Thomas Hopsonn

Thomas Hopsonn

Sir Thomas Hopsonn (1642-1717) was born in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, England in 1642.Orphaned at an early age he was fostered and apprenticed as a tailor in nearby Niton.As a young man he and children of the village sighted the fleet passing to the south of the Island and ran down to the sea to wave at it from Puckaster Cove. Hopsonn, however, took a rowing boat and literally ran away to sea to join the Navy in about 1662.Shortly afterwards he distinguished himself in a battle with the French by creeping unnoticed to the stern and pulling down a French ensign causing the surrender of the enemy ship. On account of this he became an officer and rose through the ranks to Vice Admiral, being nicknamed "Snips".

The National Maritime Museum has an Algerian sword or nimcha which Hopsonn took from a Barbary Corsair slaver in 1676 when First Lieutenant of HMS Dragon, having led a boarding party in which he wrenched the weapon from his assailant and ran him through with it. He commanded HMS "York" at the Battle of Solebay (1672) and HMS "St Michael" at the Battle of Barfleur(1690).

Distinguishing himself at the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690, his moment of fame came in 1702 at the Battle of Vigo Bay. The British/Dutch commanded by Sir George Rooke pursued a Franco-Spanish fleet carrying silver from South America. The French and Spanish blocked the entrance by a boom formed of ship's masts chained together overlooked by forts. Hopsonn commanded the Red Squadron in his flagship HMS "Torbay" and Rooke detailed him to ram the boom and break it. The Torbay did so under heavy fire and was attacked by a fireship. The fireship was a commandeered merchantman carrying snuff. However the smoke from the snuff doused the fire and the "Torbay" broke through. The rest of the fleet followed and the Franco-Spanish fleet were heavily defeated. The French and Spanish lost 34 ships, throwing much of the silver overboard. Nevertheless the action proved highly profitable for Rooke's fleet. The "Torbay" in particular took the cargo of snuff as a prize and sold it in London, which is credited with the introduction, or at least popularisation of snuff-taking in England.

Hopsonn returned to the Isle of Wight to sit as one of its Members of Parliament for Newtown. It is said that when he returned to his foster parents they would not believe who he was, until he sang a nursery song they had taught him as a child.

He was knighted by Queen Anne.

Literary References

Hopsonn is given as an example in Self-Help (book) by Samuel Smiles.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Diamond Coast by Ian Williams (Dovecote Press)

Probert Encyclopaedia

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