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date: 26 November 2020

Fremantle, Sir Thomas Francisfree

  • J. K. Laughton
  • , revised by Roger Morriss

Fremantle, Sir Thomas Francis (1765–1819), naval officer, third son of John Fremantle (d. 1784) of Aston Abbots in Buckinghamshire, and his wife, Frances, daughter of John Edwards of Bristol, was born on 20 November 1765. The politician Sir William Henry Fremantle was his younger brother. At the age of twelve he entered the navy on the frigate Hussar, on the coast of Portugal. Two years later he was moved into the Jupiter, and shortly afterwards into the Phoenix with Sir Hyde Parker. He was in the Phoenix when she was lost on the coast of Cuba in the hurricane of October 1780. He subsequently served in many different ships on the Jamaica station, where, in March 1782, he was promoted lieutenant, and where he remained until December 1787. During the Spanish armament in 1790 he was again with Parker, in the Brunswick, and in the following year was promoted to command the sloop Spitfire.

At the beginning of the war in 1793 Fremantle commanded the Conflagration, and in May was promoted captain of the Tartar just in time to sail with Lord Hood for the Mediterranean. For the next four years, in the Tartar, Inconstant, or Seahorse, he was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet, and was especially associated with Nelson, who formed a high estimate of his professional character and abilities. In the Tartar he led the way into Toulon when Hood occupied it on 27 August 1793, and was afterwards, in 1794, engaged under Nelson in the capture of Bastia.

In the action off Toulon, on 13 March 1795, the Inconstant (36 guns) took more than a frigate's part, following up the French 80-gun ship Ça Ira and so hampering her retreat as to lead to her capture. The Inconstant was afterwards attached to the squadron under Nelson, on the coast of Genoa, taking part in these extended operations, and more particularly in the capture of a number of gunboats at Languelia on 26 August 1795, in the capture of the corvette Unité on 20 April 1796, in the evacuation of Leghorn on 27 June 1796 (the success of which Sir John Jervis officially attributed to Fremantle's 'unparalleled exertions'), and in the capture of Elba on 10 July 1796. Fremantle was then sent to Algiers to negotiate with the dey, and to Smyrna in charge of convoy, returning in time to assist in the capture of Piombino on 7 November, and to be left as senior officer in those waters when Jervis drew down to Gibraltar.

Fremantle married, on 13 January 1797, Elizabeth (Betsey), daughter of Richard Wynne of Falkingham, Lincolnshire [see Fremantle, Elizabeth, Lady Freemantle (1778–1857)]. The couple, who met in June 1796 when the Fremantle family had been evacuated from Leghorn, later had nine children.

After the Inconstant was ordered home, Fremantle exchanged on 1 July 1797 into the Seahorse (38 guns), one of the inshore squadron off Cadiz, under Nelson, and Fremantle himself was with Nelson on the 10th when, during a bombardment of the city, Nelson's barge was attacked by a Spanish boat carrying twice the number of her crew. A few days later the Seahorse was one of the ships detached with Nelson to Tenerife, where, in the attack on Santa Cruz on the morning of the 25th, Fremantle was severely wounded. On rejoining the fleet, Nelson hoisted his flag on board the Seahorse for a passage to England, the wounded admiral and captain being both together taken care of by Mrs Fremantle, who had accompanied her husband, and under her kindly nursing both were convalescent when the ship arrived at Spithead on 1 September. In August 1800 Fremantle was appointed to the Ganges (74 guns), in which, in the following year, he went up the Baltic and took a full part in the battle of Copenhagen.

When the war was renewed in 1803 Fremantle again commanded the Ganges in the channel, and in May 1805 was appointed to the Neptune (98 guns). In her he joined the fleet off Cadiz and fought at Trafalgar, the Neptune being the third ship in the weather line, the Téméraire alone coming between her and the Victory. After the battle Fremantle remained under the command of Collingwood until December 1806, when he returned to England, having been appointed to a seat at the Admiralty. In the following March, however, he was appointed to the yacht William and Mary, in which he continued until his promotion to flag rank on 31 July 1810. A month later he was appointed to a command in the Mediterranean, and in June 1812 was sent into the Adriatic in charge of the squadron there. For the next two years he was engaged in a series of detached operations, including the capture of Fiume on 3 July 1813 and of Trieste on 8 March 1814. When, shortly after this, he left the Adriatic, he was able to write:

Every place on the coasts of Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, and Friuli had surrendered to some part of the squadron under my orders, the number of guns taken exceeded a thousand, and between seven hundred and eight hundred vessels were taken or destroyed during my command.

Fremantle's services were recognized not only by his own government, which nominated him a KCB, but also by allied governments. He was made a baron of the Austrian empire (November 1816), knight of Maria Theresa, and knight of St Ferdinand and Merit. In 1818 he was made a GCB and appointed to the command-in-chief in the Mediterranean, but he held it for little more than eighteen months. He died at Naples, after an illness of only two days, on 19 December 1819, 'of an inflammation in the bowels' (GM, 87). He was buried at Naples on 23 December.

Fremantle's ships were notable for their gunnery. He also had a reputation as a disciplinarian. In the very first years of the nineteenth century, when in the Ganges, he inaugurated a system of petty courts of inquiry formally held by the officers for the examination of defaulters. He wrote of it as having worked most satisfactorily, but added that he had felt obliged to give it up in deference to the opinion of his brother officers. It was over sixty years before the Admiralty prescribed a somewhat similar system, which remained in force for some time.

Fremantle's eldest son, Thomas Francis Fremantle (1798–1890), was created a baronet in 1821, in acknowledgement of his father's services, and in 1874 was raised to the peerage as Lord Cottesloe. The second son, Admiral Sir Charles Howe Fremantle GCB (1800–1869), served with distinction in the Crimean War, and was afterwards commander-in-chief at Plymouth. Sir Edmund Robert Fremantle (1836–1929), also an admiral, was Sir Thomas's grandson.


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