Battle between the Shannon and the Chesapeake

The Fate of the USS Chesapeake

In 1976, I was visiting America to do research on a series of commissioned paintings, celebrating the Bicentenary of the Tall Ships' visit to New York and Baltimore. On a visit to the historical port of Annapolis in Chesapeake Bay, I entered a second-hand bookshop and found a tattered old copy of the memoirs of Sir Philip Broke, (Captain of the 'Shannon' during the Anglo-American War of 1812/14), written by the Reverend Dr Brighton. I came across a description of the visit Reverend Brighton had made to Chesapeake Mill in 1864. Quote from Reverend Brighton’s book:
'Nothing ship-like or of the sea was discernible from without the mill. A comely young Englishman of some eight and twenty years of age was coming forth to join his cricket club on a neighbouring down and this proved to be the owner of the Chesapeake Mill. A large cigar box, constructed from polished pine of the old ship and bearing the inscription "Chesapeake" in small brass nails, stood upon a table. The beams were pock marked in many places with grapeshot. The mill was merrily going, but as I stood in the midst of this peaceful scene, I remembered that beyond all reasonable doubt, on one of these planks, Lawrence fell in the writhing anguish of his mortal wound. On another, if not the same, Watt's head was carried away by a shot and on another, Broke lay ensanguined and his assailants dead, while nearby, Ludlow must have poured his life's blood. Thus pondering, I stood and still the hum went on, wheat passed beneath the stones, flour poured forth and the merry millers passed around their kindly smile and blithesome jest.'

During the considerable amount of research I had done for the first two paintings in 1973, I had never come across any reference as to the fate of the 'Chesapeake'. The fact that the timber from her now formed part of a mill back home in England, was a revelation and I determined to visit the site of the mill on my return home. However, it was not for another seven years until I again turned by attention to this celebrated action and I began work a 24" x 36" canvas that became 'Duel off Cape Ann'. It was not until I had actually completed the canvas that I set about searching for the site of the Chesapeake Mill, for I imagined that it had long fallen into ruin. I was amazed to discover that not only was the Chesapeake Mill still standing, but was a thriving business, milling animal feeds.

Further enquiries led me to correspondence with the owner, Bruce Tappenden and his wife, Sylvia and they generously invited me to stay with them for a long weekend and examine the mill, in great detail. The mill had been in the same family ownership since 1913 and is situated in the village of Wickham on the River Meon. The mill was constructed using the bulk of the Chesapeake timber and today, represents the only substantial accumulation of original timber from a vessel of the early American sailing navy. The deck beams were placed horizontally in the mill and the purlins served as joists and so, this man of war was made into a flour mill, as the words from the scriptural prophecy say "...They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks". Micah 4 : 3.

On the morning of my farewells, Bruce and Sylvia presented me with a three foot 5˝" x 4˝" yellow pitch pine segment (part of the frigate, 'Chesapeake') from the floor of the mill, removed at the recent installation of a new piece of equipment. I was very thrilled and honoured to be given this treasure of the great ship and as I write this memoir of my visit, my desk is illuminated by a small desk lamp, whose base is made from a small piece of this historic timber. A fine memory of a fine ship and the men who built and sailed her so very long ago.

Letter from Chesapeake mill owners Timber from the Chesapeake
Original piece of timber 30½" x 5½"x 4½ (77.5 cm x 14 cm x 11.5 cm). This piece of wood is extremely heavy for its size and is in excellent condition. It weighs, in English weights, 1st (14 lbs or 6 kgs).

Photo of Chesapeake Mill Photo of Chesapeake Mill
Photo of Chesapeake Mill Photo of Chesapeake Mill

Views of the Chesapeake Mill as it appeared in 1983.

© Robin Brooks 2006

Top left : general view of the front of the mill
Middle left : the rear, showing the leat with swans and cygnets
Top right : the date stone on the front of the building, reading “Erected AD 1820 J Prior”
Middle right : the fine Georgian mill house
Bottom right : another view of the front of the mill with faithful old Volvo.

Photo of Chesapeake Mill
Photo of Chesapeake Mill today
The Chesapeake Mill as it appears today

21st Century Metamorphosis of the Frigate Chesapeake

The Chesapeake takes on yet another new life, from flour mill to an exciting retail experience. Antiques, home furnishings, gifts, jewellery and much more.

Back to the top