Francis Holburne

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sir Francis Holburne
Admiral Holburne with his son, Francis Holburne (1752-1820) in a 1756 portrait by Joshua Reynolds
Died15 July 1771
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service1720–1771
Commands heldHMS Swift
HMS Dolphin
HMS Argyll
HMS Pembroke
HMS Kent
HMS Tavistock
HMS Ramillies
Portsmouth Command
Greenwich Hospital
Battles/warsWar of the Austrian Succession
Seven Years' War

Admiral Sir Francis Holburne (1704 – 15 July 1771) was a Royal Navy officer and politician. He served as commodore and commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands during the War of the Austrian Succession and then took part in an operation to capture Louisbourg as part of the Louisbourg Expedition during the Seven Years' War. He went on to be Port Admiral at Portsmouth and then Senior Naval Lord. In retirement he became Governor of Greenwich Hospital. He also served as a Member of Parliament.

Naval career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Born the third son of Sir James Holburn, 1st Baronet, Francis entered the Navy in 1720 as a volunteer aboard HMS St Albans, passing his examinations in 1725.[1] Promoted to lieutenant on 12 December 1727, he was given command of the sloop HMS Swift in October 1735.[2]

Holburne had known Lord Morton as an intimate family friend and may well have owed his advancement in the Navy to Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll who "took him by the hand in his younger days and made him a captain".[3] Promoted to post-captain on 15 February 1740, he was given command of the sixth-rate HMS Dolphin.[2] He transferred to the fourth-rate HMS Argyll in 1743 and to the fourth-rate HMS Pembroke in 1746 and then became commodore and commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands[1] with his broad pennant in the third-rate HMS Kent in 1748 during the War of the Austrian Succession.[2] He went on to take command of the fourth-rate HMS Tavistock in 1749 and the second-rate HMS Ramillies in 1755.[2]

Holburne aroused some resentment amongst his peers with Admiral Lord Boscawen saying in a private letter to his wife in June 1755 "he is rich and has contrived to insinuate himself into the good graces of Lord Anson".[3]

Flag officer[edit]

Promoted to rear-admiral on 5 February 1755, he was appointed a member of the court-martial that was convened to try Admiral John Byng.[3] 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".[3]

Promoted to vice-admiral in February 1757, 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.[4] 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 advanced to Vice Admiral of the White[5] and thereafter returned to England, with his North American command transferring to Admiral Edward Boscawen.[4]

On return to London Holburne was also appointed to the post of Port Admiral at Portsmouth, which largely discontinued his active service at sea.[6] In September 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.[3]

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.[7]

In November 1764 Holburne ordered a secret investigation into an apparent plot to set fire to Portsmouth Dockyard.[1] He was promoted to full admiral in 1766.[2] 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 appointed to the Board of Admiralty[8] as Senior Naval Lord[9] under the North Ministry in February 1770, holding office until he was made Governor of Greenwich Hospital, by way of retirement, in February 1771.[1] He lived at Laurel Lodge in Twickenham[10] and died just a few months later, in July 1771.[3]


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 Holburne married.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Francis Holburne". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Francis Holburne". Three Decks. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Francis Holburne". History of Parliament. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b Robson, Martin (2016). A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War. I.B. Taurus. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9781780765457.
  5. ^ "No. 9763". The London Gazette. 4 February 1758. p. 1.
  6. ^ "Port admirals". History in Portsmouth. Archived from the original on 27 June 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  7. ^ "Dorsetshire". Wreck site. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Sainty, JC, Lord High Admiral and Commissioners of the Admiralty 1660-1870, Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 4: Admiralty Officials 1660-1870 (1975), pp. 18-31". Retrieved 4 September 2009.
  9. ^ Rodger, p. 51-52
  10. ^ "Laurel Lodge". Twickenham Museum. Retrieved 6 August 2017.


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 Peircy Brett
Senior Naval Lord
Succeeded by
Augustus Hervey
(as First Naval Lord)
Preceded by
Sir George Rodney
Governor, Greenwich Hospital
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Hardy