Royal Naval Museum




Biography: John Benbow


Born 10th March 1653 at Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Benbow entered the navy on the 30th April 1678 as a Master’s Mate on board HMS Rupert. He took part in actions against the Algerine corsairs in the Mediterranean, and won promotion to Master of HMS Nonsuch on the 15th June 1679.

On April 8th 1681, whilst taking part in operations off the north coast of Africa, Benbow was court martialled for disrespect, and sentenced to forfeit three months pay. When his ship was paid off, Benbow was discharged from the navy, and he went into the merchant service. He re-entered the navy in his first recorded commission as third Lieutenant of HMS Elizabeth on 1st June 1689. On 20th September 1689, he was appointed Captain of HMS York, but on the 26th October he was transferred to HMS Bonaventure, and again on the 12th November to HMS Britannia.

In March 1690, Benbow was appointed as Master Attendant of Chatham Dockyard, which post he held for some years, but during which, he was called into active service at various times. In the summer of 1690, while Master of HMS Sovereign, he acted as Master of the Fleet up until the end of the English-Dutch defeat at the battle of Beachy Head, and his evidence helped to acquit Admiral Lord Torrington at the subsequent court martial. In the summer of 1692, he was once again Master of the Fleet when he took part in the battles of Barfleur and La Hogue. In 1693, he was in action at the attack of St Malo, and in 1694 the attack on Dunkirk. For his services during these actions, he was appointed as Master Attendant at Deptford Dockyard and during his appointment, the dockyard was visited by Tsar Peter the Great of Russia on his tour of Europe to learn naval shipbuilding skills.

In 1695 he was promoted to Rear-Admiral, and in March 1698 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief West Indies, where he was engaged in operations against the Spanish pirates, both in the West Indies and off the coast of North America. He returned to England in 1700, and was almost immediately appointed to the command of HMS Downs. On 30 June 1701, he was appointed as Vice-Admiral of the Blue in the Grand Fleet under Sir George Rooke. He returned to the West Indies as C-in-C in November of that year. He was further promoted to Vice Admiral of the White on 19 January 1702.

On the 19th August 1702, off Cartegena, Benbow’s squadron attacked a French squadron for five days. The attack was a disorganised affair and ended with three of the English ships sustaining most of the French squadron’s firing. On the 24th August, Benbow’s right leg was shattered by chain shot. After this event, Captain Kirkby of HMS Defiance came on board Benbow’s flagship, HMS Breda and urged Benbow to give up the chase. All the other ship captains were summoned on board; they concurred with Kirkby and Benbow was compelled to return to Jamaica.

Benbow ordered a court martial of the captains for cowardice, and all were found guilty in 1703, two being sentenced to death. Before their trials took place, Benbow had died from his wounds at Port Royal on the 4th November 1702, and was buried in the chancel of St Andrew’s Church, Kingston, Jamaica. He had married early in his life and had several children, of whom only his daughters survived to adulthood.

© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2004
The information contained in this INFORMATION SHEET is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.

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