News from Budock Vean

The Pender Family of Budock Vean – PART 2, Francis

Francis Pender was born in 1748 and was two years old when his family moved into Budock Vean. As the second son he would have been expected to make his own way in the world and this he certainly did, serving an amazing 60 years in the Royal Navy, 40 of those years spent at sea.

Living so close to the port of Falmouth in a time when ships from all across the globe could be seen coming and going from the harbour it is hardly surprising that Francis was tempted by an adventurous life exploring the oceans. It is unclear when exactly Francis joined the navy but it appears to have been when he was just 12 or 13 years old. The first official record we have of him comes when he was 18 years old and serving as a non-commissioned officer on board HMS Dolphin.

This ship, under the command of Cornish Captain Samuel Wallis, circumnavigated the globe between 1766 and 1768 and discovered the island of Tahiti. The voyage they took provided Captain James Cooke with valuable navigational information for his subsequent journeys and would surely have been a life-changing adventure for the young Francis Pender. We can imagine him returning to his family at Budock Vean to regale them with tales of his experiences on the high seas and in strange foreign lands.

In 1772 Francis was made a Lieutenant and then gained his first command, the 32 gun Royal Navy frigate, Aquilon, in 1787, followed by a series of other gradually more important commands. In 1794 he was captaining the much larger 98 gun Ship of the Line, Glory, during the battle with the French known as ‘the Glorious First of June’. Then just a year later, as the British Navy wrestled to continually out-run and out-gun the French navy, he received his most important and auspicious orders yet.

In August 1795 Pender was dispatched to Bermuda on HMS Oiseau by Vice-Admiral George Murry. The young captain had been instructed to acquire some of the fast sloops that the island was famous for building so that they could be put into service for the Royal Navy. These Bermudian vessels were renowned for their speed and agility in the water and Francis was to buy, and oversee the building of, as many as he could.

Pender arrived on the island on 11th August 1795 and within a few days was able to report the purchase of the first local sloop which he named HMS Bermuda. He remained on Bermuda for the next two years during which time several more ships were brought into service for the navy, many of which were for several years after considered the fastest in the fleet.

Edward Cecil Harris, the Executive Director of the National Dockyard Museum in Bermuda wrote of that time:

“While Pender’s were the first Bermudians built, there were some 50 vessels for service in the Royal Navy in the three decades or so after 1795, with a great positive effect on the local economy. It is hard to imagine now, given the silence of Bermuda’s north coast, how the shores and bays must have rung with the sound of hammer, saw and adze to say nothing of the aroma of cedar that must have pervaded the place, as we produced the fastest vessels afloat for the largest navy in the world.”

Pender’s time in Bermuda was significant both for the Royal Navy and for the island and is remembered with a street name, you can still find Pender Street on the map. His service there marked the beginning of the Royal Navy’s permanent presence on the island, which actually continued for further 200 years finally coming to an end in 1995.

During his last few years in active service Pender seems to have spent a good deal of his time commandeering foreign vessels for the navy, either French or American, he is on record for seizing several ‘prize ships’ and then selling their cargo.

In October 1798 the Sherborne Mercury reported the sale of cargo at Wynn’s Hotel in Falmouth, “165 tons of Lazerotte Barilla”, a kind of plant used to produce soda ash, a powder used in the manufacturing of glass, soap and paper, as well as a large quantity of wine. The haul had been taken from the American ship Patty by Captain Francis Pender in the name of His Majesty.

Francis reached the rank of Admiral in 1811 and then nine years later in 1820 he died in his lodgings in London at the age of 72 after a short illness. Back in Cornwall, however, his brother Benjamin had continued to run the family estate as well as making something of a name for himself as a Packet Agent in Falmouth, and it is his life that we will discover in Part 2.