Hobart Pasha - Blockade Runner

by Charles Priestley

Originally published in Crossfire No 91 (Dec 2009) as An American Civil War Grave in Turkey'

Even the keenest student of the American Civil War may be forgiven for being unaware that one of the greatest of the blockade-runner captains in that conflict lies buried on a Turkish hillside overlooking the Bosphorus.


American Civil War Round Table UK / Book Review / UK Heritage / Hobart Pasha

Augustus Charles Hobart, known to his Victorian contemporaries as Hobart Pasha, was born on 1 April 1822 at Walton-on-the-Wolds, Leicestershire, the third son of the Reverend Augustus Edward Hobart, Rector of St. Mary's Church and younger brother of the fifth Earl of Buckinghamshire. Some confusion has arisen over the family name of the future naval hero, which is usually given today as Hobart-Hampden. This is because his uncle, the fifth Earl, on inheriting the Buckinghamshire estates of the Hampden family in 1824, added their name to his own. However, although the Rector of St. Mary's succeeded to the title in 1849, he did not change his name until 1878. Augustus Charles, who died in 1886, was therefore a plain Hobart for all but the last eight years of his life.

The boy was sent to Dr. Mayo's famous school at Cheam, Surrey. He proved a most unpromising student, however, and in 1835, shortly before his thirteenth birthday, he abandoned his studies and joined HMS Rover at Devonport as a midshipman.

He spent the greater part of the next eight years on ships patrolling the coast of South America, as part of the Royal Navy's efforts in the suppression of the slave trade. In the course of this, while serving on HMS Dolphin, he managed to capture a Brazilian slaver and brought her in triumph into the harbour of Demerara as a prize. He also found time, while back in England between voyages, to pass his Navy examinations.

As a reward for gallant conduct, he was next appointed to the royal steam yacht Victoria and Albert, then commanded by Captain Lord Adolphus FitzClarence. By September, 1845, however, he was on duty in the Mediterranean as a lieutenant on board HMS Rattler, later transferring to the Bulldog, whose captain found him "full of zeal."

On the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, Hobart, now a first lieutenant, was still with the Bulldog, which formed part of the Baltic Squadron. For two weeks in August, he was in command of HMS Driver, taking part with her in the attacks on the Russian forts on the Finnish coast. For this he was mentioned in despatches, his "ability, zeal, and great exertion" being particularly commended. In 1855, he was serving on HMS Duke of Wellington, the flagship of Admiral R.S. Dundas and, with the French Bretagne, one of the most powerful warships at that time in the world. Commanding the mortar-boats in the unsuccessful attack on the great naval fortress of Sveaborg, outside Helsinki, he was again mentioned in despatches and promoted to commander.

After twenty years of almost continuous service at sea, Hobart spent the years 1855-1861 first as officer of the coastguard at Dingle, Co. Kerry, and then commanding the hulk HMS Hibernia, which served as Receiving Ship and Guard Ship for Malta. The latter part of 1861, however, found him back at sea again, commanding the gunboat HMS Foxhound in the Mediterranean. Promoted to captain in March, 1863, he was retired on half pay.

It is difficult, when examining the lives of some of the more colourful characters of the Victorian era, to separate fact from fiction, to decide what is history and what is legend. In the case of Augustus Charles Hobart, this is particularly challenging. His autobiography, Sketches from my Life, published posthumously in 1887, is full of good stories. The writer who reviewed it for The Edinburgh Review, however, having carefully examined all the relevant naval records, was able to show conclusively that Hobart, apart from confusing dates and places, had exaggerated some of his adventures, invented others and appropriated still others from brother-officers. (In justice to Hobart, it should be said that he wrote the book while suffering from the illness which eventually killed him, and that many of the events he was referring to had taken place forty or more years earlier).

Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence to show beyond any doubt that Hobart was a born naval commander, fearless and resourceful. Reference has already been made to his two mentions in despatches during the Crimean War. In its obituary of him, The Times asserted that his exploits both while running the blockade and while serving with the Ottoman Navy showed that "the English Navy can still produce men who may be named with Nelson's captains",' and he was described elsewhere as "a bold buccaneer of the Elizabethan period, who by some strange perverseness of fate was born into the Victorian." Indeed, Hobart would probably have been far happier as one of Elizabeth I's sea-dogs, given an independent command where he could best display his natural gifts, rather than having to follow the orders of others. Like Nathan Bedford Forrest, with whom he had a certain amount in common, he was not by nature a good subordinate, being impatient of what he saw as the unnecessarily cautious attitude of his superiors and unwilling to show respect to those who, in his opinion, had not earned it. At the same time, though, as his energetic restructuring of the Turkish fleet showed, he had organisational skills worthy of Braxton Bragg. It is interesting to note that he found his greatest opportunity to display his talents first in the American Civil War and then in the Ottoman Navy.

A man of Hobart's character was never likely to be satisfied with a quiet life ashore on half pay, and the Civil War in America had thus come at a providential time for him. Together with two or three other post-captains, then, he applied for command of a blockade-runner, adopting the pseudonym "Captain Roberts". A desire for adventure was undoubtedly a key factor in this, and Hobart must also have been aware of the great profits to be made from blockade-running. On the other hand,it seems clear that his sympathies were with the South; he refers to himself and a colleague as "stanch Southerners in our opinions", while according to The Times the war "provided him with the opportunity of showing his sympathy with the Confederate cause."

Seven of the thirty-one chapters of Hobart's autobiography deal with his blockade-running adventures. These were reprinted, virtually unchanged, from the account which he published, as "Captain Roberts", in 1867, entitled Never Caught. In contrast to the rest of his autobiographical writing, this was apparently judged by American authorities as "substantially accurate."

The summer of 1863 thus found him in command of the blockade-runner Don, in which he was to enjoy a number of successful runs into Wilmington. On 7 August that year, in a dispatch to the US Secretary of State, William H. Seward, the US Vice-Consul in Bermuda noted the arrival of "steamer Don from London with merchandize for merchants here, and also for rebel agents. "2 According to Hobart, this included "one thousand pairs of stays .... five hundred boxes of Cockle's pills, and a quantity of toothbrushes" which he had brought out on his own account; the rest of the vessel's cargo consisted of "blankets, shoes, Manchester goods of all sorts, and some mysterious cases marked "hardware," about which no one asked any questions, but which the military authorities took possession of." The following January, the US Consul, Charles Maxwell Allen, reported that "Steamer Don, Capt. Roberts, from Wilmington with 561 bales cotton, came in on the 14th. instant, screw boat 233 tons."' According to his own account, Hobart made a total of six round trips in and out of Wilmington in the Don, before handing her over to his First Officer, Fred Cory, and returning to England; she was captured on 4 March, 1864, by the USS Pequot while attempting the run into Wilmington from Nassau.

In an interview in January, 1893, with The New York Times, Captain Grosvenor Porter, formerly of the Confederate blockade-runner Phantom, claimed to have met Hobart in London after the war and to have been told by him that he had temporarily retired from blockade-running at this stage because his identity had been discovered.' This seems probable, since on 13 July, 1864, Allen, announcing to Seward the recent arrival at Bermuda of the Falcon, one of Alexander Collie's steamers, continued "She is commanded by a person who was formerly master of the Don, who then went by the name of Roberts. He is said to be an English naval officer, son of some nobleman, is an intimate friend of Governor Ord. If captured will try to pass himself off as a deck hand."5

As Allen's intelligence was usually extremely accurate, this, incidentally, further disproves the theory, still often repeated as fact today, that Hobart commanded the blockade-runner Condor, which left the Clyde on 16 August, 1864. It was, in fact, under the command of another Royal Navy officer, Captain (later Vice-Admiral) W. N. W. Hewett, VC, whose nom de guerre was Samuel Ridge, that the Condor, having reached the safety of the guns of Fort Fisher on her first run from Halifax, ran aground on 1 October, 1864, apparently while trying to avoid the wreckage of the blockade-runner Night Hawk .6 In the shadowy world of the blockaderunning captains, though, identities were frequently confused.

Hobart himself tells us that he "could not rest long in England... got the command of a new and very fast paddle-wheel vessel, and went out again." This vessel, he says, was "one of four built by R. and G., of Glasgow." This must refer to the Falcon, one of five, rather than four, vessels built on the Clyde for Alexander Collie by Randolph, Elder & Company.' Hobart tells us that he "made one successful round trip in the new vessel", landing 1140 bales of cotton at Bermuda, but that yellow fever broke out among the crew just as he was starting out again and he had to return to Halifax. Stricken with fever himself, he decided to give up blockade-running for good. In fact, the Falcon appears to have made two successful runs into Wilmington from Halifax and Nassau.8

Exactly how many times Hobart ran the blockade is unclear. The subtitle of Never Caught refers to "twelve successful trips", while others have claimed for him as many as eighteen. What is certain, however, is that he was both one of the most successful and one of the most daring of all the blockaderunning captains. In the New York Times interview referred to above, Captain Porter is quoted as saying that "Hobart's ship, the Don, took tremendous risks - greater, in fact, than was ever taken by any ship in the course of the war commanded by an Englishman," and that the Don "would run into a whole fleet of war ships apparently for the mere fun of it, and, what was more, usually get through in safety."

With the war in America over, it was not long before Hobart was looking for fresh challenges. These he now found in the East rather than the West. In the course of a tour of the Continent in 1867 he found himself, according to his own account "more by accident than design," in what was then still called Constantinople, Here he had an interview with Fuad Pasha, the Grand Vizier, to whom, apparently, he had letters of introduction. At this time Crete, still part of the Ottoman Empire, was in revolt, and Turkish efforts to bring the island into submission were frustrated by blockaderunners from Greece, operating with the active support of the Greek government. Hobart "accidentally hinted" to Fuad Pasha that he could see a way in which this blockade-running could be put a stop to and, as a result, was offered the post of Naval Adviser to the Sultan in succession to Sir Adolphus Slade, who had just retired. Given command of the fleet stationed off Crete, Hobart swiftly brought the island under Turkish control again by employing