Philip Broke

Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke, 1st Baronet KCB (/ˈbrʊk/; 9 September 1776 – 2 January 1841) was a distinguished officer in the British Royal Navy. During his lifetime he was often referred to as Broke of the Shannon, a reference to his notable command of HMS Shannon in the War of 1812. His most famous military achievement was defeating and capturing the American frigate, USS Chesapeake.


Philip Broke

Philip Broke.tiff
Born(1776-09-09)9 September 1776
Nacton, Great Britain
Died2 January 1841(1841-01-02) (aged 64)
London, United Kingdom
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Service years1792–1841
RankRear admiral
AwardsNaval Gold Medal
Spouse(s)Sarah Louisa Middleton
ChildrenGeorge Broke-Middleton

Early lifeEdit

Broke was born at Broke Hall, Nacton, near Ipswich, the eldest son of Philip Bowes Broke, grandson of Philip Broke and descendant of Sir Richard Broke, who served as Chief Baron of the Exchequer. He was educated at Ipswich School, where a house was later named in his honour.

Naval careerEdit

Broke joined the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1788, and began active service as a midshipman in 1792. It was rather unusual for him to receive formal naval education — most of his contemporaries had only "on the job" training. He served as third lieutenant on the frigate HMS Southampton during the battle of Cape St. Vincent in February 1797. He was promoted to commander in 1799 and captain on 14 February 1801.[1]

On 25 November 1802, Broke married Sarah Louisa Middleton, daughter of Sir William Fowle Middleton 1st Baronet of Crowfield, Suffolk. They had 11 children, including Philip Broke, 2nd Baronet, George Broke-Middleton, and Charles Acton Broke.[2]

Capture of USS ChesapeakeEdit

His most notable accomplishment was his victory while commanding HMS Shannon, over the USS Chesapeake on 1 June 1813, during the War of 1812. Broke took command of the Shannon, a 38-gun frigate, on 31 August 1806. Broke was ordered to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1811 as the diplomatic position between America and Britain deteriorated. The United States Congress declared war on 18 June 1812.

There were half a dozen naval battles between a Royal Navy and a United States Navy vessel of equivalent rate in 1812 and early 1813. The Americans won every time in the start of the war, startling to the presumed dominant Royal Navy. The British and American ships were of the same rate, yet they were not of the same size or power. In each case the American ships were larger than the British vessels, had larger crews and had a heavier broadside, and fought better. The Americans had a main battery of 24-pounder long guns compared with the smaller 18-pounders mounted on the British ships; the weight refers to the size of the cannonballs.[3]

Matters changed when Shannon met Chesapeake off Boston, Massachusetts. The captain of the Chesapeake responded to a challenge to a single ship action made by Broke. Although Chesapeake was a slightly larger craft and had a substantially larger crew, the armament of the two ships was evenly matched. However, gunnery was Broke's area of expertise, and the crew of Shannon were exceptionally well drilled.

At the time the official rating of a ship did not accurately reflect the number of cannon mounted. Thus HMS Shannon (1065 tons burthen) was classed as a 38 gun ship but mounted 48 guns in total. USS Chesapeake (1135 tons burthen) was variously rated a 36 or 38 gun ship but mounted 49 guns in total. Broke mounted a number of very small carronades in order that ships' boys and younger midshipmen could have cannon light enough for them to practise on. The force of a ship was usually calculated as "weight of metal." This was the aggregate of the weight of all the cannonballs capable of being fired in one broadside (i.e., when half of the cannon, all the guns on the same side, were fired). The British weight of metal was 547 pounds, the American weight of metal was 581 pounds. The two ships were very well matched with no preponderance of force on either side.[4][5]

Chesapeake was disabled by gunfire, boarded and captured within 15 minutes of opening fire. Fifty-six sailors on Chesapeake were killed and 85 wounded including her captain James Lawrence who died of his wounds on 4 June. Lawrence's last command was reported to be, "Don't give up the ship". On the Shannon, 24 were killed and 59 wounded, including Broke who sustained a serious head wound while leading the boarding party. The head wound from a cutlass blow, which had exposed the brain, had been very severe accompanied by great blood loss. Therapeutic bleeding, routinely employed at the time, was not performed by Shannon's surgeon Mr Alexander Jack, which was to Broke's advantage. The report of the surgeon described the wound as "a deep cut on the parietal bone, extending from the top of the head ... towards the left ear, [the bone] penetrated for at least three inches in length."[6]

Lieutenant Provo Wallis, a Nova Scotian, took command of Shannon as the frigate and her prize returned to Halifax as surgeons worked to save Broke. In Halifax, Broke recovered at the Commissioner's residence in the Halifax Naval Yard.

Shannon's victory created a sensation in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In recognition, Broke was created a baronet on 25 September 1813.[7][8] He became a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 3 January 1815.[9][10] He was also awarded a Naval Gold Medal, one of only eight awarded for single ship actions between 1794 and 1816. While his wounds precluded further active service, Broke served as a naval gunnery specialist in the Royal Navy. He was promoted to rear admiral of the red on 22 July 1830.

His younger brother, Charles Broke, later Charles Broke Vere, joined the British Army. Charles served under the Duke of Wellington. He ended as a major general and was knighted.


  1. ^ The Navy List, 1831
  2. ^ Walford Dakin Selby, ed., The Genealogist, vol. 23 (1907), p. 143
  3. ^ Lambert, Andrew (2012) The Challenge: Britain Against America in the Naval War of 1812, Faber and Faber. p. 1
  4. ^ Gardiner, R (2006). Frigates of the Napoleonic Wars. Chatham Publishing. pp. 25, 32. ISBN 1-86176-135-X.
  5. ^ Padfield, P (1968). Broke and the Shannon. London: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 140.
  6. ^ Voelcker, Tim (2013) Broke of the Shannon: and the War of 1812, Seaforth Publishing ISBN 1473831326, 9781473831322, pp. 152–153
  7. ^ "No. 16779". The London Gazette. 21 September 1813. p. 1890.
  8. ^ "No. 16852". The London Gazette. 5 February 1814. p. 280.
  9. ^ "No. 16972". The London Gazette. 4 January 1815. p. 19.
  10. ^ "No. 17032". The London Gazette. 1 July 1815. p. 1277.

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