Throwback Thursday: A loving Brentwood sailor boy

PUBLISHED: 14:23 14 February 2019

John Jervis from Brentwood was a junior naval officer from a poor family who had, as a youngster, fallen in love with his cousin, Martha.

John Jervis from Brentwood was a junior naval officer from a poor family who had, as a youngster, fallen in love with his cousin, Martha.


For throwback Thursday, historian and vice-president of the Brentwood Writers’ Circle Sylvia Kent goes back more than 200 years to look at how a sailor boy spent his Valentine’s Day.

Ask any high street florist how busy they have been over the last week working non stop for this special day. Exhausted, will be the answer!

Think how many proposals have been made - maybe after a long time hoping that he (or she) will pop the question?

But for lovers of naval history, this St Valentine’s Day 1797 also has significance for one Brentwood man who eventually became not only a husband (after waiting for 20 long years), but also a member of parliament and a Knight of the Realm on February 14.

John Jervis, a junior naval officer from a poor family had, as a youngster, fallen in love with his cousin, Martha. She lived at Rochetts, South Weald near Brentwood and was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parker, Chief Baron of the Exchequer.

In those class-ridden day, marriage was unthinkable.

As Sir Thomas’ heiress, Martha held considerable social position and was immensely wealthy. Poor Jervis had nothing. But from his letters, he truly loved his girl.

Although he was in the navy, he was at the time on half pay as it was peace-time. A miracle was needed if the lovers were ever to get together.

However, in 1782, England was at war with France. Jervis by then, was merely captain of the Foudroyant, one of the largest two-decker ships in the English Navy and the great sea battle was fought, capturing the French ship Pegase. Jervis returned home a hero.

Prize money and a knighthood followed. He was now considered as an acceptable husband for Martha, who had waited for him for more than twenty years.

When Martha’s father died, she received a magnificent inheritance and inherited the wonderful Rochetts. In the meantime, Jervis’ career soared. From vice-admiral in 1795 he became commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet within two years. By then, the war with Spain was raging.

Always a superb judge of men, it was Jervis who promoted a young unknown officer by the name of Horatio Nelson - thereby hangs another famous tale! Early in 1797, England received news of a large Spanish fleet which had set sail to join the French in their plan to invade England.

At dawn on 14 February Jervis’ flagship Victory, along with 14 other ships, engaged the enemy in a huge battle off Cape St Vincent, capturing four Spanish ships.

England was saved. Honours and money were heaped on Jervis, along with a peerage. There is now a monument to him in St Paul’s Cathedral and numerous portraits of him at different periods of his life.

Around the turn of that century, Jervis – now Earl St Vincent – gave up his Mediterranean command and returned to Rochetts in dear old Brentwood where he lived out his days until his death on 13 March, 1823.

Close to the fabulous Rochetts - which still stands - is a sign for St Vincent’s Hamlet, serving as a local important memorial to a distinguished, romantic sailor-boy!

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