‘A Furious Enemy of Buonaparte’ - Rev. James Beaver, 1820
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Overall: 21.5cm (8.5in) x 18.5cm (7.5in)
Half length miniature portrait study of the Rev. James Beaver - a Chaplain in both the Royal Navy and the Army during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Applied with a period paper label verso inscribed in ink: ‘ Contained in period gilt wood glazed frame. Portrait: 11.5cm (in) x 9cm, (in).
The Reverend James Beaver (1760-1840) was matriculated at Corpus Christi, Oxford, at the age of twelve, and became a Fellow at twenty-six. It is widely recorded that he served as an Army chaplain attached to the 15th Light Dragoons in the Duke of York’s Flanders Campaign of 1793 against the de-Christianized forces of Revolutionary France, whence he developed a deep set loathing for all things French. Prior to the formation of the Army Chaplains Department in 1796, appointments such as Beaver’s were in the gift of regimental commanders.
As in the Army, there were few chaplains serving in the Royal Navy before 1793 but with the onset of war and growing concerns over indiscipline and immorality numbers increased. A chaplain however was not a mandatory member of a crew complement. Although appointed by the Admiralty like the ship’s regular officers, often they were generally invited to serve by commanding officers who held strong religious beliefs and wished to make religious observance part of their ship’s routine. Proposed Chaplains had to be approved by the Bishop of London, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and if successful they were appointed to that ship by Admiralty Warrant.
Moreover they were expected not only to perform the ecclesiastical duties such as to conduct divine service on Sundays; funeral rites for the dead and, in many cases conduct daily prayers in the Gunroom, but also to act as schoolmasters for the midshipmen. During battle they were expected to assist the surgeon in the cockpit. There is no particular evidence that Captain James Robert Mosse, R.N., of the 74-gun H.M.S. Monarch, held especially strong religious views, but it is clear that Beavor’s presence at the Battle of Copenhagen (1801) would have been at his behest. Mosse was killed early in action at around 1pm when in accordance with Nelson’s plan of attack H.M.S. Monarch exchanged broadsides with the Danish warships Holsteen and Sjælland.
Following the famous blind eye exchange between Nelson and his flag captain Thomas Foley upon Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s signal to withdraw, superior British gunnery was winning the day. Many years later the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1840 concluded ‘[Beaver] behaved with so much courage and presence of mind as to attract the notice of all on board. The officer who had charge of an important gun having fallen early, Mr Beaver took his place, and fought his gun with so great skill and bravery to the end of the action, that he was honoured with the especial notice of of Lord Nelson, and on his return to England had a gold medal presented to him, in commemoration of his heroic conduct.' In total Monarch suffered over 200 casualties including 55 dead, the highest number of casualties of any ship engaged at Copenhagen.
The Reverend Beaver, who was noted as a 'furious enemy of Buonaparte and a thoroughly orthodox hater of the French', was ironically obliged to take up residence in France in his later years as Chaplain of Dieppe, where he died, but not before writing a 48-line poem on the awfulness of Paris (ref: Fifeshire Journal, 14.12.1871).