The following is a full and verbatim transcription of the proceedings of the Court Martial convened against Captains Pearson and Piercy to establish the reasons for the loss of their respective commands, Serapis, and Countess of Scarborough. The copy was very generously provided by Peter Reaveley from the original held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, at archive reference number: ADM 1/5315. www.yorkshirehistory.com sincerely thanks Peter for this amazing document, and for his permission to borrow so freely from his own research.

The only thing changed is the propensity in the period to use lower-case f’s for lower-case s’s It is a shame that it cannot be presented in the script as originally written, but it is hoped the two scans of the first and last pages will provide an example of the feel of it. It will also be noted that the punctuation is somewhat lax by today’s standards. No effort has been made to correct this as it would impinge upon the accurate presentation of the document.

 

It begins:

At a Court Martial assembled and held on board His Majesty’s Ship Daphne in Sheerness Harbour the 10 th day of March 1780

Present

Robert Roddon Esq. Vice Admiral of the Blue, and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessells [sic] in the River Medway and at the Buoy of the Nore – President

Captains

Chris. Atkins

Ja. s Pigott

Isaac Prescott

W m. Knell

St. J n. Chinnery

George Keppel

Matt w. Squire

J n. Pakenham

… he Order of the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty dated the sixth instant – to Robert Roddam Esq. Vice Admiral of the Blue, and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and vessels in the River Medway and at the Buoy of the Nore for the Trial of the Captains Pearson and Piercy the Officers and Men of His Majesty’s late Ships Serapis, and Countess of Scarborough and to enquire into the loss of the said Ships Was read.

The Members of the Court and Deputy Judge Advocate then in Open Court and before they proceeded to Trial respectively took the several oaths enjoined and directed in and by an Act of Parliament made and passed in the Twenty second Year of the Reign of His late Majesty King George the second entitled an Act for amending explaining and reducing into one Act of Parliament the Laws relating to the Government of His Majesty’s Ships and Forces by Sea.

Then the Letters from Captains Pearson and Piercy to Philip Stephens Esq. respecting the loss of the said Ships was read.

As also One from Captain James Cook Commander of His majesty’s Ship Conquestador [set] forth that his ill state of Health would not [allow] him to attend the Court.

The Witnesses were Ordered to withdraw, and attend their Examination separately which they did as follows:

Q[uestion]

Captain Pearson, the Court have agreed, as your Officers Petty Officers and men, are all to be tried, You will say if You have any complaints against them.

A[nswer]

Relative to the Action I must beg leave to refer the Court to my Publick [sic] Letter, but must at the same time observe to the Court that since my Publick Letter was wrote, I find there has been some Aspersions thrown out which tend very much to the Prejudice of Lieutenant Stanhope as it is a matter which never came before me officially, I did not think I had any right to make Publick Notice of it, not having given Credit to it, but as it is a matter that so deeply concerns Mr. Stanhope’s conduct and Behaviour as an Officer, in Order to give Mr. Stanhope an Opportunity of clearing up those Aspersions to the Court as well as the World in general, as also that it may not be considered as a Connivance in me, I must beg to inform the Court that it has been said and was told to me verbally, that Lieutenant Stanhope went down into the Cockpit and remained there for some time during the Action and before the Explosion mentioned in my Letter happened, I should therefore be glad that the Court will make further enquiry into the matter, that Mr. Stanhope may have an Opportunity of clearing himself, which I flatter myself and hope he will be very able to do.

Q

Captain Piercy have you any ….

A

None

Q

Have any Officer or Men any Thing particular to say before we go into a particular Enquiry

A

Nothing to say against each other

Lieutenant Wright 1 st of the Serapis

Upon Oath Captain Pearson’s Publick Letter to the Admiralty and read to this Court is a true state of the case.

Q

At what time of the day was it when You first began to engage

A

About Twenty Minutes after Seven in the evening

Q

Was not the Ship on fire, in many places

A

She was on fire in eight or nine places, in short the Starboard Side was all a Blaze.

Q

What time was it when its said You blew up in some part of the Ship

A

About half past nine or thereabouts

Q

Do you know any Thing of the boarding the Ship

A

The first Time the Boarders were called was to repulse them in boarding, and I was there, but the last I do not know, I only heard the Boarders called, but was putting the Fire out in the Shrouds

Q

Do you think that Captain Pearson did every Thing in his power either to take them or get away

A

Captain Pearson did every Thing as a Brave and Experienced Officer

Q

You know Nothing to the contrary as far as You could see that Captain Piercy did every Thing also

A

I do think so

Q

Do you know any Thing of any other Officer, or Men, in the Ship behaving otherwise than they should

A

I do not

Lieutenant Stanhope

Q

You have heard Captain Pearson’s Publick Letter read

A

I have, and know it all to be true

Q

Were [sic] was you quartered

A

On the Lower Gun Deck

Q

When did you first begin to fire

A

At about a Quarter, or Twenty minutes after Seven

Q

About what time was it said that the Explosion was and at what place

A

About Nine, or after

Q

What damage did it do

A

Lost the use of Five Guns, and Men so much hurt as not to be able to do any more Duty

Q

How long might it be that You were Fighting after that

A

About three Quarters of an Hour

Q

Did you fire any Gun on the Lower Gun Deck afterwards

A

Four Guns forward

Q

What part of the Enemy did the fore part of Your Ship oppose

A

The Stern of her

Q

What might You order them to load with being so near, after the first Broadside

A

Two round shot

Q

Could You observe at any Time where You was, that your Guns were near the Enemies Ports

A

So close that we could not run the Guns out

Q

Do you think that Captain Pearson did every Thing in his Power either to take them or get away

A

I think he did every Thing in his Power

Q

You know Nothing to the contrary as far as You could see that Captain Piercy did every Thing also

A

Nothing

Lieutenant Shuckburgh 3 rd of the Serapis

Q

Captain Pearsons Publick Letter states the facts true as they were, does it not

A

To the best of my knowledge it does

Q

Was every Thing done in that Ship that could be to your knowledge

A

I think every Thing that a Brave and Experienced Officer could do was done

Q

Were you quartered on the Deck

A

On the Upper Deck

Q

Did you any part of the Action see the Countess of Scarborough

A

I did not after it commenced

Q to Captain Pearson

Where is Your Surgeon

A

Since his arrival in England he is appointed Surgeon of the Jupiter and she sailed on Service

Q

Was there any Application made by any Body that he should be at this Court Martial

A

He acquainted me of his being appointed to the Jupiter, I told him that I could not conceive for my own part how the Navy Board could appoint him till this Court Marshal was over, and beg’d that when he went to the Navy Board to take up his Warrant that he would present my Compliments to the Gentlemen, and that it was my Opinion he belonged to the Serapis till after the Court Martial.

Q

Is he the Person that brings the Insinuations against Lieutenant Stanhope.

A

He is

Q

Is the rest of the People that was in the Cockpit here.

A

The Purser and Two Surgeons Mates are here.

Mr. Cockburne Purser,

I was quartered in the Cockpit during the Action. I never saw Lieutenant Stanhope in the Cockpit till after the Explosion, when he came down dripping wet, much scorched on his Hands and Face, after he had been dressed he came into my Cabbin [sic], and refreshed himself, I lent him a pair of shoes and buckles, he having none on, and assisted him in arranging his cloths, soon after that he went to his quarters, a little before we struck Lieutenant Stanhope came down appearing to me to be in much Pain, and asked me for a little Wine and Water, I asked him what News was upon Deck, he told me that he was afraid Captain Pearson was killed, that he was not to be found. I told him I hoped not, and was sorry for it. Lieutenant Stanhope returned to his Quarters and I never saw him afterwards till the Ship struck.

Q

How long might it be between the Time of your seeing him when he came down as You say blown up and his coming down again

A

About half an hour

Q

Tho’ in the Cockpit You heard that the Action was continued

A

Constantly

Q

What was the Occasion as You suppose of Mr. Stanhopes wanting shoes

A

He had been Overboard, and several other People had

Q

Did you understand why he had been overboard

A

I do not know, but suppose in the Explosion

Q

How long did he remain below the first time he came down

A

From Ten to Fifteen minutes

Q

The Cockpit was not in such a Situation but that You could see the Situation of People passing

A

It was very full

Q

Did you hear the Surgeon Mr. Bannertyne [sic] say any Thing at that Time

A

I heard him say that Captain Pearson was not properly supported, and one day asked him what he meant by that, he replied, who was in Your Cabbin

Q

Did you ever go further with him

A

I never asked him any Question

Robert Ozard Sailmaker

Q

Where was you quartered

A

On the Lower Gun Deck at the Aftermost Gun

Q

You heard what Captain Pearson set forth, what do you know of it

A

Mr. Stanhope has been imposed upon in the Information, he was my Officer on the Lower Gun Deck, I see Nothing but what Mr. Stanhope behaved very well, and as a brave officer.

Q

Did you see Mr. Stanhope at the time of the Explosion

A

No, I did not see him, but know that he was blown up with the rest, and was obliged to jump overboard

Q

Were [sic] was You after that Explosion

A

I jumped overboard out at a Port

Q

What did You suppose by that Explosion, that the Ship was blowing up

A

I did not think that she was blowing up, but it disabled us four Guns

Q

Which Port did You jump out at

A

The aftermost Port, on the Starboard side, I was between both Ships, and got hold of a rope and haul’d myself over the Quarter, and one of the Marines was going to shoot me, I called out O Lord, and he knew my Voice, and Captain Pearson at the same Time said its one of our People, don’t kill him

Q

Did you return to Your Duty after You got on board again

A

I went down into the Cockpit, and asked the Surgeon for some oil to anoint my Face, but he told me he had none, I then went to another Gun and fought it

Q

How long did you remain in the Cockpit

A

Not half a Minute

Q

What Gun did you go to

A

I went to the fifth Gun on the Lower Gun Deck

Q

Did you see Mr. Stanhope at the Fore part of the Ship

A

I did

Q

After Your return from the Cockpit

A

Yes Sir

Mr. James Macknight Surgeons 1 st Mate

Q

Did You see Mr. Stanhope in the Cockpit at any Time

A

Not during the Action at all

Q

Then You know nothing about it

A

Nothing

Q

Was there a great number of People

A

I cannot say exactly, but when we made out the List of the Wounded, and they were all there at one Time, they were Sixty

Q

Were You at any Time dressing apart from the Surgeon

A

I was, several Times

Q

Then you suppose that Mr. Stanhope might have been in the Cockpit, and You not known

A

It is possible

Q

Is it possible

A

No, I do not think so

Mr. Walter Kitchen Surgeons 2 nd Mate

Q

You was in the Cockpit all the Time

A

Yes Sir

Q

Did You see Mr. Stanhope in the Cockpit at any Time and how long

A

Yes Sir I did see Mr. Stanhope in the Cockpit

Q

At what Time was it

A

I cannot tell how long it was after the Explosion the first Time he came down

Q

How long did he stay there

A

I cannot tell, he went into the Pursers Cabbin after I had rubb’d his hands and face which were scorched with a little Hogslard

Q

Do You know of his coming down the second Time and at what time

A

It was immediately before we struck

Q

You know no particular reason for his coming down but that of his getting himself dress’d the first Time

A

No Sir

Q

You know that he went up between the Times

A

I know he did

Q

Did You see Mr. Stanhope go up the second Time

A

I did not see him go up

Q

Do You know what occasioned him to come down a second Time

A

No Sir

Q

Was Mr. Stanhope much scorched

A

His Hands and face were much

Mr. James Thain, Gunner of the Serapis

Q

Were [sic] was You quartered in the Action

A

On the Lower Deck

Q

Did You see Mr. Stanhope during the Action

A

Yes Sir, we met in different parts of the Lower deck very often

Q

Were was You when the Explosion happened

A

I was just abreast of the Main Hatchway and the Gun abaft me was the fore most Gun that was disabled

Q

Did You see Mr. Stanhope at that Time or before it

A

I saw him about five Minutes before

Q

Do You know any Thing of Mr. Stanhopes going down into the Cockpit, or being blown up

A

Yes Sir, he came to me after he was dress’d having been blown up and told me to encourage the People as much as possible

Q

And, from Your often meeting, and as often, did You see any Thing wrong in Mr. Stanhope during the Action

A

Nothing Sir

Q

Do You know what occasioned the blowing up

A

Nothing, only from a Man, who is dead, who told me that he had one of the Cartridges putting in the Gun that was blown up

Q

Do You know that he had any Quantity up at a Time

A

No more but what was necessary

Mr. W m Wheatley, Master of the Serapis

Q

Do You know any Thing of Mr. Stanhope in particular during the Action

A

In the Time of the Action I was sent down by Captain Pearson with an Order to Mr. Stanhope two or three times before the Explosion to tell Mr. Stanhope to encourage the Men, and let them fire briskly, and then I saw Mr. Stanhope at his Quarters on the same Side of the Ship as we were engaging of, he told me to tell Captain Pearson that he did every Thing in his Power to encourage the Men and they behaved with Great Spirit

Q

At all the Times You went down, You found Mr. Stanhope at his Quarters

A

I did

Q

As Captain Pearson said it was only hear-say, and chose Mr. Stanhope to clear up his Character, did You ever hear any Thing of it

A

Not till I arrived in England

Q

Did You hear it in the general hear-say, or from any Officer of the Ship

A

General hear-say

Q

Did You see any part of Lieutenant Stanhopes Conduct during the Action blameable

A

None

Lieutenant Sainthill, of the Countess of Scarborough

By the Court

You have heard Captain Pearsons Letter and Captain Piercys Letter read, and as an Officer, You will relate to the Court, what You know of the Action

A

Captain Piercys Letter is a true state of our Action, and as to Captain Pearson, I cannot be a judge, upon the whole I believe both Ships were defended as long as possible

Mr. Joseph Manston, Gunner of the Countess of Scarborough

Q

You have heard both Letters read

A

Yes

Q

Do You know any Thing more that could have been done to save your Ship in any way

A

Nothing more in the World

Philip Bullock

Deputy Judge Advocate

At a Court Martial held on board His Majesty’s Ship Daphne in Sheerness Harbour On Friday the 10 th Day of March 1780

Present

Robert Roddam Esq. Vice Admiral of the Blue and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the River Medway and at the Buoy of the Nore

Captains

Christopher Atkins St. John Chinnery

James Piggot George Keppel

Isaac Prescott Matthew Squire

William Knell John Pakenham

The Court being duly sworn proceeded pursuant to an order from the Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to the tryal [sic] of the captains Pearson and Piercy of His Majesty’s late Ships Serapis and Countess of Scarborough, their officers and Men and for enquiry into the loss of those Ships and having Examined the evidence in support of the matter as well as what every one had to offer and …. considered the same, The Court is of the opinion that the Captains Pearson and Piercy assisted by their officers and men have not only acquitted themselves of their Duty to their Country, but have in the Execution of such duty done infinite Credit to themselves by a very obstinate defence against a superior force and Captain Pearson having informed the Court that some aspersions have been thrown on Lieutenant Stanhope, proceeded to Examine into the cause of it and from the Evidence given is of the opinion that such aspersion is malicious.

The Court do therefore unanimously acquit the said captains Pearson and Piercy, their Officers and Men for the loss of their respective Ships in the most honourable manner and they are hereby most honourably acquitted accordingly.

Philip Bullock

Deputy Judge Advocate

[followed by the signatures of the members of the Court Martial assembled – see included image – RGH]

 

Designed by Richard Hayton 2009
email hayton@hayton.karoo.co.uk