Captain Frederick Marryat
Part 2 out of 8
So much assurance had I acquired by my recent success in town, that
my self-confidence was increased to an incredible degree. My apparent
candour, impudence, and readiness gave a currency to the coinings of
my brain which far surpassed the dull matter-of-fact of my unwary
Of my boyish days, I have now almost said enough. The adventures of
a midshipman, during the first three years of his probationary life,
might, if fully detailed, disgust more than amuse, and corrupt more
than they would improve; I therefore pass on to the age of sixteen,
when my person assumed an outline of which I had great reason to be
proud, since I often heard it the subject of encomium among the fair
sex, and their award was confirmed even by my companions.
My mind kept pace with my person in every acquirement save those of
morality and religion. In these, alas! I became daily more and more
deficient, and for a time lost sight of them altogether. The manly,
athletic frame, and noble countenance, with which I was blessed,
served to render me only more like a painted sepulchre--all was foul
within. Like a beautiful snake, whose poison is concealed under the
gold and azure of its scales, my inward man was made up of pride,
revenge, deceit, and selfishness, and my best talents were generally
applied to the worst purposes.
In the knowledge of my profession I made rapid progress, because I
delighted in it, and because my mind, active and elastic as my body,
required and fed on scientific research. I soon became an expert
navigator and a good practical seaman, and all this I acquired by
my own application. We had no schoolmaster; and while the other
youngsters learned how to work a common day's work from the
instruction of the older midshipmen, I, who was no favourite with the
latter, was rejected from their coteries. I determined, therefore, to
supply the deficiency myself, and this I was enabled to do by the help
of a good education. I had been well grounded in mathematics, and was
far advanced in Euclid and algebra, previous to leaving school: thus I
had a vast superiority over my companions.
The great difficulty was to renew my application to study, after many
months of idleness. This, however, I accomplished, and after having
been one year at sea, kept a good reckoning and sent in my day's work
to the captain. The want of instruction which I first felt in the
study of navigation, proved in the end of great service to me: I was
forced to study more intensely, and to comprehend the principles
on which I founded my theory, so that I was prepared to prove by
mathematical demonstration, what others could only assert who worked
The pride of surpassing my seniors, and the hope of exposing their
ignorance, stimulated me to inquiry, and roused me to application. The
books which I had reported lost to my father, were handed out from the
bottom of my chest, and read with avidity: many others I borrowed from
the officers, whom I must do the justice to say, not only lent them
with cheerfulness, but offered me the use of their cabin to study in.
Thus I acquired a taste for reading. I renewed my acquaintance with
the classic authors. Horace and Virgil, licentious but alluring, drove
me back to the study of Latin, and fixed in my mind a knowledge of the
dead languages, at the expense of my morals. Whether the exchange were
profitable or not, is left to wiser heads than mine to decide; my
business is with facts only.
Thus, while the ungenerous malice of the elder midshipmen thought to
have injured me by leaving me in ignorance, they did me the greatest
possible service, by throwing me on my own resources. I continued on
pretty nearly the same terms with my shipmates to the last. With some
of the mess-room officers I was still in disgrace, and was always
disliked by the oldsters in my own mess; with the younger midshipmen
and the foremast men I was a favourite. I was too proud to be a
tyrant, and the same feeling prevented my submitting to tyranny. As I
increased in strength and stature, I showed more determined resistance
to arbitrary power: an occasional turn-up with boys of my own size
(for the best friends will quarrel), and the supernumerary midshipmen
sent on board for a passage, generally ended in establishing my
dominion or insuring for me a peaceable neutrality.
I became a scientific pugilist, and now and then took a brush with an
oldster; and although overpowered, yet I displayed so much prowess,
that my enemies became cautious how they renewed a struggle which they
perceived became daily more arduous; till at last, like the lion's
whelp, my play ceased to be a joke, and I was left to enjoy that
tranquillity, which few found it safe or convenient to disturb. By
degrees the balance of power was fairly established, and even Murphy
was awed into civil silence.
In addition to my well known increase in personal strength, I acquired
a still greater superiority over my companions by the advantage of
education; and this I took great care to make them feel on every
occasion. I was appealed to in all cases of literary disputation, and
was, by general consent, the umpire of the steerage. I was termed
"good company,"--not always to the advantage of the possessor of such
a talent; for it often tends, as it did with me, to lead into very bad
company. I had a fine voice, and played on one or two instruments.
This frequently procured me invitations to the gun-room, and excuses
from duty, together with more wine or grog than was of service to me,
and conversation that I had better not have heard.
We were ordered on a cruise to the coast of France; and as the junior
port-admiral had a spite against our captain, he swore by ---- that
go we should, ready or not ready. Our signal was made to weigh, while
lighters of provisions, and the powder-boy with our powder, were lying
alongside--the quarter-deck guns all adrift, and not even mounted. Gun
after gun from the _Royal William_ was repeated by the _Gladiator_,
the flag-ship of the harbour-admiral, and with our signal to part
The captain, not knowing how the story might travel up by telegraph to
London, and conscious, perhaps, that he had left a little too much
to the first lieutenant, "tore the ship away by the hair of the
head"--unmoored, bundled everything in upon deck out of the
lighters--turned all the women out of the ship, except five or six of
the most abandoned--and, with a strong northerly wind, ran down
to Yarmouth Roads, and through the Needles to sea, in a state of
confusion and disaster which I hope never to see again.
The rear-admiral, Sir Hurricane Humbug, stood on the platform looking
at us (I was afterwards told), and was heard to exclaim, "D----n his
eyes" (meaning our captain), "there he goes at last! I was afraid that
that fellow would have grounded on his beef bones before we should
have got him out!"
"The more haste the less speed," is oftener true in naval affairs than
in any other situation of life. With us it had nearly proved fatal to
the ship. Had we met with an enemy, we must either have disgraced the
flag by running away, or been taken.
No sooner clear of the Needles than night came on, and with it a heavy
gale of wind at north-north-west. The officers and men were at work
till four in the morning, securing the boats, booms, and anchors,
clearing the decks of provisions, and setting up the lower rigging,
which by the labour of the ship, had begun to stretch to an alarming
degree; by great exertion this was accomplished, and the guns secured
before the gale had increased to a hurricane.
About nine the next morning, a poor marine, a recruit from Portsmouth,
unfortunately fell overboard; and though many brave fellows instantly
jumped into one of the quarter-boats, and begged to be lowered down to
save him, the captain, who was a cool calculator, thought the chance
of losing seven men was greater than that of saving one, so the poor
fellow was left to his fate. The ship, it is true, was hove to; but
she drifted to leeward much faster than the unfortunate man could
swim, though he was one of the best swimmers I ever beheld.
It was heart-breaking to see the manly but ineffectual exertions made
by this gallant youth to regain the ship; but all his powers only
served to prolong his misery. We saw him nearly a mile to windward,
at one moment riding on the top of the mountainous wave, at the next,
sinking into the deep valley between, till at last we saw him no more!
His sad fate was long deplored in the ship. I thought at the time that
the captain was cruel in not sending a boat for him; but I am now
convinced, from experience, that he submitted only to hard necessity,
and chose the lesser evil of the two.
The fate of this young man was a serious warning to me. I had
become, from habit, so extremely active, and fond of displaying my
newly-acquired gymnastics, called by the sailors "sky-larking" that my
speedy exit was often prognosticated by the old quarter-masters, and
even by the officers. It was clearly understood that I was either to
be drowned or was to break my neck; for the latter I took my chance
pretty fairly, going up and down the rigging like a monkey. Few of the
topmen could equal me in speed, still fewer surpass me in feats of
daring activity. I could run along the topsail yards out to the
yard-arm, go from one mast to the other by the stays, or down on deck
in the twinkling of an eye by the topsail halyards; and, as I knew
myself to be an expert swimmer, I cared little about the chance of
being drowned; but when I witnessed the fate of the poor marine, who I
saw could swim as well, if not better than myself, I became much more
cautious. I perceived that there might be situations in which swimming
could be of no use; and however beloved I might have been by the
sailors, it was evident that, even if they had the inclination, they
might not always have the power to relieve me: from this time, I
became much more guarded in my movements aloft.
A circumstance occurred shortly after we got to sea which afforded
me infinite satisfaction. Murphy, whose disposition led him to bully
every one whom he thought he could master, fixed a quarrel on a very
quiet, gentlemanly young man, a supernumerary midshipman, who had
come on board for a passage to his own ship, then down in the Bay of
Biscay. The young man, resenting this improper behaviour, challenged
Murphy to fight, and the challenge was accepted; but as the
supernumerary was engaged to dine with the captain, he proposed that
the meeting should not take place till after dinner, not wishing to
exhibit a black eye at the captain's table. This was considered by
Murphy as an evasion; and he added further insult by saying that he
supposed his antagonist wanted Dutch courage, and that if he did not
get wine enough in the cabin, he would not fight at all.
The high-spirited youth made no reply to this insolence; but, having
dressed himself, went up to dinner; that over, and after the muster at
quarters, he called Mr Murphy into the steerage, and gave him as sound
a drubbing as he ever received in his life. The fight, or set-to,
lasted only a quarter of an hour, and the young supernumerary
displayed so much science, and such a thorough use of his fists, as to
defy the brutal force of his opponent, who could not touch him, and
who was glad to retreat to his berth, followed by the groans and
hisses of all the midshipmen, in which I most cordially joined.
After so clear a proof of the advantages of the science of
self-defence, I determined to acquire it; and, with the young stranger
for my tutor, I soon became a proficient in the art of boxing, and
able to cope with Murphy and his supporters.
There was a part of my duty which, I am free to confess, I hated: this
was keeping watch at night. I loved sleep, and, after ten o'clock, I
could not keep my eyes open. Neither the buckets of water which were
so liberally poured over me by the midshipmen, under the facetious
appellation of "blowing the grampus," nor any expostulation or
punishments inflicted on me by the first lieutenant could rouse my
_dormant_ energies after the first half of the watch was expired. I
was one of the most determined votaries of Somnus; and for his sake,
endured every sort of persecution. The first lieutenant took me into
his watch, and tried every means, both of mildness and coercion, to
break me of this evil habit. I was sure, however, to escape from him,
and to conceal myself in some hole or corner, where I slept out the
remainder of the watch; and the next morning, I was, as regularly,
mast-headed, to do penance during the greater part of the day for
my deeds of darkness. I believe that of the first two years of my
servitude, one-half of my waking hours, at least, were passed aloft.
I took care, however, to provide myself with books, and, on the whole,
was perhaps better employed than I should have been in my berth below.
Handstone, though a martinet, was a gentleman; and as he felt a great
interest in the young officers in the ship, so he took much pains in
the instruction and improvement of them. He frequently expostulated
with me on the great impropriety of my conduct; my answer invariably
was, that I was as sensible of it as he could be, but that I could
not help it; that I deserved all the punishment I met with, and threw
myself entirely on his mercy. He used frequently to call me over to
the weather side of the deck, when he would converse with me on any
topic which he thought might interest or amuse me. Finding I was
tolerably well read in history, he asked my opinion, and gave me his
own with great good sense and judgment; but such was the irresistible
weight of my eyelids, that I used, when he was in the midst of a long
dissertation, to slip down the gangway-ladder and leave him to finish
his discourses to the wind.
Now, when this occurred, I was more severely punished than on any
other occasion; for, to the neglect of duty, I added contempt both of
his rank and the instruction he was offering to me. His wrath was also
considerably increased when he only discovered my departure by the
tittering of the other midshipmen and the quarter-master at the conn.
One evening, I completed my disgrace with him, though a great deal
might be said in my own favour. He had sent me to the fore-topmast
head, at seven o'clock in the morning, and very unfeelingly, or
forgetfully, kept me there the whole day. When he went off deck to his
dinner, I came down into the top, made a bed for myself in one of the
top-gallant studding sails, and, desiring the man who had the look-out
to call me before the lieutenant was likely to come on deck, I very
quietly began to prepare a sacrifice to my favourite deity, Somnus;
but as the look-out man did not see the lieutenant come up, I was
caught napping just at dusk, when the lieutenant came on deck, and
did me the honour to remember where he had left me. Looking at the
fore-topmast head, he called me down.
Like Milton's devils, who were "found sleeping by one they dread,"
up I sprung, and regained my perch by the topsail-tie, supposing,
or rather hoping, that he would not see me before the mast, in the
obscurity of the evening; but he was too lynx-eyed, and had not
presence of mind enough _not_ to see what he should not have seen. He
called to the three men in the top, and inquired where I was? They
replied at the mast-head. "What!" exclaimed Handstone, with an oath;
"did I not see him this moment, go up by the topsail-tie?"
"No, sir," said the men; "he is now asleep at the mast-head."
"Come down here, you lying rascals, every one of you," said the
lieutenant, "and I'll teach you to speak the truth!"
I, who had by this time quietly resumed my station, was ordered down
along with them; and we all four stood on the quarter-deck, while the
following interrogations were put to us:--
"Now, sir," said the first lieutenant to the captain of the top, "how
dare you tell me that that young gentleman was at the mast-head, when
I myself saw him 'shinning' up by the topsail-tie?"
I was sorry for the men, who, to save me, had got themselves into
jeopardy; and I was just going to declare the truth, and take the
whole odium upon myself, when, to my utter astonishment, the man
boldly answered, "He _was_ at the mast-head, sir, upon my honour."
"Your honour!" cried the lieutenant, with contempt; then, turning to
the other men, he put the same question to them both in succession,
and received the same positive answers; so that I really began to
think I had been at the mast-head all the time, and had been dreaming
I was in the top. At last, turning to me, he said, "Now, sir, I ask
you, on your honour, as an officer and a gentleman, where were you
when I first hailed?"
"At the mast-head, sir," said I.
"Be it so," he replied; "as you are an officer and a gentleman, I am
bound to believe you." Then turning on his heels, he walked away in a
greater rage than I ever remember to have seen him.
I plainly perceived that I was not believed, and that I had lost his
good opinion. Yet, to consider the case fairly and impartially, how
could I have acted otherwise? I had been much too long confined to the
mast-head--as long as a man might take to go from London to Bath in a
stagecoach; I had lost all my meals; and these poor fellows, to save
me from further punishment, had voluntarily exposed themselves to
a flogging at the gangway by telling a barefaced falsehood in my
defence. Had I not supported them, they would certainly have been
flogged, and I should have lost myself with every person aboard; I
therefore came to that paradoxical conclusion on the spot, namely,
that, as a man of honour and a gentleman, I was bound to tell a lie in
order to save these poor men from a cruel punishment.
I am sensible that this is a case to lay before the bench of bishops;
and though I never pretended to the constancy of a martyr, had the
consequences been on myself alone, I should have had no hesitation in
speaking the truth. The lieutenant was to blame, first, by too great
a severity; and, secondly, by too rigid an inquiry into a subject not
worth the trouble. Still my conscience smote me that I had done wrong;
and when the rage of the lieutenant had abated, so as to insure the
impunity of the men, I took the earliest opportunity of explaining to
him the motives for my conduct, and the painful situation in which I
stood. He received my excuses coldly, and we never were friends again.
Our captain, who was a dashing sort of a fellow, contrived to brush
up the enemy's quarters, on the coast of France. On one of our boat
expeditions, I contrived to slip away with the rest; we landed, and
surprised a battery, which we blew up, and spiked the guns. The French
soldiers ran for their lives, and we plundered the huts of some poor
fishermen. I went in with the rest, in hopes of finding plunder, and
for my deserts caught a Tartar. A large skait lay with its mouth open,
into which I thrust my fore-finger, to drag him away; the animal was
not dead, and closing his jaws, divided my finger to the bone--this
was the only blood spilt on the occasion.
Though guilty myself, I was sorry to see the love of plunder prevail
so extensively among us. The sailors took away articles utterly
useless to them, and, after carrying them a certain distance, threw
them down for others equally useless. I have since often reflected how
justly I was punished for my fault, and how needlessly we inflicted
the horrors of war on those inoffensive and unhappy creatures.
Our next attempt was of a more serious nature, and productive of still
greater calamity to the unoffending and industrious, the usual victims
of war, while the instigators are reposing in safety on their down
My life is spanned already;
* * * * *
Go with me, like good angels, to my end.
Danger, like an ague, subtly taints
Even then when we sit idly in the sun.
"Troilus and Cressida."
I had never been able to regain the confidence and esteem of the first
lieutenant since the unfortunate affair of the mast-head. He was
certainly an excellent and a correct officer, too much so to overlook
what he considered a breach of honour. I, therefore, easily reconciled
myself to a separation, which occurred very soon after. We chased a
ship into the Bay of Arcasson, when, as was customary, she sought
safety under a battery; and the captain, according to our custom,
resolved to cut her out.
For this purpose, the boats were manned and armed, and every
preparation made for the attack on the following morning. The command
of the expedition was given to the first lieutenant, who accepted of
it with cheerfulness, and retired to his bed in high spirits, with the
anticipation of the honour and profit which the dawn of day would heap
upon him. He was proverbially brave and cool in action, so that the
seamen followed him with confidence as to certain victory. Whether any
ill-omened dreams had disturbed his rest, or whether any reflections
on the difficult and dangerous nature of the service had alarmed him,
I could not tell; but in the morning we all observed a remarkable
change in his deportment. His ardour was gone; he walked the deck with
a slow and measured pace, apparently in deep thought; and, contrary
to his usual manner, was silent and melancholy, abstracted, and
inattentive to the duties of the ship.
The boats prepared for the service were manned; the officers had taken
their seats in them; the oars were tossed up; the eyes of the young
warriors beamed with animation, and we waited for Mr Handstone, who
still walked the deck, absorbed in his own reflections. He was at
length recalled to a sense of his situation by the captain, who, in a
tone of voice more than usually loud, asked him if he intended to take
the command of the expedition? He replied, "most certainly;" and with
a firm and animated step, crossed the quarter-deck, and went into his
I, following, seated myself by his side; he looked at me with a
foreboding indifference; had he been in his usual mood, he would have
sent me to some other boat. We had a long pull before we reached the
object of our intended attack, which we found moored close in shore,
and well prepared for us. A broadside of grape-shot was the first
salute we received. It produced the same effect on our men as the spur
to a fiery steed. We pulled alongside, and began to scramble up in the
best manner we could. Handstone in an instant regained all his wonted
animation, cheered his men, and with his drawn sword in his hand,
mounted the ship's side, while our men at the same time poured in
volleys of musketry, and then followed their intrepid leader.
In our boat, the first alongside, eleven men, out of twenty-four, lay
killed or disabled. Disregarding these, the lieutenant sprang up. I
followed close to him; he leaped from the bulwark in upon her deck,
and, before I could lift my cutlass in his defence, fell back upon me,
knocked me down in his fall, and expired in a moment. He had thirteen
musket-balls in his chest and stomach.
I had no time to disengage myself before I was trampled on, and nearly
suffocated by the pressure of my shipmates, who, burning to gain
the prize, or to avenge our fall, rushed on with the most undaunted
bravery. I was supposed to be dead, and treated accordingly, my poor
body being only used as a stop for the gangway, where the ladder
was unshipped. There I lay fainting with the pressure, and nearly
suffocated with the blood of my brave leader, on whose breast my face
rested, with my hands crossed over the back of my head, to save my
skull, if possible, from the heels of my friends, and the swords of
my enemies; and while reason held her seat, I could not help thinking
that I was just as well where I was, and that a change of position
might not be for the better.
About eight minutes decided the affair, though it certainly did seem
to me, in my then unpleasant situation, much longer. Before it was
over I had fainted, and before I regained my senses the vessel was
under weigh, and out of gunshot from the batteries.
The first moments of respite from carnage were employed in examining
the bodies of the killed and wounded. I was numbered among the former,
and stretched out between the guns by the side of the first lieutenant
and the other dead bodies. A fresh breeze blowing through the ports
revived me a little, but, faint and sick, I had neither the power nor
inclination to move; my brain was confused; I had no recollection of
what had happened, and continued to lie in a sort of stupor, until the
prize came alongside of the frigate, and I was roused by the cheers of
congratulation and victory from those who had remained on board.
A boat instantly brought the surgeon and his assistants to inspect the
dead and assist the living. Murphy came along with them. He had not
been of the boarding party; and seeing my supposed lifeless corpse, he
gave it a slight kick, saying, at the same time, "Here is a young cock
that has done crowing! Well, for a wonder, this chap has cheated the
The sound of the fellow's detested voice was enough to recall me from
the grave, if my orders had been signed: I faintly exclaimed, "You are
a liar!" which, even with all the melancholy scene around us, produced
a burst of laughter at his expense. I was removed to the ship, put
to bed, and bled, and was soon able to narrate the particulars of my
adventure; but I continued a long while dangerously ill.
The soliloquy of Murphy over my supposed dead body, and my laconic
reply, were the cause of much merriment in the ship: the midshipmen
annoyed him by asserting that he had saved my life, as nothing but his
hated voice could have awoke me from my sleep of death.
The fate of the first lieutenant was justly deplored by all of us;
though I cannot deny my Christian-like acquiescence in the will
of Providence in this, as well as on a former occasion, when the
witnesses of my weakness had been removed for ever out of my way. As
I saw it was impossible to regain his good opinion, I thought it
was quite as well that we should part company. That he had a strong
presentiment of his death was proved; and though I had often heard
these instances asserted, I never before had it so clearly brought
home to my senses.
The prize was called _L'Aimable Julie_, laden with coffee, cotton, and
indigo; mounted fourteen guns; had, at the commencement of the action,
forty-seven men, of whom eight were killed, and sixteen wounded. The
period of our return into port, according to our orders, happened to
coincide with this piece of good fortune, and we came up to Spithead,
where our captain met with a hearty welcome from the admiral.
Having delivered his "butcher's bill," i.e. the list of killed and
wounded, together with an account of our defects, they were sent up to
the Admiralty; and, by return of post, we were ordered to fit foreign:
and although no one on board, not even the captain, was supposed to
know our destination, the girls on the Point assured us it was the
Mediterranean; and this turned out to be the fact.
A few days only were spent in hurried preparation, during which I
continued to write to my father and mother. In return I received all I
required, which was a remittance in cash. This I duly acknowledged
by a few lines as the ship was unmooring. We sailed, and soon after
arrived without accident at Gibraltar, where we found general orders
for any ship that might arrive from England to proceed and join
the admiral at Malta. In a few hours our provisions and water were
complete; but we were not in so much haste to arrive at Malta as we
were to quit Gibraltar--hugging the Spanish coast, in hopes of picking
up something to insure us as hearty a welcome at Valette as we found
on our last return to Portsmouth.
Early on the second morning of our departure we made Cape de Gaete. As
the day dawned we discovered four sail in the wind's eye, and close in
shore. The wind was light, and all sail was made in chase. We gained
very little on them for many hours, and towards evening it fell calm.
The boats were then ordered to pursue them, and we set off, diverging
a little from each other's course, or, as the French would say,
_deployee_, to give a better chance of falling in with them. I was in
the gig with the master, and, that being the best running boat, we
soon came up with one of the feluccas. We fired musketry at her: but
having a light breeze, she would not bring-to. We then took good aim
at the helmsman, and hit him. The man only shifted the helm from his
right hand to his left, and kept on his course. We still kept firing
at this intrepid fellow, and I felt it was like wilful murder, since
he made no resistance, but steadily endeavoured to escape.
At length we got close under the stern, and hooked on with our
boat-hook. This the Spaniards unhooked, and we dropped astern, having
laid our oars in; but the breeze dying entirely away, we again pulled
up alongside, and took possession. The poor man was still at the helm,
bleeding profusely. We offered him every assistance, and asked why he
did not surrender sooner. He replied that he was an old Castilian.
Whether he meant that an earlier surrender would have disgraced him,
or that he contemplated, from his former experience, a chance of
escape to the last moment, I cannot tell. Certain it is that no
one ever behaved better; and I felt that I would have given all
I possessed to have healed the wounds of this patient, meek, and
undaunted old man, who uttered no complaint, but submitted to his fate
with a magnanimity which would have done credit to Socrates himself.
He had received four musket-balls in his body, and, of course,
survived his capture but a very few hours.
We found to our surprise that this vessel, with the three others, one
of which was taken by another of our boats, were from Lima. They were
single-masted, about thirty tons burthen, twelve men each, and were
laden with copper, hides, wax, and cochineal, and had been out five
months. They were bound to Valentia, from which they were only one
day's sail when we intercepted them. Such is the fortune of war! This
gallant man, after a voyage of incredible labour and difficulty, would
in a few hours have embraced his family, and gladdened their hearts
with the produce of honest industry and successful enterprise; when,
in a moment, all their hopes were blasted by our legal murder and
robbery; and our prize-money came to our pockets with the tears, if
not the curses, of the widow and the orphan!
From some information which the captain obtained in the prize, he was
induced to stand over towards the Balearic Islands. We made Ivica, and
stood past it; then ran for Palma Bay in the island of Majorca; here
we found nothing, to our great disappointment, and continued our
course round the island.
An event occurred here, so singular as scarcely to be credible; but
the fact is well attested, as there were others who witnessed it
beside myself. The water was smooth, and the day remarkably fine; we
were distant from the shore more than a mile and a quarter, when the
captain, wishing to try the range of the main-deck guns, which were
long eighteen-pounders, ordered the gunner to elevate one of them and
fire it towards the land. The gunner asked whether he should point the
gun at any object. A man was seen walking on the white sandy beach,
and as there did not appear to be the slightest chance of hitting him,
for he only looked like a speck, the captain desired the gunner to
fire at him; he did so, and the man fell. A herd of bullocks at this
moment was seen coming out of the woods, and the boats were sent with
a party to shoot some of them for the ship's company.
When we landed we found that the ball had cut the poor man in two; and
what made the circumstance more particularly interesting was, that he
was evidently a man of consequence. He was well dressed, had on black
breeches and silk stockings; he was reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, and
still grasped the book, which I took out of his hand.
We have often heard of the miraculous powers ascribed to a chance
shot, but never could we have supposed that this devilish ball could
have gone so far, or done so much mischief. We buried the remains of
the unfortunate gentleman in the sand; and having selected two or
three bullocks out of the herd, shot them, skinned and divided them
into quarters, loaded our boat, and returned on board. I had taken
the book out of the hand of the deceased, and from his neck a small
miniature of a beautiful female. The brooch in his shirt I also
brought away; and when I gave an account to the captain of what had
happened, I offered him these articles. He returned them all to me,
desired me to keep them until I could see any of the friends of the
deceased, and appeared so much distressed at the accident, that we
never mentioned it afterwards; and in the course of the time we
were together, it was nearly forgotten. The articles remained in my
possession unnoticed for many years.
Two days after, we fell in with a vessel of suspicious appearance; and
it being calm, the boats were sent in chase. They found her, on their
approach, to be a xebeque under French colours; but these they very
soon hauled down, and showed no others. As we came within hail they
told us to keep off, and that if we attempted to board they should
fire into us. This was not a threat likely to deter a British officer,
and particularly such fire-eaters as ours. So to it we went, and a
desperate struggle ensued, the numbers being nearly equal on both
sides; but they had the advantage of their own deck and bulwarks. We
got on board, however, and in a few minutes gained possession, with
a loss, on our side, of sixteen; and on that of our opponent's of
twenty-six, killed and wounded.
But great was our sorrow and disappointment when we discovered that
we had shed the blood of our friends, while we had lost our own. The
vessel, it appeared, was a Gibraltar privateer; they took us for
French, our boats being fitted with thoels and grummets for the oars,
in the French fashion; and we supposed them to be French from their
colours and the language in which they hailed us. In this affair we
had three officers killed or wounded, and some of our best men. The
privateer was manned by a mixed crew of all nations, but chiefly
Greeks; and although ostensibly with a commission signed by the
Governor of Gibraltar, were no doubt little scrupulous as to the
colours of any vessel they might encounter, provided she was not too
strong for them.
After this unfortunate mistake we proceeded to Malta: the captain
expecting a severe rebuke from his admiral, for his rashness in
sending away his boats to attack a vessel without knowing her force.
Fortunately for him, the admiral was not there; and before we met him,
the number of prizes we had taken were found sufficient in his eyes to
cover our multitude of sins, so the affair blew over.
While we lay in Malta Harbour, my friend Murphy fell overboard one
night, just after all the boats were hoisted in; he could not swim,
and would have been drowned if I had not jumped overboard and held him
up until a boat was lowered down to our assistance. The officers and
ship's company gave me more credit for this action than I really
deserved. To have saved any person under such circumstances, they
said, was a noble deed; but to risk my life for a man who had always,
from my first coming into the ship, been my bitterest enemy, was more
than they could have expected, and was undoubtedly the noblest revenge
that I could have taken. But they were deceived--they knew me not:
it was my vanity, and the desire of oppressing my enemy under an
intolerable weight of obligation, that induced me to rush to his
rescue; moreover, as I stood on the gangway witnessing his struggles
for life, I felt that I was about to lose all the revenge I had so
long laid up in store; in short, I could not spare him, and only saved
him, as a cat does a mouse, to torment him.
Murphy acknowledged his obligations, and said the terrors of death
were upon him; but in a few days forgot all I had done for him,
consummated his own disgrace, and raised my character on the ruins of
his own. On some frivolous occasion he threw a basin of dirty water
in my face as I passed through the steerage; this was too good an
opportunity to gratify my darling passion. I had long watched for
an occasion to quarrel with him; but as he had been ill during our
passage from Gibraltar to Malta, I could not justify any act of
aggression. He had now recovered, and was in the plentitude of his
strength, and I astonished him by striking the first blow.
A set-to followed; I brought up all my scientific powers in aid of my
strength and the memory of former injuries. I must do him the justice
to say he never showed more game--but he had everything to contend
for; if I was beaten I was only where I was before, but with him the
case would have been different. A fallen tyrant has no friends. Stung
to madness by the successful hits I planted in his face, he lost his
temper, while I was cool; he fought wildly, I stopped all his blows,
and paid them with interest. He stood forty-three rounds, and then
gave in with his eyes bunged up, and his face so swollen and so
covered with blood, as not to be known by his friends if he had had
I had hardly a mark; most of our midshipmen were absent in prizes; but
the two seniors of our berth, an old master's mate past promotion, and
the surgeon's assistant, who had held my wrist when I was cobbed,
were present as the supporters of Murphy during the combat. I always
determined whenever I gained a battle to follow it up. The shouts of
victory resounded in the berth--the youngsters joined with me in songs
of triumph, and gave great offence to the trio. The young Esculapius,
a white-faced, stupid, pock-marked, unhealthy-looking man, was fool
enough to say, that although I had beaten Murphy, I was not to suppose
myself master of the berth. I replied to this only by throwing a
biscuit at his head, as a shot of defiance; and, darting on him before
he could get his legs from under the table, I thrust my fingers into
his neckcloth, which I twisted so tightly, that I held him till he
was nearly choked, giving his head at the same time two or three good
thumps against the ship's side.
Finding that he grew black in the face, I let him go, and asked if
he required any further satisfaction, to which he replied in the
negative, and from that day he was always dutiful and obedient to me.
The old superannuated mate, a sturdy merchant seaman, seemed greatly
dismayed at the successive defeats of his allies, and I believe would
have gladly concluded a separate peace. He had never offered to come
to the assistance of the doctor, although appealed to in the most
This I observed with secret pleasure, and would the more willingly
have given him a brush, as I saw he was disinclined to make the
attempt. I was, however, determined to be at the head of the mess. At
twelve o'clock that night I was relieved from the first watch, and
coming down, I found the old mate in a state of beastly intoxication.
Thus he went to his hammock, and fell asleep. While he lay "dormant,"
I took a piece of lunar caustic, which I wetted, and drew stripes
and figures all over his weather-beaten face, increasing his natural
ugliness to a frightful degree, and made him look very like a New
Zealand warrior. The next morning, when he was making his toilet, my
party were all ready prepared for the _eclaircissement_. He opened
his little dirty chest, and having strapped an old razor, and made a
lather in a wooden soap-box, which bore evident marks of the antique,
he placed a triangular piece of a looking-glass against the reclining
lid of the chest, and began the operation of shaving. His start back
with horror, when he beheld his face, I shall never forget: it outdid
the young Roscius, when he saw the ghost of Hamlet. Having wetted his
fore-finger with his tongue, the old mate tried to remove the stain of
the caustic, but the "d----dpot" still remained, and we, like so many
young imps, surrounded him, roaring with laughter.
I boldly told him that he bore my marks as well as Murphy and the
doctor; and I added, with a degree of cruel mockery which might have
been spared, that I thought it right to put all my servants in black
to-day. I asked whether he was contented with the arrangement, or
whether he chose to appeal against my decree; he signified that he had
no more to say.
Thus, in twenty-four hours, I had subdued the great allies who had so
long oppressed me. I immediately effected a revolution; dismissed the
doctor from the office of caterer--took the charge on myself, and
administered the most impartial justice. I made the oldsters pay their
mess which they had not correctly done before; I caused an equal
distribution of all luxuries from which the juniors had till then been
debarred; and I flatter myself I restored, in some degree, the golden
age in the cockpit. There were no more battles, for there was no hope
of victory on their part, nor anything to contend for on mine. I
never took any advantage of my strength, further than to protect the
youngsters. I proved by this that I was not quarrelsome, but had only
struggled for my own emancipation--that gained, I was satisfied. My
conduct was explained to the captain and the officers; and being fully
and fairly discussed, did me great service. I was looked upon with
respect, and treated with marks of confidence, not usual towards a
person so young.
We left Malta, expecting to find our commander-in-chief off Toulon;
but it seldom happens that the captain of a frigate is in any hurry to
join his admiral, unless charged with despatches of importance. This
not being our case, we somehow or other tumbled down the Mediterranean
before a strong Levanter, and then had to work back again along the
coast of Spain and France. It is an ill wind, they say, that blows
nobody good; and we found it so with us; for off Toulon, in company
with the fleet, if we did take prizes they became of little value,
because there were so many to share them. Our captain, who was a man
of the most consummate _ruse de guerre_ I ever saw or heard of, had
two reasons for sending his prizes to Gibraltar. The first was, that
we should, in all probability, be sent down there to receive our men,
and have the advantage of the cruise back; the second, that he was
well aware of the corrupt practices of the admiralty-court at Malta.
All the vessels, therefore, which we had hitherto captured, were sent
to Gibraltar for adjudication, and we now added to their number. We
had the good fortune to take a large ship laden with barilla, and a
brig with tobacco and wine. The charge of the last I was honoured
with: and no prime minister ever held a situation of such heavy
responsibility with such corrupt supporters. So much was the crew of
the frigate reduced by former captures and the unlucky affair with the
Maltese privateer, that I was only allowed three men. I was, however,
so delighted with my first command, that, I verily believe, if they
had only given me a dog and a pig I should have been satisfied.
The frigate's boat put us on board. It blew fresh from the eastward,
and I instantly put the helm up, and shaped my course for the old
rock. The breeze soon freshened into a gale; we ran slap before it,
but soon found it necessary to take in the top-gallant sails. This we
at last accomplished, one at a time. We then thought a reef or two in
the topsails would be acceptable; but that was impossible. We tried
a Spanish reef, that is, let the yards come down on the cap: and
she flew before the gale, which had now increased to a very serious
degree. Our cargo of wine and tobacco was, unfortunately, stowed by a
Spanish and not a British owner. The difference was very material to
me. An Englishman, knowing the vice of his countrymen, would have
placed the wine underneath, and the tobacco above. Unfortunately
it was, in this instance, the reverse, and my men very soon helped
themselves to as much as rendered them nearly useless to me, being
more than half seas over.
We got on pretty well, however, till about two o'clock in the morning,
when the man at the helm, unable to wake the other two seamen to fetch
him a drop, thought he might trust the brig to steer herself for a
minute, while he quenched his thirst at the wine-cask: the vessel
instantly broached to, that is, came with her broadside to the wind
and sea, and away went the mainmast by the board. Fortunately, the
foremast stood. The man who had just quitted the helm had not time to
get drunk, and the other two were so much frightened that they got
We cleared the wreck as well as we could, got her before the wind
again, and continued on our course. But a British sailor, the most
daring of all men, is likewise the most regardless of warning or of
consequences. The loss of the mainmast, instead of showing my men the
madness of their indulgence in drink, turned the scale the opposite
way. If they could get drunk with two masts, how much more could they
do so with one, when they had only half as much sail to look after?
With such a rule of three, there was no reasoning; and they got drunk,
and continued drunk during the whole passage.
Good luck often attends us when we don't deserve it:
"The sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,"
as Dibdin says, had an eye upon us. I knew we could not easily get out
of the Gut of Gibraltar without knowing it; and accordingly, on the
third day after leaving the frigate, we made the rock early in the
morning, and, by two o'clock, rounded Europa Point. I had ordered the
men to bend the cable, and, like many other young officers, fancied it
was done because they said it was, and because I had ordered it.
It never once occurred to me to go and see if my orders had been
executed; indeed, to say the truth, I had quite as much as I could
turn my hand to: I was at the helm from twelve o'clock at night till
six in the morning, looking out for the land; and when I ordered one
of the men to relieve me, I directed him how to steer, and fell into
a profound sleep, which lasted till ten o'clock; after which I was
forced to exert the whole of my ingenuity in order to fetch into the
Bay, and prevent being blown through the Gut; so that the bending of
the cable escaped my memory until the moment I required the use of the
As I passed under the stern of one of the ships of war in the Bay,
with my prize colours flying, the officer on deck hailed me, and said
I "had better shorten sail." I thought so too, but how was this to be
done? My whole ship's company were too drunk to do it, and though I
begged for some assistance from his Majesty's ship, it blew so fresh,
and we passed so quick, that they could not hear me, or were not
inclined. Necessity has no law. I saw among the other ships in the bay
a great lump of a transport, and I thought she was much better able to
bear the concussion I intended for her than any other vessel; because
I had heard then, and have been made sure of it since, that her owners
(like all other owners) were cheating the government out of thousands
of pounds a year. She was lying exactly in the part of the Bay
assigned for the prizes; and as I saw no other possible mode of
"bringing the ship to anchor," I steered for "the lobster smack," and
ran slap on board of her, to the great astonishment of the master,
mate, and crew.
The usual expletives, a volley of oaths and curses on our lubberly
heads, followed the shock. This I expected, and was as fully prepared
for as I was for the fall of my foremast, which, taking the foreyard
of the transport, fell over the starboard quarter and greatly relieved
me on the subject of shortening sail. Thus, my pretty brig was first
reduced to a sloop and then to a hulk; fortunately, her bottom was
sound. I was soon cut clear of the transport, and called out in a
manly voice, "Let go the anchor."
This order was obeyed with promptitude: away it went sure enough; but
the devil a cable was there bent to it, and my men being all stupidly
drunk, I let my vessel drift athwart-hawse of a frigate; the
commanding officer of which, seeing I had no other cable bent, very
kindly sent a few hands on board to assist me; and by five o'clock I
was safely moored in the Bay of Gibraltar, and walked my quarter-deck
as high in my own estimation as Columbus, when he made the American
But short, short was my power! My frigate arrived the next morning.
The captain sent for me, and I gave him an account of my voyage and my
disasters; he very kindly consoled me for my misfortune; and so far
from being angry with me for losing my masts, said it was wonderful,
under all circumstances, how I had succeeded in saving the vessel. We
lay only a fortnight at Gibraltar, when news arrived that the French
had entered Spain, and very shortly after orders came from England to
suspend all hostilities against the Spaniards. This we thought a bore,
as it almost annihilated any chance of prize-money; at the same time
that it increased our labours and stimulated our activity in a most
surprising manner, and opened scenes to us far more interesting than
if the war with Spain had continued.
We were ordered up to join the admiral off Toulon, but desired to look
into the Spanish port of Carthagena on our way, and to report the
state of the Spanish squadron in that arsenal. We were received with
great politeness by the governor and the officers of the Spanish fleet
lying there. These people we found were men of talent and education;
their ships were mostly dismantled, and they had not the means of
_Par_. You give me most egregious indignity.
_Laf_. Ay, with all my heart; and thou art worthy of it.
"_All's Well that Ends Well_."
Naturally anxious to behold a country from which we had hitherto been
excluded for so many years, we all applied for leave to go on shore,
and obtained it. Even the seamen were allowed the same indulgence, and
went in parties of twenty and thirty at a time. We were followed and
gaped at by the people; but shunned at the same time as "hereticos."
The inns of the town, like all the rest of them in Spain, have not
improved since the days of the immortal Santillana--they were all more
or less filled with the lowest of the rabble, and a set of bravos,
whose calling was robbery, and who cared little if murder were its
accompaniment. The cookery was execrable. Garlic and oil were its
principal ingredients. The olla podrida, and its constant attendant,
the tomato sauce, were intolerable, but the wine was very well for
a midshipman. Whenever we had a repast in any of these houses, the
bravos endeavoured to pick a quarrel with us; and these fellows being
always armed with stilettos, we found it necessary to be equally well
prepared; and whenever we seated ourselves at a table, we never failed
to display the butts of our pistols, which kept them in decent order,
for they are as cowardly as they are thievish. Our seamen, not being
so cautious or so well provided with arms, were frequently robbed and
assassinated by these rascals.
I was, on one occasion, near falling a victim to them. Walking in the
evening with the second master, and having a pretty little Spanish
girl under my arm, for, to my shame be it spoken, I had already formed
an acquaintance with the frail sisterhood, four of these villains
accosted us. We soon perceived, by their manner of holding their
cloaks, that they had their stilettos ready. I desired my companion to
draw his dirk, to keep close to me, and not to let them get between us
and the wall. Seeing that we were prepared, they wished us "_buenos
noches_" (good night); and, endeavouring to put us off our guard by
entering into conversation, asked us to give them a cigar, which my
companion would have done, had I not cautioned him not to quit his
dirk with his right hand, for this was all they wanted.
In this defensive posture we continued until we had nearly reached the
plaza or great square, where many people were walking and enjoying
themselves by moonlight, the usual custom of the country. "Now," said
I to my friend, "let us make a start from these fellows. When I run,
do you follow me, and don't stop till we are in the middle of the
The manoeuvre was successful; we out-ran the thieves, who were not
aware of our plan, and were encumbered with their heavy cloaks.
Finding we had escaped, they turned upon the girl, and robbed her of
her miserable earnings. This we saw, but could not prevent; such was
the police of Spain then, nor has it improved since.
This was the last time I ventured on shore at night, except to go once
with a party of our officers to the house of the Spanish admiral, who
had a very pretty niece, and was _liberale_ enough not to frown on
us poor heretics. She was indeed a pretty creature: her lovely black
eyes, long eyelashes, and raven hair, betrayed a symptom of Moorish
blood, at the same time that her ancient family-name and high
good-breeding gave her the envied appellation of _Vieja Christiana_.
This fair creature was pleased to bestow a furtive glance of
approbation on my youthful form and handsome dress. My vanity was
tickled. I spoke French to her: she understood it imperfectly, and
pretended to know still less of it, from the hatred borne by all the
Spaniards at that time to the French nation.
We improved our time, however, which was but short; and, before
we parted, perfectly understood each other. I thought I could be
contented to give up everything, and reside with her in the wilds of
The time of our departure came, and I was torn away from my Rosaritta,
not without the suspicions of my captain and shipmates that I had
been a too highly favoured youth. This was not true. I loved the dear
angel, but never had wronged her; and I went to sea in a mood which I
sometimes thought might end in an act of desperation: but salt water
is an admirable specific against love, at least against such love as
We joined the admiral off Toulon, and were ordered by him to cruise
between Perpignan and Marseilles. We parted from the fleet on the
following day, and kept the coast in a continued state of alarm. Not
a vessel dared to show her nose out of port: we had her if she did.
Batteries we laughed at, and either silenced them with our long
eighteen-pounders, or landed and blew them up.
In one of these little skirmishes I had very nearly been taken, and
should, in that case, have missed all the honour, and glory, and
hairbreadth escapes which will be found related in the following
pages. I should either have been sabred in mere retaliation, or
marched off to Verdun for the remaining six years of the war.
We had landed to storm and blow up a battery, for which purpose we
carried with us a bag of powder, and a train of canvas. Everything
went on prosperously. We came to a canal which it was necessary to
cross, and the best swimmers were selected to convey the powder
over without wetting it. I was one of them. I took off my shoes and
stockings to save them; and, after we had taken the battery, I was so
intent on looking for the telegraphic signal-box, that I had quite
forgotten the intended explosion, until I heard a cry of "Run, run!"
from those outside who had lighted the train.
I was at that moment on the wall of the fort, nearly thirty feet high,
but sloping. I jumped one part, and scrambled the other, and ran away
as fast as I could, amidst a shower of stones, which fell around me
like an eruption of Vesuvius. Luckily I was not hit, but I had cut my
foot in the leap, and was in much pain. I had two fields of stubble
to pass, and my shoes and stockings were on the other side of the
canal--the sharp straw entered the wound, and almost drove me mad, and
I was tempted to sit down and resign myself to my fate.
However, I persevered, and had nearly reached the boats which were
putting off, not aware of my absence, when a noise like distant
thunder reached my ears. This I soon found was cavalry from Cotte,
which had come to defend the battery. I mustered all my strength, and
plunged into the sea to swim off to the boats, and so little time had
I to spare, that some of the enemy's chasseurs, on their black horses,
swam in after me, and fired their pistols at my head. The boats were
at this time nearly a quarter of a mile from the shore; the officers
in them fortunately perceived the cavalry, and saw me at the same
time: a boat laid on her oars, which with great difficulty I reached,
and was taken in; but so exhausted with pain and loss of blood, that I
was carried on board almost dead; my foot was cut to the bone, and I
continued a month under the surgeon's care.
I had nearly recovered from this accident, when we captured a ship,
with which Murphy was sent as prize-master; and the same evening a
schooner, which we cut out from her anchorage. The command of this
latter vessel was given to me--it was late in the evening, and the
hurry was so great that the keg of spirits intended for myself and
crew was not put on board. This was going from one extreme to the
other; in my last ship we had too much liquor, and in this too little.
Naturally thirsty, our desire for drink needed not the stimulus of
salt fish and calavances, for such was our cargo and such was our
food, and deeply did we deplore the loss of our spirits.
On the third day after leaving the frigate, on our way to Gibraltar, I
fell in with a ship on the coast of Spain, and knew it to be the one
Murphy commanded, by a remarkable white patch in the main-topsail. I
made all sail in chase, in hopes of obtaining some spirits from him,
knowing that he had more than he could consume, even if he and his
people got drunk every day. When I came near him, he made all the sail
he could. At dusk I was near enough almost to hail him, but he stood
on; and I, having a couple of small three-pounders on board, with
some powder, fired one of them as a signal. This I repeated again and
again; but he would not bring to; and when it was dark, I lost sight
of him, and saw him no more until we met at Gibraltar.
Next morning I fell in with three Spanish fishing-boats. They took me
for a French privateer, pulled up their lines, and made sail. I came
up with them, and, firing a gun, they hove to and surrendered. I
ordered them alongside; and, finding they had each a keg of wine on
board, I condemned that part of their cargo as contraband; but I
honestly offered payment for what I had taken. This they declined,
finding I was "_Ingles_," too happy to think they were not in the
hands of the French. I then gave each of them a pound of tobacco,
which not only satisfied them, but confirmed them in the
newly-received opinion among their countrymen, that England was
the bravest as well as the most generous of nations. They offered
everything their boat contained; but I declined all most nobly,
because I had obtained all I wanted; and we parted with mutual good
will, they shouting, "Viva Ingleterre!" and we drinking them a good
passage in their own wine.
Many days elapsed before we reached Gibraltar: the winds were light,
and the weather fine; but as we had discovered that the fishing-boats
had wine, we took care to supply our cellar without any trouble from
the excise; and, from our equitable mode of barter, I had no reason to
think that his Majesty King George lost any of his deserved popularity
by our conduct. When we reached Gibraltar, I had still a couple of
good kegs wherewith to regale my messmates; though I was sorry to find
the frigate and the rest of her prizes had got in before us. Murphy,
indeed, did not arrive till the day after me.
I was on the quarter-deck when he came in; and, to my astonishment, he
reported that he had been chased by a French privateer, and had beat
her off after a four hours' action--that his rigging had suffered a
good deal, but that he had not a man hurt. I let him run on till
the evening. Many believed him; but some doubted. At dinner, in the
gun-room, his arrogance knew no bounds; and, when half drunk, my three
men were magnified into a well-manned brig, as full of men and guns as
she could stuff!
Sick of all this nonsense, I then simply related the story as it had
occurred, and sent for the quarter-master, who was with me, and who
confirmed all my statement. From that moment he was a mark of contempt
in the ship. Every lie was a Murphy, and every Murphy a liar. He dared
not resent this scorn of ours; and found himself so uncomfortable,
that he offered no objection to the removal proposed by the captain;
his character followed him, and he never obtained promotion. It is a
satisfaction to me to reflect that I not only had my full revenge on
this man, but that I had been the instrument of turning him out of an
honourable profession which he would have disgraced.
This was no time for frigates to be idle; and if I chose to give the
name of mine and my captain, the naval history of the country would
prove that ours, of all other ships, was one of the most distinguished
in the cause of Spanish freedom. The south of Spain became the theatre
of the most cruel and desolating war. Our station was off Barcelona,
and thence to Perpignan, the frontier of France, on the borders of
Spain. Our duty (for which the enterprising disposition of our captain
was admirably calculated) was to support the guerilla chiefs; to cut
off the enemy's convoys of provisions, either by sea or along the
road which lay by the sea-shore; or to dislodge the enemy from any
stronghold he might be in possession of.
I was absent from the ship on such services three and four weeks at a
time, being attached to a division of small-arm men under the command
of the third lieutenant. We suffered very much from privations of all
kinds. We never took with us more than one week's provision, and were
frequently three weeks without receiving any supply. In the article of
dress, our "catalogue of negatives," as a celebrated author says, "was
very copious;" we had no shoes nor stockings--no linen, and not all of
us had hats--a pocket-handkerchief was the common substitute for this
article; we clambered over rocks, and wandered through the flinty or
muddy ravines in company with our new allies, the hardy mountaineers.
These men respected our valour, but did not like our religion or our
manners. They cheerfully divided their rations with us, but were
always inexorable in their cruelty to the French prisoners; and no
persuasion of ours could induce them to spare the lives of one of
these unhappy people, whose cries and entreaties to the English to
intercede for, or save them, were always unavailing. They were either
stabbed before our faces, or dragged to the top of a hill commanding a
view of some fortress occupied by the French, and, in sight of their
countrymen, their throats were cut from ear to ear.
Should the Christian reader condemn this horrid barbarity, as he
certainly will, he must remember that those people were men whose
every feeling had been outraged. Rape, conflagration, murder, and
famine had everywhere followed the step of the cruel invaders; and
however we might lament their fate, and endeavour to avert it, we
could not but admit that the retaliation was not without justice.
In this irregular warfare, we sometimes revelled in luxuries, and at
others were nearly starved. One day, in particular, when fainting with
hunger, we met a fat, rosy-looking capuchin: we begged him to show us
where we might procure some food, either by purchase or in any other
way; but he neither knew where to procure any, nor had he any money:
his order, he said, forbade him to use it. As he turned away from us,
in some precipitation, we thought we heard something rattle; and as
necessity has no law, we took the liberty of searching the padre,
on whose person we found forty dollars, of which we relieved him,
assuring him that our consciences were perfectly clear, since his
order forbade him to carry money; and that as he lived among good
Christians, they would not allow him to want. He cursed us; but we
laughed at him, because he had produced his own misfortune by his
falsehood and hypocrisy.
This was the manner in which the Spanish priests generally behaved to
us; and in this way we generally repaid them when we could. We kept
the plunder--converted it into food--joined our party soon after,
and supposed the affair was over; but the friar had followed us at
a distance, and we perceived him coming up the hill where we were
stationed. To avoid discovery we exchanged clothes, in such a manner
as to render us no longer cognizable. The friar made his complaint to
the guerilla chief, whose eyes flashed fire at the indignant treatment
his priest had received; and it is probable that bloodshed would have
ensued had he been able to point out the culprits.
I kept my countenance though I had changed my dress, and as he looked
at me with something beyond suspicion, I stared him full in the face,
with the whole united powers of my matchless impudence, and, in a loud
and menacing tone of voice, asked him in French if he took me for a
This question, as well as the manner in which it was put, silenced,
if it did not satisfy, the priest. He seemed to listen with apparent
conviction to the suggestion of some of our people, that he had been
robbed by another party, and he set out in pursuit of them. I was
quite tired of his importunities, and glad to see him depart. As he
turned away, he gave me a very scrutinizing look, which I returned
with another, full of well dissembled rage and scorn. My curling hair
had been well flattened down with a piece of soap, which I had in my
pocket, and I had much more the appearance of a Methodist parson than
Some time previous to this, the frigate to which I belonged had been
ordered on other services; and as I had no opportunity of joining her,
I was placed, _pro tempore_, on board of another.
But as this chapter has already spun out its length, I shall refer my
reader to the next for further particulars.
Of battle now began, and rushing sound
Of onset ...
'Twixt host and host but narrow space was left.
From the deservedly high character borne by the captain of the frigate
which I was ordered to join, he was employed by Lord Collingwood
on the most confidential services; and we were sent to assist the
Spaniards in their defence of the important fortress of Rosas, in
Catalonia. It has already been observed that the French general, St
Cyr, had entered that country, and, having taken Figueras and Gerona,
was looking with a wistful eye on the castle of Trinity, on the
south-east side, the capture of which would be a certain prelude to
the fall of Rosas.
My captain determined to defend it, although it had just been
abandoned by another British naval officer, as untenable. I
volunteered, though a supernumerary, to be one of the party, and was
sent: nor can I but acknowledge that the officer who had abandoned the
place had shown more than a sound discretion. Every part of the
castle was in ruins. Heaps of crumbling stones and rubbish,
broken gun-carriages, and split guns, presented to my mind a very
unfavourable field of battle. The only advantage we appeared to have
over the assailants was that the breach which they had effected in the
walls was steep in its ascent, and the loose stones either fell down
upon them, or gave way under their feet, while we plied them with
every kind of missile: this was our only defence, and all we had to
prevent the enemy marching into the works, if works they could be
There was another and very serious disadvantage attending our
locality. The castle was situated very near the summit of a steep
hill, the upper part of which was in possession of the enemy, who
were, by this means, nearly on a level with the top of the castle,
and, on that eminence, three hundred Swiss sharpshooters had effected
a lodgment, and thrown up works within fifty yards of us, keeping up
a constant fire at the castle. If a head was seen above the walls,
twenty rifle-bullets whizzed at it in a moment, and the same
unremitted attention was paid to our boats as they landed.
On another hill, much to the northward, and consequently, further
inland, the French had erected a battery of six 24-pounders. This
agreeable neighbour was only three hundred yards from us; and,
allowing short intervals for the guns to cool, this battery kept up
a constant fire upon us from daylight till dark. I never could have
supposed, in my boyish days, that the time would arrive when I should
envy a cock upon Shrove Tuesday; yet such was my case when in this
infernal castle. It was certainly not giving us fair play; we had no
chance against such a force; but my captain was a knight-errant,
and as I had volunteered, I had no right to complain. Such was the
precision of the enemy's fire, that we could tell the stone that would
be hit by the next shot, merely from seeing where the last had struck,
and our men were frequently wounded by the splinters of granite with
which the walls were built, and others picked off like partridges, by
the Swiss corps on the hill close to us.
Our force in the castle consisted of a hundred and thirty English
seamen and marines, one company of Spanish, and another of Swiss
troops in Spanish pay. Never were troops worse paid and fed, or better
fired at. We all pigged in together; dirty straw and fleas for our
beds; our food on the same scale of luxury; from the captain downwards
there was no distinction. Fighting is sometimes a very agreeable
pastime, but excess "palls on the sense:" and here we had enough of
it, without what I always thought an indispensable accompaniment,
namely, a good bellyful; nor did I conceive how a man could perform
his duty without it; but here I was forced, with many others, to make
the experiment, and when the boats could not land, which was often the
case, we piped to dinner _pro forma_, as our captain liked regularity,
and drank cold water to fill our stomachs.
I have often heard my poor old uncle say that no man knows what he can
do till he tries; and the enemy gave us plenty of opportunities of
displaying our ingenuity, industry, watchfulness, and abstinence. When
poor Penelope wove her web, the poet says--
"The night unravelled what the day began."
With us it was precisely the reverse: the day destroyed all the
labours of the night. The hours of darkness were employed by us in
filling sand-bags, and laying them in the breach, clearing away
rubbish, and preparing to receive the enemy's fire, which was sure to
recommence at daylight. These avocations, together with a constant and
most vigilant watch against surprise, took up so much of our time that
little was left for repose, and our meals required still less.
There was some originality in one of our modes of defence, and which,
not being _secundum artem_, might have provoked the smile of an
engineer. The captain contrived to make a shoot of smooth deal boards,
which he received from the ship: these he placed in a slanting
direction in the breach, and caused them to be well greased with
cook's slush; so that the enemies who wished to come into our
hold, must have jumped down upon them, and would in an instant be
precipitated into the ditch below, a very considerable depth, where
they might either have remained till the doctor came to them, or, if
they were able, begin their labours _de novo_. This was a very good
bug-trap; for, at that time, I thought just as little of killing a
Frenchman as I did of destroying the filthy little nightly depredator
Besides this slippery trick, which we played them with great success,
we served them another. We happened to have on board the frigate a
large quantity of fishhooks; these we planted, not only on the greasy
boards, but in every part where the intruders were likely to place
their hands or feet. The breach itself was mined, and loaded with
shells and hand-grenades; masked guns, charged up to the muzzle with
musket-balls, enfiladed the spot in every direction. Such were our
defences; and, considering that we had been three weeks in the castle,
opposed to such mighty odds, it is surprising that we only lost twenty
men. The crisis was now approaching.
One morning, very early, I happened to have the look-out. The streak
of fog which during the night hangs between the hills in that country,
and presses down into the valleys, had just begun to rise, and the
stars to grow more dim above our heads, when I was looking over the
castle-wall towards the breach. The captain came out and asked me
what I was looking at. I told him I hardly knew; but there did appear
something unusual in the valley, immediately below the breach. He
listened a moment, looked attentively with his night-glass, and
exclaimed, in his firm voice, but in an undertoned manner "To
arms!--they are coming!"
In three minutes every man was at his post; and though all were quick,
there was no time to spare, for by this time the black column of the
enemy was distinctly visible curling along the valley like a great
centipede; and, with the daring enterprise so common among the troops
of Napoleon, had begun in silence to mount the breach. It was an awful
and eventful moment; but the coolness and determination of the little
garrison was equal to the occasion.
The word was given to take good aim, and a volley from the masked guns
and musketry was poured into the thick of them. They paused--deep
groans ascended! They retreated a few paces in confusion, then
rallied, and again advanced to the attack; and now the fire on both
sides was kept up without intermission. The great guns from the hill
fort, and the Swiss sharpshooters, still nearer, poured copious
volleys upon us, and with loud shouts cheered on their comrades to the
assault. As they approached and covered our mine, the train was fired,
and up they went in the air, and down they fell buried in the ruins.
Groans, screams, confusion, French yells, British hurras rent the
sky! The hills resounded with the shouts of victory! We sent them
hand-grenades in abundance, and broke their shins in glorious style. I
must say that the French behaved nobly, though many a tall grenadier
and pioneer fell by the symbol in front of his warlike cap. I cried
with rage and excitement; and we all fought like bull-dogs, for we
knew there was no quarter to be given.
Ten minutes had elapsed since the firing began, and in that time many
a brave fellow had bit the dust. The head of their attacking column
had been destroyed by the explosion of our mine. Still they had
re-formed, and were again half-way up the breach when the day began to
dawn; and we saw a chosen body of one thousand men, led on by their
colonel, and advancing over the dead which had just fallen.
The gallant leader appeared to be as cool and composed as if he were
at breakfast; with his drawn sword he pointed to the breach, and
we heard him exclaim, "_Suivez moi!_" I felt jealous of this brave
fellow--jealous of his being a Frenchman; and I threw a lighted
hand-grenade between his feet--he picked it up, and threw it from him
to a considerable distance.
"Cool chap enough that," said the captain, who stood close to me;
"I'll give him another;" which he did, but this the officer kicked
away with equal _sang froid_ and dignity. "Nothing will cure that
fellow," resumed the captain, "but an ounce of lead on an empty
stomach--it's a pity, too, to kill so fine a fellow--but there is no
help for it."
So saying, he took a musket out of my hand, which I had just
loaded--aimed, fired--the colonel staggered, clapped his hand to his
breast, and fell back into the arms of some of his men, who threw down
their muskets, and took him on their shoulders, either unconscious or
perfectly regardless of the death-work which was going on around them.
The firing redoubled from our musketry on this little group, every
man of whom was either killed or wounded. The colonel, again left to
himself, tottered a few paces further, till he reached a small bush,
not ten yards from the spot where he received his mortal wound. Here
he fell; his sword, which he still grasped in his right hand, rested
on the boughs, and pointed upwards to the sky, as if directing the
road to the spirit of its gallant master.
With the life of the colonel ended the hopes of the French for that
day. The officers, we could perceive, did their duty--cheered,
encouraged, and drove on their men, but all in vain! We saw them pass
their swords through the bodies of the fugitives; but the men did not
even mind that--they would only be killed in their own way--they had
had fighting enough for one breakfast. The first impulse, the fiery
onset, had been checked by the fall of their brave leader, and _sauve
qui peut_, whether coming from the officers or drummers, no matter
which, terminated the affair, and we were left a little time to
breathe, and to count the number of our dead.
The moment the French perceived from their batteries that the attempt
had failed, and that the leader of the enterprise was dead, they
poured in an angry fire upon us. I stuck my hat on the bayonet of
my musket, and just showed it above the wall. A dozen bullets were
through it in a minute: very fortunately my head was not in it.
The fire of the batteries having ceased, which it generally did at
stated periods, we had an opportunity of examining the point of
attack. Scaling-ladders, and dead bodies lay in profusion. All the
wounded had been removed, but what magnificent "food for powder" were
the bodies which lay before us!--all, it would seem, picked men; not
one less than six feet, and some more: they were clad in their
grey _capots_, to render their appearance more _sombre_, and less
discernible in the twilight of the morning: and as the weather was
cold during the nights, I secretly determined to have one of those
great coats as a _chere amie_ to keep me warm in night-watches. I also
resolved to have the colonel's sword to present to my captain; and as
soon as it was dark I walked down the breach, brought up one of the
scaling-ladders, which I deposited in the castle; and having done so
much for the king, I set out to do something for myself.
It was pitch dark. I stumbled on: the wind blew a hurricane, and the
dust and mortar almost blinded me; but I knew my way pretty well. Yet
there was something very jackall-like, in wandering about among dead
bodies in the night-time, and I really felt a horror at my situation.
There was a dreadful stillness between the blasts, which the pitch
darkness made peculiarly awful to an unfortified mind. It is for this
reason that I would ever discourage night-attacks, unless you can rely
on your men. They generally fail: because the man of common bravery,
who would acquit himself fairly in broad daylight, will hang back
during the night. Fear and Darkness have always been firm allies; and
are inseparably playing into each other's hands. Darkness conceals
Fear, and therefore Fear loves Darkness, because it saves the coward
from shame; and when the fear of shame is the only stimulus to fight,
daylight is essentially necessary.
I crept cautiously along, feeling for the dead bodies. The first I
laid my hand on, made my blood curdle. It was the lacerated thigh of a
grenadier, whose flesh had been torn off by a hand-grenade. "Friend,"
said I, "if I may judge from the nature of your wound, your great coat
is not worth having." The next subject I handled, had been better
killed. A musket-ball through his head had settled all his tradesmen's
bills; and I hesitated not in becoming residuary legatee, as I was
sure the assets would more than discharge the undertaker's bill; but
the body was cold and stiff, and did not readily yield its garment.
I, however, succeeded in obtaining my object; in which I arrayed
myself, and went on in search of the colonel's sword; but here I had
been anticipated by a Frenchman. The colonel, indeed, lay there, stiff
enough, but his sword was gone. I was preparing to return, when I
encountered, not a dead, but a living enemy.
"_Qui vive_?" said a low voice.
"_Anglois, bete_!" answered I, in a low tone: and added, "_mais les
corsairs ne se battent pas_"
"_Cest vrai_" said he; and growling, "_bon soir_" he was soon out of
sight. I scrambled back to the castle, gave the countersign to the
sentinel, and showed my new great coat with a vast deal of glee and
satisfaction; some of my comrades went on the same sort of expedition,
and were rewarded with more or less success.
In a few days the dead bodies on the breach were nearly denuded by
nightly visitors; but that of the colonel lay respected and untouched.
The heat of the day had blackened it, and it was now deprived of all
its manly beauty, and nothing remained but a loathsome corpse.
The rules of war, as well as of humanity, demanded the honourable
interment of the remains of this hero; and our captain, who was the
very flower of chivalry, desired me to stick a white handkerchief on
a pike, as a flag of truce, and bury the bodies, if the enemy would
permit us I went out accordingly, with a spade and a pick-axe; but the
_tirailleurs_ on the hill began with their rifles, and wounded one of
my men. I looked at the captain, as much as to say, "Am I to proceed?"
He motioned with his hand to go on, and I then began digging a hole by
the side of a dead body, and the enemy, seeing my intention, desisted
from firing. I had buried several, when the captain came out and
joined me, with a view of reconnoitring the position of the enemy.
He was seen from the fort, and recognized; and his intention pretty
accurately guessed at.
We were near the body of the colonel, which we were going to inter;
when the captain, observing a diamond ring on the finger of the
corpse, said to one of the sailors, "You may just as well take that
off: it can be of no use to him now." The man tried to get it off, but
the rigidity of the muscle after death prevented his moving it. "He
won't feel your knife, poor fellow," said the captain; "and a finger
more or less is no great matter to him now: off with it."
The sailor began to saw the finger-joint with his knife, when down
came a twenty-four pound shot, and with such a good direction that it
took the shoe off the man's foot, and the shovel out of the hand of
another man. "In with him, and cover him up!" said the captain.
We did so; when another shot not quite so well directed as the first,
threw the dirt in our faces, and ploughed the ground at our feet.
The captain then ordered his men to run into the castle, which they
instantly obeyed; while he himself walked leisurely along through
a shower of musket-balls from those cursed Swiss dogs, whom I most
fervently wished at the devil, because, as an aide-de-camp, I felt
bound in honour as well as duty to walk by the side of my captain,
fully expecting every moment that a rifle-ball would have hit me where
I should have been ashamed to show the scar. I thought this funeral
pace, after the funeral was over, confounded nonsense; but my
fire-eating captain never had run away from a Frenchman, and did not
intend to begin then.
I was behind him, making these reflections, and as the shot began
to fly very thick, I stepped up alongside of him, and, by degrees,
brought him between me and the fire. "Sir," said I, "as I am only
a midshipman, I don't care so much about honour as you do; and,
therefore, if it makes no difference to you, I'll take the liberty of
getting under your lee." He laughed, and said, "I did not know you
were here, for I meant you should have gone with the others: but,
since you are out of your station, Mr Mildmay, I will make that use of
you which you so ingeniously proposed to make of me. My life may be of
some importance here; but yours very little, and another midshipman
can be had from the ship only for asking: so just drop astern, if you
please, and do duty as a breastwork for me!"
"Certainly, sir," said I, "by all means;" and I took my station
"Now," said the captain, "if you are '_doubled up_,' I will take you
on my shoulders!"
I expressed myself exceedingly obliged, not only for the honour he
had conferred on me, but also for that which he intended; but hoped I
should have no occasion to trouble him.
Whether the enemy took pity on my youth and _innocence_, or whether
they purposely missed us, I cannot say: I only know I was very happy
when I found myself inside the castle with a whole skin, and should
very readily have reconciled myself to any measure which would have
restored me even to the comforts and conveniences of a man-of-war's
cockpit. All human enjoyment is comparative, and nothing ever
convinced me of it so much and so forcibly as what took place at this
Fortune, and the well known cowardice of the Spaniards, released me
from this jeopardy; they surrendered the citadel, after which the
castle was of no use, and we ran down to our boats as fast as we
could; and notwithstanding the very assiduous fire of the watchful
_tirailleurs_ on the hill, we all got on board without accident.
There was one very singular feature in this affair. The Swiss
mercenaries in the French and Spanish services, opposed to each other,
behaved with the greatest bravery, and did their duty with unexceeded
fidelity; but being posted so near, and coming so often in contact
with each other, they would cry truce for a quarter of an hour, while
they made inquiries after their mutual friends; often recognizing each
other as fathers and sons, brothers and near relatives, fighting on
opposite sides. They would laugh and joke with each other, declare the
truce at an end, then load their muskets, and take aim, with the same
indifference, as regarded the object, as if they had been perfect
strangers; but, as I before observed, fighting is a trade.
From Rosas we proceeded to join the admiral off Toulon; and being
informed that a battery of six brass guns, in the port of Silva, would
be in possession of the French in a few hours, we ran in, and anchored
within pistol-shot of it. We lashed blocks to our lower mast-heads,
rove hawsers through them, sent the ends on shore, made them fast
to the guns, and hove off three of them, one after another, by the
capstan; and had the end of the hawser on shore, ready for the others,
when our marine videttes were surprised by the French, driven in, and
retreated to the beach with the loss of one man taken prisoner.
Not having sufficient force on shore to resist them, we re-embarked
our party, and the French, taking up a position behind the rocks,
commenced a heavy fire of musketry upon us. We answered it with
the same; and now and then gave them a great gun; but they had the
advantage of position, and wounded ten or eleven of our men from their
elevated stations behind the rocks. At sunset this ceased, when a boat
came off from the shore, pulled by one Spaniard; he brought a letter
for the captain, from the officer commanding the French detachment.
It presented the French captain's compliments to ours; regretted the
little interruption he had given to our occupation; remarked that the
weather was cold, and as he had been ordered off in a hurry, he had
not had time to provide himself; and as there was always a proper
feeling among _braves gens_, requested a few gallons of rum for
himself and followers.
This request was answered with a _polite note_, and the spirits
required. The British captain hoped the commandant and his party would
make themselves comfortable, and have a _bon repos_. The captain,
however, intended the Frenchman should pay for the spirits, though not
in money, and sent in the bill about one o'clock in the morning.
All at that hour was as still as death; the French guard had refreshed
themselves, and were enjoying the full extent of our captain's
benefaction, when he observed to us that it was a pity to lose the
boat which was left on shore, as well as the other brass guns, and
proposed making the attempt to bring off both. Five or six of us
stripped, and lowering ourselves into the water, very gently swam
ashore, in a breathless kind of silence, that would have done honour
to a Pawnee Loup Indian. The water was very cold, and at first almost
took away my respiration. We landed under the battery, and having
first secured our boat without noise, we crept softly up to where the
end of the hawsers lay by the side of the guns, to which we instantly
made them fast. About a dozen French soldiers were lying near, keeping
watch, fast asleep.
We might easily have killed them all; but as we considered they were
under the influence of our rum, we abhorred such a violation of
hospitality. We helped ourselves, however, to most of the muskets that
were near us, and very quietly getting into the boat, put off and
rowed with two oars to the ship. The noise of the oars woke some of
the soldiers, who, jumping up, fired at us with all the arms they had
left; and I believe soon got a reinforcement, for they fired both
quick and well; and, as it was starlight and we were naked, our bodies
were easily seen, so that the shot came very thick about us.
"Diving," said I, "is not running away;" so over we all went, except
two. I was down like a porpoise never rising till my head touched the
ship's copper. I swam round the stern, and was taken in on the side
opposite the enemy. My captain, I daresay, would have disdained such
a compromise; but though I was as proud as he was, I always thought,
with Falstaff, that "discretion was the better part of valour,"
especially in a midshipman.
The men left in the boat got safe on board with her. The hands were
all ready, and the moment our oars splashed in the water, they hove
round cheerfully, and the guns came galloping down the rocks like
young kangaroos. They were soon under water, and long before the
Frenchmen could get a cut at the hawsers. They then fired at them with
their muskets, in hopes of stranding the rope, but they failed in that
also. We secured the guns on board, and before daylight got under
weigh, and made sail for the fleet, which we joined shortly
I here learned that my own ship had fought a gallant action with an
enemy's frigate, had taken her opponent, but had suffered so much that
she was ordered home for repairs, and had sailed for England from
I had letters of introduction to the rear-admiral, who was second in
command; and I thought, under these circumstances the best thing I
could do would be to "clean myself," as the phrase used to be in those
days, and go on board and present them. I went accordingly, and saw
the flag-captain, who took my letters in to the admiral, and brought
out a verbal, and not a very civil message, saying, I might join
the ship, if I pleased, until my own returned to the station. As it
happened to suit my convenience, I _did_ please; and the manner in
which the favour was conferred disburdened my mind of any incumbrance
of gratitude. The reception was not such as I might have expected: had
the letters not been from people of distinction, and friends of the
rear-admiral, I should much have preferred remaining in the frigate,
whose captain also wished it, but that was not allowed.
To the flag-ship, therefore, I came, and why I was brought here, I
never could discover, unless it was for the purpose of completing a
menagerie, for I found between sixty and seventy midshipmen already
assembled. They were mostly youngsters, followers of the rear-admiral,
and had seen very little, if any, service, and I had seen a great deal
for the time I had been afloat. Listening eagerly to my "yarns,"
the youthful ardour of these striplings kindled, and they longed to
emulate my deeds. The consequence was numerous applications from the
midshipmen to be allowed to join the frigates on the station; not one
was contented in the flag-ship; and the captain having discovered that
I was the tarantula which had bitten them, hated me accordingly, and
not a jot more than I hated him.
The captain was a very large, ill-made, broad-shouldered man, with
a lack-lustre eye, a pair of thick lips, and a very unmeaning
countenance. He wore a large pair of epaulettes; he was irritable in
his temper; and when roused, which was frequent, was always violent
and overbearing. His voice was like thunder, and when he launched out
on the poor midshipmen, they reminded me of the trembling bird which,
when fascinated by the eye of the snake, loses its powers, and falls
at once into the jaws of the monster. When much excited, he had a
custom of shaking his shoulders up and down; and his epaulettes, on
these occasions, flapped like the huge ears of a trotting elephant.
At the most distant view of his person or sound of his voice, every
midshipman, not obliged to remain, fled, like the land-crabs on a West
India beach. He was incessantly taunting me, was sure to find some
fault or other with me, and sneeringly called me "one of your frigate
Irritated by this unjust treatment, I one day answered that I _was_
a frigate midshipman, and hoped I could do my duty as well as any
line-of-battle midshipman, of my own standing, in the service. For
this injudicious and rather impertinent remark, I was ordered aft on
the quarter-deck, and the captain went in to the admiral, and asked
permission to flog me; but the admiral refused, observing, that he did
not admire the system of flogging young gentlemen: and, moreover, that
in the present instance he saw no reason for it. So I escaped; but I
led a sad life of it, and often did I pray for the return of my own
Among other exercises of the fleet, we used always to reef topsails at
sunset, and this was usually done by all the ships at the same moment,
waiting the signal from the admiral to begin; in this exercise there
was much foolish rivalry, and very serious accidents, as well as
numerous punishments, took place, in consequence of one ship trying to
excel another. On these occasions our captain would bellow and foam at
the mouth like a mad bull, up and down the quarter-deck.
One fine evening the signal was made, the topsails lowered and the men
laying out on the yards, when a poor fellow from the main-topsail yard
fell, in his trying to lay out; and, striking his shoulder against the
main channels, broke his arm. I saw he was disabled, and could not
swim: and, perceiving him sinking, I darted overboard, and held him
until a boat came and picked us up; as the water was smooth, and there
was little wind, and the ship not going more than two miles an hour, I
incurred little risk.
When I came on deck I found the captain fit for Bedlam, because the
accident had delayed the topsails going to the mast-head quite as
quick as the rest of the fleet. He threatened to flog the man for
falling overboard, and ordered me off the quarter-deck. This was
great injustice to both of us. Of all the characters I ever met
with, holding so high a rank in the service, this man was the most
Shortly after, we were ordered to Minorca to refit; here, to my great
joy, I found my own ship, and I "shook the dust off my feet," and
quitted the flag with a light heart. During the time I had been on
board, the admiral had never said, "How do ye do?" to me--nor did he
say, "Good-bye," when I quitted. Indeed, I should have left the ship
without ever having been honoured with his notice, if it had not
happened, that a favourite pointer of his was a shipmate of mine. I
recollect hearing of a man who boasted that the king had spoken to
him; and when it was asked what he had said, replied, "He desired me
to get out of his way."
My intercourse with the admiral was about as friendly and flattering.
Pompey and I were on the poop. I presented him with a piece of hide
to gnaw, by way of pastime. The admiral came on the poop, and seeing
Pompey thus employed, asked who gave him that piece of hide? The
yeoman of the signals said it was me. The admiral shook his long
spy-glass at me, and said, "By G----, sir, if ever you give Pompey a
bit of hide again, I will flog you."
This is all I have to say of the admiral, and all the admiral ever
said to me.
Since laws were made for every degree,
I wonder we haven't better company on Tyburn tree.
While I was on board of this ship two poor men were executed for
mutiny. The scene was far more solemn to me than anything I had ever
beheld. Indeed it was the first thing of the kind I had ever been
present at. When we hear of executions on shore, we are always
prepared to read of some foul atrocious crime, some unprovoked and
unmitigated offence against the laws of civilized society, which a
just and merciful government cannot allow to pass unpunished. With us
at sea there are many shades of difference; but that which the law
of our service considers a serious offence is often no more than an
ebullition of local and temporary feeling, which in some cases might
be curbed, and in others totally suppressed by timely firmness and
The ships had been a long time at sea, the enemy did not appear--and
there was no chance either of bringing him to action, or of returning
into port. Indeed nothing can be more dull and monotonous than a
blockading cruise "in the team," as we call it; that is, the ships
of the line stationed to watch an enemy. The frigates have, in this
respect, every advantage; they are always employed on shore, often
in action, and the more men they have killed, the happier are the
survivors. Some melancholy ferment on board of the flag-ship I was in
caused an open mutiny. Of course it was very soon quelled; and the
ringleaders having been tried by a court-martial, two of them were
condemned to be hanged at the yard-arm of their own ship, and were
ordered for execution the following day but one.
Our courts-martial are always arrayed in the most pompous manner,
and certainly are calculated to strike the mind with awe--even of a
captain himself. A gun is fired at eight o'clock in the morning from
the ship where it is to be held, and a union flag is displayed at the
mizen peak. If the weather be fine, the ship is arranged with the
greatest nicety; her decks are as white as snow--her hammocks are
stowed with care--her ropes are taut--her yards square--her guns
run out--and a guard of marines, under the orders of a lieutenant,
prepared to receive every member of the court with the honour due to
his rank. Before nine o'clock they are all assembled; the officers in
their undress uniform, unless an admiral is to be tried. The great
cabin is prepared, with a long table covered with a green cloth. Pens,
ink, paper, prayer-books, and the Articles of War, are laid round to
every member. "Open the court," says the president.
The court is opened, and officers and men indiscriminately stand
round. The prisoners are now brought in under the charge of the
provost-marshal, a master-at-arms, with his sword drawn, and placed
at the foot of the table, on the left hand of the judge-advocate. The
court is sworn to do its duty impartially, and if there is any doubt,
to let it go in favour of the prisoner. Having done this, the members
sit down, covered if they please.
The judge-advocate is then sworn, and the order for the court-martial
read. The prisoner is put on his trial; if he says anything to commit
himself, the court stops him, and kindly observes, "We do not want
your evidence against yourself; we want only to know what others can
prove against you." The unfortunate man is offered any assistance he
may require; and when the defence is over, the court is cleared, the
doors are shut, and the minutes, which have been taken down by the
judge-advocate, are carefully read over, the credibility of the
witnesses weighed, and the president puts the question to the youngest
member first, "Proved, or not proved?"
All having given their answer, if seven are in favour of proved, and
six against, proved is recorded. The next question--if for mutiny or
desertion, or other capital crime--"Flogging or death?" The votes
are given in the same way; if the majority be for death, the
judge-advocate writes the sentence, and it is signed by all the
members, according to seniority, beginning with the president and
ending with the judge-advocate. The court is now opened again, the
prisoner brought in, and an awful and deep silence prevails. The
members of the court all put their hats on, and are seated; every
one else, except the provost-marshal is uncovered. As soon as the
judge-advocate has read the sentence, the prisoners are delivered to
the custody of the provost-marshal, by a warrant from the president,
and he has charge of them till the time for the execution of the
About three o'clock in the afternoon, I received a message from one of
the prisoners, saying, he wished much to speak with me. I followed the
master-at-arms down to the screened cabin, in the gun-room, where the
men were confined with their legs in irons. These irons consist of one
long bar and a set of shackles. The shackles fit the small part of the
leg, just above the ankle; and, having an eye on each end of them,
they receive the leg. The end of the bar is then passed through,
and secured with a padlock. I found the poor fellows sitting on a
shot-box. Their little meal lay before them untouched; one of them
cried bitterly; the other, a man of the name of Strange, possessed a
great deal of equanimity, although evidently deeply affected. This man
had been pretty well educated in youth, but having taken a wild and
indolent turn, had got into mischief, and to save himself from a
severe chastisement, had run away from his friends, and entered on
board a man-of-war. In this situation he had found time, in the
intervals of duty, to read and to think; he became, in time, sullen,
and separated himself from the occasional merriment of his messmates;
and it is not improbable that this moody temper had given rise to the
mutinous acts for which he was to suffer.
This man now apologized for the liberty he had taken, and said he
would not detain me long. "You see, sir," said he, "that my poor
friend is quite overcome with the horror of his situation: nor do I
wonder at it. He is very different from the hardened malefactors that
are executed on shore: we are neither of us afraid to die; but such a
death as this, Mr Mildmay--to be hung up like dogs, an example to
the fleet, and a shame and reproach to our friends--this wrings our
hearts! It is this consideration, and to save the feelings of my poor
mother, that I have sent for you. I saw you jump overboard to save a
poor fellow from drowning; so I thought you would not mind doing a
good turn for another unfortunate sailor. I have made my will, and
appointed you my executor; and with this power of attorney you will
receive all my pay and prize-money, which I will thank you to give to
my dear mother, whose address you will find written here. My motive
for this is, that she may never learn the history of my death. You can
tell her that I died for my country's good, which is very true, for I
acknowledge the justice of my sentence, and own that a severe example
is wanting. It is eleven years since I was in England; I have served
faithfully the whole of that time, nor did I ever misbehave except
in this one instance. I think if our good king knew my sad story, he
would be merciful; but God's will be done! Yet, if I had a wish, it
would be that the enemy's fleet would come out, and that I might die,
as I have lived, defending my country. But, Mr Mildmay, I have one
very important question to ask you--do you believe that there is such
a thing as a future state?"
"Most surely," said I; "though we all live as if we believed there was
no such thing. But why do you doubt it?"
"Because," said the poor fellow, "when I was an officer's servant,
I was one day tending the table in the ward-room, and I heard the
commander of a sloop of war, who was dining there with his son, say
that it was all nonsense--that there was no future state, and the
Bible was a heap of lies. I have never been happy since."
I told him that I was extremely sorry that any officer should have
used such expressions at all, particularly before him; that I was
incapable of restoring his mind to its proper state; but that I should
recommend his immediately sending for the chaplain, who, I had no
doubt, would give him all the comfort he could desire. He thanked me
for this advice, and profited by it, as he assured me in his last
"And now, sir," said he, "let me give _you_ a piece of advice. When
you are a captain, as I am very sure you will be, do not worry your
men into mutiny by making what is called a smart ship. Cleanliness and
good order are what seamen like; but niggling, polishing, scraping
iron bars, and ring-bolts, and the like of that, a sailor dislikes
more than a flogging at the gangway. If, in reefing topsails, you
happen to be a minute later than another ship, never mind it, so long
as your sails are well reefed, and fit to stand blowing weather. Many
a sail is split by bad reefing, and many a good sailor has lost his
life by that foolish hurry which has done incredible harm in the navy.
What can be more cruel or unjust than to flog the last man off the
yard? seeing that he is necessarily the most active, and cannot get in
without the imminent danger of breaking his neck; and, moreover, that
one man _must_ be last. Depend upon it, sir, 'that nothing is well
done which is done in a hurry.' But I have kept you too long. God
bless you, sir; remember my poor mother, and be sure you meet me on
the forecastle to-morrow morning."
The fatal morning came. It was eight o'clock. The gun fired--the
signal for punishment flew at our mast-head. The poor men gave a deep
groan, exclaiming, "Lord have mercy upon us!--our earthly career and
troubles are nearly over!" The master-at-arms came in, unlocked the
padlock at the end of the bars, and, slipping off the shackles,
desired the marine sentinels to conduct the prisoners to the
Here was a scene of solemnity which I hardly dare attempt to describe.
The day was clear and beautiful; the top-gallant yards were crossed on
board of all the ships; the colours were flying; the crews were all
dressed in white trousers and blue jackets, and hung in clusters, like
bees, on the side of the rigging facing our ship: a guard of marines,
under arms, was placed along each gangway, but on board of our ship
they were on the quarter-deck. Two boats from each ship lay off upon
their oars alongside of us, with a lieutenant's and a corporal's guard
in each, with fixed bayonets. The hands were all turned up by the
boatswain and his mates with a shrill whistle, and calling down each
hatchway, "All hands attend punishment!"
You now heard the quick trampling of feet up the ladders, but not
a word was spoken. The prisoners stood on the middle of the
quarter-deck, while the captain read the sentence of the court-martial
and the order from the commander-in-chief for the execution The
appropriate prayers and psalms having been read by the chaplain, with
much feeling and devotion, the poor men were asked if they were ready;
they both replied in the affirmative, but each requested to have a
glass of wine, which was instantly brought. They drank it off, bowing
most respectfully to the captain and officers.
The admiral did not appear, it not being etiquette; but the prisoners
desired to be kindly and gratefully remembered to him; they then
begged to shake hands with the captain and all the officers, which
having done, they asked permission to address the ship's company. The
captain ordered them all to come aft on the top and quarter-deck. The
most profound silence reigned, and there was not an eye but had a tear
William Strange, the man who had sent for me, then said, in a clear
and audible tone of voice:--"Brother sailors, attend to the last words
of a dying man. We are brought here at the instigation of some of you
who are now standing in safety among the crowd: you have made fools of
us, and we are become the victims to the just vengeance of the laws.
Had you succeeded in the infamous design you contemplated, what would
have been the consequences? Ruin, eternal ruin, to yourselves and to
your families; a disgrace to your country, and the scorn of those
foreigners to whom you proposed delivering up the ship. Thank God you
did not succeed. Let our fate be a warning to you, and endeavour to
show by your future acts your deep contrition for the past. Now, sir,"
turning to the captain, "we are ready."
This beautiful speech from the mouth of a common sailor must as much
astonish the reader as it then did the captain and officers of the
ship. But Strange, as I have shown, was no common man; he had had
the advantage of education, and, like many of the ringleaders at the
mutiny of the Nore, was led into the error of refusing to _obey_, from
the conscious feeling that he was born to _command_.
The arms of the prisoners were then pinioned, and the chaplain led the
way, reading the funeral service; the master-at-arms, with two
marine sentinels, conducted them along the starboard gangway to the
forecastle; here a stage was erected on either side, over the
cathead, with steps to ascend to it; a tail block was attached to the
boom-iron, at the outer extremity of each foreyard-arm, and through
this a rope was rove, one end of which came down to the stage; the
other was led along the yard into the catharpings, and thence down
upon the main-deck. A gun was primed and ready to fire, on the fore
part of the ship, directly beneath the scaffold.
I attended poor Strange to the very last moment; he begged me to see
that the halter, which was a piece of line, like a clothes' line,
was properly made fast round his neck, for he had known men suffer
dreadfully from the want of this precaution. A white cap was placed on
the head of each man, and when both mounted the platform, the cap was
drawn over their eyes. They shook hands with me, with their messmates,
and with the chaplain, assuring him that they died happy, and
confident in the hopes of redemption. They then stood still while the
yard ropes were fixed to the halter by a toggle in the running noose
of the latter; the other end of the yard-ropes were held by some
twenty or thirty men on each side of the main-deck, where two
lieutenants of the ship attended.
All being ready, the captain waved a white handkerchief, the gun
fired, and in an instant the poor fellows were seen swinging at either
yard-arm. They had on blue jackets and white trousers, and were
remarkably fine-looking young men. They did not appear to suffer any
pain, and at the expiration of an hour, the bodies were lowered down,
placed in coffins, and sent on shore for interment.
On my arrival in England, nine months after, I acquitted myself of my
promise, and paid to the mother of William Strange upwards of fifty
pounds, for pay and prize-money. I told the poor woman that her son
had died a Christian, and had fallen for the good of his country;
and having said this, I took a hasty leave, for fear she should ask
That the execution of a man on board of a ship of war does not always
produce a proper effect upon the minds of the younger boys, the
following fact may serve to prove.
There were two little fellows on board the ship; one was the son of
the carpenter, the other of the boatswain. They were both of them
surprised and interested at the sight, but not proportionably shocked.
The next day I was down in one of the wings, reading by the light of
a purser's dip--_vulgo_, a farthing candle, when these two boys came
sliding down the main hatchway by one of the cables. Whether they saw
me, and thought I would not 'peach, or whether they supposed I was
asleep, I cannot tell; but they took their seats on the cables, in
the heart of the tier, and for some time appeared to be in earnest
conversation. They had some articles folded up in a dirty check shirt
and pocket-handkerchief; they looked up at the battens, to which the
hammocks are suspended, and producing a long rope-yarn, tried to pass
it over one of them; but unable to reach, one boy climbed on the back
of the other, and effected two purposes, by reeving one end of the
line, and bringing it down to the cables again. They next unrolled the
shirt, and, to my surprise, took out the boatswain's kitten, about
three months old; its fore paws were tied behind its back, its hind
feet were tied together, and a fishing-lead attached to them; a piece
of white rag was tied over its head as a cap.
It was now pretty evident what the fate of poor puss was likely to be,
and why the lead was made fast to her feet. The rope-yarn was tied
round her neck; they each shook one of her paws, and pretended to cry.
One of the urchins held in his hand a fife, into which he poured as
much flour as it would hold out of the handkerchief, the other held
the end of the rope-yarn: every ceremony was gone through that they
could think of.
"Are you ready?" said the executioner, or he that held the line.
"All ready," replied the boy with the fife.
"Fire the gun!" said the hangman.
The boy applied one end of the fife to his mouth, blew out all the
flour, and in this humble imitation of the smoke of a gun, poor puss
was run up to the batten, where she hung till she was dead. I am
ashamed to say I did not attempt to save the kitten's life, although I
caused her foul murder to be revenged by the _cat_.
After the body had hung a certain time, they took it down and buried
it in the shot-locker; this was an indictable offence, as the smell
would have proved, so I lodged the information; the body was found,
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