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

 

CHAPTER 3

Pellew Defeats the Droits de L'Homme

1797

ship

 

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

"In 1796 the French Government, having made an alliance with Spain and Holland, decided to strike a heavy blow at Great Britain by sendind a fleet and army to invade Ireland. They had the good fortune to escape all our fleets and reach Bantry Bay on November 21st with seventeen [ship] of the line, thirteen frigates, and fourteen transports. But the weather, which hampered the English plans, was altogether too much for theirs. Half of their ships were blown out to sea before anchoring, and the other half dragged their anchors two days afterwards with disastrous consequences. The Resolue frigate was dismasted in collision; the Tortue, with two corvettes and four transports, was taken. Another transport foundered in the bay, and two other frigates were wrecked on shore. Most of the others got back to Brest.

But there was one more which did not--the line-of-battle ship Droits de l'Homme, the flagship of Rear-Admiral Bouvet, with General Humbert and a thousand troops on board. Sir Edward Pellew, who had rendered scouting service all through this time, fell in with her on the 13th of January 1797 while cruising in company with the Amazon, about twenty-five leagues from France.

The two frigates at once raced to cut her off. The wind increased to a gale, and at half-past four they had the satisfaction of seeing the enemy carry away her fore- and main-topmasts in a heavy squall. At a quarter to six the Indefatigable came up with her and gave her a broadside, crossing her stern so close that some of the frigate's men were able to grab the French ensign and tear it away. The Droits de l'Homme replied with her stern upper-deck guns, and with tremendous volleys from the troops on board, which seem to have done no harm at all.

This fight of frigate against two-decker went on for an hour. Then the Amazon came up and poured a broadside into the enemy's quarter. Three-quarters of an hour after this the Indefatigable had to repair her rigging, so both frigates shot ahead. At eight they returned, placed themselves one on each bow of the enemy, and raked her alternately, the two-decker trying in vain to close or bring her guns to bear. At half-past ten the frigates shot away her mizzen-mast, then changed their positions and attacked her on both quarters.

They too were suffering severely; the sea was tremendous, and on the main deck of the Indefatigable the guns' crews were often in water to the waist. Some of the guns had to be unloaded and recharged; some broke their breechings or wrenched their bolts. The Amazon was even worse off; her masts and rigging were much injured, her mizzen-topmast, gaff, spanker-boom and maintop sail-yard shot away, and she had three feet of water in her hold. Fortunately the losses in men were wonderfully few; the Amazon had three killed and fifteen wounded, and the Indefatigable only nineteen wounded. The enemy had already a hundred killed and many wounded.

After eleven hours' fighting the frigates sighted land dangerously near, and sheered off. The enemy promptly gave the Indefatigable a parting broadside, which wounded all her masts and nearly cut away her main-topmast. But she was saved by sheer seamanship, like the Menelaus on a similar occasion. She stood to the south, till she saw breakers on the lee bow, then wore and stood north, then south again. This time she saw the Droits de l'Homme lying on her broadside in the surf, only a mile away, but of course out of reach. She bent new sails and mended her rigging, and at eleven o'clock passed clear of the Penmarcks--safe, but with six feet of water in her hold and her men dead beat.

The Amazon grounded about ten minutes after she ceased firing. Her crew, under perfect discipline, built rafts and landed without losing more than six men. Those six stole a boat, put off, and were drowned. The rest were made prisoners, but were well treated and were soon exchanged.

The Droits de l'Homme, with 1600 men on board, as well as 55 English prisoners lately captured, was slowly beaten to pieces by the waves, and took four days in dying. On the second day an English captain and eight other prisoners escaped in a boat and landed safely; but the French showed little discipline or judgment. On the third day they made an attempt to send away the women in a boat, but all rushed for it and 120 were drowned. When the fourth night came, 900 had already perished. Next day a brig succeeded in saving 150, but 200 more were lost; and of 380 left on board that night one half were found dead the next morning. Among the few survivors were Commodore Lacrosse, the Captain of the ship, and General Humbert; also three British infantry officers, who were at once sent to England by the French Government, in consideration of the help they had given in this terrible disaster."

 

The Pellew Brothers and Mutiny

April-May 1797

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

"The time is 1797. The armies of the French Revolution have swept over Europe, leaving Britain's eight million people to stand alone against populations totally more than fifty million. On the Continent an enormous invasion force is massing; while in England the country is nearly bankrupt and popular discontent is so widespread that the monarchy itself is in danger and the possibility of a British Republic looms.

At the height of the crisis, the British fleet mutinies in protest against poor pay, impossible living conditions, short and inedible rations, brutality and impressments, leaving England completely vulnerable to her enemies. Over 50,000 men serving in 113 ships refuse orders, expel their officers and set up ship democracy in the longest and largest naval insurrection in history. They established the first government based on universal suffrage that Britain had ever seen, afloat or ashore."

The ships were located at Spit Head, Portsmouth and Plymouth and without any modern forms of communication each port had to be dealt with separately, first Spit Head, then Portsmouth and finally Plymouth.

Lord 'Black Dick' Howe, the hero of the ‘Glorious First of June' battle and very popular with the ordinary seaman, took over the negotiations with the mutineers in Portsmouth from the awful Lord Bridport.

"Black Dick dispensed with the official attitude that they were children, that they were wicked, and that they were misled. He said he was empowered to treat between them and the King, to reach a state ‘of pardon and oblivion for all that happened, upon conditions that were just and necessary to the future order and strength of the service.' Now that their demands for pay increases and full rations had been officially enacted by Parliament, pardon and forgiveness proclaimed, all that was necessary was a pledge through their own ship's delegates that they would again submit to their officers and cooperate with them in enforcing discipline and checking the first appearance of mutiny. After three hours, Howe won an amiable agreement on these points. However, the Royal Georges [the crew of Bridport's flagship] said they could not answer for other crews. The man was now obliged to visit in turn the major vessels of the grand fleet and speak with each company."

He then moved on to Plymouth where there were a smaller number of ships but a longer list of demands. He got them to agree to everything except that some of the ships didn't want their despotic captains back. One of these rejected captains was Israel Pellew, brother of Sir Edward.

"But all was not quiet at Plymouth. Furious bellows issued from the fighting frigate captain, Sir Edward Pellew, who returned from a cruise to find that his brother Israel, captain of the GREYHOUND, had been out ashore by his crew on an accusation of tyranny. And Israel had been advised to ask for a replacement. Sir Edward protested to Lord Spencer, who replied that he and their lordships felt ‘upmost indignation' over Israel's troubles, and he would ‘feel it his duty to find a situation for Capt. Pellew on board some other ship as soon as I can.' Spencer was accepting the ouster. Pellew waxed even more wroth at this compliant attitude toward Israel's exile and assailed the First Lord again with a letter threatening to resign. But Spencer did not order GREYHOUND to take back its rejected captain and Sir Edward did not resign.

Pellew's own crews, however, made no move toward collective disobedience. The reason is given by Sir Edward's biographer, C. Northcote Parkinson: ‘It is clear that such men never thought in terms of pay. A frigate's crew thought only of prize money. Wages were to them a secondary consideration. They did not want more pay. They wanted to be transferred to a more lucrative station. And, as they and their officers wanted precisely the same thing, there was no need for them to quarrel."

 

Pellew and the Priests

1798

C. Northcote Parkinson, "Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth," Methuen & Co., Ltd, London, 1934.

Apparently Edward Pellew's phenomenal good luck over a long and dangerous career received some assistance from a source higher than the Admiralty:

Pellew "had considerable success in taking privateers. He took three in January [1798] alone, and a number of others fell to him during the spring and summer. ...One event worthy of record was his capture of the Vaillante French national corvette on August 8th. That vessel was bound from Rochefort to Cayenne, carrying a number of deported convicts. Among the prisoners were twenty-five priests, political offenders, who were cruelly treated on board the Vaillante, being confined in a very narrow space with an equal number of ordinary criminals. Pellew at once set the priests at liberty and treated them with great consideration. He sent them to England with the prize, in charge of a prize-crew composed of Irish Catholics, who knelt to the priests as they came on board. His motive in thus getting rid of the worst characters in his ship may have been less altruistic than the gratified priests supposed. But his reward, if easily earned, was such as he was little likely to appreciate; for some of the priests, who were established in Dorset, prayed for him daily henceforward. To so staunch a protestant this would have been a source of alarm. He did not, however, hear of it until long afterwards."

 

Pellew's Prizes

1799

Captain Pellew reports to the Admiralty on ships and their cargoes taken by the Indefatigable.

From Vol. I of the "Naval Chronicle":

Indefatigable, at Sea, Jan. 1.
SIR,
I have the pleasure to inform you, that at dawn of day yesterday morning, Ushant bearing N.E. five leagues, we captured the French ship privateer La Minerve, carrying 16 guns, and 140 men, 28 days from St. Malo. She was laying to, waiting to proceed into Brest, and took this ship for her prize, the Asphalon, ofNewcastle, from Halifax bound to London, laden with sugar, coffee, and tobacco; which ship we chaced all day, and this morning had the satisfaction to retake off the rocks of Albrevrac. I have the honour to enclose a list of vessels captured by the privateer during her cruise. I
have the honour to
be, &c. - EDWARD PELLEW
List of Vessels captured by La Minerve French Ship Privateer, of St. Malo, between the 11th and 31st of December 1798.

Martinus, a Bremen brig, from Lisbon, bound to Bremen, with sugar, coffee, and hides.
Tagus, Portuguese brig, from Lisbon, bound to Bristol, with lemons and oranges.
Minerva, English snow, from Providence to London, with sugar, coffee, and cotton.
Ann and Dorothea, Danish schooner, (captured under the name of Beata Maria), from St. Thomas, bound to Hamburgh, with cocoa and cotton, retaken by his Majesty's ship Indefatigable.
Asphalon, ship of Newcastle, John Edgar, master, from Halifax bound to London, with sugar, coffee, tobacco, &c. &c. retaken by his Majesty's ship Indefatigable.

Admiralty Office, Jan. 8
Copy of a Letter from Sir Edward Pellew, Bart. Captain of his Majesty's Ship Indefatigable, to Evan Nepean, Esq. dated at Sea the 2d Instant.

Sir,
HAVING an opportunity of forwarding a duplicate of my letter and return to Sir Alan Gardner, by the recaptured ship Asphalon, which proceeds to Falmouth, whilst the Indefatigable proceeds to join the Vice Admirable off
Brest, I send this for their Lordships' information, and remain, Sir, &c. -

EDWARD PELLEW

 

Pellew's Pissed

1799

* C. Northcote Parkinson, "Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, Admiral of the Red," Methuen & Co., Ltd., London 1934.

The following describes how Captain Sir Edward Pellew came to command the mutinous ship, HMS Impetueux.

Shortly after the episode of the French priests, Pellew took the Indefatigable into Plymouth for refitting. While there, he received a letter from Lord Spencer that for many other Post Captains should have been a cause for celebration. For Pellew, however, Spencer's note was a most unpleasant and unwelcome shock:

 

Admt'y 15 Feb: 1799
Sir Ed Pellew Bart.

Dear Sir
The extensive Promotion of Flag Officers which His Majesty has been pleased to authorize me to make brings you so high on the Captains List, that it is no longer consistent with the ordinary Practice of the Service that you should continue to serve in a Frigate: I have therefore given you an Appointment to the Impetueux as being the most active and desirable Line of Battle Ship which the Arrangement on this occasion enabled me to select for you, and I have no doubt but that you will in this new Line of Service continue to gain as much Credit as you have already, by the Acknowledgement of every one who knows you, obtained.

Believe me Dear Sir
your very faithful
humble Servant
Spencer

Here's Parkinson on why this was such dreadful news to Pellew:

"The tone of this letter is so bland that the reader may easily miss its significance. ... The effect on [Pellew] produced by these innocent-looking lines can be compared, on the one hand, with the effect of a bomb; and, on the other hand, with the effect of a poisoned arrow. It had all the startling quality of the first and all the rankling after-effects of the second. The betrayal was unexpected and mean. It was an intolerable wrong inflicted in an intolerable manner.

Pellew's objections to the appointment were numerous and decided. He wanted to keep the Indefatigable. He did not want a ship of the line. Least of all did he want that particular ship of the line.

With reference to his wishing to remain in the Indefatigable, care has already been taken to describe Pellew's position at Falmouth; so that it will be sufficient to remind the reader of that position and its peculiar advantages to an officer of independent temper. The advantages of a fast and heavily armed frigate have also been described, and especially the advantages to an officer lacking independent means. This apparent promotion would deprive Pellew of the title of commodore, a squadron, a favourite ship, most of his income and much of his consequence. With these would go his reputation and his independence. From being the senior naval officer at Falmouth he would become a comparatively humble individual at Spithead. To Pellew a line of battle ship meant obscurity and insignificance, servility and boredom. The profound disgust with which Pellew regarded the ships of the line arose not only from a comparison between his position at Falmouth and at Portsmouth. It must also be remembered that he had been a partisan for a quarter of a century; that he had never sailed in a ship carrying more than fifty guns. The idol of his young days, Philemon Pownoll, had died commanding a frigate. He himself had never thought in terms of anything larger. ...

His objection to the particular ship chosen for him was partly based on a knowledge of the ship, and partly on a knowledge of its whereabouts. Regarded as apparatus, it was difficult to find fault with l'Impetueux. She was a French ship captured at the battle of the 'Glorious First of June' and was thought to be the finest 74-gun ship in the Service. Her only defect was a mutinous crew. It was notorious. The whole fleet expected her to mutiny, and Pellew had been in company with the fleet far too long to be ignorant of it. Whoever took command of her risked his reputation, if not his life. Other ships were, it is true, in little better case; and the flagship of the Channel fleet was one of them. But the Impetueux was supposed to be the worst. Pellew knew why he had been appointed to her. It was supposed that he could quell the mutiny.

Then, as to the ship's whereabouts; Pellew knew that she was one of the Channel fleet, under the command of Lord Bridport. Even supposing he quelled the mutiny, he would be under the orders of a man he loathed. He disliked being under any control, but to be under Bridport was sheer torture. Of all the accumulated evils inherent in this appointment, this last was the least tolerable. His letter of protest to Lord Spencer gives but a slight indication of his feelings:

 

My Lord
I know not how to express my surprise on the receipt of your Lordships very unexpected letter; and had I conceived the intended arrangement of the Promotion could have affected my situation in the Command of the Indefatigable, I should have most earnestly entreated your forbearance, and shall now feel myself highly gratified if your Lordship will permit me to continue in my present situation, amidst Officers and Men, who have served under me thro' the War, and who look up to me for protection: I cannot at the same time that I express my wishes, but feel very sensible of your Lordships attention to me in the selection you have been pleased to make, and if my request should not meet your approbation, I indulge myself with the Expectation of being permitted to remove with me such Officers and Young Gentlemen as I shall point out, and I confide in your Lordships goodness for throwing me as much into Active Service as possible. I have the Honour to be, My Lord

Your Lorships
Most Obed't
And very Hble Serv't
Ed. Pellew

 

This letter is undated, but must have been written immediately after receiving the letter to which it is the answer. Lord Spencer's next letter was prompt, polite, and anything but obliging. It must be remembered that Pellew had throughout the war chosen what ship he would, and manned it with his own followers, friends, and neighbours. Lord Spencer did not wish him to do this again. He wanted him to tame a mutinous crew. To shift the mutineers into another ship, to make room for Pellew's men, would profit the Service not at all. Spencer could be very friendly to even junior officers; but he put the interests of the Service first:

21st Feb: 1799

Dear Sir
The arrangement by which you are appointed to Ship of the Line is one which considering your situation on the Captain's List cannot but appear very natural, and though at first sight it may not present to you as flattering a prospect of Service as remaining in the Indefatigable might have done, I think you will not on Consideration look upon it in the light of being laid up upon the Shelf. With respect to Officers (I mean Lieutenants) there may be probably some opportunities by degrees of removing some of them who have served with you round into the Impetueux, though I do not know that there are any vacancies in that Ship at present, and if you will send me a List of the Young Gentlemen (bona fide such) that may be fairly considered as your followers, I do not think there will be any objection to their remaining with you.

Believe me Dear Sir
Your very faithful
Humble Servant
Spencer

 

Pellew controlled his temper with difficulty, still hoping to attain his end by fair words:

 

Plym'th feb'y 24th 1799

My Lord
I am too much flattered by the Trouble your Lordship has taken to reconcile me to parting from my dear Indefatigables not to entreat your acceptance of my best thanks...near as it goes to my heart to separate myself from the People, who certainly for attachment has not been exceeded. Yet I will exert myself to be reconciled, and used my influence to render the Ship's Company so to their new Commander, and I place implicit confidence on your Lordship for disposing of me to the best advantage. My thanks are no less due to your Lordship, for your accommodation respecting my Officers when opportunity offers--and I enclose a list of Young Gentlemen and some few Men who from neighbourhood and long Service with me I am very earnest to take and I flatter Myself your Lordship will not think me unreasonable in asking this number over and above the usual proportion establish'd by the Board. I am my Lord with great
Consideration and
Respectful esteem
Your Lordships Most obliged
and most Ob't Hble Ser't
Ed. Pellew

 

Once more the coming storm was forerun by studious politeness. It may be observed that neither Pellew nor Spencer mentioned what was in the mind of each. Not a word was said about the crew of the Impetueux. It was apparently nothing but sentiment that urged Pellew to go to his new ship with a bodyguard from his last frigate. It is to be hoped that Lord Spencer had not seen the letter in which Bridport was assured that Pellew was 'not certain of retaining for a single day' the confidence of the Indefatigable's crew. Had he done so, his reply could hardly have been more blandly unsympathetic:

 

26 Feb: 1799

Dear Sir
The Custom adopted for some time past by the Board respecting removes from one Ship to another, does not admit of any Proportion of Men being removed unless in the Case where two Ships happen to be together at the same Port, therefore the Persons for whom you apply (even suppose it should be possible to allow them all to be removed with you) will be the only ones which you can have. I am however rather in doubt whether it will be possible to permit so many Petty Officers to be at once taken from a Ship in Commission and in condition for immediate Service, without risking considerable inconvenience; more especially as it is probable that Capt. Curzon's followers, if he had any, may have been dispersed since the loss of the Pallas, and his Quarter Deck may by that means be left wholly destitute, which would not be proper. I would however recommend you to arrange the matter with Capt. Curzon when he joins the Indefatigable, and when your two Ships meet you may agree upon an exchange of a few men of respectively equal Qualities without its being the subject of an official Application. In the mean while with respect to the Persons you now apply to be removed, I will endeavor to procure an Order for the Removal of such of them as can be allowed consistently with what has been granted to
other officers in a similar situation before.
Believe me Dear Sir
Your very faithful
humble Servant
Spencer

 

Apart from 'young gentlemen,' Pellew was prevented, in the end, from taking any one with him. And children were not to his present purpose. .... Pellew's need was for petty officers of another kind. The official obstinacy which denied him the men he wanted, combined with the above letter, fired off his suppressed wrath with remarkably fine literary effect. He had seen
by this time that Spencer was not to be moved by persuasion. So that nothing was to be gained by further politeness. And if his anger was unlikely to produce any better result, it could hardly do any harm. His position could not be worse than it was. He could risk writing in the third person:

 

My Lord
On the 10th of Jan'ry 1793 Sir Ed. Pellew commissioned La Nymphe at Portsmouth, and equipped her by 70 Vol's raised by his family in Cornwall, and brought to Port'th at his own expense; when the Ship was ready, he carried her by permission to Falm'th, where he entirely completed her Complement by the same Means, and without any aid from Government whatever. He was permitted from Circumstances, afterwards to carry his Ship's Company into the Arethusa and Indefatigable, but after serving with them for six years and upwards, he is on the 20th of February 1799, taken from his Command, against his inclination, and in a manner, he must say, very Contrary to the former custom of the Service, and without the smallest accommodation, placed in a 74 at Portsmouth, when five Ships of the same Class have been disposed of at the very Port where his ship then lay; he hopes he may be pardoned for having considered, these twenty years past, all 74's to be alike, and when the Article, which still stands a part of the Naval instructions, was laid aside, and a new arrangement made by your Lordships Board, respecting the number of Persons a Captain might be allowed to remove from his Ship according to her Rate; he little apprehended he alone would be excluded from its effect. He therefore does himself the honour to enclose Your Lordship a few precedents appropriate to his case, wherein Commanders have been permitted to carry their Quota of men from one Port to another....

Had the Boatswain of the Indefatigable been appointed to a Ship at Portsmouth, his servant by rule of Service, would be discharged with his Master by pay Ticket. Sir E.P.--his Commander--is deprived of a desirable and advantageous appointment, after constant employment without relaxation for six years; and sent to a Ship at Portsmouth, amidst INTIRE STRANGERS and without being permitted to take ONE Officer, ONE Man, or even ONE Domestic. It is fair then to presume Sir E.P. has no sensibility, no attachment, no feeling, that his heart must be adamant, that he can part from faithful, and attached Companions, grown from boys to manhood under him, without a sorrowful Countenance, or a Moistened Eye. He grants it may be thought so. But he begs to assert the Contrary. And he dares to say, to those who think thus of him, that language does not furnish words sufficiently strong to express his feelings upon such unmerited hard treatment; nor can time, however soothing on most other occasions, blot from his remembrance, Circumstances so debasing to the reputation of an Officer; to your Lordship he leaves the regret of having occasioned them.

And is with due Respect
Your Lordships
Most Obt Servant
Ed. Pellew

Pellew left the Indefatigable on February 28th, at Plymouth, and came on board the Impetueux at Spithead on March 10th."

 

Pellew and the Cat

From “The Great Mutiny” by James Dugan, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1965.

March 1799

In the months following the great mutiny some of the ships revolted again. “The leaders, however, were not able to attain the formula for success: simultaneous action with sister ships, alliance of the marines, and fleet parliaments. The only redress of grievances they obtained was the Admiralty brand - the halter, the cat and the solitary dark.

Several of the twice-torn vessels belonged to Lord Bridport, who remained in command of the channel fleet, complaining of his antiquity, ailments and neglected estates. In March 1799, the old noble received an order from the Lords of Admiralty that practically cured his gout and brought a saintly grin to his gnarled visage. They were putting Sir Edward Pellew under his
command. Bridport hated and envied Sir Edward’s independence as a frigate squadron leader under direct Admiralty orders. Now seniority had carried Pellew so high on the list that he could no longer escape promotion and a larger ship.

Pellew despised the great floating Newgates. He was a frigate man. He wanted to chase prizes, get rich, buy an estate, win a peerage, found a line. Nevertheless, he was ordered to carry his flag out of INDEFATIGABLE into IMPETUEUX, 74, under Bridport and Sir Charles Morice Porem whom he called ‘old women’. The crew of his new ship had an independent and unruly spirit hardly tamed since the big mutiny - the Impetueuxs held a grudge against Pellew for keeping his Falmouth frigates out of fleet demonstrations. Sir Edward knew he was in for trouble and he strongly suspected that Lord Bridport was not going to help him handle it. He requested Lord Spencer to permit him to transfer his officers and foremen from INDEFATIGABLE. The request was denied, so Pellew enlisted a group of stout-bodied followers from his home town to accompany him aboard the man-of-war as a bodyguard. He also took his son Pownoll Bastard, and a French émigré nobleman as a tutor and companion for the youth.

The Channel fleet returned to the Brest blockade, and Pellew’s gratings were up almost every day as he flogged the Impetueuxs into submission on charges of ‘insolence’, ‘drunkenness’ and ‘disobedience’. The frigate captain ground his teeth at the ‘old women’ as the Channel fleet let the French escape once more from Brest. Bridport decided the enemy was going to Bantry Bay, took his ships there, and waited in ambush. The foe was headed for the Mediterranean.

Bridport kept the fleet at anchor in Bantry Bay for some time, during which the ships’ companies held clandestine meetings below decks. Pellew’s mates one day raised their silver calls and piped all hands on deck to scrub down and clean hawse. There was a roar from the main hatch and the company spilled out, running toward the quarterdeck shouting ‘One and all!’.

‘Ship’s company aft with a complaint,’ the first officer informed Sir Edward. He went out half dressed and the clamour increased as the men saw their hard commander.
‘A boat!’ they demanded.
‘One and all!’ they shouted.
‘A BOAT!’
‘What is the matter here?’ roared Sir Edward.
‘. . . a letter to Lord Bridport . . . A boat . . .’
‘Give me the letter. I’ll carry it to him myself.’
‘No! No! A boat!’
‘I tell you on my honour. I’ll carry the letter to Lord Bridport.’
‘No! A boat of our own.’
‘We will have a boat, sir. Damn it, we will take one!’
‘You will, will you?’

Pellew dashed to his cabin and came out with his sword. The carpenter passed out hangers to the officers. Pellew made for the front rank of the crew, followed by his officers and bodyguards and the marine unit with fixed bayonets. He led the naked blades through the unarmed company and down the main hatch. He took nine men captive. The others fell to washing the deck as ordered.

Pellew applied to Bridport for a court-martial order. The old admiral refused to give it. Instead, he placed Pellew under the command of Sir Alan Gardner, detached to take reinforcements to Old Jarvey in the Mediterranean. As soon as he had formally escaped Bridport, Sir Edward applied to Sir Alan for a mutiny court on the nine prisoners. But apparently Bridport had instructed Gardner to deny Pellew his mutiny trials, because he got no orders out of Sir Alan.

The chastening of the proud frigate captain grew more severe when it got out to his crew that the admirals would not permit Sir Edward to try their leaders. He made the cat scream, but even the whipped men sneered at his humiliation. For redress he could only wait until he reported to Hanging Jarvey.

Arriving at Port Mahon, the Mediterranean fleet rendezvous, Pellew hastened to the flagship with his request for a court. Old Jarvey was cocooned ashore, ill and bitter against everyone. Pellew was warned not to bother him, but paid no heed and sent his demand to the sick room. The old admiral knew nothing of Bridport’s vendetta. He assumed this was another instance of the Admiralty’s evading responsibility and sending miscreants to him for punishment. For two years the home fleet had been sending him disturbed ships to undergo his ritual terror. And this applicant was none other than Sir Edward Pellew! - the proud favourite of fortune with his Admiralty commission to hunt prizes while St. Vincent [Jarvey] languished in some forgotten blockade, holding the world together with sick and rebellious seaman, remade spars, rotten rigging and mouldering canvas.

Pellew’s request was denied. He was fit to be tied. Who would now respect the captain of Impetueux? He had been thrice turned down by his superiors on a request they almost always granted automatically. Pellew now held only the cat-o’-nine-tails and his personal retainers over 500 men who knew how to rush a ship when the next chance came. Captain Sir George Gray, one of St. Vincent’s aides, heard the background of the matter from Pellew, and risked his own career to reopen the question with the old man. St. Vincent hated Bridport. He reversed himself and issued the court-martial order. Three Impetueuxs were hanged. The sail maker, two carpenter’s mates and three others were flogged around the fleet and thrown into different ships. Sir Edward Pellew’s magic was restored. The whistle of the lash and the shrieks of the crew continued on IMPETUEUX.”

 

Pellew Speaks

Apparently, Sir Edward Pellew's opinion of his Commander-in-Chief Lord Bridport, was not of the highest. Among his failings, Bridport was in charge when the channel fleet mutinied in 1797, and according to C. Northcote Parkinson, his performance during this crisis was less than stellar:

"He did nothing effective and had to be superseded, when the crisis came, by the old hero he replaced [Admiral Lord Howe]."

Bridport did not finally retire until 1799, on which occasion Pellew wrote:" You will have heard that we are to have a new Commander-in-Chief, heaven be praised. The old one is scarcely worth drowning, a more contemptible or more miserable animal does not exist. I believe there never was a Man so universally despised by the whole Service. A mixture of Ignorance, avarice and spleen." *

Henry Newbolt talks about Pellew's handling of a later mutiny aboard his own ship, the Impetueux:

"In the course of the year 1798 Sir Edward's squadron captured fifteen cruisers. In 1799 he was appointed to the Impetueux, in Lord Bridport's fleet of twenty-six ship of the line. The crews of this fleet plotted to mutiny at the end of May; but the outbreak, which was to have begun in the Impetueux, was nipped in the bud by Sir Edward's courage and promptness. The ship then joined in combined operations in Quiberon Bay and at Ferrol, until the short peace of 1801." **

* "Britannia Rules, The Classic Age of Naval History 1793-1815," C. Northcote Parkinson, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1977.

** "The Book of the Blue Sea," Henry Newbolt, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1914.

 

 

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