The Rottenburys
The Kents The Fishleys Beer, birth place of Jack Rattenbury The Williams The Brinds
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The most famous Rottenbury was probably the self proclaimed privateer Jack Rottenbury. Whilst he is not one of my ancestors, though he may have been a very distant cousin, his history is so colourful it's worth telling.
It's also worth looking at this Rattenbury web site. See also this tree downloaded from the web site in February 2011.

The Smugglers and the Preventivemen

Jack Rattenbury, pictured right

From Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall

by Mary Waugh (1991)

John (or Jack) Rattenbury's adventures are known because his autobiography was published in 1837, when he was 59. He was born in east Devon at Beer in 1778, the son of the local shoemaker, but his father was already on a naval vessel, no doubt the victim of a press gang, and played no part in his upbringing.

An uncle took him fishing when he was nine, but his life at sea began in earnest as the age of 14 when he joined the crew of a privateer (an armed vessel licensed to attack and capture enemy shipping). He was excited at the prospect of adventure and prize money and later described how he was 'like a bird which had escaped from a cage' and added 'I wished to make a figure on the stage of life'. But his various privateering ventures were destined to failure. On the first voyage he was captured by a French privateer, imprisoned in Bordeaux, and later returned home by way of New York. In 1800 he was captured by a Spanish privateer and imprisoned for a time at Vigo, but he continued to seek his fortune in privateers of the West African coast, and only finally abandoned this way of life when he was aged about 27. By that time he was a skilled seaman, with a wealth of other experience which included legal coastwise trading to South Wales, cod fishing off Newfoundland, very brief spells in the Navy and, of course, smuggling.

Jack's early smuggling experience, presumably as a humble crew member, was gained on voyages between the Channel and Lyme Regis, and he lived for a time in Lyme after his marriage in 1801. Regular legal employment was hard to come by, but for four years he claimed to have worked as a pilot and victualling ships. He then moved back to Beer and by 1805 (when he was 27) began smuggling in earnest. That winter he made seven smuggling voyages in a new vessel, five of which were successful. At this stage he was involved with the smugglers of Christchurch and Weymouth, but he had also developed the contacts with merchants in Alderney which he was to maintain until the end of the Napoleonic Wars when direct contact with French merchants was re-established. In 1806 his smuggling activities were temporarily interrupted when he was captured. He chose naval service in preference to a prison term (the navy always welcome skilled seamen). He then escaped (his autobiography lists at least a dozen occasions when he was captured or impressed into the navy, but he escaped almost as often). Now 28 he had evidently acquired some capital for he next bought a share in an open row-galley for smuggling goods from Alderney, and although this was presently lost in a storm, he was soon back rowing goods from the Channel Islands. Captured yet again and tried at Falmouth, he was being sent with others under escort to Bodmin Gaol when he managed to escape at the Indian Queens Inn, made contact with smugglers at Newquay and was soon back at Beer. His skilled seamanship was now fully recognised and he undertook several legal voyages to South Wales as captain of the Trafalgar. But the temptation of more profitable activities was strong; he arranged for the vessel to be fitted with a new (and illegal) bowsprit for extra speed and went back to smuggling. After five successful smuggling trips, the Trafalgar was wrecked off Alderney. Undaunted he joined with others to buy the Lively and when she became unseaworthy, the group either bought or hired the Neptune, which was wrecked after three successful voyages. Meanwhile the Lively had been repaired but was very soon seized with her cargo, leaving Rattenbury owing £160- 'a great shock to my circumstances' as he records. His first attempt to retrieve the situation was to use a 12 oared galley to row goods from Alderney, but that soon led to capture and a brief spell in the navy. He then accepted £100 to take four French prisoners who had escaped from Tiverton Gaol out of the country. Caught yet again, he was lucky to avoid further imprisonment.

There followed one of the most creditable episodes of Jack's varied career. Acting as a pilot he rescued the Linskill, a transport vessel carrying part of the 82nd army regiment and successfully brought her through the Needles Passage. A relieved captain recommended that Jack should have a handbill printed, setting out what he had done, and should submit this to Lord Rolle, the leading landowner of the district. Lord Rolle was very probably already one of Jack's customers, and he certainly became his patron and protector from this time on, ultimately granting him a pension. The Rolle family owned, but did not occupy the magnificent Bovey House, close to Beer, and it is highly likely that this was one of Jack's depots.

Though his autobiography is careful to protect all his associates, we know from other sources that among Jack's partners were members of the Mutter family, owners of valuable storage sites on moorland above Sidmouth (as further described in the next chapter). Meanwhile Lord Rolle's influence apparently led to the withdrawal of soldiers from Beer, which lifted a weight off deserted Rattenbury's mind, as he admitted!

In 1811, when he was 33, Jack took over a public house at Beer and tried to settle down. Unfortunately the venture failed, and after two years Jack was in debt and forced back into smuggling. There were difficult years at the climax of the Napoleonic Wars when smuggling was 'at a stand'. He worked as a pilot and later when gout threatened to curb his activities, to took Mr Down, a gentleman from Bridport, on fishing trips.

When peace finally came, the way was open for smuggling trips to Cherbourg. Jack was now joined by his son, and bought a £200 vessel in which he did very well for a time, making seven successful voyages. But he was still dogged by ill luck; the boat was wrecked and he had another disabling attack of gout. His fortunes fluctuated considerably; now free of debt his main vessel traded legally, carrying slate from Newquay, but was wrecked on her second voyage. He also had a galley for smuggling from France, and writes about 'a French vessel I had a share in' which came to Lyme. However, the preventive services were now well organised and it became usual to sink the tubs offshore. Some broke loose and were washed up at Paignton, while others were submerged too long and were spoiled. In 1820 we find Jack and a partner brining tubs back on the Lyme Regis packet boat, and landing these under Salcombe Hill, an episode which led to his going into hiding. The catalogue of his adventures presently interrupted by a spell in Exeter Gaol. He was set free in 1827 under a bond of £500 and for a time lived a very different life. One suspects the patronage of Lord Rolle was a key factor here.

A plan had been hatched to build a harbour at Beer and link this by a new canal to join the Grand Western Canal in Somerset, and so provide a link to the Bristol Channel. Rattenbury was called to London to give evidence before a Commons Committee investigating these proposals, a tribute to his knowledge of the area and (perhaps) Notoriety. For a time he enjoyed an expense account life, but though the enabling legislation was passed, nothing came of the scheme. Lord Rolle then intervened to get Jack a job on the Tartar Revenue cutter, an extreme change of career and one glossed over in his autobiography! He became ill (or at least claimed so), was discharged and went straight back into smuggling and a stint in Dorchester Gaol. In January 1836 he was arrested for the last time with a mere 20 tubs in a cart on the way back from Torquay. Two months later he made his final appearance in court to help his son avoid transportation for involvement in an affray on Budleigh Salterton beach. His career was only intermittently successful, but its sequel is continued in the next chapter.

Smuggling in Lyme Bay and East Devon

Jack Rattenbury was far from being the first smuggler to operate in east Devon, and contraband continued to come ashore for 20 years after his labours ceased. One reason is that this stretch of coast offered advantages over any other in Devon and Cornwall because it lay directly opposite the supply bases in the Channel Islands, Cherbourg and Brittany, and had the most direct access to centres of population inland- the potential markets of Taunton, Yeovil, Bristol or Bath. Another reason is the nature of the coastline itself. Anyone driving between Dorchester and Exeter will be familiar with the switch back character of the countryside; a plateau roughly 500 ft above sea level is cut at intervals by rivers flowing seaward in deep steep sided valleys, so that it is relatively easy to travel ( or carry contraband) inland, but would be exhausting for anyone to patrol along the coast. Even now there is no coast road, and this section of the South Devon Coast Path is recognised as particularly challenging. In most parts the shore is shingle, backed by cliffs which change from honey coloured in west Dorset, through dark grey shales near Charmouth, to white chalk at Beer head, and bright red Keuper Marls at Sidmouth and Ladram Bay. Landslides are a features of this coast. The most famous occurred on Christmas Eve 1838 when 45 acres west of Lyme Regis slipped seaward, leaving a jumbled wilderness which is now a National Nature Reserve. A lesser landslip in 1790 created the pinnacles west of Beer Head.

All along this coast the sea is steadily cutting back the cliffs and sweeping shingle and sand bars across the river mouths, a process which has destroyed several ancient harbours.

Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall by Mary Waugh (1991)

Dear Jonathan,

I found your name in the Devon Surname list. I am also researching Rattenburys. Here is an outline of what I have, some of which might be of interest to you.

My great-grandmother Emily Rattenbury (1827 or 1828 - 1906) was the third child of John Rattenbury (b. 1800) and Mary Jane Truman (b. 1805). I have a family tree tracing their ancestry back to Richard Gilbert (b. 1607) and Alice Rattenbury (d. 1684). Alice is purported to be a descendant of a fugitive from the noble house of Hesse-Rotenburg in Germany.

This branch of the Rattenburys has strong connections to Okehampton.

I am interested in establishing the connection to a "northern" branch descended from a famous preacher in the Manchester area, John R. (1806-1880), who married Mary Owen. One descendant, Francis Mawson R. emigrated to Canada and became a well-known architect in British Columbia. He was also the subject of a play called "Cause celebre" by Terence Rattigan. Several other descendants, notably Henry Burgoyne R. were prominent in the Methodist church.

There is a third branch. Four Rattenbury brothers, William, Isaac, Joseph and John (and possibly a sister Sarah) were born to a tenant farmer on the estate of the 19th Baron Trefusis of Clinton in Devon. They came to Canada early in the 19th century, and established the village of Clinton in Ontario near Lake Huron.

If you are interested, I can provide more details. There seem to be Rattenburys all over the place, but it is difficult to establish connections.
With best regards,
Nigel Hedgecock
1155 Heritage Drive
LaSalle, Ontario N9H 2C1

Dear Nigel,

Fascinating stuff. Please send more. Very interested in the Rottenburys, though I haven't had time to study them in any depth. In particular I plan to get hold of a book written by Jack Rattenbury, who I believe was probably the most famous of the West County pirates. I am a member of the British Library and they must have a copy, but I just haven't got round to visiting!

I'm also interested in Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Surely he must be connected somehow!

Have you produced a database of Rottenburys?
My Rottenbury (or Rattenberry) family evidently originate from North Devon. In Victorian Devon there were hundreds of Rottenberrys (using almost as many different spellings of the name). Elsewhere there were precious few.

The earliest known marriage involving a Rottenberry direct ancestor recorded on a certificate, was between John Rottenbury and Honour Fishley on March 18, 1843. They were both at least 21, John may have been 24, Honour was probably a couple of years younger than him.

See family tree.
John Rottenbury =Fremington March 18, 1843 Honour (Fishley)
b. Fremington about 1819
b. Fremington about 1822
1841 census 1841 census
1851 census 1851 census
Elizabeth Chapple (Rottenbury)
b. Barnstaple July 20, 1852
See certificate
=Edward Kent
February 16, 1873 at
St Mary's, Lambeth
1843 Marriage solemnized at the Parish Church in the Parish of Fremington in the County of Devon
No. When Married Name and surname Age Condition Rank or Profession Residence at the time of Marriage Father's name and surname Rank or Profession of Father
47 18th March 1843 John Rottenbury of full age Bachelor Black smith Bickington George Rottenbury Labourer
Honor Fishley Of full age Spinster Bonnet maker Bickington George Fishley Potter
Married in the Parish Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church by Banns by me William Charles Hill, Vicar
This Marriage was
solemnized between us
John Rottenbury
Honor Fishley
In the
Presence of us
Edmund Fishley
Mary Rottenbury

Registration district Barnstaple
1852 Birth in the Sub-district of Barnstaple in the County of Devon
No When and
where born
Name, if any Sex Name and surname
of father
Name, surname and
maiden surname of mother
Occupation of father Signature, description and
residence of informant
When registered Signature of registrar Name entered after
316 Twentieth July 1852
Maiden Street
Elizabeth Chapple Girl John Rottenberry Honor Rottenberry
Smith Honor Rottenberry
Maiden Street
Twelfth August
Edwd Webb

They married in their local parish church in their home town, Fremington, a short distance from Barnstaple. This was probably the same church in which John's parents, George Rattenberry and Dinah (Wely) had married, 35 years earlier.

The two witnesses when John and Honour married were Edmund Fishley, probably Honour's brother or uncle, and Mary Rottenbury. Both John and Honour could write. He was a blacksmith, she a bonnet maker.

In 1841, before Honour married she was living with her grandfather, a potter called George Fishley, who was aged about 70 when she was about 15. According to Honour's wedding certificate her father was also a potter called George.

Fremington was full of Rottenberrys, Fishleys and Chapples. Fishleys had been living in the village since at least 1614, Chapples since at least 1636 and Rottenberrys since at least 1739. My guess is that Honour's mother's maiden surname was Chapple. There was certainly a Fishley/Chapple marriage in Fremington: Elizabeth Fishley married Thomas Chapple on April 2, 1826. A Mary Rottenberry (possibly the witness at John Rattenbury and Honour Fishley marriage), was a servant in a Chappell household in 1841. A Mary Chappell aged about 90 was living in Brookfield, Fremington, according to the 1841 census.
>> My great-grandmother Emily Rattenbury (1827 or 1828 - 1906) was the
>>third child of John Rattenbury (b. 1800) and Mary Jane Truman (b. 1805).
>>I have a family tree tracing their ancestry back to Richard Gilbert (b.
>>1607) and Alice Rattenbury (d. 1684).

It seems to me my ancestor John Rottenbury who married Honour Fishley on March 18, 1843, could have been Emily's brother. Very interested in this family tree. Could you send a .Gif? Alternatively could you put a copy in the post.

By the way your John Rattenbury could have been the son of the pirate!

As Cary Grant says in Arsenic and Old Lace, 'Well, I'm a son of a sea cook'

Jonathan Brind

A Rottenbury family tree Australian connection Beer, birth place of Jack Rattenbury Census information

1808 John Rattenbury, smuggler of Beer, Devon, tells of a brush with the law

Not long after my return home I made an agreement with four French officers, who had escaped from the prison at Tiverton. I was to take them to Cape La Hogue, for which I was to receive £100. They came to Beer and I concealed them in a house near the beach, where I supplied them with such provisions as they wanted. However, a vigilant enquiry had commenced, their steps were traced, and the place of their retreat discovered.

The next morning, a special warrant was issued against myself as the captain of the boat, and five others connected with the affair. The constables came to my house while I was upstairs considering how best to act. My companions had absconded. I surrendered myself and was taken before the magistrates. There I found the French gentlemen in custody. They were examined through an interpreter, but their replies were cautious and they said very little that would implicate me in the transaction.

My turn then came and, in reply to the questions from the bench, I briefly stated that I had been engaged to take the gentlemen to Jersey, of which island I understood they were natives. A lieutenant of the sea-fencibles was in the room.

"Don't you know a native of Jersey from a Frenchman?" he asked me.

I would have replied but my attorney, who was present, said that he had no right to ask the question and therefore I did not have to answer it. The magistrates conferred and, after a little consultation, dismissed me with a gentle admonition to go home and not engage in a similar transaction in the future.

From: Memoirs of a smuggler, by John Rattenbuury (Sidmouth: Haney, 1837)
Books about Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, Jack Rottenbury and smuggling

SHADDICK's from the Parish Registers - Marriages

SHADDICK's in the Parish Registers - Marriages


Each Record of Marriage consists of four lines of data:-
  • D - Indicates it contains date information about the marriage
    • Date - DDMMYYYY
    • Type of Marriage - Banns, Licence etc.

  • M/F - Indicates it contains information on the male or on the female
    • Surname
    • Forename
    • Age
    • Martial status
    • Occupation, rank or profession
    • Abode at time of marriage
    • Fathers Surname
    • Fathers Forenames
    • Fathers Occupation, rank or profession

  • W - Indicates that it contains information on the witnesses of the marriage
    • Name of 1st Witness
    • Name of 2nd Witness
    • Name of 3rd Witness
    • Name of 4th Witness

St. Peter, Barnstaple, Devon


D/17121837/Banns M/SHADDICK/Thomas/Full Age/Bachelor/Labourer/Barnstaple/SHADDICK/Thomas/Labourer F/ROTTENBURY/Ann/Full Age/Spinster/Servant/Barnstaple/ROTTENBURY/George/Labourer W/Henry ROTTENBURY/John THORNE/

LAST UPDATED : 31st May 1998

The Kents The Fishleys Beer, birth place of Jack Rattenbury The Williams