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Royal Naval Biography/Lapenotière, John Richards

[Post-Captain of 1811.]

This officer’s great-grandfather, Frederick De La Penotiere, was the son of a French nobleman; but he held the rank of Colonel in the English army, and married Bridget, daughter of the Hon. John Fielding, D.D. fifth and youngest son of William, third Earl of Denbigh, and chaplain to King William III.

Mr. John Richards Lapenotiere was born at Ilfracombe, co. Devon, in 1770; and he first went to sea in the Three Sisters, hired armed ship, under the protection of his father, Lieutenant Frederick Lapenotiere, in 1780[1]. His first professional patron was Rear-Admiral the Hon. John Leveson Gower, a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty.

In May, 1785, Mr. Richard Cadman Etches and other traders entered into a commercial partnership, under the title of the King George’s Sound Company, for carrying on a fur trade from the western coast of America, to China; and in order to execute this design, they purchased a ship of 320 tons, and a snow of 200 tons; the command of the former, and of the intended expedition, was given to Mr. Nathaniel Portlock, a gentleman who had accompanied Captain Cook in his last voyage into the Pacific Ocean, and who was therefore considered a proper person to conduct an adventure which required no common knowledge and experience. The novelty of this enterprise attracted the notice of several eminent persons, who promoted it by their approbation and countenance. Several young gentlemen, who had evinced an inclination to engage in a seafaring life, were put under Mr. Portlock’s care, for the purpose of being initiated in the knowledge of a profession which requires length of experience, rather than supereminence of genius. Amongst these youngsters was Mr. John R. Lapenotiere, whose great-uncle, Samuel Salt, of the Middle Temple, Esq. M.P. was at that time Deputy-Governor of the South Sea Company, and a warm patron of the new undertaking.

Mr. Portlock sailed from Gravesend, Aug. 30, 1785; and anchored in Margate roads, on his return home, Aug. 24, 1788. The result of the voyage will be seen by the following extract of his narrative, published in 1789:–

“That the King George’s Sound Company have not accumulated immense fortunes may perhaps be true; but it is no less certain that they are gainers to the amount of some thousands of pounds; and that the voyage did not answer the utmost extent of their wishes, undoubtedly was owing to their own inexperience; for when the King George and Queen Charlotte arrived at Canton, and even a month after that period, prime sea-otter skins sold for from 80 to 90 dollars each. Of this quality, these ships had at least 2000 on board, besides a large quantity of furs of inferior value: but though we could have sold our cargo with ease, we were not at liberty to dispose of one single article; the sole management of it being vested in the hands of the East India Company’s supercargoes; and at length the skins just mentioned were sold for less than 20 dollars each[2].”

Some time after Mr. Lapenotiere’s return to England, in the King George, the late commander of H.M. armed ship Bounty also returned from the South Pacific, with an account of his having been turned out of her, and obliged to cross a sea of more than 1200 leagues in an open and deeply loaded boat:– all the circumstances attending that transaction have been truly stated at p. 747 et seq. of Vol. II. Part II.

Although the mutiny to which we allude had entirely frustrated the designs of the British government in sending out the Bounty, yet it did not lessen their zeal for benefiting the West India islands; accordingly, as soon as circumstances permitted, a new bread-fruit expedition was set on foot under the same commander, but who, on this occasion, was provided with a tender to succour him in case of a similar mishap. In this tender (the Assistance of 110 tons, with a complement of 27 men) Mr. Lapenotiere again left England, under the command of Lieutenant Portlock, Aug. 2, 1791; and returned home with that officer, at the commencement of Aug. 1793[3]. During these two interesting voyages to and from the South Seas, Mr. Lapenotiere successively visited Guernsey, Madeira, St. Jago, Falklands and the Sandwich islands, Cook’s river. Prince William’s Sound, Macao, and St. Helena; Teneriffe, the Cape of Good Hope, Van Dieman’s Land, Otaheite, Coupang (Timor), the island of St. Vincent, Jamaica, and the Grand Cayman[4].

In Mar. 1794, Mr. Lapenotiere joined the flag-ship of Sir John Jervis, under whom he served at the reduction of the French West India islands, after which conquests he was promoted by that officer to the rank of Lieutenant, and appointed to command the Berbice schooner. He returned home as first of the Resource frigate. Captain Frederick Watkins[5].

In 1800, Lieutenant Lapenotiere obtained the command of the Joseph hired cutter, in which vessel he was several times engaged with the enemy, near Brest, and when employed in affording protection to the Mediterranean trade. On each of these occasions, his gallant conduct obtained him the high approbation of his commander-in-chief, Earl St. Vincent and Sir James Saumarez: that of the Admiralty was also conveyed to him, in a flattering letter from the former officer.

The Joseph was paid off in the spring of 1802; and Lieutenant Lapenotiere soon afterwards obtained the command of another small vessel, – the Pickle schooner, mounting 10 guns, with a complement of 35 men. His exertions in saving the crew of the Magnificent 74, when that ship was wrecked near Brest, Mar. 25, 1804, obtained him very great credit.

The Pickle was attached to Lord Nelson’s fleet at the battle of Trafalgar; a few days previous to which great and glorious event, she rendered an essential service, by capturing a Portuguese settee with a cargo of bullocks from Tangier, that was endeavouring with a fresh breeze at east to work into Cadiz, where such a supply was much wanted, both by the French and Spaniards.

On the ever memorable 21st Oct. 1805, observing l’Achille, a French 74, in flames. Lieutenant Lapenotiere hastened to the relief of her crew, and succeeded in picking up 2 women and about 100 men who had thrown themselves into the sea. This was a dangerous service, on account of her guns going off as they became heated, in consequence of which 2 or 3 British sailors lost their lives, but fortunately none of the Pickle’s little crew sustained any injury. One of the women thus saved was floating on an oar, and perfectly naked; a seaman immediately pulled off his trowsers and gave them to her: when she got on board the schooner, she immediately began to relate with much seeming pleasure, the number of men she had sent to the bottom, for endeavouring to take the oar from her; and she appeared as happy and contented as if nothing had happened, although her husband had fallen in the battle.

In return for the humanity of their conquerors, the prisoners, one night, were heard conversing about the practicability of taking the Pickle into Cadiz, they being nearly treble in number to her crew. It is scarcely necessary to add that no opportunity was afforded them of making the experiment, all hands being constantly kept guarding them until they were removed from her.

Lieutenant Lapenotiere had the honor of bringing home Vice-Admiral Collingwood’s despatches, announcing that most glorious victory; and he was promoted to the rank of Commander immediately on his arrival, Nov. 6, 1805. The Committee of the Patriotic Fund subsequently presented him with a sword value 100 guineas.

In 1806, Captain Lapenotiere was appointed to the Orestes brig, mounting 16 guns, with a complement of 95 officers, men, and boys. In that vessel he was employed on the North Sea station until the summer of 1807, when we find him attached to the armament sent against Copenhagen, under Admiral Gambier.

After the evacuation of Zealand, the Orestes formed part of the squadron left in that neighbourhood to protect the trade passing through the Sound. Whilst thus employed Captain Lapenotiere was most dreadfully burnt, and otherwise much injured by an accidental explosion, as will be seen by the following copy of his official letter to the senior officer then present:–

Nov. 17, 1807.

“Sir,– During the time I have been stationed in Elsineur roads, for the protection of the British trade, and the blockade of that place, I have frequently been obliged to stand in so close with the enemy’s batteries, for the purpose of ordering away the different vessels that have anchored there during the night (not knowing of the war); as to be much exposed to their fire, and have been frequently obliged to return it. This happened again yesterday; and in firing one of the after guns, by some unforeseen accident, it communicated to a drawer, containing the powder-horns and a few cartridges, the explosion of which, I am sorry to say, has so far disabled me, as to prevent, I fear, my being able to perform my duty, for some time to come. The skin of my face, ears, and neck, is completely burnt off; and the greater part of the hair off my head, the skin of which I fear must follow. But what concerns me most, is, that I am in some danger of losing my right eye likewise. The whole of the right side of my head is much contused, by a piece of plank forced against it by the explosion. I am at this moment obliged to keep my bed. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)J. R. Lapenotiere.”

To Captain Thomas Staines, H.M.S. Cyane.

At the time when he met with this disaster, Captain Lapenotiere was endeavouring to cut off an English vessel which had been taken by the Danes. The following is a copy of the handsome letter he received in answer to the above:

Cyane, off Helsinburgh, Nov. 18, 1807


“Dear Sir,– I was extremely concerned, by the receipt of your letter of yesterday’s date, to hear of the unfortunate accident which took place . on board the Orestes under your command, by the explosion of a small magazine abaft, while in the act of returning the fire from the batteries near Elsineur, in obedience to the orders which you had received from me, for the protection of the British commerce, &c. and indeed. Sir, I most sincerely lament that you are so great a sufferer on this melancholy occasion, but more particularly so, as I fear his Majesty will, at least for a considerable length of time, be deprived of the services of so meritorious and zealous an officer. I hope and trust, however, that the fears which you entertain of the loss of your right eye will soon be removed, and that your speedy recovery may enable you to continue those indefatigable exertions in the public service which 1 have, with admiration, had an opportunity of witnessing, since I have been favoured with your co-operation under my command. I shall take the earliest opportunity of communicating to Captain Fraser, under whose command I have the honor to be, the account of your unfortunate case; and be assured, my dear Sir, I should feel the highest satisfaction in being able, by any means in my power, to alleviate the distressing pains which you must unavoidably suffer by an accident of so serious a description. I have the honor to be, with sincere condolence on your misfortune, &c.

(Signed)Thomas Staines.”

After his recovery, Captain Lapenotiere was employed on the Plymouth station, where he captured la Concepcion letter of marque, mounting 12 guns; and retook an American ship bound to Plymouth with timber. On the 9th May, 1810, la Dorade French schooner privateer, of 10 guns and 43 men, was taken by the Orestes and Favorite, the latter a ship-sloop commanded by Captain Benjamin Clement. On the 27th Oct. in the same year, being then in lat. 48° 30' N. long. 8° 56' W. Captain Lapenotiere fell in with a brig, which, from her manoeuvres, he supposed to be a French cruiser: the Orestes immediately made sail in chase, and he had the satisfaction of bringing her to close action in less than an hour; she kept up a smart fire for about thirty minutes, when she struck, and proved to be the Loup Garou French privateer, of 16 guns and 100 men; a remarkable fine vessel, well found in every thing, and calculated to do much mischief to our trade. “This capture,” says Admiral Sir Robert Calder, “does very great credit to the captain, officers, and men of the Orestes, from the prompt and neat manner in which it has been eflFected, without any loss to his Majesty’s service; and confirms the good opinion I have long since entertained of Captain Lapenotiere as an officer, whilst serving under my command at different times.” The enemy had four men wounded, two of them dangerously.

Captain Lapenotiere obtained post rank Aug. 1, 1811. He married in 1805, Mary Ann, daughter of the late Lieutenant John Graves, by whom he has had seven children. One of his sons is in the navy.


Captain Lapenotiere has been twice married. His first wife was Lucia Rohanna Margaretta Shean, daughter of a gentleman in Brecknockshire, South Wales, by whom he had four daughters. The eldest surviving child by that marriage is married to the Rev. W. Cuthbert, A.M. of Beech Field House, Doncaster.

  1. Lieutenant Frederick Lapenotiere entered the navy under the patronage of Daniel, seventh Earl of Winchelsea, then First Lord of the Admiralty, but who unfortunately died before his protegé had been long at sea. Lieutenant Lapenotiere was distantly related to the Countess of Winchelsea.
  2. Portlock’s Voyage round the World, p. 382.
  3. See Vol. II. Part II. note * at p. 630.
  4. Lieutenant Portlock was made a Commander in 1793, and promoted to post rank Sept. 28, 1799: he died at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, after a short but severe illness, Sept. 12, 1817.
  5. See Vol. II, Part I, p. 11 et seq.