Edward Vernon

The Hon. Edward Vernon, Esq, subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account. As the “Hon.” indicates, he was at the time an MP, representing Ipswich. Although not originally from Suffolk, he had bought an estate at Nacton, a few miles southeast of Ipswich and built a house there. Vernon was a naval and political man, more celebrated, and more voluble, than Ellis Brand. Edward Vernon (1684—1757) was the second son of James Vernon, who had been Secretary of State under William III. Born in Westminster, he attended Westminster school, studying mathematics and astronomy along with the usual languages. In 1700, Vernon began his naval career as a volunteer on the Shrewsbury, which sounds modest enough, until you discover that the Shrewsbury was the flag-ship of Admiral Sir George Rooke. Vernon rose ranks rapidly, becoming a captain in 1706, by which time he was in the Mediterranean with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet and had been present at the capture of Barcelona. On their return to England, several ships, including Admiral Shovell’s flagship, were wrecked off the Isles of Scilly and a couple of thousand men, including Admiral Shovell, were lost. With his own command, Vernon was no longer on the flagship and survived. By 1708, he had been sent to support Commodore Charles Wager’s squadron in the Caribbean, arriving just too late to take part in Wager’s Action. Vernon continued to advance and by 1719 was commander-in-chief of his majesty’s ships at Jamaica. England was at war with Spain, and much Spanish treasure flowed through the Caribbean, but Vernon did not see much action at this point. Back in England, Vernon was elected MP for the first time in 1722, as member for Penryn in Cornwall (his father had held this seat several times earlier). Vernon’s father died in 1717, and in 1729 he married Sarah Best. They would have three sons, all of whom, sadly, died young. By this time, Vernon had bought his estate at Nacton and settled as a Suffolk gentleman, his fractious nature and intemperate language having caused a break in his political career. In 1739 he returned to naval service and was sent out to the West Indies just as war again broke out with Spain (the War of Jenkins’ Ear). Soon after his arrival, he led the successful attack on the town of Porto Bello. Porto Bello was a small town, but the port through which all Spanish silver from Peru passed. When the news reached England, there was massive celebrating. The restrained DNB records,

The rejoicing went far beyond the usual celebrations of victory. Vernon became a national hero almost overnight. Both houses of parliament voted their thanks and the City of London made him a freeman. Addresses of congratulations came to the king from across the country. His popular appeal was immense. Medals, pottery, road names, and public house signs bore the name Vernon or Porto Bello and his birthday became a day of celebration across the country.

Mount Vernon was also named after him. Vernon’s next target was Cartagena. He launched a massive amphibious assault, the troops being commanded by Major-General Thomas Wentworth. Such an assault against a heavily-fortified position was a race against time – as men who succumbed to wounds or disease could not be replaced. Despite initial successes, the attack failed as disease took its toll. A later attempt against Panama fared no better. Vernon and Wentworth did not get along, and Vernon, in his dispatches and private letters, attempted to discredit Wentworth. Despite his failure, Vernon was still popular in England and, on his return in late 1742, he found he had been elected MP for Ipswich while away. In 1745 he was promoted to Admiral, but his fractious nature, intemperate language and leaked correspondence with the Admiralty caused the King to have him struck off the flag list in 1746. He rumbled away in parliament, but his influence was waning. Horace Walpole acidly described him as, “a silly, noisy admiral … his courage was greater than his sense, his reputation was much greater than his courage”. Vernon was always concerned about the health of sailors and his other claim to fame stems from diluting their daily ration of rum with water and then ordering the addition of lime juice to counter the bad taste of the water. Although the benefits of citrus at sea were not fully understood at the time, his sailors were healthier than average, and suffered much less from scurvy.  Vernon’s nickname was `Old Grog’ from his habit of wearing a of a grogram coat, and the sailors gave the name to the new drink. Gainsborough painted Admiral Vernon around 1753; the portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection. For more on Admiral Vernon, start at his Wikipedia page, or DNB entry. For more details on the ships he commanded, see the wonderful threedecks.org site. Admiral Vernon was preceded as MP for Ipswich by William Wollaston

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8 thoughts on “Edward Vernon

  1. Centauro

    War of Jenkins’s Ear
    La batalla de Cartagena de Indias”

    The book (in Paper or ebook) about de War of Cartagena de Indias: the History of Royal Navy, the British Army and the US Marine Corps (which enlisted Cpt. Lawrence Washington, brother of the first president of the USA George Washington), fighting against the Spanish forces at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, in 1740-1741.

    More information and orders at: http://www.labatalladecartagenadeindias.com
    1. SpanishBooks serving Canada & USA since 1997
    http://www.spanishbooks.ca/category/True-stories

    Reply
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