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The History of Captain Benbow!

Posted: July 12, 2021
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The History of Captain Benbow!

As has been regularly mentioned, the Cornish Pirates popular mascot, that old sea dog Cap’n Benbow, has served the club magnificently over the years, and must certainly be one of the most photographed of characters in Cornwall!

When Penzance & Newlyn RFC decided to create a mascot in a Pirate costume back in 2004, a competition was held to come up with a suitable name. There were many good entries, but Phil Westren’s suggestion of the name ‘Captain Benbow’ was the one chosen by the then Director of Coaching, Kevin Moseley.

Was there a real Captain Benbow? Well, yes, there was, him someone who rose to the rank of Admiral. Indeed, if you visit the Admiral Benbow restaurant in Penzance you will likely learn various interesting facts, which were also confirmed to me a few years ago by Peter Benbow from Helston.

Peter kindly took the trouble to provide the following information in relation to Admiral Benbow, which makes interesting reading:

‘John Benbow, born in Shrewsbury in 1653, started his working life as butcher’s apprentice but ran away to become a Mariner.
He entered the Royal Navy in 1678, and as a Master Mate aboard the ‘Rupert’, under the command of Captain Herbert, saw action against Algerian Corsairs during a tour of duties in the Mediterranean. A year later he was promoted to Master of the ‘Nonsuch’ and was sailing out of Tangiers patrolling the African coast in search of Pirates.
Benbow left the Navy in 1681 and returned to the merchant service, sailing his own ship the ‘Benbow Freight’, which on one journey was attacked by Pirates. The vessel valiantly defended herself, and when the Pirate ship sailed off, some of the attackers were left on board. Now, in the 17th century a bounty was paid for the capture of Pirates, so John Benbow removed their heads and sailed for Cadiz where they were presented to the Magistrate in order to collect his reward.
By 1689 John Benbow had returned to the Navy and quickly rose through the ranks to Vice-Admiral. He was sent to the West Indies as Commander-in-Chief at a time when England was at war with the French, and while engaged in a sea battle off Santa Marta received wounds from chain shot that shattered his right leg. He was carried below for treatment but, as soon as his wounds were dressed, he ordered that he be placed back on the quarter deck. However, captains of other vessels in the fleet agreed to stop the engagement and signed a paper to this effect, thus leaving the Admiral no other choice but to return to Jamaica.
On reaching Port Royal Jamaica he ordered that the disobedient Captains be court marshalled, which was something he would not live to see, as Admiral Benbow died on the 4th November 1702 from the wounds suffered just a few months earlier.’

And so, here we are, left wondering over 300 years later what the brave Admiral would have thought of it all – though with good reason that he would perhaps feel immensely proud that a famous restaurant, and a popular mascot, would be named after him!

Now, who are those to have donned the Captain Benbow costume for the Pirates over the years? Well, there have been several at varying times since ‘Rastus’ Williams first wore it, however special mention must firstly go to Mike Richards who for years was so supportive. Mike would not only wear the costume on match days (always home and occasionally away) but also at various community events all about the county – there simply too many to mention. He was terrific in his responses, as was then Steve Pinfield over a good number of years. Also, more recently, Captain Benbow has actually been – a woman, when at occasional home matches the always willing Penny Miners has sportingly fulfilled the role.

In conclusion, our thanks are expressed to those named and unnamed, with a hope that long may Captain Benbow continue to fulfil his (okay, and sometimes her!) duty.

Displayed are just a few of the many hundreds (thousands!) of photo images taken of Captain Benbow over the years. In order, they are as follows:
Captain John Benbow pictured when he was an Admiral.
Our Captain Benbow, in familiar pose.
Captain Benbow pictured with player Ian Nimmo when we held a ‘Red Nose Day’ collection.
Pictured with ‘Jack Sparrow’ at a Land’s End Pirate Day.
Captain Benbow pictured at one of several occasions when the Pirates supported the RNLI.
A photograph with Chris Morgan when the Pirates responded to support Royal Cornwall Hospital’s Toy Appeal.
Numerous charity collections with the good Captain pictured have taken place on Cornish Pirates match days, such as for the Poppy Appeal.
Support for the Bee Cause is another example of many worthy responses made by the Pirates. Players pictured at the back are Laurence May and Tom Channon.
The Cornish Pirates have had a regular presence at Mazey Day over the years. Note Captain Benbow pictured on one occasion with town crier Philip ‘Piglet’ Rowley.
When the Cornish Pirates won the British & Irish Cup in 2010, the trophy reached all parts of the county, including when it was taken to Radio Cornwall’s studios at Phoenix Wharf, Truro, where Captain Benbow is pictured with presenter Laurence Reed.

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