- J. K. Laughton
- , revised by Clive Wilkinson
Blankett, John (c. 1740–1801), naval officer, is of unknown parentage. He served as a volunteer and midshipman in the Somerset with Captain Edward Hughes, and was present at the reduction of Louisbourg in 1758 and Quebec in 1759. On his return to England he presented a report to the Admiralty concerning the possible existence of a north-west passage to the Pacific. In 1761 he was made a lieutenant. Two years later he was condemned to death for murder by a court at Gibraltar, but he was later reprieved (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/384). After the peace in 1763 he obtained leave to go to Russia to gather information concerning recent discoveries on the east coast of Asia.
In 1770 Blankett served as lieutenant under Captain Barrington, and four years later he was granted leave to go to St Petersburg with a view to gathering information for a future voyage of exploration. Lord Sandwich, the first lord of the Admiralty, refused to make any firm commitments in support of these ventures (NMM, SAN V12, fol. 310). Some years later Sandwich was criticized in the press for not supporting Blankett and appointing others, notably James Cook, to undertake a number of the voyages Blankett had proposed (ibid., F36, fol. 24). Blankett distanced himself from these attacks but apparently harboured some ill feeling towards Sandwich. He was first lieutenant of the Victory, flagship of Admiral Keppel, in 1778 and was made a commander in 1779. He was then appointed to the sloop Nymph and sent to the East Indies to join Sir Edward Hughes. He was made a captain in the Rippon on 23 January 1780. This ship was shortly afterwards ordered home and Blankett held no further appointment during the American War of Independence.
On his return Blankett busied himself supplying the opposition press with information to discredit Lord Sandwich, and with Lord Shelburne and Captain Robert Tomlinson he assisted in producing lists and accounts on naval matters for the opposition speakers in parliament. After the peace in 1783 he commanded the frigate Thetis in the Mediterranean, where he came to the notice of the king of Naples, who accompanied him on a cruise and presented him with his portrait set in diamonds. In July 1790 he sailed for China in the Leopard in command of a convoy; on his return he was appointed to the America as commodore of a small squadron sent to the Cape of Good Hope. There, in August 1795, he was joined by the squadron under Sir George Elphinstone, under whom he served at the reduction of that settlement. In June 1798 he was appointed once again to the Leopard, with orders to proceed to India. On his arrival he was sent as senior officer to the Red Sea, where he commanded during the subsequent operations in Egypt, and about which he complained bitterly: 'The Red-Sea is a job no longer for anybody' (The Spencer Papers, ed. J. S. Corbett and H. W. Richmond, 4 vols., 1913–24, 4.228).
In February 1799 Blankett became rear-admiral. In August 1800 he went for a short time to Bombay; on passage he captured the Clarisse, a very active French privateer, which under the command of Robert Surcouf had been the terror of commerce of the Indian seas. By January he was back in the Red Sea, and from April to June in the Gulf of Suez. His health had already suffered and the terrible heat of the Red Sea summer proved fatal to him. He died on the Leopard near Mocha on 14 July 1801. He was described as an unusually good linguist, having a perfect mastery of French, Italian, and Portuguese. Seen by many as a good officer and an accomplished and amiable gentleman, he was criticized by others for his bad temper and eccentricity during his last days in the Red Sea.
- W. James, The naval history of Great Britain, from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV [8th edn], 6 vols. (1902)
- The Tomlinson papers, ed. J. G. Bullocke (1935)
- N. A. M. Rodger, The insatiable earl: a life of John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich (1993)
- NA Scot., observations on the commerce of the Red Sea
- BL, corresp. with Lord Liverpool, Add. MSS 38223–38234, 38310–38311, 38416
- BL, Wellesley MSS, Add. MS 13760
- BL, corresp. with William Windham, Add. MSS 37875–37880, passim
- Bodl. Oxf., Petty MSS, MSS Film dep. 961–1005
- NMM, Howe MSS
- NMM, letters to Lord Sandwich
- priv. coll., letters to Lord Lansdowne