Charles Middleton, 1st Baron Barham

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"I find politics have got too great a hold on [the Navy Board] for me to withstand it ...

I shall contend no more for the public, having raised a nest of hornets already by so doing. I trust those who follow me will have more weight than I have had, and influence ministers to correct these evils."

— Extract from an unsent letter to John Montagu, First Lord of the Admiralty in 1786. Middleton resigned his Navy Board positions in 1790. [4]

In 1784, Sir Charles Middleton was elected Tory Member of Parliament (MP) for Rochester, a seat he held for six years, and on 24 September 1787 he was promoted rear admiral. [5] By 1786 he had become disillusioned with his role as Comptroller of the Navy, seeing it as beset by internal politics between the Admiralty and the Navy Board. In 1786 he prepared a letter to the First Lord of the Admiralty indicating he would "contend no more for the public," and urging the appointment of a successor who could "have more weight than I have had, and influence ministers to correct these evils." [4] The letter was never sent, but Middleton resigned his position in 1790 and effectively retired from naval affairs. [4]

Promotions based on seniority continued to be received, despite Middleton's retirement from active service. On 1 February 1793 he was promoted to vice admiral, [6] and in May 1794 he was appointed to the Board of Admiralty. [3] He became First Naval Lord in March 1795 [7] and was promoted to full admiral on 1 June 1795. He was finally, in May 1805 (at the age of 80), appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. [3] He was also created Baron Barham, of Barham Court and Teston in the County of Kent, with a special remainder, failing male issue, to his only child, his daughter, Diana Noel, 2nd Baroness Barham, and her male heirs. He resigned office in 1806 [8] and died seven years later, aged 86, at his home of Barham Court. [9]


Barham Court, the family seat Barham Court - - 779691.jpg
Barham Court, the family seat

In addition to his service in the Royal Navy, Middleton played a crucial role in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. He had been influenced by a pamphlet written by Rev. James Ramsay, who served as a surgeon under Middleton aboard HMS Arundel in the West Indies, but later took holy orders and served on the Caribbean island of St Christopher (now St Kitts), where he observed first-hand the treatment of slaves. On his return in 1777, exhausted by the continuing conflict with influential planters and businessmen, Ramsay returned to Britain and briefly lived with Sir Charles and Lady Middleton at Teston. [10] He later became vicar of Teston and rector of Nettlestead, Kent, the livings being in the gift of Middleton. [11]

Ramsay's pamphlet Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies, published in 1784, especially affected Lady Middleton. Feeling inadequate to take up the issue of the slave trade in Parliament himself, and knowing that it would be a long, hard battle, Sir Charles Middleton suggested the young Member of Parliament William Wilberforce as the one who might be persuaded to take up the cause. (Whether this was the first time that the issue had been suggested to Wilberforce is debatable). In 1787 Wilberforce was introduced to James Ramsay and Thomas Clarkson at Teston, as well as meeting the growing group of supporters of abolition, which also included Edward Eliot, Hannah More, the evangelical writer and philanthropist, and Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London. [12]

Clarkson had first made public his desire to spend his life fighting for emancipation at Middleton's home, Barham Court, overlooking the River Medway at Teston, Kent. In order to make a case for abolishing the slave trade, Clarkson did much research over many years, gathering evidence by interviewing thousands of sailors who had been involved in the slave trade. [12]

Barham Court was effectively used for planning the campaign by Lord and Lady Barham, with numerous meetings and strategy sessions attended by Wilberforce, Clarkson, Eliot and Porteus before presenting legislation to Parliament. While Middleton never played a direct role in the effort to abolish the slave trade (finally accomplished in 1807) and slavery itself (in 1833) he played a very important part as a behind the scenes facilitator. His efforts were motivated by his evangelical faith. [13]


A key leader in the Royal Navy (1778-1807), he was an austere but politically liberal public official. As Comptroller of the Navy, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Commissioner, his success in handling the problems of supply, construction, inefficiency, and insubordination made a critical contribution to Britain's naval victories in the Napoleonic wars, according to Bernard Pool. [14]

Three warships of the Royal Navy have been named Barham in honour of Middleton including the battleship Barham launched in 1914. [15]

Fictional portrayals

Barham is a character in Treason's Tide by Robert Wilton, set during the summer of 1805. [16] He is also portrayed by the simple moniker of Admiral Barham in Naomi Novik's alternative history fiction series, Temeraire, in the second novel, Throne of Jade, (published with Del Rey in 2006) in which he is depicted as arbitrating a dispute between the Chinese delegation and the British government over the possible return of Captain William Laurence's dragon Temeraire to China. His political relationship with William Wilberforce and the Abolitionist movement in Britain is also referenced in the work. [17]

See also

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  1. Laughton, J. K. (1894). "Middleton, Charles (1726–1813)"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. Sir James Balfour Paul ed., The Scots Peerage , volume VI (Edinburgh, 1909) pages 177-180.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 "Charles Middleton". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  4. 1 2 3 Knight, R.J.B. (1971). "Sandwich, Middleton and Dockyard Appointments". The Mariner's Mirror. 57 (2): 192. doi:10.1080/00253359.1971.10658594.
  5. "No. 12924". The London Gazette . 25 September 1787. p. 446.
  6. "No. 13498". The London Gazette . 29 January 1793. p. 89.
  7. Rodger 1979, p. 69.
  8. "Middleton, Earls of"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 18 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 415.
  9. "Charles Middleton 1st Lord Barham". More than Nelson. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  10. "Abolition". BBC. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  11. "James Ramsay". Spartacus. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  12. 1 2 "Kent and the Abolition of the Slave Trade 1760s-1807" (PDF). University College London. Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 22 July 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. "The Clapham Sect and the abolition of the slave trade". Evangelical Times. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  14. Pool, 1965.
  15. "HMS Barham". Naval History. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  16. Wilton, Robert (2011). Treason's Tide. Corvus. ISBN   978-1848878013.
  17. Novik, Naomi (2006). Throne of Jade . New York: Del Rey. pp.  1–64. ISBN   978-0007258727.


Further reading

The Lord Barham
Admiral Charles Middleton, later Lord Barham (1726-1813), by Isaac Pocock.jpg
Portrait by Isaac Pocock
Member of Parliament
for Rochester
In office
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Rochester
With: Nathaniel Smith
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Comptroller of the Navy
Succeeded by
Preceded by First Naval Lord
March 1795–November 1795
Succeeded by
Preceded by First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
Baronetage of Great Britain
New creation Baronet
(of The Navy)
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Barham
Succeeded by