Monday, 12 March 2007

Lieutenant Robson Cruse of the Royal Navy

While following up on the tree of the Cruses of Rode, Somerset, I became intrigued by the story of Robson Cruse who had a short but very eventful life in the Royal Navy. There is much research yet to be done but I thought it would be helpful to provide a summary of what is currently known in the hope that other researchers will be able to add to the existing information.

Robson Cruse was the third son of Jeremiah Cruse the land surveyor and Mary Macey. He was born on 16th June 1785 in Frome, Somerset. He was baptised later that same year in Rode, though we currently have no record of the exact date of his baptism. Robson joined the Royal Navy and was at the first Battle of Copenhagen on 2nd April 1801 and at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. He is listed in the Trafalgar Ancestors database which tells us that at the time of the battle Robson was a 21-year-old midshipman on the HMS Tonnant.

Robson married Christiana Philoena Tresidder on 10th March 1814 in Falmouth, Cornwall. Christiana was born in Falmouth on 2nd November 1784. We have so far found records of six children from this marriage. Their eldest son, John George Tresidder Cruse, was baptised on 26th June 1816 in Falmouth. Their eldest daughter, Mary Philoena Cruse, was baptised on 29th December 1818 in Kingston Deverill, Wiltshire. By 1822 the family were living in Devon and Robson had been promoted to Lieutenant. Twins Emma Charlotte Teresa Cruse and Edwin Corfield Cruse were born on 2nd February 1822 in Torquay, and baptised on 13th February 1822 in the Parish Church of Tormoham. Edwin died just a few weeks later and was buried on 23rd March 1822 at Tormoham. Emma died the following week and was buried on 1st April 1822 at Tormoham. Two more children, again probably twins, Henry William Cruse and Sidney Edward Cruse, were baptised on 23rd August 1827 in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. It seems likely that further children were born on the Isle of Wight but the parish registers have not yet been checked.

Robson died on 3rd May 1831 in Speenhamland, Berkshire. His death was announced in The Times on 10th May 1831:
On the 3d last., at Speenhamland, Berks, in the 44th year of his age, Lieut. R Cruse, R.N. He displayed great bravery in rescuing the captain and crew of the Nightingale, wrecked on the Shingles off the Isle of Wight, the 7th of February 1829.
He was buried on 7th May 1831 at St Mary the Virgin in Speen, Berkshire. After Robson's death, Christiana moved back to Cornwall. At the time of the 1841 census she was living at Tyringsham Cottage in Lelant. By 1851 she had moved to The Terrace (later known as Tregenna Terrace) in St Ives. She spent the rest of her days in this house living with her unmarried daughter Mary Cruse and her servant Mary Ann Harris until her eventual death in 1875 at the age of 91 years.

After reading the brief lines in The Times about Robson's heroic act of bravery I couldn't resist checking to see if the newspaper had published a story of the rescue. I was delighted to find that the issue dated 13th February 1829 contained a long account of the disaster which I have transcribed below.

YARMOUTH, ISLE OF WIGHT. – On the afternoon of the 7th instant, His Majesty's schooner Nightingale, commanded by Lieutenant George Wood, on her passage from Plymouth to Portsmouth, struck on the Shingles. A signal of distress was made, by firing guns &c and immediate assistance was afforded by Mr. Burnidge, pilot, of Cowes, and also by Lieut. Cruse, R.N., and his boats from Sconce Point coast guard station, who rendered every necessary assistance to get the anchors out at low water; a galley from the Stag revenue cutter also reached the vessel just in time to be of great assistance at low water. About 6 p.m., the wind being light from the N.W., and remarkably fine weather with smooth water, the vessel lying on her starboard bilge, no doubt was apprehended by those on board of the vessel's getting off without any damage; but on the flood tide making, the sea began to rise with the greatest rapidity, and the boats left the shoal and anchored in deep water in safety, ready to come alongside if required. All hands were employed on board in shifting the ballast from the run forward in the hold, securing the hatches and preparing to make sail, not doubting but she would get off. About eight p.m. the sea became so great, that it appeared dangerous for the boats to come alongside, and the foresail was hoisted on the foremast, in hopes it would assist the sea in lifting the vessel off into deep water, every eye on board anxiously watching the Hurst Lights, to see if the vessel changed her position, but to no effect; the chain was unshackled and veered out, the vessel striking hard on the ground; the sea became terrific, and now the vessel laboured much, the starboard bulwarks partly stove in, and the sea making a clear breach over the vessel, which alarmed the poor sailors who were working at the pumps; but being cheered up by the officers, they again went to work; but a heavy and frightful sea now struck the vessel, which washed every soul from one side to the other, the companion and fore-scuttle were washed away, and the vessel filled instantly; the shrieks on board at the instant were horrible, every soul expecting momentary death, and as she now fell on her beam ends, it was with the greatest difficulty all hands could gain the weather rigging. A halloo was made by every one on board as a signal for the boats, but for more than half an hour they were kept in a dreadful suspense, it being very dark and no boat seen; every one became hoarse, and being benumbed with cold and wet, the sea breaking over her in every direction, all hands gave themselves up to despair; at last the joyful sound was heard, "The boats are in sight," yet their crews were afraid to venture near the vessel until they were told there was no danger: but the tide running so rapid, and the poor men being so long in the boats they had the greatest difficulty in getting alongside, which they did one by one, the people lowering and throwing themselves down any how they could into them, being so overcome with joy, having been rescued from the jaws of death, which appeared inevitable; but the divine will of a most merciful Creator ordained it otherwise, and every soul appeared to express his grateful thanks in offering up short but sincere prayers to Almighty God for his safety.

The number of persons saved was 34, 30 of whom consisted of the officers and crew, and the remaining four persons were, Lieutenant Cruse, R.N., Mr. Bennett, chief officer of Hurst station, Robert Dixon, a deputed mariner of the Stag revenue cutter, and Mr. Burnidge, the Cowes pilot, whose vessel took all hands on board from the boats. It is a painful duty to state that the Commander's wife perished on board; the heavy sea which filled the vessel washed the surgeon, who had Mrs. Wood round the waist, from one side of the vessel to the other, and down the hatchway by the mainmast, where she perished; the Surgeon with the greatest difficulty saved himself. The poor Commander, who appears to be worn out in the service, being crippled in both hands, and having been more than 30 years a lieutenant, during which period he has fought many battles, and has been severely wounded (his dear wife sharing those dangers with him), endeavoured to extricate his wife, and got the assistance of a man to put a rope around her, but to no purpose, she was dead; her last words to her husband were, "Ah, my dear children, may the Almighty spare one of our lives for your sakes." Lieutenant Cruse endeavoured all in his power to persuade Mrs. Wood to leave the vessel in one of his boats, long before any danger was apprehended, and pointed out his house near the beach, but no, she would rather be with her husband. He then endeavoured to persuade her to go on board the pilot-boat, where she would be near; but these solicitations were not accepted, and the poor lady seemed determined to await the danger. She has left three children. A poor unfortunate Lieutenant Cole, of the Royal Navy, a passenger on board, and who was insane, was also drowned on board. Several of the officers and seamen, including the Commander, were very much wounded, bruised, and hurt – the latter person was with great difficulty saved. Much credit is due to that zealous officer Lieutenant Cruse, who was the principal instrument in saving the lives with his boats, and who did every thing in his power to get the vessel on, and ordered a sufficient number of boats to be in readiness, as the Nightingale's boats were leaky and unserviceable. Mr. Bennett also did every thing in his power, and was very zealous throughout this trying occasion, and did all he could do to get the vessel off. R. Dixon and all the boats' crews did their utmost, and deserve thanks for their services.
See also the follow up post on Robson Cruse and the Battle of Trafalgar.

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