Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Sir Robert Holmes

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Sir Robert Holmes

One of the most interesting stories regarding wrecks on the Island is that of Robert Holmes, and his statue that lies in Yarmouth Church. The Holmes Chapel in Yarmouth Church is dominated by the tomb and white marble statue of Sir Robert Holmes.

Early Career

Sir Robert Holmes, born in Ireland in 1622, had a long, military tradition that had begun in the army under Charles I, and then continued in the Navy under Prince Rupert in the Civil War, where he gained the rank of Major.

In 1646, after the battle of Oxford which the Royalists lost, he accompanied Prince Rupert to the Continent. By 1648, during the Protectorate, when much of the English Navy had defected and joined Prince Rupert in Holland fighting for the
Royalist cause, he became essentially a mercenary, fighting in France, Germany and Flanders.

Holmes And The Dutch

After the Glorious Restoration of Charles II in 1660, he took service with the Royal African Company and was placed in charge of the squadron sailing for West Africa. Spoils from his harassment of the Dutch off West Africa's Guinea Coast included the first Baboon brought to England, which Pepys describes in his diary in 1661. He also brought Guinea gold to the United Kingdom; the English Guinea coin is named after his exploits.

He was described as "the cursed beginner of two Dutch Wars", as a similar expedition to Africa in 1663 resulted in him capturing many Dutch trading posts and ended in war. He was also responsible for burning 180 ships in the Dutch port of Ely and the town of Bradderinum, the capital town of the island of Schelling in 1664.

In 1665 he was Knighted, given the rank of Admiral of the Red, and commanded The Defiance, one of the newest warships afloat. He was soon at war again, in the Battle of Lowestoft and raided the Dutch islands of Vie and Schelling, destroying 150 ships of the Dutch East Indiamen with the loss of 12 men.

On The Island

In 1665 he had been made Captain of Sandown Castle, and in 1668 he became Governor of the Isle of Wight, a title he held until his death in 1692. He also held the titles of Vice-Admiral of the Isle of Wight, Governor and Vice-Admiral of Newport and Vice-Admiral of Hampshire.

From 1665 he spent much of his life on the Island, where, as part of his privileges, he was entitled to two thirds of the value of any ship of any ship and its cargo of enemy ships that he captured in local waters, at a time when both France and Holland were regarded
enemies. From his base in Yarmouth, Holmes carried out an almost piratical operation and added vastly to his wealth.

The Statue

The story regarding how this statue came about is that the statue was one of King Louis XIV. The sculptor had carved the body, yet was planning on finishing the head when he arrived with the statue in Louis XIV's court, seeing Louis in the flesh. The ship was wrecked and then captured along with the statue and the sculptor, who Holmes forced to finish the statue in his likeness.

He directed that, on his death, the statue would stand over his tomb. However, the sculptor may well have had the last laugh as the head is too big for the body, giving the statue a ridiculous look.

Shipwrecks Of The Isle Of Wight

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