Blue plaque unveiled in honour of 'remarkable' Saltford resident Admiral Kelly

Published on: 07 Oct 2016

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A naval officer who fought the slave trade as well as battles in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars has been honoured in Saltford, the village where he spent his final years.

On October 1, MP Jacob Rees-Mogg unveiled a blue plaque commemorating Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly at Saltford House, where he lived from 1856 until 1867.

Following extensive research into Admiral Kelly’s life by Phil Harding, the chairman of Saltford Environment Group, Saltford Parish Council sought permission from B&NES Council to install the plaque on a gate post at the Grade II-listed property.

Admiral Kelly joined the Royal Navy in 1798 at the age of just 13, going on to battle French and Dutch forces before being appointed to command HMS Pheasant in 1818, carrying out anti-slavery patrols off the west coast of Africa.

Intercepting Portuguese, French and Spanish vessels suspected of carrying slaves, Admiral Kelly lost a number of men to yellow fever and other members of his crew were murdered as they took one slave ship back to Sierra Leone.

During the four years he spent on HMS Pheasant, however, he freed more than 350 slaves and gave compelling evidence to the Court of Sierra Leone on the conditions and treatment he witnessed, describing them as “shocking to every principle of humanity”. 

His account of the capture of Nova Felicidade, onboard which he discovered 71 people shackled together in cramped holds, was reproduced in several publications calling for an end to the slave trade, including in the prospectus of the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilization of Africa, whose president was Prince Albert.

Admiral Kelly retired from the Navy in 1822 because of poor health, going to London where he became a director of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, director of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and the Bristol and Exeter Railway and managing director of London Bridge station.

He moved to Saltford in 1856, purchasing Saltford House and carrying out extensive renovations, and supporting the local school.

He died in 1867 at the age of 82, leaving a large bequest to pay for the building of Kelly School in Tavistock, and the blue plaque at his former home reads “Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly (1785-1867) – Naval officer, liberator of slaves, benefactor.”

Unveiling the plaque, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “It is important that local communities celebrate and mark those who once lived among them and had made a contribution to important issues such as the abolition of slavery.

“I, therefore, very much welcome the work by Saltford Environment Group and Saltford Parish Council to celebrate Admiral Kelly and to revive his memory in his local community and further afield so that more people may learn about his remarkable life.”

Saltford Environment Group’s Phil Harding said: “We were astounded to discover what a remarkable life Admiral Kelly had lived, his contribution to help end slavery, and significant support for the education of children in the 19th century. His lifetime of serving his country and helping those in greatest need can inspire others.

“We here in Saltford were delighted that Bath and North East Somerset Council gave planning permission for the Admiral’s blue plaque to mark this former resident’s important contribution to a better society.”

Find out more about Admiral Kelly at www.saltfordenvironmentgroup.org.uk/history/history010.html

  • Photo: Jess Godfrey

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