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Newsletter, July 2010 (Issue 180)

Two Suffolk Naval Families


Two Suffolk Naval Families - Broke and Saumarez

This was no routine history lesson from Tim Voelcker, retired Ipswich businessman and member of The Ipswich Society. He described his coming across the careers of these two great sailors as "a chance discovery". His research which followed has clearly been an intellectual hobby and a labour of love, culminating in his recently published book and giving us the benefit of a talk on 10 March infused with enthusiasm.

Broke's fame derives from his command of the Shannon which defeated the American vessel Chesapeake off Boston in 1812. In one sense it was an old style naval duel; Broke sent his companion vessel away and challenged the Chesapeake to single combat. He had wanted to defeat an American warship so he could retire with honour. Much more important for the future of the British Navy was his professional development of the art of gunnery. Instead of merely closing on the enemy and firing at all and sundry, Broke perfected the precision firing at the enemy's gun deck to silence their guns. At his own expense he had fitted gun sights on his cannon and provided awards for his best marksmen. The battle was over in only eleven minutes. Tim said that it was an American DVD which had inspired his interest in the subject. The DVD explained away the defeat as being caused by their ship being built of fir unlike the good oak of the Shannon: whereas it can be deduced that Broke's expert gunnery was the main reason. Broke retired to live quietly at Nacton.

Tim's interest in Admiral Saumarez of Shrub land Hall stemmed from his reading of the Admiral's letters to his wife. As he said, they are a "goldmine" of information and more interesting than most official documents. Like Broke, Saumarez joined the Navy as a boy and by the time he was 25 commanded a 744gun Ship of the Line with 600 men. He was second-in-command to Nelson at the Battle of the Nile and prominent in many other sea battles. At home "he was the toast of every table". But again his greater significance, we learned, was his political influence. His diplomatic restraint when on duty protecting British trade routes in the Baltic earned him the respect of the Russians and he became similarly trusted by Sweden. Tim argued that both Russia and Sweden allied themselves to Britain against Napoleon's France "largely because of Saumarez".

I rather think that most of his listeners would agree with Tim that Suffolk should be proud of these distinguished sailors. (The Saumarez family continued to live at Shrubland Hall until very recently.) Neither man was much concerned with prize money, unlike most of their contemporaries. And both contributed to their country's lasting successes in the 19th century.

NEIL SALMON

    Front cover of issue 180 Cover, issue 180

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