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HUGHES, Sir RICHARD, naval officer, office holder, and colonial administrator; b. c. 1729, probably in Deptford (London), England, eldest son of Richard Hughes of the Royal Navy and Joanne Collyer; m. Jane Sloane, and they had three sons (all of whom predeceased him) and two daughters; d. 5 Jan. 1812 in East Bergholt, England.

Richard Hughes entered the Portsmouth Naval Academy in 1739 and three years later joined the Feversham, commanded by his father. On 2 April 1745 he was promoted lieutenant of the Stirling Castle. In 1752 he went to the West Indies on the Advice. While there he lost the sight in his left eye when he accidentally pierced it with a table fork in trying to kill a cockroach. During the next 25 years he served in various places, including the East Indies and the Mediterranean.

In 1778 Hughes was appointed resident commissioner of the Halifax dockyard; on 12 March of the same year he became lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, succeeding Mariot Arbuthnot*, but he was not sworn into office until 17 August. When he was replaced as lieutenant governor on 31 July 1781 by Sir Andrew Snape Hamond he returned to Europe. On 23 Sept. 1780 he had succeeded his father as second baronet; the honour had been conferred upon the senior Hughes in 1773 on the occasion of George III’s visit to Portsmouth, where he was commissioner of the dockyard.

During his period as lieutenant governor, Hughes’s chief concern, as Arbuthnot’s had been, was the protection of the province. Halifax was an important port and supply depot for the British forces in North America, and constant rumours of a French attack kept Hughes and the military commanders, among them Francis McLean*, on the alert. The strengthening of the defences was naturally of considerable importance, and as a result of pressure from the home government Hughes persuaded the House of Assembly in 1779 to raise £5,000 for provincial defence by a series of new taxes. The depredations of American privateers [see Simeon Perkins] forced him to maintain a small armed vessel to prevent their attacks on settlements and trading vessels. He also had blockhouses constructed at various points along the coast, and in 1779 he unsuccessfully applied for permission to equip two small vessels to protect the Canso fishery. Hughes supported the efforts of Michael Francklin*, superintendent of Indian affairs, to obtain supplies for the Micmacs and Malecites, and he ratified the treaty with the Indians concluded on 24 Sept. 1778 at Menagouèche (Saint John, N.B.) [see Nicholas Akomápis*]. Peace with the Indians enabled Hughes to carry out his favourite project of obtaining cargoes of masts from the Saint John River for the use of the Royal Navy [see William Davidson*].

Wartime brought other problems. In the winter of 1780–81 the Halifax grand jury and Court of Quarter Sessions protested against the navy’s impressment of seamen from Lunenburg, Liverpool, and Chester who had brought provisions and fuel to Halifax, and requested the lieutenant governor’s intervention. Hughes issued a proclamation on 22 Jan. 1781 reminding all that “impressing Men for the Kings Service, without permission of the Civil Authorities, is contrary to, and an Outrageous breach of Law.” This requirement caused trouble for Hughes some years later when he returned to Halifax as naval commander-in-chief. In July 1790 he applied to Lieutenant Governor John Parr* and the Council for permission to impress 70 men to replace deserters and discharged sailors. Their refusal forced him to undertake a recruiting campaign, whose expenses Henry Duncan, the naval commissioner, refused to pay and for which he was criticized by the Admiralty.

After his return to Europe in 1781, Hughes commanded a division in Lord Howe’s fleet at the relief of Gibraltar the following year, and at the conclusion of peace in 1783 he became commander-in-chief in the West Indies. One of his captains was Horatio Nelson, who drew his admiral’s attention to the fact that he did not have the legal power to suspend the navigation acts to allow trade with the United States, as Hughes had been persuaded to do by some merchants, and who also refused on legal grounds to obey the naval commissioner at Antigua whom Hughes had appointed. Nelson criticized Hughes for not living in “the style of a British admiral . . . he does not give himself that weight that I think an English admiral ought to do.”

On 10 April 1789 Hughes was appointed naval commander-in-chief for eastern British North America, but his flagship, Adamant, did not arrive in Halifax until August. At the time the navy had a particular responsibility for the enforcement of the navigation acts and the prevention of smuggling, and it was also expected to stop American ships from encroaching on the fishing grounds. Hughes’s squadron consisted of four to six ships, and in summer he cruised with some of them to St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, the St Lawrence, and Quebec, while the rest patrolled the fishing grounds. Because large warships ran the risk of being wrecked if they chased smugglers close to shore, Hughes obtained permission to buy three or four small vessels of shallow draught for this purpose. He was also allowed to send these schooners to Boston or New York to collect the mail from the royal packets in the winter, when they did not call at Halifax. He hoped thus to establish a winter mail service, since while he had been lieutenant governor he had become fully aware of “the great Interruption given to the Public Correspondence with this Station during the Winter Months.” However, his hope was disappointed when one schooner was driven by storms to the West Indies and another was caught in ice off Nantucket Island, Mass., for eight weeks.

While in Nova Scotia, Hughes was promoted vice-admiral of the blue on 21 Sept. 1790. On 13 April 1792 he was ordered by the Admiralty “to Strike [his] Flag,” and his squadron reached Spithead on 18 May. Though he saw no more active service, he continued to be promoted, reaching his highest rank, admiral of the red, on 9 Nov. 1805.

Phyllis R. Blakeley

PANS, RG 1, 45, docs.58–101; 346, doc.83. PRO, ADM 1/492; CO 217/54: ff.89–243; 217/55: ff.1–190. Gentlemans Magazine, January–June 1812: 91. F.-J. Audet, “Governors, lieutenant-governors, and administrators of Nova Scotia, 1604–1932” (typescript, n.d., copy at PANS), 179–81. Burkes peerage (1921), 1190. DNB. Brebner, Neutral Yankees (1969). W. L. Clowes, The Royal Navy; a history from the earliest times to the present (7v., London, 18971903). Murdoch, Hist. of N.S., vol.2: 591–619.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Phyllis R. Blakeley, “HUGHES, Sir RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hughes_richard_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hughes_richard_5E.html
Author of Article: Phyllis R. Blakeley
Title of Article: HUGHES, Sir RICHARD
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: November 22, 2014