Sir Charles Napier - Encyclopedia

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SIR CHARLES NAPIER (1786-1860), British admiral, was the second son of Captain the Hon. Charles Napier, R.N., and grandson of Francis, fifth Lord Napier. He was born at Merchiston Hall, near Falkirk, on the 6th of March 1786. He became a midshipman in 1800, and was promoted lieutenant in 1805. He was appointed to the "Courageux" (74), and was present in her at the action in which the squadron under Sir J. B. Warren took the French "Marengo" (80) and "Belle Poule" (40), on the 13th of March 1806 in the West Indies. After returning home with Warren he went back to the West Indies in the "St George" and was appointed acting commander of the "Pultusk" brig. The rank was confirmed on the 30th of November 1807. In August 1808 he was moved into the "Recruit" (18), and in her fought an action with the "Diligent" (18), in which his thigh was broken. In April 1809 he took part in the capture of the "Hautpoult" (74), and was promoted acting post captain. His rank was confirmed, but he was put on half-pay, when he came home with a convoy. He spent some time at the university of Edinburgh, and then went to Portugal to visit his cousins in Wellington's army. In 1811 he served in the Mediterranean, and in 1813 on the coast of America and in the expedition up the Potomac. The first years of his leisure he spent in Italy and in Paris, but speculated so much in a steamboat enterprise that by 1827 he was quite ruined. In that year he was. appointed to the "Galatea" (42), and was at the Azores when they were held by the count de Villa Flor for the queen of Portugal. He so much impressed the constitutional leaders that they begged him to take command of the fleet, which offer he accepted in February 1833. With it he destroyed the Miguelite fleet off Cape St Vincent on July 5, and on the demand of France was struck off the English navy list. Continuing his Portuguese services, he commanded the land forces on the successful defence of Lisbon in 1834, when he was made Grand Commander of the Tower and Sword, and Count Cape St Vincent in the peerage of Portugal. On his return to England he was restored to his former rank in the navy 1836, and received command of the "Powerful" (84), in 1838. When troubles broke out in Syria he was appointed second in command, and distinguished himself by leading the storming column at Sidon on September 26, 1840, and by other services, for which he was made a K.C.B. He went on half-pay in 1841, and was in 1842 elected M.P. for Marylebone in the Liberal interest, but lost his seat in 1846. He was promoted rear-admiral the same year, and commanded the Channel fleet from 1846 to 1848. On the outbreak of the Russian War he received the command of the fleet destined to act in the Baltic, and hoisted his flag in February 1854. He refused to attack Cronstadt, and a great outcry was raised against him for not obeying the orders of the Admiralty and attempting to storm the key of St Petersburg; but his inaction has been thoroughly justified by posterity. On his return in December 1854 he was not again offered a command. He was elected M.P. for Southwark in February 1855, and maintained his seat, though broken in health, until his death on the 6th of November 1860. Sir Charles Napier was a man of undoubted energy and courage, but of no less eccentricity and vanity. He caused great offence to many of his brother officers by his. behaviour to his superior, Admiral Stopford, in the Syrian War,. and was embroiled all his life in quarrels with the Admiralty.

See Major-General E.'Napier's Life and Correspondence of Admiral Sir Charles Napier, K.C.B. (2 vols., London, 1862); Napier's own War in Syria (2 vols., 1842); The Navy: its past and present state, in a series of letters, edited by Sir W. F. P. Napier (1851); and The History of the Baltic Campaign of 1854, from documents and other materials furnished by Vice-Admiral Sir C. Napier, K.C.B. (1857). See also The Life and Exploits of Commodore Napier (1841); and Life of Vice-Admiral Sir C. Napier (1854).

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