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Sir Robert Holmes
Sir Frescheville Holles (on left) and Sir Robert Holmes (on right), painted by Peter Lely
Governor of the Isle of Wight
In office
MonarchsCharles II
James II & VII
William III & II and Mary II
Preceded byThe Lord Colepeper
Succeeded byHon. Thomas Tollemache
Vice-Admiral of Hampshire
In office
Preceded byThe Lord Colepeper
Succeeded byMarquess of Winchester
Member of Parliament for Yarmouth
In office
Serving with Hon. Fitton Gerard
MonarchCharles II
Preceded byThomas Wyndham
William Hewer
Succeeded bySir John Trevor
Charles Duncombe
Personal details
Born1622 (1622)
Died18 November 1692(1692-11-18) (aged 69–70)
ChildrenMary Holmes
ParentHenry Holmes
RelativesSir John Holmes (brother)
Henry Holmes (nephew)
Thomas Holmes (grandson)
Henry Holmes (grandson)
Charles Holmes (grandson)
Military career
AllegianceKingdom of England England
Service/branch English Army
 Royal Navy
Years of service1643–1687
RankCaptain (Army)
Admiral (Navy)
Commands heldRoyal Charles
HMS Reserve
HMS Revenge

Sir Robert Holmes (c. 1622 – 18 November 1692) was an English Admiral of the Restoration Navy. He participated in the second and third Anglo-Dutch Wars, both of which he is, by some, credited with having started. He was made Governor of the Isle of Wight, where he is buried in Yarmouth Parish Church.

Holmes is chiefly remembered for his exploits on the cruise to Guinea (1664) for the Royal African Company, and for the so-called Holmes's Bonfire of 1666. He is regarded as an archetypal figure both of the quarrelsome restoration officer and of the coming into being of the British professional naval officer.

The Interregnum

Military beginnings

Born in or about 1622 the son of Henry Holmes, Esq. of Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, nothing is known of Holmes' early life, although his flawless command of written language and his elegant handwriting suggest a good education. He is in all probability the grandchild of the Robert Holmes named provost of Mallow in 1612.

He first appears in 1643 on the Cavalier side of the Civil War, in Prince Maurice's regiment of horse as a cornet in the troop of Captain Richard Atkyns. From this time stems a lifelong friendship with Maurice's brother, Prince Rupert, whom he accompanied onto the battlefields of the continent once the Royalists had been defeated.

Start of the naval career

When in 1648 a part of the fleet went over to the exiled king, Holmes (now an army captain), following Maurice and Rupert, came into his first contact with the navy. He participated in the epic cruise of the Royalist fleet of 1649 – 1652 to Kinsale, the Mediterranean, West Africa (where, between the Gambia and Cape Verde, he was arrested by the inhabitants), and the West Indies. The drain of manpower, through storm, action, and mutiny, was so large that at the end of the cruise, Holmes had advanced to commanding the four prizes the force brought back to France. With Rupert returning to the exiled court, it fell to Holmes to see the fleet paid off.

Subsequently, Cromwell's intelligence service reports Holmes having obtained a privateer commission from the King of Spain (Thurloe State Papers VII, p. 248, 18 July 1658. N.S.), although the total absence of other evidence makes his actually setting out as a privateer improbable. He may, like other Royalist, and notably Irish, officers, have taken up service with the Imperial army. His epitaph in Yarmouth gives France, Flanders and Germany as scenes of military exploits. Immediately before the Restoration, Holmes acted as a courier between Charles II and Edward Montagu, by whose commission he obtained his first command in the navy, the Medway guardship Bramble.

Restoration Officer

Upon Charles II's return to England, Holmes was rewarded for his services with the captaincy of Sandown Castle, Isle of Wight together with a new commission (for another guardship), this time from the Duke of York himself, who had assumed the position of Lord High Admiral. But more was in store for him.

The first African expedition

The reports Rupert had brought back from the Gambia of a "Mountain of Gold" just waiting there to be carried off to England, prompted the Royal African Company, whose director was the Duke of York (and whose paperwork was carried out by William Coventry) to launch an expedition to the Guinea Coast, then mostly in Dutch hands. Holmes, acquainted with this coast, was the man for this venture, and was appointed captain of the flagship, Henrietta and a squadron of four other of the King's ships: Sophia, Amity, Griffin, and Kinsale. His orders (drafted by Coventry) were to assist the company's factors in every way conceivable and to construct a fort. Privately, he was instructed to gather intelligence as to the expected "Mountain of Gold".

The results of the expedition were ambiguous. Touching at Gorée, Holmes bluntly informed the Dutch governor that the King of England claimed the exclusive right of trade and navigation between Cape Verde and the Cape of Good Hope (which the King and Sir George Downing disavowed after protests from the States General and retaliatory action against English shipping). In addition to reconnoitring the coast and the mouth of the Gambia, Holmes constructed a fort there (on Dog Island in the mouth of the river, renamed Charles Island). Up-river, on St. Andreas Island near Jillifri, he then captured a fort which was nominally the Duke of Courland's, but obviously in Dutch hands, and renamed the spit of land James Island. Although the mission did not pay for the company, Holmes seems to have made a profit from it, since subsequently Samuel Pepys, of all people, complained about Holmes's magnificent lifestyle (Diary, 22 December 1661), and wondered whether the large ape Holmes had brought back might be the offspring of a man and a she-baboon and susceptible to instruction (Diary, 24 August 1661).

The expedition was the turning point in Holmes's career. He had shown himself equal to dealing with Africans, company factors, the Dutch and his own men and officers alike, recommending himself as a prudent leader. He consequently was appointed captain of the flagship, Royal Charles, which he lost quickly after having failed to force the Swedish ambassador to salute the flag. But this was only a temporary setback, and he swiftly was granted £800 from the Crown and the command of the newly launched Reserve. The appointment of an inept master led to a quarrel with Pepys, which subsided after a while, but the antagonism between the administrator and the aggressive fighter was never resolved. Aboard Reserve, Holmes tested a pair of pendulum watches conceived by Christiaan Huygens.

The second African expedition

The objectives of the famous 1664 Guinea expedition are unclear. Although Holmes was charged with exceeding his orders by capturing Dutch forts and ships there, Coventry talks of a "game" that was to be started there, which can only mean an Anglo-Dutch war (Bath MSS. CII, ff. 3-13). Holmes's orders, again drafted by Coventry and signed by James, were to 'promote the Interests of the Royall Company' in HMS Jersey and to 'kill, take, sink or destroy such as shall oppose you' (Bath MSS. XCV, ff.3-5) - especially the Goulden Lyon of Flushing, a Dutch West India Company ship that had given the English a lot of trouble.

The reason for the charges against Holmes was that his success exceeded even the most unreasonable expectations, and that he was, diplomatically, a convenient scapegoat (a fact of which he seems to have been aware). In sight of the Dutch base at Gorée he took the West Indiaman Brill on 27 December 1663. Stirring up the Portuguese, Africans, and even such Dutch merchants as had a grudge against the WIC, he sank 2 ships and captured 2 others under the guns of Gorée (22 January 1664), and the next day took possession of the fort itself. On 28 March, in a tactically cunning action, he took Goulden Lyon meanwhile named Walcheren (taken into the Royal Navy as a fourth-rate).

On 10 April, he captured Anta Castle on the Gold Coast and several other small strongholds and ships. But the greatest coup was the capture of the principal Dutch base in West Africa, Cape Coast Castle near El Mina, on 1 May. Contrary to the popular picture, Holmes had no hand in the capture of New Amsterdam.[1]

In August, Michiel de Ruyter had clandestinely been sent to undo what Holmes had achieved. De Ruyter recaptured everything Holmes had conquered, except for Cape Coast Castle, which meant that after 1664, the English were on that coast to stay.

His return to England was desultory, as he tried to make out the repercussions his actions had evoked in London. Since he commanded navy ships, everything he had taken was not automatically the company's property, but would have to be cleared by Admiralty Courts to be prizes of Holmes and his men. Since Holmes's booty in merchandise was far behind the company's (unreasonable) expectations, he was twice committed to the Tower (9 January and 14 February 1665), where he was interrogated by secretaries of state Henry Bennet and William Morrice. This situation was resolved by the Dutch declaration of 22 February that they would retaliate against British shipping, a direct consequence of the goings-on in Africa, that the British conveniently interpreted as a declaration of war.

The Second Dutch War

Barely a month after his release and full pardon, Holmes assumed command of HMS Revenge, a third-rate of 58 guns, the senior captain of Rupert's white (van) squadron. When at the battle of Lowestoft (3 June 1665) the rear-admiral of the white, Robert Sansum, was killed, Holmes claimed his post (which Rupert endorsed), but James gave the flag to his own flag captain, Harman. Holmes lost his temper and resigned his commission. Even worse, Holmes's rival Sir Jeremiah Smith was promoted to flag rank. But reconciliation was, again, not far away.

On 27 March 1666, the powerful new third-rate Defiance (64) was launched in the presence of Charles II, James and Rupert, Holmes having been appointed captain and being knighted on the occasion. Part of the red squadron, Holmes was finally given acting flag-rank when the fleet was divided to shadow the Dutch and simultaneously intercept the French (which put him, satisfyingly, one step above Harman, rear-admiral of the white - a slighting of the principle of seniority which would have been unthinkable at the end of the century).

During the murderous Four Days Battle, Holmes was reported to have "done wonders" (CSP Dom., 7 June 1666), and was confirmed as rear-admiral of the red, his ship having received such a battering that he transferred his flag to the partially burnt and dismasted Henry (72), Harman's ship, who had been wounded. But again, his rivals Sir Jeremiah Smith (made admiral of the blue) and Sir Edward Spragge (vice-admiral of the blue) were promoted above him. These professional rivalries were a hallmark of the restoration navy, and Holmes used the conduct of the St James' Day Fight, to start a bitter quarrel with Sir Jeremiah Smith, whose rear squadron had been routed by Cornelis Tromp. The recriminations between the officers and their respective factions played a role in the subsequent Parliamentary investigation over embezzlement in the naval administration and the conduct of the war.

Holmes's Bonfire

On 9 August 1666, Holmes achieved his best-known feat, characteristically (and, to Pepys and Coventry, exasperatingly) using his own judgement in interpreting his orders. Holmes was to land five hundred men on the island of Vlieland and four hundred on Terschelling and loot and destroy as much as possible. Instead of this, Holmes executed a fireship attack on the mass of merchantmen lying in Vlie Road, destroying some 150 ships, and sacked the Mennonite town of West-Terschelling.[2]

This, Holmes's Bonfire, was the heaviest blow the English ever dealt Dutch merchant shipping, severely endangering the Netherlands' war effort, at the cost of no more than twelve English casualties. Holmes now was in high favour. Early in 1667 he was appointed to command a squadron based in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, a lucrative appointment that even enabled him to fit one of the squadron's prizes as a privateer. In April 1667, he was commissioned a captain in the 2nd Regiment of Foot Guards, which he resigned before 1670.[3]

As early as December 1666, Pepys had commented on Holmes's stubborn opposition to the laying-up of the fleet in expectation of peace. Holmes was alive to the danger of a Dutch assault - which duly came on 10 June 1667, when Michiel de Ruyter during the Raid on the Medway entered the Medway, burned a large part of the fleet in ordinary (i.e. laid up) at Chatham and hijacked Royal Charles.

After that year's campaign had ended, Parliament's interest in naval administration intensified, much to Pepys's and Coventry's distress. Rupert and Albemarle, like most naval officers, especially of the Cavalier and gentleman sort, had long been unhappy with the off-hand treatment they received from the administrators. These, in turn, found the officers arrogant and unruly. Now the commanders-in-chief and their clients, Sir Frescheville Holles, Holmes and others, might strike back, especially after the Medway disaster.

In addition, Holmes, in the winter of 1666/1667, had revived the quarrel with Sir Jeremiah Smith (possibly even fighting a duel with him), which only ended when the latter took Sir William Penn's place on the Navy Board (which again Holmes had hoped would be his) in December 1668.

After peace was concluded, Holmes intensified his hold in the Isle of Wight by buying the governorship from Lord Colepeper. This put him in responsibility of the defences there (Sandown, Carisbrooke and Yarmouth Castles), but also gave him access to the very lucrative vice-admiralty of the Isle of Wight, Newport and Hampshire, with two-thirds of the value of all prizes taken there due to him.

In addition, in October 1669, he was elected Member of Parliament for Winchester, generally supporting the Crown in Parliament.

The Third Dutch War

Holmes's attack on the Smyrna Fleet, 12 March 1672

Among the preparations for provoking the Dutch into yet another war, was the appointment of Holmes as senior officer in Portsmouth, commanding a powerful squadron and the flagship St Michael, a first-rate of 90 guns. Holmes immediately pressed for the capture of a large number of Dutch ships, using English harbours under foreign colours; but the government procrastinated until the opportunity was gone.

On 23 March 1672, he finally got permission to attack the homeward-bound Dutch Smyrna convoy. For two days, the English squadron fought a veritable battle with the armed merchantmen and their escorts, suffering damage out of proportion to their gains, half a dozen prizes only one of which seems to have been one of the rich Smyrna ships. Accidentally, Sir Edward Spragge's squadron, returning from the Mediterranean, had passed the scene immediately before the engagement. For unknown reasons, Spragge did not join the attack nor was invited by Holmes to do so, which gave rise to new mutual suspicions. A few days after the fight war was declared and flags handed out. Holmes did not receive one, which may have had to do with the limited number of posts available due to the white squadron this time consisting of the French fleet. Accordingly, Holmes fought in the ensuing Battle of Solebay as a mere captain in the Duke of York's squadron. The battle, the fiercest in De Ruyter's memory, claimed the lives of Holmes's friends Holles and Sandwich, and forced the Lord High Admiral to transfer his flag twice, from Prince to Holmes's St Michael and from that to London. With Sandwich dead, a new flag officer had to be appointed, but Holmes's legitimate claims were again disregarded - for the last time.

After the end of the 1672 campaign, Holmes did not get another command, notwithstanding the constant intercession on his behalf of the new commander-in-chief, his stout friend Prince Rupert. Obviously, the King himself had no desire to re-employ him. Holmes's naval career had very abruptly ended.

Life in "retirement"

Holmes's house (now The George Hotel) in Yarmouth

Although he would not let him serve in his fleet any longer, the King continued to lavish gifts upon Holmes, rents in Co. Southampton, the Isle of Wight and Wales and forfeited lands in counties Galway and Mayo. He possessed houses in London, Englefield Green near Windsor, Bath, and of course an establishment worthy of a governor in Yarmouth. Most of his time in "retirement", Holmes spent in rebuilding the Isle of Wight's castles and managing parliamentary elections to ensure the return of government candidates. He himself did not run for the Exclusion Bill Parliaments of 1679–1681, and in 1682 he incurred the severest displeasure of Charles II for presenting an address from the Duke of Monmouth. A court martial was prepared together with a warrant to transfer the governorship to the Duke of Grafton, but Holmes either managed to avert prosecution or acquitted himself, for he remained governor until his death.

A stout supporter of his lifelong employers, the royal brothers, it is unclear why Holmes should have associated with Monmouth; at the centre of the question may lie the shady Irish financier Lemuel Kingdon, who sat for Newtown and Yarmouth together with Holmes's brother, John.

Statue of Holmes in Yarmouth Parish Church

On 21 August 1687, secretary of state Sunderland signed a commission that put Holmes in command of a squadron to suppress the buccaneers of the West Indies, but it is doubtful whether he ever actually took command. Since the wound received during the clash with the Smyrna Convoy, his health was steadily deteriorating, and an expedition that sailed in September 1687 was commanded by Sir John Narborough in his stead. Holmes was now busy preparing the defence against Dutch invasion. On 4 November 1688, five sailors of the invasion fleet landed on the Isle of Wight to buy provisions, being welcomed by the population.

While the English fleet lay becalmed off Beachy Head and William III landed his forces at Torbay, Holmes wrestled with his mutinous militia. While James had fled his capital on 11 December (an action Parliament took as his relinquishing the throne) and one day later, the commander-in-chief, Sir George Legge, Lord Dartmouth brought the fleet over to William, it was not before 17 December that Holmes surrendered.

He continued as governor of the Isle of Wight, although he was occasionally suspected of Jacobite conspiracy. But such reservations as he had against the overthrow of James II stemmed from the loyalty of a military professional, and after his vote in parliament against the accession of William and Mary was defeated, he served them with the same determination as he had the Stuart kings. Although his health was now rapidly giving out and he had to spend more and more time of the year in Bath, the threat of French invasions in 1690 and 1692 made him hurry back to his post as swiftly as ever.


Holmes died on 18 November 1692,[4] leaving one illegitimate daughter and heiress, Mary Holmes (born 1678). Her mother is believed to have been Grace Hooke,[5] a niece of the famous scientist Robert Hooke.

As had been her father's wish, Mary married Henry Holmes, the son of his elder brother Colonel Thomas Holmes of Kilmallock, Co. Limerick. Her son Thomas, in turn, would eventually achieve the peerage for the family as Lord Holmes of Kilmallock in 1760. Holmes's younger brother, Sir John Holmes, was a naval captain of repute and competence, having for years served together with his eminent brother, and commanded the Channel Fleet (1677–1679).


  • Henry Holmes of Mallow, Cork, Ireland
    • Colonel Thomas Holmes of Kilmallock, Limerick, Ireland
    • Admiral Sir Robert Holmes (c. 1622–1692), English Admiral
      • Mary Holmes (wife of Henry Holmes)
        • Lucretia Holmes m. William Sewell
          • Lucretia Sewell m. Edward Hingston of Devon
            • William Hingston (d. 2 Nov 1854 Buffalo, New York) m. Jane Carroll
              • Samuel Hingston m. Anna Anderson
                • Anna Eliza Hingston m. William Roggen Lansing of Rochester, New York, son of William van Kleeck Lansing of Albany, ancestor of the Lansing family of Rochester.
    • Admiral Sir John Holmes (1640?–1683), English Admiral leader


  1. ^ C. H. Wilson, ‘Who captured New Amsterdam?’, The English Historical Review, 72 (1957), 469–474.
  2. ^ The Dutch Raid on the Medway, Samuel Pepys, 1667.
  3. ^ Mackinnon, Daniel (1833). Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards. Vol. II. London: Richard Bentley. pp. 460–461.
  4. ^ Reported as dead by October 4 in a contemporary source – Newdigate family collection of newsletters L.c.2111: Newsletter received by Richard Newdigate, Arbury, 1692 October 4 (held in Folger Shakespeare Library)
  5. ^ "The Tragedy of Robert Hooke's Brother".
  6. ^ “Public Member Trees,” database, ( : accessed 7 July 2022), “McCarthy-Leader Family” family tree, profile for Sir Robert Holmes Governor of the Isle of Wight (1622–1692).
  7. ^ "About". 28 February 2012.
  • Richard Ollard: Man of War. Sir Robert Holmes and the Restoration Navy. London 1969
  • J.D. Davies: Gentlemen and Tarpaulins. The Officers and Men of the Restoration Navy. OUP 1991

External links

17 Annotations

First Reading

vincent  •  Link

nice "BIO" suitable for the popular press: Sir Robert Holmes Governor of Isle of Wight /Grace Hooke (17):
2nd story the whole story:"......Initial research reveals the probability of Grace being pregnant with Holmes's child
...." two thirds down for the titbits
for the bio :…

for the scandal:…
"..., Richard Ollard, biographer of Holmes, rejects this, pointing out that in 1678, "Theodosia was in any case occupied in bearing his [Lemuel] own children....".

David Ross McIrvine  •  Link

Another link to a page on Captain (later Sir) Robert Holmes:…

He's mentioned on Aug 24 1661 for bringing back a "baboon."

David Ross McIrvine  •  Link

Dryden's celebration of Sir Robert's role as rear-admiral
of the white, when, at the Battle of Schelling Bay in 1666, he captured
160 Dutch vessels, loaded with gold from their Guinean outpost
at Cape Coast Castle:

*Annus Mirabilis* 171-176

and Holmes, whose name shall live in epic song,
While music numbers, or while verse has feet.

Holmes, the Achates of the general's fight;
Who first bewitch'd our eyes with Guinea gold;
As once old Cato in the Roman sight
The tempting fruits of Afric did unfold.

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
kt 1666 (1662-92). Naval commander. Son of an English settler in Ireland, he had fought under Rupert in the royalist army and navy (Pepys often refers to him as Major), and had much of Rupert's dash and flair in action. In 1660-1 and 1663-4 he commanded two expeditions to W. Africa, the second of which did much to provoke the outbreak of the Dutch War in 1665....

...The diary's references give several evidences of his courage in action, as well as of his rough manners and explosive temper....Pepys had a particular animus against him in the early diary years because of the 'old business'--whatever that was--he had attempted on his wife. But the two men drew together in later life....

[this is about 1/5 of the L&M Companion entry for Sir Holmes. As we read into the Dutch War years, the rest should perhaps be added.]

Paul Chapin  •  Link

The portrait of Holmes and Holles
Based on the description, the portrait as shown on the NMM site is reversed. The man on the right, holding the sword, is Holles; Holmes is on the left, with his arm resting on the cannon. Holles is described as missing his left arm; he is actually holding the sword in his right hand.

Pedro  •  Link

Sir Robert Holmes.

A few interesting facts about Holmes up the present time in the Diary (Sep 15th 1663), and perhaps not mentioned previously…

(Summary from Man of War…Ollard)

During his time with Prince Rupert in France, in the summer of 1647, Holmes was shot in the leg, and as no French came to his assistance, Rupert himself went with Mortaigne to carry him to safety.

Sailing with Prince Rupert, they had to flee from Lisbon to the West Indies. While on the African coast (around Feb1652) Holmes and a companion were seized by natives and held for a day and night. Rupert tried to free them by force, but they escaped during the confusion with the help of Captain Jacus who was there as an interpreter.

13th September 1652 in the Swallow, Holmes and Rupert were caught in a hurricane off the Virgin Islands, and miraculously escaped wreck. The other three ships were lost, and Rupert’s brother, Maurice, was never seen again.

9TH May 1661 a day before sighting Sierra Leone he says “we had a tornado which was the first we met upon the coast.”

End of July 1663 Holmes was in Lisbon with the deputy Governor of Tangier and Fanshawe. Fanshawe arranged for them to see the King’s bulls, and what happened is not clear but they were bundled out of the royal stables. Castel Melhor summoned Fanshawe and accused him “in a very high voice” of endeavoring to make a breach between the two crowns. The consul was firm but tactful and another visit was arranged with the consul accompanying them.

15th September 1663 Holmes’ commission on the reserve ends. The Reserve had been chosen by Prince Rupert to test the pendulum watch of Huygens at sea. On his return Holmes submitted “An account of Going of the two watches at sea from 28th April to 4th September 1663.” Sir Robert Moray would present the report to the Royal Society on October 21st.

Pedro  •  Link

Holmes and the false muster.

Maybe a spoiler!

One of the prime exponents of the false muster was none other than Sir Robert Holmes, the distinguished naval officer and friend of the King. Whilst governor of the Isle of Wight, he was accused by one Joseph Brent of practicing false musters in his independent garrison company. The resulting court martial discovered the extent of Holmes's crimes. His steward and gardener were both entered on the rolls of the company but did no duty, nor received any pay, this going directly into the pocket of Holmes.

The son of the late Keeper of the Isle of Wight forest found himself mustered, Holmes sending his pay to his widowed mother, and, in addition, Holmes allowed the army to pay his coachman, groom, a brickmaker and a sailor who had been away at sea for four years. Holmes received no punishment.

(The Army of Charles II…J.Childs)

Pedro  •  Link

On this day the 10th November 1663...

The Duke of York signs the instructions for the second expedition of Holmes to the West Coast of Africa, which had been drafted by Coventry the Secretary of the Guinney Company.

Holmes was to sail for the Gambia to assist in "protecting and promoting the Interests of the Royal Company, which is the sole end of your present voyage." In general he was to maintain the right of the Company to trade where it pleased on the African coast and he was specifically empowered to "kill, take, sink or destroy such as shall oppose you and to send home such ships as you shall so take." He was also to do his best to send home the Goulden Lyon and the Christiana both of which the Royal Company had a long score to settle.

Pedro  •  Link

Holmes' first expedition to West Africa.

(Summary from Ollard's Man of War)

Holmes had sailed with Prince Rupert and the Royalist fleet to the West Indies on their flight from Blake, during the interregnum. They had called at the Gambia where Rupert sailed up the river and brought back intelligence of mountains of gold.

This no doubt influenced the Royal Family to send a venture to parts of Africa and as Sam says...

"This day I heard the Duke speak of a great design that he and my Lord of Pembroke have, and a great many others, of sending a venture to some parts of Africa to dig for gold ore there. They intend to admit as many as will venture their money, and so make themselves a company. 250l. is the lowest share for every man. But I do not find that my Lord do much like it."…

The King supplied five ships in exchange for a promise embedded in the Companies Charter that the King should receive two thirds of "all gold mines which shall be seized, possessed and wrought in the parts of the place aforesaid."

The Companies affairs were managed by a committee of six, including Coventry. Holmes had general instructions to afford the Company's factors all assistance in promoting their trade and safe delivery of the Company's cargoes and the materials to build a fort. He also had private instructions to go to the mines up the Gambia River..."and the boats are to be brought down full of Gold or the richest sands."

Holmes sailed in January 1661, and according to Dutch sources, on reaching Cape Verde he told the Governor that the King of England claimed exclusive rights to trade between Cape Verde and the Cape of Good Hope, and that all Dutch forts were to be evacuated within a few months. Holmes did not log this event.

The mouth of the Gambia River was protected by an island called Dog Island, and within three days of arrival Holmes renamed it as Charles Island and decided that it was a suitable place to build a fort. He also took the fort of St Andreas located up the river near Jillifri from the Dutch, on the pretext that they had fired on a frigate and would not let her water at the Island. The island was renamed as James Island, and would provide matter for much diplomatic negotiation over the next decade. (Twelve years later Holmes was to say that "it was a little fort with two men and a dog in it", one of the earliest instances of the phrase.)

Holmes arrived back at the Downs in July. The venture had cost £4,000 and the hides, wax and ivory brought back worth £1,600. For exceeding his authority he was deprived of his pay, but for someone who lived a fashionable life and brought back the exotic baboon, he probably made room for more negotiable cargo.…

The States-General in Holland vigorously protested, and retaliation was taken against English ships on the West Coast of Africa. Charles disavowed the High claims of Holmes to the Governor of Cape Verde.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

HOLMES, Sir Robert,—commanded the Bramble at the time of the restoration, and was, in the course of the same year, successively appointed to the Truelove and the Henrietta. In the year 1661, he was promoted to the Charles, and sent, as commodore of a small squadron consisting of four frigates, to the coast of Africa to make reprisals on the Dutch, who refused to make good their treaty they had entered into with the English; and had, in other instances, been guilty of great enormities, particularly in that part of the world, where they had, contrary to all the laws of nations, and existing treaties, possessed themselves of Cape Corse Castle by force. Major Holmes, as he was then called, had, on this occasion, the singular honour of being permitted to wear the union flag at his main-top-mast head, which is now the distinguishing mark of the commander-in-chief of the fleet. Having achieved all that was possible with his very limited force, and dispossessed the Dutch from several of their forts, he returned home; and was, in the next year, (1662) appointed to command the Reserve, a fourth rate of forty-eight guns. In the year 1663 he was removed into the Jersey of the same rate, carrying fifty guns, and sent, a second time, to the coast of Africa for the express purpose of reducing Cape Corse Castle. Having, in his passage, possessed himself of sufficient authentic documents of the hostile and treacherous intentions of the Dutch, he resolved, with the greatest patriotism, (inasmuch as he risked incurring popular censure by exceeding his orders) to punish their infamous conduct. With this intention, having arrived the latter end of January at the Cape de Verde, he proceeded to attack the island of Goree, which, though strongly fortified and resolutely defended, he took in the course of a few hours. Elevated by this so much merited success, he next attacked the fort of St. George Del Mina, the strongest fort in that part of the world possessed by the Dutch. Here his former good fortune failed him, though without the smallest neglect, or defect, on the part of sir Robert, or his people, either in point of courage, or prudence. In recompense, however, for his failure in this instance, Fortune aided him almost to a miracle in his next, which was the reduction of Cape Corse Castle. Having achieved this exploit he sailed for North America, where, in conjunction with sir Robert Carr, he reduced the island of New York.
---Biographia Navalis. J. Charnock, 1794.

Bill  •  Link

This biography, reprinted in 2001, should be very interesting reading!

Richard Ollard. Man of war: Sir Robert Holmes and the Restoration Navy. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1969.

One might remember Sir Robert Holmes as a rival of Samuel Pepys, who tended to make appearances as a villain in the navy man's Diary, but the often-overlooked Holmes had a distinguished naval career of his own. Adventurous, energetic, combative, and unscrupulous, Robert Holmes first attracted the attention of Prince Rupert as a young cavalry officer in England's Civil War. As a Royalist exile, he accompanied the Prince into French service and on a cruise to West Africa and the West Indies. After the Restoration, Holmes directed perhaps the most successful single feat of arms of the century, as he destroyed a great part of the Dutch merchant marine at the cost of barely a dozen casualties. For 30 years he intrigued, maneuvered, and quarreled with Pepys over naval matters, until the pair finally managed a mutual respect for their combined contributions to English naval superiority. Holmes makes a marvelous subject for Richard Ollard's thorough, skillfully constructed and unswervingly entertaining story.

Bill  •  Link

HOLMES, Sir ROBERT(1622-1692), admiral; served under Prince Rupert in civil war; governor of Sandown Castle, 1660; seized Dutch possessions on Guinea coast and in North America, 1664; captain of the Revenge at battle of Lowestoft, 1665; knighted, 1666; rear-admiral of the red, 1666; distinguished in fight of 1-4 June, 1666; fought duel with Sir Jeremiah Smith or Smyth arising out of his conduct in fight of 25 July, 1666; destroyed shipping and stores at Vlie and Schelling; admiral at Portsmouth, 1667; one of Buckingham's seconds in duel with Shrewsbury; governor of Isle of Wight, 1669; attacked Dutch Smyrna fleet in Channel, 1672; took part in battle of Solebay, 1672; M.P., Winchester, Yarmouth (Isle of Wight), and Newport.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Bill  •  Link

Sir Robert Holmes, first an Irish livery boy, then a highwayman, now Bashaw of the Isle of Wight, got in boones, and by rapine 100000l. The cursed beginner of the two Dutch wars.
---A Seasonable Argument. Andrew Marvell, 1677.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

' . . Holmes's command of the Jersey was also notable for its trial of two sea-going pendulum clocks, . . in search of a solution to the ‘longitude problem’. On his return, Holmes considerably overplayed the usefulness and accuracy of the clocks, though the voyage does represent the first sea trial of devices successfully developed in the following century . .

Holmes's (reputation) suffered . . , primarily because of his clashes with Pepys and his reputation as the begetter of two wars . . (He was) Undoubtedly brave and passionately loyal to his monarchs, despite propensities for quarrelling, exceeding orders, and self-aggrandizement . . ‘

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