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Trafalgar hero is not forgotten by West Bromwich club

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 21, 2014

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WITH reference to the article in The Bugle (December 19 edition) in which you report the comments made by Birmingham historian Matthew Ward with regard to the people of West Bromwich having totally forgotten James Eaton who served on HMS Temeraire during the Battle of Trafalgar.

We of the Royal Naval Association would like to inform Mr Ward of the following.

Firstly, the West Bromwich Association was formed in 1948 and we are still going strong 66 years later.

We were prominent at the 200th anniversary of the battle and not only attended in force the rededication of James Eaton's grave but also flew the signal from the tower of All Saints Church.

At our annual dinner that year our guests of honour were James Eaton's descendants and Sandwell's Mayor.

As well as our annual Trafalgar dinner we also hold on the nearest Sunday to the battle date a service of remembrance which is always attended by the current Mayor of Sandwell.

We invite Mr Ward to our headquarters at the address below which is a small museum, full of memorabilia and medals of past members.

Our search for the service history of James Eaton has revealed the following which we hope will be of interest to you and your readers.

Firstly, as no service records were kept prior to 1853 the following has been obtained by internet research.

The Trafalgar Roll, which is a brief summary of every serving member at the battle, states that James was born in London in 1783 and entered service on February 13, 1799, so he was not a born townsman of West Bromwich but became one later in life.

His first ship was HMS Quebec, her captain being Henry Bayntum and was stationed in the West Indies.

He became midshipman on September 2, 1800, joining the crew of the La Prompte under Captain Robert Philpot.

He was transferred to Hanibal captained by Solomon Ferris and was quartered in the mizzen-top. On July 6, 1801, the vessel was in action against the Spanish of Algeciras.

He was lucky to survive as 81 of his shipmates were killed and 62 wounded and the vessel was forced to surrender.

On July 18, 1801, he was released by the Spanish in an exchange of prisoners and joined the San Antonio, captained by Lawrence Dundas, the vessel being one of the prizes taken near Cadiz on July 13, 1801.

His next vessel was the Atalante captained by Joseph Mansfield as Admiralty-Midshipman. He was constantly engaged on open boat service in the prevention of smuggling and saw much action.

He joined the Temeraire in March 1804, captained by Eliab Harvey as signal-midshipman and had the honour of repeating Nelson's signal 'England expects every man to do his duty.' He also assisted during the action in lashing to the Temeraire the French 74-gun ship Fougueux and Redoubtable the other side.

For his conduct he was rewarded with a commission to Lieutenant on January 13, 1806, and appointed to the Lion captained by Robert Rolles and Henry Heathcote. Off China he was severely wounded. He returned to England and spent time recovering at Haslar Hospital which overlooks the Solent.

He was appointed First Officer of the Beaver on September 8, 1812, under the captaincy of Edward Drury. He was sent home by Drury with dispatches containing intelligence of the American Commodore Rodgers and his squadron.

He rejoined the Beaver but was invalided out of active service in August 1814 due to a severe attack of rheumatism. He had also lost the sight of one eye.

He accepted the rank of Commander and is recorded in the retirement list dated May 26, 1842.

We know that he was married in 1816 and settled in West Bromwich in 1837 and by 1839 was living at Hill House, Dagger Lane, where he died in 1857, aged 70.

John Sedgley, Vice President,

Royal Naval Association Club,

108 Bull Lane, West Bromwich.

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