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HMS Pheasant (1819) and Saltford House (2013). © SEG

SEG Home > The History of Saltford > A - Z > Admiral Kelly

Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly
(1785 - 1867)

   naval officer
   liberator of slaves

Admiral Kelly lived at Saltford House from 1856 to 1867.

Captain Benedictus Marwood Kelly (1838)

Photographs of Admiral Kelly are lower down the page.

Painted when Captain Kelly was age 52 or 53 the above portrait is by the Italian painter Paulo Teroni. It was probably painted in Florence whilst he was on honeymoon with his first wife, Mary. The painting was at one time hanging on a wall in Saltford House; this image has been reproduced by kind permission of Mount Kelly where the painting hangs in the school library (photographed below in 2016).


There are photographs of Admiral Kelly in his 70s and 80s taken in the 1850s and 1860s whilst he lived in Saltford lower down this page.


Admiral Benedictus Marwood KELLY was one of Saltford's most famous residents. He was born on 3rd Feb 1785, at Holsworthy, Devon and died aged 82 on 26th Sep 1867 at Saltford House, Somerset. The son of Benedictus Marwood Kelly (1752 - 1836), who was a lawyer and private banker, and Mary Coham he was a descendent of the distinguished and ancient Kelly family of Kelly House*, Kelly, Devon.

*At one time it was considered highly probable that Benedictus Kelly would inherit Kelly House as his 1st cousin Arthur Kelly (b. 1804) who was the heir to Kelly House was thought to be too weak to survive childhood. However Arthur inherited the house aged 19 in 1823 and thereafter lived on into adulthood and fathered 10 children.

Kelly House (2016), the ancestral home that Admiral Kelly failed to inherit...

Benedictus joined the Royal Navy in October 1798 as an Able Seaman at age 13 at a time when childhood was short-lived. Had he been of a 'lower social order' he might have joined even earlier. The rank of Able Seaman was only temporary for passage out to join HMS Volgate in the Mediterranean as a Midshipman where he spent just three weeks in November 1798 before being transferred to his Uncle's ship HMS Gibraltar.

Aided by the supervision and guidance of his Uncle, Captain William H Kelly, at a time when the Royal Navy was fighting the combined forces of the French and Spanish fleets, Benedictus became an officer rising eventually to the rank of Admiral (reserve list) in 1863 after active service in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and in the anti-slavery patrols.

'The Press Gang' by Luke Clennell (early 1800s).

During Benedictus Kelly's active service in the Royal Navy (1798-1822), some of the sailors under his command on the ships on which he served would have been pressed men. The Royal Navy faced a shortage of qualified seamen during wartime so that at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805, over half the Royal Navy's sailors were pressed men forced into service by "The Impressment Service" (known as Press Gangs).

The controversial power of the Impressment Service to conscript was limited by law to seafarers, "eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 55 years", including merchant seamen, longshoremen and fishermen. British impressment was abandoned in 1815 following the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Early life

Benedictus Marwood Kelly served first on the 32-gun HMS Niger for passage out to join the 28-gun HMS Volgate and then the 80-gun HMS Gibraltar. At age 14 during his term on HMS Gibraltar including at first under his uncle Captain William Hancock Kelly*, he assisted in the capture of the French Admiral Jean-Baptiste Perrée's squadron of three frigates and two brigs in 1799.

* Kelly's uncle, William Hancock Kelly, was also an Admiral and served with Nelson; his wife was a cousin to Nelson's wife.

Kelly served on several ships of the Royal Navy during his active naval career and was involved in a number of dangerous and yet successful military endeavours.

The Sultan's Medal for Egypt

Whilst serving on HMS Gibraltar he attended the 1800 expedition to Ferrol (on the Atlantic coast of NW Spain) and then the Egyptian campaign of 1801 when the Royal Navy carried and escorted troops to Aboukir Bay, Egypt, to drive French forces out of Egypt.

Sultan Selim III, the Ottoman sultan from 1789 to 1807, awarded the "Order of the Crescent" otherwise known as "The Sultan's Medal for Egypt, 1801" to Officers (gold) and NCOs (silver) for the liberation of Egypt from the French. Kelly is seen wearing the Sultan's medal in his 1838 portrait painting.

Wounded in the Med

In 1801 whilst serving on HMS Gibraltar Kelly (age 16) was wounded during a boat attack on the French defences at Porto Ferrajo (now Portoferraio) on the Mediterranean island of Elba (near Corsica). The nature of his wounds is not known.

This was during the French Revolutionary Wars following the French Revolution. The French were holding the fortress town of Porto Ferrajo under siege following the French occupation of mainland Tuscany. The town was heavily outnumbered by the French but the Royal Navy came to the rescue and the French lost all their frigates that had been sent to blockade the port.

HMS Temeraire

HMS Temeraire tugged on the River Thames to her last berth at Rotherhithe in 1838, famously painted by JMW Turner

In 1804 at age 19 possibly the most famous ship Kelly served on in his whole naval career was HMS Temeraire; he was a Midshipman at the time. A Midshipman was an officer cadet or a commissioned officer candidate of the most junior rank. In October 1805, whilst Kelly was serving on the schooner HMS Eling patrolling the Channel, HMS Temeraire itself saw action at the Battle of Trafalgar.

During the battle HMS Temeraire followed and then came to the rescue of the stricken HMS Victory. In a dramatic battle HMS Temeraire fought and captured two French ships, the Fougueux and the Redoutable.

This won the ship public renown in Britain and JMW Turner famously painted his own impression of its journey to the breaker's yard in 1838. The painting was known as "The Fighting Temeraire" and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839. In 2005 this evocative oil painting was voted the nation's greatest painting in a poll organised by BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

A Caribbean skirmish

In November 1808 Kelly, whilst serving as Lieutenant on HMS Daedalus, was present with a squadron under Charles Dashwood in an attack on the town of Samaná, San Domingo (of the Dominican Republic) where French forces were erecting batteries for their permanent establishment.

The town was captured and two French privateer ships, Guerrière and Exchange, were also taken. Kelly was then given command of boats from both HMS Daedalus and HMS Aurora to chase down and capture the officers and men of the privateer ships who had escaped up river.

After a search lasting four days and nights, Kelly's perseverance paid off and the privateers were traced up a small river. After a fierce skirmish involving musket fire, Kelly and his men were successful in capturing them all.

First Lieutenant on HMS Polyphemus

HMS Polyphemus

The ship for which Benedictus Kelly was posted as First Lieutenant in March 1810 was the 64-gun HMS Polyphemus, the flagship of Vice-Admiral Bartholomew Rowley.

Just over four years earlier in 1805 HMS Polyphemus had participated in the Battle of Trafalgar. It was this ship that had towed the battered HMS Victory still carrying the body of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson back to Gibraltar after the battle.

Kelly and the Invasion of Java

Kelly captained the 18-gun sloop HMS Dasher during the Invasion of Java in 1811, a successful British amphibious operation between August and September 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars.

Kelly's part in the invasion was in August 1811 when a force from HMS Dasher (under Kelly's command), HMS Hussar, HMS Phaeton, and HMS Sir Francis Drake captured the fort and town of Sumenep, on Madura Island, in the face of a large Dutch defending force.

In the official report to Rear-Admiral Stopford of this naval action, Captain George Harris recorded "Captain Kelly merits my warmest thanks, for the punctuality in obeying, and the judgement in putting my orders into execution". Under Kelly HMS Dasher had been despatched in advance in daylight to gain an anchorage as close as possible to the fort of Sumenep.

Much blood was shed in the battle that followed when the fort and town were stormed by men (including Hussar's Marines) armed with small-arms, bayonets, field-pieces and pikes from the three ships including Captain Kelly's HMS Dasher. Captain Harris reported that the "enemy suffered considerably; the field was covered with their dead". By contrast the British losses were small, "Total, 3 dead and 28 wounded".

The invasion of Java was completed with the surrender of Dutch and French forces in September 1811.

After a period on half-pay without active employment despite his petitioning the Admiralty seeking a posting, he was appointed to command HMS Pheasant from 1818 to 1822 on anti-slavery patrols off the coast of Africa.

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The anti-slavery patrols of HMS Pheasant under Captain Kelly (1818 - 1822)

HMS Pheasant on the Ascension Island 10p stamp.
The ship is depicted in 1819 whilst captained by Commander Benedictus Kelly.

For the greater part of Kelly's appointment to command the 22-gun sloop HMS Pheasant from 1818 to 1822 on anti-slavery patrols for the West Africa Squadron off the coast of Africa he was senior officer of the squadron on the station. The West Africa Squadron was also known as the "Preventative Squadron" and West Africa itself was known as "White Man's Grave" due to the prevalence of fatal tropical diseases (e.g. Yellow Fever). As a reward he was presented with the post commission of Captain dated 19 July 1821.

A Royal Navy sloop during that period was a warship with a single gun deck, usually carrying up to 18 guns but sometimes more (HMS Pheasant had 22).

Under Kelly's command HMS Pheasant patrolled the west coast of Africa and intercepted and examined several Portuguese, French and Spanish vessels suspected to be capable of carrying slaves. During this period HMS Pheasant captured and detained three Portuguese slave trading ships:

  • on 30th July 1819 the Nova Felicidade (71 slaves on board);
  • in October 1819 the Vulcano (also known as Volcano do Sol, 260 slaves on board, this ship subsequently escaped when Kelly's men were murdered, see the account below);
  • and in January 1821 the Adelaide (232 slaves on board).

For background information on the West Africa anti-slavery patrols and to put them into context see also below.

The following graphic account from the Naval Database illustrates the humanitarian role of HMS Pheasant1 under Kelly's command undertaking anti-slavery patrols along the west coast of Africa. During this time some of his men died from yellow fever (and it has been erroneously reported on some websites that Kelly died of the fever too). We have provided some definitions in the notes at the end of the account.


   Portsmouth 25 Jan 1819 Arrived in a gale from a cruise.

   30 Jul 1819, detained in lat. 2° 28' N. long. 9° 50' E., the Portuguese slave Nova Felicidade, with 71 slaves on board when detained, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission, Sierra Leone and sentenced to be condemned on 24 Feb 1820.

   Sierra Leone Sep 1819 the Pheasant and Morgiana are reported to have sent in two slave traders. The colony is reported to be unhealthy.

   Oct 1819 from an a affidavit made by krooman2, Sam Quashie, of this ship, dated 7 Mar 1822, it is reported that the Pheasant captured the slave ship Vulcano circa Oct 1819, and put on board a prize crew under a Midshipman Castles, to take the ship to Sierra Leone, keeping some of the original crew to man the ship. After some days the former crew killed the prize crew3, bar the kroomen2 put onboard as a part of the prize crew3, and sailed the ship to Bahia [in Brazil] where the cargo of slaves was sold, including the kroomen2. After a couple of years Sam Quashie managed to escape and find his way back on board the British man of war Morgiana, at Bahia, to tell the above story.

   Sierra-Leone, 30 Dec 1819, have lost Mr. Dunbar, surgeon; Mr. Holbrook, master; the gunner, and a master's-mate due to the fever4 prevalent on this coast, and which is now subsiding.

   Portsmouth 13 Jan 1821 reports received from the West Coast of Africa state that the Pheasant, Capt. Kelly, had captured [Note: captured on 30 July 1819] a small Portuguese schooner Nova Felicidade, 11 tons, with 71 slaves on board, 31 of whom were women, crowded into a space 8 feet 4 inches long, 4 feet 8 inches broad, and 2 feet 7 inches high [metric equivalent: 254 cms long x 132 cms broad x 79 cms high. Note: This is slightly different than the measurements given by Captain Kelly in his judicial evidence to the Court at Sierra Leone (see below)].

   Sierra Leone 17 Jun 1821 Was to the leeward of Sierra Leone.

   Jul 1821 has, with the Snapper, examined 16 vessels which were considered to be capable of carrying slaves: 12 Portuguese; 3 French; and one Spanish.

   25 Jul 1821 the Pheasant, with the Myrmidon in company, detained in lat. 4° 15' N. long. 0° 0' E., the Portuguese slave vessel Adelaide, with 232 slaves on board when detained, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission, Sierra Leone and sentenced to be condemned on 17 Sep 1821.

   Sierra Leone Sep 1821 is reported to have brought in the Portuguese schooner Adelaide, with about 200 slaves on board, which has been condemned.

   27 Nov 1821 Is in commission and based off the Coast of Africa.

   (For explanatory notes & the evidence to the Court of Sierra Leone see below)


1HMS Pheasant - an 18-gun 121 crew sloop (subsequently re-armed to 22-guns: 16 six-pounder guns, 4 twelve pound carronades and 2 nine-pounders) built in 1798 at Shoreham and fitted out at Portsmouth for the Royal Navy. Her first assignment (1798 - 1803) was Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada). After active service including in the South Atlantic the bombardment of Montevideo, Uruguay and then the siege of Buenos Aires in 1807, she was refitted at Plymouth in 1818 and re-commissioned under Commander Kelly for anti-slavery patrols. She was finally sold to be broken up in 1827.

2Krooman or kroomen - African sailor(s) recruited locally into the Royal Navy.

3Prize crew - a crew put aboard a captured vessel to sail it to the nearest port of their own or an allied country.

4Fever - the fever that killed or made seriously ill several of Kelly's men was most likely the acute viral disease yellow fever spread by the bite of the female mosquito. Those trading or seeking to release African slaves were at great risk from it as it could kill a high proportion of a ship's company, leaving the survivors too weak to work the sails. It is worth noting that Captain Kelly retired from the Royal Navy on health grounds after commanding HMS Pheasant. It is not known if he had contracted yellow fever but it seems highly likely.

HMS Pheasant bombards Accra: 50 slaves are liberated

Another report concerning the freeing of slaves from mainland Africa was also made in the log of HMS Pheasant. On 26th August 1820 Kelly went ashore at Dutch Accra (Ghana) to "compel the natives to deliver up a number of slaves."

Kelly's request was refused. Kelly returned to HMS Pheasant and his ship bombarded the town. After two hours of the bombardment a message was received that the slaves would be handed over. He went ashore the next day (27th August) to make arrangements for their reception. 50 men, women and children were taken aboard on 29th August and they were taken up the coast to the colony of liberated slaves in Sierra Leone.

Bounty granted to officers of HMS Pheasant


The above report in the London Gazette of 31 January 1826 refers to the bounty granted to the officers (including Benedictus Kelly) and company of HMS Pheasant arising from the capture of slave ship Vulcano (or Volcano do Sol) on 6th October 1819. Quite what these proceeds might be is interesting as the Vulcano escaped and sailed to Brazil after the prize crew3 put on the ship from HMS Pheasant had been murdered by the original crew whilst, sadly, the slaves and kroomen2 were sold on arrival in Brazil.

Captain Kelly's influential evidence to the Court of Sierra Leone

(Letter published in the Journal of the House of Commons)

The African Institution Report (London, 1820) recorded the evidence Captain Kelly gave to the Court at Sierra Leone concerning the capture of Nova Felicidade. Not only does it describe the horrors of what Kelly found, but his words show his compassion as he described the distressing condition of the 71 slaves held on the Nova Felicidade when it was seized by HMS Pheasant on 30th July 1819.

Captain Kelly's evidence was as follows:

"I do further declare, that the state in which these unfortunate creatures were found is shocking to every principle of humanity; seventeen men shackled together in pairs by the legs, and twenty boys, one on the other, in the main hold, a space measuring eighteen feet in length, seven feet eight inches main breadth and one foot eight inches in height; and under them the yams for their support.

One of these unfortunate creatures was in the last stage of dysentery, whose natural evacuations ran involuntary from him amongst the yams, creating effluvia too shocking for description.

The appearance of the slaves, when released from their irons, was most distressing; scarcely any of them could stand on their legs, from cramp and evident starvation. The space allowed for the females, thirty four in number, was even more contracted than that for the men, measuring only nine feet four inches in length, four feet eight inches main breadth, and two feet seven inches in height, and perhaps during the day allowed to come on deck, they did not present so distressing an appearance as the men."

The African Institution Report went on to say:

"By the care and attention of Captain Kelly, his officers and crew, the lives of all these poor creatures were saved, except one, who died on the passage to Sierra Leone... after a regular examination of witnesses the slaves were landed at Sierra Leone, on the 20th August, and sent to the town of Bathurst."

The African Institution in the 1820s was an influential organisation campaigning to end slavery. Its patron was HRH the Duke of Gloucester, and its Vice Presidents included William Wilberforce MP, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, amongst other respected establishment figures.

Captain Kelly's evidence to the Court of Sierra Leone was reproduced in several official and other publications in the 1820s.

HRH Prince Albert (1840, the year of his marriage to Queen Victoria)

The descriptive power of his words was so influential that some 20 years later his evidence featured in the 1840 prospectus of the "Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilization of Africa" (instituted in 1839). The society's President was HRH Prince Albert; both he and Queen Victoria were individually listed as financial supporters of the society.

For background information on the West Africa anti-slavery patrols see also below.

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Later life and move to Saltford

Poor food, cramped living conditions on board ship, the pressures of war and combating the slave trade, and his service in the fever ridden West Indies and West African stations took its toll on Benedictus Kelly's health. Back in England his doctor diagnosed a form of neuro-gastric trouble.

After commanding HMS Pheasant and then taking the 100-gun HMS Royal George for decommissioning and to the breaker's yard, Benedictus Kelly retired from active service in the Navy on the grounds of ill health in 1822. After he recovered his health he pursued a successful career in the City of London, choosing the newly emerging railway and steamship companies for his new life on land.

SS Great Western on maiden voyage from Bristol in 1838.
In 1847 she was sold to the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.

The change from sail to steam power: Designed by I K Brunel, SS Great Western of 1838 built in Bristol for the Bristol to New York route, was an oak-hulled paddle-wheel steamship, the first steamship purpose-built for crossing the Atlantic. It was as a result of the ability of SS Great Western and SS Sirius to cross the Atlantic powered by their own engines in 1838 that led to the setting up in 1839 of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in London of which Benedictus Kelly was one of the first Directors.

This shipping company was set up by Royal Charter of Incorporation with a fleet of 14 steam vessels to initially carry Her Majesty's mail, sailing twice every month to Barbados in the West Indies from Britain, on routes that Admiral Kelly was familiar with from his service in the Royal Navy.

He was a director of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (listed as Chairman in the 1845 'Railway Directory') and he was also a director of the Bristol and Exeter Railway. He was also appointed Managing Director of London Bridge Station; at that time the station was shared by the Bristol and Exeter Railway Company and the South East and Chatham Railway Company.

It would seem that Navy life had given Benedictus Kelly the ability to live a cramped and frugal lifestyle despite the huge wealth he amassed in "prize money" as a naval officer. While working in London he had just a one bed-sitting room at the Army and Navy Club near the Haymarket; an aspect of his lifestyle, according to 'A History of Saltford Village' (Percy Sims, 1976), that drew much comment from his relatives and friends.

He remained on Navy half-pay for the rest of his life. The threat of renewed war in the mid-19th Century led to Parliament approving the creation of a naval reserve. Benedictus Kelly was promoted to Rear Admiral on the reserve list in 1852; to Vice Admiral in 1857, and to Admiral in 1863.

He married his first wife, Mary Ann Price (heir of Richard Price, banker), when he was 52 in August 1837, at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, but she died in childbirth on 14 July 1838; the baby was stillborn. This must have been a very difficult time for Benedictus Kelly; both his own parents had recently died, his father in 1836 and his mother in 1837.

At age 70 Benedictus Kelly married his second wife in 1855, Juliana Boyd (1803 - 1896), at St Andrews Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne. Juliana was the eldest daughter of William Boyd, banker and coal owner, of Burfield Priory, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol (then within Gloucestershire; Burfield Priory was demolished in the 20th Century). Her brother, William, vicar of Arncliffe, Yorkshire, conducted the wedding service.

Saltford House, the home of Admiral Kelly from 1856 (photographed in 2016)

The following year, in 1856 Kelly (then Rear Admiral) purchased Saltford House and undertook extensive alterations and repairs to the property.

On arriving in Saltford and on completion of the alterations to Saltford House, he gained early acceptance in the village by providing a celebratory dinner for the workforce and then by complaining to the Clerk of the Peace for Somerset about the inadequate policing in the area. This was following an attempted burglary at Saltford House and a robbery and assault on a neighbour and servant on a road close to the village.

He kept a carriage and carriage horses at Saltford House; these and his "farming stock" he bequeathed to Juliana in his will.

Benedictus and Juliana took a keen interest in village life, generously supported the local school, and made one of their fields available for the annual children's sports day. Together they also assisted the village poor in winter - there is more information about Juliana's generosity further down this page.

Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly photographed in his 70s in the 1850s.

Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly photographed in his 80s in the 1860s. The original photograph was a 'carte de visite', a style of visiting card patented in Paris that gained popularity in England in the 1860s.


In 1864 Admiral Kelly "invested £100 in consols* for the benefit of the parish school of Saltford for ever" as the above inscription on a wall tablet in St Mary's church records. It is reputed that as an elderly gentleman in the later years of his life he would wait for Mrs Kelly to come out of church on Sunday mornings and escort her home.

   * Consols were Government perpetual bonds issued by the Bank of England and redeemable at the option of the government.

Admiral Kelly died aged 82 at Saltford House on 26 September 1867 and was buried at the parish church of the village of Kelly, near Lifton, West Devon.

Admiral Kelly's grave
Parish Church of St Mary
Devon PL16 0HH.

The plaque by the grave of Admiral Kelly
Parish Church of St Mary, Kelly, Devon.

Admiral Kelly's commemorative window, Parish Church of St Mary, Kelly, Devon PL16 0HH.

Admiral Kelly's commemorative window at the Parish Church of St Mary, Kelly in Devon was paid for by him during his lifetime. It was originally installed over the altar at the east end of the church where at that location it overlooked the position of his grave. However during church restorations in 1900 it was moved to the west end of the church. Kelly Church stands next to Kelly House and was built by William Kelly who was knighted in 1252.

Detail from Admiral Kelly's commemorative window, Parish Church of St Mary, Kelly, Devon.

Admiral Kelly's memorial tablet, St Mary's church, Saltford.

Kelly Inlet, southern Chile


The Patagonian Icefields, in southern Chile, which straddle the Andes below 46°S, are two of the most sensitive ice masses on Earth to climate change. Glacier Benito, 47°S, 74°W, is a temperate outlet glacier on the west side of the North Patagonian Icefield. Rates of thinning and ablation (removal by erosion or other processes) have been obtained using data collected by the British Joint Services Expedition in 1972/73 and subsequent data collected in 2007, 2011 and 2017.

The main access route to Glacier Benito is from Kelly Inlet and Kelly Harbour, named after Saltford's famous resident Admiral Kelly. Kelly Harbour is immediately south of San Rafael Lake (Laguna), Aysén, Chile. But why was Kelly Inlet and Kelly Harbour named, in 1828, after Admiral (then Captain) B M Kelly?

Kelly Harbour was named by Commander Pringle Stokes of HMS Beagle when Stokes surveyed the Inlet on 25th May 1828. In Stokes' last journal (Mitchell Library, Sydney, Australia) Stokes says "In the next page, I have given a full account and a sketched plan of this Harbour which I have called Kelly's Harbour, after a friend and brother officer, Captain B M Kelly, RN. To Captain Kelly, I am indebted for my introduction to the leader of the expedition, Captain P P King, RN, FRS".

Unfortunately, Commander Pringle Stokes found the task of surveying this part of Chile in mid-winter incredibly challenging (as it would have been for anyone) and took his life soon afterwards in August 1828.

That tragedy triggered an interesting sequence of events. Captain P P King, in command of the surveying expedition, wanted to promote Lieutenant Skyring (Stokes' able surveyor) to command HMS Beagle, a Cherokee-class 10-gun brig-sloop of the Royal Navy.

However, he was overruled by Rear Admiral Sir Robert Waller Otway who appointed Lieutenant Robert Fitz-Roy, on his staff instead. Fitz-Roy wanted a person with a similar mind to accompany him on his voyages so selected recently graduated and now famous naturalist, geologist and biologist, Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882) best known for his contributions to the science of evolution. Darwin's first voyage on HMS Beagle, the ship's second survey expedition voyage, began on 27 December 1831 and lasted almost five years. As HMS Beagle surveyed the coasts of South America, Darwin theorised about geology and the extinction of giant mammals.

Phil Harding, October 2021


Martin Sessions (ex-Royal Navy) from Canberra, Australia contacted SEG's Chairman Phil Harding in September 2021 with information about the link between Admiral (Captain) Kelly, Kelly Inlet, HMS Beagle and Charles Darwin.

SEG is grateful to Martin Sessions who has participated in and led expeditions to Glacier Benito (via Kelly Inlet) since 1972 examining and reporting on its condition.

In 1971, Martin Sessions was selected as a member of the 1972/73 British Joint Services Expedition to Chilean Patagonia led by Crispin Agnew. His tasks were to undertake the glacier and weather studies of the expedition. The expedition's base camp was in Kelly Inlet (Abra Kelly). Professor Otto Nordenskjold with Hugo Pallin and others had made Kelly Inlet their base in their 1921/22 expedition. Glacier Benito appeared to be the best glacier to study in the area. It had its own basin, was of a significant size and was accessible from Kelly Inlet.

Further information about that and subsequent expeditions can be found at www.glaciar-benito.cl.

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The Admiral's Blue Plaque

Admiral Kelly's Blue Plaque (inset to show detail) at Saltford House. This was unveiled by local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg on 1st October 2016.

Local MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, Saltford Parish Council Chairman Chris Warren and SEG Chairman Phil Harding (standing at the bottom of a slope!), 1 October 2016

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Legacy including Kelly College

"fortiter occupa portum"
Kelly College motto
"ever be bold, the port to hold"

(Note. Kelly College became Mount Kelly in 2014 on merging with Mount House)


Top image: Kelly College & its surroundings by architect Chas F Hansom, 1878.
Bottom image: Mount Kelly, 2009. Both images are courtesy of Mount Kelly.

Admiral Kelly left no children but bequeathed c.£200,000*1 for the establishment of Kelly College, built at Tavistock, West Devon and opened in 1877, as a boarding school for the "sons of Naval Officers and other gentlemen".

*1It is not possible to ascertain the precise amount of the bequest as this was subject to the sale and value of Kelly's investments after his death but it was clearly a very substantial sum of money.

Whilst Admiral Kelly's biggest and most detailed bequest in his will was for the establishment of Kelly College, other bequests are of interest that reveal a little about his lifestyle and foresight. For example his specific bequests to his widow Juliana included his "carriage, carriage horses, and harness" and all his "live and dead farming stock, all garden and farming utensils" etc. whilst he gave annuities to his two sisters, Mary and Juliana (wife of George Braund).

He also had significant investments in the British North American Colonial Banking Company and the Electric and International Telegraph Company. The latter eventually became British Telecom.

Just as he had worked at a senior and strategic level in the rail industry and for the early days of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Admiral Kelly's investment in those early years of telecommunications showed him to be a modern man of his time with an astute vision for the future.

We can see from his life that Admiral Kelly was not just a brave, humanitarian and philanthropic 19th Century gentleman but he also had great vision and recognised the importance of education for England's young people, whether in Saltford, Somerset or at Kelly College, Devon.

Kelly College merged with Mount House and became Mount Kelly in 2014. Mount Kelly is seen as a centre of excellence for swimming, having since 1978 helped develop, coach and educate some of the finest swimmers in the country who compete at the Olympic and Commonwealth level.

Having won two gold medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Sharron Davies (age 16) and her father/coach, Terry Davies, then benefited from the school's facilities to prepare for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow where Sharron won a silver medal.

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Juliana, the Admiral's philanthropic widow

Saltford School c.1900. Originally known as Queen's School, built nearly 30 years earlier in 1874 thanks to the generosity of Juliana Kelly. (Note. Saltford School moved to Claverton Road in 1962.)

His second wife and now widow, Juliana Kelly (née Boyd, 1803-1896), known locally as Mrs Admiral Kelly, was a popular resident in Saltford. Each year she treated the village children to sports and tea in the field adjacent to Saltford House. She was also known to have generously distributed in the winter-time coal, warm clothing and hot soup to poor families in the village. These were practices she had begun with her late husband after they first moved to Saltford in 1856.

Juliana Kelly was credited with the re-building of Saltford School, Queen's Square in 1874, ten years after Admiral Kelly's recorded £100 gift and seven years after his death.

We have reproduced here the text from the account of the opening of Saltford School that appeared in the 27th June 1874 edition of the Bristol Mercury. It highlights the kindness and generosity of Juliana towards Saltford's less fortunate inhabitants:-

On Thursday the new school at Saltford was re-opened. It has been entirely re-built by the munificence of Mrs. Kelly. The village children assembled therein at four o'clock p.m., and afterwards proceeded, headed by gay banners and a brass band, to a meadow in front of Saltford-house, to partake of tea and cake provided annually by the generous bounty of Mrs. Kelly. Grace and blessings were sweetly sung by the teachers and children before and after the enjoyment of their feast, which was a very hearty meal.

Afterwards the children amused themselves in racing, swinging, and dancing, to their hearts' content. Mrs. Kelly gave away a great many prizes to the children for good behaviour and useful - aprons, neckties, pocket knives, books and money, & c. The races being terminated, there was a general scramble for nuts, notwithstanding a little rain. When the children had finished their tea the villagers (especially the old and infirm) had an invitation to refresh themselves, which they heartily accepted and enjoyed.

The rector, the rev. Mr. Welsford, assisted in the amusements with right good will and kindness. Mrs Ketteridge, Miss Daniels, Major Haviland, and many others were amongst the visitors, who all seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the children. The delighted happy party broke up a little after nine o'clock, with hearty cheers for the good lady of Saltford-house (Mrs. Kelly), whose chief delight is in visiting the sick, making the poor happy and contented, and in doing good on all occasions to her neighbours - a bright example, saying silently and forcibly, "Go and do thou likewise."

The meadow in front of Saltford House (in the early 1950s)
The same view in 2016.

The following year and having stayed the previous night at the Bedford Hotel, on 29 May 1875 Juliana Kelly lay the foundation stone for Kelly College, Tavistock in Devon. The 20 acres of land on which Kelly College was built was a gift from Francis Charles Russell Hastings, 9th Duke of Bedford, an English politician and agriculturalist.

The ceremony was attended by a military band, a 50-strong contingent of the 22nd Devon Rifles, the College Trustees, the Portreeve (historical high ranking town official), the architect Charles Francis Hansom, a well known Roman Catholic Victorian architect who primarily designed in the Gothic Revival style and who designed the original Clifton College buildings in Bristol, and other VIPs and dignitaries. Beneath the stone had been placed a tin box containing coins of the realm and copies of the heraldic arms of the Kelly and Boyd families.

Here are the key elements from the account of the laying of the memorial foundation stone by Juliana Kelly reported in the Western Times (1st June 1875 edition):-



The late Admiral Kelly bequeathed a munificent sum for the purpose of founding a Naval College in his native county. After due deliberation on the choices of a site, one was given by the Duke of Bedford, about three quarters of a mile from the town. It was a noble donation, and much is thought of it by the inhabitants, as was to be seen on Saturday, when the Memorial-stone was laid.

It was all high holiday in the locality; the Duke, in addition to the site, gaving (sic) £100 towards the fund for making a demonstration suitable to the great occasion, besides innumerable trees. Decorations abounded, the Dockyard authorities of Devonport lending no end of flags for the purpose. The Bishop of the Diocese and the Earl of Devon, who then presented Mrs. Kelly with a silver trowel, asking her in the name of the trustees to lay the Memorial-stone.

...prior to the stone being laid in its place Mr. Hanson (sic - should read Hansom), the architect, deposited in a cavity underneath a tin box containing coins of the realm and a document...

...The memorial stone, a very fine piece of granite weighing about six tons, was then lowered into its place, and declared by Mrs. Kelly to be well and truly laid. This was followed by a salute of guns, and at the invitation of Mr. Hanson (sic - should read Hansom), cheers were given in succession for Mrs. Kelly, the Duke of Bedford, the trustees, and the builder, and then came one for the architect. The Rev. W. J. Tait read a few Psalms appropriate for the occasion, and this brought the interesting ceremony to a close.

A public luncheon at the Town Hall followed at which the Portreeve presided. In the toasting that came after, the Earl of Devon, the Bishop, Canon Boyd, and Mr. Gilson Martin, the steward, were the principle speakers. The poorer inhabitants were treated to a tea in the evening and the workmen a supper. The whole event went off satisfactory (sic).


Juliana passed away in 1896 aged 93, 29 years after the death of Admiral Kelly. In her own will and codicils, she left financial gifts under the care of the Rector of Saltford in the form of consols to benefit poor parishioners.

NOTE: Juliana, who "would have been present but for her age" (83) was represented by her nephew, Mr Hugh F Boyd, at the public meeting held at Saltford School on 25 November 1886 to respond to the illness and six fatalities arising from sewage contamination of the village water supply (see here our transcription of the article in the Bath Chronicle >>).

The following poetic account reported in the Bristol Mercury (11th December 1896 edition) of the burial of Juliana Kelly shows the great respect and affection with which she was held in Saltford:-


The inhabitants of Saltford will lose a kind friend by the death, on the 4th inst., at the great age of 93, of Mrs Kelly, of Saltford house. She was the eldest daughter and child of the late William Boyd, banker, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne...

Admiral Kelly who was considerably her senior died in 1867, having by his will founded the Kelly College, now established near Tavistock, in Devonshire... Mrs Kelly laid the foundation stone of the college in 1875 but except for that one public act, which it was only with difficulty she was persuaded to perform, her life has passed in acts of quiet and unostentatious benevolence.

Her father first, her husband afterwards, and after his death the poorer inhabitants of Saltford were the objects of her solicitude and loving care. Upon the 7th of December, on a bright and beautiful winter's day, she was carried down the village street upon the shoulders of six Saltford men, and laid to rest in the village churchyard, above the Avon banks, and under the shadow of Kelston Round Hill:-

Her virtues walked their narrow round;
Nor made a pause, nor left a void;
And sure the Eternal Master found,
Her single talent well employed.

Juliana Kelly's grave in St. Mary's churchyard, 2016 (RH side of picture, under oak tree)


Pictured here is the wooden wall plaque c.1897 from Saltford School in Queen's Square produced after Juliana Kelly's death and illustrating, from her bequests, her kindness towards the village poor.

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Background information:
Anti-slavery patrols of the Royal Navy (West Africa Squadron)

Slave shackles © Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Before 1807 Britain had been a major trader in slaves and the Royal Navy itself had assisted that trade by escorting slave ships down the African coast and fought major battles for control of the 'sugar islands' of the West Indies. At the end of the 18th Century an average of over 150 slave ships left the ports of Liverpool, Bristol, and London each year. They carried goods (e.g. copper or brass goods including pots and pans, cutlery, trinkets, cotton cloth, guns and alcohol) to be traded for slaves (kidnapped men, women and children) on the West African coast who were then taken to the West Indies to be sold at slave auctions.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807* was passed after the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade led by William Wilberforce. As a direct consequence the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron (or Preventative Squadron) in 1808.

   *Note: The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 prohibited British citizens from operating in the slave trade. This led to contraction of the brass industry in the Avon valley (including Saltford Brass Mill) as the African demand for brass products used for purchasing slaves ceased. Saltford Brass Mill continued to make brass products for the UK and European market; brass battery finally ceased at Saltford Brass Mill in 1908 followed by brass rolling ending there in 1925.

The role of the squadron was to suppress the Atlantic slave trade by patrolling the west coast of Africa. The squadron's home base was Portsmouth and between 1808 and 1860 at considerable expense it captured or destroyed 1,600 slave ships freeing 150,000 Africans. The United States Navy became involved and assisted the West Africa Squadron from 1820.

The Royal Navy regarded any ships transporting slaves to be pirate ships. HMS Pheasant under the command of Captain Kelly between 1818 and 1822 captured and detained three Portuguese slave trading ships (as detailed above on this page). The squadron used Ascension Island as a supply depot, a most probable explanation for why HMS Pheasant appeared on the Ascension Island 10p stamp.

Having captured a slaving port in West Africa, in 1819 the Royal Navy created a naval station and renamed it Freetown. By the 1850s, around 25 vessels and 2,000 officers and men were on the station. Freetown would become the capital and largest city of the first British colony in West Africa, Sierra Leone.

Most of the slaves freed would choose to settle in Sierra Leone to avoid the very real risk of being re-captured and enslaved again, a danger they faced in any other part of Africa at that time.

Despite the prize money paid to naval officers and men for captured ships, as well as 'head money' for released slaves, the Royal Navy considered the West Africa station at Freetown one of its worst and least popular postings (and West Africa had earned the description "White Man's Grave"). This was due to the prevalence of tropical diseases which led to a great loss of life; indeed several of Captain Kelly's men died from yellow fever. This provided Royal Navy surgeons with experience to fight such diseases but even Captain Kelly's ship's surgeon, Mr Dunbar, died from the disease.

Furthermore such patrolling of the coast was arduous, unpleasant, dangerous as the slave traders were sometimes violent in their attempts to avoid capture, and often frustrating.

The ships employed on the station were invariably too old, slow, or insufficient in numbers. As the Royal Navy began capturing slave ships, the slavers had replaced their merchant ships with faster ones, in particular Baltimore clippers, to evade capture. However the Royal Navy regained the upper hand once they captured and used slaver clippers together with new faster ships supplied from Britain.

An article in the Bath Chronicle edition of 4th October 1821 highlights the approach by different nations to the slave trade and the sheer size of the problem that the Royal Navy was taking on:-

Sir George Collier, in his report on the Slave Trade, says, England, certainly the whole world must acknowledge, has most faithfully abandoned the trade. America may be considered next in good intention: still her measures are not yet complete, and American vessels, American subjects, and American capital, are unquestionably engaged in the trade, though under other colours, and in disguise.

Spain, by her decrees, in consequence of her engagements with Great Britain, has relinquished the trade; but her Colonies still carry it on in defiance of these engagements.

Holland, it is true, has entered into engagements similar to those of Spain, but in her Colonies also the trade is encouraged.

Portugal, though restricted, by her treaties, to the continuance of the trade south of the Line, permits the subjects of St. Thomas and Prince Island to carry on the traffic to a very considerable extent.

But France, it is with the deepest regret that I mention it, has continued and encouraged the Slave Trade almost beyond estimation or belief. Under pretence of supplying her own Colonies, and furnishing only the means required for her cultivation, she has her flag protected, and British cruisers can only retire when they see her ensign; for search being forbidden, power and force become unavailable.

Under this security France is engrossing nearly the whole of the Slave Trade; and she has extended this traffic beyond what can be supposed. In truth, France now supplies the foreign Colonies north of the Line with Africans.

I do not exaggerate in saying, that thirty vessels, under the colours of France, have, nearly at the same time, and within two or three leagues of distance, to detain vessels bearing the French flag, in the hope of checking the bold and frequent outrages committed by the French on our own coast.

Within the last 12 months not less than 60,000 Africans have been forced from their country, principally under the colours of France, and distributed between the Islands of Martinique, Guadaloupe, and Cuba.

I saw at Havannah, in July last, no fewer than forty vessels fitting out for the Slave Trade, protected equally by the flags and papers of France and Spain. France has certainly issued her decrees against this traffic, but she has done nothing to enforce them; on the contrary, she gives to the trade all countenance short of public avowal.

Piracy upon the coast of Africa is increasing; for a vessel so engaged has only to show the flag of France, and search by a British officer incurs a penalty.

On this distressing subject, so revolting to every well regulated mind, I will add, that such is the merciless treatment of Slaves by the persons engaged in the traffic, that no fancy can picture the horror of the voyage.

Crowded together, so as not to give the power to move - linked one to the other by the leg, never unfettered while life remains, or till the iron shall have fretted the flesh almost to the bone - forced under a deck, is I have seen them, not thirty inches in height breathing an atmosphere the most putrid, with little food and less water - subject to the most severe punishment at the caprice of the brute who commands the vessel - it is to me a matter of extreme wonder that any of these miserable people live out the voyage. Many of them, indeed, perish, and those who remain present a picture of wretchedness language cannot describe.


Before 1835 the Royal Navy was only allowed to take slave ships that actually had slaves aboard, not those clearly used for the purpose of legitimate trade. That had meant that the crew of slave ships being pursued had a reason to throw their slaves overboard before capture so as to avoid confiscation of the vessel. Thereafter the presence of manacles and chains, extra planking or water storage in ships intercepted was deemed as evidence of illegal slave trading.

By the 1840s paddle steamers were deployed by the squadron; these had the advantage of independence of the wind and a shallow draught which enabled them to patrol the shallow shores and rivers.

By 1840 it was estimated (source "Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilization of Africa" prospectus, 1840) that the cost to Britain of the West Africa Squadron, payments to foreign powers, for the support of liberated Africans and other incidental expenses had "amounted to upwards of fifteen millions sterling". In the 1840s this was a most considerable sum of money.

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 abolished the trading in slaves and encouraged British action to apply pressure to other European countries to abolish their own slave trades, but it did not abolish slavery itself. It was 26 years later when the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished slavery throughout the British Empire.

It took almost 60 years of diplomacy and naval patrolling to finally end the Atlantic slave trade. The Royal Navy patrols were not without controversy and had led to strong political debate questioning the high financial cost and purpose of the patrols. However Captain Kelly's distressing evidence to the Court of Sierra Leone had helped strengthen the case against slavery (see above).

This background article has concentrated on the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron but we should not forget its operations on the east coast of Africa. For centuries large numbers of people from Africa's interior had been sold into slavery in Arabia, Persia, and India. Reports of Arab cruelty against enslaved Africans in the 1860s from the missionary and explorer David Livingston stirred up the British public's interest and renewed support for the abolition of slavery.

From the 1870s the Royal Navy became engaged in anti-slavery policing of the seas around the east coast of Africa, especially in connection with the principal slavery embarkation port of Zanzibar. This continued into the 20th Century.

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Page Links:-

Introduction and early life

   - The Sultan's Medal for Egypt

   - Wounded in the Med

   - HMS Temeraire

   - A Caribbean skirmish

   - First Lieutenant on HMS Polyphemus

   - Kelly and the Invasion of Java

Kelly's anti-slavery patrols

   - incl. Court of Sierra Leone evidence

Later life and move to Saltford

   - Legacy including Kelly College

   - The Admiral's philanthropic widow

   - Kelly Inlet, southern Chile

The Admiral's Blue Plaque

Background to RN anti-slavery patrols

Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly
Pictured at Mount Kelly (formerly Kelly College).
Photographs of Admiral Kelly are lower down the page.


Royal Navy ships Benedictus Kelly served on
(with starting dates or duration where known)

HMS Royal William
Pictured in 1705 this ship saw very long service from 1690, as HMS Prince but renamed HMS Royal William in 1692, until it was broken up in 1813. Kelly was on the ship's books briefly in 1804.
(Painting from National Maritime Museum collection)

HMS Niger
(1798, as Able Seaman,
for passage out to join
Volgate in the Mediterranean)

HMS Volgate
(1798, as Midshipman)

HMS Gibraltar
(1798, as Master's Mate
with the rank of Midshipman,
wounded at Porto Ferrajo in 1801)

HMS Royal William
(1804, briefly while awaiting
another appointment)

HMS Swiftsure
(1804, as Midshipman)

HMS Temeraire
(1804, as Midshipman)

HMS Eling
(1805, as Sub-Lieutenant)

HMS Adamant
(1806, as Lieutenant)

HMS Daedalus
(1807, as Lieutenant)

HMS Aurora
(1808, as Lieutenant)

HMS Polyphemus
(1810, as First Lieutenant)

HMS Bramble
(1810, sent home with the despatches)

HMS Dasher
(1811, as Commander)

HMS Heureux
(1811-14, as Commander)

HMS Pheasant
(1818-1822, as Captain*)
*post commission dated 19.7.1821

Royal George
(1822, last 'active' appointment,
taking ship to breaker's yard)


Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly

Birth, Holsworthy, Devon 3 Feb 1785

Enters Royal Navy (age 13) 19 Oct 1798

Master's Mate 1799

Assists capture of French squadron (5 ships) 1799

Earns "The Sultan's Medal for Egypt, 1801"

Wounded during boat attack on French defences
at Porto Ferrajo, Elba (near Corsica) 1801

Sub-lieutenant 12 Jan 1805

Lieutenant 31 Jan 1806

First Lieutenant HMS Polyphemus 31 Jan 1806

Captures French privateers Nov 1808

Captain HMS Dasher 1811
(assists with Invasion of Java)

Captain HMS Pheasant 22 Sep 1818
(start of anti-slavery patrol work)

Captures slave ship Nova Felicidade 30 Jul 1819

Bombards Accra, Ghana to liberate
50 slaves 26 Aug 1820

Retires from active service on health grounds 1822
(enters civilian life in London when recovered)


Director, Bristol and Exeter Railway Co. 1836

Marries 1st wife Mary Price 31 Aug 1837
(Mary dies in childbirth 14 Jul 1838)

Director, Royal Mail Steam packet Co. 1839 (approx.)*

*Other rail industry positions held incl. Managing Director of London Bridge Station & Director and Chairman of London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (dates not known)

Promoted to Rear-Admiral (reserve list) 8 Mar 1852

Marries 2nd wife Juliana Boyd 7 Aug 1855

Moves to Saltford House 1856

Promoted to Vice-Admiral (reserve list) 2 Oct 1857

Promoted to Admiral (reserve list) 27 Apr 1863

Death at Saltford House (age 82) 26 Sep 1867


Queen's School, Saltford, opens 1874
funded by his widow Juliana Kelly

Foundation stone for Kelly College, Tavistock,
laid by Juliana Kelly, 29 May 1875

Kelly College, Tavistock, opens Oct 1877
(becomes part of Mount Kelly Jun 2014)

Death of Juliana Kelly (age 93)
at Saltford House 4 Dec 1896