Earl of Chesterfield

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Earl of Chesterfield


The Earl of Chesterfield, owned by the British Government, was the first vessel to carry mail between the Channel Islands and England

Captain James Wood

Captain James Wood sailed from Weymouth, arriving in Jersey with the first mail on 18 February 1794, and the vessel under his command was named Earl of Chesterfield. The vessel originally intended for this operation was named Royal Charlotte and there is a belief that Captain Wood renamed the vessel in honour of his appointment by the Earl of Chesterfield, who was one of the Postmasters General?

There is also some confusion between the Earl of Chesterfield and the Chesterfield. The sequence below, taken from an article in the magazine Jersey Life in 1966, refers to the Earl of Chesterfield up to 1806, the Chesterfield in 1810, the Earl of Chesterfield in 1811 and the Chesterfield in 1813.

Captain Starr Wood

The Earl of Chesterfield was sold in Weymouth in 1806 but the son of Captain James Wood, Captain Starr Wood, took over a vessel named Chesterfield and continued in the Post Office service.

On 17 June 1810 the Chesterfield packet rescued a boat with five little boys on board which was drifting towards the rocks off Guernsey. An incident of a more serious nature took place on 12 July 1810, when a French privateer, cruising between Jersey and Guernsey, attacked the Chesterfield, which had left Guernsey at 11 am. Captain Starr Wood says:

”At 6 pm we saw a lugger SW Portland WSW two leagues. At 8.30 pm he ranged alongside within pistol shot. It was a large lugger and had fourteen guns and was full of men. We gave him our broadside which made him sheer off'.

On 29 October 1811 the Earl of Chesterfield, on her way to Guernsey, was attacked and captured by a Cherbourg privateer, l’Epervier, mounting 14 guns and a crew of 50. One passenger was killed and several of the crew were wounded but the mails and dispatches were sunk prior to the boarding of the enemy. With the compensation of £1,626 paid to her owner by the Post Office, Captain Starr Wood purchased another vessel and named it Chesterfield.

Starr Wood wrote in his log: "It was a large lugger and had 14 guns and was full of men. We gave him broadside which made him sheer off". It is believed that the Frenchman was San Joseph, 14 guns, which was captured in Channel Islands waters the following October, She carried 68 men.

The Times of 25 November 1811 reports that the Chesterfield was underway from Weymouth to Guernsey and was taken by a French privateer.

In letters received from some of the passengers on board and taken by the privateer, they state, that as far as the French police laws will permit, they are treated by the inhabitants of Cherbourg with great humanity and politeness; but they had orders to be all marched to Verdun in the course of a week after their landing. The French privateer permitted the passengers to keep their watches and valuables.

A British army colonel going to join his regiment was severely wounded and two men of the packet died of their wounds at Cherbourg.

Unauthorised service

The Treasury Letter Books of 1813-1814 contain an account of the unauthorised service of a Captain Starr Wood of the Chesterfield in 1813. He had been previously dismissed from the service for ‘the grossest misdemeanour’ and since his dismissal he had set up a packet in competition with the Post Office vessels. He even lured soldiers on board and carried an official box of money marked GB, and had the presumption to imitate the Post Office packet flag. Passengers were led to believe that they were really on board one of His Majesty's packets.

Captain Starr Wood and his vessel are not mentioned after January 1814, so it is presumed the authorities stopped his illegal deception.


The Rover, commanded by Captain Joshua Bennet, joined the Earl of Chesterfield as the first vessels to carry official mail between England and the Channel Islands in 1794.

These two cutters were identical in appearance, both built of oak at Bridport in Dorset. They weighed 80 tons and were 50ft in length with a 12ft beam. During the war they were armed with carriage guns and small arms.

The crossing from Weymouth (in good weather) took these vessels 16 hours for a distance of 85 miles.

The Rover was wrecked on rocks off Alderney in about 1825 but the crew and passengers were saved.

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