Arrival at Falmouth

Lapenotiere’s arrival at Falmouth

Just how far off Falmouth the Pickle was at the time the boat was launched is uncertain, but they must have still been some way off – perhaps six to eight miles or so. According to Almy’s entries in the log the ship’s boat was away for four and a quarter hours, and during this interval the Pickle’s noon position was given as SSE of Pendennis Castle 2 or 3 miles. That afternoon her boat’s crew certainly had a shorter row back to their ship, though without the commander on board they were probably able to ‘row easy.’

Whatever, four knots would have been their best speed maintainable under oars, other than for short spurts, and it seems probable that Lt. Lapenotiere was landed at Falmouth sometime between eleven and twelve o’clock on the morning of November 4th 1805.

Less certain is precisely where Lapenotiere landed. Oral tradition at Falmouth has it that he landed at Fish Strand Quay. Where currently stands a modern commemorative plaque on the seaward edge of an equally modern car park. In 1805 there was no quay there, just a small strand of beach backed by buildings. Access between the strand and the main street through Falmouth being by a narrow cobble paved ‘ope’ between the buildings [currently the access road to the Church Street car park]. It was on this stretch of strand that the local fishing boats landed their catch – hence its name. And it was a ‘disgusting public nuisance,’ according to a visitor in 1823 [19]

That Lapenotiere actually landed here has been questioned. However, despite Collingwood’s anticipation of his having to perform quarantine, Lapenotiere would have been anxious to avoid the inevitability and the indignity of this. And he certainly did not want to loose his one moment of glory kicking his heels in quarantine at Falmouth, while another carried his dispatches to the Admiralty. So, he may very well have landed here to avoid any complications and formalities occasioned by landing at Custom House Quay. In so doing he would have had to have been rowed a little further up the harbour – but only a few hundred yards.

Custom House Quay was the only ‘legal’ quay at Falmouth for foreign trade vessels. This quay and the small harbour enclosed being tidal – drying out at low water – only small foreign traders came alongside. Accordingly most large vessels chose to anchor off in the anchorage, known as King’s Road which lay between the town and Trefusis. It was a busy anchorage, and all communication between vessels and the shore was conducted by swarm of small boats. Thus there was a constant melee of small rowing and sailing craft milling about between these vessels and the shore. Accordingly, with the Pickle still some way out in the offing, unless Lapenotiere drew particular attention to himself by personally reporting at the Custom House, it is unlikely the Customs officers would have been aware of his specific arrival. However, as hinted previously, it was not a question of clearing customs as such, but one of obtaining quarantine clearance.

Custom House Quay was also the official point of landing for any boats from ships entering the port from foreign parts, and it was here that the local Superintendent of Quarantine was based. From this quay he was rowed off to greet arriving vessels seeking practique, putting to their commanders the ‘formal’ questions before granting the same or placing them under quarantine. As a whole raft of new quarantine regulations had been enacted by Parliament just that August, the quarantine regulations were being particularly zealously applied at this time. Breaches of quarantine had always been taken seriously, but under the new legislation, the letter of the law was being actively enforced at Falmouth, and any breaches were referred to the Privy Council. In the immediate years following the new legislation there were many Customs affidavits, citing such breaches, which were referred to the court of King’s Bench for prosecution. So, any failure on Lapenotiere’s part to comply with the new regulations should have had severe repercussions – but his failure to report was never questioned.

On landing at Falmouth Lapenotiere had a choice of three places to hire a chaise – Commin’s Hotel, Wynn’s, Royal Hotel, or Selly’s, Green Bank Hotel. All were coaching hotels after a fashion, and as such had stables attached, with chaises for commercial hire. All catered for the Falmouth Packet trade in some degree – the majority of whose passengers travelled cabin class, and were relatively wealthy.

Of the three, the Green Bank Hotel seems the most unlikely, as it was furthest out of town – albeit just off the road to Truro. Wynn’s Royal Hotel, was ‘the’ coaching hotel, and seems the most likely choice. Situated opposite the head of the slipway leading to the Fish Strand, it was the current terminus for all the Royal Mail services. It’s proprietor, Mr. James Wynn, had only the previous year secured a number of other local mail contracts, which he advertised accordingly.

From Falmouth to Penzance every day

J. Wynn begs leave to inform the public, that he intends to start, on and after the 1st of June next, the above Carriage; to leave Falmouth at four o’clock in the morning, pass through Helston, and arrive at Penzance at nine; leave Penzance about four o’clock in the afternoon, and arrive at Falmouth at nine o’clock; at the reduced price of Five-pence a mile inside, short stages, and outside in proportion.

By the new conveyance, the public will be accommodated with a Mail Coach from London to Penzance daily; where it meets his Majesty’s new established Packet-boat to and from the Scilly Islands.

J. Wynn cannot omit this opportunity of returning his sincere thanks to a generous public, for the liberal patronage which he has experienced for a number of years; and assures them, nothing shall be wanted to render his Hotel comfortable; and, being his own Importer of Wines and Spirits, they may be depended on having those liquors in the genuine state.

Gentlemen Travellers may depend on every accommodation; an Ordinary every day; best hay one shilling per night, and corn sixpence per gallon.

The following CARRIAGES set out from WYNN’S HOTEL, FALMOUTH:
ROYAL MAIL COACH, to Exeter, Bath and London, every morning, at a quarter before three.
ROYAL MAIL COACH, to Penzance every morning, at four o’clock.
LIGHT COACH, to Plymouth, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, at half-past five o’clock. And returns the following days. Also,
FLY WAGGONS, to the Saracen’s Head, Snow-hill, London, three days a week, under the firm of Sweet, Brown, and Co. where the greatest care and dispatch is observed to convey all kinds of Goods, Baggage, and Passengers.

NOTE. J. WYNN offers his services to Ladies and Gentlemen who may wish for information respecting the sailing of packets, &c. &c.

While Wynn did not specifically advertise chaise hire at this time, J. Commins did – though whether or not the advertised 1/- per mile rate still applied, or applied to all routes is not certain. His establishment cannot be rejected out of hand.

Commins’s Hotel, Falmouth

J. Commins respectfully informs the Public, that he intends, from the date hereof, to run his Chaise from Falmouth to Helston and Penzance at ONE SHILLING A MILE. Able Horses and careful Drivers.

Dated 12th May, 1804

– Royal Cornwall Gazette – May 12th, 1804

From whichever establishment Lapenotiere hired the chaise for the first stage of his overland dash to the Admiralty, he left Falmouth at about noon.

Sykes’s arrival at Plymouth

We last left the Nautilus at noon on the 3rd, when she was still 69 miles SW of Ushant. At two that afternoon, as she continued to make slow but steady progress to the north eastward, she found ‘no bottom’ with a 50 fathom lead-line. During the first watch that evening she spoke with an unidentified galliott  ‘in passing,’ but they did not heave too. At first light on the morning of the 4th ‘several Sail in sight,’ was recorded. That noon, while the Pickle was hove-to off Falmouth and Lapenotiere was setting out on his hired chaise dash for London, the Nautilus appears to have still been to the westward of the Lizard, in latitude 49.33.

At 4 that afternoon the Lizard bore ‘N by W ½ W, 8 leagues,’ putting her about 25 miles off and barely five or six miles to the eastward of the Lizard. Once again there were ‘several sail in sight.’ Shortly afterwards they must have picked up the tidal flood which boosted them on their way. Still experiencing ‘light airs’ they covered nearly 40 miles over the ground in the next three hours, putting them just seven or eight miles S. W. by W. of the Eddystone lighthouse – which was clearly in sight at seven that evening.

Bearing up for Plymouth, at 8.30 that evening the Nautilus was just one mile off Rame Head. If the bearing of E.S.E. is correct they were now virtually embayed off Rame. They had lost the benefit of the flood tide and appear to have been experiencing fluky light airs. After a few more tacks – during which they made painfully slow progress towards Plymouth – Sykes ordered the boat launched, and had himself rowed ashore.

Plymouth being a major Naval Port, Sykes had no option but to report to the Port Admiral, Admiral Young, on board the Salvador del Mundo, lying in Hamoaze. This he probably did about ten pm. though this has not been confirmed. The Admiral did not question Sykes’s actions in ‘backing up’ the dispatches sent per Pickle, and gave him the following note to carry to the Admiralty. It is dated but not timed, and was presumably written shortly before midnight on the 4th. –

Salvador del Mundo, 4-Nov. 1805 –

I most heartily congratulate their Lordships on the very glorious Victory gained by His Majesty’s Fleet under the command of Lord Nelson. As the Pickle may pofsibly not have been able to reach any Port in England, I have ________ [instructed?] Captain Sykes to proceed with all pofsible dispatch to give their Lordships such information as he has been able to obtain.

I have the honor to be
Sir your most obedient
Humble Servant
G. Young
Wil.m Marsden Esq.r

It was clearly politic to be associated with good news.

His duties to the Port Admiral having been paid, Sykes was then rowed ashore to make preparations to depart for London post-haste. He too appears to have hired a chaise, but unfortunately the details of his cross country dash to London are not known. We have no idea at what time he actually set off. Like Lapenotiere, he too should have cleared quarantine, but he clearly did not do so.

Lapenotiere & Sykes

The story of Lapenotiere’s cross country dash by chaise is better told by others. Sufficient to say here that Lt. Laponetiere, bearing Collingwood’s official Trafalgar dispatches, left Falmouth at about noon on Monday the 4th. This timing sits reasonably well with George Almy’s log entries – allowing Lapenotiere an hour or so at Falmouth arranging for chaise hire, and perhaps to take a quick meal before he left. His final bill for chaise hire and other expenses during his cross-country race for London, which comprised 21 stages with changes of horses, and/or chaises, came to £46 19s. 1d. While this undoubtedly included meals along the way, it was still a considerable sum – nearly half of Lapenotiere’s annual salary. Mr. Commin’s advertised rate of 1/- per mile for chaise hire may have been a ‘loss leader,’ part of his opening gambit to capture trade. But, if that was the current commercial rate in November 1805, it suggests that Lapenotiere had to pay a very high premium during his 271 mile overland race for London.

Lapenotiere reached the Admiralty at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday the 6th of November, after a gruelling 36 hours on the road from Falmouth.

Of his rival Sykes’ journey from Plymouth to London we know very little. Despite landing at Falmouth about twelve hours earlier, it would have taken Lapenotiere most of that time to cross the rugged terrain of Cornwall. Thus, about the time when Sykes landed at Plymouth he can have been little further along his way than Launceston. Assuming that Lapenotiere passed through Exeter ahead of Sykes, there can have then been no great distance between them. From Exeter they followed the same road and for the rest of their respective journeys to London they must have been running virtually neck and neck. Oral tradition has it that Lapenotiere entered the vestibule of the Admiralty only moments before Sykes, and that they had been racing neck and neck through the fog over Hounslow Heath. After duly presenting Collingwood’s dispatches to the Secretary of the Admiralty, William Marsden, Lapenotiere’s duty was done. The inevitable subsequent chain of events of informing the King, the Prime Minister, and the nation, that then unfolded were matters beyond his control.

For Lapenotiere there was breakfast with the King at Windsor, and promotion to Commander. And subsequently the gift of a £500 reward as the bearer of momentous tidings, and a 100 guinea sword from the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund for his participation in the Battle of Trafalgar. On his promotion to Commander he was relieved of his command of the Pickle – she being a Lieutenant’s command. After a six month spell on shore, in May 1806 he took command of the Hired Armed Ship Chapman, on the South station – probably on convoy protection duties. Leaving her on July 14th, on August 4th 1806 he was – in his own words – ‘given command of the ‘old’ Orontes by their Lordships! I was fortunate to be allowed to claim all my old crew of the Pickle to serve with me on my new command, to my honour, which they all readily agreed to do.’  [20]

He remained in command of HM Brig Orestes (16) until he was made post on August 1st 1811. With no suitable command available for a ‘post-Captain,’ he retired to a quiet life ashore in Cornwall. Here he died at the age of 63, at his home Roseland, [21] Menheniot, on January 23rd 1834.

For Sykes there was only the first mention in The Times, above. However, senior to Lapenotiere and well connected, he was also fortunate enough to live much longer – surviving him by 24 years. He was made ‘post’ five years before Lapenotiere, and by ‘dead man’s shoes’ had attained the rank of Admiral of the White before he died in February 1858.

Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere, RN., in command of HM Schooner Pickle, was the man entrusted by Collingwood to carry the Trafalgar Dispatches home to the Lords of the Admiralty. And, it was he who won the impromptu race for glory by arriving at the Admiralty ahead, if only by minutes, of his would be rival Commander John Sykes, RN., of the Nautilus. Over the course of time this whole chain of events has become one of those incidental footnotes of history. With Lapenotiere lay the honour of delivering the Trafalgar dispatches, thereby becoming inextricably linked with the news of the Death of Admiral Lord Nelson, while Sykes faded into obscurity.

Tony Pawlyn © 2005
Bartlett Library, National Maritime Museum Cornwall