Vice Admiral Nathan Brunton
Stockton has a long and proud tradition of producing seafaring men.
One of the more distinguished of these is Nathan Brunton who was born in Stockton in 1744. Taking a fancy for the sea he left his home town and went to Shields to serve as an apprentice aboard a collier working out of the Tyne. After finishing his apprenticeship he was soon appointed master of the collier, a position he held for five years until, in 1771, he found himself pressed into the Royal Navy and drafted to serve in HMS Marlborough. Built in 1767, she was a third class 74 gun ship of the line under the command of the Right Honorable Constantine John Lord Musgrave who was to become Bruntons’ close friend and patron.
Initially serving as an able-bodied seaman, his seamanship and impeccable conduct saw him promoted to Master’s Mate and then, after six years in the navy, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant.
His successful career continued with promotion to the rank of Commodore in 1782. In 1783 he was promoted to the rank of Post Captain, a position he was to hold for many years until 1805 when he was appointed Rear Admiral of the Blue. (The Royal Navy at that time was comprised of three squadrons – Red, White and Blue – each squadron had its own Admiral, Vice-Admiral and Rear Admiral in order of seniority).
In July 1809 Brunton was again promoted, this time to Vice-Admiral of the Blue. In July 1813 he was appointed to the post of Vice-Admiral of the White and he reached the high-point of his naval career when in July 1814 he was promoted to Vice-Admiral of the Red. Shortly after this, at the age of 70 and profoundly deaf, Vice Admiral Nathan Brunton’s distinguished naval career came to an end with his retirement.
In his time with the Royal Navy he had served with gallantry and integrity in HMS Europe and HMS Courageux, he served as commander of HMS Flirt and successively captained the Courageux, the Assistance, the Meleager, the Leviathan and the Dictator.
By the patronage of Lord Musgrave, Brunton was also appointed to the post of Deputy Paymaster to the forces at New Brunswick (1797) with a salary of 547 pounds, 10 shillings.
On retiring from the navy, he returned to Stockton to live at 140 The High Street (now partly McColl’s ), but only a few months later, on the 19th November 1814, Brunton died. He was buried in the Parish Church of Stockton, and while his grave is no longer there, the plain marble tablet that was erected as a memorial can still be seen. It bears the legend ‘Underneath are deposited the Remains of Nathan Brunton Esquire who died 19th November 1814 aged 71 years and to whose Memory a Monument is placed in this Church‘.
One interesting anecdote concerning Brunton was recorded in Heavisides Annals of Stockton. It occurred while he was at his home at 140 High Street. One morning as he rose from his slumbers he noticed his bedroom window was wide open and a ladder was leaning against the wall outside. He soon discovered that his keys had been taken from the pocket of his trousers (he wasn’t wearing them at the time) and used to open the drawers where he kept his valuables. All of his trinkets were missing along with about £60 in cash (about £3,500 today). The thief was obviously aware of Brunton’s deafness.
Brunton consulted a friend to ask what he thought he should do about the theft of his property. His friend recommended he should go to see the ‘Wise Man of Stokesley’ (famed throughout the region as a prophet and sage, ‘having knowledge of all things secret, material and spiritual’) who would be able to tell him who the thief was. Brunton laughed at the idea saying ‘ I have no faith in such rascally imposters’. His friend replied that he didn’t either but that he knew of people who had been robbed and had, on consulting the ‘Wise Man’ about their losses, had their stolen goods mysteriously returned to them within a matter of days.
As much for the fun of it as anything else, the two friends engaged a conveyance and set off for Stokesley. On their arrival at the inn they sent word to the Wise Man that they awaited his presence. This led to something of a stand-off initially as the Wise Man refused to attend the Admiral and the Admiral wouldn’t go the the Wise Man’s house. The situation was resolved when Brunton’s friend undertook to go the the Wise Man himself with the story of the Admiral’s loss.
On hearing of the robbery the great Oracle, with a horrible grin, said that the thief was well acquainted with the premises and that in a day or two the stolen property would be returned, and it almost was…..
Within a few days of the Stokesley excursion, a brown paper parcel containing all of the Admiral’s missing trinkets was found in the garden of number 140, but only half of the stolen cash was returned. We can only assume that the Wise Man had some expenses…..