East Lothian men at Trafalgar
The following table was collated from data made available by the National Archives through the Trafalgar Ancestors project and exhibition. The extract lists some of the men who identified with East Lothian on their ship’s muster books. The data cannot be comprehensive – it was found by searching for East Lothian placenames – and many more East Lothian residents and natives will have served at the battle. Many muster books give no place of residence and other individuals may simply have submitted the name of the place they were at when they joined the Navy. However, the nineteen identified are probably a fair cross-section.
|Men from East Lothian – Served at Trafalgar|
|John||Daglash||24||Ordinary Seaman||Dunbar||HMS Africa||Dalgliesh?|
|George||Greenfield||21||Ordinary Seaman||Dunbar||HMS Victory|
|Thomas||Hogarth||30||Ship’s corporal||Dunbar||HMS Agamemnon|
|John||Pringle||14||Volunteer 1st class||Dunbar||HMS Defiance|
|Thomas||Skead||29||Master’s Mate||Dunbar||HMS Defence||Sked|
|James||Burns||29||Quartermaster’s mate||North Berwick||HMS Defence|
|Andrew||Campbell||27||Able Seaman||Prestonpans||HMS Agamemnon|
|Alexander||Gardner||26||Able Seaman||North Berwick||HMS Defence||Gardiner?|
|Robert||Moore||43||Master’s Mate||North Berwick||HMS Bellerophon|
|Hugh||Thompson||20||Carpenter’s crew||North Berwick||HMS Colossus|
|James||Wilkey||24||Master’s Mate||Haddington||HMS Mars||Wilkie?|
|William||Green||26||Able Seaman||Prestonpans||HMS Tonnant|
|James||Watson||22||Able Seaman||Fisherrow||HMS Colossus|
|James||Hay||20||Midshipman||East Lothian||HMS Defiance||of Belton|
The list includes landsmen and expert seamen as well as junior officers. There’s enough information to dig a bit deeper into some of the men’s stories:
William Auchie was back in Dunbar by 1816 when he married Christian Black or Anderson. The births and deaths of several children are recorded in the Dunbar Old Parish Records (these can be consulted on microfilm at JGC (free) or on Scotlandspeople (for a small charge)). William continued to follow the sea; by 1820 he was in command of the 33 ton Dunbar Packet, which sailed between Dunbar and Leith. Our directories show him later in the East Lothian (64 tons, 1821) and the Orion (69 tons, 1827), both in the coastal trade. There are gaps, so it is possible he was sailing from other ports in the missing years. In 1841 Mrs Auchie was residing in the Westgate End, of independent means: it’s possible that William had died by then, but there’s no notice of his death in relevant records.
Although George Greenfield gave his home as Dunbar, he was a native of Gladsmuir. He was born 14 October 1780 to George (a shoemaker in Longniddry) & Anne Allan. It’s doubtful that the story of quite how young George found himself on the Victory, at the heart of the battle, will ever be told.
The youngest of the list was the 14 year old John Pringle. He is recorded as ‘volunteer first class’ – the ‘volunteers’ were aspiring officers, often messing with the midshipmen, those already on the lowest rung of the officer class. In John’s case, his father David came from one of Dunbar’s merchant families. David Pringle was brewer, baker and a town councillor (being Treasurer for a period) but there are no close connections to the sea. The clue may lie in the presence of John Hay on the same ship. He was a midshipman but had also (in 1799) entered the navy as a volunteer (on the Anson, 44). This John was the son of James Hay of Belton, well connected to the Hays of Gifford and with a long military and naval tradition in the family. It’s tempting to see Pringle getting his place through Hay influence. John Hay distinguished himself in the battle, being promoted lieutenant in the aftermath. He rose during a full career to the rank of Rear Admiral and died at Belton House on 3rd February 1857 at the age of 70.
The other interesting group is that comprising the four men on the Defence. Adam Grieves, Thomas Skead, James Burns, and Alexander Gardner were all professional seamen (or officers). It strongly suggests that the ship’s captain, George Johnstone Hope, had recruited heavily around the Forth, his home territory – a not unusual strategy for captains starved of manpower. Hope was related to the earls of Hopetoun and might use local
connections to complete his crew. The Defence was one of the last British ships to engage: she is Number 11 in Admiral Collingwood’s column in the plan. When she did engage, she overcame and captured the Spanish San Ildefenso. A prize crew sailed the prize to Gibraltar where she was purchased into the Navy. All the crew of the Defence would benefit from Prize Money: an incentive for all ranks in the Navy.
This brief account summarizes just a few features of East Lothian’s connections to one of the key actions in British naval history and the Napoleonic Wars. If you recognise one of the men named as an ancestor or if you know of more East Lothian men at Trafalgar, please don’t hesitate to let us know!