The primary purpose of having Royal Marines on a navy ship was to protect the captain or commander, and the other officers from within, via a mutiny by the ship’s company, or from without via attack. Interestingly, Belcher specifically requested the presence of one bombardier per each of his ships from the Royal Marine Artillery at Portsmouth (except for the depot ship North Star). The Admiralty immediately complied with this request, and four bombardiers subsequently joined the Belcher Expedition on 20 February 1852. These men then served alongside the Royal Marines from the Woolwich Division.

The significance of the Portsmouth Royal Marine Bombardiers is that they were trained in handling cannon. One wonders with whom Belcher expected to have such significant trouble that he would need to use cannon! Perhaps his request was coloured by his experience with his prior near-mutiny on HMS Sulphur when at least one Hampshire newspaper prematurely announced Belcher’s death???

He later emphatically denied his demise in the Times.

By Elizabeth Matthews

Leading authority on HMS Resolute

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