Constantine Phipps

Constantine John Phipps, 2nd Baron Mulgrave, PC (19 May 1744 – 10 October 1792) was an English explorer and officer in the Royal Navy. He served during the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence, seeing action in a number of battles and engagements. Inheriting a title, he also went on to have a successful career in parliament, and occupied a number of political offices during his later years.

Family and early life

Phipps was born on 19 May 1744, the eldest son of Constantine Phipps, 1st Baron Mulgrave and his wife, Lepell Phipps.[1] Phipps studied at Eton College with Joseph Banks.

Seven Years War

Main article: Great Britain in the Seven Years War
In January 1759 he joined the 70-gun HMS Monmouth as a cadet under his uncle Captain The Hon. A. J. Hervey during Hervey's 21-week watch on the French fleet in 1759. Phipps remained with his uncle on the latter’s appointment to the 74-gun HMS Dragon in 1761 and was present at the reduction of Martinique and St Lucia. His good service led to his promotion to lieutenant on 17 March 1762 by Sir George Rodney, and Phipps went on to serve in the battle of Havana.[1]
He was further promoted on 24 November 1763 to command the 12-gun sloop HMS Diligence, moving to the 24-gun sixth rate HMS Terpsichore on 20 June 1765.[1] In 1766 he sailed to Newfoundland as Lieutenant on HMS Niger. Banks accompanied him as ship's naturalist. From 1767 to 1768 Phipps commanded HMS Boreas in the English Channel.[1]

Political career and command

Phipps was elected to Parliament in the 1768 general election as Member for the constituency of Lincoln.[1] On 4 June 1773 Phipps set off from Deptford on a voyage towards the North Pole. He had two ships, the Racehorse and the Carcass. Phipps took with him Dr Irving as naturalist and doctor, and Israel Lyons (1739–1775) as astronomer. The Carcass was commanded by Skeffington Lutwidge, while one of her midshipmen was a young Horatio Nelson. They sailed beyond Svalbard to the Seven Islands, but were forced back by the ice and returned to Orfordness on 17 September. During the voyage Phipps was the first European to describe the Polar Bear and the Ivory Gull, which were included in his A Voyage towards the North Pole undertaken... 1773 (1774). Notably, the early descriptions of the characteristics of the polar bear in particular can be found in his voyage log book entries, dated 12th May 1773, and now kept in the British Library archives.

On 13 September 1775, he succeeded his father as Baron Mulgrave (Ireland). He became MP for Huntingdon in 1777, and was also appointed as one of the Lords of the Admiralty. Continuing an active naval career, he commissioned the 74-gun HMS Courageux in 1778, and played a leading role in the Battle of Ushant on 27 July that year. Phipps led the attack on the 90-gun Ville de Paris, but the indecisive nature of the engagement meant that the French ship was able to escape. Phipps returned to Britain and gave evidence at the subsequent court-martial, his evidence favouring Hugh Palliser.[1] The Courageux remained under his command until 1781, with Phipps serving mostly in the Channel under Admirals Charles Hardy, Francis Geary, George Darby and Richard Howe. On 4 January 1781 he captured the 32-gun French frigate Minerve in heavy weather off Brest. The Courageux was paid off at the end of the American War of Independence, and Phipps went ashore, never to serve at sea again.[1]

Later life

Phipps remained as MP for Huntingdon until 1784, when he became MP for Newark. In April that year he became Paymaster of the Forces and on 18 May he was appointed a commissioner for the affairs of India, and one of the Lords of 'Trade and Plantations', until being forced to resign in 1791 due to ill health.[1] He was created Baron Mulgrave in the Peerage of Great Britain in 1790, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries.[1] He once entertained his miners underground in the Blue John Caverns in Castleton, Derbyshire. The particular cavern where they all dined as his guests is now named after him.
He died at Liège on 10 October 1792.[1] The title of Baron Mulgrave in the British peerage then became extinct, though his brother Henry Phipps succeeded him in the Irish barony.
The standard author abbreviation Phipps is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name.[2]


1. "Phipps, Constantine John". Dictionary of National Biography. 1896. p. 231.
  "Author Query". International Plant Names Index.


Laughton, J. K. (1896). Leslie Stephen. ed. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 45. Oxford University Press.


Phipps,  Constantine John, second Baron Mulgrave in the peerage of Ireland and Baron Mulgrave in the peerage of Great Britain  (1744-1792), naval officer and politician, was born in London on 30 May 1744, the eldest son of Constantine Phipps (bap. 1722, d. 1775) and his wife, Lepell (1723-1780), daughter of John, first Lord Hervey. His father inherited substantial property, including Mulgrave Castle, Yorkshire, from the duke of Buckingham, and in 1766 was created Baron Mulgrave in the Irish peerage during his brother-in-law Lord Bristol's six-month tenure of the lord lieutenancy of Ireland. Phipps attended Eton College from 1755 to 1758, and in January 1759 went to sea with his uncle Captain the Hon. Augustus Hervey. On 17 March 1762, still with Hervey but by this time in the West Indies, he was promoted lieutenant by George Brydges Rodney. Four months later he was wounded in the bold attack which Hervey led on the Morro Castle at Havana. On 24 November 1763 he was promoted commander of the sloop Diligence, and on 20 June 1765 he became captain of the frigate Terpsichore. Next year he visited Newfoundland and Labrador with his old schoolfriend Joseph Banks the botanist. Already known for his scientific interests, Phipps was in 1773 appointed (by the Admiralty board, which included his uncle Augustus) to command the bomb vessels Racehorse and Carcass on an expedition to test the theory that in the open sea the Arctic Ocean might be largely free of ice, and offer a route to the Pacific. It did not, of course, and Phipps barely extricated his ships from the ice, but the expedition nevertheless marks an important stage in the progress from exploration to research, and most of his published report is taken up with detailed appendices on its scientific work.

As MP for Lincoln from 1768 to 1774 Phipps was prominent in opposition, but he was impressed by the experience of working on the Arctic expedition with Lord Sandwich, the first lord of the Admiralty, and in 1775 a political connection was formed between them through the good offices of their mutual friend Banks. In January 1776 Lord Mulgrave (as Phipps had become on his father's death the previous September) was elected to the Huntingdon seat vacated by the death of Sandwich's son, and in December 1777 he joined the Admiralty board. From then until the fall of the North ministry in April 1782 Mulgrave was the Admiralty's principal speaker in the Commons, and one of Sandwich's closest colleagues. 'How much I long for your return to town', Sandwich wrote in January 1779, 'and how lamely business goes on in your absence; when anything in which this office is concerned comes to be agitated in Parliament, I really know not what we shall do without your assistance'  (Mulgrave Castle MSS). As a speaker Mulgrave was solid rather than brilliant, but his obvious mastery of his subject seldom failed to convince even a hostile chamber, and he carried a heavy load of parliamentary business. Yet officers were not expected to abandon their sea careers because they sat in the Commons, or at the Admiralty. In 1776 Mulgrave took command of the line-of-battle ship Ardent, followed in the spring of 1778 by the Courageux, in which he distinguished himself at the battle of Ushant in July, and continued to serve throughout the war under Augustus Keppel, Sir Charles Hardy the younger, Sir Francis Geary, Robert Digby, and finally Lord Howe-successive commanders-in-chief of the Channel Fleet, each of whom (excepting the last) took their orders from the board of which he was an active member.

After the resignation of Sir Hugh Palliser in April 1779 Mulgrave was the leading naval member of the board, and Sandwich's principal adviser in all professional matters. The situation was a remarkable one, of which we are particularly well informed because so much of Mulgrave's Admiralty work had to be done by letter while he was at sea, and both he and Sandwich were methodical in keeping their correspondence. As a strategist he was the main architect of the December 1777 plan to abandon the American War of Independence as a sideshow and strike in the West Indies before the French could intervene, which might have changed the course of the war if the ministry had pursued it wholeheartedly. He was deeply involved in managing the crises of 1779 and 1781 when apparently overwhelming Franco-Spanish fleets entered the channel. In June 1781 he was himself named to command a large-scale raid on Flushing, which had to be cancelled at the last minute. By then he was elaborating the bold and perhaps foolhardy strategy which the North ministry adopted, and would have put into effect in 1782 had it not fallen, of moving the main fleet to the Caribbean and leaving only minimal forces to hold the channel and North Sea.

Although ejected from the Admiralty with Sandwich in March 1782, Mulgrave continued to serve at sea until the end of the war. He remained part of Sandwich's party until December 1783, but they differed over Charles James Fox's India Bill, and William Pitt was able to win him to the new administration. At the general election in April 1784 he was brought in for a government seat at Newark, and given the lucrative office of joint paymaster-general. In May he was appointed to both the Board of Trade and the Board of Control. He continued a minor but active member of the Pitt administration, and in May 1788, when Lord Chatham became first lord of the Admiralty, Mulgrave was considered for the post of controller of the navy. On 7 July 1790 he was made a peer of Great Britain as Baron Mulgrave, but in the following year he was compelled by ill health to resign his offices. Mulgrave had not married until 20 June 1787, his wife being Anne Elizabeth Cholmley (1769-1788), daughter of the Yorkshire gentleman and former MP Nathaniel Cholmley of Howsham. She died in childbirth the following year, leaving a daughter who was Mulgrave's only heir. He died at Liege on 10 October 1792, when his English barony became extinct, and his Irish title passed to his brother Henry. He was buried at Lythe, Yorkshire, on 29 October.

Mulgrave was not an original thinker; his conventional attitude to the rewards of office and influence caused the reforming Sandwich some embarrassment, and he vainly opposed the introduction of carronades, a new type of gun which played a significant part in the navy's recovery from the worst days of the American war. In his virtues, however, he was typical of Sandwich's naval followers; he was not showy or well known, but a thorough seaman with a deep knowledge of the navy, who built up the finest naval library in England and founded his political position on his professional mastery.

N. A. M. Rodger


Sources  DNB + Mulgrave Castle MSS + NMM, Sandwich MSS + N. A. M. Rodger, The insatiable earl: a life of John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich (1993) + I. R. Christie, 'Phipps, Hon. Constantine John', HoP, Commons, 1754-90 + The private papers of John, earl of Sandwich, ed. G. R. Barnes and J. H. Owen, 4 vols., Navy RS, 69, 71, 75, 78 (1932-8) + C. J. Phipps, A voyage towards the North Pole undertaken by His Majesty's command, 1773 (1774) + A. Savours, '"A very interesting point in geography": the 1773 Phipps expedition towards the north pole', Arctic, 37 (1984), 402-8 + Augustus Hervey's journal, ed. D. Erskine (1953) + TNA: PRO, ADM 32/114, SB 1332 + TNA: PRO, ADM 32/79, SB 652 + D. M. Stuart, Molly Lepell, Lady Hervey (1936) + J. H. Broomfield, 'Lord Sandwich at the admiralty board: politics and the British navy, 1771-1778', Mariner's Mirror, 51 (1965), 7-25 + GEC, Peerage

Archives BL, Arctic journal, Kings MS 224 + priv. coll., Mulgrave Castle MSS + Scott Polar RI, description of Arctic plants and animals | BL, corresp. with earl of Liverpool, Add. MSS 38213-38223; 38304-38309, 38472 + NMM, letters to Lord Sandwich + TNA: PRO, Admiralty MSS, ADM 32/114, SB1332

Likenesses  mezzotint, pubd 1774, BM · J. Reynolds, oils, 1777-9 (Society of Dilettanti), Brooks's Club, London · O. Humphry, oils, c.1779, NMM · J. Downham, watercolour drawing, 1782, NPG · line engraving, pubd 1782, NPG · T. Gainsborough, oils, c.1786, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC · by or after T. Gainsborough, Cincinnati Art Museum · J. Zoffany, group portrait (with five friends), Ickworth House, Port & Garden, Suffolk · attrib. J. Zoffany, NPG

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