Lt Phillips shot on the Forecastle
Lt Phillips shot on the Forecastle


Admiral Byng, executed for his failure to defeat the French fleet, thus allowing the capture of Minorca at the beginning of the Seven Years War, was spared the ignominy of having the sentence carried out on the forecastle. The following sad story from Volume 3 of W.L. Clowes' The Royal Navy, a history from the earliest times to the present day, recounts of another unfortunate officer who did so suffer ten years earlier.

"On March 28th [1745], the Anglesey, 44, Captain Jacob Elton, one of the ships cruising to command the entrance of the Channel, put out of Kingsale, whither she had been to land some sick, amongst whom was her first lieutenant. On the following day, a fresh westerly breeze blowing, a large sail was sighted to windward. Elton, making sure that she was his consort the Augusta, piped to dinner, and paid no further heed. Meanwhile, the stranger came down fast; but it was not till she was close to the Anglesey that, yawing slightly, she showed French ornamentation on her quarter. Then all was hurry and confusion. Elton, to gain time, ordered the foresail to be set; but the only effect of this manoeuvre was to bury the lee lower deck ports in the sea and almost to swamp the ship. The enemy, which proved to be the Apollon, 50, belonging to the French navy, but fitted out by private adventurers, ran close under the stern of the Anglesey and rounded-to on her lee quarter, pouring in a heavy fire. Elton and the Master fell at the first discharge, and the command devolved on the second lieutenant, Baker Phillips. The decks were not cleared; the ship was half-full of water; and sixty men were dead or wounded. Phillips could not order the helm to be put up without falling aboard a ship as full of men as his was of water; so, taking hasty counsel with Taafe, the third lieutenant, he decided that no effective resistance could be offered, and ordered the colours to be struck. It is difficult to see what else Phillips could have done. William Hutchinson, "the Mariner," laid down that a ship attacked as the Anglesey was ought to be boxhauled, and to pass under the enemy's stern raking him, as the Serapis subsequently did in the course of her action with the Bonhomme Richard. But in 1745 Phillips could not have had the advantage of a study of Hutchinson's "Treatise on Practical Seamanship"; and, being a young man and inexperienced, he acted as most other men in his position would have done. The ship was lost by being engaged to leeward. The subsequent court-martial:

"was unanimously of opinion that Captain Elton, deceased, did not give timely directions for getting his ship clear or in a proper posture of defence, nor did be afterwards behave like an officer or a seaman, which was the cause of the ship being left to Lieutenant Phillips in such distress and confusion. And that Lieutenant Baker Phillips, late second lieutenant of the said ship, by not endeavouring to the utmost of his power after Captain Elton's death to put the ship in order of fighting, not encouraging the inferior officers and common men to fight courageously, and by yielding to the enemy, falls under part of the tenth article. They do sentence him to death, to be shot by a platoon of musqueteers on the forecastle, ... but ... having regard to the distress and confusion the ship was in when he came to the command, and being a young man and unexperienced, they beg leave to recommend him for mercy."

The recommendation was ignored, and the sentence was duly carried into effect. It is difficult to say what was the reason of this, and it has been suggested in explanation that there was a suspicion that Phillips was in the pay of the Young Pretender. No hint of this appears in the minutes of the court-martial; but it must be remembered that the terror of an invasion was at that time very great, and that men may be swayed by motives which they do not acknowledge even to themselves. Whether as a result of this court-martial or not, it remains to be recorded that not a ship wavered in her allegiance, though there were undoubted Jacobites in the fleet.

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