Five Admirals, a Colonel and Two Babies

Posted by Admin on Monday, 28th January 2013, 17:44

Five Admirals, a Colonel and Two Babies

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Memorials inside St John the Baptist Church, Northwood

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by Jacquie Pearce

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Inside Northwood church are two remarkable and touching paired memorials. Above the choir stalls, opposite memorials to two of the church’s 18th century Rectors, Thomas Troughear (1722-1761) and William Knail (1761-1768) is an elaborate memorial to Ann(e) Christian :

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“Ann, widow of Rear-Admiral Sir Hugh Cloberry Christian, Commander in Chief at the Cape of Good Hope, where he died in November 1798 aged 49. She departed this life at West Hill on 10th day of February 1799 aged 47 to the great grief of a numerous Family and the regret of all who knew her”.

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Next to it is a simple square plaque :

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“Emma Maria The beloved daughter of Hugh George and Anne Christian who departed this life on 21st May 1829 aged 13 months and 13 days. For of such is the kingdom of God”.

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The second pair is on the wall of the south aisle (side chapel). The first is a large memorial dedicated to : “Samuel Osborn Esq Admiral of the Blue died 10th September 1816 Aged 63” whose remains are interred nearby in a vault below the floor.

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Not far away on the same wall is another small plaque :

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“Cosmo Alexander infant son of Colonel Ross, Commandant Albany Barracks, died 4th December 1824 aged 10 months”.

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When the old wooden floor was taken up at the same time as the pews were being removed because of worm damage, a small box containing bones was found in this area.

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The placing of the children’s memorials beside the adult memorials was probably not deliberate since the two adults died first (Ann(e) Christian 1799, Samuel Osborne 1816). Emma Christian (died 1829) was probably a grand-daughter of Ann(e) Christian so placing hers near her grand-mother’s was logical. However this came about, it is still poignant to see the deaths of infants commemorated next to the deaths of individuals who had led a full and publicly celebrated life. Child mortality was high in the 1820s. Baby Cosmo and baby Emma are a reminder of all the baby boys and girls within the Northwood parish who have no lasting memorials but whose parents grieved for their deaths just as much as Colonel Ross and his unnamed wife and Hugh and Anne Christian must have done.

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Who were these Admirals? And who was the Colonel?

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Admiral *Sir Hugh Cloberry Christian (1747 – 1799) *Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath.

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Hugh Christian’s naval career appears to have been significantly more distinguished and successful than Samuel Osborne’s although this may just reflect the accident of the survival of records. In that era it was common for the richest and grandest individuals to be buried inside the church rather than the churchyard. The more important you were, the nearer you would be buried nearer to the main altar, with the incumbent clergy naturally taking priority. Ann Christian must have been considered entitled to one of the superior positions by virtue of her husband’s position with her memorial in the chancel area while Samuel Osborne had to be content with the south aisle.

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(Information from Wikipedia). Born in Oxfordshire. His family originated from the Isle of Man. He followed his father into the Royal Navy gaining his first commission in 1771. In March 1775 he married Ann[e] Leigh of the Isle of Wight. He was promoted to master and commander and subsequently flag-captain in 1778 (aged 31). He saw action in several of the engagements during the American War of Independence. His commands included the 74 gun HMS Suffolk (1778-80), 38 gun Fortunee, a French frigate he had helped to capture (1780-83), (as second captain) Lord Howe’s flagship the 100 gun Charlotte (1790, 1793-4) and finally 98 gun Prince George (1795), 90 gun HMS Glory (1795), HMS Thunderer (1795-6), 44 gun HMS Virginie (1797). He became admiral of the blue in 1795 when he was appointed commander-in-chief of the West Indies station, finally succeeding after two failed attempts in escorting a large troop convoy to the West Indies. There he assisted in the capture of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenada. In 1797 he was advanced to rear-admiral of the white (equivalent to today’s Vice-Admiral) and appointed second-in-command of the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. He succeeded to the post of station commander in 1798 but died at the Cape in November aged only 51 (or, if one believes the memorial, 49). He had been created a peer, Lord Ronaldsway, to honour his Manx origins but unfortunately the letters of patent did not arrive before his death. Anne, his wife, had been seriously ill for some time and died shortly afterwards at the family home of West Hill (see below) without learning of her husband’s death. They had two sons and three daughters. One of the sons became rear-admiral Hood Hanaway Christian.

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West Hill (Westhill)

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Then Captain Christian bought land in Cowes and during the 1770s had West Hill house constructed. Its grounds were bounded by Mill Hill Road, Gordon Road, Beckford Road and Birmingham Road. Despite its description in William Cook’s Isle of Wight 1813 as a “picturesque cottage” it was in fact a very substantial thatched building. At that time it had a clear view of the harbour and “fine scenery and ornamented villas of East Cowes”. Cook wrote that “The lawns and plantations around it are pleasing and though so close to the populous town it is as retired as if it were remote.” It was subsequently enlarged and given a slate roof.

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West Hill passed from the Christian family to General Whitelocke, commander of the local military depot and Lieutenant Governor of Portsmouth, then to Viscount Fitzharris, Governor of the Island (1807) who helped found the Royal Yacht Squadron. In the 1820s it was acquired by George Ward, London merchant, who by 1858 was said to own four-fifths of the parish of Northwood. West Hill became the home of his unmarried daughters. They were generous patrons of St John the Baptist church, Northwood.

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When the last Ward sister died in 1886, Westhill House and its grounds were sold. After the local council refused to buy the house in 1907 it was demolished. All that remains are the brick pillars of the entrance gate at the Cowes end of Mill Hill Road with the first section of the driveway, now called Westhill Grove.

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Admiral Samuel Osborn/Osborne/Osbourne (1753? – 1816)

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N.B. Nothing to do with Osborne House in East Cowes which was named after the manor of Osborne which existed from at least 1320.
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Records of Osborn(e)’s early life and naval career are non-existent to sketchy. He seems to have come from a naval family (two brothers also became Admirals).

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In 1793 (aged 40) as Captain of the 50 gun ship, Centurion, he sailed with Captain Matthew Smith of the Diomede, a 44 gun fifth rate ship, for the Indian Ocean where they blockaded Ile de France which became the British colony of Mauritius. The French sustained heavier casualties than the British but the French Commodore succeeded in breaking the blockade. Afterwards Osborne wrote critically of his fellow captain Smith and was instrumental in getting him court-martialled and dismissed the service. The issue was not Smith’s lack of courage but his dislike and jealousy of Osborne. Later Smith was restored to his rank of captain but never called to service again (which meant he would have lived on half-pay and without any chance of winning prize money through capture of enemy ships).

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In 1796 still Captain Samuel Osborne of the 50 gun ship, Centurion, he took part in the capture of Colombo, Ceylon.

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In 1804 he paid £1,500 for a 20 acre estate in Cowes which had previously formed part of the estate of Admiral Christian (see below). By this time Admiral Samuel Osborne had been promoted to Admiral of the Blue (the lowest rank, equivalent to Rear-Admiral). He had perhaps also benefited from prize money from captured ships. The estate included a house, later called Mill Hill House, which had been recently built on a site where Grove Road joins Mill Hill Road. It was one of several large residences being built in Cowes at that time, many for senior naval and army officers. The estate included a windmill recently built by Thomas Kelleway, a (ships) biscuit maker. (Kelleway clearly knew more about biscuits than windmills : he built the mill in the lee of a hill unlike the more successful windmill at the top of Mill Hill Road. It is perhaps not surprising that he later became bankrupt). Admiral Osborne removed the sails and turned it into a viewing platform known as Prospect Tower. In 1811 he added to his estate with the purchase of a triangular piece of land called Hat Field (from the tricorn hat presumably) from Thomas and Charles Day.

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In 1816 Admiral Osborne died. He probably preferred to worship at Northwood Church where he was buried rather than at St Mary’s, Cowes, which at that time was just a small chapel with a reputation for evangelical tendencies (John Wesley, the Methodist, had preached there in 1753). St Mary’s was supported by Cowes and its merchant class rather than a solid bastion of the naval and military establishment like Northwood. (That changed later when the Ward family expensively and extensively enlarged and then rebuilt St Mary’s as “their” church next to Northwood House.)

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The Admiral’s will left a house and outbuildings (presumably Mill Hill House), Laurel Cottage, the windmill and 20 acres of ground to his brothers Admirals John and Edward Osborne which suggests that he was a widower or had never married. They had done rather better than he had in their naval careers, both becoming Admirals of the White (Vice-Admiral), the next step up from Admiral of the Blue. In 1806 John was Captain of the 74 gun Tremendous which was involved in a famous action off Mauritius in 1799 where a highly successful predatory 34-gun French frigate, the Preneuse, was finally destroyed. He was described in the diary of Lieutenant Grant as “an old and experienced officer” who was kind to the Lieutenant at the Cape (of Good Hope). I was unable to find any trace of Admiral Edward Osborne’s naval career.
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In 1834 in Barber’s Picturesque Illustrations of the Isle of Wight Mill Hill House is described as the “seat of Mrs Admiral Osborne” referring to Elizabeth, wife of Admiral Edward. One of their sons Edward, took holy orders and is shown as the Rev. Edward Osborne living at Mill Hill in 1841.

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The estate was auctioned in 1842 after Elizabeth’s death. The house, subsequently known as Mill Hill House, was advertised as a “residence…calculated for a family of rank” and Cowes as a “most fashionable watering place.” It was bought by General Richardson of the East India Company of Somerset House.

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On his death the estate was sold in 1853 to two property developers from Croydon and Beckenham who developed the area, demolishing Admiral Samuel’s Prospect Tower in order to build Bellevue Road. (The base of the other more sensibly sited Mill Hill windmill was demolished in 1934 to remove a possible hazard to aircraft making their approach to Cowes Aerodrome at Somerton).

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Colonel Ross

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Colonel John Ross had a distinguished career in the army during the Napoleonic Wars, beginning as an ensign in 1793 and serving with various infantry regiments during the Peninsular War. In 1811 he transferred to the 66th regiment (later the Royal Berkshires), serving with them in Ceylon. He returned in 1814 because of health problems and was appointed Deputy Adjutant-General in Ireland. In 1815 he was made a companion of the Order of the Bath. In August 1819 he was appointed Commandant of what was then called the Depot at the Isle of Wight. At that time he was on half-pay, still on the books of the 66th regiment. This was a common situation after battle of Waterloo 1815 ended the Napoleonic Wars with the which left limited prospects for active service for army officers apart from India which Ross had already tried. Many recruits for the East India Company passed through Albany Barracks which also served as a garrison defending the Island. After the threat of French invasion had gone, however, its military mission seems to have declined. In 1821 an MP, Mr Hume, criticised Albany Barracks as having “an extravagant staff with floating craft etc quite uncalled for”. Colonel Ross remained in the Island until 1828 when he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey. In 1825 he had been promoted to Major-General and later became a Lieutenant-General of the 46th regiment (South Devonshires). He died in Southampton in May 1843. If he had been 20 when he became an ensign, he would have been around 70 years old.

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(The five admirals were : Admiral Christian and his son Hood, Admiral Samuel Osborne and his two brothers, John and Edward ).

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Jacquie Pearce, December 2012.
(Additional information and/or correction of errors welcomed).

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