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Home arrow Historical arrow Peninsular Notes arrow The Commanders

The Commanders Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 08 November 2007
Article Index
The Commanders
General Andoche Junot
Sir Arthur Wellesley
Sir Brent Spencer
Marshal Jean-Andre Massena
Admiral Sir George Berkeley
General Etienne Kellermann
General Sir Lowry Cole

Admiral Sir George Cranfield Berkeley, RN, GCB (1753 – 1818)

Sir george Berkeley
George was the third son of Augustus Berkeley, 4th Earl of Berkeley. Educated (like Wellington) at Eton, he entered the navy in 1766. In 1769 Berkeley was appointed to the Alarm (32 guns), under Captain John Jervis (later earl of St Vincent), and served with him and others in the Mediterranean until 1774. In that year he pursued an abortive parliamentary candidacy at Cricklade and later ran in his brother's interest for a Gloucestershire county seat in 1776. During this time both his political and Naval careers were full of incident, leading to government embarrassment and, indirectly, (in 1781) declaration of war against the Netherlands!
In 1780 he became a captain and commanded the sloop "Fairy" off Newfoundland, capturing nine American privateers. Promoted rear-admiral of the red in 1799 and vice-admiral in 1805, in 1806 Berkeley was appointed to the North American Command. It was under his direct orders that the incident between the Leopard (50 guns) and the Chesapeake (38 guns) took place on 22 June 1807, on account of the Chesapeake taking British deserters on board. This action was a major factor in the outbreak of the Anglo-American War of 1812–14. Recalled in April 1808, in December 1808 he was appointed to the chief command off the coast of Portugal and in the Tagus.
In this, his final post, Berkeley rendered Britain his most important service. Directing all naval support to the Anglo-Portuguese army, first under Sir John Cradock and from April 1809 under Wellington, Berkeley provided remarkable co-operation. Nearly all the men, horses, weapons, equipment, money, and provisions required by Wellington arrived in Berkeley's ships or in convoys escorted by his ships. The squadron performed a major role in the French defeat in Iberia. In early 1809 Spanish and Portuguese irregulars in Galicia and northern Portugal, supported by Berkeley's frigates with arms, ammunition, and marines, debilitated the corps of marshals Nicolas Soult and Michel Ney, a significant factor in the lead up to Wellington's defeat of Soult at Porto in May. Four months later Berkeley secured, outfitted, and carried away a powerful Spanish squadron at Ferrol, preventing its use by Napoleon. On July 31 1810, he was promoted to the rank of Admiral and Lord High Admiral of Portugal by the governing Junta. In October 1810 Berkeley placed gunboat squadrons on the Tagus , held fortifications with numerous seamen and marines, and manned the army's signal stations in the lines of Torres Vedras.

He was Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire from 1783 to 1810 and his portrait appears in the famous Hickel canvas "The House of Commons 1793-94" which you can view interactively here. Berkeley was a patron of William Jenner and chaired the parliamentary committee that gave Jenner full credit and remuneration for his discovery of smallpox vaccination. He was also well known for his interest in the health of seamen, was made KB in 1813 and GCB in 1815. He died (from gout) on 25 February 1818.


There's more about Admiral Berkeley in the Dictionary of National Biography

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