Research into the 1841 census sometimes turns up an interesting nugget. This is the case with Henry Buckingham of Broadhempston, aged 59, who is described as a Navy Pensioner. Before going on, we need a little bit of background to the Napoleonic war at sea against France. The Glorious First of June is still commemorated by the Royal Navy, as of course is Trafalgar. In the former case this took place West of Ushant off the Britanny coast on 1 June, 1794, and was seen as a great victory for Admiral Howe and the Royal Navy which sank seven of the French ships as against no loss of ship to us. The French took a different view as the supply ships under convoy made it to port. Everyone knows of Trafalgar, which culminated in victory over the French and Spanish fleets, on 21 October 1805, and in the death of Nelson on HMS Victory.
In 1847, twenty two years after Waterloo, applications for medals were recorded for those who served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War between 1793 and 1815, and verified by the Flag Officers. Henry Buckingham’s name was one of those recorded. Naturally, we wanted to know what this meant, so a search of the Royal Navy records revealed that Henry was described as “Servant, Boy” on HMS Culloden, 74, under Captain Isaac Schomberg, at the Battle of 1 June, 1794, and as “Marine” on HMS Mars, 74, under Captain George Duff, at Trafalgar. Henry was recorded as “Not Absent” and “Not Marked Run” (and therefore not a deserter) in both battles, and so qualified for the appropriate medals.
A few interesting details help to colour in these two events. First of all at Ushant, Captain Schomberg was late at the battle and his career never recovered from the criticism following that, although he had served a distinguished if somewhat controversial career during the American War and after. Henry Buckingham would have been about eleven years old at the time of the battle, about the age of the children at our primary school who are thinking of their next move to secondary. Health and safety and child protection were clearly not an issue two hundred and more years ago.
At Trafalgar, Captain Duff was killed on his quarter deck early in the battle when a cannon ball from Fougueux, a French frigate, struck him on the back of the neck, removing his head. The crew were undismayed, however, carrying the headless corpse around the deck and giving three cheers in memory of their captain, before covering him with the Union Flag where he had fallen. There is a possibility that Henry Buckingham, as a Marine of about twenty two or three, was one of the party who did this. HMS Mars went on to fight with distinction for the rest of the battle.
Digging out snippets such as these of Henry Buckingham’s early life, linking ordinary people with great events, can provide a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure, which is what we in the Broadhempston Archive & Local History Group find.
This article was written by BALHG member Stuart Burgess in 2013, and was published in the Parish News.