Thursday, August 9, 2012

Brave Admiral Benbow ...

Earlier this week I was privileged to escort an elderly Auntie Margaret around the Historic Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth.
I have always been engaged by this cheeky-looking fellow …

This is supposed to be the figurehead taken from HMS Admiral Benbow (1813), but I don’t think fibreglass resin had been invented then!

So, who was John Benbow?

Benbow, (1653 -1702,) was a celebrated and notorious admiral of the English Navy, remembered particularly for his bomb-flotilla campaigns against French channel ports in 1693.

On 24th August 1702, during a sea battle against ships of the French Navy commanded by Admiral du Casse in a West Indies campaign, he was seriously wounded by chain-shot that shattered his leg.
Legend has it that Benbow commanded that he should be carried discretely to his cabin lest the sight of his injures should dispirit his crew.

"Take me down to my cockpit ..."

Having been abandoned by at least two captains of other English vessels, the battle was indecisive.
The English squadron retreated to Port Royal. Benbow later died of his wound and was buried in Kingston, Jamaica, where he is celebrated thus:

[Here lyeth the Body of John Benbow, Esq., Admiral of the White, a true pattern of English Courage, who lost his life in Defence of his Queene & Country, November the 4th, 1702, In the 52nd year of his age, by a wound in his Legg. Received in an Engagement with Monsr. Du Casse; being Much Lamented.] 

HMS Admiral Benbow, launched in 1813, was a third-rate ship-of-the-line named in his honour.

Two later RN ships were so-named: an Admiral Class battleship of 1885, and a Duke Class battleship of 1913 that served during the battle of Jutland.

HMS Admiral Benbow, 1913

"Why is all this of interest?" I hear you ask.
There are at least two folk songs of dubious historical accuracy that celebrate the life and death of John Benbow.
Here's one ...
Admiral Benbow

Oh, we sailed to Virginia and thence to Fayall,
Where we watered our ship in and then weighed all.
Then in view on the seas, boys, seven sails we did espy.
Oh, we mann—źd our capstan and weighed speedily.

The first we come up with was a brigantine sloop,
And we asked if the others were as big as they looked.
Then turning to windward as near as we could lie,
We found there was ten men of war cruising there by.

Oh, we drew up our squadron in a very nice line,
And boldly we fought them for full four hours time.
Then the day being spent, boys, and the night coming on,
We left them alone till the very next morn.

The very next morning the engagement proved hot,
And brave Admiral Benbow received a chain shot.
And when he was wounded to his men he did say:
“Take me up in your arms, boys, and carry me away!”

Oh, the guns they did rattle and the bullets did fly,
But Admiral Benbow for help would not cry:
“Take me down to the cockpit, there is ease for my smarts,
If my merry men see me, it would sure break their hearts.”

And there Captain Kirkby proved a coward at last,
And with Wade played at bo-peep behind the main-mast.
And there they did stand, boys, and shiver and shake
For fear that those French dogs their lives they should take.

The very next morning at the break of the day
They hoisted their tops'ls and so bore away.
We bore up for Port Royal, where the people flocked much
To see Admiral Benbow carried to Kingston Church.

Come all you brave fellows, wherever you be,
And drink to the health of our King and our Queen.
And another good health to the girls that we know,
And a third in remembrance of brave Admiral Benbow.

Oh, yes, drink up a health, boys, to the girls we do know
And a third for remembrance of brave Admiral Benbow.

(Transcribed from failing memory - copyright issues are not involved.)

Here's the tune in D:

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