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LEE, FITZROY HENRY, officer in the Royal Navy, governor of Newfoundland; b. 2 Jan. 1698/99, probably at Ditchley, Oxfordshire, England, son of Sir Edward Henry Lee, 1st Earl of Lichfield, and Lady Charlotte Fitzroy, natural daughter of Charles II and the Duchess of Cleveland; d. 14 April 1750.
Fitzroy Henry Lee entered the Royal Navy as a volunteer in the Launceston in 1716 and was promoted lieutenant in 1722. Appointed captain of the Falkland in February 1734/35, he received a commission as governor of Newfoundland in May of that year, and carried out three tours as governor in the summer months of 1735, 1736, and 1737. In his reports to the Board of Trade he suggested that persons charged with capital offences should not be sent to England to stand trial, but that powers should be given to local authorities to try such cases. He also recommended that a vice-admiralty court be established at St John’s. Replying to an inquiry about Irish Catholic settlers, Lee seemed to have no complaints and reported that “the poor Irish papists were happy because they had no priests.”
After commanding the Pembroke on the Mediterreanean station from 1738 to 1742, Lee joined the Suffolk in 1746 as commodore of a small squadron in the West Indies. He was unpopular with his crew, and when many inhabitants of the islands complained of his drunkenness, incivility, and neglect of duty, he was relieved of his command. The council and assembly of Antigua complained further that the island’s trade was “almost ruined” by his negligence, but as no evidence was produced for these charges, Lee was not brought to trial. His promotion to rear-admiral was delayed, however, and though he was advanced to vice-admiral in 1748 he did not serve again at sea. He died of palsy.
Lee seems to have served well in Newfoundland, but gained a reputation as a “free liver” and “a man of debauched habits.” It has been suggested that Tobias Smollett, who may have heard of Lee while serving in the navy in the early 1740s, used him as the model for Commodore Trunnion in The adventures of Peregrine Pickle.
PRO, Adm. 1/305; CO 194/10, 195/7; CSP, Col., 1734–35, 1735–36, 1737; JTP, 1734/35–1741. Charnock, Biographia navalis, IV. DNB. G.B., Adm., Commissioned sea officers, 1660–1815. D. A. Baugh, British naval administration in the age of Walpole (Princeton, N.J., 1965), 101n, 134, 143, 143n. Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld.