The Story of ‘Broke of the Shannon’

In the east of Ipswich today there is a housing estate named after one of Britain’s naval heroes. A pub only 3 miles from the estate in the village of Bucklesham is named after the 38-gun frigate he commanded on 1st June 1813 during his most famous naval action. Have you heard of him before?

Captain Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke, 1776 – 1841, Oil on Canvas by Samuel Lane, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich London, Caird Collection

The man is Sir Philip Broke, the estate Broke Hall and the pub, the Shannon Inn. It was during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and America, that Broke, and his crew on HMS Shannon fought and boarded the frigate USS Chesapeake off Boston on the New England coast. Broke and his crews victory raised the morale of the nation following three successive defeats against US Naval frigates in single-ship duels. He acquired the nickname Broke of the Shannon for his bravery. Yet he was forced to retire due to a cutlass injury to the head he obtained during the latter stages of the 11 minute battle.

It was as he boarded the Chesapeake leading a boarding party that he was attacked by three sailors. The three were armed with a pike, cutlass and a musket being used as a club. He parried the pike, yet as he did, received a cutlass stroke to his head resulting in a deep cut. This was followed by several heavy blows from the musket. He lost consciousness and was lucky to survive. The surgeon on HMS Shannon attended his wounds but did not believe he would survive.

His counterpart on Chesapeake, Captain Lawrence, wasn’t as lucky and suffered severe injuries, which proved to be mortal. Broke’s crew took the USS Chesapeake during the action and both vessels sailed to Halifax in Canada. Where they were welcomed by a jubilant crowd. This engagement was one of the bloodiest naval duels during the Age of Sail. But it was down to Broke’s, skill, leadership and determination that the Shannon and its crew won. That and the time, money and effort Broke spent on training his crew in gunnery and other naval drills over the previous 7 years.

In 2013 we commemorated him and his life at an international symposium at the University of Suffolk on the bicentennial of his victory. Where leading historians, with conflicting arguments came together to share their wide ranging research and thinking on one of Britain’s finest frigate captains. This symposium was also the host of the launch of a new work by Tim Voelcker and contributors on Broke.

We also featured Broke in our 13th Window Museum display. Which included a full size 9pdr replica cannon, one of the largest and heaviest items we have ever had in the Window Museum. Despite its size, this would have been one of the smaller guns onboard HMS Shannon.

Ipswich has always been the home of seafarers, explorers, traders, as well as many members of the Merchant and Royal Navy, including the likes of Rear Admiral Broke and Admiral Vernon. We have many more stories about Ipswich’s maritime characters to share with you all. So do please sign up to receive our latest news, stories and events below direct to your inbox or join as a member and help support Maritime Ipswich.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Cathy Shelbourne says

    IMT members, and local residents, might be interested to visit the church at Nacton, very close to Broke Hall, where Sir Philip and his family lived. There is a lovely stained glass window and several other monuments to the Broke family. Broke of The Shannon is one of my series of talks on maritime heroes.

Leave A Reply