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Cornish, Sir Samuel, baronetlocked

(c. 1715–1770)
  • J. K. Laughton
  • , revised by Nicholas Tracy

Sir Samuel Cornish, baronet (c. 1715–1770)

by Tilly Kettle, exh. Society of Artists 1768 [[Left to right] Captain Richard Kempenfelt (1718-1782), Thomas Parry, and Sir Samuel Cornish (c.1715–1770) ]

in the collection of T. Fenton

Cornish, Sir Samuel, baronet (c. 1715–1770), naval officer, was believed by John Charnock to have risen from modest origins, and to have served his apprenticeship on a collier before being appointed to an East Indiaman (Charnock, 5.139). However, it remains possible that these details relate to his father. Cornish is known to have entered the navy as a volunteer ‘per order’ in 1728. He was commissioned lieutenant in the Litchfield on 12 November 1739, and on 11 November 1740 he moved, with Captain Charles Knowles, to the Weymouth, in which he served in the ill-conducted combined operation at Cartagena during March and April 1741. On his return to England he was appointed to command the bomb-ketch Mortar; and on 12 March 1742 he was posted flag captain of the Namur under Vice-Admiral Thomas Mathews, with whom he served in the Mediterranean.

On 21 September 1742 Cornish was appointed to command the Guernsey (50 guns); he continued in her until the end of the war, doing occasional good service in the destruction of the enemy's privateers, and taking part in the action off Toulon on 11 February 1744. His part in that discreditable engagement occasioned no comment, which must be considered an achievement in the light of the number of careers destroyed on that day and in the subsequent courts martial. On 9 March 1749, as a 'gentleman well skilled in mathematicks and natural knowledge', Cornish was elected to the Royal Society (record of election of members). In 1755 he commissioned the Stirling Castle for service in the channel, and in 1758 he was transferred to the Union (90 guns), and was ordered by Lord Anson to wear a distinguishing pennant.

On 14 February 1759 Cornish was promoted rear-admiral of the white, and in May he was sent out to the East Indies with a small squadron to reinforce Vice-Admiral George Pocock. Having been delayed on passage by the need to escort East India Company ships to Trincomalee, he was not present at Pocock's engagement with D'Aché on 10 September 1759, but after consultations with the governor, George Pigot, and the council at Fort St George, Madras, Cornish undertook operations to clear the coast of Coromandel; this established his reputation as a commander able to co-operate effectively with the army. Pocock had resigned his command of the station to Rear-Admiral Charles Steevens, and when Steevens died on 17 May 1761, Cornish succeeded him. He immediately found himself embroiled in a dispute with the East India Company over the plunder taken at the surrender of the French fortress of Pondicherry, in which Cornish betrayed an ominously unconstructive attitude which certainly suggests that his or his father's earlier dealings with the company had left bitter feelings. This bitterness affected his relations with Madras when he was asked to assist in the creation and execution of a plan to seize the French post on Mauritius, the Île de France, but his professional competence in combined operations and respect for the military officers of the company enabled him to overcome his feelings.

The plan Cornish prepared was a model of its kind, but when Spain was drawn into the war it was laid aside in favour of a proposal to capture the Spanish port of Manila. Cornish commanded the seven ships of the line and three frigates carrying Colonel William Draper's troops. By posting a frigate in the Strait of Malacca Cornish ensured that no news of the impending strike reached Manila prior to the fleet's arrival on 23 September 1762. The city walls were breached on 5 October and on the following day the place was taken by storm. Draper did his utmost to put a stop to the spoliation of the town, and with Cornish agreed to accept a ransom of $4 million. The hinterland, however, was soon raised against the British, and Cornish, who had taken the position of governor of Cavite, quarrelled over the means of defence, the collection of the ransom, the administration of justice, and measures to be taken to secure the Spanish Acapulco galleons. With the conclusion of the treaty of Paris, Manila was returned to Spain.

Cornish, who had been advanced to vice-admiral of the blue on 21 October 1762, returned to Europe in February 1763 before news of the peace treaty was known in Asia, and he participated in an unsuccessful campaign to persuade the government to use forceful means to obtain payment of the Manila ransom. A pamphlet written to support this claim, A Plain Narrative of the Reduction of Manila, although published anonymously, appears to have been his work. Despite this disappointment he had acquired a comfortable income from prize money. In 1765 he purchased the manors of Sharnbrook, Tafte, and Temple Hills in Bedford. The duke of Norfolk supported his election as MP for Shoreham, a seat he held from December 1765 until his death, and on 9 January 1766 he was created a baronet, taking his style as Sir Samuel Cornish of Sharnbrook. About this time he married Susan, daughter of James Gambier of Holborn and sister of Admiral James Gambier; they had no children. Cornish died on 30 October 1770, whereupon his title became extinct and his estate passed to his nephew, Samuel Pitchford, captain in the navy, who took the name Cornish.


  • N. Tracy, Manila ransomed: the British assault on Manila in the Seven Years' War (1995)
  • N. Tracy, ‘Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Cornish and the conquest of Manila, 1762’, MPhil diss., U. Southampton, 1967
  • K. C. Leebrick, ‘Troubles of an English governor’, The Pacific ocean in History, ed. H. M. Stephens and H. E. Bolton (1917)
  • [S. Cornish], A plain narrative of the reduction of Manila and the Philippine islands (1764)
  • ‘Narrative of the proceedings of His Majesty's fleet in the Mediterranean … from the year 1741 to March 1744’, NMM, TUN 179


  • T. Kettle, group portrait, oils, exh. Society of Artists 1768, priv. coll. [see illus.]
  • photogravure (after T. Kettle), BM
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
National Maritime Museum, London
Royal Society, London