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'MAROONED' - the story of Robert Jeffery

Robert Jeffery was a young Polperro seaman pressed aboard HMS Recruit off Cornwall in 1807 at the age of 17.

A romaticised view of the marooning published in
1810 - National Portrait Gallery HMS Recruit, a warship commanded by Captain Warwick Lake, sailed to the West Indies where Jeffery was caught stealing the midshipmen's beer. Brought before the captain, Lake ordered that he should be put ashore on the remote and barren island of Sombrero without food or water. There the wretched Jeffery watched HMS Recruit disappear over the horizon, leaving him marooned alone.

Word of this cruel deed soon reached Lake's commanding officer, Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, who ordered Lake to return to Sombrero and fetch Jeffery. When he did so, two months after abandoning the youth, there was no sign of Jeffery or his remains.

Robert Jeffery was in fact rescued by an American schooner after enduring nine days on the waterless rocky islet and taken to Massachusetts where he remained quietly for the next three years.

the front cover of James Derriman's book about the marooning of Robert Jeffery The story of a seaman being marooned by his captain on a desert island eventually also reached the Admiralty in London and in 1810 Captain Lake was duly court-martialled and dismissed from the Navy. The matter was also raised in Parliament however with the result that the case of Jeffery the Seaman became a matter of national concern. Samuel Whitbread MP, one of several prominent figures to concern themselves with it at the time, wrote to Zephaniah Job in Polperro seeking information about Jeffery.

In due course, Jeffery was brought back to England in a warship. Three years after being marooned on Sombrero, he arrived at Portsmouth where he was met by Samuel Whitbread among others and brought to London where news of his exploits received wide publicity. For a brief period, an exhibition featuring 'the Governor of Sombrero' was mounted, but eventually Jeffery returned to Polperro and obscurity.

[Source: Marooned by James Derriman, published by the Polperro Heritage Press 2006.
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There is a special display of the incident inside the Polperro Heritage Museum

edited by Jeremy Rowett Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum © 2000

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