Finding the Story Behind the Monuments

In May 2007, by coincidence, I happened upon two monuments, about twenty miles away from each other, for an incident which occurred on New Year’s Eve 1783 off Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

While on the bike trail at Sandy Hook, about a mile south of the lighthouse, I noticed a small monument set back towards the trees. This monument (below and main photo) was formerly a grave marker. The plaque reads:

On this spot were buried the remains of the honorable Hamilton Douglas Halyburton, 1st Lieutenant, Royal Navy, son of the Earl of Morton, and James Champion, Lieutenant of Marines. Together with twelve members of the crew of H.M.S. Assistance who died here at Sandy Hook in the line of duty on December 31, 1783. Erected and dedicated in 1939.”


The second monument I saw was slightly more than two weeks later, as I was wandering around inside Trinity Church in New York City.  This monument, high up on the wall (below), was more informative:

At SANDY HOOK lye Interred the Remains OF THE HONOURABLE HAMILTON DOUGLAS HALLYBURTON.  Son of SHOLTO CHARLES EARL OF MORTON and Heir of the Ancient Family of HALLYBURTON of PICTURR in SCOTLAND, who perished on this Coast, with Twelve more young gentlemen and one common Seaman, in the spirited Discharge of Duty: on the 30th or 31st of December 1783.  Born on the 10th of October 1763.  A Youth who in contempt of hardship or Danger: though possessed of an ample Fortune served seven years in the British Navy with a manly Courage and seemed to deserve a better fate.  This plain Monumental stone is erected by his unhappy Mother KATHERINE COUNTESS DOWAGER OF MORTON to his dear memory and to that of his unfortunate companions.  JAMES CHAMPION Lieutenant of Marines.  ALEXANDER JOHNSTONE, GEORGE PADDY, ROBERT HAYWOOD. Midshipmen.  CHARLES GASCOIGNE  /  WILLIAM TOMLINSON  /  ANDREW HAMILTON  /  WILLIAM SPRY  /  WILLIAM SCOTT  /  JOHN Mc CHAIN  /  DAVID REDDIE  /  ROBERT WOOD   Young Gentleman . GEORGE TOWERS . common seaman  Cast away, all found dead and frozen, and buried in one grave.


Of course, my curiosity was piqued with the find at Sandy Hook, especially knowing the British evacuated New York City in November.  Finding the second monument in New York City with all its extra information increased my curiosity infinitely more.  A quick Internet search yielded more information: A New York Times article from 1908 and a book titled The Geographical and Historical Dictionary of American and the West Indies by Antonio de Alcedo provided the story, along with some other works I found later.

Here’s the story: The H.M.S. Assistance, a 50-gun ship commanded by Sir Charles Douglas, arrived off Sandy Hook on December 27th after a passage of nine weeks from England.  The plan, according to the Providence Gazette (Rhode Island), was for that ship and the Hermione, a 32-gun frigate commanded by a Captain Smith, to spend the winter in Barbados or Antigua and repair at Halifax in the spring.[i]

On the 30th, five or six men saw a chance to desert and left the ship on a long boat.  The first lieutenant, Hamilton Douglas Halyburton (or Haliburton), along with eleven other officers and a private seamen set off from the Assistance in a barge in pursuit of the deserters.  Soon after the sailors left the Assistance the weather began to worsen; the wind picked up and it began to snow heavily.  The snow and wind continued on New Year’s Day, so much so that the crew members aboard the Assistance could not make out any of the smaller boats.[ii]

The morning of January 2, 1784 saw moderate and clear weather.  The men on the Assistance were able to make out both the long-boat of the deserters and the barge of their pursuers on the beach.  An unnamed officer was sent ashore to find the men and bring them back to the Assistance.  The officer found the bodies of the men frozen to death, near the water’s edge on a beach near Middletown Point.  The deserters were never found.  Their names, as listed in the muster book of the Assistance were: Michael Broderick, 21, of Tipperary; Jonathan Cooney, 21, of Dublin; Anthony Crane; George Dicks, 28, of Portsmouth; Bernard Innes, 24, of London; William McDonald, 22, Greennough, Scotland; Thomas Martin, 22, Wexford, Ireland; Jonathan Morris, 21, Bristol; Thomas Murphy, 31, Dublin; Jonathan Shears, 22, Broadhampton; Samuel West, 24, Richmond.[iii]

Halyburton’s mother, the Countess Dowager of Morton, originally erected a marble monument over the graves of the men at Sandy Hook.[iv]  Sometime around the year 1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, an armed French vessel landed on the Hook, and some of the crewmen took the time to destroy the monument.[v]  The grave was rediscovered when excavations were being done at Fort Hancock with the view of erecting new government buildings there.  The New York Times reported that a vault was found during the excavation in which the remains of fourteen men of the Royal Navy were found.  The remains were reinterred at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York in 1909.[vi]

In 1939, a large granite monument was erected over the grave at Cypress Hills.  A new marker was also erected at Sandy Hook that year when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Britain visited and dedicated the small park in honor of the men who died.[vii]




[i] Providence (Rhode Island) Gazette, 3 January 1784
[ii] Sandy Hook and the Land of the Navesink.  By Samuel Stelle Smith.  Philip Freneau Press, Monmouth Beach, NJ, 1963.  Also Independent Gazette (New York, NY), 8 January 1784.
[iii] Another Look at Nauvoo to the Hook. By George H. Moss, Jr.  Ploughshare Press, Sea Bright, NJ, 1990.
[iv] The geographical and historical dictionary of America and the West Indies. Containing an entire translation of the Spanish work of Colonel Don Antonio de Alcedo … with large additions and compilations from modern voyages and travels, and from original and authentic information.  By Antonio de Alcedo  trans. G.A. Thompson Vol. IV. London: Carpenter & Son, 1814
[v] Sandy Hook and the Land of the Navesink.
[vi] The New York Times “British Praise of American Courtesy,” 6 September 1908; the website of Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY
[vii] the website of Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY; Sandy Hook and the Land of the Navesink.  It is unknown when the monument was placed in Trinity Church, though it is assumed it is similar to the original tablet erected by Halyburton’s mother.

Image credits:  Photographs taken by the author.

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