Search Form
font size: Increase | Decrease | Reset
Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Armiger Watts Hubbard

Armiger Watts Hubbard 1783-1844

It is unlikely we would be reading about Armiger Watts Hubbard today were it not for the intriguing inscription on his headstone in St Augustine's churchyard in Norwich. The headstone itself no longer exists, lost, presumably, when the churchyard was converted into a public garden by Norwich Corporation in 1894. Fortunately, the inscription was recorded for posterity in the 1870s:

To/the Memory of/ARMIGER WATTS/HUBBARD/Lieut. in the Royal Marines/who serv'd on board the Royal/Sovereign the Flag Ship of/Admiral Lord Collingwood/at the celebrated battle of/Trafalgar/He died Febry. 14th 1844/Aged 60 Years.

Hubbard's parents, William Hubbard and Ann Watts, were married in St Clement's church, Norwich, on 7 February 1782. Hubbard was born in Norwich just over a year later, on 24 February 1783, and baptised in the church of St George's Colegate, Norwich, on 27 July. It was probably from his mother's side of the family that he acquired his unusual Christian name - several Armiger Watts are to be found in the local genealogical records. Armiger means 'a bearer of arms' and so, by implication, someone entitled to a coat of arms; an expression perhaps of his mother's family's belief in their noble lineage. It was the forename he gave his own son and the favoured forename of many of his descendants' first-born sons.

The next significant date in Hubbard's life was 30 December 1799 when he enlisted in the Royal Marines, aged 15. We next find him in naval records on 21 July 1805, aged 22, when he transferred from Royal Marine Company No. 44, Portsmouth, to the 100-gun ship of the line, the Royal Sovereign, flagship of Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson's second-in-command and one of his oldest friends. By this date Hubbard held a commission with the rank of Second Lieutenant. He was about to take part in the greatest naval battle in British history.

On the morning of 21 October 1805, Nelson divided the British fleet into two columns: the weather column headed by his flagship Victory and the lee column headed by the Royal Sovereign. His plan was use these two columns to punch through the extended French and Spanish Combined Fleet laid out in line, breaking up their formation and giving his gunners the chance to strike where ships of that era were most vulnerable, at their sterns. Before battle, Admiral Collingwood assembled the Royal Sovereign's officers and told them Nelson's battle orders, concluding with the inspiring words: 'Now, gentleman, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter.' Sailing at the head of the lee column meant that the Royal Sovereign would be the first British ship to come within range of the Combined Fleet's guns, which she would have to endure for several minutes without being able to return fire. The battered Royal Sovereign finally smashed through the enemy's line at 12 noon and fought alone for about half an hour before the following ships of the lee column could join her.

There were 136 Royal Marines on board the Royal Sovereign during the Battle of Trafalgar. Their job during a sea battle was to stand in the rigging firing on the enemy with their muskets or lobbing grenades whenever an enemy ship was in range and to be ready to repel enemy boarders if required. They might also be expected to help with the guns and guard strategically important positions around the ship, such as the weapon store. Their positions above deck made them vulnerable to enemy grapeshot, flying debris and snipers' musket fire. The Royal Sovereign's yardarms had become entangled with those of the Spanish Admiral's flagship, the Santa Ana, during the initial break though. Unable to escape both ships were smashing each other to pieces with their guns at close quarters. Admiral Collingwood's valet, Mr Smith, noted that at the height of the fighting when the poop deck (the highest, aft-most deck) was exposed to raking crossfire, the Admiral directed:

Captain Vallack of the Marines, 'an officer of the greatest gallantry', to take his men from off the poop, that they might not be unnecessarily exposed.

Collingwood himself remained on deck displaying extreme coolness throughout the battle, munching on an apple as he paced up and down. He was eventually wounded in the leg by flying splinters and knocked over by a shell burst. Lieutenant Hubbard was lucky to escape without serious injury; the three other Royal Marine officers on board were not so lucky. Their commanding officer, Captain Joseph Vallack, a Cornishman with considerable maritime experience, received a wound to an arm; Second Lieutenant James Le Vesconte, aged 16, was also wounded in the arm and Second Lieutenant Robert Green, aged 21, from Debenham in Suffolk, was killed.  In total fifteen of the Royal Sovereign's contingent of Royal Marines lost their lives, amounting to almost a third of the ship's fatal casualties.

In his General Order, written the day after the battle when he had assumed command of the fleet following Nelson's death, Admiral Collingwood wrote:

Where can I find language to express my sentiments of the valour and skill which were displayed by the Officers, the Seamen and Marines in the battle with the enemy, where every individual appeared a hero on whom the glory of his country depended?

For his part in the battle Lieutenant Hubbard received a Parliamentary award of £108 12s 0d and prize money of £44 4s 6d. On 4 May 1807 he was promoted to First Lieutenant. On 1 June 1809 he married Ann Maria Levick at St Mary's, Portsea, Hampshire. A son was born to them on 11 January 1811 and christened Armiger Watts Ibbott Hubbard at St Mary's, Portsea, on 3 March 1811.

On 28 August 1821 Lieutenant Hubbard, aged 38, was placed on the officers' reserve list on half-pay. As is common with retiring officers, he was allowed to call himself by the next rank up, hence he was sometimes described informally as Captain Hubbard though his headstone properly gave his official rank as Lieutenant. It isn't known where he lived or how he earned a living for the next twenty years but it seems likely he was widowed during this period as there is no mention of an Ann Hubbard in his household in the first national census in 1841. On 19 January 1833 his only son, Armiger Watts Ibbott Hubbard, married Mary Ann Wright Deacon at the church of St John Maddermarket, Norwich. Eight years later, during the taking of the 1841 Census, we find Hubbard, aged 58 (though the census appears to says 55), resident in a small, private boarding school for girls in St George's Plain in the parish of St Michael Coslany, Norwich, along with his daughter-in-law, Mary Ann Wright Hubbard, who is described as a governess. The census notes Hubbard's profession as 'Army H.P.', indicating he was still in receipt of a reserve officer's half-pay. Three grandsons are also recorded in the same household: Armiger (aged 8), George (5) and Arthur (2 months). Interestingly, there is no record of their father, either here or indeed anywhere else in Britain. He was perhaps out of the country on business. The Law List of 1843 records that Armiger Watts Ibbott Hubbard was an attorney at law based in Norwich for the firm of Clarke, Metcalf and Gray. During the last quarter of 1841 Captain Hubbard's daughter-in-law, the governess Mary Ann Wright Hubbard, died. The following year his widowed son married Susannah Gaul, one of the family's servants, only to die less than a year later, on 4 January 1843, aged 31.

Captain Armiger Watts Hubbard survived his only son by little more than a year, dying ten days' short of his 61st birthday on 14 February 1844 after a long illness. It is unclear why he was buried in St Augustine's churchyard as no other connection with the parish has been discovered. His death notice, which appeared in the Norwich Mercury on 17 February 1844, like his lost headstone, commemorated his part in the Battle of Trafalgar, so was clearly a matter of considerable pride among his family and friends. It is to be regretted that those responsible for clearing the churchyard of its headstones in 1894 seem not to have felt the same.

His executors and guardians of his grandsons during their minority were named in his Will as his Norwich friends, Samuel Page, a basket-maker of All Saints parish, and John Challis, a boot-maker of St Andrew's parish. The bulk of his estate was left in trust for his three grandsons until each of them reached the age of 21. It may be significant that while he left 19 guineas 'as a trifling mark of my respect' to both executors and £50 to his servant Jane Gaul for 'her long service & the great attention & kindness shown by her during my severe and trying illness', he left the curiously precise sum of £19 19s 0d to Susannah Hubbard, whom he pointedly describes in his Will as his servant's sister rather than his deceased son's widow.

His last home had been a modestly sized though comfortably furnished gentleman's residence at the junction of Thorpe Road and Carrow Road in Thorpe Hamlet. His household effects were auctioned by a Mr Culley of St Andrews Hill at his former home in Thorpe Hamlet on 27 February 1844. Among the usual household effects, the auction catalogue included 'an Indian bow and arrows', souvenirs, perhaps of some long-ago exotic voyage.

Stuart John Mclaren

August 2010