He was educated at Westminster School, and Dr. Burney's Academy.
Transferred to the Repulse in 1809, to the Tonnant in 1811 and to the Bacchante in 1812-14, he took part in three attacks on enemy convoys in the Adriatic, boarding and capturing one vessel from the ship's yawl. Complimented for his bravery and promoted lieutenant in 1814, commander in 1817 and post-captain in 1823, he was given command of the frigate Rainbow on the East India Station in 1825 and arrived in Sydney in February 1827.
In April he organized the first regatta in Sydney Harbour. When sent on a duty voyage to Moreton Bay in June he took the unprecedented step of inviting Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling to accompany him and was honoured in the naming of Stradbroke Island, Dunwich, Rainbow Reach, and Rous Channel. His inherited interest in horse-racing led him to seek the improvement of colonial-bred horses and he imported the stallion Emigrant, and sent thoroughbred stock to Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, where he formed a company. Recalled to India on 29 July he returned to Sydney on 1 May 1828, bringing the thoroughbred mare Iris, and received a grant of 2560 acres (1036 ha) on the Molonglo plains (Canberra) with permission to buy another 9240 acres (3739 ha). On 14 August he left in the Rainbow to explore the northern rivers of New South Wales. Prevented by heavy surf from entering the undiscovered Clarence River he charted the Tweed River which he named the Clarence, unaware that it had been discovered and named in 1823 by John Oxley.
On his return journey he was the first government official to investigate an indentation of the coastline in Captain Flinders' chart five leagues (28 km) south of Cape Byron and on 26-27 August he entered and explored a river which he named the Richmond and the north headland Lennox, after Charles, the fifth Duke of Richmond of the Lennox line. After publishing a report of his discoveries in the Australian Quarterly Journal of Theology, Literature and Science, 1828, he returned to England in 1829 and retired on half-pay. Returning to the active list in 1835 he commanded the Pique, which grounded on the Labrador side of the Strait of Belle Isle in September. Without keels, rudder or pumps he made the 1500-mile (2414 km) journey to England where he was acquitted, but not commended, at a court-martial. He was promoted rear admiral in 1852 and admiral in 1864, but never went to sea again.
In 1838 he was elected steward of the Jockey Club. He won the Westminster seat in the House of Commons against strong opposition in 1841 and, although created first lord of the Admiralty by Sir Robert Peel in 1846, he retired and devoted the rest of his life to the turf. Following the publication of his The Laws and Practice of Horse Racing (London, 1866) he became a recognized authority as honorary handicapper of the Jockey Club and author of the weight-for-age scale.
He died without issue in 1877.
In the general election of July 1841, he was elected as Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Westminster.
On 2 January 1836 he married Sophia, daughter and heiress of James Ramsay Cuthbert.