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!


The road to Somerset

I’ve just come back from a weekend at my parents’ in Somerset. We travelled there in part on the A303, and it seems this was more or less the same route that Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and his family would take to travel to their house at Burton Pynsent in Curry Rivel (there was, of course, no dual carriageway in those days…) The following is an account of part of a journey from Burton Pynsent to London written by Chatham’s wife, Hester, to her husband. I don’t think I have the date, but the letter is quoted in Brian Tunstall’s William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (London, 1938), pp.  435-6.

I’m happy to say our journey in Somerset was less eventful than Hester’s was!


The road from King’s Weston to Aynsford Inn, greatest part narrow causeway, like the Ilminster Way, requires careful driving; we performed it very well. The chaise horses broke two rotten traces, not from any fault of theirs, but it is all for the better, they cannot serve again. Wheel of said Chaise broke as it got to Aynsford Inn. Road very well from hence till within two miles of Hindon. Then very heavy, not being made, but safe. At Hindon find our horses. The landlord does us the honour to ride as postillion at wheel himself, because nobody could ride the horse he did, but himself. Went very safe, the road for the next couple of miles very bad indeed, broke only one trace this post. After the two mile on to Deptford, good enough. House at Deptford very bad. Put us in mind of our Chard dinner. From hence to Amesbury, road very good, but fortune did not favour Bradshaw and the damsels [the servants followed in another coach]. About 3 miles from Deptford the wheel horse fell down, the postillion under him, but the admirable care and dexterity of William Footman whose cleverness in travelling I cannot enough praise, extricated him from this perilous situation without his receiving much hurt. We set forward again. Within a quarter of a mile short in two breaks the perch of their chaise. We took our party immediately, brought our two maids into our coach, with trunk, band boxes etc., put on one pair of the unfortunate chaise horses to our four in consideration of the additional weight, send William forward to fetch a fresh chaise from Amesbury to meet Bradshaw, who was to march on foot till they came to him with his favourite grippine. We continued our way with our three postillions most happily to Amesbury, taking a view of Stonehenge in our way. We went directly then to Andover with excellent horses and got in about seven.