Sidmouth Royal Naval Old Comrades Association hosted their annual Trafalgar Dinner at Sidmouth RFC on Friday, October 21 – a chance to remember the local men who fought in the historic battle. 

The event was hosted by the RNOCA president, Chris Pink, and chair, Richard Waring. The guest speaker was Keith Christopher, a former Royal Marine, and now regional coordinator for the Soldiers, Sailors & Airmen’s Families’ Association. 

Trafalgar Day falls on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805, where, outnumbered, Admiral Horatio Nelson took on a combined fleet of French and Spanish navies using aggressively direct tactics. Nelson’s victory was crucial because the comprehensive defeat of the French and Spanish navies meant that the country was safe from Napoleon’s planned invasion. It was as significant as the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain.  

Research has revealed that there were 1,118 Devonians among the 17-18,000 Royal Navy men at Trafalgar and while most were from Plymouth and Exeter, others were from east Devon. [The names of their ships are in italics]. 

Sidmouth: James Blake Minotaur, John Litton Phoebe

 Sidbury: William Brand Prince, William Daniel Achilles, John Joice Neptune, Samuel Pester Orion,  

Otterton: John Poole Orion,  

Ottery: William Baker Conqueror, John Bastin Thunderer, Robert Bastin Belleisle, Samuel Bostin Thunderer, William Matthews Neptune, Thomas Perman Orion, Thomas Salter Orion, William Taylor Prince,  

 Beer: Cornelius Looney Ajax, William Smith Tonnant, Dennis Sullivan Mars,  

 Colyton: Joseph Bussell Orion, John Carslake Victory, Thomas Clarke Ajax, Abraham Farrant Spartiate, Henry Lymes Ajax, James Parry Ajax 

 How many of them survived needs further research, but since only about 450 British lives were lost in the battle - a tenth of enemy losses - it seems likely that many would have. 

One man not listed as being Devon-born was Lt John Yule who joined the Victory in spring 1803. He was with Nelson when he died. Yule retired to Branscombe in 1835 where he built a house with his prize money. It is now called Trafalgar Barton. 

Also of the HMS Victory, Lt John Carslake - originally of Colyton - became a prominent citizen of Sidmouth, and is buried in the churchyard. The captain of HMS Africa at Trafalgar was Henry Digby. In 1819, he bought Woodlands Cottage, which is now the Woodlands Hotel.