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Francis William Drake (baptized 22 August 1724 – 18 December 1788) born in Buckland Monachorum, Devon the third son of Anne Heathcote and Sir Francis Henry Drake. Francis William is often confused with his younger brother, also a naval officer whose death occurred around the same time. All four sons of Sir Francis Henry Drake have Francis as their first name, which further adds to the confusion of Francis William. The son’s names were, Francis Henry, Francis Duncombe, Francis William and Francis Samuel.
Not much is known of Francis William's early life. Drake joined the Royal Navy at an early age (about 8 or 10). He received the rank as Captain on 29 January 1748 at the early age of 23. That year he commanded HMS Fowey, part of the Royal Navy Atlantic fleet. As England and Spain were at war, upon sight of the Spanish vessel St. Judea he gave the orders to attack and eventually captured it with its 108 crew. HMS Fowey was shipwrecked at the Florida Keys while towing the St. Judea to Virginia. An Investigation was launched by the Admiralty, but all were exonerated on testimony that they were the victim of a strange current. Drake, in command of HMS Mercury, was one of Commodore George Brydges Rodney's senior officers and was sent into Conception and Trinity Bay's and as far north as Cape Bonavista where he had authority to hear appeals from decisions of fishing admirals and to enforce the various provisions of King William's Act of 1699.
In 1750 at the age of 26, Drake served as the de facto Governor of Newfoundland under Commodore Rodney, senior naval officer in 1750 and 1751, and was promoted to the full position in 1752.
Drake was instrumental in making reforms in the Newfoundland justice system in the way that prisoners were incarcerated and the requirement that people charged with criminal offences had to be transported to England for trial. The instructions given to Drake were to appoint judges and commissioners oyer and terminer to hear all criminal cases except treason. After returning to England Drake had suggested additional reforms urging that the provision forbidding the execution of those convicted of criminal offences be changed. He suggested that a secure prison be built in St. John’s as prisoners could easily escape or freeze to death while awaiting transport to England while incarcerated over the winter while the British cabinet determined their fate. Changes were granted including the right to execute prisoners found guilty of crimes.
Drake saw action in the West Indies during the Seven Years' War, also at The Downs and at Portsmouth, and saw action during the American Revolutionary War. He was promoted Rear-Admiral of the Blue in 1778 and Rear-Admiral of the Red in 1779, Vice-Admiral of the Blue in 1780 and appointed to command a squadron of the Channel fleet under Vice-Admiral George Darby. Severe attacks of gout limited his ability to command, however, and terminated his active career abruptly that year; he was nevertheless promoted Vice-Admiral of the Red in September 1787.
On 23 January 1788 in Ripley he was married by special licence, because she was a minor, to the only daughter of George Onslow, for many years the member of parliament for Guildford. From that relationship Drake fathered a son, Francis Henry Drake. Francis Henry in 1794 claimed succession to his uncle in the baronetcy but was unsuccessful because of doubts raised of his parents’ marriage.
George Brydges Rodney
|Governor of Newfoundland|