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Sir Edward Codrington, admiral, of the old family of Codrington of Dodington in Gloucestershire, and grandson of Sir Edward Codrington the first baronet, was born on 27 April 1770 and entered the navy in July 1783. After serving continuously on the Halifax, Mediterranean, and home stations, he was confirmed in the rank of lieutenant on 28 May 1793, and by Lord Howe's desire appointed to the Pegasus repeating frigate, specially for signal service. He was afterwards transferred to the Queen Charlotte, Howe's flagship, on board which he acted as signal officer during the anxious days preceding 1 June 1794. In the battle of that day he had command of the foremost lower-deck quarters, and with his own hands fired each gun in succession, double-shotted, into the Montagne's stern. On the arrival of the fleet and prizes off the Isle of Wight he was sent up to London with despatches, and was promoted on 7 October 1794 to be commander of the Comet fireship, out of which he was posted on 6 April 1795 to the command of the Babet frigate of 22 guns. In her he was present in the action off L'Orient on 23 June 1795, and in July 1796 was moved into the Druid, on the Lisbon station, which ship early in 1797 he brought home and paid off.
In May 1805 he commissioned the Orion of 74 guns. In her, in August, he joined the fleet off Cadiz, and on 21 October took part in the battle of Trafalgar, where he was selected by Nelson as leader of the squadron which he at first proposed to hold in reserve, in order the more easily to strengthen either of the columns of attack. He afterwards continued in command of the Orion and attached to the fleet under Lord Collingwood till December 1806. In November 1808 he was appointed to the Blake of 74 guns, which was employed during the next summer in the North Sea, under Sir Richard Strachan, bore Lord Gardner's flag in the Walcheren expedition, and was hotly engaged in forcing the passage of the Scheldt on 14 August. In the early summer of 1810 Codrington, still in the Blake, was sent to co-operate with the Spaniards at Cadiz, and in August was charged with the difficult duty of convoying to Minorca four crazy old Spanish line-of-battle ships, only half manned, half provisioned, and crowded with refugees, a task which was safely accomplished after a distressing passage of thirty-eight days.
During 1811-12 he commanded a detached squadron on the east coast of Spain, co-operating with the Spaniards wherever opportunity offered, and waging a desultory but harassing war against the French invaders. Early in 1813 he returned to England, and in the beginning of 1814 was sent out to the North American station with a broad pennant in the Forth frigate. On 4 June 1814 he was advanced to flag rank and appointed captain of the fleet to Sir Alexander Cochrane, under whom he conducted the operations of the fleet in the Chesapeake, and afterwards at New Orleans, with his flag in the Havannah of 36 guns. On 2 Jan. 1815 he was nominated a K.C.B., and in 1825 he became a vice-admiral.
In December 1826 Codrington was appointed commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and sailed for his station on 1 February 1827, with his flag in the Asia of 84 guns. After a stay of some months at Malta he was induced by the extreme development of piracy and the urgent appeals of Stratford Canning, the ambassador at Constantinople, to go into the Levant, in the hope of mitigating the horrors of the war of Greek independence. He left Malta on 19 June and arrived on the coast of Greece in the early days of July. There the position was one of extreme difficulty, for while a large section of the British public was enthusiastic in the cause of the Greeks, the English government was suspicious of the objects of the Russians. George Canning, the then prime minister, was anxious that any interference with the war should be made in concert; and in July succeeded in concluding a treaty between England, France, and Russia, by which it was provided that each of the three powers should instruct its admiral in the Mediterranean ‘to exert all the means which circumstances might suggest to his prudence to obtain the immediate effect of the desired armistice, by preventing, as far as should be in his power, all collision between the contending parties.’ Codrington was further ordered to receive instructions from Stratford Canning. It is impossible to doubt that the provisions of the treaty and such orders to the admiral contemplated the employment of force as at least probable; and they were so interpreted by the ambassador, who wrote on 19 August that ‘the true meaning of the second instruction under the treaty is, that we mean to enforce, by cannon-shot if necessary, the armistice which is the object of the treaty; the object being to interpose the allied forces and to keep the peace by the speaking-trumpet if possible, but in case of necessity by force.’ This interpretation he repeated in even stronger language on 1 September, and it must be held as a sufficient warrant to Codrington to employ force if he should deem it necessary to do so.
On 25 September Codrington and the French admiral, De Rigny, had an interview at Navarino with Ibrahim Pasha, the commander-in-chief of the Turkish sea and land forces, explained to him their instructions, and, through the interpreter, obtained from him a verbal assent to the proposed armistice. But a few days later, on receiving the news of the attack on the Turkish ships and batteries in Salona Bay, made by Frank Hastings on 29 September, Ibrahim Pasha considered himself absolved from his engagement by the action of the Greeks, and sent a strong squadron from Navarino with orders to attack Hastings in the Gulf of Corinth. On 3 October this squadron was met off the mouth of the gulf by Codrington, and, yielding to his remonstrance, returned to Navarino. Codrington was indeed loud in his complaint of the Turk for violating his plighted word; but assuredly no armistice, even though much more formally agreed to, would permit the free exercise of hostilities by the other belligerent, and the aggressors were unquestionably the Greeks. Ibrahim, however, understanding that he would not be permitted to carry on any operations against the Greeks by sea, although the Greeks were acting without any reference to the armistice, landed in force in the Morea and proceeded to devastate the country in the customary way, and with all the usual atrocities.
On 14 October, Codrington having been joined by his whole available force, and by the French and Russian squadrons, numbering in all eleven ships of the line, eight large frigates, and eight smaller vessels, arrived off Navarino, where the Turkish fleet was still anchored. It consisted of three ships of the line, fifteen large frigates, and smaller vessels, bringing up the total to eighty-nine; a force strong in mere number, but in its composition far inferior to that of the combined fleet, of which Codrington was the commander-in-chief. After the desire which the Turks had shown to leave Navarino, and the actual resumption of hostilities, the allied admirals were of opinion that the blockade of the bay was a necessary precaution. A very few days were sufficient to convince Codrington of the difficulty and danger of blockading Navarino in the then advanced season; he therefore determined to go inside and anchor. But the Turks had so moored their ships round the bay, under the direction, it was said, of a sympathetic Frenchman, that any ships anchoring near the middle of the bay would be exposed to the concentrated fire of every one of the eighty-nine Turkish vessels; and to avoid this, as well as on account of the great depth, Codrington ordered the ships under his command to anchor close in and alongside of the Turks.
Accordingly, on 20 October, with a fair wind, they stood into the bay, the guns loaded, the men at quarters. The Turks were equally prepared. It is impossible to suppose that Codrington had any real expectation of peace being preserved between two fleets so situated. The Dartmouth frigate found herself anchored dead to leeward of a Turkish fireship, and sent a boat to move her, or order her to move; and the Turk, taking for granted that the boat was coming on a hostile mission, fired a volley of musketry into it. The Dartmouth replied, other ships took it up, and within a few minutes the action became general. The real disparity of force was very great, and the issue could scarcely be a moment doubtful. That the battle did last for nearly four hours shows how obstinately the Turks defended themselves. Their loss in killed and wounded, never accurately known, was said to amount to the enormous total of four thousand; that of the allies was 650. Whether this last was entirely due to the Turkish fire is a little doubtful. Twenty-eight years after the battle the present writer was told by officers of the French navy that it was a tradition in their service that their men at Navarino did, as often as opportunity permitted, fire into the Russian ships, with some idea that they were avenging the retreat from Moscow. If so, the Russian ships probably also fired into the French. It is quite impossible to say whether there is even a grain of truth in this statement, but no suspicion of it appears in Codrington's correspondence, either at the time or afterwards.
In England the news of the sanguinary contest and the destruction of the Turkish fleet was received with very doubtful satisfaction. By the express urgency of the Duke of Clarence, then lord high admiral, rewards were bestowed with unprecedented liberality; so much so, that it was said at the time that ‘more orders were given for the battle of Navarino than for any other naval victory on record’. The admiral himself received the G.C.B., as well as the grand cross of St. Louis from France, the second class of the order of St. George from Russia, and, at a later period, from Greece the gold cross of the Redeemer of Greece. As a matter of policy, however, the battle was very differently considered. Canning had died in the previous August, and his successors were more alive to the practical danger of Russian aggression than to the sentimental advantage of Greek liberation. Codrington was accordingly called on for detailed answers to a schedule of questions, out of which it was hoped the blame might be shown to rest with the admiral; but while answering these questions with perfect candour, he based his defence mainly on the treaty itself and the official interpretation of it sent to him by Stratford Canning. On that score no blame could be attached to Codrington; and when, on the opening of parliament, 29 January 1828, his majesty, lamenting the conflict, spoke of it as ‘this untoward event,’ the expression called forth angry protests in both houses, and drew from the ministry explanations and the distinct statement that ‘they did not make the slightest charge, nor cast the least imputation upon the gallant officer who commanded at Navarino.’
Notwithstanding this a feeling of dissatisfaction continued to exist. At the admiralty, too, there seems to have been some personal feeling, which was certainly able to keep back from the Duke of Wellington, and even from the Duke of Clarence, several of Codrington's letters, and thus to present a very imperfect report of his further proceedings in the Mediterranean, and ultimately to lead to his somewhat summary recall, the news of which reached him at Corfu on 21 June 1828. It was of course some little time before he could be relieved, and he did not sail from Malta till 11 September. On 7 October he arrived in England, and spent the winter in London, endeavouring, but of course in vain, to arrive at some understanding of his recall. The Duke of Wellington in a personal interview assured him of his esteem, but would give no explicit statement or explanation. Codrington then drew up and printed for private circulation a ‘Narrative of his Proceedings’ in the Mediterranean, which is now published in the ‘Memoirs of his Life’, and, together with the mass of official and private correspondence, permits us to form a fair judgment of the whole transaction, and to say that while Codrington was certainly warranted by his instructions in acting as he did, he would have been equally warranted in doing the exact opposite; and that the determining cause was probably his own horror of the Turkish massacres and a knowledge that the public feeling of England was strongly Philhellenic. One thing appears certain, that the Duke of Clarence had practically no share in the determination. It was long the custom to attribute the whole of it to him, and to a letter couched in words said to be exactly quoted as ‘Go in, my dear Ned, and smash these damned Turks.’ There is no trace of any such letter ever having been written; but there are many letters inculcating the greatest possible caution; and though there are very many private and friendly letters, they are all addressed ‘My dear Sir.’ Another and more harmless story rests on good authority. Shortly after his return from the Mediterranean he met in town a casual country acquaintance, who greeted him with, ‘Hallo, Codrington, how are you? I haven't seen you for some time. Had any good shooting lately?’ ‘Why yes,’ answered Codrington, ‘I've had some rather remarkable shooting;’ and so passed on.
In September and October 1830 Codrington visited St. Petersburg, where he was received by the emperor with the highest distinction; and similarly by the king of France during a visit to Paris in the following January. In June 1831 he was appointed to the command of the Channel squadron for the summer experimental cruise, and hoisted his flag in the Caledonia till the end of the season, 24 October. He was made G.C.M.G. in 1832, and was liberal M.P. for Devonport 1832-9. On 10 January 1837 he became admiral of the blue, and on 22 November 1839 commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. His active career ended with the termination of that command on 31 December 1842. He lived pleasantly for several years, and died after a few months' illness on 28 April 1851. He was buried in St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, where there is a tablet to his memory; a memorial tablet has also been placed in the family church of Dodington.
Codrington married in December 1802 Jane, daughter of Jasper Hall of Kingston, Jamaica, and had by her three sons and two daughters. Of the sons one died young, lost by the upsetting of a boat; the other two, William John and Henry John, rose to high distinction. The eldest daughter married Captain Sir Thomas Bourchier, who died superintendent of Chatham dockyard in 1849. Lady Bourchier has since published a very full life of her father, which, in addition to its biographical interest, is rich in valuable reminiscences taken down at different times from his dictation, and is thus an important contribution to naval history. She has also had printed for private circulation a short life of her brother, Sir Henry John Codrington
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