Capel, Sir Thomas Bladen (17761853), naval officer, youngest son of William Capel, fourth earl of Essex (17321799) and his second wife, Harriet (d. 12 March 1821), daughter of Colonel Thomas Bladen, was born on 25 August 1776, and entered in the books of the frigate Phaeton as captain's servant on 22 March 1782; it was ten years before he actually joined. After serving on the Newfoundland and home stations and being present as midshipman of the Sans Pareil in the action against L'Orient in Abu Qir Bay on 23 July 1795, he was, on 5 April 1797, promoted lieutenant and appointed to the frigate Cambrian, on the home station. In April 1798 he was appointed to the Vanguard, bearing the flag of Nelson, and, during the Mediterranean cruise which culminated in the battle of the Nile, acted as Nelson's signal officer. On 4 August 1798 he was appointed by Nelson to command the brig Mutine and sent home with duplicate dispatches, which, because of the capture of the Leander, brought the first news of the victory to England, on 2 October. His commander's commission was at once confirmed, and on 27 December he was advanced to post rank. On 5 January 1799 he was appointed to the frigate Arab, for the West Indian station. In July 1800 he was transferred to the Meleager, which on 9 June 1801 was wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico. In August 1802 he was appointed to the Phoebe (36 guns), in which he served in the Mediterranean for the three following years, and was present at Trafalgar, where he assisted in taking prize the French ships Swiftsure and Bahama.
On his return to England, Capel sat as a member of the court-martial on Sir Robert Calder, and on 27 December was appointed to the Endymion (40 guns), in which he again went to the Mediterranean, carrying Mr Arbuthnot, the British ambassador, to Constantinople, where he remained while the negotiations were pending, and on their failure brought Arbuthnot back to Malta. The Endymion was afterwards one of the fleet which, under Sir John Duckworth, forced the passage of the Dardanelles, on 19 February and 3 March 1807, in which she was struck by two enormous stone shot, upwards of 2 feet in diameter, and weighing nearly 800 lb, fortunately without sustaining much damage.
In December 1811 Capel was appointed to the Hogue, on the North American station, where he remained during the war with the United States, at one point commanding a small squadron blockading the American frigates in New London. In June 1815 he was nominated a CB. On 10 May 1816 he married Harriet Catherine (d. 30 July 1866), only daughter of Francis George Smyth of Upper Brook Street, London; they had no children.
In December 1821 Capel was appointed to command the yacht Royal George, where he remained until advanced to be rear-admiral on 27 May 1825. On 20 May 1832 he was made a KCB, and from May 1834 to July 1837 was commander-in-chief in the East Indies, with his flag in the Winchester (50 guns). He became vice-admiral on 10 January 1837, admiral on 28 April 1847, and GCB on 7 April 1852. He was commanding officer at Portsmouth from 1848 to 1852. He died at 22 Rutland Gate, Hyde Park, London, on 4 March 1853.
J. K. Laughton, rev. Roger Morriss
J. Marshall, Royal naval biography, 2/1 (1824), 1958 · O'Byrne, Naval biog. dict. · GM, 2nd ser., 39 (1853), 540 · Boase, Mod. Eng. biog. · Burke, Peerage
BL, letters to Sir Charles Napier, Add. MSS 4004440045
Wealth at death
under £12,000personalty: GM