Joseph Edmonds - Memorial Plaque in St Mary's

Joseph Edmonds - memorial plaque in St Mary’s

One of the more unusual memorial plaques in our churches is one to Joseph Edmonds and his family.  He served in the navy in the 18th century, as did two sons, James and John both of whom died in service, the elder in Jamaica, the younger off Cuba, aged 33 and 29 respectively.  The father lived to the then ripe old age of 74 and is buried in the Church, but all died in the same year, 1794: James in July, Joseph in September, and John in October. 

The plaque is high above the vestry door and is difficult to read without binoculars.  Once equipped with such, it is possible to see more clearly the sea battle that is shown in relief on the tablet above the memorial words.  A partially sunken (presumably French) warship is beside the victorious British vessel, which seems to have little damage other than much holed sails.  Underneath is the information that the Defiance, that appears to have been a privateer, under the command of Joseph Edmonds ‘conquered’ a French ship of greater strength, and was awarded prize money.  So, wisely it didn’t sink the enemy, but captured it.  These privateers, holding Letters of Marque were allowed to roam the seas and were to some extent a law unto themselves, but their officers sat outside the naval promotion lists and it was difficult to gain re-admission.  Jack Aubrey in the highly rated series of historical novels by Patrick O’Brian managed to make the transition both ways, with a great deal of help from others.

So the St Mary’s memorial plaque showing the sea battle is most likely to be a generic scene.  I speculate.   Pity Priscilla, Joseph’s wife, who died age 75 in a year unspecified, but most likely after the 1794 death of her husband and two sons.  Two hundred and twenty-five years ago this year her few months of tragedy struck.

John Mann