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The Story of HMS Revenge, Alexander Stilwell.

The Story of HMS Revenge, Alexander Stilwell.

The Story of HMS Revenge, Alexander Stilwell

The Story of HMS Revenge, Alexander Stilwell.

This book looks at the series of British warships that have borne the name Revenge, starting with Drake's ship during the Spanish Armada and ending with a Polaris nuclear submarine. In the intervening centuries the name was given to a series of increasingly powerful sailing ships, then to a 91-gun steam-powered second-rate ship of the line and one of the most power pre-dreadnaught battleships, and one of the last First World War super-dreadnaughts.

The focus of the book is more on the campaigns that the ships took part in, and the men who sailed on them than the ships themselves (not that this topic is neglected), so the two Victorian Revenges, neither of which took part in a major war, only merit a small chapter between them. In contrast the Elizabethan Revenge, which took part in the fight against the Spanish Armada, before being lost after one of the most famous defeats in British naval history, when Sir Richard Grenville look on a Spanish fleet, gets three chapters, and the super-dreadnaught HMS Revenge, which fought at Jutland and during the Second World War gets three and a half.

The HMS Revenge of the Napoleonic Wars is also well covered, as are the ships of the Anglo-Dutch Wars. The book would have benefited from a list of the ships involved which would have been especially useful for the seventeenth century, a period that saw many ships change names, and in which at one point Stilwell is following the careers of two different ships at the same time.

This is a largely successful approach that avoids giving too much space to ships that didn't have particularly interesting careers, while allowing Stilwell to give a wider view of events than if he had focused too tightly on the individual Revenges. A significant amount of space is given to the evolution of the warship, looking at why Drake's Revenge and her sister ships were so effective, and what made the super-dreadnaughts first so powerful and then so vulnerable to air attack.

1 Scene - A Ship at Sea: an Island
2 The Spanish Tragedy
3 At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville Lay
4 Prince Rupert
5 The Navy of Pepys
6 Guarding the Channel
7 Keeping the French at Bay
8 Interlude
9 Trafalgar
10 Basque Roads
11 From Portugal to the Adriatic
12 Dawn of a New Age
13 Jutland
14 Between the Wars
15 The Second World War
16 Nuclear Option

Author: Alexander Stilwell
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 218
Publisher: Pen & Sword Marine
Year: 2009

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The Encyclopedia of the World's Special Forces

Mike Ryan, Chris Mann, Alexander Stilwell

Since the advent of special forces units in World War II, governments and armies have trained small, elite teams of soldiers to perform operations deemed too risky or demanding for regular troops. Training to enter the special forces is harsh in the extreme, and the few who enter the ranks of the elite can expect a life of intense operational danger. Special forces missions include counter-ins. read more

Since the advent of special forces units in World War II, governments and armies have trained small, elite teams of soldiers to perform operations deemed too risky or demanding for regular troops. Training to enter the special forces is harsh in the extreme, and the few who enter the ranks of the elite can expect a life of intense operational danger. Special forces missions include counter-ins. read more

The Story of HMS Revenge

Between Drake's Revenge and the Polaris submarine, the most recent Revenge, are the glory years of the Royal Navy. Revenge was at the Armada, the Azores, Trafalgar and Jutland and with weapons capable of terrible destruction.The first Revenge commanded by Queen Elizabeth's favourite, Francis Drake, symbolised the boldness and flair of that period. Faster and more manoeuvrable than the massive . read more

Between Drake's Revenge and the Polaris submarine, the most recent Revenge, are the glory years of the Royal Navy. Revenge was at the Armada, the Azores, Trafalgar and Jutland and with weapons capable of terrible destruction.The first Revenge commanded by Queen Elizabeth's favourite, Francis Drake, symbolised the boldness and flair of that period. Faster and more manoeuvrable than the massive . read more

Special Forces in Action: Iraq * Syria * Afghanistan * Africa * Balkans

In 1991, Coalition special forces were active deep inside Iraq, hunting down SCUD missile launchers before they could be fired. In 2011, US Navy SEALs were responsible for the assassination of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. In 2014, the US Delta Force captured Libyan terrorist Ahmed Abu Khattala, wanted for the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012. Over the last 25. read more

In 1991, Coalition special forces were active deep inside Iraq, hunting down SCUD missile launchers before they could be fired. In 2011, US Navy SEALs were responsible for the assassination of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. In 2014, the US Delta Force captured Libyan terrorist Ahmed Abu Khattala, wanted for the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi in 2012. Over the last 25. read more

Special Forces Survival Guide: Desert, Arctic, Mountain, Jungle, Urban

Review of the author's Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques (2000): This could prove to be a mighty handy volume. Recommended. --Library Journal Written by a former member of the British Territorial Army, Special Forces Survival Guide arms readers with the survival techniques used by special forces units around the world. Trained to take on the toughest missions in the most challenging environm. read more

Review of the author's Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques (2000): This could prove to be a mighty handy volume. Recommended. --Library Journal Written by a former member of the British Territorial Army, Special Forces Survival Guide arms readers with the survival techniques used by special forces units around the world. Trained to take on the toughest missions in the most challenging environm. read more

Secret Operations of World War II

Disaster Survival Handbook

A practical and illustrated guide to getting through all types of life-threatening situations.Are you ready for the big one, whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or a monster snowstorm? Disaster Survival Handbook will help you prepare for the unexpected—from stocking up on provisions to hunkering down in a safe area to administering basic first aid. The power of nature means that disasters. read more

A practical and illustrated guide to getting through all types of life-threatening situations.Are you ready for the big one, whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or a monster snowstorm? Disaster Survival Handbook will help you prepare for the unexpected—from stocking up on provisions to hunkering down in a safe area to administering basic first aid. The power of nature means that disasters. read more

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When Revenge was laid down at Deptford in 1575, it was only five years after Pope Pius V had issued a Bull of Excommunication against Elizabeth I (1558–1603), which proved to be the warning bell for the inevitable squaring up of Protestant England and Catholic Spain.

While Puritans in England kicked at the traces of Elizabeth’s Anglican Church settlement, Catholic Jesuit priests trained on the Continent landed in England to try to bring about a Catholic revival, their hopes centred on Mary Queen of Scots.

In the Netherlands, the Protestant movement was growing in the wake of the depredations of the Spanish Duke of Alba, and English emissaries and spies did their best to foment resistance. In France religious wars raged, to England’s convenience, leaving Spain as her deadliest enemy.

Whereas Englishmen had sallied forth onto the ‘vasty fields of France’ under King Henry V, now Continental Europe was a fortress impregnable to more than the occasional expeditionary force to help the Dutch. Without sufficiently powerful land forces to make a real difference in European affairs, Englishmen focused more and more on the possibilities offered by the sea. Unable to tackle the enemy head on, they nipped at its ankles like jackals teasing a lumbering elephant.

The spirit of the Elizabethan age lent itself to adventure. A nation without formidable military resources is more likely to rely on wit and cunning than brute force for survival, and there was plenty of wit in Elizabethan England. The monarch herself was a feisty redhead who drew on all her female guile to survive in a world dominated by men. Playwrights such as Kyd, Marlowe and Shakespeare, authors of the Revenge tragedies, drew on their resources of wit to entertain exacting audiences, who would throw rotten vegetables rather than endure a slow play. In an environment where English trade was not yet established, sea captains lived on their wits in order to survive.

There was little to restrain the inspirations of adventurers: initiative, inventiveness, and derring-do ruled the waves before cumbersome administrative machinery had had time to take over. The Queen gave her captains a loose rein, tugging the bridle only when their greed or audacity got the better of them. Thus English adventurers roamed the seas to plunder, to trade and to find new lands that would harbour the explosive energies of the Elizabethans.

Although England may now have become the most adventurous maritime nation, it would be a long time before Britannia ruled the waves. The English were tantamount to thieves and condemned men, stealing through the streets of a world city largely divided between Spain and Portugal and, after Portugal was annexed by Spain in 1580, dominated by Spain.

Drake’s rounding of Cape Cod and circumnavigation of the globe in the Golden Hind showed that not only were the English daring but also tenacious. It also proved that small ships made from English oak could withstand the worst the world’s seven seas could throw at them.

Elizabeth knighted her captain at Deptford while Walsingham plotted to trap the Catholic Queen-in-waiting, Mary Queen of Scots, and get her head on the block. It seemed to be only a matter of time before the Spanish nemesis would be visited on England.

Revenge was a suitable name for a ship sailed by such bold, brazen mariners. The galleon had the look of a weapon, with spare, sleek lines leading to a sharp, beaked prow. She was suited to the purposes of her country – designed for fast attack and manoeuvrability, and dispensing with the capacity of larger and more cumbersome ships to hold stores for long voyages: ‘English galleons were more or less pure men-of-war, whose fast underwater lines made them fast, handy and weatherly. As a result they lacked stowage they were ill-fitted to carry bulk cargoes, or indeed to stow victuals and water to carry large forces over any long distance.’¹

Revenge was notable for its low profile, a departure from the broad, high-sided designs of many contemporary ships inspired by the earlier carracks.² Her spiritual ancestors were the Portuguese caravels, the fast, light, lateen-sailed craft that had been used by Henry the Navigator to explore the coast of Africa. Sir Francis Drake himself considered her a masterpiece of naval construction and Sir William Monson described her as a ‘race ship’, ‘low and snug in the water like a galliasse’.

Like the caravels, which Sir Walter Raleigh remembered ‘swarming about us like butterflies’, Revenge was more ‘weatherly’ than her predecessors and able to close up to windward of ‘high-charged’ ships.

Revenge compared with some of her peers in the Navy Royal

The only danger was that the English might have exceeded themselves in their quest to find the perfect proportions. Revenge was ideal but later designs were thought to be less so:

From about the mid-sixteenth century to the Armada, it seems quite evident that the English shipbuilders were constantly experimenting, seeking the perfect shape for their ships.

Starting with short, shallow vessels, they began lengthening and deepening them. During the early Elizabethan years, they almost achieved the perfection they sought, but did not know it. So they continued changing until they were past the ideal proportions.³

Revenge was built at Deptford dockyard, which had been established by Henry VIII in 1513 as close as possible to the Royal Armouries. The main construction would have been of seasoned oak, a strong and durable wood that was less likely to splinter under gunfire. It was part of the shipwright’s art to select straight trees for long planks and bent ones for the deck supports and other fittings.

The main body of the ship would have been sourced from English forests, such as the Forest of Dean or the New Forest, while masts were often made from fir trees imported from the Baltic.

The building of the ship required long-term planning, since the proper seasoning of the wood involved years of storage, soaking in water in specially constructed pools and intervals in the construction to allow the timbers of the frame and hull to settle. Ships built in a hurry would cause their makers to repent at leisure, although this was not a problem faced by the Navy Royal, since English ships were built with an emphasis on quality over speed of construction. The quality of the Revenge’s build was such that during her last battle in 1591, she survived the attacks of no less than fifteen Spanish warships.

Revenge would have been equipped with canvas sails cut and sewn specifically to fit her dimensions, with sailmaking and the spinning of hem for ropes being carried out on site.

Revenge was designed by one of the Royal shipwrights, Peter Pett or Matthew Baker, who would also have overseen the building work on the ship. The design would have been approved by Sir John Hawkins, the Treasurer of the Navy, who was a prime mover in the new type of ship design. Not only was Revenge a sleek design, ideal for speed and quick manoeuvre, she was also comparatively heavily gunned for her size. Her firepower was four times greater than The Great Bark, also of 500 tons, launched in 1540 and she had considerably more firepower for her size than her Spanish counterparts.

Measurements of the galleon HMS Revenge


By the time Revenge was built, England had perhaps the most efficient gun manufacture and supply system in Europe. By 1548 there were fifty-three furnaces, forgeries and bloomeries in The Weald, with the muzzle-loading manufacture being overseen by men such as the French gun-founder Pierre Baude, the King’s ‘gunstone maker’ William Lovett and local ironmaster Ralph Hogg. By 1573, seven furnaces were casting 300–400 tons of guns and shot every year. Bronze guns were a development of the principles used in founding bronze bells. Each gun was different, since the mould had to be broken after each casting.

Iron guns were more dangerous to the user than bronze guns, since they were liable to explode if there was a flaw in them, whereas bronze guns just tended to crack. But iron was relatively cheap and plentiful. Despite these advances in iron-gun manufacture, however, the Navy in Elizabeth’s reign, including Revenge, was still largely equipped with bronze cannon.

Revenge’s main armament consisted of culverins, the heavy build of which made them less likely to fail and their weight reduced the amount of recoil on firing. The bronze culverins were reliable and as accurate as could be expected of a smooth-bore gun. English guns were mounted on wooden trucks designed specifically for use on a ship, whereas the Spanish guns tended to be mounted on carriages reminiscent of an army field gun. The English system gave their gunners an advantage by reducing recoil and making it easier to reload.

Typical armaments on Revenge

Ordnance report, 1588, for Revenge

Revenge was classified as a ‘Second Rate’ of 500 to 800 tons (First Rates such as Triumph and Victory were 800 tons and above), and her complement was 150 seamen, 24 gunners and 76 soldiers, totalling 250. Apart from the Captain or Admiral, the crew included: a master, responsible for navigation, and his mate a boatswain a quartermaster a coxswain a cook a steward a master carpenter and master gunner, and their mates. There was also a surgeon, a trumpeter and a pilot. The crew’s pay varied from £2.00 per month for the Master to ten shillings for a seaman, although this sometimes depended on the available cash resources.

With the rapid expansion of the Navy to face the growing threat from Spain, the standard of entry into it had to be continually lowered in order to attract sufficient men or, by the use of press gang, to force them to join.

As their own clothes wore out, the crew had no option but to buy replacements from the purser, paid for out of their own pockets, though they would be given a pay advance to do so. Typical of the kind of material required was a 1580 order of canvas for breeches and doublets, cotton for linings and petticoats, stockings, caps, shoes and shirts. Pipe Office accounts for 1595 listed a supply of calico for 200 suits of apparel, 400 shirts, woollen and worsted stockings, linen breeches and ‘Monmouth’ caps.

With the huge increase in the time spent at sea, as Tudor sailors embarked on longer and longer voyages, the provision and storage of food developed into a major problem. The staple diet for the Tudor sailor at sea was salt beef, salt fish, biscuit and cheese. These were the only foods that would remain edible for long periods, provided they were in a reasonable condition when first brought aboard. This, however, was not always the case as the tight-fisted Queen drove hard bargains with the civilian contractors who supplied the Navy’s food. The contractors for their part maximized their profits by providing the cheapest parts of carcases, fish past its sell-by date, mouldy biscuits and stale cheese.

In 1565, the agent victualler was paid 4½ pence per day per man and 5 pence per day per man at sea. By 1587 these sums had only risen to 6½ pence and 7 pence, despite the fact that the cost of living had doubled. Even so, the Queen had a clause inserted in the contract specifying that these sums were to be paid only ‘untill it shall please Almightie God to send such plentie as the heigh prises and rates of victuall shalbe diminished’.

Lord Charles Howard reported:

That both our drink, fish and beef is so corrupt as it will destroy all the men we have, and if they feed on it but a few days, in very truth we should not be able to keep the seas, what necessity soever did require the same, unless some new provision be made, for as the companies in general refuse to feed on it, so we cannot in reason or conscience constrain them.

The effect of poor food was aggravated by the rule of ‘six upon four’ on long voyages, whereby six men had to subsist on the rations normally issued to four men.

Fresh water, which was stored on board in wooden casks, became foetid in a few days and the sailor made up his liquid allowance with his entitlement of a gallon of beer a day. Brewed without hops, such beer quickly went sour and was a likely cause of the ‘infectione’ (probably a form of gastroenteritis) so often mentioned in voyage reports.

Short rations, decayed or putrefying food, sour beer, poor or non-existent ventilation below decks, overcrowding (partly to allow for the expected mortality during a long voyage, but also to provide sufficient manning for the new tactics of fast attack and withdrawal), the constant stink from foul bilges and hogsheads of urine kept on deck (for fire-fighting purposes), all made the Tudor sailor particularly vulnerable to disease, especially scurvy. It would be not for another two centuries that the properties of lemon juice as an anti-scorbutic against scurvy were discovered. Sir Richard Hawkins, writing in 1622, estimated that in twenty years of Elizabeth’s reign at least 10,000 men died from scurvy alone.

In view of these conditions, it does not seem surprising that the majority of sailors in the Navy at the time were little better than pirates, ever ready to mutiny if discontented or thwarted in their expectations of spoil. It is even less surprising when one considers that the interest in spoil was often exceeded by their captains.

Yet, for all his faults, his greed and his brutality, on occasion and with the right leadership, the Elizabethan sailor was capable of acts of sublime bravery, as the war with Spain was about to show.


Elizabethan mariners used a number of navigational devices which helped them to determine their latitude, including the astrolabe, cross staff, back staff, quadrant and magnetic compass as well as charts. They could not, however, determine longitude at sea since they did not have accurate enough time pieces aboard to compare local time, measured by a celestial body, with the time at a reference location kept by a clock. The navigators on ships like Revenge would therefore have needed to use dead reckoning to supplement their readings for latitude – this involved the measurement of the heading and speed of the ship, the speeds of the ocean currents and the drift of the ship, and the time spent on each heading.

No less than six of the navigational and other mathematical instruments made by Humfrey Cole (c.1530–91) are dated 1575, the year of the launch of Revenge. This coincidence underlines the adventurous spirit of the day, as well as the fact that long expeditions, whether for privateering, service of the Crown or discovery, required accurate instruments, lest time, provisions and even lives should be wasted.

The astrolabe was as ubiquitous in the sixteenth century as Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments are now. It was a multifunctional instrument that could be used for telling the time during the day and at night, surveying, determining latitude and even casting horoscopes. The mariner’s astrolabe dispensed with the optional extras found on the planispheric astrolabe.

Although some of the embryonic work in astronomy and geography was inaccurate, instruments such as the astrolabe embodied the staggering achievements of men like Hipparchus and Ptolemy who discovered the alterations of the measured positions of the stars. The accuracy of these discoveries enabled early mathematicians to construct precise instruments that became widely used, for example by the captains sent out by Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal to discover the route to India via the Cape of Good Hope. The instrument gave the Portuguese a tremendous advantage over mariners from other nations who did not possess them. Columbus, Magellan and Drake were among the great seafarers who used the astrolabe on epic voyages of discovery.

The astrolabe consists of a celestial part (rete), terrestrial parts (plates), a thick brass plate with a rim (the mater) and index for the front (the rule), and another one for the back with additional sights (the alidade). The user holds the instrument by a loop at the top, allowing it to dangle like a plummet, and sights a star with the sighting rule. He then reads the altitude off the scale engraved on the ring, thus determining his latitude. The astrolabe and its use was described by Geoffrey Chaucer to his son in the first scientific work written in English:

2. To knowe the altitude of the sonne or of othre celestial bodies.

Put the ryng of thyn Astrelabie upon thy right thombe, and turne thi lift syde ageyn the light of the sonne and remewe thy rewle up and doun til that the stremes of the sonne shine thorugh bothe holes of thi rewle. Loke than how many degrees thy rule is areised fro the litel crois upon thin est lyne, and tak there the altitude of thi sonne. And in this same wise maist thow knowe by night the alti-tude of the mone or of brighte sterres.

The cross staff may have been even more widely used by Elizabethan mariners than the astrolabe. It consists of a yardstick with a perpendicular cross stick that can be slid up and down. By using a tangent table, the user could work out the angle created by the positioning of the perpendicular slide. The back staff was similar, except that the user stood with his back to the sun and measured its shadow.

The quadrant was even more straightforward than the cross staff. Made of wood or brass, it was a 45º angle piece with a peephole for sighting. The instrument was suspended from a ring and a reading was taken by holding a plumb line over the appropriate angle.

The nautical compass had been used by the Chinese in the fourth century and it was regularly used by Elizabethan navigators, bearing in mind the fact that other navigational instruments required visible celestial bodies. The navigators of the time would have been aware that the compass does not always indicate true north, but the location of the North Star over the North Pole would have allowed them to calculate the difference. Revenge would have carried a compass mounted on a binnacle, in much the same manner as the one discovered on the Mary Rose. The compass was suspended on concentric rings in order to maintain a horizontal position despite the movements of the ship.

By 1569, Gerardus Mercator had published a map of the world, which included the Mercator projection, on which parallel and meridians on maps were drawn uniformly at 90º. This system was particularly useful for navigation, since compass courses could be drawn as straight lines. Although not very accurate at the time, due to the difficulty of determining longitude, the charts of the Elizabethan navigator would at least have allowed him to plot past and present positions, and to determine where he was going.

Irish Insurrection

Before playing a starring role in the defeat of the Armada, Revenge earned her spurs in an operation against the insurrection of 1579/80 in Munster, in the south-west of Ireland. The rising was led by James Fitzgerald, known as Fitzmaurice, assisted by an English priest, Nicholas Sander, who had connections at the Vatican and in Madrid.

Buoyed by the promise of Spanish reinforcements, Fitzmaurice sailed for Ireland in the spring of 1579 and was spotted off the Cornish coast in June with one large and two smaller ships. As an indication of his determination, he captured a ship from Bristol and threw the entire crew into the sea, about which the Spanish Ambassador, Mendoza, commented on 20 June that this ‘appears to have given them [in London] a fright’.

When the news of Fitzmaurice’s arrival in Dingle Bay in July finally reached London on 9 August, Lord Burghley proposed that a naval task force should be sent to intercept him and on 29 August five Royal ships, Revenge, Dreadnaught, Swiftsure, Foresight and Achates, sailed from the Thames, commanded by Sir John Perrot in Revenge.

For this adventure, Revenge would most likely have been commanded by Sir William Winter, but he was otherwise engaged on a confidential assignment, escorting the Queen’s potential paramour, Prince Francis of Anjou-Alençon, from England to Boulogne.

Perrot, reputed to be the son of Henry VIII, was a professional soldier who had a fearsome reputation for suppressing a riot when President of Munster by killing or hanging 800 rebels. A Welsh grandee, he was a councillor of the Marches, Vice-Admiral of the Welsh seas and commissioner for piracy in Pembrokeshire.

Revenge was on station between 14 September and mid-October when she returned to England. On the return journey, Perrot chased and captured a pirate called Deryfold off the Flemish coast. She was briefly grounded on the Kentish Knocks before reaching Harwich.

In Ireland, Fitzmaurice was joined by his kinsman, the Earl of Desmond, and by 1580 most of Munster was in a state of open rebellion. The English responded by assembling an army under the loyal Irish Earl of Ormonde who, along with the acting Lord Deputy Sir William Pelham, advanced into Desmond’s country, devastating the countryside as they went.

At this point Sir William Winter returned to Ireland in Revenge along with three other Royal ships, Swallow, Foresight and Merlin. Winter sailed up the Shannon to land guns, ammunition and powder which enabled Pelham to take Desmond’s stronghold at Carragfoyle as well as two other forts. Winter then moved to Dingle Bay where he destroyed Fitzmaurice’s ships. After this the rebellion soon collapsed.

This operation demonstrated the effectiveness of naval forces in support of land forces, an early forerunner of the modern task force.

After a brief spell back in England, Winter returned in Revenge after news was received that the Spanish Admiral Don Martín de Recaldi had arrived at Smerwick bay and offloaded supplies and troops before returning to Spain. This time Winter’s squadron consisted of nine ships, one of which was the Foresight under the famous navigator and explorer Martin Frobisher.

The engagement of the English ships with the fort, known as Dun an Oir, is immortalized in a map drawn up under Winter’s directions after the event. Known as the Smerwick map, it shows Revenge in a gaudy livery, anchored in the bay pounding the fort with her bow guns, with the Swiftsure and Aid doing the same. The three smaller ships are seen operating in a kind of carousel, passing nearer to the fort and firing at it with bow, broadside and stern guns when appropriate. Guns have been landed by the ships to help with the siege of the fort.

The Spaniards were quickly overwhelmed by these tactics and called for a truce on 9 November before surrendering on

Out of the Frozen Deep — III

This is the story behind and beyond the facts and evidence in Ommanney v Stilwell (23 Beav 328) 53 E R 129, a case decided in the High Court in England in 1856. The court had to consider the unknown date of death of naval lieutenant Edward Couch, an officer of HMS Erebus, one of the two ships of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition of 1845, in order to determine who should inherit under Edward’s will. This dispute involved the surviving members of Edward’s family, and the will made by his father, Captain James Couch, who had died in England in January 1850.

In this series of blog posts, I trace the lives and naval background of Edward Couch and his father, the departure of the Franklin expedition in 1845, the pre-1856 searches for Franklin’s ships and human remains and artefacts from them, the evidence and judgment in the 1856 trial, and the discoveries made subsequently and the light they cast (or not) on the 1856 decision.

Links to previous instalments


“What search was ever so great or so barren as the search for [the Franklin expedition] has been?” asked the author of Reflections on the mysterious fate of Sir John Franklin in February 1857.

Erebus and Terror and their men had last been heard of in July 1845 before they entered Lancaster Sound at the west of Baffin Bay. As they had provisions for three years, or longer if rations were reduced, and the entire expedition had set out with such confidence of achieving its object, it was only in 1848 that the Admiralty’s searches for them commenced. Between then and early 1854, there had been many other ships sent in search of the lost expedition, in different places and directions, but which had found no living trace of either ships or men. The British public had become obsessed with the mystery of the lost Arctic explorers, even to the point of mystical speculation arising from the visions of a dead child, and Jane, Lady Franklin, had become an object of public sympathy as well as a relentless promoter of her husband’s interests, and of hope for his survival and return. In 1852 she sewed a flag for one of the search expedition sledges: a navy blue ground, ornamented with a rope and anchor and the words Hope On, Hope Ever.

It is very hard to now imagine living, not in a world of instant geo-location from a mobile phone, but in the world of communication with ships at sea before the advent even of wireless telegraphy, and particularly of ships of discovery, sent to explore places as yet unknown. These ships were lost in a blankness of unmapped archipelago, where their only possibility of human contact would be with the native Esquimaux (as the Inuit were then known), with whaling ships that ventured westwards from Baffin Bay, or with ships sent in search of the lost expedition itself. The Arctic searchers knew what Franklin’s initial sailing instructions from the Admiralty were, but could only conjecture when and where and why he might have deviated from them. They looked in vain for messages in bottles, or notes in sealed cylinders under cairns of stones left by previous Arctic expeditions. In the searches of 1852–3 the rescue ships carried small red-striped balloons filled with hydrogen gas, which dropped fragments of silk with messages stating that they had been despatched by a balloon to Sir John Franklin from a named ship in stated latitude and longitude, in the hope that they would be found and lead to some signal in response. But there was no response.

Although even by 1850 Franklin’s expedition would have spent five winters in the Arctic and run out of its original provisions, a persistent hope of finding the men alive remained, driven by a belief in their superior capacity for survival and in the alternative possibilities that they had found food either with the Esquimaux or by hunting wild animals and birds for themselves. A sketch kept by the clerk of HMS Assistance, one of the search ships of 1850, even imagined the rescuers’ balloons finding the men of Erebus and Terror playing cricket in an ice field with a cluster of igloos bearing the ships’ and captains’ names. Both the men of the expedition ships and the searchers largely took their native 19th century British and Christian lives intact into the unknown icescapes and alternating seasons of endless dark and light of the Arctic, as if in a sealed capsule. In August 1850, Captain McClure of HMS Investigator, one of the search ships that had sailed from England only a few days after the death of Captain James Couch in January 1850, wrote of an encounter with some Esquimaux, and that he had observed their flag — “a pair of sealskin inexpressibles”, inexpressibles being an old-fashioned euphemism for tight trousers, and thus incongruously importing the world of the Regency drawing room into the frozen regions, where there were no young women to blush at the mention of tight trousers within a thousand miles. And in a deepening adherence to the Victorian world carried in the opposite direction across the Atlantic, in January 1854, Kallihirua Kalliessa, a young Esquimaux man who had served as a pilot on one of the 1848 search expeditions was publicly baptised as a Christian in England, the Admiralty having paid for him to be educated and Christianised in recognition of his services in the Arctic, and to be renamed Erasmus after captain Erasmus Ommanney, under whom he had served.

In August 1850 the first traces of where Franklin’s expedition had spent the first winter of its departure were found, principally in the form of the graves of three seamen: John Torrington, John Hartnell and William Braine, who had all died in early 1846 on Beechey Island, about 230 miles to the west of the entrance to Lancaster Sound. There were no documents of any kind left on Beechey Island, but each grave had a headboard with the dead man’s name and date of death, and a line of scripture. Unknown to those who first came upon the graves in 1850, the permanently frozen land had preserved their bodies just as they were at the moment of their burial. John Hartnell’s grave was opened in 1852, but the startling resurrection of all three men was still long in the future. Other relics found on the island were brought home for examination and proof that they were from the missing ships. But where the ships had sailed after over-wintering on Beechey Island in 1845–6 remained a mystery.

On 31 March 1854, nearly nine years after the departure of the expedition, the Admiralty formally declared the men of Erebus and Terror to be dead and removed their names from its active service lists. This enabled their wills to be admitted to probate, and widows’ pensions to be paid. The Admiralty’s decision had been foreshadowed in the Times in late 1853, and Lady Franklin had been told of it by a letter in January 1854. She responded, calling it a “premature and cruel measure”, persisting in her belief that “my husband may yet be living where your expeditions have never looked for him”, and refused to accept her widow’s pension. In a calculated theatrical gesture which it is easy to imagine being as, or even more, effective today than it was in 1854, Jane Franklin changed her habitual dress from the mourning black which, in accordance with Victorian convention, she had taken to wearing for some years, for bright colours of pink and green. She said

“It would be acting a falsehood and a gross hypocrisy on my part to put on mourning when I have not yet given up all hope. Still less would I do it in that month and day that suits the Admiralty’s convenience”.

The surviving members of the Couch family made no such gestures, so far as is known. On Midsummer day, 21 June 1854, Octavius Ommanney obtained a grant of probate to the will of Edward Couch. Whatever there was to distribute from his estate — probably no more than his accumulated naval pay — could now be distributed. But to whom? The will left everything to Edward’s father James, who had died in January 1850. Who now inherited depended on whether or not Edward had predeceased his father. If James had died first, then Edward would be intestate, as he had not contemplated the possibility that his father would die before him, or directed what should happen in that event. Edward’s intestate estate would go to his surviving brothers and sisters. If Edward had died first, then James would have inherited, and both his and Edward’s estates would in turn have gone only to his daughters Elizabeth and Caroline, although by 1854 Caroline herself had died of tuberculosis at the sisters’ home in Camberwell. The question of who was to inherit Edward’s estate was to take more than two years to resolve, and to turn on evidence from the Arctic as yet unknown in London in the summer of 1854.

As it happens, on the same day that the Admiralty’s declaration took effect, 31 March 1854, Dr John Rae, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company who had grown up on the island of Orkney, and who was a highly skilled and experienced Arctic explorer, set off on an expedition into the Arctic to further map the northern coast of North America. He had spent the winter with a small group of men in Repulse Bay (modern Naujaat), just south of the Arctic Circle at the base of the Boothia peninsula, and his intention was to survey the coastline of the west of the peninsula. Rae had participated in previous searches for Franklin in 1848 and 1849. In March 1854 he set off from Repulse Bay to the north west with four men, including William Ouligbuck, an Inuit man, who acted as their interpreter. They travelled as the Inuit did, building igloos as they went, rather than with tents and bedding as the naval expeditions did. An encounter with some Esquimaux in mid-April 1854 gave Rae the information that 35–40 white men had starved to death west of a large river a long distance off. At first Rae thought it impossible that this would be an account of the Franklin expedition, which he believed to have been lost in the area being searched by the Admiralty’s ships, much further north. But further encounters and the acquisition of some artefacts, such as a fork marked with the initials F R M C (Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier, captain of HMS Terror) and a silver plate engraved with Sir John Franklin’s name convinced him that what he had been told by the Esquimaux of the fate of some members of the expedition was true. In August 1854 he left Repulse Bay to bring his news — the first real news of the fate of the lost expedition — to England.

On Sunday 22 October 1854 John Rae landed at Deal in Kent, and went straight to the Admiralty with the report which he had prepared of his findings in the Arctic. He had also composed a letter to the editor of the Times, unaware that it would be published at the same time as some of the findings which he intended only for his official reports to the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Admiralty. Within days of his arrival, a publisher had produced a book entitled “The Melancholy Fate of Sir John Franklin”, opening with the words

“The veil that so long concealed from our view the fate of Sir John Franklin and others of our gallant countrymen engaged in the arduous and hazardous task of exploring the Polar Seas, has been suddenly and unexpectedly lifted, presenting a spectacle painfully distressing”

Rae himself had written to the Admiralty, originally from Repulse Bay at the end of July 1854

“ …. during my journey over the ice and snow this spring, with the view of completing the survey of the west shore of Boothia, I met with Esquimaux in Pelly Bay, from one of whom I learned that a party of ‘white men,’ (Kablounans) had perished from want of food some distance to the westward, and not far beyond a large river, containing many falls and rapids. Subsequently, further particulars were received, and a number of articles purchased, which places the fate of a portion, if not all of the then survivors of Sir John Franklin’s long-lost party, beyond a doubt — a fate as terrible as the imagination can conceive.

The substance of the information obtained at various times and from various sources, was as follows:

In the spring, four winters past (spring 1850) a party of ‘white men’ amounting to about forty, were seen travelling southward over the ice, and dragging a boat with them, by some Esquimaux, who were killing seals near the north shore of King William’s Land, which is a large island. None of the party could speak the Esquimaux language intelligibly, but by signs the party were made to understand that their ship, or ships, had been crushed by ice, and that they were now going to where they expected to find deer to shoot. From the appearance of the men, all of whom, except one officer, looked thin, they were then supposed to be getting short of provisions, and purchased a small seal from the natives. At a later date the same season, but previous to the breaking up of the ice, the bodies of some thirty persons were discovered on the Continent, and five on an island near it, about a long day’s journey N.W. of a large stream, which can be no other than Back’s Great Fish River …. Some of the bodies had been buried (probably those of the first victims of famine), some were in a tent or tents, others under the boat, which had been turned over to form a shelter, and several lay scattered about in different directions. Of those found on the island, one was supposed to have been an officer, as he had a telescope strapped over his shoulders, and his double-barrelled gun lay underneath him.

From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource — cannibalism — as a means of prolonging existence.

None of the Esquimaux with whom I conversed had seen the ‘whites’ nor had they ever been at the place where the bodies were found, but had their information from those who had been there, and who had seen the party when travelling.

I offer no apology for taking the liberty of addressing you, as I do so from a belief that their lordships [of the Admiralty] would be desirous of being put in possession, at as early a date as possible, of any tidings, however meagre and unexpectedly obtained, regarding this painfully interesting subject.”

John Rae’s report on “this painfully interesting subject” was difficult for many people in Britain to accept, Lady Franklin amongst them. Besides her, the most vocal of its critics was Charles Dickens, who devoted two instalments of his journal “Household Words” to “The Lost Arctic Explorers” in December 1854. Dickens’ prose, laden with rhetorical flourish and declamation, contrasts sharply with the spare language of John Rae’s report. Dickens acknowledged that Dr Rae had established the deaths of the men of the expedition by the “mute but solemn testimony of the relics he has brought home”, but furiously contested the suggestion that they had resorted to survival cannibalism. Dickens described the Esquimaux as “a race of savages” and conjectured that the men’s bodies had been mutilated by the ravages of scurvy and by wolves and foxes. He argued, in language that seems painfully archaic now, that the innate civilisation of “the flower of the trained adventurous spirit of the English Navy” would have led them to starve to death rather than resort to cannibalism, concluding that “the memory of the lost Arctic voyagers is placed, by reason and experience, high above the taint of [the suggestion of cannibalism] and that the noble conduct and example of such men, and of their own great leader himself . . . outweighs by the weight of the whole universe the chatter of a gross handful of uncivilised people, with domesticity of blood and blubber.”

Despite this criticism of his report, and despite Lady Franklin’s attempts to prevent him doing so, in early 1856 John Rae received the Admiralty’s £10,000 reward as the first person to ascertain the fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition. A few months later, his report was called in evidence in Ommanney v. Stilwell — the case which decided whether Edward Couch, promoted to lieutenant of HMS Erebus in his absence, had died before or after his father James, who had died in January 1850, and which is the subject of the next instalment of this blog.

Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expeditions — Lost and Found — Gillian Hutchinson, Bloomsbury/National Maritime Museum

Fatal Passage — biography of John Rae — Ken McGoogan, Transworld

Lady Franklin’s Revenge — Ken McGoogan, Transworld

Reflections on the Mysterious Fate of Sir John Franklin — James Parsons, 1857

The Melancholy Fate of Sir John Franklin as disclosed in Dr Rae’s Report, 1854

Operational history [ edit | edit source ]

Pre-World War I [ edit | edit source ]

Upon completion in March 1894, HMS Revenge commissioned into reserve at Portsmouth, United Kingdom. On 14 January 1896 she commissioned there as flagship of the Particular Service Squadron, soon renamed the Flying Squadron she was flagship of the squadron, which was attached to the Mediterranean Fleet briefly in the middle of 1896, throughout its existence. The deployment was due to increased international tensions following the Jameson Raid. Α] When the squadron was disbanded, Revenge paid off at Portsmouth on 5 November 1896, and recommissioned the same day to relieve battleship HMS Trafalgar as flagship of the second-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet. Β]

From February 1897 to December 1898, Revenge served in the International Squadron blockading Crete during the Greco-Turkish uprising there. During this duty, she landed a force of Royal Marines on Crete to seize Fort Tzeddin, and in September 1898 she went to Candia to support the British garrison there. Β]

On 15 December 1899, Revenge recommissioned at Malta to continue Mediterranean Fleet service. In April 1900, battleship HMS Victorious relieved her and she returned to the United Kingdom, paying off into Fleet Reserve at Chatham. Β] While in dock she was refitted, including installation of a wireless telegraph.

On 18 April 1901, Revenge commissioned at Chatham to relieve HMS Alexandra as both coast guard ship at Portland and flagship of Admiral Superintendent Commanding Reserves. Γ] In early 1902 she went under refit. Later in 1902, she commissioned to serve as flagship of the Home Squadron upon its creation. Β]

In April 1904, Revenge and her sister ship HMS Royal Oak both struck a submerged wreck off the Scilly Isles while serving with the Home Fleet. Revenge suffered bottom damage. Δ]

In July 1905, Revenge participated in maneuvers with the Reserve Fleet. She paid off at Portsmouth on 31 August 1905, then recommissioned on 1 September 1905 in the Portsmouth Reserve Division. Β]

In June 1906, Revenge relieved battleship HMS Colossus as gunnery training ship at Portsmouth and as tender to shore establishment HMS Excellent. Β]

On 13 June 1908, Revenge collided with the merchant ship SS Bengore Head. In October 1908, she tested a new model of 13.5-inch (343-mm) gun in firing and explosives tests against battleship HMS Edinburgh. On 7 January 1912 she suffered hull damage when, during a gale a Portsmouth, she broke from her moorings and collided with battleship HMS Orion. She was relieved as gunnery training ship by battleship HMS Albemarle and paid off on 15 May 1913. She went ito reserve, and then was laid up at Motherbank, awaiting disposal. Β]

World War I [ edit | edit source ]

Unlike her sister ships, Revenge was given a reprieve from the scrapyard by the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. It was decided to bring her back into service for use in coastal bombardment duties off the coast of Flanders. In September and October 1914, she was refitted at Portsmouth for this mission, including the relining of her 13.5-inch (343-mm) guns to 12-inch (305-mm) caliber. Her refit completed, she was ordered on 31 October 1914 to stand by to relieve battleship HMS Venerable as flagship there. Β]

Revenge was declared ready for service on 5 November 1914, and formed the Channel Fleet's new 6th Battle Squadron with battleships HMS Albemarle, HMS Cornwallis, HMS Duncan, HMS Exmouth. and HMS Russell. Plans for the squadron to participate in an attack on German submarine bases were cancelled due to bad weather on 14 November 1914, and instead Revenge and battleship HMS Majestic left Dover, England, for Dunkirk, France. Β]

Revenge took her first action of the war when she joined gunboat HMS Bustard, six British and four French destroyers and a French torpedo boat in bombarding German troops from off of Nieuwpoort, Belgium, on 22 November 1914. She was recalled to Dover the same day.

On 15 December 1914, Revenge returned to her bombardment duties, joining Majestic in searching for and bombarding German heavy artillery sites. She took two 8-inch (203-mm) shell hits, one of which penetrated her hull below the waterline and caused a serious leak. She again bombarded the Flanders coast on 16 December 1914. Β]

In April and May 1915 she underwent a refit at Chatham in which she had antitorpedo bulges fitted, the first ship to be fitted with them operationally. Ε] In August 1915, she was renamed HMS Redoubtable. Β]

On 7 September 1915, she returned to combat, joining gunboats HMS Bustard and HMS Excellent in bombarding German troops at Ostend and German barracks and gun positions at Westende, inflicting much damage on the Germans. Β] One of her antitorpedo bulges was deliberately flooded to impart a list that would increase the range of her main battery. Β]

Decommissioning and subsidiary duties [ edit | edit source ]

Redoubtable underwent another refit from October to December 1915. Afterwards, she was not recommissioned, instead serving as an accommodation ship at Portsmouth until February 1919. Ζ]

HMS Revenge (1892)

HMS Revenge was one of seven Royal Sovereign-class pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Royal Navy during the 1890s. She spent much of her early career as a flagship for the Flying Squadron and in the Mediterranean, Home and Channel Fleets. Revenge was assigned to the International Squadron blockading Crete during the 1897–1898 revolt there against the Ottoman Empire. She was placed in reserve upon her return home in 1900, and was then briefly assigned as a coast guard ship before she joined the Home Fleet in 1902. The ship became a gunnery training ship in 1906 until she was paid off in 1913.

Revenge was recommissioned the following year, after the start of World War I, to bombard the coast of Flanders as part of the Dover Patrol, during which she was hit four times, but was not seriously damaged. She had anti-torpedo bulges fitted in early 1915, the first ship to be fitted with them operationally. [1] The ship was renamed Redoubtable later that year and was refitted as an accommodation ship by the end of the year. The last surviving member of her class, the ship was sold for scrap in November 1919.

Construction [ edit ]

Revenge was the ninth ship of her name to serve in the Royal Navy Ε] and was ordered under the Naval Defence Act Programme of 1889. The ship was laid down by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company at their shipyard in Jarrow in Tyne and Wear, England, on 12 February 1891. She was floated out of the drydock on 3 November 1892, Ζ] and completed on 22 March 1894 Η] at a cost of £954,825. Γ]

He and other pirates plagued shipping lanes off North America and throughout the Caribbean in the early-eighteenth century: an era commonly referred to as the "Golden Age of Piracy."

From Anonymity, a Life of War and Roguery

Despite his legendary reputation, little is known about the early life of Blackbeard. Even his true name is uncertain, though it is usually given as some variation of Edward Thatch or Teach.

He is reported to have served as a privateer during Queen Anne's War (1701 - 1714), and turned to piracy sometime after the war's conclusion.

In Pursuit of a Famous Pirate

The earliest primary source document that mentions Blackbeard by name dates to the summer of 1717. Other records indicate that by the fall of 1717 Blackbeard was operating off Delaware and Chesapeake bays in conjunction with two other pirate captains, Benjamin Hornigold and Stede Bonnet.

Blackbeard served an apprenticeship under Hornigold before becoming a pirate captain in his own right.

Learn More About Stede Bonnet

A Queen in the Caribbean

Late in the fall of 1717, the pirates made their way to the eastern Caribbean. It was here, off the island of Martinique, that Blackbeard and his fellow pirates captured the French slaveship La Concorde -- a vessel he would keep as his flagship and rename Queen Anne's Revenge.

After crossing the Atlantic during its third journey, and only 100 miles from Martinique, the French ship encountered Blackbeard and his company. According to a primary account, the pirates were aboard two sloops, one with 120 men and twelve cannon, and the other with thirty men and eight cannon.

With the French crew already reduced by sixteen fatalities and another thirty-six seriously ill from scurvy and dysentery, the French were powerless to resist. After the pirates fired two volleys at La Concorde, Captain Dosset surrendered the ship.

From La Concorde to Mauvaise Rencontre

The pirates took La Concorde to the island of Bequia in the Grenadines where the French crew and the enslaved Africans were put ashore. While the pirates searched La Concorde, the French cabin boy, Louis Arot, informed them of the gold dust that was aboard. The pirates searched the French officers and crew and seized the gold.

The cabin boy and three of his fellow French crewmen voluntarily joined the pirates, and ten others were taken by force including a pilot, three surgeons, two carpenters, two sailors, and the cook. Blackbeard and his crew decided to keep La Concorde and left the French the smaller of the two pirate sloops.

The French gave their new and much smaller vessel the appropriate name Mauvaise Rencontre (Bad Encounter) and, in two trips, succeeded in transporting the remaining Africans from Bequia to Martinique.

Sailing, Slaving, and Piracy

Learn about La Concorde's journeys prior to its capture by Blackbeard.

View Artifacts: Tools and Instruments

Examine some of the tools and instruments Blackbeard and his crew used to navigate and survive at sea.

An Increasingly Dangerous Pirate Force, 1717-1718

Leaving Bequia in late November, Blackbeard cruised the Caribbean in his new ship, now renamed Queen Anne's Revenge, taking prizes and adding to his fleet. From the Grenadines, Blackbeard sailed north along the Lesser Antilles plundering ships near St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Nevis, and Antigua, and by early December he had arrived off the eastern end of Puerto Rico.

From there, a former captive reported that the pirates were headed to Samana Bay in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic).

By April 1718, the pirates were off the Turneffe Islands in the Bay of Honduras. It was there that Blackbeard captured the sloop Adventure, forcing the sloop's captain, David Herriot, to join him. Sailing east once again, the pirates passed near the Cayman Islands and captured a Spanish sloop off Cuba that they also added to their flotilla.

Blackbeard Terrorizes Charleston, 1718

Turning north, they sailed through the Bahamas and proceeded up the North American coast. In May 1718, the pirates arrived off Charleston, South Carolina, with Queen Anne's Revenge and three smaller sloops.

In perhaps the most brazen act of his piratical career, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston for nearly a week. The pirates seized several ships attempting to enter or leave the port and detained the crew and passengers of one ship, the Crowley, as prisoners.

As ransom for the hostages, Blackbeard demanded a chest of medicine. Once delivered, the captives were released, and the pirates continued their journey up the coast.

Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, p. 73

Mishaps Off the North Carolina Coast

Soon after leaving Charleston, Blackbeard's fleet tried to enter Old Topsail Inlet in North Carolina, now known as Beaufort Inlet. During that attempt, Queen Anne's Revenge and the sloop Adventure grounded on a sandbar and were abandoned. Research has uncovered two eyewitness accounts that shed light on where the two pirate vessels were lost.

According to a deposition given by David Herriot, the former captain of Adventure, "the said Thatch's ship Queen Anne's Revenge run a-ground off of the Bar of Topsail-Inlet." Herriot further states that Adventure "run a-ground likewise about Gun-shot from the said Thatch".

Captain Ellis Brand of HMS Lyme provided additional insight as to where the two ships were lost in a letter (July 12, 1718) to the Lords of Admiralty. In that letter Brand stated that: "On the 10th of June or thereabouts a large pyrate Ship of forty Guns with three Sloops in her company came upon the coast of North carolina ware they endeavour'd To goe in to a harbour, call'd Topsail Inlet, the Ship Stuck upon the barr att the entrance of the harbour and is lost as is one of the sloops."

See Artifacts in Beaufort

Visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort's popular exhibit featuring a huge selection of artifacts from Queen Anne's Revenge.

Was the Loss of QAR Blackbeard's Gambit?

In his deposition, Herriot claims that Blackbeard intentionally grounded Queen Anne's Revenge and Adventure in order to break up the company, which by this time had grown to over 300 pirates. Intentional or not, that is what happened as Blackbeard marooned some pirates and left Beaufort with a hand picked crew and most of the valuable plunder.

The Reckoning

Blackbeard's piratical career ended six months later at Ocracoke Inlet on the North Carolina coast. There he encountered an armed contingent sent by Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood and led by Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

In a desperate battle aboard Maynard's sloop, Blackbeard and a number of his fellow pirates were killed. Maynard returned to Virginia with the surviving pirates and the grim trophy of Blackbeard's severed head hanging from the sloop's bowsprit.

Blackbeard Reconsidered

In 2015, historian Baylus Brooks examined official government records in Jamaica and Church of England records to gain new insight into the possible identity of Blackbeard. Brooks assembled the immediate lineage of an Edward Thache, a respected resident of Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Because of this work, it may be possible to place Blackbeard's actions in an appropriate historical context. Brooks's intriguing genealogical research and the Thache family tree contained in his book, Blackbeard Reconsidered: Mist's Piracy, Thache's Genealogy, offer a possibility for Blackbeard's mysterious background. Is the Edward Thache Brooks unearthed in Jamaica the same Edward Thache who assumed the alias of Blackbeard and terrorized the Caribbean? You decide!

-Lusardi, Richard and Mark Wilde-Ramsing. 2001. "In Search of Blackbeard: Historical and Archaeological Research at Shipwreck Site 003BUI," Southeastern Geology 40(1): 1-9.

HMS Speedy vs El Gamo

HMS Speedy (14) under Lord Thomas Cochrane takes the Spanish frigate El Gamo (32)

A quick perusal of this blog will show that I’ve shied away from writing much on major figures of the Age of Sail. While I have biographical entries on lesser known figures, like Sir Henry Duncan and Midshipman Flinders, there is no story on Horatio Nelson or, perhaps the most swashbuckling figure of the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Thomas Cochrane.

My reasoning is grounded equally in two sensibilities, practicality and snobbishness. Practicality because these two men have been the subject of an immense amount of study and literature and there is little I could add to anyone’s understanding of either. Snobbishness because these two men, etc. etc.

I’ll be deviating from this a bit as I delve more deeply into Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage novels because Pope, probably because of his background as a chronicler of the Royal Navy, pulls in a significant number of incidents from the lives of these two men as plot elements.

The bestselling author of The Endurance reveals the startling truth behind the legend of the HMS Bounty.

More than two centuries have passed since Master's Mate Fletcher Christian mutinied against Lieutenant Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty. Why the details of this obscure adventure at the end of the world remain vivid and enthralling is as intriguing as the truth behind the legend.

In giving the Bounty mutiny its historical due, Caroline Alexander has chosen to frame her narrative by focusing on the court-martial of the ten mutineers who were captured in Tahiti and brought to justice in England. This fresh perspective wonderfully revivifies the entire saga, and the salty, colorful language of the captured men themselves conjures the events of that April morning in 1789, when Christian's breakdown impelled every man on a fateful course: Bligh and his loyalists on the historic open boat voyage that revealed him to be one of history's great navigators Christian on his restless exile and the captured mutineers toward their day in court. As the book unfolds, each figure emerges as a full-blown character caught up in a drama that may well end on the gallows. And as Alexander shows, it was in a desperate fight to escape hanging that one of the accused defendants deliberately spun the mutiny into the myth we know today—of the tyrannical Lieutenant Bligh of the Bounty.

Ultimately, Alexander concludes that the Bounty mutiny was sparked by that most unpredictable, combustible, and human of situations—the chemistry between strong personalities living in close quarters. Her account of the voyage, the trial, and the surprising fates of Bligh, Christian, and the mutineers is an epic of ambition, passion, pride, and duty at the dawn of the Romantic era.


His small vessel pitching in the squally winter sea, a young British naval lieutenant waited restlessly to embark upon the most important and daunting voyage of his still young but highly promising career. William Bligh, aged thirty-three, had been selected by His Majesty's government to collect breadfruit plants from the South Pacific island of Tahiti and to transport them to the plantations of the West Indies. Like most of the Pacific, Tahiti--Otaheite--was little known in all the centuries of maritime travel, fewer than a dozen European ships had anchored in her waters. Bligh himself had been on one of these early voyages, ten years previously, when he had sailed under the command of the great Captain Cook. Now he was to lead his own expedition in a single small vessel called Bounty.

With his ship mustered and provisioned for eighteen months, Bligh had anxiously been awaiting the Admiralty's final orders, which would allow him to .

Watch the video: HMS Revenge - Guide 120 (January 2022).