Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Billy Ruffian : HMS Bellerophon

HMS Bellerophon

Last Monday, Channel 4 ( England ) broadcast a documentary titled
“ The Untold Battle of Trafalgar”. The programme told the story in docudrama format of the warship HMS Bellerophon and its role in the Battle of Trafalgar. The naval battle, which as every schoolboy or girl used to know, took place on October 21st 1805. Bellerophon was one of 33 warships in Nelson’s fleet with a multinational crew of 500 sailors. The burden of the programme revolved around the fact that far from the popular image of the battle, the crew included at least 12 nationalities which varied from a white slave Dane , black escaped slaves from the Americas, press ganged Englishmen and convicts. The incentive to the crew of “prize money”, which entailed getting a share of the pillage following the engagement explained in large part the motivation of the crew in fighting so robustly on the day. The Captain who was named Cooke, was killed during the battle and the programme centred on the role of Lieutenant Pryce-Cumby who deftly organised the crew to glorious victory. Unfortunately, most of the combined Spanish and French fleet was destroyed not by battle, but ironically by the ferociousness of a Biscay gale in the following days, which devalued the prize money to a few pound each for the 18,000 sailors who had fought on the winning side. The sailors themselves had christened the ship, Billy Ruffian.

One might ask why this article is appearing on the Resolfen History Society website ? Unbelievably, there is a connection with this historic event and our community. Prior to the programme, Betty Wyman contacted the Society to inform us that Professor Christopher Page had unearthed a nugget of information providing a link with our own esteemed Sir Clifford Darby. He also contacted the Society with further geneaological information

Clifford Darby it appears was a very distant if direct descendant of Lovett Darby ( 1754-1818 ). One of nine siblings, his brother Henry Darby (1749- 1823) was Captain of the Bellerophon in 1798 at the Battle of the Nile. Unfortunately he was injured during the battle and subsequently had been relieved of command by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. Interestingly, the Darbys were then an Irish family and Professor Page suspects that they moved to Ireland during the outrages of the Cromwellian Era in the17th Century.

The Bellerophon made one other famous voyage, since it was she who took Napoleon Bonaparte to his second exile and ultimate demise on the Island of Saint Helena following the battle of Waterloo. The full biographical history of the ship ( 1782-1836 ) is retold in the book “Billy Ruffian – the Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon”, by David Cordingley.

Many thanks to Betty and Professor Page for bringing this fascinating twist to our attention. The programme may be watched again using the 40D facility on the Channel 4 website