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Salcombe Harbour antique sea chart dated 1829

Salcombe harbour chart19th century chart of Salcombe Harbour
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Salcombe Harbour antique sea chart, Capt. Martin White R. N., Admiralty Charts March 17th March 1829. Sheet No. 28. Attractive chart of Salcombe with two vignettes, one of the harbour entrance, the other of Bolt Head. Detailed and descriptive 'Explanations of the Leading Marks' below decorative title. First published in 1825. Hydrographical Office Price Six Pence.

London Published according to Act of Parliament at the Hydrographical Office of the Admiralty 17th March 1829.
Sold by J. D. Potter Agent for the Admiralty Charts, 31 Poultry & 11 King Street, Tower Hill.

Condition: Good, some discolouration to margins, early hand colouring, bold imprint. Scarce.

Title: An antique nautical chart of Salcombe harbour
Medium: Hand coloured engraving dated 1829. Image Size: 466 x 322mm, 18.25 x 12.75" approx.
Order No. 2758 Price: SOLD Paper Size: 570 x 456mm, 22.5 x 18 " approx.
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Captain Martin White R.N. (d. 1865)

A sailor of extraordinary ability, even though it is recorded that during his early years in the Royal Navy, he "was never in the excellent". Neither was Winston Churchill as a schoolboy but he progressed as time went along. So did White.

The precise date of his birth in Hayling Island, Hampshire, cannot be stated with certainty because of a discrepancy between his baptism and death certificates. But it was either in 1779 or 1781 (almost certainly the former), and he was the issue of Martin and Elizabeth White. His own marriage on 24 August 1811, to Eleanor Egan, produced one daughter, Ellen Elizabeth, born in 1817. Ellen remained a spinster and after her mother's death in 1862 devotedly cared for her father until his demise on 30 June 1865.

Life in Jersey

They resided at 15 Clarendon Road, where Eleanor died, and then moved to 5 Springfield Cresent, Trinity Road, where Martin died. Martin White's only interest in life was his work - which possibly made him rather difficult to live with - and he continued his endless hydrographical research right up to his retirement in 1846. He was promoted to Rear-Admiral (Retd) in 1851, to Vice-Admiral (Retd) in 1857, and finally to Admiral (Retd) on 22 November, 1862.

Money mattered little to him and in the end he left a personal estate of less than £200, even in those days a mere pittance. This seems inexplicable since there is nothing to indicate that he was an extravagant man, and even during the 19 years of his retirement he would have received half pay. It is likely that the various promotions through flag ranks after his life's work was over, were simple devices used to supplement his pension. Certainly as an Admiral, half pay would have produced a reasonable income. What he did with his money is a mystery, but when he died Miss Ellen found herself in dire financial straits, and greatly to his credit, Sir John Le Couteur made considerable efforts to obtain a pension for her in order to alleviate her great poverty.

Justification for this was not without foundation: for years she acted as her father's secretary, correlating, annotating, and listing the vast amount of data his endless researches produced. Much of his work was published by the Admiralty and accepted as definitive guides to mariners. Ellen White painstakingly and unstintingly set out this enormous volume of intricate information on her father's behalf without expectation of mundane reward.

It was acknowledged by many in high authority that Martin White's fruitful endeavours had been executed at a modest cost to the realm, since he was a serving officer of the Royal Navy. But obviously his daughter was not, and therefore received no recognition: when he died his pension died, too. Sir John Le Couteur, in his capacity as ADC to Her Majesty, pleaded personally to the Queen on Miss White's behalf but to no avail, it probably being reasoned that the Admiralty had been generous to him in his latter years, as indeed it had. Ellen Elizabeth had to make do with an annuity paid by the Royal Naval Annuitant Society until her death in 1888 at an unknown address in Stopford Road.

A note appended to the official Memorandum of Martin White's early service in the Navy reads:

"As most of Captain White's memoranda together with a valuable library were lost when the Manly was so treacherously seized by the Dutch in the waters of Prussia, the undermentioned dates are given only as far as memory will permit".

In fact, very few dates appear in the memorandum and for the most part those of entry and discharge from various ships are labelled "uncertain" and have caused a great deal of confusion in research. A man had to serve six years at sea before he qualified to sit an examination for promotion to Lieutenant, and although his general service record may well have been lost in the Manly, White's certificate of sea service prior to this examination is still in existence.

Frigate captured

Later, when Mate of the Topaze he participated in the capture of the French frigate l'Elizabet of 36 guns off the coast of Virginia. When the Topaze returned to England from Halifax, Nova Scotia, she bore a distinguished passenger - His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.

On 3 November 1800, Martin White made a formal "Application to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that he may be examined touching his Qualifications to perform the duty of a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Navy". He was examined on 12 December and passed. It was this particular application that caused him to obtain a copy of his Baptism Certificate, which has created the confusion over his actual date of birth.

Lieutenant Martin White RN then served for nearly five years in the Pylades, Pigmy, Alcmene, and Queen on the North Sea, Portsmouth, and Channel Stations respectively. Mostly, this time was spent on patrol off the Dutch coast, but in 1804 he also participated in an expedition to the Baltic, first under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, and then Lord Nelson.

It was about now that his natural and exceptional abilities as a surveyor - or more accurately, hydrographer - were beginning to appear. As Commander of the Pigmy, while ostensibly engaged in blockading the ports of Le Havre, St Malo, and Granville, White quietly surveyed the approaches to them. Then, when serving in the Sandwich in the North Sea, he also recorded the Flemish Banks and the approaches to Flushing.

But all does not seem to have been well in this ship. Because of the "improper conduct of the Master and crew in the Sandwich, when off Flushing, she was turned out of the Service, and Lieut White was transferred to the command of the Manly ..." This was in 1805 and it was his first important command.

Captured by Dutch

For much of the time the Manly kept a watchful eye on Boulogne but was then dispatched to East Friesland. It was an unlucky move: while on this voyage "she was run on shore by the misconduct of the Pilot, and tho' stranded on ground strictly neutral, the Manly was seized by the Dutch Government and her Commander sent to prison...". It was this event that destroyed not only White's personal possessions, but also the results of his laborious works in surveying and charting the approaches to the several ports mentioned.

One must assume that his detention by the Dutch authorities was short lived because he was soon back in friendly hands and spent a brief period in the schooner Jackdaw, which was used as a dispatch boat. He was promoted to Commander on 25 September 1806, and shortly after took command of the Weymouth. This must have been a frustrating period to White: he longed to indulge in his real love - hydrography. Instead, he journeyed to and fro between Weymouth and Falmouth conveying materials and stores for the construction of a dock in the latter port. Then, on 15 September 1808, Commander White moved to the Vulture and to the Channel Islands Station. He was to spend the rest of his life in Jersey.

"During the sojournment of the Vulture for nearly 3 years among these Islands, every opportunity was taken, and every exertion used to obtain correct soundings around them, and also along the French Coast in the ship's boats". This must have been a hazardous undertaking since Napoleon had yet to be defeated, but even after the truce, one could not be absolutely certain of a friendly reception from the late foe along the adjacent continental coastline. When White started his work, the end of the war was not even in sight, but it did not deter him. In February 1817 he was appointed to "ye command of the Shamroc (sic), Brig Sloop, for the purpose of Surveying the English and Irish Channels, and their adjacent coasts and Harbours, Bay of Biscay etc, to the edge of soundings..." This was quite a parish, extending over something like 60,000 square miles, but he accomplished the task in about 20 years. Prior to this, in a short spell between the Vulture and the Shamrock, he used a small vessel of 16 tons named the Fox for his local surveys, but much of his work was carried out in an open boat.

Post Captain

On 7 December 1818 he received further promotion, which he learned of in a personal letter dated four days later from Admiral Sir George Cockburn, who wrote: "I have much pleasure in acquainting you that you are promoted to the Rank of Post Captain, but we wish you still to continue in Command of the Shamrock, to pursue the surveying duties on which you already have effected so much". There was a good reason for this letter: the commander of any vessel was known out of courtesy as 'Captain' but Post Captain meant an official posting to that rank. Normally a Post Captain commanded a ship of twenty guns or more and it was not a courtesy title. As the Shamrock, being a surveying vessel, was unlikely to mount anything like that sort of armament, the Admiral did not wish Captain White to be offended.

He had little to fear: White continued personally to gather and collate an enormous amount of information about the waters surrounding these islands. Many years later, when striving to obtain a pension for Ellen Elizabeth, Sir John Le Couteur was tempted to write voluntarily, and with no other motive than that middle-aged lady's welfare in mind (she was 48 at the time), that "I have in many seasons in summer and in the storms of winter witnessed his untiring devotion to his arduous and dangerous duty in an open boat, along the rocky coast of Jersey, around which spring tides run with alarming velocity". Sir John was not alone in expressing his sincere appreciation of this exceptional man.

The task of sounding, plotting and charting is a humdrum business, demanding infinite patience and accuracy. Martin White possessed these qualities in abundance, and he took nothing for granted. It is true that the data available to him when he commenced his formidable task was insignificant, unreliable, and for the most part, downright inaccurate. White preferred to rely upon his own discoveries, but it would be tedious to describe them in detail. Suffice it to say that the end results brought him praise in abundance from the highest quarters, but as we have seen, they did not bring him wealth.

Bibl. thisislandwiki.org (article by William Davies was first published in the 1973 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise)

Further reading relating to Capt. Martin White RN:

Click to see page 1 of an article in The Nautical Magazine

Click to see page 2 of an article in The Nautical Magazine


19th century sea chart of Salcombe Harbour by Captain Martin White R.N.

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