Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Figurehead of the Chesapeake.

A few years ago I did a page on the Chesapeake, then the other day I received a letter from a Mr. Martin Bibbing, from Suffolk, England, wanting to know what I know about the figurehead of the Chesapeake, and give the following interesting information.

For many years I have studied the famous action between HMS Shannon and USF Chesapeake and I was delighted to find recently on the internet your excellent and invaluable listing of the Chesapeake’s killed, wounded and prisoners following the battle. I was also intrigued by your statement regarding the Chesapeake’s figurehead (fiddle beak, she didn’t have a figurehead as such) and I wondered where your information came from:

“The figurehead for Chesapeake was formerly located outside the main admin offices of Olau Line in the old Royal Naval Dockyard of Sheerness, but was damaged by the Medway Ports Authority during a move in 1991”.

My understanding has always been that the when the Chesapeake was broken up after her service in the Royal Navy many of her timbers were used to construct a flourmill in Hampshire (which still exists and is known as the Chesapeake Mill) but her fiddlebeak was presented to Philip Broke’s son (Broke himself having died by this time). When the Broke family line ran out the fiddlebeak (and Shannon’s figurehead) ended up at Shrubland Hall near Ipswich, Suffolk , the family seat of the de Saumerez dynasty (related through Broke’s wife’s family). When inheritance tax liability forced the current de Saumerez family to sell Shrubland and many of its treasures a few years ago the Shannon’s figurehead and Cheseapeake’s fiddlebeak were auctioned off and bought by an American and exported to the USA. Fortunately before they left the country I was able to obtain photographs of them both which I attach for your interest.

I have also previously come across another contradictory reference to Chesapeake’s figurehead which doesn’t square with my previous understanding......

A book entitled Hampshire Treasures (1982) ISBN 0-900-908-7-26 has the following;

"The figurehead of the Chesapeake was also to be found in the area (near Wickcombe, Hampshire, at Arford House - 2 storeys. Coursed square stone blocks, creamwashed. Slate roof. Casement windows with flat lintels and 'Gothic' tracery. Stable block converted into dwelling. Stables and various outhouses round a courtyard. A complex of buildings, now two dwellings. The main house is square. Conservatory across south face. In the late 19th century, Brett Harte was a visitor and named the footpath from Arford to Longcross Hill The Brae.

The figurehead of the Chesapeake, which was captured by the Shannon, was formerly on a summer house at the top of the garden- it was a bird, perhaps an eagle, and a portion of it was said to be part of a lamp bracket in the house.

When the Chesapeake was broken up, the figurehead was bought by Mr Ewsters, who was then building (or living in) Arford House. Mr Henry Knight, who was born 27th Nov 1805, remembered it, and told the then rector, Mr Laverty (1872-1928)."

Even if this bird or eagle was from the Chesapeake’s (which I doubt as the droughts of the ship show only the plain fiddlebeak) the only explanation I can put on these diverse statements would mean that the when the Chesapeake was broken up it was Mr Ewsters of Arford House who bought the figurehead (fiddlebeak) and it was only subsequently given or bought by Broke’s descendents - but then where does your statement that a figurehead purporting to be that of the Chesapeake was to be found at Sheerness as late as 1991. All very mysterious. I would love to have your thoughts.

Best regards, Martin Bibbings Suffolk, England.

My Answer.

Mr. Bibbings, It took me a while but I found the post you were talking about, and I could tell from the first sentence were the info came from. I got it off the web while looking for info on the two ships. I tried to find it again so I you could give any Ref. they give but I couldn’t find it again sorry.

I found the info about the figurehead very interesting, as to my thoughts, about it, I can say there is more then likely truth to both sides of the stories.

Although I like history, I built my site on the surname but you can’t just have pages after pages of names. I use history as a back ground so those looking for their ancestors will know what was happen in and around their ancestors at that point and time in history.

Although from time to time I do pages on history just for the interest. I found your info very interesting and was hoping you would allow me to post the info you sent me as a page and my site? And I would like to use the photo of the figurehead as well, if you don’t mind? , Don’t fell bad if you don’t like the idea I have many other subject matters to write about

Dennis S.

1 comment:

F. H. Hallett said...

Having just solved the mystery, I can say with great assurance that USS Chesapeake had no figurehead and that the "Chesapeake" figurehead displayed for many years at Sheerness was taken from HMS Chesapeake, a Forte class 51-gun screw frigate built at Chatham in 1855 and broken up in 1867. A replica of this badly decayed ship carving has recently been made by British Ship Carver Andy Peters.

F. H. Hallett, CAPT USNR (Ret.)