Hardy was born on 5th April 1769 in Portisham, Dorset. He first entered the navy in 1781 on board the brig, HMS Helena. He remained with the ship for a short period after which, in 1782, he left the navy to attend school for three years. He joined the merchant navy for some years and in 1790, decided to rejoin the Royal Navy. His first appointment as midshipman was with HMS Hebe. He was later transferred to the sloop, HMS Tisphone, and followed the Captain, Anthony Hunt, when he was transferred to HMS Amphitrite in 1793.
In November of that year, he was promoted to Lieutenant and appointed to HMS Meleager. This ship was part of a squadron off the coast of Genoa under the command of Captain Horatio Nelson. In August 1796, Hardy transferred to HMS Minerve with Captain Cockburn. At the end of the year, Nelson transferred to the Minerve and hoisted his pennant. Dring an engagement with a Spanish frigate, the Sabina, Hardy, along with Lieutenant Culverhouse, was in charge of a boarding party sent to claim her as a prize after her capture. They managed to draw off the rest of the Spanish squadron, but the ship was later re-captured after one of her masts was destroyed and Hardy was taken prisoner along with the rest of the boarding party. He was later repatriated with the Minerve at Gibraltar after an exchange of prisoners, which included the captain of the Sabina. Captain Nelson was warm in praise of the actions of his lieutenants in this action.
Shortly after rejoining his ship, Hardy was nearly captured again by the Spanish when he jumped overboard to save a seaman who was drowning after falling out of one of the boats. The current had carried them towards the lead ship of the Spanish squadron in the Gibraltar Straits. Nelson took instant action by ordering the back the mizzen mast. This surprised the Spanish and they were forced to shorten their sail and stand off. Hardy and the seaman were rescued. A few days later, the ship had joined the British fleet and took part in the battle of Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797.
In the following May, HMSs Minerve and Lively were patrolling around the bay of Santa Cruz and found a French brig, the Mutine. On the 29th, longboats from the two ships were sent to capture it under Hardy's command. It was successful and Hardy was appointed to command of the prize by Admiral Jervis. He also was promoted to Commander.
In 1798, Hardy sailed with HMS Mutine to give Nelson the news of reinforcements in his search for Napoleon's fleet in Egypt. The ship continued with the squadron and was present at the battle of the Nile on 1st August. The ship helped to tow HMS Culloden from the harbour entrance where it had been stranded. Afterwards, the ship was sent to Britain with dispatches from the battle.
Hardy was again promoted to Captain and transferred to HMS Vanguard as Flag Captain to Nelson. The two officers were very much alike in attitudes to naval discipline and they got on very well. Nelson could trust Hardy to command the ship while he himself was able to deal with matters requiring the attention the Commander-in-Chief. The pair later transferred to HMS Foudroyant and spent 1799 in Naples and Palermo. In October of that year, Hardy was transferred to HMS Princess Charlotte and was replaced as Flag Captain by Edward Berry.
He remained in the Princess Charlotte until 1801 when he was once again Flag Captain to Nelson in HMS San Josef. He was later appointed to HMS St George, serving in the Baltic. The ship itself was too large to be able to take part in the battle of Copenhagen. However, Hardy volunteered for service on HMS Elephant with Nelson, who was second in command to Admiral Hyde Parker. The night before the battle, Hardy was able to take soundings of the water depths in the channels that Nelson wanted to use for the coming battle. He was also able to do this around the Danish ships. The information he was able to provide allowed a passage to be sailed so that British ships that kept to it could sail without being run aground.
On returning to Britain after the battle, Hardy was appointed to HMS Isis. He remained with her until 1803 when he was appointed to HMS Amphion and went to the Mediterranean with Nelson, who had been appointed Commander in Chief. In July 1803, Nelson transferred to HMS Victory and Hardy joined him to resume his position as Flag Captain. During the following months and years, the ship was kept busy with the blockade of Toulon and the continuing pursuit of the Franco-Spanish fleet across the Atlantic. Hardy, along with Captain Blackwood, witnessed Nelson's last will and during the battle of Trafalgar on October 21st 1805, was walking along side his Commander in Chief when a French sniper fatally shot Nelson. As Nelson's Chief of Staff, he remained on duty during the remainder of the battle while keeping his dying friend and Commander informed of the proceedings. In recognition for these services, he was created a baronet. He played a major part in the state funeral of Nelson on 9 January 1806 at St Paul's Cathedral.
In the Spring of 1806, he was appointed to HMS Triumph and served on the North American station for three years. While he was there, he married Anne Berkeley, daughter of the Commander in Chief, Sir George Berkeley, in December 1807 at Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the following years, they had three daughters. In 1809, he was transferred to HMS Barfleur that was stationed at Lisbon, following as Flag Captain to his father in law who had been appointed Commander in Chief there. For their services to Portugal, Berkeley as appointed a Portuguese Lord High Admiral and Hardy made a Commodore in the Portuguese navy in 1811.
They remained in Portugal until 1812, when Berkeley retired to Britain and Hardy was appointed to HMS Ramillies and returned to the North America station. While commanding a squadron off New England, he captured an American schooner that was thought to be loaded with provisions. While the vessel was being secured to another captured prize, the ship blew up, killing eleven men.
Hardy was decorated as a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath in January 1815 and returned to Britain in June of that year. On his return, he was appointed to command the Royal Yacht Princess Augusta. He served on her for three years. In August 1819, he was promoted to Commodore and appointed as Commander in Chief for the South American station. He transferred his flag to HMS Superb and his services during the war of independence that was being fought in the former Spanish colonies won him praise from the Admiralty. He eventually returned to Britain in 1824.
He was promoted to Rear Admiral in May 1825 and eighteen months later, he hoisted his flag on HMS Wellesley. His task was to escort an expeditionary force to Lisbon. On his return, he was in command of an experimental squadron and hoisted his flag in HMS Sybilleand later HMS Pyramus. On October 21st 1827, the anniversary of his friend's famous battle, Hardy struck his flag. It was his last sea-going appointment.
In 1830, he was appointed as First Sea Lord at the Admiralty. He retained this post until 1834. During this period, he was appointed as Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. At the end of his period as First Sea Lord, he was appointed as Governor of Greenwich Hospital. During his time as Governor, he introduced many changes to improve the lives of the pensioners. He was promoted as Vice Admiral in January 1837.
Hardy died on 20th September 1839 and was buried in the mausoleum in the grounds of Greenwich Hospital. His wife and daughters survived him, but as he had no male heirs, his baronetcy became extinct.
© Royal Naval Museum Library 2001
The information contained in this fact sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.