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Carnegie, William, seventh earl of Northesk (1756–1831), naval officer, was born in Hampshire on 10 April 1756, the third son of George Carnegie, sixth earl of Northesk (d. 1792), admiral of the white, and Lady Anne Leslie, eldest daughter of Alexander, fifth earl of Leven. Carnegie entered the navy in 1771 on board the Albion with Captain Samuel Barrington and afterwards served with captains Macbride in the Southampton and Stair Douglas in the Squirrel.

On 7 December 1777 Carnegie was made lieutenant in the Apollo. He was afterwards with Sir John Lockhart Ross in the Royal George and then went to the West Indies in the Sandwich with Sir George Rodney, serving with him in the battle with the French Admiral De Guichen on 17 April 1780. After the battle Rodney promoted him commander, though this was not confirmed until 10 September 1780. He continued in the West Indies as commander of the fireship Blast and then of the hired ship St Eustatius. In her Carnegie was present at the capture of the Dutch island of St Eustatius in February 1781. On 7 April 1782 he was made post and given command of the frigate Enterprise which he brought to England and paid off at the peace in 1783. In 1788, after the death of his elder brothers, he became Lord Rosehill, and on 9 December 1788 he married Mary, only daughter of William Henry Ricketts of Longwood, Hampshire, and niece of Lord St Vincent; the couple had four sons and five daughters. In 1790 he commanded the Heroine for a short period and then, on 22 January 1792, he succeeded to the earldom on the death of his father. In 1793 he briefly commanded the frigate Beaulieu and the Andromeda.

In 1796 Northesk became captain of the Monmouth (64 guns), one of the ships in the North Sea squadron which, in 1797, took part in the mutiny at the Nore. Having confined Northesk to his cabin for some time, the mutineers wished to use him as an emissary and he appeared before the committee of delegates on the Sandwich. They sent for him as ‘one who was known to be the seaman's friend’. Richard Parker, the chairman of the delegates, presented him with the terms ‘on which alone, without the smallest alteration, they would give up the ships’ and ordered Carnegie to wait upon the king, present the resolutions of the committee, and return with an answer within fifty-four hours from 3.00 p.m. on 6 June (Marshall, 1, suppl. i.200).

Northesk carried the propositions of the mutineers to the Admiralty and was taken by the first lord, Lord Spencer, to the king. The demands were rejected and a message to that effect was sent to Parker and the delegates at the Nore. Northesk did not return and, shortly after the mutiny had been quelled, he resigned the command of the Monmouth. In 1800 he was appointed to the Prince (98 guns) in the Channel Fleet and remained with her until the peace of Amiens (1802). On renewal of the war in 1803 he was appointed to the Britannia (100 guns) in the fleet under Cornwallis engaged in the blockade of Brest. He continued in her, on the same station, after his promotion to flag-rank on 23 April 1804 as rear-admiral of the white. In August 1805 he was detached in the Britannia to reinforce the fleet with Sir Robert Calder off Cadiz.

Northesk was third in command to Lord Nelson in the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. Britannia was in the weather line led by Nelson, and was certainly early in action (accounts vary as to whether she was fourth or sixth in line), remained closely engaged to the end, and sustained a loss of fifty-two killed and wounded. Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood's dispatch following the battle praised all the commanders: ‘all deserve that their high merits should stand recorded and never was high merit more conspicuous’ (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/411, fol. 564). Northesk's services, both during the battle and in the subsequent task of rescuing crews from prizes ordered to be destroyed in the rising storm, were recognized by his being nominated a knight of the Bath, the investiture taking place on 5 June 1806. He became vice-admiral of the blue on 28 April 1808 and admiral of the blue on 4 June 1814, but had no further service during the war. On 19 July 1821 he was promoted admiral of the white and rear-admiral of Great Britain, and from 1827 to 1830 he was commander-in-chief at Plymouth.

In 1796 Northesk had been elected one of sixteen representatives of the peerage of Scotland in the parliament of Great Britain; he subsequently served in the parliaments of 1802, 1806, and 1830. He died after a short illness on 28 May 1831, and on 8 June he was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, London, where a plain slab marks his grave near those of Nelson and Collingwood. Northesk's will, proved on 5 August 1831, initially left his various properties to his wife.

Kenneth Breen


admiral's dispatches, TNA: PRO, ADM 1/411, 124, 125 · lieutenant's passing certs., TNA: PRO, ADM 107/ · W. James, The naval history of Great Britain, from the declaration of war by France, in February 1793, to the accession of George IV in January 1820, 5 vols. (1822–4), vol. 3 · Burke, Peerage · Debrett's Peerage · J. Marshall, Royal naval biography, 4 vols. (1823–35) [with 4 suppls.] · J. Charnock, ed., Biographia navalis, 6 vols. (1794–8) · GM, 1st ser., 101/1 (1831) · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1789 · private information (2005) [P. van der Merwe]


NRA, priv. coll., letters to his sister, Lady Betty Hope


T. Phillips, oils, 1805, NMM · Ridley and Holl, stipple, pubd 1806, BM · T. Phillips, oils, 1807, Dudley Art Gallery · H. Cook, stipple, 1831 (after H. Patterson), BM, NPG; repro. in W. Jerdan, National Portrait Gallery (1831) · J. Hibbert jun., etching and aquatint, BM

Wealth at death  

see will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1789