Page updated 15 August 2009
In 1805, after the Battle of Trafalgar, news of the victory over the French and Spanish fleets took several week to arrive in England. The Battle took place on 21 October 1805, more than a thousand miles south of the nearest home port.
Admiral Collingwood charged the 35 year old Lt John Lapenotiere, Captain of HMS Pickle to carry his despatch of the news of the victory, and the death of Admiral Nelson to the Admiralty in London. He was to personally hand over the report.
HMS Pickle arrived in Falmouth on 4 November and Lapenotiere immediately hired a post-chaise to journey to London. He kept accounts of the cost of the journey, which took 36 hours at a cost of £46 19s 1d, or six months pay for a young lieutenant. He made 21 stops on the journey to change horses - one of these stops was at Exeter.
In the summer of 2005, on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the epic journey of Lapenotiere, a re-enactment took place. A young actor, Alex Price journeyed from Falmouth to London, visiting each of the 21 stops to present a copy of the despatch that Lapenotiere carried, to each place. The route is named the Trafalgar Way in commemoration.
On 17 August 2005, the post-chaise carrying Lapenotiere (Alex Price) galloped up Exeter's High Street and stopped amidst cheering crowds at the Guildhall. The reproduction post-chaise, built in Poland especially for the journey was preceded by a pipe band, marching Exeter Sea Cadets, period dress soldiers, and the 170 year old Lorna Doone stage coach carrying the Mayor and other dignitaries.
After a short ceremony, when Lapenotiere announced to the Mayor and representatives of the Royal Navy of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Nelson, a plaque was unveiled with the original message from Collingwood. This is an edited version of the despatch.
HMS Euryalus, off Cape Trafalgar, Oct 22, 1805 SIR - The ever to be lamented death of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson who, in the late conflict with the enemy, fell in the hour of victory, leaves to me the duty of informing my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that on the 19th instant, it was communicated to the Commander in Chief from the ships watching the motions of the enemy in Cadiz, that the Combined Fleet had put to sea; as they sailed with light winds westerly, his Lordship concluded their destination was the Mediterranean, and immediately made all sail for the Streights' entrance, with the British squadron, consisting of twenty-seven ships, three of them sixty-fours, where his Lordship was informed that they had not yet passed the Streights........... ........The action began at twelve o'clock, by the leading ships of the column breaking through the enemy's line, the Commander in Chief about the tenth ship from the van, the Second in Command about the twelfth from the rear, leaving the van of the enemy unoccupied; the succeeding ships breaking through, in all parts, astern of their leaders, and engaging the enemy at the muzzles of their guns; the conflict was severe; the enemy's ships were fought with a gallantry highly honourable to their Officers; but the attack on them was irresistible, and it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all events to grant his Majesty's arms a complete and glorious victory..... ........I have not only to lament, in common with the British Navy, and the British Nation, the Fall of the Commander in Chief, the loss of a Hero, whose name will be immortal, and his memory ever dear to his country: but my heart is rent with the most poignant grief for the death of a friend, to whom, by many years intimacy, and a perfect knowledge of the virtues of his mind, which inspired ideas superior to the common race of men, I was bound by the strongest ties of affection; a grief to which even the most glorious occasion in which he fell, does not bring the consolation which, perhaps, it ought: his Lordship received a musket ball in his left breast, about the middle of the action, and sent an Officer to me immediately with his last farewell; and soon after expired...... .....Having thus detailed the proceedings of the fleet on this occasion, I beg to congratulate their Lordships on a victory which, I hope, will add a ray to the glory of his Majesty's crown, and be attended with public benefit to our country. I am, &c. (Signed) C.Collingwood
Sources - various including the Western Morning News Special Supplement and my own observations on the day.
The post-chaise in the High Street. Lt Lapenotiere inside the post-chaise. Lt Lapenotiere played by Alex Price (left) with the Lord Mayor Peter Wadham and Navy representatives.
│ Top of Page │