John Benbow attended the free school in Shrewsbury and became an apprentice to a waterman on the River Severn. After completing his apprenticeship, he went to sea to become an officer in the Royal Navy eventually rising to the rank of Admiral.
Legend refers to the fact that he left the key to his front door nailed to a tree – where it remained for many years, until moved to subsequent properties that had been developed on the site of his former house. Today it is on display in a glass case, at the front steps of Shrewsbury’s Benbow Quay apartments.
He achieved his fame whilst fighting the French during the war of Spanish succession. During an engagement with the French off Santa Marta, Benbow lost one of his legs. As the battle progressed a number of captains under his command refused to support his decisions. Controversy arose when he charged these captains with cowardice and their refusal to continue the battle. He died of his wounds before the fate of the captains could be determined.
Nevertheless this Shrewsbury lad was recognised as a brave and courageous captain and his exploits were celebrated in song and a number of pubs were named after him. Robert Louis Stevenson even included one in Treasure Island.
A monument by the sculptor John Evan Thomas was erected in 1843 by public subscription in St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury, commemorating Benbow as "a skillful and daring seaman whose heroic exploits long rendered him the boast of the British Navy and still point him out as the Nelson of his times. He also had a 74-gunship and two battleships named HMS Benbow after him
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