Thomas Pickstock, a renowned 18th century privateer, was the son of Thomas Pickstock, a sergeant in the 99th Regiment, which formed part of the Jersey garrison when Thomas was born in 1765. His father married Jeanne Le Feuvre in Jersey on 6 May 1762 and Thomas was baptised at St Helier’s Parish Church on 2 June 1763.
His father was later posted back to England and young Thomas joined the Navy and was soon in charge of a King’s cutter at Portsmouth. Thomas married Elizabeth Luce in 1787 and they had five children. His son Thomas was for many years Judge of the Supreme Court in British Honduras. Elizabeth died in 1796 and two years later Thomas married for a second time to Marie Anne Guillet.
Biography from Guernsey and Jersey Magazine 1837
His ancestors were highly respectable, as he descended from an old family in England, the possessors of Pickstock’s Township, in the parish of Edmond, in the Drayton division of the Hundred of Bradford, three miles NW of Newport in Shropshire.
In early life he displayed a warm predilection for the sea and, when very young he had charge of a hired cutter in the King’s service at Portsmouth. But his free and active mind languished under the systematic rule and punctilious discipline to which he was subjected, and he determined to quit a command which shackled his spirit and curbed his love of adventure.
He accordingly returned to Jersey and was soon appointed to the the Herald, a letter of marque brig trading from the island to Labrador and the Mediterranean. On 25 February 1798, when entering the Bay of Naples, the Herald was suddenly assailed by three privateers, with whom a desperate conflict ensued. In the evening of the same day Captain Pickstock was further attacked by a felucca, armed and full of desperate fellows, who attempted to carry the Herald by boarding, but most of them lost their hands from the sabres of the Jerseymen. Ultimately the felucca was sunk. On landing at Naples Captain Pickstock was loudly greeted by the people who had witnessed the unequal action from their shore.
His Royal Highness Augustus Frederick, duke of Sussex, then on a visit to his Sicilian Majesty, and who has ever been alive to glorious achievements, dispatched his chief secretary to congratulate Captain Pickstock on board his own ship, at the same time requesting to see him at his hotel, a mark of attention most flattering.
He was graciously received by the young prince, and presented with the sword he was then accustomed to wear, bearing the initials AF; and during his stay at Naples he was invited on several occasions to the table of the Royal Prince.
Captain Pickstock died, a victim to the yellow fever, at Surinam, in April 1800, his 35th year, at which period he commanded the ship Minerva or La Mouche of Guernsey. We have heard various anecdotes of his capturing Spanish vessels, or his imprisonment at Lisbon, of his miraculous escape, and of his rapid arrival in Jersey after having lost his ship, before the news had reached Lloyds. Captain Pickstock left an only son who, during many years, was a magistrate and judge of the supreme courts in the British colony of Honduras, and he now resides in the city of London. On 31 October 1835 the Duke of Sussex signified his pleasure in a letter addressed to that gentleman, dated from Southwick Park, that he might place the following inscription on the munificent and highly complimentary gift that he had conferred upon his father:
- ”This sword was presented to Thomas Pickstock, commander of the Herald of Jersey, by His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, for his gallant conduct on 25 February 1798 against a very superior French force in the Bay of Naples.”
We find by the records of the Chamber of Commerce in Jersey that on 13 March 1799 a piece of plate was voted to Captain Pickstock for his spirited exertions in rescuing the brig Princess Royal from the hands of the enemy at the time of their attack on the British possessions in Newfoundland, and also for his antecedent bravery in the Bay of Naples.
The following extract from James Naval History of Great Britain, edited by Captain Chamier RN, will interest our readers:
- ”As the British privateer schooner Herald of Jersey, Captain Thomas Pickstock, was crusing off the Neapolitan coast, three French privateers commenced a furious attack upon her. Captain Pickstock, by an animated address, so inspirited the Herald’s crew that after an action of three hours duration, the Herald beat off all three of her opponents, leaving them with shattered hulls, and a loss between them as reported to have been afterwards ascertained of 30 in killed and wounded; while the British vessel had the good fortune notto lose a man.
- ”The Herald was only of 80 tons, and mounted ten guns, three-, four- and six-pounders, with a complement of 28 men; whereas the largest of the French privateers mounted, it is said, five long 18-pounders (one on a traversing carriage) and the other two, four eight-pounders each. Consequently the united crews of the three must have amounted to at least 180 men.
- ”It is related also that on the night of the action, a felucca with 22 men suddenly appeared alongside the Herald with the view of carrying her by boarding, but that a well-directed broadside from the Herald sent the felucca and all on board to the bottom.
- ”On his arrival at Naples shortly afterwards Captain Pickstock received from all ranks, for his spirited behaviour, the highest marks of attention and respect. The Duke of Sussex, who was then at Naples, is said to have twice honored Capt Pickstock with an invitation to breakfast, and to have presented him with an hanger of considerable value, marked with the initials of his Royal Highness’s name; and one of the prince’s suite, a Mr Veers, gave a pair of pistols to the gallant privateersman.
- ”The latter was also received with great attention by Sir William Hamilton, the British envoy. The brave crew of the Herald did not pass unnoticed, as the British merchants at Naples raised by subscription and distributed between them the sum of 200 dollars.”
It is interesting to note that although the only Pickstock baptisms recorded in Jersey during the 18th and 19th century were those of the children of Thomas, the privateer, and his first wife Elizabeth Luce, there are 25 marriages of male Pickstocks. It seems likely that many of these were also garrison soldiers who met and married Jersey brides while serving in the island.