- Newspaper, The Telegraph (UK)
- 19th century wars
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
“Amongst the year-long celebration and commemoration of Lord Nelson’s final triumphant battle, there was a timely re-enactment of the memorable voyage and overland journey undertaken by the officer entrusted with Vice Admiral Collingwood’s despatches after the Battle of Trafalgar.”
The smallest, but fastest, British warship which had participated in the battle, the schooner HMS Pickle, was selected by Vice Admiral Collingwood to convey his dispatches to London. Her commanding officer, Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere was left in no doubt about the urgency of his task. Collingwood, who had overseen the British fleet to victory over a superior combined French and Spanish force after the death of his friend, Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, implored Lapenotiere to use “…every exertion, that a moment’s time may not be lost in their delivery.”
Lapenotiere was faithful to his task. It took him a mere 11 days, from 26 October to 6 November 1805, to deliver the news from the Atlantic (off Spain) to the Admiralty in Whitehall. The final stage of his journey, non-stop by post chaise from Falmouth to London, was a prodigious feat, the 271 miles taking only 37 hours.
Amongst many other events organised to celebrate the bicentenary of Trafalgar, this incredible journey was re-enacted in the Admiralty courtyard on 9 September 2005. The actor Alex Price played Lapenotiere for weeks, accompanying the dispatch as it made its way by sea and land to London. On arrival he presented the dispatch to John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who stood in for William Pitt the Younger. The band of the Royal Marines played as the post-chaise clattered into the courtyard to be greeted by the current First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West.
The Admiral recounted how Lieutenant Lapenotiere had been forced to jettison his cannon from the Pickle, to save her from sinking in a storm in the Bay of Biscay. “The country was at great risk of losing the war (against Napoleon’s France) but with the arrival of the dispatch this worry was over,” Sir Alan said. “It was a wonderful piece of news. But outside the gates the people of London were devastated at hearing of Nelson’s death”.
The journey cost Lapenotiere (a descendant of a Huguenot family) £46.19s.ld, equivalent to half a year’s pay. However, after delivering the document that inaugurated a century of British maritime Supremacy, he retired to compose another equally important document: his claim for travel expenses!