VERNON, Edward (1684-1757), of Nacton, nr. Ipswich, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. 12 Nov. 1684, 2nd s. of Rt. Hon. James Vernon, M.P., sec. of state 1696-1700, of Watford, Herts. by Mary, da. of Sir John Buck, 1st Bt., of Hamby Grange, Lincs. educ. Westminster 1692-1700. m. c.1729, Sarah, da. of Thomas Best of Chatham, brewer, 3s. d.v.p.
Entered R.N. 1700, capt. 1706, v. adm. 1739, adm. 1745.
Vernon served throughout the war of the Spanish succession, for part of the time in the West Indies, where, seeing a merchant ship celebrating the Pretender’s birthday, ‘he put the captain in chains, and brought him to England ... which cost him a thousand pounds, being prosecuted by the owners of that vessel for damages’1 Returned unopposed in 1722 for Penryn, which his father had represented, he supported the Government, speaking on 26 Oct. 1722 for an augmentation of the army, and on 26 Nov. for a special levy on papists. During the international crisis following the treaty of Hanover, he commanded a ship in the Baltic in 1726 and 1727 under Sir John Norris.
In the new Parliament, Vernon took an independent line, generally speaking and voting against the Government. On 6 May 1728, on a bill for encouraging naval recruitment, he proposed unsuccessfully a number of clauses for improving the arrangements as to pay, sickness, etc., alleging that the fleet recently sent under Admiral Hosier to blockade Porto Bello had been paid short, in Jamaica money, not sterling,
and the difference betwixt one and the other was great, and the men suffered and mutinied often on receiving it, but the difference was put in somebody’s pocket, and that Hosier’s squadron was victualled with stinking provision and made distempers among the men.
On 21 Jan. 1729, in the debate on the Address, he declared that the orders given to Hosier ‘were given by those who understood nothing of the sea’ and that Porto Bello could have been taken by 300 men. He returned to the charge on 31 Jan., when the matter was taken up by the leaders of the Opposition. Next session, as a member of the Commons gaols committee, he seconded a motion on 26 Jan. 1730 for the printing of the trials of the officers of the Fleet prison, hinting that the judges had been partial to them.2 In the Dunkirk debate on 12 Feb. he made a ‘passionate speech’ for an inquiry, bringing
in the Pope, the Devil, the Jesuits, the seamen, etc. so that the House had not patience to attend him, though he was not taken down. He quite lost his temper and made himself hoarse again.
In 1731 he spoke, inter alia, against the treaty of Seville, on the ground that it would prevent us from protecting British merchants; for a motion to prevent the translation of bishops, observing that he hoped shortly to introduce a bill for turning them out of the Lords; and in favour of inserting a clause in the Mutiny Act to allow common soldiers to claim their discharge after a certain term of years, characterising ‘the present keeping soldiers for their lives in the service’ as ‘making slaves of them’. On 10 Feb. 1732 he was severely rebuked by the Speaker for describing a bill to revive the salt duty as ‘only to ease the rich at the expense of the poor’, adding that ‘ninety nine in a hundred of the people would not bear the tax, and that he should expect, if he voted for it, to be treated like a polecat and knocked on the head’. Later in the session the Speaker had to intervene to prevent a duel between Vernon and Sir John Eyles, the head of the South Sea Company, who took as directed against himself a speech by Vernon ‘insinuating that the directors of the company had carried on a private trade contrary to their oaths and hurtful to the company’. In 1733 he spoke against the excise bill, giving as his chief reason that if it passed the royal family ‘must necessarily lose the affection of the subject’. In the last session of the Parliament, on a motion for 20,000 seamen, he proposed that the figure should be increased to 30,000, because ‘a powerful navy is the natural security of England ... Let France get the superiority at sea, and this kingdom will be lost in one campaign’.
Defeated at Penryn and at Ipswich in 1734, Vernon retired to his Suffolk estate until 1739 when, seeing that war with Spain was imminent, he offered his services to the Admiralty, on condition of being restored to his rank.3 Sir Charles Wager wrote to Newcastle in December 1738:
He is certainly much properer than any officer we have to send, being very well acquainted in all that part of the West Indies, and is a very good sea officer whatever he may be or has been in the House of Commons.4
He was at once appointed admiral of the Blue, with orders to proceed in command of a squadron to the West Indies. On learning of the appointment, the 1st Lord Egmont wrote:
He is a remarkable brave man, sober, well experienced, and zealous for the honour and interest of his country, as he showed both in war and in the House of Commons, where he sat when I was in Parliament, and for opposing the Ministry was put by his rank on the promotion of Admirals ... The seamen and the city will be well pleased at his promotion.5
His capture of Porto Bello made him a national hero, thanked by both Houses and courted by both the Government and the Opposition. In February 1741 he was brought in on the Admiralty interest at Portsmouth, where he was renominated at the general election on the opposition interest, at the same time being put up for London, Westminster, Rochester, Ipswich and Penryn. Congratulating him on being returned for the last three, Pulteney wrote:
You are certainly, at this time, the most popular and best loved man in England. All places that send members to Parliament have been struggling to have you for their representative, and, I dare say, you might have been chosen in twenty more places that you are.
At the same time he begged him to defer deciding for which of the three he would sit, explaining that if he were to choose one, there was a danger that the other two might be recaptured by the Government.6
Vernon was recalled from the West Indies at the end of 1742, after quarrelling with the commander of the land forces sent out to co-operate with him, contrary to his advice to the Government to confine themselves to naval operations there. On his arrival he refused an offer of the Bath; was presented with the freedom of the city of London in a gold box; and had
half an hour in audience with the King, to whom he said that his Majesty’s security lay in being master of the sea, and that when he ceased so to be, his land army could not preserve him, at which words, he said, the King gathered himself up, and seemed not pleased, answering that soldiers were necessary. I was resolved, said the Admiral, to take that opportunity of letting the King know what no Ministry will tell him, for they flatter the King in his passions.7
Electing to sit for Ipswich, he at once opened fire on the Government.
I was not in the House at Vernon’s frantic speech [Horace Walpole wrote to Mann, 4 May 1743]; but I know he made it, and have heard him pronounce several such: but he has worn out even laughter, and did not make impression enough on me to remember ... that he had spoken.8
In February 1744 he was one of only two opponents of an augmentation of the army and navy against the threatened French invasion, taking the line that the navy alone required attention. A few days later he was among the warmest supporters of a feeble attempt to put off the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. After the invasion threat was over, he joined in an opposition motion for an inquiry into the navy by a select committee, which was rejected.9
In April 1745 Vernon, now the senior active admiral, was appointed to the command of a fleet assembled in the Downs to guard against another threatened French invasion but he became involved in so acrimonious a correspondence with the Admiralty about his own rights and powers that he was superseded in December at his own suggestion. He retorted by publishing his correspondence with the Admiralty, for which he was dismissed from the service in April 1746.
For the rest of his life Vernon, whom the war had made a wealthy man, was re-elected for Ipswich. In Parliament he continued to revile the Government in language which, according to a lampoon inspired by his becoming a director of the new British Herring Fishery Company, was felt by the House, ‘sick of his noise’, to make it appropriate that he should have a job at Billingsgate.10
He died 30 Oct. 1757.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 77.
- 2. Knatchbull Diary; HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 331-2, 339.
- 3. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 43, 143, 153, 158, 220, 263, 349-50; ii. 17; iii. 77.
- 4. Add. 32691, f. 504.
- 5. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 77.
- 6. Vernon Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. xcix), 237, 240.
- 7. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 271, 280.
- 8. Walpole to Mann, 4 May 1743.
- 9. Owen, Pelhams, 214-15; Walpole to Mann, 1 Mar. 1744.
- 10. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 100-1 n. 1.