Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 04.djvu/212

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
Benbow
Benbow
208

such; Log of Nonsuch), The Nonsuch continued at Tangier and on the African coast, under the successive command of Rooke, Shovell, and Wheler, then young captains. Wheler died early, but Herbert, Rooke, and Shovell were afterwards able to testify to their high opinion of Benbow, and to push his fortune. On 8 April 1681 the Nonsuch captured an Algerine cruiser which had been engaged by and had beaten off the Adventure, commanded by Captain Booth; and it would seem that the Nonsuch's men indulged in rude witticisms at the expense of the Adventure's. Benbow repeated some of these, reflecting on Captain Booth's conduct, which coming to Booth's knowledge, he brought Benbow to a court-martial, and the fault being proved, with the saving clause that he had 'only repeated those words after another,' Benbow was sentenced to forfeit three months' pay, 'to be disposed of for the use of the wounded men on board the Adventure;' and likewise to 'ask Captain Booth's pardon on board his Majesty's ship Bristol, declaring that he had no malicious intent in speaking those words; all the commanders being present, and a boat's crew of each ship's company' (Minutes of the court-martial, 20 April 1681. The three months' pay, amounting to 12l. 16s., appears duly checked against his name in the Nonsuch's pay-book).

In the following August Captain Wheler was superseded by Captain Wrenn, and on 9 Nov. 1681 the Nonsuch was paid off. Benbow for a time disappears: it is likely enough that he returned to the merchant service, and that in 1686 he owned and commanded a ship named the Benbow frigate, in the Levant trade, and that in her he made a stout and successful defence against a Sallee rover. The story that he cut off and salted down the heads of thirteen Moors who were slain on the Benbow's deck, that he carried these trophies into Cadiz, and displayed them to the magistrates in order to claim head-money, is not in itself improbable, though told with much grotesque exaggeration (Campbell, Lives of the Admirals, iii. 335), and is to some extent corroborated by the existence of a Moorish skull-cap, made of finely plaited cane, mounted in silver, and bearing the inscription, 'The first adventure of Captain John Benbo, and gift to Richard Ridley, 1687.' Ridley was the husband of one of Benbow's sisters, and sixty years ago the skull-cap was still in the possession of his descendants (Owen and Blakeway, ii. 392).

Benbow did not re-enter the navy till after the revolution, and his first recorded commission, dated 1 June 1689, was as third lieutenant of the Elizabeth, of 70 guns, then commanded by Captain (afterwards Sir David)  Mitchell. On 20 Sept. he was appointed captain of the York, 70 guns; on 26 Oct. was transferred to the Bonaventure, 50 guns; and again on 12 Nov. to the Britannia. We may  assume that he owed this rapid promotion to his former captain. Admiral Herbert, whose star was at this time in the ascendant; and it is almost allowable to conjecture that, during the critical months of the revolution, he had been in Herbert's service, and had piloted the fleet which landed William III in Torbay. 

From the Britannia Benbow was appointed master attendant of Chatham dockyard;early in March 1689-90 he was removed to Deptford in the same capacity, and he continued to hold that office for the next six years, although frequently relieved from its duties and employed on particular service. In the summer of 1690 he was master of the Sovereign, bearing the flag of Lord Torrington, and acted as master of the fleet before and during the unfortunate battle off Beachy Head. In the court-martial held on 10 Dec. Benbow's evidence told strongly in favour of the admiral, and no doubt contributed largely to his acquittal, though it was not sufficient to convince the king, or to turn the verdict of posterity in his favour [see Herbert, Arthur, Lord Torrington]. Benbow was still in the Sovereign during the summer of 1691, and in the summer of 1692 was again master of the fleet under Admiral Russell, on board the Britannia, and had his share in the glories of Barfleur and La Hogue. It had been already ordered that whilst he was serving afloat his pay as master was to he made up to that of master attendant at Deptford. An order was now issued for him to be paid as master attendant in addition to his pay as master, presumably in direct acknowledgement of special services in the conduct of the fleet (Admiralty Minutes, 14 Aug. 1691, 12 Feb. 1691-2, 16 Oct. 1692).

In Sept. 1693 Benbow was again appointed away from his dockyard to command a flotilla of bomb-vessels and fireships ordered to attack St. Malo. The bombardment began on the evening of 16 Nov., and continued, though with frequent intermissions, till the evening of the 19th, when a large fireship was sent in. It was intended to lay this vessel alongside the town walls; but she took the ground at some little distance, where she was set on fire. Even so the damage done was  considerable. Benbow himself was much dissatisfied with the result, and brought the commander of one of the bomb-vessels to a court martial for disobedience in not going in closer: he was not, however, able to procure