Bravebenbow Admiral John Benbow, biography, mutiny, script, screen play, art, documentary

March 18, 2010


Filed under: — W.A.Benbow @ 9:03 am


By William A. Benbow, February 1, 2004

In August 1702, the Royal Navy experienced one of its most embarrassing disaffections.  Vice-Admiral John Benbow1 commanded a squadron of seven ships in a battle on the Spanish Main near Cartagena, waged over six days with a French squadron of five ships led by Admiral Jean Du Casse. Four of Admiral Benbow’s ships held themselves aloof from the engagement and left Benbow to be mauled by the French.  He suffered a fatal wound but did not die before he had court martialled the four recalcitrant Captains.  Thomas Hudson committed suicide before the trial.  John Constable was found guilty of breach of orders, neglect of duty and mutiny. He was sentenced to be cashiered and imprisoned.  Richard Kirkby and Cooper Wade were found guilty of breach of orders, cowardice, neglect of duty, and mutinous actions.  Both were sentenced to be shot to death.  The sentence was carried out on board the Bristol when it reached Plymouth, its first port of call on its return to England on April 16, 1703.

The cause of the mutiny has remained a mystery.2 Over the years several theories have been offered. These include simple cowardliness on the part of the Captains – a view held by those who extol honour and duty and fighting for one’s King and Country as John Oldmixon in The British Empire in America in 1708[3]; poor management on Benbow’s part as evidenced in his not replacing the Captains sooner as Josiah Burchett postulates in War at Sea, 1720[4]; avarice on the part of the Captains, as described by Thomas Lediard in A Naval History of England, 1735[5]; Benbow’s strict discipline of his officers, as suggested by John Campbell in Lives of British Admirals, 1742[6]; the tar versus gentleman controversy which Campbell describes as held by some of Benbow’s early detractors who focused on his mean origins[7]; personality and character flaws in Benbow as seen in his sharp tongue, impatience and lack of conciliatory manners as held by John Charnock in Biographia Navalis, 1795[8]; Benbow’s rough and coarse character as proposed by Sir John Laughton, in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885[9]; madness in Kirkby as speculated by J.G. Bullocke, in Sailors Rebellion, 1938[10]; and jealousy and envy as Ruth Bourne contends is shown in Kirkby’s resentment for being so often passed over, in Queen Anne’s Navy in the West Indies,1939[11]. Most recently, John Hattendorf has suggested that a six-day running battle in light and variable tropical winds contributed to the frustration of both Benbow and his captains.[12]

What we know for sure, is that some alienation occurred between the captains and their Admiral that prompted them to take advantage of the abominable wind and weather conditions.  We know that successful leadership, even in modern warfare demands a certain respect between leader and follower. That was obviously lacking between Benbow and his captains. They were not prepared to risk their lives at his behest and on his behalf.

Given the character of Benbow and Richard Kirkby, the ringleader of the mutiny, it is not difficult to postulate personal animosity as the prime motivation behind the mutiny.  Both of these men were known to be blunt and outspoken, and there is ample evidence of Kirkby’s resentment for being passed over for promotions. However, this doesn’t account for the mutiny of all four of the Captains.  How could Kirkby persuade the others to follow his mutinous example?  I believe the evidence is quite clear that the root cause of the alienation between Benbow and his Captains lies in the gentlemen/tarpaulin issue, but not as it has been traditionally understood. An examination of pre-mutiny courts-martial documents shows that Benbow supported tars in conflict with commissioned officers when the question was one of professional seamanship, proper leadership and discipline. The issue was not so much one of class or status as it was of officers giving poor leadership. When so confronted, Kirkby in particular used his ‘gentleman’ relations and connections to attempt to undermine Benbow. Campbell states that both Kirkby and Wade had ‘great relations’. Josiah Burchett acknowledges in his War at Sea that he omits the names of the two primary mutineers to protect their relatives. Campbell chastises Bishop Burnett for omitted the whole incident from his history for the same reason. [13] Kirkby could well have used Benbow’s support shown towards the tarpaulins to exacerbate tension between warrant and commissioned officers and so gain supporters in his scheme to undermine Benbow. And the circumstances of the actual confrontation with the French squadron: ie. the wind and weather conditions, provided the opportunity for this growing alienation to crystalize into passive resistance and mutiny.

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John Campbell in his Lives of British Admirals(1742) set out to show that other writers had erred in maligning Benbow’s memory by representing his actions as the rough behaviour of a tar.

J.D.Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, (Oxford, 1991) has provided an excellent analysis and background of the Gentlemen/Tarpaulin issue. He classifies as a tarpaulin any officer who had experience in the merchant service or who entered the navy as an officer’s servant or able seaman, working his way up through petty and warrant-posts.  The term gentleman officer he uses to refer primarily to those who entered the navy and progressed towards a commission as a ‘volunteer’ serving by royal appointment, and those who received a promotion to a commission after little or no maritime experience.[14] Davis admits that this definition is arbitrary and not entirely satisfactory as the career paths of officer’s servants and volunteers overlapped. Still, contemporaries like Pepys percieved a struggle between ‘gentlemen’ and ‘tarpaulins’ and Benbow’s early detractors saw the roots of the mutiny in this distinction.

Davies challenges Macauley’s remark that ‘There were gentlemen and there were seamen in the navy of Charles the Second. But the seamen were not gentlemen; and the gentlemen were not seamen.” During the controvery it was often held by tarpaulins that gentlemen officers lacked technical competency to handle ships; and on the other hand, gentlemen officers countered that tarpaulins were boors, overly familiar with their men, slovenly in appearance, slow of mind, and rough in behaviour. Davies holds that the tarpaulin and gentlemen categories are not mutually exclusive as several ‘gentlemen’ officers had some experience in the merchant service. Moreover, the majority of gentlemen officers did receive some training before qualifying for a commission, under Samuel Pepys reforms of 1677. To be elegible for a commission officers were required to complete two years as a volunteer and one as a midshipman, followed by an examination before a board of senior captains. This included being qualified to do the duty of an Able Seaman. It was hoped by the instigators of these reforms that this would “destroy the distinction between gentleman and tarpaulin, for as all tarpaulins are made gentlemen by accepting the Kings Commission, so every gentleman having performed this duty cannot be denyed to be as capable of employment as any.” And tarpaulins, once they had achieved post captain and flag rank expected to be treated as gentlemen. Many bought land, acquired coats of arms, effected fashionable clothes and lavish homes. In the end, the social status of a gentleman and a tarpaulin might be quite similar. In addition, Davies points out that many of the clashes between young gentlemen and older tarpaulins originated in the age difference.  Tarpaulins took considerably longer to reach senior warrant and commissioned officer rank. This frequently resulted in conflict between young commissioned officers and older masters.[15]

A few tarpaulins achieved significant officer status in the navy by particular successes in the merchant service.  John Benbow entered the Navy in this manner.  He signed on to the Rupert in 1678 as a master’s mate. It was customary for those who had served in merchant ships to be signed on at one rank lower, so it is quite likely that he had already been a master of a merchantman. The Historical and Political Monthly Mercury for February 1703 states in his obituary that “he was bound Prentice to a Waterman; afterwards he us’d the Seas, and set up for a Privateer in the West-Indies.” He became one of the preeminent professonal seamen of his day: becoming an elder brother of Trinity House responsible for Master’s exams and navigation, Master of the fleet at the battles of Beachy Head and Barfleur, Master Attendant at Chatham and Deptford dockyards, and rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral. But he never forgot his tarpaulin roots – Campbell refers to the traditional recitals of sailors regarding Benbow:

sailors, who are remarkably fond of claiming Benbow as their own, and are sure to mention him upon every dispute, where the virtue of the Tars is called into question.  Benbow and Shovell are their favourites, they were sailors, rose by being sailors, and were proud of being sailors much more than of their Flags.  Men, who by a long course of obedience learned how to command, and who directed such as served under them, as much by example as orders[16]

By Benbow’s time the proportion of Gentlemen captains was drastically diminished from the days of the Stuarts. Following the Battle of Barfleur, in 1692, Admiral Russell declared that “though great noise has been made that the fleet was officered by gentlemen,” there were not more than ten gentlemen captains in the approximately 60 ships of the line.[17]

Davies also stressed how important patronage was to an officer’s career, with those coming from aristocratic or gentry families benefiting from the efforts of their relatives and patrons. Charles II and his brother James were the single most important external influence on naval appointments in their era.  They took pains to leven the officer corps with loyal royalists. They had inherited an officer corps purged of high-born elements. The interregnum captains were for the most part tarpaulins who had been drawn from the ranks of warrant-officers or owner-masters of merchant ships. The new gentlemen-officers were sons of royalist aristocrats or gentlemen who had fought or suffered in the civil wars: men like Richard Kirkby, Benbow’s main antagonist.

Much of what we know of Richard Kirkby was published in an anonymous pamphlet in 1705, shortly after his death, probably by his friend Secretary of the Navy Burchett.[18] This pamphlet includes biographical material, letters written by supporters, Kirkby’s Journal, his defence arguments and comments by his midshipman John Brown. Additional Kirkby family history is documented by Mr. H.S.Cowper in Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society, vol. VI (1906) and XVI (1916). The 1705 pamphlet tells us that Richard Kirkby was of the landed gentry of Kirkby Ireleth, in Furness in the County of Lancaster. His father was also Richard Kirkby while his mother Isabel was the daughter of Sir William Huddleston of Millum in the County of Cumberland. Both the Kirkby’s and the Huddleston’s had suffered for their support of the Royalist Cause in the Civil War. After the Restoration family members regained some of their influence as Justice of the Peace, Governor of the City and Castle of Chester, and High Sheriff of Lancashire. The 1705 source tells us that young Richard went to sea as a Volunteer when he was fourteen and was involved in two bloody engagements of the last Dutch War (1672-4). Cowper gives his age as seven in 1664 on the Kirkby pedigree; making his birth as around 1657.[19] So he would have entered the Navy about 1671. By the time he was 20 he had served in both the Mediterranean and the Carribean.

In this era captains and flag officers all participated in a network of patrons and clients to advance their careers. Richard Kirkby was related through his grandmother to Sir John Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, a Tory, who was a Lord of the Admiralty and Lord Privy Seal. Through marriage he was also related to Sir Daniel Fleming, another prominent gentleman and Sheriff of Cumberland. Despite these connections, Kirkby’s career was marked by unfortunate incidents and tardy promotions. He appears to have been a particularly blemished officer. His career is detailed at the end of this article.[20]

One of the main points of contention between tarpaulins and gentlemen was the supposed advantage that gentlemen had in the competition for scarce employment and lucrative voyages.[21] However, tarpaulins like Shovell and Benbow successfully attached themselves to patrons. Benbow was well served by his connection with the Earl of Torrington, Admiral Arthur Herbert and his Mediterranean clique, which included future admirals David Mitchell, Clowdesly Shovell, Francis Wheeler, and George Rooke.  Herbert’s cadre including Benbow gave him much needed support when he was court-martialled after the fiasco of Beachy Head.[22] Benbow also associated himself with the influential Duke of Leeds (Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby) and his son the Marquis of Carmarthen. Benbow first joined the navy in 1678 under Danby’s mobilization. Later, Benbow and Carmarthen served to-gether in the Channel fleet in the early 90’s. Unfortunately Carmarthen was not a very successful sea-officer.  He required all of his father’s influence to stay afloat. Carmarthen had led the disastrous attack upon Brest in 1694, and was responsible for the loss of several merchant ships in 1695.  William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy, (London, 1898) suggests that Carmarthen’s youth, inexperience and mistakes contributed to the abandonment of the old practice of putting raw officers into commands of great responsibility merely because they happened to be influential noblemen.[23] The Duke of Leeds never forgot Benbow’s support for his son, and later sponsored John Benbow’s own son William, as a King’s letter volunteer.[24] Interestingly, one of the captains who suffered at the Brest fiasco was John Constable, who later joined the mutiny against Benbow.

Campbell sought to counteract the argument that Benbow’s tarpaulin behaviour had provoked the gentlemen officers by arguing that Benbow was every bit as much a ‘gentleman’ by birth, as the others.  This remains somewhat in dispute.[25] Some evidence exists to infer Benbow’s genealogy from a family of tanners who lived on Coton Hill in Shrewsbury. Other evidence supports his relationship to Newport Benbows who were at onetime landed Shropshire gentry.  This line included a Clerk of the Crown who was granted a coat of arms and a Colonel John Benbow martyred for the Royalist cause in the Civil War. Whether he was of the lesser gentry who had lost their fortunes in the Civil War, is not of great importance. What is clear is that Benbow was one of the preeminent professional seamen of his day. Although, he learned his trade and first served in merchant ships; once established, he behaved and lived the life of a gentleman. He rented John Evelyn’s Sayes Court, the most prestigious house in Deptford. At the request of the King he sublet this home to Czar Peter the Great.  Both Benbow and Evelyn were later compensated for damage done and for the loss of Benbow’s collection of ‘twenty-five paintings and several fine draughts and other designs relating to the sea.’[26] Damaged goods also included Indian and Persian silk bedding, Japanese pottery, fine imported furniture from Holland, damaske hangings and tapestry, Turkish carpet,and much more: all the trappings of genteel living. Campbell reports that Benbow used a coat of arms with the King’s blessing.[27] His portrait, commissioned by the crown, and done by court painter Godfrey Kneller shows a refined well dressed gentleman with full wig and brass trimmed coat. His obituary describes him as a man of temperance, never seen ‘disguised in drink’.  He was known to be religious and charitable.[28] He corresponded and associated with the elite of the Admiralty and Government.

Campbell records that the King consulted him regarding whether to prefer tars or gentlemen in the navy.  He notes that though Mr. Benbow considered himself and was considered by all the world to be a gentleman, yet he told the King:

It is safest to employ both, for the danger lies in preferring gentlemen without merit and tars beyond their capacities.

Campbell continues:

He interested himself upon all occasions in favour of the sailors and as he always used them well while a private Captain, so, after he was promoted to the rank of a Flag-Officer, he was constantly their patron, which made him much beloved by them.  He very seldom interested himself in preferments, and where it was in his power to bestow them, he always considered long service and merit.[29]

This underlines Benbow’s appreciation and requirement for efficiency and results in officers who served under him, regardless of their background. His bias was not in favour of tars as such or against gentlemen as such, but solely based on an officer’s professional seamanship and efficient leadership. It may be that he found this professonalism more prevalent in the older, more experienced tars, and more wanting in the commissioned officers sent to the West Indies.

This picture of Benbow conflicts dramatically with that presented by Laughton in the Dictionary of National Biography. Laughton’s portrait of Benbow as a bad tempered, tactless, rough seaman berating and insulting his officers with a great deal of coarse language has influenced many subsequent authors. Laughton based his assumptions on a misinterpretation of Campbell’s:

The admiral was an honest, rough seaman, and fancied that his command was bestowed upon him for no other reason, than that he should serve his country: this induced him to treat Captain Kirby, and the rest of the gentlemen, a little briskly at Jamaica, when he found them not quite so ready to obey his orders as he thought was their duty; and this it was that engaged them in the base and wicked design, of putting it out of his power to engage the French; presuming that, as so many were concerned in it, they might be able to justify themselves, and throw the blame upon the admiral, and so they hoped to be rid of him.[30]

Certainly, Benbow was known to be plain-spoken and impatient with incompetence. He freqently quarrelled with other authorities. But he was not a caricature of an unrefined old salt. And the leader of the mutiny, Richard Kirkby, was just as plain spoken:

his too daring and free way of speaking his sentiments to those who did not act accordingly, made him formidable not only to the ignorant, but to all such as went about too grosly to impose upon him, of any degree or quality whatsoever.[31]

It should be remembered that Benbow’s mentor, Admiral Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington, was just as rough, plain-speaking and quarrelsome with authorities. And he was the scion of a well bred family, a favourite of the Stuarts, who had entered the navy in 1663 just after the Restoration. Amongst other things, Pepys complained of Herbert’s bellicosity. Davies states that Herbert was indeed hampered in his relations with authority by his rough, plain-speaking manner and violent temper.

But Davies also points out that Herbert was an example of an even more significant behaviour. He was noted for his use of patronage. Davies relates that Herbert’s “unprecedented domination of the fleet led to a faction fight of an intensity unseen since the Dutch wars; by 1681 it was said that the Straits fleet was ‘divided into 2 implacable factions’”: those who were favoured by Herbert, and those who were on the outside. Those who were unwilling to cultivate the favour of the commander-in-chief found life in the Straits fleet extremely uncomfortable. Herbert blatantly rewarded and promoted those loyal to him and fell out with any who displeased or disagreed with him. One of his opponents observed that ‘no man can expect to get anything but those who are his favourites’.[32] Benbow was so favoured and enjoyed Herbert’s support for years to come. Peter Le Fevre points that such favouritism was a double edged sword. He notes that the faction out of favour with Herbert, particularly Captain William Booth, did manage to blacken Herbert’s reputation with influential Naval administrators such as Pepys.  However, he also underlines the success of Herbert’s patronage practice. He argues that it was because Herbert’s appointees held so many high positions in the Royal Navy by 1688 that William appointed him commander-in-chief of the Dutch invasion fleet rather than Edward Russell.[33]

Like Herbert, Benbow was the highest flag officer serving on a distant station. So he too would exercise total domination of the means of patronage. He alone legitimately controlled promotion for lieutenants, movement to larger ships for captains, and plum assignments for ships. According to Campbell, Benbow’s guiding principle was merit. Despite this, factions may well have developed. Dissent would be muted in any wishing to curry his favour. Those out of favour might well agitate against him and appeal to their patrons back home. Under Benbow, the Pendennis, Experiment, Colchester, Falmouth and Ruby all captured prizes while on independent scouting missions prior to the mutiny.  Kirkby, Wade and Constable were not given such an opportunity, but were kept close, in Benbow’s main fleet. There is nothing to suggest that Benbow misused his authority. He was prudent to keep his largest ships together as part of his main fleet. However, those not participating in the prize taking might well have been envyous and formented a desire for the main fleet to be used against the enemy’s merchant shipping. Both Kirkby and Wade had a history of lucrative prize taking and would have been anxious to have their share of such action. Interestingly Kirkby maintained a steady stream of correspondence with Secretary of the Navy Burchett, reiterating his seniority as first officer after the flag.

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Campbell’s own explanation of the alienation that developed between Benbow and his officers is that they resented the “strictness of the Admiral’s discipline, who thought that men would never behave well, if not encouraged to it by the example of their officers.”[34] There does exist documentary evidence of Benbow’s discipline. During the eight months following his fleet’s arrival in the Caribbean, from December 1701 until July 1702, the months spent waiting for the War to begin, Benbow conducted a series of Courts-martial many of which deal with the issue of professional seamanship and particularly the question of discipline and leadership.[35] These are very informative and clearly illustrate the growing tension between Benbow and some of his officers. Benbow, as Flag officer, would preside at these courts martial. His Captains would form a jury.  The Court would hear the deposed and oral evidence gathered by a Judge Advocate,; discuss it, and then decide jointly on a finding and possible sentence. By long standing custom the judges gave their views in seniority order, starting from the most junior. The results of these courts-martial clearly show divergent perspectives on major issues of discipline. Several of the findings are split decisions. The dissent evident in the sentences imposed and the resulting movement of officers in the aftermath, suggests that these courts-martial contributed to the alienation of some of Benbow’s captains. A particular bone of contention was the issue of physical punishment of the crew as a means for maintaining control.

Benbow’s first court-martial in December 1701 involved Captain Philip Dawes of the Margaret. Dawes was a captain of some years standing, having first been appointed to command a vessel in June 1693 in the West Indies.  He was not unknown to Benbow, and probably served under him in the squadron used to attack Channel ports. Dawes commanded the Machine fireship between September 1695 and April 1696.[36]

As this 1701 trial of Dawes was a court-martial of a Captain, it was a very serious matter, and would certainly have a bearing on the relationships among the senior officers in Benbow’s fleet. Dawes had been on the West Indian station nearly two years and was shortly to be returning home.  However, like many before him, he had run afoul of the Governor of Jamaica, Colonel William Beeston.  In November of 1700 the Governor had ordered him to convoy several merchant ships through the Windward Passage where French privateers lurked.  Dawes had refused, reasoning that his ship lacked sufficient officers and men since Beeston had denied him the opportunity to press from the local population.  Beeston, however, was his commanding officer in the absence of an admiral on the station.  Consequently when Benbow’s squadron arrived Governor Beeston charged Dawes with insubordination.

Beeston’s fight with Dawes was the latest in an ongoing battle between the Governor and naval authorities in Jamaican waters.  Since his arrival in 1693 Governor Beeston had fought an uphill battle to extend his authority to naval forces in the region.[37] Benbow himself commanded a squadron of five ships in the West Indies in 1699 – 1700. Benbow and Beeston clashed head on. Both were quite autocratic, so the ongoing contest between naval commanders and local colonial authorities was exacerbated. Beeston complained to the Council of Trade and Plantations in August of 1699:

The country has this year held hitherto very healthy, only the seamen on Rear-Admiral Benbow’s ships die very fast, to supply which he impresses not only from the Merchant ships, but also our people of the country, and exercises his authority as if there were no other here.[38]

He complained further in November of 1699:

as soon as he arrived he took the ships from me and told me I had nothing to do with them when he was here…The Rear Admiral also told me that whilst he was here I had nothing to do with anything that moved on the water, not even in the harbour, nor could send out any vessel nor grant any commissions, and that if I did he would take away their colours and hinder them.[39]

Benbow thus had a history of a contentious relationship with the colonial authorities. He held the court martial on December 11, 1701. The Court found Dawes guilty under Article XI for not executing the order of his superior.  The court quoted the Article stating that the guilty shall suffer such punishment as “the quality of his neglect or offence shall deserve,” and dismissed him from his employment as Commander of his Majesty’s Ship Margaret. Though this court-martial decision would have mended fences between Benbow and Beeston, it may have exacerbated Benbow’s relationship with some of his officers.[40] Dawes had served on the same station with at least three of them, Cooper Wade and Thomas Hudson in 1692 in the Caribbean and John Constable in 1696 in the Channel fleet. Some of them would have sided with Dawes in his resistance to the colonial governor particularly over the issue of pressing much needed men to replace those dying of illness. The sentence appears harsh, given the ongoing nature of the manning dispute in the colonies. Once back in home waters Dawes was employed again. Charnock references his high born family. He was finally dismissed in June 1710 for misdemeanours and irregularities while commanding the Crown. Interestingly, he and Constable fell out in 1709 when he refused orders to convoy Constable who was then captain of the merchant ship Leake.

Interestingly, the Admiral’s son, also John Benbow, had served under Dawes on the Margaret and made lieutenant in March 1700.  After his time with Dawes he had abruptly left the Royal Navy and in February 1701 joined the Degrave Merchantman bound for the East Indies.[41] It’s conceivable that this may have coloured Benbow’s treatment of Dawes.

This demonstration of Benbow’s willingness to remove a captain under his command may well have reminded his officers of an earlier Court-martial, that of Henry Tourville in 1694. This incident occurred in Benbow’s 1693 attack upon St. Malo.  Benbow was dissatisfied with the result and court-martialled Captain Henry Tourville of the Mortar bomb vessel for not going in close enough.  Bomb vessels usually mounted two mortars, which fired explosive shells. They were used to bombard coastal forts and towns.  Their limited range required that they manoeuver extremely close to their targets, often under intense fire from shore. Benbow deposed on June 14, 1694:

Capt. John Benbow Master Attendant of their majesties yard at Deptford, and lately one of the joint Commanders in chief of their Majesties ships employed on the late expedition before St. Malo in the month of November last 1693. Being examined upon oath concerning the behaviour of Capt. Henry Tourville when he commanded the Mortar Bomb Vessel on the expedition aforesaid, deposes that the said Capt. Tourville was (together with other of the bomb vessels) ordered in upon service before St. Malo on the 17th and 18th of the said month November, and did accordingly go in twice before the place, but with little or no effect, not being near enough, (as the deponent believes), to do execution.  And farther saith not.[42]

While waiting for the court martial, Captain Tourville was replaced in January 1694 by John Smith.  This action, following so quickly upon Benbow’s complaint suggests that Benbow even then used his influence to effect appointments and assignments. He was however unable to procure a conviction. At that time he was only a captain and not able to swing the decision of the court. This incident does illustrate Benbow’s high expectations of those he commanded and his impatience with unsatisfactory efforts and results. Tourville survived the court martial and was re-employed.[43]

On December 23, 1701, Benbow’s Court was forced to rule on the vexing question of the growing problem of excessive punishment of the men.  This was a point of sharp disagreement among the officers of the fleet and would have caused heated debate at the court-martial. Peter Kemp in The British Sailor provides important background to this issue. He relates that in 1702, the very year of the Benbow Mutiny, an anonymous author wrote The Seamen’s Case, An Essay on the Navy.  He listed seven complaints against service in the Navy, one of which was cruel treatment which included extremely abusive language and whipping. He states:

Others tell the men they would make them curse God and die…Secondly, as they esteem, call, and curse them, so they use them, having with their new invented oaths, new invented punishments, viz. that sordid and slavish punishment of whipping, or rather (as themselves term it) fleaing (flaying) them alive and then pickling them.  The manner whereof is to fasten or tie a man with his arms or legs extended to the blackstakes, capstan, or jeers of the ship, and strip him to the waist, and with whips of cord, called cats of nine tails, divers have had so many lashes as have made the punishment worse than death (as some have told them beforehand).  And being thus whipped, or rather flead, a tub of brine or pickle from their salt meat, into which some (Nebuchadnezzar-like to make the punishment the greater) have caused more salt to be put, with which they have washed their flead bodies, and whipped and pickled them again.  The dread of which punishment has not only caused many to desert the Service but also to endeavour to destroy themselves. And this punishment (how cruel soever it is) is now become so common that men are often thus treated on frivolous occasions.[44]

Kemp mentions that this is one of the earliest references to the ‘cat of nine tails’.  Earlier versions had been three or five tailed.   Kemp maintains that there was at this time strongly divergent views on discipline. Under Queen Anne, in the early 1700’s, there was an effort to promote less severe punishments. He relates that Anne’s consort, Prince George of Denmark, as the Lord of the Admiralty, issued a rather moderate code of punishment.  No mention whatsoever is made of whipping.  All persons convicted of swearing, cursing, or blaspheming the name of God are to forfeit one day’s pay.  Seamen are to undergo the same punishment for drunkenness, however, any commission or warrant officer found guilty of drunkenness was to lose his office and forever be held incapable of serving.  Seamen convicted of lying were to be hoisted up upon the main stay.  Those found guilty of theft must make restitution and those away without leave were to forfeit two days pay, and then four, and then a week, and finally to be discharged as a runaway.  One also forfeited a day’s pay for neglect of watch.  Perhaps the most odious crime on board the crowded ship was that of fouling the decks and for this the commander could use his own judgement in order to fit the punishment to the crime.

N.A.M. Rodger, in The Wooden World, describing the Georgian era up to the mid 1700’s points out that this was an age in which personal violence and physical punishment were common; nevertheless, there were well understood standards developing.  He maintains that as the Navy was always hard pressed for men it would not be prudent to be foolhardy and callous in its treatment of them.  He argues that wise officers led by persuasion.  Moreover officers and men were bound by mutual ties of obligation and dependence in their isolated world.  The degree of violence, which was not uncommon in British society of the day, was defined by public opinion on the lower deck and codified in courts martial of cruel officers who were so charged. Some were dismissed, and officers were sued for mistreatment in civil actions. Rodger reports that during the Seven Years War three commanders were dismissed the Service for cruelty or oppression. Rogers points out that a brutal officer was, of necessity, an inefficient officer, and so distrusted by more competent colleagues and superiors. He refers to Vernon who in 1739 urged his officers to ‘exercise their authority over them with dignity as much as may be, to establish the affections of the men for the public service’.[45]

It is noteworthy that the leader of the mutiny against Benbow, Richard Kirkby, had a history of cruelty: in his 1694-5 service in the Mediterranean he court-martialled his boatswain and sentenced him to be broken and flogged for disobedience and insolence.  Apparently Kirkby had ordered him to do some painting, which was typically the carpenters chore. The Boatswain had dared to dispute the matter and later sued Kirkby in civil court. Although we have no more details of the outcome, Charnock described this incident as a violent dispute and quarrel and added that Kirkby’s “own character rather suffered in this civil encounter.”[46] He also ordered a seaman to be flogged and towed ashore for ‘scandalous actions, to the great corruption of good manners’.[47] This may well have been a reference to unhygienic practices such as fouling the lower decks rather than using the ‘head’.  In 1698 Kirkby was charged with cruelty for crucifying a man in the rigging for straggling. Kirkby had the man suspended by his right arm and left leg for several hours.  His defence was that he had allowed the man to rest one foot on the deck. Interestingly, two of Benbow’s 1702 captain’s sat on the Court martial that acquitted him: Cooper Wade and Benbow’s Flagship captain Christopher Fogg.[48]

Benbow was no stranger to this issue.  In June 1689, just after he had returned to naval service as third lieutenant on Admiral Herbert’s flagship, the Elizabeth, Herbert had to deal with a complaint of “an unusuall piece of cruelty”.  Captain Jeremiah Roach of the Charles Galley, as well as his lieutenant and master were reported to have placed burning matches between the fingers of three boys from a captured prize in order to elicit information. Charnock reports that Captain Roach was promoted in August to be commander of a squadron of small vessels to facilitate the passage of supplies between England and Ireland.  This suggests Roach escaped any censure or punishment.  Charnock recounts another incident where Roach threatened to whip Peter Roberts, the master of a merchant ship, for being saucy when Roach pressed some of his men. The Master’s subsequent complaint eventually reached the House of Lords. Cruelty clearly was a controversial issue of the day.[49]

The particular dispute heard by Benbow in the Court-martial of December 1701 (Captain Henry Martin) arose when seamen Edward Willis, Thomas Wheatly, Henry Land, William Orange, Thomas Blair and Richard Terill all of the Defiance brought a complaint against Mr. Henry Partington, the Second Lieutenant.  They claimed he beat and misused them, swearing that on different occasions he struck them about the head 40 or 50 times for no reason.  In his defence Partington stated it was for drinking and burning a light late at night. The court found that Lieutenant Partington had been too busy with his cane for which he was adjudged to be severely reprimanded by the Court, but acquitted of the actual charge.[50]

The court’s split decision clearly shows the division among Benbow’s officers. Those officers like Kirkby who leaned heavily on the use of physical punishment to prop up their authority must have considered that Benbow and the court went too far in openly censoring Partington. There was probably considerable pique that the Admiral even allowed the common men of the ship to bring such a charge against an officer.

Benbow resolved any ongoing conflict between the men and Partington by moving him shortly thereafter to the Greenwich under Cooper Wade. The Admiral frequently used this devise to remove a problematic officer from those with whom he was in conflict. Charnock relates that Partington’s career was further marred by a court-martial in 1706 when he was fined six month’s pay for irregular conduct and appears to have left the service.

A dispute was heard on January 20, 1702 that suggests increasing tensions within the fleet.  John Moore, a Midshipman on the Bredah, brought a complaint against Midshipman Alexander Sutherland of the Defiance for uttering seditious and scandalous words when ordered on service. Boats from the Defiance were engaged in delivering timber for the hospital at Kingston.  The Bredah’s crew was at the site stacking the wood on high ground. Harsh words were exchanged when Moore pointed out that Sutherland and his men were not assisting sufficiently. Granted hard physical labour under the Caribbean sun could result in heated tempers. Nevertheless, the use of the term ‘seditious’ makes the charge particularly serious and foreshadows more ominous challenges to authority.  The Midshipman of the Defiance was given a severe reprimand and ordered “to declare his fault publicly on the Bredah in the hearing of the Ship’s company and ask pardon for the same.”[51]

Benbow must have been particularly chagrined at this show of disrespect.  He was well aware of the deep humiliation of such a punishment.  He had been court-martialled and forced to make just such an apology on board the Bristol while in the Mediterranean in 1681. Benbow had been a little too quick to criticise Captain William Booth of the Adventure for lack of zeal in pressing an attack on the Algerian Golden Horse. As a result of this humiliation he had left the naval service for a number of years.[52]

Disciplinary issues continued to plague Benbow’s fleet. Court was reconvened on March 30, 1702 to hear a dispute between a senior officer and the sailing master.  This was another vexing issue often faced on board ships in Benbow’s day when the professional seamen like the Coxswain, Boatswain, and Master and their mates differed with the commissioned officers. As Davies pointed out, technical competence was the issue at the bottom of many of the conflicts between tars and gentlemen officers. It was quite common for an officer who had acquired a modicum of technical expertise to trespass on the territory of the master or boatswain.[53] This, I believe, was the element of the tars verses gentlemen issue that was at the crux of some of the Captains’ resentment of Benbow.  As seen earlier in the Partington case, he tended to side with the Tars.

In this case, Thomas Langrish (Langridge), First Lieutenant of the Windsor brought a complaint against the Master, Jacob Tilley, for contradicting his orders.  The Master had contradicted an order that the First Lieutenant had given to use a good sail for a smoke diverter.  The court found the Lieutenant at fault in terms of his seamanship and directed that he be told that he was in the wrong to make use of a serviceable sail for that service. However, the Captains on the Court martial saw that the Master was reprimanded for disputing his superior officer’s command.  Again, another split decision.  Benbow, the tarpaulin Admiral, had himself served as a Master, and no doubt, sympathised with Tilley.   Though he was forced to accept the majority’s reprimand of the Master, he knew it would be imprudent to leave the two together. He quickly removed Langridge to the Bredah as Second Lieutenant where he would be under Benbow’s own close scrutiny.  In this way he signalled his support for the Master. Some officers may well have seen this as an erosion of their authority and the respect due them. As for Langridge, he did go on to command a Fireship before his death in 1703.[54]

The following case heard on June 27, 1702, was, I believe, the last straw.  John Winch, the Boatswain of the bomb ketch Carcass, had brought a complaint against his commander for beating him with a cane.  Frances Gregory was new to command. Though he had served as a Lieutenant in 1696, he had subsequently sailed as a Midshipman Extra in the Falmouth and then as Purser in the same ship until his appointment as Master and Commander of the Carcass. His leadership experience was quite dated. It is symptomatic of the dearth of officers faced by Benbow that he even considered Gregory for the appointment. In a smaller ship like the Carcass, which had a complement of only 30 men, the Captain doubled as the Master. So he was quite dependent on his warrant officers of whom the Boatswain was one of the more senior. The Boatswain’s charge was thus quite serious as it suggested a most improper treatment by the Captain of one of his most valuable warrant officers. We are not told the details of what caused the altercation. Harsh words were exchanged resulting in Gregory striking the Boatswain. Winch charged that he had lost the sight of one eye as a result of the caning. Gregory countered that he had been provoked by the Boatswain throwing up his warrant and telling the Captain to return it to the Admiral, saying he would no longer serve as Gregory’s Boatswain.

The court found that the Boatswain had provoked the Captain with mutinous remarks, but in light of the loss of his eye, found it sufficient to give him a severe reprimand. The Court referred him to the Laws of England for recourse for the loss of his eye. Interestingly, the captain was not found guilty of the complaint, namely, cruelty. Instead, he was found guilty under a technicality: ie. the 20th Article of War, for concealing the incident for a number of days from the Admiral. It would seem that despite the Captains being unprepared to find Gregory guilty of the original complaint of abuse, the Admiral, as he had with Partington and Langridge, found a means to discipline him. Gregory was fined all his wages for his services as Commander of the Carcass from the first day of his command until the date of the court martial.[55] Gregory remained in command of the Carcass until September, and had three more commands, the last one being captured by the French in 1706.  He died in captivity in France.

Though again a split decision with fault attributed to both parties, the sentence of the Captain on a technicality must have irritated the growing anti-Benbow faction. Kirkby had flogged and imprisoned his own Boatswain back in 95 on the Southampton. So Kirkby would have been vocal in his criticism of Benbow’s faulting the Captain.  He would argue that it undermined their authority and lessened the respect due the Queen’s officers.  The Gregory punishment upon the complaint of the Boatswain, the reprimand and move of Lieutenant Partington in favour of the common seamen, and the removal of Lieutenant Langridge from the Windsor to separate him from the Master were all decisions that supported the Tars in conflict with their Commissioned Officers. Whether they were gentlemen or not was irrelevant.  What was at issue was their professional seamanship and leadership. It was this challenge to their authority which accounted for their resenting the strictness of the Admiral’s discipline. This is what Campbell proclaimed. Their alienation was the root cause of the mutiny. All that was wanting was an opportunity.

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This was still the early days of the formation of traditions in the British Navy, and coordinating a fleet or even a squadron was not an easy matter. The task was to get commanding officers of individual ships to operate as part of larger tactical units rather than as individual ships.

Tunstall put it well:

Naval tactics are an admiral’s art, and in a fleet propelled by wind and sails he exercised his art with difficulty.. Everything depended on the wind and the weather and, unless these were favourable, no battle could take place, nor could either fleet be formed in battle order…Success in war depended on an admiral’s ability to organise a body of ships into a disciplined fleet, capable of obeying his instructions and signals…nor could the admiral expect wholehearted support for a form of attack of which the captains did not approve[56]

Benbow was to learn this latter lesson at the cost of his life. Captains were particularly protective of their perogatives, and believed themselves ultimately responsible only to the lord high admiral, the crown and parliament.[57] Captain Cooper Wade, another of the mutineers, was frequently heard to proclaim that ‘this will be another parliament business’ in regard to the captains’ refusal to support Benbow.[58] The primitive state of ship to ship communication and battle tactics created a ideal environment for recalcitrant captains to passively resist an Admiral who did not have their full support. The Second Dutch War occasioned a major example of this in a four day running battle between Albemarle and de Ruyter in the Spring of 1666. The English fleet was badly mauled in a fighting retreat.  Albemarle complained bitterly that many captains had failed to support him in the battle. The King was urged to hang some of the captains, and in the end five were removed from the service.[59] To bring some order, Sailing and Fighting Instructions had been issued. Lessons learned from the Dutch Wars were codified initially by Blake, Deane and  Monck in 1653. The line ahead battle formation became the norm, with ships exhorted to maintain half a cable’s length (120 yards) from one another, and to sail close hauled in order to gain or retain the weather gage. James, the Duke of York issued his own updated version in 1673. And Russell brought forth his rendition in 1691. The most important article was XVIII which directed that if the admiral and his fleet have the wind of the enemy, and they have stretched themselves in line of battle, the van of the admiral’s fleet is to steer with the van of the enemy’s and there to engage them.[60] The problem was how to get within cannon shot without exposing the ship’s vulnerable head.

If fleets met head on Russell’s Fighting Instructions directed that after forming into a line of battle, with each ship following the one ahead by one half a cable, the ships were to draw abreast of the enemy line and upon nearing the enemy rear were to tack together. The difficulty was in coordinating the attacking fleet so as to get into gun range while maintaining an orderly line and keeping up with the enemy’s van.

Creswell states that the problem was that in practice the attacking fleet often tacked too late if the enemy was proceeding under full sail, or too early if the enemy backed some of his sails. Getting the two battle lines aligned was a very difficult matter and required the cooperation of both fleets. No instructions had yet been developed for engaging an enemy who was intent on escaping to leeward without giving battle.[61]

Corbett underlined the main problem with even these rudimementary tactics of ranging the length of the enemy’s line van to van and rear to rear; namely, the unhandiness of ships in those days and their difficulty in taking up or preserving exact formations.[62] The steering wheel had yet to be developed, so the rudder was operated by a whipstaff, which had a maximum 5 degrees of helm either side of centre. Square rigged ships could not sail within 6 points of the wind so were forced to tack back and forth.  Even in a stiff breeze they barely made four knots.  In a light breeze they might be moving at 2 to 3 knots. And with no wind, they would have to tow with their boats. The speed of ships was particularly effected by the weed and barnacles that grew so ferociously on their bottoms in the Caribbean.  Benbow was known for taking pains to frequently careen his ships to clean them.  However, in his confrontation with Du Casse, the French ships had recently arrived from France so would have the advantage.  Tunstall says that hours and even days might be spent in trying to get into the desired order of battle.[63] This was very much Benbow’s experience at Santa Marta.  Strain and frustration for the Admiral would be terrific. In addition, the Admiral would be hamstrung by the limited British signalling system. He would frequently have to send his instructions by boat to ensure they were received and understood.

Ehrman in The Navy in the War of William III sums up the problems that Admirals faced in Benbow’s era:

The chances of a decision were slender.  The vagaries of the weather and the tactical immaturity of the opponents combinded to render destruction, in the Nelsonian sense, unlikely; for that, a favourable wind and a bold and well-organized plan were simultaneously required.  In the absence of either—and frequently both were lacking—not even a clear-cut advantage could be depended upon. The full weight of both fleets might not be engaged, and individual squadrons alone might be damaged in single combat, or in an unequal action against greater odds conducted in full view but not within range of their consorts.[64]

N.A.M. Rodger has provided an excellent analysis of the difficulties and limitations of these Eighteenth-Century naval tactics in the August 2003 edition of The Mariner’s Mirror. In light of the embrionic state of communcications and tactics, he stresses the overriding significance of the relationships of the officers and in particular the admiral’s style of command.

Battles reveal much about the structure of a squadron and the relations of its senior officers which is otherwise obscure.  They inform us both about the practical and technical possibilities of communication and control, and about the human relations of leaders and led.[65]

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So the battle off Santa Marta on the Spanish Main, between Benbow’s squadron and the French tells us much about Benbow and his captains and the effects of their disaffection.[66] The squadrons were 15 leagues west of Santa Marta when they sighted each other as the sun rose on August 19, 1702. The French were to the East and the wind was gentle and easterly. The French Admiral, Jean Du Casse, ordered his ships to furl their sails, get into battle line position, brace to and keep to windward while the strange sails tacked closer.[67] Admiral Benbow gave the signal for the chase for all ships except the Defiance and Pendennis which were too far astern. Now the English ships had to beat to windward, tacking to the northeast. The French in response veered southward with an easy sail.  Some of the English ships clearly were having a difficult time making much headway against the Easterly and fell back.  The Defiance and Pendennis followed but were three to four miles to the rear.

By 10 a.m. the Ruby, Falmouth and Bredah managed to get close enough to make out the French colours. The French now in good formation had made out the English colours and got underway on a southwesterly course. They held a brief council of war in which they agreed to let the English fire first and to make way straight to Carthagena with their cargo of troops. According to Tunstall this was in keeping with French defensive doctrine which held that the strategic mission of supporting the French Empire was more important than winning individual battles.[68] The four French war ships led, while their slower cargo ships, including the Marin and the Prince of Frise, took up the rear, so as to extend their profile.  Benbow’s planned line of battle was the Defiance, 64, Captain Richard Kirkby; the Pendennis, 48, Captain Thomas Hudson; the Windsor, 60, Captain John Constable; the Bredah, 70, Captain Christopher Fogg; the Greenwich, 54, Captain Cooper Wade; the Ruby 48, Captain George Walton; and the Falmouth, 48, Captain Samuel Vincent.[69] The line was however, excruciatingly slow in forming.

At eleven an exasperated Benbow ordered Fogg to send a boat to Kirkby and Constable to command them to make more sail.  Lieutenant Langridge had the unpleasant task of chiding the sluggish ships. The Defiance and Windsor set their main sails and let out their topgallants and noticeably picked up speed. About half past twelve the Admiral ordered the Bredah to brace to and raise the Union flag at the mizzen peak signalling the squadron to form line ahead battle formation. While Benbow waited for his ships to get into proper formation, the tardiness of his sternmost ships had allowed the French squadron to pass to the south, rather than meet him head on.  Having seen the English line extended over several miles and in such poor order, Du Casse had added all the sail he could and was shepherding his flock past the enemy, far out or gun range. Creswell points out that Paul l’Hoste in his Treatise on Naval Evolutions, in 1697 included chapters on avoiding engagement. Hoste advised that the fleet wishing to escape pay close attention to the wind so as to take advantage of any shifts and out manoeuver the enemy.[70] Benbow thus lost the chance of meeting the French head on and was forced to give chase.  The wind had shifted and freshened so that a gentle breeze came out of the sea from the north east, aiding the progress of the French, but continuing to impede the English stragglers.  It was 2 o’clock before all of Benbow’s ships were up and manoeuvring into their proper stations.  It had taken three hours for his sternmost ships to form their appropriate positions. The French were now 4 miles distant to the southwest. The Defiance took the lead as planned, but the Windsor was still astern the Bredah.  The English were now to windward and intended to keep that advantage, and so tried to box the French in against the shore.  The Admiral had used this tactic many times before, and so driven many enemy ships aground as they sought to escape his heavy and concentrated broadsides.  The French, however, now had the leeward advantage of flight, as long as they avoided being embayed.  Nevertheless, with seven warships to the French four, the English had a tremendous superiority of fire power, 352 guns to their 258.  They would of course have to force the French to stand and fight.

So at 3 o’clock, with the day fast disappearing, Benbow gave the order to hoist the red flag at the foretopmast. This signalled, according to Russell’s Instructions, that “every ship in the fleet is to use their utmost endeavour to engage the enemy in the order the admiral has prescribed unto them”.  The Windsor, which had been behind the Bredah, finally shot ahead to its appointed position between the Admiral and the Defiance.  The Pendennis was still in the rear though its station was between the Windsor and Defiance.  But with night approaching Benbow had to get his van up to the enemy’s or abort the attack.  The French were now in full flight, bearing west-southwest.  The English squadron was converging with them.  And though the Falmouth in the rear had got up with the enemy’s sternmost ship, Kirkby seemed unable to pull up with their van.

At 4:30 the crash of cannon fire finally thundered across the waves as the Falmouth opened fire on the Prince of Frise, which was covering the troop ships to leeward. Du Casse in the Heureux, seeing the danger threatening his rear, immediately braced to and together with his second ship, the Agreable, fell upon the Defiance.  The Windsor began to fire on the Phoenix, the third in line, and the forth, the Apollon, let loose her broadside at the Bredah. She replied smartly, and with the wind on her quarter closed on her target.

Broadsides were unleashed successively as the two lines continued slowly westward. Then in the thick of this battle the inexplicable occurred. Not thirty minutes had passed when the Defiance and Windsor ceased firing. The French van, the Agreable and the Heureux had slipped to leeward, just out of gun range while Kirkby kept the Defiance into the wind, rather than closing on the enemy.  Constable dutifully followed his example.  The Phoenix now fell back to aid the Apollon with which the Bredah was hotly engaged. Benbow was forced to manoeuvre ahead to maintain a position abreast the Phoenix so she could not cross his forefoot and rake the Bredah from stem to stern.  To the rear the Falmouth and Ruby kept up their barrage against the Prince de Frise and the Marin.  The Greenwich and the Pendennis were astern of them with their shot not reaching.  The Bredah persevered with the two French warships till darkness fell, around six.  All the while Kirkby and Constable kept their ships just out of gunshot, though abreast the enemy’s van.

In this brief engagement little was accomplished.  The French escaped westward into the night. Benbow decided to give the errant captains an opportunity to redeem themselves. To accomplish this and check Kirkby’s lethargy a new line of battle was devised. This would have the Bredah leading, followed by the Defiance, Windsor, Greenwich, Ruby, Pendennis and Falmouth.  Benbow further stipulated:

“When the signall is made to draw into this line each Captain is directed and required to keep her Maj. Ship he commands not farther then half cable length from the ship he follows, and in the same paralell with the Bredah.  He is not to quit this line on any pretence whatever without first giving me notice, nor to keep at a greater distance then directed, as he or they shall or will answer the contrary at their perill, and for so doing this shall be your warrent.

Dated on board her Maj. ship Bredah abreast St. Martha on the Main Continent of America, Aug 19th, 1702

To Col. Richard Kirkby comand of her Maj. Ship the Defyance and to all the other Captains.

If Any ship faulters the ship that follows her is to supply her place.”

(Signed: J.Benbow)[71]

For the next five days Benbow chased the French back and forth in excruciatingly slow evolutions as the light winds shifted and died. Most of the time they made only about 2 knots, and less when they were forced to have their boats out towing. The French managed to keep ahead of their pursuers for the most part, with Benbow in the Bredah nipping at their heels.  First the Ruby, and then The Falmouth supported him, while the other four ships of his squadron fell several leagues behind almost as a separate squadron.

Finally, about two and one half-hours after midnight, on the sixth day of battle, the wind, what there was of it, shifted to NbW and the currents brought the Bredah and Falmouth close to the Apollon.  The rest of the English ships were four miles astern. Nevertheless Benbow resolved to take advantage of the enemy’s proximity. So, in the dim starlight the Bredah and the Falmouth opened fire with double and round below and round and partridge aloft. The French fought just as fiercely, and returned salvos heartily.  The Apollon’s fusillade was particularly deadly on the Bredah’s quarterdeck.  At three o’clock the admiral’s right leg was shattered to pieces by a chain-shot, and he was carried down to the orlop

As soon as his leg was bound he ordered his cradle brought to the quarterdeck, and there, propped up, and in great pain, he resumed the direction of the battle. The two English ships continued firing very smartly for the space of three hours, so that the Apollon was torn almost asunder. From three to five the sea had been almost calm, allowing no escape for the stricken Frenchman.  Then the wind came easterly. The other English ships which had stood looking on, about two miles NNE now bore down to the battle. The Falmouth, herself badly disabled, towed out of range to the north to knot her rigging.  The wind, however was also bringing the French Admiral and his remaining squadron, who had been four miles ESE.

As the sky lightened the Apollon’s plight grew visible. The ruined ship’s main yard was down and shot to pieces, her foretopsail shot away, her mizzenmast shot by the board, all her rigging gone and her sides bored to pieces with double headed shot.  She lay as a wreck. Then the unimaginable happened. The Defiance, which was headmost of the other English ships, instead of coming to windward between the enemy and the disabled ship, led the wayward division to leeward of the Apollon, firing in passing. Kirkby ignored the signal for the line and bore away to the northwest before the wind. The Greenwich, Windsor, and Pendennis fired their upper guns as they ran past the Apollon on her leeward side, also ignored the signal to form the line, and stood to the southward. The Bredah was thus left alone and exposed, her own ships all to leeward, and the French squadron to windward.

The French bore down upon the Bredah and raked her above an hour, shooting down her main topsail yard and tore her every way. She suffered more damage then in all the time of engaging before, so that she scarce had any sails or rigging left to command the ship.  At seven of the clock that morning the Bredah finally and reluctantly edged away, giving up her prize

What followed was even more frustrating for Benbow: all of his Captains requested a cessation of the action and under Kirkby’s direction gave a written summation of their reasons:

At a consultation held on board H.M.S. Bredah, Aug. 24, 1702, off of Carthagena on the Maine Continent of America, it is the opinion of us whose names are undermentioned, vizt.

First-Of the great want of men in number, quality and the weakness of those they have.

2nd, The generall want of ammunition of most sorts.

3rd, Each ship’s masts, yards, sailes, rigging and guns being all in a great measure disabled.

4th, The winds are small and variable that the shipps cannot be govern’d by any strength each shipp has.

5th, Having experienced the enemyes force in six dayes battle following, the Squadreon consisting of five men-of-war and a fire-ship, under the command of Mons. Du Cass, their equipage consisting in guns from 60 to 80, and having a great number of seamen and soldiers on board for the service of Spain.

For which reasons above-mentioned, wee think it not fitt to engage the enemy at this time, but to keep them company this night, and observe their motion, and if a fairer opportunity shall happen (of wind and weather) once more to trye our strength with them. (Signed, Richard Kirkby, Sam. Vincent, John Constable, Chris. Fogg, Cooper Wade, Thos. Hudson.[72]

Benbow was manipulated into calling his captains together in response to Kirkby’s unsolicited advice that it was not safe to continue the battle.  Benbow retorted that this was only Kirkby’s opinion, and he would prefer to know what his other captains had to say. Davies reports that an Admiral of a wartime fleet did take advice from his subordinate flag officers and occasionally from a general council of all captains. The latter generally acquiesced to the Admiral’s view, given his patronage power. And, in any event, a decisive admiral could overrule their advice.[73] The Treaty of the Concert of the Fleets of England and Holland of 1689 states that “Councils of war were to be composed of flag officers. If in voting equality were reached the captains would be required to attend.” [74] In this case Kirkby, by seniority, was Benbow’s second in command and provoked Benbow into calling the rest of the captains. Tunstall calls a General Council of War of all the Captains ‘an unusual procedure’.[75]

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the captain’s paper is that both Vincent and Fogg signed it.  They later argued that this was because they feared Kirkby and his supporters would continue to refuse to support Benbow and so leave the Falmouth and the Bredah a prey to the French. As well, we can assume that they were exhausted after fighting for six days with so little support, effectively outnumbered, and under difficult wind and weather conditions. They could honestly agree to the statement that their ships had suffered both in damage and in loss of men and ammunition. This was not the case for the Defiance, Windsor, Pendennis, and Greenwich. Aubrey makes the point that Councils of War (of flag officers), though quite prevalent in that era, tended to stifle initiative and to inhibit boldness: few committees in history have failed to listen to voices urging caution.[76]

Benbow would have none of this. So, despite having agreed to the Captain’s consultation, he reacted by viewing their written statement as mutiny. Upon their return to Port Royal he charged all who signed it. In his report to Lord Nottingham, Benbow records that when he saw the captains’ written consultation he was finally convinced that they had no mind to fight, and that all their misfortunes heretofore came through cowardice. He added:

If this be allow’d there is no going to sea for a Flagg etc. unless he carry his Father, Sons or Brothers to assist in the day of batle.  I thought always till now that a good Example would make any Body fight.[77]

Benbow immediately wrote his answer to the Captains’ paper.

He was particularly appalled at their gall in suggesting they had fought as bravely as the Bredah, for he knew he had lost over sixty men, dead and wounded.

“Admiral Benbow’s Answer to the objections made by the Captaines for not fighting Mons. Du Cass’s Squadron.  (1) For want of men, I am well assur’d there was not eight men kill’d in all the ships besides the Bredah.  (2) The want of ammunition was only a pretence, for they had enough.  (3) That of their masts and yards to be disabled is false, for every ship’s masts and yards stood very well, and in a much better condition then the enemy’s.  (4) They say that the winds are small and variable, that our shipps can not be govern’d, which is erronious, for all that time there was a fresh gale of wind, and such an opportunity wee have not had in six dayes, wee being then along their side, and to windward of them, that a fairer oportunity could never happen’d to engage.  (5) They say that they have experienced the enemy’s force in six dayes battle; the Bredah, Ruby and Falmouth indeed has in some measure, but the rest would not or durst not come up.  They tell you that the French Squadron consisted in five men-of-warr and a fire-shipp from 60 to 80 guns, which is likewise false, for those were but four men-of-war from 60 to 70 guns, and one of those was disabled so much that their Commadore was oblieged to tow her, and as to their numbers of seamen and soldiers, I believe, we pretty well thinn’d them.  These are the reasons they give for not engaging the French, which are all a vision false and cowardize, which I doe averr.  Signed, J. Benbow.” [78]

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Cowardice was one of the principle reasons given by early historians for Kirkby and his supporters’ actions.  As early as 1708 John Oldmixon in The British Empire in America had written “never did two Englishmen bring such Dishonour upon their Country, as Kirkby and Wade, through their Cowardice and Treachery”.  Certainly much of the court-martial evidence indicated such cowardice.  Many officers of other ships deposed that Kirkby withdrew repeatedly from the action, lagged behind and kept his ship out of range of enemy fire. Some of Kirkby’s senior officers, including third Lieutenant Francis Knighton and Master John Martin attempted to give less damning evidence. The Court pressed them to amend their evidence and accused the Master of doctoring his journal to put Kirkby in a more favourable light. Ironically, the most scathing evidence against Kirkby was given by his own warrant officers. The Boatswain, Thomas Mollamb deposed:

That during the whole time of engagement, he did not know of any encouragement his Captain gave to any of his men, but the contrary rather from his own pusillanimity by walking and dodging behind the mizen mast and falling down upon the deck. [79]

The Carpenter, Edward Palmer, deposed that when the Defiance engaged the enemy on the first day of battle, she edged out of the line after only about half an hour and that he heard an order given to not fire any more guns. He testified further that on a subsequent occasion when the Defiance was within point blank shot of the enemy’s sternmost ship she did not fire any shot at her, despite being called to from the Bredah several times to engage her.[80]

Gavin Hamilton, surgeon of the Defiance gave similar evidence and added that when the Coxswain, John Hazleurst was brought down to him wounded by losing his right arm, he exclaimed extremely against Colonel Kirkby for his ill conduct saying ‘it was God’s just judgement upon him for sailing with a person he knew to be a coward.’[81] This clearly indicates that Kirkby had a reputation for avoiding battle.

In the Court Martial of Cooper Wade, his own Boatswain, Francis Cotterell, stated that Wade ordered the men to continue firing shot despite the shot falling short in order to convince the Admiral that they were in the fight.  He added that they were never within range except on the one brief occasion that they sailed by the enemy’s disabled stern ship.  Further evidence was given that Wade was drunk with both the Master and the Pilot every day of the battle. Much evidence was given that showed that Wade purposefully kept his ship out of the action, by using old sails, chasing with reefs in the sails, constantly bearing up and firing while out of range. Wade’s clerk, Edward Eaton, gave very damming evidence of his being somewhat mellow or otherwise in drink and firing to no purpose, without consideration of what distance they were from the enemy. He further testified that there was a great deal of disparaging of the Admiral’s conduct of the battle by Wade and the Master.[82]

Certainly, then, there is much evidence of cowardly behaviour on the part of Kirkby and his faction.  It is worth noting that this sort of behaviour was not unknown in the navy of that era. It is not surprising that ships under a flag officer or commodore did on occasion refuse to boldly follow, particularly into a maelstorm of enemy broadsides. This would be even more so if relationships amongst the senior officers were troublesome. To combat this understandable reluctance to place oneself in harms way, the Admiralty developed the Articles of War, and spelled out this lack of zeal as cowardice.[83] The four day battle between Albemarle and de Ruyter in 1666 was an early example of this behaviour. Peter Kemp in The British Sailor remarks on the high incidence of cowardice during Benbow’s time, the early 1700s.

Even more surprising is the number of official complaints by the crews of naval ships that their captains were lacking in courage.  There are too many of them to be ignored on the grounds that they were attempts by disgruntled crews to denigrate unpopular officers, and in many ships logs of the period there are entries which, with a little interpretation, indicate that an enemy ship got away because she was not chased hard enough or was only half-heartedly engaged.  Undoubtedly there were easier ways of making money than fighting for it, and ‘gunnage and tonnage’, which were the terms under which the Admiralty paid for a captured warship, was always considerably less than ‘appraisal’, which was the valuation made by the Commissioners for Prizes for captured merchant ships.[84]

Davies reports that one Admiralty commissioner in the 1690‘s complained that gentlemen officers would ‘not keep the sea’ and were ‘not obedient to orders’.[85]

Several occurences in the early part of the century are indicative of the difficulty commanders had in enforcing fleet actions in Benbow’s day. Such an incident occurred in 1704 near Carthagena Spain when Sir Andrew Leake in the Grafton was sailing in the fleet of Admiral George Rooke.  Leake was in a squadron of eight ships ordered to give chase to six French ships.  The Grafton and two other ships broke off the chase prematurely.  Though Leake was acquitted in his court martial, Charnock reports that he suffered much censure from his fellow captains.[86] Then, again, in 1708,  Charles Wager led a squadron in an attack on Spanish galleons in the Caribbean.  Two of his captains, Timothy Bridges and Edward Windsor, behaved as Kirkby had and withdrew from the battle.  Both were court martialled and dismissed the service.[87]

N.A.M. Rodger in The Wooden World writing about the Seven Years War a few years later (1756 –63) references the earlier high incidence of cowardice:

The Navy during the Seven Years’ War had a real problem of cowardice.  It was not so bad as it had been earlier in the century, and it was virtually confined to three ranks of officer, but it remained a source of intermittent anguish to senior officers and the Board of Admiralty, and was several times the cause of serious failures in action.[88]

Rodger attributes much of the cowardice to the extremely exposed position that captains occupied on the Quarterdeck.  He gives several examples, for the mid-century era, of ships steering clear of the fighting altogether, and watching the other ships of their squadron get badly mauled. Rodger gives as examples the attack on Havana in 1762. The Stirling Castle was supposed to lead the line: instead she hauled off out of range and watched the other ships get badly damaged. Captain Campbell was dismissed the Service, and was probably lucky not to have been shot. Similarly, Captain Carpenter of the Coventry, meeting a larger French frigate, proposed to run the ship ashore to escape, but was prevented by his second lieutenant. Admiral Pocock, after an indecisive action fought in light airs in the Indian Ocean, caused three of his captains to be court-martialled for failing to support him. Rodger also references Rear Admiral Lestock’s refusal to support his commander in chief, Vice Admiral Thomas Mathews in the Battle of Toulon in 1745.

Creswell describes the result of the Battle of Toulon as due to misconduct on the British side, misconduct that was more personal than tactical.[89] This was precisely the behaviour of Benbow’s captains in 1702.

Clearly, the relationship between an Admiral and his captains was crucial in terms of their behaviour under fire. This was a major factor in their willingness to bravely risk their lives, or to hang back from the danger and leave their superior officer to fend for himself.

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So to what can we attribute the alienation and disaffection of Benbow’s captains and their resulting cowardly behaviour? Even before John Campbell’s work in 1742, writers had accused Benbow of provoking the mutiny by his rough tarpaulin behaviour towards his gentleman captains. Many writers have followed this theme and attributed the mutiny to an oversimplified conflict between an old Tar and his gentlemen captains. Laughton, in the DNB focuses on Benbow’s coarse rough language as the provocation. On the contrary, evidence suggests that Benbow was every bit as much a gentleman as his captains, certainly in life style, patrons and associates. However, his career path shows his tarpaulin roots. Unlike Kirkby, he did not enter the navy as a gentleman ‘volunteer’.

The courts-martial conducted prior to the mutiny do strongly indicate that Benbow, professional seaman that he was, favoured the tars, often at the expense of the commissioned officers, particularly if they failed to appreciate the technical expertise and skills of the tars. He would not tolerate abuse of the seamen and warrant officers, and expected his officers to set an example of fairness. In addition, Benbow had demonstrated that he would challenge and even punish Captains who did not live up to his expectations, by court-martial as in the cases of Tourville, Dawes and Gregory. Less formally, he would have used his patronage power to reward those officers he favoured. And if he found fault, he was known to be forthright in his criticism. These combined attitudes and actions would estrange some of his officers, particularly those with gentlemanly sensibilities and ‘great relations’ like Kirkby and Wade. I believe that this is what Campbell meant when he declared that Benbow’s officers were upset with his discipline, because he ‘treated them a little briskly in Jamaica’. And it would not be surprising for Kirkby and Wade to use their ‘connections’ to intimidate the others.

In addition to the general alienation between Benbow and some of his officers, each of the mutinous captains had personal reasons for leaving Benbow to fight the French on his own. Kirkby’s was envy, given his history of having been so often passed over; Wade’s may best be explained as self-interest in light of his reference to Parliamentary influence; Constable’s was vindictiveness for Benbow’s lack of support when he was previously cashiered; and Hudson’s was self-preservation, the newness of his command and his affinity for Wade.

As Hattendorf has pointed out, poor wind and weather conditions, a tiring six day running battle and the French squadron’s determination not to fight were also major factors in the mutiny. These factors, combined with the embryonic state of British ship signals and battle tactics, provided the opportunity for the disaffected captains to withhold their support and leave Benbow a prey to the French. Ehrman put it well in The Navy in the War of William III:

Line tactics…often remained merely an ideal.  Apart from the limitations of the ships themselves, discipline in the fleet was still embryonic enough to upset a formation which relied so obviously upon it.[90]

Benbow’s fault, or tragic flaw, lay in his failure to develop that element of leadership wherein leader and follower respect and support one-another. Aubrey makes the point regarding Russell in his role as Commander-in-Chief of the main fleet in 1691: namely that he:

had been given a great opportunity to establish an understanding with his flag officers and captains.  No fleet can fight successfully without this intangible asset.[91]

Benbow unfortunately allowed a serious alienation to develop between himself and some of his captains.  And he seems to have been insensitive to this and to the dire consequences.  To the end he failed to understand why they did not follow him. He felt it was his responsibility solely to lead by example, and he did indeed set a very brave example. However, his letters show him to be totally astonished that the majority of his squadron did not respond to this example.

no body is safe to head any party if not stood by, I never met with the like misfortunes in all my life and hope never shall.  But it is what I always feared for the Captains that comes these voyages are reckoned as lost so it may be thought anything may serve in these parts, but that is a wrong notion for if good men are not sent here a worse thing may happen to us for I find the French will defend their ships to the very last extremity[92]

This certainly reinforces the challenge Benbow faced given the poor officer quality available to him. It is interesting that in his court martial Kirkby frequently said that he did not fire upon the French Admiral Du Casse because they had a respect for each other.[93] This is what was missing between Benbow and Kirkby and his followers.

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1 The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815 ed. David Syrett & R.L. DiNardo (Navy Records Society Occasional Publications Vol.1, 1994; Naval Biographical Database, Portsmouth, Royal Naval Museum Library, Christopher Donnithorne; Dictionary of National Biography; Charnock.

John Benbow:

1678, Apr.30: Master’s Mate, Rupert

1679, Jun.15 – 1681, Nov.: Master, Nonsuch

1681, Apr.20: Court Martial – fined his pay, and had to publicly apologize.

1681, Nov. paid off; joined Merchant ship.

1689, June: 3rd Lieutenant, Elizabeth

1689, Sept.20 – 1689, Oct.20: Captain York

1689, Oct.29 – 1689, Nov.12: Captain Bonadventure

1690, Apr.2: Master of the Fleet, Royal Sovereign

1692: Master of the Fleet, Britannia

1694/5, Mar.16: Commander-in-Chief, France (coast of)

1695, June 11: Captain, Northumberland

1696, May 1: RAB

1697/8, Mar.16: Commander-in-Chief, West Indies

1701, Apr.14: RAR

1701, May 29: Commander-in-Chief, West Indies

1701, Jun.30: VAB

1702, Nov.4: died.

1702/3, Jan.19: VAW

2 J.G.Bullocke, Sailors’ Rebellion (London, 1938), 13. Bullocke attributes much of the reason for why we know so little of Benbow – “a mystery he has ever been” – to the destruction of his papers in a fire at the Admiralty Office in Spring Gardens London on December 2, 1716. He gives as his source the Historical Register, Vol.1, page 550; and the Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, 1717-8, page 313.

[3] John Oldmixon, The British Empire in America, (London, 1708), 1741 edition, 339. “The Sentence was certainly very just; for during the whole Course of the Wars between England and France, never did two Englishmen bring such Dishonour upon their Country, as Kirby and Wade, through their Cowardice and Treachery.”

[4] Josiah Burchett, War at Sea (London, 1720), 598. Burchett was Secretary of the Navy during Benbow’s life, and knew him well. They had both served on the Britannia during the Battle of Barfleur in 1692, Benbow as Master of the Fleet, and Burchett as secretary to Admiral Russell. Burchett wrote: “yet when he found his captains so very remiss in their duty, I think he ought, in point of discretion to have summoned them; and even that at first, on board his own ship, and there confined them; and placed their first lieutenants in their rooms, who would have fought well, were it for no other reason than the hopes of being continued in those commands had they survived.”

[5] Thomas Lediard, A Naval History of England (London, 1735). Lediard wrote: “Cowardice may be natural, and beyond a Man’s Will or Power to overcome; But Treachery must be premeditated and willful.” Lediard refers to The Life of Queen Anne which states that “men perfectly scrambled for the revenues of the crown, and made their private fortunes out of the nations treasure.  When money, oftener than merit, gained admission to a command, no wonder that such scoundrels as Wade and Kirkby were trusted with our men of war.”

[6] John Campbell, Lives of British Admirals (London, 1742), vol III. Biographia Britannica (London, 1747), 1984 edition,  vol I.

[7] John Campbell, Lives of British Admirals, 331-332 “for that reason I have, with great care, collected every circumstance, relating to his progress through life, from private hands; which I flatter will be so much the more agreeable to the public, from the want of pains in other writers to vindicate the memory of this great man; which they have rather injured, by heaping together idle and ill-founded stories, and representing, as the rough behaviour of a tar, that steady courage, and that strict regard for discipline, which were not the foibles, as some people would insinuate, but the truly laudable qualities of this honest, gallant, and accomplished admiral”.

[8] John Charnock, Biographia Navalis (London, 1795), II, 239. “Admiral Benbow, as to whose character his bitterest enemy cannot deny him the honest reputation of brave, active and able Commander; while on the other, his warmest friends and admirers must allow he wanted those conciliatory manners which is necessary to secure the personal attachment and regard of the officers he commanded.”

[9] John Laughton, “John Benbow” Dictionary of National Biography (London, originally published 1885, 1937 edition), 210. Laughton suggests that the mutiny was due to Benbow’s own want of temper and tact. Of the mutinous captains he says:  “There are very good grounds for believing that their disaffection was personal to Benbow.” And “we may very well believe that this ‘brisk treatment’ administered by an ‘honest rough seaman’ meant a good deal of coarse language.  This is the view which seems to meet the facts of the case; and though it does not lessen the guilt of the captains, it does check our sharing in the traditional admiration of the admiral who goaded them to crime.”

[10] Bullocke, 55. “Such a combination of his senior officers against him, amounting, as it did, to mutiny, cannot have been without cause; such personal dislike must have had a root in some dire offence that the Admiral had given them…it seems difficult to believe that four officers could be found to go to the lengths of Kirkby, Wade, Hudson, and Constable, merely because they had been treated a ‘little briskly’.  One is tempted to think that Kirkby was unhinged – not at the beginning of the trouble, but that he became so in the course of it”.

[11] Ruth Bourne, Queen Anne’s Navy in the West Indies (New Haven, 1939). Bourne details Kirkby’s history of peppering the Admiralty with requests for a new command during his years on half pay.(1698-1701) He was particularly incensed that those with less seniority and less time unemployed, were promoted over him, and given ships. He took pains to inform Secretary Burchett that he was next in line to Whetstone who functioned as Rear Admiral to Benbow on the West Indian station.

[12] John B.Hattendorf “Benbow’s Last Fight”, The Naval Miscellany, vol V, ed. N.A.M.Rodger, (London, 1984), 143. Hattendorf has provided excellent access to the Benbow Mutiny Courts-martial record and related source documents in this volume. In a draft article for the soon to be published DNB he states: “The debate over the ‘mutiny’ of Benbow’s captain’s in the action off Cape Santa Marta has been previously seen as either a cowardly desertion by the captains or, alternatively, as a reaction caused by Benbow’s lack of proper leadership.  For a deeper understanding of these events, one needs to put them in the context of the exhausting effect that a running six day battle had on all involved. In addition, the conditions of the battle also need to be taken into consideraiton: light and variable winds, diminishing ammunition, battle damaged ships, a French squadron bent on carrying out its mission and not being led astray to fight a battle, English ship captains with serious professional doubts about obtaining a decisive victory under the circumstances, the established practice by which captains advised an admiral…”

[13] John Campbell, in Lives of British Admirals, III, 378, states that Wade and Kirkby had some very great relations. Campbell chastises Bishop Burnet for omitting any mention of this incident in his History of His Own Time, and Josiah Burchett for omitting the names of Kirkby and Wade in his War at Sea.  Campbell suggests in Biographia Britannia, p.768, that these gentlemen omitted naming these two out of a desire to be well with their influential relatives. Josiah Burchett, in War at Sea, p.598, wrote that he “forbore mentioning the names of those two unhappy Gentlemen who suffered (one of whom on other occasions had distinguished himself) more for the sake of their relations than any other consideration”.  This confirms that both Kirkby and Wade had influential relatives worth not offending. Though we do not know Wades relations, it is safe to assume that he had hopes of their support in his dispute with Benbow.

[14] J.D.Davies, Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, (Oxford, 1991), 5.

[15] Ibid, 13

[16] John Campbell, Biographia Britannica, (London, 1747) 688.

[17] Philip Aubrey, The Defeat of James Stuart’s Armanda 1692, (Leicester, 1979) 31.

[18] An Account of the Transactions Between Admiral Benbow and M. Du Cass, London, 1705, anonymous.

[19] Cowper, Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society, (1916, VI)

[20] Naval Biographical Database, Charnock, Commissioned Sea Officers, DNB.

Richard Kirkby:

1689, March 28 – passed exam for Lieutenant; 2nd Lieutenant St. Michael.

1690, Feb. 7 – 1692, Apr.25:  Captain Success (Hired)

1690, June  – Colonel of Marines

1693, June 10 – 1698, Aug.23: Captain Southampton

1694-6: With Russell to Mediterranean

1696 – 1697, Oct: West Indies. Commander-in-Chief.

1698, Aug.24  – 1701, Feb. 18: decommissioned and on half pay.

1698: Court Martial – acquitted of embezzling, plunder, cruelty and oppression.

1701, Feb. 19 – 1702, Mar.10: Captain Ruby;

1702, Mar.11 – 1702, Aug.31: Captain Defiance.

1702, Oct. 8:  Court Martial – guilty of mutiny.

1703, April 16: executed on board Bristol at Plymouth

[21] Davies, 232.

[22] Laughton, “John Benbow”. Laughton claims that Torrington’s acquittal was due in large part to Captain Benbow’s testimony of his courage and integrity.  However, Peter Le Fevre who has done considerable research on the life of Lord Torrington has pointed out in private correspondence that Laughton errs since Benbow never testified at the actual court martial of December 1690.  His testimony was given at a preliminary Royal Commission in July 1690.  Torrington had been accused of never being within gunshot of the enemy.  According to Charnock, Benbow deposed that Torrington brought the Sovereign to within one half-gun shot of the enemy for over an hour.  However, Le Fevre maintains that what probably saved Torrington was the fact that of the 27 officers at the court martial, at least 20 of them owed their start in the navy to him or were friends of his, like rear-admiral Shovell, who had commanded the blue squadron in Russell’s absence, and George Rooke, rear-admiral of the red.

[23] William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy, (London, 1898) 1996 edition, vol 2, 487.

[24] Benbow, William, Brave Benbow, (Victoria, 1992), p.187; Adm.6/9.

[25] Ibid 15-25. The author reviews the literature and analyses the evidence for both genealogical theories in some detail.

[26] Ibid, 63

[27] Campbell, Biographia Britannica, 676.

[28] G.M.Trevelyan, English Social History, (London, 1942), 329

[29] Campbell, Biographia Britannica, p. 679.

[30] Campbell, Lives of the British Admirals, vol. III, 378.

[31] An Account of the Transaction Between Admiral Benbow and M. Du Cass, anonymous, (London, 1705). This tract was published in defence of Kirkby, probably by Burchett.

[32] Davies, 186-187.

[33] Le Fevre, Peter, Tangier, The Navy and its Connection with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, The Mariner’s Mirror, p. 187 and The Dispute Over the Golden Horse of Algiers, 1987, p.316.

[34] Campbell, Biographia Britannica, 687)

[35] PRO. Adm. 1/5262

[36] Naval Biographical Database. John Charnock, Biographia Navalis, vol III, “Philip Dawes” 11. In the fall of 1694, Benbow had pioneered the use of this ship while leading his squadron in an attack upon St. Malo. The Machine was of a class of ships also called Infernals, which was a forerunner of the torpedo.  It was filled with explosives and sailed up to its target, which could be a coastal fort or town, and exploded. Dawes must have conducted himself satisfactorily for he was soon after promoted to a ship of the line.

[37] Benbow, 71. In May of 1693 the Guernsey under Captain Oakley was waiting to escort a convoy of merchant ships back to England.  Beeston ordered Captain Oakley to cruise around Jamaica as a show of force.  Oakley was not prepared to accept Beeston’s authority and merely sailed out of reach and remained there till the convoy was ready.  Beeston complained to the Lords of Trade and Plantations and succeeded in delaying the departure of another ship, the Mordaunt.  In December he complained about the incompetence of another captain and managed to remove him from command. In 1695 the Hampshire raised Beeston’s ire by pressing local men.  He arrested the captain and was going to send him back to England in the Ruby.  He spared him when he begged the Governor’s forgiveness.

[38] Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, 1699.

[39] Ibid.

[40] John Charnock, Biographia Navalis, vol III, 11. Charnock records Dawes’ dismissal from the service at Jamaica as occurring on June 27, 1710 as does the Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy: this is clearly in error, given the court martial record.

[41] D.Syrett, Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy. John Laughton, Dictionary of National Biography, “John Benbow” 211.

[42] PRO, Adm. 1/5254.

[43] John Charnock, Biographia Navalis, vol III, 57. Henry Turville died commander of the 50 gun Portland June 5, 1719.

[44] Peter Kemp, The British Sailor, (London, 1970), 215-216.

[45] N.A.M.Rodger, Wooden World, 212-214.

[46] Charnock, Biographia Navalis, “Richard Kirkby”, 330.

[47] PRO, Adm.1/5256.

[48] PRO, Adm.1/5260.

[49] Edward B. Powley, The Naval Side of King William’s War, (London, 1972), 170; Charnock, II, “Jeremiah Roach”.

[50] PRO, Adm.1/5262.

[51] Ibid. [51] PRO, Adm.1/5262.

[52] PRO, Adm.1/5253. On April 20, 1681 Benbow appeared before a court martial held on board the New Castle, in the bay of Gibraltar.  Admiral Herbert of the Bristol presided, and was joined by Captains Russell, Carter, Rooke, Shovell, Wheeler, Pickard, and Lieutenant Hastings.  The evidence was well attested to so there was no avoiding a conviction, despite Herbert’s sympathies.  The Admiral did however devise a means of mitigating the punishment.  The court determined that:

“Whereas John Bembo, master of his majesty’s ship Nonsuch, hath been accused of speaking diffamatory words of Cap. William Booth Comander of his Majesty’s ship Adventure and upon examination hath been found only to have repeated those words after another.  It is therefore ordered that for repeating these publickly he shall forfeit three months pay–as master, to be disposed of for the use of the wounded men on board the Adventure.  And shall likewise ask Captain Booth pardon on board his Majesty’s ship Bristol declaring that he had no malicious intent in speaking those words, all the commanders being aboard, and a boat crew of each ship’s company.” (Adm.1/5253)Peter Le Fevre in his 1987 article in the Mariner’s Mirror The Dispute over the Golden Horse of Algiers comments that “Benbow’s career did not suffer from this experience.”  On the contrary, Benbow was so humiliated that when the Nonsuch returning to England in November 1681 Benbow left the Navy and joined the crew of a merchantman. It was several years before he rejoined the Navy in 1689 to help pilot William’s invasion fleet.

[53] Davies, 39-41.

[54] PRO. Adm.1/5262. Naval Biographical Database.

[55] PRO. Adm.1/5262. The Commissioned Sea Officers shows Francis Gregory as Commander in March 1702, but nothing further: i.e. no ‘CA’ or post captain rank.  Charnock has no record of him in Biographia Navalis, which suggests he was never confirmed as a post captain.

[56] Brian Tunstall, Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail, ed. Nicholas Tracy, (London, 1990), 1.

[57] Davies, 43.

[58] PRO Adm.1/5263, folio 198.

[59] Davies, 145.

[60] John Creswell, British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century: Tactics in Battle, (London, 1972) 29.

[61] John Creswell, British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century, (London, 1972), 39, 50.

[62] Corbett, 187.

[63] Tunstall, 2.

[64] Ehrman, 25.

[65] The Mariner’s Mirror, (London, ed. Richard Harding, vol.89, No.3, August 2003), N.A.M. Rodger, “Image and Reality in Eighteenth-Century Naval Tactics”,281.

[66] PRO Adm1/5263, Adm52/270, Adm52/40, Adm52/34, Adm51/341, Adm51/130, Adm51/4287: courts-martial record, ships journals.  Courts-martial and pertinent letters also available in John B.Hattendorf “Benbow’s Last Fight”, The Naval Miscellany, vol V, ed. N.A.M.Rodger, (London, 1984).

[67]Relation de ce qui s’est passe entre une escadre du Roi de quatgre vaisseaux commandee par Monsieur Du Casse.” (Bordeaux, 1703 – John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island)

[68] Tunstall, 6.

[69] PRO Adm1/5263 folio 218.

[70] Creswell, 46-48.

[71] PRO Adm1/5263 folio 219.

[72] PRO Adm1/5263,fol.44.

[73] Davies, 101.

[74] Powley, 369.

[75] Tunstall, 25.

[76] Aubrey, 153

[77] CSP.Col.Sept.11,1702.

[78] Ibid. Sept.4, 1702.

[79] Adm.1/5263, folio 66.

[80] Adm.1/5263, folio 55.

[81] Adm.1/5263, folio 95.

[82] Adm.1/5263, folio 198.

[83] Articles of War, (London, 1661). The Articles of War originally drawn up under Charles II in 1661 contained 39 articles, 25 of which prescribed the death penalty.  These articles clearly set down what the state expected of its seamen, and particularly of its Captains.  Article XI directed “Every Captain, commander and other officer…shall duly observe the commands of the admiral, or other superior or commander of any squadron, as well for assailing or setting upon any fleet, squadron or ships of the enemy…upon pain to suffer death or other punishments, as the quality of his neglect or offence shall deserve.”  Article XII stated “Every captain and all other officers …that shall in time of any fight or engagement, withdraw or keep back or not come into the fight or engage and do his utmost to take, fire, kill and endamage the enemy, pirate or rebels and assist and relieve all and every of his Majesty’s ships, shall for such offence of cowardice or disaffection, be tried and suffer pains of death, or other punishment.”  Similarly Article XIV ordered the death penalty for “whatever person or persons, in belonging to the fleet, either through cowardice, negligence or disaffection shall forbear to pursue the chase of any enemy, or pirate or rebel beaten or flying, or shall not relieve or assist a known friend in view, to the utmost of his power.”  Articles XlX and XX dealt directly with mutiny: “No person in or belonging to the Fleet, shall utter any words of sedition or mutiny, nor make or endeavour to make any mutinous assemblies upon any pretence whatsoever, upon pain of death”.(XlX)  “No person in or belonging to the Fleet, shall conceal any traitorous or mutinous practices, designs or words, or any words spoken by any to the prejudice of his Majesty or government, or any words, practices or designs tending to the hindrance of the service…upon pain of such punishment as a Court Martial shall find to be just.”(XX)

[84] Peter Kemp, The British Sailor, 60

[85] Davies, 36.

[86]John Charnock, Biographia Navalis, II, “Andrew Leake”, 332.

[87] William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy (London, 1996) II, 375-376.

[88] Rodger, Wooden World, 244-247.

[89] Creswell, 51.

[90] Ehrman, 22.

[91] Aubrey, 70

[92] Calendar of State Papers, Colonial, September 24, 1702.

[93] J.G. Bullocke, Sailors’ Rebellion, 56. “There is something psychologically significant in Ducasse ‘having a respect for him’ – and he kept on repeating it too:  ‘having a respect for him’ – that is exactly what Benbow had not got.  Did it rankle to the extent of making him mad? The theory is fanciful, perhaps, but some explanation of the whole curious business is needed.”

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