A Blupete Biography Page

Charles Knowles

I know little of his early life, other than he was the son of an Earl.1. Charles Knowles was to become a British naval officer. I see where he first shows up in the navy records as being promoted to lieutenant, in 1730; a Commander, in 1732; and made a captain of a British naval war ship, in 1737. He went on, later in his career, to become a admiral.

Knowles had been a captain of various naval war ships for seven years, when, in the fall of 1744, having in his command a very impressive British man-of-war, the 60 gun Superbe, set sail from England for Antigua, West Indies, there to join Commodore Peter Warren's fleet. Warren, coming from New York, had arrived in the Launceston, a vessel of 250 men and 40 guns. Now, as we see from a footnote to our story, Warren was to pull rank and take the Superbe for himself and sail off with two others for service at Louisbourg in the early spring of 1745. It was a move which caused much rancour, and one which I don't believe Knowles was ever to forget and forgive.

Though Knowles longed for a sea command, he, nonetheless, was appointed by the British high command to take over from Warren as Louisbourg's governor in the spring of 1746. When Knowles arrived at Louisbourg, on May 23rd, to take over from Warren, he wrote a letter to the Duke of Newcastle and wrote, among other things, that he found Louisbourg in a "confused, dirty, beastly condition." Further -- seemingly always foul in his comments -- he wrote, "everyone I found here, from the general [Pepperrell] down to the corporals, were sellers of rum. Such a quantity of it had been introduced that, had not I put a stop to it, the king's troops must soon have followed their fate of last year [there was to be much sickness that first winter, 1745/56, at Louisbourg]. Though I deprived all the settlers of their licenses and secured 64,000 gallons of rum in the citadel Casemates, yet for some weeks there were seldom less than a thousand men drunk a day."

Knowles was most unhappy while at Louisbourg; and, it seems almost to keep him quiet, he was appointed, in July of 1747, a rear-admiral of the white. But, he was to get that which he most wished for, when, on November, 30th, 1747, he was relieved of his duties at Louisbourg and given a sea command. Soon, thereafter, on the 12th of May, 1748, Knowles was to receive a further promotion as rear-admiral of the red. In October of that year, in 1748, Knowles was to fight a sea battle with a Spanish squadron off of Havana; but, the "action was badly mismanaged" and he was brought back to England to face a court marshall. The result was that he was to receive a "reprimand for the poor tactics he employed." Thus, in 1749, Knowles was sent off to a land command; he was to be the Governor of Jamaica, 1749-52. It was during this period that Knowles was to take a second wife. In 1750, he married Maria Magdalena Therese de Bouget.2

I am not sure what became of Knowles after he was relieved of his command at Jamaica in 1752, he had to make Jamaica a home base for awhile, as, it was there that his son was born in 1754. I note, that he was made a vice-admiral of the blue in 1755 and of the white in 1756.

In 1757, the English, in the midst of the Seven Years War (1756-63) with France, made a landing on the French shore at Rochefort. The sea arm of the Rochefort Expedition was lead by Admiral Edward Hawke (1705-81); Knowles (made a vice-admiral of the red for the occasion) was to be the second in command. The raid on Rochefort was a military flop, and, while it would not appear that Knowles was officially sanctioned, thereafter, Knowles was to never again to have a sea command.

It just seems, that during wartime -- and England was to have two wars with France through the years 1744 to 1763 -- career military men catch an updraft when it comes to promotions which is just not there during a time of peace. Knowles was of the right age and in the right service; and, thus, he was to arrive at the top in 1758 when he was made a full admiral. He was to never, however, to match the likes of a Anson, nor of a Boscawen, nor of a Warren. He never did exhibit any dash in a sea battle; though, as is evidenced by his continuing promotion, he was liked by those in charge at the admiralty. In 1765, Charles Knowles was created a baronet and knighted by his king.

Knowles was obviously a capable officer but he was ever ready for a quarrel. He had a penchant for getting himself into trouble, as for example, that time in Boston, in 1747, when, by impressing men, he triggered off a memorable riot. He was litigious. He carried, successfully, a law suit against Capt. James Gambier for carrying on an affair with his wife, Maria Magdalena. He also, at different points in time, I think, sued, in liable, both Tobias Smollett and a Dr. William Douglas of Boston.

In 1770, Knowles was to top off his career by being appointed admiral of the white. In that year, interestingly, the 66 year old Knowles resigned the British navy and accepted an appointment made by Catherine of Russia to lead her navy in the war against Turkey. He continued on and served the Russians until 1774, when, presumably, he retired to England. He died, in 1777, at the age of 73.3


[1] One of my correspondents wrote: "Sir Charles Knowles was the 1st Baronett of Banbury and legal son of Sir Charles Knollys Earl of Banbury. He was a descendent of the Statthalter of the Netherlands, Sir Thomas Knowles."

[2] Knowles' first wife was Mary, the daughter of John Alleyne of Barbados. On July 29th, 1750, Knowles married Maria Magdalena Therese de Bouget. Maria Magdalena was but seventeen; Knowles was forty-six. A daughter was born to them on November 20, 1752, at Kingston, Anna Charlotte Christina Knowles. Again, at Kingston, a son was born, Charles, jr. (1754-1828). Charles, jr., was to have just as an illustrious career in the Royal navy as his father did; both, in their respective times, were to be knighted by their sovereign.

[3] The material for this short sketch was obtained from: the biographical material found in The Royal Navy and North America (London: Navy Records Society, Vol. 118, 1973) at p. 433; The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy: 1660-1815 (London: Navy Records Society, Vol. 132, 1994); The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea (O.U.P., 1976).


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)