News of Nelson, John Lapenotiere's Race from Trafalgar to London
By Derek Allen and Peter Hore. Published by Seff Edition, Belgium 2005. ISBN: 2-9600411-7-8. Paperback, 103 pages including Index and Sources; 5 colour plates; 12 black & white illustrations
Whereas most of the books brought out this year to mark the bicentennial year of the Battle of Trafalgar focus on Nelson and Trafalgar, News of Nelson tells the story of an otherwise undistinguished naval officer whose role during the battle was more that of a spectator than a participant, but who nevertheless played an important part in history when his ship was selected by Collingwood to carry the dispatches to London reporting the outcome of the battle and the fate of Lord Nelson..
In the Foreword Peter Hore explains that the book was the result of research by Derek Allen into the schooner Pickle, and by himself into Lapenotiere who was appointed to command the ship in 1803. Sadly Derek died in 2004, and subsequently 'News of Nelson' was written by Peter Hore based on the information from these two studies.
The scope of News of Nelson, John Lapenotiere's Race from Trafalgar to London is much wider than that suggested by its title, because in addition to the story of the race to get the news to London, the book gives an interesting and detailed account of both the life of Lapenotiere and the history of Pickle. The information is presented in twelve Chapters, of which the actual race from Cape Trafalgar to London by ship and post chaise takes up only three.
The Prologue sets the scene in London for the arrival of Lapenotiere at the office of William Marsden, First Secretary to the Admiralty, in the early hours of 6th November 1805, and a Postscript continues the story into the 21st.century. The frontispiece portrays a silhouette of Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere, and included with the colour plates is a portrait miniature of him by James Leakey of Exeter.
The book gives a good description of Pickle and a full account of her service over the period 1801 to 1805. Originally named Sting, the name was changed to Pickle in 1802. The appearance of the ship can be seen in a full page colour print of a 20th century model of Pickle, and from a black and white print of a painting by William McDowell. There is a diagram of her sail plan, and her performance at sea can be judged from statements made in various chapters. There is no information on the internal layout of the ship
The authors describe Lapenotiere's family history from the time his family arrived in England with William of Orange in 1688. Lapenotiere's career in the Royal Navy is followed, with information on the ships in which he served, and people of importance in his life. According to Marshall's Royal Naval Biography he may have gone to sea in 1780 for three years at the age of 10. Lapenotiere claimed his professional patron was Admiral the Hon John Levisohn Gower, but the authors record his first ship may have been the merchant ship King George which he joined in 1785, and in which he circumnavigated the world. After service in Scout and Magnificent, he joined the brig Assistant which accompanied William Bligh on his second breadfruit expedition from1791 to 1793.
In 1793 he joined the Santa Margarita, and in October of that year passed his examination for lieutenant at Somerset House in London. In the following year he moved to Boyne, the flagship of Admiral Jervis, and later in the same year he was appointed in command of the 8 gun schooner Bernice. In 1795 he transferred to the 28 gun frigate Resource as first lieutenant, in 1797 he joined the 74 gun Ganges, and from 1798 to 1799 he served in the 36 gun frigate Inconstant, after which he was appointed to the armed cutter Joseph in command.
Lapenotiere was appointed to Pickle in command at Plymouth in July 1802, and although the ship was paid off in February 1803, with war again threatening as the Peace of Amiens drew to a close, Pickle was taken in hand by the dockyard at Plymouth, decommissioned at the end of March, and rearmed. In May the ship sailed under Cornwallis for the French coast off Ushant, and the next two years saw her busily employed at sea, with the necessary repairs, dockings and recoppering carried out at Plymouth. Tasks allocated to Pickle included carrying dispatches, ferrying men, and working with the Inshore Squadron off Brest and Cadiz. Longer voyages were made to Malta and to the West Indies. During this period several small prize ships were taken, and Lapenotiere assisted in the rescue of the crew of the 74 gun Magnificent after the ship had struck a shoal off Brest and became a total loss. He also had his own battle with a more heavily armed Spanish gunboat..
Pickle was in dock at Plymouth when Lapenotiere received the order to join Nelson, which he did as soon as his ship had been made ready, arriving off Cape St.Vincent at the end of September 1805. Pickle was employed by Nelson to carry messages and as a lookout for the fleet. Lapenotiere brought Nelson the news that the French ships "had all bent their top-gallent sails" and then being sent by Nelson to the north west he "discovered the enemy fleet of thirty three sail of the line, five frigates and two brigs bearing NbE standing to the SW". During the battle which followed Pickle had a grandstand view of the encounter, but took no part in the fighting, though not for want of trying.
Towards the end of the battle Pickle rescued some of the crew of the French 74 gun ship Achille, and Lapenotiere's surgeon went on board Victory to assist William Beatty. On Oct 22nd he started to offload some of his prisoners, remaining in the area during the storm which caused further damage to so many ships. On 26th October Lapenotiere reported on board Euryalus (which Collingwoood had taken over as his flagship) to be given instructions to take the admiral's dispatches reporting the battle to the Admiralty in London.
The authors give a vivid account of Lapenotiere's voyage to England, of his meeting with Commander John Sykes in the Nautilus off Cape St Vincent, and of the race between himself and Sykes which followed. On 4th November Lapenotiere arrived off Falmouth where he landed with his dispatches, leaving sub lieutenant Kingdon to take Pickle on to Plymouth. Meanwhile Nautilus arrived off Plymouth ahead of Pickle, and Sykes was rowed ashore where he reported to Vice Admiral Young, the C in C at Plymouth, who directed "Sykes to proceed with all possible dispatch to give their Lordships such information as he has been able to obtain", ie from Lapenotiere off Cape St.Vincent.
There is a small colour plate which shows the routes taken by Lapenotiere and Sykes to London, but I would have liked to see included a chart of the tracks of Pickle and Nautilius to Falmouth and Plymouth, showing noon positions and events of interest along their routes.
The final leg of the race from the west country to London by post chaise is covered, with Lapenotiere arriving at 1am on 6th November a short while before Sykes, where he told William Marsden "Sir, we have gained a great victory, but we have lost Nelson". Marsden immediately informed Lord Barham, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who then sent Lapenotiere to give the news to King George III at Windsor.
Subsequently Lapenotiere was promoted to commander, and the authors describe how he then had to petition the Admiralty for his reward! He eventually attained post rank in 1811, and after a lifetime at sea in the service of his country, he finally retired to Cornwall with his wife and family. He died in January 1834 aged 63 years.
The subject matter has been thoroughly researched by the authors. Surprisingly, although research by Peter Hore appears to indicate Lapenotiere was a competent naval officer, with his actions reported on favourably by senior officers, there is little evidence to explain why his career never took off. After he passed for lieutenant about the age of 24, his appointments did not follow the pattern that would have been expected to fit him for promotion to post captain. A clue is to be found in Peter Hore's comment that Lapenotiere had served with many officers who would become famous, but he does not seem to have been able either to stay in one ship very long or to attach himself to any famous name. Others became post captains and admirals while he remained a lieutenant. After the fall of Martinique he missed the great events of the war; he never served in the Mediterranean, and he never served under a successful commander. Even after the safe delivery of Collingwood's dispatches and his promotion to commander, on the subject of his appointments, Peter Hore remarks that he was evidently difficult to place. Perhaps he was just unlucky, or perhaps people (like The Naval Chronicle) could not spell his name correctly!
The book provides a considerable amount of information about Lapenotiere and his ship Pickle, and with a good index and a comprehensive list of source information, the book will serve as a useful reference for researchers into maritime history. Because it is written in such an entertaining fashion, News of Nelson makes good reading for a wider audience. I would have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone with an interest in history.
Reviewed by Derek Kitch
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For Gareth Thomas & Peter Horne,
Gentlemen, I have found a great deal more since January about Robert Benjamin Young's Duplicate dispatches which I will send you copies of if you furnish me with your addresses via my e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
further to my previous post.
Lt Robert Benjamin Young was the father-in-law of my Gt Gt Gt Aunt Harriet Parkin. She was married to Frederick Young a dentist from Bristol (Bottom of Park Street to be exact!)
I am not a direct descendant of Lt Robert Young as i am descended from a sibling of him, but what i do know is that he not only died in 1846 he died an unhappy man, we believe this was because he was never promoted after Trafalgar, unlike the other Captains of the other ships that were involved in Trafalgar.
The other despatch rumour we have heard, was that upon Nelsons orders he was to be the person to return with the news of the Victory (his ship was kept close to the Victory right up until the close quarter fighting began), unfortunately nobody kept a record of the order and when Nelson died, nobody knew about it so Collingwood sent the Pickle off with the news instead.
Apart from showing you that I can spell "travelled," I meant to ask if you have proof of being descended from Robert Young and can I add you to the list over 300 sons and duaghters of Trafalgar who I was able to list in 2005?
I would be very interested in knowing more about this. If Young treveleld home via Portugal, Spian and France it would throw some light and how other messages may have traveleld from Cadiz to London - can you tell me more, please? What are your sources?
Strange that this comprehensive account does not include reference to the other official agent for the dispatches from Collingwood to the British Consul in Faro, by ship then overland through Portugal, Spain and France carried by Lt Robert Benjamin Young commander of HMS Entreprenante. I understand he only missed being the first by 12 hours or so. He died in Exeter in 1846, and lived in Teignmouth. Any knowledge of an image of Lt Robert Benjamin Young would be greatfully received. He was my wife's GGG Grandfather.
My gggg grandfather was the cook on the Nautilus and I am interested in any other information on this ship
For Peter Davis. I note that you have two pistols belonging to "John Sykes". As we found during research into the story of Lapenotiere's journey told in Peter Hore's Book, there were two naval officers at the time called John Sykes. Can you be therefore sure Peter that the pistols belong to Sykes of Nautilus?
I am very interested in John Sykes as I have a set of Naval pistols that belonged to him.They are in a wooden case and have his name engraved on the top of the lid.I also have some photocopies of the Nautilus' ships log.
I wonder if he has any relatives alive today?