James Desborough Kirkness (1848 – 1870)

James Desborough Kirkness was born on 2 July 1848 the son of William John and Julia Mary (Man) Kirkness at the Rectory of Saint Symphorian, Forrabury, Cornwall and was baptized on 27 August 1848 at St. Symphorian’s. He died, unmarried, on 7 September 1870 when the “H.M.S. Captain” foundered off Cape Finisterre, Spain. James belongs to Generation Six.

NOTES: HMS Captain: The ship was built at Camell Lairds in Birkenhead near Liverpool, located on the River Mersey. It was laid down on the 30 January 1867 and completed in January 1870. It was the first turret ship.

HMS Captain

HMS Captain

There is a history of many disagreements about the building of this ship. It seems that the gun deck was located too low and made the ship unstable. Seventeen seamen and a gunner survived the sinking, John Hermitage was among those drowned along with the designer, Captain Cowper Coles and the midshipman son of Mr. Hugh Childers, the First Lord, who had been sent to her by his father to show his confidence in Coles’ ship against the views of his Chief Constructor, Edward Reed.

This ship went down off Cape Finisterre on 7 September 1870 with the loss of all the crew. A stained glass window was erected in the north transept of Westminster Abbey in 1871 by Clayton and Bell. It shows scenes from the Old and New Testaments, including the passage through the Red Sea, Jonah’s deliverance from the whale and Christ walking on the water. A brass on the floor below the window commemorates Capt. Hugh Burgoyne V. C., Capt. Cowper Coles and the officers, men and boys who died.

Designed and built as a test platform for Captain Cowper Coles design for a warship with turrets arranged on the vessel’s centerline. Captain had an extremely low freeboard only 6.5 feet (2m) and was badly over-rigged with 50,000 square feet of sails. After participating in gunnery trials with the British Mediterranean Squadron in September 1870, Captain was blown over in a gale and sank with all but eighteen of the 499 men aboard.

February 2003