J D Davies

Dead Admirals’ Society Goes Irish

Another one in my occasional series, based on my predilection for photographing interesting naval or maritime graves and memorials that I come across on my journeys…

Some twelve years ago, we had a terrific holiday in the north of Ireland, taking in the Glens of Antrim, the Giant’s Causeway, and Lough Swilly, with all its important naval heritage. An unexpected find in the latter regard was in the graveyard of Rathmullan Priory, in County Donegal, where we came across the grave of Captain William Pakenham, who was in command of the frigate HMS Saldanha when she was wrecked on the nearby shore of Ballymastocker Bay on 4 December 1811, with the loss of all 253 men in the crew. The full story is told in some detail here; since our visit, a new memorial to the entire crew has been erected on the site of their mass grave, and I certainly hope one day to go back to see that, and to revisit such terrific heritage sites as Fort Dunree.

In many respects, William Pakenham was a typical and fairly unremarkable British naval officer of the Napoleonic Wars – a younger son of minor Irish aristocracy who had been at sea since he was fourteen. But a chance connection gives Pakenham’s lonely grave, almost right on the shore of Lough Swilly, its particular resonance. In 1806, his sister Kitty married a general who had made a name for himself in India, and who, at the time of William’s death, was commanding the allied armies in the Iberian Peninsula. Within two years, his victories led to his creation as the first Duke of Wellington; and William had actually learned of his appointment as captain of the Saldanha while serving informally in his brother-in-law’s army.

The grave of Captain William Pakenham at Rathmullan

Ballymastocker Bay, photographed from the headland where the Saldanha came to grief