Lieut. Henry Sweetland, RN
(Original now in the Provincial Museum – The Rooms)
Considering the long maritime tradition of the Morry family of Devon and Newfoundland, it is somewhat surprising that there has been only one case found so far amongst those adjudicated by the High Court of Admiralty of England. But it is one well worth the effort, time and money to have acquired from the National Archives and transcribed.
Years ago I was contacted by Margaret [Bilverstone] Dickson, the wife of Raymond Philip Dickson in Teignmouth, Devon. She had come upon my family tree online and, over the course of the next couple of years, we were able to work out the relationship between her husband’s Morrey line and mine. It turned out that we were seventh cousins! The common ancestor was the grandfather of Matthew Morry, our immigrant ancestor, John Morey (again remember the spelling of the surname was somewhat arbitrary in those days). Amongst his large family, John Morey had two sons, one named John Mory, who was Matthew’s father, and the other named Richard Moary, who turned out to be Ray Dickson’s 5th great grandfather.
In the course of working out the family relationships, we discovered that Ray’s 4th great grandfather, also named Richard (though his surname was usual seen as Morrey or Morry), who was a bit younger than his first cousin, Matthew Morry, was also a mariner. But we never got much further in exploring his career before Margaret died suddenly and prematurely at the age of 70.
That was in 2008 and I had not looked at this line in the succeeding years until a search on the inventory of papers held at Kew revealed a High Court of Admiralty case involving a man named Richard Morry. In our earlier research, Margaret had always insisted that this man’s surname was always spelled Morrey. This time the spelling of the surname was clear and uncontestable, and so it seemed likely to be able to provide stronger supporting evidence for the kinship of Matthew and Richard.
I ordered the digital copies and started transcribing them from front to back in the order received without reading through them first and I was better than halfway done without any solid connection to Matthew Morry when it all became clear. Richard was the Master and Commander of a vessel named the Dorsetshire which was the property of none other than Matthew Morry and his business partner Walter Prideaux! So the connection was made and was uncontestable: Richard Morry, the younger first cousin of Matthew Morry, was hired by him to captain one of his several ships, owned by Matthew Morry and Company.
Not only that, but we learn from a very extensive deposition that an 18 year old Henry Sweetland from Newfoundland was the first mate on the Dorsetshire! Henry Sweetland was the brother of William Sweetland, who married Matthew Morry’s daughter, Priscilla Ann, in 1810. But at the time of this court case in 1804, there was no kinship between the two families. In subsequent years the kinship and partnership in business affairs was to become much closer. Henry Sweetland never married. He became a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy. His silhouette was donated to the Newfoundland Museum by Helena Morry Le Messurier and her daughter Vic Le Messurier Badcock in 1960.
The case itself is fascinating. It tells the story of how the Dorsetshire, which was an unarmed merchant vessel, was captured by the French during a routine coastal voyage to deliver goods from Bristol to Falmouth. Henry Sweetland was kept on board to assist the French Prize crew to navigate back to France while the remaining crew, including Richard Morry, were taken on board the French Privateer, Le Sorcière commanded by Citizen Pierre Dupont who had a Commission for War from the Minister of the Marine of the French Republic. We don’t hear how or when they returned to England. But before the French were able to get the Dorsetshire back to France (they were headed for St. Malo), she was retaken by the Royal Navy Ship of War, the Moucheron, itself formerly a French Privateer taken by the English! The Captain of the Moucheron, James Hawes, Esq., claimed his right to this Prize, even though both the vessel and cargo were owned by English merchants. And so the case had to be decided in the High Court of Admiralty. Regrettably, like the cases heard in the High Court of Chancery, the final judgement is apparently never filed with the case in High Court of Admiralty cases so we may never know if Matthew Morry and Walter Prideaux ever got back their vessel and the owners of the cargo ever got that back.
Click on the Title at the top of the page to be taken to a transcript of this court case.
UPDATE August 14, 1018!!!
Last night whilst perusing the latest offerings of FindMyPast online, which includes thousands of military records never before released online, I accidentally came upon a page of French prisoners of war taken during the Napoleonic wars. I was actually looking for a distant relative named John Steer and indeed this page contained that name, though it turned out to be a different person. But what immediately caught my eye was the name Richard Morry, 1st Captain of the Dorchester! Upon closer examination I suddenly realised that this was not only a list of prisoners of war taken by the French, but was actually a list of the names of men who died in their custody!
So it turns out that Richard, having been taken back to France with the remainder of his crew with the exception of Henry Sweetland, died in captivity on “Le 28 Brumaire an XIV” which is in the French Republic’s calendar and corresponds to 19 November 1805 in the Gregorian calendar.
Here is the page on which this tragic news is found. Unfortunately I was not able to pass word of this find to Richard’s 4th great grandson, Ray Dickson, my 7th cousin, because his email address given to me a decade ago is no longer in operation.