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Pellew's/Exmouth's - A Compendium by Various Authors




Pellew's First Command

1780 - 1781




From: "Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, Admiral of the Red," C. Northcote Parkinson, Methuen and Co, Ltd., London, 1934.


After the death of his mentor, Edward Pellew received the following letter of condolence from Lord Sandwich:


18th June, 1780

Sir - After most sincerely condoling with you on the loss of your much-lamented Patron and Friend Captain Philemon Pownoll, whose bravery and services have done so much honour to himself and his Country, I will not delay in informing you, that I mean to give you immediate promotion, as a reward for your Gallant conduct upon this occasion* as well as many others which entitle you to Consideration.

I am etc etc


Lieutenant Edward Pellew
His Majesty's Ship Apollo,

* [i.e., his command of the Apollo in battle after Pownoll's death]

Thus, at the age of twenty-three, Edward Pellew was promoted to the rank of Master and Commander, but it was a small consolation for the loss of his only patron in the service. Here's Parkinson on the effect that loss had on Pellew's life in the Navy:

"This early death of the man whose follower he had become had important results on Pellew's career. It left him very much alone in the Service. In the ordinary course of events, Pownoll would have become an admiral and Pellew would have been his flag-captain. As things were, Pellew lost his patron at the very outset of his career; and, what is quite as important, he lost his idol when the latter was still a frigate-captain. This had the effect of keeping him away from the big fleets for the greater part of his life. As the follower of a dead man he was not wanted by admirals who did not know him. As the disciple of a frigate-captain he had no ambition to be anything but an 'able Partizan.' He had neither opportunity nor inclination for serving in the line of battle, and from Pownoll's death until the end of his career he was hardly ever in a fleet. He never was in a ship of the line until the age of forty-two, and never saw a general action until he was nearly sixty. Independence was the keynote of his career."

Shortly after his promotion, Pellew was given command of the HMS Hazard. His first assignment as captain was to cruise the Yorkshire coast to guard against smugglers... " whose cargoes were too valuable to throw overboard, and were, therefore, carried in larger vessels prepared to fight if need should arise - fast, well-mannered cutters. Some carried as many as sixteen guns and well over a hundred men.

As a check against smuggling of this kind, the Hazard left something to be desired. She was an ancient sloop mounting eight or ten guns, very slow, unhandy and un-seaworthy.

'She would neither steer, nor stay, nor wear She shipped it green and she made us swear...'

In Pellew's life, this happily named vessel is chiefly to be noticed as nearly causing his death by drowning. His experiences in her constituted a series of humiliating surprises.

He found her in Bridlington Bay on July 25, 1780, a little more than a fortnight after he left the Apollo. He probably saw at a glance what a 'wretched excuse for a man of war' he was to risk his life in. He sailed, however, a month later; patrolled the coast as far north as Sunderland and then turned south again. Then it was he encountered his first smuggler. It was off Flamborough Head, in broad daylight. She was a large cutter with English colours hoisted, and instead of fleeing she waited for Pellew to come up, fired two guns through his sails and so proceeded on her voyage. The Hazard laboured in her wake for an hour and a half before giving up the chase as hopeless. This was his worst experience. The Hazard was well known and all the cutters merely ignored her.

'Gave Chase to a Cutter and left off Chase' is the commonest entry in the Hazard's log. But as the winter approached, this crazy sloop ceased to be a joke. The climax came on November 6th, off Robin Hood's Bay:

'Fresh breezes and Hazey
2 P.M. saw a Ship in the NE Quarter. Made Sail and Gave chase.
6 P.M. Lost sight of Chase. Saw a light bearing ENE. Gave chase.
2 A.M. Gave over chase and stood to the N'd.
5 A.M. Handed Top Gall't Sls and reef't the Tpsls.
6 Close reef't Tpsls.
8 Handed Do, a heavy sea from the NE,
11 Reef'd the Courses and Clew'd them up.
Robin Hood's Bay W 3 or 4 Lgs.'

Next day there were 'Hard gales & snow - a heavy sea from the N'd,' but the sloop managed to struggle into Bridlington Bay (which is sheltered from northerly gales) and there she anchored.

There was much of the martinet in Edward Pellew as a young man. It was a family characteristic. His brother Israel was once put ashore by a mutinous crew, and his son Fleetwood goaded two ships into mutiny and was forced in consequence to leave the Service. In Edward the similar strictness was qualified by exceptional ability. But all his powers of coercion must have been strained to the uttermost on this occasion. For his next act was an extraordinary feat of discipline as well as courage. He actually sailed on the 10th!

Before doing so he read the Articles of War to his crew - perhaps to remind them that their ship was a man-of-war, a fact no longer obvious [i.e., a gun-less warship!]. The following day he was off Scarborough; and there he found that, if his men could be coerced, his ship could not. His main top-mast 'Rolled over the Side, by which accident 2 men went Overboard. Hoisted the boat out and saved them.' He then got up another top-mast, and put into Shields on the 13th to mend the main-topsail. But this time he learned his lesson. When he sailed again it was for the south. He reach Lowestoft on January 8th, 1781, the Gun fleet on the 9th, and anchored at Sheerness on the 10th. And it is for that day that the Hazard's log has a pathetic entry: 'Saluted the Conquistador with 3 Cheers. At that moment Pellew would have given anything to have had a gun left to salute with.

On the 22nd the Hazard's crew were turned over to the Magnanime, and on the 24th he quitted his command."


Pellew's Promotion to Post-Captain


Title: How the real Pellew was promoted to Post-Captain. Author: Laurence Stevens


In 1782 Edward Pellew was a Master and Commander, and in March of that year he was given command of H.M.S. "Pelican" a sloop of 24 guns. Sailing from Plymouth on April 24 Pellew was bent on raiding the shores of France, and on April 28 he was off the Bass Roads a few miles from the privateer rendezvous of Roscoff on the Brittany coast. There were six vessels (three privateers and three merchant vessels) anchored in the Roads, and as "Pelican" neared the six vessels slipped their cables and ran for the large harbour. Pellew gave chase and attacked, and all three merchantmen ran aground, but the privateers (two of which were damaged in an exchange of gunfire) finally took off and sped towards the battery on Roscoff cliffs, which open fire on the British ship.

Viscount Keppel, the First Lord of the Admiralty, sent the following letter to Pellew:


Admiralty Office, May 25, 1782

Sir - I am so well pleased with the reports I have received of your gallant and Seaman-like Conduct in the sloop you command, in your spirited attack on three privateers inside the Isle of Bass, and of your success in driving three vessels on Shore, that I am induced to bestow on you the rank of a Post-Captain, in the service to which your universal good Character and conduct do Credit; and for this purpose I have named you to the command of the Suffolk, and will give you a frigate whenever I can find one . . .

I am, etc.


Pellew's First Frigate

1786 - 1787

From "The Book of the Blue Sea," Henry Newbolt, Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914.


"He was appointed to command the 40-gun frigate Artois, in the temporary absence of her own captain. He sailed on the fifth of June, and on the 1st of July fell in with a French frigate-built sloop, the Prince of Robigo, of 22 guns and 180 men. Of course she was no match for the Artois, but she gave her a four hours' chase, and half-an-hour's running fight with the chase guns before she surrendered. Shortly after this, peace was declared, and Pellew was ashore for four years, during which he married.

In 1786 he went to sea again in command of the Winchelsea, and was ordered to the Newfoundland station. Having no fighting to do, he devoted himself to training his officers and men, always setting them an example of energy and daring. On one occasion, when a gale was blowing up after eight o'clock at night, and it was necessary to shorten sail quickly, there was much difficulty in close-reefing the main topsail. Even the boldest and most active top-men, when they reached the topsail-yard, hesitated to go out upon it in the dark with the sail flapping violently. Then a voice was heard from the extreme end of the yard-arm, calling to them above the roaring of the gale to do their best to save the sail from beating itself to pieces. One man exclaimed: 'Why, that's the captain. How the ******* did he get there?' The fact was that the instant he had ordered the men aloft, 'he had laid down his speaking-trumpet and clambered like a cat by the rigging, over the backs of the seamen, and before they reached the main-top he was at the topmast-head, and from thence by the topsail-lift, a single rope, he reached the situation he was in.'

Another time, when the ship had to be warped up to her anchorage at St. John's, and the boats were all hard at work, it became necessary to cast off the hawser from a rock to which it had been made fast. The captain called to the forecastle for a man to climb down the hawser itself, cast it off, and wait for a boat to bring him on board again. The smartest seamen in the ship all shirked such a risk. 'In an instant the captain was seen clinging to the hawser, and proceeding to the rock; the hawser was cast off, and to the astonishment of everyone, he swung himself to the side of the ship by the same means, mounted the ship's side, and was again directing the duty going on.' The men used to say of him: 'Well, he never orders us to do what he won't do himself;' and nothing better can be said of an officer by his men, in any service.

In 1787, when he was sent out again to Newfoundland, he gave a most amusing illustration of the role, 'duty before dignity.' On the 4th of June, being the King's birthday, and a very hot day, the ship's company had asked leave to bathe. The ship was at anchor in St. John's harbour; the captain, who was engaged to dine on shore with the Governor, had come up on deck in his full-dress uniform, and was waiting to step into his barge. As he watched the men larking in the water, he heard a lad standing close to him, an officer's servant, speak rather braggingly of how he would 'have a good swim by and by, too.' 'The sooner, the better,' said the captain, and tipped him over the ship's side into the water. Then he saw in an instant that the lad could not swim, and feeling himself in the wrong he would not leave it to anyone else to put things right. Overboard he went himself in full dress, with a rope in one hand, and in a moment the lad was on deck again, more frightened than hurt. One of the eye-witnesses said that if ever Captain Pellew was frightened it was when he saw the lad struggling in the water; but he enjoyed the laugh against himself afterwards. I suppose he had to dine in his No. 2 uniform, and I am quite sure he told the story to the Governor and all his guests."


Pellew Makes the First Capture of the War


Title: The Nymphe and the Cleopatre.


Year: 1793.

"When he came home for the second time from Newfoundland, Edward Pellew was again on the beach for some years. He tried farming in Cornwall, and was tempted to go and serve in the Russian Navy. Happily he refused, for very soon afterwards the French, having beheaded their king, suddenly declared war against England. The navy had then, on a peace footing, only 16,000 men; 60,000 more had to be raised in the course of the year 1793. Captain Pellew at once offered his services, and was given the Nymphe, a 36-gun frigate captured from the French in the late war. He had the greatest difficulty in manning her, and had to sail from Spithead to Falmouth with a crew of twelve seamen and eighty Cornish miners -- the officers themselves had to go aloft and set and furl the sails.

In May the Nymphe sailed in company with the Frigate Venus, with a scanty crew who had never seen a shot fired. The two ships parted, and on the 27th the Venus engaged La Semillante, one of a squadron of French cruisers under Captain Mullon, of the Cleopatra. After two hours, the Cleopatra came up, and the Venus had to retreat. On the 29th she found Nymphe again, and the two frigates went in search of the enemy together. During this search they touched Falmouth, where the Nymphe pressed some more men and took on board Commander Israel Pellew, Edward's younger brother, as a guest and volunteer.

The search was continued by the Nymphe alone in mid-Channel, and everyone on board became very keen about it. The talked incessantly of it, and two of them had very remarkable dreams. Mr. Pearse, a master's mate who had been in the Winchelsea, dreamed 'that the Nymphe fell in with a French frigate the day after leaving port, that they killed her captain and took her.' This he believed to be a supernatural warning, and when he was killed in the action which followed, his messmates found that he had recorded the dream in his pocket-book.

Israel Pellew's story is even more remarkable. He was asleep when the Cleopatra was at last sighted, in the early morning, and his brother would not allow him to be called until the ships were almost on the point of closing. When he ran up on deck half-dressed, Edward said to him, "Israel, you have no business here. We are too many eggs from one nest. I am sorry I brought you from your wife."

But Israel exclaimed, "That's the very frigate I have been dreaming of all night! I dreamt we shot away her wheel! We shall have her in a quarter of an hour!" - to which Edward replied, "We shall not take her so easily: see how she is handled."

Israel followed up his dream by taking charge of the after main-deck guns, and aiming one of them himself. But the action took a little longer than he had foreseen. At six o'clock the two captains hailed each other courteously, hat in hand; the crew of the Nymphe then gave three cheers for King George, while Captain Mullon waved a red woollen cap of Liberty before his men and made them a little speech. They cried "Vive la Republique," and one of them went aloft and fastened the cap of Liberty to the masthead. At 6:15 the Nymphe reached the starboard quarter of the Cleopatra, and Captain Pellew gave the signal to fire, as previously arranged, by putting his hat on his head. For nearly three-quarters of an hour the two ships ran side by side before the wind, blazing furiously into each other at close quarters. Just before seven o'clock the Cleopatra's mizzen-mast came down, and as the Nymphe drew ahead, Israel Pellew got his chance. He shot away the Frenchman's wheel immediately, she became unmanageable, and came round with her bow to the Nymphe's broadside, jib-boom pressing hard against the main-mast. The French did not board, so the English did, and by ten minutes past seven they had driven the Cleopatra's crew below and hauled down her pendant.

So fell the Cleopatra, 'the crack ship of France,' as Edward Pellew himself called her; she had, he says, '40 guns, 28 on her main-deck and 12 on her quarter-deck, some of 36 pounds, and 320 men. We dished her up in fifty minutes.' The Nymphe, out of a crew of only 240, had 23 killed, including her boatswain, a master's mate (Mr. Pearse), and three midshipmen; and 27 wounded, including the Second Lieutenant, the Lieutenant of Marines, and two midshipmen. The Cleopatra had 63 killed and wounded, out of her 320; so that her crew were still 67 men to the good when they surrendered.

But they had lost their brave Captain Mullon. A round-shot struck him in the back and left hip; even then he remembered that he ought to destroy the code of signals in his pocket, but he took out his commission by mistake, and died in the act of devouring it with his teeth - an undefeated hero of duty, if ever there was one.

This was considered a most important success, for it was the first capture of the war. 'I never doubted,' said Lord Howe, 'that you would take a French frigate, but the manner in which you have done it will establish an example for the war.' Accordingly the Earl of Chatham, as First Lord of the Admiralty, presented the brothers Pellew to his Majesty; Edward was knighted and Israel made a post-captain. Edward ended the adventure in his own way; he buried Captain Mullon at Portsmouth with all honors, and sent to his widow not only her husband's captured property, but all the money he could spare of his own."


Pellew's Poem


From "Men-of-War -Life in Nelson’s Navy" by Patrick O'Brian, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1974.


This song was written about the action between the HMS Nymphe and the French Frigate Cleopatre in June 1793.

"The beautiful working-songs and shanties of the merchant ships had no place in the Royal Navy, which was a silent service. But even so, there was music aboard a man-of-war: when grog was served out the ship’s fifer or fiddler played "Nancy Dawson" or "Sally in our Alley"; when the men where drummed to quarters it was to the tune of "Heart of Oak"; and when the anchor was being weighed the fiddler sat on the capstan and struck up "Drops of Brandy". And then of course there were the songs and ballads the sailors sang, particularly on Saturday night at sea. This is a homemade ballad, one of the many composed and sung by sailors.

Come all you British heroes, listen to what I say;


'Tis of a noble battle that was fought the other day;
And such a sharp engagement we hardly ever knew;
Our officers were valiant and our sailors so true.
The La Nymphe was our frigate and she carried a valiant crew,
With thirty-six twelve pounders, that made the French to rue.
At Daylight in the morning the French hove in sight;
Captain Pellew he commanded us in this fight.


Full forty eighteen-pounders we had for to engage;
The French they thought to confound us, they seemed so much enrag'd.
Our Captain cried, "Be steady boys, and well supply each gun;
We'll take this haughty Frenchman, or force her for to run!


The action then began, my boys, with shot on every side;
They thought her weight of metal would soon subdue our pride.
I think the second broadside her captain he was slain,
And many a valiant Frenchman upon the decks were lain.


We fought her with such fury, made every shot to tell,
And thirteen brave seamen in our ship there fell,
Tho’ forty-five minutes was the time this fight did last,
The French ship lost her tiller and likewise her mizen mast.


Then yard arm and yard arm we by each other lay,
And sure such noble courage to each other did display;
We form’d a resolution to give the French a check,
And instantly we boarded her off the quarter-deck.


Her colours being struck, my boys, she then became our prize,
And our young ship’s company subdued our enemies,
Altho' they were superior in metal and in men.
Of such engagements you may seldom hear again.


And now in Portsmouth Harbour our prize is safely moored.
Success to all brave sailors that enter now on board;
A health to Captain Pellew, and all his sailors bold,
Who value more their honour than misers do their gold.

Pellew Mentioned in the Press


From the LONDON GAZETTE, Dec. 10

Admiralty Office, Dec. 10


...Sir Edward Pellew, Captain of his Majesty's ship La Nymphe, in his Letter of the 3rd inst. gives an account of his having, in company with the Circe, taken, on the 30 ult. between Brest and Ushant, the national sloop of war L'Espeigle, pierced for 16 guns, manned with 100 men, an commanded by Mons. Pierri Biller Ensign de Vaisseau.


Plymouth, Dec. 7


The Concorde, of 36 guns, Capt. Wells, which arrived here on Thursday evening from Corunna, on her passage up the Channel, spoke the Nymphe, of 36 guns, Capt. Sir Edward Pellew, Knt. with a French National brig, of 18 guns, in possession, which she captured very near Brest; the report from the Concorde is, that previous to the capture of the brig, the Nymphe fell in with nine sail of French men of war, most of them of the line, standing for, and then very near Brest. As soon as they discovered the Nymphe to be an English man of war, they gave chase to her, and were near taking her, but night coming on, she eluded the vigilance of the French Fleet. There seems to remain not the smallest doubt, but that the ships which chased many days previous by Lord Howe's Fleet, the whole of which, except the brig captured as above, appear to have got safe into Brest. The Nymphe sailed from hence on her cruize to the coast of France, 25th ult. in the night.


Portsmouth, October 1


About eleven o'clock this forenoon a boat, with two men in it, was overset by a sudden squall, at the mouth of the harbour. Sir Edward Pellew, who was standing on the beach, instantly jumped into a wherry, and, with the waterman, put off to their assistance, and the Captain's coxswain of the Aquilon stripped himself, and swam to their relief. We are happy to add, that their exertions were crowned with success, as the men were hauled, exhausted and expiring, into the wherry, and are now perfectly recovered.


Portsmouth, August 4


A complaint of inattention to the wounded seamen of the Cleopatra French frigate, preferred by Sir Edward Pellew, whose humanity and gallantry must for ever endear him to his country, has occasioned the removal of Mr. Starch from being Agent of prisoners, and Mr. Palmer's appointment in his place.


Portsmouth, April 4


A naval dispute, of an unpleasant nature, is said to have arisen between Capt. Sir Edward Pellew and Capt. Faulkner, concerning the capture of the French frigate, La Cleopatra. These officers, sailing nearly at the same time, made a verbal agreement to share prize-money, arising from their several captures on the cruise; in consequence of which Capt. Faulkner claims a share of the Cleopatra prize. Sir Edward Pellew admits such an agreement was entered into between them, but contends, that it became void on Capt. Faulkner's receiving Admiralty orders.

- In reply to this, Capt. Faulkner declares, that the agreement was "to share in port and out of port, until their ships severally arrived at Spithead, and that at the time it was entered into neither of them knew under what orders he was to sail."


Pellew as Captain of the Arethusa


From Henry Newbolt, "The Book of the Blue Sea," Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914.


"Towards the end of this year, 1793, the French began a very troublesome system of cruising at the mouth of the Channel with frigates in small squadrons. Sir Edward Pellew said that the best way to check them was by sending out a stronger squadron of cruisers, independent of any of the fleets.

As captain of the Arethusa in 1794, Sir Edward Pellew did some notable service in the Channel against the French frigate Pomone:

This was unusual; but he got Sir John Borlase Warren, a very influential officer, to make an application to the Admiralty, and they agreed to give Sir John five good frigates--the Flora, Arethusa, Concorde, Melampus, and Nymphe. Sir Edward Pellew went with him, not in the Nymphe, but in the Arethusa.

They sailed in the middle of April 1794, and at daybreak on the 23rd fell in with a French squadron off the Isle de Bass. The French Commodore's flag was in the frigate L'Engageante, then came the Resolue, then the Pomone, and last the 22-gun corvette Babet; only four to five, but a very powerful squadron: the was then the largest frigate ever yet built, being only 100 tons smaller than a ship of the line, and carrying long 24-pounders on her main-deck.

The battle was a most brilliant affair. The Flora, Sir John's flagship, out sailed her consorts, gave the Babet a broadside, and passed on to attack the magnificent Pomone, though of course with her 18-pounders she was no match for her. The Frenchman soon cut her sails and rigging to pieces, shot away her fore topmast, and left her astern. She also with her big guns gave the Melampus a bad hammering at long range. Then came the Arethusa, the saucy Arethusa. She had been cannonading the Babet, but she now left her, half-beaten, to be taken by the Flora, and went straight for the Pomone single-handed. She engaged within pistol shot, and no one knows why she was not destroyed. But by half-past nine she had shot away the Pomone's main- and mizzen-masts, and compelled her to strike [her colours].

The signal was then made for a general chase. But the Flora and Arethusa were both rather crippled, and the Nymphe had been far behind from the start. The Concorde alone went on after the two remaining enemy's ships; her captain was Sir Richard Strachan, who afterwards captured the four French frigates which escaped from Trafalgar under Admiral Dumanoir. She first overhauled the Resolue; then the French Commodore came to the rescue in L'Engageante, and Sir Richard at once attacked and captured him. The Resolue in the meantime escaped, but the Melampus had the consolation of taking her some time later. For his share in this complete victory, Sir Edward Pellew received thanks and congratulatory letters from Lord Chatham and Lord Howe; and as the frigate squadron had proved so successful in clearing the Channel the Admiralty now commissioned a second squadron, and gave him command of it. This also did good service, and made some captures, but the Arethusa herself got no fighting."

At the end of January 1795, Sir Edward was appointed to the Indefatigable.


Pellew Gets the Indefatigable


From The Book of the Blue Sea," Henry Newbolt, Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914.


"At the end of January 1795, Sir Edward Pellew was appointed to the Indefatigable. She was what was called "rase'"; that is to say, she had been a 64-gun ship, and was now cut down to make a large and heavy frigate. She was at first a very slow ship, but her new captain, by altering her ballast and hold, soon made her into an excellent sailor. She weighed on March 2nd, and immediately captured sixteen ships out of a convoy of twenty-five which had been taking shelter among the rocks of the Penmarcks.

On May 27th, while chasing an enemy's ship, she ran on a sunken rock off Cape Finisterre. Sir Edward lost not a moment; he shifted some of the main deck guns and ordered the whole ship's company to "sally" her off the rock by charging across the deck. She fell over heavily and came off into deep water, but with five feet of water in her hold. With constant pumping she reached Lisbon in three days, but the crew were worn out, and a gang of Portuguese were got on board to go on with the pumping. The next day, being a Saint's day, they struck work and the ship began to settle down [into the water!]; but Sir Edward rushed out in his dressing gown with a drawn sword, chased the Portuguese all round the gangways, and made them go back to the pumps.

Then in order to see how much damage had been done he determined to examine the ship's bottom himself: to the astonishment and admiration of everyone he dived down, examined the leak, and satisfied himself that only the starboard side was injured. When the Indefatigable was at last docked at Plymouth, his report was found to have been entirely correct."


Pellew Saves the Day


From A. T. Mahan's "Types of Naval Officers" (Little, Brown, and Co., Boston,1913).


"In January 1796, while his ship was repairing, a large East Indiaman, the Dutton, carrying some six hundred troops and passengers, was by a series of mishaps driven ashore on the beach of Plymouth, than an unprotected sound. As she struck, all her mast went overboard, and she lay broadside to the waves pounding heavily as they broke over her. Pellew was at this moment driving to a dinner with his wife. Seeing crowds running from various directions towards the same quarter, he asked the reason. Upon learning it, he left his carriage and hurried to the scene.

When he arrived, he recognized, by the confusion on board, by the way the ship was labouring, by the poverty of the means that had been contrived for landing the imperilled souls, - only a single hawser having been run to the shore, - that the loss of nearly all on board was imminent. Night, too, was falling, as well as the destruction of the vessel impending. After vainly offering rewards to the hardy boatmen standing by, if they would board the wreck with a message from him, he said, "Then I must go myself."

Though then close to forty years of age, his immense personal strength and activity enabled him, though sorely bruised thereby, to be hauled on board through the breakers by the hawser, which alternately slacked and then tightened with a jerk as the doomed ship rolled to and fro in the seas. Once on board, he assumed command, the want of which, through the absence of the proper captain, had until then hampered and well-nigh paralysed all effectual effort. When his well-known name was spoken, three hearty cheers arose from the troops on board, echoed by the thousands of spectators on shore; and the hope that revived with the presence of a born leader of men showed itself at once in the renewed activity and intelligent direction of effort, on the decks and on the beach.

The degree of danger can be estimated from the fact that boats from the ships of war in port, his own included, tried in vain to approach and had to run for safety to the inner harbour. With sword drawn, - for many of the soldiers were drunk and riotous, - Pellew maintained order, guided with a seaman's readiness the preparations for landing, and saw the women, the children, - one child but three weeks old, - the sick, landed first, then the soldiers, lastly the seamen. When he himself was transferred to the beach by the same means that his skill had contrived for others, but three persons remained on board, officers of the ship, who eased him on shore. The injuries he had received in his perilous passage out, and which confined him to his bed for a week, forbade his being last. To the end of his life, this saving of the crew of the Dutton was the action in which he took most pride."


Pellew the Hero


From "Book of the Blue Sea," by Henry Newbolt (Longmans, Green and Co., New York, 1914.


"In the same year [1795] he three times risked his life to save others. But his most famous act of this kind was in the following January, while his ship was lying in Hamoaze. A large transport, the Dutton, with part of the 2nd Regiment (the Queen's) on board, bound for the West Indies, was driven into Plymouth by bad weather and ran aground under the citadel. There she lay broadside on to the heavy sea, and at the second roll she threw all her masts overboard at once.

Sir Edward was driving out to dinner when he heard the news; he ran to the shore and found that the principal officers of the transport had just got on shore, leaving the other five or six hundred men on board to their fate. Neither they nor any of the local pilots would attempt to board the ship for any reward that could be offered. "Then I will go myself," said Sir Edward. He was hauled on board the Dutton by a single rope, and badly hurt by being dragged under the fallen main-mast, but he reached the deck and took command. He promised at once that he would be the last to quit the ship, also that he would save everyone who obeyed him and run through anyone who disobeyed him; at which the men gave three cheers. Two hawsers were got ready, and as soon as a boat could be brought alongside they were taken out and made fast on shore. Upon them Sir Edward fitted a travelling cradle which was slung very carefully to and from the shore with great labour. Some of the passengers were landed by this, and others in a cutter and two other boats from the dockyard. The women and children were sent first, and Sir Edward stood guard with drawn sword - a very necessary precaution, for many of the soldiers were drunk. In the end everyone was saved, Sir Edward last, and immediately afterwards the ship went to pieces.

This was a great public service, and it gained for Sir Edward a popularity which astonished him. The corporation presented him with the freedom of Plymouth; the merchants of Liverpool gave him a valuable service of plate; the king made him baronet, and added a stranded ship for his crest. But as usual he had his own way of taking these things; the reward he gave himself was to obtain a commission in the Navy for Mr. Coghlan, the young mate who had brought the first boat alongside the wreck, and to offer him a place in the Indefatigable, where he became a distinguished officer."


Pellew Defeats the French


From "The Book of the Blue Sea," Henry Newbolt, Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914.


"The Indefatigable sailed again on March 9th [1796] with the Revolutionnaire, Argo, Amazon, and Concorde. On the 21st a corvette was driven on shore, and on April 13th the frigate L'Unite was captured. On the 20th, while the squadron was lying-to off the Lizard, a large ship was sighted which did not answer the private signal. Sir Edward immediately ordered the Argo and Revolutionnaire to take the prize, L'Unite, into port, and the others to follow him in the chase. Towards evening he had left them quite astern, for the enemy he was after was the Virginie, one of the fastest 40-gun frigates in the French service, commanded by Captain Bergeret, a first-rate seaman.

The wind was off the land, and the Virginie soon found that she would be overhauled before she could make the French coast; she therefore bore away south. But the Indefatigable crowded on sail and gained steadily; by midnight she was within gun-shot, after running 168 miles in fifteen hours. There was light enough to fight by, and the firing began at once under full sail. In spite of the heavier metal of the Indefatigable she found it a long and doubtful business. Her mizzen-topmast was shot away, and fell on the main yard, finally coming down on the splinter-netting directly over Sir Edward's head. The foreyard and gaff were also destroyed and much rigging injured.

But the Virginie had suffered much worse. Some of the Indefatigable's big shot had gone clean through her and out below the water-line; she had four feet of water in her hold. One shot had killed seven men at a single gun; another cut away her main-topmast, and then her mizzen-mast went by the board. But when the Indefatigable shot past her, being unable to shorten sail at once, she made a gallant attempt to rake her, and nearly succeeded.

But now the other frigates were coming up, and all hope was gone. The Virginie fired a lee gun, and hauled down her light. When the Concorde hailed her, she replied, 'We must surrender; there are so many of you; we strike to the frigate ahead.' Weeping bitterly, Captain Bergeret was brought on board the Indefatigable. He asked her captain's name, and when they told him 'Sir Edward Pellew,' he exclaimed, 'Oh! that is the most fortunate man that ever lived! He takes everything; and now he has taken the finest frigate in France.'

Since it was his fate to be captured, Captain Bergeret too was fortunate in falling to so chivalrous an enemy. Sir Edward at once took him home to stay with his own family, and an offer was made to exchange him for Sir Sidney Smith. The French refused; but when Sir Sidney Smith escaped two years afterwards, the British Government sent Bergeret home unconditionally. I do not know whether it was Sir Edward who suggested this; it was exactly like him to do it, but happily it was also exactly like many others of his generation."


Pellew on Patrol

December 1796

From "The Great Mutiny" by James Dugan, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1965


"At the beginning of the winter British spies in the French naval ministry were sending alarming reports of the invasion fleet shaping at Brest. Neutral voyagers corroborated the danger.

In the mastheads of his majesty's ship INDEFATIGABLE, 44, insolently patrolling outside Brest, freezing lookouts counted twelve French sail-of-the-line, ten frigates and dozens of transports, corvettes and auxiliaries in the harbour roads. The captain of INDEFATIGABLE, Sir Edward Pellew, sent swift craft with serial news of the French to twelve man-of-war, under Sir John Colpoys, that were cruising on the horizon. Afterward the dispatch boats sailed on to report to England, where the main channel fleet was repairing at Portsmouth to be ready for action when the French came out.

Pellew watched helplessly as five more French capital ships and three frigates slipped into Brest unmolested. They had come from the Mediterranean, eluding Sir John Jervis' squadron off Cadiz and Colpoy's cruisers as well. Pellew spent his next-to-last frigate to send the bad news home. By now there were about 20,000 massed troops in this Armee francaise en Irlande and one transport full of horses.

"Le Moniteu", the official French newspaper, and other gazettes that found their way to Pellew's cabin, published exciting speculations about a great invasion to liberate Ireland. British officials, noting the unanimous announcement of objective, thought the stories were an official ruse to trick the British navy away from an invasion course to the West Indies or even around the Cape of Good Hope to intervene in India.

On 15 December the French forces sailed at night, taking a perilous rockbound detour to sea, rather than walk into an unknown number of British sail in the watching grounds. But there was only Pellew at the gate. Two French ships collided in the passage and began firing distress and signal rockets. Their admiral joined in the fireworks, and Pellew sailed close and sent up flares to assist the confusion. The invasion armada anchored until dawn. When it got under way again a 74-gun ship went on the rocks and 1,800 men were lost.

During the first confused night, the French task force split up and was unable to unite in the haze the next day. Pellew reported the French movement to Admiral Colpoys by flag signals, and sent a ship's boat with a confirming letter. Colpoys, for reasons never investigated, turned back to England, despite Pellew's taunt that he would fight the French with his own frigate and a pair of Colpoys two-deckers.

Pellew sent his last lugger to England with word that the big French force was out. His provisions were exhausted. He took Indefatigable into Falmouth on 20 December. The admiralty issued orders to the main Channel fleet to sail from Portsmouth and hunt the French. By 22 December, heavy gales were blowing in the Channel. The French fleet was divided, part of it on the planned course, and the rest, containing the fleet commander and the army commander, falling away in the winds.

Two months later

In London, Lloyd's Coffee House, whose insurance and cargo brokers sometimes knew of enemy naval movements before the government did, reported to the Admiralty that seven French transports were discharging at Worms' Head [Wales]. Another landing was rumoured at Cardigan Bay [also Wales]. The sea lords sent an order to Sir Edward Pellew at Plymouth to collect 500 stand of arms from the vessels in port and cruise the invasion coast, distributing them to the home guard. This made Sir Edward angry. He was in the navy to take prize ships, not to pass out flintlocks to Geordie and Meg. Besides his own prosperity, Sir Edward had to look after the fortunes of two relatives in his semiprivate navy, his inept brother Israel and his promising son, midshipman Pownoll Bastard Pellew.*

* His actual legal name. The middle name was a tribute to a Mr. Bastard, who was present at his christening. The bowl of cheer must have been flowing."


Pellew the Sneak


From "Sea Kings of Britain--Keppel to Nelson," by Geoffrey Callender (Longman's, Green and Co., NY, 1939).


"In 1796, England's prospect grew darker. Austria, her one stalwart ally, suffered a succession of disasters in North Italy at the hands of the youthful General Bonaparte. And Spain, who had so recently supported the allies, now with cool deliberation joined the winning side. Her treaty of alliance gave France fifty additional ships and half a dozen excellent ports. The hostile seaboard that England was called upon to blockade extended now in unbroken range from the coast of Denmark to the coast of Italy. And the paralysing completeness of Bonaparte's success removed all hope of further resistance from Austria.

Britain stood alone. Her peril was extreme: the naval coalition against her more formidable than anything she had had to face since the critical years of the American war. France was at liberty to give all her attention to the congenial task of subduing her hereditary foe. And the unsettled state of Ireland pointed the way. In December 1796, there was assembled at Brest an army of 16,000 men. Their leader was Hoche, a capable officer, youthful and vigorous. In the port there were eighteen ship of the line, twenty smaller warships and transports. When Hoche gave the word to embark, there was nothing outwardly at least that seemed likely to interfere with the easy accomplishment of his purpose.

But the occasion produces the man. Outside Brest was the Indefatigable with the pendant of Captain Edward Pellew. As the expedition that was to bring Britain to her knees emerged from the port, the Admiral changed his mind as to the best route to be followed. Whether it was wise of him to do so is beside the point. The fact remains that he did so just as the fleet came out of harbour and just as night sank upon the dusky sea. As he began the work of signalling, Pellew with delightful impudence slipped into the very middle of the French fleet and, uninvited, began to play the part of supernumerary repeating frigate. He wasted no time in examining the real signals, but with rockets and flares and guns and lights busily employed himself throughout the night with meaningless signals and contradictory orders. Like Robin Goodfellow or Will-o'-the-wisp he sent bewildered Frenchmen in some direction, some in another. Rough weather followed and when the roll was called in Bantry Bay, it was discovered that only half of the ships had reached the rendezvous and that the Commander-in-Chief had been left behind! So they abandoned the attempt and returned crestfallen to their starting place!"



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