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Kempenfelt, Richard

KEMPENFELT, RICHARD (1718-1782), British rear-admiral, was born at Westminster in 1718. His father, a Swede, is said to have been in the service of James II., and subsequently to have entered the British army. Richard Kempenfelt went into the navy, and saw his first service in the West Indies, taking part in the capture of Portobello. In 1746 he returned to England, and from that date to 1780, when he was made rear-admiral, saw active service in the East Indies with Sir George Pocock and in various quarters of the world. In 1781 he gained, with a vastly inferior force, a brilliant victory, fifty leagues south-west of Ushant, over the French fleet under De Guichen, capturing twenty prizes. In 1782 he hoisted his flag on the " Royal George," which formed part of the fleet under Lord Howe. In August this fleet was ordered to refit at top speed at Portsmouth, and proceed to the relief of Gibraltar. A leak having been located below the waterline of the " Royal George," the vessel was careened to allow of the defect being repaired. According to the version of the disaster favoured by the Admiralty, she was overturned by a breeze. But the general opinion of the navy was that the shifting of her weights was more than the old and rotten timbers of the " Royal George " could stand. A large piece of her bottom fell out, and she went down at once. It is estimated that not fewer than 800 persons went down with her, for besides the crew there were a large number of tradesmen, women and children on board. Kempenfelt, who was in his cabin, perished with the rest. Cowper's poem, the " Loss of the Royal George," commemorates this disaster. Kempenfelt effected radical alterations and improvements in the signalling system then existing in the British navy. A painting of the loss of the " Royal George " is in the Royal United Service Institution, London.

See Charnock's Biog. Nov., vi. 246, and Ralfe's Naval Biographies, i. 215.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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