Tuesday, 7 March 2017
DEATH IN THE PRIME OF YOUTH: OFF SIDMOUTH 1817.
This blog intends primarily to concern itself with tales of the coast, the estuary, boats ,ships, sailors, fishermen and sea creatures. There are now over 300 posts published. For some years, largely out of idleness but for other personal reasons, I have stopped digging for items of interest, I have resolved to be somewhat more productive this year. In 2013, I left the busy village of Lympstone and the Exe Estuary where there is a wealth of salty history and where I had lived for fifty years. Now I find myself in a quiet hamlet half a mile from the sea. It is more difficult to find 'copy' in these parts but I have only recently made some effort. It therefore pleased me to find this record of a midshipman of the Royal Navy who drowned off Sidmouth, not that I was pleased to think of his untimely death.
There is a white memorial tablet framed in black to him in Saint Gregory's church, Seaton. His story is soon told. His name was William Henry Paulson and he was a midshipman aboard HMS Queen Charlotte but on 13th June 1817 he was commanding a galley with eight men with orders to cruise 'for the prevention of smuggling.' A 'galley' in Navy parlance, if it is not the place where you get a square meal, is an open boat like a whaler, rowed by, usually I think, six men. Given a big enough sea such boats can fill and sink. Henry William Paulson met with a gale, the boat turned over and all nine were drowned. The men were all volunteers and presumably local men. They, as one might expect, seem to be nameless and have no memorial,. Their 'commander' was only twenty-two years old.
There is a verse, better than many, on his memorial which reads;
'Twas God's high will that in the prime of Youth
The hand of Death should whelm him in the wave.
His will be done but know the eternal truth,
Redeeming Mercy triumphs o'er the Grave."
I like the word 'whelm'. It is one of Shakespeare's words. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Pistol says, of Mistress Quickly, "She is my prize, or ocean whelm them all!" At twenty-two, poor, lost William Henry Paulson was quite old for a midshipman. He was probably worrying about examinations and promotion when his cruise for the prevention of smuggling put an end to all that.