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Caldwell, Sir Benjamin (1739–1820), naval officer and politician, was born in Liverpool on 31 January 1739, the third son of Charles Caldwell (1707–1776), solicitor to the customs in Dublin, and Elizabeth Heywood (1709–1792). was his eldest brother. In 1754 Benjamin Caldwell entered the Royal Academy at Portsmouth, and two years later he joined the Isis (50 guns). In March 1759 he transferred to the Namur, bearing Admiral Edward Boscawen's flag, and he served in her at the defeat of Clue's squadron in Lagos Bay on 18–19 August, and afterwards in Admiral Edward Hawke's crushing defeat of Admiral Hubert de Brienne, comte de Conflans in Quiberon Bay on 20 November.

From 1760 to 1762 Caldwell was a lieutenant of the Achilles (60 guns) and after commanding the sloop Martin for three years he was made captain of the frigate Milford. He afterwards commanded the Rose (24 guns), and from 1775 to 1779 the Emerald (32 guns), on the North American station; on 25 December he took command of the Hannibal (50 guns), and at the start of 1781 he moved into the Agamemnon (64 guns). During the summer and autumn the Agamemnon was in the Channel Fleet under Vice-Admiral George Darby, and in December she was one of the small squadron with Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt in the Bay of Biscay. Following Kempenfelt's engagement of Guichen's squadron off Ushant on 12 December, the Agamemnon was detached to pick up any stragglers of the scattered French convoy, and succeeded in capturing five more to add to Kempenfelt's initial haul of twenty. Caldwell returned to England in time to sail with Sir George Rodney for the West Indies, where he had a significant share in the battle of the Saints (12 April 1782). He remained on the North America and West Indies station until the peace, when the Agamemnon was paid off in May 1783. On 7 June 1784 Caldwell married Charlotte, daughter of , with whom he had a son, Charles Andrew.

Caldwell was MP for Knocktopher in the Irish House of Commons (1776–83), and for Harristown (1783–90). In 1787 he commanded the Alcide (74 guns) for a short time in the Dutch armament, and for a few months during the Spanish armament of 1790 he commanded the Berwick (74 guns). On 1 February 1793 he became rear-admiral of the white, and towards the close of the year he hoisted his flag in the Cumberland (74 guns) in the fleet under Lord Howe. In April of the following year he became rear-admiral of the red, and transferred his flag to the Impregnable (98 guns), still in Lord Howe's fleet, before taking part in the battle of 1 June 1794, in which the Impregnable had thirty-one men killed or wounded. Caldwell, with many other senior officers, was nevertheless left unmentioned in the official dispatches of Lord Howe. In consequence the gold medal was withheld from him, as it was from the other flag officers and captains who had not been specially mentioned; and though it was very quickly perceived that Howe had committed a serious blunder, and that the Admiralty had acquiesced in this affront to several deserving officers, the error went unrectified. Of those passed over for honours, only Cuthbert Collingwood later had it in his power to force the Admiralty to acknowledge their mistake.

On 4 July 1794 Caldwell was advanced to vice-admiral of the blue, and in the following September he was sent out to the Leeward Islands, with his flag in the Majestic (74 guns), to join Sir John Jervis. Jervis shortly afterwards returned to England, leaving Caldwell as commander-in-chief. However, in the following June, he was superseded by Sir John Laforey. As Caldwell's rank entitled him to the command, he was apparently led to believe that Laforey's appointment was a continuation of the same insult which had deprived him of the gold medal. He returned to England in the frigate Blanche, and neither applied for nor accepted any further appointment. His advancement to the rank of admiral on 14 February 1799 came as matter of course by seniority. His name was markedly omitted from the honours conferred at the end of the war, and it was not until after the death of George III that, in May 1820, he received a tardy acknowledgement of his services by being nominated an extra GCB. Caldwell died at his son's house, near Basingstoke, in November 1820. His wife survived him.

J. K. Laughton, rev. P. L. C. Webb

Sources  

‘Biographical memoir of Benjamin Caldwell’, Naval Chronicle, 11 (1804), 1–9 · J. Charnock, ed., Biographia navalis, 6 (1798) · J. Ralfe, The naval biography of Great Britain, 1 (1828) · GM, 1st ser., 90/2 (1820), 565 · 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)

Archives  

NMM, logbooks, notebooks, corresp., and papers · Surrey HC, bank book |  Sheff. Arch., corresp. with Earl Fitzwilliam · TNA: PRO, letters to Lord Rodney, 30/20/21/3


Likenesses  

R. Horne, oils, 1784, NMM · Bartolozzi, Landseer, Ryder, and Stow, group portrait, line engraving, pubd 1803 (Commemoration of the victory of June 1st 1794; after Naval Victories by R. Smirke), BM, NPG · W. Ridley, print, 1804, NMM · Ridley, stipple, pubd 1804, NPG · attrib. S. Medley, oils, NMM