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Sir  Henry Blackwood (1770–1832), by John Hoppner, 1806Sir Henry Blackwood (1770–1832), by John Hoppner, 1806
Blackwood, Sir Henry, first baronet (1770–1832), naval officer, was born in co. Down, Ireland, on 28 December 1770, the fourth son of Sir John Blackwood, second baronet (d. 27 Feb 1799), of Ballyleidy, co. Down, and of his wife, Dorcas, daughter of James Stevenson, who after her husband's death was created a peeress of Ireland, as Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye (d. 8 Feb 1807). In April 1781 he entered the navy as a volunteer on the frigate Artois, with Captain Macbride, and in her was present at the battle on the Dogger Bank. He afterwards served with captains Montgomery and Whitshed, and for four years in the Trusty with Commodore Cosby in the Mediterranean. In 1790 he was signal midshipman on board the Queen Charlotte with Lord Howe, by whom he was made lieutenant on 3 November 1790. In 1791 he was in the frigate Proserpine with Captain Curzon, and towards the close of that year obtained leave to go to France in order to improve his French. For most of 1792 he was in Paris, and on one occasion was in much danger, having been denounced as a spy, and eventually he had to flee for his life.

Blackwood was almost immediately appointed to the frigate Active, from which, a few months later, he was transferred to the Invincible at the special request of Captain Pakenham. Of this ship Blackwood was first lieutenant on 1 June 1794, and as such was promoted, along with all the other first lieutenants of the ships of the line, on 6 July. He was immediately appointed to the Megaera, and continued in her, attached to the fleet under Lord Howe and afterwards Lord Bridport, until he was promoted captain on 2 June 1795. After a few months in command of the guardship at Hull, Blackwood was appointed to the frigate Brilliant (28 guns), which for the next two years was attached to the North Sea Fleet under the command of Admiral Duncan. Early in 1798 the Brilliant was sent out to join Admiral Waldegrave on the Newfoundland station; and on 26 July, while standing close in to the Bay of Santa Cruz in quest of a French privateer, she was chased by two large French frigates. By seamanship and courage, Blackwood succeeded in checking the pursuit and in escaping.

Early in 1799 the Brilliant returned to England, and Blackwood was appointed to the frigate Penelope (36 guns), in which, after a few months of channel service, he was sent to the Mediterranean, and employed during the winter and following spring in the close blockade of Malta. On the night of 30 March 1800 the Guillaume Tell (80 guns), taking advantage of a southerly gale and intense darkness, ran out of the harbour. As she passed the Penelope, Blackwood immediately pursued. Until dawn, the Penelope successfully engaged her with broadsides, inflicting much damage. At five o'clock the Lion (64 guns), and some little time afterwards the Foudroyant (80 guns), came up, and after a gallant resistance the Guillaume Tell surrendered; that she was brought to action at all was due to the Penelope. Nelson wrote to Blackwood from Palermo (5 April 1800): ‘Your conduct and character on the late glorious occasion stamps your fame beyond the reach of envy. It was like yourself; it was like the Penelope’ (Blackwood, 7).

On the peace of Amiens in 1802 the Penelope was paid off; and in April 1803, when war again broke out, Blackwood was appointed to the Euryalus (36 guns). During the next two years he was employed on the coast of Ireland or in the channel, and in July 1805 was sent to watch the movements of the allied fleet under Villeneuve after its defeat by Sir Robert Calder. On his return with the news that Villeneuve had gone to Cadiz, he stopped on his way to London to see Nelson, who went with him to the Admiralty and received his final instructions to resume the command of the fleet without delay. Blackwood, in the Euryalus, accompanied him to Cadiz, and was appointed to the command of the inshore squadron, with the duty of keeping the admiral informed of every movement of the enemy. He was offered a line-of-battle ship, but preferred to remain in the Euryalus, believing that he would have more opportunity of distinction; for Villeneuve, he was convinced, would not venture out in the presence of Nelson. When he saw the combined fleets outside, Blackwood could not but regret his decision. On the morning of 21 October 1805, in writing to his wife, he added: ‘My signal just made on board the Victory—I hope to order me into a vacant line-of-battle ship.’ This signal was made at six o'clock, and from that time until after noon, when the shot was already flying thickly over the Victory, Blackwood remained on board, receiving the admiral's last instructions, and, together with Captain Hardy, witnessing the codicil to Nelson's will. He was then ordered to return to his ship. ‘God bless you, Blackwood,’ said Nelson, shaking him by the hand, ‘I shall never speak to you again.’ As Blackwood himself wrote:
He not only gave me the command of all the frigates, for the purpose of assisting disabled ships, but he also gave me a latitude seldom or ever given, that of making any use I pleased of his name in ordering any of the sternmost line-of-battle ships to do what struck me as best. (Nelson Despatches, 7.226)
Immediately after the battle Lord Collingwood hoisted his flag on board the Euryalus, but after ten days removed it to the Queen, and the Euryalus was sent home with dispatches and with the French admiral. Blackwood was thus in England at the time of Nelson's funeral (8 January 1806), when he acted as train-bearer of the chief mourner, Sir Peter Parker, the aged admiral of the fleet.

After this, Blackwood was appointed to the Ajax (80 guns), in which he joined Collingwood off Cadiz on the first anniversary of Trafalgar, and early in the following year was detached with the squadron under Sir John Duckworth in the expedition up the Dardanelles. At the entrance of the straits, on the night of 14 February 1806, the Ajax caught fire through the drunken carelessness of the purser's steward, and was totally destroyed, with the loss of nearly half the ship's company. Blackwood himself was picked up hanging on to an oar, almost perished with cold, after nearly an hour in the water. During the subsequent operations in the straits he served as a volunteer on board the flagship, and arrived in England in May.

Blackwood was now offered the situation of pay commissioner at the Navy Board, which he declined, preferring to be appointed to the command of the Warspite (74 guns). In this, after some uneventful service in the North Sea, he again went out to the Mediterranean, where the principal duty of the fleet was the very harassing blockade of Toulon. Here, for some time during the summer of 1810, Blackwood commanded the inshore squadron, and on 20 July drove back a sortie made by a much stronger French force. He returned to England at the end of 1812, but remained in command of the Warspite for another year. In May 1814, on the occasion of the visit of the allied sovereigns, he was appointed captain of the fleet under the duke of Clarence, a special service which was nominally rewarded by a baronetcy (September 1814). On 4 June 1814 he attained the rank of rear-admiral, and in August 1819 was nominated a KCB, and appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies, from which station he returned in December 1822. He became vice-admiral in May 1825, and from 1827 to 1830 he was commander-in-chief at the Nore.

Blackwood married three times. On 12 January 1795 he married Jane Mary, née Crosbie; she died on 19 January 1798, without surviving children. On 3 June 1799 he married Eliza, daughter of ; they had one son (later the second baronet) and she died on 30 October 1802. On 9 May 1803 he married Harriet, née Gore; they had several children and she died on 5 May 1851. Two of his sons became captains in the navy.

Still in the full vigour of life, Blackwood died after a short illness, variously stated as typhus or scarlet fever, on 17 December 1832, at Ballyleidy, the seat of his eldest brother, Lord Dufferin and Claneboye. Blackwood was a brilliant officer, possessing all the qualities that were required for sea command. Nelson's opinion, and the authority he deputed at Trafalgar, were the high point of his career.

J. K. Laughton, rev. Andrew Lambert

Sources  

G. S. Graham, Great Britain in the Indian Ocean: a study of maritime enterprise, 1810–1850 (1967) · J. S. Corbett, The campaign of Trafalgar (1910) · Blackwood, 34 (1833) · J. Marshall, Royal naval biography, 1/2 (1823), 642–51 · Burke, Peerage · Letters and despatches of Viscount Nelson, ed. J. K. Laughton (1886), 7.140, 226

Archives  

PRONI, papers |  BL, letters to Lord Nelson, Add. MSS 34915–34931, passim


Likenesses  

J. Hoppner, oils, 1806, NMM [see illus.] · C. Turner, mezzotint, pubd 1833 (after J. Hoppner), BM