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Francis Drake, diplomat: 1792-3.

Francis was born in 1764 to the Vicar of Seaton and Beer, also called Francis, and his wife, and had two brothers and one sister. He returned to England from Genoa in 1795 to get married, and went on to have two sons and three daughters. His elder son, another Francis, was given two further Christian names, Horatio and Nelson, to show his admiration of the Admiral. The family had several addresses in England, but settled for a time in Wells, and then at the family home at Yardbury, Colyton.

Watercolour view of Ashe house, Musbury, 'ancient seat of the Drakes', by the Revd. John Swete, from Picturesque Sketches of Devon, 13 February 1795.
Watercolour view of Ashe house, Musbury, 'ancient seat of the Drakes', by the Revd. John Swete, from Picturesque Sketches of Devon, 13 February 1795.

The year 1792 sees Francis Drake as British Chargé d’affaires in Copenhagen, but shortly to move to Venice and then Genoa. He is succeeded at Copenhagen by a Mr Hailes from Warsaw who writes a chatty letter to Drake about his new post and its perplexities.(1700M/CP 146)

A chatty letter from Mr Hailes who has succeeded Francis Drake as Chargé d’Affaires in Copenhagen.


In July 1793 Drake receives from the Foreign Secretary his instructions on his new appointment as envoy to Genoa, and the necessary ciphers so he can send messages back to London in a code no one else can read.

He is to be a vital source of intelligence on the French revolutionary government, and to watch other factions in France. He is also to keep a vigilant eye on any moves by the French to overturn the present rulers at Genoa who are friendly to Britain. He has authority to spend secret service money on intelligence. (1700M/CP 159)

The Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville, writes to Drake giving him his instructions on his new appointment as envoy to Genoa.


The next month sees a dramatic swing of loyalty in the major French naval port of Toulon, nearly 200 miles to the west of Genoa. The local deputies decide they prefer to serve a King rather than the revolutionaries in Paris and put the city under the protection of the British Admiral Lord Hood, his fleet and troops from friendly countries, e.g. Spain and Sicily.

View of Toulon, which came under British protection for four months in 1793, from volume II of the Naval Chronicle
View of Toulon, which came under British protection for four months in 1793, from volume II of The Naval Chronicle.
Image reproduced courtesy of the Westcountry Studies Library.

Drake receives a letter from his colleague in Madrid commenting that the surrender of Toulon has opened a new and most important scene in his part of the world, and will furnish ample material for his letters to London. (1700M/CP 169)

Drake's colleague in Madrid writes that 'the surrender of Toulon has opened a new and most important scene in your part of the world, and will no doubt furnish ample materials for your letters'.


This is followed shortly by a letter from Sir William Hamilton in Naples telling Drake that Captain Nelson has arrived there seeking reinforcements for Toulon, that 4,000 troops are on their way, and 2,000 more will be sent. (1700M/CP 172)

A letter from Sir William Hamilton in Naples telling Drake that Captain Nelson has arrived there seeking reinforcements for Toulon, that 4,000 troops are on their way, and 2,000 more will be sent.


Sir William is constantly reminding Drake how much the Court at Naples is backing Britain, and he adds an interesting comment on the financial help available to Lord Hood. The extract below includes a paragraph about Captain Sutton in the Romulus procuring money for Lord Hood's bills. (1700M/CP 172)

This letter from Sir William Hamilton includes a paragraph about Captain Sutton in the Romulus procuring money for Lord Hood's bills.


Early in October Drake learns that the steps he has taken to cut off supplies of corn from Genoa to France and to send food to the Allied forces in Toulon had been noted with approval by the King in London. He is advised to use strong language if necessary with the Genoese to ensure they do not supply the King's enemies. (1700M/CP 176)

Early in October Drake learns that the steps he has taken to cut off supplies of corn from Genoa to France and to send food to the Allied forces in Toulon had been noted with approval by the King in London. Drake is advised to use strong language if necessary with the Genoese to ensure they do not supply the King's enemies.

Visit the next episode in the Drake of Colyton papers, Francis Drake, diplomat: 1793 ~ 1794.


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