HMS Captain & Hugh Burgoyne

In the north transept of Westminster Abbey is a stained glass window and memorial brass to those who were lost when the ship HMS Captain sank.

HMS Captain window

The window was designed by J.R. Clayton and Alfred Bell and was installed in 1871. The scenes shown are from the Old and New Testaments (left from top): building the Ark, the passage through the Red Sea, Solomon's fleet of ships, building the ship of Tyre and Jonah's deliverance from the whale, (right from the top): Christ stilling the tempest, walking on the water, teaching from the ship, the miracle of the draught of fishes and St Paul's shipwreck. The inscription reads:

In memory of the officers men and boys drowned off Cape Finisterre in HMS Captain Sep 7, 1870

HMS Captain memorial brass

On the floor below the window the brass inscription reads:

The stained glass window above commemorates the foundering of HMS Captain on Sept 7 1870 when Capt. Hugh Burgoyne V.C. Capt. Cowper Coles C.B. with 49 officers and 402 men and boys perished off Cape Finisterre in the service of their country. The names are recorded on brasses in St Paul's Cathedral

Unfortunately this brass is now obscured by the ticket desk in this aisle.

Captain Hugh Burgoyne

He was the only son of Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne and his wife Charlotte (Rose), and grandson of Lt. General John Burgoyne who fought the Americans at Saratoga and who is buried in the north cloister of the Abbey. Born in Dublin in 1833 he joined the navy in 1847, serving with the fleet in the Crimean war where he won his Victoria Cross. He later served in the Pacific, China and North America. In 1864 he married Evelyn Wake Walker. In 1870 he sailed with HMS Captain, a ship of a rather controversial design by Cowper Coles. But when returning from Gibraltar the ship sank in a moderate squall and only eighteen members of the crew survived. Even though Burgoyne had been among those survivors clinging to the upturned ship he did not jump to the safety of a launch which was floating by like the other men but went down with his ship. The loss of the ship exposed the poor design of some of the ships in the fleet of the time but Burgoyne was not blamed at the court martial.

Captain Cowper Coles

Coles was born in 1819, a son of the Reverend John Coles. He invented the gun turret as used on HMS Captain. He had served in the Mediterranean and in the Crimea. His wife was Emily Pearson and they had ten children. Their son Sherard Cowper Coles also became an inventor.

Further reading for the Burgoyne family and Coles

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004


7th September 1870




North Transept

Memorial Type

Window; tablet

Material Type

Glass; brass

HMS Captain & Hugh Burgoyne
HMS Captain & Hugh Burgoyne brass

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

HMS Captain & Hugh Burgoyne
HMS Captain window

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster