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Richard Kempenfelt

(1718-1782), Admiral

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue Entry

Sitter in 4 portraits
Admiral. In 1757 he joined the East Indies fleet, taking part in the capture of Pondicherry, 1761, and Manila. His drowning in 1782 with over 800 others, when the Royal George sank at anchor off Spithead drew attention to the poor state of many British ships.

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Richard Kempenfelt, by Richard Earlom, published by  John Boydell, after  Tilly Kettle - NPG D36828

Richard Kempenfelt

by Richard Earlom, published by John Boydell, after Tilly Kettle
mezzotint, published 1782 (exhibited 1782)
NPG D36828

Richard Kempenfelt, by Richard Earlom, published by  John Boydell, after  Tilly Kettle - NPG D36829

Richard Kempenfelt

by Richard Earlom, published by John Boydell, after Tilly Kettle
mezzotint, published 22 October 1782 (exhibited 1782)
NPG D36829

Richard Kempenfelt, by Unknown engraver - NPG D20353

Richard Kempenfelt

by Unknown engraver
line engraving, 1782 or after
NPG D20353


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Tom Rackham

18 January 2019, 17:02

Dear Sir,
It is with heavy heart I must take keyboard in hand to inform you of major catastrophe.
My sources inform me that on August 29th 1782 the first rate line of battle ship HMS Royal George of 100+ guns, has gone down fast by her native shore. Many’s the crew drowned, together with a large number of women and children visiting on board as she lay at anchor at Spithead; methinks they was more than eight hundred victims in all.
Admiral Richard Kempenfelt had recent hoisted his flag in the vessel. She belonged to the fleet under the command of Lord Howe. It was His Lordship’s intention at this time, to affect a speedy relief of Gibralter.
It is said that this disaster had to do with hasty preparations to abide Lord Howe’s orders, and somewhat foolhardy judgment on the part of Royal George officers. According to my sources, they was performing a Parliament heel. That is to say, a makeshift method of careening by running all the guns to one side of the vessel thus to repair some timbers just below the water line.
The court martial that followed did not sheet home the blame for the disaster to a single cause. Several was introduced at court, such as the supply vessel transferring a cargo of rum on the low side of the ship, the additional weight of this cargo plus that of the crewmen loading it, a sudden land breeze on the raised side, lower deck gun ports not properly secured, etcetera, etcetera.
As you are well aware, Royal George, launched in 1756 was in less than pristine condition. Methinks a frame or two collapsed, thus allowing the lower tier of gun ports to become submerged. I reckon it was not but a matter of minutes until she was shipping water in the lower gun deck and hold. Be that as it may, down she went right there in the harbor, before God and
Some two hundred and thirty folks survived, by climbing swift into the rigging; others was picked up by nearby boats. Admiral Kempenfelt, writing in his cabin, most probably found the cabin doors jammed due to the heeling, and thus perished with the rest.
Many’s the victims was washed ashore at Ryde, where they was laid to rest in a mass burial ground.
It saddens me to lay upon you the news of this needless loss of life and most unceremonious end of Hawke’s once proud flagship.

Yer Faithful Servant
Tom Rackham

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