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Friday, 8 February 2019

Admiral Cornwallis’ Unmarked Grave found

In October 2013, the 1805 Club contacted Milford on Sea Historical Record Society (MOSHRS) as they understood that Admiral Cornwallis was buried in Milford churchyard but "the grave had been lost". 

According to his biographer George Cornwallis West, the Admiral had left instructions that he was to be ‘buried at Milford near Captain Whitby’ also that no tomb-stone or any kind of memorial was to be erected in his memory. This last injunction Mrs Whitby obeyed to the letter.

However, Mrs Whitby’s daughter, Theresa West, erected a memorial in the church to the Admiral and her parents and the inscription confirms that all three were “in the same vault at the western end of this churchyard”. 

So to find the Admiral’s grave it was necessary to find Captain Whitby’s grave. The general area was known although the grave was not immediately identifiable. 

Towards the end of 2013, MOSHRS received three files of material from a former Hon Sec of the Society in the 1970s. Included was a transcription of Mrs West’s memorial and also a transcription of what was said to be the original wording on Captain Whitby's grave. There were some additional notes "Adm Man died 1813.... the position of his grave next to Capt Whitby but now beneath the vestry". The graveyard survey of 1922 shows Admiral Man at B28A and B29 as “Whitby, John (Cresswell Hall) b1784 d1793 or 1800” 

Early in 2014 one of the members of the Society chanced to look at the ledger on the grave outside the vestry door. Despite the wording being very worn, the low sun caught it at just the right angle and some of the wording could be made out. After researching safe methods of highlighting the inscription on the ledger, the first of which was inconclusive, the inscription was finally revealed. 

In Memory of 
JOHN WHITBY Esq 
Son of the Rev THOs WHITBY of Cresswell Hall 
STAFFORDSHIRE 
[Born 7th October 1774] 
He was promoted to the Rank of 
POST CAPTAIN in His MAJESTIES NAVY 
[on the 29 April 1793] and departed this life 
on the 7th of April 1806 

Note: The parts in square brackets are indistinct and taken from the transcript. 

The Admiral’s grave had been found. 

In May 2014 it was proposed that MOSHRS together with The 1805 Club, and with church agreement, should erect some form of identification for the Admiral's grave. MOSHRS members were informed in Spring 2015 about a proposal to conserve the Cornwallis/Whitby grave ledger and repair the memorial to Rear Admiral John Peyton who served at the same time as Cornwallis; re-siting the memorial when it was returned from repair. Faculty approval from the church had been received in autumn 2016 and permission to proceed was received in March 2017. Donations were sought to support this work. 

Further research into the careers of Cornwallis and Whitby caused the Society to realise that there was a very important story to be told about the achievements of Admiral Cornwallis. This in turn led to the determination to prepare a commemoration of Cornwallis on the 200th anniversary of his death – and so “Cornwallis Remembered 1819-2019” was born. 

Additional Notes 

Admiral the Honourable Sir William Cornwallis (1744-1819) 
Lt 1761, Cdr 1762, Capt 1765, RAdm 1793, VAdm 1794, Adm 1799; 
Hon: Col of Marines 1797, RAdm of Great Britain 1796, VAdm of United Kingdom 1814; 
Member of Parliament: Eye 1768-74, 1782-4, Portsmouth 1784-1790, Eye 1790-1807. 

Cornwallis was the fourth son of the first Earl Cornwallis, joining the navy at the age of 12 and serving at sea almost without interruption for the next forty years. He was an energetic and successful ship’s captain during the American War of Independence, notably at the seminal Battle of The Saintes in 1782. As an admiral, the escape of his squadron of five ships of the line and three lesser vessels from a French fleet of no fewer than twelve French ships of the line and eighteen smaller vessels was a tribute to his courage, leadership and nautical skill. The episode was immortalised by Thomas Luny in his painting, Cornwallis’ Retreat. His most important contribution, however, was maintaining the blockade of Brest from 1803-6, thereby preventing the invasion of England planned by Napoleon. 

Captain John Whitby (1774-1806) 
Lt 1791, Cdr 1792, Captain 1793. 

Served under Cornwallis throughout much of his career, owing his early promotion to Cornwallis’ patronage. Esteemed by Nelson, but left to return to Cornwallis in 1804 thereby missing Trafalgar. The appalling storms of the ensuing two winters blockading the French Atlantic ports took their toll, and he returned to Cornwallis’ home of Newlands, Milford to die. 

Such was the relationship that Cornwallis left his entire estate to Whitby’s widow and daughter. In 1852, the latter erected the imposing (albeit not altogether accurate) monument to Cornwallis, and to John Whitby and his widow, which adorns the north wall of the aisle. 


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Milford-on-Sea Historical Record Society 

The Society was founded in 1909 by a number of prominent local gentlemen. Amongst these was William Cornwallis-West, the great grandson of Admiral Cornwallis’ protégé, Captain John Whitby. 

The Society was reformed in 1975. In its present guise, it holds bi-monthly general meetings, whilst an active research and discussion group meets monthly. The Society holds extensive archives containing some 8,000 items. 

An Occasional Magazine is published from time to time, the most recent editions being 2016 & 2018. The 2019 edition is dedicated to the Cornwallis bi-centenary and follows a study in 2011 of the relationship between Captain Whitby and his wife and Cornwallis.

Find out more at the MOSHRS Website: www.milfordhistory.org.uk

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The 1805 Club 

The 1805 Club was founded in 1990 to care for the memorials of the Georgian sailing navy. They are a vital yet often neglected part of Britain's naval heritage. No other organisation is dedicated to their preservation. We: 

Conserve monuments and memorials relating to seafaring people of the Georgian era and in particular Admiral Lord Nelson. For more information on Admiral Lord Nelson please visit The 1805 Club's site www.admiralnelson.org

Promote and publish research into the Royal Navy of the Georgian period, and especially Admiral Lord Nelson. 

Organise cultural and historical events for the enjoyment and edification of our membership and the public in general.

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Cornwallis Remembered Weekend: 

Friday 5th July 2019: includes a family friendly celebration on Milford on Sea village green and much more. Keep the date free!

More information to follow.

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