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The brave, young captain who died in Yarmouth defending ship from pirates

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 July 2011

The historic gravestone of David Bartleman has been restored by stone mason Colin Smith.

The historic gravestone of David Bartleman has been restored by stone mason Colin Smith.

Archant © 2011

HE was outnumbered and outgunned in a maritime battle which raged on the seas off the Norfolk coast.

With just 10 men and cabin boys, he faced cannon fire and cutlasses in a vicious assault by the notorious English pirate, Daniel Fall.

And despite beating off the 100 man assault, when they returned the ship’s master’s had no answer – and he died in Great Yarmouth from his combat wounds.

But now this 18th century tale of one man’s bravery will be remembered for many more years to come after a stonemason has breathed new life into his gravestone.

Colin Smith has spent more than a month carefully restoring the headstone of 25-year-old David Bartleman – a remarkable headstone which tells the story of the dramatic events leading up to his death on February 14, 1781.

Using just two chisels and little measurement, the 64-year-old has transformed the faded relic into a legible icon for the St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust.

Mr Smith, 64, of Caister, said: “I feel very proud to have worked on this project – and I have been a stonemason since 1962. There’s some beautiful lettering on the stone, and it has drawn a terrific amount of interest from people passing by who have seen me working on it. During the project there were times when I was desperate to reach the end, but you need to have so much patience to get to finish a job like this.”

David Bartleman was master of the brig, Alexander and Margaret of North Shields, which faced the English pirate, Fall, on January 31, 1781. He fought off two assaults from the pirate who boasted 18 four-pounder cannons on his cutter vessel – compared to the Alexander and Margaret’s three-pounder cannons.

Bartleman was severely wounded in the second wave of attacks from the pirate ship but struck and headed his battered boat back into the safety of Yarmouth where he died the following month from his injuries.

His father, Alexander Bartleman, marked the bravery of his son by putting up a special headstone in his memory in St Nicholas Parish Churchyard, Yarmouth.

Meanwhile, Fall the pirate sailed under the American flag during the American war of independence between 1775 and 1783, and captured many colliers on the east coast. He had a licence to operate from America, France and Holland.

In fact he wasn’t a pirate but a privateer in paid employment. At the same period that the Alexander and Margaret was attacked, Fall capturted the John Pearson, the Smelt Coven and the Fanny Porter.

It is believed Admiral Nelson had two skirmishes with Fall. By 1782 Fall had moved to the Irish Sea and there is no more knowledge of him.

After one particular skirmish at sea the then Mayor of Great Yarmouth wrote a stiff letter to the Admiralty complaining there were no men-of-war ships stationed in Yarmouth.

History also says there used to be a wooden statue of Bartleman at North Shields, where departing sailors used to cut off a piece of the statue before they sailed – to bring them luck.

Dr Paul Davies, chairman of the St Nicholas Church Preservation Trust, said: “There is a need to aid history because people will see this gravestone and say ‘Oh that’s interesting’, but if it is left behind with no work then the history will become lost.”

The refurbished headstone will be unveiled to the public during a re-positioning and re-dedication ceremony on Wednesday at noon in the churchyard at the West End of St Nicholas Church.

The restoration was funded by the Pearson family who wanted to protect the history of the stone because they believe their distant ancestors were pirates.

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