Friday, October 21, 2016

NAVAL HISTORY | Oct. 21–Nelson Defeats Napoleon's Navy

The Death of Admiral Lord Nelson, 1805
This day in 1805 – 211 years ago – In one of the most decisive naval battles in history, the British fleet under 1st Viscount Horatio  Nelson defeats a combined French-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain.

But Admiral Lord Nelson is killed by the bullet of an unknown French sniper.

Nelson consistently out-maneuvered Napoleon Bonaparte's navy on the water. A French friend told me that one reason for Napoleon's difficulties with his navy was that the pre-Revolutionary French navy required all officers to be quatre quarts noblesse – nobility among all four grandparents. When the Revolution killed or scared off the aristocrats, the French Navy lost its officers.

Nelson’s last and greatest victory against the French was this Battle of Trafalgar. It began after Nelson caught sight of a Franco-Spanish force of 33 ships. Nelson divided his smaller fleet of 27 ships into two lines. Nelson signaled the attack with a famous message from the flagship HMS Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Deviating from established practice, in which ships pass in front of one another in two rows, shooting away as in a jousting match, Nelson attacked the French-Spanish line broadside, picking off the front ships one by one in a manner reminiscent of Thermopylae (when a small force of Spartans held off for a long time a hugeinvading Persian army by bottling them up a narrow pass).

In five hours of fighting, the British devastated the enemy fleet, destroying 19 enemy ships. No British ships were lost, but 1,500 British seamen were killed or wounded in the heavy fighting. The battle raged at its fiercest around the Victory, and a French sniper shot Nelson in the shoulder and chest. The admiral was taken below and died about 30 minutes before the end of the battle.

Nelson’s last words, after being informed that victory was imminent, were: “Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty.”

Victory at Trafalgar meant that Napoleon never invaded Britain. Nelson was hailed as a savior and was given a magnificent funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A column was erected to his memory in the newly named Trafalgar Square. I have visited the HMS Victory, which is open to the public in the port of Portsmouth, opposite the Isle of Wight.

HMS Pickle.
A dinner is held every November in New York City to celebrate the victory at Trafalgar. It is called the "Pickle" dinner, after the HMS Pickle, which brought the news of Nelson's victory (and death) to England. The Pickle was smaller and faster than most of the other battleships. It was of U.S. origin and I am told was fast in part because it reduced dependence on square rigging and used more triangular sails. That meant it could sail more directly into the wind and could tack more efficiently.

HMS Pickle was a topsail schooner of the Royal Navy built in 1799 in Bermuda, originally a civilian vessel that Vice Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour purchased – exceeding his authority – to use on the Jamaica station, of a type that would be properly called a Bermuda Sloop, except that a sloop strictly speaking has only one mast and HMS Pickle had two. A schooner (from the Dutch Schooner) is a type of sailing vessel with fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts, the foremast being shorter than the main. Originally gaff-rigged, modern schooners typically carry a Bermuda rig. Such vessels were first used by the Dutch in the 16th or 17th century and were developed in North America, especially in New England, from the early 18th century. Pickle was at the Battle of Trafalgar, but was too small to take part in the fighting, Pickle was the first ship to bring the news of Nelson's victory to Great Britain.  Lord Seymour, the commander on the Jamaica Station, formally purchased the ship in December 1800 for £2,500, after having leased her for some time at £10 per day.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

WOODIN | Cup at Maidstone Ends, 1955 (Updated Feb. 18, 2018)

Anne Gram and her cousin Charles Miner Jr., grandchildren of William H. Woodin, assist in giving out awards at the last Woodin Cup presentation, along with the president of the Maidstone Club, H. J. Robertson; Julian S. Myrick ("Dean of Maidstone Tennis"); and four winners. Photo by William Boone,  East Hampton Star, September 15, 1955.

According to the Maidstone Club, 1955 was the last year of the Woodin Cup. The board on which the winners were posted goes through 1954.  

Anne Gram was born Anne Harvey, the granddaughter of William H. Woodin. She went by the name of Anne Gram until she married a second time, when she was known as Anne Gerli until her death in 2016. Charles Miner, Jr., who is living in 2017, is one of three surviving grandsons of Will Woodin.

The three Woodin ladies invitational tennis cups at Maidstone were donated by Will Woodin to promote women's tennis – appropriately enough, since tennis was brought to the United States from Bermuda in 1874 by a resident of Staten Island, Mary Ewing Outerbridge. 

The Woodin cups were the only gold trophies offered in any tennis tournament. Originally there were three gold cups, two for the doubles players and one for the singles players. Julian S. Myrick had the idea for the cups and he persuaded Will Woodin to provide the funding to purchase them in 1926. Woodin was elected President of the Maidstone Club around that time; he was also serving simultaneously as Commodore of the Devon Yacht Club.

In 1949, all three gold cups that had been put up by WilliWoodin in the Maidstone Club Ladies Invitation tennis tournament in 1926 were retired from competition. The singles cup was won by Louise Brough of California, then the Wimbledon champion, and the doubles cup was won by Brough and Margaret Osborne duPont of Wilmington, Delaware, who was the national ladies singles champion.

Brough had previously won the singles championship in 1942 and 1948. She and Dumont had previously won the doubles championship in 1942 and 1948; duPont won with Sarah Palfrey in 1941.

It is Woodin family lore (told to me by more than one family member) that someone had won the cups before three times and did not take the cups in order for the competition to continue. But the record does not show anyone winning the cup more than twice before 1949. Helen Wills won the singles competition twice, in 1926 and 1928, and Shirley Fry also won twice, in 1946 and 1947. 

Possibly the family lore is based on the fact that singles winners who had won twice decided at some point not to compete. The doubles competition was also won twice by two teams: Dorothy Andrus and Sylvia Henrotin in 1936 and 1937, and Shirley Fry and Barbara Krase in 1946 and 1947.

After the original gold cups had been retired in 1949, the Woodin family raised the money to replace them with silver cups. They were presented after Will Woodin died in 1934 by Nan Woodin. After she died in 1941, her daughter Mary Woodin Miner took over the task. In 1955, Myrick presented the cups along with two grandchildren of Will Woodin, Charles Miner Jr. and Anne Gram (later Anne Gerli). Charlie Miner told me that his mother was not feeling well on the award day in 1955. She might also have been signaling that she was not going to keep supporting the event. She retired to Vero Beach, Florida.

After Anne Gerli died in 2016, silver tennis cups were again funded by her three daughters, in their mother's name. Update (Jan. 24, 2018): These cups are for intramural women's doubles at Maidstone.

Sources and Related Posts: The Woodin Gold Cups (includes list of winners, 1926-1955) . Life of Will WoodinEast Hampton Star, August 4, 1949, 1.