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Lord Chatham and the HMS Boyne

I came across the following article from The World, 12 August 1789, a while ago. Written to defend the appointment of Chatham (a soldier) to the Admiralty, it included an interesting paragraph at the end:

Really? What on earth is this all about? So off I go to research what happened to the Boyne.

So far I haven’t found anything specifically mentioning John, but I did find out that the Boyne was indeed in the West Indies in the early 1780s and returned in the summer of 1780 as part of a merchant convoy, carrying officers home. Its journey was not an easy one:

(St James’s Chronicle, 14-16 September 1780)

Captain Rice was from the 86th Rutland regiment. John had purchased a captaincy (… or been given one by the Duke of Rutland, I am not sure) in said regiment in December 1779, so I wondered whether he might have been on the same ship and whether this was the occasion mentioned by The World in 1789. Unfortunately it looks like the facts don’t match up: according to the London Chronicle of 24 August 1780, Chatham was *just setting out* for the West Indies, not returning.

On the other hand I also found this:

(London Courant and Morning Chronicle, 24 January 1780)

(… which, incidentally, also explains something I had long been confused about, namely why Lord Chatham would voluntarily go off to serve in the West Indies when most men would have avoided such a disease-ridden place like—-well, like the plague.)

So if Chatham was about to leave in January, why did he not leave till the end of August? Unless the newspapers got their wires crossed, and Chatham was on his way *back* from the West Indies at the end of the summer. This would in fact make more sense to me, as I know for a fact Chatham was back in England between October 1780 and February 1781. Had he sailed to the West Indies at the end of August, he would have had to re-embark almost instantly. Furthermore, the Boyne does not seem to have served again after her adventures in 1780, and was eventually broken up in 1783:


I’m still looking, so who knows, but I found it interesting to find this little vignette into the life of an officer travelling to and from military outposts in the 18th century. (I suspect it won’t make it into the novel, as interesting as it is!)

If Chatham *was* on the Boyne in 1780, the Pitt family certainly had a narrow squeak on a number of accounts. 1780 was a spectacularly bad year for the family anyway: Hester, Lady Mahon, the eldest Pitt child, died in July of that year and James Charles, the youngest, a captain in the navy, died of fever in Antigua in the autumn. Had Chatham sunk with the Boyne in September, that would have been three out of the five children gone in the space of four or five months. Not to mention the fact that William would have been Third Earl of Chatham at the age of twenty-one, would never have entered the House of Commons, and might never have become PM.

Thank goodness throwing those cannons overboard worked!


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