ship they have run ashore lately." His orders did not have the effect he had intended as in October that year, just four months later, the 50-gun HMS Portland ran aground off Ryde.

In November 1764 Holburne ordered a secret investigation into an apparent plot to set fire to Portsmouth Dockyard.[1]


In 1750 he married a rich widow, Frances, the daughter of Guy Ball, a member of the Barbados Council. Frances was the widow of Edward Lascelles, Collector of Customs at Barbados where she and Sir Francis married.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Francis Holburne at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ a b Robson, Martin (2016). A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War. I.B. Taurus. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9781780765457. 
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 9763. p. 1. 4 February 1758. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  4. ^ "Port admirals". History in Portsmouth. Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Robert Haldane
Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs
Succeeded by
James Masterton
Preceded by
The Viscount Barrington
Vice-Admiral George Pocock
Member of Parliament for Plymouth
1768 – 1771
With: The Viscount Barrington
Succeeded by
The Viscount Barrington
Admiral Sir Charles Hardy
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Charles Knowles
Rear-Admiral of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Sir George Rodney
Military offices
Preceded by
Henry Osborn
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth
Succeeded by
Sir John Moore
Preceded by
Sir George Rodney
Governor, Greenwich Hospital
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Hardy