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Sir  William Hoste (1780–1828), by William Greatbach, pubd 1833Sir William Hoste (1780–1828), by William Greatbach, pubd 1833
Hoste, Sir William, first baronet (1780–1828), naval officer, descended from a sixteenth-century Flemish refugee family, was the second son of Dixon Hoste, rector of Godwick and Tittleshall in Norfolk, and his wife, Margaret Stanforth, of Salthouse; a younger brother was , army officer. He was born at Ingoldisthorpe, the property of his father, on 26 August 1780. Hoste was intended for a naval career from the age of five, when his name was entered in the books of the Europa as a captain's servant. In 1787, when seven years old, he went to boarding-school in King's Lynn; later he attended Paston School, North Walsham. War with France in 1793 provided the opportunity to launch his naval career, and his father's patron, Thomas Coke of Holkham, secured the ‘interest’ of Captain Nelson, son of the parson of nearby Burnham Thorpe, who took him as a captain's servant in the Agamemnon in April 1793. Hoste continued with Nelson, almost without interruption, for the next five years, following him from the Agamemnon to the Captain, to the Irresistible, and to the Theseus, and being present in the two actions off Toulon on 14 March and 13 July 1795, in the battle off Cape St Vincent, and, though not landed, at Santa Cruz. Hoste rapidly endeared himself to Nelson: ‘without exception one of the finest boys I ever met with’ (Nelson's Letters, 223); ‘his gallantry never can be exceeded, and … each day rivets him stronger to my heart’ (Hoste, 1.67). Under his mentor's guiding hand promotion came quickly. He was raised to midshipman by captain's authority on 1 February 1794, appointed acting lieutenant after the slaughter at Santa Cruz in July 1797, and, with the aid of his Europa time, confirmed as lieutenant on 8 February 1798. Continuing in the Theseus with Captain R. W. Miller, he took part in the battle of Abu Qir Bay after which Nelson took the opportunity to promote him to the command of the brig Mutine in succession to Capel, who left her at Naples, where Hoste was received with enthusiasm, the queen presenting him with a diamond ring. He rejoined the fleet off Cadiz, where his promotion was confirmed on 3 December 1798. He continued to command the Mutine for the next three years under Nelson and afterwards under Lord Keith, to whom he was comparatively unknown. To the chagrin of Hoste and his distant mentor his promotion stalled until, probably at Nelson's prompting, on 7 January 1802 he was posted by Lord St Vincent, first lord of the Admiralty, though the promotion did not reach him until May. Meanwhile, having been sent to Alexandria, he contracted malaria, followed by inflammation of the lungs, which left lasting ill effects. Convalescence at Athens with Lord and Lady Elgin provided an education in ‘the beautiful remains of antiquity’ (Hoste, 1.173–4). After receiving his commission to the frigate Greyhound at Malta he completed his classical education with the envoy at Florence, Sir Francis Drake, while employed on the coast of Italy; he did not return with the Greyhound to England until April 1803.

In November 1804 Hoste was appointed to the Eurydice, in which he cruised on the coast of Africa as far as Goree, and, returning to Portsmouth, took out a convoy to Malta. In September 1805 Nelson summoned him to the fleet off Cadiz, where, after a typically aggressive action in which he captured four merchant vessels and a privateer from a coastal convoy, his patron moved him (13 October) into the Amphion (36 guns), ‘one of the finest and most desirable ships on the station’ (Hoste, 1.249). Having been dispatched on a diplomatic mission to Algiers, he only learned of Trafalgar and the death of his patron on his return to Gibraltar on 9 November. ‘Not to have been in it’, he wrote to his father, ‘is enough to make one mad; but to have lost such a friend besides is really sufficient to almost overwhelm me’ (Hoste, 1.251).

In 1806 the Amphion was on the coast of Naples and Sicily under the orders of Sir W. Sidney Smith, and on 30 June she was used to help transport the little army which, on 4 July, won the battle of Maida, and afterwards co-operated with General Brodrick in the capture of Reggio, Cotrone, and other places on the Calabrian coast. In June 1807 the Amphion returned to England, and after she had undergone a six-month dockyard refit Hoste sailed again for the Mediterranean at the express request of the station commander because ‘he is active, vigilant and knows the coast, and more depends upon the man than the ship’ (Hoste, 1.299). A bold attempt to seize the armed storeship Baleine, lying in the Bay of Rosas, under three heavy batteries (12 May 1808) earned the warm approbation of Collingwood, who in June sent him to the Adriatic, ‘the best cruise in his command’ (Hoste, 1.316), where, sometimes under the orders of a senior officer, but also often independently, he carried on a successful partisan war, destroying signal stations, cutting out gunboats, taking many prizes, and virtually stopping the coasting trade. From 23 June 1808 to Christmas day 1809 the Amphion took or destroyed 218 of the enemy's vessels. ‘It looks well on paper’, Hoste wrote, ‘but has not put much cash in our pockets, owing to the difficulty attending their being sent to port’ (Hoste, 2.12). At Christmas 1809 the Amphion and a sloop dominated the Adriatic despite far superior enemy numbers. Having been joined by the Active (36 guns) and the Cerberus (32 guns), he harassed the French positions with renewed vigour. On 23 April 1810 he wrote: ‘We have been very fortunate since we left Malta in March, and have taken and destroyed forty-six sail of vessels, some of which are very good ones, and will bring us in a little pewter’ (Hoste, 2.21).

In 1810 Napoleon determined to clear the British from the Adriatic and built up a frigate squadron at Venice and Ancona under one of his most aggressive frigate commanders, Bernard Dubourdieu, who in September raided Hoste's base at Lissa during his absence. In November 1810 the British squadron was joined by the Volage (22 guns); after being driven to Malta to refit, it arrived again off Lissa on 11 March 1811, just as Dubourdieu sailed from Ancona with the intention of occupying the island. He had with him three French 44-gun frigates and three Venetian frigates, one of which was also of 44 guns, with five smaller vessels, carrying some 500 troops. On the morning of 13 March 1811 the two squadrons came in sight of each other. Hoste was outnumbered by six frigates to four and by 276 guns and 2000 men to 124 guns and 900 men, but he sought action with the assuredness of his mentor and model, whose spirit he invoked to inspire his crews with the signal ‘Remember Nelson’. Dubourdieu, in the Favourite, leading down to the English line, attempted, after a short cannonade, to board the Amphion. But a howitzer, loaded to the muzzle with musket-bullets, slaughtered the boarding party crowded on Favourite's forecastle; Dubourdieu himself was killed; and partly from the loss of men, partly from the damage to her rigging, partly too from Hoste's alert reversal of his squadron's course, the French ship went ashore, where she was abandoned and set on fire. Meanwhile Hoste found himself attacked on each side by Dubourdieu's supports, the French frigate Flore and the Venetian Bellona. Again skilful manoeuvring enable him to pass round Flore and use her as a shield from Bellona's fire until, after an extremely sharp action, the Flore surrendered to the Amphion (although she afterwards escaped); a few minutes later Hoste was able to rake the Bellona, which also surrendered. The Corona, another Venetian, after having been warmly engaged with the Cerberus, surrendered to the Active, while the two remaining enemy frigates fled. Hoste himself was severely wounded by the explosion of a chest of musket cartridges and by a musket shot in his right arm, and the total British losses were 190 killed and wounded; those of the enemy amounted to upwards of 700. Owing to the vast numerical superiority of the enemy and the decisive result, the action off Lissa was considered one of the most brilliant naval achievements of the war. Hoste and his colleagues received the gold medal, and the first lieutenants were promoted. The four frigates with their prizes arrived at Malta on 31 March, when the garrison spontaneously turned out to cheer them.

The Amphion was in such bad condition that she was ordered to England; she arrived in June, and at the Admiralty Hoste was told to choose his ship and station. He was appointed to the frigate Bacchante (38 guns) but a year passed before she was ready. In June 1812 she sailed for the Mediterranean, from where Hoste was again sent into the Adriatic under the orders of Rear-Admiral Fremantle, who had with him three battleships and six or seven frigates. The Bacchante was frequently detached on independent cruises; among many actions, on 18 September 1812 she captured eight gunboats, with their convoy of eighteen trading vessels, on the coast of Apulia; and on 11 June 1813, at Giulia Nova, near Ancona, she captured a flotilla of seven gunboats with seventeen vessels in convoy. Greater fame came out of his element when, in December 1813, Hoste was sent to assist the Austrians in clearing the French from their strongholds on the Dalmatian coast. Operating at one of the most delicate international nerve-ends of Europe, Hoste by-passed diplomatic problems by allowing Ragusan rebels to fly the flag of their old republic while himself flying the flags of Russia, patron of the Montenegrins, and of Austria, the anticipated recipient of the area. In conjunction with the Montenegrins he attacked Cattaro, which surrendered on 5 January 1814, as soon as Hoste had, in what was denounced as ‘a most unmilitary way of proceeding’ (Hoste, 2.248), established a battery of heavy guns, mortars, and rockets on the top of a rugged hill which dominated the enemy's position but was accessible to naval working parties drilled at hauling heavy weights by block and tackle. From Cattaro Hoste immediately crossed over to Ragusa, which also surrendered on the completion of a battery on the top of a supposedly inaccessible hill. For his exploits the Austrian emperor made him a knight of the order of Maria Theresa on 23 May 1814.

The labour of these sieges, the hardships, and the exposure to wet and cold undermined Hoste's health, already feeble, and he was invalided to England. On 23 July 1814 he was made a baronet, and at the same time was granted the augmentation to his arms, which included the words ‘Lissa’ and ‘Cattaro’. In 1815 he was made a KCB. After his return to England his health remained delicate, and for many years he had no service. On 17 April 1817 he married Lady Harriet Walpole, fourth daughter of the second earl of Orford; they had three sons and three daughters. His eldest son, William Legge George, second baronet (1818–1868) became a rear-admiral. In 1822 Hoste accepted the command of the guardship Albion at Portsmouth, and in 1825 he was appointed to the yacht Royal Sovereign. A cold, caught in January 1828, settled on his lungs, and he died of tuberculosis in London on 6 December 1828; he was buried in St John's Chapel, near Regent's Park.

Hoste's successes in the Adriatic, his victory at Lissa, and his capture of Cattaro gave him a naval reputation far beyond that of any other officer of his age and rank. Aristocratic and naval families had crowded to entrust their sons' naval education to him. A devoted professional yet with a social assurance embellished by classical knowledge, he kept out of politics, following Nelson's advice that sailors had no business with party; the one cause he championed after 1815 was the ending of impressment. In his private life his letters show him as affectionate, tenderly attached to his family, and sacrificing opportunities of self-enrichment to help his spendthrift father, to whom, it was said, he applied £50,000 out of the £60,000 he gained in the Adriatic.

J. K. Laughton, rev. Michael Duffy


T. Pocock, Remember Nelson: the life of Captain Sir William Hoste (1977) · Memoirs and letters of Captain Sir William Hoste, Bart, ed. H. Hoste, 2 vols. (1833) · G. H. Hoste, Service afloat, or, The naval career of Sir William Hoste (1887) · Nelson's letters to his wife and other documents, 1785–1831, ed. G. P. B. Naish, Navy RS, 100 (1958) · W. James, The naval history of Great Britain, from the declaration of war by France in 1793, to the accession of George IV [3rd edn], 6 vols. (1837) · D. Syrett and R. L. DiNardo, The commissioned sea officers of the Royal Navy, 1660–1815, rev. edn, Occasional Publications of the Navy RS, 1 (1994) · J. Marshall, Royal naval biography, 2/1 (1824), 470–81


Nelson Museum and Local History Centre, Monmouth, papers · NMM, papers


attrib. S. Lane, oils, c.1815, NMM · T. Campbell, statue, St Paul's Cathedral, London · W. Greatbach, line engraving, BM, NPG; repro. in Hoste, ed., Memoirs and letters [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

at marriage eleven years before death had £12,000 capital, and wife brought dowry of £13,000: Pocock, Remember Nelson