Sir John Balchen

In the west aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey is a memorial to Admiral Sir John Balchen (or Balchin). The white and grey marble monument, signed by sculptor Peter Scheemakers, shows a relief of a ship sinking in a storm, with naval instruments and trophies. The inscription reads:

To the memory of Sr JOHN BALCHEN, Kt. Admiral of the White Squadron of his MAJESTY'S Fleet who in the year 1744 being sent out Commander in Chief of the combined fleets of England & Holland, to cruise on the enemy was on his return home in his MAJESTY'S ship the VICTORY lost in the Channel by a violent storm, from which sad circumstance of his death we may learn that neither the greatest skill, judgment, or experience, join'd to the most firm unshaken resolution can resist the fury of the winds and waves, and we are taught from the passages of his life which were fill'd with great and gallant actions but ever accompanied with adverse gales of fortune, that the brave, the worthy, and the good man, meets not always his reward in this world. Fifty eight years of faithful and painful services he had pass'd when being just retired to the Government of Greenwich Hospital to wear out the remainder of his days, he was once more and for the last time call'd out by his KING & Country whose interest he ever preferr'd to his own, and his unweareid zeal for their service ended only in his death, which weighty misfortune to his afflicted family became heighten'd by many aggravating circumstances attending it, yet, amidst their grief had they the mournful consolation to find his gracious and royal master, mixing his concern with the general lamentations of the publick, for the calamitous fate of so zealous, so valiant, and so able a commander, and as a lasting memorial of the sincere love and esteem born by his widow to a most affectionate and worthy husband, this honourary monument was erected her her. He was born Febry. ye 2d 1669, Married SUSANNAH the daughter of Coll: APRICE of WASHINGLY in the county of HUNTINGDON. Died October ye 7th 1744 leaving one son and one daughter the former of whom GEORGE BALCHEN survived him but a short time, for being sent to the WT.INDIES in 1745 Commander of his MAJESTY'S ship the PEMBROKE he died at BARBADOES in Decber. the same year aged 28 having walked in the steps and imitated the virtues and bravery of his good but unfortunate father.

The date of birth given on the memorial is in Old Style dating, now called 1670. Permission to erect the monument was given by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster in November 1745 and it was in position by May 1746. At the top of the monument is a painted coat of arms: "vert, a crescent between eight estoiles in orle or" (a green shield with gold stars and a crescent, for Balchen) impaling "three spear heads argent" (for Aprice). The crest is an anchor with three fleur de lys.

He was born at Godalming in Surrey, son of John Balchin, a farmer, and his wife Ann (Edsur). The admiral always spelt his name Balchen. He joined the navy and served in the West Indies and later in West Africa. Of his six children four died before him. Widow Susannah died in 1752. Their daughter Frances married Captain (later Vice Admiral) Temple West and she erected the memorial to her husband in the north choir aisle of the Abbey.

Further reading

Balchin Family Society website

A design for the memorial is in the Victoria and Albert Museum

Born

2nd February 1670

Died

4th October 1744

Memorial

1st May 1746

Occupation

Sailor

Location

North Transept

Memorial Type

Statue

Material Type

Marble

Sir John Balchen
Sir John Balchen memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Sir John Balchen
Relief on Balchen memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster