Posted 4th November 2018 by Maggie Clowes

Researching one thing is liable to lead you off in an entirely different direction. I was using the British Archive online to find out more about Appleby's Mechanics Institute, founded in 1848. Some years later the Westmorland Gazette devoted a long article to the presentation of two etchings of Appleby "worthies" to the Institute; one of them was the well-known John Robinson. The other was Admiral Richard Pearson who, I suspect nobody had heard of.

Another AdmiralHe was involved in what at the time was regarded as a very important battle at sea so you might expect that we would have heard of him. After the battle the then Captain Richard Pearson was knighted by George III. Obviously a great victory? The article in the Westmorland Gazette certainly puts a patriotic spin on what actually happened when the Baltic Fleet, protected by Captain Pearson was attacked by John Paul Jones* and the fledgling American Navy.

The Baltic Fleet were off Flamborough Head when the Americans attacked. Captain Pearson succeeded in protecting the merchant ships so that they could reach harbour but then fell victim to the Americans . Following custom, Pearson presented his sword to Jones and Jones responded, "Sir, you have fought like a hero, and I make no doubt that your sovereign will reward you in a most ample manner for it' and invited the defeated captain to his cabin for a glass of wine.(!) It was perhaps comforting that the American casualties were high and that they lost their flagship. It was claimed that the British captain had succeeded in clearing "our seas of the most destructive and harassing hostile squadron to which our shipping was ever exposed." and in consequence Richard Pearson was not only knighted , given the Freedom of Hull and presented with a valuable service of plate inscribed, "For the gallant defence of the Baltic Fleet."

However if you Google the Battle of Flamborough Head you will probably see it described as a "stunning victory" and "one of the most famous naval engagements in U.S. history"

Richard Pearson was born in Appleby in 1732, he was married in St Lawrence Church to Margaret, daughter of Francis Harrison of Boroughgate. He does not seem to have been actively employed in the Navy after this battle but became Lieutenant Governor of Greenwich Hospital. He died in January 1803, aged 73.

I found the picture of Richard Pearson on a website run by The United States Naval Academy which has an on-line course on "Historic shipwrecks". In it there is a detailed account and analysis of the battle which actually pays tribute to him.

Another Admiral*The Westmorland Gazette reporter really didn't have much good to say about John Paul Jones