The Twickenham Museum
People : Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen

Rear Admiral Thomas Fox
Naval Officer

Admiral Thomas Fox is recorded in 1748 as the occupier of one of the three houses which went by the name of Copt Hall, on land now covered by the houses of Copt Hall Gardens, and from the following year he enjoyed the company of Admiral William Martin in one of the other houses. Martin had retired early, possibly resenting the preferment of Anson over his head although technically junior to him.

A successful sea action

Fox had experienced his own problems. Appointed, in 1745, to HMS Kent from HMS Newcastle. he was, in 1747, given command of a small squadron in order to intercept a convoy of 170 merchant ships bringing supplies to France from San Domingo. He encountered this fleet, saw off the four escorting ships and captured 46. No doubt he received a substantial sum in prize money for this success.

A Court-Martial

His next duty was to join newly promoted Rear Admiral Edward Hawke's squadron to carry out a further interception, of a large French convoy sailing to the West Indies. This convoy was better protected and there was a sea action on 14 October: the 2nd battle of Cape Finisterre. Although six of the eight escorts were taken, Admiral Hawke's view was that Fox had been only half-hearted in the action and he called for him to be court-martialled for dilatory behaviour. This was although Fox had engaged a French ship, the Fougueux, which struck to him after three-quarters of an hour. Hawke may have been influenced by the fact that Anson, in the 1st battle of Finisterre, earlier that year, had done somewhat better, capturing all of the French escorting ships and many of the convoy.

The Court Martial closed on 21 December and found partly against Fox, despite conflicting evidence from brother officers. He was dismissed from his command. However, there may have been some dissatisfaction with the outcome of the trial and he was, to some extent, compensated by reinstatement and being promoted Rear-Admiral in 1749, when he was superannuated, retiring to Twickenham.

A problem with vitriol

As recorded by Laetitia Matilda Hawkins, his reputation followed him to Twickenham. In about 1749 Fox appeared as a witness at Westminster Hall in an action brought by the Vestry, against Joshua Ward. Ward's acid factory, the “Great Vitriol Works”, along Heath Lane produced a noxious smell. Fox was invited to describe it, but could go no further than to say it was “like the horridest smell I ever smelt.” He was asked, rather unkindly, if it reminded him of the smell of gunpowder.

He was a Churchwarden for St Mary's in 1753 and 1754

Further reading

D H Simpson, The Twickenham of Matilda Hawkins, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper No39, 1978

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