Nelson: ADML Hood

ADML Samuel Viscount Hood (1724-1816)

ADML Hood (painted by James Northcote about 1784.)

Samuel Hood, the son of a vicar, joined the RN as a midshipman in 1741, at age 16, sharing duties with fellow MIDN George Rodney in HMS Ludlow. Qualifying as a Lieutenant in 1746, he saw active service in the North Sea and the North American Station. By 1753 he was the commander of the sloop HMS Jamaica (14 guns) and achieved post rank in 1756.

Brilliant career

In temporary command of HMS Antelope (originally a fourth rate 50 gun ship, but rebuilt in 1741) Hood drove a French ship ashore and captured two privateers in 1757. In 1759 he captured the French Bellona. He worked with Rodney in destroying vessels earmarked for an invasion in 1755, but after a brilliant career he was virtually retired in 1778 with an appointment as Commissioner of the Portsmouth Dockyard and Governor of the Naval Academy.

In 1780 he was made a baronet and, chiefly because of a shortage of available flag officers willing to serve under Lord Sandwich, he was promoted RADM to work as second-in-command under his old fellow-midshipman, Rodney.

From Hood’s letters, it was clear that the anticipated working harmonious relationship with Rodney never developed, but Hood was a loyal and efficient officer who acted professionally at all times. During the War of American Independence he tried to cooperate with British forces ashore and was frustrated when Rodney failed to take his advice, allowing French reinforcements to land unmolested at Fort Royal in April 1781. Under ADML Graves, he was in a fleet confused by two conflicting flagship signals. This contributed to a French fleet, under the Comte de Grasse, driving off a British force in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay.

With Rodney absent in England and in independent command back in the West Indies Station, Hood distinguished himself during the ultimately unsuccessful defence of St Kitts and Nevis.

On 25 January 1782 he seized the Basse Terre anchorage from de Grasse. After successfully defending it from a superior French force of 29 ships, he slipped away with his 22 ships to rendezvous with 12 more under Rodney. Their aim was to prevent de Grasse joining up with a Franco-Spanish fleet at Haiti, which would have given the enemy a force of 55 ships of the line and 20,000 troops to attack British-held Jamaica.

The British and French fleets met off the Saintes on 12 April and while the battle began conventionally enough at 0740, a fortuitous change of wind at 0905 created gaps in the French line. Rodney seized the initiative, luffed, and with six ships pierced the enemy line. By 1800 the Comte de Grasse, his flagship and four others had surrendered to Hood’s forces.

Hood’s work was regarded by many as the most brilliant action by any British admiral of that period.

Irish peerage

Rewarded with an Irish peerage, he returned to England and was elected MP for Westminster in 1784. Promoted VADM in 1787, he became Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, in May 1793. With the Spanish RADM Gravina, he occupied French Toulon in August but was driven out in December 1793. A planned raid on the Golfe Jouan anchorage in June 1794, was frustrated by lack of wind.

Attaining full Admiral rank in 1794, Hood held no further appointment at sea, but was made Governor of Greenwich Hospital and held that post until his death in 1816. He was created Viscount Hood of Whitley in 1796.