DRAKE, FRANCIS WILLIAM, naval officer and governor of Newfoundland; d. 1788 or 1789.
Francis William Drake was a younger brother of Sir Francis Henry Drake, the last baronet in succession from Sir Francis Drake*. The date and place of his birth are not known, and in accounts of his life some details have been. interchanged with others concerning his younger brother, also a naval officer, who died about the same time. Before 1750 Drake commanded several ships. One of these, the Fowey, was wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in 1748, but Drake was exonerated by a court martial. He was appointed governor of Newfoundland in 1750, serving as de facto governor under Commodore George Brydges Rodney, the senior naval officer on the station, in 1750 and 1751, and succeeding to the full office in 1752.
The significance of Drake’s governorship lies in the establishment of criminal courts in Newfoundland; previously, persons accused of criminal offences had been transported to England for trial. Although the draft instructions of Governor Philip Vanbrugh in 1738 had contained provisions for establishing such courts, the provisions were later removed because of the parliamentary opposition of the West Country merchants, who feared any increase in the power of the naval governors would limit the authority of their own ships’ captains. The British government obtained legal advice which indicated that the creation of the courts would not contradict previous laws, however, and established courts of oyer and terminer in 1750. Drake was authorized to appoint commissioners, who would preside over regular trials by jury. He was also given the power to pardon all offenders except wilful murderers, to whom he could grant reprieves if the circumstances warranted. In the case of sentences involving “loss of life or limb” Drake had to report fully to the home government, submitting complete transcripts of court records in order that capital sentences might be allowed or disallowed by the crown. He was subsequently given authority to permit executions without recourse to the crown, except in cases involving officers and men of the navy or merchant marine.
Despite the fact that the courts sat only during the short period of the governor’s annual presence on the island, they were effective in curtailing the lawlessness prevalent in Newfoundland, particularly in St John’s. Drake was reluctant to pass sentences of death, however, and referred most if not all capital cases to England for review. It is not known whether this reluctance stemmed from his unfamiliarity with criminal law, or from a belief that the knowledge, rather than the example, of his power to execute was sufficient to deter potential criminals.
Drake was succeeded as governor in 1753 by Captain Hugh Bonfoy* and during the Seven Years’ War served on the American station and in the West Indies. In the American revolutionary war he held posts at the Downs and at Portsmouth, and in September 1780 he was promoted vice-admiral of the blue and appointed to command a squadron of the Channel fleet under Vice-Admiral George Darby. Severe attacks of gout limited his ability to command, however, and terminated his active career abruptly that year; he was nevertheless promoted vice-admiral of the red in September 1787. On 23 Jan. 1788 in Ripley he was married by special licence, because she was a minor, to the only daughter of George Onslow, for many years the member of parliament for Guildford. Drake died towards the end of that year or early in 1789.
Robert Beatson, Naval and military memoirs of Great Britain from 1727 to 1783 (2nd ed., 6v., London, 1804). Charnock, Biographia navalis, VI, 61. DNB (biography of Sir Francis Samuel Drake). R. G. Lounsbury, The British fishery at Newfoundland, 1634–1763 (New Haven, Conn., 1934; repr. New York, 1969), 275–76, 298, 300. A. H. McLintock, The establishment of constitutional government in Newfoundland, 1783–1832: a study of retarded colonisation (London and New York, ).