During our research as part of the Bere Island Project one of the maps we examined was this extraordinary depiction of a Royal Naval fleet in Berehaven in the early 1800s, just before the renewal of war with France. It is filled with fascinating detail from the time immediately before the construction of the island’s network of defensive structures such as the martello towers and signal tower. It shows the beginnings of a relationship that would lead to Berehaven becoming one of the key anchorages of the British fleet.
The map is annotated with information that was perceived as being useful in the future. It reveals similarities and differences between the Bere Island and Berehaven of 2012 and that of 200 years ago. Interestingly, the Lawrence Cove of today was then referred to as ‘Hookerbay’. The navy took the opportunity of their anchorage to mark out a number of sites that they thought would be of use on the island. This includes a small stream running into the bay from Ardagh townland, which they record as a ‘Convenient watering place’, the areas of Loughaunnagower and Lough Alimin which are called ‘Fresh Water Ponds’ and a ‘Mass House and Burying Grounds’ near Ballynakilla. As well as this they noted the rich resources to be found around the island and the haven, such as the areas of ‘good trawling’, ‘very fine oysters and scallops’ and the somewhat rueful recognition of ‘oyster beds but private property’.
The map also provides advice for Royal Naval ships that may seek sanctuary in the haven. It points out landmarks on the mainland that should be noted in order to avoid hazards, such as ‘McSwiney’s House’ ‘Dunbui [Dunboy] House’ and ‘Drury’s Rock’. But what of the fleet themselves? There are nineteen ships depicted, and the cartographer has taken the time to name each of them. This gives us an opportunity to explore their remarkable history. Many sailed the World and were involved in some of the most famous sea battles of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including engagements of the American War of Independence, Seven Years War and Napoleonic Wars. Many had already seen action before their time in Berehaven- indeed a number had formerly been French Naval vessels that had fallen in battle in previous years. For a few greater deeds were still to come; a number would later serve at the most famous naval battle of them all, when Nelson defeated the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.
The ships that are depicted off Bere Island are as follows:
1. Windsor Castle
2. Princess Royal
A Second Rate 98 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of the Chesapeake (1781), Battle of St. Kitts (1782), Battle of the Saintes (1782), Battle of the Mona Passage (1782), Glorious First of June (1794), Battle of Groix (1795), Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797), Battle of Cape Finisterre (1805)
A Second Rate 98 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of Trafalgar (1805)
A Second Rate 98 Gun vessel- Battle of Cape Finisterre (1805)
Duke Class 98 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of San Domingo (1806)
Third Rate 74 Gun vessel (later served as a prison ship)
Third Rate 74 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of Trafalgar (1805)
A Third Rate 80 Gun former French Vessel- originally the Deux Frère- Fought at Glorious First of June (1794- as the Juste on the French side)
Third Rate 74 Gun vessel- Fought at Battle of the Nile (1798)
Fifth Rate 36 Gun vessel- Fought at Action of 10 November 1808 (1808)
Fifth Rate 42 Gun former French vessel- Fought at the Battle of Tory Island (1798)
19. A Victualler
This remarkable map offers us the origins of Bere Island’s position as a major naval centre, and captures a moment in time when some of the greatest naval ships in the World were anchored in Berehaven. The island would become a key focus of naval activity from this point onwards, a position it still enjoys to this day.
(A copy of the map can be seen at the Bere Island Heritage Centre)