Admiral William Croft
William Croft was born on 2nd April 1782 at the Croft's home at Bootham, son of Stephen Croft and his wife Frances, daughter of Samuel Clarke of Askham Bryan. On 14th April he was baptised at St Michael-Le-Belfrey, York.
Whilst the Squire of Stillington's son and heir Harry went for a soldier William joined the Royal Navy in 1795 aged thirteen. His first ship was the Amazon, a 36 gun frigate commanded by Captian Robert Carthew Reynolds.
Croft's first action was in January 1796 when the Amazon joined the Indefatigable under Captain Sir Edward Pellew* in the capture of two French ships L'Unite and La Virginie. Another joint action with the Indefatigable, a ten hour running battle with Les Droits de l’Homme during which three men were killed and fifteen wounded, caused the Amazon to run aground near L'Ile de Batz off the coast of Brittany.
Captured, Croft spent some months in French hands until his release in 1797 when he rejoined the navy with the rank of Midshipman.
Croft served as a midshipman on the Centaur under Captain, later Admiral, Markham. A lifelong friendship was forged between Croft and Markham during this time with Markham later using his influence to further Croft's career. During his time on the Centaur Croft saw action at the Capture of Minorca in 1798.
His next move, in 1801, was to the 80 gun Foudroyant, Nelson's former flagship, commanded by Lord Keith. Serving ashore in Egypt with a naval attachment later that year Croft was present at the capitulation of Alexandria.
With the Peace of 1803 Croft moved from the Mediterranean to serve on various ships witnessing the bombardment of Curacoa.
By April or May 1804 he was commanding his own ship, the brig Vigilante. He says in a letter to Markham, written at Stillington, that at first he turned down the post of Commander as he had suffered a very serious attack of yellow fever whilst sailing from the West Indies and the ship's surgeon had recommended complete rest.
On 26th March 1805 William married Harriet Plumer at Bilton in Ainsty. She was nineteen years old and daughter of Hall Plumer of Stockton Hall, and niece of Sir Thomas Plumer, Vice Chancellor of England and Master of the Rolls. They had eleven children, five sons and six daughters. Click here to find out more.
From February to September 1807 Croft commanded HMS Alacrity, an 18 gun brig-sloop built by William Row at Newcastle and launched the previous year. Croft was her first captain. She served in the Baltic seeing action during the events which led to bombardment of Copenhagen and the subsequent capture of the Danish fleet. This is a largely forgotten piece of British history, possibly because it is not one of Britain's finest hours!
By the time the British fleet had captured Copenhagen and the Danish fleet Croft had been relieved of command on his promotion to Post Captain.
From 1810 to 1813 he served as the regulating officer for Hull, after which time he was unable to find employment in the Navy becoming an officer on half pay. However, he still moved up the ranks achieving the rank of Rear-Admiral by 1841.
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* Pellew was fictionalised in the Hornblower series of books by C. S. Forester.