Saturday, 30 September 2017

HMS Rattlesnake

Wandering, and wondering around the enchanting Hong Kong cemetery at Happy Valley ones finds the memorial stone for William Brodie, RN, the commander of HMS Rattlesnake. He died aged fifty-six in June 1841. His grave is the oldest in the cemetery dating back to a only five months from the de facto possession of Hong Kong in January 1841, during the First Opium War (1839-1842). Dr Edward Cree, the Surgeon onboard Rattlesnake, recalled Brodie's delirious death in his diary. He died from malaria, a debilitating disease that still effected British soldiery on the Gin Drinkers Line one hundred years later in December 1941. A painting by Dr Cree depicts the military prossession to the burial place in what was then an unspoilt Happy Valley.

Edward Cree (Forgotten Souls - A social history of the Hong Kong Cemetery) 
He was buried at that place before the Happy Valley Cemetery became an official cemetery in 1845, and at some stage his coffin was exhumed and he was reburied at the Wan Chai Protestant Burial Ground and then relocated again in 1889 to Happy Valley. The Wan Chai cemetery was only used from 1841 until 1845 when Happy Valley was officially opened. At the time of the closure of the Wan Chai cemetery some fifty graves (all from 1841-1845) were relocated to Happy Valley. The name Happy Valley was thought to have been derived from its use as an euphemism for cemeteries. 

I wondered what was HMS Rattlesnake's story with such an aggressive but memorable name. The ship's artistic Surgeon, Lt Edward Cree, prolifically produced such beautiful water colours of the pre-digital world of the early 19th century. It turned out that the ship was a 28-gun sixth rate corvette launched at Chatham Dockyard in 1822. She had been ordered for the Royal Navy in 1818, and her keel laid down in 1819. She was one of a class of fourteen similar vessels known as Atholl class corvettes. The corvettes were similar to a frigate with one main gun deck, and further guns placed on the quarterdeck. Rattlesnake had ten 32-pdr cannons on each side of her main gun deck,  and six 18-pdrs on her quarterdeck and two 9-pdrs on her forecastle deck. Here's how she looked in 1853 as depicted in the Illustrated London News.
 HMS Rattlesnake depicted in Illustrated London News February 1853

We know that during the period 1827-1829 she was stationed off the Greek coast during the Greek War of Independence. The war was fought to liberate Greece from the Ottoman Empire. Britain, France and Russia supported Greece. Rattlesnake's commander was Captain The Hon. Charles Orlando Bridgeman who later became a Vice Admiral. The ship's log book for this period,  kept by Midshipman Talvera Anson, still survives in the New York Public Library. 

In 1834, HMS Rattlesnake under the command of Captain William Hobson, was serving on the East Indies and China Station. A naval station that covered the Indian Ocean and the China Coast. In 1836, Rattlesnake was dispatched to Australia and New Zealand. In 1838 she returned to England. We next see her on the China Station during the First Opium War (1839-1842) at that time under the command of William Brodie and with Surgeon Dr Edward Cree recording her adventures through his diaries and watercolours. Other corvettes of the Atholl class on the China Station included North Star, Alligator, Samarang and Nimrod. A monument in Happy Valley Cemetery commemorates the death of Lt Benjamin Fox who died in May 1841 following cannon shot wounds incurred whilst leading a landing party during the attack on the high ground north of Canton. HMS Nimrod was the last survivor of her class being broken up in 1907.

When Hong Kong was acquired by the British Crown in January 1841 - Palmerston had criticised Captain Elliot the Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade for not getting enough concessions from the Qing dynasty court. He regarded Hong Kong Island as a "barren rock with hardly a house on it",  and which would "never be a mart for trade." Dr Edward Cree on Rattlesnake took a similar view. "a mountainous, desolate looking place with only a few fishermen's huts to be seen." The main habitation was a placed called Chek-chu, now known as Stanley. The oldest graves in Stanley Military Cemetery date back to this precarious time on the edge of empire. 

In 1845, Rattlesnake was converted to a hydrographical survey ship and between 1846 and 1850 took part in a voyage of discovery and marine survey in the Antipodes, under the command of Captain Owen Stanley, and which was documented in detail in a journal by John MacGilliveray, the botanist and in paintings by Oswald Brierly the ship's artist. The Assistant Surgeon Thomas Huxley was a naturalist and the papers he wrote on Rattlesnake established his reputation as a scientist. He later worked closely with Charles Darwin and was one of his strongest supporters. It was during this voyage that Rattlesnake rescued Barbara Thompson (1831-1916) from a small island north of Queensland. She had been shipwrecked from the cutter America some five years earlier and had lived amongst the local tribes who were thought to be cannibals. One of the tribe members had taken her as plunder for a wife, but she had been treated well by the tribe. She would have been about 14 years old when taken. She had come out to Australia as a child with her family on the immigrant ship John Barry travelling in steerage class. At the time of her shipwreck she was living with a sea-captain in Brisbane. The Rattlesnake brought her back to Sydney where she was reunited with her family.

HMS Rattlesnake in 1853 by Oswald Brierly
As for Rattlesnake, she was finally broken up, where her life began, at Chatham Dockyard in 1860. 







Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Captain Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse

Humphrey Fleming Senhouse was born in 1781 in Barbados where his father, an  officer in the Royal Navy, was serving as Surveyor General for Barbados and the Leeward Islands. Senhouse joined the Royal Navy in 1797 at the age of sixteen. His first ship was HMS Prince of Wales, which had been launched in 1794 at Portsmouth. She was a 98-gun ship-of-the-line. She was the flagship of Admiral Sir Henry Harvey, commander of the Leeward Islands Station, and responsible for the capture of Trinidad from the Spanish. Later that year, in November 1797 Senhouse transferred to the gun brig Requin, a former French warship (Le Requin) captured in 1795 and pressed into service with the Royal Navy. A small ship with a compliment of around sixty officers and men and a single gun deck equipped with ten 4-pounders. The commander Lt William Wood Senhouse was one of Humphrey Senhouse's  brothers. In 1799 Senhouse sailed to England on Requin. Senhouse then served on HMS Fisguard, a 48-gun frigate, formerly a French frigate (Resistance) that was captured by the Royal Navy in 1795.

The capture of French warship Immortalit√© by HMS Fisgard 
In 1802,  Senhouse passed the qualifying examinations, and  was promoted to Lieutenant. He served at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st October, 1805, onboard HMS Conqueror a 74-gun ship-of-the-line which was in the thick of action throughout the battle. She was commanded by Captain Israel Pellew. Conqueror was in the van, she was fourth in line in the weather column led by  the flagship HMS Victory. Villenueve's flagship the Bucentaure surrendered to Conqueror's Captain of Marines who had been put aboard to take the surrender whilst Conqueror chased and engaged Santisma de Trinidad.

To find the link with Hong Kong, we have to fast forward through an illustrious naval career, in which Senhouse saw action in the War of 1812, commanded a number of warships, was knighted, and promoted to the rank of Captain. Mount Stenhouse (incorrectly spelt) on Lamma Island is named after him.

Mount Stenhouse on Lamma Island
Senhouse was posted to the China Station in April 1839 as second in command of the Naval squadron in China reporting to Commodore Sir James Bremer. He commanded HMS Blenheim, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line, in the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1841), more often referred to as the First Opium War. 

HMS Blenheim
Senhouse was involved in the action at the Bogue Forts and the fighting around Chuenpi Island in the Pearl River, the gateway to  Canton. At the Chuenpi Convention assembled in January 1841, the Chinese Commissioner Qi Shan agreed to cede Hong Kong Island to the British Crown. However, the Qing Court was not happy with this arrangement. They thought Qi had conceded to much and he was dismissed. The treaty was repudiated and hostilities were resumed. The British were not happy either and thought that Captain Charles Elliot the Superintendent of Trade had not extracted enough. Palmerston famously derided Hong Kong as being a barren rock, with hardly a house upon it, and which would never be a mart for trade. Elliot was recalled and replaced by Sir Henry Pottinger who was appointed as Plenipotentiary and Superintendent of Trade. The war was brought to and end in 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking in which amongst other concessions, including the establishment of treaty ports and reparations, Hong Kong was granted in perpetuity to the Crown.

Senhouse may have been present with Commodore Bremer at the de facto taking of possession of Hong Kong Island in January 1841. Later that year, he succumbed to fever and died on board HMS Blenheim on 13th June 1841. In accordance with his wishes, and bearing in mind that Hong Kong still had a doubtful future as a Crown Colony,  he was interred at the Protestant Cemetery in Macau. The iron-clad paddle steamer Nemesis arrived in Macau with his body on 16th June 1841.  His memorial can still  be seen to day in the old cemetery. 

Memorial for Senhouse in the Protestant Cemetery in Macau



Captain Sir Humphrey Fleming Senhouse (1781-1841)
He died aged sixty and was survived by his wife Elizabeth Manley. They married in 1810 and had  nine children of which five predeceased him. Elizabeth lived on until 1865 when she passed away aged eighty-one.