This display focuses on the importance of Captain Broke and HMS Shannon, with the centre piece being the 9-pounder cannon and full-length portrait of Broke. There is also a magnificent model of HMS Shannon, a flintlock pistol, a figure of eight cutlass, as well as some models demonstrating Broke’s gunnery improvements as well as some items on loan from Ipswich School, Broke’s old school.
The story behind the significance of Broke’s victory began in 1812. Britain was almost alone in Europe battling against Napoleon, with the Duke of Wellington’s small army in Spain struggling to prevent the French armies overwhelming the Spanish guerrillas. After the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, both sides tried to destroy each other’s economies that were reliant on overseas trade. The French by closing their ports to British ships and goods, and the British by capturing French merchant ships, as well stopping and searching neutral ships and taking them as prizes if they were sailing to a French port. The United States had long been complaining about the latter as well as the press ganging of its merchant ships crews into the Royal Navy.
In 1812 with Napoleon about to march a massive army on Moscow, and the British on the back-foot US President James Madison decided it was the perfect opportunity to attack Britain, increase its international standing and stop the raiding of its shipping. The invasion of Canada by land failed, but at sea US frigates armed with 24-pounders devasted British merchant shipping and Royal Navy vessels based in the Atlantic. One by one they captured or sank 3 British frigates in single-ship duels as well as trading British merchant vessels. British morale was knocked and the United States jubilant. This didn’t last.
Off the American Coast, Captain Broke of the frigate HMS Shannon had trained his crew for seven years, especially in gunnery, at which he became a leading expert in the Royal Navy. On 1 June 1813 he engaged the frigate USS Chesapeake just outside of Boston harbour. Both ships and crews were about the same size. In 15 minutes of the bloodiest fighting the Chesapeake was boarded and surrendered. Broke was nearly killed by a cutlass blow to his head but his action and that of his crew turned the tide, and the engagement now ranks among the most famous single-ship victories in naval history.
Following the defeat of France, the Royal Navy moved more vessels into the Atlantic to affect an even stronger blockade to support the actions of Broke and his naval squadron. The significance of Captain Broke’s victory and strong blockade was such that 18 months later the US President was forced to make peace with Britain. Following the victory and the war Broke became a national hero, of whom Ipswich can justly be proud, retiring to Broke Hall just outside the town.
#BrokeBicentenary commemorates local naval hero Admiral Philip Broke, of Broke Hall, Nacton and his victory in HMS Shannon over the USS Chesapeake on the 1st of June 1813, during the War of 1812 against the United States.
This display contains a full size 9-pounder cannon, so in order to install it a false floor had to be made by our volunteers. As the cannon weighs 900 lb and the doors to the window were not wide enough to allow for the cannon to just be rolled in, the whole cannon had to be disassembled and manhandled in. With some effort 4 of our volunteers just managed to get the barrel in through the doors and on to the carriage. A 9-pounder was one of the smallest guns onboard HMS Shannon, the majority were 32 pounders, this display gives an insight into the kind of things the sailors of the period would have had to contend with, including how difficult these cannons must have been to manoeuvre both the heat of battle and when in port for repairs.