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History_05_harbour at night

Warships have been seen in Torbay from the days of the Vikings up until 1944 when part of the D-Day fleet sailed from here. In 1588 Brixham watched Sir Francis Drake attacking the Spanish Armada after he had finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe, and we saw, anchored in Torbay, the enormous galleon, “Nostra Senora del Rosario” that he had captured. Today in Brixham harbour there is a full-sized replica of the ship, the “Golden Hind”, in which Drake circumnavigated the globe, and you can go aboard to see how his sailors lived. For centuries, ships going down the English Channel have come into Torbay to seek refuge from the storms and to get food supplies. Sometimes these were merchants, taking cargoes to far away places and bringing back exotic goods and rare spices; sometimes they were carrying pilgrims, or gentlemen on the Grand Tour.

During the long series of wars against the French from 1689 to 1815, the Navy often came into Brixham to get supplies of fresh vegetables, beef and water. There might have been twenty or so of the big men-o'-war lying at anchor in Torbay, recovering from exploits of the sort described in the books about Hornblower, Bolitho or Jack Aubrey. As you walk along the harbour side towards the marina you pass a grey stone building on your right which today is the Coastguard headquarters; then, it was the King's Quay where His Majesty's vessels were provisioned. Local farmers brought vegetables to ward off scurvy, and a great number of cattle were slaughtered and their meat packed into barrels. The water came from a big reservoir situated near the crossroads in the middle of town; from there a pipeline carried it under the streets and under the harbour to the King's Quay.

Many of the well-known Admirals of the day were here. Not only Nelson, but also Lord St. Vincent, Cornwallis, Hood, Rodney and Hawke. There was also Earl Howe, who earned the nickname of Lord Torbay because he spent so much time ashore in Brixham. Our most notorious visitor at that time was Napoleon Bonaparte himself, who, as a prisoner on HMS “Bellerophon”, spent several days off Brixham waiting to be taken to exile on St. Helena.