Skeffington Lutwidge (1737-1814)

Skeffington Lutwidge

Written by Rebecca Moreton and Rob David

Occupations: Explorer and Naval Officer
Location: Holmrook

Skeffington Lutwidge of Holmrook Hall.  The tenth and youngest child of Thomas Lutwidge (1670-1745), merchant of Whitehaven, and his second wife Lucy Hoghton (d1780), youngest daughter of Sir Henry Hoghton 4th Bt. (c1644-1710) of Hoghton Tower by Mary his wife, eldest daughter of John Skeffington, 2nd Viscount Massereene of the Irish peerage. Thomas Lutwidge had wide-ranging trading interests at Whitehaven including trade with Africa and the West Indies.  Skeffington Lutwidge’s eldest brother, Charles Lutwidge (1722-1784), Surveyor and Comptroller General of the coasts of Cumberland and Westmorland, purchased Holmrook Hall and the manors of Seascale and Bolton in 1759.  Skeffington Lutwidge purchased Holmrook Hall from his nephew, Major Charles Lutwidge (1768-1848) who had inherited from his father Henry Lutwidge (1724-1798), younger brother of Charles Lutwidge. 

Lutwidge’s naval career began in 1759 at the age of 22 when he was appointed Acting Lieutenant aboard HMS Echo.  His first command came in 1763 when he was promoted to Lieutenant and Commanding Officer of HMS Cholmondeley.  From April 1763 to June 1766 he saw service in the Irish Sea area and visited the port of Whitehaven on a number of occasions.  Lutwidge was promoted to Commander in January 1771 and served under Horatio Nelson’s uncle Captain Maurice Suckling (1725-1778) on HMS Raisonnable. In June 1771 Lutwidge recommissioned HMS Sloop Carcass. 

By 1773 Lutwidge was commanding Carcass in the Irish Sea when he was appointed second-in-command to Captain John Constantine Phipps, 2nd Baron Mulgrave (1744-1792) on a voyage to ‘try how far navigation was possible towards the North Pole’.  The voyage was supported by the Admiralty and the Royal Society and had both geographical and scientific aims.  Phipps sailed on H.M. Sloop Racehorse.  Once strengthened and victualled, the two vessels departed the Nore on 4 June 1773 and sailed north and reached Spitsbergen (Svalbard) on 5 July.  By 9 July the ships were at Fairhaven in north-west Spitsbergen where scientific studies were undertaken.  From 19 July to the end of August the vessels were north of Spitsbergen seeking a route through the ice in order to reach the imagined ‘open polar sea’ and the North Pole.  During that time the expedition reached the furthest north of 80° 48’ N.  In early August they were trapped in pack ice.  On 4 August according to almost every biographer of Nelson, including Robert Southey writing at Greta Hall in Keswick in 1819, Midshipman Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and the coxswain from Carcass were confronted by a polar bear while out on the ice.  The bear was frightened off by a cannon being fired from Carcass.  This event was the subject of a painting by the artist Robert Westall in c1806 in which Nelson is shown single-handedly attacking the bear with the butt of his rifle, at the same time as the cannon was fired.   Interestingly Lutwidge’s journal does not mention this event, and Nelson never mentioned it, so perhaps it did not take place.  Whether it did or not visitors to the Museum of the Kendal Literary and Scientific Society during the 1870s were shown the ‘skin of a bear, said to have been killed by Lord Nelson, when a midshipman’.  Once the ice moved and freed the ships both vessels returned to England in mid-September.  The expedition had shown that it was impossible to sail to the North Pole, and in October it was being reported ‘that the Government will not fit out any more vessels on these northern expeditions’.  Phipps had conducted scientific research of some significance.  Lutwidge was promoted captain on his return, seeing service at that new rank aboard HMS Success from October 1773 to August 1775.

In 1776 Lutwidge was in command of HMS Triton and sailed for Canada in company with transports taking reinforcements for the British army in Quebec, then fighting in the American War of Independence.  After action in Canada and some successes, he returned to England in 1778.  Lutwidge remained with Triton in the English Channel and in the western Atlantic until 1780.  In that year Lutwidge took command of HMS Yarmouth bringing prisoners from America to England.  From 1781-1783 he commanded HMS Perseverance in the western Atlantic.  Between 1786 and 1796 he had a number of commands initially in the English Channel and later in the Mediterranean, In 1794 he was promoted Rear Admiral and in 1796 Vice Admiral, and following the mutiny at the Nore in 1797, Lutwidge was appointed commander in chief of the Nore, and was responsible for the trial of the mutineers.  Although punishments included hanging and imprisonment Lutwidge appears to have veered on the side of leniency In 1799 he was transferred to the Downs station and promoted Admiral in 1801, and from which post he retired in 1802.    In 1810 he was further promoted to Admiral of the Red, a senior post amongst those of admiral rank.  

Lutwidge married Catherine Bateson at St Mary’s, Marylebone on 10 June 1789.   She predeceased him in 1810, and  Lutwidge died without issue on 15 August 1814.   The Lancaster Gazette, in its announcement of his death, described him as ‘the first naval preceptor of Lord Nelson, and was in every public station, beloved and esteemed by those under his command, as he was in private life by all who knew him’. He bequeathed the Holmrook estate to his nephew Major Skeffington Lutwidge DL (1779-1854) who served with distinction in India.  The Lutwidge family did not continue to live at Holmrook, and the house was rented out, and eventually demolished in 1956.  Skeffington Lutwidge was buried in Irton Church, where there is a memorial plaque to him in the north aisle.  The only event in his career specifically mentioned on the plaque is his ‘Voyage of Discovery towards the North Pole’.  

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), ‘Lewis Carroll’, the celebrated writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was Skeffington Lutwidge’s great-nephew.  

Sources: John Constantine Phipps, A voyage towards the North Pole undertaken by His Majesty’s Command, 1773, (London 1774); C. Roy Huddleston and R.S. Boumphrey, Cumberland Families and Heraldry, (Kendal 1978); Northward Ho! A Voyage towards the North Pole, (Catalogue to the exhibition at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Whitby, 2010); Rob David, In Search of Arctic Wonders: Cumbria and the Arctic in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (Kendal, 2013); J. Sugden, Nelson: A Dream of Glory, (New York 2004); R. Winfield, British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714-1792, (Barnsley 2007); TNA: ADM55/12; Lancaster Gazette, 27 August 1814.