The Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth
by Edward Osler
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Well acquainted with all her difficulties, the French Government hastened to take advantage of them. Through the summer and autumn of 1796, a powerful fleet was equipped at Brest, to land an army on the shores of Ireland; after accomplishing which, a squadron of eight sail of the line was to be detached to India, where its support would probably encourage the hostile states to an immediate and general war. Its prospects were the more promising, as the armies of two of the native princes were officered by Frenchmen. As for Ireland, that was regarded as a country of which they had only to take possession; and the well-known feeling of a considerable part of the inhabitants warranted the most sanguine hopes of the invader.

The history of Ireland affords a melancholy, but most instructive lesson, pre-eminent as that unhappy country has been, at once for natural and political advantages, and for misery, turbulence, and crime. A Government, to command the obedience of the people by its firmness, and their confidence by a marked consideration for their feelings and welfare; a gentry, united with them as their leaders, protectors, and friends; and a Church, winning them to a purer faith by the unobtrusive display of benefits and excellences: all these blessings might have been its own. But by fatal mismanagement, the gentry, those of them who remained, were viewed as the garrison of a conquered country by the multitude, who were taught to feel themselves a degraded caste. The Church became identified in their minds with all that they most complained of; and the faith for which they suffered was doubly endeared to them. Thus the instruments for their deliverance confirmed their thraldom, and what should have won affection aggravated their enmity.

If there were a mistake beyond all this, it was that of expecting peace from concessions extorted by violence, and calculated only to give increased power to the enemies of existing institutions. Lord Exmouth held a very decided opinion upon this point, and foresaw that strong coercive measures would become necessary in consequence. He well knew how feeble would be the restraint imposed by any conditions contemplated by the advocates of change; and in allusion to the remark of the Duke of Northumberland, who had expressed a belief that he would think differently, when he saw the securities which would accompany the concessions—"Securities!" he said, "it is all nonsense! I never yet could see them, and I never shall." He justly anticipated, that as long as anything remained to be extorted, new demands would be founded upon every new concession. "How would you like," he said to one of his officers, "to see Roman Catholic chaplains on board our ships of war?" While the question was in progress, he wrote with prophetic truth—"The times are awful, when the choice of two evils only is left, a threatened rebellion, or the surrender of our constitution, by the admission of Catholics into Parliament and all offices. I think even this will not satisfy Ireland. Ascendancy is their object. You may postpone, and by loss of character parry the evil for a short space; but not long, depend upon it. You and I may not see it, but our children will, and be obliged to meet the struggle man to man, which we may now shirk. By God alone can we be saved from such consequences; may He shed his power and grace upon us as a nation!"

The political being everywhere dependent on the religious creed, a country where popish superstitions prevail will always contain two parties hostile upon principle to a free and constitutional government. The multitude, who have surrendered the right of private judgment upon the most engrossing subject, lose the disposition to exercise it upon matters of inferior importance; and become dangerous instruments in the hands of designing characters. A party will be found among them, whose penetration can detect the mummeries of imposture, but not perceive the claims of religion; and who, as they throw off allegiance to God, revolt at any exercise of human authority. Political privileges, the strength of a nation, where the intelligence and morals of the people support the law, will in such a country give power to rebellion, and impunity to crime. A government paternal in vigour as in kindness; the control of a firm authority, supreme over all influence, to maintain order, to leave no excuse for party, to protect the peaceable, promptly to suppress all resistance to the law, and to give to the demagogue only the alternative between obedience and rebellion, will be required not more for the safety of the state, than for the welfare of the misguided people.

When the progress of the French revolution engaged the attention of Europe, there was no country where it was regarded with greater interest than in Ireland. The Papists hoped from it the opportunity to overthrow Protestant supremacy: the Liberals hailed the triumph of their own principles. Emissaries were sent to France, who represented that nothing was wanting to secure the independence of Ireland but a regular army for a rallying point; and France, hoping to give a fatal blow to her most formidable enemy, and to gain a valuable province for herself, readily promised the aid required, and as soon as her own distracted condition would allow, hastened to fulfil her engagement.

The auxiliary force which the rebel delegates deemed sufficient, was fifteen thousand men; but an army of at least eighteen thousand was provided, commanded by that determined republican and distinguished officer, General Hoche, who had very recently succeeded in suppressing the revolt in La Vendee. Vice Admiral Villaret Joyeuse, defeated by Lord Howe on the 1st of June, was selected to command the fleet; but, a misunderstanding having arisen between him and the General, he was superseded by Vice-Admiral Morard de Galles.

The Minister of Marine, M. Truguet, whose able arrangements seemed to have anticipated and provided for every difficulty, had intended that the descent should be made in October, or at latest by the beginning of November; but the General having preferred to embark the whole army at once, it was delayed for the arrival of Rear-Admirals Pachery and Villeneuve; of whom the first, with seven sail of the line and three frigates, was waiting for an opportunity to come up from Rochefort, and the other was expected with five sail of the line from Toulon. The secret of the enemy's intentions was so well kept, that England had to conjecture the destination of the armament, and it was doubted to the last whether its object was Ireland, Portugal, or Gibraltar. In this uncertainty, a principal division of the Channel fleet, under Lord Bridport, remained at Spithead: Sir Roger Curtis, with a smaller force, cruised to the westward; and Vice-Admiral Sir John Colpoys was stationed off Brest, at first with ten, but afterwards with thirteen sail of the line. Sir Edward Pellew, with a small force of frigates, latterly watched the harbour.

About the middle of November, Sir R. Curtis returned to port, and soon after, M. Richery sailed from Rochefort, and entered Brest on the 11th of December. Sir E. Pellew, who had necessarily retired on his approach, immediately sent off two frigates with despatches, the Amazon to England, and the Phoebe to Sir J. Colpoys. On the 15th, he stood in with the Indefatigable, and though chased by a seventy-four and five frigates, stationed in Bertheaume Bay, he persisted in watching the port as usual. In the afternoon, he saw the French fleet leave the road of Brest, and immediately sent back the Phoebe to report the fact to the Admiral. The enemy anchored between Camaret and Bertheaume Bays, in front of the goulet, or entrance into Brest road.

Knowing how much depended on his vigilance, Sir Edward had watched Brest with the most anxious attention. The wind blew generally from the eastward, at times so strong, that the line-of-battle-ships would be under a close-reefed maintop-sail and reefed foresail; and the weather was intensely cold: yet he went every morning to the mast-head, where he would remain making his observations for a considerable part of the day, one of the older midshipmen being usually with him. "Well I remember," writes one of his officers, "that on being one day relieved to go down to my dinner, I was obliged to have some of the main-top-men to help me down the rigging, I was so benumbed with the intense cold: yet the captain was there six or seven hours at a time, without complaining, or taking any refreshment."

On the 16th, the wind being from the eastward, the French fleet, forty-four ships, of which seventeen were of the line and thirteen frigates, got finally under way, not waiting the arrival of Villeneuve. The Admiral purposed leaving Brest by the southern entrance, the Passage du Raz, between the Bec du Raz and the Saintes. By taking this course, and by so timing his departure as to clear the land just at nightfall, he hoped to elude the vigilance of the British fleet off Ushant, whose usual cruising ground was not more than six or seven leagues to leeward. But through the delays inseparable from getting a large and encumbered fleet to sea, it was four o'clock before all the ships were under sail; and as night was fast closing in, and the wind becoming variable, the Admiral determined not to attempt the narrow and dangerous passage he had fixed on, but to steer for the open entrance in front of the harbour, the Passage d'Iroise. Accordingly, he altered his own course, and made signal for the fleet to follow; but neither was generally observed, and the greater part of the ships, as previously directed, entered the Passage du Raz. The Admiral, therefore, sent a corvette into the midst of them, to call their attention to his own ship, which continued to fire guns, and display lights to mark the change in her course. By this time, it was quite dark, and many circumstances increased the enemy's confusion. The Seduisant, seventy-four, ran on the Grand Stevenet, a rock at the entrance of the Passage du Raz, where she was totally lost that night, with nearly seven hundred of her people. Her guns, and other signals, prevented those of the corvette from being attended to; and the Indefatigable, which kept close to the French Admiral, made his signals unintelligible to the fleet.

Sir E. Pellew had stood in that morning with the Indefatigable and Revolutionaire, and at noon came in sight of the enemy. At a quarter before five, when they had all got underway, he sent off Captain Cole to the Admiral, and remained with his own ship to observe and embarrass their movements. With a boldness which must have astonished them, accustomed though they had been to the daring manner in which he had watched their port; under easy sail, but with studding-sails ready for a start, if necessary, he kept as close as possible to the French Admiral, often within half-gun-shot; and as that officer made signals to his fleet, he falsified them by additional guns, lights, and rockets. At half-past eight, when the French ships were observed coming round the Saintes, he made sail to the north-west, with a light at each mast-head, constantly making signals for Sir J. Colpoys, by firing a gun every quarter of an hour, throwing up rockets, and burning blue lights. At midnight, having received no answer, he tacked, and stood to the southward until six o'clock. Still seeing nothing of the Admiral, though he had sailed over all his cruising ground, he sent off the Duke of York, hired armed lugger, to England, with despatches, intending to remain with the Indefatigable, and take part in the expected battle. But reflecting on the importance of conveying the information quickly to England, with the uncertainty of its being carried safely by so small a vessel; and assured that the Revolutionaire, which he had again spoke that morning, would not fail to meet Sir J. Colpoys, he gave up the hope of distinction to a sense of duty, and made sail for Falmouth. He arrived late in the evening of the 20th.

If Lord Bridport had been waiting at Falmouth, with discretional powers, Sir Edward having been instructed to communicate directly with him, he might have sailed early on the 21st, and found the enemy in Bantry Bay, where, perhaps, not a ship would have escaped him. It is, however, to be remembered, that as the destination of the French armament was unknown to the last, the Admiralty might very properly determine that he should receive his final instructions from themselves, and therefore would keep the fleet at Spithead for the convenience of ready communication.

On the 25th, Lord Bridport attempted to sail. The enemy had arrived four days before, and if the weather had allowed the troops to land, the most complete naval victory would have been too late to save the country. The fleet was prevented from putting to sea on that day by a succession of accidents, by which five of the heaviest ships were disabled before they could leave the harbour. The Prime missed stays, and fell on board the Sans Pareil. The Formidable ran foul of the Ville de Paris; and the Atlas grounded. Four of these were three-deckers, and the other was one of the finest 80-gun ships in the service. When at length part of the fleet reached St. Helen's, a shift of wind kept the rest at Spithead; and the Admiral could not put to sea till January 3rd. The baffled enemy was then returning, and seven of his ships had actually arrived in Brest two days before the British sailed from Portsmouth to pursue them.

How Sir J. Colpoys missed the enemy may appear extraordinary. The explanation, which every circumstance tends to confirm, is, that he was restrained from attacking them by his instructions, his force being intended only for a squadron of observation: for though the enemy's fleet, as it actually sailed, would have given him an easy victory, there was always reason to believe that it was much too strong for his force. Exclusive of the five sail which were hourly expected from Toulon, there were twenty-four line-of-battle ships in Brest, and there was no reason to conclude but that the greater part, if not the whole of them, were to sail with the expedition. As the British would be so much outnumbered, Sir E. Pellew offered, in the event of a battle, to take a place in the line with the Indefatigable. The Admiral thanked him, but declined the offer, believing that the enemy's superiority was too great to hope for victory. When the enemy put to sea, the British fleet was eight or nine leagues to the westward of their usual cruising ground, and thus was missed, not only by the Indefatigable, but also by the Revolutionaire, which did not join with the information till the 19th. Next day, the Toulon ships were seen, and chased into port; and the Admiral, having no means of learning the course of the Brest fleet, and some of his own ships being obliged to part company, in consequence of injuries they had sustained in a gale, bore away with the remainder for Spithead.

Meantime, almost everything favoured the enemy. The two divisions of his fleet, which were separated on the evening of the 16th, by putting to sea through different passages, rejoined on the 19th, and reached their destination early on the 21st, without having met a single British cruiser. When they appeared off the Bay, a number of pilot-boats came out, supposing them to be a British fleet; and thus the French Admiral obtained pilots for his ships, and gained all the information he wanted of the British men-of-war on the coast. A line-of-battle ship and three frigates were still missing. Their absence would not have materially weakened the enemy, whose force still exceeded what the rebel delegates had required; but the two commanders had embarked in one of the missing frigates, the Fraternite; and Rear-Admiral Bouvet and General Grouchy, the seconds in command, could scarcely act with decision while their chiefs were hourly expected.

The Fraternite, with the other three ships in company, was very near the fleet on the 20th, but it was concealed from her by a fog; and a gale which dispersed the fog, separated her from her consorts. Proceeding alone to the Bay, she had nearly reached it on the 21st, when she fell in with a British frigate, which she mistook for one of her own fleet till she was almost within gun-shot. Night saved her from capture, but the chase had carried her far to the westward, and it was eight days before she obtained a fair wind to return.

The ships continued beating up to Bearhaven against a fresh easterly breeze until the evening of the 22nd, when the Rear-Admiral anchored off the eastern extremity of Great Bear Island, with eight sail of the line, two frigates, and some smaller vessels. Seven sail of the line, and eight frigates, kept under sail; and the wind rising in the night blew them all off to sea.

It blew hard, with a heavy sea, through the next day and night. On the 24th, the weather having moderated, it was determined in a council of war to land the remaining troops immediately, and General Grouchy made a formal requisition for that purpose. A suitable landing-place was found, and the necessary preparations were completed; but it was now late in the afternoon, and the landing was necessarily deferred until morning. That night, the gale rose from the eastward, and increased through the next day to a tempest. At length the ships began to drive from their anchors. The Indomptable, 80, ran foul of the Resolve frigate, and totally dismasted her. The other frigate, the Immortalite, in which Rear-admiral Bouvet had embarked, though his proper flag-ship was the Droits de l'Homme, parted one of her cables in the evening, and was obliged to cut the other, and run out to sea. The weather would not allow her to return until the 29th, and then the Rear-Admiral, hopeless of re-assembling the fleet, decided to proceed to Brest.

Others were less fortunate. The Tortue frigate, two corvettes, and four transports, were taken. The Surveillante frigate was wrecked, and a transport foundered in the bay; and a third frigate, l'Impatiente, was driven on shore near Crookhaven. The sailors determined to secure for themselves alone the means of escape, leaving the troops to their fate. Where such a feeling could exist, the discipline required for their own safety was not likely to be found: and all perished but seven, who were saved chiefly by the exertions of the people on shore.

Part of the fleet, after having been blown out of the bay, steered for the Shannon, which had been fixed on as a rendezvous in the event of separation; but they were too few to attempt a landing, and after waiting for a short time in hope of reinforcements, they found it necessary to return.

The Fraternite, with the two commanders-in-chief, continued to beat against an easterly gale till the 29th, when the wind became fair for the bay. Standing towards it, she fell in with the Scerola, rase, in a sinking state, with the Revolution, 74, engaged in taking out the people. She assisted to save them, and the two ships continued their course towards Ireland, hoping to fall in with so many of the fleet as might still enable them to make a descent. But next day, not having seen any of them, and their provisions becoming short, they steered for France. On the 8th of January, they were very near eleven of their ships, which they would presently have joined, but that they altered their course to avoid two British frigates, the Unicorn and Doris, which at the time were actually being chased by the French. Next day they again fell in with the frigates, and on the morning of the 10th they were chased by Lord Bridport's fleet, from which they narrowly escaped. On the 14th they entered Rochefort, the last of the returning ships.

Such was the fate of an expedition, in which nothing was neglected which foresight could suggest, and nothing wanting which ability could supply; whose fortune attended it until success might be deemed secure, and whose defeat was attended with circumstances too extraordinary to be referred to common causes. History records no event, not attended by direct miracle, in which God's providence is more strikingly displayed. The forces of atheism and popery had joined to overthrow a nation, the stronghold of Christian truth, and the bulwark of Protestant Europe. In this, so emphatically a holy war, no earthly arm was allowed to achieve the triumph. Human agency was put aside, and all human defences prostrated; and then, when the unresisted invader touched the object of his hope, the elements were commissioned against him. That the vigilance of a blockading force should be so eluded, and that unusual misfortunes should prevent a fleet from sailing till nothing remained for it to do; that the enemy's two commanders should be separated from their force when it sailed, and afterwards prevented, by so many well-timed casualties, from rejoining it; that when the fleet had actually arrived in the destined port, half should be blown out to sea again before they could anchor, and the rest driven from their anchors before they could land the troops; that the returning ships should be prevented from meeting their commanders; and that every disappointment should just anticipate the moment of success;—such a combination of circumstances it were folly and impiety to ascribe to anything less than the hand of God.

A victory would have saved the country, but it would not have afforded such ground for assured confidence in her future trials. This deliverance was a pledge of protection through the terrible struggle of the next twenty years; when, long disappointed in her hopes, and at length deserted by her last ally, England still maintained her good cause with a firmness more honourable to her character than even the unrivalled triumph she achieved. It remains a pledge, that amidst all dangers she may perform her duty as a Christian country, in full reliance upon God's blessing: or, should the greatness of her trials confound all human resources, that she may wait, in quietness and confidence, for God's deliverance.

It was Sir Edward Pellew's fortune, as he had been prominent in the services connected with the sailing of this armament, to mark the return of it by a battle, the only one fought, and equally singular in its circumstances, and appalling in its result. He put to sea with the Indefatigable and Amazon on the 22nd, and supposing the enemy to have gone to the southward, cruised off Capes Ortugal and Finisterre until the 11th of January. On the 2nd, the Amazon carried away her main-topmast, and on the 11th, the Indefatigable sprung her main-topmast and topsail-yard in a squall, and was obliged to shift them. Returning towards the Channel, on the 13th of January, at a little past noon, the ships being about fifty leagues south-west of Ushant, and the wind blowing hard from the westward, with thick weather, a sail was discovered in the north-west. Sail was made in chase, and by four o'clock the stranger, at first supposed to be a frigate, as she had no poop, was clearly made out to be a French two-decker.

The enemy's ship, the Droits de l'Homme, commanded by Commodore, ci-devant Baron Lacrosse, was one of those which had proceeded to the Shannon, after having been blown out of Bantry Bay. She was the flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Bouvet, but this officer, according to a frequent practice of French admirals, had embarked in a frigate. General Humbert, who commanded one of the expeditions to Ireland in 1798, had taken his passage in her. That morning she had arrived within twenty-five leagues of Belleisle, and as the weather appeared threatening, she stood to the southward, fearing to approach nearer to the shore. Early in the afternoon she saw two large ships at a short distance to windward, probably the Revolution and Fraternite, but not waiting to ascertain their character, she made sail from them to the south-east. At half-past three she first discovered on her lee-bow the two frigates, which had observed her three hours before, and were steering a course nearly parallel to her own, to cut her off from the land.

The wind had now increased to a gale, and the sea was fast rising. At half-past four the enemy carried away her fore and main-topmasts in a heavy squall. At three-quarters past five the Indefatigable came up with her, and having shortened sail to close-reefed topsails, poured in a broadside as she crossed her stern. The enemy returned it from some of the upper-deck guns, and by showers of musketry from the troops, of whom there were nearly a thousand on board. So close were the ships, that some of the Indefatigable's people tore away the enemy's ensign, which became entangled in the mizen rigging. The Indefatigable then tried to pass ahead and gain a position on the enemy's bow, but the line-of-battle ship avoided this, and attempted, but without success, to lay the frigate on board, actually grazing the Indefatigable's spanker-boom.

The British frigate engaged the line-of-battle ship single-handed for more than an hour, before her consort, which was several miles astern when the action commenced, could get up to assist her. At length, reaching the enemy, the Amazon poured a broadside into her quarter, and then, with the Commodore, maintained the engagement until about half-past seven, when the Indefatigable found it necessary to repair her rigging, and both frigates shot ahead.

At a little past eight, the frigates renewed the action, and placing themselves one on either bow of the Droits de l'Homme, raked her alternately. The seventy-four brought her guns to bear upon one or the other of her antagonists as well as she could, and occasionally attempted, but without success, to close. At half-past ten, her mizenmast was shot away, when the frigates changed their position, and attacked her on either quarter. Soon after she began to fire shells. The gale continued all night, with a very heavy sea, and the violent motion of the ships made the labour of the crews most excessive. On the main-deck of the Indefatigable, the men were often to the middle in water. Some of her guns broke their breechings four times; others drew the ring-bolts, and from some, the charge was obliged to be drawn after loading, in consequence of the water beating into them. But under these most trying circumstances, the crew did their duty nobly. The Amazon, being a smaller ship, experienced still greater difficulties than the Indefatigable. She emulated her consort most gallantly, and suffered a greater loss. Her masts and rigging were very much damaged; her mizen-top-mast, gaff, spanker-boom, and main-topsail-yard being entirely shot away; the main and foremast, and the fore and main yards wounded in several places by large shot; many of her shrouds, stays, and back-stays shot away, besides those which had been knotted and stoppered in the action; all her spare cordage was expended in reeving running rigging, and she had three feet water in the hold. The loss of men in both ships was remarkably small. The Amazon had three killed, and fifteen badly wounded; and the Indefatigable, though she had so long fought the seventy-four single-handed, had only her first lieutenant and eighteen men wounded; twelve of them slightly, and the two worst cases from accidents. The lower-deck guns of the enemy were nearer the water than is usual in line of-battle ships, and in consequence of the heavy sea, she could use them only occasionally. From this cause, as well as from the excellent positions maintained by the frigates, and her crippled state through the latter part of the action, she could make but a very unequal return to their fire. She suffered very much. More than a hundred of her people were killed—a severe loss, yet small compared to what it must have been, from the crowded state of her decks, and the unprecedented length of the action, if the darkness, the heavy gale, and the consequent motion of the ships, had not made the firing slow, and the aim uncertain.

It was nearly eleven hours from the commencement of the action, when Lieutenant Bell, who was quartered on the forecastle, and who had kept the ship's reckoning through the night, satisfied himself that they were near the French coast, and ordered one or two sailors to keep a good look-out. One of these men thought he saw land, and reported it to his officer; who, perceiving it distinctly, went aft, and told the captain. Immediately the tacks were hauled on board, and the Indefatigable stood to the southward, after making the night-signal of danger to the Amazon, which, with equal promptitude, wore to the northward. The enemy, who did not yet see the danger, thought they had beaten off the frigates, and poured a broadside into the Indefatigable, the most destructive she had yet received. Seven shot struck her hull, the three lower-masts were wounded, and the larboard main-topmast shrouds were all cut away close to the seizings of the eyes at the mast head. It required extraordinary activity and coolness to save the topmast, the loss of which, at that time, would have made that of the ship inevitable. Under the direction of Mr. Gaze, who immediately sprang aloft, the captain of the main-top cut away the top gallant-yard; while Mr. Thompson, acting master, got up the end of a hawser, which he clinched around the mast-head. Thus they saved the main-topmast, and probably prevented the mainmast itself from being sprung. Mr. Gaze, who received a master's warrant a few weeks after, continued with Lord Exmouth to the last day of his command. He was master of the fleet in the Mediterranean, and it was he who carried the Queen Charlotte in such admirable style to her position at Algiers.

None at this time knew how desperate was their situation. The ships were in the Bay of Audierne, close in with the surf, with the wind blowing a heavy gale dead on the shore, and a tremendous sea rolling in. To beat off the land would have been a difficult and doubtful undertaking for the best and most perfect ship. The Indefatigable had four feet water in the hold, and her safety depended on her wounded spars and damaged rigging bearing the press of sail she was obliged to carry; while the crew, thus summoned to renewed exertion, were already quite worn out with fatigue. The fate of the other ships was certain; for the Amazon had all her principal sails disabled, and the Droits de l'Homme was unmanageable.

The Indefatigable continued standing to the southward, until the captain of the mizen-top gave the alarm of breakers on the lee-bow. The ship was immediately wore in eighteen fathoms, and she stood to the northward till half-past six, when land was again seen close a-head on the weather-bow, with breakers under the lee. Running again to the southward, she passed the Droits de l'Homme lying on her broadside in the surf, at the distance of about a mile, but without the possibility of giving the smallest assistance. Her own situation, indeed, was almost hopeless; and Sir Edward Pellew himself was deeply affected, when, having done all that seamanship could accomplish, he could only commit to a merciful Providence the lives of his gallant crew, all now depending upon one of the many accidents to the masts and rigging which there was so much reason to apprehend. Happily, the sails stood well; the Indefatigable continued to gain by every tack; and at eleven o'clock, with six feet water in her hold, she passed about three-quarters of a mile to windward of the Penmarcks; enabling her officers and men, after a day and night of incessant exertion, at length to rest from their toil, and to bless God for their deliverance.

She had scarcely bent new topsails and foresail, the others having been shot to pieces, when two large ships were seen at some distance a-head, crossing her course, and standing in a direction for L'Orient. One of them was at first supposed to be the Amazon, of which nothing had been seen since the close of the action, and the extent of whose damages was not at all suspected. The other was considered to be a French frigate, and Sir Edward gave orders to make sail in chase. But the officers represented to him, that the crew, entirely exhausted by the unparalleled length of the action, and by their subsequent labours, were quite incapable of further exertion; that their ammunition was very short, scarcely a cartridge filled, and every wad expended. Had the French frigate been alone, this would have been a subject of much regret; for she was the Fraternite, with the two commanders-in-chief and all the treasure of the expedition on board; but her consort was the 74-gun ship Revolution.

The Amazon struck the ground about ten minutes after she ceased firing. Her crew displayed the admirable discipline which British seamen are accustomed to maintain under such circumstances; more creditable to them, if possible, than the seamanship which saved the Indefatigable. From half past five until nine o'clock, they were employed in making rafts, and not a man was lost, or attempted to leave the ship, except six, who stole away the cutter from the stern, and were drowned. Captain Reynolds and his officers remained by the ship until they had safely landed, first the wounded, and afterwards every man of the crew. Of course they were made prisoners, but they were treated well, and exchanged not many months after.

Conduct like that of the Amazon's people in their hour of extreme danger—and it is nothing more than British seamen commonly display in the same situation—makes an Englishman proud of his country. Nor should it be forgotten, for it exalts the feeling of patriotism and honest pride, that a man-of-war's crew at that time was made up, in part, of the lowest characters in society. What, then, must be the strength and excellence of that moral feeling in England, which can display itself thus nobly where it would be the least expected! The fact conveys an impressive lesson; for if the intelligence, decision, and kindness, which, with few exceptions, characterize our sea-officers, can effect such happy results where they operate on the most unpromising materials, it is clear, that whatever faults the lower classes in England display must be attributed, in a great degree, to the neglect or misconduct of those, whose station in society, as it gives the power, imposes the duty to guide them.

The fate of the Droits de l'Homme presents an awful contrast indeed to that of the Amazon. She saw the land soon after the frigates hauled off, and after hopeless attempts, first to avoid it, and afterwards to anchor, she struck the ground almost at the same moment as the British frigate. The main-mast went overboard at the second shock: the fore-mast and bowsprit had fallen a few minutes before, in her attempt to keep off the land. When danger was first seen, the crew gave an alarm to the English prisoners below, of whom there were fifty-five, the crew and passengers of a letter-of-marque, which the Droits de l'Homme had taken a few days before: "Poor English, come up quickly; we are all lost!" Presently, the ship struck on a bank of sand, nearly opposite the town of Plouzenec. Cries of dismay were now heard from every part. Signals of distress were fired, and several of the guns hove overboard. Many of the people were soon washed away by the waves, which broke incessantly over her. At daylight the shore was seen covered with spectators, but they could afford no assistance. In the meantime, the stern was beaten in by the sea, and no provisions or water could afterwards be obtained.

At low water an attempt was made to reach the shore, but two boats which were brought alongside drifted away and were dashed to pieces on the rocks. A small raft was constructed to carry a hawser to the shore, by the aid of which it was hoped that preparations might be completed for safely landing the people. A few sailors having embarked on it, the rope was gradually slackened to allow it to drift to land; but some of these people being washed away, the rest became alarmed, cast off the hawser, and saved themselves. After a second unsuccessful attempt with a raft, a petty officer attached a cord to his body and tried to swim on shore; but he was soon exhausted, and would have perished, but that he was hauled back to the ship.

On the second day, at low water, an English captain and eight other prisoners launched a small boat, and landed safely. Their success restored confidence to the multitude, proving, as it did, how easily all might be saved, if proper means were quietly adopted. But discipline and order were wanting; and attempts made without judgment, and without concert, ended in the loss of all who made them.

Perishing with cold, and thirst, and hunger—for the ship, her stern now broken away, no longer afforded shelter from the waves, and they had tasted nothing since she struck—the unhappy crew saw a third day arise upon their miseries. Still the gale continued, and there was no prospect of relief from the shore. It was now determined to construct a large raft, and first to send away the surviving wounded, with the women and children, in a boat which remained. But as soon as she was brought alongside, there was a general rush, and about a hundred and twenty threw themselves into her. Their weight carried down the boat; next moment an enormous wave broke upon them, and when the sea became smoother, their corpses were seen floating all around. An officer, Adjutant General Renier, attempted to swim on shore, hoping that a knowledge of their condition might enable the spectators to devise some means for their deliverance. He plunged into the sea and was lost.

"Already nearly nine hundred had perished," says Lieutenant Pipon, an officer of the 63rd regiment, who was on board a prisoner, and who afterwards published the dreadful story.[7] "when the fourth night came with renewed terrors. Weak, distracted, and wanting everything, we envied the fate of those whose lifeless corpses no longer needed sustenance. The sense of hunger was already lost, but a parching thirst consumed our vitals. Recourse was had to wine and salt water, which only increased the want. Half a hogshead of vinegar floated up, and each had half a wine-glassful. This gave a momentary relief, yet soon left us again in the same state of dreadful thirst. Almost at the last gasp, every one was dying with misery: the ship, which was now one third shattered away from the stern, scarcely afforded a grasp to hold by, to the exhausted and helpless survivors. The fourth day brought with it a more serene sky, and the sea seemed to subside; but to behold, from fore and aft, the dying in all directions, was a sight too shocking for the feeling mind to endure. Almost lost to a sense of humanity, we no longer looked with pity on those who were the speedy fore-runners of our own fate, and a consultation took place to sacrifice some one to be food for the remainder. The die was going to be cast, when the welcome sight of a man-of-war brig renewed our hopes. A cutter speedily followed, and both anchored at a short distance from the wreck. They then sent their boats to us, and by means of large rafts, about a hundred and fifty of near four hundred who attempted it, were saved by the brig that evening. Three hundred and eighty were left to endure another night's misery, when, dreadful to relate, above one-half were found dead next morning."

Commodore Lacrosse, General Humbert, and three British infantry officers, prisoners, remained in the wreck till the fifth morning; and all survived: so great is the influence of moral power to sustain through extreme hardships. The prisoners were treated with the utmost kindness, and in consideration of their sufferings, and the help they had afforded in saving many lives, a cartel was fitted out by order of the French Government to send them home, without ransom or exchange. They arrived at Plymouth on the 7th of March following.

The Admiralty awarded head-money to the frigates for the destruction of the Droits de l'Homme. As there were no means of knowing her complement with certainty, Sir Edward wrote to Commodore Lacrosse to request the information, telling him it was the practice of his Government to award a certain sum for every man belonging to an enemy's armed vessel taken, or destroyed. The Commodore answered, that the Droits de l'Homme had been neither taken nor destroyed, but that the ships had fought like three dogs till they all fell over the cliff together. Her crew, with the troops, he said, was sixteen hundred men.

The gallant captain of the Amazon, one of the earliest and closest friends of Sir Edward Pellew, perished at length by a not less distressing shipwreck. At the end of 1811, being then a rear-admiral, he was returning from the Baltic in the St. George, a ship not calculated to remain so late on such a station. After having received much damage in a former gale, she was wrecked on Christmas-day, as well as the Defence, which attended her to afford assistance; and only eighteen men were saved from the two line-of-battle ships. Rear-Admiral Reynolds and his captain remained at their post till they sunk under the inclemency of a northern winter; when, stretched on the quarter-deck, and hand in hand, they were frozen to death together.


[7] Naval Chronicle, vol. viii. p. 467.



In less than four years Sir Edward had fought as many severe actions, and the number of his successes is even less remarkable than the very small loss with which he generally obtained them. Against the Cleopatra, indeed, where he engaged a superior and skilful opponent with an inexperienced crew, he suffered much; but he lost only three men in taking the Pomone, and none in his actions with the Virginie and the Droits de l'Homme. The same impunity continued to attend him; for not a dozen were killed on board his own ships through all the rest of his life.[8] Results so uniform, and applying to so long a service, cannot be ascribed to accidental causes.

By his seamanship, his example, a strictness which suffered no duty to be neglected, and a kindness which allowed every safe indulgence, he would quickly bring a ship's company to a high state of discipline. In the language of an officer who served with him for almost thirty years—"No man ever knew better how to manage seamen. He was very attentive to their wants and habits. When he was a captain he personally directed them, and when the duty was over, he was a great promoter of dancing and other sports, such as running aloft, heaving the lead, &c., in which he was himself a great proficient. He was steady in his discipline, and knew well the proper time to tighten or relax. He studied much the character of his men, and could soon ascertain whether a man was likely to appreciate forgiveness, or whether he could not be reclaimed without punishment. During the whole time he commanded frigates, his men had leave in port, one-third at a time, and very rarely a desertion took place."

His quick and correct judgment, which at once saw how an object could be attained, was seconded in the hour of trial by a decision which secured every advantage. Nothing like hesitation was seen in him. "His first order," said an officer who long served with him, "was always his last;" and he has often declared of himself that he never had a second thought worth sixpence. This would be an absurd boast from a common character, but it is an important declaration from one whose life was a career of enterprise without a failure. Always equal to the occasion, his power displayed itself the more, as danger and difficulty increased; when, rising with the emergency, his calmness, the animation of his voice and look, and the precision of his orders, would impart to the men that cool and determined energy which disarms danger, and commands success.

Not less striking was his influence in those more appalling dangers which try the firmness of a sailor more severely than the battle. The wreck of the Dutton is a memorable example. At a later period, during his command in India, the ship twice caught fire, and was saved chiefly by his conduct. On one of these occasions, the Culloden was under easy sail off the coast of Coromandel, and preparations had been made for partially caulking the ship, when a pitch-kettle, which had been heated, contrary to orders, on the fore part of the main deck, caught fire, and the people, instead of damping it out, most imprudently attempted to extinguish it with buckets of water. The steam blew the flaming pitch all around; the oakum caught fire, and the ship was immediately in a blaze. Many of the crew jumped overboard, and others were preparing to hurry out of her, when the presence and authority of the Admiral allayed the panic. He ordered to beat to quarters; the marines to fire upon any one who should attempt to leave the ship; the yard-tackles to be cut, to prevent the boats from being hoisted out; and the firemen only to take the necessary measures for extinguishing the fire. The captain, who was undressed in his cabin at the time of the disaster, received an immediate report of it from an officer, and hastened to the quarter-deck. The flames were rising in volumes from the main hatchway, but the Admiral was calmly giving his orders from the gangway, the firemen exerting themselves, and the rest of the crew at their quarters, all as quiet and orderly as if nothing had been going on but the common ship's duty.

His patronage was exerted to the utmost. The manner in which the navy was chiefly manned through the war made this one of the most delicate and responsible parts of a captain's care. The impress brought into it many whom nothing but the strictest discipline of a man-of-war would control; but many also who had entered the merchant service with the view and the prospect of rising in it, some of whom were not inferior in connections and education to the young gentlemen on the quarter-deck. Nothing could be more gratifying to a commander than to promote these, as opportunity offered, to higher stations. Some thousands of them became petty and warrant officers in the course of the war, and not a few were placed on the quarter-deck, and are found among the best officers in the service. Sir Edward brought forward many of them, and his favour has been more than justified by their conduct.

He was particularly attentive to the junior part of his crew. A steady person was employed to teach the ship's boys, and he always had the best schoolmaster who could be obtained for the young gentlemen. It was an object much desired to be placed with him, and could he have stooped to make his reputation subservient to his interest in this respect, he might have secured many useful political connections; but this consideration never seems to have influenced him. Many of his midshipmen had no friend but himself, and rank obtained no immunities, but rather a more strict control. He once removed from his ship a young nobleman of high connections, and who afterwards became a very distinguished officer, for indulging in what many would consider the excusable frolics of youth; but to which he attached importance, because the rank of the party increased the influence of the example; nor could he be induced by the young man's friends to reconsider his determination. The Duke of Northumberland, who had himself known all the duties and hardships of service, could appreciate the impartial strictness of Sir Edward; and when he determined to send into the navy, first a young man whom he patronized, and afterwards his own son, the present Duke, he was happy to avail himself of the services of Captain Schanck, to place them with such an officer. Acting upon the same principle, he would allow neither of them more than the usual expenses of the other midshipmen. All who entered a public service, he said, whatever their rank, should have no indulgences beyond their companions. His sense of Sir Edward's conduct was shown by a warm friendship, which terminated only with his life.

In a few weeks after the action with the Droits de l'Homme, the mutiny broke out at Spithead, which deprived the country for a short time of the services of the Channel Fleet. The western squadrons were now of peculiar importance, for they became, in fact, the protectors of the Channel. The Cleopatra, commanded by the late excellent Sir Charles V. Penrose, was at Spithead when the mutiny took place; but the good disposition of his crew enabled him with admirable address to escape, and she joined Sir Edward's squadron at Falmouth. Thence she sailed with the Indefatigable and Revolutionaire on a cruise, in which all displayed extraordinary exertion, as, under such circumstances, all felt the necessity for it. One incident will mark their zeal and activity. The Cleopatra carried away her fore-topmast in chase, but replaced it so quickly, that she never lost sight of the privateer, which she overtook and captured. Several armed vessels were taken; and Sir Edward was careful often to run in with the squadron upon different parts of the French coast, that he might impress the belief that a considerable British force was at sea.

Undismayed by the failure of their attempt on Ireland, the enemy were now preparing for a more formidable descent. They equipped a larger fleet than before, with a far more numerous army, over which they appointed the same able commander: and by an agreement with Holland, the Dutch fleet in the Texel, under Admiral de Winter, was to carry over a second army. This was to be commanded by General Daendels, an officer of great ability and decision. Napoleon thought very highly of him, and it was a material part of his own plan of invasion to send him with thirty thousand chosen troops to Ireland. He afterwards became Governor of Java, where he acted with an independence which awakened the jealousy of his master. Discovering this, he wrote to declare that he could hold the island against any force which France, or even England, could bring against him; but that to mark his devotedness to his emperor, he was ready to resign his command, and serve in the French army as a corporal. He was Governor of Mons during the invasion of France by the Allied armies; and he boasted to Mr. Pellew, who spent a few days with him after the peace, that an advancing army made a considerable circuit to avoid him, and that he held the fortress unmolested until Napoleon had abdicated; when he wrote to the Allied Sovereigns, asking to whom he should resign it. An invasion of Ireland, directed by generals such as Hoche and Daendels, and at a time when the British navy was in a state of mutiny, was an event justly to be dreaded; but all these mighty preparations were overturned more easily and quietly than the former. Everything was ready; and General Hoche had gone to Holland to make the final arrangements with his brother commanders, when the Legislative Assembly of France quarrelled with the Directory, and gained a temporary ascendancy. On the 16th of July, the new government displaced Vice-Admiral Truguet, the able Minister of Marine, and appointed M. Pleville le Peley his successor. With the usual madness of party, the new minister and his employer hastened to overturn all that had been done by their predecessors. They discharged the sailors, dismantled the fleet, and even sold some of the frigates and corvettes by public auction. When the Directory regained their power, September 4th, after an interval of only six weeks, they found that the preparations which had cost them so much time and treasure to complete, were utterly destroyed. In the following month, Admiral Duncan annihilated the Dutch fleet, and thus the proposed expedition was baffled at every point. Were a history of England written, with due regard to the operations of Divine Providence, in deliverances and successes effected not by human wisdom, or human strength, what cause would it afford for unbounded gratitude, and for unbounded confidence!

While the enemy were fitting out this armament, Sir Edward was again employed to watch the harbour of Brest; a service which he performed so much to the annoyance of the French commander, that he sent a squadron to ride at single anchor in Bertheaume Bay, to prevent the frigates from reconnoitring the port. This squadron chased the Indefatigable and her consorts repeatedly, but without being able to bring them to action, or to drive them from their station. Once, however, a frigate narrowly escaped capture. The Cleopatra was becalmed close inshore, with the Indefatigable about two miles to seaward, and another frigate between them, when a light air rose, and freshened off the land. The French ships slipped, and bringing the breeze with them, neared the Cleopatra; and a frigate actually succeeded in cutting off her retreat, while a seventy-four was fast coming up. Just then, when the capture of the Cleopatra seemed inevitable, the Indefatigable made the well-known signal for a fleet, by letting fly the sheets, and firing two guns in quick succession. Ushant being on her weather-bow, the enemy naturally supposed, as was intended, that the British fleet was coming up from behind the island; and putting about immediately, hastened back to their anchorage. A similar deception is understood to have been practised successfully by the Phaeton, during the celebrated retreat of Cornwallis; nor is it in either case an imputation upon the enemy, that they should readily take alarm, when they knew that a British fleet was cruising near them.

Early in August, the Indefatigable, after a short stay in England, was again at her station off Brest; and Sir Edward, having carefully observed the port, and fully satisfied himself of the state of the French fleet, returned to Falmouth on the 14th, and, on the 26th, joined Lord Bridport at Torbay. At this time he offered to conduct an attack, which, had it been made, and with success, would have transcended the most brilliant results of naval enterprise. The weakness of the French Government, arising out of the struggle of parties for the ascendancy, seemed to offer a favourable opportunity to the royalists, with whose chiefs Sir Edward was on terms of confidential intercourse; and to assist them in their objects by an exploit which should strike terror into the republicans, he proposed to go into Brest with his frigates, and destroy the dismantled fleet. He thought it probable that he should succeed, and urged that the greatness of the object might warrant an attempt in which nothing was to be risked but a few frigates. The conception was in the highest degree daring, but there is a faith in naval affairs which works impossibilities, and it has been generally found, that the officer who can plan a bold action, has shown himself equal to accomplish it. Relative strength is almost thrown out of calculation by a well concerted and unexpected attack, conducted with that impetuosity which effects its object before the enemy can avail himself of his superior force. Thus, Sir Charles Brisbane, with four frigates, at Curacoa, and Sir Christopher Cole, with a few boats' crews at Banda, achieved, with little or no loss, what would have been justly deemed proud triumphs for a fleet of line-of-battle ships. Sir E. Pellew was never a man to commit himself rashly to what he had not well considered. "There is always uncertainty," he would say, "in naval actions, for a chance shot may place the best managed ship in the power of an inferior opponent." Hence he would leave nothing to chance, which foresight could possibly provide for. With such a character, and with his intimate knowledge of Brest and its defences, which were almost as familiar to him as Falmouth harbour, his own confidence affords strong presumption that he would have succeeded.

The First Lord took an opportunity to submit this proposal to Lord Bridport at Torbay, and Sir Edward was in consequence called on board the flag-ship by signal. The Admiral received him on the quarter-deck with a very low and formal bow, and referred him to Earl Spencer, in the cabin, whom he soon found not to be influenced by any arguments he could employ.

Lord Bridport was never pleased that independent frigate squadrons were appointed to cruise within his station. It was, indeed, an irregularity which nothing but the emergency could have justified, when it was desirable to relieve the commander-in-chief from lesser responsibilities, and enable him to devote all his attention to the fleet which threatened the safety of the country. Their successes had made the squadrons so popular, that the system was continued when they might, perhaps, have been placed, with equal advantage, under the orders of the Admiral; and it would naturally give pain to that officer to find himself denied the privilege of recognizing and rewarding the most brilliant services performed within his own command. Lord Bridport would occasionally evince such a feeling when speaking of the "Western Commodores," and it may have influenced his manner upon this occasion; but his approval of Sir Edward's plan was not to be expected, for he would scarcely sanction the proposal to effect with a few frigates what it would not be thought prudent to attempt with a fleet.

The Indefatigable sailed from Torbay with a convoy, from which she parted company on the 13th of October, off the Isle of Palma. On the 25th, near Teneriffe, a large corvette chased her, supposing her to be an Indiaman, and approached very near before she discovered the mistake. She had formerly been the frigate-built sloop Hyaena, which the enemy had taken very early in the war, and cut down to a flush ship; a change which improved her sailing qualities so much, that she might perhaps have escaped from the Indefatigable, if she had not lost her fore-topmast in carrying a press of sail. It is remarkable, that in this war Sir Edward took the first ship from the enemy, and after nearly five years, recaptured the first they had taken from the British.

It was a part of Sir Edward's system, while he commanded cruising ships, to have the reefs shaken out, the studding sail-booms rigged out, and everything ready, before daylight; that if an enemy should be near there might be no delay in making sail. In the course of 1798 his squadron took fifteen cruisers. The circumstances connected with one of these, La Vaillante national corvette, taken on the 8th of August by the Indefatigable, after a chase of twenty-four hours, were of much interest. She was bound to Cayenne, with prisoners; among whom were twenty-five priests, who had been condemned for their principles to perish in that unhealthy colony. It may well be supposed that they were at once restored to liberty and comfort; nor would Sir Edward show to the commander of his prize the attentions which an officer in his situation expects, until he had first satisfied himself that the severe and unnecessary restraint to which they had been subjected, for he found them chained together, was the consequence of express orders from the French Government. His officers and men vied with him in attentions to the unfortunate exiles, and when he set them on shore in England he gave them a supply for their immediate wants. Among the passengers on board La Vaillante were the wife and family of a banished deputy. M. Rovere, who had obtained permission to join him, and were going out with all they possessed, amounting to 3,000l. Sir Edward restored to her the whole of it, and paid from his own purse the proportion which was the prize of his crew.

Early in the following year the Admiralty determined to limit the period of command in frigates. In obedience to this regulation, on the 1st of March, Sir Edward, with much regret, left the ship and crew he had so long commanded, and exchanged the activity of a cruising frigate for a service which offered little prospect of distinction. He was complimented with the Impetueux, formerly L'Amerique, one of the prizes taken by Lord Howe on the 1st of June, a most beautiful ship, and so much superior to the largest 74, that she was made a class by herself, and rated as a 78. He was allowed to select twenty men to follow him from the Indefatigable.

Going on board the Impetueux for the first time, he was accosted at the gangway by the boatswain: "I am very glad, sir, that you are come to us, for you are just the captain we want. You have the finest ship in the navy, and a crew of smart sailors, but a set of the greatest scoundrels that ever went to sea." He checked him on the spot, and afterwards, sending for him to the cabin, demanded what he meant by addressing him in that manner. The boatswain, who had served with him in the Carleton on Lake Champlain, pleaded former recollections in excuse; and after submitting to the reproof with which Sir Edward thought it necessary to mark his breach of discipline, informed him that the crew were all but in a state of mutiny, and that for months past he had slept with pistols under his head.

Mutinies were the natural fruit of the system which had prevailed in the navy, and it is only wonderful that obedience had been preserved so long. All the stores were supplied by contract, and the check upon the contractor being generally inadequate, gross abuses prevailed. Officers who recollect the state of the navy during the first American war can furnish a history which may now appear incredible. The provisions were sometimes unfit for human food. Casks of meat, after having been long on board, would be found actually offensive. The biscuit, from inferior quality and a bad system of stowage, was devoured by insects,[9] until it would fall to pieces at the slightest blow; and the provisions of a more perishable nature, the cheese, butter, raisins, &c., would be in a still worse condition. Among crews thus fed, the scurvy made dreadful ravages. The Princessa, when she formed part of Rodney's fleet in the West Indies, sent two hundred men to the hospital at one time. The purser received certain authorized perquisites instead of pay, and one-eighth of the seamen's allowance was his right, so that their pound was only fourteen ounces. Prize-money melted away as it passed through the courts and offices. Not even public charities could escape; and the noble establishment of Greenwich was defrauded by placing in it superannuated servants, and other landsmen, as worn-out sailors, and conferring the superior appointments, intended for deserving naval officers, upon political friends. The well-known case of Captain Baillie,[10] who was removed and prosecuted for resisting some of these abuses, is a memorable, illustration.

A gradual improvement in all the departments of the public service commenced from the time of Mr. Pitt's accession to power; and the worst of these abuses had been corrected long before 1797. Still so much remained, that the demands of the seamen, when they mutinied at Spithead, were not less due to themselves than desirable for the general interests of the service. A moderate increase in their pay, and Greenwich pensions; provisions of a better quality; the substitution of trader's for purser's weight and measure; and an allowance of vegetables, instead of flour, with their fresh meat, when in port, were their chief claims. They did not resort to violent measures till petitions, irregular ones it is true, had been tried in vain. They urged their demands firmly, but most respectfully; and they declared their intention to suspend the prosecution of them if their country should require their services to meet the enemy at sea. But though their claims were most just, and their conduct in many respects was worthy to be much commended, that was a mistaken conclusion, and most deeply to be regretted, which made any concession to violence. Hard as the principle may appear, no grievance can be held to justify a breach of discipline; and when the sailors at Spithead had placed themselves in the position of offenders, the question of redress ought to have been preceded by unconditional, and, if necessary, enforced submission. It was humbling the majesty of the law to negotiate with criminals, and destroying its authority to submit to them. If the sailors had first been compelled to return to their duty, and their grievances had afterwards been properly investigated and redressed, the whole fleet would have respected the authority which enforced obedience, and received every favour with gratitude. Nor is there reason to believe that it would have been difficult to bring men to their duty, whose hearts were still sound. It is most honourable to the character of the country, that respect for the law, and obedience to the constituted authorities, are so much the habit and the principle of Englishmen, that invincible as they are in a good cause, they have always shown themselves cowards in crime. A few soldiers are sufficient to disperse the largest mob. The timely decision of an officer has seldom failed to quell the most formidable mutiny. Timorous as the men are from conscious guilt, uncertain in their plans, and doubtful of the firmness of their companions, the respect involuntarily felt for the noble bearing of a man whom they have always been accustomed to obey, and who in a good cause is standing as it were alone against a multitude, gives a commander all the power he could desire. But if he would take advantage of this feeling, he must be prompt to assert his authority. If he waver—if he allow the men once to feel their strength, and to stand committed to one another—his influence is gone. And if Government should stoop to parley with them, it sanctions their proceedings, strengthens their hands by the confession of its own weakness, and raises them from being offenders against the law, to the dignity of injured men, honourably asserting their rights. Thus, when the Lords of the Admiralty, and the first Admiral of the British navy, received on terms of courtesy criminals whose lives were forfeited, and negotiated with them as with equals—when the Government submitted to demands which it evidently feared to resist—and the Parliament hastened to legislate at the bidding of triumphant mutineers, the navy was taught a fatal lesson. The fleet at the Nore mutinied almost immediately after, without the shadow of a pretext; and the idea of mutiny once become familiar, the crews of the best ordered ships thought little of seeking redress for any real or fancied grievance by resisting the authority of their officers. Almost every ship on the home station mutinied in the course of the year; and considering bow naturally the first fault leads to more guilty excesses, and how many worthless characters were swept into the navy, disgracing the service by making it the avowed punishment of crime, and corrupting it by their example, nothing can appear more natural than that mutiny should at length display itself in a darker character, and proceed in some unhappy instances to murder and treason.

Sir Edward Pellew deeply lamented the submission of the Government. He was satisfied that a proper firmness would have quelled the present, and prevented the future evil; and he was strengthened in his opinion by the circumstances of the mutiny on board one of the ships at Spithead, in which one of his own officers was a principal actor. Captain Williams, of the marines, formerly lieutenant in the Arethusa, applied to his captain for authority to act, assuring him of the good disposition of his own men, and pledging himself by their means to save the ship. But his captain, though one of the bravest and best men in the service, shrank from committing the marines to a possible conflict with the sailors, and recommended a little delay. In a few minutes the marine officer returned: it was not yet too late, but not another moment could be spared. The humane feelings of the commander impelled him still to temporize, and when the marine officer returned, it was to say that his men must now save themselves, and the ship was lost. The more desperate mutiny at the Nore was not quelled by submission.

Afterwards, when mutinies were continually occurring among the ships at Plymouth. Sir Edward proposed a very decisive measure to stop the mischief. He recommended that a ship, manned with officers, and with volunteers who could be fully trusted, should attack the next that mutinied, and, if necessary, sink her in the face of the fleet. The officer who takes the first step in any measure must feel himself committed decisively to all possible consequences; but the mere display of such a resolution, with the knowledge that an officer of unflinching determination commanded the attacking ship, would most probably spare the necessity of firing a shot. Lives are commonly sacrificed only when a mistaken humanity shrinks from duty till the proper time for action has gone by. The disposition of the crews was not generally bad, but they were misled by example, and encouraged by impunity. When the Greyhound mutinied, and Captain Israel Pellew demanded if he had ever given them cause for dissatisfaction, if he had not always been their friend, they admitted that they had nothing to complain of, but said they must do like their friends around them. They would have landed him with every mark of respect; but he declared that, after such conduct, not one of them should ever row him again, and he hailed a waterman to put him on shore. Still, though he had reproached them in no measured terms, they manned the side, and gave him three cheers when he left the ship.

Even Sir Edward Pellew, popular as he was, and though he might well expect that a crew which had fought with him two successful actions within the past year would be too proud of their ship and commander ever to fail in their duty, yet felt it necessary to take precautions, when mutinies were occurring around him without the smallest reasonable cause. Determined to maintain his authority at all hazards, he prepared for the worst, and provided himself with weapons such as he deemed would be the most effectual, if he should be compelled to the dreadful necessity of a personal conflict with his crew. A pointed and two-edged blade, four inches long, was fixed in a rough buckhorn handle, with a groove for the thumb across the top. A pair of these were carried in sheaths, secured in each waistcoat-pocket. With these, a strong and active person, in the midst of a crowd where he could not use a sword, could strike right and left with terrible effect.

Once a mutiny was planned in the Indefatigable, but he checked it before it broke out. She was lying with the Phoebe in Falmouth harbour, and the frigates were to sail next morning, when the crews were determined not to proceed to their station until they had received their pay. A sailor who had overstayed his leave came in the dead of the night to inform his commander of the plot; and assured him, that though all the crew were privy to it, more than half of them would support their officers. Sir Edward professed to discredit the information, and, apparently, took no steps in consequence. But when the ship was to be got under weigh, the lieutenant complained to him that the men were sulky, and would not go round with the capstan. He then came forward, and declaring his knowledge of their intentions, drew his sword, and ordered the officers to follow his example. "You can never die so well," he said, "as on your own deck quelling a mutiny; and now, if a man hesitate to obey you, cut him down without a word." The crew, accustomed to prompt obedience, and attached to their officers, at once returned to their duty, and the Indefatigable was soon under sail. The Phoebe was earned by her crew to Cawsand Bay, and in justice to them it should be added, that although she anchored in the midst of several ships which had lately mutinied, no further irregularity took place: and after having been paid, she hastened to join the Indefatigable off Brest.

The crew of the Impetueux supposed, and probably with truth, that Sir Edward was selected to command them in consequence of their known disaffected state, his frigate having been almost the only ship on the home station which had not actually mutinied. Under this impression, a mistaken pride would not allow them to be controlled, and their secret spirit of revolt became more determined. The feeling might have worn itself out in a short time if the ship had remained at sea, for the men soon learned to respect their new commander. But when, on the 25th of April, the French fleet escaped from Brest, and sailed for the Mediterranean, the British Admiral, Lord Bridport, supposing it to have gone to Ireland, cruised for a few days off Cape Clear, and then anchored with twenty-six sail of the line in Bantry Bay. Here the bad spirits of the fleet had leisure for mischief, and facilities to communicate with one another. A general mutiny was planned, and the disgraceful distinction of setting the example was assigned to the Impetueux.

On Thursday, the 30th of May, at noon, Sir Edward, being engaged to dine with Sir Alan Gardner, had gone to dress in his cabin, leaving orders with the officer of the watch to call all hands at the usual time, one watch to clear hawse, and the other two to wash decks. When the order was given, it was obeyed by all the marines, but by scarce any of the sailors. Very shortly after, signal was made to unmoor, upon which a noise of "No—no—no!" was heard from the main hatchway, and the seamen came pressing forward in great numbers; those in the rear crying, "Go on—go on!" The first lieutenant, Ross, and Lieutenant Stokes, the officer of the watch, demanded what was the matter; and after some murmuring, were told that there was a letter. The officers asked for it, that it might be given to the captain, but the cry of "No—no—no!" was immediately renewed. Lieutenant Ross then desired Lieutenant Stokes to inform the captain, upon which the mutineers shouted, "One and all—one and all!" Sir Edward instantly ran out in his dressing-gown, and found between two and three hundred on the quarter-deck. On his appearance, the clamour was increased, mingled with cries of "A boat—a boat!" He asked what was the matter, and was told they had a letter to send to Lord Bridport, complaining of tyranny, and hard usage. He demanded the letter, declaring that he would immediately carry it himself, or send an officer with it, to the Admiral; but all cried out, "No, no,—a boat of our own!" He persisted in his endeavours to pacify them as long as a hope remained of bringing them to reason, intreating them not to forfeit their character by such shameful conduct. But when some of the ringleaders declared with oaths that they would have a boat, and would take one, he quietly said, "You will, will you?"—gave a brief order to Captain Boys, of the marines, and sprang to the cabin for his sword. The marines, who had previously withstood every attempt of the conspirators to seduce them from their duty, now displayed that unwavering loyalty, and prompt obedience, for which, in the most trying circumstances, this valuable force has always been distinguished. Sir Edward returned instantly, determined to put to death one or more of the ringleaders on the spot, but the evident irresolution of the mutineers spared him the necessity. He immediately ordered the quarter-deck to be cleared, the marines to be posted on the after-part of the fore-castle, and the fore-part of the quarter-deck and poop, and the sentries to be doubled. The carpenter in the mean time ran to Sir Edwards cabin, and brought swords for the officers, who, at the first alarm, had hastened to place themselves by their captain's side. The mutineers, after a moment's hesitation, ran off the quarter-deck, and threw themselves down the hatchways, exclaiming to put out all lights, and remove the ladders. The officers followed them closely, and soon secured the ringleaders. Sir Edward himself seized one of the most violent, and threatening him with instant death if he resisted, dragged him up from below to the quarter-deck. The letter, an unsigned one, was now given up, and the ship's company returned quietly to their duty.

The plot was thus entirely disconcerted; for the crews of the other ships, who knew nothing of the attempt and its failure, but waited for the example of the Impetueux, followed her when she obeyed the Admiral's signal. On the 1st of June, Lord Bridport, who had now learned the course taken by the French fleet, sent off Sir Alan Gardner with sixteen sail, of which the Impetueux was one, as a reinforcement for Earl St. Vincent in the Mediterranean. His orders on this occasion were promptly attended to; and no other attempt was made by any of the crews to resist the authority of their officers.

The Impetueux being now for a short time under Earl St. Vincent's command, Sir Edward took the earliest opportunity to enforce the application for a court-martial, which he had previously made to Sir Charles Cotton. The Earl, upon inquiry, was so startled at the magnitude of the plot, that he thought it better, as the mutiny had been so promptly suppressed, to conceal it altogether. Sir Edward differed from him entirely. He considered that the worst effects would follow, if the men were allowed to think that their officers feared to punish the ringleaders in such a conspiracy; and as the Earl, who was on the point of resigning the command from ill-health, appeared still reluctant, he decided the question by declaring that if the court-martial were not granted, he should immediately go on shore. Accordingly, it was held on board the Prince, in Port Mahon, on the 19th and 20th of June, when three of the ringleaders received sentence of death. One of them, after his condemnation, disclosed all the history and circumstances of the plot; and this, added to the consideration of his previous good character, to which Sir Edward had borne a strong testimony on the court-martial, made his captain think him a proper subject for mercy. But upon this point, Earl St. Vincent was inflexible. "I am glad of it," he said, when Sir Edward spoke favourably of the prisoner's former conduct; "those who have hitherto suffered had been so worthless before, that their fate was of little use as an example. I shall now convince the fleet that no character will save the man who is guilty of mutiny." May there never be a recurrance of such unhappy times as shall make it the duty of an officer to act upon this stern principle!

The circumstances were concealed from the country, and the rest of the fleet, as effectually as if the court-martial had never been held. The distant and retired harbour where the mutiny occurred; the quietness with which it was suppressed; the holding of the court-martial abroad; the frequency of aggravated mutinies within the preceding two years; the magnitude of the political occurrences at that period; and the anxiety felt at the movements of the enemy's fleet, probably the largest they ever had at sea, for it numbered, with the Spaniards, forty sail of the line, all concurred to prevent it from becoming an object of public attention. But Earl St. Vincent appreciated Sir Edward's conduct very highly. "Your brother," he once said to Mr. Pellew, "is an excellent and valuable officer, but the most important service he ever rendered to his country was saving the British fleet in Bantry Bay. We know that it was the intention to burn the ships, and join the rebels on shore."

When the time arrived for executing the mutineers, it was found that preparations had been made to give to their fate the appearance of a triumph. For it strongly marks the general feeling in the navy during this unhappy period, that the individuals who thus suffered were regarded rather as martyrs than criminals. Encouraged to hardihood by his mistaken shipmates, generally excited by spirits, and some times even decorated with knots of ribbon, the mutineer went boldly to execution, leaving the spectators less appalled at his fate, than admiring his fearless bearing. Sir Edward quickly changed this feeling when the prisoners came up to the forecastle. Addressing a few words, first to the men who had followed him from the Indefatigable, and afterwards to the rest of the crew, "Indefatigables" he said, "stand aside! not one of you shall touch the rope. But you, who have encouraged your shipmates to the crime by which they have forfeited their lives, it shall be your punishment to hang them!" Quailing before their commander, their false feeling was destroyed in a moment; and as there is no medium between the hardihood and the cowardice of guilt, they felt as he intended, and many of them wept aloud. Afterwards, there was not in the service a more orderly ship than the Impetueux, or a crew more pleasant to command.

Considerate as he was upon all occasions where human life was concerned, and unwilling to resort to punishment, he was always anxious to make it as impressive as possible, whenever it became necessary to inflict it. He assisted to try one of the mutineers of the Hermione, whose crew had murdered their officers, and carried the ship into a Spanish port. This man's crime was attended with circumstances of peculiar aggravation. He was coxswain to Captain Pigott, who, savage tyrant as he was in general, and richly deserving of the fate he provoked, had brought him up from a boy, and treated him with much kindness and confidence. Yet he headed the murderers; and when they broke into the captain's cabin, and that officer, perceiving their intention, called for his coxswain to protect him, he replied with an opprobrious epithet, "Here I am to despatch you!" He had been entrusted with the captain's keys; and when the work of blood was over, the officers, even to unoffending midshipmen, being slaughtered, and the murderers were regaling themselves with wine, he told them that he knew where to get them better than what they were drinking. His crime was fully proved; and the court being cleared, Sir Edward proposed that sentence should be executed immediately. The circumstances of the case demanded, in his opinion, unusual severity, which might be expected to have a good effect upon the fleet; while there was every reason to conclude, from the prisoner's demeanour before them, that if delay were allowed, he would meet his fate with a hardihood which would destroy the value of the example. The court at first questioned their power to execute without the warrant of the Admiralty; but this was quickly settled by reference to the Act of Parliament. The President then declared that he could not make the order. "Look here!" said he, giving to Sir Edward his hand, trembling violently, and bathed in a cold perspiration. "I see it, and I respect your feelings," replied Sir Edward, "but I am sure that such an example is wanted, and I must press the point." "Well," he replied, "if it be the unanimous opinion of the court, it shall be done." It was agreed to, and the prisoner was called. Though, sure that he must be condemned, he entered with a bold front; but when informed that he would be executed in one hour, he rolled on the cabin-deck in an agony. "What! gentlemen," he exclaimed, "hang me directly? Will you not allow me a few days—a little time, to make my peace with God?" The whole fleet was appalled when the close of the court-martial was announced to them by the signal for execution; and at the end of the allotted hour, the wretched criminal was brought up to undergo his sentence.

A similar stern decision quelled in a few hours the spirit of resistance during the special commission for trying the Luddites at York, when the county was almost in a state of rebellion; and it was found necessary to protect the court with cannon. Six of the ringleaders having been convicted on the first day, the intrepid judge, Le Blanc, ordered them all to be hung at six o'clock next morning. While the multitudes, stunned by this unexpected vigour, waited in trembling anxiety for what was next to follow, eight more were convicted on the second day, and as promptly executed. The whole county was struck with terror; and the judge, having thus effected the great object of punishment, by compelling them to respect and fear the law, could now venture to show mercy. It is the hardest effort of human resolution for a judge to consign to certain and ignominious death the helpless being who stands trembling before him, imploring the mercy or the delay which it rests but with him to grant; but whenever justice demands life, duty requires that so great a sacrifice shall be made most useful; and to effort this, execution must take place before abhorrence for the crime is lost in pity for the offender. His proper time for repentance is the interval before conviction. Little dependence can be placed on the contrition which never shows itself till every hope of life is gone.

The Impetueux formed part of the force which pursued the combined fleets from the Mediterranean to Brest, and from which they escaped so narrowly. She afterwards remained with the Channel fleet, under Lord Bridport and Sir Alan Gardner. On the 1st of June, 1800, Earl St. Vincent, who had assumed the command a short time before, detached Sir Edward Pellew, with seven sail of the line, and some smaller vessels, to Quiberon Bay, whore they were to land five thousand troops under General Maitland to assist the royalists. Next day, the squadron arrived and anchored; and on the 4th, the forts on the peninsula were attacked and silenced by the Thames, 32, with some of the small craft; and destroyed by a party of troops. Several vessels, taken at the same time, were brought off or scuttled. Very early on the morning of the 6th, the armed launches, and a division of small craft, were sent away under Lieutenant Pilford, of the Impetueux, which completed the destruction of the shipping in the Morbihan, bringing off six prizes, and destroying several others, among which was the Insolente, 16-gun brig. They landed at the same time about three hundred troops, who carried and dismantled a fort. The whole service was effected with the loss of two men killed on board the Thames, and one in the boats. By this time, it was placed beyond doubt that the invalids were not strong enough to warrant a descent. Sir Edward, therefore, proposed an immediate attack on Belleisle, which had long been a favourite object with him, from a conviction that nothing would enable the British to harass the enemy more effectually than the possession of that island. He earnestly combated the doubts of the General, and pressed the point with all the energy of his character. Filled with the ardour so naturally inspired by the opportunity to attempt a long-cherished enterprise, he exclaimed, "I will be everywhere at your side, only let us attack the place without delay." But the General, who could not feel that confidence founded on a knowledge of the place, which Sir Edward had gained from having long cruised in the neighbourhood; and who well knew the difficulty and loss which a much larger force had formerly experienced in taking it, objected to the attempt, and the enemy in a few days decided the question by strongly reinforcing the garrison. The troops were then landed upon the small island of Houat, about two leagues to the south-east of Quiberon Point, where they remained encamped, while Sir Edward cruised with his squadron off Port Louis.

Towards the end of July, Mr. Coghlan, who had assisted Sir Edward in saving the people from the Dutton, and was now commanding the Viper cutter, tender to the Impetueux, with the rank of acting lieutenant, proposed and obtained permission to cut out a brig of war, which lay moored within the port. Accordingly, with twelve volunteers from the Impetueux, and a midshipman and six men from the Viper, in the line-of-battle ship's ten-oared cutter, a boat from the Viper, and another from the Amethyst frigate, he went away on the night of the 26th to attack a national brig of seven guns, three of them long twenty-four pounders, and with eighty-seven men on board.

The object of his attack, La Cerbere, was moored with springs on her cable, within pistol-shot of three batteries, surrounded with armed vessels, and not a mile from a seventy-four and a frigate. Notwithstanding her formidable position, and though her crew were prepared, while the boats of the Amethyst and Viper had not been able to keep up with the cutter, he pushed on with the single boat, and made a dash at the brig's quarter. In the act of springing on board, he became entangled in a trawl-net, and before he could disengage himself, he was pierced through the thigh with a pike, and knocked back into the boat. Still undismayed, they boarded the brig further ahead, and after a desperate struggle on her deck, carried her. Of the boat's crew, one man was killed, and eight wounded; the brig had six killed, and twenty wounded. The other boats now came up, and the prize was towed out under a heavy, but ineffectual fire from the batteries.

This very brilliant action was rewarded with peculiar notice. The squadron gave up the prize to the captors; Earl St. Vincent presented Mr. Coghlan with a sword; and a most unusual distinction, he was immediately made a lieutenant by an order in council, though, by the regulations of the service, he had still to serve a year and a half before he would be entitled to promotion.

A few days after, Sir J.B. Warren arrived, with a small squadron and a fleet of transports; and having re-embarked the troops from Houat, and taken the Impetueux under his orders, proceeded to attack Ferrol. The fleet arrived in the bay of Playa de Dominos on the 25th of August, and Sir James Pulteney, the military commander-in-chief, desired that the troops might be landed immediately. The direction of this service was committed to Sir Edward Pellew, who first silenced a fort of eight twenty-four pounders by the fire of the Impetueux, assisted by the Brilliant, 28-gun frigate, Cynthia, sloop of war, and St. Vincent gun-boat; and landed the whole army the same evening, without losing a man. Sixteen field-pieces were landed at the same time, and the sailors got them, with the scaling ladders, to the heights above Ferrol.

A slight skirmish took place on the first advance of the troops, and a sharper one next morning; but the enemy were effectually driven back, and the heights which command the harbour of Ferrol gained, with the loss in all of sixteen men killed, and five officers and sixty-three men wounded. Six sail of the line, two of them large first-rates, were in the harbour. Sir James now resolved to abandon the enterprise. Sir Edward entreated that he might be allowed to lead on with his sailors, for he was confident that the town must yield. But Sir James—to the intense disappointment and indignation of Sir Edward, who refused afterwards and in consequence even to meet him at dinner—declined to advance, and the troops and guns were all re-embarked without loss the same night. It was afterwards ascertained, that the garrison, despairing of effectual resistance, were prepared to surrender the keys.

The squadron escorted the transports to Gibraltar, to join a force already assembled there; with which, under the command of Abercromby, and protected by the fleet of Lord Keith, they proceeded to Egypt.


[8] Quiberon Bay, one killed in the boats; landing at Ferrol, none; Batavia Roads, one killed in the boats; Griessee, none; skirmishes off Toulon, one killed by accident; Algiers, eight.

[9] The sailors gave professional names to the various specimens of entomology which infested their stores. Thus, a large maggot found in the biscuit they called "Boscawen's bargemen."

[10] The case of Captain Baillie is remarkable as the first in which Erskine pleaded. When this brilliant advocate, then a junior, unknown even to his brethren at the bar, was assailing Lord Sandwich as the prosecutor of his client with equal eloquence and courage, and even in defiance of a rebuff from the Judge, the latter, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, leant over the bench and inquired in a whisper, "Who is that young man?" "His name is Erskine, my lord," replied the clerk. "His fortune is made," observed the Judge as he resumed his seat.



The Impetueux remained with the Channel fleet until she was paid off at the end of the war, when Sir Edward was allowed a short repose. He passed it chiefly in the quiet of domestic retirement at Trefusis, a seat belonging to Lord Clinton, which occupies the promontory between the two principal branches of Falmouth harbour, and adjoins the little town of Flushing, where his grandfather had lived. Here, in the bosom of his family, and with many of his companions and friends in the service around him, he enjoyed his first period of relaxation from the beginning of the revolutionary war.

Early in 1801, there was a naval promotion, which left him nearly at the head of the post list; and he was shortly after made a Colonel of Marines. His popularity was now very great, for the credit gained by his first action was increased by every future success, until there was no officer of his rank whose name was more known and honoured through the country. That this should create jealousy was only to be expected; for it is always the hardest trial of liberality to be just to the superior fortunes of a competitor. Some, contending that he enjoyed a reputation beyond his deserts, would under-rate his services, which, they said, any other officer with the same chances could have performed as well. But chance, though it may afford an occasional instance of unexpected fortune, never gives a long and uniform career of distinction. Sir Edward displayed the same character through all his grades of rank, and, except in the Hazard, which was employed on a station and a service which could afford no opportunity for distinction, obtained the same success in every ship he commanded. It is encouraging to unassisted merit to observe, that he had no influential friends until he had made himself independent of their support, and was attached to the fortunes of no leading commander. All his promotions, and every honour he received, were given expressly to reward some recent and distinguished service.

Many years after he had retired from active employment, he made a modest allusion to this subject at a naval dinner, at which his late Majesty, then Lord High Admiral, presided. In rising to return thanks, when his health was drunk with compliments which demanded acknowledgment, he referred to his own history as a proof that no officer, however unsupported by influence, need despair of receiving his due reward from the justice and gratitude of his country. "I have never known," he said, "what fortune meant. I never chose my station, and never had a friend but the King's pennant; but I have always gone where I was sent, and done what I was ordered; and he who will act upon the same principles, may do as I have done."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse