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.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Henry D'Esterre Darby

Captain Henry D'Esterre Darby

Professor Christopher Page has kindly sent us some further details on his distant relative, Captain Henry Darby who was captain of HMS Bellerophon. David Cordingly's book " Billy Ruffian - The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon", describes him as follows.

" The Bellerophon's fourth captain was Henry D'Esterre Darby a 47 year old Irishman. An engraved portrait ( see above) shows a handsome man with a sardonic expression. He was not an aristocrat but came from the landed gentry. His father was a barrister whose family owned Leap Castle in King's County, some fifty miles west of Dublin. His uncle George was a vice-admiral. Henry joined the navy as a midshipman at the age of thirteen and spent several years serving in frigates. His progress through the ranks was slow compared to the meteoric careers of some of his contemporaries. He was twenty seven when he became a lieutenant and, although he spent two years on the Britannia, the flagship of his uncle who was then in command of the Channel Fleet, it was not until 1783 that he was appointed captain at the comparatively advanced age of thirty four".

Leap Castle, Ireland.

The Bellerophon saw action under Darby's command off Ireland and more famously in Aboukir Bay at the battle of the Nile in 1798. Darby was obviously a gifted organiser since the Bellerophon was battle ready and shipshape in a few hours prior to the battle. However, Nelson was anxious to spring a surprise on the French and almost immediately attacked the French fleet which was at anchor at 3 pm. Despite having a stolen French chart of the Nile delta, the depth of water was unknown which meant that Bellerophon through a series of manoeveres ended up parallel to the enormous French flagship L'Orient with her three gun decks to the Bellerophon's two. A battle at point blank range ensued with the two ships almost touching ( presses touches) and the carnage was awful with massive casualties on both sides. Captain Darby received a head wound though he survived the battle. In all, the Bellerophon lost 3 lieutenants, 1 master's mate, 32 seamen and 13 marines killed with 143 wounded. Remarkably, the Bellerophon was patched up within the week and went on to serve in the the Royal Navy for a further forty years.

Captain Henry D'Esterre Darby ended his career with the rank of Admiral, he also like his descendant, Sir Henry Clifford Darby received a knighthood.