Contents Back Chapter VI Home Exmouth
Edward Pellew - By Parkinson, C. Northcote, London, 1934
CHAPTER V - The Western Squadron
'I must confess how he's as brisk a seaman as ever greased a marlin-spike - I'll turn 'un adrift with o'er a he that reefed a foresail - A will fetch up his leeway with a wet sail, as the saying is . ...' - 'The Reprisal,' Smollett.
(99) EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY Falmouth did not owe its importance, merely, to the mail-packets. It owed its existence to them. It was as a packet station that the Killigrews had founded it, and as early as 1696 the West India packets sailed from there. By the middle of the eighteenth century, packets ran from there to New York, Corunna, and Gibraltar; by the end of the century, Falmouth packets served most of the American ports, Lisbon, Malta, and Surinam. There were two reasons for stationing the post-office boats at Falmouth. One was the excellence of its harbour; the other, its position on the coast.
Falmouth Harbour consisted of an outer roadstead, variously called Carrack, Carreg or Carrick Road, and a series of inner creeks opening from it. On one of these creeks the town itself stands, and Flushing is on the opposite side, not quite facing Falmouth but a little higher up the
(100) creek. As the depth of water in this and other creeks was only about two and a half fathoms, with half a fathom less on the bar, such men-of-war and larger merchantmen as happened to put into the port remained in the outer road. The town was small, housing barely five thousand souls, and ships had no especial reason for wishing to approach much nearer it, as there were no facilities there for refitting. There was an immense amount of room in Carrick Road and St. Just's Pool - enough for thirty or forty sail of the line. Opinion differed as to the possibility of ships of the line entering or leaving port at low tide, the inhabitants of Falmouth asserting the feasibility of this operation at any state of the tide other men thinking it dangerous for vessels drawing more than eighteen feet to enter between half-ebb and half-flood. But for ordinary merchant ships, and for frigates, the peculiar virtue of the harbour was its accessibility. For them, at least, there was always water enough, and they could enter or leave it, day or night, at any state of the tide, and with practically any wind. A northern sometimes prevented ships entering the port but with the wind in that quarter the anchorage from St. Anthony's Point toward the Mannacles was sheltered. It could be left at any time. This was more than could be said of Plymouth, where, on at least one celebrated occasion in the sixteenth century, the English fleet had been pinned in the Sound by a headwind.
The difficulty about Falmouth was its lack of trade and its distance from London. The distance from London (265 miles) could in a sense, be remedied; and it was during the short period of fast stage-coaches that the town flourished and captured a certain amount of passenger traffic. This was when there were as many as thirty-five packets sailing from the harbour. When, however, the railways remedied the distance still more effectually, steamboats had already rendered its other advantages useless. However possible to lessen the distance between Falmouth and London, there was no remedy for the barren Cornish hinterland. There could never be much trade there, and without trade its possibilities as a port could never develop.
So much for the excellence of Falmouth Harbour.
The position of Falmouth on the coast was, in the days of sail a factor of enormous importance to that place. It was the port nearest the mouth of the Channel, but it did not gain so much from that, as from the fact that a ship leaving Falmouth could always gain the Atlantic. The (101) prevailing wind in western Europe is south-westerly; that is to say, the wind is, more often than not, blowing up Channel. Now, a line drawn on the chart from Falmouth in a direction little to the west of south will clear Ushant. This means that a handy ship could reach the Atlantic without difficulty, however hard it blew from the south-west. Plymouth and Portsmouth, on the other hand, are far to leeward and right in the Channel. In a south-westerly gale it was often possible to sail from Falmouth when ships at the ports to the eastward were wind-bound, unable to work down Channel. Especially was this true of convoys. For, a convoy, to keep together, had to steer a course to suit the dullest of the ships composing it. It was therefore not uncommon for convoys to assemble at Falmouth.
To these two blessings, then, an accessible harbour and a position almost as much on the Atlantic as on the Channel, Falmouth owed its importance. The town was, as we have seen, small; but, for its size, it was remarkably prosperous. Wealth came to it in several ways; in peace time, chiefly through wholesale smuggling; in war time, through smuggling and prize-money.
Cornish smuggling was of two kinds: that carried on at Falmouth, and that carried on elsewhere. The latter type was carried on at the more isolated of the fishing villages. It consisted in bringing gin, brandy, rum, and tea from the Channel Islands. The former type was carried on by the Falmouth packets, and was totally different. At the time with which we are concerned there were nearly thirty packets in the regular service, and a number of others hired to meet war-time demands. The regular boats had from fourteen to eighteen guns, with sixty men. The others were smaller, some with as few as six guns and twenty men. Being regarded as ships of war, to all intents and purposes, they were supposed to carry no cargo other than the mails. But as they were built with cargo-carrying capacity it is not surprising that, sooner or later, they carried cargoes. The officers and men divided the hold between them in a manner determined by custom, and every man brought on board goods worth anything from £5,000 to £500. Export smuggling had, by its persistence and volume, attained a sort of respectability. London houses established branches at Falmouth which allowed goods on credit to the packet seamen. This was, of course, no concern of the Customs authorities at Falmouth. Import smuggling was more dangerous, in that the Customs officers had to (102) evaded; or less profitable, in that the Customs officers had to be given a share. It was, however, carried on extensively.
Neither of these two kinds of smuggling was suppressed during the French Wars, for the sufficient reason that those charged with suppressing it made no attempt to do so. The rule allowing a part of every cargo seized to the captor, as a reward, had unfortunate results. It gave the revenue officers an excellent motive for making an occasional seizure. But it gave them as good a motive for allowing the trade to go on. The law directed that the boat found laden with contraband should be burnt. But this was never done. The revenue officer usually took the goods and let the smuggler go, in the hope of catching him again. A man-of-war might occasionally take a smuggler, but the process was much the same; instead, however, of claiming a share of the seizure, the captain of a man-of-war usually kept the whole and considered the affair as closed. It is true that he sometimes kept the smuggler as well, which may have done something to discourage the trade. But the ultimate result was probably the return of the criminal to his crime, endowed with a better knowledge of seamanship.
The packet crews were not subject to impressment; so that, for them, even this discouragement was lacking. By one account 'the effect of original sin was to be seen in its horrid perfection' in these boats. It was sin of a kind the Government was disposed to overlook. The export trade, whether smuggled or not, did England no harm. The import trade was less admirable, but there was something to be said in its favour. For while the packets were deeply laden both on the outward and homeward voyage, if less likely to escape by speed, they could be relied upon to fight to the death. An ordinary merchantman seldom fought. But the crew of a packet fought like heroes. There was every reason why they should. They owned the cargo.
Now, the collector of the customs at Falmouth was Samuel Pellew, as we have seen. He held that office for roughly half a century. One of his contemporaries referred to him as 'Sam Pellew, whose intelligence, and activity, and loyalty have long given life to Falmouth;' and there can be little doubt that he was much respected there. His biographer claims for him that he sternly suppressed smuggling of every kind. But his local popularity, combined with the fact that the smuggling was not suppressed, seems to suggest that his sternness was of a discriminating kind. Still, his disapproval of smuggling as practised out- (103) side Falmouth was doubtless genuine enough; and it has been narrated how he, at one time, turned his fire-eating younger brother loose on these offenders. Nor did he, for that matter, let the packets go too far. Seizures were, of course, enormously profitable. On one occasion he, or his predecessor, seized a contraband cargo of 27,529 pounds of tea, and 9,000 gallons of brandy, thus earning £3,000 in one day.
In war time the prosperity of Falmouth was augmented by prize-money. There was a prize-court there, an institution reputed to rob the seamen of their hardly-earned profits. Here again the collector profited largely as the principal prize-agent of the port.
The life of the town centred round Samuel Pellew's office and also round his house. The Custom House and the Packet Office were next door to each other in Arwenack Street, and here it was that the mails were made up weekly for Lisbon, fortnightly for the West Indies, monthly for Halifax, Quebec, and New York. Over all this bustle Samuel Pellew with his eight assistants presided. He was, politically, the ruler of the town, in so far as it had any political life. Falmouth was not a borough, so there were no elections to bring any outside influence to bear on the Place. Lord Clinton, the Lord of the Manor of Trefusis, lived elsewhere, and so did the Marquis of Buckingham who owned the pocket borough of St. Maws. Falmouth was left to the Pellews. In war time Flushing was another centre of activity, as the place chiefly frequented by the seamen of the frigates in the harbour. It was there that the packet captains lived, and it was there that Samuel Pellew had his house.
This account of Falmouth would be incomplete without two more or less contemporary descriptions which the reader may reconcile how he will. The first is from a local guide-book:
Places of Amusement
Under this head, we have but little to offer for the information of our readers: indeed it may be naturally expected that few such places exist, from the previous details of religious and charitable establishments. It has been observed that Falmouth contains a greater proportion of persons adhering to different religious sects, than any other place of the same population, in the Kingdom. The degree of emulation that is consequently excited among them, to surpass each other in moral excellence, (104) excludes such enjoyment as may be derived from public entertainments.
It is disillusioning to turn from this pleasing spectacle to observe that Falmouth had as many haunts of vice as any town of its size. These included a bowling-green, billiard rooms, a theatre, and an assembly-room with a fortnightly ball throughout the winter. The other account, written at an earlier date, it is true, and referring to Flushing more than Falmouth, is also slightly disillusioning. It suggests that some of the inhabitants were so far surpassed in moral excellence by others that they had ceased attempting to compete.
The greater number of the captains and officers of the Packets as well as most of the crews, lived at Flushing, and so added to the wealth of the place, that at the period adverted to, between 1790 and 1795, there was probably no spot in England, in which, on so limited a surface and among so small a number in the aggregate, were to be seen so much of the gaiety and elegance of life as in this little village. Dinners, balls, and evening parties were held at some one or other of the Captains' houses every evening; and not a night passed in which there was not three or four dances at least in the more humble places of resort for the sailors and their favourite lasses. The ample supplies of wages and prize-money furnished all the naval officers and men with abundant means to meet every demand, and the profits of the officers and crews of the Government packets were not at all less abundant.
Perhaps the character of the town altered a great deal during the war. Or perhaps both accounts are correct, and the inhabitants all closely resembled the character in 'Rattlin the Reefer' who was 'wicked from nature, drunken from habit, and full of repentance from methodism.' In which case their time must have been 'very equally divided between sin, drink, and contrition.' But other solutions of the problem may suggest themselves.
The foregoing description of Falmouth should make it sufficiently clear why the frigate-squadrons formed in the spring of 1794 should be stationed there. It was on a line between Falmouth and Brest that the frigates were mainly to operate, patrolling the entrance to the Channel and at the same time watching the movements of the French fleet. It was therefore inevitable that Falmouth should be the base of operations - even though it was impossible to refit there. This description may also convey some idea of the (105) social position Sir Edward Pellew was soon to hold in that town. It was where his grandfather had been a leading citizen, connected by marriage with the oldest family of the neighbourhood. It was the place at which his elder brother occupied the highest civil office, and the harbour in which he himself was often to be the senior naval officer. During the most spectacular, and possibly the happiest
PLAN TO ILLUSTRATE OPERATIONS, 1773 - 1804
period of his life, the atmosphere in which he moved when ashore was remarkably appreciative.
The crew of the Nymphe was transferred to the Arethusa at Portsmouth on December 24th, 1793, but the latter frigate did not leave Spithead until February 19th. At that time of year the Channel fleet, or 'Grand Fleet' as (106) it was called, was in harbour there. But a detachment under Admiral Macbride sailed in February 1794 to reconnoitre the French coast; and most of the Channel frigates, including the Arethusa, sailed as part of this squadron. On April 7th Macbride put into Cawsand Bay, after a few weeks of cruising without incident. Meanwhile, the outward-bound merchantmen were collecting at Falmouth and at St. Helen's, ready to sail as soon as the Grand Fleet should be at sea and able to escort them out of the Channel. Admiral Macbride's squadron in Cawsand Bay, known as the Plymouth Division, was destined to join Lord Howe off the Eddystone and assist in safeguarding the East and West Indiamen while in the danger zone. This enabled Macbride to detach five frigates to form the western squadron; a detachment the more necessary in that no other force would be at sea until Lord Howe should sail at the beginning of May. For three weeks the Channel would have no other defence.
The senior officer of this detachment was Sir John Borlase Warren, a Cornishman and an excellent seaman. He sailed as commodore in the Flora, a frigate slightly inferior in force to the Arethusa, carrying forty-two guns as opposed to the Arethusa's forty-four and having fewer carronades among this number - firing, therefore, a lighter broadside. Sir Edward Pellew was second in command. The Melampus and Concorde, commanded by Captain Wells and Sir Richard Strachan, each carried a very similar armament of forty-two guns. The Nymphe, commanded by Captain Murray, was the remaining frigate of the squadron. Her force has been detailed in the last chapter.
On April 15th, Sir John Warren sailed from Cawsand Bay and proceeded down Channel with his frigates. On the 21st the Minerva frigate was coming up Channel, bringing Rear-Admiral Cornwallis from the East Indies, only recently aware that war had begun and half expecting to find it had finished. On that day, in the morning, the officers of the Minerva saw four frigates standing across their bows. These ships were distant and a fog came on at that moment, hiding them altogether. 'Next morning we saw four more, who would not let us escape. The first that came up was the Arethusa, Sir Edward Pellew. . . who, seeing our flag, brought to and came on board, and told us the other three frigates were the Flora, Concord, and Melampus, all under the command of Sir John Borlase Warren. When he was told we had passed four English (107) frigates yesterday (he very near committed himself for swearing), he said, with an oath, that there were not four British frigates together in the Channel but themselves, therefore the others must be French; so hastening to his ship he gave us a salute, then bore down to his Commodore, gave his news, and off they all set in search of the other four frigates . . . .'
This account is interesting. But, attractive as the scene may be of Pellew tumbling into his boat with a volley of oaths, the important fact to notice is that the Nymphe was not there. Only four frigates were visible from the Minerva. This shows that Pellew's old ship was lagging behind, and it shows why he was anxious to leave her. There is no reason to suppose that she was exceptionally slow; but the standard of speed in the western squadron was high, and the Nymphe was an old ship.
Armed with the information obtained from Cornwallis's frigate, Sir John Warren caught the French squadron very early the following morning, the 23rd, seven or eight leagues south-west of Guernsey.
'Light airs inclinable to calm. At ½ past 3 saw 4 strange sail under the land on our weather bow, signal for a general Chase, 35 past 5 Flora made Sig: to tack after the Sig: to engage without regard to the order of Battle. The French ships were 3 Frigates & a Corvette to windward out of gun-shot on the other tack . . . . '
The French ships were the Engageante (36), Pomone (44), Résolue (36), and the corvette Babet (20). Perhaps not realizing their inferiority, the French did not at first try to escape. One of their ships, the Pomone, was theoretically more heavily armed than any of the English frigates carrying 24-pounders on the main deck to oppose the English 18-pounders. So that the French Commodore, Desgareaux, may have thought himself not especially overmatched. And he may have found encouragement in the Nymphe being a mile or so astern of her consorts. If so, he was speedily undeceived. It is necessary to remember that the French total of guns was only 144 as opposed to the English 210; the French had consequently no chance of winning, and they seem at the start to have thrown away their chance of escape. Almost immediately after engaging, however, they set every stitch of canvas in an attempt to avoid further action, and the fight became a running one from that time onwards.
At five-thirty-eight, the Flora and Arethusa, the two (108) leading frigates, reached the wake of the French squadron and tacked in pursuit. The French were in line ahead, but the English in no order, strung out, with the Nymphe too far astern to take part in the action. At five-fifty-seven the French began to fire, and three minutes later the Flora, arriving abreast of the rearmost French ship, the Babet, made the signal to engage, at the same time opening fire. Pellew fired his first broadside five minutes later.
. . . 5 past 6 we began to fire, ½ past 6 haul'd our mainsail up to prevent shooting between the Flora & her antagonist, 45 Past 6, Flora's main topmast was shot away, the Melampus on our weather bow & his mainsail up, Miz.Top Gall't sail furl'd & no staysails between ye yards-Concorde on our w. quarter, La Nymphe 2 or 3 miles a-stern, 10 past 7 Flora drop'd astern out of the Line to repair, set out mainsail, Main Topmast Stay-sail, 35 past 7 Concorde's Sig: was made but we could not see what . . . . '
After firing into the French corvette, Warren had come up level with the Pomone. But the fire from that frigate brought down the Flora's main top-mast, causing her to drop astern and out of the action. Whereupon, Pellew made sail to take her place. George Bell, acting-master, who wrote the above account, clearly suspected the Melampus of shirking close action. And, as that ship was to windward, there seems no reason why she should not have closed. Nor does there seem to be much excuse for her shortening sail. The Arethusa came up with the Babel, put her out of action, and then closed with the Pomone.
. . . ½ past 8 the Corvette lost her Fore-topmast abreast of us Melampus considerably to windward and dropping a-stern, at 25 past 8 the Corvette struck, at 30 past 8 closed with the sternmost Frigate within Pistol Shot, 5 before 9 her Main & Miz. masts fell overboard & the ship was on fire on the Poop, at 5 past 9 they call'd out to us that they had surrendered, just before she struck the Concorde pass'd a-head of him & rak'd him, finding the People getting over-board from the fire, brought too & hoisted out the Boats to save the People, but happily the fire was extinguished, in this time the other 2 French frigates had Studd'g Sails out, Nymphe about a mile a-stern, Melampus to windward without Srudd'g sails or royals. ¾ past 9 Flora made the signal for a general Chace, which we answered with the Signal of Inability, having our top gall't sails uselefs, Fore topmast much wounded, Fore & M.Topsail yards shot thro,' most of the running rigging cut . . . . '
(109) While the Concorde made sail after the remaining two French frigates, the Arethusa took possession of the Pomone and the Flora came up and took the Babet in tow. Pellew then received a hasty note from Sir John Warren.
MY DEAR FRIEND
The Line by which the Cable was to be hauled on board the Babet broke twice ; the cable itself is now coiling into the Launch and as soon as it is made fast, we will all hands make sail after those Gentlemen that have been so long about their businefs. I have much to do; and in losing my first Lieut., I have lost my right hand, as only one of the others are good for anything.
I shall always hold myself indebted to you for the noble support you gave me to day. God blefs you and all yours.
I am most sincerely
J. B. WARREN
Flora April 23rd
Meanwhile, Sir Richard Strachan was pursuing the French commodore. At first he attempted to cripple both French ships, but, failing in this, he closed with L'Engageante and took her. The Résolue escaped, owing to the Melampus being so long about its business, and failing to come up to support the Concorde. The Nymphe was never in action.
There were fairly heavy losses on the French side, but the casualty-lists of the English frigates were trifling. As often happened, the ship which failed to come to close action had a casualty-list rather longer than the average. The Melampus had five killed and five wounded. The Arethusa had only three killed and five wounded. The Flora had one man killed and three wounded. Compared with these losses, that of the Pomone was enormous, between eighty and a hundred of her crew being wounded or dead at the close of the action. It is from noting this contrast that the question arises as to why the French should have lost so heavily.
The French, it has been shown, were outnumbered in ships and cannon. They were destined to defeat from the start. But they were not actually overwhelmed by weight of numbers. The Pomone was not confronted by more than one opponent at the same time until she was on the point of surrender, and the Concorde was under fire from the Résolue when she took the Engageante. Inferior numbers of ships will explain the French defeat, but it will not explain why they suffered so severely; nor will it explain why their opponents suffered so little.
Perhaps the first facts to notice are that one of the vessels (110) taken was only a corvette, and that the Engageante was an old ship afterwards found unfit for further service. Next, it is necessary to state that the broadside of the Arethusa was heavier than that of the Pomone. This may appear unlikely, in that the French frigate was armed with 24-pounders on the main deck, whereas the Arethusa had only 18-pounders. But the heavy carronades of the latter more than equalized matters, so that the Arethusa's weight of metal was 970 lb. as opposed to the Pomone's 880 lb. The latter was a bigger ship with a larger crew - a kind of superiority little likely to affect the issue - but was in other respects the less formidable of the two frigates.
At the same time, it cannot be pretended that this inequality of metal altogether accounts for the disparity in losses. There are two other factors worthy of consideration. The first is Pellew's reputation as a gunnery enthusiast and as a disciplinarian. The men he was commanding had now served under him for more than a year. In that time they had considerably improved. They had, as it were, brought down their time for taking a French frigate from fifty minutes to thirty-five. The crew of the Pomone seem to have behaved better than did the crew of the Cleopatre, but their gunnery was obviously inferior. The Cleopatre was much above the average of the French navy in this respect. The Pomone was far more typical of that service. So that, in short, the French frigate's crew was of merely average efficiency, and the English frigate's crew was exceptionally well drilled.
The second factor to be noticed is of a more general kind. Pellew was an officer of unusual abilities it is true; and Captain Etienne Pevrieux was probably no abler than other men. But the result of the fight would almost certainly have been the same, even if the captain of the Arethusa had been no more than competent. For, throughout the war, the average English ship was always capable of taking a French ship of the same size. This was the assumption on which the English tactics were based; and this, far more truly than any tactical brilliance, was the cause of the French defeats in battle. The explanation of this individual superiority of the one navy over the other is almost certainly connected with superior discipline and superior rapidity of fire; the first produced by a reliable class of officers who prevented the men from running away; the second a national characteristic, a capacity for short bursts of furious activity allied with a normal disinclination for work. Various (111) other explanations are possible; and, in a longer consideration of the subject, various other factors would have to be given weight. But an explanation in terms of material is bound to break down, and the fact of the English guns firing more often than the French in a given time seems to be undoubted.
The taking of the Pomone affords another example of the ill effects of a French failing already noted: the habit of putting on ships too high a proportion of men as compared with the number of guns. The Pomone carried a crew of 360, but had only the same number of guns as the Arethusa, which had a crew of 277. For her size, the Pomone might have carried many more guns. If the Arethusa's crew was sufficient for working her guns, as it clearly must have been, the Pomone's crew must have been excessive for working the same number. In which case, nearly a hundred of the French seamen can only have served as targets or impedimenta.
After this action, Sir John Borlase Warren returned with his prizes to Portsmouth, and received a red ribbon as the reward for this little victory. Sir Edward Pellew was only rewarded with thanks, but his crew are credited with a celebration which may have taken place later in the year after they had received their prize-money. If this legend of the 'Harry-thusers' is true, and if it really happened while he was captain of that ship, this must be the period at which it occurred.
' . . . a pretty days work they had of it. Howsoever, they gained the day, as most of the Jehus about Plymouth can testify. Five on 'em bought a coach, horses and all, and then hired the coachman for three days to drive about - but all hands kept upon deck and left the inside empty; for what was the use of skulking under hatches in fine weather ? So, d'ye see, they stowed the craft well with grog and 'bacca - got all snug, with a fiddler forward, and an organ-grinder abaft, and carried on between Plymouth and Dock during the whole time they stopped on shore.'
After a short period of independent cruising, the Arethusa rejoined the western squadron at Falmouth. Sir John Borlase Warren, K.B., had now six frigates under his orders. He himself was still in the Flora; Pellew retained the Arethusa. But none of the other ships were of the number present at the action described above - the 'action of St. George's (112) day.' The Artois was the largest of these frigates and was commanded by Captain Nagle. But Sir Sidney Smith, in the Diamond, was senior to that officer. The other two frigates were the Diana, Captain J. Faulknor, and the Santa-Margarita, Captain Harvey.
Since the last action, the French cruisers in the Channel were quite unequal to meeting Warren's squadron on anything approaching equal terms. Nevertheless, they had a small squadron as well as single frigates still at sea, and Warren sailed on August 7th to destroy the remainder of these. The events of the 23rd of that month are recorded in a letter Pellew wrote to his friend Alexander Broughton, at that time living at Leek, Staffordshire.
Arethusa Falm'th Aug't 30th 1794
MY DEAR ALEX
Having called off Falm'th three weeks ago and sent a boat on shore I rec'd your letter conveying the intelligence of your sad Misfortune. I hope most sincerely it will not be attended with lasting bad consequences to you but I am very apprehensive that it may fix your unfortunate Rheumatism in that part - you must my dear friend give up such skittish Cattle and if you will drive a two Wheel Carriage at least get a Brewers Horse that will only take you a small Beer pace. Let me hear from you very soon how it is with you. Now I will give you our news - we arrived here to day from our Cruise or rather a ramble, for we have run over a great deal of ground with some good fortune and a portion of bad - on the 23rd the dawn of day presented to us a very fine Frigate La Felicite - after whom we all started. The Arethusa from quicknefs in making sail was ahead within 2 Gun shot and coming up very fast for the first taste of her, the Flora next and all the rest to Leeward out of all chance, when by a sudden squall of the wind changing right ahead the Flora and ourselves were quite thrown out and she fell off plump into the hause of the Diamond, who kept the leading wind up to within Gun shot to Leeward of the Enemy - who fired 2 Broadsides. The Commodore seeing the approach of a fog made the Diamonds signal to Engage but she had scarcely begun at Random shot before the Fog set in impenetrably thick and continued so for three hours. The Flora and myself kept our wind in case he should tack, the other 4 continued going large. When it cleared she had bore up and was Hull down. Of course we were out of Question, but seeing two Ships like Frigates coming out from the land to windward of us, the Flora and ourselves gave Chace and at half past four had drove them for shelter in a little bay - enclosed for your understanding (113) where we had a fine exercising day for 2 hours and compleatly dished the Alert and L'Espion both Sloops of War lately taken from us. I brought my Ship to Anchor to burn them, after silencing the Batteries, and went on bd in my boat under a good deal of fire from the shore. I found them both full of water with the Rocks through them besides our shot holes - we had difmasted them both and shockingly treated them, they lost in Kiled and Drown'd full roe Men. I found 47 Wounded between decks. It was now dark and no means of moving these Mifserably wounded Wretches - and I could not for my Soul set her on fire under such Circumstances. Satisfied they were compleatly destroyed, I left them, after bringing away about 70 people - we were very fortunate in having no person hurt altho we have several shot in our hull, 36 prds. The four Frigates to Leeward did not execute their businefs so compleatly - they jointly battered her when on shore but never made her strike or dismasted her - in short they should have Anchored and boarded, but Capt. Faulkner my old thick head friend would not let them but calld them to come to our afsistance because the fire was very heavy and he could not turn up to us under 2 hours - however she was upon hard Rocks on an open Coast and down on her Beam ends-since which we have had a 2 days Gale right upon . . . so that no doubt she is irrevocably lost and so no more. Yesterday within a few miles of Brest we Re-took two very Rich West India Men worth I hope 30,000 - this all helps the old Mefs. The three Frigates which took them pafsed us in the Night and got in, God Curse them. So now you have all the News of this Cruize, so God blefs you ever prays your truly affectionate friend
P.S. by way of News Capt. Northey the fellow you remember at Exeter with his brother has been Guilotin'd at Paris - sooner or later I expected the Rascall would grace a Scaffold.
Little comment on this action is necessary. The combat was too unequal to gain much credit for the victors. Unfortunately, it seems to be a matter of some doubt whether either the frigate or the two corvettes were actually destroyed. L'Espion at least was not, but was on the contrary floated off and afterwards recaptured. It is possible that, in the dark, Pellew overestimated the damage the corvettes had sustained. Needless to say, he was not blamed for refusing to destroy them. After returning to Falmouth, he received an answer to the letter he had sent to Lord Chatham narrating the details of this affair. (114)
Cheveley Park Sept 2nd 1794
Having come down here to get a week or ten days Country air I did not receive your letter till this morning. I am much obliged to you for your Paper of Intelligence, as well as for the sketches of your late Businefs with ye French Frigate and Corvettes. Your not burning the latter under ye circumstances you describe was certainly an act of humanity and characteristic of a British Officer. I have left directions for ye employ ment of your little Squadron during ye absence of Sir John Warren, under your Orders, and I am sure it can not be in better hands. I have only a moment to add that
Your Very faithful
The squadron now committed to Pellew's care was not quite the same as that handled by Sir John Borlase Warren in August. Warren's ship, Flora, was not there, and the Diana and Santa-Margayita had been replaced by the Galatea, Captain Richard Goodwin Keats. Of the officers who served with Pellew at this time, it was Keats who became his friend. He seems to have remained on good terms with Warren, although knowing himself to be the abler man of the two. But subordination was never easy to him. Warren's temporary absence must have been welcome. Soon after this squadron sailed again, an action occurred which is best described in the words of John Davis, the author of 'The Post-Captain or the Wooden Walls well manned.' The extract about to be given is not taken from that work but from the preface to another book written in 1805.
In the beginning of 1793 I was sent into the Navy. In the Active frigate, Captain Nagle, I went to the Orkneys, Cadiz, and into the Elbe. Being turned over with the ship's company to the Artois (the former Commander Lord Charles Fitzgerald was given the command of the Brunswick, seventy-four) I belonged to a flying squadron of frigates; namely, the Pomone, Sir John Borlase Warren, the Arethusa, Sir Edward Pellew, and the Diamond, Sir Sidney Smith. Our cruising ground was the coast of France, and our port of rendezvous was Falmouth. The Artois was the fastest sailing frigate of the Squadron. She could sail round the others. No ship could touch her, whether going large, or close hauled. We were always the first up with the chase; and on the twenty-first of October 1794, after an action close, vigorous any per- (115) severing, the Revolutionnaire, French frigate, hauled down her colours to the Artois: It is true the Diamond at that juncture had come up, and that Sir Sidney had placed her in a position to rake the Frenchman; but had Captain Nagle been alone, her resistance could have been of no avail, as she had long slackened her fire before she struck. During the Conflict the other ships of the squadron were hull down astern; the Arethusa was the stern most ship; and Sir Edward Pellew, the whole time he beheld us blazing away at each other, was heard to exclaim 'God bless Nagle and the Artois.' On our quarterdeck fell Lieutenant Craigie of the Marines, and three seamen. Captain Nagle was knighted by his Majesty for the action.
The above account, written by one present at the action, suffers a little perhaps from the writer's pride in his old ship. It is obviously unfair to attribute the slackening of the French frigate's fire entirely to the effectiveness of the Artois's broadsides. The other frigates may have taken no part in the fighting, but their presence, with the certainty of eventual defeat it entailed, must have lowered the morale of the crew of the Revolutionnaire. The capture was an important one, in that the Revolutionnaire was a fine ship and a valued addition to the English service.
No doubt Pellew's exclamation, "God bless Nagle and the Artois," was sincere enough. But at the same time he would have been more than human had his feelings been unmixed. He was generous enough to take pleasure in Nagle's success - sufficiently generous even to have wished that the Revolutionnaire should be taken by a captain who had not been knighted, rather than by himself. On the other hand, the position of the Arethusa as the stern most ship in the chase must have been galling. A generous man may be glad to be outshone occasionally. But no seaman likes to be out sailed as much as that. Pellew's first action on reaching England was to apply for another frigate, the Indefatigable. He would not tolerate having a ship which a junior captain could 'sail round.'
Lord Chatham was still First Lord of the Admiralty, still Pellew's good friend, and still ready to grant him anything he should demand. The situation was soon to be altered in this respect, but at the moment Sir Edward was in favour at the Admiralty; and none the less so for the capture of the Revolutionnaire on October 21st, which was effected by his squadron if not by his ship. The Indefatigable was immediately given him. (116)
Admiralty November 27 1794
. . . With respect to your wishes of going into the Indefatigable, I shall have great pleasure in meeting them, and this circumstance will occasion no change in your destination. I am sorry that the Arethusa has not answered in point of sailing, as I had expected her to have been among ye best. We are in constant expectation of some further Intelligence respecting the Bergen Squadron of French Frigates. Till then we have suspended sending you any Instructions, but your Ships are ordered to join you without delay at Falmouth - should nothing particular however arise before the Indefatigable is ready and which I hope will be the case in a few days, I think the best arrangement will be for you to come up to Spithead and make the Exchange immediately. I am anxious to have the Falmouth Squadron established in force, as I think they will then keep the French Cruisers in cheque, who have been very troublesome of late. I should have been very happy, if I could have acceded to your wishes in favour of your Brother, but I am still so committed on ye subject of Ships, as not to feel it in my power.
I am Dear Sir
Your Very faithful Humble Servant
This letter is the first indication of the Admiralty's intention to reinforce and divide the Falmouth squadron, so as to give Pellew a separate command without weakening that of Sir John Borlase Warren. 'Your Ships are ordered to join you without delay at Falmouth' - this refers to the frigates now to be put under Pellew's orders. Although Sir Edward had no squadron until the following year, in February; and although the squadron he had then was very small, he was not for long under Warren's orders again after that officer returned to his command.
Another point to notice in the above letter is the care Sir Edward took to promote his brother's interests. His family feeling was strong and extended to quite distant relatives. On one occasion, for instance, probably in later life, he came across a midshipman of his own name and instantly promised to further his interests. The following dialogue took place:
'What is your name ?
'Thomas Edward Pellew, Sir.'
'Where from ? '
'You're a relative of mine ! '
'Stay in the Navy and I'll make a man of you'
In spite of this encouragement, and in spite of a subsequent genial 'I've got my eye on you,' this relative did not remain in the navy. The inheritance of a farm prevented him from ever achieving manhood.
It would be surprising if a man so ready to serve the most distant cousin had not been eager to promote those more closely connected with him. Actually, Pellew was guilty of gross nepotism. Any Falmouth man might expect his favour; but his efforts on behalf of his nearest relatives were unceasing and eventually scandalous. It must be remembered, however, that eighteenth-century Cornwall was almost as provincial as Scotland. In a Cornishman this trait was less remarkable than it would have been in one from a less remote county.
Lord Chatham, it may be noted, showed no great inclination to extend his patronage to the younger brother. Sir Edward Pellew was not to be denied any frigate he wanted, for it was obviously best that a good officer should have every opportunity to use his talents. But Israel Pellew was not especially able, and was soon to prove - to say the least - extremely unlucky. Chatham was not disposed to promote the interests of one unlikely to do credit to his patronage. Israel was to owe his advancement in the Service mainly to his brother's affection for him.
The Indefatigable, the ship so readily granted to Sir Edward, was not an ordinary frigate but a razé, a ship of the line cut down by a deck. She had been a sixty-four gun ship, and had been launched at Buckler's Yard in 1784. Even at that date the sixty-four was becoming unpopular and few ships of this class were built during the next ten years. The seventy-four gun ship had become the normal ship of the line and a sixty-four gun ship was, by 1793, regarded as an anachronism. During the peace these vessels had acted as heavy cruisers. But in 1794 it was decided to convert the Indefatigable into a frigate. At the same time two other surviving ships of this out-of-date class, the Magnanime and Anson, were also converted.
The process of conversion consisted in the removal of the quarter-deck and forecastle, and of part of the main deck. It was the middle part of the main deck that was cut away, and this process left two isolated fragments of this deck (118) to become a new quarter-deck and forecastle. The old lower deck, now partly uncovered, became the main deck. Deprived thus of its lower deck, the ship ceased to be a two-decker, and became ipso facto a frigate. It may, however, be observed that this operation produced a frigate of exceptional size, at least thirty feet too long and six or eight feet too broad.
It is natural to ask at this point why all this trouble should be taken to make a ship less formidable than she was before. In understanding the motive for this alteration the central fact to be grasped is that the French had given up building vessels of this class at an earlier date than the English. Had the French still possessed a few sixty-fours, the Anson, Indefatigable and Magnanime would have been left unaltered in the hope of their encountering them. But the French had only ships of the line and frigates and smaller craft.
Now, the reason why a sixty-four could not be allowed to meet a French seventy-four is obvious - the former would be blown out of the water. But the reason why a sixty-four should not be allowed to pursue French frigates is of a more subtle kind. One consideration to be urged against such a policy was the disproportion of the means to the end. A sixty-four needed a crew of 500 men. To send such a ship to deal with frigates carrying some 300 men would be a waste of force. It would be the mistake of using a cannon to destroy one's neighbour's parrot. The three ships would between them take 600 men in excess of the proper number the work required, without making the desired result any the more certain.
This argument has been stated first as the one most likely to appeal to the reader. It was probably the last consideration to strike the Admiralty of the day. The real obstacle to the use of the sixty-four as a cruiser was Pride. To send big ships to chase small ones was thought to be un-chivalrous, and - what was worse - undignified. Chivalry was far from dead at that time. But the refusal of a ship of the line to fire at a frigate was chivalrous only in part; the primary objection to it was Pride. Dignity only demanded an equality on paper - there was no objection to arming a frigate more heavily than the enemy's frigates - but a theoretical equality there had to be. For this reason the sixty-four had either to be reduced in force until roughly equal to a frigate, or crowded with guns until roughly equal to a ship of the line. As the latter operation was impossible the former had to be adopted.
(119) This process of turning the Indefatigable into a razé was incomplete at the time when Lord Chatham promised that ship to Pellew. So that Sir Edward commanded the Arethusa for another two months before obtaining his new ship or his independent command. During this short period he performed a useful service in obtaining early information of the French fleet being at sea, and in posting two of the Falmouth squadron off St. Anne's Head to stop the outward-bound trade going down Channel into the arms of the enemy. The Arethusa was also one of Warren's squadron which shortly afterwards ascertained the absence from port of the Brest fleet - the occasion when Sir Sidney Smith disguised the Diamond with French colours, hammock-cloths, and Caps of Liberty, in order to reconnoitre the port at leisure.
Returning from this last service, Pellew found that he had to deal with a new First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Spencer, who had just taken office. Spencer was a very able man, and Pellew's relations with him were good. But the change was for the worse, from his point of view. He no longer enjoyed a privileged position.
The Arethusa arrived at Falmouth on January 6th, 1795 and Pellew sent an account of the reconnaissance to Lord Spencer, together with a request for an alteration in the arming of the Indefatigable. The reply was very cordial.
I am much obliged to you for your letter which Lieut. Eyles delivered to me on the 8th instant. Nothing can be more satisfactory than the manner in which your Squadron performed the Service of ascertaining the absence of the Enemy's Fleet from their Port; we have had a strong confirmation of this intelligence in an account rec'd here this evening from Adm'l Kingsmilll at Cork of the French fleet being seen at Sea in Lat. 49: 11N : 12 :40 W. I have written to Sr. John Warren to give him this information. You will receive orders to repair to Portsmouth in the Arethusa on your Return from your present Cruise and to turn over your Ship's Company into the Indefatigable. I cannot venture quite to promise you the Carronades as you desire but if it can be done without too much transgrefsing Rules, you shall have them.
I heartily wish you had stopt
the Swedes and am Dr Sir
Your very obedient
Admiralty Jan 10th 1795
(120) The French gained nothing by the winter cruise to which this letter refers. The position in which they were seen was no bad one for intercepting the outward-bound trade for America. But they were located too soon to obtain any great success. And, in any case, it was no time of year to send big ships to sea. The most profitable captures would have been dearly bought, for five of their ships of the line failed to return to harbour. These losses were not due to any resistance - for the English Admiralty apparently preferred to leave them to their own devices - but to shipwrecks, for the most part, on their own coast.
After another short cruise ending on January 22nd, Pellew heard that the Indefatigable was nearly ready for service. He accordingly took the Arethusa up to Portsmouth in order to carry out the exchange. He took command of the Indefatigable on February 3rd, while the shipwrights and riggers were still at work, and was instantly involved in a dispute with the Navy Board as to how that ship was to be rigged, ballasted and armed. That Pellew had his ideas on the last subject has already been noted.
The Indefatigable was turned into a frigate by a process which has been described. Having converted her into a single-decked ship, the Navy Board with logic on its side, decided to replace the masts by shorter ones more suited to the vessel's humbler rating. A smaller ship should have smaller sail-area - it stood to reason. All three of the old six-four's were altered on this principle. Unfortunately, the principle was wrong and the logic at fault. The ship-designing branch of the English Service was notoriously incompetent and appallingly hidebound. The members of the Navy Board and those who served under it always relied on experience rather than intelligence. Under the circumstances this was possibly all to the good. But, in this case, a certain intellectual effort would not have been altogether out of place. For the removal of a ship's upper deck does not merely make the ship smaller. It also has the effect of lowering her centre of gravity. The shortening of her masts has exactly the same effect. Now, it might be supposed that a ship's centre of gravity cannot be too low; that a ship cannot be too stable. But, with a sailing ship, at any rate, this is not the case. The danger of having the centre of gravity too high is the more obvious of the two possible faults - the ship will roll too far either way and may easily capsize. But the danger of the other extreme is just as real. The result of having the centre of gravity too low is that (121) the ship will roll jerkily and may easily lose her masts. A crank ship taken broadside-on by a squall will go over on her beam-ends, and very likely fill and go to the bottom. A good ship will, as it were, bend before the storm, and then recover. A ship that is too stiff will be dismasted.
It has been stated that Pellew became involved in dispute as soon as he took command of his new ship. This is an understatement. He made his protest against her new masts two days before he took command - as soon, probably, as he saw her. He demanded her original masts back.
Some have supposed that he benefited here by his early experience on Lake Champlain, and his friendship with Schanck which dated from that time. This theory has little to commend it. Schanck was a skilful shipwright and spent his ingenuity in designing centre-boards for frigates, and similar devices. But no such extraordinary skill was needed in this matter. No captain liked his ship's centre of gravity to be very low. To raise the centre of gravity, and improve a ship's swing, some captains made every man take a thirty-two pound shot in his hammock. Little more than common sense was needed to detect the Board's mistake. And common sense was a quality in which Pellew excelled. He was a prosaic soul, but very intelligent, humorous, and decided. He made up his mind swiftly and acted as quickly as he thought. His mental equipment could, however, make no impression on official obtuseness. The reply he received from the Navy Board was brief and disingenuous.
Navy Office 2nd Feb'y 1795
In answer to your Letter of yesterday respecting the Masts of His Majesty's Ship under your Command, We acquaint you that our orders for the providing the Masts and rigging being in part carried into effect, We cannot in the present Urgent State of the Service comply with your request. We are
Your humble Servants
Pellew did not write again to the Navy Board, but instead appealed to the Admiralty in due form and at some length. (122)
6 Feb. 1795
Sir Edward Pellew, Captain of His Majesty's Ship Indefatigable, begs to be permitted to lay before their Lordships the under mentioned propositions which He humbly conceives will be of much benefit to the Ship he Commands, and not the smallest Impediment to her early Equipment.
1st. He begs to state that there is much reason to apprehend from the short Experiment hitherto attained from the Anson's being at Sea, that the cut down 64 Gun Ships are likely to be very uneasy so as to endanger their Masts from excels of rolling; but as their Lordships deem'd the Experiment not to be fairly bro't to Ifsue by so Short a trial, & do not therefore conceive it sufficient to authorize the return of the Indefatigable to her original Establishment of Masts & Yrds; I have with great anxiety & the most serious attention considered such Means, as may from the Experience I have had in the service be likely to correct the defect complained of, render the danger to be apprehended of lofs [of] Masts lefs emminent, & do therefore with the utmost respect & Submifsion beg to make the following observations.
1st. To make the Line of floatation of the Indefatigable one foot lefs than the Navy Boards directions, which were to immerse her body to 20 feet aft and 18-9 forward, carrying her ports 6-4 from the Water Line: to do this, it is evident, that the Ballast must not only be reduced in quantity, but that it must also be placed as High as pofsible in the Hold so as to raise the Ships Centre of Gravity - this being done, it naturally occurs to me, to look upwards to her Decks to see what benefit might be derived from adding weight to her Metal, every Pound of which must infallibly afsist the object in view, and which must be confefsed to be desirable.
If those deductions are admitted by their Lordships, the Masts being now put out of the Question by their decefsion, something may be effected to render the ship safe & easy in the following manner - her Establishment of Guns at present are
.. 26 - 24 Prs
Quarter Deck .. 8 - 12 Prs, 4 - 42pr Carronades
Forecastle .. 4 - 12 do., 2 - 42
Proposed Establishment will be
Main Deck .. 26 - 24 Prs
Quarter Deck .. 14 - 18 pdrs Guns (having 14 Ports)
Forecastle .. 6 - 42 pdr Carronades (as now established)
to attain this, I have informed myself the Indefatigable's (123) upper Deck Guns & Carridges are all here ready to embark & as the present Quarter Deck is what was the Main Deck, for which 18-Pounders were intended, there can be no doubt as to the strength of the ship, the Ports being already fitted for them, & I am firmly of opinion, as are also the Builders here, that by floating the Ship at 19 aft and 17-3 or 4 forward carrying her Ports 7-4 from the ater Line, which is a foot lighter than proposed by the Navy Boards Draft & adding this weight to her Upper Deck Guns will very considerably tend to make the Ship easy & I hope it may be deem'd worthy my Lords Consideration as being the next preferable thing to her proper Masts; I then beg that an order may be granted for filling the spare Ports on the Quarter Deck with 2 twelve-Pounders
I have the honour to be
Your most obedient humble serv't
Philip Stephens Esq.
To this letter two replies were sent, one the Admiralty's official reply, the other from Lord Spencer. Although the official letter was not sent without a decent delay, and so arrived long after the private letter, it should perhaps take precedence.
Having laid before my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your letter of the 7 inst, requesting as their Lordships did not think proper to make any alteration in the Masts of the Ship you Command, that the alteration which you had proposed might be made in her establishment of Guns in order to lighten her in the Water: I am commanded to acquaint you that they have referr'd your Letter to the Navy Board for their consideration and opinion; & that, notwithstanding it may be found proper to make an alteration in her Masts at a future opportunity, the present will not admit of any alteration further than lefsening her quantity of Ballast.
The unofficial letter was more enlightening as to the real attitude of the Board, the members of which were offended by Pellew's request and his unwillingness to become the victim of official stupidity. (124)
7th Feb 1795
I shall be very happy to hear that the Indefatigable is ready, as we shall order you to proceed to Sea with her as soon as we know her to be so. I am sorry however that I am not able to prevail over the profefsional doubts of the Board here to enable you to fit the Ship in the way you propose; you will see by the Answer to your Publick Letter how far they will allow you to go, and they all seem very desirous that the Experiment shall be made with her before any further Alteration takes place.
I have not time to add more but that I am
with great Truth
your very obed't
Adm'ty Feb 7, 1795
Sir Ed. Pellew
An even more interesting letter followed within ten days' time.
I believe you will find that the Purser & Gunner of the Arethusa will be joined by the time you receive this, at least I understand the Purser will certainly go down immediately.
Your statement respecting the two Ships is certainly very good reasoning & I wish I could have persuaded the Navy Board to listen to it, but they are absolutely determined to have a Trial of their own chusing, & till Experience has convinced them, it will be impofsible for me to set up my Ignorance against their Wisdom.
You will of course keep this letter to yourself
& believe me your very sincere
& obed't humble servant
Adm'y 16 Feb. 1795
SIR ED. PELLEW
The day after he wrote this letter, Lord Spencer decided to overrule the Navy Board in the matter of the Indefatigable's guns. He wrote that day to inform Pellew that the guns he wanted had been ordered 'in direct Contradiction of the Navy Board,' and the two extra 12-pounders were provided at once. No further alteration took place for the present.
(125) As the Indefatigable required a much larger crew than had been needed for the Arethusa, a certain deficit of men had to be made up. There was considerable difficulty in completing the complement. Pellew wanted to solve the problem by taking a number of criminals imprisoned in one of the hulks. This was not allowed, and his crew had eventually to be made up by drafts from the Channel Fleet, after the Indefatigable had moved out to Spithead. Pellew sailed for Falmouth on the 21st, anchoring in Carreg Road on the following day.
At Falmouth Pellew found one ship of the small squadron he was to command, La Concorde, commanded by Captain Hunt; and, on sailing from there on March 3rd, another frigate, the Jason, joined him outside the harbour. This ship was commanded by Captain Sterling. To him and to Captain Hunt, Pellew now issued his orders in writing.
3rd March '95
The object of the present Cruise is the Bergen Convoy of 22 sail protected (by) 2 Frigates & 1 Corvette - the Limits of the Cruise will be off Brest and the Time of return 10 Days from the Day of Departure . . . .
Pellew cruised with his squadron off Scilly, Ushant, Point du Raz, and the Penmarks for some days without discovering any trace of the convoy he wished to find. All the ships he stopped turned out to be English or American. But on March 9th, while patrolling the line from Ushant to Finisterre - a favourite station for English cruisers - he sighted twenty-five sail in the NW. and made all sail in chase. It was a French convoy of which he had received information. The three waiting frigates pounced on it at daybreak, with results reported by Pellew as follows
. . . I beg you will farther be pleased to inform their Lordships that Having received information from the Master of an American Ship from Brest, which I had chased, that a Convoy of 6o Sail were to leave that Port next morning for Bordeaux, protected by 3 frigates: I placed the Squadron under my Command as near the Penmarks as pofsibIe, and at daylight, I saw 25 sail close among the Rocks, under Guard of one small arm' d Ship - 15 of this number were taken & destroyed, the remainder ran between the Rocks in such a Manner as renered any attempt of mine to persue them fruitlefs without imminent (126) risk to the King's Ships . . . was a good sailing Lugger or Cutter annexed to the Squadron she would be of great use on such occasions . . . .
Unfortunately it was a foggy day and only three of the vessels lost to the French were gained by the English-one ship and two brigs. This convoy was laden with materials for shipbuilding, and Lord Spencer wrote to Pellew: 'All here agree with me in approving your method of taking men of war in embryo.' After a fruitless search for two French frigates said to have been seen near the mouth of the Channel, Pellew sent the Jason to get new sails at Plymouth and returned with the Indefatigable to Falmouth on the 24th. On that day he wrote his dispatches, reporting the extent of his success.
Before beginning this cruise, while still at Portsmouth, Pellew had triumphantly written to the Admiralty that the Anson had lost all her top-masts in one day 'from excefs of Rolling.' During the month which followed this report the Navy Board had come round to his opinion, with the result that the orders which presently arrived for him were just such as he desired.
27th March 1795
. . . Their Lordships also approve of your sending the Jason to Plymouth . . . and it is their Lordships direction that you should follow her thither in the Indefatigable with a view to your getting her Masts and Yards exchanged, the Navy Board having been directed to prepare a Set intended for the Magnanime, which will probably be ready on your arrival there . . . .
I have it further in Command from their Lordships to acquaint you that a Cutter & Lugger has been ordered to be attached to each of the cruising Squadrons . . . .
I am etc etc
Pellew's squadron was immediately reinforced by the Duke of York, lugger, and a brig, not a cutter, called the Fortune. The alteration in the rigging of the Indefatigable took place soon afterwards. After another short but profitless cruise between Cape Clear and Ushant, the squadron returned to Falmouth and Pellew took his own ship to Plymouth. The Indefatigable was lashed alongside the Sheer Hulk in Hamoze, as it was then usually spelt, (127) on April 17th, and was back at Falmouth with her new masts in place of the old by the 1st of May.
The story of this dispute is discreditable to the Navy Board even if its members eventually saw their error. If, as is more probable, they remained unconvinced and only yielded to a direct order from the Admiralty, the affair is still less to their credit. They should have known that a ship, the centre of gravity of which is already too low, will hardly be improved by an alteration having the effect of lowering it still further. On the other hand, the suspicion with which they regarded Pellew's proposals for improving his ship's sailing qualities was natural enough. The proposals were, after all, suspicious in themselves. No captain can expect to persuade a cynical world that his demands for more and heavier guns arise solely from a desire to make his ship more stable. Apart from the two extra guns already mentioned, the armament of the Indefatigable remained unaltered, apparently. The eighteen 42-pounder carronades with which she has been credited seem to be mythical. But the size of the ship and the large sail-area she recovered in the spring of 1795, made her exceptionally fast; and even without the suggested additions to her force she was very heavily armed.
On May 2nd Pellew sailed from Falmouth for Ushant with the Jason and Concorde under his orders. Off Ushant was a squadron under the command of Admiral Waldegrave, to which Pellew's frigates had presently to act as scouts. This employment was cut short by accident. On May 7th, off Finisterre, the Indefatigable had obeyed a signal to chase a strange sail close inshore, as had also the Concorde. Exactly at noon, when the ship was two or three miles NNW. of the island of Cape Finisterre 'a rumbling noise, as if a topsail-tie had given way' was heard, and it was found that the ship was hard aground on a rock.
At the present day, an event of this kind is usually attributed to the captain's ignorance of his own whereabouts, due to fog, intoxication, or incompetence. In Pellew's day, such a misfortune was often due to an ignorance of the rock's existence common to the rest of mankind. This is not to say that sunken rocks were only discovered by the expensive process of collision with them, but that many of the charts were inaccurate. The rock on which the Indefatigable struck was 'sunken and Unknown' and no one blamed Pellew for failing to avoid it. It was not marked on most of the charts - 'no mark of danger is laid down off (128) Cape Finisterre but on the contrary the whole mark'd as a 'Bold Shore' and 'there was no appearance of rippling or discolour'd water.'
. . . she was going at the rate of 9 or 10 Knots: happily she was not brought up by the first Shock, or all her Masts must have gone by the Board, but she dragg'd on the Rocks from her Bows until she again struck and hung amidships, at this time there was 15 fathoms under her cat-Heads and only 3 under her main Chains . . . . In this situation I kept all the sail set upon her, the People with great activity running her Guns forward, she sallied deep twice & started off without injuring her Rudder, with 5 Feet Water in her Hold. By an Examination of the Carpenters of the Fleet, we found the Lining stove up in the Coal Hole, the Bulkhead of the magazine forward broke up & the stanchions of the Bulkhead of the fore Hold broke short off. One futtock & one floor are all we at present can discover injured & they are broke short off, and two Riders abreast the Main Mast, and it appears as if the Garboard Strake is injured from her Bow to the Main Mast. Her leaks have been barely kept under by all the Pumps constantly going ever since she struck & by calculation she has made 12 feet Water an hour.
The combined experience of all the carpenters of the fleet served only to diagnose the vessel's injuries. Nothing could be done to repair the most serious damage - that done to the keel - while the ship was at sea. Accordingly, the Indefatigable was ordered to Lisbon.
On getting the ship off the Admiral wish'd to abandon her: but Sir Edward objected and undertook to take the Ship to Lisbon if another ship were to accompany, to take out the crew, if such a step slid be necefsary. The Concorde was accordingly sent. The ships Company was divided into two watches and officers and men worked indiscriminately at the pumps, except the Capt'n and Surgeons. The wind was fair and they reach'd Lisbon on the 3rd day.
The Indefatigable came into the Tagus on May 10th, and was not able to sail again until July 7th. The intervening period was one of great fatigue, anxiety, and irritation. The ship had first to be put alongside a hulk 'El Principe Real' - there was no possibility of docking her - and the crew taken out. Then the ballast had to be taken out in part, the remainder being placed on the upper deck to assist in heaving her down for the repair of the garboard strake. Pellew dived overboard himself to ascertain the damage, (129) but failed to discover the injuries to her keel. When the ship was righted again after the Portuguese shipwrights had repaired the garboard strake, she was found to be 'making nearly as much Water as before.' This was because she had not been heaved down sufficiently for her keel to be examined. A fortnight later the operation was repeated more thoroughly, and at last, on June 17th, further pumping became unnecessary.
Pellew took a convoy from the Tagus to the mouth of the Channel and put into Falmouth at the end of July, gladly resuming his former command. At first his squadron consisted only of his own ship and the frigate Revolutionnaire, but the Quebec and Crescent were added to his force in October. The autumn and winter were uneventful and were partly spent undergoing a more thorough repair in dock at Plymouth. It was while there, in January 1796, that Pellew performed the feat by which he was ever afterwards chiefly remembered in the west country, an act which 'called forth the plaudits from enemies as well as friends, and gained him the warm esteem and admiration of the whole world.'
On January 25th it was reported in a Devonshire paper that the Dutton East Indiaman had arrived in Plymouth Sound.
Plymouth, Jan. 26th. Yesterday arrived here the Dutton Indiaman from the West Indies fleet, she parted from them on the 21st in a gale of wind, then 67 sail in company. The gale continued with little intermission since they left Portsmouth, and for the last 9 days the fleet had drifted to Leeward upwards of 150 miles. The tremendous gale of Saturday and Sunday last was the heaviest they had experienced. The Dutton has on board the grenadier companies of the 2nd, 3rd, 10th and 37th regiment of foot, commanded by Major Eyre. The troops are afflicted with malignant fever, between 30 and 40 have died at sea, many are now ill and are to be landed as soon as possible.
No advocate of Falmouth as a naval base could have wished for a more suitable text for his discourse than the above facts. Had the troops been marched to Falmouth and embarked there, these days of tossing in the 'long and painful voyage down the Channel' would have been avoided. Not that this was an extreme instance of the difficulty attending the voyage down Channel in winter. In the preceding year, in 1795, two-thirds of the force which (130) sailed with Sir Ralph Abercrombie had to return to port after being eight weeks at sea. Another lesson which might have been drawn from the Dutton's fate was the folly of hiring transports, instead of building them. Enormous premiums were paid for worthless vessels, 'almost ready to sink at their moorings ', with a result that 'in twenty-five years, it will be seen that a sum of money equal to have built the whole navy of Britain thrice over, has been expended in transporting our forces' - to the profit of the jobbers responsible. The Dutton was one of these hired transports, utterly unsuited for the purpose, designed for anything rather than putting to sea in bad weather and practically incapable of working to windward.
The sufferings of the troops on board such a ship, in such weather, were natural enough and far from uncommon. Being bound for the West Indies the troops in question were unlikely to live long in any case; and, had the Dutton ever reached the West Indies, those that died of malignant fever in the Channel would not have been especially unfortunate - being thereby spared a death from yellow fever at St. Domingo. The choice was between burial at sea and being eaten by land crabs.
Nevertheless, sufferings in the Channel attracted more attention than sufferings at Guadeloupe, being nearer home. Dr. Johnson was once moved to describe the loss of life in transports, and his eloquent words may as well be applied to the Dutton as to any other hired transport. By his account soldiers 'languished . . . in ships, amidst damps and putrefaction; pale, torpid, fpiritlefs, and helplefs; gafping and groaning, unpitied among men, made obdurate by long continuance of hopelefs mifery . . . at laft . . . heaved into the Ocean.'
The fate of the Dutton was an object lesson from yet another point of view. It illustrated the danger of using Plymouth Sound as an anchorage. Lord Howe used to predict that the Sound would one day be the grave of the British fleet; and it was to prevent this prediction coming true that the breakwater was begun in 1812. Until the breakwater was built, Plymouth was as unreliable to seek shelter in as it was difficult to sail from, under certain conditions which were by no means rare in winter.
This inadequacy of the Sound as a shelter was experienced by the men on board the Dutton as soon as that ship had anchored. For the Sound was too rough for rowing-boats, and it was therefore impossible to land the troops. But it (131) was clearly necessary to put the sick on shore as soon as possible if they were to recover; and as necessary to land the remainder to prevent their falling sick. As the anchorage did not seem safe, there was yet another motive for seeking a more sheltered refuge. It was accordingly decided to run into Catwater.
At the present day there is a breakwater jutting from the foot of Mount Batten. It is built on a reef. In 1796 the breakwater did not exist; but the reef did. It was a submerged barrier, and the end of it was marked by the Cobbler Buoy. On January 26th, this buoy was not there; it had broken adrift in the gale. Of this fact the navigators of the Dutton were naturally unaware. They failed to allow sufficiently for the hidden obstacle. In rounding the point where the buoy should have been, the Dutton touched on the extremity of the reef and carried away her rudder. Becoming unmanageable, the ship blundered across the channel and took the ground on the far side.
The point where the Dutton went ashore is immediately beneath the Citadel, and near the less imposing of the two bathing places at the foot of the Hoe. The shore falls away steeply here, and there is deep water very near the land. So the people on board the wreck were not far from safety in point of distance. In such a gale, however, and on so rocky a coast, the saving of those on board was extremely difficult.
The repairs of the Indefatigable had been extensive-so much so that Lady Pellew had come to stay at Plymouth while the work was in progress. On the day the Dutton was wrecked, Sir Edward and Lady Pellew were on shore and engaged to dine with the vicar of Charles Church. This clergyman, Dr. Hawker, was a man of some note, an eloquent preacher and the author of an incredible number of tracts, hymns, sermons and pamphlets. Meet Morsels to Hungry Souls and the Companion to the Sorrows of the Heart were among the most famous of these, but all his works were much admired at the time. He was a Low-Churchman, and Pellew's friend, the Rev. Richard Polwhele, thought him 'itinerant' and 'nonconformist'. Many other High-Churchmen regarded him with suspicion as a Wesleyan or little better. But, although probably a High-Churchman, Pellew was on the best of terms with Hawker. On the afternoon of the 26th the Pellews were on their way to his house in a hired coach. Private coaches were almost unknown in Falmouth at that time; and it was long (132) before Pellew had one of his own. When the coach stopped at the vicar's door, Dr. Hawker came out to meet them. Coming to the side of the coach at which Lady Pellew was sitting, he said: "Have you heard of the wreck of the ship under the Citadel ? " He had time to say but little more on the subject before Sir Edward opened the other door of the coach and disappeared. From this point the story of the Dutton is best told in the words of a letter written to James Northcote, the portrait painter 1746 - 1831, by his brother, a resident of Plymouth.
Plymouth Jan. 28,1796
We have had a terrible succession of stormy weather of late. Tuesday, immediately. after dinner, I went to the Hoe to see the Dutton East Indiaman, full of troops, upon the rocks, directly under the flag-staff of the Citadel. She had been out seven weeks on her passage to the West Indies as a transport, with 400 troops on board, besides women and the ship's crew; and had been just driven back by distress of weather, with a great number of sick on board. You cannot conceive anything so horrible as the appearance of Things altogether, which I beheld when I first arrived on the spot. The ship was stuck on sunken rocks, somewhat inclining to one side, and without a mast or the bowsprit standing; and her decks covered with the soldiers as thick as they could possibly standby one another, with the sea breaking in a most horrible manner all around them; and what still added to the melancholy grandeur of the scene was the distress-guns which were fired now and then directly over our head from the Citadel.
When I first came to the spot, I found that they had by some means got a rope with one end of it fixed to the ship, and the other held by the people on shore, by which means they could yield as the ship swung. Upon this rope they had got a ring, which they could by means of two smaller ropes draw forwards & backwards from the ship to the shore: to this ring they had fixed a loop, which each man put under his arms; and by this means, and holding by the ring with his hands, he supported himself, hanging to the ring, while he was drawn to the shore by the people there; and in this manner I saw a great many drawn on shore. But this proved a tedious work; and though I looked at them for a long time, yet the numbers on the deck were not apparently diminished; besides, from the motion which the ship had by rolling on the rocks, it was not possible to keep the rope equally stretched, and from this cause, as well as from the sudden rising of the waves, you would at one moment see a poor wretch hanging ten or twenty feet above the Water, and the next you would lose sight of him in the foam of a wave, though some escaped better. (133)
But this was not a scheme which the women and many of the sick could avail themselves of.
I observed with some admiration the behaviour of a Captain of a man-of-war, who seemed interested in the highest degree for the safety of these poor wretches. He exerted himself uncommonly, and directed others what to do on shore, and endeavoured in vain with a large speaking-trumpet to make himself heard by those on board; but finding that nothing could be heard but the roaring of the wind and sea, he offered anybody five guineas instantly who would suffer himself to be drawn on board with instructions to them what to do. And when he found that nobody would accept his offer, be gave an instance of the highest heroism: for he fixed the rope about himself and gave the signal to be drawn on board. He had his uniform coat on and his sword hanging at his side. I have not room to describe the particulars; but there was something grand and interesting in the thing: for as soon as they had pulled him into the wreck, he was received with three vast shouts by the people on board; and these were immediately echoed by those who lined the shore, the garrison-walls and lower batteries.
The first thing he did was to rig out two other ropes like the first: which I saw him most active in doing so with his own hands. This quickened the matter a good deal, and by this time two large open row-boats were arrived from the Dockyard, and a sloop had with difficulty worked out from Plymouth Pool. He then became active in getting out the women and the sick, who were with difficulty got into the open boats, and by them carried off to the sloop, which kept off for fear of being stove against the ship or thrown upon the rocks. He suffered but one boat to approach the ship at a time and stood with his drawn sword to prevent too many rushing into the boat. After he had seen all the people out of the ship to about ten or fifteen, he fixed himself to the rope as before, and was drawn ashore, where he was again received with shouts. Upon my inquiry who this gallant officer was, I was informed that it was Sir Edward Pellew, whom I had heard the highest character of before, both for bravery and mercy.
The soldiers were falling into disorder when Sir Edward went on board. Many of them were drunk, having broke into the cabin and got at the liquor. I saw him beating one with the flat of his broadsword, in order to make him give up a bundle he had made up of plunder. They had but just time to save the men, before the ship was nearly under water . . . the ship was washed all over as the sea rose-she is now in pieces.
The occasions on which Pellew's matchless seamanship was the means of saving life are too numerous to be recorded (134) here. But he never surpassed this feat, which is not forgotten in Plymouth to this day. From one of these recurring episodes he had received an injury to his nostril which he carried to the grave.' But he returned from the Dutton unscathed, apart from bruises received in boarding her, which kept him in bed for a week afterwards. It is oddly characteristic of him that he did not insist on being the last to leave the wreck. There was nothing melodramatic in his character. His exertions should not, of course, have been necessary. The officers of the Dutton should not have allowed things to reach such a state of chaos. His principal service was in restoring order on the ship. Major Eyre and the other officers had remained on board, but they cannot have had much control over their men.
Pellew's conduct was loudly praised locally:
'I am just returned from the
melancholy shipwreck of the Dutton, under the Citadel, in the
most dreadful tempest of thunder, lightening and wind I ever
witnessed. The Mayor with several gentlemen attended on the lower
ramparts to assist the soldiers as they got up the wall by
ladders. Sir Edward Pellew deserves to be immortalised.'
'. . . The crew of the ship and the soldiers, about 500 in number, are saved. The scene was the most distressing that has been witnessed in this place for many years, not an article of the soldiers' stores was saved, many of them came ashore in a state of nakedness.'
Shortly afterwards, the Indefatigable left Plymouth. Pellew took her to Falmouth on January 31st, and it was there that he spent the rest of the winter, receiving the following letter while still at his home:
I did not fail on the earliest opportunity to state in the manner it deserved to His Majesty your conduct in afsisting the Dutton E. Indiaman, and I have the sincerest satisfaction in having an exprefs Command from His Majesty to signify to you his very marked approbation of it. His Majesty has been further pleased to add an offer to you of the Rank & title of a Baronet of Gt. Britain as a more public testimony of the sense he entertains of your general good Conduct and activity in his Service as well as more particularly for the laudable Humanity and Spirit displayed by you on this occasion.
If, as I do not doubt, you should accept of this Mark of His Majesty's favour, you will be so good as to let me know by the (135) Return of the Post the Place of your most usual Residence that I may take the proper steps for putting the Patent in Train through the several public offices.
Believe me dear Sir
With great truth
your very faithful
Admiralty 18 Feb. 1796
Sir Ed. Pellew
Pellew was unaffectedly pleased to be made a baronet. As he himself put it, this promotion 'cured his back' which had been bruised by the mainmast of the Dutton. But the last paragraph of Earl Spencer's note put him in a quandary. The place of his 'most usual residence' was at Falmouth; an unpretentious house in the suburb of Flushing, adjoining the house of a packet captain, Mr. Kempthorne. That a doorway was cut through 'to admit of greater freedom in friendly chats' with this worthy seaman, shows that the friendship between the neighbours was warm; it also suggests that Pellew's house was semi-detached. After pondering over the matter, Pellew gave 'Treverry' as his answer to Spencer's rather awkward question. Treverry was only a farmhouse, and Pellew, in any case, did not live there. Still less did he own it. Nevertheless, it was the only landed property connected with the family, and so it had to serve. On March 5th, 1796, he accordingly became 'Sir Edward Pellew, Bart., of Treverry.' At the same time there took place the first of the mutilations inflicted on the family coat-armour by the heralds of the day. Originally, the escutcheon was simple and heraldic; Argent, a chevron, gules; Azure, on a chief of the second, three mascles voided of the first. To this was now added, in base, a civic wreath, vert; and, as a motto, ' DEO ADJUVANTE FORTUNA SEQUATUR.' So far all was well But the crest was to be what can only be described as a spirited oil-colour of the wreck of the Dutton. Worse was to follow before the process of 'Honourable Augmentation' had finally ceased.
There is a subtle difference between a knight and a baronet which the eighteenth century appreciated more fully than does a more degenerate age. Whereas the first honour may be conferred on any mere portrait painter, the second implies property. Pellew, unaffected as he was, realized that his style of living would have to alter. Property he could not have - he was still too poor to buy land. (136) He was to be poorer, indeed, than he need have been in that he at one time patriotically refused to draw his pay as a captain and lived on his prize-money. Several acts of rather quixotic generosity in these early years of the war must also have helped to keep him poor. The best he could do to live up to his new rank was to rent a larger house; and it was apparently at this time that he went to live at Trefusis.
'In the parish of Mylor is Trefusis, the seat, from time immemorial, of the ancient family of that name, and now the property of the Right. Hon. Lord Clinton, the representative of that family.' So runs the official description. Trefusis is the Manor House of the lordship in which Flushing is built, the house itself standing on the headland which separates Penryn River and Mylor Creek. It overlooks Falmouth, and, like Pendennis Castle, commands Carrick Road. The Falmouth Guide says of it: 'It is delightfully situated, embosomed with woods, on the eminence above Flushing, whence an observer may enjoy a charming coup d'oeil.'
'They'd a house
that was greater than any first-rater,
With footmen in livery handing the drink,
And a garden to go in, with flowers all a blowing,
The daisy and buttercup, lily and pink.'
This was the traditional seaman's notion of domestic comfort and magnificence. It is a standard by which Trefusis probably fell woefully short. But the house was quite adequate to support the dignity of a baronet, even if only rented. And the most charming feature of the coup d'oeil, to Pellew's mind, was undoubtedly the Indefatigable at her moorings in Carrick Road. Like Sir Hector Strangeways in the Romance of an Hour, he might have said: 'I did not ask them to knight me, and they may un-knight me again, if they like it; for I value the broad pendant on the Dreadnought matt-head, above any title which they can splice.' A broad pendant was not actually his privilege at this time, but the rank of commodore had not yet been instituted, and the word was still used in a loose sense to denote the senior captain of a squadron not commanded by an admiral. So that Pellew was always called 'Commodore.' When Sir John Borlase Warren was in harbour at the same time as Pellew, the former commodore was the senior. But Pellew's reputation, his residence at Trefusis, and the close connexion of his family with the town combined to preserve (137) his local ascendancy. He and his brother were the most important people in the town, in which the senior commodore was, comparatively, a stranger; and it is safe to assume that Sir Edward and Lady Pellew were the figures round which the social life of the place revolved.
Of this social life some description has already been given. Between the two squadrons based on the port there were sometimes as many as ten frigates regularly frequenting Falmouth. These, with the thirty or forty post-office packets, the prizes, the garrison at Pendennis and St. Maws, and the professional and merchant families of the town, provided a very numerous and wealthy society. A description of it was written many years afterwards by James Silk Buckingham, who was only nine years old at the period he refers to. As a small but observant boy living at Flushing and spending his days playing about the quay-side, his remarks are valuable.
'. . . there would be sometimes a dozen men-of-wars' boats at the Quay at the same time, including the barges for the commanding officers, and the cutters, gigs, launches, and jolly boats on duty; the boats' crews mostly dressed in dashing marine trim, with blue jackets and trousers and bright scarlet waistcoats, overlaid with gilt buttons, in winter; and striped Guernsey frocks and white flowing trousers in summer; while the little village literally sparkled with gold epaulets, gold lace hats, and brilliant uniforms.
'. . . From the friendly intimacy that existed between Sir Edward Pellew and my father, previous to his death, I was a frequent visitor, as a child, to the house of the commodore, and mingled in play with his children - Fleetwood, Pownoll, and the rest . . . and Sir Edward himself, having observed my love of boats and boating, offered to place me on his ship's books as a midshipman, it being then the custom to do this at even an earlier age than mine; some, indeed, I have heard, while still infants, that their seven years noviciate might pass over while they were at school - a practice long since become obsolete; but my dear mother, always entertaining a hope that I might still be weaned from my sea-love, was unwilling to consent to this, lest, being once on the books of the navy, it might be difficult to obtain my discharge.
'Sir Edward, however, often took me on board with him in his barge, which was sent ashore from the Indefatigable every morning at ten; and having the run of the gun-room, the cockpit and the 'tween decks, while on board, I soon became a favourite with officers and men. The first lieutenant - now Admiral Pellew - was the brother of my elder brother's wife. (138) The master, Mr. William Pitt, bearing a striking resemblance to the great minister, and who was afterwards master attendant at Malta, was an admirer and suitor of my elder sister; and the surgeon was an intimate friend and constant visitor of our family; while one of our female servants had been married to the coxswain of the commodore's barge, and another to one of Sir John Warren's crew.'
This last paragraph gives an admirable picture of the homely basis on which the western squadrons were founded, half the officers being Cornish and related to each other, all the married men having houses in Flushing or Falmouth, and many of the seamen being drawn from the same district.
Before closing this description of Pellew's life on shore in 1795 and '96, some account must be given of his children. There had been one addition to the family since the birth of the fourth child, Fleetwood, in 1789 ; this was another son, George, born in 1793 . Pownoll, now the heir to a baronetcy, was aged nine or ten; and was soon afterwards sent to sea as a preparation for his responsibilities. George, aged three, was already old enough to have material for his reminiscences. Emma, the eldest daughter, was approaching the age at which it was proper for her to go to a select academy at Blackheath. The youngest child was still to be born.
This was probably the happiest period of Pellew's life. He was not quite forty years old, and enjoyed still the full vigour of a splendid physique. Deservedly famous, he had a gallant record in two wars and every prospect of further distinction. He 'filled the public eye' by repeated exploits, and was the hero of the district in which he lived and from which his family came. In rank, a post-captain a baronet; by courtesy, a commodore, he was, ashore, the most important person in a pleasant neighbourhood. Afloat, he commanded a ship that was too powerful for a French frigate to withstand and too fast for a French ship of the line to overtake. After this period of his life came to an end, he never regained such reputation until too old to enjoy it.