MATHEWS, Thomas (1676-1751), of Llandaff Court, Glam.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. Oct. 1676, 1st s. of Brig.-Gen. Edward Mathews of Llandaff by Jane, da. of Sir Thomas Armstrong, M.P. m. (1) post nupt. settlement 9 Jan. 1707, Henrietta (d. Sept. 1737), da. of Isaiah Burgeois (or Burges) of Antigua and Shoreditch, London, dr. of physic,1 1s.; (2) 9 Nov. 1738 (‘with £40,000’) Millicent, da. and coh. of John Fuller of Red Lion Sq., Holborn, sheriff of London, s.p. suc. fa. 1697.2
Entered navy 1690, lt. 1699, capt. 1703; commr. of the navy at Chatham 1736-42; v.-adm. 1742; c.-in-c. Mediterranean and minister to Sardinia and the Italian States Mar. 1742-Aug. 1744; adm. 1743; r.-adm. of Great Britain 1744-7; dismissed the service 1747.
Thomas Mathews was the senior representative of an old Welsh family seated at Llandaff since the time of Richard II.3 After a not undistinguished naval career, including good service under Sir George Byng in 1718 off Cape Passaro, he retired to his Glamorgan estate in 1724. Here he was prominent in the Whig interest, unsuccessfully contesting Cardiff Boroughs in 1727 and 1734. Returning in 1736 to what was virtually civilian employment in the Chatham dockyard, he claimed his seniority in 1742 and was sent to command the fleet in the Mediterranean. There, in February 1744, his numerically superior force fought an indecisive action off Toulon with a Franco-Spanish fleet, the result of which was the breaking of the British blockade. Whatever his deficiencies as an admiral in handling the fleet on this occasion, Mathews brought the Spanish admiral to close action, having to fight his own ship as well as the battle after his flag captain was severely wounded at the first broadside. He was not well served by some of the other captains, who did but little to support him; and Lestock, the vice-admiral, with whom he was on bad terms, avoided action altogether by obeying the letter, but not the intentions, of Mathews’s signals.4 The outcry in England at this apparent failure caused Mathews to resign his command in August. Four months later he was narrowly successful over a Tory opponent at a contested by-election for Glamorgan and was thus in his place when the Toulon affair came before the House in March 1745. Mathews himself gave an account of the battle and was closely questioned by Members during the subsequent parliamentary inquiry, which lasted for a month. ‘Some questions ... were asked Mr. Mathews while Mr. Lestock was at the bar, which were not so well answered; but of this one would be very tender’.5 When the evidence was closed on 4 Apr. he spoke several times in his own defence, observing that ‘for an impartial speech ... Fox’s [was] the severest he ever heard’. Later,
he assured the committee he did not mean to offer any affront to Mr. Lestock, when he came aboard him the 10th of February , that what he said of its being very cold proceeded out of a pure regard to the vice-admiral’s ill state of health ... [He] did not doubt that upon his trial it would appear he had acted with skill and judgment, and not with that ignorance and incapacity which had been objected to him.6
As a result of the inquiry the House recommended on 11 Apr. 1745 that courts martial be held on both admirals, six named captains and several lieutenants. An attempt made on the previous day by Mathews’s friends to have his name omitted from the address was defeated by 218 to 75. The amendment in his favour was moved by a Tory, seconded by a follower of Carteret’s and supported by Pelham. It was opposed by Fox, George Grenville and Admiral Vernon.7 According to Horace Walpole the inquiry
was carried on with more decency and impartiality than ever was known in so tumultuous, popular and partial a court ... the Tories, all but one single man, voted against Mathews, whom they have not forgiven for lately opposing one of their friends in Monmouthshire [recte Glamorgan] and for carrying his election. The greater part of the Whigs were for Lestock ... Mathews remains in the light of a hot, brave, imperious, dull, confused fellow.8
Another observer wrote:
This great majority, as it shewed the general sense of the House, was no small mortification to [Mathews] and his friends, who certainly did not know their strength or else they had never made this unlucky attempt; and so far Mr. Pelham had forgot to copy his predecessor [Walpole], who always counted noses before he embarked on any motion. It was certainly a wrong step for ... had Mr. Mathews and his friends cheerfully concurred with the House, he would have appeared in a much better light ... but no man is at all times wise.9
Acquitted on all charges at the ensuing courts martial in the face of the strongest evidence, Lestock was promoted and re-employed. The gravamen of the many charges against Mathews was that he prepared insufficiently for the battle, did not fight his hardest, and failed to take every possible step to destroy the enemy. On 22 Oct. 1746, after a four months’ hearing, he was found guilty by the court and sentenced to ‘be cashiered and rendered incapable of any employ in his Majesty’s service’.10
Mathews, now an old man with a rich wife, bore his disgrace with equanimity; in December 1746 ‘never man appeared to the world so insensible as he doth after such a sentence passed on him ... he frequents the Court and all public places and gives himself very little concern, which aggravates some. He’s very happy to be of such a temper.’11 No votes of his have been recorded, but in 1746 he was classed among the followers of Lord Bath. For the 1747 election he moved to Carmarthen, where he was brought in by Griffith Philipps, classed as Opposition. He died 2 Oct. 1751.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Authors: Peter D.G. Thomas / R. S. Lea
- 1. PCC 158 Poley.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 166.
- 3. G. T. Clark, Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiae, 7-9.
- 4. H. W. Richmond, Navy in War of 1739-48, ii. 1-58.
- 5. HMC Du Cane, 51.
- 6. Yorke’s parl. jnl. Parl. Hist. xiii. 1261, 1263-4, 1270.
- 7. Owen, Pelhams, 265.
- 8. To Mann, 15 Apr. 1745.
- 9. HMC Du Cane, 54.
- 10. Richmond, ii. 55, 260-7.
- 11. HMC Du Cane, 156.