All hands to a Court Martial (caricature)

The print refers to the indecisive Battle of Toulon in 1744 and its controversial aftermath. During the battle, the British Mediterranean fleet, under the command of Admiral Mathews, failed to prevent the French Toulon squadron escaping. Mathews laid the blame firmly at the door of his second in command, Admiral Lestock, who had called off the pursuit of the French fleet. Lestock disagreed, and stated that the signal for the line had been flying (rather than the signal to engage) which he saw as his primary duty to obey. The two admirals fought a war of words with each other in the national press, each distancing themselves from responsibility. A parliamentary enquiry took place between March and April 1745 that considered the conduct of the two men. Lestock stated he had followed his orders, while Mathews argued that Lestock had avoided an opportunity to fight.

The issue was seized upon by the public, and numerous prints, pamphlets and ballads were produced that discussed the battle, and the conduct of the two men. This early caricature refers to the confusion over the signal at the battle, while the text of the cartoon makes a specific mention of both Admirals and their respective character. Produced during the parliamentary enquiry, the print clearly favours Mathews’ argument: it refers to Mathews’ supposed rashness, but also that ‘He fought, whilst L-st--k, over nice, lay far aloof, and with a Sneer, Beheld the Fray in easy Chair’. While Mathews ‘shews he knows not fear’, Lestock ‘hobbles in his Rear’. Following the battle, a dozen other officers were court-martialled and cashiered; these are shown in the print being driven by the British seamen. One sailor threatens to ‘keel-haul ‘em all’, a reference to the popular disgust at the navy’s recent humiliation.

During the enquiry, Lestock’s cool and calm demeanour contrasted with Mathews more emotive and disordered testimony. Lestock was well-connected politically, and both Henry Fox and George Grenville spoke against Mathews. The Admiralty set-up a courts-martial for Lestock largely made up of political friends; he was unsurprisingly acquitted. His career was unaffected, and just two days after his acquittal he was promoted to admiral of the blue and given command of a large squadron. He led an attack on the French port of Lorient later that year. Despite the significant popular support he had received, Mathews was himself court-martialled, and controversially dismissed from service the following year.

Bound in an album with other naval caricatures.

Object Details

ID: PAG8516
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Date made: 26 Apr 1745; 26 Apr 1748
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 240 x 320 mm
Parts: Sailors in Caricature. Rowlandson, Woodward, Cruikshank, Williams, Heath, etc (Album)

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