Sir Harry Burrard-Neale – his life and his Monument
TThe speaker at the March meeting of the Society was the President, Jude James, who took as his topic, ‘Sir Harry Burrard Neale – his Life and his Monument.’ Although his talk covered many of the known incidents in the life of Sir Harry, this well-researched talk also introduced many fascinating and little known facts relating to Sir Harry’s life.
Harry James Burrard (as he was christened) was born at Walhampton on 16 September 1765. He was educated at Christchurch Grammar School situated in the loft above the ambulatory of Christchurch Priory church. During his schooldays he was known as Harry Burrard. He joined the Royal Navy in 1778 at the age of 13, his first ship being ‘HMS Roebuck’ He saw action in the American War of Independence and in the West Indies. In 1795 Sir Harry was appointed to the command of ‘San Fiorenzo’ and in the same year he married Grace Elizabeth Neale, daughter and co-heir of Robert Neale of Chalfield House, Wiltshire.
It was in 1797, whilst commanding ‘San Fiorenzo’ that an incident brought Sir Harry national recognition and had a major impact on his life. His ship sailed into The Nore anchorage shortly after the great naval mutiny had begun. The ‘San Fiorenzo’ was one of only two important ships that did not mutiny, a testimony to both commanders and their crews. The ship, which had feigned support of the mutiny, was thus able to escape from The Nore, sail into Sheerness and report the situation to the naval authorities so bringing the mutiny to a quick conclusion.
Following this incident, Sir Harry reinforced his friendship with George III and was made Groom of the Bedchamber to the King. He received the warmest thanks of the City of London merchants and ship-owners for his behaviour consequently Sir Harry’s career blossomed.
In 1810 he was promoted to rear-admiral; in 1814, vice-admiral and in 1830 to that of admiral. Additional responsibilities accompanied the promotions; for instance from 1823 to 1826 he became Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet with the ‘HMS Revenge’ as his flagship.
On at least two occasions, in 1801 and 1804, King George III and the royal family were entertained at Walhampton and not infrequently the King dined with Sir Harry when his ship lay off Weymouth.
Although there is a paucity of letters and other documentation relating to his private life, there is nevertheless a strong thread of indirect evidence relating to Sir Harry’s kindness, friendship, and concern for others The strong affection in which Sir Harry and Lady Grace held each other was often remarked on by the Princesses Amelia and Mary in letters they wrote to the king whilst at Weymouth. As both the Princess Amelia suffered serious health problems and found it very painful travelling by coach consequently Sir Harry, at the king’s request, devised special seating in the royal coach to ease her discomfort.
There is evidence of Sir Harry’s concern for his crew not only at the Mutiny at the Nore, but also in the story of Davie Campbell, a young Scottish boy who lived with his parents in Edinburgh.
He was ‘pressed’ into service in the Royal Navy. Davie’s parents on learning this travelled from Scotland to London and the south coast in search of their son. Eventually they found him on ‘San Fiorenzo’, serving as one of Sir Harry’s crew. Following an emotional reunion on board the young Davie confirmed his happiness on the ship. Sir Harry permitted the parents to remain on board until he left Weymouth from whence they returned to their home perfectly at ease with their son’s situation.
The speaker then dealt with Sir Harry long and intimate involvement with political life in Lymington dealing particularly with the excitement generated by the Reform election of 1832. In that same year Sir Harry was offered the command of the naval dockyard at Portsmouth. But this offer was withdrawn when he was returned as one of the MPs for Lymington because the Admiralty did not accept that being an MP was compatible with holding the command at Portsmouth. Sir Harry chose to take his seat as MP and rejected the offer of the Portsmouth Command.
Sir Harry Burrard Neale died at Brighton in 1840 and is buried in St Thomas Church, Lymington, in the family vault, almost certainly the last of the Burrards to be buried there.
The monument, in the form of an obelisk, at Walhampton was erected in his honour, the foundation stone being laid in 1840. The cost of £1482. 3s. was met by public subscription. The Monument is made of granite obtained from the quarries near Princeton on Dartmoor and is 76 feet high. Built on a hillock at the edge of the Walhampton estate it was easily seen from both sea and land, terminating the eastward vista from Lymington High Street. The inscriptions on metal panels mounted on all four sides give descriptions of Sir Harry’s illustrious life.
The laying of the foundation stone was a very formal affair. More than 2000 people assembled at Walhampton House and walked to the site to hear speeches and a 17-gun salute was fired from the river. The monument, built by Banks of Lymington, was completed in 1842.
Jude’s talk proved to be very interesting and illuminating, introducing additional information to supplement that which is better known, and so brought the season’s programme to a very successful conclusion.