Robert Moorsom (1760-1835)

Sir Robert Moorsom's ceremonial sword


Robert Moorsom was born on 8 June 1760 at Whitby, the second son of Richard Moorsom (1729–1809), an influential Whitby shipowner, and his wife, Mary Ward (1729–1816).

He received an excellent education under the Revd Mr Holmes at Scorton Grammar School, and joined the Ardent, commanded by Captain Constantine Phipps, in 1777. Having removed with Phipps to the Courageux, he took part in the battle off Ushant under Admiral Keppel, the relief of Gibraltar under Admiral Darby and Lord Howe, the action off Cape Spartel, and the capture, by Admiral Kempenfeldt, of part of Admiral Guichen's convoy to the West Indies.

He passed the Lieutenant's examination in 1784 and was appointed to the Sphinx and then the Thetis in the Mediterranean. After meetings with the prime minister, William Pitt, and Henry Dundas, later Viscount Melville, treasurer of the navy and member of the board for Indian affairs, he chose and commissioned in 1787 the sloop Ariel with confidential orders to examine potential harbours on the Bengal coast and report on the practicability of refitting ships there.

When illness forced him to return to England in October 1790, Admiral Cornwallis, commander-in-chief East Indies, was ‘extremely sorry’ and expressed his ‘great regard’ for him (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/167/47063). Sir George Cockburn was a midshipman on the Ariel, and his biographer recorded ‘the great kindness and attention shown him by his commander who constantly afforded him the best instruction … at the taking of the different surveys and observations’ (United Service Journal, 2, 1835, 242), of great importance to his career.

Moorsom was made Post Captain in November 1790 and married on 14 June 1791 Eleanor (1765–1828), daughter of Thomas Scarth of Stakesby, near Whitby; they had three sons and a daughter, who married the Revd Henry Longueville Mansel. When war against France broke out in 1793 he was appointed first to the frigate Niger to ascertain the enemy force in Brest, then to the frigateAstrea, and in 1795 to the Hindoostan; but when she was converted to a troopship and her destination changed, Captain Moorsom resigned a command he felt he could not retain with honour.

Moorsom remained ashore until 1804, when Pitt returned to power and Melville became first lord of the Admiralty; he was appointed to the Majestic, and in April 1805 he commissioned the newly built Revenge, joined the Channel Fleet and then Admiral Collingwood off Cadiz.  

At Trafalgar Moorsom ‘bore a distinguished and active part’ (J. Ralfe, Naval Biography of Great Britain, 1828, 33). The Revenge was engaged for two hours with the Prince of Asturias and four other ships until they were driven off by British vessels. She was severely damaged and suffered twenty-eight killed and fifty-one wounded, including the

captain who ‘fought his ship as coolly as if at dinner’ (Revd John Greenly, chaplain of the "Revenge, to his father, 21 Oct 1805, Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, documents 1984/14 [130]).Revenge lay in the thick of battle, her men fighting like demons", Captain Moorsom's log sparsely reports. " 4.40 men firing with all expectation and spirit having upon us four French ships and a Spanish three decker."

An anonymous seaman's account however was more voluble..... " A Spanish three decker ran her bowsprit over our poop with a number of her crew on it and in her fore rigging. Two or three hundred men were ready to follow, but they caught a Tartar; for..... our marines with their small arms, and the carronades on the poop leaded with cannister shot, swept them off so fast that they were glad to sheer off. While this was going on,.... we were engaged with a two decker French ship on our starboard side, and on our larboard (port) bow another, so that many of their shots must have struck their own ships and done severe execution."

"As one enemy vessel after another came within range Revenge fought them all. But in the midst of agonising death and the howling hell of the gundecks there were moments of humanity".....
Christopher Scott Wilson.

"Prince, the English 74 gunner, drew Achille away from Revenge and toppled her masts before an explosion set her ablaze. Working below in the magazine was a French woman called Jeanette who stowed away to be near her husband, a main topman."

Captain Moorsom tells her story in a letter to his father dated Dec. 4th 1805; "When the Achille was burning, she (Jeanette) got out of the gunroom port and sat on the rudder chains till some melted lead ran down upon her and forced her to strip and leap off".

"She swam to a spar where several men were, but one of them bit and kicked her till she was obliged to quit and get to another which supported her til she was taken by The Pickle (an English schooner) and sent on board the Revenge. Amongst the men she was lucky enough to find her husband. We were not wanting in civility to the lady. I ordered her two Purser's shirts to make a petticoat; and other of the officers found something to clothe her; in a few hours, Jeanette was perfectly happy.....".

She did find her husband once the battle was over. Each officer on the Revenge gave her a dollar.

Later in heavy weather the crippled English fleet limped into the Mediterranean. Revenge anchored at Gibraltar on 28th October 1805, arriving back in England on Dec 5th in the company of the battered H.M.S Victory (Carrying Nelson's body)". Moorsom carried the great banner at Nelson's funeral.

The Revenge was severely damaged. One large bar shot entered the lower deck, damaging a 32 pdr and killing a midshipman and one entire gun crew. It finally lodged in the ship's timbers, from where it was retrieved when the REVENGE was docked for repairs. Moorsom kept it and had it mounted vertically on a stone plinth to support a sundial at his home at Airy Hill, near Whitby. The bar shot sundial was taken into the collection of the Whitby Museum where it remains

After resigning his command in 1806, Moorsom was in 1807 made Private Secretary to Lord Mulgrave, First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1809 Moorsom himself became a Lord of the Admiralty, Honorary Colonel of the Marines, and MP for Queenborough.

He was particularly well suited to his appointment in 1810 as Surveyor-General of the Ordnance: his introduction of the turning lathe instead of the grindstone for finishing gun barrels saved many lives.

He was appointed Rear-Admiral (1810), Vice-admiral (1814), and KCB in 1815. At his retirement from the Ordnance in 1820 personal letters record the respect and affection with which he was regarded. He was commander-in-chief at Chatham (1824–7) and was promoted Admiral in 1830.

Northampton Mercury - Saturday 15 December 1832


SlR, Having by accidentally, favoured with the perusal a pamphlet upon the Corn Question, which I am told is likely to circulate through this county, I beg to offer for the consideration of men of plain sense, a few remarks which occurred to me at the time of reading the pamphlet, in the hope that the calm discussion of this and every other subject which can be brought to the test of reason, will be found to be the surest mode of arriving at the truth.

Cosgrove Priory. W. L. Moorsom.

Notes a few leading points in Pamphlet entitled "An Invitation to the People of England to inquire whether it is, most advantageous to have Wheat at 7s. 6d. or 5s. per bushel by John Cooper.
The real question which the people of England desire to inquire into is, whether it be either just or politic that they shall be compelled to buy corn at the shop of John Bull only, when they are desirous of purchasing the same article at  sundry other shops, where it is to be had on what the people England conceive to be better terms. But, to examine the “Invitation " on its own grounds.
(1) . At page 5, is statement showing the value of the annual produce of five hundred acres of land," when wheat at 7s. 6d. per bushel, and the value of the same produce when wheat is at 5s. per bushel.
The case taken is that of a farm of average fertility, under  forced culture: that to say, under culture forced in so far foreign competition the supply of farm produce raised upon more fertile lands, is restricted from entry into the English market.
If the restriction be taken off, it is evident that the lands thus forced into culture will either gradually appropriated to other kinds of culture, or to other kinds of profitable employment, that they will added to the eight millions of uncultivated and unprofitable acres, at present existing in England and Wales. In either case, only the more fertile lands will be left under cultivation similar to the present, and will be proportionally more productive with less cost incurred the cultivation. The “statement showing the value the annual produce" therefore rests upon fallacy.
(2). At pages 8 and 9, "It is thus made clear that the labourer would not be benefitted by the price of wheat falling.”
The fallacy here lies in assuming that the wages of labour will fall in the same proportion as the price of wheat. It is evident that foreign wheat will only come into the English market when the Englishman can get more of it for his labour than the same labour will obtain of English wheat. It appears therefore to be “clear that the labourer would be benefitted," not necessarily the “fall of price " but the circumstance of getting more for the same labour than he can get at present.
(3). At page 12 the gross produce of farm under the restrictive system is stated at £2,475 per annum, and it is insisted that a removal of the restriction would lower the price of the produce on the same farm to £1,650. Hence it is asserted that "decrease of circulating capital,'' and other disastrous consequences, would follow.
If it could exclude all the wines of France and Spain, could erect hot-houses to cover our own vineyards, force grapes of high flavor, and thus produce our own wines, what an amazing “circulating capital " would thus be " increased'' among the wine growers ! What is attempted (by the Author of the  “Invitation") to be set up is, that the difference of amount between the two examples of the values the  farm produce (viz. the difference between £2,475 and £1650 annually), is a dead loss to the nation. What is kept out of sight is that under a removal of the restrictive system, the difference remains in the nation's pocket, after getting the same quantity of corn that the nation had before ; and the nation will doubtless exchange this difference for other articles of necessity and luxury. Where is the "circulating capital thus decreased"? In the event of the restrictive system being abolished, this difference may also in common justice be applied to the relief of any burdens of taxation which the agriculturists can clearly show to be borne exclusively by themselves.
(4). At page 15 it is gratuitously asserted that upon the abolition of the restrictive system, " the quantity of manufactured goods consumed would less," and that “they are false hopes to expect that the foreign trade is to support Birmingham, &c. when it is acknowledged by the most zealous friends of free trade, that the home consumption is four-fifths of the manufacture "
The home consumption is about three-fourths in value of the total manufactures of the United Kingdom: and if all other classes of the nation could exclude foreign production as effectually as the agriculturists have excluded foreign corn, the home consumption would be in a fair way to present a far larger proportion to the total amount of production.
What is intended (by the author of the " Invitation") to be set up is, that the agriculturists would have less surplus produce to exchange (see Note 1), for manufactured goods, the total consumption of, or market for those goods would be less than before. This is not very logical, but the author's position may stated thus:
The agricultural classes of all kinds who will be affected (as is asserted), amount of income, by the abolition of their present monopoly, comprise about one-third of the home consumers. The home consumption is about three-fourths of the total manufacture. One-third of three-fourths is equivalent to one-fourth of the whole manufacture, to which amount is asserted that the market for manufactured goods will experience contraction.
The fallacy of this assertion is sufficiently evident, from the remarks contained in Notes 1 and 3, but, if we admit the position above stated, it must also be shown by the author of the " Invitation," that the appetites of the people of England will contract in like proportion with the asserted diminution of exchangeable produce for; if those appetites remain the same, it evident that corn will be required to gratify them equally under a free trade as under a monopoly, and unless foreigners give us corn for nothing, we shall have to give them manufactures of some kind in return. The assertion of the author of the "Invitation" amounts to this: "If foreigners would give us corn for nothing, we should be worse off than if were without any corn at all."
Cosgrove, 11th Dec. 1832. M.
+ Comber's Tables of Agriculture.
M'Culloch's Commercial Dictionary, 1832. Articles: Cotton, Wool, Hardware, Linen, &c. taken from Parliamentary papers.

Morning Post - Friday 17 April 1835

DIED. On Tuesday, the 11th inst., at his residence, Cosgrove Priory Northamptonshire, Admiral Sir Robert Moorsom, aged 75.

Dublin Observer - Saturday 25 April 1835

THE LATE VICE-ADMIRAL SIR ROBERT MOORSOM, K.C.B This distinguished officer commanded the Ariel, of 14 guns, in 1789, and accompanied Commodore Cornwallis to the East Indies, and was posted as Commander Nov. 22nd, 1790. At the commencement of the late war, he was appointed to the Astrea frigate; subsequently to the Hindustan, 54, and afterwards the Revenge, 74, which ship bore a prominent part in the battle of Trafalgar, on which occasion Captain Moorsom was wounded. At the funeral of the lamented Nelson, he bore that admiral’s great banner. In April, 1808, he was nominated Colonel of Marines, and selected by the late Lord Mulgrave as his Private Secretary when he became First Lord of the Admiralty, subsequently held seat at the hoard until July 1809, when he was appointed Surveyor General of the Ordnance, which post he filled until the Duke of Wellington succeeded Lord Mulgrave Waster-General of the ordnance. He was promoted to his flag 31st July 1809, and advanced to Vice-Admiral June 4th, 1814. He died last week, universally esteemed, and regretted, at Cosgrove Priory, Northamptonshire, aged 75.

'Distinguished by his scientific and professional acquirements’ (Annual Biography and Obituary, 20/2, 1836), he retired

to Cosgrove, Northamptonshire, and died at his residence, The Priory, Cosgrove, on 14 April 1835. He was buried at Cosgrove Parish Church on 21 April 1835.

In October 2014 two direct descendants of Admiral Moorsom, Sue Thatcher and Robert Longmore, visited Cosgrove and were delighted to see that the village still celebrates his memory.

Two ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Moorsom, after Admiral Sir Robert Moorsom.

We are indebted to Whitby Museum for photographs included in this section.

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