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Sir Joshua Rowley
Sir Joshua Rowley, Vice-Admiral of the White
Born (1734-05-01)May 1, 1734
Died February 26, 1790(1790-02-26) (aged 55)
Place of birth Tendring Hall in Suffolk
Place of death Tendring Hall in Suffolk
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1744–1783
Rank Vice-Admiral
Commands held HMS Rye (24)
HMS Ambuscade (40)
HMS Hampshire (50)
HMS Montagu (60)
HMS Superb (74)
HMS Monarch (74)
HMS Suffolk (74)
HMS Conqueror (74)
Commander in Chief Jamaica

Vice-Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley (1734–1790) was the eldest son of Admiral Sir William Rowley. Sir Joshua was from an ancient English family, originating in Staffordshire (England) and was probably born on 1 May 1730 at the family home of Tendring Hall in Suffolk. Rowley served with distinction in a number of battles throughout his career and was highly praised by his contemporaries. Unfortunately whilst his career was often active he did not have the opportunity to command any significant engagements and always followed rather than led. His achievements have therefore been eclipsed by his contemporaries such as Keppel, Hawke, Howe and Rodney. Rowley however remains one of the stalwart commanders of the wooden walls that kept Britain safe for so long.

Early career and the Battle of Toulon

He entered the navy and served on his father’s flagship HMS Stirling Castle[1] and served at the battle of Toulon, a battle that was exceptionally controversial despite its inconclusive outcome and led Admiral Thomas Mathews and several of his Captains to be dismissed from the Royal Navy.[2] Admiral William Rowley then became Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean until 1748. Joshua Rowley remained with his father and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on 2 July 1747. In 1752 Rowley’s name appears once more serving as lieutenant aboard the 44-gun fifth-rate frigate HMS Penzance.[3] On 4 December 1753 he was promoted to post-captain and given command of the sixth-rate HMS Rye of 24-guns.[4] By March 1755 he had been appointed to HMS Ambuscade, a fifth Rate 40-gun frigate that had been captured from the French during the War of the Austrian Succession in 1746.[5] In Ambuscade he was attached to a squadron under Admiral Edward Hawke in the Bay of Biscay. During that short period Hawke’s squadron captured over 300 enemy merchantmen.[6] By the time Hawke had replaced the unfortunate Admiral John Byng at Minorca in 1756 Rowley had been moved to the 50-gun HMS Hampshire.[7]

Battle of Cartagena

Battle of Cartagena by Francis Swaine, National Maritime Museum

By October 1757 Rowley had been given the task of commissioning the 60-gun fourth-rate HMS Montague. Once launched she joined Admiral Henry Osborn’s fleet of 14 ships of the line in the Mediterranean. Osborn was at the time blockading the French under Admiral La Clue in the Spanish city of Cartagena preventing them from joining the fleet off Louisburg in Nova Scotia. French command had ordered the Marquis Duquesne to break through the British blockade and reinforce La Clue and then with superiority of numbers break out of Cartagena and make their way to America. Osborn intercepted Duquesne and his three ships of the line and one frigate. The subsequent action became known as the Battle of Cartagena and took place on 28 February 1758. Osborn’s squadron captured two of the French line of battle ships and, under the guns of the Spanish castle the 60-gun French Oriflamme was driven on shore by the Montagu and the Monarch.[8] Whilst the battle was not particularly grand the annihilation of the forces under Duquesne had two distinct effects. Firstly, the battle restored much of the pride that had been sapped from the navy after several defeats including those at Toulon and Minorca.[9] Secondly, the siege of Louisburg and its surrender led to the French being marginalised as a significant power in North America. The battle can therefore be considered by the British as one of the defining achievements of the Seven Years' War. Had La Clue managed to break out from Osborn's close blockade the modern map of North America might appear quite differently.[10]

Battle of Saint Cast

Rowley joined Admiral Anson’s fleet in the channel in 1758 and took part in the fateful expeditions along the coast of France.

The expedition, which took place throughout early September 1758 was a massive undertaking. Britain’s Naval forces were under the command of Admiral Lord Anson, seconded by Commodore Howe. Britain’s Land forces were commanded by Lieutenant-General Thomas Bligh.[11] These included twenty two ships of the line with nine Frigates and Commodore Howe's one third-rate, four fourth-Rates, ten frigates, five Sloops, two Fire-ships, two Bomb Ketches,[12] one hundred transports, twenty tenders, ten store-ships and ten cutters . The land forces consisted of four infantry brigades and a few hundred Light Dragoon cavalry, totaling over 10,000 soldiers.

Initially the expedition met with considerable success capturing the port of Cherbourg. The British destroyed the port, the docks and the ships harbored there, carrying off or destroying considerable war material and goods.[11] French troops from neighbouring towns and villages began moving on Cherbourg and the British expedition re-embarked to move against Saint-Malo on 5 September but it was found to be too well defended. The weather now turned against the British as well and it was decided it would be safer to re-embark the land forces further west in the bay of Saint Cast near the small village of Saint Cast. The fleet sailed ahead while the army marched overland on 7 September, engaging in skirmishes on the 7, 8 and 9. On 10 September the Coldstream Guards were sent ahead to Saint Cast to collect provisions and convoy them back to the army. Lieutenant-General Bligh with the army camped in Matignon some 3 miles from Saint Cast.

During this time Richelieu, military commander of Brittany, had gathered some 12 infantry battalions. In addition to these forces the French army amounting to 8,000 or 9,000 men, under the field command of Marquis d'Aubigné, were fast marching on Saint Cast from Brest. Bligh broke camp by 3am on the morning of the 11 September and reached the beach at Saint Cast before 9am but the embarkation went very slowly. Hardly any soldiers had embarked when the French appeared and began a cannonade of the beach. A great deal of confusion followed and as panic set in among the British the French forces moved down a covered way to the beach and deployed three brigades into line with a fourth in reserve. The five frigates and the bomb ketches tried to cover the British retreat and their fire disordered and drove back the French line for a while. The French artillery batteries however were well positioned on higher ground and drove off the frigates and sank three landing boats full of soldiers and other landing boats were destroyed on the beach. The rear guard attempted a counter-attack during which the Grenadier Guards broke and routed. According to Fortescue, of the 1400 men that remained in the rear guard 750 officers and men were killed and wounded...the rest of the rear guard were taken prisoner."[13] Captain Rowley was wounded and was left on the beach. Along with captains Maplesden, Paston, and Elphinstone he was taken prisoner on the beach.[14]

With the huge loss of life and military equipment, the battle ended British hopes of an invasion of Brittany during the Seven Year's War. The battle was an embarrassment for both the British Army and Navy.[13]

Battle of Quiberon Bay

The Battle of Quiberon Bay, Nicholas Pocock, 1812. National Maritime Museum

By late October 1759 Rowley had been exchanged by the French for their own prisoners who were held by the British (a common practise of the time) and was once more in command of the Montagu. He was again assigned to Admiral Hawke’s squadron and was with the fleet with Hawke off Brest and in the Battle of Quiberon Bay.[15] The French had designs to invade Scotland and had been ordered to break through the blockading British ships and collect transports for the invasion. On 20 November, 23 ships of Hawke’s squadron that had been sheltering from the seasonal gales in Torbay caught up with and attacked 21 Ships of the Line under Admiral Conflans in Quiberon bay. The bay itself is infamous due to its clustered and hidden shoals and variable wind and weather. The battle was fought directly through the dangerous shoals and the British lost two ships wrecked on the shoals and the French lost six with another successfully captured. The battle has been described by several later historians as the "Trafalgar" of the Seven Years' War.[16] The risks of taking such a large fleet into the dangerous shoals of the bay with the Atlantic gales beating down upon them separated Hawke from many of his contemporaries and showed not only his daring genius but the confidence that he inspired in his subordinates. The French were equally impressed at the daring and audacity of the British Naval commanders and it took a great many years for them to recover.[16]

West Indies and Convoy Duty

In 1760 he went out with Commodore Sir James Douglas to the West Indies, where he took part in the expedition against Dominica that landed General Rollo and forced the island into capitulation on 7 June after one day of fighting. In November 1760 Rowley moved into the third-rate 74-gun HMS Superb.[17] He accompanied an East India Company convoy in that year and returned to England. In 1762, with two frigates, HMS Gosport, under a young Captain John Jervis, and HMS Danae, in company, he took another convoy of East and West Indian trade to the westward, and successfully protected it from the squadron of Commodore de Ternay. “So highly, however, was his conduct approved, by the East India Company, and by the London West - India merchants, that they presented him with a handsome silver epergne and dish”.[18] After several years on the beach, in October 1776 he was appointed to the 74-gun HMS Monarch, in which at the beginning of 1778 he convoyed some transports to Gibraltar.[19]

Battle of Ushant

On his return to England he was attached to the fleet under Admiral Keppel whom he had last seen leading the van at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in HMS Torbay. It was with Keppel on 27 July 1778 that Rowley led the van (on the starboard tack) at the First Battle of Ushant. Monarch had two killed and nine wounded.[20][21] Once more Rowley was involved in a battle that ended ambiguously and yet caused great upheaval and political and naval ramifications. As a consequence of the battle Keppel resigned his command after a court-martial acquitted him and Admiral Hugh Palliser was also court martialled and was heavily criticized leading to his resignation as a member of parliament.[22]

Battle of Grenada

At the end of 1778 Rowley moved into the 74-gun HMS Suffolk and was sent to the West Indies with a commodore’s Broad pennant in command of a squadron of seven ships, as a reinforcement to Admiral John Byron, whom he joined at Saint Lucia in February 1779. On 19 March he was promoted to rear-admiral of the blue.[19] On 6 July 1779 Rowley once more led the van division against Admiral d’Estaing.[8] The battle was a draw and did little to change the course of the war that was already moving into its closing stages. Later that year Rowley captured two French frigates and a Sloop-of-war. They were, la Fortunée (42 guns), la Blanche (36 guns), and l'Ellis (28 guns).[23] Rowley also led his squadron to capture of a large French convoy, from Marseilles, off Martinique.[8]

Rodney and the Battle of Martinique

Battle of Martinique 17 April 1780

When Admiral Sir George Rodney arrived from England to command the station, Rowley shifted his flag to the 74-gun HMS Conqueror[24] in which ship he commanded the rear division in the action off Martinique on 17 April against the comte de Guichen and the van in the two further stalemate engagements of the 15 and 19 May.[25] The three battles were inconclusive and when the hurricane season arrived de Guichen returned to Europe and Rodney sent Rowley to Jamaica with ten ships of the line to reinforce Sir Peter Parker, as there was an imminent threat to the colony from the Spanish.

Commander-in-Chief Jamaica

In 1782 Rowley succeeded to the command of the Jamaica station a post which he held until the end of the American War of Independence. Rowley had proved throughout his career that he was both brave and a very capable officer and yet the successes of other commanders of the Jamaica station had set an extraordinary precedent that he could not match in his brief time there.[19] He was also instrumental in corresponding with His Majesty King Henry Christophe of Haiti (born 1767 - died 1820)- for the reason of attempting to bring peace to the Kingdom of Haiti.Rowley, later, returned to England in 1783 and was not appointed to another command. On 10 June 1786 he was honoured with a (baronetcy - with the hereditary title of Sir Joshua Rowley, Bt. of Tendring Hall, Suffolk), he was promoted on 24 September 1787 to the rank of Vice-Admiral of the White. He died at his home, Tendring Hall in Suffolk, on 26 February 1790.


Rowley was married in 1759, to Sarah Burton, daughter of Bartholomew Burton, Governor of the Bank of England, and despite his active service the two had a large family:[26]

  • Sarah Rowley
  • Arabella Rowley
  • Sir William Rowley, 2nd Baronet, Member of Parliament for Suffolk 1812-1830, High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1791
  • Philadelphia Rowley, married Admiral Sir Charles Cotton
  • Admiral Bartholomew Samuel Rowley, who also served as Commander-in-Chief of the Jamaica Station
  • Reverend Joshua Rowley
  • Admiral Sir Charles Rowley.[27]


  1. Ships of the Royal Navy, College, p.333
  2.  Lee, Sidney, ed (1894). "Mathews, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 45. 
  3. Ships of the Royal Navy, College, p.264
  4. Ships of the Royal Navy, College, p.302
  5. Ships of the Royal Navy, College, p.13
  6. At 12 Mr Byng Was Shot, Pope, p.32-33
  7. The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battle fleet 1650-1850, Lavery, p.171
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Naval Chronicle Vol. 24 p.90 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NC2490" defined multiple times with different content
  9. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815, Rodger, p.274
  10. Empires at War: The French and Indian War and the Struggle For North America. Fowler
  11. 11.0 11.1 Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, from 1727 to 1783, Beatson. Appendix pp.201
  12. The Life of George, Lord Anson, Barrow, p. 309
  13. 13.0 13.1 A History of the British Army, Vol. II, Fortescue, p.345
  14. Naval Chronicle Vol. 24 p.92
  15. Naval Chronicle Vol. 3 p.462
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Influence of Sea Power upon History, Thayer Mahan
  17. Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, Lavery, p.176
  18. Naval Chronicle Vol. 24 p.93
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2  "Rowley, Joshua". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "DNB49361" defined multiple times with different content
  20. Naval Chronicle Vol. 24 p.94
  21. Naval Chronicle Vol. 7 p.296
  22. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815, Rodger
  23. Naval Chronicle Vol. 21 p.179
  24. British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792, Winfield, P. 334
  25. Rodney and the Breaking of the Line, Trew.
  26. Mosley, Charles, ed (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage. 3 (107th edition ed.). Wilmington, Delaware: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  27. A Naval Biographical Dictionary Vol. 3, O’Byrne, p.1011

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