Skip to main content

Admiral Sir George Walton 1664?-1739

George Marsh in his diary (page 61) records, in May 1735, his first experiences at sea, which were spent with his father on board his Majesty's ship Nowark (HMS Newark) sailing from Chatham to Spithead, with the Admiral Sir George Walton's flag flying on board her.  The young George Marsh who was only 12 years old at the time got on very well with the Admiral and was taken everywhere with him.  The following year, 1736, the Admiral retired, his long career coming to and end just as the career of the young George Marsh was about to start. 

His portrait is now in the Maritime Museum at Greenwich
Please note that the copyright to this image is with the Maritime Museum and may not be reproduced without their permission.  The portrait is signed lower left 'B. Dandridge Pinx.' (Bartholomew Dandridge), and was probably painted 1734-39.


The following biography of the Admiral's life is taken from the book 'Naval Biography or The History and Lives of Distinguished Characters in The British Navy from the earliest period of history to the present time',  London 1805.
Volume 2, Page 242.  Please see below:

Sir George Walton

Few men have ever obtained greater celebrity, or rather publicity as naval officers, than this gentleman; not merely on account of his services, which, however, were certainly meritorious, and very highly entitling him to public regard and favour, but from a very extraordinary, and apparently trivial circumstance, that will be here after related, and which from the oddity and gallantry accompanying it, has caused him to be most honourably noticed by every historian, who has written the annuals of that period, in which he flourished.
There is little reason to suppose, but that he was descended from very humble and obscure stock, not that this observation ought, or can tend in the smallest degree to his prejudice, since we find him, in defiance of all obstacles, raising himself solely by his own merit, to the highest pinnacle of popular favour, and public attention.  The first account given of him as a naval officer, is, that in the year 1692, he was appointed first lieutenant of the Devonshire, of eighty guns.  It is supposed, indeed, that he previously obtained that rank,
Page 243
at a much earlier period, although from the uninteresting state of his employments, no preceding mention is made of him.  In 1695, he served as first lietenant of Resolution, a third rate, of seventy guns, one of the ships belonging to Sir Cloudely Shovell's division in the main fleet, and on the 19th of January 1697, was promoted to the station of captain in the navy, by commission appointing him to the command of the Seaford frigate.  This vessel having been ordered to be dismantled at the conclusion of the peace at Ryswic, Mr Walton entered into the employ of the merchants, and during one, or two voyages commanded a Smyrna trader, called the Delaware.  This species of occupation, however, being ill suited to the natural activity of his mind, he returned to his original branch of service, on the first prospect of the renewal of hostilities in the year 1699, and was appointed to the Seahorse, a small frigate, at that time employed on the Mediterranean station.  The political hemisphere growing still more dark, and the idea of war increasing rapidly in the course of the current, and the succeeding year, it was considered necessary to send out an armament of no mean force to the West Indies, under the orders of Mr Benbow.  The command of one of the ships which composed it, the Ruby, a fourth rate, of forty-eight guns, was bestowed on Mr Walton.  His conduct in that encounter, which took place between the English Squadron and Du Casse, and which proved so disgraceful to captains Kirby, Wade, and others, who were engaged in it, was most highly honourable; and owing to the great exertions which
Page 244
he personally made on that occasion, Mr Benbow was principally indebted for his preservation from captivity, and his rescue, for so it might be called, from the fangs of foe, who acquired every honour and advantage of victory, except that of having captured, or annihilated its opponent.
After his return to England in 1704, he was appointed to the Canterbury, the ship on board which, fourteen years afterwards, he justly acquired so much renown.  He continued in the same ship many years, principally, if not entirely, on the Mediterranean station; and in 1707, served under Sir Thomas Hardy, who was sent to Lisbon, as commander of a convoy, to a feet of two hundred sail, bound thither.  The circumstance of their having fallen in with a French squadron, consisting of six ships, and not having brought them to action, exposed Sir Thomas to much censure, and, as it appears, very undeservedly so, since, had he acted otherwise than he did, he must have left unprotected, at least for a considerable space of time, the valuable charge committed to his care; and the testimony of captain Walton on his behalf, has occasioned the remark singularly advantageous to his character, that the fair, and honourable sentiments he expressed in regard to his commander in chief's gallantry, and good conduct in that affair, which drew on him so much unmerited obloquy, not only tended to produce his legal acquittal, but also contributed exceedingly, to restore him to that degree of popular favour, which, to speak candidly, he never deserved to have forfeited.  How he continued to be employed
Page 245
from the period of the event just mentioned, till the year 1711, does not appear; most probably he was engaged in those annual expeditions which became so extremely uninteresting, from their constant repetition, and want of enterprise, although sent into the Mediterranean, where the principle part of the French naval force had long been concentrated.
At the time, however, that Sir Hovenden Walker was sent on the unfortunate expedition against Quebec, captain Walton commanded the Montague, of sixty guns, but though much blame was thrown on many of the officers, employed on that disastrous occasion, it is to be observed, that captain Walton enjoyed at least the negative satisfaction of escaping censure, although he was deprived by fortune, of that reward so truly grateful to all men possessing a temper, and turn of mind similar to his own, that of augmenting the splendour of his own character.  How, or what were the services, and occupations, in which he was engaged after this time, do not appear, till the year 1718, when he was captain of his former ship the Canterbury, one of those sent into the Mediterranean under Sir George Byng, on the approach of the rupture, which it was apprehended must inevitably take place between the courts of Great Britain, and Spain.  The account given by him to the commander in chief in respect to the conduct of himself and his detachment, when sent in pursuit of the rear-admiral Mari and his division, has occasioned gravity, and infused an unusual merriment into the style of the various authors who have recorded that
Page 246
event.  Mr Corbet, in his account of the expedition to Sicily, remarks: ''The captain was one whose natural talents were fitter for achieving a gallant action than describing one, yet his letter on this occasion carries with it such a strain of military eloquence, that it is well worth inserting.''  It was to the following purpose:
''Sir, Canterbury, off Syracuse, Aug. 16, 1718.
''We have taken and destroyed all the Spanish ships and vessels that were upon the coast, as per margin.
''I am, &c.
''George Walton.''
''To Sir George Byng,  Commander in Chief, &c.''
Generally notorious, however, as this piece of naval history may be, it would certainly be an act of injustice not to give a concise detail of it.  On the 11th of August, the British fleet, which had, during the preceding day and night, been in close pursuit of the Spaniards, having so considerably neared them, as to render an engagement unavoidable, the marquis de Mari, one of the rear-admirals, separated from the body of their fleet, and ran in for the Sicilian shore, with six ships of war, and all the galleys, store-ships, bomb-ketches, and fire-ships.  Captain Walton was immediately detached after them, with six ships of the line, by the commander in chief, who himself pursued the remainder, and soon began the attack.  The Argyle, which was the headmost ship of captain Walton's detachment, having got nearly close up with
Page 247
one of the Spanish ships of war, fired a shot across her, as is customary, to bring her to.  The enemy, taking notice of it, the Argyle fired a second, which was equally ineffectual; and the Canterbury, which was now approaching very near, firing a third, the engagement commenced with great spirit immediately, by the Spanish ship returning the fire with her stern chace.  The result is not only well known, but was, what was so concisely stated in captain Walton's dispatch.  His prizes, and the several operations previous to their capture, would, as it is remarked by Campbell, have furnished matter for some pages in a French relation, for from his marginal list referred to, it appeared he had captured four Spanish ships of war, one of them mounting sixty guns, commanded by rear-admiral Mari himself, one of fifty-four, one of forty, and one of  twenty-four guns, with a bomb vessel, and a ship laden with arms; and had burnt one ship of war, mounting fifty-four guns, two of forty, and one of thirty, a fire-ship, and a bomb-ketch.
His gallantry, on the preceding memorable occasion, procured him the honour of knighthood, immediately after his return to England, and many historical, as well as biographical writers, have asserted, that he was raised to the rank of a flag-officer at the same time, as a further statement is evidently erroneous; for he was not promoted to be rear-admiral of the blue till the month of February 1702-3, when his advancement became his natural and just right, according to the
Page 248
regular routine, and rules of the service.  He did not take upon him any command till the year 1726, when he was sent to the Baltic, under the orders of Sir Charles Wager, and having early in the ensuing year, been advanced to the rank of rear-admiral of the red, was dispatched in the month of October, with four ships of the line, to reinforce the squadron already stationed at Gibraltar, commanded by the same admiral, under whom he had served the preceding year.
The apparently hostile intentions of the Spanish court, had rendered the equipment of these armaments not merely prudent, but absolutely necessary; and Sir George was detached immediately after having joined Sir Charles Wager, to cruise off cape St Vincent, with a squadron, consisting of seven ships of the line, besides frigates, as well for the purpose of watching the operations of the apprehended enemy, as for that of attacking any small armaments which might attempt, as it was suspected would be the case, any desultory expeditions against North Britain in favour of the pretender.  The whole of the cruise passed over, however, without affording Sir George any opportunity of favouring the world, with a second specimen of his very concise method of describing a naval encounter; and he returned to England, after a truly uninteresting voyage, in the month of January 1727-8 (A few days before his arrival, he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue squadron; and on the intelligence of vice-admiral Hopson's death, reaching England in the month of July, Sir George was immediately promoted to the same rank in the white).  He was not called into service again till the year 1729, when
Page 49
he was appointed second in command of the fleet, placed under the orders of his old friend and colleague Sir Charles Wager; but, as its equipment was intended merely as a matter of precaution, that it might be in readiness for immediate service, in case the Spaniards should manifest any disposition of disturbing public tranquillity, the awe in which they were kept, and the consequent quietude which prevailed, prevented it from ever putting to sea.  The rest of the commands which he held, during his continuance in line of active service, require only the enumeration of the dates of their several appointments, since in consequence of the arrangement of those political disputes, which rendered the equipment of the different squadrons expedient, it does not appear that any of them quitted the British ports.  In 1731, he hoisted his flag as vice-admiral of the white, on board the Sutherland, of sixty guns, at Spithead.  On the 29th of June 1732, he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the red; as he afterwards was, on the 26th of February 1733-4, to be admiral of the blue squadron.  In the month of June following, he was appointed commander in chief of a naval force, consisting of thirteen ships of the line, which was ordered to rendezvous at the Nore; and after striking his flag, as quickly became the case, in consequence of all the vessels being ordered to be dismantled, and laid up, he quitted the line of active service altogether, having retired on a pension, than which, none was ever more justly bestowed, of six hundred pounds a year.  This reward, more valuable on account of the merit which procured it, than the mere
Page 250
pecuniary advantage it conferred, he enjoyed for the space of five years, having died some time in 1740, leaving behind a character which his contemporaries venerated and respected, and which all succeeding ages must contemplate with pleasure, and admiration.


Sir George Walton died 21 November 1739 aged 74 and unmarried. He was buried in the family's traditional resting place in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Little Burstead, Essex. He left 9,600 pounds in his will to be divided amongst his relations.

(George Marsh)  (Diary of George Marsh)