Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, 1st Baronet, GCB

Is your surname Duckworth?

Research the Duckworth family

Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, 1st Baronet, GCB's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

John Thomas Duckworth

Birthplace: (Gregorian Calendar) - Leatherhead, Surrey
Death: August 31, 1817 (70)
Immediate Family:

Son of Henry Duckworth and Sarah Duckworth
Husband of Anne Duckworth and Susannah Catherine Buller
Father of Sarah Anne Duckworth and Sir John Thomas Buller Duckworth, 2nd Baronet

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, 1st Baronet, GCB

  • "DUCKWORTH, Sir John Thomas (1748-1817).", The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986 Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, 1st Baronet, GCB (9 February 1747 (Gregorian Calendar) – 31 August 1817 in Plymouth, England) was a British naval officer, serving during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, as the Governor of Newfoundland during the War of 1812, and a member of the British House of Commons during his semi-retirement. One of the least known of the Age of Sail admirals of the Royal Navy, Duckworth, a vicar's son, achieved much in a naval career that began at the age of 11.

Serving with most of the great names of the Royal Navy during the later 18th and early 19th centuries, he fought almost all of Britain's enemies on the seas at one time or another, including a Dardanelles operation that would be remembered a century later during the First World War. He commanded at the Battle of San Domingo, the last great fleet action of the Napoleonic Wars. Overshadowed by other great British sailors, he died at his post, but in peace rather than in combat.

Early life

Born in Leatherhead, Surrey, England, Duckworth was one of five sons of Sarah Johnson and the vicar Henry Duckworth A.M. of Stoke Poges, County of Buckinghamshire. Duckworth went to Eton College, but began his naval career in 1759 at the suggestion of Edward Boscawen, when he entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman on HMS Namur.

On 5 April 1764 he joined the 50-gun HMS Guernsey at Chatham, after leaving HMS Prince of Orange, to serve with Admiral Hugh Palliser, then Governor of Newfoundland. He was promoted to lieutenant aboard the Princess Royal, on which he suffered a concussion when he was hit by the head of another sailor, decapitated by a cannonball. Next, on 14 November 1771, while on the West Indies station, he joined the frigate HMS Diamond as first lieutenant and served on her during the American War of Independence. He married Anne Wallis in July 1776.

In 1779 he received his first command, the sloop-of-war HMS Rover; he was promoted to post captain in 16 June 1780. In Rover he cruised the waters off Martinique until briefly returning to the Princess Royal before joining the 74-gun HMS Grafton, which escorted English convoys. In the years of peace before the French Revolution he was a captain of the 74-gun HMS Bombay Castle, lying at Plymouth.

Revolutionary wars service

When the French Revolution broke out, Duckworth was serving as a flag-captain to the Admiral of the West Indies squadron, Sir George Brydges Rodney, soon after in HMS Princess Royal.

Fighting against France, Duckworth distinguished himself both in European waters and in the Caribbean. Initially aboard the Orion (74-gun) from 1793 as Commander, and later in HMS Queen with the Channel Fleet of Admiral Lord Howe in the Admiral's division, in which post Duckworth saw action in three battles during latter May and 1 June 1794. Duckworth was one of eighteen Commanders honoured with a gold medal and ribbon, and the thanks of both Houses of Parliament.

Duckworth was a Commodore in Santo Domingo in 1796. In 1798 Duckworth led a small squadron of four vessels in the 74-gun HMS Leviathan (Captain James Carpenter).[Note 8] He sailed for Minorca on 19 October 1798, where he was a joint commander with Sir Charles Stewart, initially landing his 800 troops in the bay of Addaya, including frigates Cormorant and Aurora and later landing sailors and marines from his ships to augment the Army. He was promoted to Rear Admiral of the White Squadron on 14 February 1799 following the Capture of Minorca. In June his squadron of four ships captured Courageux.

In April 1800, he sailed to take up his post as the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief at Barbados and Leeward Islands, succeeding Lord Hugh Seymour. On the way he intercepted a large and rich Spanish convoy from Lima off Cadiz consisting of two frigates (both taken as prizes) and eleven merchant vessels, with his share of the prize money estimated at £75,000.

Next, his squadron of four ships was part of a fleet of 109 vessels in the Ferrol expedition under joint commands of Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, with 20 ships of the line, and 15-20,000 Army troops under James Murray-Pulteney, ostensibly sent to capture Belle Île. Sir Ralph Abercromby served as second in command to Pulteney.

The fleet landed with 12,500 troops under command of Sir Edward Pellew on 25 August. However, the assault on the city was inexplicably abandoned during the expected attack on Fort St. Philip due to fears of the fleet being driven off to sea by the winds, and leaving the Army troops unsupported and with no means of retreat.

Duckworth was nominated a Knight Companion of the most Honourable Military Order of the Bath in 1801 (and installed in 1803), for the capture of the islands of St. Bartholomew, St. Martin, St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix and defeat of the Swedish and Danish forces stationed there on 20 March 1801. Lieutenant-General Trigg commanded the ground troops, which consisted of two brigades under Brigadier-Generals Fuller and Maitland, of 1,500 and 1,800 troops respectively. These included the 64th Regiment of Foot (Lieutenant-Colonel Pakenham), and the 2nd and 8th West Indies Regiments, two detachments of Royal Artillery, and two companies of sailors, each of about 100 men. The ships involved, in addition to Leviathan, included HMS Andromeda, HMS Unité, HMS Coromandel, HMS Proselyte, HMS Amphitrite, HMS Hornet, the brig HMS Drake (1779), armed brig HMS Fanny, schooner HMS L'Eclair, and tender HMS Alexandria. Aside from the territory and prisoners taken during the operation, Duckworth's force took two Swedish merchantmen, a Danish ship (in ballast), three small French vessels, one privateer brig (12-guns), one captured English ship, a merchant-brig, four small schooners, and a sloop.

In 1801 Duckworth was appointed Commander-in-Chief at Jamaica. He spent much of 1802 in the West Indies station, where he had fifteen sail-of-the-line under his command.

Service against Napoleon

West Indies

From 1803, on the death of Lord Hugh Seymour, and until 1805, Duckworth assumed command as the commander-in-chief of the Jamaica station, during which time he had the unlikely honour of taking prisoner vicomte de Rochambeau, son of the famous French General, following the successful Blockade of Saint-Domingue.

Duckworth's appointment as Vice-Admiral of the Blue Squadron on 23 April 1804, briefly also serving as a Colonel of Marines. He succeeded in capturing numerous enemy vessels and remained in Jamaica until 1805.

The fortunes of Royal Navy service proved to be quite ironic for Duckworth in 1805. The Admiralty intended that he should sail HMS Royal George to join Vice-Admiral Nelson off Cádiz. However, the Plymouth Dockyards could not make Royal George ready to sail in time, and Duckworth was directed to raise his flag in HMS Superb, in which he was directed to command the West Indies squadron involved in the blockade of Cádiz, with seven sail of the line and two frigates.

Consequently although he had volunteered to serve under Nelson, he would not be present at the Battle of Trafalgar, but would eventually sail in HMS Royal George during a decidedly unsuccessful period of service, see Nelson's HMS Victory in Portsmouth, and with time command the Plymouth Dockyards.

Although known for a cautious character, he abandoned the blockade and sailed in search of a French squadron reported by a frigate off Madeira in December on his own initiative, something he was later to be criticised for because his orders, on failure to find the French, were to join Nelson with three of the vessels, and therefore he subsequently missed Battle of Trafalgar. This turned out to be the much sought after Rochefort squadron that had earlier escaped a blockade by Cornwallis. Although he had found the squadron of Contre-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Willaumez then sought by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan, Duckworth was unable to engage the French on the claim of his ships being scattered, and, short on water, made the decision to continue to the West Indies.

There, at Saint Kitts he was joined by a pair of 74-gun ships commanded by Sir Alexander Cochrane, and later a brig Kingfisher commanded by Nathaniel Day Cochrane which brought news of French at San Domingo that was the French squadron under the command of Vice-Admiral Corentin Urbain Leissègues which escaped from Brest and sought to reinforce the French forces at San Domingo with about 1,000 troops. Arriving at San Domingo on 6 February 1806, Duckworth found the French squadron with its transports anchored in the Occa bay. The French commander immediately hurried to sea, forming a line as they went. Duckworth gave signal to form two columns of four and three ships of the line.

In the Battle of San Domingo, Duckworth's squadron defeated the squadron of French when Duckworth at once made the signal to attack and "with a portrait of Nelson suspended from the mizzen stay of the Superb with the band playing 'God Save the King' and 'Nelson of the Nile', bore down on the leading French ship L'Alexandre of 84 guns and engaged her at close quarters. After a severe action of two hours, two of the French ships were driven ashore and burnt with three others captured. Only the French frigates escaped.

Despite this, it is thought that Duckworth used his own ship cautiously, and the credit for the victory was due more to the initiative of the individual British captains. Duckworth nearly grounded his own ship as he attempted to board L'Impérial.

His victory over the French Admiral Leissègues off the coast of Hispaniola on 6 February together with Admiral Alexander Cochrane's squadron was the highlight of his Royal Navy service career, which was a fatal blow to French strategy in the Caribbean region, and played a major part in Napoleon's eventual sale of Louisiana, and withdrawal from the Caribbean. It was judged sufficiently important to have the Tower of London guns fire a salute.

A promotion to Vice-Admiral of the White in April 1806 followed, along with the presentation of a Sword of Honour by the grateful House of Assembly of Jamaica, but after he returned to England again, he was called to face court-martial charges brought by Captain James Athol Wood of HMS Acasta, who claimed that Duckworth had transgressed the 18th Article of War; the charge was dropped on 7 June 1805. On his return to England, Duckworth was granted a substantial pension of £1,000 from the House of Commons, and freedom of the city of London, while his naval feats were acknowledged with several honours, including a Sword of Honour by the corporation of the City of London. A great dinner was also held in his honour as the Mansion House.

Santo Domingo was the last significant fleet action of the Napoleonic Wars which, despite negative claims made about his personality, displayed Duckworth's understanding of the role of naval strategy in the overall war by securing for Britain mastery of the sea, and thus having sea-oriented mentality having placed a British fleet in the right strategic position. Duckworth also displayed the willingness of accept changing tactics employed by Nelson, and maintained the superiority of British naval gunnery in battle.


Duckworth was appointed second in command of the Mediterranean Fleet in 1805 primarily on consideration by the Admiralty of having a senior officer in the forthcoming operations with the Russian Navy. Sailing in the 100-gun first-rate HMS Royal George with eight ships of the line and four smaller vessels, he arrived at the island of Tenedos with orders to take possession of the Ottoman fleet at Constantinople, thus supporting Dmitry Senyavin's Imperial Russian Navy in the Dardanelles Operation. Accompanying him were some of the ablest Royal Navy officers such as Sydney Smith, Dacres and Blackwood but he was in doubt of having the capability to breach the shore batteries and reach the anchored Ottoman fleet. Aware of Turkish efforts to reinforce the shore artillery, he nevertheless took no action until 11 February 1807 and spent some time in the strait waiting for a favourable wind. In the evening of the same day HMS Ajax (Captain Blackwood) was lost to accidental fire on-board at anchor off Tenedos, although most of the crew and captain were saved and redistributed among the fleet. Finally on 19 February at Action at Point Pisquies (Nagara Burun), a part of the British force encountered the Ottoman fleet which engaged first, but fourteen of its vessels and one gunboat were forced ashore and burnt by the part of the British fleet under command of Rear-Admiral Sir Sydney Smith taking one corvette and one gunboat, and the flags of the Turkish Vice-Admiral and Captain Pasha in the process, with adjacent fortifications destroyed by landing parties from HMS Thunderer, HMS Pompée, and HMS Repulse, while its 31 guns were spiked by the marines. On 20 February the British squadron under Duckworth reached the Ottoman capital, but had to engage in fruitless negotiations with the Sultan's representatives advised by Napoleon's ambassador Sébastiani, by the accompanying British ambassador Mr.Arbuthnot and Russian plenipotentiary Andrey Italinski due to the secret instructions that were issued as part of his orders for the mission, and therefore losing more time as the Turks played for time to complete their shore batteries in the hope of trapping the British squadron.

Smith was joined a week later by Duckworth, who observed the four bays of the Dardanelles lined with five hundred cannon and one hundred mortars as his ships passed towards Constantinople. There he found the rest of the Turkish fleet of twelve ships of the line and nine frigates, all apparently ready for action in the Constantinople harbour. Exasperated by Turkish intransigence, and not having a significant force to land on the shore, Duckworth decided to withdraw on 1 March after declining to take Smith's advice to bombard the Turkish Arsenal and gunpowder manufacturing works. The British fleet was subjected to shore artillery fire all the way to the open sea, and sustaining casualties and damage to ships from 26-inch calibre (650 mm) guns firing 300-800 pound marble shot.

Though blamed for indecisiveness, notably by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Duckworth's words were to ring true a century later when he said in his report on the operation:

I must, as officer, declare to be my decided opinion that, without the cooperation of a body of land forces, it would be a wanton sacrifice of the squadrons to attempt to force the passage.

After departure from Constantinople, as an Admiral of the Blue he commanded the squadron protecting transports of the Alexandria expedition of 1807, but that was forced to withdraw after five months due to lack of supplies. Duckworth summed up this expedition, in reflection on the service of the year by commenting that Instead of acting vigorously in either one or the other direction, our cabinet comes to the miserable determination of sending five or six men-of-war, without soldiers, to the Dardanelles, and 5000 soldiers, without a fleet, to Alexandria.

Soon after he married again on 14 May 1808 to Susannah Catherine Buller, a daughter of William Buller, the Bishop of Exeter.

The Channel Fleet

Duckworth's career however did not suffer greatly, and in 1808 and 1810 he went on to sail in HMS San Josef and HMS Hibernia as commander of the Channel Fleet, in some of the largest first-rates in the Royal Navy. One of the least pleasant duties in his life was participation in the court-martial of Admiral Lord Gambier in the matter of the Basque Roads.

Newfoundland and War of 1812

Probably because he was thought of as irresolute and unimaginative, on 26 March 1810 Duckworth was appointed Governor of Newfoundland and Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian squadron's three frigates and eight smaller vessels. Although this was a minor command in a remote station spanning from Davis Strait to the Gulf of St Lawrence, he also received a promotion to Admiral of the Blue Squadron, still commanding the Antelope.

While serving as Governor he was attacked for his arbitrary powers over the territory, and retaliated against the pamphleteer by disallowing his reappointment as surgeon of the local militia unit, the Loyal Volunteers of St John, which Duckworth renamed the St John’s Volunteer Rangers, and enlarged to 500 officers and militiamen for the War of 1812 with the United States.

Duckworth also took an interest in bettering relationship with the local Beothuk Indians, and sponsored Lieutenant David Buchan's expedition up the Exploits River in 1810 to explore the region of the Beothuk settlements.

As the Governor and station naval commander, Duckworth suddenly found himself again in the midst of a war precisely over those issues which United States thought they were fighting, such as "Free Trade and Sailor's Rights." His orders and instructions to captains under his command were therefore directly concerned with fishing rights of US vessels on the Grand Banks, the prohibition of United States trade with British colonials, the searching of ships under US flag for contraband, and the impressment of seamen for service on British vessels. Upon his return to Portsmouth on 28 November in HMS Antelope (50 guns) after escorting transports from Newfoundland he witnessed somewhat of a personal omen, as on that same day HMS Victory was being paid off.


On 2 December 1812, soon after arriving in Devon, resigned as Governor after being offered a parliamentary seat for New Romney on the coast of Kent. At about this time he found out that his oldest son George Henry was killed in action while serving in the rank of a Colonel with the Duke of Wellington in Spain at the Battle of Albuera at the head of 48th (Northamptonshire) Regiment of Foot. He was created a baronet on 2 November 1813, adopting a motto Disciplina, fide, perseverantia (Discipline, fidelity, perseverance), and in January 1815 was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth 45 miles from his home; a post considered one of semi-retirement by his successor, Lord Exmouth. However, on 26 June that year it became a centre of attention due to the visit by HMS Bellerophon bearing Napoleon to his final exile, with Duckworth being the last senior British officer to speak with him on board HMS Northumberland.

Duckworth died at his post on the base in 1817 at 1 o'clock, after several months of illness; a fitting end to a long and distinguished service with the Royal Navy. being buried on 9 September at the Topsham church where he was laid to rest in the family vault, with his coffin covered with crimson velvet studded with 2,500 silvered nails to resemble a ship's planking.


When in England for winters during his term as Governor of Newfoundland, Duckworth lived on a property called Weare House of Weare Park in Topsham in the County of Devon, which he purchased in 1804 and rebuilt over several years. The only known memorial is found in St Margaret's Church, Topsham, in Devon.

His property, and half of the golf course that the Exeter Golf and Country Club now occupies, was the largest US Navy Supply Depot in the south of England during the Second World War, with some later retained for use by a UK MOD Naval Store.

During the Second World War one Royal Navy warship, the destroyer HMS Duckworth was named after the Admiral.

In England, The Duckworth House is located in Kent St, Portsmouth PO1 to be found not far from the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard complex.

Duckworth Street in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada is named in his honour.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Place of birth Leatherhead, Surrey, England

Place of death Plymouth naval base, England

Allegiance United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

Service/branch Royal Navy

Years of service:1759–1817

Rank: Admiral of the Blue Squadron


HMS Namur

HMS Guernsey

HMS Prince of Orange

HMS Princess Royal

HMS Diamond

HMS Rover

HMS Grafton

HMS Bombay Castle

HMS Orion

HMS Queen

HMS Leviathan

HMS Superb

HMS Royal George

HMS San Josef

HMS Hibernia

HMS Armide

HMS Antelope

Commands held

Commander-in-Chief at Barbados and Leeward Islands

Commander-in-Chief at Jamaica

Second in Command of the Mediterranean Fleet

Governor of Newfoundland and Commander-in-Chief of the Newfoundland Squadron

Commander-in-Chief of the Plymouth naval base

Battles/wars 1 June 1794

Capture of Minorca

capture of the islands of St.Bartholomew and St.Martin

Ferrol expedition of 1800

blockade of Cadiz

Battle of San Domingo

Dardanelles Operation

Alexandria expedition of 1807

War of 1812


Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794 Medallion[1]

Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794 Medal[2]

Jamaica Sword of Honour

Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

London Sword of Honour


Son in law to the bishop of Exeter

Father in law to Vice-Admiral Sir Richard King

Parker Duckworth Bingham godson

When in England for winters during his term as Governor of Newfoundland, Duckworth lived on a property called Weare House of Weare Park in Topsham in the County of Devon, which he purchased in 1804 and rebuilt over several years.

The only known memorial is found in St Margaret's Church, Topsham, in Devon.

His property, and half of the golf course, now occupied by the Exeter Golf and Country Club, was the largest US Navy Supply Depot in the south of England during the Second World War, with some later retained for use by a UK MOD Naval Store.[82]

During the Second World War one Royal Navy warship, the destroyer HMS Duckworth was named after the Admiral.

In England, The Duckworth House is located in Kent St, Portsmouth PO1 to be found not far from the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard complex.

Duckworth Street in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada is named in his honour.

view all

Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, 1st Baronet, GCB's Timeline