The farmhouse of Middle Hollacombe, just outside Crediton, was once home to navy commander John Kingdon, who fought alongside Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. When the current owner of Middle Hollacombe, Tom Davies, decided to research the previous occupant of his home, he discovered some fascinating stories about this Crediton man and his ship, HMS Pickle, which carried the news of victory at Trafalgar to London.
John Kingdon was baptised in Crediton on 8th May 1776 and joined the navy as a pressed man in 1796 when he was living with his parents Peter and Sarah Kingdon in Burchen Park, Middle Hollacombe, presumably now Middle Hollacombe. Naval records show that in 1797 he was discharged from hospital as ‘unserviceable’, but passed his Lieutenancy examination in March 1805, after which he joined HMS Pickle as Sub-lieutenant (second in command) before she joined Nelson’s fleet off Cadiz.
In 1807 Kingdon, then in HMS Inveterate, was wrecked near St. Valery-en-Caux and taken prisoner by the French and spent seven years in prison. He was married shortly before Trafalgar to Emilia and had two daughters Emilia in 1806 and Caroline in 1807. After his release in 1814 two more daughters were born, Stephena Charlotte in 1816 and Deborah Clarissa in 1817, but he never went to sea again. He retired as a commander in 1855 and lived in St Helier, where he died in 1862.
HMS Pickle was probably built in Bermuda around 1790 and captured from the French in the West Indies in 1800, when her name was changed from Sting to Pickle. Pickle was a schooner and the fastest ship in the fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. (Pickle was the name of Henry VIII’s favourite greyhound). In 1803 she was manned by 40 officers and men. She was only 73 ft long and 21 ft wide and weighed 127 tons and had 10 small cannon (carronades, the size of a Wellington boot). In 1805 at Trafalgar the commander was Lieutenant John Lapenotiere from Ilfracombe (of Huguenot descent), second in command was Sub-lieutenant John Kingdon from Crediton, the other officers being Midshipman Charles Hawkins from Exeter and Surgeon Simon Britton from Barnstaple.
Victory at Trafalgar and a race to London
The battle of Trafalgar took place on 21st October 1805 and Nelson’s daring battle plan proved very effective, but he was killed by a sniper during the fighting. Collingwood took over command of the fleet and on 26th October ordered Pickle to deliver the news of the victory and the death of Nelson to the Admiralty for which there was a reward of £500.
During the return to England on 28th October Pickle came across the warship Nautilus, commanded by John Sykes, off the coast of Portugal. Sykes was informed of the news and the mission and decided to deliver the news himself. There then ensued a race between the two ships through very severe storms in the Bay of Biscay which damaged Pickle. Pickle put into Falmouth on 4th November and Lapontiere left the ship and hired a post-chaise and set off to London by road. Kingdon then sailed Pickle to Plymouth to find that Sykes had made port there earlier in the day of 5th November and had also hired a post-chaise and left for London. After 19 horse changes Lapontiere arrived at the Admiralty at 1am on 6th November (the normal journey time was a week) just half an hour before Sykes who had got lost in fog.
The route from Falmouth to London (essentially present day A30 and A303) was officially named Trafalgar Way in 2005 to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle. There are commemorations along the route, the nearest to Crediton being on the village sign at Crockernwell.
Pickle was wrecked while entering Cadiz harbour in 1808 after a short but glorious life.
The navy remembers the victory at Trafalgar on 21st October every year when wardrooms around the world lay on splendid dinners, the best being in Nelson’s cabin on HMS Victory in Portsmouth harbour and usually hosted by the fleet commander and senior officers. On 4th or 6th November there is a similar event for warrant officers and sailors, known as Pickle Night.
A full scale replica
The full scale replica of Pickle in these photographs is owned by Mal Nicholson (he bought it in 2014 on Ebay for £69,500) and was built in St Petersburg in 1995 for the tricentennial celebrations for Peter the Great. She took part in a voyage of celebration to Trafalgar in 2005. She is stationed in Great Grimsby and can be visited by appointment. She makes various voyages each year and can be seen in ports of call such as Portsmouth, Dartmouth and Falmouth.
There is much detail about Pickle and her crew in the following publications:
HMS Pickle by Peter Hore, The History Press, 2015
News of Nelson by Derek Allen and Peter Hore, Seff Edition, 2005
The Trafalgar Roll, The Ships and Officers, Chapter 32, by Col R.H.Mackenzie
HMS Pickle, Information sheet 110, Library and Information Services, The National Museum of the Royal Navy and HMS Victory, Portsmouth, 2014
Mal Nicholson, the owner of the replica, can be contacted by email: email@example.com
There is a model of Pickle in the Topsham museum.