Jason Clarke Antiques

Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Paget's Marine Telescope by George Stebbing of Portsmouth


For sale an important single draw marine telescope by George Stebbing of Portsmouth, Optician to The Royal Yacht Squadron once owned by Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Paget and to his son in law Lieutenant WH Kennedy Royal Navy.

This fine telescope is comprised of a 23 inch tapered barrel with integral brass sliding sunshade and original brown leather stitched covering. With the single draw extended it measures 30 and a quarter inches and 33 and a quarter inches including the sunshade. The objective lens measures one and three quarter inches in diameter.

The draw tube is engraved to the famous instrument maker and optician, “George Stebbing, Portsmouth. Optician to the RYS” (Royal Yacht Squadron).

The brass edge to the top of the main is further engraved to, “Vice Admiral Sir Charles Paget” with the name of his son-in-law, “Lieutenant WH Kennedy” below.

Charles Paget was born in October 1778 the son of the Earl of Uxbridge and entered the Royal Navy in 1790 as a naval cadet and Captain’s Servant. During this early period, he served on the Goliath and then on the Guard Ship Alcide until August of 1791. The following year saw an eight month cruise off Newfoundland on The Assistance under Admiral Sir Richard King and a further 3 months in The North Sea under Captain Manley on The Syren when in early 1793 the war with France began. During this latter stint of duty, Paget was promoted to Midshipman and served on six different vessels from 1793 to December 1796 whereafter he was appointed acting Lieutenant aboard The Latona.

In June 1797 he became Lieutenant of The Centaur under Captain Markham and just one month later was promoted Captain in command of the sloop Martin undertaking service in the North Sea. During this period, Captain Paget saw action at The Battle of Camperdown under Admiral Duncan and repeated signals for the starboard division of Duncan’s fleet. The battle ended in complete victory for the Royal Navy, with the capture of seven Dutch ships of the line and four frigates captured. The crumbling of the Dutch force, effectively stifled French power in The North Sea and was widely celebrated at the time.

Following this significant event, Paget, now a Post-Captain, took command of The Penelope in October 1798 and The Brilliant shortly after. In August of 1800, Paget again saw action off the coast of Spain in The Attack on Ferrol under Rear Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren. The action landed a small force of riflemen under Lieutenant-General Sir James Pulteney however it was largely unsuccessful owing to the Spanish defences.

From this point until 1803, Paget sailed in both the Brilliant and The Hydra and saw service off the coasts of France, Portugal and in The Mediterranean. He captured various enemy ships and was responsible for entertaining Nelson’s superior officer Lord Keith in Valetta. Nelson was of course based in Sicily at the time and was nurturing his infamous affair with Lady Hamilton.

April of 1803 saw Paget’s transfer to The Endymion at Portsmouth with a First Lieutenant Charles John Austen (younger brother of the famous novelist, Jane Austen). In May, Paget must have been flattered to have received a seventeen gun salute from Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory and he immediately enriched his reputation by capturing the fine French corvette Bacchante which was accompanied back to Britain and subsequently incorporated into the Royal Naval Fleet. By the end of his command in 1805, Paget had captured another seven Spanish treasure ships which must have significantly increased his income owing to the prize money involved. Within the Paget family papers a letter exist from Charles Paget to his brother Arthur stating that, “in short my dear fellow, my whack of Prize Money at a moderate calculation will be about fifty thousand pounds, which for a younger brother is not a bad fortune to have made.”

An interesting episode worthy of remark is considered to have taken place during Paget’s command of The Endymion and which is mentioned in the memoir written by Edward Clarence Paget in 1913. It involved the rescue by Paget of a French ship which had been sighted in distress and which he endeavoured to rescue despite much danger to himself and his crew.

In 1871 a painting of the episode by the marine painter, John Christian Schetky which had been completed in 1866 was exhibited at The Royal Academy and caused much excitement. It was considered by the family to have been a reproduction of the scene which had originally been commissioned by Paget from the artist Nicholas Pocock. Schetky also had a strong relationship with Paget during his life, being marine painter to numerous Royal Family members.

The later Schetky painting was bought in 1871 by Sir Admiral James Hope and was presented to the United Service Club with the accompanying description of the event:

'Captain the Hon. Sir Charles Paget, while cruising in the Endymion frigate on the coast of Spain, descried a French ship of the line in imminent danger, embayed among rocks upon a lee shore, bowsprit and foremast gone, and riding by a stream cable, her only remaining one. Though it was blowing a gale, Sir Charles bore down to the assistance of his enemy, dropped his sheet anchor on the Frenchman's bow, buoyed the cable, and veered it athwart his hawse. This the disabled ship succeeded in getting in, and thus seven hundred lives were rescued from destruction. After performing this chivalrous action, the Endymion, being herself in great peril, hauled to the wind, let go her bower anchor, club-hauled and stood off shore on the other tack.'

The 1871 RA catalogue description for the painting adds that,

Endymion's crew gave 'three British cheers' as they left the scene and that the ship dropped her starboard bower anchor to club-haul, a risky emergency manoeuvre in which the leeward anchor, with a spring (hawser) led astern, is dropped as the ship comes up into the wind: the vessel is then allowed to 'reverse' briefly onto the spring, pulling her stern quickly round to make sail on the opposite tack. The cable and spring have to be cut away and the anchor is usually lost, unless buoyed for later recovery.”

Such a risky venture to save an enemy ship during the long war with France was unlikely to bring much appreciation from the Naval Authorities of the period which is probably why the episode is not captured within the ship’s log but its truth seems beyond doubt from the evidence presented in the memoir. It is testament to the valour and bravery of Paget and emblematic of the respect that seaman of all nations showed one another during this time.

Following this hugely successful posting, Paget returned to England in February and was married to Elizabeth Araminta Monck in March 1805. He purchased the family home of Fair Oak in Rogate near Petersfield in Sussex and was elected MP for Milborne Port from 1804 to 1806. He remained an MP for some years and thereafter represented the Borough of Carnarvon until 1826. Despite this, Paget took command of The Egyptienne in December 1805 and remained with her until March 1807 where he was employed in The Channel Fleet and spent much time off the coast of France and Spain boarding and capturing enemy ships including the L’Alcide of Bordeaux which was again returned for use by The Navy.   

In May 1807, Paget took command of The Cambrian which coincided with Peace of Tilsit and the alliance between Russia and France. Uneasy with this event, the British formulated a plan to destroy the Danish fleet in order that it could not be sequestered by Napoleon and devised a plan for an attack of the Danish mainland. This plan culminated in The Battle of Copenhagen and the destruction of the Danish fleet. Paget who according to his letters seemed somewhat uneasy himself  about attacking a neutral country, nevertheless formed part of the attacking fleet and wrote to his brother Arthur after the event to inform him of his return to England with the honour of delivering the first dispatches from the battle to the King and to Parliament.

From August 1808 to Oct 1810, Paget was commissioned onto The Revenge and although this ship took part in The Basque Road Battle, Paget was not present with his ship when the battle occurred as he was attending to his Parliamentary duties in England. He did however sail with The Revenge on the unhappy Walcheren Expedition and saw action during the attack on the Flushing Forts.

Paget resigned his commission in 1810 but on the declaration of war with the United States in 1812, he was appointed to The Superb and remained on with the ship until August of 1814 whereafter he left his command due to ill health. Presumably Paget filled his time onshore with his Parliamentary duties but was appointed in January of 1819 as Captain of The Royal Yacht for The Prince Regent and in 1823 was honoured with the Order of the Grand Cross of Hanover and an appointment of Groom of the Bedchamber to George IV.

In the same year Paget also received a commission as Rear Admiral and from 1828 to 1831 was Commander in Chief at Cork. By January 1837 he was further commissioned under William IV as Vice Admiral and made Commander in Chief of the North American Station being responsible for the protection of Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda and The West Indies.

After just one year in December 1838, Paget wrote to the Earl of Minto from Jamaica to explain his poor health. He had contracted Yellow Fever and died on the 29th of January 1839 with his son in attendance. Paget was buried with full honours in Bermuda shortly after.

It is unclear from the information available whether Sir Charles Paget was familiar with his future son in law William Hugh Kennedy RN prior to his untimely death. Naval records suggest that Kennedy, the son of a wealthy Irish family entered the Navy in 1828 and passed his Lieutenant’s exams in 1834. He received his first commission in 1838 and was appointed to The Serpent in 1839 and The Illustrious in 1841 seeing service in North America and The West Indies until 1845. The dates of course coincide with Paget’s later arrival and command of the area. Paget is known to have had members of his family accompany him on his command so it is possible that Kennedy’s appearance in America was owing to his relationship with Paget.

Kennedy was married to Georgina Paget in 1841 just over a year after her Father’s death and given his service record, he must have been courting his future wife ahead of his 1839 American service as he is unlikely to have returned to England, met Georgina, quickly married and then returned to his overseas post.

In terms of dating the telescope a number of factors allow for quite succinct dating evidence. George Stebbing was active from 1805 to 1845 but the manufacture date can be narrowed down to 1833 at the earliest as this is the point when The Royal Yacht Squadron was given its title by William IV. Kennedy was not made Lieutenant until 1834 either. It is likely that Paget bought this telescope sometime between his return from the Cork Station (1831) and before his departure to The North American Station in 1837 for personal use.

I have considered that this may have been a direct gift from Paget to Kennedy owing to Kennedy’s impending marriage but it lacks any dedication or a “from and to” type engraving which would be more common. It therefore leads me to believe that Kennedy was either given this telescope by Paget slightly before his death in North America or that it was subsequently gifted to him for service by Georgina Paget as a relic from her Father’s effects. The engraving for Paget is also centred round the collar of the telescope whereas Kennedy’s name is somewhat awkwardly squeezed in below his Father in Law’s title which suggests that his name is a later addition.

Whether directly or indirectly gifted, this historical artefact must certainly have been treasured by Kennedy throughout his Naval career. Kennedy eventually reached the rank of Commander and ended his service with The Coast Guard which was at the time mostly resourced with men from the Royal Navy or those who had seen previous service.

This is a significant piece of naval history. The Paget brothers distinguished themselves in all parts of military service during the Napoleonic wars and maintained close ties with The Royal Family throughout their lives. The family home of Plas Newydd is still maintained by The National Trust in Anglesea. Sir Charles Paget was an expert and daring seaman from the Age of Sail and this telescope would have seen direct service with him during his final years at sea.

Circa 1837

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