COFFIN, Sir Isaac, 1st Bt. (1759-1839), of Repham, Lincs.
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Family and Education
b. 16 May 1759,1 4th s. of Nathaniel Coffin, paymaster of the customs (later of Bristol) by Elizabeth, da. of Henry Barnes, merchant, of Boston, Mass.; his sis. Catherine m. Richard Barwell*. educ. Boston, Mass. m. 3 Apr. 1811, Elizabeth Browne, da. and h. of William Greenly of Titley Court, Herefs., s.p. cr. Bt. 19 May 1804; GCH 1832; took additional name of Greenly 11 Feb. 1811 in anticipation of his marriage but relinquished it 13 Mar. 1813.
Entered RN 1773, lt. 1778, cdr. 1781, capt. 1782, paid off 1783; in France 1783-6, dismissed 1788; vol. in Brabant 1788-9; reinstated 1789, paid off 1791; in Scandinavia and Russia 1792-3; left active service 1794; regulating capt. at Leith 1795; commr. resident in Mediterranean Oct. 1795-June 1799, Sheerness June 1799-Apr. 1804; supt. Portsmouth harbour 1804-8; r.-adm. 1804, v.-adm. 1808, adm. 1814.
Coffin came of Boston, Massachusetts, mercantile stock; he was one of five brothers who were loyalists in the war of Independence and settled in Canada and England.2 His vicissitudinous naval career involved the acquisition of the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as a reward for his services in the American war, but also three courts martial and two intervals in which he offered his services to the Brabant patriots (1788) and to the Baltic states (1793). A severe rupture brought on by his efforts to rescue a drowning man caused him to give up active service in 1794. He devoted his energies to naval administration, first in the Mediterranean, then at Sheerness. Sir John Jervis* (afterwards Lord St. Vincent) thought highly of him and was prepared to see him promoted to the Halifax station. On 28 Dec. 1798 he reported: ‘Coffin is anxious to be created a baronet thinking it will accelerate his union with Miss Boodle, he certainly has a better title to it than any commissioner or comptroller of this century’. Following his exertions at Sheerness, St. Vincent secured him flag rank and a baronetcy before leaving office in 1804.3
Coffin was interested in standing for Lancaster in 1806, being assured by Lord Minto that he might expect Lord Lowther’s backing, but he withdrew on hearing that Lowther was already committed to another candidate.4 He had also nibbled at Liverpool, where he attended the election. From 1808 he was unemployed. He did not make a shilling out of a project of manufacturing tin pots and elected instead to ‘fabricate children’—another idle scheme:
only fourteen months after the marriage, he went off to visit friends and remained absent for seven years—and then turned up for breakfast one day, without the slightest warning ... Between 1823 and 1835, he wrote to her only once.5
In 1818 he was successful in a contest at Ilchester, as Lord Darlington’s nominee, against the patron Sir William Manners.
Coffin signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whig opposition and acted with them. In his maiden speech, 25 Jan. 1819, he complained of conditions on convict ships bound for Australia, but next day, after consultation with the navy board, withdrew his remarks. He voted for a committee on the Bank, 2 Feb. 1819, and for adding Brougham to it, 8 Feb. He opposed the Windsor establishment, 22, 25 Feb. He spoke against the equalization of the coal duties, 26 Feb. He voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar. On 12 Mar. he objected to the referral of court martial sentences to the commander-in-chief: he had in 1789 successfully appealed against the intervention of the first lord of the Admiralty in a decision affecting him. He favoured the reduction of the junior lords of Admiralty, 18 Mar., as they were not ‘men of business’ and ‘were seen riding in Hyde Park from morning to night’. He voted against the royal household bill, 19 Mar., against the Irish window tax, 5 May, and spoke in favour of reducing the army estimates, if possible, 7 May. On 18 May he voted for Tierney’s censure motion. He was an opponent of delays in Chancery, 20 May, of the naval estimates, 2 June, of the malt duty, 9 June, of the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June, and of the excise duties bill, 25 June 1819.
‘In Parliament he paid constant attention to naval matters and not infrequently in a style of facetiousness that relieved the subject of its dry technicality.’6 He voted with opposition on the address, 24 Nov. 1819, but no further minority votes appeared that session. On 6 Dec. he explained that he would support the seditious meetings prevention bill, ‘because the constitution was in danger, and he was sworn to defend it’. In 1820 he advertised an oven he had invented for baking ‘all kinds of bread’.7 ‘A humorous old man’, he retired from the House in 1826. At his death, 23 July 1839, he had crossed the Atlantic, ‘on service or pleasure, no less than thirty times’. He made a liberal donation to the royal naval charity, ‘for fear he should slip his wind and forget all about it’.8
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
DNB; Marshall, Naval Biog. i. 229; T. C. Amory, Life of Adm. Sir Isaac Coffin, Bt. (Boston, 1886).
- 1. Burke, Colonial Gentry, ii. 699 has 3 June, but Coffin Gatherings, 44 and other sources have 16 May.
- 2. Coffin Gatherings, 45.
- 3. NMM, Jervis mss, JER/22/35; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 170.
- 4. Lonsdale mss, Coffin to Lowther, 30, 31 Oct. 1806.
- 5. Birmingham Ref. Lib. Assay Office mss, Coffin to Watt, 18 Apr. 1811; Maxwell Fraser, ‘Lady Llanover and her circle’, Trans. Cymmr. Soc. (1968), ii. 175.
- 6. Gent. Mag. (1840), i. 205.
- 7. BL, B.267.(5).
- 8. Mems. Leonard Horner, ii. 242; Gent. Mag. loc. cit.