Thomas Durell

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The battle between the Spanish vessel Princesa and HMS Oxford, Lennox and Kent

Thomas Durell (1685-1741) Captain RN

Thomas Durell was born in St Helier in 1685, the son of Jurat and Lieut-Bailiff Jean Durell and Anne Dumaresq, daughter of Elie. He joined the Navy and rose to the rank of Captain. He was the uncle of one of the country's most distinguished Navy officers, Vice-Admiral Philip Durell.

From 1716 to 1718 he commanded the 14-gun sloop HMS Swift and the following year he was given command of the 20-gun HMS Seahorse, which he held for five years. In 1726 he was promoted to Post-Captain and commanded the 24-gun Solebay, followed by the 70-gun HMS Kent in 1727 and 60-gun HMS Exeter in 1731.

While in command of the much smaller 24-gun HMS Scarborough in 1733, he was escorting a convoy of 36 merchant ships when it was attacked by two large Spanish vessels off Barbados. Scarborough fought the Spaniards for hours and enabled all but four of the merchant vessels to escape. In 1738 he commanded the larger 60-gun HMS Strafford before returning to the Kent and participating in Admiral Vernon's capture of Porto Bello in Panama. His nephew Philip was also involved in this battle.

While still in command of the Kent in 1740, Thomas Durell fought a famous battle with the giant Spanish vessel Princesa, one of the largest ships then afloat. George Balleine's biography of Durell in his Biographical Dictionary of Jersey presents what is probably a somewhat fanciful picture of the Kent's role in this battle. He writes that the Kent's "two consorts", HMS Oxford and HMS Lennox were damaged and had to withdraw, and despite the Princesa towering over his vessel, Durell forced her to submit and he towed her triumphantly into Plymouth. Other reports suggest that all three Royal Navy vessels engaged the Princesa simultaneously and speak of her valiant but vain fight against such overwhelming odds.

The Princesa later became part of the Royal Navy as HMS Princess and led to a change in Admiralty policy over the size of ships built for the Navy.

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