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By Ruth Kozak

In Memory of Admiral Sir Richard Keats, KB - 1757 - 1834 "A distinguished officer of the British Navy, second to none in gallantry, genius or talent" United Service Memoir.

The Keats Island Story

On a quiet July evening in the year 1801 a British 74 gun ship, the Superb, under the command of Capt. Richard Keats, broke from the rest of the British fleet and slipped out of the Gibraltar harbour on a mission that was to become unparalleled in naval history. The British had been anchored off Gibraltar after a fierce sea battle with the French at Algeciras. When they saw their enemies join with five Spanish line of battle ships and sail westward toward Cape Trafalgar, they were determined to give chase. Because of the previous sea battle, the only British ship ready for combat was the Superb. She was a small 74 gun sailing ship and there didn't seem much chance that the Superb could cause any significant damage to the enemy fleet. But with her crew she had seen many battles so with great enthusiasm her captain set every stitch of canvas that would draw and with a fresh easterly wind behind her the Superb gave chase.

It was very late that night when the Superb finally drew abreast of the huge Spanish gunship Real Carlos. Without hesitation Capt. Keats ordered his men to fire broadside into the enemy. The shot was fired.

The Superb passed by quickly. But the shot had mistakenly missed the Real Carlos and hit another Spanish vessel nearby. In the darkness, confused by the surprise attack, each of the Spanish three-deckers thought the other was an enemy. While Keats and his men watched from a safe vantage point ahead, the Spanish ships fired at each other, both exploding and burning up. Aboard these ships were the scions and officers of many noble Spanish families. More than 2400 officers and men went down in that sea battle and it was said to be one of the most tragic events of naval history.

Capt. Keats, the curate's son from Hampshire, was soon to become known as "a distinguished officer of the British Navy, second to none in gallantry, genius or talent.

Many years later a little survey sloop, the Plumper, was cruising the distant waters of Howe Sound on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Her captain, George Richards, recalled the famous sea battle off Cape Trafalgar when his sloop anchored in the shelter of a tiny island cove. It was twenty-five years after the death of Admiral Richard Goodwin Keats. The little wooded island was many miles away from the scene of those booming cannons and brave fighting ships. But Capt. Richards name the island "Keats" in memory of the man of whom Horatio Nelson had said was "equal to one 74-gun ship." Appropriately, in his exploration and survey of the neighbouring islands, Capt. Richards chose to make each of them memorials to British naval men. Howe Sound itself, charted by Capt. Vancouver in 1792, was named after Adm. Richard Scrope, Earl Howe. In the famous naval battle known as the "Glorious First of June, 1794," Earl Howe was named a hero. Each of the Howe Sound Islands bears the names of brave admirals in that sea battle. Barfleur Passage to the south of Keats Island is the memorial of HMS.Barfleur, a 98-gun ship engaged in the "Glorius First of June" and was commanded by Capt. Cuthbert Collingwood (Collingwood Channel). These islands and passages were surveyed and charted by Capt. Richards and the Plumper in 1860.

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