Robert Jenkins - Encyclopedia


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ROBERT JENKINS (fl. 1731-1745), English master mariner, is known as the protagonist of the "Jenkins's ear" incident, which, magnified in England by the press and the opposition, became a contributory cause of the war between England and Spain (1739). Bringing home the brig "Rebecca" from the West Indies in 1731, Jenkins was boarded by a Spanish guarda-costa, whose commander rifled the holds and cut off one of his ears. On arriving in England Jenkins stated his grievance to the king, and a report was furnished by the commander-in-chief in the West Indies confirming his account. At first the case created no great stir, but in 1738 he repeated his story with dramatic detail before a committee of the House of Commons, producing what purported to be the ear that had been cut off. Afterwards it was suggested that he might have lost the ear in the pillory.

Jenkins was subsequently given the command of a ship in the East India Company's service, and later became supervisor of the company's affairs at St Helena. In 1741 he was sent from England to that island to investigate charges of corruption brought against the acting governor, and from May 1741 until March 1742 he administered the affairs of the island. Thereafter he resumed his naval career, and is stated in an action with a pirate vessel to have preserved his own vessel and three others under his care (see T. H. Brooke, History of the Island of St Helena (London, 2nd ed., 1824), and H. R. Janisch, Extracts from the St Helena Records, 1885).

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