Anniversary of the Capture of the Temeraire

Date Posted: 19/08/2010


 August is an excellent month for naval anniversaries. We had the 308th anniversary of Benbow’s Last Fight last week and today is the 251st anniversary of the capture of the Temeraire. The ‘Fighting Temeraire’ so famously painted by Turner being taken to the breaker’s yard in Rotherhythe was the second Temeraire in the Royal Navy and Turner decided to make her famous because she already was so well known. The first Temeraire, as you may guess by her name, was of course French, and her name had been chosen to evoke the magnificence of the French monarchy. Temeraire has no direct translation in English, but it was kept by the Royal Navy to honour her capture by Edward Boscawen in August 1759. She then went on to have a distinguished career in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) taking part in the capture of Havana, the jewel of the Spanish Caribbean.

 In that respect, therefore, the story of the Temeraire is very much like the story of Admiral Benbow. Benbow became famous for his ‘Last Fight’, but his last fight became famous because he already was famous. If we are ever to understand Benbow we must try to understand why his last fight mattered so much. What happened in his first fight and in every fight that followed? The same problem applies to the Temeraire. Why did it matter so much in 1838 that the Temeraire was being taken away to be broken up in a yard in London? What had she done before then, and even before the battle of Trafalgar when she so famously supported Nelson breaking through the line in HMS Victory? Why was the Temeraire famous?

All of these questions, and so many more are explained in the first two volumes of my Hearts of Oak Trilogy.