Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Captain Michael Langborne: Whitby privateer

In the Whitby Museum, there is a Letter of Marque granted by King George II in 1746 to Michael Langborne of Whitby.  Europe was at war and Britain required all the firepower she could find.  Captain Michael Langborne (c1703-82) was a Whitby master mariner and shipowner who was combining profit with patriotism by becoming a privateer.

His Letter of Marque entitled him “to set forth in warlike manner” in his ship, the Jane and Mary (300 tons), and apprehend, seize and take ships, vessels and goods – particularly if they were French or Spanish – and bring them to judgment in the High Court of Admiralty.  There he had to prove to the prize court that his Letter of Marque was valid and the ship he had taken belonged indeed to the enemy.  The prize court would then “condemn” it, and Captain Langborne would be able to sell the ship and he and his crew would divide the proceeds.

In addition, he was to keep a journal of his proceedings and note all the details of the prizes he took, and also
"of the station, motion and strength of the Enemys as well as he or his Mariners can discover by the best intelligence he can get … all of which he shall from time to time as he shall or may have opportunity transmit an account to our High Admiral …"
When Captain Langborne’s descendants gave the Letter of Marque to the Whitby Museum, staff at the Whitby Lit & Phil researched his family tree, which I will reproduce here, together with the later supplementary work done by Miss Grace Dixon and myself.

Michael Langborne (c1703-82) & Eleanor (c1699-1782)

Michael Langborne (c1703-82), privateer, shipowner, master of the Jane and Mary, was married to Eleanor or Ellin (c1699-1782).  They had six children, of whom the first four died in infancy:
•    William and Mary (twins), born on 29 Aug 1728 and buried 1 Sep 1728
•    Eleanor, born 4 Apr 1730 and buried 12 March 1732
•    Ellin, born 1 Dec 1732 and buried 6 Jan 1740
•    George (1735-1817)
•    Nathaniel (1739-1807)           
Eleanor was buried on 1 November 1781, aged 82.
Michael Langborne was buried on 23 May 1782, aged 79. 

Their sons George and Nathaniel survived and prospered as ship builders, and their sons after them.

Ship (from Richard Weatherill's The Ancient Port of Whitby)

Langbornes' Yard
There are several references to the Langbornes in the Revd George Young's History of Whitby, published in 1817.  The List of Subscribers to the book includes William (son of George), and George, Nathaniel and John Langborne (sons of Nathaniel).  William had evidently taken an interest in Young’s work, and had provided him with information on the whalefishery.
"The skill of our shipbuilders and carpenters has long been generally acknowledged"
writes Young on p 551
"and has brought much business to the town, and produced a great influx of property; especially during the first American war, and the last French war.  No ships are better adapted for transports, or more serviceable for general purposes, than those built at Whitby.  In strength, beauty, and symmetry, our vessels are equalled by few, and, I may venture to say, excelled by none.  
This remark does not originate in partiality for my townsmen, but rests on the united testimony of respectable strangers from various parts, whose information, judgment, and experience could not be questioned.  When the comparative cheapness with which vessels can be built or repaired here is also taken into view, it will fully account for the great run of business which our shipbuilders have enjoyed.  Numbers of beautiful vessels have been built at Whitby for the ports of London, Hull, Shields, Liverpool, Lancaster, and other places in England.  At one time, many of the Berwick, or Leith, smacks, which are now procured from Bridport, were built at Whitby; particularly by Mr George Langborne." 
Young gives an account (p459) of the development of Langbornes’ Yard (the site, on Langborne Road, is now home to the Tourist Information Centre, a supermarket and car parks):
"the yard belonging to Messrs Langborne, which is formed on land apparently gained from the Esk, did not commence till about the year 1760.  It was begun by Mr Richard Simpson, occupied for some time by Mr William Hustler, and then sold about 40 years ago to the family by whom it is still possessed."
Langbornes also took over Mr Simpson’s dry dock.  The earliest dry docks in Whitby were on the east side of the Esk and were built from about 1734 by the Dock Company, but
“On the west side of the Esk are also three dry docks; one at Boghall, built in 1757 by the late Mr Thomas Fishburn, and now belonging to Messrs Fishburn & Brodrick; one built by Mr Richard Simpson, about the year 1760, now belonging to Messrs Langborne, being an appendage to their ship-yard; and a third formed in 1812, by the late Mr Henry Barrick and his sons, being connected with the building yard belonging to that family.”
The Dock Company was held in four shares, and in 1816 one of these shares was owned by Messrs George, John and Nathaniel Langborne, and Mr Jameson.

Richard Weatherill's The Ancient Port of Whitby & its Shipping lists many vessels built by the Langbornes: for example, in 1792 they built the brigantine Palladium and ships Traveller and Ark; the Alexander, a bark built in 1801, was captained in that year by George Langborne, master mariner (son of Nathaniel) – she was later taken by the enemy.  A well-known Frank Meadow Sutcliffe photograph called 'The Dock End, Whitby' (1880) shows the Alert, built as a sloop by G & N Langborne in 1802 and later converted to a schooner.

The Langbornes' best known vessel was built by George and Nathaniel Langborne in 1774 for Mr William Herbert of Scarborough.  She was named the Diligence (295 tons), but when she was bought by the government to be consort to the Resolution for Captain James Cook's third and final voyage, she was renamed Discovery.

The last vessel built by Messrs Langborne was a ship, the Lady Hilda, built in 1837 and owned on registration by the executors of John Langborne.

The end of Langbornes’ Yard
The Langbornes were to own the yard for another 20 years after the publication of Young’s History, until 1837. 

For some years, the brothers Nathaniel, George and John had been in partnership with their brother-in-law William Jameson, trading as John Langborne & Co.  The youngest brother, John, held half the shares, while the other three took a one-sixth share each.  After William Jameson's death they had continued to trade, but in 1831 they decided to dissolve the partnership.  Nathaniel was then aged 60 and George 58, and 50-year-old John bought out his brothers' shares. 

The Deed of Dissolution of Partnership dated 1 January 1831 is held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office in Northallerton.  It shows that the joint stock-in-trade was then valued at £1,648-12s, and that they were owed £686-7s-11d by various debtors.  They appointed William Rymer Langborne as their attorney to get in the debts.  (He was the son of their cousin William Langborne).  The cranes etc were not included in the valuation, being considered part of the yard and premises. 

George died the year after the partnership was dissolved; his only son was to become a solicitor and die at the age of 29.

The next year, 1833, Nathaniel died.  His only son died the following year, aged 24. 

In 1836, John died.  He was aged 55, but his surviving sons were then aged only 9 and 4.  For a time, his trustees carried on the business on their behalf, but it was eventually sold.

Brig The family of George Langborne (1735-1817), son of Michael & Eleanor Langborne .......

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