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Friday, 5 June 2015

Milford and Nelson’s Navy

The Milford on Sea Historical Record Society is engaged in a project to conserve the grave of Admiral Cornwallis and Captain & Mrs Whitby (all in the same vault) in All Saints churchyard and to repair and relocate the memorial to Admiral Peyton inside the church.

To do this the Historical Society and The 1805 Club need to raise nearly £6,500 incl. VAT and are hoping that some kindly local folk might feel it worthwhile enough to make donation.

If you would like to make a donation please send an email to david@milfordonsea.org in the first instance.
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Milford on Sea’s connection with Nelson’s Navy

Most local people will recognise the names Cornwallis and Whitby, if only from the village roads bearing their names, but they have a much wider significance. Admiral William Cornwallis and Mary Anne Theresa Whitby are possibly the most important figures in the story and development of Milford, along with Mrs Whitby’s descendants, the Cornwallis-Wests. Milford on Sea would not be as it is today without their influence.

Mrs Whitby was the widow of Captain John Whitby who was Cornwallis’ flag captain and friend.

Cornwallis acquired Newlands, between Milford and Everton, in 1800 and the Whitbys came to live with him. Whitby also served for a while under Nelson in the Mediterranean and died here in 1806 at the early age of 32. Cornwallis was regarded by Nelson as a friend, having brought Nelson back from the West Indies when he was seriously ill.

Experts and enthusiasts in the navy of Nelson’s time are of the opinion that Cornwallis is hugely under-recognised for his contribution to the wars with France in the final years of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Had he not commanded the blockade of the French channel ports with such efficiency, it is unlikely that Nelson would have been able to engage in, much less win, the Battle of Trafalgar. Andrew Lambert, professor of Naval History in the Department of War Studies at King's College London, in his entry on Cornwallis in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says:

“……Cornwallis demonstrated the highest qualities of an admiral,……………only the accident of history, the one that denied him a great battle has kept him out of the pantheon of naval immortals. …………..His blockade of the coast of Brittany, through all seasons and all weathers, remains the ultimate achievement of seapower in the age of sail.

Admiral Cornwallis
click image to enlarge
In his later years Cornwallis was a modest and retiring person; although willing to accept the recognition of his professional capabilities by promotion, he abhorred personal glorification. 

Unlike virtually every other ranking officer of his time, there is no known portrait of him above the rank of post captain. When he died, he left instructions that he was to be buried with his friend Whitby and that no memorial should be erected in his name. With the approach of the 200th anniversary of his death in 2019, we feel that the time has come for him to receive the recognition he deserves for his outstanding service.

Theresa West, Mrs Whitby’s daughter, felt such “affection, gratitude and admiration” for Cornwallis that she went against his wishes when her mother died 31 years after the admiral and had a memorial in the church made to the admiral and her parents. The memorial indicates that the remains of her parents and those of Cornwallis are together “in a vault at the western end of the churchyard”. For many years it was thought that the vault was either unmarked or lost.

All Saints, Milford is also the resting place of two other important admirals of the Georgian navy, John Peyton and Robert Man. 

Admiral John Peyton was one of Nelson’s ‘Band of Brothers’, captains who fought with him at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and had a distinguished naval career. Thus he is another nationally important naval figure. He retired to Priestlands, Pennington, then in the parish of Milford.

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