The Battle of Flamborough Head

The Wikipedia account of this significant naval engagement, watched by citizens of Filey from their clifftops, is compelling, balanced and, I think, reliable.

I noticed this: –

Boats from both Serapis and Alliance were used to begin the evacuation of Bonhomme Richard’s crew. One or two of these boats went missing during the night, as ex-captive British crewmen took the opportunity to go home…

The author of the article offers the York Courant as a source for this observation. On the 24th September, Thomas BERRY deposed before H Osbaldeston, JP…

…That Jones called to the Alliance for assistance, who came and gave the 40 gun ship a Broadside, which being badly disabled, struck: That Jones’s Officers called for the Alliance to hoist out their boats, as their ship [was] sinking, in one of which deponent and six other … made their escape to Filay [sic].

This story is just about alive today when the Battle is discussed by anyone interested in the area’s history but it is usually accepted that the escaping prisoners came ashore at Butcher Haven and then made their way up moonlit paths to Hunmanby. They were challenged in the village, arrested and questioned. It seems reasonable, given the conflagration off the coast, that “the law” represented by Osbaldeston should arrange an emergency court session the day after the battle.

I don’t have any night photos of Butcher Haven, sorry! It is said the place was so named after the butchery on the bay. I don’t think there is an agreed casualty total but it is easy enough to imagine decks awash with blood.


The two top sea dogs in the fight were very different characters. One couldn’t imagine Richard Pearson catching the attention of Catherine the Great, or being accused of murder and rape. The Englishman was, though, court-marshaled after his surrender to the mercenary but exoneration and a knighthood followed. He had, after all, saved the convoy and millions of merchant pounds. He went on to have a steady, honorable career and died aged 73 in 1805. The multi-faceted John Paul – pirate, traitor, slaver, blackguard, hero, Father of the American Navy – had died alone in Paris 13 years earlier aged just 45.

Who has won the battle of ancestors and descendants on FamilySearch Tree? Follow the charisma. But that is a quality in a man that tends to dazzle and the several subsequent generations supposedly carrying his genetic inheritance sprang from a son, David, sired when the future Russian Admiral was only a year old.

The commander of Serapis doesn’t even have a wife on FST or a paternal grandfather. Filey Genealogy & Connections offers more. Kath has somehow located six sons and four daughters of Richard and Margaret Harrison and there are some interesting characters among his descendants. His second great-granddaughter Maria Pearson GREAVES was born in Burdwan, Bengal in 1864  and about eighteen months later her brother was born “off the Western coast of Africa”. Sir Richard’s youngest son, Jackson, was a prisoner during the Napoleonic Wars. One source has him dying in prison at Verdun in 1807, another that he was still a prisoner there three years later.  So much to look into – and not a one-year-old father of anything or anyone in sight.