Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Pocock, Sir Georgelocked

(1706–1792)
  • Tom Pocock

Pocock, Sir George (1706–1792), naval officer, was born on 6 March 1706 at Thames Ditton, Surrey, the son of Thomas Pocock (1672–1745), chaplain in the Royal Navy and of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, and his wife, Joyce (d. 1745), daughter of James Master of East Langdon, Kent, and sister of Margaret, wife of Admiral George Byng, first Viscount Torrington. In 1718 he entered the navy with his cousin John Byng (bap. 1704, d. 1757) on board Admiral Byng's flagship, the Superb, commanded by his uncle, Captain Streynsham Master, and was present at the battle of Cape Passaro off Sicily.

Promotion and appointments followed as a consequence of his ability, his uncle's influence, and his readiness to serve in unhealthy climates and in small ships; such willingness, in time of war, offered the best chance of earning prize money. After three years in the hospital ship Looe and two years in the ships of the line Prince Frederick and Argyle, he passed the examination for lieutenant on 19 April 1725. With this rank he served in ships of the line, the Burford and Romney, and returned to the Mediterranean in the Canterbury before moving to Admiral Sir Charles Wager's flagship, Namur.

Pocock was given his first command, the fireship Bridgewater, on 26 February 1733, and after a spell in the frigate Aldborough took command of the Woolwich (40 guns). With the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession he was appointed to the Shrewsbury (80 guns) in January 1743; he was then moved to the Sutherland (50 guns) and sent to cruise off the coast of Spain, escort a convoy from St Helena to England, and return with another squadron before crossing to the Caribbean.

On the Leeward Islands station Pocock served under commodores Fitzroy Henry Lee and Edward Legge; Legge died on 18 September 1747, and Pocock took command. Soon afterwards Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke ordered him to search for a convoy which had escaped after Hawke had fought and defeated its escort in the Atlantic. This he did, capturing about thirty ships himself; the remaining ten were taken by privateers. In May 1748 he was relieved by Rear-Admiral Henry Osborn, with whom he had served in the Superb and who had married his cousin Sarah Byng.

Pocock lived in St James's Street, London, from 1749 to 1754, and in July 1754 he was given command of the Cumberland (56 guns) on the home station; six months later he commissioned the Eagle (60 guns) to join a squadron to be commanded by Vice-Admiral Charles Watson in Indian waters. Before departing, his ship was badly damaged in a storm so that Pocock returned to the Cumberland to hoist his flag on his promotion to rear-admiral on 4 February 1755; on 10 November the squadron reached Bombay.

After a successful operation against the pirate Tugalee Angria in his base at Gheria, north of Goa, the squadron arrived at Madras early in 1756 and there, in August, it was learned that Calcutta had been captured by Suraj ud-Daula, the nawab of Bengal. The squadron, with troops embarked, sailed for the Hooghly River but Pocock's ship ran into difficulties off Palmyras Point, became separated from the others and, running short of food and water, had to run south for Vizagapatam. When the Cumberland eventually reached the Hooghly, Pocock found that Calcutta had been recaptured and that Watson and Colonel Robert Clive's troops had left to attack the French trading settlement of Chandernagore.

Unable to follow without pilots, Pocock was rowed upriver; he arrived the day before the attack and hoisted his flag in the Tyger. The bombardment of the Chandernagore defences on 23 March 1757 was prolonged and bloody, Pocock himself being 'scratched most shockingly' by flying splinters and 'covered with blood from head to foot' (Hill, 2.27–8). The settlement surrendered, and three months later Clive won his crushing victory over Suraj ud-Daula at Plassey and installed Mir Jaffir as nawab of Bengal.

On 15 August that year Admiral Watson died suddenly of fever at Calcutta, and Pocock, who had been promoted vice-admiral on 8 December 1756, succeeded to the command. This, however, coincided with news from London that his cousin John Byng had been executed after being tried and found guilty of 'failing to do his utmost' against the French off Minorca in the previous year.

Early in 1758 the comte de Lally, the governor-designate of French settlements in India, arrived in the Indian Ocean with strong reinforcements for Pondicherry, escorted by a squadron commanded by the comte d'Aché. On 29 April Pocock's seven small ships of the line intercepted d'Aché's nine off Cuddalore, although Lally himself was able to escape into Pondicherry. Action was at point-blank range but three of Pocock's captains failed to get into the action; all three were subsequently found guilty by court martial. As was usual the British fired into the enemy's hulls, and since the ships were crowded with soldiers the French suffered heavy casualties: 162 killed and 360 wounded. The heaviest losses were in d'Aché's flagship, the Zodiaque, which Pocock had engaged with his own flagship, the Yarmouth, 'as with the spirit of a duel' (Orme, 2.300).

Pocock again brought d'Aché to action off Negapatam on 3 August and the outcome was similar. The French suffered heavy losses but, as a result of the French custom of aiming at the rigging, the British were so damaged aloft that they were unable to exploit their initial success. A year later, on 10 September 1759, the two admirals fought another action; on this occasion reinforcements brought Pocock's strength to nine sail of the line and the French to eleven, most of them more heavily gunned. Again Pocock worsted d'Aché, who was himself among the 1500 French casualties; wounded, he finally lost heart and, abandoning Pondicherry, made for Mauritius; the British were thus left in command of the sea and the East India Company achieved secure communications.

On Pocock's return to London later that year the East India Company, assuming financial reward unnecessary, suggested his portrait be painted, or sculpted. 'He made choice of the marble' (Beatson, 2.219), and the full-length figure in Roman military dress stood beside one of Clive in East India House. In January 1760 he was elected MP for Plymouth; he sat for two parliaments, voting with the government though against Rockingham's attempted repeal of the Stamp Act in February 1766. He was made knight of the Bath in 1761.

In January 1762, when the government decided to act against Spain, Pocock was chosen for high command in the co-ordinated attacks on the keystones of Spanish global power: Havana and Manila. While the operation against the latter was to be mounted from India, the force destined for Havana was drawn from England, several Caribbean islands, and North America. The collecting, escorting, landing, and support of this force was to be Pocock's responsibility. The core of the expedition—five sail of the line and sixty-seven transports with some 4000 troops embarked—sailed from Spithead on 5 March 1762. Arriving at Martinique on 26 April, Pocock was shocked by the absence of the ten sail of the line and the transports which Rear-Admiral George Rodney had been ordered to contribute to his force. It emerged that Rodney had sent the extra ships to defend Jamaica against a reported French threat. Refused a meeting with Rodney, Pocock took his flagship under his own command, embarked the troops, who had recently taken the island from the French, and set sail.

After collecting Rodney's missing ships Pocock decided to take twenty ships of the line, and 200 transports with some 12,000 troops embarked, by the most direct but most difficult route, the Old Bahama Passage along the north coast of Cuba. He had no pilots and so sent boats ahead to take soundings and light fires on rocks and islands, and the passage lasted nearly a week. But when the fleet arrived off Havana on 6 June the Spaniards were taken by surprise, and next morning the army began to land.

Military operations were the responsibility of the inexperienced earl of Albemarle, who decided that instead of directly attacking the city he would first take the powerful fortress of El Morro which commanded the harbour mouth. Pocock supplied the land forces, guarded against interference from Spanish or French forces, and searched for the troop convoy due to arrive from New York. On 30 July he sent four ships of the line to bombard El Morro but their guns could not be elevated sufficiently to damage the massive walls.

Finally, on 30 July, a mine was sprung under a seaward bastion of El Morro, the breach was stormed and the fortress taken. Havana itself was now bombarded and, after the arrival of American reinforcements, was completely surrounded. The city surrendered on 13 August. Under the previously agreed division of booty Pocock and Albemarle shared a third of the total, which amounted to £123,000 each. This aroused criticism in England, and Pocock and Albemarle were later lampooned in Charles Johnstone's Chrysal, or, The Adventures of a Guinea (1764). Dissatisfied with his share, Albemarle tried to extract more from the bishop of Cuba, who appealed to Pocock. Unwilling to sour his relations with the earl, Pocock was happy to sail for England. The return was delayed by Atlantic storms, in which two ships of the line and twelve transports were lost. The survivors, in sight of the Scillies, made no headway for a month, the Namur finally reaching Spithead on 13 January 1763.

On his return to London, Pocock settled down to enjoy his rewards, with a house in Mayfair and another (later named Orleans House) at Twickenham. During 1763 he married Sophia Pitt Dent (d. 1767), daughter of George Francis Drake, granddaughter of Sir Francis Drake, bt, and widow of his friend, Commodore Digby Dent; they had one son, George (1765–1840), who was created a baronet at the coronation of George IV, and one daughter, Sophia (d. 1811), who married John, fourth Earl Powlett. A popular and modest officer who, 'unlike most … was never known to swear, even on board his ship' (Charnock, 305), Pocock saw no further service. On 11 September 1766 he formally sought the king's permission to remove his name from the list of flag officers available for duty. This was said to have been prompted by his annoyance that a more junior officer, Admiral Sir Charles Saunders, had been appointed first lord of the Admiralty, although Pocock congratulated him. It would appear that at about this time he also stopped attending the Commons; he lost his seat in 1768.

Pocock resigned from the Royal Navy in 1782, allegedly because of his anger at the appointment of the controversial Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser as governor of the Royal Hospital, Greenwich. He maintained his maritime interests by becoming master of Trinity House (1786–90) and vice-president of the charitable Marine Society, which encouraged boys to serve in the Royal Navy. Pocock died at Curzon Street, London, on 3 April 1792, and was buried in St Mary's Church, Twickenham.

Sources

  • NMM, Pocock MSS
  • Hunt. L., Pocock papers
  • J. Campbell, Lives of the admirals, 4 vols. (1779)
  • J. Charnock, ed., Biographia navalis, 6 vols. (1794–8)
  • R. Beatson, Naval and military memoirs of Great Britain, 2nd edn, 6 vols. (1804)
  • ‘Biographical memoirs of the late Sir George Pocock, KB, admiral of the blue squadron’, Naval Chronicle, 8 (1802), 441–62
  • S. C. Hill, ed., Bengal in 1756–7, 3 vols. (1905)
  • D. Syrett, ed., The siege and capture of Havana, 1762, Navy RS, 114 (1970)
  • T. Pocock, Battle for empire (1998)

Archives

  • CUL, corresp. relating to West Indies
  • Hunt. L., corresp. and papers
  • L. Cong., official corresp. while commander-in-chief on the Leeward Islands station
  • NMM, corresp., logbook, and papers
  • U. Mich., Clements L.

Likenesses

  • P. Scheemakers, marble statue, 1764, Gov. Art Coll.
  • J. Bacon sen., medallion on monument, 1792, Westminster Abbey
  • T. Hudson, oils, NPG
  • T. Hudson, oils, priv. coll.
  • T. Hudson, oils, Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth
  • oils (after T. Hudson, 1761), NPG
L. Namier & J. Brooke, eds., , 3 vols. (1964); repr. (1985)
National Maritime Museum, London
Huntington Library, San Marino, California