Sir Philip Bowes Vere, Bart. Broke (1776-1841), British rear-admiral, was born at Broke Hall, near Ipswich, on the 9th of September 1776, a member of an old Suffolk family. Entering the navy in June 1792, he saw active service in the Mediterranean from 1793 to 1795, and was with the British fleet at the battle of Cape St Vincent, 1797. In 1798 he was present at the defeat and capture of the French squadron off the north coast of Ireland. From 1799 to 1801 he served with the North Sea fleet, and in the latter year was made captain. Unemployed for the next four years, he commanded in 1805 a frigate in the English and Irish Channels. In 1806 he was appointed to the command of the "Shannon", 38-gun frigate, remaining afloat, principally in the Bay of Biscay, till 1811. The "Shannon" was then ordered to Halifax, Nova Scotia. For a year after the declaration of war between Great Britain and the United States in 1812, the frigate saw no important service, though she captured several prizes. Broke utilized this period of comparative inactivity to train his men thoroughly. He paid particular attention to gunnery, and the "Shannon" ere long gained a unique reputation for excellence of shooting.
Broke's opportunity came in 1813. In May of that year the "Shannon" was cruising off Boston, watching the "Chesapeake", an American frigate of the same nominal force but heavier armament. On the 1st of June Broke, finding his water supply getting low, wrote to Lawrence, the commander of the "Chesapeake", asking for a meeting between the two ships, stating the "Shannon's" force, and guaranteeing that no other British ship should take part in the engagement. Before this letter could be delivered, however, the "Chesapeake", under full sail, ran out of Boston harbour, crowds of pleasure-boats accompanying her to witness the engagement. Broke briefly addressed his men. "Don't cheer," he concluded, "go quietly to your quarters. I feel sure you will all do your duty." As the "Chesapeake" rounded to on the "Shannon's" weather quarter, at a distance of about fifty yards, the British frigate received her with a broadside. A hundred of the "Chesapeake's" crew were struck down at once, Lawrence himself being mortally wounded. A second broadside, equally well-aimed, increased the confusion, and, her tiller-ropes being shot away, the American frigate drifted foul of the "Shannon". Broke sprang on board with some sixty of his men following him. After a brief struggle the fight was over.
Within fifteen minutes of the firing of the first shot, the "Chesapeake" struck her flag, but Broke himself was seriously wounded. For his services he was rewarded with a baronetcy, and subsequently was made a K.C.B. His exploit captivated the public fancy, and his popular title of "Brave Broke" gives the standard by which his action was judged. Its true significance, however, lies deeper. Broke's victory was due not so much to courage as to forethought. "The 'Shannon,'" said Admiral Jurien de La Gravière, "captured the 'Chesapeake' on the 1st of June 1813; but on the 14th of September 1806, when he took command of his frigate, Captain Broke had begun to prepare the glorious termination to this bloody affair." Broke's wound incapacitated him from further service, and for the rest of his life caused him serious suffering. He died in London on the 2nd of January 1841.