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The Naval Hospital Burials at Yarmouth
by Richard Green, 2001
This article is by way of explanation and to illuminate the many burials of service men which took place in Gt Yarmouth in the last decade of the 18th century. Many of the ships named below appear in the burial register.
France and Holland, allied since 1795, were fighting the Napoleonic Wars with Britain and Russia.At the end of 1796, the French failed in an attempt to land at Bantry Bay, where they hoped to organise an uprising in Ireland to act as a second front and thus weaken their enemy England.
This remained the strategy throughout 1797 based on the urging of the two Irishmen, Wolfe Tone and Napper Tandy. The French switched, however, to a plan under which the Dutch fleet would transport a joint Franco-Dutch army across the North Sea.
The plan was for the Dutch to meet and defeat Admiral Duncan's under-strength British North Sea Fleet, then returning and transporting the army to Edinburgh, from where it would march overland to take Glasgow as a base for an invasion of Ireland, with Messrs Tone and Tandy fomenting a rebellion at the same time.
The Dutch decided to go ahead with the first stage of the plan and the fleet was ordered to sea under Admiral de Winter, who had started life as a sailor, joined the French army and risen to General, and then transferred back to the Navy as Admiral - never having commanded a ship, even in peacetime.
De Winter's fleet, when he put to sea on 8 October 1797, was puny compared to those engaged in most of the major battles: eleven third-rate ships (four of 74 guns, the rest of 64 or 68), five fourth-rates, four frigates and six sloops. The fourth-rates were obsolete, and the 64-gun ships virtually so.
Opposing him, Duncan's British North Sea Fleet also had 16 ships of the line, also with nothing bigger than a third-rate.
When the Dutch put to sea, the British fleet was in Yarmouth refitting. An inshore squadron under Captain Henry Trollope was however watching Texel the Dutch base, closely, and a lugger was sent to Yarmouth with the news, getting the message there on the morning of the 9th. Duncan put immediately to sea, met up with Trollope on the 11th, and found the Dutch fleet in line of battle heading north-east with the wind from the west.
The Battle of Camperdown (11 October 1797)
Admiral Duncan's ships were split into two roughly equal squadrons, Duncan's own, led by Venerable, to the north aimed at the Dutch forward vessels, and Onslow's, led by Monarch, to the south, aimed at the Dutch rear. Onslow's nine ships fairly quickly disposed of the five ships (three of them fourth-rates) cut off at the Dutch rear, but Duncan's seven had a much harder time to the north, where fighting was much more intense before de Winter finally surrendered, the Dutch frigates, contrary to custom, bravely joining in the action, in which two of them were taken.
An account of the Monarchıs performance:
Capt. Edward O`BRIAN, commanding in the action off Camperdown with the Dutch fleet on 11 October 1797. MONARCH led the larboard division which broke through the rear of the Dutch line between JUPITER and HAARLEM, firing broadsides into both. The British captured 7 ships of the line, two 50`s, and two frigates . MONARCH suffered severe damage to her hull but little to her masts and yards. She had 36 killed, including two midshipmen, J.P.TINDALL and Moyle FINLAY, and 100 wounded, including Lieut. James RETALICK. 1799 Capt. S. SUTTON, Sheerness.
At the end of the day, eleven of the 26 Dutch ships returned to the Texel and four were destroyed, the rest remaining in British hands, though so badly damaged that they were unfit for further service.
Camperdown effectively disposed of the Dutch. Duncan made even surer of that on 27th August 1799 by landing 7000 troops (only 20 men being lost through drowning) at the Helder, where the remaining ships surrendered without firing a shot, the Dutch crews mutinying and refusing to serve the guns. There was no longer any threat of the Dutch fleet aiding an invasion of Scotland or Ireland.
But then a disastrous decision placed the Duke of York (the very same who marched his men up the hill and down again) in charge of the invasion of Holland, which had been intended to build on Admiral Duncanıs success. He was, bluntly, incompetent.
80,000 soldiers took part in this campaign, involving an Anglo-Russian invading force and Dutch-French defenders,
The French had forbidden the puppet Dutch ("Batavian") republic to trade with Britain, and the Dutch economy had suffered greatly. The British thought to exploit this situation to restore the pro-British William to the Dutch throne.
The Ardent, from which came many burials in Yarmouth, was reported as follows:
In August 1799 ARDENT was with the Anglo-Russian expedition to the Texel. Some 250 craft of all sizes transported 17,000 troops from Margate Roads and the Downs across the Channel on the 13th. Due to bad weather it was the 21st before they anchored off Kuikduin and the following day a summons was sent to Vice Admiral Storij, calling on him to surrender his fleet. When he declined, a landing was made near Den Helder on the 27th. under covering fire from the fleet. Den Helder was occupied the following day when the garrison evacuated the town.
On the 30th GLATTON, ROMNEY, ISIS, VETERAN, ARDENT, BELLIQUEUX, MONMOUTH and OVERYSSEL, a Russian ship, and the frigates, anchored in line ahead in the Vlieter and Vice Ad. Storij was summoned again. This time he agreed to surrender his squadron of 12 modern warships. of these 11 were purchased for the Royal Navy.
The Batavian general was taken by surprise and lost 1400 men and narrowly escaped with his life when his horse was shot from under him. The Batavian garrison of Den Helder spiked its guns and evacuated the town, which although well protected on the seaward side, had minimal defensive works on the landward side. The Batavian fleet, under vice-admiral Storij, which had been in the Texel, withdrew to a poorly defensible position in the Vlieter, a channel in the Zuider Zee, and surrendered without firing a shot.
On 13 September the Russian troops arrived. Although the invading forces now stood at 35,000, the Russians were exhausted and underfed after the long sea journey.On 19 September they took the offensive, eventually reaching the town of Bergen in an exhausted state. After plundering the place, they were unable to resist a French counterattack and lost 1500 dead.
Two weeks later the English attacked. . A service of thanksgiving by the Duke of York later that day was cancelled at the last moment when the Duke had to depart for Castricum where a battle was developing. That town passed from British-Russian to Batavian-French hands several times until the Duke of York finally fled, losing 2536 men and 11 guns; the Batavian-French losses stood at 1382.
The battle of Castricum persuaded the Duke that his position was untenable. After a chaotic retreat, in which two field hospitals were "forgotten", he reached an agreement with the French commander, Brune. The British and Russians were allowed to withdraw, without paying reparations, and retaining captured bounty. However, an undertaking was given by the Duke to arrange for all French and Dutch prisoners of war to be repatriated. As thanks, Brune received a number of magnificent horses from the Duke. By 19 November all the British and Russian troops had been embarked and the whole unhappy episode was over.
Throughout the period, injured men were shipped back to Great Yarmouth Naval Hospital, where many perished from gangrene and cross infection. Both British and Russian men were involved, and at times the hospital must have been overfull - no waiting list in those days.
Those who died appeared in the burials register for St Nicholas, Gt Yarmouth.
The two exerpts are from "Ships of the Old Navy by Michael Phillips, and may be seen at