Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates publication date


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Heather and I are delighted that our book, Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates, is now almost complete and will be published by Boydell & Brewer in September 2016. Copies can already be pre-ordered from Amazon.


We’re absolutely thrilled with the cover design and would like to thank Musée des beaux-arts de Brest for allowing us to use this beautiful image of the Droits de L’Homme engagement by Léopold Le Guen.

The book will be available in hardcover and ebook edition and will cost £25.

“Esteemed by all who knew her sterling worth”


Susan Pellew’s memorial in St James’ Church, Cristow, Devon.
By Heather Noel-Smith

Susan Frowd, coming from a village in rural and distinctly land-locked Wiltshire, might at first not seem to be an auspicious choice for a bride of an ambitious young naval officer. Edward Pellew himself described his courtship of her with characteristic energy, writing to his friend Alex Broughton that he had “rousted her out” from her village before she could know anything about the sea.

As it was, Susan turned out to be, as Pellew’s most recent biographer Stephen Taylor writes

The paragon of a sea officer’s wife, a partner, home manager and friend.

Susan made a hospitable and welcoming home wherever they found themselves, and oversaw the acquisition and building of the Canonteign estate, which was the official family residence although she and Pellew never really lived there, but instead in the less grandiose setting of West Cliff House, Teignmouth, leaving their eldest son Pownoll and his family to live at Canonteign.

Susan Pellew outlived her husband by just four years and is buried beside him in the parish church near Canonteign. The graves themselves are not visible, being beneath the floor, but on the north wall of the choir are memorials to both of them, their children and other family members.

Susan’s memorial sums up her contribution all too briefly, but not without a reference to her loyal, loving and open-hearted nature, speaking of her as a faithful and beloved wife and an exemplary mother and friend. Behind the formal words of the epitaph lies a woman whom many had cause to be grateful to, as much in the mould of matriarch and friend as was her husband the equivalent.  The note of resignation in the phrase that it was “the will of providence” that she should outlive both her daughters rather smooths over the great grief that both parents felt at the loss of Julia, and the further grief to Susan over the loss of Emma in 1835.

Susan Pellew's Memorial

Susan Pellew’s Memorial

By the side of her husband are also deposited the remains of Susan, Viscountess Pellew.
Daughter of James Frowd of Sedgehill, near Shaftsbury, Wiltshire who died on the 29th October , 1837,in the 82nd year of her age and the fifth of her widowhood.
A pious, faithful and beloved wife , exemplary mother and friend.
Respected and esteemed by all who knew her sterling worth.
It was the will of Providence that she should survive both her daughters, of whom The Hon Emma married Admiral Sir Lawrence William Halsted GCB and leaves a large family to lament her loss, died the ? day of March 1835, aged 50 years, and was here buried with her parents.
The Hon Julia married Captain Harward, Royal Navy, of Maizemore Lodge, died, to the great grief of her family who affectionately loved her, on the 26 day of December 1831 aged 44 years, leaving no children. Her remains lie in Maizemore churchyard, near Gloucester.
They sleep in hope of a blessed resurrection.

Cristow Church, Devon

Cristow Church, Devon

HMS Indefatigable and the Last Invasion of Britain


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On the morning of Wednesday 22nd February 1797, two frigates, a corvette and a lugger were spotted off the Pembrokeshire coast sailing towards the port of Fishguard. Despite flying British colours, the squadron was in fact French and carrying 1500 men of La Légion Noire, a rough body of troops comprised of deserters and convicts and scraped from the gaols. In the small hours of the following morning the ships put into Carreg Wasted, a rocky cleft in Fishguard bay where the troops disembarked under the command of the Irish American Colonel William Tate.

The Légion rapidly ran out of control, raiding local farms and houses, stealing food, drink and clothing, setting a fire in a church and generally causing mayhem, However over the course of the next three days they were rapidly rounded up by the local militia under the command of Lord Cawdor and imprisoned in the church at Llanwnda. One of the French officers stole the silver chalice from the church and was later discovered trying to pawn it; at which point the officers’ parole was swiftly withdrawn!  Such was the ignominious end of the Battle of Fishguard.

The improbable story of the “last invasion of Britain” has been told many times over but it is an incident that occurred immediately after the failed invasion that is of interest to this blog.

A few days later, while many local people were gathered in the church to give thanks for the failure of the invasion, word came that three more frigates, again flying British colours, had been sighted. An eye witness account of events was recalled by the Reverend Daniel Rowlands

In an instant the cry rang through the church—“To arms! to arms!”

Then what a scene of confusion arose, fury, dismay, oaths and shrieks all mingled together, some women fainting, some in tears, the men roused and excited to the uttermost.

“Don’t go, don’t go, my son,” sobbed my mother; but curiosity overcame prudence.

“I’m not going to fight, mother, never fear, but I must go and look on,” was my answer.

“Oh Dio, not again, not again!” urged Nancy, thinking of the single combats.

“I’m not going to walk across the sea to tackle a frigate, I promise you,” said Davy, with a laugh. But Nancy was not to be put off so.

“All right, come. I’m coming too,” she said, and in another instant they were without the church door, where, indeed, we all found ourselves shortly. We tore down to the cliffs as the possessed swine might have raced; many of us ran to man the fort, but I remained on the higher ground where I could have a better view and see further out to sea.

And soon there was indeed a fair sight to see. Coming round the headland to the west of us, their sails filled with the brisk March breeze, appeared a stately squadron moving proudly under British colours; but having seen something like this before, some of us still doubted. The fort saluted, and this compliment was returned by the men-of-war without any changing of colours. We began to feel reassured, and soon our hopes were verified. A boat put off from the nearest ship and was rowed to shore in a style that swore to “British tar.” The officer landed and explained that the squadron was part of the Channel Fleet, sent to our assistance, and that it was under the command of the brave Sir Edward Pellew. We were very proud of the help rendered us by England, even though it had come a little late, but that was the fault of our roads not their goodwill; and though it had occasioned a worse scare than the real thing, but that was only our disordered nerves which acted up to the old proverb—“A burnt child dreads fire.”

The officer inquired very particularly as to the probable whereabouts of the French ships—the three frigates and the lugger. About this we could give him no information whatever.

The sudden appearance of the Indefatigable, the stylish cut of the boat crew’s jib and the reassuring presence of Sir Edward Pellew is an anecdote worthy of Forester.

The Indefatigable had recently put into Plymouth for repairs, following the famous Droits de l’Homme engagement, when word of the invasion arrived from the Admiralty. Several ships of the Western Squadron put to sea immediately to intercept the French ships, reassure the people and show the flag.

Although the frigate’s log does not record the name of the officer rowed ashore from the Indefatigable, we have a small glimpse of the order to sail from midshipman Nicholas Pateshall. Pateshall had arrived in Plymouth following a few days leave in Hereford and it is clear from his smudged signature that he was in a tearing hurry. At the end of the letter is a postscript tucked in the corner.

Plymouth Tuesday 28th 1797
Dear Mama
I am but just this moment arrived and write to inform you that we shall sail for the Irish chanel to interrupt those ships which have landed men in Wales tomorrow morning at 6 o clock. I must go now and report myself to Sir Edward Pellew who I learn is in Plymouth and then I shall proceed on board – excuse me for I am at dinner – I will go presently to Captain Lanes – you shall hear from me again in a short time if I have the opportunity.

I remain your dutiful son

N L Pateshall.

The French which landed in Wales have laid down their arms.


Nicholas Pateshall to Anne Pateshall, 20th January 1797

“She was all but going to the bottom when we met her…”


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Throughout his career, Edward Pellew had a reputation not just for for his fighting prowess, but also for his gallantry and heroism. His most famous humanitarian endeavour while captain of HMS Indefatigable was the rescue of hundreds of souls from the wreck of the Dutton East Indiaman, which ran aground beneath the citadel in Plymouth in January 1796. However the Dutton was only one of a number of stricken vessels that Pellew and his crew assisted at this time. In this letter to his mother, thirteen-year-old Indefatigable midshipman Nicholas Pateshall relates the events of another dramatic rescue at sea, which took place several months before the Dutton.

Indefatigable at Scilly, October 12th 1795

My dear Mama
I write to inform you that we sailed from Falmouth on Wednesday the 7th October …but by stress of weather we were put in here and in our passage we met with a large merchant ship which sailed from the West Indies about a month ago. She had her three masts carried away in a gale of wind. The owner was aboard her. She was all but going to the bottom when we met her for it was very heavy weather. All her men, her captain, her mate were in their hammocks and had been for three weeks and so had the ship been drifting. All but the poor owner, who has a wife and eight children. We immediately sent a boat aboard her where they found them in the above sorry state the owner crying and working at the pump leaving the ship to the mercy of the waves, thinking the ship was going to the bottom every minute.

We immediately sent a number of men aboard and made a rope fast to her and towed her in to the harbour. It was a pitiful sight to see that man (the owner of the ship) it was like a man who had the rope about his neck and then reprieved, we thought he would have dyed but thank God he and his ship are both well. We are going to sail tomorrow to look for the other frigates and to add something to this wonderful year, but all with great joy.

Pateshall, joined the Indefatigable in 1795 at the age of thirteen and he is unique in that he left an extensive archive of private correspondence which provides a first hand account of his time aboard the famous frigate.

Many more of Pateshall’s previously unpublished letters, including a dramatic eye witness account of the celebrated Droits de L’Homme engagement, will appear in Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The lives and naval careers of the Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable, which will be published by Boydell and Brewer later this summer.

And none but a Seaman shall marry with me!


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The seaman brings spices
And sugar so fine,
Which serve the brave gallants
To drink with their wine:
With Lemons and Oranges
All of the best,
To relish their Pallates
When they make a feast;
Sweet Figs, Prunes and Raysins,
By them brought home be,
And none but a Seaman
Shall marry with me!

This lovely verse is from a ballad called The Seaman’s Compass which is included in C. Fox Smith’s A Sea Chest: An Anthology of Ships & Sailormen. Of course this is just one of many ballads, lyrics and folksongs extolling both the virtues and drawbacks of marrying sailors. What is particularly charming about this particular verse is that we have a direct parallel from our Indefatigable research. The following advertisement appeared in the the Caledonian Mercury on Thursday 2nd December 1802.
The Captain McVicar referred to in the advert is Indefatigable midshipman Alex McVicar. Born in Leith in 1768, McVicar is notable in that he had a successful naval and merchant shipping career and switched between both services at several points in his life. McVicar already had experience of both services when he joined the Indefatigable as an experienced 27 year old seaman in 1796. Pellew clearly acknowledged his experience and McVicar was immediately rated midshipman. Over the course of the next four years Pellew made good use of his skilled recruit and McVicar served in a number of acting ranks throughout the squadron. However McVicar was absent from the Indefatigable during the Droits de L’Homme engagement as he had been captured in a prize vessel retaken by the French. McVicar’s incarceration was short lived, he was excahnged in a cartel shortly after being captured and passed his examination for lieutenant in 1797.

In 1802 with the advent of the Peace of Amiens, McVicar obtained leave from the Admiralty to captain the merchant schooner Hazard on voyages from the Leith to Danzig and Malaga. The literal fruits of the Malaga voyage appear in the advert above.

At a time when most of McVicar’s shipmates found themselves beached on half pay, McVicar’s earnings from his merchant voyages provided him with welcome additional income and it is surely no coincidence that in April 1803 McVicar married his fiancée, Margaret Reid, the daughter of a Leith merchant. It’s tempting to wonder if The Seaman’s Compass was sung at their wedding.

“…he very nearly committed himself for swearing…”


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This small but amusing anecdote of Sir Edward Pellew, is recorded in A Mariner of England an account of the career of William Richardson from cabin boy in the merchant service to warrant officer in the Royal Navy (1780 – 1819 ) as told by himself. Richardson was serving aboard HMS Minerva, Captain John Whitby when the ship encountered Sir John Borlase Warren’s Western Squadron just prior to their engagement with the French frigate squadron composed of PomoneEngageant, Babet and Concord.  The anecdote may be brief but it is very characteristic of Pellew at this stage of his career, from the momentary loss of his infamous temper, to his urgent desire to be off in pursuit of the enemy.

In proceeding up Channel we were chased a whole day by a line of battle ship which in the dusk, we were all ready to fight her, as our admiral hoped to succeed by manoeuvring, though she was of such superior force. They hailed to know from whence we came, and our reply was “His Britannic Majesty’s ship Minerva”, they then asked if it was not the Minerva out of Havre de Grace and were very suspicious of us; we answered that it was HM Ship Minerva, Rear Admiral Cornwallis, from India , and this satisfied them and their captain came on board to pay his respects and we found her to be the Intrepid (64 guns). One of their boat’s crew, an Irishman, when alongside, was hardly satisfied that we were English, for, said he, what right had we to a poop, being only a frigate? One of our wags told him it was to keep our prize – money in, and Pat believed him!

Next morning we saw four frigates ahead standing across our bows, little thinking they were enemies, fortunately a fog came on and we passed them. Next morning we saw four more, who would not let us escape. The first that came up was the Arethusa, Sir Edward Pellew (since Lord Exmouth) who, seeing our flag, brought to and came aboard, and told us the other three frigates were the Flora, Concord and Melampus, all under the command of Sir John Borlase Warren.  When he was told we had passed four English frigates yesterday (he very nearly committed himself for swearing), he said, with an oath, that there were not four British frigates together in the channel but themselves, therefore the others must be French. So hastening to his ship he gave us a salute, then bore down on his Commodore, gave him news and off they all set in search of the other four frigates and the next day, being 23 April, 1794, they overtook them. A smart action ensued, and ended with the capture of the Pomone (44 guns) the Engageant, (56 guns) and the Babet (28 guns); the other escaped, having run on shore on the French coast having been chased by the Concord, Sir Richard Strachan.

HMS Concorde and Engageante, by John Fairburn (Collections of the National Maritime Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Naval Careers in the Napoleonic Wars – one step closer to publication



Heather and I are delighted to announce that at the end of last month we finally submitted the manuscript of our book, Naval Careers in the Napoleonic Wars – Hornblower’s Real-Life Shipmates The Lives of the Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable, to our publishers Boydell and Brewer.

This book initially arose from our shared love of HMS Indefatigable’s most famous fictional midshipman, Horatio Hornblower, and a mutual fascination with the career of his historical captain, Sir Edward Pellew. Despite the honours Pellew earned during his long and distinguished naval career, the Droits de L’Homme engagement still stands as the apotheosis of his career as a fighting captain. Our original intention was to explore the lives and careers of the commissioned officers of the Indefatigable, the Amazon and Les Droits de L’Homme, who fought through the night and the storm during one the most iconic frigate engagements of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. However it didn’t take us long to realise that our original plan was hopelessly over ambitious; any one of these officers warranted extensive biographical research in their own right, so we narrowed the scope of our project to concentrate on the junior commissioned officer of a single ship, HMS Indefatigable.

Bataille entre le vaisseau Les Droits de l'Homme et les frégates anglaises Indefatigable et Amazon by Léopold Le Guen. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest

Bataille entre le vaisseau Les Droits de l’Homme et les frégates anglaises Indefatigable et Amazon by Léopold Le Guen. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brest

One theme that emerged early in our research was the high regard, mutual affection and lasting friendship that bound Pellew and the young gentlemen of the Indefatigable together not just during their careers, but throughout their later civilian lives.  If anything, this book is as much about friendship as it is about the grand panorama of naval warfare, daring frigate engagements and individual acts of undoubted courage.

Although few of the Indefatigable‘s ‘young gentlemen’ achieved fame in their own lifetimes, the stories that have emerged from the archives rival anything dreamed up by the creator of their famous fictional shipmate. We have been continually astonished and inspired by the resourcefulness, bravery and humanity of these previously obscure young officers and we sincerely hope that this book will bring their achievements to wider notice.

Review: A History of the Royal Navy. The Napoleonic Wars by Martin Robson


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Martin Robson’s A History of the Royal Navy: The Napoleonic Wars is a valuable addition to the new history of the Royal Navy series published by I.B. Tauris in association with the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Robson’s contribution to this authoritative series is a concise yet comprehensive analysis of the role of the Royal Navy in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars from the declaration of war in 1793 to the bombardment of Algiers in 1816.   However this is much more than simply a history of naval warfare, as Robson frames the actions of the navy and the war at sea in the wider socio-political and global economic context of the period.

robson_coverIn a brief but valuable introduction Robson clearly defines Britain’s war objectives, a critical point unaccountably overlooked by many naval histories. Britain’s peripheral position in relation to the European continental system is contrasted with the country’s central place in a global maritime empire encompassing the East and West Indies together with parts of North America. This empire was founded on maritime commerce and thus the Royal Navy played a central role in protecting Britain’s global maritime trade interests and ensuring that the country had the economic power to support and subsidise its continental allies. The navy became the means by which British war aims could be achieved through maritime conflict.

Rather than presenting a strictly chronological account, Robson has employed both a chronological and geographical framework to order his narrative, with successive chapters focusing on events occurring in each of the main theatres of war; home waters, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the East and West Indies, etc. This approach results in the account jumping backwards and forwards in time, but the text is sufficiently coherent to ensure that the reader never looses the thread of the narrative.

The historical account begins in home waters with Howe’s Channel fleet and the tactical role played both by the close blockade system and by Warren and Pellew’s detached frigate squadrons. Robson explores the strategic impact of the Glorious First of June and the battle of Camperdown before turning this attention to the Mediterranean, the Spanish declaration of war, the disastrous assault on Tenerife and the more successful Egyptian campaigns. In such a wide-ranging history individual events are necessarily summarised, however some, such as the siege of Acre, seem overly truncated. Moving on to the East and West Indies and the Cape, Robson focuses on how events in the main theatre of war in Europe influenced and affected campaigns overseas.

Inevitably, the figure of Nelson looms large over proceedings, indeed the book is prefaced by a stirring account of his final moments, however Robson does not shrink from acknowledging his failings in politics and diplomacy and he is always prepared to give Nelson’s fellow captains their due, e.g. Foley, who is credited with the initiative of advancing inshore of the French line at the battle at the Nile. Robson also presents a welcome reappraisal of Calder’s engagement prior to the battle of Trafalgar, and while acknowledging that Calder was criticized for not delivering a decisive “Nelsonic style” victory, he also argues that Calder achieved his main strategic and tactical objective by preventing Villeneuve’s fleet from entering the Channel and joining with the Brest fleet. The battle of Trafalgar and its aftermath form the central chapter of the books and Robson writes a lucid and compelling combat narrative without overly dramatising events.

Following Trafalgar, attention turns to the Baltic and the campaigns at Aix Roads and the Scheldt, and thence to the Mediterranean and the war in the Peninsula where Robson highlights the critical role the Navy played in supporting the army; transporting and evacuating troops, carrying specie, and victualing on a grand scale. However the navy were not there just to fetch and carry, they also played an important strategic and tactical role, working in concert with the army to seize and hold important tactical positions.

Leaving the Peninsula, Robson turns his attention to the impact of economic warfare on Britain’s overseas possession in the East and West Indies and at the Cape, demonstrating how trade and commercial interests influenced the war, particularly in the West Indies.

The final two chapters cover the War of 1812 and the Bombardment of Algiers. Robson presents a concise but comprehensive overview of the War of 1812, covering the early American victories, the British blockade of the eastern seaboard, the campaigns on the Great Lakes, culminating in Cockburn’s Washington campaign. By contrast, Robson devotes barely three pages to the Bombardment of Algiers. The political context of this operation is lacking and the engagement itself is presented in only the briefest summary.   Unfortunately for a book that admirably balances detail with brevity throughout, this final chapter feels rather tacked on.

Robson concludes by accounting for the cost of the war in terms of men, ships and trade revenues and the figures are staggering. Between 1793 and 1815 British exports increased from £20.4 million to £70.3 million and it was this economic strength, founded on maritime security and protected by the Royal Navy, that crucially enabled Britain to bankroll her continental allies.

Robson’s addition to the History of the Royal Navy series can be highly recommended both for general readers and for scholars of naval history and the Napoleonic Wars alike. The author provides a concise but comprehensive overview of the Royal Navy’s campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars, and frames the central role played by maritime power in the wider global economic context. As one would expect from I.B. Tauris and The National Museum of the Royal Navy, the production quality of this series is excellent. The Napoleonic Wars is enhanced by numerous illustrations and colour plates and the images of artefacts from the Museum’s collections make a welcome addition to the more familiar portraits, paintings, battle plans and satirical prints.

Fatherly Advice


For Father’s Day – Sir Edward Pellew’s advice to his eldest son Pownall Bastard Pellew, on receiving his first command, the 10 gun ship-sloop Fly in 1804.

Avoid as certain destruction both of Soul and Body all excesses of whatever Nature they may be, in the Climate your are going to you must use great Caution to avoid all the Night dews–and when you are exposed by Night never permit your breast to be uncovered or your neck exposed without something tied round it–Never stop upon Deck unless covered by something to keep off the Dew. It is equally necessary to avoid the Sun in the Middle of the Day from wh. much danger is to be expected; it may at a moment produce Giddyness of head, sickness and fever–take great care never to over-heat your blood by drinking or exercise–never go out shooting on any account or riding in the Sun and be very particular never to check perspiration or sit in a draft of Wind so as to produce is–altho’ it is so pleasant to the feeling it is almost certain Death. At night always sleep in Calico–be you ever so hot–it is a great security against the diseases of that Country.

On your first arrival be extremely careful not to indulge in eating too much fruit–and do not go into the Water when the Sun is high. Take great care to keep your body regular and never pass a day without Evacuation–the moment you feel your Body-bound take directly a pill or two of those you carry of the size of a large pea. And should you ever feel unwell instantly take a strong Emetic or a good dose of Physic. If you are seized with a flux take directly a large dose of Rhubarb and apply directly to your Surgeon. Always wear a piece of White paper inside your hat.

If you should take prizes I need scarcely remind you to treat your Prisoners with kindness, but be very careful to keep safe and proper Guards over them–An Officer who suffers his Prisoners to retake his Ship can never recover the Stain on his Character. Mr. Wedderburn’s letter will shew you Who’s care you ought to put your Prize Concerns in–at the same time ask them to let the Admiral’s agent be joined with yours.

Be extremely Cautious and Correct in your Conduct. The first impression of your Character will be formed from it and the companions of your choice; always endeavor to keep in with the Captains and Admiral as much as possible, behaving with quiet Modesty–you will always learn something in their company and they will soon respect and esteem you.

Never become one of the Tavern parties on shore, they always end in drunkenness and Disipation. In your Command be as kind as you can without suffering imposition on your good Nature, be steady and vigilant. Never neglect any opportunity of writing to your Mother Who deserves your utmost love and attention for her unceasing goodness to you and all your family. I hope you will believe I shall be equally glad to hear of you. I am sure you will never dishonor yourself or your family or the Service of your King.

In your Expenses be as frugal as you can. You know the situation of your Father and how many calls he has for Money and should you get any of your own to send to England I recommend your sending it to Wedderburne … as the most secure…

Be attentive to your person and dress. Nothing recommends a young Man more to notice. If you meet Capt. O’Brien tell him I ordered you to ask his protection. Admiral Dacres will be as a Father to you, never fail to consult him and ask his advice on any occasion of difficulty. Take great care to examine all the papers you put your name to and be satisfied of the truth of them and avoid any accident on this point, never sign a paper when bro’t to you in a hurry–if it is one of account–but desire it to be left for your perusal. Get into a habit of signing your name well and [in] one uniform manner and at least once a Month look over your Ship’s Books and the diff’t Officer expenses–and do not pass by any extraordinary Expense without strictly investigating the circumstance, as it is your Duty to be as honest and careful for the King as for yourself.

Mr. Hemming has wrote a recipe for some pills for you to use occasionally when you are at all Costive. I have used them many years and found them safe and easy–do not fail to get a good quantity of them madeup at Cookwortheys at Plymouth, to take with you and always remember to have the recipe back again and keep it is this Book.

Never fail to keep the Ship’s reckoning yourself and observe both by Day and Night, it is a great Duty, for you have in your charge the Lives of hundreds. I hope you will never from idleness excuse yourself from this sacred Duty and never lay down to rest without sending for your Master and together with him mark the Ship’s place in the Chart–do not let any false Modesty or Shame prevent you from this or asking his aid in working your Lunars–it is madness to do so in the extreme and must ultimately end in the ruin of any Young Officer who practises it.

Parkinson, C.N., 1934, Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, Admiral of the Red, Methuen & Co., Ltd., London.

“Faithful and Attached Companions.” Sir Edward Pellew and the young gentlemen of HMS Indefatigable


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Heather and I had the pleasure of presenting this seminar as part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s research programme in May 2014.  Slides from the presentation are available here.

The Droits de L’Homme Engagement

On the 13th of January 1797 shortly after midday two British frigates sighted an unidentified French ship off the coast of Brittany.  The frigates, Indefatigable, Captain Sir Edward Pellew, and Amazon, Captain Robert Reynolds, immediately gave chace and by four o’clock in the afternoon observed the ship to be a large vessel with two tiers of guns.  She was in fact the French 74 gun ship of the line Les Droits de L’Homme, Captain Jean Baptiste Raymond de Lacrosse, a remnant of the failed expedition to Ireland, loaded with troops, horses and military hardware.  At a quarter to five, with “the wind blowing very hard and a great sea” [1] the chace carried away her fore and main topmast and the Indefatigable lost her steering sail booms.   Undeterred, with the Amazon still eight miles astern, the Indefatigable brought the enemy to close action.  Although Les Droits de L’Homme carried a significantly heavier broadside, she was hampered by the high sea and unable to open her lower gun ports to bring her heavy lower deck battery to bear.

The initial exchange of fire continued for close on an hour until the ships sheared off to repair damaged rigging and clear their decks of debris.   At this point the crew of the Indefatigable “saw to their astonishment that their opponent was a line of battle ship but realised that, as they had begun, they must go through with it” [2].   The action recommenced with the frigates placing themselves on either quarter of the harried 74. They “went at her like bull dogs” [3], raking her with repeated broadsides.

Droits de l'Homme By James Lynn

Droits de l’Homme By James Lynn

On the Indefatigable, “every man was too earnestly and too hardly at work to attend to the run of the ship, the sea was high, the people on the main deck were up to their middles in water; the guns broke their breechings four times over, the masts were much wounded; the main topmast completely unrigg’d and saved only by uncommon alacrity” [4]. Conditions were similar on the Amazon where the men “fought half way up their legs in water, cheering and inspiring courage to all around by their own animated gallant example” [5].  Aboard Les Droits de L’Homme, conditions were scarcely less appalling.  The ship’s mizzen mast had been shot away and many of the gun crews had been killed at their guns, but wherever a man fell, “ten sprang up to take his place” [6].

The ferocity of the battle continued for ten hours through the night and the storm, with the French ship running blindly before the gale and never once altering her course while the two frigates hounded her on either quarter.  At last, just after 4.00 a.m., the moon broke through the clouds and breakers were sighted close under the Indefatigable’s lee bow. Immediately realising their peril, Pellew made the night signal for danger and the two frigates hauled off on different tacks.    Shortly after, they discovered the Les Droits de L’Homme, “the enemy, who had so bravely defended herself, lying on her broadside, and a tremendous surf beating over her”.  In her headlong rush for Brest Harbour she had missed her mark and gone ashore in Hodierne Bay. Nor was the Indefatigable’s “situation when day dawned much to be preferred – a gale of wind – a dead lee shore, and an enemy’s at that – a crippled ship – an exhausted crew and the Penmark Rocks, that dread of seamen, to be weathered – these were the difficulties which presented themselves to Pellew as the day dawned” [7].  With four feet of water in the hold, a huge sea running, and the wind dead on shore, the Indefatigable was powerless to help, for Pellew knew that their survival depended on weathering the Penmark Rocks to the south.  On the Indefatigable the guns were now silent and every exertion was made to save the ship. Exhausted as they were, the crew set every inch of canvas that could be carried and after four hours of exertion the Indefatigable clawed her way out of Hodierne Bay, to the palpable relief of her captain and all on board.

 …at eleven A. M. we made the breakers, and, by the blessing of God, weather’d the Penmark Rocks about half a mile. [8]

The famous Droits de L’Homme engagement will be familiar to any reader of Georgian naval history or naval adventure fiction. This particular version is compiled from various contemporary and eye witness accounts.  The action is still regarded as one of the most iconic frigate engagements of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and Captain Sir Edward Pellew as the quintessential fighting frigate captain of his era.   Although the Droits de L’Homme engagement is cited in almost every naval history of the period, little original research has been undertaken about the Indefatigable’s officers and crew, however for the young midshipmen of the Indefatigable, the Droits de L’Homme engagement formed a highly significant point of reference, to which they looked back throughout their lives.  Regardless of subsequent naval laurels and public honours, it is notable that almost without exception, it is this engagement that is referred to in their obituaries and memorials up to fifty years later.

Through detailed examination of contemporary documents, including Admiralty records, public and private archives, genealogical sources, personal correspondence, contemporary journals and press reports, in the UK, USA and France, our research aims to uncover the lives and careers of the midshipmen who served aboard HMS Indefatigable during the Droits de L’Homme engagement, and to reveal their ongoing professional and personal relationship with each other and with their former captain, Sir Edward Pellew.

Captain Sir Edward Pellew

Born in Dover in 1757, Edward Pellew made his name as a gifted sea officer and a daring frigate captain during the French Revolutionary War.  He began his naval career in 1770 and first made his mark in the Lake Champlain campaign during the American War of Independence. He served in the Royal Navy for over forty years, eventually retiring from active service in 1822 as Admiral Lord Exmouth.  Throughout Pellew’s career he acted as patron and mentor to countless young midshipmen and volunteers and helped to mould many of them into responsible naval officers.  Although Pellew rose to the highest naval office, Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom, he is still remembered as the quintessential fighting frigate captain and his name is forever associated with HMS Indefatigable, the 44 gun razee frigate he captained for four years from 1795 to 1799.

Sir Edward Pellew

Sir Edward Pellew

The title of this seminar, “faithful and attached companions” is taken from a series of letters exchanged between Pellew and Lord Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1799 when Pellew had been informed that he was to be promoted to a ship of the line.  This promotion, which was ostensibly a step up the naval career ladder, was long overdue, however Pellew was devastated by the news that he was to leave his beloved Indefatigable and the detached frigate squadron he commanded, for a notoriously insubordinate ship of the line, attached to a fleet led by Admiral Lord Bridport, a man he despised.

Despite a lack of much in the way of formal schooling, Pellew was always able to write eloquently, and never more so than when he was moved or distressed. On receiving news of his promotion, he wrote immediately to Lord Spencer pleading to be allowed to remain with the Indefatigable, but even then he must have known that he would have to bow to the inevitable.  Pellew had no choice but to accept his new commission, but not before he had sent an extraordinary letter, written in the third person, expressing his feelings:

Is it fair then to presume Sir EP has  no sensibility, no attachment, no feeling, that his heart must be adamant, that he can part from faithful, and attached Companions, grown from boys to manhood under him, without a sorrowful Countenance, or a Moistened Eye. He grants it may be thought so. But he begs to assert the Contrary. [9]

Young Gentlemen of HMS Indefatigable

Among those faithful and attached companions, the boys grown to manhood, were the midshipmen and junior officers of HMS Indefatigable. The twenty young gentlemen included in this study are those who were rated as midshipman on the January / February 1797 muster of the Indefatigable, or those who were among the ships company on the night of the Droits de L’Homme engagement and were subsequently promoted to the rank of midshipman or masters mate, all be it temporarily in some cases.  Midshipmen who are listed on earlier or later Indefatigable musters, and those who are named on the January / February 1797 muster, but who were discharged from the ships company before the 13th of January, have not been included in this study.

In many respects, these twenty young men are both typical and representative of the junior commissioned officers serving in the Royal Navy at this time.  Their ages, in January 1797, ranged from eight to twenty-seven, though two of the youngest, Pownoll Pellew and Fleetwood Pellew, the captain’s sons, appear to have been carried on the ships books in order to  reduce the period of active service required before they could sit their lieutenants’ examinations. Though sometimes regarded as an abuse of power, so called ‘false muster’ was common practice at the time and many captains carried the names of the sons of influential patrons or family friends on their muster books. In reality, the youngest junior office actually aboard the ship on the night of the Droits de L’Homme engagement was 13 year old Richard Delves Broughton, a relation of Alexander Broughton, Pellew’s oldest and closest friend and former fellow midshipman.

Age in 1797

Age in 1797

Ten of these young gentlemen had already served aboard frigates previously captained by Pellew; six aboard the Nymphe, and five aboard the Arethusa.  Nine began their naval service on the Indefatigable.

In terms of their backgrounds, fourteen were English, three were Scottish, one was Irish, though another was descended from Irish stock, and one was born outside the UK, in the British community in Lisbon.  By far the largest distinct group, seven in total, came from the area around Falmouth in Cornwall. Though born in Dover, Pellew’s parents were Cornish and he was brought up near Penzance from the age of eight.  Pellew very much identified himself as a Cornishmen, he and his young family settled in Falmouth in 1784 and the port became the home base for the Indefatigable and Pellew’s Western Squadron from the mid 1790’s.


Place of birth

For young men aspiring to join the commissioned ranks of the Royal Navy at this time, having an influential patron who could secure a place for them in the midshipman’s berth of a good ship was all important. Families of hopeful boys exploited any connection available to them, whether distant relatives, patrons or family friends. In the case of the Indefatigable, the young gentlemen were no exception, six were the sons of Pellew’s friends and acquaintances, two were Pellew’s own sons, and one was related to his wife.  Though justly criticised for unduly exerting his influence on behalf of his own sons and the protégés of influential patrons and political allies, nevertheless Pellew also went to great lengths to support and educate many of his young officers, regardless of their interest or standing.   Throughout his career, Pellew had a reputation for nurturing the careers of his junior officers and he tried to instill in all his men a strong sense of duty and service, qualities that are apparent in the careers of many of the young gentlemen presented here.

From the perspective of social class, the Indefatigable’s midshipmen came from a wide range of backgrounds and family circumstances. These included the aristocracy, in the case of the Hon George Cadogan who was the son of an Earl, and village craftsmen, such as John Gaze, whose father was a wheelwright in Norfolk. In broad terms, their fathers’ rank or occupation fall into the following groupings: aristocracy (1), mercantile (2), craftsmen (2), the professions (2), packet captains (2), county gentry (4), navy or merchant navy (5), with two whose early life is not yet known.

Many of these men were younger sons, such as Nicholas Pateshall who was the fourth son in a family of eight.  The navy was a fairly common career choice for younger and middle sons, and the Pateshall family is a classic example of this trend.  The eldest son inherited the estate, one entered the army, one entered the navy, one the clergy, one became a doctor and another became a wine merchant.

Another noticeable trend among the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen is the number who had already lost their fathers prior to joining the service.  At least six out of the twenty were fatherless, and one had lost his mother.  This level of parental mortality appears to be typical for the period. However it may also be significant that Pellew, who had lost his own father at an early age and was a devoted, if over indulgent, father to his own children, also took great pride in acting in loco parentis to the young gentlemen under his command. It is striking how many of his men identified Pellew as a father figure, and in letters of condolence following his death, many referred to him as both father and friend.  In a moving condolence letter, James Weymss, who served with Pellew in India when he was a young lieutenant, referred to the admiral as “my father afloat”.

Alex McVicar

On joining the Indefatigable, at least five of the young gentlemen had already had some experience of the merchant service.  Alex McVicar, from Leith, had previously served in both the Royal Navy and the merchant marine before joining the Indefatigable as one of her oldest midshipmen in 1796.  McVicar was already a capable and experienced seaman when he joined the frigate and over the course of his career he transferred between the Royal Navy and the merchant service several times.  Pellew made good use of his experienced recruits; he frequently awarded them temporary promotions within his squadron and regularly appointed them to captain prize vessels.  At the same time he rewarded their experience by supporting their careers and campaigning for promotion on their behalf.

John Harry

All of the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen pursued a career in the navy, apart from one, John Harry, who left the service while still a first class volunteer, after only 18 months aboard the ship.  During this period Harry experienced the Droits de L’Homme engagement and another famous action between the Indefatigable and the French frigate Virgine.  Although Harry went on to have an illustrious career as a doctor to some of the crowned heads of Europe, he clearly took pride in his brief but active naval service.  Despite receiving many civic honours and awards throughout his lifetime, he did not neglect to apply for the Naval General Service Medal when it was instituted in 1847.  Indeed Harry was one of only nine surviving crewmembers who lived long enough to apply for the Droits de L’Homme clasp.


Naval General Medal Award Roll – Droits de L’Homme clasp

Richard Delves Broughton

Though many of this cohort had modestly successful naval careers, two had the misfortune to be court martialed and dismissed the service.  Richard Delves Broughton had a troubled naval career from the start.  Letters written between Pellew and his friend Alex Broughton give some indication of the boy’s misdemeanours, though the letters have been heavily redacted by the Broughton family.  Broughton was finally courtmartialed for repeated drunkenness, neglect of duty and un-officerlike conduct.  He did in fact return to the service as a volunteer on his brother in law’s ship Penelope, before disappearing from the historical record and apparently dying in unknown circumstances in Montana in 1806.

William Kempthorne

William Kempthorne, the son of a close friend and neighbour of Pellew’s at Falmouth, also had the misfortune to be dismissed the service, though in his case the charge was ambiguous at best.  Kempthorne had the misfortune to fall into what Pellew was to describe as an “irregular ship” with a captain who appeared to struggle with command.  Following divisions among the officers of the wardroom, Kempthorne was court martialled on charges of disorderly and improper conduct and dismissed the service.  Pellew, who looked on Kempthorne almost as a son ever since the death of the young man’s father and his own close friend William Kempthorne Snr, immediately took up his cause by taking him back aboard his ship and helping him to write a memorial to the Admiralty.  Eventually, after several years, Pellew’s persistence paid off and Kempthorne was reinstated to his rank.  He went on to have a modestly successful naval career and was one of only two Indefatigables who served with Pellew at the Bombardment of Algiers.  Unsurprisingly, Kempthorne was devoted to the man who had saved his career and in a moving memorial following his death, he wrote to Pellew’s son Fleetwood

the navy has lost its brightest jewel, you and your family the best of husbands and fathers, a wide circle of us a matchless friend and the country a stay and defender. [10]

George Cadogan


The Hon George Cadogan, © Haggerston Press

Another of the young gentlemen who had a turbulent career was the Honourable George Cadogan. On the surface, Cadogan’s naval career bears all the hallmarks of privilege and patronage. The eighth son of Earl Cadogan joined the navy at the age of twelve, following a recommendation from the First Lord of the Admiralty himself, he made lieutenant at nineteen, commander at twenty-one and post captain at twenty-four.  However over the course of five years, from 1804 to 1809, Cadogan endured three courts martial; he lost his first command to the French, quelled a mutiny on his second and, in his third command, he was tried for bringing about the death of a midshipman through tyranny and cruelty.  Cadogan was cleared of all charges but private correspondence reveals that he was deeply affected by the courts martial, which took a significant toll on his health.  Cadogan’s career did improve later in the war; he retired from the service with honours in 1813 following the siege of Zara and later served as Naval Aide de Camp to two monarchs. Cadogan was the longest lived of this group of the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen, dying in 1864 at the age of 78.

Robert Carthew Reynolds

Robert Carthew Reynolds, © Royal Museums Greenwich

Robert Carthew Reynolds, © Royal Museums Greenwich

Only four of this particular group died in active service, though in keeping with the statistics, only one died as a result of wounds sustained in action.  Robert Carthew Reynolds, son of Captain Reynolds, commander of the Amazon and a close friend of Pellew, was killed in Guadeloupe in 1804 at the age of 21. Reynolds was seriously injured in a cutting out expedition at Fort Royal harbour partially designed to deflect attention from the British Navy’s fortification of Diamond Rock.  Reynolds succeeded in securing the prize, the French brig Le Curieux, and returning to the Diamond Rock squadron whereupon he was immediately promoted to commander of the prize.  Sadly, Reynolds was never able to take up his new command, he did not recover from his wounds, and died eight months later.  Robert Carthew Reynolds was buried with full naval honours on Diamond Rock, the only man ever to be interred there.

Philip Frowd

Despite the large numbers of naval and military personnel who died of fever in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, only one of the Indefatigable young gentlemen died as as a result of disease. Philip Frowd, a relative of Pellew’s wife Susan, was lieutenant of the frigate Blanche when he died of fever in Jamaica in 1804 at the age of 25. Frowd’s elder brother, Anthony Edward, a naval surgeon, also died of fever at the same time and the two are buried together in Port Royal.

James Bray

As to be expected, the rigors of the sea service also took their toll and two of the cohort, James Bray and William Warden, died of shipwreck and exposure at sea. James Bray had a rather unusual family background for a Royal Naval officer, although he was born and brought up in Falmouth were his father was a doctor, his family originally hailed from Ireland and were prominent Roman Catholic scholars and clergy who also held lands in France.  Bray served throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars before being lost in the wreck of the hired armed cutter Plumper in Dipper Harbour off New Brunswick in December 1812.

William Warden

William Warden Memorial, © Madhu, http://theurgetowander.com/

William Warden Memorial, © Madhu, http://theurgetowander.com/

The second of the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen to die at sea was William Warden. Warden was born in Lisbon where four generations of his family had lived and made their livelihood, first as ship builders and later as merchants.  Warden served with Pellew throughout his career and accompanied him to India, when Pellew took up his commission as Commander in Chief of the East India Station in 1805.  Warden had just made post captain in 1807 at the age of 28 and was commanding the sloop Rattlesnake when he died of excessive fatigue and exposure in the execution of his duty, during a violent gale of wind on a passage from Madras.  Pellew was deeply moved by Warden’s death and erected a handsome memorial to him at Calcutta, which can still be seen today.

As a group, the Indefatigble’s midshipmen went on to serve in many notable naval actions and engagements throughout the French wars and beyond, including Trafalgar where the Scots Alex McVicar and John McKerlie served as lieutenants of the Minotaur and Spartiate.  Other notable actions that the Indefatigables participated in included expeditions to Quiberon Bay and the Scheldt, actions at Batavia roads, Cuxhaven and  Heligoland, and the Bombardment of Algiers.

George Chace

All but two of the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen went on to become commissioned officers, the exceptions being George Chace and John Gaze, who both had long and successful careers as warrant officers.  In January 1797 George Chace was the most senior of the Indefatigable’s junior officers, and he also served as captain’s coxswain at this period.  Rather than following the commissioned officer career path, Chace went on to become a master gunner, and served in this capacity for almost thirty years.

John Gaze

John Gaze initially served as a midshipman aboard the Indefatigable, however he was serving as acting master at the time of the Droits de L’Homme engagement.  Following the action, he received his warrant and his promotion to master was confirmed. Gaze served his entire career alongside Edward Pellew accompanying him to India and the Mediterranean and serving as Master of the Fleet at Algiers.  Later Pellew helped Gaze to secure the post of Assistant Attendant of Portsmouth Dockyard, before he went on to serve as Master Attendant of the Dockyard at Sheerness for ten years from 1836 to 1846. On his retirement, Gaze was promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, a rare honour awarded to few warrant officers. Gaze was Pellew’s closest seagoing confidant, and continued as a friend of Pellew’s family after his death.

Nicholas Pateshall

Nicholas Lechmere Pateshall, © Sotheby's

Nicholas Lechmere Pateshall, © Sotheby’s

Not all the valuable naval service of this group was carried out in battles or engagements. A number of the Indefatigables also undertook voyages of discovery and politically sensitive diplomatic missions.  In 1802, during the Peace of Amiens, Nicholas Pateshall served as lieutenant of the Calcutta during her voyage to establish a new colony in Port Philip, Australia. Pateshall kept a journal of his voyage to Port Philip, and was a keen observer of the customs and peoples they encountered along the way. The Australian historian Marjorie Tipping has noted that Pateshall “commented with perception and humanity on the Aboriginals”. He also sympathised with the plight of the convicts the Calcutta was transporting, writing in his journal:

To make these wretches happy was the wish and concern of us all, as soon as the ship was in order for so long a voyage we released upwards of one hundred from irons. [11]

Diplomatic Service

Henry Hart served in a number of diplomatic roles in his post-war career, in 1818 he was sent to Panama to help safeguard British interests, and later in 1834 he undertook diplomatic missions to Muscat.  Hart’s diplomatic efforts were so successful, that the Sultan of Oman presented him with a fine teak ship for King William IV. Hart was knighted for his diplomatic services in 1836.  Jeremiah Coghlan was also involved in diplomatic service in South America at the time of the treaty of Montevideo, although his relationship with the Minister Plenipotentiary in Rio was fraught to say the least.  Two other Indefatigables, George Cadogan and Nicholas Pateshall were also responsible for carrying important personnel and despatches during the Peninsular War and the aftermath of the War of 1812.

Technological Innovation

The Charts and Plans Referred to in the Report from the Committee Appointed to Examine into Mr Telford’s Report and Survey, 15th June 1809.

The Charts and Plans Referred to in the Report from the Committee Appointed to Examine into Mr Telford’s Report and Survey, 15th June 1809.

Like many young naval officers, several of the Indefatigable’s midshipmen became involved in technological innovation both within and outwith the service.  John McKerlie was seconded from the navy between 1806 and 1808 to work with Thomas Telford surveying harbours, roads and bridges for an 1809 parliamentary report on communications between England and Ireland, via the North West of Scotland.  Later, twenty years after the end of his active naval service, McKerlie had one final unexpected opportunity when he was appointed as captain of the controversial experimental frigate Vernon between 1834 and 1837.   McKerlie’s fellow Scot, Alexander McVicar was also involved in technological research for the navy, in trials of new ships compassses in his home port of Leith in 1813. Two of the Indefatigables undertook hydrographical research during their naval service; in 1809 William Kempthorne charted extensive and dangerous coral reefs in the South China Sea, and following his diplomatic mission to Muscat in 1834, Henry Hart published detailed navigation notes on the southern passage to the islands of Zanzibar.   Hart also demonstrated a knack for technical invention during his civilian career when, in 1849, he patented a device to prevent chimneys from smoking.  The device was employed at Greenwich hospital, where Hart happened to be one of the commissioners at the time.

Civilian Lives

Those of the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen who survived the war lived on to experience the transition from decades of conflict to lasting peace, and were among the first generation to live at peace for many years.  With the navy being drastically reduced in size, opportunities for naval officers were few and far between after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and most had to forge new civilian careers and occupations ashore.  Like many of their contemporaries, the Inedfatigable’s former young gentlemen, carried the experience they gained during their naval service into the post-war period and they continued to serve in public offices and charitable institutions in the towns and cities where they built their civilian lives.

Maritime Careers

Some remained in maritime occupations at the end of their naval careers; John Thomson took up employment with the coastguard service in Ireland.  Alex McVicar served as Admiralty Commissioner for the Harbour and Docks of Leith from 1826 onwards, John McKerlie built and operated merchant vessels out of the port of Garlieston in Galloway in the 1820s, and George Tippett became a packet captain after being invalided out of the service early in his career in 1810.

Public Office

Others took up public office and entered local and national politics.  The Hon George Cadogan took his seat in the House of Lords in 1831 and inherited the title 3rd Earl Cadogan from his brother the following year.  Cadogan was an active member of the Lords who supported a number of causes that threatened to impact on the rights of landowners and rural constituents, including the extension of the railways and the repeal of the corn laws, legislation he vehemently opposed.  Thomas Groube and Nicholas Pateshall entered local politics, both were Whigs but Groube was markedly more radical.  Groube had a long and active involvement in local politics in Honiton, Devon, where he was elected to the new civic role of alderman and the historic office of port reeve.  Groube campaigned on a number of radical issues such as the repeal of the Corn Law, which unlike his former shipmate, he strongly supported, the imposition of income tax and issues of church politics. His radical stance on these issues was influenced by his membership of a dissenting congregation. Groube came to be respected for his warmth and generosity and, following his death in 1850 at the age of 75, he was remembered in the press as being a “true friend of the poor man” [12]. Though considerably less radical than his former shipmate, Nicholas Pateshall was also involved in local politics. He held the office of mayor of Hereford several times from 1840 onwards and was remembered for his good humour and tolerance. As might be expected of respected men of the standing and retired naval officers, several of the Indefatigables also served as magistrates later in life, including Nicholas Pateshall, John McKerlie, and John Harry.

Charitable Causes

Many of these men also became involved in supporting charitable causes and institutions. Unsurprisingly, naval and maritime charities were popular causes for retired naval officers, though their commitment typically depended on their social status and disposable income. George Cadogan, Henry Hart and William Kempthorne all supported a wide range of naval and maritime charities including the Marine Society, the Seaman’s Hospital and Royal Navy Club.  Many of these causes were also supported by their former captain, now Admiral Lord Exmouth, who subscribed generously to many maritime causes.  Pellew, Henry Hart and John Thompson were also supporters of several evangelical charities and bible societies. Hart was involved in a number of controversial charities to support destitute and fallen women, including the Fund for Promoting Female Emigration and the London Female Mission.

George Cadogan’s wealth enabled him to support a wide range of charities but his real passion appeared to be for cultural causes. He was a trustee and member of both the Society of Antiquaries and the British Museum, and also supported the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund, a charity for supporting indigent and infirm actors and actresses.  Cadogan was also a member of the Nelson Memorial Committee which raised a general subscription to erect a National Monument to Nelson in London, and a member of the sub-committee chaired by the Duke of Wellington, which selected the winning entry by William Railton.

Faithful and Attached Companions

Throughout their naval careers, which took the young gentlemen of HMS Indefatigable to every corner of the globe, there is ample evidence in the form of Admiralty records and personal correspondence to show that they developed professional and personal networks which they maintained throughout their naval service and on into their diverse civilian lives. There is also evidence that Pellew was very much at the heart of this network and regularly passed on news of former shipmates in his personal correspondence.  In addition, those officers who continued to serve with Pellew later in their careers, such as William Kempthorne who was present at Algiers, were badgered by their former shipmates for news of the Admiral.  These networks and friendships persisted into the Indefatigables civilian lives.  George Cadogan, Henry Hart and Fleetwood Pellew frequently met at court levées and formal naval dinners.  Pellew himself kept in touch with many of his former officers right until the end of his life.  Family letters from Pellew to one of his younger sons, include news of Henry Hart, who Pellew once described as a favourite of his wife Susan.  Another letter was sent from Honiton, where it appears likely that Pellew was visiting Thomas Groube and John Thomson actually joined the Pellew family when he married Pellew’s niece Constantia.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of the close networks of friendship that bound these men together are the condolence letters sent to Fleetwood Pellew following his father’s death in 1833. As we have already seen, these letters consistently refer to Pellew as being both father and friend.  Jeremiah Coghlan wrote the following deeply moving and heartfelt tribute to his former captain.

My dear Fleetwood the will of God be done. You have lost the best of Fathers and I the most generous and kindest of friends that ever lived…..I will mourn in solemn silence the man who has ever been most dear to my heart….. He will find his reward in heaven whither his great spirit is flown.  I never saw his equal not can I expect ever to look on his like again. [13]

William Kempthorne, the Falmouth boy whose career Pellew had rescued, not only wrote a moving tribute to his former captain and lifelong friend, but also left instructions in his will for a diamond brooch to be made for Lady Exmouth and rings for Pellew and his eldest son Pownoll, each bearing the inscription.

While I had life my heart was deeply impressed by your multiple kindnesses.[14]

Jeremiah Coghlan, “Intrepid Jerry”

Jeremiah Coghlan, © Royal Museums Greenwich

Jeremiah Coghlan, © Royal Museums Greenwich

Among the young gentlemen of the Indefatigable, Jeremiah Coghlan stands out not only for his devotion to Pellew and his singularly heroic entry into the Royal Navy, but also for the fame he achieved during his lifetime as a result of his naval exploits.  From first to last, his life is the stuff of naval adventure and romance. Feted by the press and the public, and honoured by the Admiralty, Coghlan was the subject of numerous reports and dispatches in the contemporary press, which awarded him the epithet “Intrepid Jerry”. Coghlan’s first meeting with Pellew, on the storm tossed deck of the shipwrecked Dutton, is the stuff of legend, but like all legends, mythology has a tendency to obscure facts which, in the case of Coghlan’s early life, are few and far between.

Despite his naval exploits being widely reported in the contemporary press, many details of Jeremiah Coghlan’s life are clouded by myth and remain obscure.  He was born in Crookhaven in West Cork in the late 1780s, though his exact date of birth is unknown.  Some reports suggested he was an orphan, others that he ran away to sea to escape an abusive mother.  Coghlan’s entry into the navy was dramatic but again the actual facts are obscure and there are many conflicting accounts of the details.  It appears that Coghlan first encountered Pellew while helping to rescue passengers and crew from the stricken Dutton East Indiaman, which had run aground off the Citadel near Plymouth in January 1796.  Accounts vary significantly as to how Coghlan came to be present and what role he played.  Some press accounts allege that he swam out to the wreck carrying a lifeline, others that he brought a boat out to the wreck to help with the rescue. However he came to be there, Pellew was sufficiently impressed with Coghlan’s conduct to offer him a place on the Indefatigable with a promise of promotion to the quarterdeck.

Coghlan entered the Indefatigable in 1796 and transferred with Pellew to his subsequent command HMS Impetueux in 1799.  It was at this stage of his career that Coghlan made a name for himself as “Intrepid Jerry” when, as commander of the Viper cutter, he led a boat expedition to cut out the French brig Cerbere anchored under the gun batteries of Port Saint Louis, south of Lorient.  Despite the approach of Coghlan’s boats being discovered, and the first attack being repulsed, Coghlan pressed home the attack and successfully carried the action despite heavy casualties.  Lord St Vincent was so impressed with Coghlan’s conduct that he wrote to Pellew professing to be

…transported by the noble exploit performed by your friend Coghlan.[15]

The Earl ordered a gold sword to the value of one hundred guineas to be made and presented to Coghlan as a token of his esteem.  This sword, which many years later was placed on Coghlan’s coffin at his funeral, still survives and recently sold at auction for a considerable sum.  As a result of this action, Coghlan was promoted to the rank of lieutenant by Order in Council, despite having served only four years in the navy.

Like many of his contemporaries, Coghlan disappears from Admiralty records during the peace of Amiens, however it seems that he married around this time and in 1803 his only son William Marcus Coghlan was born.  Coghlan and his wife Isabella also had one daughter, named after Pellew’s wife, Susan Pellew Coghlan.

Coghlan returned to active service in 1804 and spent the next six years in the West Indies where once again he was involved in several notable and dashing actions including one with the French privateer Le Général Ernouf.  At the commencement of the action, the captain of the privateer is reported to have ordered Coghlan to strike to which is he is reputed to have responded

Aye! I’ll strike, and damned hard too, my lad, directly. [16]

Coghlan was as good as his word and after a short but severe action the privateer caught fire and blew up.  Coghlan immediately ordered his only undamaged boat to be launched to rescue the “brave but unfortunate survivors”, and succeeded in rescuing all those that had survived the explosion.

Jeremiah Coghlan finally made post captain in November 1810 and in September 1812 was appointed as flag captain of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew’s 120 gun flagship Caledonia, in the Mediterranean.  Even as flag captain Coghlan continued his heroics and in August 1813 led a detachment of marines during an assault on five batteries defending the port of Cassis.  For much of the period from 1812 to 1814 the Caledonia was engaged in blockading the French fleet in the port of Toulon.  Towards the end of 1814 Coghlan transferred from the flagship to the 38 gun frigate Alcmene.  He continued to serve in the Mediterranean and in the summer of 1815 was stationed in the Bay of Naples where he was instrumental in maintaining order following Murat’s withdrawal from the city. In recognition of these services, Coghlan was created Commander of the Bath in June 1815.

After the end of the war Coghlan, like many of his contemporaries, found himself beached on half pay, though he appears to have received occasional minor commissions. In March 1826 Coghlan received a final naval appointment when he was placed in command of the Forte frigate and dispatched to Brazil where he became senior officer at the port of Rio. There he became embroiled in a tense diplomatic incident resulting from alleged harassment of British seamen by Brazilian agents.  After spending four years in South America, Coghlan’s final naval command came to an end and he retired from active service in July 1830.

Few records have survived from Coghlan’s later civilian years, though his name occasionally appears alongside some of his former Indefatigable shipmates in press reports of social engagements and public events.  In 1840 Coghlan was awarded an Admiralty pension of £150 per annum and two years later, he was offered a position as Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, an appointment he declined.

When Coghlan died at his home on the Isle of White in 1844 at the age of sixty-nine, he was a man of considerable wealth and his will bequeaths significant sums of money to his family.  However his relationship with his wife appears to have broken down irreparably, as his will also includes the following extraordinary indictment.

To the wretched woman I am obliged to call my wife, Mrs Isabella Coghlan, I will and bequeath one thousand pounds of the aforesaid sum which in addition to the pension she will receive in case of my death and which she has forfeited a thousand times by her abandoned and profligate conduct is infinitely more than she deserves. [17]

 Coghlan’s death in 1844 was widely reported in the press, along with florid accounts of his funeral. Countless memorials extolled Coghlan’s virtues as a “most excellent and meritorious officer” and, without exception, every obituary lauded his distinguished bravery, “intrepidity, firmness and humanity”.  Many also recalled his gallant service at the wreck of the Dutton and his relationship with Pellew.  Of all the veterans of the Indefatigable, Coghlan is the only one whose obituaries fail to mention the Droits de L’Homme engagement; such was the mythology that surrounded “Intrepid Jerry” that his heroic exploits surpassed even this iconic engagement.

Boys Grown to Men

The letter Edward Pellew wrote to Lord Spencer in February 1799  referred to the “boys grown  to men under me” and indeed by the time he wrote these words a considerable number of the 1797 cohort had already passed their lieutenant’s examination and moved on.  Several passed within days of meeting their six year minimum service requirement – there were no aged and embittered midshipmen aboard the Indefatigable!  By the time the Peace of Amiens cast Pellew temporarily on the beach, all of this group had made the crucial step of passing for lieutenant. The boys who had come willingly and those who had been reluctant, the ones with powerful patrons and those with little to commend them but their own skill and seamanship, almost all became men whom the Royal Navy could rely on in battles and blockades, diplomatic missions, humanitarian rescues, and journeys of discovery.  Friendships first forged in the midshipman’s berth of the Indefatigable survived years of being scattered to every corner of the globe.  The network that they formed was indeed one of faithful and attached companions and at its heart was Edward Pellew, a man who could be demanding, intemperate and avaricious but who was also generous, perceptive, loyal and supportive. Tellingly, the word chosen more than any other to describe him, by those who wrote the many moving condolence letters and memorials, is “kindness”. To these writers, Pellew had been an early and lasting influence, he showed them what living out a life of duty and service should mean, and they in their turn went on to serve with courage, ingenuity and honour.


1. Edward Pellew to Lord Spencer, in Corbett, J., The Private Papers of George, 2nd Earl Spencer, Volume I, Navy Records Society, vol. 46 (NRS, 1913).
2. Nicholas Pateshall to Anne Pateshall, 17th January 1796, Hereford Archive. (Pateshall has clearly mistaken the date).
3. Ibid.
4. Edward Pellew to Lord Spencer, in Corbett, J., The Private Papers of George, 2nd Earl Spencer, Volume I, Navy Records Society, vol. 46 (NRS, 1913).
5. Robert Carthew Reynolds, 25th Sept 1797, testimony to Court Martial.  The National Archives.
6. Mullié, C., Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850, vol. I (Paris, 1851).
7. Edward Hawke Locker, unpublished draft, Devon Archives.
8. Edward Pellew to Lord Spencer, in Corbett, J., The Private Papers of George, 2nd Earl Spencer, Volume I, Navy Records Society, vol. 46 (NRS, 1913).
9. Edward Pellew to Lord Spencer, 28 February 1799, Pellew Archive, Caird Library.
10. William Kempthorne to Fleetwood Pellew, 1833.
11. William Pateshall, in Tipping, M., Nicholas Pateshall: A Short Account of a Voyage Round the Globe in H.M.S Calcutta 1803 – 1804 (Queensbury Hill Press, 1980).
12. Western Times, 8 July 1843.
13. Jeremiah Coghlan to Fleetwood Pellew, 26 Jan 1833, Devon Archives.
14. Admon of the estate of Captain William Kempthorne. PROB 11/ 1850.
15. Earl St Vincent to Edward Pellew, Marshall, J., Royal Naval Biography Supplement, Part 2 (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1827).
16. Marshall, J., Royal Naval Biography Supplement, Part 2 (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1827).
16. PCC Wills PROB 11: 2910, Will of Jeremiah Coghlan