Thomas Pye

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Sir Thomas Pye
Bornc. 1708/9
Died26 December 1785
Suffolk Street, London
AllegianceUnion flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain
Service/branchNaval Ensign of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg  Royal Navy
Years of service1734– 1783
Rank Admiral
Commands held HMS Seaford
HMS Norfolk
HMS Norwich
HMS Humber
HMS Gosport
HMS Advice
Leeward Islands Station
Battles/wars

Sir Thomas Pye (c.1708/9 – 26 December 1785) was an officer of the Royal Navy who served during the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, and the American War of Independence. He was briefly Member of Parliament for Rochester, and served as commander of several of the navy's principal stations and ports.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

War of the Austrian Succession Dynastic war in Austro-Hungary

The War of the Austrian Succession involved most of the powers of Europe over the issue of Archduchess Maria Theresa's succession to the Habsburg Monarchy. The war included peripheral events such as King George's War in British America, the War of Jenkins' Ear, the First Carnatic War in India, the Jacobite rising of 1745 in Scotland, and the First and Second Silesian Wars.

Seven Years War Global conflict between 1756 and 1763

The Seven Years' War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, South Asia, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions: one was led by the Kingdom of Great Britain and included the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and other small German states; while the other was led by the Kingdom of France and included the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Swedish Empire. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal.

Contents

Born into a family with powerful political connections, Pye used these to rise rapidly through the ranks, and to receive employments in periods of peace. He commanded a number of ships during the War of the Austrian Succession, and was appointed commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands, but a fit of temper when he was superseded almost cost him his career. Charged with disobeying orders and other infractions, Pye returned to Britain, where he was able to use his connections, and the absence of the experienced naval officers, to ensure a lenient outcome to his court martial. Despite this he remained unemployed during the Seven Years' War, though he reached flag rank.

Leeward Islands group of islands in the West Indies

The Leeward Islands are a group of islands situated where the northeastern Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean. Starting with the Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico, they extend southeast to Guadeloupe and its dependencies. In English, the term Leeward Islands refers to the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles chain. The more southerly part of this chain, starting with Dominica, is called the Windward Islands. Dominica was originally considered part of the Leeward Islands, but was transferred from the British Leeward Islands to the British Windward Islands in 1940.

Pye did not receive active postings until the end of the Seven Years' War, when he commanded several of the navy's dockyards, and even returned to the Leeward Islands to take up his old post. A brief foray into politics proved lacklustre, he made no impact in parliament, and alienated his constituents. His position as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth during the American War of Independence brought the opportunity for rewards. The fleet was reviewed by the King, and Pye received promotion and a knighthood. He retired after the end of the war and died two years later. He had conducted a long-running affair with the novelist Anna Maria Bennett, and left two children by her, including a daughter who became the famous actress Harriet Pye Bennett.

Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth former position; senior commander of the Royal Navy

The Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth was a senior commander of the Royal Navy for hundreds of years. Plymouth Command was a name given to the units, establishments, and staff operating under the admiral's command. Prior to 1914 the holder of the office was often referred to as Commander-in-Chief, Devonport. The Commanders-in-Chief were based in what is now Hamoaze House, Devonport, Plymouth from 1809 to 1934 and then at Admiralty House, Mount Wise, Devonport from 1934 until 1996.

George III of the United Kingdom King of Great Britain and Ireland

George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of the two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death in 1820. He was concurrently Duke and prince-elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg ("Hanover") in the Holy Roman Empire before becoming King of Hanover on 12 October 1814. He was the third British monarch of the House of Hanover, but unlike his two predecessors, he was born in Great Britain, spoke English as his first language, and never visited Hanover.

Anna Maria Bennett was a Welsh novelist who wrote in English. Some sources give her name as Agnes Maria Bennett. She had two children and she taught her daughter to act and she became a noted stage actor.

Family and early life

Thomas Pye was born c. 1708/9, the second son of Henry Pye of Faringdon House in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) and his wife, Anne, daughter of Sir Benjamin Bathurst of Cirencester in Gloucestershire. He was the great grandson of Robert Pye, the parliamentarian, and was uncle of Henry James Pye, the poet laureate. Through his mother, Pye was related to Allen Bathurst, 1st Earl Bathurst, a powerful politician who would use his influence to speed Pye's rise through the ranks. [1] Pye passed his lieutenant's examination on 12 June 1734 and joined the 48-gun HMS Preston, under Captain Charles Cotterell, on 18 April 1735 as her third lieutenant. His service was initially spent off the British coast, until transferring to the 60-gun HMS Rippon, still under Cotterell, and moving to the Tagus. [1] He was then aboard the 60-gun HMS Warwick, serving in the Mediterranean, before being promoted to his first command, that of the 24-gun HMS Seaford, on 13 April 1741. [1]

Faringdon House Grade I listed house in Vale of White Horse, United Kingdom

Faringdon House is a Grade I listed 14,510 square feet house in Faringdon, Oxfordshire, England. It was built about 1770–1785 for the Poet Laureate Sir Henry James Pye.

Berkshire County of England

Berkshire is one of the home counties in England. It was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.

Oxfordshire County of England

Oxfordshire is a county in South East England. The ceremonial county borders Warwickshire to the north-west, Northamptonshire to the north-east, Buckinghamshire to the east, Berkshire to the south, Wiltshire to the south-west and Gloucestershire to the west.

First commands

He spent the rest of the year being stationed in British waters, after which he joined Admiral Thomas Mathews's fleet, and returned to the Mediterranean. [1] Mathews sent Pye into the Adriatic Sea to disrupt supplies being sent to the Spanish Army in Italy during the War of the Austrian Succession. Pye was then appointed by Mathews to command the 80-gun HMS Norfolk in August 1744, and he remained in the Mediterranean after Mathews's recall, serving under Vice-Admiral Henry Medley and providing support to the Austrian army off the south of France. [1]

Thomas Mathews British officer of the Royal Navy from Wales

Thomas Mathews was a British officer of the Royal Navy, who rose to the rank of admiral.

Adriatic Sea Body of water between the Italian Peninsula and the Balkan Peninsula

The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula. The Adriatic is the northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the Strait of Otranto to the northwest and the Po Valley. The countries with coasts on the Adriatic are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and Slovenia. The Adriatic contains over 1,300 islands, mostly located along the Croatian part of its eastern coast. It is divided into three basins, the northern being the shallowest and the southern being the deepest, with a maximum depth of 1,233 metres (4,045 ft). The Otranto Sill, an underwater ridge, is located at the border between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The prevailing currents flow counterclockwise from the Strait of Otranto, along the eastern coast and back to the strait along the western (Italian) coast. Tidal movements in the Adriatic are slight, although larger amplitudes are known to occur occasionally. The Adriatic's salinity is lower than the Mediterranean's because the Adriatic collects a third of the fresh water flowing into the Mediterranean, acting as a dilution basin. The surface water temperatures generally range from 30 °C (86 °F) in summer to 12 °C (54 °F) in winter, significantly moderating the Adriatic Basin's climate.

HMS Norfolk was an 80-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was built at Southampton and launched on 28 March 1693, and was the first ship to bear the name. She was rebuilt at Plymouth according to the 1719 Establishment, and was re-launched on 21 September 1728. Instead of carrying her armament on two decks as she had done originally, she now carried them on three gundecks, though she continued to be rated a third rate.

Admiral Thomas Mathews, 1743, by Claude Arnulphy. Pye served under Mathews in the Mediterranean during the 1740s Admiral Thomas Mathews.jpg
Admiral Thomas Mathews, 1743, by Claude Arnulphy. Pye served under Mathews in the Mediterranean during the 1740s

Pye returned to England in March 1748, and though the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in October that year ended the war, he was able to use his connections to secure peacetime employment. [1] He commanded first the 50-gun HMS Norwich, which he took out to North America, and then the 44-gun HMS Humber, which he commissioned in April 1749 and sailed to the west coast of Africa. [1] [2] He took the 44-gun HMS Gosport out to Nova Scotia in June 1751, returning to Britain later that year, before being appointed to the 50-gun HMS Advice in February 1752 to become commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands Station. [1] [3]

Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) peace treaty

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748, sometimes called the Treaty of Aachen, ended the War of the Austrian Succession following a congress assembled on 24 April 1748 at the Free Imperial City of Aachen, called Aix-la-Chapelle in French and then also in English, in the west of the Holy Roman Empire. The resulting treaty was signed on 18 October 1748 by Great Britain, France, and the Dutch Republic. Two implementation treaties were signed at Nice on 4 December 1748 and 21 January 1749 by Austria, Spain, Sardinia, Modena, and Genoa.

HMS Norwich was a 50-gun fourth rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built according to the 1741 proposals of the 1719 Establishment at Blackwall Yard, and launched on 4 July 1745.

Nova Scotia Province of Canada

Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime Provinces, and one of the four provinces that form Atlantic Canada. Its provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the second-smallest of Canada's ten provinces, with an area of 55,284 square kilometres (21,300 sq mi), including Cape Breton and another 3,800 coastal islands. As of 2016, the population was 923,598. Nova Scotia is Canada's second-most-densely populated province, after Prince Edward Island, with 17.4 inhabitants per square kilometre (45/sq mi).

Disobeying orders and court martial

Pye was commander of the station until his replacement, Commodore Thomas Frankland, arrived to supersede him in October 1755. Pye, reportedly angry at this, refused to strike his broad pennant, upon which Frankland reprimanded him for disobeying a superior officer. [1] Frankland brought various other charges against Pye, accusing him of 'financial irregularities, interfering with the purchase of naval stores...', and with having damaged Advice by '...removing parts of her timbers for an unnecessary survey.' [1] Claiming that he would not be able to receive a fair hearing in the Caribbean, Pye instead returned to Britain, causing a bureaucratic quandary as since he should have been tried there, the Admiralty officials for a time did nothing. They eventually convened a court martial from 1 to 4 March 1748, but the senior naval officers at the time, Lord Anson and Edward Boscawen were at sea and could not be present. [1] Pye used his political connections again to his advantage, putting pressure on the civilian members of the board, and while he was duly reprimanded for the lesser charges Frankland brought, he was not charged with disobeying his superior. [1]

Flag rank

Pye was promoted according to his seniority to rear-admiral on 5 July 1758, but received no active employment during the Seven Years' War. [1] He became commander-in-chief at Plymouth in June 1763 [4] during the subsequent peace, and was promoted to vice-admiral on 21 October that year. He returned to his old post as commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands Station between 1766 and 1769, at first with the 32-gun HMS Lark as his flagship, followed by the 50-gun HMS Chatham. [1] [5] Pye briefly entered politics on returning to Britain, being elected to parliament as Member for Rochester on 9 May 1771. No records exist of him ever speaking in the House of Commons, and he was defeated at the next general election, on 7 October 1774, having apparently alienated his constituents. [1]

Pye became commander-in-chief at Portsmouth on 9 May 1771, a post he held for most of the American War of Independence in two periods of office. During the first he oversaw the fleet during King George III's review at Spithead on 22 June 1773. As a reward for his services Pye was knighted by the King on the deck of the Portsmouth guardship, the 98-gun HMS Barfleur, on 24 June 1773. [1] [6] At the same time the King ordered Pye promoted to admiral. [1] Pye was replaced as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth on 18 May 1774, being succeeded by Sir James Douglas, but resumed the command on 27 May 1777. [1]

Keppel's court martial

The Battle of Ushant, by Theodore Antoine Gudin. The battle led to a bitter dispute between Keppel and Palliser, with Pye presiding over Keppel's court martial Bataille d Ouessant 1778.jpg
The Battle of Ushant, by Théodore Antoine Gudin. The battle led to a bitter dispute between Keppel and Palliser, with Pye presiding over Keppel's court martial

In his capacity as senior admiral he was president at the court martial of Admiral Augustus Keppel, which was held at Portsmouth in January 1779. He tried to avoid the duty, pleading poor health, but was compelled to take part. [1] Keppel was being investigated for his actions during the Battle of Ushant, which had taken place on 27 July 1778. His subordinate, Admiral Hugh Palliser had brought charges of misconduct and neglect of duty, which the court was compelled to examine. [7] The court was convened aboard HMS Britannia on 7 January, though the rest of the hearings were held at the house of the governor of the garrison. [7] After deliberations, the court returned its verdict on 11 February, unanimously acquitting Keppel, with Pye returning his sword with the observation that '...you will be called forth by your Sovereign to draw it once more in the defence of your country.' [7] [a]

Later life and family

Pye was made lieutenant-general of marines on 26 September 1780. He stepped down after the end of the American War of Independence, leaving his post as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth on 31 March 1783, and going into retirement. [1] He died two years later, at his home on Suffolk Street, London, on 26 December 1785. [1] He was survived by his daughter Mary. His wife had died in 1762, and for seventeen years he had carried out an affair with the novelist Anna Maria Bennett, the wife of Thomas Bennett, a customs officer. [1] [b] Thomas Bennett appears to have owed Pye a sizeable sum of money, which Pye forgave in his will, bequeathing his London residence to Anna Maria. Pye and Bennett appear to have at least two children together, Thomas Pye Bennet, and Harriet Pye Bennett, who went on to become a famous actress. [8]

Assessment

Pye's career was advanced through his political connections, rather than talent. His temper nearly cost him his career, while he managed to make himself so unpopular with his constituents while MP for Rochester that Philip Stephens, the Secretary to the Admiralty, wrote to Lord Hardwicke saying that the voters ‘had conceived an utter aversion to our Admiral Sir Thomas Pye, and I find they would have taken anybody who offered himself in preference to him’. [1] He was known to junior officers as 'Goose Pye', while naval historian Nicholas Rodger described him as ‘something of a naval grotesque who aroused mingled amusement and contempt’. [1] Pye acknowledged his difficulty expressing himself, writing that 'I had the mortification to be neglected in my education, went to sea at 14 without any, and a man of war was my university.' [1] His biographer Roger Knight described him as 'not a typical mid-eighteenth-century naval officer.' [1]

Notes

a. ^ Sitting with Pye on the court were Vice-Admiral Matthew Buckle (who withdrew after six days due to illness), Vice-Admiral John Montagu, Rear-Admirals Mariot Arbuthnot and Robert Roddam, and Captains Mark Milbanke, Francis Samuel Drake, Taylor Penny, John Moutray, William Bennet, Adam Duncan, Philip Boteler and James Cranston. [7]

b. ^ The two met while Anna Maria was working in a chandler's shop. She subsequently became Pye's housekeeper and mistress. [8]

Citations

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 Knight, Roger. "Pye, Sir Thomas (1708/9–1785)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22923.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792. pp. 168–9.
  3. Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792. p. 144.
  4. Douglas, W. A. B. (1974). "Colvill, Alexander, 7th Baron Colvill". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography . III (1741–1770) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  5. Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792. p. 148.
  6. Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792. p. 21.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Burke. Annual Register . p. 285.
  8. 1 2 "'Bennett, Anna Maria (d. 1808)', rev. Rebecca Mills". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2117.

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References

Laughton, John Knox (1896). "Pye, Thomas (1713?-1785)"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 73–74.

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
John Calcraft
William Gordon
Member of Parliament for Rochester
1771–1774
With: John Calcraft 1771–1772
George Finch-Hatton 1772–1774
Succeeded by
George Finch-Hatton
Robert Gregory
Military offices
Preceded by
Unknown
Commander-in-Chief, Leeward Islands Station
17521756
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Frankland
Preceded by
Lord Colville
Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth
17631766
Succeeded by
Sir George Edgcumbe
Preceded by
Richard Tyrell
Commander-in-Chief, Leeward Islands Station
17661769
Succeeded by
Robert Man
Preceded by
Francis Geary
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth
1771–1774
Succeeded by
Sir James Douglas
Preceded by
Sir James Douglas
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth
1777–1783
Succeeded by
John Montagu