• Temeraire

  • HMS Temeraire was built in Chatham Dockyard and launched in 1798. As a first rate of three decks she carried 98 guns, and was a powerful addition to the Channel Fleet which she joined on her first commission. In 1803, Captain Harvey took command. 

    At Trafalgar, Temeraire was second in the line between HMS Victory and HMS Neptune and being  faster threatened at one point to overtake Victory. Nelson's officers urged him to adjust sail to let Temeraire take the lead, but as she came up close to Victory's stern, Nelson himself addressed her 'I'll thank you, Captain Harvey, to keep in your proper station, which is astern of Victory'. Harvey had no option but to reduce sail and drop away. 

    After opening fire on the French ships, Neptune (84 guns) and Bucentaire (74 guns) the Temeraire became locked against the starboard side of the French Redoubtable (74 guns), to which she did dreadful damage, killing or wounding over 200 of the crew with her first broadside. In the fierce fighting that followed, Temeraire like Victory, which was also engaged against Redoubtable on the opposite side, was troubled by the fire from the mast tops of her opponent, who also tossed down grenades and fireballs.  One of these almost set fire to one of Temeraire's magazines, but it was quelled in time by a vigilant master-at-arms.  Temeraire was then beset on her opposite side by the French Fougueux (74 guns), but fought both ships to a standstill and successfully boarded and took Redoubtable.  A prominent image in many paintings of the battle is the Temeraire locked yardarm to yardarm between the two French ships, both of which were lost in the storm that followed.  She lost 47 crew and 76 were wounded in the battle including Midshipman Pitman who died after receiving  a gunshot wound while fighting on the deck of the Redoubtable. 

    Temeraire had to be towed into Gibraltar and it was over two weeks before temporary repairs enabled her to sail for England on the 19th November. In 1813 she was hulked at Plymouth but was later moved to Sheerness, where she served as receiving ship until she was broken up in 1838, her last journey being recorded by William Turner in his famous painting 'The Fighting Temeraire'. 


    In 1995 The Temeraire, immortalised in Turner's famous painting, was the subject of a major exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery at which certain Castles artefacts were on display including the picture of the Temeraire Mantelpiece.  Turner reputedly painted the ship from a viewing on the Thames when the ship was being towed to the yards of the shipbreaker, John Beatson, at Rotherhithe, in September 1838. It is coincidental that the Castles business was itself founded in 1838 by Henry Castle who was then living at 11 Lucas Street, Rotherhithe.

    In past years several writers have connected the firm of Henry Castle with the Temeraire. Some of them have indicated that the Temeraire was being towed to Castles Yards at Rotherhithe or alternatively they have stated that the firm of Henry Castle acquired the  Beatson shipbreaking business in 1838.

    Correspondence dated 1931 and written by Sidney Castle, Henry's grandson claims that his father Sidney Nash Castle was born in 1838, the year that Henry Castle acquired the Beatson business. Therefore nearly 100 years later a direct descendant of the family  firmly believed that Castles bought the Beatson business at the time the Temeraire was acquired for breaking up. Furthermore as late as 1913 Philip Castle, Sidney's younger brother, was claiming the same position. It seems therefore that this claim may have been anecdotal and passed down from their father Sidney Nash Castle. Why this should be the case is rather strange as no direct evidence has emerged to corroborate the claim.

    There is little doubt that the so called Temeraire mantelpiece was carved from mahogany and oak taken from ships broken up by Castles around 1884 and that the stern figures of Atlas taken from the Temeraire and incorporated into the mantelpiece were in the possession of the Henry Castle Company. The favourite explanation as to how the figures of Atlas came to Castles is based on the close connection established from 1860 onwards between Henry Castle and William Beech.

    It is worthy of note that Beech however had occupied the former Beatson premises, Bulls Head Wharf, in 1859 and moved there from Lavender Wharf further down stream. This move more or less coincided with the timing of his decision to form a partnership with Henry Castle. It is also believed that Beech’s father Thomas Beech was a Foreman at Beatsons for many years.

    John Beatson died in 1858 and his will instructed his trustees to dispose of his wharf and business and it is almost certain that this occurred in 1859. The presumption is that Beech acquired the Wharf from the Trustees. Wood remnants and relics from the Temeraire could therefore logically have passed to Beech, who continued to occupy Bulls Head Wharf until 1873 when it became vacant. Consequently Beech either gifted the Atlas figures to Castles or there is just a possibility that there was a further on going business connection between the residual Beatson business and the Castle family. Furthermore we know that as late as 1893 Castles were still in possession of wood remnants from the Temeraire.                                                                

    The Temeraire mantelpiece survived the bombing at Baltic Wharf in 1941 and shortly thereafter it was removed to Plymouth. Unfortunately further bombings at Plymouth in 1944 destroyed this important historical remnant.

    Through the website we have been contacted by a descendant of William Beatson, who emigrated to Nelson New Zealand in 1851 and took with him dining chairs made from the wood of the Temeraire.  William was the brother of John Beatson, the above mentioned breaker of the Temeraire.