Few visitors to the parish church can fail to see the various memorial tablets on the wall of the north transept. A number of these plaques record the death in Leamington of senior naval officers who had served in the wars against the French. A little research reveals that four of these were vice-admirals who served under Horatio Nelson. During his ten years as flag officer in command of the Mediterranean fleet, well over a hundred captains served under Nelson. His relations with all of them was based on loyalty, trust and mutual respect as might be expected of the son of a Norfolk vicar. Nelson once said of this group of men ‘They are my darling children’ a phrase which summed up his extraordinary sense of personal, almost parental responsibility towards them. In his letters he referred to his captains as his ‘noble-minded friends and comrades, a gallant set of fellows and a band of brothers’, a phrase familiar from the St Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V. These four short biographies are offered as a tribute to the memory of those of Nelson’s Band of Brothers whose lives came to a close in land-locked Royal Leamington Spa and far from the sound of the sea.
Vice-Admiral Sir Jahleel Brenton K C B
Jahleel Brenton was born in 1770 in Maryport, Rhode Island. His family were early immigrants to America and many of them pursued successful careers in the Royal Navy following their emigration to the United Kingdom in 1780. Jahleel first went to sea in 1781 at the age of eleven serving as a midshipman in HMS Queen commanded by his father. The low point of his career came in July 1803 when in command of the 40-gun frigate Minerve which ran aground in thick fog off the French coast. All attempts to re-float the ship failed and two dozen crewmen were killed defending her. Brenton was obliged to surrender and he and all his crew were arrested. What they didn’t know was that they were destined for imprisonment in a new French Government facility at Verdun over 600 miles away and all of them would have to walk there. Brenton was subsequently released from captivity in 1806 as part of a prisoner exchange but the Minerve’s officers and crew would die in Verdun during the eleven years of barbaric imprisonment before Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. The loss of Minerve led to Brenton’s court- martial which acquitted him.
After acquittal, he was put in command of the 46-gun Spartan operating in the Adriatic. In May 1810 Brenton’s most brilliant action was fought with a squadron of French frigates in the Bay of Naples. The Spartan found herself heavily outgunned by five French ships mounting 95 guns and 1400 men as opposed to the Spartan’s 46 guns and 256 men. Spartan drove off the French but during the action Vice-Admiral Brenton was seriously wounded in the hip by grape shot while standing at the capstan, the only place from where he could see his numerous opponents spread over a wide expanse of sea. This was to be the end of Brenton’s service at sea. His gallant action in what became known as the Battle of Naples was widely acclaimed . He was made a baronet in 1812, a KCB in 1815 and was awarded a presentation sword by the Lloyds Patriotic Fund. After recovery from his wounds, he was afterwards lieutenant governor of the Greenwich Hospital until 1840. He died at Lansdowne Place, Leamington on 21st April 1844 and his remains were originally interred in the recently opened parish church burial ground in New Street but were exhumed and reburied in Leamington Cemetery in March 1958 when a section of the New Street cemetery was taken over for road widening.
Vice-Admiral Sir Patrick Campbell C B E
Patrick Campbell was one of the Clan Campbell the most successful of Scotland’s famous clans and historically one of the largest and most powerful of the clans with extensive estates in Argyll. He was born in 1773 at Melfort in Argyll and entered the navy in 1788. He was a senior British Navy Officer of the early 19th century and was distinguished by his service in a number of ships during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He established his reputation at an early date on the night of 7th July 1800 as commander of Dart an experimental sloop. He entered the harbour at Dunkirk to destroy four large French frigates that were at anchor there. In the ensuing action he and his crew on Dart succeeded in boarding and capturing the large 40 gun warship Desireé. The bloody action lasted barely 15 minutes and led to the deaths of a hundred men killed or wounded on the captured French warship including all of the officers on board. Campbell reported that the losses from his crew were ‘just one man slain’. His conduct in the action against the much larger and more heavily armed Desiree´ was widely acclaimed. The Earl St Vincent pronounced it to have been ‘one of the finest instances of gallantry on record’ for which Campbell was rewarded by being nominated Knight Commander of the Bath in April 1836. Following retirement the following year in the rank of Vice-Admiral, he became a Leamington resident and died here on August 13th 1841 at the age of 68. The Admiral’s remains were interred in the vaults at All Saints. A commemorative plaque for the Admiral and his wife Dame Margaret, erected by their son in 1884 , can be seen on the wall of the north transept of the church.
Captain Sir Philip Carteret CB
Captain Sir Philip Carteret CB was born in Jersey in 1777 of a seafaring family. His father Rear Admiral Philip Carteret was a distinguished naval officer who in 1766 had been given command of the navy sloop Swallow on the second of Captain Cook’s Royal Navy circumnavigations of the globe with the remit ‘to make discoveries of countries hitherto unknown’. In the three years that Swallow was at sea Carteret discovered Pitcairn Island. The young Carteret joined the navy as a boy servant to Captain Erasmus Gower on the ship Medea. Many years later and as a newly promoted Captain in command of the 46 gun Naiad, Carteret had the distinction of humiliating Napoleon while he was at Boulogne to observe an exercise by the French flotilla kept there to threaten Britain even though the war with France had ended. Carteret surprised the French warships and quickly brought them to action stations. Several of them were cut off and captured as Napoleon looked on.
He was promoted Lieutenant in 1795, Commander in 1802 and Post Captain in 1806. He served on upwards of a dozen Royal Navy ships and was nominated CB (Companion of the Bath) in June 1815. He retired in October 1817. It isn’t known whether he was a visitor to land-locked Leamington or a resident. The Courier newspaper reported his death in their issue of August 30th 1828. The Captain suffered a stroke while attending a lecture on philosophy at the Royal Assembly Rooms in Bath Street. The newspaper report mentions that an autopsy had been carried out and that ‘his remains are being interred in a vault in our parish church this day’. There is no memorial plaque to him in the church but his last resting place in the crypt vault no doubt bears his name, unfortunately there is now no public access to this part of the church.
Admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleeming
Charles Elphinstone Fleeming was born on 18th June 1774, the son of John Elphinstone the 11th Lord Elphinstone. He entered the navy and served during the wars against the French commanding on a succession of vessels during the early years of the wars. At the age of twenty he was in command of the sloop Tisiphone. He managed to combine his naval career with periods of political activity and was elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Stirlingshire in January 1802. On the death of his grandmother, he assumed the additional name of Fleeming. While in command of the 40 gun Egyptienne, Fleeming learned that also serving on his ship as a midshipman was future Admiral Charles John Napier. The two men were on bad terms that would later lead to Napier challenging Fleeming to a duel. The two men met on the appointed day but common sense prevailed and the two men were reconciled by their seconds and no duel took place. Fleeming was briefly Commander-in-Chief Portsmouth and succeeded Sir Thomas Hardy as Governor of the Greenwich Naval Hospital in September 1839. This proved to be a very contentious appointment which the daily newspapers of the time made great political capital from.
The admiral subsequently came to live in Leamington in a house in Dormer Place where he died on 30 October 1840 at the age of 66. His death was covered by the National newspapers which reported that he had been in Leamington ‘whither he had gone about a month ago to consult Dr Jephson, feeling his health severely attacked’. One of those who attended his funeral in All Saints was another of Nelson’s Band of Bothers Vice-admiral Sir Patrick Campbell [see above].
Alan Griffin, December 2019