Empire in Your Backyard; Imperial Plymouth

Imperial Plymouth
British Empire in Plymouth
Smeaton's Tower, 1759
I am a native Plymothian and have lived in the city for most of my life. I think that it is no coincidence that my passion for imperial subjects is connected to my hometown roots. Although every location in Britain, however large or small, oozes history and heritage, there are not many places which can challenge Plymouth in the way that its history connects it to so much of the wider World. This is due to Plymouth's central role in Britain's maritime history and in particular the role of the Royal Navy and the Dockyards built to service it. For much of its history, Plymouth's fortunes have risen and to some extent fallen with the ebb and flow of Empire. Plymouth led the way in the initial and crucial phase of England's exploration and its search for new trading opportunities during the Tudor era. It served as a base to help defend the islands from becoming a colony of other powers, be it Spain, France or any other would-be invader. South West mariners were at the forefront of colonisation in the recently discovered New World lands of North America and the Caribbean. Geographically, the South West peninsular provided an ideal starting point for anyone wishing to travel across the Atlantic or further afield after marine technology opened up this new highway of trade, exploration and colonisation.

British Empire in Plymouth
1787 Paintings of Plymouth
It was thanks largely to the successful rise of Holland as a maritime power that the Dutch born King William of Orange made the decision to build a new dockyard in Plymouth in 1691; guarding the all important approaches to the Channel. With the failure to discover a North West or a North East Passage to gain trade routes to the spices and exotic goods of the Orient, attention moved back to the established routes around the Cape of Good Hope and the Cape Horn, and Plymouth was the best placed, safe harbour to take advantage of these routes. It also helped that the rivers surrounding the port had enough deep anchorages to safely harbour what would eventually become the world's largest fleet as the Royal Navy expanded in size and scope throughout the Eighteenth Century. As the island nation decided that its wealth and prosperity was increasingly dependent on international trade, a safe base of operations was required to police and patrol this empire and Plymouth provided the perfect location to organise the production of ships, maintain existing vessels, fit them out with fresh victuals and water and recruit and train the crews and artisans who were necessary to man this ever growing institution.

The Seven Years War and the Napoleonic Wars further enhanced Plymouth's strategic suitability as Britain engaged in a titanic struggle for influence and domination with the French who had their own naval bases just on the other side of the Channel. Years of warfare turned Plymouth into a hub of frenzied activity as sailors, soldiers and marines passed through the city to fight in ever increasingly exotic parts of Europe and the wider World. It is no coincidence that at the end of these wars, Napoleon himself was brought to Plymouth, a city which had dedicated itself for two decades to frustrating his ambitions. He became something of a public spectacle in Plymouth Sound before he was exiled to the remote British colony of St. Helena.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth's contribution to the imperial story is not just bound to wars and conflict though. The Royal Navy increasingly understood that knowledge and scientific endeavour were fundamentally important to Britain maintaining its competitive advantage which in turn helped fund the ships and improve the efficiency of the Royal Navy. Sailor scientists like Captain Cook, Captain Bligh and Charles Darwin all used Plymouth as a launching pad for their voyages of discovery and enquiry. Plymouth Museum and Aquarium were set up in part to catalogue and process the many specimens that were brought back from all corners of the globe.

Not all those who left Plymouth on important voyages did so voluntarily. Convict ships bound for Australia set off from Plymouth carrying cargoes of unwilling passengers the vast majority of whom would never see England again once the coast of the South West slipped over the horizon. Political prisoners such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs joined the unfortunate common criminals in their journeys of misery to the other side of the world. Although in their case, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were later reprieved and so became some of the few prisoners who actually travelled in the opposite direction and alight in Plymouth as free men once more.

Plymouth also provided the starting off point for myriad settlers looking for a fresh start elsewhere in the ever growing empire. The first four ships to New Zealand departed from Plymouth with emigrants determined to make a new life for themselves thousands of miles away. Other voluntary emigrants followed to Canada, Australia and South Africa amongst other places.

British Empire in Plymouth
Ship of the Line Entering Hamoaze, 1817
The human traffic was by no means one way throughout Plymouth's long history. Mariners have long been in the habit of recruiting anyone with a pulse to help with the rigging or running of a ship. The Royal Navy happily recruited crew from prize ships or foreign ports to help feed her insatiable desire for manpower; French, Spanish, Americans, Caribbeans, Africans, Asians all passed through the city with varying degrees of loyalty to the Crown! Those who resisted the 'offer' of employment could be shipped back to Plymouth before being escorted to prison on Dartmoor. Many graves of Britain's foes are located in and around the city.

And of course, Britain's soldiers and marines continued to march through the port on to new wars often in more and more bizarre and remote locations as the Empire lapped up to yet stranger shores and entered wars that were little understood by the soldiers and sailors who had to fight them let alone by the public at home. Yet, they were dutifully cheered off from Plymouth and welcomed back with open arms on their return; not that everyone did return as many of the gravestones and memorials of these soldiers and sailors here in Plymouth or in the far flung corners of the World attest to.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth from Mount Batten
In the 19th century, Plymouth's rising importance led to military planners building extensive fortifications to prevent it from being attacked from the landward side. There had always been formidable defences on the shoreline at least as long as the Royal Navy had used it as a base. But after the Crimean War, British planners were concerned that a continental power might land an army on any one of the many beaches of the South Coast and move overland to capture the Dockyards and destroy the capability of the Royal Navy to defend Britain. Similar plans were put in place to defend Portsmouth and one of the most expensive fortification programs since the building of Hadrian's Wall was undertaken on mainland Britain. The defence of Plymouth and the Dockyard was regarded on a par with the defence of the realm.

The age of explorers had not yet been completed. Many of the polar explorers of the late 19th and early 20th Century hailed or at least sailed from Plymouth bringing the final phase of imperial exploration back to the place that started England's initial phases of discovery. Scott of the Antarctic is the most famous of these, but many of the polar explorers had very strong connections to this maritime city.

British Empire in Plymouth
Durnford Street
The Twentieth Century may have seen Plymouth's attention focus back on European conflicts but the imperial connections did not cease as men, supplies and equipment flooded into the city from the Empire and beyond in the First and Second World Wars. Indians, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders passed through Plymouth on their way to fight or were brought back to Plymouth to be treated in her hospitals before being repatriated home.

British Empire in Plymouth
Indian Ayah on the Hoe
World War Two saw the aerial war bring Plymouth into the front line for the first time in its history as it became the most heavily bombed city for its size in the country. The dockyards were the inevitable target, but much of Plymouth's history and heritage was destroyed by the less than precise bombing of the Luftwaffe. What the German bombers missed, keen urban planners in the 1940s and 50s ripped up and reorganised for the sake of a 'modern' city rebuilt in the aftermath of war. But not all of Plymouth's landmarks and imperial heritage have gone as I hope to explain and explore below. Her history is long and fascinating and as I said at the outset, her imperial connections are so strong that they have fundamentally shaped her relationship to the rest of the World. Personally, it is this history and heritage that have shaped how I understand and engage with the wider World; I have a deep love of the sea, for exploration and for engagement with cultures where-ever they come from in the World. These are traits that are synonymous with the City of Plymouth and the evidence of which is still around us for all to see.

Plymouth as an Early Port
Plymouth, or rather Sutton as it was then called, was a tiny settlement compared to the nearby town of Plympton. However, the natural harbour was already identified as providing excellent protection from the prevailing Westerly Winds and its south facing hills made it a good place to grow crops on those surrounding heights. Additionally, the River Plym had been silting up. This was largely due to the extraction of tin on Dartmoor around the Cadover Bridge area. This meant that vessels were finding it more and more difficult to travel to Plympton to pick up or land goods. Consequently, Plymouth began to supplant its more ancient neighbour and began its rise as an important port from the thirteenth century onwards.

Plymouth's first mention as a military port was made during the reign of King John at the beginning of the 13th Century. After John had lost land in Normandy, Plymouth was identified as the main base of operations for campaigns against France and to the recovery of their ancestral lands. In many ways, this was England's 'First Empire' - the Empire of the Norman Knights with lands on both sides of the Channel. In 1295, a national fleet was gathered in Plymouth as King Edward I prepared to embark on a war to reclaim Gascony for his Crown. Edward stayed at Plympton Priory which was located on the site of the present day St Mary's Church. The local area was expected to provide victuals and supplies to the army. In many ways, this expedition was just the first of many military expeditions that would set forth from Plymouth Sound over the following centuries.

Plymouth steadily grew in strategic importance as the Hundred Years War played itself out. Plymouth was the perfect staging post for many of the military expeditions and ventures as many of the lands that the English were fighting for were located in the South and West of France and were easier to get to from Plymouth than from ports further up the Channel. This was illustrated by the military actions of Edward III's son, the Black Prince, as he sought to take advantage of his father's initial successes in the war. He gathered together an army in Plymouth in 1348 and again in 1355. He also stayed at Plympton Priory to coordinate the expeditions. Ultimately, his 1355 expedition culimanted in the overwhelming victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 where he managed to capture the King of France, Jean II. Both the Black Prince and Jean II returned to Plymouth in May of 1357 before travelling triumphantly to London to imprison and ransom the French King at the Tower of London. Jean II was not the last French leader to be brought to Plymouth as a prisoner!

Plymouth's offensive capabilities meant that it was placing itself in the limelight for retaliatory strikes and raids against itself. The French descended on the town for the first time in 1339 setting fire to what was then largely a wooden settlement. Another expedition entered the Hamoaze in 1350 but only destroyed outlying farms and settlements. There were further attacks in 1377, and 1400 before culminating in the most devastating raid in 1403. This last expedition saw 30 ships carrying 1200 men land from St Malo a mile to the north of the port. They then proceeded to attack the town from this direction getting as far as Exeter Street but not able to enter the port itself due to intense fighting from the defenders. The area is still known as 'Bretonside' in honour of this fight against the 'Bretons'. Indeed, for many years the fight was reenacted between those who would later live inside and outside of the town walls that were soon put up to help protect the port. This tradition lasted until the Eighteenth Century before being banned for being 'too unruly' and resulting in too much violence between rival gangs. Still, the incident showed that defence was a priority for the growing settlement and a castle was soon built to guard the entrance of Sutton Harbour. A chain could be pulled across the harbour to prevent enemy ships from entering Plymouth. This was followed by walls to surround the town.

British Empire in Plymouth
The Barbican
Plymouth was more than just a military port, it had long shown itself to be a good base for fishing and was replacing Plympton as the port of choice for merchants and traders. It became an important port for the wine trade and brought in much of the wine from Bordeaux and La Rochelle. It exported fish, tin, wool and cloth. In 1362 it was granted a license to trade with Portugal as England sought an ally to help fight the growing antagonism from the Castillian Royal Family (which would later become Spain). In 1381 and 1385 two new armadas were assembled in Plymouth in order to help the Portuguese in their fight against Castille. These armadas were designed to guard the approaches of the Channel and show an early indication of the value of the strategic location of Plymouth that would later see it at the heart of England's naval defences and to support John of Gaunt's claims to the throne of Castile.

John of Gaunt was the son of King Edward III and the younger brother of the Black Prince. The Two brothers had come across the rising power of Castile in the Spanish peninsular at the Battle of Navarre in 1367 after their king had been usurped and the new king had allied with England’s foe in the Hundred Years War: France. The English returned the thankful usurped king to the throne of Castile only for him to be murdered by the French two years later. This gave John of Gaunt an opportunity to become involved in Spanish political intrigue in earnest. He married the widow of the murdered Castilian King and claimed the Castilian throne on behalf of the Plantagenets through marriage. There was little he could do to enforce this claim in the 1370s especially after the death of his father and of his brother. Indeed, John of Gaunt effectively became the Regent of England ruling on behalf of the Black Prince’s 10 year old son Richard II. Sensing an opportunity with the young inexperienced king, the French sent ships to raid the English coast including Plymouth in 1377. Indeed, it was this attack that convinced John of Gaunt of the need to fully fortify Plymouth to help protect it from future attacks. Work started on Plymouth castle and earthwork defences around the Hoe and at Mount Batten. Furthermore, John of Gaunt ordered a fleet raised in Plymouth which was despatched in 1381 to help Portugal fight against Castile and keep Castilian ships from uniting with the French fleet. This would form the basis of England’s oldest alliance with Portugal which has endured to the modern day.

However, it was a second invasion organised from Plymouth in 1385/6 that was to prove more consequential. It came as a result of an unexpected Portuguese victory over Castile at Aljubarrota. This convinced John of Gaunt that he could finally make good on his own claim to the Castilian throne and he raised a fleet and army at Plymouth from 1385 into 1386. He lodged with the White Friars (white being the colour of their habits) in Bretonside which was temporarily recorded as the ‘Palace of John of Gaunt, at the Carmelite Friary’ (later the site of Friary Train Station). The fleet sailed in 1386 for Corunna on the Galician coast claimed by Castile. The large army came ashore unopposed and they headed for the holy city of Santiago de Compostela (famous still as the destination in the The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.) The inhabitants of the city handed over the keys to John of Gaunt without a fight when his large army arrived on its outskirts. Encouraged by this start he arranged for bullion to be sent from Plymouth so that he could mint a new coinage for his new kingdom. However, these initial successes were not to last. The Castilians appealed to France for support in the invasion and the French King despatched 2,000 men at arms and experienced military advisers. The first advice given was for the Castilians to launch a scorched earth policy and burn all crops, destroy all farms and barns, kill all the livestock, poison all the wells and make life as miserable as possible for the English army as they marched through Northern Spain in the height of summer. The strategy worked and disease, thirst and despair weakened John of Gaunt’s and his army’s resolve. The English soldiers fell out frequently with their Portuguese allies over the few spoils that were left to devour. Well stocked and well fortified towns were able to withstand assaults from the weakened and sickly invaders. The campaign petered out as casualties mounted (mostly from disease). Losing family members and trusted advisers, John of Gaunt agreed finally to seek terms with Castile for an honourable end to the campaign. In return for John giving up his claim to the Castilian throne, John’s daughter Catherine of Lancaster was offered the hand of marriage to the King of Castile’s son. This would allow John of Gaunt’s honour to be satisfied in that his bloodline would still be a part of the Castilian Royal Family. Gold was also offered to the English on condition that they evacuate the peninsular and return to England. A sorrowful John of Gaunt limped back with his stricken army and fleet in 1389.

There the story may well have finished but it still had a few unexpected turns to take. The 1390s were difficult ones for John of Gaunt as Richard II came of age and proved erratic and tyrannical in exercising his powers as King of England. John of Gaunt had to expend much energy hanging on to this Duchy of Lancaster and keeping his family on the right side of Royal favour. He sent his own son, Henry Bolingbroke, into exile to keep him safe from Richard II. When John of Gaunt died in 1399 his Family House appeared to be standing on sand. However, as Shakespeare attests, the young Henry Bolingbroke returned to England later that year in 1399 and deposed Richard II and set himself up as Henry IV of the House of Lancaster. Of course the House of Lancaster would wax and wane during the coming century as the Wars of the Roses raged, but they would eventually triumph under the new name of the Tudors in 1485 with Henry VII having very strong familial connections to John of Gaunt’s dynasty. And even that is not the end of John of Gaunt’s influence as in the year 1501 a young Catherine of Aragon sailed into Plymouth Sound in order to marry first Henry VII’s eldest son Arthur and later, after the Prince of Wales’ death, Arthur’s younger brother Henry VIII. And who was Catherine of Aragon? No less than the great, great grand daughter of John of Gaunt through the marriage of his own daughter Catherine of the Royal House of Lancaster to the Castilian Royal Family. It was no accident that she carried the name Catherine in honour of her English Family Connections. She stepped ashore in Plymouth 115 years after John of Gaunt had left the very same port although this time Plymouth had far more consequential defences, largely as a result of the decisions of her own great, great grandfather!

As it was, John of Gaunt's war saw England cement its friendship with Portugal which would go on to become England's (and then Britain's) longest alliance in history and which is still technically in effect to this day. It also marked out England's early antipathy towards what would become Spain, even before any Reformation marked out differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Plymouth was to earn itself one additional Royal Monopoly in 1390 when it was designated as being one of only two ports from which religious pilgrims were allowed to sail overseas from. This early form of control of movement was a way to help the King collect customs and dues from pilgrimages but it also allowed him the ability to sanction or curtail voyages to destinations that he might feel were undesirable. It was a crude form of control but one that perhaps would help explain why Plymouth would go on to become such an important centre of religious and radical activity in the Tudor and Stuart periods.

Plymouth was officially incorporated as a town in 1440 and was allowed to be ruled by a guild. This meant that all traders and businessmen in the town had the right to select a town council and mayor to run the place. It also meant that commerce was given a pre-eminent position and anything to protect or enhance trade was seen as the priority for the town council. Unfortunately, Plymouth was about to enter some choppy economic waters as first the Hundred Years War came to an end, which saw a diminution in supply ships and military expeditions, and then the growing problems of the Wars of the Roses which paralysed much of the trade and commerce of the country as Yorkists and Lancastrians fought for control of the Crown. There was little the town council could do to counter these forces and considerable division and suspicion was unleashed in the wake of what was effectively a Civil War.

British Empire in Plymouth
Sutton Harbour
It was during these Wars of the Roses that Plymouth became an unlikely staging post of a French army that was landed in the port in order to help the Lancastrians in their battle against the Yorkists in 1461. A Yorkist army was despatched to try and repel the French army but it was fought off by the French at Yealmpton to the East of Plymouth. The French withdrew from Plymouth in good order when it became clear that the Lancastrians were not going to dislodge Edward IV - at least not for the time being.

The Wars of the Roses saw great divisions in and around Plymouth but little fighting actually took place in the South West. However, Henry VII did attempt to land in Plymouth from France but his small fleet was spotted. He realised that he would have had to fight his way ashore and so returned to Normandy. He finally returned to England in 1485 before going on to win the important Battle of Bosworth Hill. There was one more local connection at the end of this battle when Richard Edgcumbe was knighted on the battlefield. Richard Edgcumbe had been a Lancastrian supporter who had barely escaped from Cotehele House on the River Tamar north of Plymouth. He only escaped by throwing his cap and some rocks in the river to convince his pursuers he had drowned. He later managed to take a boat across the Channel and offer his services to Henry. In honour for his sacrifices and loyalty, he was knighted and given the lands of the Yorkist who had tried to hunt him down. The Edgcumbe family thus took control of the estate around Cotehele but later, through marriage, would also acquire the lands at what is now called Mount Edgcumbe opposite from Stonehouse and at the mouth of the River Tamar. Technically, although now in Cornwall, Mount Edgecumbe was considered part of Devon as late as 1844. It overlooked the entrance to the Tamar and would later have cannons and defences added to it to help secure the approaches. Some of these defences are still in evidence and can still be seen to this day.

Henry Tudor's victory marked the end of a tumultuous period in English history. Fortunately, Plymouth was about to enter more prosperous economic waters. The reign of Henry VII, and that of his Tudor heirs, would coincide with a remarkable period of economic and social flowering in England. Plymouth would very much take advantage of the new opportunities flowing in this Tudor era.

Tudor Plymouth
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth c1540
The age of the Tudors would see Plymouth gradually escalate in importance from being a growing provincial centre to a globally important port. But this was not an overnight rise and would see many false dawns before Plymouth finally defined its relevance to the strategic needs and aspirations of England. The key to its success would be its connection to the sea. As the world began to open up to global trade, exploration and colonisation in the age of the Tudors, Plymouth found that it was strategically better placed than had ever been hitherto presumed. Its position at the approaches of the English Channel made it increasingly important for the defence of the kingdom, but also, as the Atlantic became a highway of trade Plymouth, with one of the largest natural ports in the World, found that it was in the best location to take advantage of the new mercantile and exploratory opportunities. Previously, being in the west, it had been too far from London and the commercial centres of the Low Countries that had dominated English trade since Medieval times. In that period, it made much more sense to keep the ships of Henry's VII and VIII in South East England or the Portsmouth area. However, with the Portuguese and Spanish voyages of exploration opening up the World's highways Plymouth was the best placed English port to take advantage of these new opportunities.

The shift in strategic focus also meant a shift in the technology of ships required. When all that was required of ships was to hop over the narrow part of the Channel, they could afford to be top heavy with plenty of guns for their defence. Ocean travel would require nimbler ships capable of withstanding harsher seas for longer periods of time. At first, the English emulated the ship building techniques of the Portuguese and Spanish. However, given their own expertise in seafaring and skill in working with wood they would soon go on to build ships that surpassed the quality of even the Iberian maritime powers.

British Empire in Plymouth
Devil's Point Blockhouse
Henry VIII was slow to follow up on the voyages of discovery launched by his father Henry VII who had sent John Cabot to try and locate a new route to the Orient via what was hoped to be the 'North West Passage'. John Cabot found little but fish stocks and icebergs, so the Tudors turned their attention back to consolidating power in England before Henry VIII reembarked on dabbling in European politics. His split from Rome created new enemies for England and meant that defences had to be upgraded. Fortunately for him, he found the means to pay for these defences through the dissolution of the monasteries. This gave him huge amounts of land and resources to pay for the upgrading of the coastal defences of England. Plymouth's castle was fairly recent at this time and so was not upgraded as significantly as other West Country ports like Falmouth or Dartmouth were. However, he did update the shoreline defences in 1519 with gun platforms on the Hoe and on the approaches to the Cattewater. There was a second burst of activity in the late 1530s after his war with France began. He ordered towers at Stonehouse, Millbay, Devil's point and at the mouth of the Plym at Fisher's Nose on Madeira Road.

British Empire in Plymouth
Palace Court
Plymouth had a direct connection to the upheavals of Henry VIII's reign in that it was the port that received his first wife Catherine of Aragon. She actually arrived in Plymouth in 1501 to marry Henry's older brother, Arthur. She had a very rough crossing and so stayed in Plymouth at Palace Court for two weeks to recover from the ordeal. She said mass at St. Andrew's Church which was still a Catholic Church at that time. Henry VII had been attempting to form an alliance with the growing power of Spain and this marriage was meant to cement that relationship. Arthur died and so Henry VII forced his son Henry to marry Catherine instead. This would later give Henry VIII an excuse in his own mind to have the marriage annulled. However, when the Pope refused to sanction this annulment Henry started his 'break from Rome' which would be the cause of great enmity between Spain and England for many years to come.

Plymouth's monasteries and religious houses were also swept up in the great dissolution of the 1530s. The destruction of Plympton Priory was completed in a particularly ruthless manner. However, it meant that Plymouth's historic local rival had been removed once and for all. In fact, the lands were transferred to St. Andrew's in Plymouth which became the religious centre of the region for the first time thanks to Henry VIII's policies although it still lost its own silver crucifixes, communion plates, etc... to his treasury.

John Cabot's discoveries in Newfoundland may not have impressed the Court or his investors but it did wonders for Plymouth's fishing fleet. Plymouth became one of the first ports to take advantage of the enormous cod fishing grounds off Newfoundland. New, hardier fishing boats had to be developed to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to get to the fishing banks and return in one piece. The skills acquired in these trans-oceanic voyages would later provide talented and experienced crews for the likes of Hawkins, Drake and Raleigh.

In an era before decent roads, the seas provided the main form of transportation for goods. Thus, coal from Newcastle or grain from East Anglia was sailed into Plymouth. Continental trade might mean hops being imported from Holland or hemp from the Baltic and of course wine and fruit from France and Spain. The most common exports in this period were still tin and wool from Dartmoor. At least some Plymouth mariners had a taste for more ambitious trade. William Hawkins seems to have been the first Englishman to have engaged in Trans-Atlantic trade as early as 1530s and may have been the first Englishman to cross the Atlantic at all. He seems to have travelled to Guinea in Africa before crossing the Atlantic to Brazil where he bought local produce and brazilwood from the native people there. He even managed to convince a Brazilian Chief to return to England with him. He left a crew member in South America as a hostage to the Chief's return. The Chief actually died on the return voyage but Hawkins managed to still have his man released. His last Trans-Atlantic voyage earned him a 1000 per cent profit. It was profits like these that would encourage later generations of Plymouth mariners to engage in international trade. For William though, war was about to close off this option but it would also show him an alternative way of making money.

Annoy the King's Enemies
Plymouth's defences had been upgraded at just the right time. In 1544, France concluded a peace with its rival Spain so that she could concentrate on her fight with England. Although war was a bad thing for the kingdom of England, it provided an interesting model for the future development of Plymouth's maritime strategy. The King gave permission for privateer activity to be conducted out of the port of Plymouth to Annoy the King's Enemies. Commissions were awarded to the Mayor of Plymouth, James Horswell, and to William Hawkins (father of John Hawkins) to harass and attack French shipping. There were serious concerns of a French invasion and so anything that could be done to weaken, destroy or capture French shipping was thought to make an invasion less likely. It seems as if Hawkins had trouble sticking solely to attacking French vessels and also plundered Spanish, Breton and Flemish ships. When these were discovered, he had to pay restitution and even spent some time in jail whilst the cases were investigated and settled. This fine line between outright piracy and being an agent of the state was one that would cause continual tensions and difficulties for the rest of the century and yet it was one that held enormous appeal to Plymouth's mariners; Enriching themselves in the service of the state. It suited the monarch too. The monarch wanted military capabilities without the requirement to pay for them. The mariners of Plymouth supplied the ships and sailors but expected to make a return on their investment and if no 'enemy' ships could be found, other ships might be attacked to defer their costs and outlay. Privateering might have been financially cheap for the monarch but it could be diplomatically expensive for the state.
Religious Conflict
The young Edward took over from Henry at the age of just nine in 1547. Yet, his reign saw a marked increase in the religious assault on Catholicism. The imposition of a new prayer book started a region wide backlash against the new religion in 1548. A force from Cornwall marched towards Exeter but a significant force attacked Trematon Castle near Saltash before camping outside of Plymouth's defences. On one attack, they managed to enter Plymouth Castle and set fire to the records room and thus destroying many of Plymouth's earliest records. Plymouth did hold out as the rebels moved to join the main force at Exeter. Plymouth stayed loyal to its young king and resisted the rebels. It is not clear why they were loyal to the new religion, perhaps being a port they had been more exposed to mariners from Northern Europe and were antagonistic to the Catholic religion of their historic enemies France and Spain. The defenders of Plymouth were helped by the updated defences provided by the King's father. It appears that some of the Cornish rebels were captured and executed on the Hoe. A gibbet was formed to warn other rebels of the fate that might befall them if they challenged the authority of the king.

The death of Edward VI at the age of just 15 meant that his Catholic sister, Mary would ascend to the throne. There was obviously a lot of resentment against Mary in what was a religiously progressive part of the country. It seems as if William Hawkins was involved in a plot to prevent Mary's new husband, Philip II of Spain, arriving in Plymouth. It is not known how, but within a year of this episode, William Hawkins was dead. Philip returned to Plymouth in 1557 to examine its defences and petition his wife to form an alliance with Spain against France and Holland. The war would eventually go badly for Mary who would lose England's last foothold on the continent at Calais. Philip was unpopular in the kingdom but paradoxically did much to strengthen England's navy for which he sought an increase in investment into it from his wife. He believed that England's navy could help Spain against her enemies in Europe and in the Mediterranean. Ironically, the upgraded navy would be used largely to destroy the Spanish Armada launched by him in 1588 and disrupt myriad other Spanish maritime endeavours for the next half a century.

Slavery, Silver and Spices
British Empire in Plymouth
Hawkins' Crest of Arms
Plymouth made its first substantial mark on the imperial scene with the voyages of William Hawkins in the 1530s and later with his son John Hawkins in the 1560s. William Hawkins was an adventurous Plymouth trader who was keen to find new products to bring back to Plymouth to sell. He had good trading links with the Burgundians who had aligned themselves with the English Crown politically and who later married into the Spanish Hapsburg family creating new trading opportunities for William and his Westcountry ships. Whilst there were religious upheavals underway, England had not made a definitive turn to Protestantism and so William was still able to foster his Iberian contacts and also gained permission to explore further afield than just Europe. It was his interest in acquiring dyewoods (from which to extract dyes that were used in the calico and cloth industry) that led to his organising expeditions down the African Coast and over to the Americas. He led three expeditions himself in 1530, 1531 and 1532. He found more success in Brazil and even brought back a Brazilian Chief after his second voyage to present to Henry VIII's Court. This chief created something of a sensation in the Court for his exotic looks and demeanour. The third voyage saw the Chief escorted home, but alas he died en route - probably due to some disease that he had picked up in England. One of William Hawkins' fellow Plymouth captains, William Towerson, created an even greater stir when he brought back three Africans from the Guinea Coast in 1557. Once again, it appears that these were intended to be returned but their fate remains unknown. The three first African visitors to Plymouth were known as 'George', 'Anthonie' and 'Binnie'.

The advent of Queen Elizabeth replacing the Catholic Queen Mary in 1558 created new political and religious rivalries between Spain and England. It should be recalled that Philip of Spain had technically been King of England whilst married to Queen Mary. With her death, not only did he lose an important ally, he gained a new Protestant rival in Elizabeth. It did not help that Spain was involved in almost constant warfare during the Sixteenth Century and largely against her rival France. King Philip of Spain even went so far as to declare a form of bankruptcy in 1560 for Spain. This particularly hurt his reputation amongst his creditors and traders in the Spanish held Lowlands including important trading ports like Antwerp and went a long way to seeing the Spanish Netherlands rise up against their Hapsburg rulers and start yet another series of long and expensive wars for Spain. English merchants and traders like the Hawkins' dynasty were badly affected by the loss of these legitimate and long established trading links and William's son John Hawkins turned to a more aggressive form of exploiting Iberian resources as a consequence.

John Hawkins attempted to muscle in on the trade routes of the Spanish which were still bringing rich resources to Europe even if much of it was squandered in constant warfare by the Spanish King. Hawkins was determined to try and break into the strict trading restrictions that had been imposed by the Spanish government on any trade conducted to and from its colonies in the Americas. The Spanish had granted the sole right to trade slaves in its empire to her fellow Iberian kingdom of Portugal. Hawkins understood that the Spanish craved more manpower than the Portuguese could supply and so decided to try his luck. His plan was to sail to the Portuguese colonies of West Africa, gather, purchase or otherwise 'procure' slaves to take to the Hispaniola and exchange them for goods to bring back to Europe. John Hawkins' first voyage successfully transplanted slaves forcibly seized from Portuguese possessions to Spanish colonies. However, the authorities were less than impressed with his breaking of their monopoly agreements with the Portuguese. One of Hawkins' ships which tried to unload cargo in Spain was seized as compensation by the Spanish authorities. Hawkins had been accompanied by one of his kinsmen Francis Drake who would learn the ins and outs of trans-oceanic voyages during this period. Hawkins' first voyage returned to Plymouth in 1563 and not withstanding losing a ship in Spain, still created a handsome profit for all the investors and crew. Hawkins decided that he would try his luck again the following year.

Hawkins left from Plymouth to head to West Africa in 1564 and gathered more slaves to trade to the Spanish colonies but he was finding it ever more difficult to conduct the trade as Spanish officials were warned against trading with what they regarded as the heretical English. A third voyage (funded but not led by Hawkins) and a fourth voyage gained ever diminishing returns for investors with the fourth voyage ending in disaster when their storm battered fleet was set upon by a Spanish fleet at San Juan de Ulua. Hawkins and Drake barely made it back to England alive. The failure to muscle in on the Spanish trade rankled deeply. They had tasted the potential profits of dealing in slaves but had been denied the opportunity to do so legally. These voyages whetted the appetites of English mariners, but the realities were that the Iberian powers were too strong and dominant for the English at this point in time. But that would change and largely due to the courses of action chosen by Hawkins and Drake in response to their rebuttal.

British Empire in Plymouth
The Golden Hind
Both Hawkins and Drake decided to get revenge on the Spanish but in different ways from one another. Hawkins designed new ships for Elizabeth's navy that would be able to sail the Oceans but these would be both nimbler and also would have far greater firepower than had ever been seen on the seas before. These ships would prove to be invaluable at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Drake, on the other hand, turned to raiding the Spanish outposts directly and to attempting to understand the sources of their wealth and gain a mastery of the seas in and around the New World. He was the first Englishman to see the Pacific and the Caribbean at the same time whilst laying an ambush for a Spanish silver train in Panama. This convinced him that it should be possible to sail a ship from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Sure enough from 1577 to 1580 through good fortune, impressive seamanship and considerable bravado he managed to find a route through the Straits of Magellan and become only the second captain to lead an expedition from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Drake was free to harass and harry the Spanish in what they had hitherto regarded as their own private lake. He took prize after prize and sailed north to escape retribution. Drake seems to have claimed two new colonies for Elizabeth; Elizabeth Island in the Straits of Magellan and New Albion somewhere along the West Coast of North America. It was clear that he felt confident enough that the English could begin challenging Spanish hegemony over the New World. Drake had one more trick up his sleeve which was to sail across the Pacific to find a new route back to Plymouth and so avoid the Spanish ships sent out to intercept and destroy his expedition. This crossing of the Pacific brought him to the fabled Spice Islands where he loaded up on spices and pepper to bring back to Europe. When his ship, The Golden Hind, entered Plymouth Harbour in 1580 he became a national hero. He had been gone for so long, it had been assumed that he had been sunk, shipwrecked or captured by the Spanish. He was the first Englishman and only the second captain to circumnavigate the World - in fact, Magellan never made it all around the world as he was killed in the Philippines. Drake's achievement was immense and it fuelled a generation of English mariners who were desperate to emulate his successes against the Spanish and to bring back spices from the Indies to make their fortunes. He had shown that the English could challenge the greatest power of the age, and get rich doing it.

The Spanish Armada
British Empire in Plymouth
Revenge leaves Plymouth to attack Armada
Elizabeth's encouragement of privateers like Drake rankled deeply with the Spanish. Philip II of Spain was determined to stamp out the heretic kingdom once and for all and launched his ill fated Spanish Armada in 1588. Certainly, there had been provocation, Drake had set out to raid the West Indies from Plymouth in 1585. Two years later Drake led a raid on the Spanish port of Cadiz. English and Spanish relations had fallen to an all time low and that was largely due to the privateering exploits of Plymouth's mariners.

British Empire in Plymouth
Walled Defences of Plymouth
Plymouth provided the assembly point for a fleet for national defence. It was under the command of Lord Howard of Effingham with Drake as his Second in Command. There had been great debate in whether the English fleet should be concentrated on the Straits of Dover where the invasion was expected to land or to the approaches of the Channel at Plymouth where an invasion fleet could be intercepted before landing on English soil. Drake lobbied hard on the latter and was proved to be right. The Spanish fleet was spotted off the coast of Cornwall and the English fleet was readied at Plymouth. The story of Drake playing bowls may have been apocryphal but may as well have occurred as the English had to wait for the tides and winds to leave the port and pursue the Spanish along the Channel. A combination of the smaller and nimbler ships designed by Hawkins, superior maritime skills and training of the English crews and the vagaries of the weather helped to prevent the Spanish from collecting their forces from the Low Countries and dispersed their fleet as they attempted to return home around Scotland and Ireland. The victory was total and confirmed that England was taking its place amongst the premier powers of Europe. It had demonstrated that it could challenge the greatest power of the age and hold its own.

Plymouth's defences were greatly expanded in the 1580s and 1590s in the wake of the threat from Spain. Additionally, France was returning to a hostile state after a brief interlude of Huguenot rule. The population of Plymouth was wary of retaliatory attacks from the Spanish in revenge for their role in the Armada's defeat. Drake had identified St. Nicholas' Island as providing the key to the defence of the port and made provisions for it to be fully manned and cannons placed upon it. Later, it would take the name of Drake's Island in his honour. Provisions were also made for a permanent garrison to be established in Plymouth. Indeed, the very first purpose-built barrack block for soldiers in England is thought to have been constructed in 1596 at Plymouth Fort. The idea seems to have been copied from the multitude of foreign armies fighting in the Low Countries of the Spanish Netherlands as the wars of the Reformation played themselves out. The purpose of barracks was to lessen the impact of forced billeting on the local population or overwhelming local facilities, water supplies, food, etc... With soldiers and sailors constantly travelling through Plymouth it seemed as if a purpose built facility provided the perfect answer. The fort's captain was Ferdinando Gorges who also went on to provide much of the stimulus for the early colonisation of North America (see below).

Drake also oversaw one of the most important infrastructural upgrades to its fresh water supply. He was instrumental in getting the population of Plymouth to pay for fresh water to be brought to the port from Dartmoor. A 17 mile leat was constructed in the 1590s which benefitted both the people of Plymouth and the ships that prepared to sail from there. No longer would they have to make do with fetid supplies from local wells. They now had a constant supply of fresh water from Dartmoor. Over time, the water was laid in pipes from the leat to bring water directly into people's houses - or at least for the wealthier inhabitants of Plymouth. The leats would also power mills along its length and so bring in an additional source of revenue to Drake and his heirs.

The upgrading of Plymouth's defences would ultimately prove useful and might help explain why it was not raided again by the French or by the Spanish and even managed to maintain itself despite being besieged for four years in the English Civil War. It should be said that Plymouth became an important English base for launching expeditions to raid and attack French and Spanish ports in the years to come. Additionally, as we shall see, Plymouth still had significant upgrades of its defences to come in the wake of the Civil War and in competition with other European Imperial powers.

The New World
Drake's circumnavigation had whetted the appetites of a generation of English mariners. Some of these explorers were more successful than others but all knew that if they wanted a skilled crew who would not be daunted by travelling the vast distances in tiny, wooden ships then Plymouth would be where they would find them. Humphrey Gilbert and his brother Walter Raleigh attempted to set off on a voyage to the New World in 1578 but had to return due to gales and Spanish ships. However, in 1583, Gilbert set off from Plymouth once more and managed to get to Newfoundland which he definitively claimed for England. Perhaps surprisingly, he did not find an empty island there, he came across dozens of fishing boats (see below). His attempt to go on to find a route to the Spice Islands was unsuccessful and he had to head home. He died in a gale off the Azores en route back to England. However, his exploits encouraged his half-brother, Walter Raleigh to continue to strive exploring the New World and look for a North West Passage to the Orient.

England's first formal attempt at setting up a colony in the New World was organised and undertaken from Plymouth, but ended in total mystery. Notwithstanding the colonies of Elizabeth Island and New Albion claimed by Drake, England's first attempt at settling colonists was in 1585 and was organised by Walter Raleigh. He had convinced Elizabeth to give him permission to settle a colony in Virginia (named in her honour) at a place called Roanoke. Indeed, Raleigh had sent a preliminary expedition from Plymouth in 1584 which was very favourable about the land, the locals and prospects for a new settlement. They even brought back two Indians to show to the Queen and to possible investors in Raleigh's enterprise.

Plans were made to settle a colony at Roanoke Island. The first settlers sailed from Plymouth in 1585 with high hopes. The timing of the enterprise was to prove fateful as Elizabeth began to fret about a possible Spanish Armada invading England. This made it difficult for Raleigh to organise regular resupply expeditions. Furthermore, relations with the local Indians was not as easy as had been hoped. Tribal rivalries and suspicions of the motives of the European settlers and their reliance on Indian food and supplies made tensions increasingly difficult. Francis Drake did arrive at Roanoke after having attacked Spanish bases in the Caribbean but was surprised to find that many of the colonists wanted to return home. This was not helped by a storm that scattered Drake's fleet and damaged a ship set aside for the use of the Roanoke colony. A skeleton colony was left behind which was never seen again.

A further attempt to land new colonists was undertaken in 1587 which again set off from Plymouth. But these mysteriously disappeared and were never seen again. The Spanish threat meant that all ships were forbidden from straying too far from England's shores lest they were needed to defend the island fromt he Spanish. When a relief ship was sent after the Spanish Armada had been defeated the mystery of the fate of the Roanoke colony only deepened. They found a mysterious message 'CROATOAN' etched on a tree but no further clue as to the colonists' whereabouts. They had been told to mark a maltese cross if they had to leave under duress, but no cross was found. Poor weather forced the relief ships to leave and nothing more was heard of the Roanoke colonists.

The Stuarts
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Map, 1591
Plymouth had become a renowned base for exploration and for maritime endeavour thanks to the exploits of sailors like Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh. In recognition of its growing importance it had been awarded a new charter by Queen Elizabeth in her final years. During Elizabeth's reign, Plymouth had been transformed into a significant port known by friends and enemies alike. The coming Seventeenth Century hinted at greater prospects yet for the traders and mariners as England sought to expand its reach across the Atlantic and to take advantage of the prospects identified by Tudor sailors like Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh. Plymouth was both the key to defending the approaches to England, but it was also the natural springboard from which to begin England's imperial adventures.

Plymouth had one of the very first ports to take advantage of the Trans-Atlantic trade in cod that was generated by John Cabot's 1497 discovery of massive fish stocks off the coast of the New World at 'Newfoundland'. A fishing fleet regularly set off from Plymouth across the Atlantic where they would fill their holds with fish and then come back to Plymouth to sell them. The monarchs may have been disappointed not to find the gold, silver and spices that the Portuguese and Spanish seemed to be discovering for themselves through their own voyages of exploration, but excellent fishing grounds had tangible benefits for local fishermen and the communities that bought their fish. For some time, these West Country men attempted to keep the source of their fishing grounds secret, but when their location became widely known a Plymouth Company was set up to lobby for Royal protection. They asked the new Stuart king James I to issue a Royal Charter giving them rights and privileges that they could use to defend their commercial interests. In return they would pay the King for the license to exploit the lands and resources within the areas they claimed.

Plymouth Company of Merchants
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Company Map
The Plymouth Company of Merchants represented an early joint stock company attempt at colonisation organised and funded from entrepreneurs and mariners in Plymouth. It fed off the exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh and his attempt to set up a colony in Virginia and Sir Francis Drake's claimed New Albion during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Also known as the Plymouth Adventurers, they petitioned the new Stuart King James I to grant them a charter in order to establish colonies in the New World. As far as James was concerned, he seemed to be getting something for nothing. By selling charters to establish lands on the other side of the Atlantic, he could raise money for no outlay. Furthermore, he was not beholden to help or protect the fledgling colonies in any way. In effect, the company took all the risks but asked only for the legal right in English law to colonise the lands and to prevent other rival English companies from impinging on their exploits. Other companies included the Virginia Company and the London Company. The Plymouth Company was given permission to establish colonies between the 38th and 45th parallel of the North American coastline.

The first Plymouth Company colony was that of Popham in New England in 1607. However, they underestimated the costs of resupplying the new colony and the colonists found it difficult to thrive in the alien wilderness. Furthermore, they antagonised local Indian tribes by abducting some of them and taking them back to England as trophies to show to the curious and to justify their endeavour. The exploit only lasted a year before the hungry and desperate colonists returned to England on ships which had arrived to resupply them.

Without a colony, there was no income stream for the company but that did not stop further attempts to establish colonies in collaboration with the London Company in 1614. However, by 1619, the Company was liquidated. The following year a new charter was granted to a new company called the Plymouth Council for New England which had many of the same investors but was a separate legal entity in its own right.

King James
The newly arrived Scottish King James provided opportunities to Plymouth through supporting exploration and overseas commercial activity. Yet, he also provided the seeds of distrust and undermined his own authority to many in the realm and particularly in Plymouth. Local privateers were dismayed when James ended the almost constant state of war between England and Spain in 1604. This meant that Plymouth's privateers could no longer gain permission from their monarch to raid Spanish ships, ports and coastline with impunity. Rather, they were arrested and fined or imprisoned for disturbing the new peace treaties. Apart from the effect on patriotic feelings, this had a devastating effect on Plymouth's economy which had long benefitted from the booty and prizes coming into its port. The money earned by the mariners was often reinvested back into the port of Plymouth or in hiring new crews for further expeditions. Peace with Spain did not benefit Plymouth.

Further ill-feeling towards the new Royal family was engendered with the treatment of local hero Sir Walter Raleigh. On coming to the throne, James had had Raleigh arrested under suspicion of having plotted to keep James from taking over from Elizabeth. Raleigh was arrested at The Exeter Inn in Ashburton before being taken to the Tower of London. He spent the next decade under arrest before convincing the King that he could provide his monarch with one last service by discovering El Dorado. Raleigh set off from Plymouth with seven ships in 1617 to the area of present day Guiana and Venezuela in a forlorn attempt to discover its location. He believed that Spanish officials in the area might have better intelligence on its location and attacked one of their provincial towns seeking aid in their endeavour. This was to be Raleigh's final undoing - along with failing to find the fabled lost city of Gold! The Spanish ambassador to James implored the king to have this man executed for attacking Spanish possessions in light of the peace that now existed between the two nations. He was arrested upon his return to Plymouth in 1618. He was taken to London where he was given a show trial where it was claimed that he was trying to provoke war between England and Spain. He was executed in October 1618. To the people of Plymouth, his execution was a dreadful betrayal of a local son who had done so much to further the port's fortunes. It engendered a growing tension between the inhabitants of Plymouth and their monarch. During Tudor times, Plymouth had been a most loyal town to the Crown. This would not be the case during the reign of the Stuarts.

The Mayflower
Although the Mayflower colonists originally came from the East of England (via Holland), they had a brief but important interlude in Plymouth that greatly impressed their religious sensibilities. Being puritans, they were keen to leave the 'High Church' aspects of the Anglican Church and King James I which they regarded as too similar to the Catholic Church. Originally they had settled in Holland but the unstable political situation there made them consider an alternative. The pilgrims attempted to gain permission from the London Company of Merchants but negotiations stalled. They were informed that a new Plymouth Council for New England was to be formed and attempted to gain permission from them to form a colony in their lands.

British Empire in Plymouth
Mayflower Leaving Plymouth
The Speedwell left Holland for Southampton where the Mayflower was also waiting. The two ships travelled down the Channel before they had to put in at Dartmouth due to leaks on the Speedwell. At Plymouth, it was realised that the Speedwell would not make the journey across the Atlantic and so the crew and stores were all moved to the Mayflower. During this period in Plymouth the pilgrims were impressed by the puritanical strength of feeling in the port. A generation later, the puritans of Plymouth would stand up to James' son, Charles for the duration of the English Civil War. At this point in time, the Mayflower pilgrims considered that if all of England was as devout as Plymouth there would be no reason to leave the mother country. It was for this reason that they decided to take the name of Plymouth to their first colony in the hope that the religious feeling of this Old World port might be replicated in the New World.

As mentioned above, the Mayflower sailed with the understanding that it would come under the charter of the Plymouth Council for New England under the guidance of Ferdinando Gorges but the formalities had not yet been finalised before they departed. It did not help that the Mayflower drifted far further north than had been anticipated, eventually arriving at Cape Cod. As there was no charter in place, the pilgrims established their own legal framework known as the Mayflower Compact. They named their new settlement Plymouth Colony which despite some early difficulties, ultimately managed to survive and eventually thrive in the New World. It offered an alternative model from the Virginia model which had been based on tobacco cultivation and aggressive expansion at the expense of local Indian tribes. The Plymouth Colony was based on hardy Protestant ethics and ideas of self-improvement through hard work and self sacrifice. Both of these models fed into the American character but in competing and often contradictory ways.

The Plymouth Council for New England eventually controlled the area around the Plymouth Colony established by the Mayflower settlers but the Plymouth Colony continued to use its own 'Mayflower Compact' for its own governance. The Plymouth Council for New England saw much of its land divided and given to rival companies and so moved its focus further north to Maine before finally surrendering its charter in 1635. Basically, the colonies required a great deal of money to become established, but being agrarian communities they did not generate vast amounts of money or products of high value to sell back in England (unlike those in Virginia). The New England colonies were becoming self-sufficient, which was an achievement in itself, but they were not making their investors back in England particularly rich. Investors would soon turn their attention to the more profitable sugar and cotton plantations sprouting up in the Caribbean and the South of America. These plantations required vast quantities of labour which were supplied by indentured servants at first but chattel slaves later. They would prove to become a very different model of colony to those formed by the pious religious pioneers who headed towards New England.

Stuart Expeditions
The Governor of the Fortress of Plymouth Sir Ferdinando Gorges played a pivotal role in attempting to settle the lands in New England. He was a half brother of Walter Raleigh and a kinsman of Humphrey Gilbert. He was a major shareholder in the Plymouth Company and as such he brought back three captured Native Americans by Captain George Weymouth in 1607. He lived in Budshead Manor in modern day Ernesettle (its ruins can still be seen there). In 1622, Gorges received a land patent from King James in order to settle the Province of Maine between the Merrimack and Kennebec rivers in conjunction with his colleague John Mason. Sir Ferdinando Gorges sent his son, Robert Gorges, to these new lands in 1623 as Governor-General of New England. It has to be said that the pious and religious settlers already in New England resented this feudal meddling in their affairs especially from a Stuart King from whom they had left England in order to avoid due to their suspicions over his religious sensibilities. Regardless, in 1629 Sir Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason split their patent with John Mason's lands becoming the Province of New Hampshire whilst the Gorges family's lands being known as Maine. An attempt to settle Maine by Gorges' agent, Captain Christopher Levett, ultimately failed and the Captain died en route back to England in 1630. The Gorges family tried once more to resurrect their plans for settlement later that decade and in 1639 King Charles I granted a new and enhanced Charter. Alas, the unfolding Civil War would disrupt and deliver a fatal blow to these plans. Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth undermined the Gorges' claims and effectively neutralised their control. The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 seemed to offer a new opportunity but when most of New England erupted into King Philip's War in 1675, economics went out of the window as the settlers needed food and supplies just to survive. Eventually the Gorges family sold any remaining rights to settle in Maine to the Massachussets colony in 1677. It is intriguing to consider that had the English Civil War not occurred to upset the Gorges family's claims, the Americas may have had 14 colonies and not the 13 that are still represented on the Stars and Stripes flag at the time of the American Revolution.

Charles I was the next to see a failed expedition depart from Plymouth, although this one at least set sail. Charles had married into the French Royal Family and was switching Stuart support away from Spain towards France, which still did little to please the people of Plymouth who generally regarded the French with equal contempt. Charles ordered the taking of Cadiz in an attempt to resurrect Drake's bold attempt from 1587 and neutralise Spanish shipping. This time though the logistics of the operation were deplorable. Ninety ships were assembled in Plymouth Sound where 10,000 soldiers boarded the waiting ships. The King had given the responsibility for victualling and preparing the fleet to James Bagge who lived at Saltram House. Bagge was notoriously corrupt and provided sub-standard food and equipment to the fleet. The fleet set sail but returned just two days later totally disorganised. A second attempt to launch the fleet was undertaken a week later which did at least get to Cadiz, but the military equipment was found to be of very poor quality and the hoped for Spanish Treasure Fleet was nowhere to be found. The sailors and soldiers got drunk through ill discipline and poor leadership and the whole sorry expedition returned to Plymouth empty handed. Unfortunately, some of the soldiers had contracted the plague whilst in Spain and in their weakened state from poor diet and supplies it became rife throughout the returning fleet. On returning to Plymouth they returned to local billets and spread the disease with them. Plymouth lost a quarter of its population and ceased to accept or trade with ships whilst the disease ravaged the population. Plymouth's relationship to Charles did not get off to a happy start and many longed for the days of Elizabeth and of better fortune for the town.

The Barbary Corsairs
In 1619, the governor of the Fortress of Plymouth, Sir Ferdinando Gorges, actually declared war on the Ottoman Empire. He lived at Budshead Manor which is now in Ernesettle to the very North of the City. This was in response to their repeated pirate raids along the Southern coast of England including the waters around Plymouth. Between 1609 and 1616, for instance, the Admiralty recorded that 466 vessels had been attacked with the vast majority of these occurring in and around Devon and Cornwall. The fishing fleet going to and from Newfoundland was particularly vulnerable especially as the Corsairs valued the skills of mariners to help replenish their own crew needs. These pirates ransacked local fishing boats and even came ashore to seize local people and take them back to North Africa or to the Ottoman Empire with a view to selling them into captivity or ransoming them back to the English Crown. Sir Ferdinando Gorges had had enough and so declared war on the Turks unilaterally in his role as Guardian and Protector of Plymouth - what he did not appreciate is that the Corsairs paid little attention to Ottoman rules or instructions and operated as private fiefdoms mainly from the ports of Sale, Tripoli and Algiers. Nevertheless, Gorges' plan was to assemble a large fleet in Plymouth in 1620 under the command of Sir Robert Mansell and Sir Richard Hawkins and to sail to the North African coast to attack the Corsair bases. However, the fleet did not set sail due to a combination of supply and monetary problems. Gorges could not raise enough money locally and had hoped that the King would provide the balance. However, James I was ambivalent towards the whole expedition and was more concerned with the state of the national budget and the costs of waging a long distance war against an Empire that had little contact with England and for which there would be little treasure gained. So in the end, this expedition never set sail.

Just five years later in 1625 the West Country was on the receiving end of the most audacious Corsair pirate fleet yet. In fact there were two fleets, one operated along the Southern coastline and sacked Mount's Bay, Looe and Penzance whilst a second fleet along the Northern coastline captured Lundy Island hoisted their crescent flag there and used it as a base to raid Padstow and Ilfracombe amongst other ports. The Plymouth Naval Commander, Sir James Bagge, implored the King to send more ships to help defend the coastline and local fishermen from Corsair predation. Official reaction was too slow though and hundreds of Cornish and Devonians were carried off into slavery before any English ships could respond.

English patience began to run out and after disappointing negotiations that dragged on for years about freeing Christian slaves, Charles I ultimately allowed a naval expedition to set off for the Corsair base in Sale in North Africa in 1637. At last they had some success and freed hundreds of captives; the largest contingent of freed slaves were found to be from Plymouth - 37 of them - most of whom had been mariners. Despite this success, the Corsairs continued to threaten the coastline. The Barbary Corsairs were a multi-headed hydra operating out of Sale, Tripoli and Algiers and quite independently from one another and so it was difficult to know who to entreat with and a deal struck with one group would have no effect on the others. Corsair activity continued throughout the English Civil War years into the Commonwealth era and into the Restoration beyond. 1640 saw another large fleet of 60 Corsair ships raid along the Westcountry shoreline. Insurance premiums rose for mariners and communities throughout the Westcountry. Charles II's Navy sent a contingent to sack Tripoli in 1675 and impose a cessation from that particular centre, but although strikes to the coast of England fell away, mariners had to be wary of attack for many more years yet. There were still isolated attacks from the Corsairs until as late as the Napoleonic Wars but increasingly they confined their activities to the Mediterranean.

The Civil War
The Civil War saw Plymouth support the Parliamentarians rather than the Royalists. Plymouth had long been a puritanical stronghold but King Charles' attempts to get around raising money without Parliament through issuing a 'Ship Tax' sorely tested the loyalties of all those who lived and worked in ports. The people of Plymouth were tired of subsidising a king who they felt was too Catholic minded within his Anglican beliefs and too friendly towards England's traditional enemies of France and Spain, who were Catholic to boot. Plymouth's elders were also unimpressed when the King intervened to veto two of their chosen puritanical candidates for the post of vicar of St. Andrews. An Anglican and staunch Royalist was chosen for the people of Plymouth but the elders and laity did not appreciate this royal meddling in their spiritual affairs.

British Empire in Plymouth
Mount Batten
When war broke out in 1642 Plymouth was a parliamentarian bastion in a sea of Royalist support. Nearly all of Cornwall and Devon had declared for the Royalist cause and it seemed as if Plymouth's situation was precarious and likely to be short lived. Repeated attempts to capture the port were made by the Royalists but the fact that it could rely on Parliamentarian ascendency in the naval war meant that it could remain supplied and supported for the entire duration of the war. The Royalists controlled Mount Edgcumbe where they set up batteries of cannons and later gained control of Oreston and the Stamford area to prevent ships entering directly into Sutton harbour. The people of Plymouth depended upon control of Drake's Island to allow ships to come in under the cover of darkness and unload supplies at Millbay before disappearing before daylight in feats of remarkable seamanship. The town came closest to falling on December 3rd 1643 when the army of Prince Maurice breached the outer walls only for the inhabitants of the walled town to sally out and defeat the advancing Royalist Army at Freedom Fields.

British Empire in Plymouth
Ham House
St. Budeaux being so far out from the old Plymouth boundaries was very much in Royalist territory. The Royalists had already assaulted Plymouth several times but had been beaten back by the well organised and determined defenders. The Royalists needed their troops in other campaigns and so Prince Maurice left Plymouth with the bulk of his troops at the end of 1643 but leaving strong orders to local commanders to ensure that no supplies should be able to reach the Plymouth garrison. As St. Budeaux covered the Northern approaches to Plymouth its commanding position was useful in monitoring the surrounding countryside and the River Tamar. In the Spring of 1644, Parliamentarian forces believed an important local Royalist commander called Richard Grenville was billeted with soldiers in the grounds of St. Budeaux Church. They hatched a plan to capture or kill him (Their intelligence was wrong it was actually Grenville’s nephew at the church). There is a mound and ditch on the East side of the church which is believed to be the Civil War defences thrown up by the Royalists stationed at this high point. It is still very clear and would have had good fields of fire towards Plymouth but also with a good escape route down to the river. A Parliamentarian Force of 600 musketeers and 120 horse crossed at Weston Mill and marched up King’s Tamerton Hill towards the church. The force split as it approached to try and head off any Royalist reinforcements from the West although much of the cavalry got lost in this manoeuvre. The main force was spotted en route and sporadic skirmishing broke out. The experience and organisation of the Parliamentarians soon became apparent. They formed battle line and marched on the church. Some of the Cavalier defenders were overawed and abandoned their positions. Others took up positions along the bank and hedges and some barricaded themselves within the church itself. The ordered volleys of the Parliamentarians weakened their resolve and those who could not flee surrendered. The Plymouth soldiers were disappointed not to capture the Royalist Commander but could find solace in gathering horses, muskets, powder and food to take back into the besieged port.

British Empire in Plymouth
Widey House
King Charles himself came to Plymouth five months later and made Widey Court Manor House is headquarters. The house was owned by Yeoman Hele who had been a strong Royalist supporter and whose house had been garrisoned with Royalist troops since the very outbreak of the war and had also been used by Prince Maurice for his previous attack on Plymouth. The house was close to the vital communication lines moving North out of the town on the ancient byway which we now call Tavistock Road. It was also close to Plymouth Leat which the Royalists dammed up to deny its precious water getting to the Parliamentarian garrison in Plymouth. Significant events in Cornwall had brought the war to the walls of Plymouth once more. The Earl of Essex marched a large Parliamentarian Army into Cornwall in the summer of 1644 to try and finish off Royalist support in the Westcountry once and for all. However, he was trapped by a Royal Army which followed him down to Lostwithiel. Annoyingly for Plymouth, many of its troops had been sent to join with Earl of Essex and were subsequently lost in the debacle that saw some 6000 Parliamentarians surrender and many more killed in the disastrous battle. Some troops did escape including an embarrassed Earl of Essex who rather sheepishly took a fishing boat from Fowey to Plymouth. A victorious King Charles I found himself only days away from a denuded Plymouth. Frantically, the Parliamentarian defenders rounded up everyone they could, fixed up their forts and walls and took sailors off any ships to man the lines and brace for a fresh Royalist assault. Sure enough, Charles’ army moved on Plymouth but not nearly as quickly as they should have. They took about a week for King Charles to get to Widey Court with his victorious army (which camped around Hartley and Mannamead). This was a valuable week to strengthen Plymouth’s defences. On September 11th, the King left Widey Court to lead that army in retaking Plymouth. Initially, King Charles sent a herald to ask for the port’s surrender. The poor trumpeter chosen for the job was duly thrown in prison for a night and told that the next time he was seen in Plymouth he would be hanged! The Royalist army then pushed back Parliamentarian picquets down over Mutley Plain and set up an artillery line along Seymour Road. When it came, though, the main attack went down Hyde Park towards Pennycomequick Fort which was only fought off when troops were moved from other Parliamentarian forts as they realised that the King would not attack them elsewhere. The King nonchalantly watched the fighting from about where Ford Cemetery is now. Despite massively outnumbering the Parliamentarians, the fighting was markedly low level although it did endure for five days. As it dawned on the King that he was not going to batter his way through Plymouth’s defences, his Plan B was to bribe the Plymouth garrison commander, John Robartes, to change sides. The Royalists had already captured Robartes’ lands and had his children in their custody. However, to his credit, Robartes never hesitated and revealed the secret communication immediately and scoffed openly at the offer. Plymouth would survive and an impatient King Charles I took his army and marched back up the country leaving a much smaller garrison to besiege the town. As the war turned against the King, Widey House became the scene of almost daily skirmishing as Parliamentarian patrols kept probing out of the town and looking for booty and livestock to bring back in to the garrison.
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth's ECW Defences

The last battle of St. Budeaux Church was in the winter of that year though as it was becoming clear that the Royalist cause was faltering and after so many troops had been withdrawn from the siege. A Parliamentarian column probed Northwards towards the church where it came across a force of Cavaliers camped in and around the church. They were offered the opportunity to surrender but refused. Parliamentarian forces formed out to the South and West of the church and assaulted it directly. The battle raged for over an hour and a half in which time the church was badly damaged by musket and cannon balls. The superior numbers of Parliamentarians saw them advance steadily. Eventually they rushed the church building itself at which point the desperate defenders surrendered. Casualties had been high on both sides and included a decorated and well respected Parliamentarian officer by the name of Major Haines. With Thomas Fairfax’s Parliamentarian Army marching through Devon and Cornwall, the siege of Plymouth was all but ended. The Parliamentarians of Plymouth found themselves on the winning side!

The siege was not raised until 1646 when General Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell himself entered the town to great fanfare and rejoicing. A 300 gun salute was fired in honour of their visit. They were both very impressed at the extent of the defences and the resolve of the people of Plymouth to have withstood such privation and danger for four years. It was estimated that 8,000 people died in the campaign to preserve Plymouth for the Parliamentarian cause which did not include those who died fighting on behalf of the Royalists.

The war had some significant economic and imperial related effects for the people of Plymouth. Firstly, Plymouth had long been the principle port to supply the colonists of North America with their goods and especially fish. However, the length of the war had encouraged these colonists to provide for themselves and they had constructed their own fishing fleets and trading vessels in response to the drop off in trade from the mother country. The colonists had also turned to trading with other European powers, notably the Dutch. To try and counter this threat, Cromwell's new government issued a Navigation Act in 1651 which banned English colonists from trading with any ships except English ones. In the short term this effect had the result of restoring some of the lost trade but in general it just meant that the colonists determined to build up their own fleets and ships to get around this restriction. Additionally, the Acts led to war with the Dutch from 1652 to 1654. This was largely a naval war that took place at the Eastern end of the Channel, but it did have the effect of restoring ship building activity and in supplying vessels for their military campaigns.

A war with Spain also helped rekindle fortunes in Plymouth. The Parliamentarians had become seasoned warriors thanks to the English Civil War and did much to reverse the losses of the Stuarts. Cromwell was also keen to reassert Parliamentarian control in the colonies of the Caribbean and North America which had felt detached enough to retain their loyalty to either side. Expeditions were sent out to remind any rebellious governors or local officials of who actually won the war and who was now in charge. Plymouth's maritime credentials appeared to be rising with the ambitions of the new power. Cromwell instructed that a new victualling yard be built in Plymouth both to supply his ships to support his overseas campaigns be they in Ireland or the Caribbean, but also to be prepared to help defend Plymouth should another siege of the port ever occur again. Unfortunately, the finances of the Commonwealth could not keep up with the expenditure required to see through these ambitions. Consequently, many crews and mariners failed to be paid and resentment grew against Cromwell's regime in its dying days. There was also great anxiety about what form of government would replace Cromwell upon his death.

The Jewish Community
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Barbican
One of the earliest minorities to find its way to Plymouth was the Jewish community. Jews had been exiled from England in 1290 by Edward I. By a strange coincidence, Plymouth had its first recorded mention as a fishing community at almost exactly the same time in 1292. Jews had been seafarers and navigators throughout the Mediterranean for many centuries. It seems as if it was through their seafaring skills that Jews began to return to England, all be it in very small numbers. The first recorded communities of Jews occurred in the ports of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham. It is no surprise that Sir Francis Drake hired a jewish navigator, who went by the moniker 'Moses the Jew', on his circumnavigation of the world. What is interesting is that the address given for Moses the Jew was The Barbican, Plymouth suggesting that Jews were already established in the port.

Jews were not officially welcomed into the country until the time of Oliver Cromwell who encouraged their return. During the time of the thirty years war, Jews tended to move away from the Catholic areas towards the Protestant areas of Northern Europe where there was more toleration for their beliefs. Once again, Plymouth's identification with the parliamentarian cause, its seafaring tradition and its cosmopolitan nature made Plymouth a natural destination for Jews wishing to come to England.

Their numbers were always small but were swelled in the 18th Century with the arrival of German and Dutch Ashkenazi Jews especially during the War of Austrian Succession. Some Jews were concerned about Catholic inroads into Germany and into the Low Countries and sought the relative security of Britain. Their arrival coincided with a remarkable increase in the size and power of the Royal Navy and Jews would find opportunities in servicing the requirements of this growing institution. Most notably, they were often approached to deal with the financing arrangements around Prize ships brought in to Plymouth Sound. They would arrange the valuation and sale of the ship which the Royal Navy would then disperse amongst the sailors involved in the capture of the ship. Jews also would often be able to provide materials for the impressive requirements of the expanding Dockyard and the building of the wooden ships. Jews would also become involved in the all important tailoring industry which was vital in a port with such a plethora of uniformed servicemen. Off the back of this increased economic activity, the Jews who settled in Plymouth were able to fund the building of the Plymouth Synagogue which was opened in 1762. Very possibly they used some of the same materials and labour that were involved in the construction of the ships and dockyard facilities. It is the oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English speaking world.

Plymouth's Black Community
Being a port, Plymouth would have been far more accustomed to seeing non-Caucasian faces than most other towns in England. Ships often needed muscle power and did not really care where it came from. If they needed replacement crew whilst in the Caribbean or off the coast of Africa then necessary muscle power would be requisitioned one way or another. There would have been churnage as Plymothians put ashore in obscure ports around the World and people from all over the World may have found themselves ashore in Plymouth at one time or another. We know for a fact that at least two Black men were buried in Plymouth in Elizabethan times. Church records record 'Bastien, A Blackmoore of Mr Willm Hawkins' being buried on December 10th 1583 and 'Anthony, John, a neyger' was buried on March 18th of the same year. Intriguingly there is also mention of a baptismal record for 'Helene, daughter of Christian the negro svant to Richard Sheere, the supposed father binge Cuthbert Holman, illeg.' In 1596, St. Andrew's Church recorded another baptism of 'Susan, daughter of a Blackamoore'. Presumably, there were far more black people in Plymouth who slipped by the official channels without leaving a trace. Most were probably seamen who may have stayed in the town only briefly before finding a position on a ship out of the port. Or perhaps, they wished to remain anonymous assuming that they would not be made to feel welcome by authorities who might not wish to take responsibility for people born so far outside of the parishes of Plymouth. The language of the parish records refers to terms which make uncomfortable reading to a modern audience but were very much regarded as purely descriptive rather than derogatory terms within the culture of the time. In general, 'neyger' or 'negro' referred to people from Africa or the descendents of African slaves from the Caribbean whilst the terms 'Moor' or 'Tawny' referred to Arabs or Indians from the New World. Confusingly, 'The term 'Black a Moor' is believed to refer to black Africans who lived amongst a white population but who married into that local population and produced children of mixed parentage.

The exploits of John Hawkins notwithstanding, Plymouth was never really a major player in the slave trade which was operated mainly out of Bristol and Liverpool. Consequently, Plymouth may not have built up the same kind of prejudices against black sailors and workers that almost certainly was a byproduct of the majority of those who worked within the slave trade system. Plymouth was to become primarily a military port and the Navy itself was a remarkably colour blind institution for the time. Although it should be said that conditions on board warships were brutal for all the lower ranks - of whatever skin colour. Paintings of the ships of the Napoleonic Wars often include the presence of black sailors even if they are often seen more to the background. It is safe to assume that many of these sailors would have put ashore in Plymouth at some point or other.

It should be remembered that it was not just black Africans who would have appeared in Plymouth. Explorers to the New World keenly brought back native Americans to show off to investors and the elite. An excellent example of this is the arrival of Pocahontas in Plymouth in 1616 as the wife of John Rolfe. Later, there would also be travellers and passengers arriving from Asia who would disembark in Plymouth before travelling on to London or other commercial centres. Plymouth was one of the few places in England that a non-white person was not a totally unheard of event and somewhere that skin colour would not be regarded as a major cause for concern. Mariners generally saluted the skill of fellow mariners whilst dignitaries and visitors were often the guests of important nobles who were bringing them ashore in Plymouth in a semi-diplomatic capacity and so were accorded the necessary decorum and respect.

The Restoration
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Citadel
In general, the people of Plymouth were wary of the idea of the return of the Stuarts to the throne. Having sided against the throne in the Civil War they were concerned at what fate might befall them should Charles' son, Charles, return. In fact, two local men were instrumental in organising the return of Charles from exile in Europe. One was William Morice and the other was Sir John Grenville. Morice helped arrange a meeting between General Monck and the local Royalist leader and the King's emissary, Sir John Grenville. This meeting was vital in establishing contact between the army and the monarch in exile that led directly to Charles returning and reclaiming his throne. Morice was knighted for his role and appointed as Secretary of State. Grenville was elevated to the Earl of Bath and Governor of Plymouth.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Citadel
Drake's Island became something of a makeshift prison island for those who whose loyalty was felt to be questionable. The clergy of St. Andrews' Church were placed there for refusing to use the new Book of Common Prayer that was required to be used by all Anglican churches. Various non-conformist preachers were also taken to the island or to Exeter gaol.

A second war with the Dutch broke out in the 1660s under the Stuart king. This war went badly for the English but its consequences were significant for Plymouth and in a more positive way. First of all, the King's officials recognised the need for adequate defence for England's principal ports. This became critical after the Dutch sailed up the Medway and destroyed the English Fleet in the Thames. Plymouth had already been earmarked for upgrading its fort into a full blown Citadel on a far larger scale than had ever been seen in Plymouth. Virtually the entire Hoe was signed over to the King with little hesitation perhaps as they sought to avoid a conflict with a king who might yet bear a grudge against their actions towards his father. The belief persisted for many years that the fortification was built overlooking Plymouth to ensure that it could never rebel against the Crown again and it was noted that a large number of the cannon emplacements looked out over the port of Plymouth rather than out to sea. Be that as it may, the principle justification was to protect Plymouth from the Dutch and also the French who were once more turning on Protestants with greater vehemency.

British Empire in Plymouth
The Citadel
The other consequence of the Second Anglo-Dutch War was that it confirmed England's pre-eminence in North America and its relegation from economic activity in the Spice Islands of the Far East. The English took control of what was to become New York but were kept out of the lucrative nutmeg and pepper islands of the Dutch East Indies. In the short term this was regarded as a disaster for English traders but over time, the North American colonies and New York in particular would prove to become important trading destinations in their own right. It also meant that Plymouth would continue to play a vital role in communicating and trading with the North American and Caribbean colonies.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Market
French Protestants had long been welcome in Plymouth. Francis Drake had conducted many of his successful campaigns with the help of what were called Huguenots. The Protestant bastion of Plymouth had traded with the Huguenots who were often the merchants and mariners in French ports like La Rochelle. The Seventeenth Century had seen Huguenot influence and political power undermined and assaulted by successive French Catholic kings. These included pogroms and whole sale slaughter of Protestants living in France. Many of these Huguenots decided to flee to safety and a large number arrived in Plymouth. This was almost certainly due to existing trading connections between Huguenot families and the port of Plymouth. The 1680s saw successive boatloads fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary in Plymouth. A large Huguenot community settled in Plymouth with another at Stonehouse. These entrepreneurial and often highly skilled merchants and traders found themselves at ease in their new homes. They thrived in their new surroundings and provided new opportunities and contacts to the traders and merchants of Plymouth. French language services were held at St. George's Chapel and at the old friary on Southside Street as the Protestants sought to continue their faith in their mother language. Their presence and their persecution was a reminder to the people of Plymouth of what might lay in store for them should Catholicism ever make a return to England. They and presumably the Huguenots were therefore extremely nervous upon hearing of the death of Charles II and the accession of his openly Catholic brother, James II in 1685.
The Glorious Revolution
British Empire in Plymouth
View of Plymouth, 1680
In 1688 William of Orange was invited by Protestant sympathisers to land in England and march his Dutch army to London to take the throne from Catholic James II. Plymouth was the first town to declare its support to him when his fleet sailed into Plymouth Sound. An English ship in Sutton harbour became the first English ship to fly his colours from its mast and the Citadel became the first English fortification to switch its allegiance to him. William would go on to have a profound effect on the fortunes of Plymouth but for the time being his fleet and army sailed on to Brixham where they landed unopposed.

The Governor of Plymouth, Sir John Grenville (the Earl of Bath) and the person who had done so much to see the Stuarts return to the throne, was charged by James to hold Exeter and block the advancing Dutch army. The Earl of Bath claimed that he was too weak to prevent their advance and stood aside and allowed the invading army to pass unopposed. In reality, the Earl of Bath had become disillusioned with James' rule and was happy to see him replaced by a more virile king.

British Empire in Plymouth
Map of Plymouth, 1693
William of Orange took control of the Crown in a bloodless coup that saw him declared king alongside his Stuart wife who became Queen Mary II. William was a renowned anti-catholic fighter and soon England joined in his campaigns against the Catholic French and her allies. James had fled to France to seek support in regaining his throne. Plymouth was about to become the beneficiary of this renewed period of hostility. William had identified Plymouth as being the perfect port to create the ships that he would require to fight in his anti-French crusade. Ship-building had long taken place in and around Plymouth but it had always been by private companies and contractors. William proposed building a purpose built dock for the building and maintaining of warships. It was the first stone built dock in the world and it illustrated a growing professionalisation and awareness of the needs of the military and of the navy in particular. The English had been embarrassed by the previous Dutch attack on the Medway back in 1667 and a French fleet had claimed a victory off Beachy Head near Eastbourne in 1689. It was believed that Plymouth was located far enough away from mainland Europe to afford it some added security. Plans for the dockyard were drawn up in 1689. There was some debate about whether it should be centred on Oreston to the West of the city or along the Hamoaze and the River Tamar. The former was nearer to the existing main settlement at Plymouth but the latter had more scope for expansion and for sheltering large numbers of ships. It also helped that it had a complicated maritime entrance way to the River Tamar that the local ships could master but would complicate any potential enemy attempt at attacking any fleet at anchor there. Eventually, building work began in 1691. The King personally came to Plymouth to inspect its construction. It took the name Plymouth Dock despite being some distance from Plymouth on the Hamoaze on the Tamar. Later it would take the name of Devonport. Construction of the first dock was completed in 1693 but it had only begun a process that would result in it becoming the largest dockyard in the world by the end of the Nineteenth Century. The first ship built was the Looe which was launched in 1696. The dock still exists and is located next to Mutton Cove. Construction of ships would continue there for the next three centuries. The last warship built in Devonport was the Scylla which was launched in 1968. Interestingly, the Scylla was deliberately sunk off the nearby Cornish beach of Whitsand to provide a recreational and study wreck and so can still be visited - if you are a diver!

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Dock
One further advance for the people of Plymouth was William's change in the law regarding billeting troops. Being a port, Plymouth had often had to entertain large forces moving through it en route to some foreign battlefield somewhere. As has already been mentioned previously it could end in disaster when billeted troops brought disease with them. Even if the soldiers were not sick, it was regarded as a painful and unpopular burden by the local population. In a highly popular move that illustrated the professionalism and wisdom of William in raising and maintaining an efficient army he ordered that English troops should follow the Dutch example in requiring them to reside in purpose made barracks or, if these were not available, at inns and hotels. This started the process whereby garrisons were built to service the garrisoning or moving of troops to the expanding Plymouth Dock. Extensive fortifications with ditches and ramparts were added to defend the docks - especially during the Seven Years War - evidence of which existence can still be seen in parts of Devonport Park. These were served by a series of six barracks built to house the defending garrison and could be defended in their own right. Each barrack block housed three to four hundred men and officers. The navy still persisted in relying on decommissioned hulks lying out in the Hamoaze for its accommodation needs. These were unpopular with the men due to the dark, cramped conditions that were difficult to keep clean. Disease often broke out in the confined spaces but for the admiralty they had the advantage of being very cheap and flexible for their needs and requirements. It was easy to add or take away hulks as required. These hulks were also used to house prisoners during time of war for the same reason.

The innovative design of The Dock was largely as the result of the remarkable Mr Dummer who was the Assistant Surveyor for the Navy and who was largely responsible for the initial layout. Earlier he had been sent on a mission by Samuel Pepys no less to ascertain what their rival European Maritime powers were endeavouring to produce in the way of naval ports and fortifications. In 1682 Mr Dummer travelled from Woolwich via Plymouth to survey various ports on the Woolwich. Intriguingly the mission nearly came to a tragic end in Plymouth Sound when the retainers of an Ambassador to the English port of Tangier (which had been given as a dowry to King Charles II in 1661) rose up in mutiny. The Captain of the ship was killed in the process but the ship was brought back under control and carried on with its mission under Lieutenant Rigby. After dropping off their passengers at Tangier the Woolwich and Mr Drummer proceeded into the Mediterranean visting Sardinia, Sicily, various Greek Islands, Naples and Livorno. Mr Dummer then proceeded separately to Toulon where he examined the defences and port facilities in detail. He noted how the French port was largely self-sufficient in producing what was required for its ships and that they built their ships to a limited number of designs to harmonise the necessary resources required. He was fortunate to be invited aboard one of the 50 French warships in harbour and ask many searching questions. In the course of his work he analysed such important ports as Cadiz, Gibraltar, Genoa and Constantinople and took detailed drawings of the many ships he saw too. All this information would be put to good use when he laid out the design for the King's Dock on the Hamoaze. Interestingly Mr Dummer would later leave his role as Surveyor for the Royal but set up a mail service to link Plymouth with the West Indies. This was established in 1702 and Mr Dummer designed and built his own ships for this innovative enterprise linking Britain with its increasingly important Caribbean colonies.

The Eddystone Rocks
British Empire in Plymouth
The Winstanley Lighthouse
The Eddystone Rocks off the coast of Plymouth were a notoriously dangerous patch of rocks that caught many a ship out by their presence in open sea. As a result, the area around them was strewn with shipwrecks. As the navy identified Plymouth as a primary base, steps were taken to protect the approaches to the port by building a lighthouse on the exposed rocks. Indeed, this was the first rock lighthouse (as opposed to one built on land) ever constructed in Britain. The first person to take an interest was a Plymouth merchant by the name of Henry Winstanley. He had personally lost two of his own ships on these rocks en route to port and was so incensed he was determined to construct a suitable lighthouse to protect his and everyone else's ships. Work began on the project in 1696 in what was something of a maritime folly. He created an octagonal structure of granite and wood reinforced with iron stanchions. It had a lead domed, octagonal glass latnert at the top and an external staircase.
British Empire in Plymouth
The Smeaton Lighthouse
Bizarrely, whilst working on the project a French privateer landed on the rocks and seized Winstanley as a hostage of war. However, when the French king heard of the seizure he ordered Winstanley's immediate release. Apparently he remarked 'that France was at war with England and not with humanity'. He realised that French shipping in the Channel would equally benefit from a light house warning of the existence of the rocks. Sheepishly, Winstanley was returned by the French to complete the project. The lighthouse worked for about 5 years but was battered by the harsh conditions and required constant repair. It was whilst making some minor repairs and additions to the structure that Winstanley was washed off the Eddystone rocks with his crew of workers and dragged out to sea never to be seen again.

British Empire in Plymouth
The Douglas Lighthouse
A second lighthouse was constructed in 1708 by John Rudyard which lasted a more impressive forty years until it burnt down in 1755. John Smeaton was contracted to build a more substantial stone replacement and undertook a massive building programme to construct the lighthouse. Smeaton's pioneering design used hydraulic lime (mortar which set under water) and dovetailed stone construction which had the added advantage that it created a smooth surface in the masonry, preventing the lashing waves from getting any purchase on angled brickwork. It was completed in 1759 and remained there for over a century and was then only replaced by a more modern structure designed by James Douglass in 1882. Smeaton's design was so successful that it provided the engineering principles used by all subsequent rock lighthouses. Smeaton's tower was moved to Plymouth Hoe where it is still a recognisable landmark in the city. The current lighthouse is no longer manned permanently but it is essentially the same building as the one built in 1882 which itself used many of the techniques and principles learned from John Smeaton's lighthouse.

Georgian Plymouth
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Fish Market
The fortunes of Plymouth and particularly of Plymouth Dock were now irrevocably linked to the success of the Royal Navy and the fortunes of what became known as the British Empire after the Act of Union in 1707 formally united the Crowns of Scotland and England. The commercial port of Plymouth continued to import sugar and tobacco but Plymouth's location far from the centres of the burgeoning industrial revolution and particularly the lack of any nearby coal deposits meant that it could not compete in this field as effectively with the likes of Bristol or Liverpool. Plymouth was still Britain's fourth busiest port but it was increasingly clear that it was going to be the military side of Plymouth's economy that would provide its sustained growth in the future.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Dock
The Eighteenth Century was a bright one for Britain's expanding commercial and maritime ventures. The East India Company was striking it rich in Asia and bringing back its proceeds. The industrial revolution was in full swing allowing Britain a competitive advantage over all other countries on the planet. It was capable of producing the best quality goods at rock bottom prices. The technological advantages of the industrial revolution found their way into the weaponry of the British Army and the Royal Navy giving them increasing advantages on the battlefields and oceans. This technology fed its way into the construction techniques used at Plymouth Dock where all new Royal Ships were furnished with copper bottoms to keep the hulls cleaner and allow the ships to maintain higher speeds for longer periods than all of their competitor naval ships. In short there was a virtuous circle in the fortunes of Britain's commercial and maritime exploits that in turn allowed Plymouth to become a centre of excellence through investment in its facilities and in attracting the very best craftsmen from miles around to the opportunities presented. It became a world leader in the construction and repair of the latest state-of-the-art ship technology for the world's pre-eminent maritime power.

Admiral Anson pioneered the tactic of replenishing ships at sea when he set off to circumnavigate the World from 1740 to 1744. Victuals including livestock, water and ammunition were loaded up in Plymouth and sent out to rendezvous with Anson at predetermined points. These supply ships could then update the authorities to his progress. They even pioneered ship to ship transfers at sea which greatly increased the reach and range of Royal Naval ships. This skill would come in particularly useful for blockading enemy ports during the wars of the second half of the Eighteenth Century. On top of this a new 'Western Squadron' was established at Plymouth Dock to guard the Western Approaches to Britain from her enemies and especially the French.

The Wars of the Austrian Succession from 1741 to 1748 and the Seven Years War from 1756 to 1763 provided Plymouth with massive contracts and requirements of seamen. The Bank of England allowed Britain to borrow money on an unprecedented level which allowed it to take on and even beat the far larger French Kingdom. Much of this money was spent in Plymouth in the construction of a fleet of unparalleled size and sophistication. The tiny dock built at the time of King William was dwarfed by the expanding facilities required. Activity even spilled over to the other side of the Tamar as Torpoint and the Lynher provided berths and facilities for the growing Dock. Plymouth Dock was in danger of outgrowing the 'Old Plymouth' and certainly left the third town of Stonehouse in the dust.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth and its Citadel, 1765
No less an authority than Dr Samuel Johnson noticed how the people of Plymouth were 'stirred by jealousy' at the rising fortunes of Plymouth Dock. He visited the area with his old friend and local painter Joshua Reynolds. Although from Plympton, Joshua Reynolds was able to rise to become the founding President of the Royal Academy thanks to the increasing wealth of local families and numbers of aristocratic sons passing through the area on naval service. He went on to paint the portraits of many of the local gentry and high born sailors. He even sailed to the Mediterranean with Viscount Keppel, one of his key patrons, so that he could view the actions of the Navy and its key ports in operation.

British Empire in Plymouth
Endeavour Leaving Plymouth
As the Royal Navy increased its military capacity and imperial duties so it moved into the realm of science to keep it at the cutting edge of military technology, exploration and imperial expansion. Sailors like Captain Cook and Tobias Furneaux set off from Plymouth to map the world, chart the stars and find suitable anchorages and refuelling stops for the ships of the Royal Navy. Cook left from Plymouth in 1768 on the Endeavour. In 1772 he set off from Plymouth on his second voyage on the Resolution. This voyage nearly came to grief before it began when the ship was nearly foundered on the rocks below the Citadel.

William Bligh was given the mission of moving breadfruit from Tahiti to the Caribbean so that the plantations there might find a more efficient foodstuff for their workers and slaves. The Royal Navy had gone beyond being a mere military arm and its base at Plymouth was the perfect launch pad for its expanding scientific horizons. Artists and Botanists were also attached to ships as they travelled the world looking for new species or commercial activities that the British economy could get a head start on. The most famous of these would be Charles Darwin who sailed from Plymouth on a five year voyage in 1831. This voyage would form the foundation for his theory of evolution and showed just how far the Admiralty was prepared to go in subsidizing the pursuit of knowledge and a better understanding of the world.

Unfortunately, tradition and conservatism could undermine even the Royal Navy's own attempts to improve itself as an institution. An example from 1747 illustrated this when James Lind who had been tasked with finding the best solution to the scourge of Scurvy that so afflicted so many sailors on long voyages. He sailed from Plymouth on HMS Salisbury with 12 sailors suffering from scurvy and tried six different remedies. He found that those who ate fresh oranges and lemons recovered the fastest. He forwarded his research to the Admiralty in London who promptly ignored his sensible suggestions. This was possibly due to his lack of 'influential contacts' and was forgotten in the embers of the War of the Austrian Succession when other priorities came to the fore. It would take another half century before Gilbert Blane was able to recommend lemon or lime juice to the entire fleet in 1795 just in time for the Napoleonic Wars. During the War of 1812 - 1814 captured American sailors found it amusing to see the British sailors religiously take their medicine daily and called them 'Limeys' as a result.

Economically, Plymouth saw the pioneering of the production of Chinese style Porcelain by William Cookworthy in the 1750s. Europeans had long admired the sturdy and beautiful porcelain imported from the Far East. It was for this reason that it was given the name 'China'. Europeans had long tried to fathom the process kept secret by the Chinese so that they could produce it closer to its intended market. William Cookworthy was a chemist who was fortunate to be living and working in an area that had access to all the key ingredients required, notably China Clay and Moorstone which were both found on nearby Dartmoor. It helped that Plymouth was a port in that it allowed him to load up his delicate cargoes for export around the country and even to Europe and the colonies. Plymouth was joining the industrial revolution in earnest.

The Breakwater
British Empire in Plymouth
The Dutton
The near foundering of Cook's ship the Resolution on the rocks below the Citadel in 1772 was no isolated event. The sharp South Westerly winds could whip up powerful waves that made it difficult for ships to leave the anchorage safely. It was particularly difficult on the Cattewatter and Sutton harbour which were far more exposed than the Hamoaze. However, ships leaving the Hamoaze still had to follow a deep water channel the long way around Drake's Island which could expose them to the harsh winds. In an age of sail, the constant tacking and changing of direction could be a cumbersome process on entering or leaving the Sound. If the winds were too strong, it was impossible to leave the anchorage at all.

British Empire in Plymouth
Dutton's Cafe
Events in 1796 epitomised the need for some protective breakwater for Plymouth Sound. An East India ship the Dutton was foundered on the same rocks below the Citadel that had nearly finished off Captain Cook's Resolution. A disaster was narrowly averted thanks to the quick thinking and rapid response of Edward Pellew who successfully managed to rescue 500 men, women and children aboard the ship.

British Empire in Plymouth
Laying Foundation Stone of Breakwater
As the Napoleonic Wars saw Plymouth Dock grow even more in strategic importance and size, it was decided that it needed to have a breakwater. Various schemes were proposed before the Admiralty and town officials settled on a broad scheme with two access points on either side of it. Work was started by John Rennie and Joseph Whidbey in 1811 at the height of the Napoleonic Conflict. However, it would take far longer than anyone expected to complete. John Rennie ended up bequeathing the project to his son John Rennie Junior and it was not finally completed until as late as 1848. As fortune would have it, Napoleon himself was able to survey the impressive works when he arrived as a prisoner in Plymouth in 1815. Much to the satisfaction of Rennie, Napoleon was said to have admired the scale, extent and ambition of the project before being sailed off to his island prison at St. Helena. He is reported to have said that only after seeing the extent of this construction project could he understand how France could have lost a war to a country like Britain.

'Up the Creek Without a Paddle'
British Empire in Plymouth
Stonehouse Hospital
The Seven Years War had already seen a sharp increase in the facilities and defences of Plymouth Dock. From 1758 saw the building of a new facility at Stonehouse which would become the most cutting edge hospital of its time. It was built for the Royal Navy on grounds made available from Lord Edgcumbe. Previously, the Royal Navy had relied on hulks and existing ship capacity to care and tend for its sick and wounded. The unhygienic conditions of these cramped, dark and dingy hulks were totally inappropriate for medical care and caused many good sailors to die needlessly. Public health in and around Plymouth Dock was further undermined by one of the more unhelpful traditions of the Royal Navy. The disposal of dead sailors overboard was not confined to long ocean voyages. If any sailor died on a ship in port in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he was given a ceremony and then released over the side of the ship in accordance to naval tradition. Ships could remain in Plymouth for long periods of time waiting for victuals, crew or simply further orders. There were also the training and prison hulks which similarly disposed of its dead by releasing them overboard. This meant that the Plymouth Sound frequently had corpses of sailors or prisoners bobbing around on it. When the tide went out, all sorts of gruesome human remains could be found amongst the rockpools and seaweed of the coastline.

Clearly a new health regime was required for a Royal Navy that liked to see itself as being at the cutting edge of military technology and martial prowess. It seemed only sensible for the Admiralty to seek better ways of caring for its sailors. The hospital was built in an innovative manner of detached blocks linked by covered walkways in order to minimise the spread of infection which was a real issue in the Eighteenth Century. There was a surrounding wall constructed in order to prevent sailors from absconding without permission and to regulate access to the facility.

British Empire in Plymouth
Landing Stage for Stonehouse Hospital
The hospital was accessible by a landing stage on Stonehouse Creek. This is where the english phrase 'Up the Creek Without a Paddle' is said to have originated from. It refers to the fact that sailors who were ill and sick were not expected to row the boats to the landing stage. Those who had the oars knew that they were allowed to return to their ship once the patients had been deposited. It was also felt that some patients might be so reluctant to attend the hospital that they might have been prepared to use the paddles as weapons and so should be denied access to them. These days, the creek has been drained and the area is now a series of Rugby Grounds for Stonehouse Sharks and Devonport Services.

British Empire in Plymouth
Stonehouse Ward
In 1787, two prominent French surgeons, Jacques Tenon and Charles-Augustin de Coulomb visited the hospital and were very impressed with the facilities and conditions that they saw. They had been touring hospitals throughout Europe but agreed that this was the finest that they had seen so far. They proceeded to use it as a template and model for all future French hospitals. Their proposals even managed to survive the upheaval of the French Revolution. It is an irony that Stonehouse Naval Hospital provided the inspiration of what became known as Pavilion hospitals for Napoleon's forces and for all of France for another century to come.

A burial ground was acquired on the site of where St. Dunstan's School was later founded. At first, it was used for those who died in the hospital, but as the Navy was encouraged to consider alternative ways of disposing of its dead rather than dumping them in the Sound or Hamoaze, it began to be used more and more although many sailors preferred to be buried in church yards near to their home towns and loved ones. However, they would be expected to shoulder the costs of any burial other than at the designated Royal Naval graveyard.

Slavery and Piracy
British Empire in Plymouth
Brookes Slave Ship
Plymouth has had a long and complicated connection to slavery. In many ways, its progression and involvement in slavery mirrors Britain's own tortured relationship to the foul business. Plymouth went from being the launch pad of slaving expeditions from John Hawkins in the Sixteenth Century to being at the forefront of the anti-slave trade movement in the Eighteenth Century and ultimately to providing the facilities, personnel and ships to allow the Royal Navy to stamp out the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the Nineteenth Century.

Plymouth never supplied the same extent of slaving ships and investment that ports like Bristol and Liverpool dedicated to the enterprise. Although undoubtedly many of Plymouth's mariners almost certainly served on the slaving ships in their hey day of the Eighteenth Century. Plymouth was more likely to supply the victuals or receive the products required by Caribbean islands reliant on slave and plantation labour. Other than Hawkins' early slaving voyages, few ships left Plymouth to pick up slaves in West Africa and transport them across the Atlantic. However, occasionally slaving ships did call into Plymouth for repairs or supplies. The stench and foul conditions of the ship clearly marked these out as slavers. It is no accident that in 1788 the Plymouth Chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade published what became one of the truly iconic images of slavery; the Brookes Slave Ship. This was an artist's representation of how cramped and inhumane the transportation of slaves was. It was almost certainly inspired by viewings of slave ships that called into Plymouth en route to West Africa or having returned from the Caribbean. The image was so effective that it was reproduced and replicated many times in what was one of the first successful humanitarian campaigns of modern times. A copy of an original version of this image can be seen in Saltram House.

From 1807 onwards, the Royal Navy set up a West African Anti-Slave Trade patrol which operated from its base in Freetown along the coast of West Africa. Many of the ships and certainly many of the sailors involved in this anti-slave trade patrol hailed from Plymouth. Freetown had no port facilities and so Plymouth was the closest operating dockyard for any ships that needed substantial repairs or refits. These Royal Navy ships seized some 1600 slaving ships and released over 160,000 slaves over the next half century or so. This was not done without a significant cost in terms of money, men and even ships. West Africa was not known as the 'White Man's Grave' for nothing and some 2,500 sailors died on this station and many more had their health irreparably damaged and were forced out of the service due to ill health. The Royal Navy sent a constant stream of replacement ships and sailors to continue the fight against slave trade. What is surprising about their endeavour and sacrifice is that in many ways Royal Navy was over-extending its legal powers by intercepting ships of foreign navies on the High Seas. This was covered in the first few years by the fact that Britain was at war with France until 1815. However, once peace returned, Britain had to fight a long and complicated legal battle with other nations in order to gain permission to board and search foreign ships after it was clear that British flagged ships would almost certainly be stopped. Any Briton found to be involved in the Slave Trade would receive the poetic justice punishment of Transportation for 14 years. Naturally, slavers flew flags of countries that the British would find more problematic seizing. In the end, Britain signed a series of agreements with maritime nations like Holland, Spain and Portugal which set up Mixed Commissions in ports like Freetown to determine if slave ships had been seized legally. French and American ships were more problematic as they did not at first wish the Royal Navy to have the right to stop and search their ships (indeed British boarding of American ships was one of the reasons for the USA invading Canada in 1812). It should be said that the Americans and French did make slave trading illegal but did little to enforce these laws. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, was very aggressive indeed in stopping and searching ships along the West African coast and even going ashore to attack slave factories and breaking up slave holding Barracoons.

The Royal Navy's West Africa squadron was engaged in policing piracy every bit as much as tracking down illegal slave traders as they attempted to keep the sea channels open for everyone involved in legitimate commerce. One of the more impressive running down of pirates on the African coastline ended up with them being brought to Plymouth on June 5th 1834 aboard HMS Curlew which also brought in a prize vessel the Esperanza alongside. HMS Curlew's story started over a year earlier on the island of Principe off West Africa. Commander Trotter had heard that an American merchantman by the name of Mexican had been attacked and robbed of 20,000 silver dollars in September 1832. The attackers had been very aggressive and had bound the crew, forced them below, stolen everything, smashed rigging and navigational equipment and had locked the American crew below deck and then set fire to the ship before abandoning it. Fortunately, the cabin boy managed to slip his bindings and squeezed through an unsecured skylight, released everyone and extinguished the fire before it destroyed the vessel. Commander Trotter heard that a ship matching the description of the schooner that had attacked the Mexican was currently at anchor along the River Nazereth on the main coast not too far away. HMS Curlew sailed to investigate and discovered a Cuban ship at anchor. A small boarding party boarded the empty schooner called the Panda only to discover that the magazine had been primed to explode and a fuse was on its way. It was mercifully put out just in time. Wondering where the crew had gone, Trotter sent a small group ashore to ask a local king what had happened. The African leader was evasive, shots were fired which set off the primed magazine on the Panda throwing Commander Trotter into the water, killing 3 and wounding others. Appreciating the escalation of tension and likelihood of reprisals, the local king promptly handed over five of the Panda's crew to HMS Curlew.
British Empire in Plymouth
Piracy Trial Poster
Interrogating these prisoners, Trotter learned that the crew had divided up the silver and gone their separate ways dropping off the crew at various locations along the African coastline. Trotter embarked on one of the most impressive manhunts of the 19th Century and would spend the next year ruthlessly chasing them down. He headed to Gabon having heard that the second mate had been left there. However, when he got there he learned that the second mate had already departed for Cuba. So he headed back to Principe where he learned that two more of the crew were back on the mainland at another spot. But once again they had not found any pirates and worse yet many of their own crew got sick so they headed to Fernando Po to recuperate. Whilst there 5 Spanish sailors came ashore who had claimed that they had been shipwrecked. Trotter used his existing captives to confirm that they were indeed their fellow pirates. These five were promptly arrested with the youngest agreeing to turn King's Evidence. He explained that the Captain was still back at River Nazareth under the protection of the African King that they had already dealt with. HMS Curlew disguised herself as a Portuguese trading vessel and headed back alongside a legitimate English trading vessel. Sending the First Mate and a small group to act as traders to meet the king, they actually walked past the Spanish Captain they were hunting on their way to the meeting. The First Mate kept his cool and carried on to discuss with the king about trading for ivory.
British Empire in Plymouth
HMS Rattlesnake
On leaving the king's presence, Captain Don Pedro Gilbert seized the First Mate Matson and his small gang and imprisoned them in order to interrogate them. Matson held his nerve and kept to his story. He was eventually released by the suspicious Spanish Captain. At this point HMS Curlew arrived but now posing as a Brazilian trader. They invited the king's son aboard to look at their wares only to seize him as hostage. Within 24 hours, the prince was exchanged for Captain Gilbert and three other crew members. Interestingly, the prince was given all sorts of gifts and presents by the British in apology. One of the presents was a full Royal Naval Officer's Uniform. Trotter then learned that the Panda's First Mate and other crew members had bought a schooner by the name of the Esperanza from the Governor of the island of St. Thomas with which they intended to leave the area fully. So Trotter and the Curlew headed to the island and promptly seized the ship and took the pirate crew as prisoner. One more pirate was reported back at Nazareth again, so Trotter headed back once more. This time though the king seized the small group of sailors headed by First Mate Matson and they themselves were held as hostages. Fortunately another Royal Naval ship arrived and so the king handed over the last pirate and the sailor hostages at a much reduced price than had originally been asked for. It had taken over a year but the Curlew had arrested the vast majority of the pirate crew and a prize vessel and sailed them back to Plymouth. From Plymouth the pirates were sent on to the US aboard HMS Savage to stand trial whilst the prize ship was returned to their original Portuguese owners.
British Empire in Plymouth
HMS Rattlesnake
By an amazing coincidence, when HMS Savage arrived in Salem, the brig Mexican was at anchor in harbour and thanked the Royal Navy for their perseverance and agreed to give evidence against Don Pedro Gilbert and his crew. Don Pedro and five of his crew were found guilty of piracy. Only four were hanged as two others were shown leniency for showing bravery and humanity on separate occasions. President Jackson was delighted with Captain Trotter's determination to track down the pirates and wrote a personal thanks to Commander Trotter who was shortly after promoted to Captain.

Ford Cemetery nicely sums up Plymouth's complicated relationship with slavery with the location of two graves that could not be more different in their approaches and responses to the issues of slavery. On the one hand it contains a gravestone to an unsavoury character called John Williams Coath (1839 - 1874) who apparently was murdered in the South Pacific after partaking in what was known as 'blackbirding'. This was a ruse to encourage Islanders to come on to a ship that they believed to be a missionary ship. In fact, Coath was preceding a genuine missionary ship but once he had got islanders on to his ship he clapped them in irons and took them off to be sold as slaves. Barely a hundred yards away is a substantial obelisk memorial to 14 more reputable sailors and marines who died aboard HMS Rattlesnake whilst serving off the West African station on the Royal Navy's Anti-Slavery patrol from 1867 to 1871. Alas there is no general memorial to the two and a half thousand sailors and marines who died. Any memorials were at the behest of individual captains or wealthy crew members. This HMS Rattlesnake memorial is the closest we have of thanking all those Royal Naval personnel for their enormous sacrifices to fight slavery and free so many Africans from their terrible ordeal.

The Dock Lines (Devonport Lines)
British Empire in Plymouth
For a half a century after the Dock was built at Point Froward, it was considered to be safe from attack because of the complicated entrance to the Hamoaze. Then in 1756, when the Seven Years' War with France started, it was suddenly realised that the French could land elsewhere along the coast and attack the Dockyard from the landward side. These suspicions were heightened when the authorities discovered that French agents were indeed looking closely at the defences in and around Plymouth Dock. Therefore, with great urgency, in 1757 and 1758 two Acts of Parliament were passed to authorise the construction of defence fortifications.

Work started immediately and a ditch ranging in width from 12 to 18 feet was dug out of the limestone and slate. Six barracks, known as "squares", were also built to house the troops, with two more, New Cumberland and New Granby, being added afterwards. No invasion came and the work was stopped until the 1779 fleet of French and Spanish vessels appeared (described below) off the coast and panic set in again. General Dixon of the Board of Ordnance enlarged the ditch to 12 feet in depth and around 12 feet in width. Again no invasion occurred and the work stopped.

When another war with the French was seen as imminent the Board of Ordnance purchased 195 acres of land behind the glacis and in 1787 the Duke of Richmond, Master-General of the Ordnance, erected the 12-feet high King's Interior Boundary Wall. Other defensive fortifications including great archways with drawbridges were set up around Devonport and on the Cornish side of the river.

Although the Duke of Wellington condemned the fortifications as being inadequate in 1815, the work continued until the 1850s but in 1860 as a consequence of the Royal Commission on the defences of the Dockyards in the light of the Crimean War, it was recommended to wind down these defences and form a more secure line further out which came to be known as Palmerston's Forts and thus the 'Lines' were deemed no longer necessary. Some of the land was set aside to create Devonport Park, the rest was kept as a convenient parade and muster ground. The drawbridges were removed in 1865 and the archway on Devonport Hill was removed in 1877. Finally the trenches were filled in during 1886.

The American Revolution
British Empire in Plymouth
Inner Harbour, Hamoaze
Plymouth Dock had steadily expanded throughout the Eighteenth Century and the importance of the Dock to Britain's strategic requirements had been recognised by friends and foes alike. Plymouth Dock represented the military reach of a nation growing in power and confidence. As such, it was recognised as being central to the power of Britain at a time when some suspected that their liberties were in danger. Revolutionaries on the other side of the Atlantic had taken up arms in defence of their ancient liberties as Englishmen. They looked towards the Magna Carta and Common Law against a series of colonial governments that appeared to treat Englishmen differently overseas than they were treated at home in England. The Atlantic may appear to be wide and the colonies appear to have been remote from Plymouth but in an era where it was far easier to travel by ship than by land it felt proportionately closer than it does today. Besides, mariners from Plymouth had long engaged in Trans-Atlantic fishing and trading and regularly brought back news and information from their cousins in the New World. News of their rebellion was as likely to remind the people of Plymouth of their own stand in the English Civil War for their ancient rights as it was to engender hostility to their aims and actions. American revolutionaries found many sympathisers on this side of the Atlantic. The Scottish pamphleteer Thomas Paine is perhaps the best known, but a fellow Scottish radical by the name of James Aitken took his sympathies for the American cause to more destructive levels. He travelled to many of the dockyards in Southern England attempting to start fires and destroy Britain's military infrastructure. Dockyards were notoriously combustible places with large quantities of rope, tar, sail and wood in abundance. James Aitken was unsuccessful in his attempt to start a fire in Plymouth Dock, but was more successful in Bristol and Portsmouth where he caused extensive damage. It was James Aitken's actions that prompted a new offence being created on the British statute books of causing 'Arson in His Majesty's Dockyards' which was punishable by death. Devonport Dockyard would later have one of the last functioning hangman's nooses available in it. The law against Arson in Her Majesty's Dockyard was one of the very last death penalties removed from the statute books alongside treason as recently as 1998.

British Empire in Plymouth
View of Plymouth Dock
The American Revolution had a negative effect on the commercial activity of Plymouth but this was probably more than compensated for by the increase in military activity to service the ongoing campaign there. The Royal Navy played a large role in moving troops and bringing supplies to the armies fighting there. Once again large numbers of soldiers were passing through the area. The American Revolution sped up the barrack construction process in and around Plymouth and Plymouth Dock. The idea of billeting soldiers on the population had backfired on the British in the 13 colonies where the colonists resented it as much as the English had done so a century earlier. Proposals for new barracks were quickly given permission. Plymouth Dock was about to expand its defences and facilities once more.

Widespread public opinion only turned against the American revolutionaries after they sought and received support from England's traditional enemies of France and Spain. Now, all could agree who the enemy was. The war had escalated in the minds of Plymothians from a fight about rights to a more traditional showdown with ancient enemies. 1779 brought home the international nature of the Revolutionary wars when a large Franco-Spanish fleet of 60 ships carrying 30,000 soldiers entered Plymouth Sound and anchored in Cawsand Bay. It is believed that they were working on intelligence gathered by a spy who went by the name of Comtes de Parades. He seems to have spent a great deal of time, money and effort in Plymouth gathering information about Plymouth Dock, the Citadel and the surrounding defences. He seems to have bribed a sergeant in the Citadel to gain schematics of its layout and he had entered the dockyards frequently claiming to be a legitimate trader in maritime equipment. Their plan was to send the ships up the River Tamar to capture the various prison hulks and then put troops ashore to capture Millbay Prison and release the American Prisoners of War being held there to add to their own forces. These forces would then attack Plymouth Dock from the landward side whilst being bombarded from the River Tamar. The soldiers and prisoners would then board the ships and escape.

British Empire in Plymouth
Mount Edgcumbe
The arrival of the Franco-Spanish fleet was the greatest threat to Plymouth since the Spanish Armada or the Bretonside raids of the Middle Ages. Seeing an enemy fleet sail in to Cawsand Harbour alarmed officials and local people alike. Hurriedly, cannons were dragged into position, booms were placed across the Tamar and the Cattewater and Prisoners of War were taken off their hulks and marched into the interior where they would pose less threat. As fortune would have it, a severe storm on August 21st caused havoc with the enemy fleet. Unfamiliar with the depths and tides, the fleet dispersed back into the Channel rather than run aground or in to one another. Further fortune favoured the British when a returning flotilla of Royal Naval ships under the command Sir Charles Hardy hove into sight of the Rame Peninsular. In fact, they had been out searching for the invasion fleet but had missed it totally. As the Royal Naval ships readied for action, the larger but more cumbersome troopships of the Franco-Spanish fleet broke off and sailed home without firing a shot. The authorities were greatly relieved but the affair convinced them of the need to redouble efforts to fortify and improve the defences around Plymouth Dock and the Sound in general. A new blockhouse was built at Higher Stoke to cover the landward entrance to Plymouth Dock. The remains of this blockhouse are still very much in evidence and it is now a park with wonderful views across the Tamar, the Sound and Devonport. Further gun battery emplacements were built around the Hoe including at Mount Edgcumbe overlooking Cawsand Bay! Additionally a new barracks was built for the The Royal Marines at Stonehouse where they are still housed to this day.

British Empire in Plymouth
George III visits Plymouth
The foresight of dockyard planners was made apparent to King George III as he visited a new fourth dock being constructed at Plymouth Dock in 1789. He asked why they were building a dock that was far larger than any ship in service in the Royal Navy. The answer was given that the French were constructing a new ship Commerce de Marseilles that was larger than anything in the Royal Navy and might one day be captured as a prize and would need to be serviced and repaired somewhere. Sure enough, when war broke out in 1793, the Royal Navy captured the ship almost immediately off Toulon and it became the first ship to enter the new North Dock upon its completion!

The First Fleet
British Empire in Plymouth
Prison Hulks at Devonport
Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the government had offloaded its unwanted criminals and vagabonds by sending them to the Caribbean or latterly to North America. They were sent as indentured servants to serve in very harsh conditions in New England farms or in Southern plantations. This had allowed the colonies to add much needed labour and removed what were seen as unwanted elements from what was thought to be an increasingly overcrowded mother country. The Industrial Revolution was creating huge urban conurbations and agricultural improvements were forcing many to leave the countryside. Transportation of those who had committed even the most minor of crimes suited the authorities at both ends. This cosy deal came to an end with the rebellion of the American Colonies. From 1775, the British no longer wished to send criminals into a civil war that pit the local population against the British authorities. They figured that the indentured slaves were more likely to join the rebels than the government. Transportation was ceased and alternative arrangements had to be put in place.

British Empire in Plymouth
Prison Hulk Hamoaze
For the next decade, the industrial revolution only expanded in scale which just exacerbated all the problems of migration, urbanisation and crime. Temporary prison facilities were provided in the form of prison hulks. These were usually decommissioned naval ships stripped of their rigging and weapons and used as accommodation for prisoners. Even famous warships like Drake's Golden Hind and Captain Cook's Discovery ended their lives in ignoniminy as prison hulks. The conditions on board the ships were often appalling as little light penetrated the thick oak of the cramped and claustrophobic ships. Rats, lice and diseases thrived in the dark and dank conditions. Prisoners were often forced to 'pick oakum' which was a tedious and painful job of picking apart old ropes to fill mattresses with the by-product. The Hamoaze started filling up with these hulks as the quantity of prisoners increased but the means of disposing of them declined. The local towns were fearful of epidemics breaking out and spreading from the ships to shore. The authorities decided than an alternative destination was required fpr transporting undesirables.

Many destinations were considered including plans to send them to Africa or to the West Indies. However, it was regarded that these areas were particularly ill-suited to the constitution of Europeans. Besides, considerable resources would have to be set aside to guard the inmates from local populations. Captain Cook had identified a possible solution in the form of Australia in the Southern Seas. Although not empty, the local aboriginal population was not regarded as being sophisticated or numerous enough to pose significant risks to the would-be colonists. Additionally, the French and Dutch had expressed interest in establishing their own colonies in this part of the world. It was felt that the British might solve multiple problems by setting Australia as its transportation destination. That is to say, they could offload their convicts and clear the prison hulks from her ports and send the unwanted criminals to Australia to build the infrastructure of a new, fledgeling colony and even provide its population in the longer term. Experience in North America had taught the authorities that few convicted criminals made the journey back to Britain. After having invested so much time and established new relationships and acquired new skills few had the means or the motivation to bother returning to Britain.

On the 13th March, 1787, two ships sailed from Plymouth carrying convicts bound to serve a minimum of seven years in the wilderness of Australia. The ships, Friendship and Charlotte joined with a flotilla of nine other ships from Portsmouth to form what was referred to as The First Fleet under the command of Arthur Phillip. Certainly some of these forced first colonisers were from Plymouth itself including petty criminals like Edward Perkins, Charles Granger and Edward Petherick, amongst others no doubt. They were completely ignorant of their destination as were most of their Royal Marine gaolers. The journey lasted an awesomely long eight months with great privation for all on board before they arrived at Botany Bay. This was the spot selected by Captain Cook just a few years earlier. However, the first fleet thought that it had found a better location and moved further north to Port Jackson.

The First Fleet was followed by many more ships over the next half a century and even longer in the case of Western Australia which was still accepting convict ships as late as 1868. Plymouth continued to hold prisoners in prison hulks for many more years yet awaiting their ships to be taken to their new lives down under. These criminals were joined in the hulks by French, Spanish and later American prisoners of war when the Napoleonic Wars broke out. However, alternative accommodation was later constructed on Dartmoor to take these prisoners of war, therefore freeing up the hulks for civilian use.

Of course, Plymouth did not just supply many of the convicts but also many guards and administrators for the new penal colony. Many of those who were sent to guard the convicts ended up carving a life for themselves in the new colony through their privileged positions and personal industry. Returning was at least an option for the Royal Marines and administrators but one that was beyond the means of the vast majority of convicts who were forced to transition from penal servitude to enforced colonists.

British Empire in Plymouth
Training Hulk Hamoaze
Plymouth administrators in this new world included the 'famous' William Bligh of the Mutiny on the Bounty episode. He was actually to face a second mutiny when he tried to stand up to yet another Plymothian, John Macarthur, over control of rum sales and the rights of the militia to police the colony. John Macarthur was an example of one of the Marines who had remained in the colony and carved a new life for himself, but he resented it when new administrators tried to reduce his privileges and prerogatives. George Arthur supplies an example of a Plymouth man who became the administrator of the penal colony within a penal colony, Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania). This became the dumping ground for prisoners who were convicted of new and violent crimes in the new colony. Van Dieman's Land soon gathered for itself an unenviable reputation for itself as a place of harshness and brutality.

It was another Plymothian, Edmund Lockyer, who was responsible for British expansion to the West of the continent. In late 1826, Lockyer led an expedition to claim Western Australia for Britain. He sailed on the brig Amity, arriving at King George Sound with twenty troops and twenty three convicts. The military base established by Lockyer was named Frederick's Town, later renamed Albany, and would become an important deep water port and expand British control over the continent and denying it to rival European powers.

British Empire in Plymouth
Emigration Depot, Plymouth

By the 1850s, Australia no longer needed or wanted the convicts being sent its way. They preferred voluntary emigration and with an infrastructure in place and land plentiful it soon was able to attract migrants voluntarily. Many of these passed through Plymouth too, going through the emigration depot which was a purpose built facility just below the walls of the Citadel at Baltic Wharf. It was organised by John Marshall from 1835 who realised that Plymouth was the ideal location for anyone wishing to emigrate from the South of England as they would avoid the journey down the Channel against the prevailing winds. Plymouth also had good steamer connections to Ireland and so Irish seeking a new life could easily use Plymouth as a hub for their own emigration aspirations. John Marshall's model centre later provided the template for all emigration depots around the country. These were willing migrants who had purchased their own passages or were subsidised by destinations keen to attract skilled labour rather than have to rely on the lottery of skills afforded by reluctant emigrants. They primarily boarded ships to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the USA in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From early 1851, they became a largely government run organisation and required to take only emigrants sponsored or organised officially.

Plymouth’s Role in the Last Invasion of Britain
When was mainland Britain last invaded? 1066 by the Normans I hear from many of you! No 1688 by William of Orange I hear from others…. But how many are shouting out the correct date of 1797? Hence, in March 1797, you could witness two Royal Naval ships by the names of St. Fiorenzo and La Nymphe escort into Plymouth Sound two bedraggled French ships called Resistance and Constance. The story is quite bizarre about how the remnants of the French invasion fleet ended up in Plymouth that March day.

British Empire in Plymouth
Droits de L'Homme
Revolutionary France was keen to spread revolution far and wide in the late 1790s and it was hoped that Ireland would make a particularly good location to foment unrest. The original masterplan was to land 15,000 French soldiers in Bantry Bay in Southern Ireland and march to join with the Society of United Irishmen and sweep the British out of Ireland once and for all. This main invasion was to be supported by two feint invasions at Bristol and Newcastle to confuse the Royal Navy and keep the British government and military guessing as to the true objective of the French Revolutionaries. The plan may well have worked if the fleet en route to Ireland had not been hit by a severe storm which scattered many of its ships including that of its commander General Hoche far into the Atlantic. Most of the ships did manage to limp into Bantry Bay, but the second in Command, Emanuel Grouchy (who also let Napoleon down at Waterloo 18 years later), refused to disembark his troops and carry on the invasion without his commander. Had he done so, he would have discovered that there were only 30 yeomanry cavalrymen to face his thousands of troops for 200 miles. Two weeks of indecision saw the fleet eventually retire back to France somewhat in disgrace and much to the anger of the United Irishmen. As this fleet headed back Sir Edward Pellew (who only the year before had achieved huge fame in Plymouth for helping to rescue hundreds of passengers aboard the Dutton as it hit rocks outside of the Barbican (see above)) in charge of a squadron of frigates forced a French 74 gun Ship of the Line (Droits de l’homme) onto the rocks of Brittany with great loss of life to its sailors and the soldiers it was carrying. Apart from this isolated action, the rest of the French fleet limped back to port unceremoniously.

Bizarrely, despite this abject failure, the two feint attacks still went ahead. The one headed towards Newcastle never even made it ashore as the flat bottomed vessels suffered terribly in the North Sea and they eagerly limped back to France at the first opportunity. However, the other feint towards Bristol did indeed land troops ashore - although nowhere near Bristol! Given the huge tidal variation of the Bristol Channel, the small French fleet under Admiral Castagnier was rightly worried that they had been spotted by English merchant vessels in the Bristol Channel and so resorted to plan B which was to land their 1500 troops of the Black Legion under the command of American soldier (and veteran of the American War of Independence) William Tate in Wales. They were known as the Black Legion due to their uniforms which had actually been British uniforms captured after the unsuccessful British landing at Quiberon in Brittany in 1795. The uniforms of the captured British soldiers were dyed black and given to Tate’s soldiers. The word soldiers is possibly too grand a term to use given that the vast majority of his troops were prisoners who were given the ability to fight for their freedom or remain incarcerated. There were about 200 trained Grenadiers, the rest were little more than a rabble. Admiral Castagnier successfully deposited the French troops just outside of Fishguard. The Grenadiers seized the surrounding high ground and the rabble set to work looking for transport and gathering food for their ambitious plan to march first to Bristol and then to Liverpool encouraging revolution as they travelled. In reality, the rabble troops started an orgy of looting whilst local British militia and yeomanry descended on the isolated French troops. The people of Wales showed no interest in Revolution whatsoever. No sooner had Admiral Castagnier’s fleet set sail than Tate surrendered with barely any shots being fired other than those required for looting purposes.

British Empire in Plymouth
Resistance and Constance
Admiral Castagnier then went to support the non-existent French landing at Bantry Bay as those were his orders. In fact he knew that the expedition had already returned to France but given the Terror back in Paris and the use of the Guillotine on anyone who defied orders, he was determined to fulfil his meaningless orders. He did actually manage to intercept a convoy of 11 British merchant ships and sank all of them and took 400 sailors as prisoners of war. Shortly after this a storm damaged two of his three ships. The Resistance lost her rudder and was put under tow by the Constance. Admiral Castagnier left the two ships to struggle back to Brest and sailed off in the Vengeance. Resistance and Constance were within sight of the port of Brest and must have felt they were home and dry when the two Royal Naval frigates under the command of Sir Harry Burrard Neale swooped towards them. The two frigates sailed to within 40 yards of the French ships and delivered devastating broadsides. Within minutes the two French ships struck their colours and surrendered. 18 French sailors had been killed and 15 were seriously wounded. Remarkably none of the hundreds of British prisoners were injured. Prize crews boarded the French ships and they were sailed from the entrance of Brest back to Plymouth Dock for a triumphant end to the whole invasion fiasco. The pubs would soon be full of triumphant and happy sailors spending their prize money. The Royal Navy had reasserted the wooden walls that would guard Britain from any further invasion. Both French ships were converted in Plymouth Dock into Royal Naval ships. The Resistance was a particularly well made ship and was renamed as HMS Fisguard (using the archaic name for Fishguard) in honour of its ill fated invasion fame. The following year she captured the French ship Immortalite just outside the Thames and in 1801 she was involved in the attempted rescue of HMS Augustus which ran aground just below the Citadel in Plymouth Sound. Fisgard’s boats saved the crew and many of its stores although HMS Augustus itself was a write off. This was yet another compelling reason to build a breakwater to give some protection to this home of the Royal Navy. Fisgard went on to have an illustrious career capturing many prizes over the years before she was finally paid off in 1814. Most of the black legion ended up in prison hulks before many of them were eventually exchanged for British prisoners of war from other campaigns. These prison hulks themselves were also thought to be something of a liability in case of any future French invasions of Plymouth or Portsmouth. It was one of the reasons that plans were made to build Dartmoor Prison far from any potential invasion force who might free the prisoners and use them to supplement any attack on the ports. So the botched invasion of Wales ended up with all sorts of side effects for Plymouth and Plymouth Dock.

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
British Empire in Plymouth
Mill Prison
The 1790s proved to be a tense time for the British as Revolutionary ideas threatened to spill over from the Channel and sweep all before it. The defensive measures begun during the American Revolutionary Wars were proving to be invaluable but incomplete. Yet more barracks needed to be constructed to deal with the inflow of troops who were required to fight on a truly global scale. Frankfort Place saw the construction of new barracks as was the case at Millbay next to Mill prison. These barracks were also to supply the guards for the prison which was used to house American, Spanish and French prisoners of war and would be very heavily utilised over the coming years. Overcrowding became such a problem that many of the soldiers had to be moved onto prison hulks or taken out onto Dartmoor.

The superiority of the Royal Navy was soon illustrated by a fleet that left Plymouth in 1794 under Admiral Howe. Howe sailed his Channel Fleet to intercept and defeat a French Fleet of 26 warships off Brest in what was known as the 'glorious first of June'. Prize ships were brought back to Plymouth for processing and happy sailors spent their rewards in the pubs and brothels of the port.

British Empire in Plymouth
Stoke Military Hospital
Not all expeditions launched from Plymouth were so successful. A fleet had been assembled in Plymouth to take the fight to the Caribbean. Disease and mismanagement assailed the enterprise from the very beginning and soon many thousands of sick and wounded were returning to Plymouth. The Navy had their own hospital ships and naval hospital to deal with their wounded but they did not wish to take on the costs or responsibility of treating soldiers. By 1795, Plymouth was overcrowded with sick and wounded soldiers. Temporary hospitals were set up in the newly constructed Frankfort and Millbay Barracks but could not cope with the volume or severity of troops needing medical attention. Plans were made to construct a purpose built hospital close to Stoke Damerel Church on the opposite bank of the creek that housed the Royal Naval hospital. Four blocks were constructed and linked by an impressive colonnade of 41 arches, the longest arcade in Britain at the time. It was to be reached by road or by creek via its own landing stage. The name given to the new institution was Stoke Military Hospital. It is now the site of Devonport High School for boys (to which the author attended - and recalls the tuck shop being the old morgue!). In 1809 the shattered remnants of Sir John Moore's army arrived in Plymouth after their retreat from Corunna. Many thousands of sick and wounded passed through the hospital. Interestingly, the hospital had no permanent staff of its own but rather the regiments using the facilities provided the staff necessary. One interesting doctor who seemed to serve in this hospital from 1813 was the first female ever to have graduated from medical college in Britain. Bizarrely, the only way she could achieve this accolade at this point in time was to dress as a man which she did for the rest of her life. She went by the name of James Barry and went on to have a very full and active medical career with postings all over the Empire.

1796 illustrated how dangerous warships could be when HMS Amphion exploded on the Hamoaze with the loss of 300 men. It was being victualled when the accident occurred. These wooden ships were full of gunpowder and accidents were an occupational hazard. What made the tragedy even worse was that families were aboard the ship in anticipation of its sailing the next day in order to maintain the blockade on Brest. Only 10 people survived the accident.

British Empire in Plymouth
Sir Thomas Byard
St. Budeaux Church is the resting place of an impressive late 18th Century Royal Navy Captain who was proving himself to be a remarkable leader. He lived in Mount Tamar not far from his parish church. As you enter the door to St. Budeaux church you will see on the opposite wall the dedication to Sir Thomas Byard the Captain of HMS Foudroyant. This was a brand new ship that had just been built in Plymouth Dock in 1798. On his previous ship, HMS Bedford, Thomas Byard had fought at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 where the Dutch Fleet had been decisively defeated. Being moved to Captain of the brand new HMS Foudroyant was his reward for his conduct during that important battle. Earlier in his career he fought in the American Revolutionary Wars. After that he made an impression on King George III when the king came to Plymouth as part of his Royal Tour of the Westcountry in 1789. King George stayed with the Parker family at Saltram House. From there, Thomas Byard commanded King George’s Royal Barque and took the King to review of the fleet in Plymouth Dock. The King was supposedly so taken with Thomas’ manner, and indeed manners, that the King rewarded Thomas with a knighthood. As the French Revolution spilled into warfare, Byard was sent with a flotilla to the occupation of Toulon where coincidentally a young French revolutionary artillery officer by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte would first make his name as a formidable commander of men. The British had hoped that a split between the Girondists and Jacobins would give Royalists in France an opportunity to regain control of their country.
British Empire in Plymouth
Bellone v Foudroyant
Alas, that young Napoleon would help thwart those plans. Byard’s last operation as Captain of HMS Foudroyant was against the French Fleet at the Battle of Tory Island off the North-East coast of Ireland on October 12th 1798. This was the last action of the ill fated French attempt to stir Ireland into rebellion against Britain. And indeed this particular threat, although defeated, would lead to Britain formally incorporating Ireland into the newly formed United Kingdom in 1801 with the dissolution of the Irish Parliament but with Ireland being given MPs to sit directly in Westminster. During that battle HMS Foudroyant took a prominent part in the capture of seven French prizes. Oh how the crew must have celebrated when they got back to Plymouth Dock to receive their prize money. Sadly their Captain would not be joining them in their celebrations as he died en route. I have not been able to ascertain as to how he died, but given that the Battle of Tory Island was on October 12th and he died on October 30th it could well have been as a result of a wound received in that battle. Either that or disease. Interestingly, shortly after Byard’s unfortunate death, HMS Foudroyant would become the flagship of a certain Horatio Nelson who began his time stationed at Plymouth thanks largely to the opportunity to command such a new and powerful ship which had just lost its captain! One does wonder if Sir Thomas Byard’s name might not have been as famous as Nelson’s had he lived or indeed to what extent Nelson owes his career and fame to the opportunity afforded due to the sad death of brave but effective mariners such as Sir Thomas Byard?

Horatio Nelson arrived in Plymouth to take command of Plymouth based HMS Foudroyant on 6 June 1799. He would use Plymouth as his base of operations for the next two years. His fame had already preceded him and his reputation gave heart to an England still concerned at the thought of invasion from France. Nelson's primary duty was to help thwart any such gathering of a French Fleet that might well head to these shores. He departed Plymouth formally in June 1801 for another command but upon leaving he was afforded the freedom of the City of Plymouth for his victories to date. One of his more famous crewmen lived in Plymouth at 156 Durnford Street, Stonehouse. This was Thomas Hardy to whom Nelson cried out 'Kiss me Hardy' shortly before his death at the battle of Trafalgar. Hardy went on to become a Vice-Admiral and had a long and illustrious career in his own right.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Harbour
Plymouth was known to be a town with an exceptional pool of talent for the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, not everyone wanted to take the King's shilling and serve at sea in what could be horrendous conditions. Press gangs were used extensively to round up adequate personnel for the insatiable demands of the Royal Navy in time of war. Even fishing boats returning to Plymouth Sound could expect to be stopped by Royal Naval ships and have their men press ganged into the Navy there and then.

Morale in such a reluctant workforce could be a serious problem and only ferocious discipline could keep the men in place. The use of the Cat o'Nine Tails was not always sufficient and a fleet wide mutiny took place in 1797. News had arrived of the serious mutiny at Spithead and before long Red Flags were flying from the ships at Plymouth Dock. Attempts to diffuse the situation by increasing the pay were handled badly at Portsmouth and word of the failure of the Admiralty to honour their promises hardened attitudes in Plymouth. Officers were thrown out of, or even off, their ships and mobs rampaged through the three towns in search of booze and a good time. The mutiny was only quelled when Admiral Viscount Keith arrived personally to restore law and order. He had been the man in charge of quelling the main mutiny at Nore and was known to be a determined officer. He asked that 50 of the ring leaders be handed over and that the rest would be pardoned for taking part in the disturbances. When men armed with cutlasses and bayonets threatened to attack him he drew his sword and asked who would like to be the first to try to run him through! His authority prevailed and the mutiny was subdued. Fourteen ring leaders were condemned to death and others were sentenced to a lashing.

A drummer boy at the Royal Marines barracks reported to his commander that he had overheard some of the Royal Marines discussing an uprising. The Commandent immediately barred the barrack gates, disarmed all the Marines and began questioning to find out about the conspiracy. After extensive questioning three ring leaders were discovered. It was claimed that one Englishman and two Irishmen were plotting to head to the nearby Mill Prison where they would release the French Prisoners of War, arm them and take over the Government. Revolutionary ideas like these petrified the authorities and all three were condemned to death and executed very publicly on Plymouth Hoe by firing squad to ensure that no one else contemplated harbouring such dangerous ideas.

Overall tension relaxed in the three towns after news reached the port of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar in 1805. There was much rejoicing tinged by the sadness of the death of one of their favourite heroes, Admiral Nelson. The threat of an invasion or a raid on Plymouth had been removed and the port looked forward to a steady trickle of prize ships as the Royal Navy asserted its supremacy on the High Seas.

Plymouth provided much of the launch pad for the various Peninsular War campaigns from 1807 onwards. Transport ships crowded into the harbour awaiting their troops before sailing to Portugal or Spain. As mentioned previously, the battered army from Corunna were brought back to Plymouth to recover as best they could. Sir Arthur Wellesley (who would become the Duke of Wellington) used Plymouth to prepare for his own Peninsular Campaigns in 1809 and he was back in Plymouth again in 1812 to launch his Salamanca campaign. The troopships often brought back French and Spanish prisoners of war to join those taken from ships.

It was clear that the facilities in Plymouth could not cope with the influx of prisoners of war. It had been Plymouth's MP, Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, who had proposed building a new prison on Dartmoor at Prince's town. Work was started in 1805 but it was not until 1809 that it received its first inmates. At its height it held nearly 10,000 American, Spanish and French prisoners of war. The men were employed in the nearby quarries or in building dry stone enclosures for the farmers, many of which can still be seen today.

Whilst the British were busily fighting Napoleon, Americans attempted to take advantage of Britain's overstretched military machine by invading Canada in 1812. They did not fully realise that the French in Canada were more sympathetic to the Royalist cause than to that of Napoleon and the Revolutionaries. Determined resistance from the Canadians and the Native Americans prevented the Americans from achieving their war aims. The effects on Plymouth were minimal except that all ships travelling to and from North America were required by the admiralty to travel in guarded convoys, many of which were organised in Plymouth Sound or arrived there. The Admiralty worked very closely with the insurance companies to ensure that insurance premiums for shipping did not rise despite attacks by American privateers or Navy. An example of American raiding ships was that of the Argus that raided shipping off the coast of Wales in 1813. It was intercepted by HMS Pelican and a fierce battle resulted that saw the Americans surrender their ship. Their captain William Allen had been mortally wounded in the fight and died at Millbay Prison hospital. In an example of naval chivalry he was permitted to be buried with full military honours and accompanied by his crew at St. Andrew's Church.

British Empire in Plymouth
Belair House
The people of the three towns were recorded the rare opportunity of seeing the foe that had created so many problems in the flesh after he was brought to Plymouth aboard the Bellerophon. He had surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland in the hope that he would be treated more fairly by the British than he might have expected from the Royalist French. Maitland returned to Plymouth with his unusual passenger to await further orders on what to do with him. Napoleon was deliberately kept from coming ashore at Plymouth otherwise he might be afforded the rights of the Magna Carta and demand a trial. There was little appetite for such an event that might drag on for years, cost a fortune and worst of all he may have found sympathisers in the jury and in the court of public opinion. If he remained on board ship anchored out at sea (it did not berth) off Cawsand then he would come under the Admiralty Law of the Royal Navy. In effect he could be treated as a Prisoner of War. Key Royal Naval senior officers met at Belair House in Pennycross to weigh up the options and to discuss what to do with their prisoner. Belair House belonged to Captain Thomas Elphinstone who was a kinsman of Lord George Keith Elphinstone who was the Admiral of the Channel Fleet and Lieutenant Governor of Plymouth. Also present was Captain Maitland and Admiral Sir Thomas Duckworth the Commander-in-Chief in Plymouth. The Admiralty sent messages to Belair House seeking Lord Keith's recommendations. The Admiralty was concerned at the notoriety of Napoleon and that revolutionary sympathisers might start arriving in Plymouth from all over the country. They wanted a quick and decisive solution. Apparently, in Belair House they cleared the dining room table of plates and dishes and laid out maps and considered the pros and cons of various locations that the Royal Navy could access easily across the globe.
British Empire in Plymouth
Napoleon in Plymouth
Thomas' nephew Alexander Elphinstone stood guard with a drawn sword at the door to the dining room to make sure nobody could eavesdrop on the discussions. It should be said that whilst awaiting his fate Napoleon became quite the tourist attraction as people came from miles around to catch a glimpse of the renowned warrior and would-be Emperor on his own personal prison ship. He generally left his cabin to walk around the deck of the ship every evening at 6pm. There could be quite a commotion as people paid boatmen to take them out to see him at that time. Several times, blank shots had to be fired out over the water to keep sightseers at bay. There is a famous painting in Plymouth Museum which shows the extent of the mayhem. It reached such a point of pandemonium that at least one person, John Boynes, was killed in an accident whilst attempting to view the Great Man. His gravestone marking the events surrounding his death can be seen in the graveyard of St Andrew and St Luke at Stoke Damerel. As mentioned above, he was very impressed at the extent of the Breakwater construction project and is said to have remarked that he now understood why France had lost to a country like Britain that could undertake such mammoth engineering projects.

British Empire in Plymouth
John Boynes' Grave
The assembled officers eventually hit on the idea of the remote Atlantic island of St. Helena as Napoleon's destination and prison. Once cleared with the Admiralty, Napoleon's fate was kept a secret until Lord Keith boarded the Bellerophon to inform Napoleon directly. Napoleon was horrified and regarded the sentence as an effective death penalty. He attempted to negotiate and argue with Lord Keith who doggedly failed to engage and merely kept repeating that he was following orders of the Admiralty and would ensure that they were undertaken in full. The ship set sail before anyone could divulge their new mission. They did not want anyone to know of the destination in case an attempt to intercept Napoleon was made. They first sailed to Torbay and transferred Napoleon from the Bellerophon to a new ship HMS Northumberland for the outward journey. In fact, so paranoid was the Royal Navy (and remembering that Napoleon had escaped from his previous island prison of Elba), they also placed garrisons on the nearest islands of Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island to deter anyone from using these as bases to launch a rescue attempt. This is despite the fact that they were some 2,000 miles away from St. Helena.

Unusually, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars had been good to Plymouth. Most areas had found inflation and declining economic activity. Plymouth Dock on the other hand had received considerable investment into her infrastructure. Furthermore, the success of the Royal Navy meant that prize ships were flooding into the Sound, being auctioned off and the money was being spent by eager sailors in all of the three towns. The war had provided a boom for the local economy.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth, Stonehouse and Dockyard, 1820
Plymouth Dock had done particularly well out of the war outstripping the population of Plymouth for the first time. Civic pride demanded that the upstart community illustrate to its older sibling which was the more successful borough. John Foulston was employed to lay out considerable new public amenities and buildings. Much of the development was funded privately as Plymouth Dock's economy had swelled under the successful expansion of the dockyards and from the war itself. An imposing Town Hall, a library built in a distinctive Egyptian style, ballrooms, assembly rooms, hotels and theatres were all laid out in magnificent Regency style with imposing boulevards and vistas. For seven years following Napoleon's visit to Plymouth Sound, Plymouth Dock was a massive building site, but the results were magnificent. Sadly, much of this architecture was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War Two, or by town planners in the post-war period. However, glimpses can still be caught of the ambition of the fledgeling community.

British Empire in Plymouth
Admiral's Hard, Stonehouse
Many of the inhabitants of Plymouth Dock were concerned that the name of the community made it seem subservient to the far older settlement of Plymouth and that it was merely an adjunct to it. In 1823, King George IV was petitioned to allow them to change its name. He consented to it being called 'Devonport' from 1824. To commemorate this historic moment, a magnificent Doric Column was constructed overlooking Union Street, the main thoroughfare to Plymouth. The new community intended to arrive in style.

British Empire in Plymouth
Royal William Yard
Stonehouse was by far the smallest of the three boroughs but it would also receive its own opportunity to expand its size and importance and carve out a vital role for itself. Getting enough fresh supplies and victuals to the navy, army and marines had always been an issue. Ships going on long journeys needed the freshest water, vegetables, fruit and meat that it could lay its hands on. The Royal William Victualling Yard was to be built between 1824 and 1835 and provide state of the art barrelling, packing and slaughtering facilities so that ships could pull alongside the warehouses and processing units, fill up with fresh supplies and sail straight out to sea and to their long ocean voyages. it covered an impressive 14 acres of land, half of which was reclaimed from the sea. It had a high wall around it in order to prevent its valuable stores from being pilfered or smuggled out of the facility. It provided a level of logistical support to the Royal Navy that had hitherto been unknown in its history.

Plymouth Company of New Zealand
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Company Plaque
The colonisation of New Zealand by the English was largely hatched and conducted from Plymouth through the Plymouth Company of New Zealand. Both the North and South Islands were already known to the English and had already been surveyed by two sailors with strong Plymouth connections; James Cook and William Bligh in the 18th Century. It was felt that the islands were peculiarly promising for British settlers as it appeared, if somewhat deceptively, to be a colony that was a mirror image of Britain and therefore with a geography and a climate that was felt to be conducive to British agricultural techniques.

The Plymouth Company of New Zealand was established at a public meeting on 25th January 1840. It was supposed to be an association of 'worthy' gentlemen from Devon and Cornwall, with the Earl of Devon as its first Governor. Its aim was to offer a fresh start to hard-working families from the 'labouring classes' who were struggling in the harsh economic winds that were effecting countryside and urban settlements alike. They set up a Company headquarters at 'New Zealand House' at 5, The Octagon, Union Street.

The company heavily subsidised those who wished to sail to the new colony. The first ship to set sail from Plymouth was the William Bryan which slipped out of Plymouth on the 19th November, 1840. There is a small plaque opposite the Mayflower steps that commemorates this voyage. The ship had been substantially delayed due to two violent Autumn storms

After a tortuously long journey that took 140 days to complete, the colonists established themselves in Taranaki and named their new settlement in honour of their old one 'New Plymouth'. An Ordinance Surveyor had arrived in the area just three months earlier to chose a suitable site and survey the area. With fertile soil stretching on a gentle slope from the sea, the area was christened 'The Garden of New Zealand' although more in hope than in reality.

Six months after the arrival of the William Bryan the second ship sponsored by the Plymouth Company arrived; The Amelia Thompson. Four more ships; Oriental, Timandra, Blenheim and Essex arrived from Plymouth bringing a total of 585 settlers to the colony.

The New Plymouth Colony did not thrive at first largely due to the fact that the the surveyor had not selected the best site after all. The coastline was dangerous and it was precarious for shipping and fishing. The settlers were reluctant to buy the company land and drifted off to the better placed Port Nicholson. Within two years, the Plymouth Company was in dire financial straits and ended up merging with the more successful New Zealand Company of London.

Throughout the 19th Century, streams of emigrants departed from Plymouth. Most of these were processed and organised for departure at the Emigration depot which was a purpose built facility just below the walls of the Citadel at 'Baltic Wharf'.

Plymouth as an Entrepot
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Customs House
Plymouth had started life as a fishing port. However, its deep anchorages meant that ships from all over the world could visit and deposit their wares or pick up new merchandise from the many warehouses in the port. Before trains, transportation by boat and ship was the most economical form of trading and Plymouth joined in with that trade. It first made its reputation in the Seventeenth Century importing wine from France. This lasted until 1688 and the Glorious Revolution. When James Stuart fled to France all trade with that country was banned. The enterprising traders of Plymouth just sought alternative products to replace French wine. Fortified wines from Spain and Portugal filled the vacuum, with port becoming a particular favourite.

The problem with importing goods was that it was liable for customs and duties. In an era before income tax, these indirect taxes provided the bulk of income to the government. There was therefore a great temptation to avoid paying these taxes by smuggling the goods into the country. Cawsands in particular became a famed smugglers haunt as ships called into the little village before completing the journey into Plymouth and a visit by the customs officer to declare the goods being brought in. Plymouth had its first Customs House in the Sixteenth Century to process the paying of duties and declaring goods entering and exiting the port. It was updated and modernised to deal with the increased volume of trade after the Napoleonic Wars in 1820.

British Empire in Plymouth
Millbay Station
Plymouth became one of the primary ports to import sugar cane and refine it into sugar crystals. This was one of the most imperial of exports. Sugar became incredibly popular in Europe and commanded high prices in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was one of the products brought back by John Hawkins and Francis Drake after there voyages to the Caribbean in the 1560s. It's refining was notoriously tricky to do but it seems to have been attempted in Plymouth almost from the day it first came ashore. Remains of a Seventeenth Century refinery have been discovered at Coxside and another has been found in Plympton. The heyday of the industry in the port was in the Nineteenth Century when entrepreneurs like James Bryant set up industrial sized sugar refineries at Mill Lane just behind the Methodist Central Hall (The site is now a Car Park). Production at the site continued until the 1890s when locally produced and cheaper sugar beet took over from the more expensive Caribbean sugar cane. It needed a different refining process and was no longer needed to be so close to a port. Beet could be grown locally and besides, the railway was now providing a more efficient means of moving goods around the country.

For a long time, commercial imports were landed at Sutton Harbour in the old town of Plymouth. However, as Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport all massively expanded in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, there began to be calls for an improved docking infrastructure available to the area. William Burt, the Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to the 'Plymouth and Dock Telegraph' in 1814 explaining that:

British Empire in Plymouth
Early Steamship in Plymouth, c1830
"...Millbay might be rendered a safe refuge for every kind of shipper, by the erecting of suitable piers, as the tide flowing there, rises to a considerable height, and vessels might come in and go out at all times.To make the design complete, a canal, or passage for the tide, should be cut into the Marsh under the management of the company, which in the event of the establishment of the West Indies, Newfoundland, South Sea, and other trades would form an admirable bason for the ships employed there-in, and be a motive for strangers to visit the port. ...Warehouses similar to those constructed around the West India dock (London) should be constructed around it."

British Empire in Plymouth
Unloading the Mail at Millbay
The idea would take another three decades before work on a steamship pier was completed in 1844 after five years of construction. Ideas to expand even these facilities were put forward to take advantage of the newly improved postal system. The British government wanted safe steamship facilities near to a railhead so that letters could be sent and received from the Empire and the wider World. Competition for two rival systems at Sutton Harbour and Millbay were put forward. The Millbay idea ultimately won out as it was felt that it had a deeper port available to it and because a railway could be laid directly to it with a minimum of disruption to existing homes and businesses. Construction started on expanding the deep water port facilities at Millbay with a railway line being laid directly to the port. The entire integrated project was built and developed by the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was called the Great Western Docks. This meant that goods could be unloaded and placed directly on the railways or vice versa. In 1845, on her maiden voyage, Brunel arranged for the SS Great Britain to arrive at Millbay Pier, Plymouth, to promote his new venture. Some 1800 ships a year entered and left the port of Plymouth bringing foodstuffs, fuel and minerals to and from the port. This railhead - port combination also meant that Plymouth could start competing for the long haul passenger business. The Duke of Cornwall hotel was built to host wealthy travellers who might be waiting for a ship to take them somewhere in the Empire or to the USA or to recover for a few nights have recently alighted from a journey. It also meant that passengers in a hurry, mail or important communications could get off at Plymouth and take a train to Bristol or London at a considerably faster rate than a ship would be able to manage. It was known as "the route which cuts the corners off".
British Empire in Plymouth
Aerial View of Millbay in 1926
By the mid-1880s ships belonging to many famous British and international shipping lines called at Plymouth, operating routes World wide; across the North Atlantic, serving the West Indies, sailing to West and South Africa and voyaging further east to India, Australia, New Zealand and China.

In the first half of the Twentieth Century a total of over 6 million passengers landed or embarked at Millbay including famous personalities such as General Allenby, Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Chevalier, Judy Garland, Winston Churchill, Clemenceau, Bebe Daniels, Marlene Dietrich, Walt Disney, Douglas Fairbanks, Helen Keller, John F Kennedy, Pierre Laval, Vivian Leigh, Lloyd George, Ben Lyon, Anna Pavlova, General Pershing, Mary Pickford, Cecil Rhodes, Bernard Shaw, General Smuts and HG Wells.
British Empire in Plymouth
Normandie in Plymouth Sound
The Titanic was scheduled to dock in Plymouth on its return voyage but never had the opportunity to do so. However, the surviving crew of the Titanic came ashore at Plymouth before taking the train back to Southampton after their rescue. The peak year for liner traffic was 1930, when 788 liners visited the port. The very biggest ships stayed out in the Sound and ferried people to and from Millbay by small tenders. This was mainly to save time as berthing large ships was a complicated procedure that was difficult to implement. Often it was the last opportunity for ships to take on fresh food before embarking on long journeys over the Atlantic.
British Empire in Plymouth
Millbay Dry Dock

A commercial dry dock was added to the Millbay facilities in 1857. Thanks to the Royal Navy, there was a large pool of expertise in the area to undertake repairs for commercial ships and even to build ships. For a over a century, Millbay dry dock was in operation not closing down until 1969.

British Empire in Plymouth
Gun Wharf
Before she became Queen of England, a young Princess Victoria very nearly came to grief in the harbour at Devonport. In 1833 she was lucky to escape alive when the Royal Yacht Emerald, in which she was travelling, failed to stop and was carried under a hulk in the Hamoaze. The mainmast was seriously damaged and the sail and gaff fell onto the deck only narrowly missing Princess Victoria and her mother. The rest of the visit seemed to go smoothly with an attendance to the Dockyard Chapel and an excursion over to Mount Edgcumbe.

She returned in 1843 with her husband Albert. By this time she was Queen of England and was keen to see the extent of the modernisation going on at Plymouth Docks. She arrived by sea but was met by a flotilla of well wishers and struggled to get through the throng to land at Plymouth Dock. Once there she toured the newly launched 90 gun ship Hindostan and visited the defences of the port. She then travelled along Union Street en route to the Citadel.

Victoria returned to Plymouth in 1846 en route to Cotehele house on the Tamar River. On returning back down the Tamar, her yacht stopped at Devonport to receive visits from local and naval dignatories. The queen and her husband seem to have enjoyed an evening's entertainment of dancing and singing from naval personnel in a very relaxed manner.

British Empire in Plymouth
Prince Bertie at Mount Edgcumbe
British Empire in Plymouth
Mount Wise Signal Station, Plymouth
Victoria's final visit to Plymouth was due to poor weather conditions in the Channel. Her yacht, the Victoria and Albert had to seek shelter from a gale raging. Apparently, Victoria herself had been quite seasick and was glad to come ashore. Once again she visited Mount Edgcumbe and visited the new steam factory in Devonport. She attended a review of troops at Mount Wise but as the weather was still inclement it was curtailed. She eventually left Plymouth by train from Millbay Station as the weather stubbornly refused to clear for her continued onward voyage.

During her reign her son Albert would be a guest of the Edgcumbe family and hunted on their grounds overlooking Devonport and Plymouth.

HMS Wilberforce, 1842
British Empire in Plymouth
HMS Wilberforce
180 Years ago in 1842 a ship with a remarkable story entered Plymouth Sound. The ship’s name was suitably called HMS Wilberforce (named in honour of the abolitionist William Wilberforce). The ship had been a specially constructed iron paddle steamer designed specifically to travel along the River Niger in West Africa in order to make Anti-Slavery Treaties with the various chiefs along this major waterway and attempt to stamp out the Slave Trade. The shallow draught and paddles were to enable HMS Wilberforce (and her sister ships HMS Soudan and HMS Albert) to pass over the various sandbars and shallow waters which hindered traditional ships along the rivers and coast of West Africa. The Captain of this ship had been Captain William Allen. Sadly he, along with many others of the crew, had discovered for themselves why this region was known as the ‘White Man’s Grave’ as disease ravaged the crew of all three ships as they sought to stamp out slaving activity along the River Niger. They did sign a number of treaties but started to see their crew die at an alarming rate and soon felt forced to abandon their mission, sailing first to Fernando Po and then back to Britain. Indeed what made HMS Wilberforce’s arrival in Plymouth Sound in 1842 so remarkable was that there were just three members of the original European crew left alive aboard the ship. These were a seaman, a carpenter and an engineer. So how did this ship make it the 5,335 mile journey back with so few crew. Well the reason for this is that although the European crew were ravaged by sickness, the locally raised ‘Kroomen’ were unaffected by the various diseases that caused so much havoc amongst the European sailors and crew. It was thanks to their skill and perseverance that the ship made it safely back to home waters. Many people assume that the term ‘kroomen’ refers to some kind of pidgin English corruption of ‘crewmen’ to describe how local West Africans were recruited to help man the ships, but actually the term refers to a particular African tribe known as the Kroo (or Kru) along the coast of Liberia who had a remarkable identity which revolved around their own hatred of slavery and a long time maritime heritage.

British Empire in Plymouth
Kroo Town, Sierra Leone
The Kroo had long been hostile to all forms of slavery and had earned a reputation amongst the slavers to avoid them at all costs. If any had been taken as slaves in the past, the Kroo simply refused to eat and drink and effectively committed suicide making it clear to their captors that the Kroo were no man’s slave under any circumstances. Their reputation was built on this powerful group cohesion and when the West Africa Squadron was formed by the Royal Navy in 1807 to frustrate the Slave Trade, the Kroo were a natural ally to the British. It helped that the Royal Navy paid well, but even more lucratively, all members of a Royal Navy’s ships' crew, regardless of skin colour or ethnic origin, were in line to a share in any prize money earned from capturing enemy or slave ships. This could earn the entire crew significant sums of money and was a powerful incentive to serve in active theatres of operation. The Kroo were eager to serve and the Royal Navy were equally delighted to have highly motivated crew members who knew the local waterways, languages and customs of West Africa. The Kroo began to establish their own settlements in and around the ports where Royal Navy ships frequented such as in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Fernando Po and even Cape Town. Indeed, they ran their settlements as if they were a ship with a strict chain of command based on Naval Law and with harsh discipline for anyone who brought dishonour on the Kroo. They even set up their own masts and nets on land so that they and their children could practice the maritime skills they would require for going to sea with the Royal Navy. The Kroo established tight knit groups of up to 20 members with a clear leader whose orders were answered without question. They would work as a team and would be hired as one or not at all. After a successful tour on a Royal Naval ship, the Kroo leader would be given a letter of recommendation by the Royal Navy Captain on behalf of the entire group which the leader would jealously guard in a wax sealed case which was only broken to show a potential new Royal Navy Captain for a new patrol. Reputation was everything to the Kroo and there is no recorded instance of them abandoning their Royal Navy employers no matter what the danger they encountered. Indeed, it was this loyalty and regard for their reputation that motivated the Kroo on HMS Wilberforce to take control of the ship when its European crew had been effectively wiped out. The Kroo skillfully brought the ship into Plymouth Sound in November 1842. Not a single Krooman had fallen sick and the ship was safely delivered back to the Royal Navy. Sadly the names of these remarkable mariners are not recorded, but the leader must surely have been given a glowing recommendation for him to seal in his case on behalf of his team. They were transferred back to Sierra Leone in December 1842 and hopefully spent some well earned time with their family probably before going on to serve the Royal Navy diligently yet again as they sought to stamp out the evils of the Slave Trade.

Irish Potato Famine
British Empire in Plymouth
West Hoe Quarry
Cork was connected to Plymouth by regular sailings of packet ships. When Ireland began to suffer from the devastating potato famine in the late 1840s many Irishmen, women and children scraped together the passage to Plymouth with a view to going on to a ship to elsewhere in the World; destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the USA. The government Emigration Depot next to the Citadel processed those who had the means to afford the more expensive ocean crossing tickets. Serendipitously, the emigration depot opened its doors for business in 1847, just as the Irish began arriving in significant numbers. Many Irish families crammed into cheap lodging around the Barbican area hoping to scrape enough money from menial work to afford the passage. The quarry on the West Hoe became a focus for this recently arrived Irish community as unskilled but demanding work could be found here as well as cheap lodging. Some were indeed able to afford the next leg of the journey, but others were stuck in Plymouth due to a lack of funds. If they were completely desperate, there was the harsh regime of the Plymouth workhouse. Some may have voluntarily chosen to stay in Plymouth if they found a decent enough job that allowed them to support themselves and their families. The Irish community quickly grew to be one of the most substantial communities in Plymouth with many Irishmen going on to work in the quarries, dockyards, some even joined ships or the various regiments that passed through the port or the Royal Marines. Women were more likely to enter domestic service. Over time, those that remained became integrated into the community and married locally although many retained the Catholicism of their Irish ancestors.
British Empire in Plymouth
Catherine Street Workhouse

The arrival of cholera in Plymouth in 1849 may have spurred Irish arrivals to stay as briefly as possible in Plymouth. The conditions of the housing of Irish families could be appalling and whole families were crammed into single rooms. Plymouth's fresh water supply was anything but fresh. Drake's leat brought water to the Barbican but it was open to the elements, animals and humans all along its journey. By the time it reached Plymouth it was a liability. Lack of any sewage system meant that rain water washed effluent and waste back into the fresh water supply. Just under 2,000 people died from this outbreak of cholera, but many more were seriously weakened or lost family members and had to seek aid from the workhouse. The poor were disproportionately effected as their cramped conditions and reliance on contaminated water made them particularly vulnerable. The Irish who often arrived in a weakened state after having suffered from the famine were even more likely to succumb. It did not help that the local population blamed the cholera outbreak on the Irish arriving in their pitiful state. It was believed that it had been brought by these emigrants. It particularly devastated the area around the quarry where many of the Irish had found temporary lodging and employment. This confirmed to many locals that the Irish were to blame rather than the condition of the housing. The area around the quarry was cleared by the authorities and those who were uninfected were placed on the Leda, a hulk just off Mutton Cove, or to the workhouse until the danger had subsided
British Empire in Plymouth
Barbican, Plymouth

In general, the government did not assist any of the victims of the famine to reach further destinations. This was the height of Laissez Faire economics when it was felt that governments should not intervene or distort market forces in any way. The only exception to this rule was assistance given to Irish orphan girls. That is to say those girls who had lost their parents and had no older male sibling to look after them. From 1848 to 1850, the British government, through the government emigration depot, organised the passage of these female orphans to Australia. This was probably not a humane intervention for a vulnerable group in society. Rather, Australian colonies had long suffered from an imbalance of males to females. It was felt that boatloads of young Irish girls would ultimately restore some of the sexual imbalance in the fledgeling colonies. The fact that they were young and dependent upon the authorities meant that they could be distributed to the more remote locations and would not naturally remain in the more reasonably balanced cities. The girls were expected to enter domestic service in return for board and lodging and the assistance of the fare until they reached a marriageable age. This was an example of social engineering on an imperial scale dressed up as humanitarian intervention. If it was truly humanitarian, then orphaned boys would have been offered the same kind of assistance. They were not.

What is remarkable is just how many Irish remained in the Plymouth area. By 1861, in England only Liverpool and London had a higher population of Irish than the three towns had. Jobs were relatively plentiful. Ports often relied on unskilled or semi-skilled labour to function efficiently. There was also considerable new opportunities with the extension of the Great Western Railway and the new Great Western Docks at Millbay. If paid employment was difficult to come by, there was always the option of taking the Queen's Shilling and serving in the army, navy or marines. Direct steamers from Dublin helped families to stay in contact with home or to invite further family members over to join them. The Irish community required an increase in Catholic churches and schools for their use. In general, they went on to become successfully integrated into the three town's boroughs.

Indian Mutiny Connections
George Julius Glanville was actually born just over the river at St. Germans in 1832. However, the 1851 census shows that as a 19 year old he was living with his two sisters and parents at Derriford House, Egg Buckland. That same year he joined the 2nd Bengal European Fusiliers. He came home in 1854 on sick leave but when the Crimean War broke out in 1856 he volunteered for service with the Turkish Contingent. After that war he returned to India in May 1857, just in time for the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny. In fact he volunteered to lead a small troop of the Madras European Fusiliers and headed for Cawnpore. He arrived there just two days before Cawnpore itself was embroiled in rebellion. He was actually serving alongside many Cornishmen as the 32nd Light Infantry Regiment also had troops in the Cawnpore cantonment. The defenders underwent a terrible ordeal and constant assault and probing from the mutineers. Lieutenant George Julius Glanville was seriously wounded when defending the barrack block closest to the mutineer entrenchments around the cantonment. He was attended to by Surgeon Daniel MacAuley but the medical situation was dire. At least Lieutenant Glanville was spared the later double crossing by the mutineers when they were promised safe passage before the men were massacred and the women and children seized. Alas, these also were massacred at a later date in what became one of the most notorious episodes of the British Empire. This can have brought little solace to his family back in Plymouth when they finally heard the news of his death and his burial on the other side of the world.
Royal Botanical Gardens in Stonehouse
British Empire in Plymouth
Royal Botanical Gardens, Plymouth
1850 saw the Imperial craze of opening botanical gardens arrive in Plymouth. Charles Darwin himself had left Plymouth on the Beagle just two decades earlier in 1831. His famous book On The Origin of Species was still yet to be completed but his intellectual curiosity was tied very much to the era of imperial expansion and the opportunities afforded by new and exotic plants, flowers and trees being discovered all over the World. Kew Gardens were turned into formal Royal Botanical Gardens as recently as 1840. It made sense for an ocean going community whose prosperity was so closely linked to the Royal Navy to establish their own Botanical Gardens.

British Empire in Plymouth
The Plymouth Pear
The task of creating the gardens fell to nurseryman William Rendle and it included a crenulated castle, a fountain and a covered bandstand amongst the grounds. The imperial nature of the endeavour was underlined by the invitation of Nepalese dignataries to the opening ceremony. His Excellency General Jung Bahadour, Commander in Chief and Prime Minister of the Court of Nepal, Colonel Jugget Shumshere Jung, Colonel Dere Shumshere Jung and their escorts Capatain Cavanagh and Captain James were apparently enthralled and delighted by the festivities and layout. Nepal had had an associate membership relationship to the British Empire since 1816 (the origins of the Gurkha connection to the British Army). It is not clear if they had made any fauna related donations to these botanical gardens from Nepal but it is certainly possible. They were given a formal salute by Royal Artillery gunners and the bands of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Royal Marines. The event was obviously given due pomp and ceremony, perhaps due to the Royal sobriquet.

Despite the beauty and recreational nature of the grounds, it was clear that it was a scientific endeavour to try and see what flora would grow under the climatic conditions of Plymouth. It must be appreciated that botanical gardens were set up throughout the Empire in the 19th Century and various seeds and plantlings were moved hither and thither to attempt to understand where they might grow most effectively and even more importantly; most profitably. The key was always to try and find useful plants that might become the basis of new crops, medicines or be able to achieve a commercial value through beauty. It helped that these botanical gardens were scattered far and wide across the Empire at different elevations, latitudes and in varying climates.

The Gardens also became nurseries indicating that plants were grown for sale. However, the site does not seem to have survived long into the 1860s. The train lines to the new Millbay Docks complex being built by the Great Western Company required more lines and more substantial structures. Consequently, the land used by the Botanical Gardens appear to have been sacrificed to improve this rail infrastructure. The two track rail system was replaced by a six track system with the embankment being widened almost entirely over the location of the Botanical Gardens. (See map) Fittingly, the names of Flora Street and Rendle Street were retained in honour of the area's association with the Botanical Gardens and indeed are still in use today.

Interestingly a new and distinct species of Pear Tree was discovered in Plymouth in 1865. Possibly it was from escaped seedlings from the Botanical Gardens or from some earlier transplanted plants arriving in Plymouth via her maritime visitors. Equally possibly it may have been an old, native species that had been overlooked and forgotten for many years. But this period of scientific inquisitiveness helped identify this new species. It is still to this day one of the rarest trees in England and may well have its roots in the Empire or at least in the city's maritime heritage!

Linking the Old World to the New
British Empire in Plymouth
Agamemnon and Niagara
Mr Cyrus Field of the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Company decided to attempt laying a telegraph cable linking one side of the Atlantic to the other. He hired two ships for the purpose, the Agamemnon and the Niagara. They loaded up with over 3,000 miles of cable at Keyham Steam Yard in 1858. An attempt to link the two continents failed the previous year as the ships laying it lost 300 miles of cable making it impossible to finish the venture. In 1858, they were determined to have the right cable length available. The two ships set off for the middle of the Atlantic from where one would head to Newfoundland the other towards Ireland. There was a very serious storm that nearly sank the Agamemnon which meant that it came close to deciding to jettison its heavy load of cables to save the ship. Fortunately, it survived the ordeal. The two ships set off from the middle of the Atlantic on three occasions thanks to the cable breaking. Agamemnon had lost much of its coal thanks to the storm which had saturated its supplies. The two ships broke off to Ireland to replenish and restock before attempting once more to link the two continents. This next attempt was straightforward enough allowing for the first transmission to be relayed on August 16th 1858 with Queen Victoria sending a congratulatory telegram to President Buchanan:

"The Queen desires to congratulate the President upon the successful completion of this great international work, in which the Queen has taken the greatest interest. The Queen is convinced the President will join with her in fervently hoping that the electric cable which now connects Great Britain with the United States will prove an additional link between the two nations, whose friendship is founded upon their common interest and reciprocal esteem. The Queen has much pleasure in thus directly communicating with the President, and in renewing to him her best wishes for the prosperity of the United States ."

A less famous message relayed a week later read: "The Military Secretary to Commander in Chief Horse Guards, London. To General Trollope, Halifax, Nova Scotia. The sixty second regiment is not to return to England ."

British Empire in Plymouth
The Barbican
This showed the real potential of the cable in helping the Empire to communicate quickly and efficiently. It would have taken a ship weeks to reach the regiment concerned who may already have departed by the time the message was received. The cable hinted at the capabilities and advantages to the imperial machine in running its empire. In 23 days of operation a total of 271 messages totalling 14,168 letters were sent from Newfoundland to Valentia and 129 messages totalling 7,253 letters were sent from Valentia to Newfoundland. However, the signal quality declined rapidly, slowing transmission to an almost unusable speed. Eventually even these slow transmissions were no longer possible after excessive voltage had been applied to it in attempt to boost its speed. The life of the cable had lasted just three weeks but the communications revolution it heralded meant that another attempt would be made. Unfortunately, American domestic politics descended into Civil War and so it would take another decade before the intervention of Brunel's SS Great Eastern allowed for the replacement of a fully functioning cable linking the Old World to the New.

The Rajahs of Burrator
Although not technically in Plymouth, Burrator lies to the North of the city and would later be the site of the reservoir that supplied the city with its fresh water. Its proximity linked to the remarkable story of the Brooke family of Sarawak with its overtly imperial connections makes for a compelling reason to include it as history on Plymouth's back door. There is also a family connection for my own family, the Luscombes, who toiled in the farms around the village of Sheepstor and are even buried in the same church graveyard as the Rajahs of Burrator.

Sir James Brooke was an adventurer who went out to Asia to make his fortune in Borneo where he befriended the Sultan of Brunei. Unusually, Sir James was given the Head of State of the government of Sarawak by the Sultan of Brunei who wished to bring British involvement and protection into the area. The only problem was that the British government did not approve of this arrangement and did not officially sanction it, at least not at first. This meant that Sir James Brooke effectively found himself as a private citizen being the ruler of a substantial chunk of Borneo. He sought to modernise the commerce and government of the region but had to fight with powerful local tribes and powers. He clashed over issues such as piracy, slavery and head-hunting. He personally led campaigns into the interior to impose law and order over the area. He managed to convince many Malays of the force of convictions but was less successful with the Chinese pirates who used the coastline to launch raids on passing shipping. Disease took its toll on Sir James who seems to have contracted smallpox, malaria and various other tropical diseases whilst out East. He also barely survived an attack by Chinese pirates on his house. He decided that he needed to retire and came back to England to settle down. Whilst in Torquay visiting a friend he had a stroke which further convinced him of his need to retire.
British Empire in Plymouth
The Rajahs' Graves
The doctors there advised him that a home on Dartmoor would provide the most appropriate environment to recover. In 1859 he purchased Burrator House and retired to live there. He returned to Sarawak twice and took a very active part in its politics and paid particular attention to its diplomatic and international recognition. There were many Malay, Sarawak and British officials who arrived in the remote village to discuss these issues with Sir James. Eventually, he appointed his nephew to succeed him as Rajah of Sarawak and also managed to get the British government to recognise it as a colony. He became a church warden of Saint Leonard's church in Steepstor village and delighted in playing the role of a country squire with his small holding of 72 acres of land. Upon his death a decade later he was buried in the local churchyard where an imposing tomb was created for him which can still be seen today. Thus, the connection between this remote part of Dartmoor with the colourful region of Sarawak on the other side of the world was established. The Burrator estate represented a quintessential England as a counterpoint to his tropical obligations in Borneo. Sir James hoped that his descendants would enjoy the estate as a retreat but his nephew and his wife had their honeymoon there but otherwise felt it was too far removed from the centre of power. Therefore, in 1877 the estate was sold. However, Sarawak's connection to Burrator was not ended after all. First of all, Sir Charles Brooke had had a son out of wedlock with a local girl in Sarawak. This son, Esca Brooke, was brought back to Burrator to be raised by the vicar of the church and his wife. They later emigrated to Canada after an attempt to settle in Zululand was brought to a sudden end by the Zulu War. Secondly, Sir Charles Brooke had always intended to be buried in his beloved Sarawak upon his death. Unfortunately for him, he died in 1917 whilst World War One was still raging. There was no way to get his body to Sarawak. Alternative arrangements had to be made and so it was decided that the most appropriate place would be with the uncle who had selected him to become Rajah of Sarawak. Sir James ended up with Burrator becoming the spiritual retreat of the Brookes after all. Sir Charles was not the last of the Brooke's to be buried there, a tradition had been created that carried on to his own son Vyner Brooke being buried at St Leonard's as late as 1963. All three White Rajahs of Sarawak were buried in that small church in that small village as were other members of the Brooke family. St. Leonard's Church still has Batik decoration and the windows were commissioned to commemorate the deaths in Sarawak during the Japanese Occupation of World War Two.

Palmerston's Follies
British Empire in Plymouth
Crownhill Fort
Plymouth, along with its sister port - Portsmouth, would be the recipient of the largest British construction project of the Nineteenth Century in the form of a ring of forts guarding their naval bases from attack. The scale of the project led to massive public expenditure and considerable work opportunities for decades before the fortifications were complete.

The reason for their construction was due to a mix of worries and concerns coming to the attention of Britain during the mid-Nineteenth Century. In particular, the Crimean War where the British and French allied to defeat Russia, influenced military planners. The British and French landed on the Crimea in order to capture Sevastapol the main Russian port for its Black Sea fleet. Rather than assault Sevastapol directly from the sea, which was felt to be too difficult, an army was landed several miles away and marched to attack the port from the landward side. The idea was that if the Sevastapol was neutralised, the Russians would have no means to support a fleet on the Black Sea and so would be at the mercy of the British and French fleets once it had fallen. This is precisely what happened, only it took far longer than envisioned to complete, partially due to the extensive fortifications around the port itself. British strategic planners realised that the prime British ports on the South Coast were more than vulnerable to a similar kind of attack especially when it was realised that their defences had not been updated since the Napoleonic Wars some half a century earlier. Palmerston believed it was time for a serious upgrade of the ports' defences.
British Empire in Plymouth
Troops in Transit

Another factor was the changing nature of maritime technology and the fear that the Royal Navy was falling behind their near neighbours and historic rivals; the French. Steamships had already deprived Britain of one of its key lines of defence; the weather. Steamships could now sail against the wind in all but the severest weather conditions. This meant that the Channel was no longer the substantial barrier to invasion that it had proved in the past. Additionally, the French Navy were updating their steamships with iron plates; the so-called Ironclads. La Gloire was the world's first ironclad steamship and was launched by the French in 1859 with another 9 ironclads on the production line. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Cherbourg in 1858 they were quietly impressed by the modernisation efforts of the French Navy under the rule of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte - a name which in itself still had the power to concern the British. In addition to the new ironclads being constructed, they were also impressed to see the state of the defences of the French port and quietly noted that Plymouth and Portsmouth were nowhere near as effectively defended. In an era when the Royal Navy's assets were stretched all around the globe, planners were concerned that her more old-fashioned ships might not be able to react quickly enough to a sudden strike from a modern navy just across the English channel.

The British were also reminded of their vulnerability in a most brutal way by the Indian Mutiny in 1857 when sepoys rose up and turned on their officers and the Honourable East India Company. Officers, soldiers, civilians and most shockingly of all to the Victorians ' women and children' were all targeted and many were slaughtered in an orgy of violence. What captured the public's imagination was the fact that those who managed to survive the uprising did so largely thanks to defendable compounds and forts. Newspaper columns covered the heroic defences of Lucknow and Delhi or reported the slaughter at Cawnpore where the defenders negotiated to leave their defences. It was very clear in the public's mind that more secure defences would have saved more lives. So, when there were discussions to build more fortifications in the late 1850s, it made perfect sense to large swathes of public opinion to take sensible precautions.

Another factor that made the building of the forts more palatable was the deteriorating political and diplomatic relations with France. In 1858 Louis Napoleon came close to being assassinated by an Italian nationalist called Felice Orsini. The attempt only narrowly missed and killed 8 bystanders and wounded 156 more. There was an outcry in France when it was realised that Orsini and his fellow plotters had been based in England and had been granted political asylum there. There was further outrage when it was proved that the explosives had been made in England and had been smuggled to Paris with the help of English sympathisers. Within days of these revelations, a group of French officers stationed along the Channel announced that they would happily invade England if given permission to do so. These comments were amplified by the French press which goaded the English press into similarly jingoistic responses. The alliance of just a few years earlier seemed to lie in tatters. Attempts by Palmerston and Louis-Napoleon to patch up their differences led to demands for Palmerston to resign as PM for not standing up to the French. It was clear that reconciliation was not a public priority and that anti-French fears helped provide the environment that led to the construction of the forts.

It should also be remembered that the mid-Nineteenth Century saw British engineering confidence and financial strength at an all time high. Britain had the engineering talent and financial muscle required to pay to defend the homes of Britain's most important imperial asset; the Royal Navy. It was the Royal Navy that kept the trade routes open and projected British power on a truly global scale. It made perfect sense to ensure that the home ports could never be threatened. The very fact of the existence of these fortifications were to ensure that no power even considered attacking the ports.

British Empire in Plymouth
Map of Plymouth's Palmerston's Follies
A Royal Commission was established in 1859 to consider the defences of Britain's ports and it was to no-one's surprise that they recommended a huge investment in upgrading the clearly inadequate facilities of Plymouth and Portsmouth. The building work started in earnest in 1860 after the passing of a Defence Act which made funds available for the the ring of forts that were to guard the city from attack from any direction. Hence, there were also sea-facing defences. These included the construction of a fort next to the Breakwater and forts on either side of Plymouth Sound and further fortifications on Drake's Island to guard against a seaborne invasion. The existing Citadel was integrated into the coastline defences. A line of fortifications centred on Crownhill Fort was to ensure that no landward attempt to seize the port could be attempted. Forts were also placed on the Rame Peninsular in Cornwall and as far west as Tregantle overlooking the likeliest landing beaches at Whitsands for any attempt to seize Plymouth quickly. The entire city was to be cocooned. Firing lines were sighted from all the forts which had overlapping zones of fire and they were connected by a covered military road behind them. Each of the forts was given a substantial budget to garrison and house the soldiers necessary for the defence of the port. Starting from the furthest East and travelling in a clockwise direction the forts were: Tregantle, Scraesdon, Ernesettle, Agaton, Woodlands, Crownhill, Bowden, Eggbuckland, Austin, Efford, Stamford, Staddon, and Bovisand. Picklecombe Fort and the Breakwater Fort were to add protection to the seaward approaches to the Hamoaze. There were also many batteries covering various approaches.

The design was largely undertaken by Captain Edmund Du Cane of the Royal Engineers. The great advances in military technology enabled him to break from the centuries old practice of continuous line defences. Each of the forts was designed as a polygon surrounded by a ditch which itself was protected by caponiers (powerful, casemated structures which provided flanking fire across ditches). Guns, sometimes in casemates, lined the tops of the ramparts and the barrack blocks within were made bomb-proof by the use of mounded earth.

British Empire in Plymouth
Russian Fleet, 1865
The outbreak of the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 seemed to confirm the wisdom of Britain's precautions, especially as it started with an initial onslaught on the coastal Fort Sumter. The new firepower unleashed in the war seemed to confirm that only modern construction techniques were resilient enough to defend against the latest generation of artillery and munitions.

However, it was a war that began in 1870 that reduced the fortifications' military rationale. The Franco-Prussian war unleashed a new and more mobile form of war based on the ability of train lines to move large numbers of troops quickly and efficiently. The shattering defeat of France in that war also removed her as the pre-eminent threat on the continent. She was to be replaced in that role by the newly created Germany. Germany was developing a continental power with little naval capability available, at least until the Tirpitz Plan of the 1890s. Plymouth's considerable defences were no longer as vital following this Franco-Prussian war, just as they were reaching completion. Individual forts had been completed in the 1860s but the integrated whole was not finished until 1872, by which time they were already being regarded as expensive defensive luxuries. Evidence of this downgrading was revealed in the early 1880s when many of the guns from the forts were moved to the Far East colony of Hong Kong. They were actually moved there as something of a compromise when the military planners and government officials there fell out over the costs involved in updating the defences of such a remote colony. Lord Derby, the Colonial Secretary, personally intervened to solve the deadlock by proposing using some of the guns from Plymouth. This was no theoretical threat to Hong Kong's defence as within months of the guns arriving France declared war on China and the guns were seen as a key component at keeping the French Navy in particular at arm's length. It is interesting that the Palmerston's forts were built to defend the city from France and that some of these very same guns were sent to the Far East for exactly the same reason! It is perhaps no surprise that from around this time that the term "Palmerston's Follies" began to come into circulation. Palmerston was associated by most commentators as having been the prime mover for their construction.

British Empire in Plymouth
Laira Disgrace

Despite this downgrading, the 1880s and 1890s did see further additions to the defences primarily around Plymouth Sound. This period in imperial history was referred to as the period of Splendid Isolation when Britain had no obvious allies and many potential enemies. Advances in shipping and gunnery, especially in terms of ranges, also motivated defensive planners to add yet more guns and batteries such as at Penlee Point with guns that could fire seriously long distances out to sea. Whitsand Bay Battery added yet more guns to cover the impressive beaches at Whitsand and prevent any enemy ships from anchoring there and bombarding Devonport Dockyard over the Rame Peninsular. Grenville Battery did something similar covering Cawsand Bay.

The new century brought new threats as guns could fire further and more accurately, submarines started appearing and torpedoes could also be fired from fast moving launches and small ships. The casemates in the forts were designed for long term duels with armoured ships and would allow the gunners to reload muzzle loading guns in comparative safety. However, as gun technology improved markedly quick firing breach loading guns became more available. However, their very speed of firing generated far more smoke than the enclosed fortifications could disperse. One such solution was to add more gun emplacements to the approaches. Hence, the Renney and Lentney Batteries were constructed from 1905 out past Bovisand which had hitherto anchored the Eastern part of Plymouth's defences. The two world wars would show the versatility of these emplacements as the guns could be changed according to the threat.

British Empire in Plymouth
Penlee Battery
A new lease of life was found for the fortifications in the First World War as defences were required to ensure that shipping and troopships could enter and leave the safety of the harbour. The fortifications provided valuable barrack space for British and Imperial units coming into the city before being sent out to other theatres of war, in France or elsewhere. Crownhill Fort, for instance, was used as a transit fort for troops being sent to the Turkish and African fronts. For example it was a staging area for troops being sent to the Gallipoli Peninsular in 1915.

British Empire in Plymouth
David Ben Gurion
On the 23rd August, 1917, the formation of a "Jewish Regiment" was officially announced. This would become better known as the Jewish Legion and was technically the 38th – 42nd Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers. Most of these troops were sent for training and preparation for fighting in the Middle East to Crownhill Fort. Interestingly, the Jewish Legion was announced before the famous Balfour Letter of November 1917 which stated that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people". Both the creation of the Legion and the Balfour letter need to be understood in terms of the strategic situation in the fighting in the Middle East at the time. British forces had been stalled at the gates to Palestine at Gaza since early 1917. The third and victorious battle of Gaza coincided with this promise to Jews just as Britain's forces were about to enter Palestine proper. It was hoped that they would soon have Jewish troops fighting by their side as soon as they finished their training in Plymouth. The Jewish Legion was quite a cosmopolitan unit with volunteers not only from Britain but also from the USA, Russia, Canada, Argentina and of course throughout the Middle East - including some ex Ottoman Empire troops who had switched sides. Many of the earliest British recruits had been tailors due to this being an important Jewish profession in Britain's cities. Many of the Russian Jews had fled Revolutionary Russia. Jewish soldiers serving in other regiments could apply to switch to the Jewish Legion, but there was no compulsion or expectation to do so and many Jews continued to serve in a wide variety of normal British Regiments. At any one time there would be 800-900 training in and around Crownhill Fort. The volunteers wore the Magen David on their khaki uniforms and had their own blue-white banner with the inscription, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem".

Two of the Legion's most famous soldiers would be David Ben-Gurion who went on to become the first Prime Minister of the independent Jewish State of Israel in 1948 and Ze’ev Jabotinsky who was hugely influential in the inter-war Zionist movement. Ben-Gurion himself had initially helped raise a Jewish militia in Jerusalem on the side of the Ottoman Turks. However, after the publication of the Balfour Letter he immediately volunteered to join the Jewish Legion in the British Army. He spent much of 1918 in Plymouth where he was very impressed with the green countryside: "It is one of the most marvelous places I have ever seen. When I went out into the fields at dawn for the first time and gazed at the view around our tents, I was intoxicated by the charming scene. Somehow, I didn’t imagine I would ever see a panorama like this in England. Green mountains and valleys covered with silk, fertile fields and the shadows of nearby forest."

British Empire in Plymouth
Crownhill Fort From The Air
Despite the best efforts of everyone involved in the Jewish Legion's training, there was still a strong element of antisemitism within the British military and indeed within wider society. This made accommodating the basic needs of the Jewish recruits problematic. The commanding officer was Lieutenant-Colonel John Patterson (of the Man-Eaters of Tsavo fame). He had actually been the commander of the fore runner of the Jewish Legion; the Zion Mule Corps which had served in the Gallipoli Campaign and which again had been organised and supplied from Plymouth. He himself was a Protestant and admitted that he knew almost nothing of Jewish culture before his involvement with these Jewish volunteers. However, he believed that ‘the only way to make good Jewish soldiers of the men was by first of all treating them as good Jews’. He threatened to resign three times to higher command if his requests for his troops were not met. Eventually it was through his insistence that the battalions were able to observe the Sabbath on the Saturday, have access to Kosher food and to have religious leaders made available to them or to be allowed to attend religious services in the Synagogue in Plymouth. One of the Jewish Legion commented "It is a fact that Colonel Patterson saw to it - how I do not know - that every Saturday should find us in a Rest Camp; in the morning we would have Synagogue Parade, with all the officers and men, even Christians, standing with their hats on, with the Zionist Flag flying from a tall flagpole, with the Scroll of the Law given to us by the Plymouth Community, and with the concert choir singing all the prayers and the "Hatikvah" and the English National Anthem at the end."

The battalion itself was proving to be a model unit. Throughout its stay in Plymouth there was not a single case of crime involving any of the Legion's soldiers. Patterson wrote somewhat tongue in cheek "Something new in Army annals". He also set up a wet canteen which served beer, which was also unheard of in the British Army. Patterson commented whilst at Crownhill Fort: "It came as a surprise to me to find that a little tailor snatched from the purlieus of Petticoat Lane, who had never in all his life wielded anything more dangerous than a needle, soon became quite adept in the use of the rifle and bayonet and could transfix a dummy figure of the Kaiser in the most approved scientific style, while negotiating a series of obstacle=trenches at the double." and that "Every commander who inspected us always expressed his astonishment at the rock-like steadiness of the Jewish Battalion." Indeed, when General MacReady came down from London to inspect the troops at Crownhill Fort, he was so impressed by what he saw and the bearing of the troops in general that he told Patterson that he would never refuse a reasonable request from the battalion ever again. There was one amusing episode recorded which could either be considered a language problem or perhaps more likely a wicked sense of humour from a Yemenite Jew on guard duty. As one British officer approached the fort, the guard challenged him with the appropriate: "Halt! Who Goes There!" When he received the correct response of "Friend!" he amazed the visiting officer by replying: "Advance friend and be circumcised!" History does not record the officer's response! It has to be said that the Jewish Legion seemed to enjoy their time in Plymouth and created a real esprit de corps that they took with them to the Middle East although only in the very latest stages of the war. Patterson took the first tranche of troops to the Middle East in Janurary 1918, although Crownhill remained a training depot for the Legion until the end of the war as new recruits from further afield, like the USA and Argentina made their way to Plymouth to train. David Ben-Gurion for instance was one of these later trainees. After the war ended in November of that year, the Legion's name was changed to the Judean Regiment and it served in the newly created British Mandate of Palestine, although with much reduced manpower. The modern day Israeli Defence Force traces a direct line in its own history back to the Jewish Legion and its surprising origins in Crownhill Fort!

British Empire in Plymouth
Eggbuckland Segregation Camp
It appears that Eggbuckland Keep was used as a segregation camp during World War One perhaps as part of Crownhill Fort's role as being a transport and supply hub for Africa and the Middle East. Besides, many troops from all over the Empire (see below) arrived in Plymouth before going on to the fight in Europe. If ships arrived in port flying a yellow flag, it meant that some disease had broken out on board. They would then have to remain on board for a certain period of time before being allowed to come ashore and spend yet more time in quarantine until the authorities were convinced that there was no threat to the wider community. The sturdily built Palmerston's Forts would provide a very secure way of keeping sick individuals away from the wider population.

British Empire in Plymouth
Devonport Dockyard
The Second World War also saw the forts prove their utility and were upgraded and fully manned in the expectation of an invasion in 1940 and 1941. As this threat subsided, the platforms and forts provided excellently defended positions for anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons and searchlight emplacements. The reinforced concrete and iron designs helped protect the city's defenders from high explosive bombs and were unfazed by incendiary devices. Their deep magazines added further protection and utility to the defending forces. Crownhill Fort was designated the headquarters of Plymouth Command and co-ordinated the anti-aircraft and civil defence measures from the relative safety of its formidable walls and embankments. Many of the forts were set aside for accommodation for American units in the build up to the D-Day landings.

It was not until 1956 that the gun batteries were dismantled. Parts of the defences were still used up until the Falklands War, where it was used as an assembly point for the forces that were to join the invasion fleet. The army gave up its control of Crownhill Fort as late as 1986. Many of the pre-fab buildings that still exist surrounding the fort used to be the extended barracks. Tregantle Fort is still used by the Royal Marines for training purposes.

Torpoint and Antony
British Empire in Plymouth
Henry Cooper
Although technically in Cornwall, both Torpoint and Antony were soon safely ensconced within the Palmerston Fort defensive systems. Torpoint had perfect views of Devonport Dockyards and to lose this side of the Hamoaze would have caused a great threat to the defence of the dockyards. Torpoint was also connected directly to the Dockyards by frequent ferries making it a more than viable alternative place for dockyard workers to live and commute to work. Torpoint very much became a satellite town HM Dockyards and grew rapidly as a result. This put a strain on the parish church in Antony which seems a bit far out for such a large town and indeed more churches were built in Torpoint in the Nineteenth Century to make up for this fact. However Antony churchyard has some fascinating graves that illustrate the maritime and imperial connections of this part of South-East Cornwall. Indeed it contains the grave of one of the very first servicemen to receive the Victoria Cross that of Henry Cooper RN. He received his medal directly from Queen Victoria at the very first investiture in 1857 in Hyde Park. Originally born in Devonport he later moved to Torpoint. He had been in the Royal Navy as a Boatswain and won his VC during the Crimean War on the mainland of Russia itself when his force landed at Taganrog in the Sea of Azov to destroy the stores and try to prevent reinforcements from getting to the Crimea.
British Empire in Plymouth
Pole-Carew Family Graves
He had actually gone on a number of highly dangerous shore raiding parties against the Russians (including in Lapland) already by that point and had also served on the anti-slavery patrols in West Africa where he had been directly involved in capturing slavers. To emphasise just how heroic he was, as his ship was leaving Plymouth Sound for the Crimea there was an explosion on board that saw one of his crew mates blown over board and lost his hands in the blast; Henry Cooper dived in to save the man and brought him back to safety.

Another intersting set of graves concerns the Carew-Poles of nearby Antony House. These were the local landed aristocracy and from a very connected family whose history is very interesting. Two of the family graves in particular have strong imperial connections; the first being the grave of Lieutenant-General Reginald who served in the Boer War; the second is of his even more interesting wife, Beatrice Carew-Pole nee Butler, who was the daughter of the very last Marquess of Ormonde to sit at their family seat in Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. The Butlers (Ormondes) have a very long connection to the history of Ireland dating back to the 14th Century. They effectively became the English Crown's representatives in Ireland for the most of the following six centuries. This family had a very complicated history trying to keep England and Ireland connected when often their histories (and religions) diverged markedly. Her father, the Marquess of Ormonde, died perhaps fittingly in 1919 (during the height of the troubles and the last year of Britain's formal control of all of Ireland) without a male heir. Unfortunately the titles did not pass down to his daughters, so Beatrice Pole-Carew was the very last direct descendant of the dynasty who were effectively England's rulers of Ireland. It is so interesting that a family with such a long connection to Ireland should be buried in a small churchyard in South-East Cornwall.

Stamp Collecting
One Plymothian accidentally launched a hobby that for many encapsulate the glamour, variety and breadth of the imperial experience; Stamp Collecting. Stanley Gibbons was a chemist who was interested in the sheer quantity and variety of stamps coming into the port from sailors and visitors from all over the world. He began to catalogue the weird and wonderful stamps from the Empire and beyond and began to sell them in his shop. His stamp collecting business soon surpassed his chemist work and he began to dedicate more and more time to accurately recording who issued stamps and where. His name still lives on in the catalogues used by stamp collectors and is synonymous with the hobby.
The Zulu War
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport, 1877
Devonport provided the main part of embarkation for troops setting off to Zululand in 1879. Great crowds watched regimensts arrive at the train stations and march through the streets to the waiting troopships such as the Jumna. A hastily written ditty was sung by many who witnessed the patriotic fervour firsthand:
British Empire in Plymouth
Zulu War Song

In actual fact, far from setting the Zulus free, the war was an ill considered attempt to extend British authority through the area and nearly ended in disaster when the British Army was wiped out at Isandlwana - including many of those who had passed through Devonport just a few months before. However, fortunes and honour were slightly restored by the remarkable defence at Rorke's Drift by Plymothian Lieutenant John Chard. He stoutly resisted the attack of some 4,000 Zulu warriors on the isolated station at Rorke's Drift with just 130 men of his own, many of whom were recuperating in the makeshift hospital there. For his actions he won the Victoria Cross as did 10 other British soldiers there, making it the most highly decorated action in British military history. Lieutenant Chard returned to Plymouth to receive a hero's welcome. He was presented with the Plymouth Sword by local aldermen in front of a crowd of 3,000 invited dignataries.

There was one more interesting visitor to Plymouth in connection with the Zulu War. The Zulu chief, Cetewayo, was brought to Plymouth as a prisoner of war en route to London to meet as the defeated Head of State of Zululand. He arrived in full Chieftan regalia and was the talk of the town. Interestingly, when he returned from London to Plymouth to take a ship back towards Southern Africa, he was dressed in full frock-coat, silk hat and gloves. He even carried a silver mounted walking stick that had been presented to him by the Prince of Wales.

HMS Mount Edgcumbe
In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century there were earnest attempts to 'reform' young boys and girls who were felt to be growing up in destitute conditions and were presumed to be heading for a life of crime and misdemeanour. Exporting troublesome teenagers or children was no longer an option for Britain as colonies like Western Australia refused to take any more waifs and strays or prison ships. In general, the solution was to send people to workhouses and correctional institutes but in Plymouth an interesting experiment was formulated with a novel training institute for boys at least. On the river Tamar an attempt was made to train young boys for a life in the navy or merchant marine on HMS Mount Edgcumbe which lay between Plymouth and Saltash. It was designated as an Industrial Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys. Originally, it had been the 56 gun HMS Winchester but was converted for use as a floating workhouse in 1877. It could take a complement of 250 boys and was felt to be invaluable for instigating maritime skills. Unfortunately, the training ship was run poorly with much brutality. At the turn of the century it was heavily criticised by government inspectors who found that the boys were often deformed or damaged by the poor diet, harsh conditions and strict discipline imposed upon them. It was reformed from 1910 and continued to serve in its original purpose for another 10 years. Workhouses in general were wound up not much later and by 1930 they had all been shut down or redesignated as local councils took over full responsibility for looking after the poor or orphaned.
Marine and Polar Exploration
British Empire in Plymouth
Marine Biology Association
British Empire in Plymouth
The Scott Memorial
Plymouth's role in mapping the World's oceans and collecting flora and fauna was well known. It was therefore deemed to be the logical place to establish the Marine Biological Association for research on marine life in the waters off Britain and around the Empire. The War Department donated a set of buildings beneath the Citadel for the headquarters and research facilities of this new organisation. By 1885 it had opened an aquarium. This was made open to the public and quickly built up a reputation for the quality of its scientific research. For many years it was led by Edgar Allen. Later, when Andrew Carnegie donated money to build a new library and museum between 1907 and 1910, the Marine Biological Association worked closely with the Natural History staff in setting up their collections.

The Marine Biological Association became a natural base of operations for Britain's polar exploration in the Arctic and Antarctic. Nearly all of the polar exploration teams set off from Plymouth and thousands of their specimens were brought back to Plymouth for evaluation and for further study. Many of the household names in polar exploration had very strong connections to the city. The most famous is certainly Robert Falcon Scott who was actually born in the area. Ernest Henry Shackleton, Frank Bickerton and many other less famous polar explorers were all familiar with the work of the Marine Biological Association and had spent a considerable time in Plymouth equipping for journeys or recuperating on their return. Once again, the Royal Navy was happy for its sailors to get involved in expeditions to such hostile parts of the world as it felt that it made for formidable training and helped further its own understanding of the world. The tragic end to Scott's expedition to the Antarctic saw a remarkable outpouring of grief. A final plea from his notebooks had asked that enough money be raised to help support the families of his doomed expedition. The public responded overwhelmingly to this request and raised far more money than he could possibly have imagined. A portion of the extra money was used to create the Scott Memorial at Mount Wise overlooking where the ships enter and leave the harbour. On the memorial is inscribed his famous last words:

"Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale."

Splendid Isolation
British Empire in Plymouth
Empress of India in Dry Docks
Queen Victoria's Jubilee, which was celebrated extensively in Plymouth, was held in 1897.
British Empire in Plymouth
Devonport Dockyard
On paper it marked the apogee of imperial power and the Royal Navy was central to that power. However the period immediately following this jubilee was one of growing unease for the British public. British economic power was being challenged by the rise of America whilst its military power was being challenged by Imperial Germany. Splendid Isolation no longer seemed an envious policy decision but rather it appeared to illustrate aloofness and weakness. The declaration of Germany's Tirpitz Plan in 1898 directly challenged the Royal Navy. The Tirpitz plan was where the Kaiser declared that he would build a German Navy that could directly challenge and compete with the Royal Navy. The only response to German militarism appeared to be increased British militarism.

The implications for Devonport were profound. The dockyards were expanded yet further into Keyham with even bigger docks were built to deal with the ever increasing size of battleships. New weapon systems were developed and tested. A torpedo school was built at HMS Defiance just over the Hamoaze on the River Lynher. Submarines were built and tested for the first time.

There was frenzied ship building activity as the Royal Navy attempted to stay ahead of their rivals. The Royal Navy had taken on a policy whereby they wanted to ensure that they had more ships on the seas than the second biggest and third biggest navies combined. This meant work for the dockyardies at Devonport on an unprecedented scale. In 1902, King Edward VII visited Plymouth to launch HMS Queen and to lay the keel of a new ship to be built in his honour HMS King Edward VII.

British Empire in Plymouth
In an attempt to intimidate the Kaiser Wilhelm II and Admiral Tirpitz, King Edward VII invited the German Fleet to pay a visit to Plymouth and to allow the naval officers of the Imperial German Navy to see for themselves the futility of trying to challenge the Royal Navy. In 1904 a fleet of a battleship, four cruisers and an armoured cruiser entered Plymouth to much fanfare. The lead German ship fired a 21 gun salute as it entered the Sound to which the guns of the Citadel replied gun for gun. The ships anchored and the crew came ashore for three days.
British Empire in Plymouth
Dockyards Map, 1909
There was actually a lot of consternation in the public press and even at parliament when questions were raised about the wisdom of allowing German sailors to examine the defences of one of the Royal Navy's primary ports. The Kaiser did not sail with this particular fleet but he had been to Plymouth before as a young cadet. According to his memoirs, whilst in Plymouth he 'descended in a diving-bell' which illustrates yet again the experimentation that happened in and around the naval base.

The ultimate naval weapon that transformed the naval arms race before World War One was the launch of the Dreadnought at Devonport in 1906. This was the largest battleship that had ever been built and was armour plated all the way round and even on the decks. It was such an advanced design that it had the unintended consequence of making all previously built warships redundant in comparison. The naval planners had done such a good job at thinking outside of the box that they had accidentally made it easier for the Germans to copy their design and catch up with the Royal Navy. The advantage for Devonport was that these new ships were incredibly large and required vast amounts of manpower to build. Lloyd George's budgets from 1909 to 1911 set aside huge quantities of cash to build more and more ships in a desperate attempt to keep Britain ahead of her German rivals. Economically, Devonport thrived but the rest of the country struggled to balance its budgets. The increased militarisation did little to reassure the population that peace was the inevitable outcome.

The Boer War
British Empire in Plymouth
Mount Wise Parade
Plymouth's communication systems and military infrastructure had improved to such an extent that it became the natural choice for embarking the many thousands of troops who would end up fighting in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. Many thousands of Plymothians went to war with the army, but even sailors got to fight on land in in this war in what were referred to as Naval Brigades. At several points in the war, particularly in the early stages, the British forces were under incredible pressure and staring at defeat. All available hands were required to avert a national catastrophe. A memorial to these Naval Brigades can still be seen in Plymouth in Devonport Park. Rather bizarely, the sailors from HMS Doris managed to capture a British made Boer machine gun that they had purchased before the war broke out. The machine gun would soon go on to dominate the battlefields but at the turn of the century they were still large, cumbersome and unreliable. The sailors were keen to use this captured trophy as a memorial to their fallen comrades. It stands overlooking the dockyards from the grounds of this elegant Victorian park.
British Empire in Plymouth
HMS Doris Memorial Gun

The very early stages of the war saw Britain lose one of its most senior generals on the battlefield. That man was Major-General William Penn Symons who came from just over the River Tamar from Hatt House. If anything his major crime was that he was too courageous and too gung-ho and had not appreciated that the Boers had access to the best rifles and artillery that money could buy and that their mobility would run rings around a traditional British Army used to fighting foes with inferior training and equipment. He split up his troops fatally and when they struggled with an attack on Talana Hill he rode up to personally lead the charge. Unfortunately for him his ADC carried a conspicuous red pennant making it easy for the Boer marksmen to identify him. He was shot in the stomach leading his troops forward. His soldiers did actually capture the hill shortly afterwards and technically won the battle but it was a phyrric victory to say the least and Penn died of his wounds three days later at Dundee near Ladysmith with his last words to his doctor being “Tell everyone I died facing the enemy!”

British Empire in Plymouth
St. Mary's Church

There is a large memorial to Penn Symons at the top of Fore Street in Saltash and St. Mary’s in Botus Fleming has several dedications to him including a rather lovely memorial window with a plaque beneath it outlining his career and a reredo at the front the church is also dedicated to him. This was carved by the remarkable Pinwell sisters from Ermington. These lady woodcarvers helped renovate and decorate many of the churches in and around Plymouth and up the Tamar valley from the 1890s into the first half of the Twentieth Century. Penn Symons had had a typically diverse Victorian soldier’s career including service in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Indeed he was in the same regiment (the 24th Foot) as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead of Rorke’s Drift fame and of Lt-Colonel Pulleine at Isandlwana. Unfortunately it was to be his regiment that took the brunt of the casualties in that campaign. Fortunately for Penn Symons he was with Lord Chelmsford’s force which had escaped unscathed. Penn Symons was to be one of the first British soldiers to visit Rorke’s Drift alongside Lord Chelmsford and was one of the first people to put pen to paper to describe what he saw with his own eyes and to record the accounts of the survivors. Funnily enough Lieutenant Chard of the Royal Engineers commanding the defence was a near neighbour to the Symons back here on the opposite side of the Tamar River. The fact that his regiment had been so savaged was one of the main reasons he was rapidly promoted. So many of his brother officers had been killed at Isandlwana leaving lots of vacancies to fill. He then went on to serve in India mainly in the various Burma campaigns before being promoted to regimental Lieutenant-Colonel of what was now called the South Wales Borderers rather than the 24th Foot. He was very active on the North West Frontier in the 1890s taking part in many of the expeditions there. On this basis of recent experience on the battlefield he was sent to Natal in Southern Africa as diplomatic relations with the Boers deteriorated.

One Naval Brigade tradition that was brought back to Plymouth from the Boer War was the Field Gun Race. This was a dramatic, competitive re-enactment of moving the guns from HMS Terrible and HMS Powerful to help relieve the siege of Ladysmith in 1899. The Naval Brigade had had to move their heavy guns over difficult terrain to help lift the siege. This became a regular fixture at the Royal Tournament and would pit crews from the various naval bases against one another. Devonport's arch rival was always Portsmouth, but teams from the Fleet Air Arm, Chatham and other bases have also competed in these arduous races.
British Empire in Plymouth
Boer War Memorial
The war went on for far longer than anyone had anticipated. It revealed some painful home truths that would have to be addressed in the future. Firstly, it revealed that Britain really was splendidly isolated and that it was dangerously exposed on the international stage. This would be remedied in 1902 with an Alliance with Japan in order to help spread the imperial load in Asia. More importantly, it would see an Entente with France and even a rapprochement with Russia as Britain clearly identified Germany with its naval plans as its number one threat. Another weakness revealed was the state of health of many Britons. The army had been dismayed at how few volunteers were in a fit state to join the service. Various government initiatives would seek to remedy this problem by introducing milk into schools, initiating regular health checks and clearing slums and improving housing. Plymouth would see new housing estates built as a result during the Edwardian period and these often included names of battles and places from the Boer War; Streets like Durban Road, Mafeking Road and Ladysmith Road (Mafeking Road was later renamed as Lydford Park Road). Perhaps the most serious weakness was the relative poor performance of her armed forces compared to the motivated and well-trained Boer farmers. There was much soul searching for this seeming decline in national vigour. Strenuous efforts were made to enthuse the nation's youth, train them more effectively and reform the army to better be able to deal with the new kind of warfare illustrated by the Boer War. As a consequence of these requirements, Scout troops were established for teenage boys to develop camp-craft skills, gun clubs were subsidised and opened up to younger teenagers and the army completely reorganised its weapons, uniforms and tactics. Plymouth saw its first Scout troop open at Harwell Church on Harwell Street in 1908 but it quickly spread in popularity and by 1914 there were 22 Troops in the area. There was a similar burst in the creation of shooting clubs and cadet forces throughout the area.

In a strange way, the Boer War came at just the right time for Britain. It may have been a badly managed and awkward war that revealed some serious home truths. But it ended up giving Britain a decade and a half to reorganise and prepare itself better for the First World War. The performance of the British Expeditionary Force in the early stages of the war surpassed the expectations of friend and foe alike as their professionalism and skill helped prevent France from being defeated in 1914. Without the Boer War and the reforms that it engendered, it is unlikely that the British military would have been so successful.

The Parkers: From Privateering to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Decolonisation
British Empire in Plymouth
Merchant's House, Barbican
One locally important family was the Parker Family. Few families encapsulate the opportunities, dangers and loyalties of the period since Elizabethan times than the Parkers. They had come to prominence during the Elizabethan period as merchant adventurers. William Parker was a contemporary and close friend of Francis Drake and sailed with him in 1587 to raid Cadiz. He also captained a ship against the Spanish Armada. He was actually the first recorded owner of the Merchant's House which is probably the best preserved Elizabethan House in Plymouth. Merchant Adventurers combined commerce with privateering. He received a letter of marque from Queen Elizabeth giving him permission to attack Spanish vessels and ports. He spent much of the 1590s in the Caribbean attacking the Spanish notably plundering Puerto Cortés in Honduras in 1594 and 1595. His big break came in 1601 when, shortly after being wounded attacking Campeche in Mexico he captured two of the famous Spanish Treasure ships en route to San Juan de Ulua. These were carrying some 10,000 gold ducats which really was a fortune. On the back of this success he followed in his friend', Francis Drake's, footsteps by being elected Lord Mayor of Plymouth. William Parker would go on to become a founding member of the Virginia Company in 1606 and remained involved in the early American settlement for the rest of his life. King James I made Captain Parker a Vice-Admiral with orders to try and muscle in on the Dutch Spice Trade whose success was beginning to be looked on with envy. It was whilst on an expedition to the newly acquired colony of Bantam in the East Indies in 1618 that he fell ill and died. His family, however, still had his considerable fortune to rely upon and acquired Boringdon Hall as its new family seat.

British Empire in Plymouth
Third Earl of Morley
During the Civil War the Parkers remained loyal to King Charles despite Plymouth itself declaring for Parliament. After Cromwell's victory Boringdon House was damaged by the victorious Roundheads and the house was confiscated. With the Restoration in 1660, it was restored to the Parker family by King Charles II. The Parkers were able to acquire Saltram House in 1712 and set about turning it into a Palladian mansion that was literally fit to entertain the King. King George III arrived as a house guest in 1789 as part of his 'West Country Progress' tour. From Saltram House he reviewed the Royal Navy at Plymouth Dock in his Royal Barque commanded by Sir Thomas Byard who he knighted shortly afterwards. The same king had elevated the Parkers to the Barons of Boringdon in 1784. The Second Baron of Boringdon, John Parker, supported Pitt the Younger and his aggressive persecution of the war against Napoleon and the incorporation of Ireland into the British Union. After the death of Pitt, he began to work closely with the rising star of George Canning. His support for successive Tory governments saw him elevated to an Earldom as the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. They took the title of the Earls of Morley.
British Empire in Plymouth
The Original Laira Bridge
Locally, he sought to improve the local infrastructure and he personally funded the construction of dry docks at Cattewater harbour and better moorings for ships to berth. He also constructed the first Laira bridge connecting his Saltram Estate directly to Plymouth and operated it as a toll bridge. Canning had been moving in a more liberal direction compared to most Tories at this particular time but after Canning's unexpected death in 1827, the Third Earl the complete political switch to the Whigs by the time of the 1832 Great Reform Act. The Second and Third Earls of Morley completed this shift to the whigs and then the Liberals when they were renamed in 1859. The Third Earl of Morley was particularly active and served under Gladstone in his two most important administrations from 1868 - 74 and then from 1880 - 85. In the latter he served as the Under Secretary of State for War at the height of Britain's imperial power. This particular Liberal government would be beset by colonial conflicts, some inherited from the Disraeli Government as in Afghanistan and South Africa but others of their own making such as the intervention in Egypt and then the ill-fated attempted rescue of General Gordon from Khartoum. The Third Earl of Morley had to defend the complex government position and did so with some skill in the House of Lords. However, against the tide of public opinion and the clamour from the media, his was a forlorn task defending a policy that ultimately ended in failure despite the government's best attempts at avoiding it. (They had asked Gordon to evacuate Khartoum not to defend it). Gordon's death at the hands of the Mahdi did much to bring down Gladstone's government and see it defeated at the next General Election. In Gladstone's third government the Earl of Morley began to disagree with the proposed Home Rule for Ireland policy. He joined what became known as the Liberal Unionists and effectively supported the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury who himself led an expansive imperial policy at the period of which the principle policy became known as 'Splendid Isolation'.
British Empire in Plymouth
Earls of Morley Graves

The Third Earl of Morley is buried in nearby St Mary's Church alongside his two sons; the Fourth and the Fifth Earls of Morley. These two Parkers were the last people to ever live in Saltram House itself. Neither the Fourth nor the Fifth Earl of Morley married nor did either have any children. Both his sons continued to support the Liberal Unionists and both also served as soldiers. The Fifth Earl of Morley was an enthusiastic adventurer archaeologist who funded and conducted the ‘Parker Expedition’ to Palestine just before the First World War. He was a larger than life character who had served in the Boer War with the Grenadier Guards and would later fight with distinction during the First World War even receiving the Croix de Guerre for his bravery.
British Empire in Plymouth
Fifth Earl of Morley in Jerusalem
But from 1909 to 1911 and at considerable personal expense his goal was to excavate Solomon’s Temple to try and unearth the fantastic treasure he assumed would be buried under the Temple Mount and find important religious artefacts mentioned in the Bible. He perhaps forgot that the Babylonians probably stole everything of value two and a half thousand years ago when they sacked the place. He is very much regarded as the inspiration for the Raiders of the Lost Ark story. In particular he understood the Old Testament account of King David trying to build a temple to house The Ark of the Covenant but because David had ‘shed much blood’ God would not allow him to build the Temple. Instead, it fell to his son Solomon to build a Temple in honour of his father to and to house the Ark! And Plymouth’s Fifth Earl of Morley was determined to find it! Alas he did not find it, and to make matters worse he lost much of his archaeological equipment and finds when street fighting broke out in opposition to the dig. Local Muslims were outraged that infidels were digging underneath the Mosque of Omar (The Dome of the Rock). Parker did actually have permission to be there from the Ottoman governor but this was not enough to convince the rioters and soldiers had to be called out but not before rioting had spread throughout Jerusalem. At this point, Parker wisely decided to call an end to the dig.
British Empire in Plymouth
Lost Ark!
Nevertheless, the story of adventurer-archaeologists looking for the Ark of the Covenant was born and passed into popular culture. A steady stream of other adventurer archaeologists followed into the Middle East especially after the war when Palestine passed from the Ottoman Empire into the British Empire.

The Fifth Earl of Morley, Montague Parker may have been the last Parker to live at Saltram House but when he died childless in 1962 the title at least passed to a new Parker who had himself been born at Saltram House: John St Aubyn Parker. He was a soldier whose career would follow something of the decolonisation process of Britain. He actually started his career as private soldier in the King's Royal Rifle Corps However, he was soon commissioned and by 1944 had moved to Buckingham Palace as part of the Royal Protection Squad. He did serve in Germany at the tail end of the war before being sent to Gaza in the Palestine Mandate before Israel achieved its independence and Gaza was seized by Egypt. John St Aubyn Parker then went to serve in the Suez Canal Zone at a time that Egyptian resentment at the British remaining presence was growing. He got called up to the Korean War but attached to an Australian battalion. After the war he returned to the Suez Canal Zone where he travelled about by camel. He left in 1954 as part of a draw down negotiated by Anthony Eden - eventually broken by Nasser in what became the Suez Crisis in 1956. He only received the title the Sixth Earl of Morley in 1962. At this time he was posted to Malta in its last days as a formal colony and gaining its independence within the Commonwealth in 1964. He retired from the army in 1970 as the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Fusiliers. He died in 2015.

You can see the Parkers' own family journey very much mirrored the rise and the fall of Britain's Empire and the bumpy political ride within its core institutions. From Merchant Adventurers seizing Spanish treasure ships to pulling down the flag over Britain's remaining colonies.

The Royal Naval Air Service in Plymouth
British Empire in Plymouth
Short 184s at RNAS Cattewater
Just before the outbreak of World War One, a seaplane base was developed at Mountbatten for the fledgeling Royal Naval Air Service.
British Empire in Plymouth
R100 Over Plymouth
The Navy was interested in developing air power but was unsure as how to go about the process. It was recognised that planes would greatly aid reconnaissance for the fleets, but it was unsure how best to incorporate them with the existing ship technology. It was also hoped that torpedoes could be adapted and carried by the planes so that they might be used in an offensive capacity. It just so happened that the Royal Naval Torpedo School was nearby to help facilitate experimentation. The first seaplanes at RNAS Cattewater (as it was called) were Short Type 184 planes.

Another interesting RNAS base was RNAS Laira. It was actually located opposite Laira at the Saltram House Racecourse at Chelson Meadow. Unlike RNAS Cattewater, this base was concerned with experimenting and developing airship technology. The base was home to two Sea Scout Zero airships, which were painted in a camouflage khaki; brown and black. It was linked to the main RNAS airship base at Mullion on the Lizard Peninsular. The base was in operation throughout World War One but seems to have come to an end after an airship flying from RNAS Mullion to RNAS Laira crashed upon landing and got stuck in the silt and mud of the River Plym. No one was killed, but questions were raised about the placement of the base. After this event, the base was relocated outside of the city.

British Empire in Plymouth
Airship SSE2 in River Plym
That did not mark the end of airships in the city. In 1930, R100, one of the largest airships in the world at the time, passed over Plymouth twice. It could carry 100 passengers in addition to its crew. Many Plymothians came out to watch it fly overhead. Interestingly, it was designed by Barnes Wallis who went on to become famous for the Dambusters Bouncing Bomb and he was helped by his deputy chief engineer Nevil Shute Norway who went on to become a famous writer often on imperial themes. The R100 even flew to Canada and back and as a design was a relative success. Sadly for the airship industry, the Air Ministry designed its successor R101 which crashed in France killing 48 people including many VIPs. This put an end to the airship industry even though R100 had flown many miles without incident.
British Empire in Plymouth
Airship on HMS Furious

After World War One, the RNAS merged with the RFC to become the RAF. At this point the base changed its name to RAF Cattewater and achieved fame in 1919 by becoming the final stop for the first ever transatlantic flight from Rockaway, New York to Plymouth via Newfoundland, the Azores and Lisbon. Three US Navy Curtiss C-4 planes had set out, but only one made it the full distance. Aerial technology had come on in leaps and bounds during World War One and for a while, it seemed that seaplanes with their greater versatility in landing sites, would provide the model for future long distance aviation.

The Great War
British Empire in Plymouth
Sherwood Forresters at Cattedown
Plymouth was in the process of a massive reorganisation of its local government as war approached in 1914. It had previously been a collection of three separate boroughs of Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport. However, it had been clear that all three boroughs were now bumping into one another. Matters were not helped by the fact that they were condensed further by the major rivers and the Plymouth Sound. Being hemmed in on three sides, the only direction that they could expand was northwards and this would require coordination by the three boroughs. Stonehouse and Devonport were far more reluctant than Plymouth to merge but the paperwork to join the three into a combined borough was passed through Parliament on 15th July, just two weeks before the outbreak of World War One and a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. There is little doubt that the scale of the World War that would break out so soon would challenge the local government and force it to marshall its resources in hitherto unforeseen ways.

British Empire in Plymouth
US Ambassador in Plymouth
Plymouth's military role would mean that it became a major player in the First World War. Foremost a port, the Royal Navy used Devonport as a major hub to patrol the English Channel, search for submarines and later to escort convoys to and from Britain. In fact, it was a Devonport ship, HMS Amphion, that became the first casualty of the naval war in August 1914 when she hit a mine in the North Sea. Devonport's ships would go on to play a vital role in ensuring that supplies rolled into Plymouth and that troops could go to and fro as required. It became a very busy port once more.

British Empire in Plymouth
Australian Soldiers Arriving in Plymouth
Plenty of Plymothians were swept up in the euphoria of patriotism that swept the country in 1914. Thousands upon thousands volunteered to fight. Those joining the army tended to head to the local Devon Regiment which had a depot in Plymouth. Many more were drawn to service in the Royal Marines or Royal Navy. Prisoners at the nearby Dartmoor Prison were given the option of joining up or remaining in prison. The vast majority joined up for service. The facilities of the prison were then set aside for the use of Conscientious Objectors who refused to fight or serve the armed forces in any way. These men were made to work on local farms or build walls much as prisoners of war had done in the previous century.

British Empire in Plymouth
Canadian Soldiers Arriving in Plymouth
Plymouth became a massive transit camp for British troops going to and from France and for Imperial forces coming from all over the Empire to help the mother country. The Canadians were the first to land in force in November 1914 when the 1st Canadian Division landed in Plymouth. Some 32,000 troops and their equipment came ashore. Amongst their number was John McCrae the Canadian poet who would later go on to write the poem that made poppies synonymous with the First World War. The Canadians would later be followed by Newfoundlanders, New Zealanders, Australians, Indians and many other colonials troops. Another significant group to pass through the port were labourers and pioneers from India, the Caribbean and West Africa who were used to help dig trenches and gun emplacements in France.
British Empire in Plymouth
Indian Soldiers Arriving in Plymouth
Later, Americans would also disembark in Plymouth. The barracks and forts provided the bulk of accommodation for these forces who were usually in the City only for a short period before being shipped over to France itself. Plymouth became an incredibly cosmopolitan place as the Empire and Allies rallied to the crisis in Europe.

British Empire in Plymouth
Salisbury Road Military Hospital
Given its distance from the fighting, Plymouth was regarded as a relatively 'safe' port and base. This did not mean that it was not menaced at all. Submarines in the First World War had far shorter ranges than in the Second and so were far more frequently spotted in the English Channel. Notwithstanding this threat, Plymouth was assigned the role of receiving casualties from the fighting in France or at sea. It already had impressive military hospital facilities, but the sheer volume of casualties meant that far more beds were required. Many of the schools in Plymouth were taken over by the military and turned into makeshift hospitals and wards. For example, Hyde Park School was used by Australians evacuated from the fighting at Gallipoli in 1915. This role for the city was regarded as so important that King George V himself toured the hospitals of the city awarding medals and encouraging the staff and patients in September 1915.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Munitions Workers
Plymouth also played its part in the manufacture of munitions and recruited heavily from women given the number of men who had volunteered or later were conscripted to fight. This would help presage a profound societal change as the role that women could play in society was re-evaluated by many thanks to their economic contribution during this war.

British Empire in Plymouth
Canadians in Plympton
There was to be a significant local tragedy involving New Zealand troops in September 1917 as they were being moved out of Plymouth. Nine New Zealand soldiers were killed at Bere Ferrers station as they got out of the wrong side of the train and were killed instantly by a train travelling in the opposite direction. They were all buried in Plymouth at Efford Cememtery. This tragic accident shines a light on the movements of imperial troops in and out of Plymouth and gives a hint at the full extent of the imperial commitment to the war.

British Empire in Plymouth
American Sub-Chasers in Plymouth
1917 saw the American Navy take control of Victoria Wharf as they set up a base to help clear the Channel of submarines and so allow their troops to cross the Atlantic in safety. The base was quickly filled with over 60 destroyers and submarine-chasers and 3,000 naval personnel. They set up their headquarters on Elliot Terrace overlooking the Sound. From 1918, Mark Lambert Bristol commanded what was called the Submarine Chaser Detachment. Their naval uniforms were distinctively different from those serving in the Royal and Empire Navies.

One of the lesser known roles of Plymouth during World War One was the creation and equipping of Q-Ships. These were highly secretive designs where merchant ships were fitted with guns, torpedoes and weapons to counter the u-boat threat. In the early stages of the war, German U-boats had preferred to surface and use their gun to sink ships rather than use one of their precious torpedoes. U-boats could only carry so many torpedoes and once these had been expended they had to take the dangerous journey back to Germany and re-arm. Recognising this tactic, Royal Navy hit on the idea of having merchant ships armed with secret weapons so that when a U-boat surfaced to sink the ship it would be surprised to find that the predator had become the prey. The Royal Navy was keen to keep these tactics as secret as possible and went to considerable lengths to ensure that as few people as possible knew of the existence of these Q-boats.

British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth War Memorial
The extent of suffering by all the services required memorials on a hitherto unknown scale. The tradition at the time was to bury the war dead near to where they died and huge new graveyards were established in France, Belgium, Turkey or wherever in the Empire the fighting took place. However, the Royal Navy had no similar way of honouring its dead as so many were lost at sea or had been buried at sea. It was therefore agreed to establish Naval Memorials in the three Naval Bases of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Chatham. These not only listed the names of sailors from the Royal Navy but also from the colonial navies, for example it listed those who died in the service of the Royal South African Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy amongst others. The architecture of the three memorials is remarkably similar and immediately form a powerful bond between the three principal naval bases.

The Kaiser-i-Hind
If you were stood on Plymouth Hoe in 1916 you would have seen a remarkable looking P&O Passenger ship in elaborate Dazzle Camouflage about to set sail on what would be a record breaking voyage. The ship’s name was The Kaiser-i-Hind which led something of a charmed life on the High Seas and sailors and passengers alike appreciate nothing more than a ‘lucky ship’ to travel on. Her start was perhaps not auspicious when she was launched on the very day that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28th 1914. Or perhaps this very collision with such a date of destiny would serve her well and helped forge her fortune. Although sounding oddly Germanic, the name actually was Urdu for the Empress of India and indeed she spent much of her career plying the routes between Britain, India and Australia linking three of the most important destinations in the British Empire. Maybe they also hoped that German u-boat commanders might be reluctant to target a ship sharing the same name as their Head of State?

British Empire in Plymouth
American Sub-Chasers in Plymouth
The record breaking voyage set in 1916 was from Plymouth to Bombay in the remarkable time of just 17 days, 20 hours and 52 minutes. This was the fastest time recorded by any ship up to that point and perhaps the added danger of German u-boat activity helped motivate the stokers to keep the engines operating at optimum level for the entire journey. The unlikely looking dazzle camouflage was also supposed to frustrate u-boat commanders peering through their periscopes. The design was never meant to conceal the ship but to confuse u-boat commanders and make it difficult for them to calculate the direction of travel and the speed of the ship making the calculations for firing torpedoes far more problematic in predicting where their intended target may be by the time the torpedo travelled the necessary distance to find its target. In the case of the Kaiser-i-Hind it may well have worked as she was targeted on no less than 6 six occasions and on 5 of those 6 targetings the Kaiser-i-Hind was missed - and sometimes by more than one torpedo. Her unexpected speed for such a large ship may also have been a complicating factor and she also had the ability to outrun any danger when she was made aware of it. She was indeed hit on one occasion - BUT, the torpedo failed to explode and the ship continued to sail its charmed life much to the relief of everyone on board which actually included 3000 troops at the time. The final miss was as late as 22nd September 1918 just seven weeks before the end of the war. Many Australian and New Zealand troops knew the ship well as she carried tens of thousands of ANZACs to and from the European war zone. Another fortunate passenger had been the Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford, who was travelling with his family in the Mediterranean back to Britain when a number of torpedoes all failed to find their precious target and the ship sped away one more time!

The Kaiser-i-Hind was the ship that Lawrence of Arabia returned from his actions in the Middle East upon in October 1918 and just a few years later in 1921 Winston Churchill would be heading back out to the Middle East aboard the Kaiser-i-Hind as Colonial Secretary to try to deal with the consequences of Britain’s First World War promises and commitments such as those made by Lawrence of Arabia no less. In 1926 the Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of Gloucester (the future King Edward VIII and his younger brother) travelled on what was then known as RMS Kaisar-i-Hind before starting a Royal Tour around Africa starting from Alexandria where they alighted the ship. RMS meant a Royal Mail Steamer. This was one way that the British government could subsidise regular sailings around the Empire by ensuring that these ships carried mail at regular intervals. It helped the shipping companies defray the costs of regular sailings throughout the year and not just at popular times.

The Kaiser-i-Hind would be met in Plymouth Sound by the Great Western Railway tenders the TSS Sir Walter Raleigh and TSS Sir Francis Drake who would bring the troops or passengers ashore at Millbay where they could get on a GWR train at the station there and continue their journey on land. For most passengers it was far quicker taking the train to Paddington from Plymouth than sailing the final leg of the journey to Tilbury.

Plymouth was the Kaiser-i-Hind’s penultimate port of call on April 21st 1938 when the ageing ship returned to Britain on her final voyage. She was 24 years of age and was showing her age. More worryingly for the shipping industry was the fact that high end passengers were increasingly turning to Flying Boats such as those operated by Imperial Airways who coincidentally started their first regular service to Australia via India in that same year of 1938. Be that as it may, when the Kaiser-i-Hind arrived in Plymouth she flew an enormously long 72 foot paying off pennant. This had been a tradition long known in the Royal Navy from the days when old cleaning rags were flown from the mast to indicate that they were no longer required after the ship’s final voyage. Interestingly, the Kaiser-i-Hind’s paying off pennant at Plymouth is thought to be the first time that the P&O ships joined in with this tradition. Perhaps Plymouth’s naval heritage had rubbed off on the sentimental Captain as he entered the Royal Naval port for the last time. The Kaiser-i-Hind had led a charmed life and Plymouth had been a friendly port to her for her entire working life.

Post Great War
Plymouth had been a safe but vital port in the First World War. With its end, came the process of repatriating troops back to the Empire and to Britain. Plymouth played a key role in this trans-shipment operation but with tragic consequences in the light of the influenza epidemic that broke out in 1918/9. The movement of so many troops in such cramped conditions was ideal in spreading the worst outbreak of flu in history. Troops carried the pathogens back to Plymouth and then on to ships to the most remote parts of the empire. Plymouth itself was very badly affected, but nearly all the colonies were exposed even the most remote Caribbean and Pacific Islands did not escape the ravages of the disease.

British Empire in Plymouth
Nancy Astor
Peace was not good news for the economy of Plymouth. Disarmament became a necessity as the government struggled to balance its budget in the aftermath of war and after inflation had escalated the costs of everyday items. Plymouth was particularly devastated by the Washington Naval Conferences of the 1920s which sought to limit the size of the Royal Navy and detach Britain from its alliance with Japan. Limits were put on the size and tonnage of warships and Britain was not supposed to have any more tonnage than the United States - which effectively meant that it had to stop building new ships until the Americans had caught up. The economic problems of the inter-war years actually came to Plymouth before most other parts of the world. This had the consequence of local government starting massive house building schemes in order to kick start the local economy. New housing estates were built at Hartley, Compton and St. Budeaux. The new borough also built a new shopping and commercial city centre which attracted businesses and made Plymouth into the largest settlement in England west of Bristol. By these means, Plymouth probably pulled itself out of the depression before most of the rest of the country as well. Its economy was ultimately helped by rearmament in the late 1930s when it was clear that Germany was once more posing a strategic threat to the United Kingdom and its Empire. Of course, the Washington Naval Conferences detachment of Japan from its alliance with Britain would mean that its Empire would be threatened in Asia whilst Britain was embroiled in war back in Europe.

British Empire in Plymouth
Jack Leslie
Politically, Plymouth would make its mark by electing the very first female MP in British history. Nancy Astor was the wife of the fabulously wealthy Waldorf Astor and sitting Plymouth MP. Waldorf Astor resigned his seat in 1919 in order that he could take his father's title and sit in the House of Lords. His wife then contested his old seat as a Coalition Unionist (effectively Conservative) and won easily with a majority of over 5,000. The effort of women during the First World War had not gone unnoticed and the franchise to women over 30 was extended to them in 1918 and it was harmonised with men at over 21 in 1928. She remained as MP until 1945 and did much to improve the morale of the people of Plymouth during the darkest days of the Blitz alongside her husband who by this time was mayor of Plymouth.

On the sports field, Plymouth Argyle broke new racial ground in 1921 when it signed Jack Leslie as an inside left player. Jack's father was Jamaican who worked as a gas fitter in London. His mother was an English seamstress. Jack Leslie became a prolific goal scorer and in combination with Argyle's all time highest goal scorer, Samuel Black, made a formidable goal scoring duo. Indeed Jack Leslie himself scored 137 goals in his 14 seasons with the club making him the fourth best Argyle scorer in his own right. In 1925, Jack Leslie was told that he had been called up to play for England in a match against Ireland. Alas, that invitation was rescinded and it was assumed that the F.A. had been unaware of his racial background and had withdrawn the position from Jack. It was not until 1978 that the first black player played for England. Regardless, Jack continued to play for Argyle until he retired from football in 1935. It is hard to overestimate the importance of football in this period of history. It was a huge spectator sport with crowds of tens of thousands week in and week out. As mentioned before, Plymouth was unusual in being an imperial port in having more ethnic minorities than most other places in the country at this time. But even so, to have had a black player in such a positive role for the city's football club for so long must surely have had an influence on the fanbase and wider community.

The Irish Free State and The Palestine Gendarmerie
British Empire in Plymouth
Irish in Plymouth
Hard core Sinn Fein and IRA prisoners captured in the Post-War troubles over in Ireland were distributed through Britain's prisons. Dartmoor Prison was one such prison which had a reputation at the time for looking after the most serious offenders. Dartmoor also had just developed experience in dealing with the difficult Conscientious Objectors who were more political and than criminal prisoners. Irish prisoners breaking the law fighting for Irish freedom from direct British rule were brought to Dartmoor as political prisoners. Some of them had effectively committed murder by conventional standards, although to many Irish they were regarded as freedom fighters. In January 1922, Ireland was formally given many (but not all) freedoms as the Irish Free State. As part of the political deal, both sides agreed to release political prisoners. Freed Irish prisoners from Dartmoor were taken to Plymouth where a small Irish community welcomed them. They marched through the streets of Plymouth to celebrate the formation of the Irish Free State with the Irish tricolour proudly displayed before them. Most of these prisoners then took a ship back to Ireland. Despite the heady enthusiasm amongst the Irish, the Irish Free State was about to descend in to its own Civil War between those who agreed to the terms of the Irish Free State agreement and those who felt that they had not received enough political independence from Britain. Fortunately for Britain though, this was to become Ireland's problem and Britain withdrew its armed forces (except from a series of Treaty Ports), paramilitary and police from the island. Some of those personnel would come to Plymouth for a new opportunity in another part of the Empire.

British Empire in Plymouth
Palestine Gendarmerie at Tregantle Fort
Plymouth became an unlikely mustering point for a new paramilitary style auxiliary police force for the new League of Nations Mandate of Palestine which took effect from 1920 onwards. British authorities put out a request for unmarried men under the age of 30 to join this new force but found that the soon to be disbanded Black and Tan constabulary from Ireland provided a large and willing group to recruit from. This force was assembled at Tregantle Fort near Whitsand Bay to undergo training before being despatched by Steamer to Haifa in 1922. The Black and Tans, who were mostly ex-services from The Great War, had earned a reputation for brashness and rowdiness whilist serving in Ireland. They appear to have taken these traits with them to Palestine and vigorously pursued bandits or brigands through the deserts and mountains of the Mandate on their Model T Fords or by horseback. The force was unusual in that it was entirely British manned with no local recruitment. This also meant that they were relatively expensive for a colonial gendarmerie and so were disbanded in 1926 and effectively merged into the Palestine Police Force which included Arabs and Jews in addition to British officers. The majority of the Palestine Gendarmerie transferred to this force, but a significant number transferred to the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force or the Imperial Mesopotamian Police Force in Iraq. In a way, the Palestine Gendarmerie was a victim of its own success. Its dissolution in 1926 for cost cutting purposes was largely because peace and stability had appeared to have been established throughout the Mandate. However, just three years later a serious outbreak of violence saw many hundreds, mainly Jews, killed or wounded as it took three days for British army reinforcements to be rushed in from neighbouring Egypt. Had the Palestine Gendarmerie still been in place, the situation may well have been very different and later enmity between the Jewish and Arab communities may have been avoided.

Plymouth's Sad Connections to the Destruction of Smyrna in Turkey in 1922
British Empire in Plymouth
The Great Fire of Smyrna
1922 saw one of the most cataclysmic events of the 20th Century as the cosmopolitan city of Smyrna was set alight by Turks keen to ethnically cleanse the Anatolian mainland of Greek, Armenian and Jewish influence. These events would see tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed and hundreds of thousands forced into exile. The events also contributed to the fall of Lloyd-George’s Government back at Westminster as his coalition government fell apart over the issue. Lloyd-Geroge had tacitly given permission for his former WW1 allies, the Greeks, to seize parts of the defeated Ottoman Empire. However, by 1922 they had over-reached themselves and their army was routed. The fleeing Greeks were certainly not innocent of atrocities of their own and these almost certainly encouraged the later Turkish savagery at Smyrna. Although the port of Smyrna was in Turkey its population was overwhelmingly Greek, Armenian and it also had a large number of Western expatriates as it was the main trading entrepôt for the Anatolian interior.

There were some interesting connections to Plymouth from this far off massacre and exodus in the Aegean Sea. Many of the civilians in the city, unaware of the extent of Greek defeats in the interior, were lured into a sense of security by the large number of British, American, French and Italian warships that had gathered in Smyrna harbour, ostensibly to conduct evacuation of their own nationals should the need arise. Naturally, many of the Royal Naval ships, sailors and marines despatched had strong connections with Devonport. Unfortunately, as the Turks entered the city, the situation soon turned chaotic as Turkish troops looted, robbed, raped and attacked especially the Armenian population. Westerners were hurriedly extracted by Allied sailors and marines but all the warships had strict orders from their governments not to intervene further in Turkish-Greek affairs and this included evacuating the locals despite their pleas. The British Government were wary of giving an excuse to start a war between the Nationalist Turks and Britain as they had thousands of British soldiers still occupying Constantinople and Chanak along the Straits of the Dardanelles as part of the Sevres Peace Treaty imposed on the defeated Turks. The American High Commissioner was a certain Admiral Mark Bristol who had been the US Commander of the destroyers based in Plymouth during the First World War (His HQ was on Elliott Terrace on the Hoe). His instructions were even stricter still to his US naval commanders to not intervene in any way as he sought better relations with the Nationalist Turks. However, as Turkish soldiers spread gasoline around the Armenian Quarter and set light to the houses, events took a severe turn for the worse as civilians fled the spreading fires and crowded the quays. Sailors watched on in horror as they saw Turkish soldiers hem the civilians in and continue their robbing and murder in full view of the Allied sailors. Despite the strict orders HMS Iron Duke, under Admiral de Brock, relented and finally sent their tenders to evacuate at least some of the desperate people as the fire intensified. This encouraged other ships to defy their own orders and join in the ad hoc humanitarian effort to evacuate at least some of the poor people. The laden warships slipped off to Greece with however many people they could carry but more needed to be done for the hundreds of thousands left behind and with fresh refugees continuing to arrive from the interior.
British Empire in Plymouth
Evacuating Smyrna

The fire burned for days and the ships largely returned to their non-intervention status once the intensity of that fire relented nearest to the quay. It fell to an American missionary by the name of Asa Jennings to come up with a solution alongside an American Destroyer Captain, Lieutenant-Commander Halsey Powell, who was not at all happy with his orders from Admiral Bristol. The two of them basically let the Greek government know that the US Navy would escort and protect Greek ships which went into Smyrna harbour to pick up the refugees still desperate to escape. This was explicitly against Admiral Bristol’s direct orders although they would discover more sympathetic coverage back in Washington DC from a government keen not to be seen to be abandoning fellow Christians to a dismal fate. Britain was still in its tricky diplomatic standoff as they had thousands of soldiers under threat from the Turkish Nationalist Army that was now headed in their direction towards Chanak. However, once the Americans started escorting the Greek ships into harbour, Royal Naval crews once more broke their strict orders and went ashore with the American sailors to help escort the women, the elderly and children back to the safety of the Greek merchant ships (men of service age were prevented from leaving by Turkish soldiers and were escorted off to prison camps and almost certain death for the majority of them.)

Lloyd-George was soon dismissed as Prime Minister by the Conservative 1922 Committee (which still exists and still has the power of dismissing Conservative PMs). The 1922 committee felt that their Liberal coalition partner had nearly dragged them into a needless war thanks to his initial support for the Greek intervention into Turkey. Coming so soon after the First World War had finished, appetite for any war, however principled, was low. The Nationalist Turks did not attack the British at Chanak despite their threats as their leader, Kemal Ataturk, realised that Britain was increasingly isolated and unlikely to want to fight. He realised that diplomatic negotiations with the new British government could deliver to him what he wanted - namely the evacuation of British troops from Constantinople and the Dardanelles and land to be recovered from the Greeks.

British Empire in Plymouth
Sultan Arrives in Malta
Up to this point, the British had backed the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople who unfortunately had lost political credibility in his country after signing the Sevres Peace Treaty with the victorious Allies in 1920. The British felt obligated to rescue the Sultan who was still technically the most important Muslim leader in the world at that point. He and a small party of his family and servants were unceremoniously sneaked out of the city driven in the back of two British military ambulances (although the red crosses were painted out for the journey) to HMS Malaya which then took him to Malta and permanent exile. Thus ended his family’s line of rule of the Ottoman Turks which had stretched all the way back to the Thirteenth Century.

Interestingly, all three of the Dreadnought battleships involved in the Smyrna evacuation; HMS Iron Duke, HMS King George V and HMS Ajax would sail to Devonport soon after these events. Iron Duke and King George V were converted into gunnery training ships and Ajax was put on the reserve list. This was partly due to the Washington Naval Treaties that were being negotiated as part of the demilitarisation process after the First World War. Older, larger battleships were repurposed or taken out of the front line to conform to the new tonnage and size restrictions agreed. This made Devonport a very busy shipyard indeed in the 1920s.

British Empire in Plymouth
Evacuating Smyrna
It should be said that the vast majority of the rescued Greeks and Armenians settled in Greece and at least some of the Jews made their way to the new British mandate of Palestine, but many thousands of refugees continued their unhappy journey to friends or family scattered across the world or were hoping for a fresh start. Some of these refugees landed in Millbay, Plymouth where they were photographed by journalists who were moved by their sad plight. The public only slowly learned of the events at Smyrna due to the Allies initial reluctance to confront the Turks directly. In truth, the extent of the ethnic cleansing in Anatolia was probably the most significant and sadly the most efficient removal of people in modern history until the Nazis conducted their own Holocaust just two decades later. Indeed, Hitler in defending his reprehensible treatment of Europe’s jews would state: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”. And who of us appreciated that a modern cosmopolitan city was utterly destroyed and ethnically cleansed right in front of the warships of the most powerful nations on earth at the time in 1922?

Plymouth Reignites the Imperial Preference Debate in 1923
British Empire in Plymouth
Stanley Baldwin
On October 25th 1923 the Prime Minister of Britain, Stanley Baldwin, gave a speech at the New Palladium Picture Theatre on Ebrington Street in Plymouth which was to prove to be an important inflection point in the history of British politics. Intriguingly, the New Palladium Picture Theatre had started life off as a roller skating venue. The reason he gave this speech in Plymouth was because it was the location of the 51st annual conference of the National Unionist Association and also the home constituency of the high profile first female Conservative MP Nancy Astor. The event was akin to our modern political conferences which are still often held in seaside locations. The National Unionist Association had been set up by Disraeli to bring Conservatives and Liberals who were discontented with Gladstone’s Irish Home Rule bills together. This had proved a powerful coalition that saw Lloyd George come to power in World War One and help steer Britain to victory. Indeed at the time of this speech Lloyd George had only recently been removed from power the previous year in 1922 (by the 1922 Committee of the Conservative party which still wields considerable power to this day). British politics was very much in flux in the early 1920s. The Irish Free State had been in existence for less than a year which effectively killed off the Liberal Unionist raison d’être. The Conservatives under the Canadian Scottish leader Andrew Bonar Law had unexpectedly won a large majority in the November 1922 General Election but he had unexpectedly died of throat cancer in May of 1923. Stanley Baldwin moved quickly to outfox the more patricianly Lord Curzon into becoming the Prime Minister. This was to be his first party conference as Prime Minister and the first since his party had won power and the first since Ireland had left the United Kingdom. On top of all this the international scene was already darkening as the Soviet Union’s Civil War was drawing to a close with the Bolsheviks embedding themselves firmly in power. The Weimar Republic in Germany was suffering from hyperinflation after the French had invaded the Ruhr to enforce repayments from The Great War which Germany could ill-afford. The fallout from the Turkish and Greek clashes had yet to be fully resolved and the USA was retreating in to isolationism, closing their borders to mass immigration and creating protectionist walls for its industry and agriculture. These were tumultuous times indeed

British Empire in Plymouth
New Palladium Picture Theatre
So what was so important about Baldwin’s speech on October 25th 1923 in Plymouth? Quite simply Baldwin reopened the chasm in British politics between Free Trade and Tariff Reform. The Liberals had historically been the champions of Free Trade but there were many Conservatives who also approved of the economic theory. However, there was another strain of Conservatism who had previously found an unlikely champion behind the Liberal Unionist leader Joseph Chamberlain at the start of the Twentieth Century who felt that Free Trade only worked if everyone in the world played fair and if the USA, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, etc were all closing their markets whilst still selling products to Britain then it was not fair on British farmers or producers who could not sell overseas whilst being undercut in their home market. Besides, these Tariff Reformers felt that Britain had an ace up their sleeve with the British Empire which in the aftermath of The Great War reached the greatest extent it would ever become. They felt that Britain could hide behind an Imperial tariff wall and not just a national one. The great Liberal victory of 1906 had seemed to close off the debate and preparations for and then the fighting of World War One had appeared to make the argument redundant, until that is Britain’s customers and competitors began closing their markets again slowly but surely.

British Empire in Plymouth
Ebrington Street
His cabinet had only been told that he was making such a fundamental change to British economic the day before they arrived in Plymouth. They now they sat grim-facedly behind Stanley Baldwin as he explained the new policy of his fledgeling premiership in the newly built cinema on Ebrington Street. The speech was timed to coincide with Lloyd-George being on a tour of the United States. Baldwin and the right of the party were concerned that Lloyd-George may yet form a new coalition of Liberals and Free Trade Conservatives to oust him. He needed a new distinctive new platform to stamp his authority on his party. He consequently took his own MPs, the press and the country by surprise by announcing a new commitment to Tariff Reform to protect Britain’s farmers and workers. He, like many on the right of the party, had a deep dislike that the Liberal Unionists had so few MPs and yet held such influence on the Conservative party. Indeed, Baldwin had been one of the prime movers to oust Lloyd-George through the 1922 Committee and made it his mission to destroy both wings of the Liberal Party. However, this single mindedness was to have a lasting impact on the political culture of Britain and it all began to spin out of control after his speech here in Plymouth. Despite having a huge majority and still four more years of a Parliament to run he felt he needed a new personal mandate especially after having announced such a fundamental shift in party policy. He did indeed catch the Free Traders and Liiberal Unionists by surprise and they were all bounced into a surprise December 6th General Election.

British Empire in Plymouth
Tariff Reform
On the face of it though, Stanley Baldwin’s gamble backfired spectacularly. He may have united the right wing of the Conservatives behind him, but he had alienated both wings of the Liberal Party, indeed Asquith and Lloyd George shared their first platform since the First World War united in their opposition to Tariff Reform. Furthermore, it had given the young Labour Party the ability to claim they were on the side of cheap food which would help the working classes in particular. In the hasty campaign the Tories lost 86 seats which went fairly evenly to Labour and Liberal alike. This opened the door to the first ever Labour Government in British political history as the Liberals, appalled by Baldwin’s actions, gave their tacit support to Ramsay MacDonald. It was to be a short lived Labour government admittedly as the shaky coalition bickered in the face of all the economic and international problems and lasted less than a year. Then a rather sheepish Conservative party still under Stanley Baldwin reverted to a Free Trade platform for the October 1924 election and were themselves elected with a landslide. Baldwin appointed the notoriously ‘Liberal’ Conservative Winston Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The next five years was to prove tumultuous as the Free Trade policies flew in the face of other nations building ever higher tariff walls and protectionist parties. Winston Churchill with the backing of the Bank of England implemented the ultimate Free Trade policy of adopting the ‘Gold Standard’. This proved spectacularly ill timed and made savage cuts to the budget and wages necessary helping provoke the General Strike on 1926. Then of course the entire world economic picture collapsed with the Wall Street Crash in 1929 and a new Labour led coalition was elected just weeks after the stockmarket implosion

Somewhat ironically though Stanley Baldwin was indeed to have the last laugh as the Labour Party was to split fundamentally in 1931 over trying to wrestle with the budget discipline required to implement the Free Trade time bomb of the gold standard planted in 1925 by Winston Churchill. This led to the remarkable National Coalition of Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives joining with Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour rump and with Liberal Nationals who had split once more from the main Liberal Party. This latter group also included fascinating Leslie Hore-Belisha the Jewish MP for Plymouth Devonport who was so important in road safety and also in rearming Britain to fight Nazi Germany in the face of much hostility from the establishment. Britain left the Gold Standard and Baldwin in collaboration with his one time nemesis erected Imperial Preference tariff barriers and protective measures. And actually Britain did better than most international economies in the 1930s with a massive house building programme, imperial markets to access and increasingly building new ships, planes and tanks to confront the growing threat of Nazi Germany.

History has judged Stanley Baldwin harshly for his announcement in Plymouth this date 100 years ago and after the results of the election 6 weeks later it must have seemed indeed as if he had miscalculated. But, and it is a big but… he was back in power within a year, he did indeed see the Liberals eventually obliterated as the Conservative Party’s principal rival and ultimately he was able to get his protectionist policies implemented with the aid somewhat paradoxically of Labour MPs under Ramsay MacDonald. What Baldwin perhaps did not anticipate though was that the small group of Labour MPs led by Clement Attlee who were disgusted with Ramsay MacDonald going into coalition with their class enemies and political foes would eventually become the new de facto opposition to the Conservatives. World War Two and the Bretton Woods agreement blew Baldwin’s protectionist and Imperial preference ideas out of the water, mainly at the insistence of the United States who demanded access to Britain's Empire as the price for lend lease and support in the war against Germany. However the war also paved the way for the Labour government of 1945 under Clement Attlee. So perhaps the greatest legacy of Stanley Baldwin’s 1923 speech in Plymouth was the Labour Party replacing the Liberal Party in our effectively Two Party electoral system.

Roborough Airfield in Plymouth
British Empire in Plymouth
Alan Cobham at Roborough
As early as 1923, aeroplanes flew from a polo field a couple of miles outside of the then city limits of Plymouth at Roborough. Plymouth is notoriously hilly and full of steep valleys which are not ideal for airfields, the only other realistic alternatives were Staddon Heights, Chelson Meadow or at a push Ernesettle. Indeed earlier in 1923 there had been an airmail flight from the Chelson Meadow racecourse to Croydon which was actually filmed.
British Empire in Plymouth
HRH Prince of Wales Opens Roborough Aerodrome
It was thought that as ocean liners came and left Plymouth, it might be useful to have an airport to help move mail and passengers to and from the ships. In 1923 a de Havilland DH50 piloted by the famous aviator of the time Alan Cobham (and joined by his wife) flew to Manchester to show that it was feasible to use Roborough - a different pilot, Mr Broad, flew the plane back to Plymouth accompanied by a passenger. The railways still provided a fast and reliable railway service and so it was not followed up overly hastily. Indeed it was to be the Air Ministry who took the initiative to use the land in 1929 when they said that they would like an airfield that would allow the Army, the RAF and the Royal Navy to conduct aerial cooperation exercises between the three services. Plymouth was ideally placed due to the army use of Dartmoor for exercises and the presence of the Royal Navy at Devonport. Royal Engineers turned the polo ground into an aerodrome and exercises got underway for the summer of 1929 with three Fairey Reconnaissance planes working with the respective arms. In 1932, RAF Siskin Fighters of 56 Squadron flew from Roborough in order to coordinate and train with the 201 Flying Boat squadron based at Mount Batten. The following year, the same squadron returned but this time they had been updated to the more modern Bristol Bulldogs.

As the military had done much of the hard work of building an airfield, the idea of reviving the ocean liner links and improved mail delivery systems was resurrected. Plymouth City council agreed to buy the land and built a hanger for commercial use. The new aerodrome was officially opened in July 1931 by HRH The Prince of Wales (of later Wallis Simpson notoriety). Soon companies like Olley's Air Service Ltd and the British American Air Services met well-heeled ocean liner passengers at Millbay and escorted them to Roborough to fly on to other airfields such as Croydon or Birmingham. The Great Western Railway also tried to join in this ocean liner link service in 1933 to connect Plymouth to Cardiff and later Birmingham by plane rather than by train. In fact the plane was even painted in GWR livery colours.
British Empire in Plymouth
GWR Air Service
A Westland Wessex operated a weekday service, twice a day. Partly thanks to the air route having no need to bypass the Bristol Channel as the railway did, the journey time was three hours shorter than by train. GWR became a victim of its own success as soon rival Imperial Airlines initiated a larger operation, called Railway Air Services, on behalf of all of the ‘Big Four’ railway companies. The Plymouth route used the larger Dragon Rapide planes.

There were various air days held at Roborough where barn-storming wing walking and aerobatics were performed. In 1932 Cobham's Flying Circus performed in August alongside the Cornwall Aviation Company. In fact this was all part of Plymouth Air Week which also included the London Air Circus providing a display as the event continued for six days that summer. There is a remarkable photograph of wing walker Martin Hearn atop an Avro 504K with the Roborough crowd not that far below from the Cobham Flying Circus display showing the extent of the derring-do and the size of the crowds below.
British Empire in Plymouth
Cobham's Flying Circus
The following year a rival performance troupe, the British Hospitals Air Pageant (which raised money for hospitals in the era before the NHS) performed at Roborough on June 21st. Cobham's Flying Circus returned annually in August through most of the 1930s. Although perhaps the largest air day in this period was the Empire Air Day which was held at Roborough in 1938.

As the country hurtled towards war during the later 1930s, the Royal Navy took control of the aerodrome and it was reborn temporarily as RNAS Roborough to support the fleet in Devonport. Although, as the Battle of Britain got underway in 1940 a small flight of RAF Gloster Gladiators operated out of the airfield (see below). These were later updated with Hurricanes but not until after the Battle of Britain officially ended. The RAF officially took control of the airfield in 1942 as RAF Roborough but specifically to support Coastal Command whilst the newly constructed nearby RAF Harrowbeer took on more general RAF duties. For example, they flew Lysanders to support Air Sea Rescue attempts for downed pilots in the English Channel. When the US entered the war and their troops arrived in Plymouth ahead of the D-Day operations, the US Army Air Force used RAF Roborough as a base for their Piper Grasshoppers. It would be their job to direct artillery fire and report on enemy troop dispositions. These all flew to France after D-Day to operate with US forces as they advanced through Europe. Before D-day they also used Roborough airstrip to explode ordinance and then practice how quickly they could repair a runway and get it all up and running again. The airstrip still continued to support Air Sea rescue operations right until the end of the war.

British Empire in Plymouth
RN Chipmunk, 1970
After the war the Britannia Royal Naval College trained pilots on DH82 planes until 1966 when these were replaced by 12 Chipmunks. One of the pilots who learned to fly at Plymouth included Prince Andrew who made his maiden solo flight in April 1979. He would later go on to be a helicopter pilot during the Falklands War.

RAF Mount Batten
RAF Cattewater was transformed into RAF Mount Batten in 1935. It was primarily a seaplane base although it also ran motor launches to help service the seaplanes and to help retrieve downed pilots. A variety of seaplanes were employed from the Supermarine Southamptons, Fairey IIIs, Blackburn Iris and Sunderland Flying boats.

One famous aircrew member was T. E. Shaw from 1929 to 1933. This was the legendary Lawrence of Arabia who was trying to remove himself from the limelight by becoming a regular member of the RAF. Apparently, he loved piloting the high speed launches and really enjoyed himself at RAF Mount Batten.

British Empire in Plymouth
10 RAAF Squadron
When WW2 broke out the station became very busy. They helped rescue crews from downed aircraft, crew from ships that had been sunk and also helped to search and destroy German U-boats. The RAF unit was transferred to North Africa in 1940 and was replaced by 10 Royal Australian Air Force unit for the remainder of the war. This became one of the most highly decorated Air Force units of the Second World War. They flew 4,553,860 nautical miles, undertook 3,177 operational flights, sunk 5 submarines, received 25 Distinguished Flying Crosses, one DFC with Bar, 9 Distinguished Flying Medals (DFM), 1 British Empire Medal (BEM) and 36 times were 'mentioned in despatches'. Before they left England they were awarded a Crest by His Majesty King George VI with the motto 'Strike First'. There was a brief period during the height of the Blitz, and after the refueling tanks at Turnchapel had been hit by bombs, that the base was abandoned to the relative safety of Pembroke. However, it returned to its normal berth in 1942 after the worst aspects of the Blitz had passed. The Royal Navy was desperate for help in guiding ships in and out of Devonport and wanted the RAAF's Squadron to help spot U-boats on the approaches to the Channel and around Plymouth itself. The squadron played a vital role in helping to ensure that German reconnaissance planes, ships or U-Boats did not get close enough to Plymouth to see the build up of ships for the D-Day operation in 1944.
British Empire in Plymouth
Seaplane Tender at Cattedown

RAF Mountbatten also played a vital transportation role in moving VIPs, Officers and politicians to the far flung parts of the Empire or to the various fronts of the war. Seaplane was the main form of long distance transport still. For example, on January 17th 1942 Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Beaverbrook and the Air Chief Marshall, Sir Charles Portal landed at Plymouth. They had flown from Norfolk, Virginia to Plymouth via Bermuda in a Boeing 314A named "Berwick" operated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). It covered 3,287 miles and arrived twelve minutes ahead of schedule. Churchill had even taken over the controls from senior pilot Commander Kelly Rogers for part of the journey. The flight from Bermuda to Plymouth took 17 hours 55 minutes.

After the war, RAF Mount Batten continued to fly seaplanes until 1960 but then converted to helicopters for air-sea rescue. The RAF motor launches continued as a training station and to support the helicopters in their rescue missions. The base also became an important weather station. It finally closed in 1992. I should also say that it was the first place from where the author of this article flew - in a Westland Wessex helicopter!

Black Shirts and Red Flags
British Empire in Plymouth
Millbay Docks in 1926
The period between the two World Wars proved to be a traumatic one for democracies in general and the battles of the extremist ideologies of the left and right were also felt in Plymouth itself. The height of antagonism and extremist politics seems to have been between the General Strike of 1926 and 1934. During this time the Wall Street Crash had occurred and the Great Depression had got underway. To the extreme left, these heralded the death throes of capitalism and seemed to promise that the revolution might come to Britain soon. On the international scene, Hitler had come to power in January of 1933 and Mussolini was firmly ensconced offering fascism as an alternative to the seemingly staid traditional democratic parties of the Labour, Liberal and Conservative Parties. These were tumultuous times politically and that tumult came to Plymouth.

British Empire in Plymouth
Fascists in Plymouth
The 1926 general strike radicalised supporters on the left who felt that the levers of power were being unfairly wielded by the ruling classes against the working men. Nationally, it was spearheaded by the miners. Of course there was no mining anywhere near Plymouth but the strike soon brought in sympathetic support from other unions with a presence in Plymouth. Plymouth played a peculiar role in that it had a large working class but one that was largely employed in the service of the military and so was often torn in its affinities between workers and state. However, in the civilian docks at Millbay it was a different matter. Here the dockers went on strike in sympathy with the plight of the miners. They were savagely attacked by the local press and the 'Western Morning News' owned by Lord Rothermere in particular. Battles between strike breakers and picketers were common place. These battles radicalised some workers and union members who felt that the Communist party was offering a consistent line in opposing the hard hand of the authorities and business owners. Running battles involving thousands of men occurred on the picket lines between the police and strikers. There was a much publicised football match at Plymouth Home Park on Saturday 8 May between strikers and the police (the strikers won 2-1), which seemed to show a level of moderation in the violence levels in Plymouth, but at the same time some 4,000 strikers were battling the police with sticks and rocks to prevent trams moving from Drake Circus in the town centre. The failure of the General Strike at a national level did not mean that the tensions and passions aroused in Plymouth died down any time soon.

1936 apparently saw militant left wing activity in the heart of Devonport Dockyard, or at least that was the view of MI5. The submarine L-54 had had its engines sabotaged and they were severely damaged on starting up. This was in a period that was hostile to the idea of Britain re-arming to fight in possibly another war. MI5 was called in to investigate the incident and they arrested 5 dockyard workers with 'left-wing' political sympathies. They were dismissed from their posts and security was tightened up throughout the base.

1933 saw an unusual yacht sail in to Plymouth Sound; the Deutschland. It was said that it was crewed by storm troopers but with propaganda films available to advertise the new Aryan State to any who would hear. Hitler's ascendency to power in January of 1933 had inspired Oswald Mosley and his fascists to increase their political activity to force something similar in this country. With financial backing from Mussolini's Fascist Italy, an expansion of his British Union of Fascists was planned and Plymouth was earmarked as a suitable location to create a new hub. The reason that they chose Plymouth is probably due to its service background. With many veterans from the Great War living in the city and with harsh economic realities beginning to hit home, Plymouth was viewed as a useful recruiting ground. It also helped that it was in the heart of the West Country where farmers in particular were being ravaged by weak commodity prices. It was believed that Plymouth would make an ideal base to reach out to the wider Devon and Cornwall farming communities - much as Hitler had managed to make inroads in the agricultural sector in Germany in the run up to his seizure of power.

Richard Plathen arrived from the BUF headquarters in London in the summer of 1933 to establish a new regional centre. Initially, he set up an office at the Empire Services Club on Millbay Road but then found a more suitable premises at 6, Windsor Villas on Lockyer Street. This was to be their base of operations for the year of their most active political period in Plymouth. At this address they set up some impressive facilities including accommodation for 50 members, a gymnasium, an educational and propaganda room, a canteen for meals, a licensed bar and a lounge. There was a quartermaster's department holding uniforms and equipment in the basement. There was a sentry who manned the entrance and gave the BUF salute to anyone who entered. It was clearly emulating the social activist policies of the Nazis that had helped Hitler's party gain credibility and support in Germany.

The new group published its own newspaper and began to hold public meetings and recruitment drives, mostly in the Market or at the Octagon on Union Street. These meetings started small but soon began to attract several hundred to them. Some of the crowd were invariably hostile to the fascists and communists in particular tried to disrupt the meetings by shouting down the speakers or singing songs such as the 'Red Flag'. The fascists attended the meetings in their new, black uniforms and a line of blackshirts stood in front of the speaker to protect him from abuse or to launch attacks at those hurling the abuse. The police were frequently on standby to break up the brawls that invariably resulted from the meetings. The Plymouth branch also had their own truck kitted in BUF colours to take them to meetings further afield or out into the countryside.

The party was encouraged by its initial successes and recruitment. It claimed it had a membership of a 1,000 members by 1934 with up to 150 of these being uniformed paramilitary. They were further encouraged by positive press coverage from Lord Rothermere's stable of newspapers, in particular the Evening Herald and the Western Morning News. Lord Rothermere was vehemently anti-Communist and for a while saw Oswald Mosley as providing a suitable bulwark against its expansion.

Oswald Mosley twice came to Plymouth to speak and to help his organisation establish itself. In December 1933, he spoke at the Plymouth Guildhall. He swept into the hall from the back flanked by blackshirts who accompanied him to the podium and then stood in front of him as he spoke. He himself was dressed all in black. He spoke without notes for 90 minutes about the parlous state of the economy and the fear of communism. There were hecklers but many applauded when he maintained that fascism would come to the aid of the country with force if the Communists ever attempted a coup. Otherwise, this meeting was fairly uneventful.

British Empire in Plymouth
Mosley arriving at Plymouth Airport
That was not the case when he returned in October of the following year. By that time, his party was already on the back foot and people were more suspicious of his association with Hitler's Nazi regime after the Night of the Long Knives and the start of concentration camps. Mosley flew into Plymouth, emulating Hitler's electoral tactics, but was not allowed to return to the Guildhall as the council had banned any political meetings from its properties. Alternative arrangements were made for Mosley to speak at the Drill Hall on West Hoe. Estimates were that 3,500 to 4,000 people attended. This time 50 black uniformed guards protected their leader from what was a far more raucous affair than the year before. When the heckling and singing of the 'Red Flag' threatened to drown him out, he turned his amplifier up to maximum. Unfortunately, this seemed to blow out the electrics in the room and the hall was plunged into temporary darkness. Fights broke out as his bodyguard sought to instill some order to the proceedings. When the photographer from the Western Morning News tried to photograph the brawl, the flash infuriated some of the blackshirts who turned on him and his accompanying reporter. The police rushed in as the meeting descended into chaos. The brush with the photographer and reporter was fatal to the favourable coverage from the local press. The Western Morning News turned on the BUF and became very hostile to its aims and its means of operating. Mosley was unapologetic at the treatment of the press and claimed that all the British press was hostile to the BUF. The bully boy tactics of the BUF were confirmed a week later when they tried to muscle in on a large crowd of 10,000 listening to a Trade Union talker at the Octagon. This also descended into a huge fight and many of the blackshirts were rounded up and arrested.

Several of those involved in the fights of the previous week were charged with public order disturbances and some were sentenced to six weeks hard labour when it was found that they had been wearing metal armour and had taped up their hands in anticipation of fights breaking out. The negative publicity from this event compounded with a rapid deterioration in the finances of the BUF as a whole helped fatally undermine the local organisation.

This is not to say that further attempts to revive Fascist fortunes in Plymouth did not continue. On August 13th, 1935 William Joyce, (later known as Lord Haw Haw) came to Plymouth on a speaking tour on behalf of Mosley's Fascists. He was driven to a series of public engagements in the BUF's publicity car known as 'The Black Prince.' This car had been funded by private donations from fascist sympathisers throughout the West Country. He spoke at the Assembly Rooms in Devonport and concentrated his fire on the twin enemies of Fascism which he identified as being Communism and International Jewish Finance. He seems to have remained in the city for five weeks and apparently stayed and coordinated with Plymouth Fascists which proves that the movement was still functioning if not nearly as high profile as before. The British government had made things more difficult for the extremists by taking measures such as the banning of wearing paramilitary uniforms in public, restricting street meetings and not allowing minders to stand in front of speakers in an intimidating manner.

The BUF recovered some more support from 1936 as Mosley played the pacifist card and stated that Britain should stay out of any likely wars that might break out on the Continent. There were many in the country who were drawn to avoiding a further cataclysmic war, but many were suspicious of Mosley's increasing connections with Nazi Germany. Unfortunately for the BUF, this pacifist revival did not help the fascists much in the military port city of Plymouth where going to war was seen as a necessary evil and a duty by many. Besides, military rearmament and servicing the Royal Navy was providing a livelihood for many in the city. Additionally, the Western Morning News continued its news boycott of the activities of fascists in the city. The BUF thrived on publicity, adverse or otherwise. To lose the oxygen of publicity was fatal to the movement. Due to these reasons the BUF did not make any substantial recovery in fortunes in the city. The party had to give up its Lockyer Street headquarters due to the dwindling of financial support from London and membership locally. It relocated to 10a Union Street but to far more restrained and understated facilities.

The Second World War
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth Sound
During the Second World War, Plymouth continued to provide a critical role for the Royal Navy especially in helping coordinate the fight against the U-Boat threat and to provide a base for the all-important escort ships of the convoys. It was also to provide a limited capability in helping deter an invasion force of Britain - although the main home fleet was kept safely out of range of German bombers at Scapa Flow. The port was still a busy military facility with ships needing refuelling, repairing and victualling. The quicker this could be done, the less danger they were in from enemy bombers. Palmerston's follies came to provide valuable platforms for anti-aircraft guns with their deep magazine facilities and convenient ringing of the city as a whole.

The role of Plymouth as a receiving port for support from Empire and Commonwealth countries continued as it had in the First World War, at least in the early stages of the war. In 1939, the King himself came to Plymouth to greet Canadian soldiers disembarking to help in the war effort. On Boxing day of that year, the first squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force arrived in Plymouth. These arrivals would begin to thin out as Plymouth found itself more and more vulnerable to attack from the air. Increasingly, troop ships would head to the safer ports of Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool in order to attempt to steer clear of enemy planes.

British Empire in Plymouth
US Lend-Lease Destroyers, 1940
The first year had been quite quiet for Plymouth as the phoney war and Battle for France played themselves out. The one naval action of note, the Battle of the River Plate, had played itself out in the South Atlantic but involved ships from Devonport. Much was made of this first naval victory of the war and the crews of the ships were given a grand civic reception at the Guildhall upon their return to Devonport for much needed repairs.

British Empire in Plymouth
Australian PM and Admiral Nasmith
From the first day of the war, The Western Approaches Command was based in Plymouth to coordinate and attempt to protect all British and Empire shipping (military and civilian) on the Atlantic Ocean side of the country. It was based in Admiralty House at Mount Wise although increasingly this burrowed deep below through a series of tunnels, known as Plymouth Underground Extension (PUE). Under the command of Admiral Martin Dunbar-Nasmith, its this role was to help organise convoys and deal with the increasing threat of German U-boats. However its first big operation was due to the collapse of Allied forces in France after the German invasion in May 1940. Indeed there was a request for small boats to help with the evacuation at Dunkirk, but Plymouth's far more important contribution to rescuing soldiers and civilians caught up in the collapse of France was as part of Operation Ariel. Admiral Martin Dunbar-Nasmith cobbled together whatever vessels he could to help with the evacuation of British, French, Polish and Czech troops from Western French ports such as Brest, Saint-Nazaire, La Pallice, Bordeaux and even down to Bayonne. The Royal Navy in Portsmouth coordinated with Western Approaches Command in Plymouth and took control of evacuating ports like Cherbourg and St. Malo. Between the two ports, some 200,000 Allied soldiers (over and above those rescued from Dunkirk) were successfully brought back to Britain to reform and rejoin the war once more. Additionally, 20,000 civilians, many of them ex-pats or Jews, were evacuated also. Tragically there was one major setback when the ocean liner Lancastria was attacked and sunk by German bombers as it left Saint-Nazaire. The overly packed liner was thought to be carrying over 6,000 men, women and children and only 2,447 survived making this incident one of the worst maritime disasters in history in terms of lives lost. This one tragedy was kept a secret by Churchill who feared that the extent of the loss would be bad for morale and sap the will to fight at a crucial time in British politics. It also explains why Operation Ariel, despite its otherwise overwhelming success, was never given the same prominence or same publicity as Operation Dynamo received. Even after the Fall of France a steady stream of small fishing boats carrying Frenchmen wishing to continue the fight or escape the clutches of the Nazis continued to arrive in Plymouth.

British Empire in Plymouth
RMS Lancastria
On the capitulation of the French forces, Churchill put out the order to seize all French Naval vessels in British ports. He was concerned that the newly installed 'Vichy Government' would make French forces available to the Nazis. He wished that any French resources be put at the disposal of De Gaulle who had vowed to continue fighting as the 'Free French'. The difficulties in defining allegience for the French were played out with tragic consequences in Devonport Dockyard. On the 3rd of July, 1940 the French submarine Surcouf, which had sought sanctuary in Plymouth from Brest, was boarded by Royal Naval and Royal Marines to impound the boat. Unexpectedly, the French resisted the boarding action and fighting broke out. One French sailor and three English sailors were killed before the French captain capitulated. The seizure by the British and the resistance by the French created bad blood between what had been two close allies. The sinking of a substantial part of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir on the same date confirmed this rift. Only 16 of the men serving on the Surcouf agreed to stay on and fight with the Free French. The rest were repatriated to Vichy France.

However strategically the Fall of France posed a much greater threat to the Western Approaches Command as German U-boats could begin to use French ports and the German Luftwaffe could begin to use French airfields. This was doubly bad news for the Western Approaches Command as its job became more difficult and its facilities were in range of direct attack from the air. Admiral Martin Dunbar-Nasmith and his staff were hurriedly relocated to the port of Liverpool to continue their important shepherding of ships in and out of Britain's ports. Unfortunately, even Liverpool came under attack by the German Air Force although never to the same sustained rate as Plymouth did. It is also worth pointing out that one of the heroes of the Battle of the Atlantic who helped turn the tide of the U-boat successes was a Plymouth born sailor by the name of Frederick 'Johnnie' Walker. He had the insight to turn the escort ships from passive defenders to active hunters in their own right. He would become the single most successful U-boat hunter of the Second World War.
British Empire in Plymouth
Plymouth's Bulldog Spirit
The first of many bombing raids on Plymouth by the Luftwaffe started on July 6th, 1940. The last raid was not until May 1944 just weeks before the D-Day invasion force set sail. Plymouth was actually a relatively easy target for the German crews. Flying over the sea, there was no preparatory flak to slow them down or force them higher. Once over the city, the Rivers Plym and Tamar made for perfect bomb aiming aids as crews could used them to mark their precise location and the location of the Dockyards and City Centre. The fact that it had strategically vital port and ship repair facilities made it even more likely as a target. Amazingly, Plymouth had no tarmac airport to support the most modern planes. It had always been assumed that Plymouth was too far away from any threat to need its own airfield. With the Fall of France and the moving of the Luftwaffe to new Northern French airfields, a rapid re-evaluation was required. The only serviceable airfield was the grass airfield at Roborough. Gloster Gladiators were hurriedly flown there in August whilst plans were made to build a new airfield from scratch at RAF Harrowbeer in Yelverton to the North of the City. But this was not going to be operational until 1941.
British Empire in Plymouth
Gloster Gladiator at Roborough
Meanwhile, the heroic if slow and underpowered Gladiators did what they could but found it difficult to intercept the far faster German bombers who tended to raid at night anyway when the Gladiator could not fly. Notwithstanding these limitations, the Gladiators could and did intercept and damage German Heinkel He111s over Plymouth and without loss to themselves. Roborough was rapidly upgraded itself so that Hurricanes could operate from the grass airfield in December 1940. In reality, the city had to depend on Anti-Aircraft guns, searchlights, barrage balloons and Air Raid Wardens enforcing blackouts and evacuating people for the majority of its protection from German bombers. Many thousands also made a nightly trek out to the relative safety of Dartmoor during the very worst bombing periods.
British Empire in Plymouth
Dockyards on Fire
RAF Harrowbeer was fully operational from August 1941 but even then it had limited capacity with dealing with German night time raids. Indeed, proportionate to its population, Plymouth became the most heavily bombed British city of the war, suffering even more than Coventry and London. It suffered its most serious damage after the Battle of Britain when the Germans had concentrated there efforts on the South-East of England. In the first half of 1941 the Germans switched to a strategic bombing regimen designed to neutralise Britain before Germany turned its attention to the invasion of Russia. Coupled with the German U-boat campaign of the Atlantic War, it was hoped that the destruction of the port facilities in Plymouth would hamper escorts and Royal Naval anti-submarine efforts. For a while at least, Plymouth was no longer a friendly port to the Royal Navy. Ships entered the Hamoaze to rearm and refuel and then left just as soon as possible to avoid being bombed by the Luftwaffe. Fortunately, the majority of the bombing was done at night time which gave the ships of the Royal Navy the hours of daylight to complete their vital tasks before escaping back out onto the high seas. Rapid turnarounds in rearming and resupplying ships by the dockyard workers were vital. The Australian Prime Minister, Mr Robert Gordon Menzies, was caught in one of the very worst attacks on the city in March 1941 and conveyed the extent of damage caused but also the fortitude of the inhabitants to the Australian public and urged them to continue to support the Imperial war effort as a consequence. During the attacks the main shopping centre and nearly every civic building was destroyed. Additionally 26 schools, eight cinemas and 41 churches were gutted. In total, 3,754 houses were destroyed and a further 18,398 seriously damaged. The bombing had ripped the heart out of Devonport and Central Plymouth. Douglas Witchell has written his memories of living near the South Yard in Stonehouse during the war years here.

British Empire in Plymouth
AA Gun on Plymouth Hoe
A bizarre tale of intrigue and duplicity played itself out at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel in Plymouth. It was run by the Welsh family. Mr Welsh was of Hungarian descent whilst Mrs Welsh was of German descent. They seemed to hold pro-Nazi sympathies. Mr Welsh was personally known to von Ribbentrop whilst living and working in London and before moving to Plymouth in 1939. Their son and his wife also seemed to harbour pro-Nazi views and appeared to be gathering information on troop movements and military installations in the area. It seems as if the wife, called Bebe Welsh, invited American naval personnel to rooms in the hotel with a view of 'extracting information' from them. It appears that she was invited on to various American ships and submarines as a result of these liaisons. The entire family was kept under surveillance by MI5 which gathered information and evidence against their activities. However, as D-Day approached the authorities were becoming more and more nervous and eventually rounded them up just two weeks before the invasion set off from Plymouth.

British Empire in Plymouth
Canadian Firefighters in Plymouth
Canadian volunteer firefighters made the journey across the Atlantic in order to aid the city and help fight the destruction and damage being wrought by the Luftwaffe. In 1942, they established a firestation, which they built themselves, in Hartley close to the entrance to Torr Home for the blind. From here, they augmented the firefighting provisions of the city until 1944 by which time the threat from the Luftwaffe had fully abated.

When it came to deciding the organisation of invading France, Plymouth found itself firmly in the American sector. This meant that from 1943 onwards, American soldiers and military equipment was increasingly seen in and around the City. The primary American unit in the area was the 4th Infantry Division although there were many other ancillary and supporting units to be found as well. Barracks, Palmerston's Follies and country houses like Saltram House were all made available to the ever increasing number of American units as they prepared for the invasion of Europe. Additional jetties and pontoons were set up along the banks of all the major rivers around Plymouth; Tamar, Plym, Lynher and even the Tavy were set up to handle the huge volumes of landing craft and shipping required to move across the Channel.

British Empire in Plymouth
Camp Efford
One of the great tragedies to befall the US forces before D-Day unfolded in nearby Slapton Sands. The US Commander in Chief in Plymouth was responsible for the safety of what was a large live fire rehearsal. Unfortunately on the night of 27th of April, 9 German E-boats stumbled across the American troops aboard their landing craft and ships and started firing torpedoes into the fully loaded landing craft. Confusion reigned as some of the personnel involved were convinced at first that this was part of the exercise. At least 749 US personnel died that night, which was more than the 4th Infantry division lost on Utah Beach when they landed for real. It is believed that 36,000 American soldiers left Plymouth on June 5th heading towards Utah Beach in Normandy. Approximately 300 of these died on Utah Beach on the morning of June 6th. This landing was relatively far more successful than the US landing on Omaha Beach.

Plymouth would entertain one more significant US visitor in 1945 when the US President himself landed at RAF Harrowbeer on the 2nd of August en route to meet King George VI. President Truman was returning from the Potsdam Conference where he had just revealed his plans to drop the new Atomic Bombs on Japan and how the victorious Allies would treat a defeated Germany. His meeting with the King on HMS Renown in Plymouth Sound was to brief Britain's Head of State directly, before Truman returned to the US aboard USS Augusta. It was the first and only time that a sitting US President has visited Plymouth.

From World War to Cold War
British Empire in Plymouth
Warships in Tamar Estuary, 1948
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War the priority was the rebuilding of the shattered infrastructure of the city. An ambitious plan devised by Patrick Abercrombie saw a new grid system harmonize the haphazard roads that had grown up as the three towns had collided into one another. A focussed City Centre took shape with wide boulevards and sweeping vistas. Some old buildings that had survived the Luftwaffe did not survive the bulldozers as a race to modernise the city saw priceless parts of the city's heritage sacrificed in the name of progress. Elsewhere, the city expanded yet further northwards into Whitleigh, Honicknowle and King's Tamerton as homes had to be built to replace those destryoyed by bombing.

In 1945, the Royal Navy had the largest number of ships that it would ever have. Quite simply, it was huge. With the advent of peace, the vast majority of these ships were surplus to requirements. Britain had been fundamentally financially weakened by six years of World War. Lend Lease from America was abruptly cancelled with the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan. Indeed, American ships were literally turned around in the Atlantic and forced to sail back to American ports rather than continue supplying its war time allies. There was a desperate need for the British government to balance its books and savage cuts to the military appeared to be the logical answer. It should be noted that the end of World War Two did not bring about the ending of rationing. Shortages of food and the money to buy it meant that ration books were issued as late as 1954!

The newly elected Labour government also accelerated the decolonisation process with abrupt announcements on the independence of India and pulling out of the Palestine Mandate. They had started the colonial dominoes falling in earnest. Plymouth's economic vitality was tied up to the military in general and the Royal Navy in particular. As Britain's empire shrank, it required fewer and fewer ships to guard the imperial trade routes. Besides, air travel was becoming a viable new form of mass communication and movement and so the old passenger liners were no longer as important as they had been. Additionally, the newly emerged Superpower of the USA and its own Navy was taking over much of the the historical role of the Royal Navy. A string of United States Navy bases, often in British colonies like Ascension Island and Diego Garcia, guarded over the shipping lanes of the Twentieth Century. An unofficial baton had been passed and the Royal Navy no longer needed to be as large as it had been historically.

After 1945, just six ships were constructed at Devonport. There was no way that she could maintain her shipbuilding skills and workforce. 1968 saw the last ship HMS Scylla constructed at Devonport. After this date, Devonport continued with maintenance and refits only. These did not require the huge amounts of workers that ship building had needed.

The Suez Canal Crisis in 1956 revealed just how far Britain's military role had declined in the post-war World. Despite a creditable landing, the geo-politics of the post-war World revealed that the era of colonies and empire was ending. It did not help that Britain's supposed ally, the USA, was leading the calls for Britain to withdraw from the Canal Zone. Britain's military sheepishly withdrew and the government collapsed. The disaster only accelerated the falling dominoes of decolonisation. Without a Suez Canal or a British Raj, it was hard to justify British naval bases in Asia. Britain closed down its dockyards and bases in Singapore, Hong Kong and Aden. One interesting connection to the base in Hong Kong is still maintained near to Plymouth. The main base in Hong Kong had been called HMS Tamar. They had a social club for the sailors there called the China Fleet Club. When HMS Tamar was closed down in Hong Kong the social club relocated to Britain with its assets and decided to reopen on the River Tamar. It therefore opened up a new facility appropriately called the China Fleet Club in Saltash just over the Tamar Bridge from Plymouth.

British Empire in Plymouth
In-Door Dock
Fortunately, for Plymouth and its Naval base, a new lease of life was found through the Cold War. Plymouth was once again identified as a base important in patrolling the Atlantic against Soviet submarines and warships. In the event of war breaking out between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, it was supposed to help keep the sea lanes open to allow American forces to move across the Atlantic and to hunt down Soviet submarines before they could launch any missiles. It became an important submarine base for NATO. Interestingly, ships from Britain's old foes became regular visitors to Plymouth Sound, as ships from France, Spain and Germany joined other NATO countries in patrolling the approaches to the English Channel and the Atlantic. Plymouth became a presumed target of Soviet military planners and their own nuclear warheads. It remained Britain's largest dockyard complex. In fact, it was the largest naval base in Western Europe. It even had new facilities constructed within such as a massive in door dry dock that could work on three ships at a time 365 days a year.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the Cold War was the extent of espionage and spying that took place. It has recently been revealed that the Soviet Union gathered information about all the military facilities in the UK and mapped them accordingly. A combination of KGB operatives and local sympathisers must have helped to compile these maps. Devonport Dockyard would have been very high up the list.

One of the most notorious spies in the Cold War came from Plymouth and was the son of a Devonport naval family. Guy Burgess became one of the most senior MI6 personnel to defect to the Soviet Union. As was the case with many defectors, he had been drawn to Communism in the 1930s when it appeared to be the most forthright opponent of Fascism and when Capitalism appeared stuck in the mire of world wide depression. It is particularly poignant that he came from Devonport as Soviet nuclear missiles were trained for much of the Cold War on his former home there.

The Cold War came to an abrupt end in 1990 and with it saw yet more planned reductions in the size and scale of the Royal Navy and its facilities. 1992 saw the closure of the Royal William Yard as civilian contractors took over the requisitioning and supplying of naval stores. Plymouth lost out to Portsmouth for control of the surface fleet and to Rosyth in some but not all of the Submarine work. It began to take on more civilian contracts and hired out its facilities to yacht manufacturers and luxury boat makers.

The Falklands War
British Empire in Plymouth
The Atlantic Conveyor at Devonport
The last hurrah of Royal Navy in its imperial role was the decision to mobilise the British Fleet and send them to the South Atlantic to recapture the Falkland Islands from the Argentinians. An account of the war can be read here but for Plymouth it saw frenzied activity as the stores, equipment and troops were gathered together for the arduous journey 8,000 miles southwards. Crownhill Fort was pressed back into service for its final time as an assembly point, the Dockyards were crammed full of soldiers and sailors and the Royal William Yard worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week preparing and distributing stores and rations. By a quirk of fortune, many of the Royal Navy's warships were already at sea taking part in an exercise off Gibraltar. However, if they were to head south, they needed stores, personnel and supplies from Britain. Merchant and naval shipping were crammed full of stores and sent post-haste to Ascension Island where the logistics could be reorganised and divvied out as required. Merchant ships sailed up the Hamoaze to be equipped with machine guns, protective plates and basically fitted out for war. Some ships were not thought to be fully ready for the conditions anticipated in the South Atlantic and so took dockyard workers with them to maintain and update their equipment as they sailed.

British Empire in Plymouth
HMS Arrow
Many of the original defenders of the Falkland Islands had their own connections with Plymouth through the Royal Marines. NP8901 was made up of volunteers from the various Royal Marine Commando units. These were the soldiers who had to deal with the full onslaught of the Argentine invasion. On being repatriated they were given the option of rejoining 42 Commando (based at Bickleigh just outside of Plymouth) as J Company and helped liberate the islands and were given the opportunity to raise the Union Jack above Government House once the islands had been recaptured.

British Empire in Plymouth
HMS Avenger
Plymouth saw deliriously happy crowds meet the returning ships, sailors and soldiers after their victory so far away. Ships were escorted back into harbour by tugs throwing up triumphal arches of water as banners and adoring crowds greeted the soldiers and sailors as returning heroes. The entire operation showed how the resources of Britain could still marshall significant military resources to liberate one of the outposts of empire on the other side of the World. The Soviet Union was surprised at how this single member of NATO could project its power over such a vast distance and to such hostile conditions and win! In the context of the Cold War, it helped convince the Soviet Union that NATO was an even tougher nut to crack than they had anticipated. Domestically, the operation saved Margaret Thatcher's premiership which had been in the doldrums and catapulted her into a war leader who relished the sobriquet applied to her from the USSR as being the 'Iron Lady'.

New Realities
For the dockyards the Falklands War was something of a false dawn. Despite the success of the operation, the Royal Navy had already been earmarked for drastic cuts in her surface fleet and military capabilities. The Royal Navy concentrated its surface fleet at Portsmouth reducing the far larger facilities of Devonport Dockyard to little more than a submarine base with a small NATO contingent. It was a far cry from its days of glory when Britannia really did rule the waves. The Decolonisation of the post-war period removed a primary rationale for the Royal Navy. Britain no longer needed a huge fleet to project power all over the globe. Battleships gave way to Aircraft Carriers which gave way to Submarines and to missile armed destroyers and frigates. These far smaller ships did not require the manpower needed in previous generations and were designed to higher specifications and so required less maintenance. Decommissioned warships and aircraft carriers became a common sight from the Tamar Bridge as the ships awaited removal to scrapyards and breaking up. HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal were the last big aircraft carriers owned by the Royal Navy and both were broken up in the 1970s. Ark Royal had had a long and emotional attachment to Plymouth. On being broken up, one of its anchors was presented to the City of Plymouth and is located on Armada Way.

Plymouth has at least maintained a strong connection to the Royal Marines and is currently developing a role for itself as a Commando Assault base. It is the home of the helicopter ship HMS Ocean and assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, the UK Landing Force Command Support Group is based at Stonehouse Barracks, an assault craft base has been built at Turnchapel and 29 Commando Regiment, Royal Artillery is still housed in the imposing historical Citadel. In a post-colonial world, flexible response appears to be the order of the day. With unanticipated interventions in wars and conflicts in places like Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan it seems as if Britain still requires the ability to respond quickly into unexpected parts of the World. They may no longer be defending an empire, but they are giving Britain an ability to respond to threats and for humanitarian purposes wherever they may occur.

Unfortunately, these developments will not arrest the steady decline in the facilities for the Royal Navy. The present dockyards are a mere shadow of the hive of activity that it used to engender. The City of Plymouth has had to diversify and although it still has a soft spot for all things military it has had to deal with a post-imperial and post-global power role for Britain. Plymouth's history has mirrored the history of the Empire; as it rose in power so did the fortunes of Plymouth; when it was in danger, so was Plymouth; when the power declined so did the economic rationale of a large section of Plymouth's economy. Plymouth is now having to chart a post-imperial story for itself. But as it considers its future, it has a remarkable past to draw upon. It should cherish the good, commemorate the sacrifices and remember the bad. It has undergone a unique imperial story which has taken Plymothians all over the world and has brought so many people from around the world to Plymouth. It was a global city before anyone had even invented the term. It should draw on this heritage with pride.

Plymouth in British Empire
Crownhill Fort Photographs
Significant Individuals
1239 - Present
Robert Spry's 1591 Chart of Plymouth Harbour and the Neighbouring Countryside as far as Tavistock
1591 Map of Plymouth
Plymouth Elizabethan Coastline Map
De Gomme's 1675 Citadel Plan and Profile
Map showing Hundreds of Devon, 1724
Plymouth 1765 Map
Plymouth 1797 Map
Plymouth Three Towns Map, 1824
Devonport Map c1850s
Plymouth Map 1910
Admiralty Chart for Plymouth Port, 1914
Plymouth Map, 1936
Bombs on Plymouth Map
Unexploded Bombs in Plymouth Map 1944
Tramway Network in Plymouth
1986 Plymouth Navy Days Programme

Crownhill Fort
Information Sheet from victorianforts.co.uk

Bovisand Fort
Once A Fort Now An Underwater Centre by Arthur L. Clamp

Plymouth and the First World War
Information Sheet created by The Box

Aircraft Crash Sites In and Around Plymouth Sound National Marine Park
SHIPS Project

The Spanish Armada
The BBC's In Our Time programme discusses the Spanish Armada in detail.

Robert Falcon Scott
Podcast from the ODNB

Robinson Crusoe
The BBC's In Our Time team discuss Robinson Crusoe which was loosely based on the life of Alexander Selkirk

Further Reading
Plymouth: A Pictorial History (Pictorial History Series)
by Guy Fleming

Plymouth: A New History
by C. Gill

Lost Plymouth: Hidden Heritage of Three Towns
by Felicity Goodall

Blackshirts in Devon
by Todd Gray

A History of Plymouth
by Llewellynn Jewitt

Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky: Book One
by Shmuel Katz

Secret memoirs of Robert Count de Parade containing an account of his successful transactions, as a spy in England, with the real causes of the failure of the ever memorable expedition against Plymouth, in 1779
by Comte de Parade

Bloody British History Plymouth
by Laura Quigley

Victorian Plymouth
by Chris Robinson

Plymouth from Old Photographs
by Derek Tait

Aviation in South West Britain 1909-1979
by Dennis Teague

Ocean City Stories
by Waterfront Writers

by F W Woodward

Stephen Johnson has gathered together a fantastic range of images and photographs of all aspects of Plymouth's history.

Victorian Forts Society
This page has excellent datasheets about all the forts in and around Plymouth.

Plymouth Data
Brian Moseley has put together an impressive encyclopedia of Plymouth's history.

Bere Ferrers' 1917 Railway Tragedy
This site gives a good overview of the tragic events surrounding the accident that killed 9 New Zealand soldiers in 1917.

Hidden Plymouth
This site examines some of the lesser known nooks and crannies of Plymouth's local history. It has many fascinating photos and descriptions of all sorts of unusual places in and around the city environs.

History of Drake's Island
Some interesting research and great historical photos revolving around Drake's Island and its role in the defence of Plymouth.

The Fortifications of Plymouth: The Citadel
An in depth description of the architecture and design of the 1675 Citadel dominating Plymouth Hoe.

The Failed Raid of the Lost Ark
The remarkable story of Captain Montagu Brownlow Parker's expedition to locate the Lost Ark of the Covenant.


Plymouth Hoe, 1924

Devonport, 1924

Barbican, 1924

Old Pictures

Plymouth, 1930s

Plymouth Blitz

Clearing Up At Plymouth (1941)

President Truman in Plymouth

Post-War Plymouth

Falklands Victory Parade, 1982
Roborough Airport
Plymouth in British Empire
Plymouth from the Sound
British Empire in Plymouth
Clemence Dane's Plymouth Hoe

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