(A SHEERNESS POWDER MONKEYS STORY.)
( From the newspaper of 1889 13th April )
Joseph Sunderland who was in 1805 a powder monkey on board his Majesty’s cruiser Beaulieu – which claims to have brought to England the first news of the great naval victory at Trafalgar- celebrated his one hundredth birthday at Milton-next- Sittingbourne last Wednesday April 3rd 1889. Such an antique occasion brought together a good many of the centenarian’s friends , and to them he recited some of his experiences of his early years.
Although complaining that , after a lapse of more than eighty years, names and dates were apt to get a little “ higgle-de- piggledy” the old man nevertheless was able to give a fairly clear account of some of his adventures at a most exciting period of English Naval History..
He was born on April 3rd 1789 at Sheerness , Sutherland stated that when only 12 years old he entered the Royal Navy as a first class boy .He joined the Kingfisher a sloop of ten guns which was sent out to the West Indies on a roving commission .The sloop was commanded by Captain Cripp , of whom Sutherland spoke with a respect amounting almost to veneration . “ Ah! “ he said as his memory ran back over the long vista of years , “ He was a nice feller “ .Captain Cripp , it seems ,was very considerate towards his men and boys in days when the lash was pretty fairly used in the Navy. Sutherland , however had tasted the “ cat “ .His back had not been “pickled “ like some sailors backs which he had seen, but he owned up to six strokes , and spoke of the castigation in such a way as to suggest at the time it was not ill-deserved .
The old man proceeded to recall several skirmishes with the French when the Kingfisher was off the West Indies , and particularly one occasion off Jamaica , when before the British ships , which had been “ cleaning up “ , could get to work , the Frenchmen “topped their boom “ and left them. Then he described the long chase – a long chase because it was a stern chase – which ensued before the “ darned mounseers “ were overhauled and the fight began.
Then our men stripped to the waist for action , took farewells to each other , and one heard a comrade addressed in terms such as this “ Tom, if I am done for , let ‘em know at home .” Then Sutherland pictured his own work as a humble powder- monkey how, divested almost of clothing , for the hot climate was trying in the extreme , he “ handed up the powder from the magazine below” , how it was his duty to keep one particular gun well supplied , and how elaborate the precautions taken by the erection of “ fearnought “ screens between the magazine and the hatchways , and by the prohibition of the use of shoes , to prevent the risk of explosion while the powder was being handed about. All this , as told from the centenarians lips , sounded rather like a chapter from some popular naval history , so difficult did it seem to believe that Sutherland himself could have taken a share in the transaction which he related.
It was not given to Sutherland to take part in Englands greatest naval history – that of Trafalgar – but
the old man claims
that the cruiser Beaulieu
,( called by him with a supreme disregard for French pronunciation ,the “ Bowley “)
then on the way home from the West India Station , was the first to take the
news of Lord Nelsons dying victory to
England. The Beaulieu , to which Sutherland had bee transferred , fell in with
the British Fleet after the battle and had learnt by signal of the glorious
triumph of the great Admiral and of his unfortunate death on board the Victory.
The centenarian described the battered condition of many of the ships , how they were riddled with shot , how some had lost
their topmast, and others had had their yards shot away, and how the hurricane
, which even then had not wasted all its fury, and prevented all communication
except by signal between the Beaulieu and other ships , had resulted in the
loss of a great many prizes . The Beaulieu took the news with all speed to
Soon after the battle of Trafalgar and when
Like many old sailors ,Sutherland
is wedded to the “ wooden walls “of old
informs me that Mr. Sutherland was entered in Sheerness Dockyard as a first
class shipwright on