[The following account was written by John Seagrove, a descendant of one of the survivors of the loss of HMS Hero]
For many naval families in Portsea, Gosport, Fareham and surrounding areas the 1811 Christmas festivities were not as good as in previous years. This year there was great disappointment that it would not be until Boxing Day or soon after that their husbands, fathers and boyfriends would arrive back from the Baltic. Previously they had arrived from this annual deployment in late November or very early December; and it had been almost a year now since these men had departed for Scandinavian waters. For the families at home in Portsmouth, and elsewhere, it had been a long nine months wait, made more stressful by the bitter sea war that was then raging against France and her northern allies. Widow Sarah Seagrove of Buckland was one of the many mothers in a state of anxious frustration.
The fourteen or so Royal Navy warships that were expected to arrive at Spithead that December had been engaged in the annual protection and escort duties in the waters of the Kattegat, the Great Belt passage, and the Baltic Sea. The largest vessel due to return was the 100-gun HMS Victory in which the Commander-in-Chief flew his flag. And among the other seven line-of-battle ships returning to Portsmouth was the 74-gun HMS Hero, the 3-rate warship on which Sarah's 24 year-old son, John, was mustered. Similar to the other ships in Admiral Saumarez's squadron, many of the Hero's complement were local Hampshire men, including her commander Captain James N Newman RN from Catisfield, Fareham.
For several years this spring/summer deployment to Scandinavian waters had been necessary to ensure safe two-way passage of British transport ships to and from the region. In these transits, especially that between Denmark and Sweden, the cargo ships would be continually threatened by enemy warships, particularly by Danish gun-boats and privateers which were taking a heavy toll of British convoys. Being shipped out to the Baltic region were military personnel, munitions, equipment and provisions; being transported back to England was Scandinavian timber, tar, hemp, flax and other materials vital for the navy's shipbuilding and repair programmes at this time. Each year the transports and their escorting warships would return to Britain in the autumn, early December at the very latest, to escape the effects of the severe Arctic winter. Being ice-bound in foreign waters far from home for several months was not a pleasant prospect; being at home with family and friends at the festive season was. Then in each following January and February the Merchant Navy ships would again load at British ports, form up in convoy, and set sail for the north under the watchful protection of the Royal Navy. This year - 1811 - the return home would be very different.
In early November the returning ships had started to assemble at Hano Bay, Sweden. From here, already late, the convoy departed on the 9th, sailing west towards the island of Lolland and the southern end of the channel known as the 'Belt', the sea passage that leads north to the waters of the Kattegat and beyond. However, the convoy was hampered by a succession of contrary gale force winds which resulted in many ships being lost or damaged - some severely, with one 98-gun British warship having to be towed. Consequently the fleet's progress north was severely slowed, and interrupted several times, it taking about ten days to reach Vinga Sund [sound], a little south of Gothenburg. Further delay then followed, not only due to more repair work but also to a further succession of storm force gales. It was not until Tuesday 17 December that the convoy - still including HMS Hero - finally departed Vinga Sund, bound for the North Sea and England. By now many ship commanders were doubting the advisability of proceeding so late in the year, but some were convinced otherwise.
Thus HMS Victory arrived at Spithead on Boxing Day 1811, much later than expected due to adverse winds and exceptionally severe winter storms that had raged across the whole Scandinavian sea area and the adjoining North Sea. The Victory [Admiral Saumarez] was accompanied into Portsmouth by HMS Dreadnought [98 guns], HMS Vigo [74] and HMS Orion [74], together with several smaller 5- and 6-rate warships. Therefore with the return of these vessels more than 3,000 navy seamen had returned home to their families and friends. Through the previous days, most of the transports they had been escorting across the North Sea had gradually hauled off, when safe to do so, to their various commercial port destinations along Britain's east and southern coast.
His Majesty's ships St George [98], Cressy [74] and Defence [74] had also departed Vinga on the 17th but by the 26th these three vessels and a brig-sloop had not yet arrived at Portsmouth. However, it was known that they had become detached from the convoy off North Jutland due to the fierce on-shore gales and snow squalls that had ravaged the area for days. The reason for this was that the St George was severely handicapped by having to sail under jury rig masts and a temporary steering device - this damage having been caused earlier by a ship to ship accident on 15 December. The severity of the storms had also caused some scattering of the 120 strong convoy, after which many transports never did sight their escorts again. But there was no news at all about HMS Hero or her charges, about forty transports, a small navy frigate and a brig-sloop, although this group had left Danish waters at least a day later than the main fleet anyway. Back in Britain on 26 December, the families of all these overdue vessels were now expecting their loved ones to arrive home in a day or so, but news of continually violent storms in the North Sea would have caused anxiety to take root.
Apart from his overdue vessels, Admiral Sir James Saumarez did know that a prize ship - a captured Danish privateer - was at this time on her way to Portsmouth under the command of a midshipman with his prize crew of six seamen, all men belonging to HMS Hero. She had left Skagarrack waters at the same time as had the Hero but because of her much smaller size she would take longer in the passage home. In any case, news of her passing through the Strait of Dover had already reached the Admiral therefore he was confident she would arrive at Spithead within the next eight hours - but, he must have wondered, why would the privateer arrive before the powerful Hero?
As expected, the prize ship arrived at Spithead on Friday, the 27th. From the moment she was sighted, the news spread like wildfire and great was the joy and excitement throughout the Portsmouth and surrounding area, especially when her seven British seamen came ashore. Not many men, but surely an indication that more were safe, and now on their way home. Even more excitement, and profound relief too, was felt by Sarah Seagrove and the families and friends of the lucky seven when they at last appeared. Coming ashore with midshipman John were able seamen Robert Howard and Henry Morris, ordinary seamen John Power, John Thompson and Ben Shillingford, and quartermaster James Mucklewain - all of the Hero. Greeting John Seagrove on his return would have been his mother and probably William his elder brother. His six prize ship companions would also have been welcomed home with equal relief and enthusiasm by their nearest and dearest.
The prize ship, a privateer, was impounded to await an Admiralty court ruling on its disposal: either to be acquired by the Royal Navy to supplement its inventory of ships, or to be sold to a commercial interest. The capital - prize money - raised would be divided between the members of the crew of the vessel which had captured her. The forty captured Danish seamen from the privateer were immediately seized and hustled away to incarceration on one of His Majesty's prison hulks moored in nearby Langston Harbour.
But for more than 2,000 families in the Portsmouth area, and beyond, there was little or no news of their loved ones. What they heard on Friday was good and bad. Good because a handful of our men had returned home in the prize; and the confirmation that the other ships in the Baltic squadron had set out on the passage home on 17 and 18 December; and good too that Captain Newman, commander of the Hero, had also previously detached four men to HM brig-sloop Earnest - so they should be safe. Thus apart from these eleven the rest of the Hero's complement, except three that Admiral Saumarez knew about, should still be on board the seventy-four. The three exceptions were all midshipmen. Two of these men, Parker and Shepherd, had been captured by the enemy when the seventy-four was operating in the Great Belt waters in early November. The third midshipman was Henry Rice. It was Rice who Captain Newman had originally sent to the prize ship but unfortunately had within days been captured by the enemy off the Skaw, and was now likely to be languishing in a military prison, perhaps somewhere in France. Consequently, in place of Rice, on Sunday 22nd John Seagrove was detailed to lead the privateer prize crew; and as things turned out, Rice's misfortune in being captured became John's extreme good luck on a day he would never forget.
But why was Hero so delayed? And ominously at this time for the general public, ugly rumours were starting to circulate that the St George and at least one other warship had been lost off Denmark. If this were true then almost certainly there would be loss of life on her, possibly many men perishing. The un-named vessel could be HMS Defence, or the Cressy, or the Hero. Anxiety at home was growing apace.
Next day, on 28 December, a Royal Navy vessel off Holland reported that she had come across a number of pieces of wreckage, positively identified as being parts of a British 3-rate warship. And it was assumed these pieces to be from HMS Hero. Then, within a day both the Danish and Dutch press reported that a maritime catastrophe had occurred in recent days in the North Sea in which many ships had come to grief, including numerous British merchant and Royal Navy vessels. It was said that thousands of lives had been lost. A succession of violent gales and storms over many days had been the culprit. Follow-up reports then spoke of the St George and Defence having been driven ashore near each other on the west coast of Jutland, a little north of Ringkobing Fjord on 23 and 24 December. In biting wind and below freezing temperature local Danish people had made frantic but unsuccessful attempts to reach both ships. Less than twenty men survived this appalling incident, these being swept ashore, half-dead on makeshift rafts. Among the estimated 1,200 fatalities were Rear-Admiral Robert Reynolds and the two ship commanders, Captains David Atkins and Daniel Guion. Amongst the rest who perished with them were several women and children. Scores of bodies, including the Admiral, were eventually recovered and buried; and today, 200 years later, their bones lie deep in the nearby sands, still known locally as 'dead men's dunes'.
Soon came more reports, both official and by others in the Dutch press, of the loss of HMS Hero. Apparently, she had progressed about 300 miles farther south-west than had the St George and the Defence but, it was thought, due to a serious navigational error in conjunction with the bitter, storm force-11 gale [60 mph and more] was driven onto a notorious sandbank some 6 miles off the coast of Holland, near Texel island. This occurred early on Christmas Eve and she was accompanied in this extremely dangerous situation by an 18-gun brig-sloop, HMS Grasshopper [Cdr. Fanshaw RN]. The two vessels were stranded about a mile apart, barely in view of each other through the succession of heavy snow squalls that were sweeping across the sea area. It was thought that one ship may have been lost; the other, a brig, was definitely captured. This news struck fear into people's hearts as it was only 12 months previously, on 22 December 1810, that HMS Minotaur, another seventy-four, had been destroyed on the dreaded Haak Sand off the Texel. Nearly four hundred of her 550 complement had been lost in that incident. Yet, frustratingly, still there was very little comment by the Admiralty in London.
More than two years later, in April 1814, at the court-martial for the capture of his ship by the enemy, Commander Henry Fanshawe gave his account of the events leading up to the strandings of the brig-sloop and the Hero on the Haak Sand, and of their subsequent loss. He said that at around 3.30 a.m, Tuesday 24 December, all hands were turned up in a rush in the Grasshopper - and presumably in HMS Hero at about the same time. In the darkness, both vessels had suddenly found themselves in badly broken sea, a sure sign of shoaling waters and sandbanks, which they thought to be those of the Smith's Knoll bank some 45 miles off Cromer on the Norfolk coast. Shortly after, his brig was striking bottom, again and again. What was happening on the Hero was not known but in a desperate attempt to find the deeper water of the North Sea, Fanshawe ordered the jettisoning of much heavy equipment - but not guns - and for the Grasshopper's course to be set for SSE. But, as he explained, his ship continued to hit sand, sometimes hard although she was moving slowly. Eventually and very luckily as it transpired, the brig ran into three fathoms [18 feet] of water, sufficient for her to ride at anchor, albeit with much difficulty in the ferocious storm tearing down from the Arctic Circle. At dawn he would be able to confirm his position and, as he thought, be able to navigate to safety away from the Smith's Knoll banks.
By this time the Grasshopper's commander could just see a blue distress lamp glowing at about a mile off, SW by S, which he assumed to be HMS Hero. And occasionally in that direction a signal gun was being fired. Fanshawe's description of the appalling conditions, made worse by intermittent, blinding snow squalls, makes it clear that it was a long and very anxious wait for the seamen of both ships until Christmas Eve dawned. However, in the darkness he was still assuming that both vessels were anchored up close to the shoals but relatively safe. He stated that in his mind he had had little thought of more shoals to the east of this position, nor even the close proximity of an exceptionally threatening lee shore - less than ten miles away! Still, he found the Hero's distress signals somewhat worrying, particularly as she was repeating them at regular intervals throughout the night.
At daybreak, on 24 December 1811, Commander Fanshawe in the Grasshopper was dismayed to find that his brig was trapped, not off East Anglia but 125 miles farther east within the vast sandbank known as the Haak Sands, off the coast of Holland. This large and perilous hazard is about six miles off Texel island and is outside the narrow entrance to the sheltered waters of the Waddensee. At the time, Texel belonged to Holland, Britain's enemy. Apart from having been driven off course by the severe gales of the past three or four days, it was only too obvious there had been some serious course setting errors made by HMS Hero's navigation officers.
As well as dismayed at being trapped in such a threatening situation Fanshaw said he was also alarmed to see, between the blinding snow squalls, the Hero a mile or so off to the south. In dawn's dull grey light he saw that the seventy-four was well over on her larboard beam ends, stranded, dismasted and helpless, also on this menacing sandbank. She was being pounded mercilessly by enormous waves and boiling surf and with her bow pointing north-east her upper deck was facing full square to the battering nor'nor'west gale. The high, cresting seas were thundering directly into her port side. Commander Fanshawe said he could just see that several hundreds of the Hero's people had gathered both at the poop and at the bow, this because the central waist of a stranded vessel often collapses first under continual pounding of the sea. Beyond Hero there was another ship stranded in similar fashion. And in the far distance through the murk he could occasionally see a low, grey smudge that was the coast of northern Holland.
Below Hero's main deck, out of sight to those watching from afar, would have been many more hundreds, taking what shelter they could within the stricken ship. All on board now would be continuously soaked by icy sea water and profoundly cold from the bitter wind; in most cases body temperatures were falling rapidly, some already suffering from hypothermia. They would be in the deepest fear for their lives. There would be non-stop cursing, screaming and shouting, and much praying for the Almighty to deliver them from this horror. Would the storm never cease? Could no-one save them? Mass despair must have soon set in. How fortunate were John Seagrove and his eleven shipmates not to be aboard their ship at this time.
The Hero and Grasshopper were two more of many hundreds of vessels that have been caught by the Haak Sand over the centuries, notorious from time immemorial for the taking of sailors' lives. Even from about a mile distant the brig's men could see that the 74's situation was desperate - yet another victim of the sands. And with the barometer remaining steady at very low pressure this terrible weather could persist for many hours to come. The end of the large man-of-war and all 550 or more on board seemed to be inevitable; and there was still great danger that the brig-sloop would also be destroyed and all her men lost.
At his court-martial Fanshawe said that the Hero had hoisted her flag of truce, as he had also done on the Grasshopper. And, all through that long Christmas Eve day both vessels were intermittently firing distress guns to alert the inhabitants of Texel island and the nearby naval port of Den Helder, their hope being that despite Britain being at war with Holland [within the wider Napoleonic War] vessels of the Dutch naval squadron and local boatmen would come to their aid. By mid morning he could see several ships emerging from the Marsdiep channel but it was all too clear they were striving with little success to reach the British vessels in the face of the fierce, head-on gale force wind and a turbulent sea state. And to make matters worse, they were fighting against a strong flood tide, the surging waters of which was tending to force them back into the Waddensee. Only one ship, a Dutch navy lugger, managed to get anywhere near the Hero or the brig, but even then the heavy surf between her and the two British warships made getting alongside in either case impossible.
During that dark day, the Grasshopper's commander also tried repeatedly to launch his own sea-boats to assist those on board the stricken Hero. But reaching her from this direction, to windward, also proved frustrating in the dreadful weather. According to Fanshaw it was a major problem to launch his boats; then those few craft that did were in constant danger of being swamped and soon tried to return to safety. He said getting his men back on board was even more difficult, several boats being very nearly capsized while doing so. After several hours he abandoned his efforts to reach the seventy-four.
In the fading afternoon light Fanshawe saw that HMS Hero was starting to break up, appearing to split apart across her midships with every pounding wave, seawater doubtless pouring deep into her hull. The main mast together with its top and t'gallant masts had collapsed overboard. The fore and mizzen lower masts were leaning drunkenly to one side, both having already lost their topmast assemblies together with yards, spars and rigging, most of which was now heaped on the vessel's stricken deck, a confused mass of wood, metal, rope and hawsers - under which, he thought, must have been scores of bodies. At the front of Hero the bowsprit assembly and all its rigging had torn away, and there too the ship's once-proud figurehead was fast disintegrating under the constant onslaught of the sea. Occasionally the commander and his officers could see figures, agitated and gesticulating, running frantically in every direction, many climbing the stump remnants of the masts and along the few remaining lower yards that had been flung about at grotesque angles.
Neither did the raging sea have any mercy for the Hero's stern where the fine and gilded architecture that surrounded the captain's rooms, the wardroom and the ship's offices, was being smashed to pieces, bit by bit. Above this, the poop deck could be seen to be suffering badly too, its wood planking and deck fittings peeling off and flung away by the screaming gale - still roaring in from the north-west. Through his telescope Fanshawe noticed several 9-pounder guns careering unchecked across the quarterdeck, likely to be causing severe if not fatal injuries and certainly breaking through the vessel's side timbers. It could be easily imagined what danger and damage any dislodged 18- and 32-pounders were doing on the lower gun-deck. The area of safe refuge for the cowering, distraught souls aboard would, he knew, be shrinking fast, below both at fo'c'sle and stern, and on deck.
Commander Fanshawe said he could occasionally see through the thickening gloom of late afternoon some figures still trying desperately to launch boats, spars, wooden fittings, anything that would float and support a human being; but generally failing in their attempts to do this. He said the few boats they did get away quickly became swamped or overturned in the frenzied surf, spilling people out into the freezing sea, to certain death. Other men were leaping, arms and legs flailing, directly into the furious waters, committing themselves to the sea. To him there seemed very little hope of anyone reaching shore alive, to safety. And none would.
At about this time in the afternoon the Grasshopper started to drag an anchor and soon recommenced striking bottom very hard, even though more heavy equipment had been thrown overboard. But still none of the ship's ordnance was jettisoned because Fanshawe said he feared they might pierce the ship's hull if struck hard. With his mounting concern for the safety of his ship and crew, the brig-sloop's commander ordered his master to make depth soundings all round the vessel in the hope of finding a passage along which to escape, not only from the Haak Sand but also from the enemy to the south-east who were ready to pounce once the storm had abated. However, no such escape route was found; the only possible channel, he said, being that which would lead them direct to the enemy's waiting ships now only about a mile away.
Commander Fanshawe explained to the court that his deepening anxiety led him to discuss with his officers the options open to them - or lack of them! From this it was agreed to cut cable and sail the only way out - before the north-westerly gale to the safety of the Texel and the Marsdiep channel into which, inevitably, the Grasshopper would be escorted by the Dutch warships. With tide turning and nightfall fast approaching, and the storm apparently increasing in ferocity, Fanshawe gave the order to proceed. The warship moved forward slowly at first until continual soundings were showing they had finally escaped from the danger of the sands.
As the brig-sloop progressed cautiously towards safety her crew stared across to the fatally stranded Hero, disintegrating under the fury of the storm and now gradually fading from view in the gathering gloom. As Fanshawe told members of the 1814 court-martial, it was with very heavy hearts that they gazed upon the seventy-four in the distance in which, they knew, the 500 and more British seamen were by then perishing, helpless in the bitter cold. What was, until only 12 hours earlier, a proud and magnificent line-of-battle warship would soon be no more. At tomorrow's dawning, Christmas Day 1811, she would be gone.
After an hour or so they were close to the Dutch lugger and under enemy guns. At this point Fanshawe said that he struck his colours and soon after allowed a Dutch pilot to come aboard to guide the Grasshopper through the channel to Den Helder. There, next morning, he formerly surrendered his brig-sloop to Admiral de Winter, commander of the Dutch squadron. In his testimony to the court, Commander Fanshawe spoke of the Admiral's behaviour towards he and his men as being 'most humane and attentive'. De Winter also assured Fanshawe that his seamen would continue striving to save any of the Hero's people who may have survived, even though the severity of the weather would now make this very unlikely.
Thus it was that HM brig-sloop Grasshopper and her crew experienced the ignominy of being made prisoners of war. Commander Fanshawe and his officers were incarcerated in a French prison, possibly at Verdun, while her 230 men were held captive in a number of squalid and rotting hulks anchored up in various French and Dutch estuary waters. They all remained wretched prisoners until 1814 when they were repatriated to Britain. As for the Grasshopper - regarded by the enemy as a valuable prize - she was taken into Dutch navy service, her name being changed to Irene.
After hearing his and other testimonies, and making their own deliberations, the court-martial absolved Commander Henry Fanshawe RN from any blame for the loss to the enemy of the 18-gun, brig-sloop. Commander Fanshawe was therefore able to resume his career in the Royal Navy, eventually retiring a Rear-Admiral. He died in 1856, aged 78.
It must have been in the early hours of Christmas Day that HMS Hero finally expired - torn apart by the angry elements, almost totally disintegrated. The planking of her upper decks and hull had been ripped off, her bow section broken away from the waist of the vessel, her three masts and their yards felled and swept overboard. The rampant sea had had virtually unrestricted access into the depths of the warship's hold, there to search out and destroy the few remaining souls who had taken their last refuge down there. By dawn everyone on board, about 560 people, had perished - her commander, Captain James N Newman, his officers, seamen and boys, Royal Marines, and the few women and children. There were no survivors.
During the 72 hours following the departure of the convoys from Skagarrak waters on 22 December some 2,500 British servicemen - blue-jackets, and marines - had fallen victim to the cruel North Sea. As well as the loss of the St George, Defence and Hero there were several brig-sloops, a frigate and about ten transport ships wrecked. It was a major maritime disaster, ranking as one of the worst sea tragedies to afflict the Royal Navy in its long history.
The 74-gun Cressy [Capt. Pater] eventually arrived at Spithead on Wednesday, 1 January 1812, about eight days after she had parted from the doomed HMS St George and the Defence off north-west Jutland. When Captain Charles Pater realised his ship also was standing into acute danger off Cape Ryssenstien, he made a late course adjustment, thereby just avoiding the dreadful fate that overcame the other two vessels in his company. Great then was the relief and joy for the Cressy's many families and friends - and they and their descendents would be eternally grateful to Captain Pater for his wise and timely decision.
The Portsmouth area was by then cast in a deep gloom of despair and sorrow, as was the case in all naval towns such as Chatham and Plymouth. Not only were the 1,900 men of the St George, Defence and Hero being mourned across the nation but so also were the hundreds of seamen lost on other British ships at that time - large and small, naval and mercantile. Comfort and cross-community support was in constant demand during those difficult days and many wives and dependents were becoming resigned to an uncertain future without husband, son or a parent; many facing up to a future existence at poverty level, even to the miseries of life in local parish workhouses.
Nearly a month had passed before the Admiralty in London gave the press of the day an official comment about the disaster in the North Sea. But the day before this appeared in The Times, on Monday, 20 January 1812 the Hampshire Telegraph published several articles, the main item covering the loss of the St George, Defence and the Hero, and the circumstances that led to their destruction. In addition it listed the names of the officers who were lost on the first two ships, but not those of the Hero. The newspaper also included a report from the House of Commons, sitting on 19 January. This item contained the statement given by the First Lord of the Admiralty to the House about the loss of the many ships from the Baltic convoy, and his reference in particular to the wrecking of the three ships of the line. A third article comprised an obituary for Captain James N Newman RN, late commander of HMS Hero. Newman resided near Fareham, hence the memorial coverage in the local paper. Not only did reading these reports serve to intensify peoples grieving but also they reminded the population at large that a major disaster had occurred, not only in terms of lives lost but also in reduction of Royal Navy strength at a time of war with a hated and dangerous enemy - France.
The same edition of the Hampshire Telegraph carried notice of an appeal by the Mayor of Portsmouth, Councillor Edward Carter. This stated that a meeting of the inhabitants of the Island of Portsea would be held '...on Thursday 23 instant, at twelve o'clock precisely at the Sessions Room at the gaol, to take into consideration the propriety of raising subscriptions for the relief of the widows and children of the crews of His Majesty's ships lately lost on their return from the Baltic'.
The next day, Tuesday 21 January, The Times newspaper of London ran this item:
"We have the pleasure to inform our readers that the following persons belonging to His Majesty's ships St George and Hero were not on board those ships at the time they were unfortunately lost:
"Mr John O'Shea, midshipman; John Hults, ordinary seaman [OS]; Charles Miller, able seaman [AB]; Robert Allen, OS; John Parks, OS; Miles Bacon, AB; Jeremy Stacey, OS; William Gardner, AB; all belonging to the St George and lent to the Earnest gun brig in May last, and received on board the Woodlark at Matvik [Sweden] on 2 December last, on board which ship they now are.
"Mr John Seagrove, midshipman; David Johnson, AB; James Davey, AB; James Scott, OS; Lawrence Swain, OS; James Mucklewain, quartermaster; Robert Howard, AB; John Power, OS; John Thomson [alias Thomas Thomson], OS; Henry Morris, AB; Benjamin Shillingford, OS; belonging to the Hero. Mr Seagrove and the last six brought a Prize from Gottenberg to Spithead; and the remaining four, who were lent to the Earnest, gun brig, were brought to Portsmouth in the Pyramus, and the whole are now on board the Royal William.
"Mr Seagrove states that Mr Rice, midshipman of the Hero, was cast away in a Prize at the Scaw, and is a prisoner, and that Mr Parker and Mr Shepherd, midshipmen, were taken prisoner in the Belt in November last."
In time, a memorial to Captain James Newman RN and the men of HMS Hero was erected in Portsmouth. Known to have been placed in the cemetery of St Mary's Parish Church, Portsea, this memorial has disappeared, thought probably destroyed by the bombing of Portsmouth during the Second World War. The Captain had resided with his wife Anne in the Fareham area - Catisfield - and soon after the tragedy a memorial tablet was placed in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, in Fareham. The memorial, still sited within the church, was carved by sculptor Richard Westmacott. It portrays a woman - Britannia - leaning on a rock formation, and watching a ship - HMS Hero - sinking below the waves. The inscription reads:
"In melancholy tribute to His Majesty's ship Hero, her Captain, James Newman Newman, and all her brave officers and crew, in number about 600 men - not one of whom survived. James Newman, having passed about 30 years exposed to the perils of tempest and battles, nearly reached the highest naval rank, when a dreadful storm and dangerous navigation consigned him to an unhallowed grave at the early age of 45. Zealous in ...".
Eventually it was revealed that on the day prior to the squadron sailing from Vinga Sound, Capt Newman had been heard to observe that "we have been detained too long and it is well if some of us do not share the fate of the Minotaur".
Five years later in January 1816, John Seagrove, then a Warrant Gunner, would give the name 'Newman' to his first born son James in memory and deepest gratitude to the late Captain of HM Ship Hero whose orders had perpetuated his life - as it turned out, for another 34 years' service in the Royal Navy. It was the custom in those days to name a boy child after someone who was greatly admired and respected. Therefore it is likely that some descendents of the other thirteen lucky Hero men [as named in The Times article above] were given the name Newman. Years later, John's grandson would also be given the Hero commander's name - Charles Newman Seagrove.
John Seagrove
1 March 2011


Research is continuing to find more details of the prize vessel: exactly where she was captured and how, her rig and size, and name. And how and when she was disposed of - either taken into the RN ownership or sold to commercial interests.
John Seagrove's entire career [46 years] in the Royal Navy has now been researched and documented. He married Mary Hawkings of Alverstoke, 1815; and died 28 September 1851, aged 64, at Buckland, Portsea. John's father, also named John Seagrove, was a warrant gunner too. He served in the Royal Navy for 42 years until his death at Portsea in 1806. He married Sarah Dawe of Arundel.
James Seagrove, John's eldest brother was a Royal Navy lieutenant, serving to 1814 on HM frigate HMS Menelaus. On being made redundant by the Royal Navy, he joined the East India Co. at Calcutta in 1816. By 1824 James, his wife and his children had died of cholera in Bengal. James had married Sally Trigg of Portsea, 1813.
William Seagrove, a tailor and John's second brother, founded the well-known Royal Navy Outfitters and Sword Cutlers business in 1823: at 22 and 28, The Common Hard, Portsmouth. After 80 years the Seagrove military outfitters company was eventually acquired by Gieve's of London in 1903.