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Stopford, Sir Robert (1768–1847), naval officer, third son of James Stopford, second earl of Courtown (d. 1810), and his wife, Mary (d. 1810), daughter and coheir of Richard Powys of Hintlesham Hall, Suffolk, was born at Richmond, Surrey, on 5 February 1768. After attending Eton College, he entered the navy in May 1780 on board the Prince George, the flagship of Vice-Admiral George Darby; he was in her at the relief of Gibraltar in April 1781 and took part in the battle of the Saints on 12 April 1782. In December, Stopford was moved into the Aigle, and afterwards into the Atalanta and Hermione. He was promoted lieutenant on 15 July 1785, and, after serving on the Newfoundland station and in the Mediterranean, was made commander on 2 June 1789. On 12 August 1790 he was promoted captain and posted to the Fame, from which he was, a few months later, moved to the Lowestoft, and from her to the frigate Aquilon, in which he remained for three years. At the action of 1 June 1794 he took in tow the Marlborough, which was then disabled and in a critical situation. From July 1794 to July 1799 he commanded the Phaeton (38 guns), which played an important part in the retreat of Admiral William Cornwallis on 16 and 17 June 1795. The Phaeton continued in the Bay of Biscay, where she captured many privateers and small vessels of war. In July 1799 Stopford was appointed to the Excellent, which formed part of the Grand Fleet under Lord Gardner; in 1802 he was sent to the West Indies under the orders of Rear-Admiral Totty; he remained there, as senior officer, to transfer the French and Dutch settlements in accordance with the peace of Amiens.

Early in 1803 Stopford was obliged by ill health to return to England. Some months later he was appointed to the Spencer, which throughout 1804 was one of the fleet off Brest or detached off Ferrol, and, having joined Nelson in the Mediterranean, he took part in the chase to the West Indies. The Spencer was afterwards one of the fleet with Nelson off Cadiz, but was detached with Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis a few days before the battle of Trafalgar. She then went to the West Indies with Sir John Thomas Duckworth, and took a brilliant part in the battle of San Domingo on 6 February 1806, for which Stopford received the gold medal. Shortly after this he returned to England, and was MP for Ipswich (1806–7). Still in the Spencer in November he went out to the Rio de la Plata with Rear-Admiral Charles Stirling, and on his return to England in July 1807 joined the expedition against Copenhagen under the command of Admiral James Gambier. At this time, with other senior captains, he protested against a junior's being appointed over his head captain of the fleet. On 28 April 1808 he was promoted rear-admiral and appointed to command the blockading squadron off Rochefort, with his flag in the Spencer and afterwards in the Caesar. He engaged the French batteries and frigates, several of which he drove ashore and destroyed. In April 1809 he was joined by the main fleet under Lord Gambier off the Basque Roads, and witnessed Lord Cochrane's attack on the French shipping and the unsatisfactory results of Gambier's failure to provide support.

On 29 June 1809 Stopford married Mary (d. 4 June 1866), daughter of Captain Robert Fanshawe, commissioner of the navy at Portsmouth; they had three sons and five daughters. The marriage tied Stopford into a large tory naval family which included Thomas Byam Martin.

In the autumn of 1810 Stopford went out as commander-in-chief at the Cape of Good Hope with instructions to capture Mauritius, which, however, had fallen before his arrival. In August 1811, on the news of the death of Vice-Admiral Drury, he left his station to take command of the expedition against Java, where, in co-operation with the army, he gained a complete success. The extraordinary step of leaving his station to take the command in another excited the indignation of the superseded officer, William Robert Broughton, who applied for a court-martial on Stopford; this was refused by the Admiralty, which approved Stopford's conduct. After the conquest of Java, Stopford returned to his own station. On 12 August 1812 he was promoted vice-admiral, and shortly afterwards returned to England. He was nominated a KCB on 2 January 1815, and became admiral on 27 May 1825, a GCB on 6 June 1831, and a GCMG on 10 May 1837. From April 1827 to April 1830 he was commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. In 1834 he was appointed rear-admiral of the United Kingdom.

In 1837 he went out to the Mediterranean as commander-in-chief, with his flag in the Princess Charlotte, filling the fleet with his sons and nephews. He was still there when the British government decided actively to support the sultan against his rebellious subject Mehmet Ali of Egypt. In August 1840 Stopford was instructed to demand, and if necessary to enforce, the restoration of the Turkish ships that had been treacherously delivered to Mehmet Ali by the capitan pasha.

The situation was complex, with France supporting Mehmet Ali to increase her power in the Mediterranean. Stopford, unaware of the wider political implications, favoured Mehmet Ali. The foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, wanted to remove Mehemet from Syria by cutting his supply lines before mid-November, when the weather made operations on the coast too hazardous; by moving rapidly he could avert the danger of war with France. Both as a tory and as an elderly and cautious officer, Stopford was unsuited to command in this complicated situation, which was little short of war. Palmerston chose to work through his second in command, Commodore Charles Napier, a personal and political ally. Irritated by Stopford's slow proceedings, Palmerston famously dismissed him as ‘a superannuated twaddler’ (Minto MSS). Napier captured Sidon, defeated the Egyptian army, and forced it to evacuate Beirut before Stopford received orders to attack Acre, which he did successfully on 3 November. Napier then negotiated a convention with Mehmet Ali, settling the crisis as Palmerston required, but ignoring Stopford.

Palmerston refused to countenance a peerage, but the thanks of both houses of parliament were voted to Stopford and the fleet and Stopford received also the freedom of the City of London, a sword of honour from the sultan, and honours from Austria, Prussia, and Russia; in addition he was able to promote many of his relatives. On 1 May 1841 he became governor of the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, a post that he held until his death, at Richmond, Surrey, on 25 June 1847. An officer of real ability, Stopford had an outstanding career in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic wars, but by 1840 he was simply too old and politically suspect to be an effective commander-in-chief.

J. K. Laughton, rev. Andrew Lambert

Sources  

J. S. Corbett, The campaign of Trafalgar (1910) · C. Napier, The war in Syria (1843) · K. Bourne, Palmerston: the early years, 1784–1841 (1982) · H. W. V. Temperley, England and the Near East: the Crimea (1936) · C. J. Bartlett, Great Britain and sea power, 1815–1853 (1963) · A. D. Lambert, ‘Stopford–Acre’, Great battles of the Royal Navy, ed. E. Grove (1994) · M. Lewis, The navy in transition, 1814–1864: a social history (1965) · O'Byrne, Naval biog. dict. · Burke, Peerage · W. Stokes, ‘Stopford, Hon. Robert’, HoP, Commons

Archives  

NMM, corresp. and papers · Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, family corresp. |  BL, corresp. with Sir Charles Napier, Add. MSS 40021, 40028, 40036–40038 · NA Scot., letters to first earl of Minto · NL Scot., Elliot-Murray-Kynm MSS · NMM, letters to Sir Thomas Foley · NMM, Napier MSS · NMM, corresp. with second earl of Minto · NMM, letters to Charles Yorke · U. Durham L., letters to Viscount Ponsonby


Likenesses  

W. Beechey, oils, c.1790–1791, NMM · F. Ramsay, oils, NMM · F. R. Say, oils, NMM