Friday, 15 May 2009

The Eventful Narrative Of William Stockell

The Ryedale area of North Yorkshire does not conjure up an image of ships and whaling, but an individual named Captain William Stockell came from Malton and led a full and adventurous life. He taught himself sea navigation, and went to sea in January 1804. This led to him developing a love for life at sea and many adventures. If one is fortunate to read his autobiography, The Eventful Narrative of William Stockell, one may assume that is the work of someone with an overactive imagination. Further investigation into other sources of information such as ship's rosters that he wrote about prove that much of the contents of the book are true. Maybe he does bolster his own image with tales of courage under the worst conditions, but one cannot dispute that he led a full life. Service in the Royal Navy, the U.S navy, working on merchant ships and whaling were just some of the vessels he sailed on, in days before steam ships.

Here is a brief excerpt from his book in which the Cornwall engages the enemy (France) off the coast of Belgium:

...the Frenchman fired into the Cornwall. Not one shot yet from us; the Captain standing on the poop with a speaking trumpet in his hand. At last, he put it to his mouth, the word ''Fire'' ran aloing the decks, and a thundering and dreadful shock took place; broadside to broadside for half an hour. Our deck began to be sprinkled with blood - my brave boys fought like bull dogs. I had never seen fighting like this before, it was fighting in earnest; several of my men lay around, and the fore-most guns on the starboard side had lost six hands. After we had engaged about three quarters of an hour, I heard a thundering crash, and in a few moments- ''Boarders away!'' In a moment I with my boarders were in the fore-chains of the enemy, and I landed safe with about fifty fine fellows on the forecastle. We had a gun loose that we took, and at one shot cleared the larboard side of the deck. By this time we had fought our way aft on the quarter deck when down came the colours...

Jonathan Severs, B.A (Hons), York St John.




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