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John Benbow

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John Benbow.

John Benbow (1653November 4, 1702), English admiral, the son of a tanner in Shrewsbury. He went to sea when very young, and served in the navy as masters mate and master, from 1678 to 1681. When trading to the Mediterranean in 1686 in a ship of his own he beat off a Salli pirate. On the accession of William III. he re-entered the navy as a lieutenant and was rapidly promoted. It is probable that he enjoyed the protection of Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington, under whom he had already served in the Mediterranean.

In the War of the Grand Alliance, he took part in the bombardment of St Malo (1693), and superintended the blockade of Dunkirk (1696). He sailed in 1698 for the West Indies, where he compelled the Spaniards to restore two vessels belonging to the Scottish colonists at Darién (see the Darién scheme) which they had seized. On his return he was appointed vice-admiral, and was frequently consulted by the king. In 1701 he was sent again to the West Indies as commander-in-chief.

In the War of the Spanish Succession, on 19 August 1702, when cruising with a squadron of seven ships, he sighted, and chased, four French vessels commanded by M. du Casse near Santa Marta. The engagement is the most disgraceful episode in English naval history. Benbow's captains were mutinous, and he was left unsupported in his flagship the Breda. His right leg was shattered by a chain-shot, despite which he remained on the quarter-deck till morning, when the flagrant disobedience of the captains under him, and the disabled condition of his ship, forced him, reluctantly to abandon the chase. After his return to Jamaica, where his subordinates were tried by court-martial, he died of his wounds on 4 November 1702. Despite the great deal of legendary matter that has collected around his name, details of his life are obscure.

A famous song about the incident contains the verses

Brave Benbow lost his legs by chain-shot, by chain-shot
Brave Benbow lost his legs by chain-shot
Brave Benbow lost his legs and all on his stumps he begs,
Fight on, my English lads, 'tis our lot, 'tis our lot
The surgeon dressed his wounds, cried Benbow, cried Benbow
The surgeon dressed his wounds, cried Benbow
Let the cradle now in haste on the quarter deck be placed
That the enemy I may face till I die, till I die

The battleship HMS Benbow was named in his honour.

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