Trafalgar Messenger, Further Reading

HMS Pickle:

There was a legend forming on that early morning breeze, 4 th November 1805 …

Pickle was shaping her course for The Lizard, the most Southerly point of the British mainland, before proceeding on to Falmouth Bay, Cornwall to confirm her place in history …

Ghosting under full light weather sail including stuns’ls and ring-tail it is clear to any seaman Pickle is in a hurry. 

Local legend insists while approaching Cornwall the crew of HM Schooner Pickle spoke with Cornish fishing luggers.

Legend in a pickle…

Examine the story.

Most scholars, as academics routinely do with ‘legends’, deny the Cornish claim to being the first place to announce the Trafalgar news in Britain. There remains a persistent strong oral tradition in West Cornwall.

Admiral Collingwood had as soon as possible after the momentous battle of Trafalgar chose HMS Pickle commanded by Lt. Lapenotiere to carry with all haste his now famous official Trafalgar dispatch to London.

Collingwood chose Pickle because she was available, fast, had often been a dispatch vessel and the Lapenotiere family recount, Collingwood owed Pickle’s commander Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere a favour.

The 4 th of November 1805 off the Cornish coast we know from the log of the Pickle (in the PRO at Kew) and other sources was a calm hazy Cornish November dawn. Pickle seen here with to the North of St Michael’s Mount in the distance and ahead, The Lizard Point.

Pickle would have appeared to the fishermen who’s boats were speckled over Mounts Bay as emerging from the still dark South West horizon as she ghosted under a full press of sail across Mounts Bay. 

It was wartime; the fishermen would have been keeping a sharp look out for French or Spanish raiders so relieved to recognise Pickle. Those hardy men would have known Pickle from her many patrols and via local news. They’d have known she was with Nelson and often a dispatch vessel, some may have been relatives of her crew, thus cousin Jack would speak with cousin Jack.

Appreciating the importance of the Trafalgar news which was soon to stun the British nation and is still referred to by the French as “le catastrophe de Trafalgar” (
but we got Nelson…) the fishermen immediately made sail for their home port, the tiny Cornish village of Mousehole (pronounced “mowsawll”). By local tradition Mousehole was the first place in Britain to hear the news of the great victory, news announced publicly for the first time in Britain from the town hall balcony of nearby Penzance town, at that time was a thriving community mostly of Cornish, Huguenots and a few Jews, trading to Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

To this day the loss of Nelson and Trafalgar are still commemorated in Mousehole and Penzance.

Making slow progress in the light breeze Pickle hove to in Falmouth Bay, 10 days, 1,500 miles and an average speed of 6.5 knots from Trafalgar, having crossed the Bay of Biscay in conditions so stormy she sprang a serious leak obliging her men to jettison 6 of her Carronades. Her commander Lapenotiere disembarked at Falmouth. Pickle in the charge of George Almy, the American-born second in command sailed her home to Plymouth.

After some minor unexplained delays, Lieutenant Lapenotiere took an express post chaise to London. Today it is possible to follow his route including visiting all the Ale houses were horses were changed. The route since 2005 is now marked on English Ordinance Survey maps as “The Trafalgar Way”. Arriving in London, Lieutenant Lapenotiere handed the dispatch to William Marsden, secretary of the Admiralty who at 02.00 woke Lord Barham, the First Sea Lord who had master mined the British strategy with “Sir we have won a great victory but we have lost Nelson”; then Marsden gave Lord Barham Collingwood’s now famous Trafalgar Dispatch. The prime minister William Pitt was informed at 03.00 and the king, George III at 07.00 after which the news was publicly announced.

It is possible, even likely during the next 3 days while in London Lieutenant Lapenotiere met with Robert Dodds, a meeting that leads us to this Gordon Frickers painting, HMS Pickle The Trafalgar Messenger”.

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Can you settle the pickle legend? Facts:

Pickle carried the sensational Trafalgar news, invasion averted, the combined fleet annihilated.

Pickle’s original log (now in the Public Records Office at Kew) confirms coming in from the South West Pickle made an early morning landfall off The Lizard Point the most southerly point of the British Isles then she sailed on to Falmouth Bay, Cornwall arriving mid morning of the 4 th of November 1805 were her commander disembarked.

Many of Pickle’s crew including her commander Lt. Lapenotiere were Cornish and Devon men although unusually, her first officer was an American. 

Pickle was a Devonport, Plymouth ship heading for home.

She had regularly patrolled Cornish waters between 1802 and 1805 including fighting several sharp actions with French privateers.

To this day people in West Cornwall, locally proudly claim the then sensational Trafalgar news, invasion averted, the combined fleet annihilated, Nelson killed, was first announced in England at Penzance, Cornwall.

The first place the news of the battle of Trafalgar appeared in print was at Plymouth, HMS Pickle’s home port

Fiction, you decide?

You can be confident that early on a November morning during wartime the fishermen would have been quick to spot and identify a strange sail emerging from the south west gloom of night thus Recognising Pickle.

We know Pickle would have been well known to Cornish fishermen, to the men of Mounts Bay who most likely followed the shipping news so would have known Pickle was with Nelson.

Even today many ‘real’ Cornish are a close knit sea orientated community.

Among the ‘cousin Jack’s’ in the various vessels there may even have been relatives or brothers.

*Knowing Pickle often carried dispatches it is likely the fishermen’s curiosity would have been aroused and the men of Pickle eager to speak with them?

Given such historic news the fishermen immediately returned to port so the Cornish village of Mousehole (pronounced “moaws’all”) was the first place in Britain to hear the news.

Conclusion? I lived in Cornwall for many years, worked with Cornish men. It is my conjecture that the legend is true thus merits this new painting adding lustre to her story.

The yarn I trust you agree, is well worth painting, yours for £5,000 .

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HMS Pickle

The name Pickle has been used 5 times by the British Royal Navy.

The first time the name was given was to a “tender” based at Plymouth Devon. The Navy Board order established 6 x 18-pdrs and 35 men.

She was officially renamed Pickle by an Admiralty Order dated the 4 January 1802. A subsequent order on the 20 April 1803, confirmed her armament was reduced to 6 x 12-pdrs and her crew reduced to 30.

Her dimensions were LGD 73 ft; LKT 56 ft 33/% in.; EX BR 20 ft 71/, in. DIH 9 ft 6 in.; 127 tons burden. (Source, “Plymouth Ships of War”)

The term cutter was used by sailor men in the same context that ‘clipper’ and ‘speed boat’ were later in the 19th and 20th centuries. A cutter required a brave, large & very experienced crew to handle her well and keep the mast on board. Smartly handle cutters had many advantages including their ability to sil fast close to the wind. Miss handled cutters were frequently dis-masted particularly down wind by rolling their boom into a sea; hence the rig eventually being considered unsuitable for ocean sailing.

In short, cutters were fast but dangerous.

Here is a clue for the reason for her conversion to schooner rig – of cutters, ‘The danger’ it was written, “when sailing large or when the wind is strong, especially when a heavy sea is causing the vessel to roll and yaw, the guy must be restrained forward by another tackle since otherwise an unexpected yaw might cause the boom to fly over suddenly, therefore violently, to the other side. The danger, coupled with the great weight of the boom and its projecting over the counter, and the fact that the whole of the sail area is extended out to one side of the vessel where the boom is at risk from striking the seas as the vessel rolls, all indicate that a fore and aft mainsail is less advantageous when sailing wind astern than when close hauled. Indeed, as a general rule, all fore and afters are greatly inferior to square sails on that point of sailing”.

I have a wealth of in formation on the evolution of the cutter rig including why the French Navy abandoned the rig.

The French with a reputation for building fast ships, experimented extensively to resolve the issue and about 1820 abandoned the use of the cutter rig for naval purposes, masts having consistently broken, even when the lower sections made for 74 gun ships were used. The cutter hull shape was evolved for speed, away from the full bow shape, good for carrying large loads & common since at least the days of Viking round ships Medieval Hogs, Cogs, Hulks, Hoys and their like towards the knife like bow that culminated in the clipper designs. Hence “cutter”, a ship which would in the language of the day “cut along nicely”.

Pickle is documented as converted from a cutter to the more manageable and easier to sail rig of schooner by the Royal Navy at Devonport docks, Plymouth.

The ‘Nelson’s yellow strake. Our exact colour results from recent research by Peter Goodwin and Gordon Frickers. Peter who has a talent for discovering lost documents found a letter from Nelson specifying the exact paint mix for the famous ‘Nelson’s bright yellow’ which Nelson preferred saying it looked more “war like”.. As a result Gordon carried out a series colour of tests, see his abstract paintings “Nelson’s Bright Yellow”and “Nelson at Gibraltar” has been the first full scale painting to benefit.

Peter Goodwin’s knack for discovering lost documents extended to some relating to Pickle’s refits at Plymouth which mention her gunwale was curved as shown over the gun ports (a detail not shown on the Dodd picture). This feature was shared with some other small ships of the period.

Thus this we hope you can agree is the most faithful rending of HM Schooner Pickle since the days of lieutenant later promoted to Captain Lt. Lapenotiere.

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Cornish Luggers

The fishing boats in this painting are all Cornish luggers typical of 1805, the ancestor of the luggers still sailing today.

The Cornish luggers in this painting all show meticulously researched 1805 design characteristics.

In 1805 luggers generally set 3 masts as opposed to 2 masts post 1840 ish.

Many French luggers ‘Chasse Marie’ (sea hunters) still set 3 masts with topsails as in the early 19th century style.

Most Cornish luggers were around 35 feet length so about 40 feet length on deck.

The luggers of 1805 were generally 30’ to 60′  (10 t0 20 m) measured as was then the custom between verticals, length over all was a little more plus bowsprit and bumkins. Some were smaller some as large as 90 feet on deck. Luggers were clinker (lapstrake) or carvel built. The rig was simple, economic and as modern luggers demonstrate, they sail well compared to today’s yachts. In 1805 they were worked by a crew of at least 6 they worked in teams of 3 boats. Lugger design changed significantly around 1840 with the arrival of the Great Western Railway at Penzance. The GWR gave the Cornish fisher folk access to a new larger market thus incentive to land their catches more quickly.

I worked from a number of sources. One was photos of a model of the ‘Emily lugger in the Royal Cornwall Museum. ‘Emily appears to be carvel built with little sheer. She is pierced for 4 oars, has the usual rubbing strake, her top mast is set in the 18th century style, reverse of the more recent practice and she is a double ender. Her bow sprit and bumkin are long by modern standards. Her sails would be have been tanned with a preservative, red ochre and linseed oil at the end of their first year…

I also found a photo of a 3 mast lugger on Beer beach confirming many details I drew when he painted ‘plien aire’ back in 1974 the Cornish lugger ‘Barnabus at Falmouth.

Mike Hope wrote to me confirming a lot of questions and kindly gave his permission for the following text to appear here:

As you know there has, and always will be, controversy between Penzance and Falmouth over the “Trafalgar dispatch”; but it is a well known fact that Pickle passed by Mounts Bay and there are artefacts present in Madron Church and the Union Hotel in Chapel Street Penzance that indicate that a fishing vessel communicated the news first from Pickle to Penzance.

The luggers of West Cornwall changed their rig around the 1840’s from three to two masts.

This new yacht style offered more speed to meet the introduction of the railways in 1853.

The best surviving example of the three masted luggers is a model of Emily on display in the County Museum at Truro; this is illustrated on page 65 of A. S, Oliver’s book “Boats and Boatbuilding in West Cornwall”.

The rigging is also shown on page 17 and of Boy Willie on page 34.

If you can’t locate this little book please let me know.

Another invaluable source is Edgar March’s book “Sailing Drifters”, but I think the former has all the information you require.

The one person who knows absolutely everything about luggers was the historian Tony Pawlyn, a trustee of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall at Falmouth” 

The Trafalgar Messenger, HMS Pickle, is available from £147.00 as a signed numbered heritage marine print from www.frickers.co.uk print gallery.

The splendid original painting The Trafalgar Messenger, HMS Pickle is available for £5,000.

Payments can be made via Paypal, bank to bank and in easy instalments.

COPYRIGHT GORDON FRICKERS © 14.01.2015

To acquire or commission a similar painting

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Pickle Night:

The 4 th of November is celebrated in the Royal Navy and elsewhere including the New York Yacht Club as “Pickle Night”.

How Pickle Night was conceived is a beautiful story in its self.

At the NYYC the American Friends of the Royal Naval Museum hosts the event, with support from the 1805 Club, the Nelson Society, and the National Maritime Historical Society.

Since 2005 the NYYC has blind auctioned one of my ‘HMS Pickle‘ prints raising over $500 each time, which they have then donated to the Royal Navy Museum, Portsmouth.

Commenting on Gordon Frickers ‘Pickle’ painting Peter Goodwin, Keeper of HMS Victory, H.M. Naval Base, Portsmouth, Historical Consultant,  said, It’s the one thing that opened me up to the world of painting”.

You can acquire your signed, number copy from the Print Gallery.

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Sources:

For the majority of sources please see our post about “I have urgent dispatches”

A. S, Oliver’s book “Boats and Boatbuilding in West Cornwall” & Edgar March’s book “Sailing Drifters”.

Tony Pawlyn a trustee of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall at Falmouth and Professor Jan Pentreath have a fine collections of photographs of Cornish luggers.

Peter Goodwin, I. Eng AMIMarE. Historical Consultant, keeper of HMS Victory, H.M. Naval Base, Portsmouth.

Royal Naval Museum, Heritage Area, including Dr Colin White

Liverpool Maritime Museum.

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Gordon Frickers has produced a series of talks on Nelson and given 10 acclaimed 2 hour interactive talks on “Nelson As A Role Model” at the Swarthmore Centre, Plymouth.

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Trafalgar was a battle that effected / changed world history for over 100 years.

It is upon the Navy under the Providence of God that the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly dependfrom the Articles of War (1652) read weekly to all Royal Navy ships crews for 300 years.

This fine marine painting of “The Trafalgar Messenger”, the making of a Cornish legend, available as a Heritage Quality print, see Print Gallery and Payment Page, price from £147.00 including postage.

To acquire or commission a similar painting

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I chose Pickle partly because I felt while it is hard for modern people to understand the ships of Nelson’s time (HMS Victory at Portsmouth is the only ‘original’ ship of her type still with us). I felt Pickle was the sort of size of vessel modern yachtsmen could relate to.

Pickle was the kind of ship which if seen today in port many would say, “what a beautiful big ship”.

Yet in her day she was considered tiny, a lieutenant’s command.

A wag at Trafalgar aboard HMS Britannia described Pickle as “about as dangerous as a pair of boots”.

One of the HMS Pickle painting’s central themes is communication; the contrast between then in 1805 with today, the legend is a part.

Copyright 2019: GORDON FRICKERS © published 2015, updated 28.07.2019

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