Hugh Robert Entwistle and the “Bellerophon”


Hugh Robert Entwistle (d 1867)

Hugh was the second son of John Entwistle (b.1744) of Foxholes, Rochdale, Lancashire, and his wife Ellen, daughter of Hugh Lyle of Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

Hugh’s brother John Entwistle (1784 -1837) was later MP for Rochdale, High Sheriff of Lancashire 1824 and J.P. for Lancashire, Cheshire and the North Riding of York. He married Ellen Smith co-heiress of Thomas Smith of Castleton Hall.

A younger brother Robert Entwistle (b. 1788) was Lieutenant Colonel of the Lancashire Militia. A younger sister Elizabeth married Robert Peel in 1805. Robert belonged to the Peel family of Manchester and was cousin to Sir Robert Peel the MP, whose son Robert Peel was later to become Prime Minister and repealer of the Corn Laws.

Hugh married Mary Anne Royds, daughter of James Royds of Mount Falinge, Rochdale 11 October, 1824. Mary came from a Rochdale family of some substance as her father James Royds was a deputy-lieutenant of the county, and had Arms confirmed to him in 1828. In Baines’ “Lancashire” we find that James Royds of Mount Falinge gave land at Spotland Bridge for the building of a church, a vicarage and a Sunday school.

Hugh Robert Entwistle joined the Navy 7th May, 1799, joining the frigate “Amethyst“, a ship on which he continued to serve until 1805, the year of the Battle of Trafalgar.

HMS Bellerophon
HMS Bellerophon by W Mitchell

In 1805, in time for the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805) he joined the crew of the Bellerophon (Billy Ruffian), having been variously rated as volunteer, AB midshipman. He is listed on the Trafalgar Honour Role as AB (Able Seaman).

Don’t be fooled by the apparent lowly rank of ‘able seaman’ – in this case it was meaningless. During the 18th century the individual ship’s Captain was allowed to have a small number of youngsters under his wing who were basically ‘under training’, all being destined for commissions. It was common for Captains to have more young men than (official) places, so they simply placed them on the ship’s books in whatever rating took their fancy.

In an analysis of officers in 1848 it was found that 1,203 officers out of 3,467 had served time carried as a rating; the rate of ‘Able Seaman’ was the most popular; others were borne under such ranks as ‘Servants’ or ‘volunteers’.

As an example, Horatio Nelson was officially carried onboard the frigate ‘Seahorse’ in 1779 as an Able Seaman.

Entwistle then would never have actually served as an ‘able seaman’, it was an administrative cloak used to mask ‘young gentlemen’. Onboard Bellerophon, apart from Entwistle, George Hughes, later to become an Admiral, was also listed as an ‘Able Seaman’. [Source: David J Hepper, Forum of the Historical Maritime Society]

Naval ranks in Nelson’s day

In ascending order:
Midshipman > Lieutenant > Commander* > Captain > Commodore* > Rear Admiral > Vice Admiral > Admiral
Ranks marked * were “appointments” made by Fleet Commanders and notified to the Admiralty with the recommendation that the appointee should be promoted to the next rank.

Hugh’s progress

Hugh Entwistle is recorded as being one of the prize crew that boarded the captured Spanish ship Bahama.

He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 28th January 1806 and appointed to the sloop Paulina in which he served for the next six years, seeing service in the Mediterranean and the Copenhagen expedition. Later he served in the Warspite (1812) Bucephalus (1814) in which he saw service at New Orleans, and Madagascar (1815).

He was placed on half pay 20th August 1816 after which time he was not employed again by the Navy. He was placed on the Retired List 8th January 1839 with the rank of Commander. [O’Byrne’s ‘Naval Biographical Dictionary’]

An 1851 Census has Hugh living at Marlbro Grange, Llanbleddian, Glamorgan, South Wales: Glamorgan
Ref:HO107/2461 f.472 p.1 s.4 Marlbro Grange, Llanbleddian:
Hugh ENTWISTLE Head Mar 65 Magistrate And Retired Naval Commander. Farmer 142 Acres. Employing 10 Labourers YKS Leeds
Mary Anne ENTWISTLE Wife Mar 57 LAN Rochdale
[/one_half][one_half_last]Edwards NICHOLAS Srvnt Unm 31 General Servant GLA Llampha
Mary JENKINS Srvnt Unm 52 General Servant GLA Penmark
Elizabeth LEWIS Srvnt Unm 34 General Servant GLA Llangan

So Hugh had an illustrious career in the Navy, crewed some of the more illustrious ships, rose through the ranks, married a local Rochdale girl from a family of some substance, and farmed and retired as a Naval Commander in South Wales.

All of this leaves many unanswered questions about Hugh and his life – and did he have any children?

We also have listed on the Trafalgar Honour Role one Robert Entwistle, Royal Marine, of Turton, Lancashire and on the Lancashire Militia Records at the GMPRO we have Nathaniel Entwistle, Manchester, Lancahsire, Silk Weaver, 19, 20 July 1779 – discharged and pensioned 24 August 1782.

If anyone has any further information on either of these men’s lives, please contact the author.

HMS Bellerophon

The 74 gun 3rd rate, square rigged ship of the line in Nelson’s day, was one of several hundred ships of all sizes built in England (on the Medway in this case). Most were held in reserve in case of war, particularly with France and Spain, both at home, where there were threats of invasion, and far away in the Americas. Her construction required something more than 3,000 oak trees.


Billy Ruffian
The “Billy Ruffian”

She was named the Bellerophon after the mythical Greek hero who tamed the winged horse Pegasus. But sailors had great problems pronouncing the name, as may be imagined, and so Christened her the “Billy Ruffian“.

She achieved great fame when, in 1815, Napoleon surrendered to her captain shortly after the battle of Waterloo, but by then she already had a long and distinguished record, some of which Hugh Entwistle had witnessed and taken a part in, and had earned her the title “the bravest of the brave”.

Perhaps more than any other ship of her day the Bellerophon was a reflection of the history of her times, particularly the long conflict between Britain and France, starting in 1793 seven years after the Bellerophon was launched, and ending at Waterloo some 22 years later. The Bellerophon was there at the beginning, she was miraculously still there at the end, and she played a key role in the years in between.

She was the first ship to engage the enemy at the opening sequence of The Battle of the Glorious 1st of June, the start of the naval war against Revolutionary France. She was with the squadron led by Nelson which hunted down and destroyed the French fleet in the Mediterranean at the Battle of the Nile. Here she was extensively damaged, losing all three masts and suffering the highest casualties of any of the British ships when she engaged the huge French flagship L’Orient.

The annihilation of the French Navy at The Battle of the Nile effectively left Napoleon’s army stranded in Egypt.

At Trafalgar, the Bellerophon’s captain received a fatal shot from a French sniper in the rigging of an opposing ship, just one hour before the same fate befell Nelson himself. Her first lieutenant quickly took command and fought off four enemy ships, before capturing a prize to be towed off to Gibraltar – it appears Hugh Entwistle took part in this action, boarding and capturing the Bahama, a large Spanish ship.

HMS Bellerophon later spent months basking in the tropical sun as part of a squadron on the Jamaica Station defending the West Indian colonies, before finally helping to put an end to Napoleon’s ambitious plan to invade England and to march on London.

Finally, capturing Napoleon in his attempt to escape to America, the Bellerophon’s Captain Maitland brought him back to England, before transferring him to HMS Northumberland for his long sail to the South Atlantic – he never set foot on English soil.

Napoleon told Captain Maitland that “If it had not been for you English, I should have been Emperor of the East; but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are sure to find you in our way.”

Anyone interested in the full story of the Bellerophon can read about it in Billy Ruffian, The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon, The biography of a ship of the line 1782 – 1836 by David Cordingley.

If you really want to know what life was like in Nelson’s day aboard a ship like this, see the recently released film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe.

On the Trafalgar Roll, compiled from awards lists:

Hugh Entwistle, Able Seaman Ship: Bellerphon, 74 guns, Capt. John Cooke with 27 crew killed at Trafalgar; 123 injured. The Bellerophon fought at the Battles of the Glorious 1st of June, The Nile and Trafalgar and was responsible for carrying Napoleon Bonaparte part way to exile in St Helena. In fact she brought Napoleon back to England where he was transferred to HMS Northumberland for the journey to the South Atlantic. Hugh Robert Entwistle was from Rochdale and Leeds, Yorkshire.

©Tom W Entwistle