Contents Back Chapter X Home Exmouth
Edward Pellew - By Parkinson, C. Northcote, London, 1934
CHAPTER IX - Politics
In Parliament: On nautical topics observe a passive and dignified silence -The discussion of naval affairs and maritime matters to be left solely to landsmen, - 'Naval Maxims,' Glascock.
(273) WHOM Lord St. Vincent loved he chastened, and long before Pellew had reached England after his series of combined operations, his services were required off Ushant. But for his ship being in urgent need of an overhaul in dock he would have had no rest at all. To be in favour with St. Vincent had its disadvantages.
Ushant bearing S. by E., 12 Leagues
23rd Sept. 1800
Sir James Saumarez does not stand the work at the advanced posts with the firmness I expected, whence it is evident that the man who faces a Frenchman or Spaniard with intrepidity, does not always encounter rocks and shoals with the same feeling. Would to God the promotion had taken place that I might get at Captain Thornborough ! This not being the case Sir Edward Pellew is my sheet anchor. I therefore request that orders may be lodged at Plymouth for the Impetueux to proceed into port without anchoring in Cawsand Bay, if the wind will permit, and the utmost dispatch used in docking her. . . .
[N.R.S. Vol, lix.]
That any man should, in those days, have feared rocks more than cannon-balls, was not remarkable then and need not be thought eccentric now. These two categories of danger did not require courage of different kinds. They required courage in different degrees. The intrepidity needed to navigate shoal water was far greater than that needed to fight the French. Risks run in fighting, and particularly winning, were very small indeed. The real (274) risk the sailor faced was that of being drowned. That is why most seamen rather welcomed a battle than otherwise -it might mean prize-money and the risk was negligible compared with the risk of being at sea at all. Men were worn out by blockading work partly because of the ever-present danger of the ship sinking, partly through lack of sleep brought about by changing course at night.
Had Pellew seen the above letter from Lord St. Vincent to Lord Spencer - which he never did - he would have had no great sympathy for Sir James Saumarez. He and Saumarez had quarrelled over prize-money when they were frigate captains, and had not been on speaking terms since. Pellew was, besides, capable of standing strain of every kind; and, although he hated blockading work, he was still strong enough for it. He would have little pity for rivals whose nerves were less sound than his own. He was in no great hurry to relieve Saumarez, and perhaps St. Vincent guessed as much.
de Paris in Torbay
29th October, 1800
MY DEAR LORD
Besides the advantage of obtaining the services of three efficient Admirals, Troubridge, Saumarez, and Pellew, the only men to be relied on unemployed from Sir Peter Parker down to the last named of the three - for Admiral Cornwallis, Sir J. Colpoys, and Vice-Admiral Montagu seem out of the question at present - the rust and vermin you would get rid of by this much wanted promotion, is a matter of more serious moment than you are aware of. Sir James Saumarez will never complain, but I am told by those who have lately seen him, that he is as thin as a shotten herring. Sir Edward Pellew cannot be ready to relieve him in less time than a month, and I have known a ship detained in Hamoaze three months waiting for a wind to get into the Sound.
Yours etc. ST. VINCENT
[N.R.S. Vol. lix.]
The refitting of the Impetueux took no longer than two months, and no contrary winds, real or imaginary, came to extend Pellew's leave for an additional period. It was probably, however, during this spell of duty that he began to take steps towards finding a seat in Parliament. In a letter already quoted in full, of May 1800, he asked whether his friend Broughton thought ` getting into St. Stephens Chapel' a worthy object for an honest officer, supposing it could be done cheaply. The plan did not mature for some (275) time beyond choosing the borough for which he intended to stand at the next election.
Barnstaple was the borough to have this honour; but to say that Pellew chose to stand for it would seem, on consideration, misleading. It would be more accurate to say that he was chosen. Some account of Barnstaple and its politics will explain how this came about.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Barnstaple had been a port of some consequence. It declined in importance, for various reasons, during the eighteenth century, and lost its mercantile population. The Merchants' Walk had hardly been built before the time came when there were no merchants to walk there. The result was that, although the franchise was comparatively wide, the bulk of the electors had gone to live elsewhere. Unkind critics asserted that most of these were gone to Botany Bay. But in this the critics were wrong. A fair proportion of the voters lived in North Devon, and a very considerable number lived in London. There were about five hundred and fifty electors. Half of these lived at Barnstaple or within twenty miles of it. Of the remainder, half lived in London and half were scattered throughout the country.
Under these circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why the block of London votes came to decide the election. Local feuds would prevent the Barnstaple residents from acting together. If the vicar voted one way the dissenters would be bound in honour to vote the other. Every form of hating one's next-door neighbour would stand in the way of any concerted action among resident voters. The electors scattered through the length and breadth of England could not act together for the opposite reason. They were so far from living next door to each other that they did not know of each other's existence. Like the resident voters they could be relied upon to split into two roughly equal camps. And this being the case, the London voters could tip the scale either way. They did not all live next door to each other, and had therefore no reason to quarrel among themselves. On the other hand, they lived sufficiently near each other to co-operate. They did not meet each other every day, but there was no reason why they should not meet together on occasion. Only organization was required to settle the result of the election in London; and it may be imagined that organization was not wanting.
It seems fairly clear that the London voters formed themselves, or were formed by the most enlightened of them, (276) into a limited liability company with directors and a chairman and, more important still, a dividend. The London voters sometimes received as much as twenty guineas each. The mere local voters, by comparison, gained little. Six guineas each was the rule for them - although some of them, of course, contrived to receive this sum twice. There was no truth in the legend that a Barnstaple election cost the successful candidate at least ten thousand pounds; three thousand was usually ample for the purpose. Having spent this amount, it was not always necessary for the candidate who had bought the London votes to appear at Barnstaple in person. Local solicitors were very ready to attend to his interests for him. The historian who concluded that' if any one borough in the Country is more corrupt than another, it is this,' sadly misjudged the town. He must, at any rate, have been unaware of what happened at Truro. But in asserting that the London electors were continually hunting for candidates, he said no more than the truth.
It was from the London electors for Barnstaple that Pellew received an invitation to become the official candidate at the next election - or, to be exact, one of the official candidates; for Barnstaple sent two members to Parliament. Whether they hinted that one of the present members was likely to die or accept a peerage does not appear. But a general election was likely to take place before long, and the London voters were genuinely resolved to turn out both the existing members. One of these had sat for the borough during the last six Parliaments and was perhaps beginning to think the seat his own, forgetting the claims of his friends in London. He was, besides, talking of resigning. The other had been connected with the borough for an equal number of years, and they were probably tired of him.
That voters in search of a candidate should approach Pellew was not extraordinary. They knew he was a naval officer, and they possibly thought him richer than he was. All naval officers were supposed to be rich in those days. 'This peace will be turning all our rich naval officers ashore,' remarked one of Jane Austen's characters, voicing a general belief. This belief was natural, and in some cases altogether justified. Some admirals were very rich indeed. But many naval officers seemed richer than they were. If they had plenty of money it was often because they had no real property. Their wealth was not tied up in land. They spent money as fast as they made it and left nothing for their children - if they had any, and if they were legitimate. (277) A great deal of money passed through their hands, but not all of them managed to found county families. Pellew would not have done so had he retired at this time. On the other hand, he could find a thousand pounds much more quickly than many richer men. So the instinct of the Barnstaple voters was, on the whole, sound.
Pellew did not want to pay election expenses, naturally, and he rather unreasonably hoped that the Duke of Northumberland would give him a seat. But as nothing of the sort happened he was forced to fend for himself. He announced his candidature for Barnstaple some time in the winter of 1800-1, and was soon planning to live in London instead of Cornwall in order to attend to the Parliamentary duties he hoped soon to have.
L'Impetueux came out of dock on December 8th, and Pellew was soon on his way back to Ushant, where he reported his arrival on December 13th. Only a division of the Channel fleet was there, under the command of Sir Henry Harvey, so that the inshore squadron was not large enough to require the services of a rear-admiral. Pellew was therefore given this command as soon as he appeared. Shortly afterwards he was appointed colonel of marines. The appointment was announced on January 1st 1801 when he, Sir Thomas Troubridge and Captain Domett, filled the vacancies caused by a flag-promotion. It was usual at that time to give colonelcies in the marines to senior captains; and it was usual, although not invariable, to take the appointment from them on their promotion to flag-rank.
A year or two earlier, Pellew would have been glad enough of this title, accompanied, as it was, by a considerable increase in his income. But at the time the appointment was made he was far from grateful. For the flag-promotion which made the appointment possible had made three of his rivals rear-admirals. Captain Thornborough, Sir W. G. Fairfax, and Sir James Saumarez had all been given their flags; and his annoyance at the promotion of the last-named more than equalled any satisfaction his colonelcy could give him. He had not expected to be promoted before them - that was quite impossible - but he fervently cursed an Admiralty which would not promote him at the same time.
Before, probably, he heard of his appointment to this honorary rank, the fleet blockaded in Brest made an attempt to escape. The French admiral, Ganteaume, was foiled in this first attempt on January 8th. But a storm on the (278) 23rd blew Harvey and Pellew off the coast, and the French took their chance of sailing for the Mediterranean. Only a part, to be exact, of the Brest fleet sailed - seven sail of the line carrying troops to reinforce the French army in Egypt. Although in no way responsible for the French eluding the blockade, he wrote anxious explanations to Lord St. Vincent, who replied on February 25th: 'Put your heart at ease about the escape of Ganteaume's Squadron, and be assured no man regards and esteems you more truly than [I].' But St. Vincent was no longer his commander-in-chief, being superseded in the spring of 1801 in order that he might become the First Lord of the Admiralty in the Addington Ministry. His place was taken by Admiral Cornwallis. This officer was urged by St. Vincent to give Pellew an independent command, even after the return to its post of the main body of the fleet.
28 February, 1801
It is evident from all our intelligence, as well as the necessity we know the French fleet at Brest is in for provisions of all kinds, but particularly for wine and brandy, that they will hazard a great deal to get their large fleet of victuallers out of the Morbihan, and endeavour at the same time to cut off the two line-of-battle-ships stationed in Quiberon Bay and before Port L'Orient; and although Captain Stopford is a most meritorious and judicious officer, he does not fill the eye of the public like Sir Edward Pellew; and it being near the time of relieving those posts and that one of them is actually relieved, I submit to you the policy of ordering L'Impetueux to relieve the Excellent.
[N.R.S. Vol. lv.]
At the time when the above was written, Pellew was not at sea. He had put into Cawsand Bay on February 21st and did not sail again until March 5th. In the meanwhile St. Vincent's recommendation had produced its effect, and the command off Isle d'Aix was at once given to Pellew. His squadron consisted of one ship of the line besides his own, the Robust, with two frigates; and the squadron he had to watch consisted of five sail of the line and two frigates. In writing to him that 'The Impetueux and Robust, commanded by you and Brown, are equal to anything,' St. Vincent seems to have been stating the principle underlying this arrangement. In course of time, however, as Cornwallis was reinforced, the opportunity was taken to add to (279) Pellew's command. It is impossible to say what the strength of his squadron was supposed to be because its composition varied greatly from day to day. He sometimes had as many as five sail of the line under his orders, but two or three was more normal. His squadron could not be very strong because Cornwallis had to keep another detachment off Brest. That admiral had three ports to blockade - Brest, L'Orient and Rochefort. And the force inside Brest was too strong to admit of his allowing Pellew, whose duty it was to watch the other two ports, a force large enough for his purpose. Sir James Saumarez was no longer in process of becoming like a 'shotten herring;' he was relieved from the command of the inshore squadron off Brest, by Hotham, soon after Pellew had relieved Stopford.
If the squadron blockading Rochefort was often weaker than the force it was blockading, there was no immediate ill effect. The French showed no inclination whatever to come out, and the work of watching them was rather tedious than risky. A number of brigs and schooners were taken from time to time - mostly in ballast. None of these were worth keeping, and Pellew usually removed everything of value, sent the crews on shore, and scuttled the vessels. Victuallers arrived from England periodically, bringing bread, pease, beef, pork and vinegar, and taking away the empty beef casks and lemon-juice bottles. These ministrations were necessary in that the squadron was kept at its post all the summer. Pellew's men were religiously dosed with lemon-juice every day, and remained healthy throughout the year. It is consoling to learn that a survey led to the discovery that the cheese was not as bad as had been thought - 'a little decayed,' nothing more.
While on this blockading duty he wrote an interesting letter to Broughton, which will be quoted in full.
off Rochefort May 21, 1800
When I look at the date of your last letter I am really quite ashamed to see it, but I am not entirely clear that I have not answered it already, however if I have I cannot do better than converse with the friend of my heart who I have so long loved and respected . . . [twelve lines erased]
I hope you have entirely recovered all the effects of your fall, I am rather angry with you, stiff jointed as you are, for riding such skittish Horses and with Mrs B. for allowing it and I would have you sell your Cattle. Only think of my having rec'd one Quarters Salary for the Marines before I have thanked (280) you for your Congratulations, but in fact I was so angry at not having my flag when so many Taylors got it that I did not even thank Lord Spencer for it and so I am still, but it is of no use, it is hard to always do Yr Duty for nothing. I have now 5 Line, 4 Frigates under me and have never had lefs these two years. We have been 12Weeks here looking at 5 new 74s and 5 Frigates all ready for sea but they wont come out. They launched another the 13th and have a three Decker half finished . . . .
We are to have no peace, at least this Year but so much is this the general wish of France that I think Consul Bonnaparte will soon follow his dear friend Marat. I have as you saw offered myself at Barnstaple upon popular grounds - they invited me and if I don't find it too expensive I shall probably succeed, but I will not contest it at any greater expense than a few hundred, if I thought it would cost me a thousand I should be off. I am anything but sure of succefs as far as promises go but you will see our Duke has nothing to do with this and rather disapproves of my coming into Parl't at all. I sounded him hoping he might offer me a seat at Launceston, but the Devil a bit, and I believe from my heart these sort of Gentry are incapable of friendship, however I am on guard with him and will make as much use of him as I can. I have never yet seen him, when I do I shall live in his House if he offers me a room but very pofsibly he may not accord; however we are at present very great friends and I hope may continue so. He says he has declined all public situation in case of Regency, altho' prefsed by the Prince . . . .
I believe we shall be entirely adrift for a Residence and have thought of a Town House or one a few miles from Town or Bath - Cornwall we shall leave. Poor Susan detests this Parliamentary plan and is indeed very angry and irreconcilable - What are your sentiments on the subject - I declare I am rather puzzled but I think it may be useful in pushing the boys in Life and myself too - for I cannot rest where I am, I have begun my fortune but by no means finished it for a sit down, our income will be extremely limited and is only equal to the most private retirement without even a Carriage. Adieu, My dear Alex, I expect to be blockading for 20 Weeks longer. We make nothing now of a six months Cruise. We have only been 6 days in Port for the last six months.
my love to all, Yours E. P.
The only light which can be thrown on the above letter can amount to little more than that the Duke mentioned was the Duke of Northumberland. But when his connexion with that nobleman began, or how, it seems quite impossible to say. As to the remainder of the letter, it is enough to (281) say that Lady Pellew's objection to 'this Parliamentary plan ' was most probably on the score of economy. It is exceedingly unlikely that she had any scruples about his using a seat in Parliament to secure his own preferment or that of his sons. But she was perhaps shrewd enough to guess that the Barnstaple election would cost more than he chose to think. And she hated living in London.
Pellew's prediction that he would be kept blockading for twenty weeks more was fairly accurate, although he was wrong in supposing there would be no peace in 1801. He was actually kept cruising off Balaine and Chasseron, or at anchor off Oleron, for the whole summer and much of the autumn. One of his chief activities during this period was checking the 'wanton and atrocious Robberies' of privateers from the Channel Islands with English letters of Marque. These vessels, tactfully named after the most famous English admirals of the day, carried on a species of warfare not easily distinguishable from piracy. As they chiefly operated against the shipping of neutral countries, and did so under cover of the English flag, Pellew was anxious to suppress them. He had, of course, no powers in the matter, and could only urge Cornwallis to withdraw their letters of reprisal. Not all the culprits were Channel Islanders. Many were English, and according to Pellew, 'such impossible people . . . as disgrace the name of Englishman.' Whatever the race of the robber chieftain, however, it is safe to assume that the crews were the same cosmopolitan people who, in peace time, used the same armed luggers for smuggling. Pellew knew the type well, but the most he could do when one of them insulted his lieutenant was to 'make a Quarter Master lead him by the nose to the Gangway.' His only means of punishment, as opposed to reproof, was impressing most of the offender's crew. This he occasionally did, but it was a form of punishment which tended to recoil on himself.
In spite of the fair proportion of undesirables his ship's company contained, there was no trace of mutiny. He was probably more feared than loved. The standard he set was too high to admit of popularity with either officers or men. Of the trouble he had with the former there are traces in a letter he wrote to Captain Markham in September.
Sept. 2, 1801
Yours of the 9th ultimo reached me only to-day, and I should (282) not trouble you to send a reply, if it was not to put you right respecting the removal of two lieutenants at once by my application; now the reverse was the fact, for it was their application to be removed, not mine. I briefly stated that they had both told me they were tired of the ship and me, and wished to be removed. I said exactly so much on it, only requesting that if both could not be removed, neither might, as the second was by no means fit to be first ; and if both leave, that the third who had been five years with the ship's company might remain senior. So far was the fact, and the board were the best judges whether under such circumstances they would remove them or not. I made no complaint against their characters whatever; they were tired of me for making them do their duty, and wanted to be off. I believe we have all seen first lieutenants highly unfit for such situations, and as it now stands I hope you will be able to continue it, leaving Pilfold senior. We are all here led to hope for peace; our enemies stand here as before, except working unceasingly throwing up forts on the islands of Re and Oléron. I hope you will keep the rascals from landing at home. I have no great opinion of our land defences. Orion is relieved by Terrible.
me, dear Markham
Very truly and sincerely yours
[N.R.S. Vol. xxviii.]
P.S. I have just heard a Lieutenant Oliver, of the Marines, who was here, has sent to the earl certificates of mine for good conduct. If so they are forgeries; he is a very infamous character. I hear he wants to be made a lieutenant in the Navy.
An armistice was signed within a few weeks after writing the above letter, on October 1st. Although Pellew did not hear of it for some considerable time, the French at Rochefort heard of it at once by telegraph. The news reached Pellew in a rather curious manner. One of his frigates ran hard aground off the coast near Rochefort, apparently at night, and was still ashore when daylight came. As she lay helpless, a French frigate appeared and bore down on her. The English captain prepared to fight his ship as well as he could; but he was as much relieved as surprised when the Frenchman hoisted a flag of truce and sent a boat to inform him that an armistice had been declared, at the same time offering assistance in re-floating the ship.
When Pellew heard of this, on October 21st, he wrote a letter of thanks to the French admiral in command at (283) Rochefort, expressing pleasure that the preliminary articles of peace had been signed, but hinting some regret at having had no opportunity of crossing swords with him. Willaumez was more than equal to the occasion. He replied in verse.
du Duguay Trouin en rade de I'isle D'aix
le 5 brumaire an 10
au favori du dieu du mer
au marin, Cher à la victoire
Qui n'eprouva aucun revers
A Ed: pellew salut et gloire
The polite letter following this happy beginning contains an answer to Pellew's regretful comment on the absence of fighting.
Je regrette bien sincérement n'avoir pas eu 1'avantage de prendre une lecon de l'habille homme qui le Commande: . . . tons les francais que le sort de la guerre a fait tombes entre vos mains se sont tellement loué du traitement qu'ils ont recu de vous . . . . . .
Chivalry, it seems, survived the Revolution.
Almost immediately after this interchange of courtesies Pellew sailed for England. He sighted the English fleet off the Lizard on the 31st, and came into Falmouth on the 1st of November. Ten days later L'Impetueux proceeded to refit in Cawsand Bay, where she remained for the winter. In the spring she was warped to her moorings in Hamoaze, and paid off on April 16th, 1802, by Admiral Dacres. This ended Pellew's connexion with this ship in which he had seen so much trouble, failure, and wasted effort.
Pellew's friend Bergeret was, apparently, in England in the spring of 1802; although not, of course, a prisoner. A letter of introduction given to Bergeret by his friend dates from the last week Pellew was in command of L'Impetueux.
To the officers of the British Navy, Sir Edward Pellew, who, above all other wishes, is desirous of standing well in the esteem of his Brother Officers, and who values the favourable opinion of honourable men above all other rewards, entreats to recommend to their kindness and notice the bearer of this letter, Capt. Bergeret, of the French Navy, who was once only his enemy, and ever since a faithful and affectionate friend.
From those who know him not, Sir E. P. asks for friendship (284) on his account; to those who know him as he does, he needs no other recommendation than his own virtues will secure him. Sir E. P. values him as his brother, and is proud of him as his friend; but knowing his feelings, he respects him too much to dwell on his merits. His gratitude for even trifles will urge him to make known to Sir Edward any attention he meets on his account, and the pleasure Sir E. will experience in hearing them is more easily felt than expressed.
L'Impetueux, Plymouth, 10th April, 1802
No sooner had Pellew come on shore than his energies were absorbed in preparing to contest Barnstaple in the coming general election. But before describing the election it is necessary to explain that Pellew was at this time a follower of Lord St. Vincent, and that he stood for Parliament in that capacity. St. Vincent had enemies in the House, and in the navy for that matter, and was deliberately trying to strengthen his position as First Lord by bringing into Parliament a few men on whom he could rely. Troubridge, his principal follower, was standing for Great Yarmouth, along with St. Vincent's cousin, Thomas Jervis; and Captain Markham was destined to sit in the same Parliament. Even with Pellew, and possibly Sir Charles Pole, the Admiralty would not be very strongly represented in the Lower House. Such encouragement, therefore, as Pellew received in his political ambitions came from St. Vincent.
That he was to be rewarded, and considered himself entitled to reward for political services is sufficiently clear. He seems, indeed, to have offered his services and demanded his reward in the same breath. The East Indies Command was the reward he hoped for; but St. Vincent, on hearing his request, warned him that Captain Cochrane had the same ambition. Pellew instantly approached Cochrane and asked him whether this was the case, and St. Vincent had to write to Dundas on June 18th 'to prevent any misunderstanding between two very valuable officers, who stand very high in the estimation of the public and of [myself].' But if the reward was uncertain, the Barnstaple election duly took place.
Mr. John Cleveland, son of a secretary to the Admiralty, who had sat for Barnstaple since 1761, had spoken of retiring and then altered his mind on the matter, as the following letter shows. (285)
29th June 1802
MY DEAR SIR
That Mr. Cleveland did in positive terms declare to me his intention of retiring from Barnstaple, I am sure he will not deny, and he added that he was to be returned for Collington, at the same time he strongly profefsed a desire to promote your interest, saying that the Person he solicited for was attach'd to them. Should any letter be found upon this subject it shall be transmitted to you.
wishing you all pofsible Succefs
believe me to be very sincerely yours
[N.R.S. Vol. lv.]
The result of this change in the plans of Mr. Cleveland was that Pellew, when he came to Barnstaple in June, found that there were four candidates for two seats. Although secure of some London votes, he was confronted with a genuine contest of the most expensive kind. All three of the other candidates had represented the borough before Cleveland had sat for it in the last six Parliaments, and he and Richard Wilson were the sitting Members. Mr. William Devaynes had already represented Barnstaple twice. Pellew on the other hand, could not hope for many local votes. He had never sat for Parliament before, and may never have visited Barnstaple previous to the election. He was nevertheless elected.
The result of the poll was announced on July 7th. Cleveland's indecision had cost him his seat - he came last with seventy-one votes. Wilson was also unsuccessful with only eighty-five votes. Devaynes and Pellew were accordingly elected, the former with 269, the latter with 160 votes. The success of his candidature was celebrated in appropriate fashion. When he left the hustings 'he was conducted to a barge fixed upon wheels, ornamented with laurel, and adorned with colours.' To heighten the naval atmosphere this singular vehicle was 'manned with a number of prime seamen, in white shirts, with oars in their hands, and steered by a lieutenant of the navy.' The whole populace were 'cheering their hero' as the barge 'got under way.' The voters of Barnstaple had every reason to be satisfied, but Pellew left the town much poorer than he entered it and uncertain whether his money had been well spent. His expenses, moreover, did not end with the election, for Wilson at once petitioned against him for a breach of the treating (286) Act. The petitioner had no difficulty in proving that payments of three or four guineas had been made. But Pellew had as little difficulty in proving that these payments were to cover the travelling expenses of non-resident voters. In February 1803, the committee appointed to consider the petition rejected it and declared Pellew duly elected.
During the truce following the Peace of Amiens, and after the election was over, Pellew lived at Trefusis, which he had not yet left. His scheme of going to live in London probably came to no more than hiring rooms there when convenient.
Wilson one of the defeated candidates for Barnstaple, was Irish and an incorrigible petitioner. His litigation failed in its immediate object but his persistence avenged him more effectually than he knew. The expense it occasioned was the source of domestic strife between Pellew and his wife during the short period he was on shore during the autumn and winter of 1802 and the spring of 1803; a strife from which he was glad to escape when war began again. Indeed, the following letter to his friend Broughton shows that he would have gone to sea sooner, had opportunity offered.
25th February 1803
MY DEAR ALEX
Late last Night the Committee to try the merits of my election declared your friend duly Elected. I give you, My dear Alex as early an acc't of it as I can, knowing well your affectionate heart and tender friendship - your last, my dear Alex remains still unanswered, I have realy labour 'd thro' a great deal of Mental Uneasinefs and Vexation, the greater part arising from disquiets at Home - Susan is still obstinately bent upon resistance to my wishes and I afsure you has made me miserable, it is a great and lamentable misfortune she will not repose more confidence in me, to be sure this tormenting Irish Man plagues my heart out and runs me to considerable expence - it has cost me 2000 - but I have pinch'd it out of my income by odds and ends of prize Money and sunk nothing. I have appropriated the Marines to it, so that she really ought not to be so foolish - and some good may arise to my family some day or other - and all would be well if she would cease resistance. It is terrible with two Nice Girls at Home to hear Domestic contention, and therefore My dear Alex I am going abroad, I hope with a Command - time may soften down her feelings, she is a good Creature and the best of Wives but she does not see far enough into these things and had painted a fancied path of Life in Domestic retirement with me at her Elbow - it is all affection in the End. I hope it will not shake (287) mine. We are here two Girls and Ned of three years old. The Girls are finishing for some months, when everything is fix'd for me you shall hear, and whenever it is convenient - and quite so - I beg you will lay out my Money in any Shares of any Canal you choose and buy them at your leisure - one share a year or any way you please. If I go abroad, I go a great way -Your boys are too young I fear to receive my protection but you will always Command me - be perfectly silent in this for your Life. My Love to Mrs. B.
- believe me most sincerely yrs E. P.
The possibility mentioned in this letter of his going abroad 'a great way' and 'with a Command' refers to the East Indies Command; and it seems probable that St. Vincent had half-promised it him already. His promotion to a flag, however, which must precede such an appointment, was not immediate. He was much in London at this time but it is not clear whether he ever sat in Parliament. He was mostly concerned in defending himself against Wilson's intrigues, and in obtaining the favour of the Addington Administration. The Prime Minister he had known slightly since meeting him at Court in 1793, and he took occasion to improve the acquaintance. He was on friendly terms with Chatham, and was regarded as a follower of St. Vincent. At the Admiralty he was not without friends - Markham he knew well and Troubridge he had met. Although his acquaintance with this last officer was slight, both he and Troubridge must have noticed a certain similarity in their careers. Both of them were high on the Captains' List, both were Baronets, both Colonels of Marines, both Members of Parliament, and both adherents of St. Vincent. Rivalry between them would be difficult to avoid as soon as Troubridge should have left the Admiralty.
On March 11th, he was appointed to H.M.S. Tonnant, of eighty guns, a fine ship taken at the Nile, and Lieutenant Warden commissioned her on the 16th. War had not begun, and the Tonnant was fitting out in Hamoaze. She moved to Cawsand Bay early in April and was there when war was declared on May 16th. Cornwallis appeared off Brest almost as soon as the war began, and Pellew sailed to join him on June 2nd, in company with the Mars and Spartiate. He found the Admiral off Cape Finisterre on the 6th and went on board the flagship to receive his orders. The orders he received were as follows
You are hereby required and directed to proceed in His (288) Majesty's Ship Tonnant, under your command, with the ships named in the margin (Spartiate and Mars) of Ferrol, where I have intelligence there are three Dutch line-of-battle ships, a frigate, and a sloop.
You will find cruising off that port His Majesty's Ship Aigle, for the purpose of gaining intelligence and to watch those ships, and you are to use your best endeavour to intercept those ships, if they should sail, or any French ships you may meet with.
If, however, those Dutch ships should have sailed and are out of your reach before your arrival, you are then to proceed, with the said ships and frigate, off Rochefort, where you are to cruise, and use your utmost endeavours to seize, or destroy all French ships or vessels, and detain any Dutch ships or vessels you may meet with.
You are to continue upon this service until further orders, and endeavour to gain all the intelligence you can, which you are to transmit to me by every opportunity that may offer.
You are, during your cruise, to give no interruption to any Spanish ships or vessels whilst they continue to act as a neutral Power, but you are not to suffer any squadron of theirs to enter a port in France, or to form any junction with any squadron, or ships, or vessels belonging to that or the Batavian Republic.
etc, Dreadnought at Sea
6th June, 1803
Pellew sailed to carry out his orders on the 7th, was off Cape Ortez on the 10th, and had found the Aigle by the 14th. Captain Wolfe came on board the Tonnant and reported that the Dutch ships were about to put to sea - as rumour had it, for the East Indies. Pellew at once ordered him to reconnoitre Ferrol again, and on the 17th Wolfe was able to report that 'the Dutch Squadron had sailed from Ferrol the preceding Evening.' Not all the Dutch ships had sailed, as one ship of the line had been discovered unfit for service and accordingly dismantled. The Aigle was at once sent to Cornwallis with a report of the enemy's escape.
off Cape Ortegal
17th June, 1803
From the day we left your flag until we made Cape de Peñas we saw no ship of any nation, and the wind, with very bad weather, hanging constantly at SW and WSW we could fetch no further to the westward until yesterday, the 16th, we (289) rounded Cape Ortegal, the Aigle in company, Captain Wolfe having joined me in the evening of the 13th. I then brought the squadron to, in sight of Cape Prior, so as not to be known, and sent the Aigle to look. into Ferrol at night. I bore down to meet her, and at 4 a.m. this morning, the 17th, she joined me with the enclosed report. I have thought it right to despatch her to you without loss of time, as it is possible the two ships may push for Brest, but by the course they steered, and from condemning one ship [probably] for the purpose of completing the crews and stores of the others, I conjecture they are bound to the southward - the Cape or East Indies were mentioned by the American ship spoken by Captain Wolfe. All this, however, is conjecture.
I shall follow their track for forty-eight hours with the Mars, and act from any information I may pick up on my route but not gaining any in that time I shall return to Capes Ortegal and Prior, to pick up the Spartiate, who had gone off in chase and has no other rendezvous. I shall then proceed off Rochefort, agreeably to your orders to that effect.
have the honour to be etc
In believing that the Dutch were bound to the southward Pellew was right. They were bound for the East Indies. But his determination to follow them - especially when the pursuit lasted, not forty-eight hours but three weeks - was particularly unfortunate. For a French squadron, ordered home from the West Indies after the surrender of Cape Francois, was able to enter Corunna in his absence. Pellew knew nothing, of course, of the likelihood of this squadron crossing the Atlantic. Cornwallis, who was better informed, sent another squadron to intercept Bedout, but without success.
While Bedout was heading for Corunna, and while Rear Admiral Campbell was lying in wait for him, barring a path the French admiral had no intention of taking, Pellew was in hot pursuit of the two Dutch ships. He did not catch them. Instead, he fell in with a Spanish ship from Lima, 'bound to Cadiz with Merchandize & 3,000,000 of Dollars,' and recalled with dismay that England and Spain were not at that moment at war. Nor could he accuse Spain of failing to 'act as a neutral Power.' Spanish neutrality must on this occasion have been intense, if not hysterical. When it is remembered that the spectacle of four Spanish treasure-ships was too much for English honesty in the following year, Pellew will be credited with a certain magnanimity (290) in giving the galleon a ton of water. He went as far south as Madeira without hearing anything of the Dutch, and so gave up the chase. Returning as far north as Ushant without getting in touch with Cornwallis, he wrote a report of his proceedings and entrusted it to a ship from Cornwallis's fleet which he happened to fall in with.
12th July, 1803
I am concerned to inform you that my endeavours to get sight of the Dutch squadron which left Ferrol have not kept pace with my wishes. Had my conjectures of their destination proved correct, the success attending it would have justified my measures without the necessity of further explanation.
The reverse unfortunately being the case, it is incumbent on me to enter further into detail, as in my letter by the Aigle of the 17th ulto, I had informed you I should only pursue the enemy for forty-eight hours. But, having reconsidered all the circumstances - that the Mediterranean offered no service for a Dutch squadron, and that had Holland been their object, they would not only have taken the ship which they abandoned with them, but would not have been pressed by the. necessity of taking the American's cargo of salt fish for so short a voyage - I felt so strongly impressed with the idea of their destination being the Cape or West Indies that I determined, should the wind continue fair, to go as far as Madeira in hopes of overtaking or fording them there; and in this decision I was considerably strengthened by the comparative naval forces of the two countries at so early a period of the war, and the superiority of our own took from me any apprehension of the two ships being suddenly wanted to unite with your flag. I landed at Madeira on the 24th ulto, without anchoring the ship, but found from the Consul no sort of intelligence on the subject of my wishes, and although our voyage back has been uncommonly tedious from adverse winds, and made me very uneasy, yet I trust the motives of my conduct will free me from your displeasure, as I had none but that of zeal for the measure I have adopted.
Having, by accident, met with his Majesty's ship Thunderer, I have charged Captain Bedford with this letter to inform you of my proceedings.
have the honour to be etc
[N.R.S. Vol. xiv.]
Having written this report, Pellew went to his rendezvous off Cape Prior to find the Spartiate. He was delayed by (291) contrary winds and did not make the Cape until the 27th. The Spartiate was not there, but Bedout's squadron was - having run in to Corunna a fortnight before. Standing in close, in the hope of speaking with a Spanish ship of the line at that time heading for the port, Pellew counted five sail of French ships, four being of the line. In order to inform Cornwallis as soon as possible, he caught and detained a small English privateer, the Atalanta cutter, and sent her to the fleet with a letter and a master's mate to see it delivered.
Tonnant, off Corunna, 28th July, 1803
. . . On discovering the land we also discovered a Spanish ship of the line running for Corunna, which I chased, but could not speak before she got her anchorage; but in standing very close after her, we discovered five ships at anchor under French colours.
I do not know if the arrival of those ships has been reported to you, but having fallen in with the letter of marque Atalanta cutter, of Dartmouth, I have considered it of such importance as to desire her commander to proceed with an intelligent young man (Mr. Wise) immediately to the fleet; and instead of proceeding off Rochefort, I have thought it more consonant with your wishes that I should wait here your further directions.
I shall place myself in easterly winds between Cape Ortegal and Corunna, frequently looking in, and in westerly winds upon the former rendezvous to wait your dispatches, generally in sight of Cape Ortegal.
have the honour to be etc
[N.R.S. Vol. xiv.]
In beginning to blockade Corunna, Pellew was, oddly enough, taking up the station St. Vincent had designed for him as early as May 24th. On that day the earl had written to Cornwallis:
I hope you will soon be joined by some of the ships in Cawsand Bay and that you will be enabled thereby to make a detachment off Ferrol, the coast of which I believe Sir Edward Pellew is better acquainted with than most officers in the Navy, from his having been much employed there when in command of a Frigate and on the expedition under Sir J. B. Warren and Sir J. Pulteney, which has induced the Board to point him out in the character of Senior Captain.
[N.R.S. Vol. lxi.]
(292) When St. Vincent heard of Pellew's wild-goose chase to the south, he took a lenient view. Pellew, he thought, had acted with good intentions - 'however unfortunate his change of opinion has turned out.' The only penalty he paid for failing to encounter Bedout was that of having to blockade him. Cornwallis seems to have heard of Bedout's arrival before receiving Pellew's letter of July 28th, for Sir Robert Calder appeared on the following day with three sail of the line - the Prince of Wales, Dreadnought, and the missing ship, Spartiate - to command the squadron. This arrangement was not permanent. It may have been intended that Calder should benefit by Pellew's experience and local knowledge for a short time to enable him to command there when the Tonnant should have to refit. The squadron at first consisted of five sail of the line, but was reinforced by the Culloden on August 9th and by a frigate three days later. Calder returned to the fleet on the 15th, leaving Pellew in command off Cape Prior.
As a result of a reconnaissance on August 19th, the exact strength of the forces in Ferrol and Corunna was ascertained. Bedout had taken his squadron over to Ferrol - an operation a blockading force could hardly prevent - and appeared to be ready for sea. He had four two-deckers and a brig, all with sails bent. In the same port were three Spanish sail of the line laid up in ordinary and the solitary two-decker the Dutch had left behind. In Corunna there were two frigates ready for sea, one French and one Spanish.
As England and Spain were at peace, there was, in theory, no reason why the English squadron should not have sailed into Ferrol and demanded the hospitality shown to the French. But the situation was complicated by the Spanish leaning towards the French side and the weight of French influence at Madrid. And, apart from this, the Governor of Ferrol was justified in excluding the English ships on the ground of preserving the peace of a neutral port. Neither he nor the captain-general of the province denied the right of the English to buy provisions ashore. But they would not allow the officers of the Naiad frigate to come ashore to buy them. This was due to a mistaken belief that the Naiad had taken ships from St. Domingo where an epidemic was raging, and to the consequent fear of infection. But the same interpretation could not be placed on their refusal to give that ship a gun-for-gun salute. The following letter from Pellew to Cornwallis contains some mention of these matters. (293)
off Cape Prior
24th August, 1803
I have the honour to transmit you copies of a correspondence between Captain James Wallis, of his Majesty's ship Naiad, and the Captain-General of the Province of Galicia, resident at Corunna, and my order to Captain Wallis for proceeding to that port to water, upon assurance before given by the Captain-General of his readiness to furnish the necessaries that ship stood in need of.
I am happy to inform you that this correspondence, although a little awkward at first, terminated at last amicably, the Governor expressing his concern that he could not permit the officers to come on shore, and excusing himself of any intended disrespect. The motives I acted upon were two; the first, to obtain a direct and digested account of the proceedings of the French squadron and their probable objects; the other, to enable me to supply the Mars with water, so as to retain her on her station as long as her provisions lasted. In this particular I have failed, the frigate getting only thirty tons; and I do not think, after what passed, and the manifest influence the French officers have over the Captain-General, that he will allow of the Naiad's watering again. On the former part we were more successful, and understood that positive orders have been received from Madrid not only to equip the whole of the Spanish fleet at Ferrol, but to refit in every particular the French squadron, and to allow them to impress all Frenchmen in their ports to complete their complements. We learn, however, by the same means that the arsenal is extremely low in every department, and it is said they have not stores sufficient to complete the French ships alone.
On the 19th I was joined by the Colossus, and on the 21st by the Spencer; she brought us a supply of French beef - a small quantity had been procured by the Naiad from Corunna. Yesterday I was joined by the Sirius; I cover her report of the enemy's force along the coast, as sent me by Captain Prowse, and as the Naiad is so low in provisions I have taken twenty tons of water from her for the Mars, and sent her with this dispatch, which contains also the report of the enemy's force as seen yesterday, with the state and condition of the squadron. I expect every moment the return of Sir Robert Calder, who will be master of your wishes with respect to the ships here. As I do not find any directions contained in your orders to him respecting them, I shall keep them all as long as their water and provisions will last, or until I receive your directions thereon. The Spartiate lost her main-yard yesterday, which is now splicing agreeably to the report enclosed, and it is hoped it may be serviceable ; should it prove otherwise, I shall give (294) her the main-yard of the Mars whenever that ship's water is reduced to thirty tons, and dispatch her to join you on her way.
the honour to be etc
[N.R.S. Vol. xiv.]
A few days after sending this dispatch, Pellew wrote to Broughton and gave a more vivid account of his affairs.
Sept. 1, 1803
MY DEAR FRIEND
When I look upon the date of your last I should indeed be ashamed if I had been favoured with any opportunities of answering you, wch I have never had until now - you will have seen probably that we sailed from Plym the first of June. We reached this port about 16 or 20 hours after two Dutch Ships of the Line and two Frigates had sailed, as I had reason to believe they were gone to the Cape I followed as far as Madeira and then gave up the pursuit upon finding no scent and the fair wind having failed. On my return here what should we find but four French sail of the Line from St. Domingo to replace them and here I am with four to block them in until some Gale of Wind and foggy Weather wafts the Rascals home - this is very hard that we cannot get a coup at them. I live upon hopes but grow thin with anxiety and dread of their escape. I never cease seeking every means to prevent them but they are so lucky.
You will be glad to hear Adderly goes on very well, indeed better than well and he applies hard at his Books in my Cabin and our School Master is excellent.
Our provisions and water will be out by the end of Sept., and we must reach Ply. by that time - we are allowed only 7 days in Port after four Months and in that time I have much to do. I shall trust you with an important secret - wch I beg you to keep from spreading - I have to give away my Darling Emma who is really all the heart of a Father could wish. I do it with some reluctance altho' I approve of the Man - except in age, 35 - Emma, 19; it is her own free choice, his name is L. W. Halsted, a bro' Officer with 40,000 in his pockett, he is really a good fellow, good character and good temper, they began unknown to us when in London. I am sure she will be happy and make him so. Pownoll my eldest boy is with me. Your boy Fleetwood joins again on our return to Port - he is a good Scholar, a good French Man and well grounded in Mathematics and is I afsure you as fine open generous manly fellow as ever lived. Let me have a line from you at Plym by Oct the 1st telling me how you are and how you mean to employ your Sword on foot or on Horseback. We shall terrify this Rascal so that I fear he will not come over. I think it is (295) desirable he should, it will set us at rest for ever after. God blefs you, my dear friend - had you been nearer West I would have bro't you some goody from Madeira. May every happiness be yours, please God we may have another peace, I will certainly see you. If you go to London - my Julia is at School at Mrs Bryant's on Blackheath, do see her. Adieu. E. P.
On these two letters, the official and the private, same comment may seem pertinent. The first shows Pellew in his most diplomatic mood, dealing successfully with the strained situation for which a frigate-captain was probably responsible. Concerning the Spaniards' fears of infection from the Naiad, it does not appear whether he made the rather obvious retort that Ferrol was crowded with Frenchmen from St. Domingo already, and that the Naiad's men, wherever they had been, could hardly make matters worse from the medical point of view. It is probable that he had tact enough not to say this. And it is probable that he was content to say nothing about salutes rather than risk any further misunderstanding with the Spanish.
A remark in the second letter explains his anxiety to inform his commander-in-chief that the Tonnant had not anchored at Madeira. It was always a popular port of call.
In saying that the schoolmaster of the Tonnant was excellent, Pellew was probably right, for he had gone to trouble and expense to see that this should be the case. In general a sea-education was not calculated to remove men far from illiteracy, but it was more systematic when the young gentlemen included the captain's sons. At the time this letter was written, Fleetwood, his favourite son, was at Tiverton School, from which he was removed in September. So that his learning did not depend solely on the instruction to be obtained on board H.M.S. Tonnant. Perhaps because of his own comparative lack of education, Pellew was eager to have his sons well taught; so eager that he allowed this consideration to impede the promotion of one of his lieutenants who was acting as 'dry nurse ' to them. Lieutenant Crease was not the only man to suffer in this cause.
On the day after he wrote to Broughton, on September 2nd, that is to say, two more French ships from St. Domingo escaped him. In hazy, blowing weather, these two ships suddenly appeared to windward of him and ran for Corunna. One was a ship of the line, the Duguay Trouin (seventy-four), (296) the other the Guerriere frigate. Only the Culloden was far enough to windward to fetch them, and that ship was so badly handled by Barrington Dacres that nothing but an ineffective cannonade resulted. On approaching harbour, the Spanish forts fired a few shots to warn the Culloden to keep off.
Sir Robert Calder arrived on the following day and, shortly afterwards, Pellew sailed for England. He sighted the fleet off Ushant on the 16th, reported to Cornwallis, and came into Cawsand Bay on the 20th. In saying that he would be allowed '7 days in Port after four Months' afloat, he was little below the mark. He was allowed a fortnight. Sailing on the 5th, he spoke with Cornwallis off Ushant on the 6th, and relieved Calder on the 9th. The squadron now consisted of Tonnant, Spartiate, Dragon, Impetueux, Colossus, Sirius, and Mary, cutter. But the ships composing it were very frequently relieved, and no attempt can be made to follow the changes in the force at Pellew's disposal. There were usually five or six ships but never more than nine.
On the day that Calder returned to Plymouth, Pellew reconnoitred Ferrol and assured himself that the French were still there. The fact was not remarkable. They had not had the opportunity of going elsewhere. And if the approach of winter gave them occasional opportunity, it had also the effect of removing temptation. Pellew, for his part, viewed his task with profound disgust. He was to run every kind of risk and endure every form of discomfort without the slightest chance of either credit or profit. All he could hope to do was to keep the French in Ferrol without involving England in a quarrel with Spain, and his chief difficulty in doing this would be lack of supplies. The best solution of this problem could win him no fame. Little praise is given a man for contriving to keep alive. Yet failure in any respect might mean ruin or death. The blockade was a combination of tedium and peril. It was at once dangerous and dull.
The squadron was still standing sentinel over Ferrol when December came. The weather grew steadily worse. Sails were split or carried away almost daily. One after another, the Tonnant lost her main-topsail, fore-topsail, and her main and mizen staysails. On December 24th there were hard gales and a heavy sea, and only two ships of the squadron in sight. On the next day there was rain and 'a great sea from the West'd.'
(297) At 8 set storm main & mizen staysails, a great sea running. None of the Squadron in sight. A.M. The ship rolled very much - hard gales with a great hollow sea, set the main staysail, carried away the Main runners at 8, set the Main Topsail & Foresail . . . . Malta and Ardent in company . . . (26th) a great swell from the Westward, split the jib, unbent it and bent another - Squally with Thunder, Lightning & Hail . . . .
On the 27th the Malta and Ardent were still insight. The Tonnant's mizen staysail and foresail blew to pieces and the Ardent was seen to lose her main-yard. On the 30th the Tonnant split her main-topsail. It was unbent and the sail makers were set to mend it with the remnants of the foresail. By January 3rd, 1804, the gale had blown itself out. The ships of the squadron reassembled on the following day.
This gale left Pellew determined to find shelter from the next. Come what might, he would stay at sea no longer. Neither men nor ships could stand it. Nor was there any reason why they should. The French would never put to sea during a gale, and during a westerly gale they could not. And if they did, he could do them no harm while his squadron was dispersed in all directions. He decided to anchor in Betancos Bay.
The importance of this decision, and the responsibility he took in making it, need to be grasped. The advantages of this anchorage are sufficiently apparent. It is sheltered, the entrance to Ferrol is well in view from it, a force in it cuts all sea communication between Ferrol and Corunna. The objection to using it was, however, for most men, final. The Spaniards said there was no holding ground there. They never used it themselves and their hydrographers thought it a death-trap in a westerly gale. Even Pellew Was a little frightened by this unanimous local opinion. Otherwise he would have gone there before. He had sent boats to make observations and soundings in the bay as early as November 30th. But the battering his ships had received strengthened his opinion. If the peril of going into Betancos Bay was no less than before, he now knew something of the peril of staying outside. There was a possibility of a better holding ground in a bay near Cape Ortegal, but this was too far off. For blockading Ferrol Cape Ortegal was useless - he might full as well remain in Cawsand Bay. An anchorage he must have, and nowhere but Betancos would serve his purpose. He took the squadron there as soon as the gale ceased.
(298) From the 5th to the 9th of January he explored Betancos in his cutter. Then he anchored the squadron in nine fathoms, a mile and a quarter SW. by S. of Arcs Point. The next thing was to repair rigging and replace sails with the help of a store ship which the cessation of the gale had allowed to reach him. The Tonnant's main-yard was sprung, and while the carpenters were finishing it Pellew was faced by a new problem - that of supplies. He had received none since his arrival and all the ships were running short. So he sent the Spartiate home to fetch what was needed, at the same time entering into negotiations with the Governor of Ferrol. As a result of these, Governor Contador allowed him to send a launch into the harbour to buy provisions; and Fitzgerald, the purser of the Tonnant returned to the ship in triumph with 2,258 lb. of fresh beef and a large supply of onions, cabbages, and water. This was on January 30th. On February 5th, 33,529 lb. of bread arrived from Ferrol, by purchase. Pellew would not, of course, pay for these provisions in cash. They would be paid for in bills on the Admiralty at a slight discount. His immediate difficulties came to an end with the return of the Spartiate on the 13th. The Tonnant received for her share 50 bags of bread - that is, biscuit; 6 puncheons of rum, 2 pipes of wine, 2,000 lb. of flour, 2,000 lb. of cocoa, 1,000 lb. of sugar, 2,009 lb. of fresh beef, with vegetables and boatswain's and carpenter's stores.
Long before the problem of the food supply was solved there had been rough weather enough to prove that Betancos Bay was perfectly safe. 'The bad equals our fullest expectations' Pellew wrote to Cornwallis, 'having never started one anchor during the violent gales we have had, and from which, had we continued at sea, we should in all probability have been completely crippled.' Bedout had been superseded by Gourdon in command of the French squadron, and this latter officer was at first overjoyed to see Pellew anchor in what he believed to be foul ground. He fully expected to see the English squadron on shore as soon as a westerly gale should spring up. But after Pellew had been there for a month, outliving several such gales, the Frenchman's sardonic laugh was heard less often. He was now completely blockaded. In westerly winds Pellew remained in Betancos Bay and sent a party on shore to watch the French fleet from a windmill on the neck of land separating Betancos from Ferrol harbour. In easterly winds he used to anchor across the harbour mouth with the (299) ships' anchors just outside the line of the port. The Spaniards continued to preserve their neutrality, and did not object to his anchoring in Betancos, nor to his sending men on shore. Gourdon's only revenge was an attempt to murder Mr. Fitzgerald - such an attempt seems, at any rate, to have been made, and presumably with his knowledge.
On February 5th, Pellew wrote a private letter to Cornwallis in which he describes both his advantages and difficulties.
I have said so much on this fine anchorage that I need not repeat it to you, Sir. Had old Wallis not lost his nerves, we should have saved much mischief to the Ships long before. We are upon the most friendly terms with the Dons, who visit me all day from Ferrol. Monsieur Gourdon comes frequently to the Beach to see us (he says) driven on shore, and most excessively angry he is. We are not permitted to go so near their ships, but our look-out Lieuts meet at a Wind-Mill on a hill between the two Ports - out of one Window my Lieut. spys them, and out of the opposite one their officer upon us. The Squadrons only three mile apart. Buller proposes a Pic-Nic there with Mons. Gourdon, as we find they dine there frequently . . . .
As we were not caulked when commissioned, we have not a dry hammock in the Ship, and what is worse the Magazine becomes more damp every day, so that powder fill'd three days cannot be lifted by the Cartridge, 1600 and odd have been condemned by survey - and the regular lofs of above 100 weekly. Every pound of Pitch in the Ship has been long since expended, so that our Caulkers are at stand: nor are they able to do any more than stop partial leaks. I shall hope therefore whenever relieved that we may go to a Port, when the defects can be made good, otherwise this fine ship will be ruin'd.
In what way Captain Wallis prevented an earlier resort to Betancos is not clear. He may have refused to take the responsibility of reporting favourably on it. More probably, it was his unfortunate dispute with the Spaniards before Pellew arrived that made it inadvisable to go there until time and tact had improved the situation. He was not the only captain of small ability in the squadron. Barrington Dacres was a poor seaman, and it was said of Sir Edward Buller that he was 'no patron of temperance principles, and even in his sober moments about as much of a seaman as his grandmother.' But able men are always scarce, and Pellew thought his squadron well above the average. And so, indeed, it was - while he commanded it.
(300) Although the port of Ferrol was as firmly sealed up as a blockaded port can be, and although Lord Nelson was under little apprehension of Gourdon appearing in the Mediterranean, Pellew was not as certain that the Toulon fleet would not appear off Ferrol. He was probably aware, for one thing, that Lord Nelson was not even attempting to blockade Toulon in the sense in which he himself was blockading Ferrol. And as for the Brest fleet, he well knew that an effective blockade of Brest was impossible. So that, to his other anxieties were added these disquieting possibilities of defeat, of annihilation by overwhelming numbers.
On February 14th Governor Contador wrote to Pellew complaining of his squadron anchoring in the harbour mouth, and of one of his boats having entered the harbour at night. The reply was prompt and civil. The officer who was in charge of the boat in question was under arrest and would be tried by court martial. Pellew's reply to the first complaint was more vague: 'In easterly winds I occasionally anchor to prevent being blown off and in westerly winds I anchor to prevent being shipwrecked upon the coast.' This propounding of the obvious had a soothing effect, apparently, for Pellew remained on excellent terms with the Spaniards. 'You may rest assured, Sir,' he wrote to Cornwallis 'I will not offend the Spaniards without absolute necessity . . . God forbid, we have enemies enough upon our hands.' At about this time, Pellew received a warning from Frere, the British Minister at Madrid, to the effect that the Spanish were fitting out a force in Ferrol which he might have to resist, should they attempt to sail. To this and other requests from the same source, he replied, in effect, that he took his orders from his commander-in-chief.
Towards the end of February he was suddenly recalled to England by the following letter from Cornwallis.
21st Feb. 1804
DEAR SIR EDWD
I have . . . received orders to send Captain Sutton . . . to relieve you. It seems an important time when your good services, I should think, are very much needed.
The Ships (two of the Line and two frigates) are gone from L'Ouat to Rochefort - Scott saw them safely there - there are 18 of the Line now in Brest Road and I am told the whole force is 24. I shall very soon be reduced to 15! Which is thought sufficient! Surely we ought to be more careful at this time.
(301) You will lament with me the indisposition of our good King - God Almighty preserve him to us!
Dear Sir Edwd
yours most sincerely
There was some delay before Sutton came to relieve him, and Pellew wrote to Cornwallis before seeing him in person.
I feel it very awkward to be removed at this moment, but I believe it is a pre-arrangement, and that it may result from a conversation I had in Town with the Secretary of State, and which I imparted to you, Sir, on my return. I don't know that it is so . . . . like others I must fall in my ranks and obey.
By the end of the month Captain Sutton was blockading Ferrol and the Tonnant was speeding back to Plymouth. On his voyage home Pellew wrote to Broughton.
at sea, March 5th
MY DEAR ALEX
I am now on the return to Plym. after a 22 Weeks close Blockade of Ferrol - you know these operations afford no profit or honour and I afsure you I promised myself no more than escaping from abuse by leaving them where I found them. They have had sailing orders now 7 Months and they have been repeated every Week more prefsingly than before. At last Bonny got Angry and superseded the Admiral by a Young Man from Paris, Who was before a Royalist but now a Chef d'Escadre and Adjutant General of the Fleet - he promised him a flag if he got past me. I hope my turn at that work is over for a year at least but God knows I may be return 'd to it in a fortnight, for they do not let me rest much in Port. So we must go on, but I believe they think me made of Iron. I find, my dear Alex, that I am older than I was and cant get to the Mast Head so well as I used. I want to be an Admiral for I am tired [of] Squaring the Main Yard.
I hope we are going on well at Home but I fear it, and that in a few weeks we shall be all put to our trumps. I suspect the Toulon Fleet have or are coming out of the Mediterranean, they are 11 Line - they have 4 at Rochefort, 5 at Ferrol - if these unite at Rochefort and embark Augereau who is there ready with 35.000 Men and above 150 transports and Gun boats - they will shew there 20 Sail of the Line and at Brest are 18 out in the Road - but they say they have 24 in all. Lord Nelson I fear is deceived and gone up to Naples, Sicily and probably (302) Alexandria. Cornwallis has, if gathered together, about 36 Line badly manned and worse exercised and never yet formed into line - indeed our Chief is an odd fish but that is for your private Ear only - and not to be mentioned to any Soul alive. I had expected near a Month the Toulon fleet to make a blow at my little force of 9 Sail - they are 11and 5 in Ferrol. I was imprudent enough to think I could beat the Toulon fellows heartily before the others could get out and join. My Squad. were well trained and in high feather and, what is better, we all pulled together - altho' we had a Scotchman among us.
My Wife has spent for me since absent 2000 on a House at Plymouth in which she has been about a week. I hope one day to see you there. It is a War House and always saleable without lofs when we choose to move. I conclude ten days will turn me out of Port again, so write soon if you wish me to hear from you, wch I dont very well deserve, I believe. My boys are well - Pownoll becomes a steady good Officer, your Godson Fleet a prodigious fine boy. Emma the happiest wife in England, dear Julia returns from Blackheath School this month, finished. Mother and all well - as I hope yours are, My kind love to them, root and branch.
The Tonnant came into Cawsand Bay on March 7th, and Pellew at once let Lord St. Vincent know of his arrival. He can hardly have seen his new Plymouth residence, Hampton House, before St. Vincent's reply reached him.
Many thanks for your letters of the 20th Jan' ry, 5th Feb'y and 7th instant, the observations you have made on the local in the vicinity of Ferrol are very important and highly priz'd by Lord Hobart and myself. The change of conduct which your last letter reports to have taken place in the Court of Spain is probably occasioned by the movements in the North of Europe by which Spain will in all probability be governed.
Had the Toulon Squadron arriv'd at Cadiz or appeared upon any part of the Coast of Spain, Mr Frere would have given you notice of it. We are very anxious to get you back to your Station and trust you will be ready by the middle of this Month. The Spartiate we hope will join Admiral Cornwallis in a few days; under the circumstances you describe, Cawsand Bay was a fitter anchorage for her to resort to than Bantry - we certainly sho'd not have thought of bringing you into Port but for the strong representations you made of the action bro't against you by Mr Wilson requiring your presence.
Measures will be taken to remove your Son into a Frigate (303) destin'd for Jamaica, where I hope soon to obtain promotion for him.
Yours very truly
9th March, 1804
The reader will not have failed to notice a certain discrepancy between two of the letters quoted. It is clear from St. Vincent's letter to Pellew that the latter had asked to be recalled, probably on February 5th. On the other hand, Pellew's letter to Cornwallis expresses pained resignation at his unexpected recall. On being brought home at his own urgent request he can only fall in his ranks and obey! His duplicity is to be explained, as far as it can be explained, by reference to his conversation with the Secretary of State, Hobart. This took place, probably, in September 1803; and it is very possible that it was the origin of a mild intrigue of which St. Vincent knew nothing. It was widely known, after the event, that the Government had recalled Pellew in order to obtain his support in the House of Commons. But this was just what St. Vincent would never have consented to do. Instead, therefore, of requesting the First Lord to recall him, the other members of the Cabinet deputed one of their number to approach Pellew with a view to his demanding his own recall when the occasion for his political services should arise. This theory reconciles the known facts but must remain, in the absence of better information, a theory. That the occasion for his political services had, in fact, arisen, in March 1804 is sufficiently clear. But it will not be apparent to the reader without a brief incursion into the politics of the day.
The younger Pitt, who had governed England since 1786, and directed the war since it began, went out of office in 1801. His resignation of the premiership was not due to a Parliamentary defeat, but to the King's refusal to act dishonourably. In consequence, although Pitt resigned, his friends did not. His successor in the leadership of his party was his own friend and follower, Addington. To the new administration Pitt began by giving his support, but found himself unable, after a time, to refrain from joining the opposition. Addington would willingly have admitted him to the Cabinet, but Pitt objected on principle to serving in any capacity other than that of Prime Minister. It became his object to turn out the Government in order that he might form a new administration out of its ruins. When war began again, the Government was threatened (304) by his avowed hostility; the more seriously threatened in that Addington was no match for him as a Parliamentary tactician.
During the early years of the war, Pellew, as a follower of the house of Tregothnan regarded himself as belonging to Pitt's party, But, with the formation of the Addington administration his position changed. For Addington's First Lord of the Admiralty was Earl St. Vincent, and Pellew entered Parliament as St. Vincent's man. This made him a supporter of Addington, and opposed in consequence to Pitt.
Now, of Addington's ministry the Admiralty was the leading feature. The introduction of Earl St. Vincent had been the chief alteration in the Cabinet following the resignation of Pitt. Addington very largely stood or fell by the naval policy of his Government, for it was only in this respect that he differed from Pitt. He could not easily be attacked on other grounds because in no other sense was he an innovator. But on this one point he was greatly exposed to criticism and it is still an open question whether criticism was justified.
The naval policy for which St. Vincent stood was one of reform; and especially administrative reform. Reform is always dangerous to the man who advocates it, but in times of crisis it maybe dangerous in itself. A sweeping reform has the effect of replacing a bad system by a better. In a time of crisis - in the middle of a war, for example - reform may be undesirable. For the lapse of time between the destruction of one system and the erection of another may be fatal. A bad organization is better than none, and a reform often involves a moment of chaos during which a defeat may take place. A government which sets out to reform a fighting service while a war is being waged is in the position of a man who sheathes his sword in order to load his pistol. Such a man may be attacked at the instant when he is, in effect, unarmed. Reform in war time may sometimes be necessary, but it is always dangerous.
It was Lord St. Vincent's misfortune that he began his reform in peace time, but was unable to finish it before war had begun again. On coming to the Admiralty he found it admitted as a principle that the royal dockyards could not build ships in war time. He found that it had become the custom to rely on private firms to build ships, the royal dockyards confining themselves to refitting and repairing them. As the ships built by private firms were almost invariably badly built there was every reason for discon- (305) tinuing this practice. And Lord St. Vincent was convinced that a reform of the dockyards would enable him to discontinue it. He saw that, properly managed, the dockyards were perfectly capable of building ships as well as repairing them; and he was determined to make the staff of the dockyards work twice as hard as before. He ceased giving contracts for ships in anticipation of an improvement in the dockyards. In the same way, he found that all available timber for shipbuilding was in the hands of a group of monopolists who put up their price against the Government. To circumvent this clique he planned to build ships in India, using teak instead of oak. These and many other schemes of reform were on foot when war began again.
As might have been expected, St: Vincent created for himself a host of enemies. He was resisted by every kind of sinister interest, and the Navy Board constituted itself as the centre of opposition. The result was that a state of deadlock was reached. St. Vincent would not have ships built by contract. His opponents managed to stop him building them in any other way. So no ships were built.
Out of this dangerous situation there were two methods of escape The Government could escape by going forward or by going backward. It could persist in reform until a new state of efficiency should evolve. Or it could cancel all reform and return to the old kind of semi-efficiency. It is still an open question which policy was the wiser. The former course was the more far-seeing. The latter course was the safer. With many fears and doubts and mutinies, the Addington Cabinet was prepared to support St. Vincent and defy the whole race of contractors and jobbers. With much greater unanimity, Pitt and the contractors were prepared to turn out the Government and adopt an opposite policy by defying St. Vincent.
After the renewal of war in the spring of 1803 the threat of invasion began to bring matters to a head. The crisis of the war seemed to have come, and yet the Government had found no way out of its impasse. Lord St. Vincent would not retreat and could not obtain the dictatorial powers which alone would have enabled him to go forward. In the House of Lords he made light of the danger of invasion. He was not believed. The solid fact remained that England possessed fewer ships of the line than she had done during the last war. Even seamen like Cornwallis and Nelson were anxious. Landsmen were definitely (306) frightened. While all right-minded men hastened to teach each other how to present arms, the Government found itself faced with growing opposition. In the House of Commons this opposition centred on a nucleus of jobbers and parasites of the Navy Board. It was given expression by Pitt, and his eloquent rancour combined with genuine and general alarm to attract perfectly honest men into opposition. Addington struggled valiantly to avert defeat. He was not an ideal war minister; and if he was undoubtedly better than Pitt, that is all that can be said for him.
In the first months of 1804 it became apparent that the Government was tottering. When the House met in February it appeared that a coalition had been formed between Pitt and Fox for the purpose of turning Addington out of office. On the 27th of that month Pitt threatened to move for an inquiry into the conduct of the Admiralty.
Now, we have seen that the Admiralty was poorly represented in the Lower House. St. Vincent himself was in the House of Lords and his most staunch supporter, Troubridge, was not given to oratory. Captain Markham was left to sustain the conflict almost single-handed. As an administrator Markham was clearly excellent but he had no especial skill in debate. He might know the facts, but he was not adept in arranging them in such a way as to impress the ignorant. He was no match for Pitt. And with Pitt was ranged Admiral Berkeley and the friends of the Navy Board. Apart from Sir Charles Pole there were not many other naval officers in the House, and it was very natural that the Government should turn to Pellew, who had been brought into Parliament in anticipation of just such a situation. In peace time he would have been at hand. As it was, it became necessary to send for him. And it seems fairly clear that Lord St. Vincent's scruple in doing so was overcome by a stratagem, and one to which Pellew was privy. Once Pellew had been recalled St. Vincent could have no objection to making use of him. Since, by a startling coincidence, he happened to be on shore at the very time when most needed it would be folly not to send for him. This was probably put to St. Vincent by Lord Hobart very soon after he had written to Pellew on March 9th. For St. Vincent wrote again on the next day:
10 March 1804
As it will be of importance that Lord Hobart and I should have a conversation with you, before you return to the Station (307) before Ferr0l, I hope it will not be inconvenient to you to be in town on Wednesday next. Directions are sent to Sir John Colpoys to authorize your leaving the Tonnant to the care of the First Lieutenant.
(P.S.) You will require four horses for your journey, and perhaps Lady Pellew will be of your party to inspect the colony at Blackheath.
The 10th of March was a Saturday, and 'Wednesday next' meant the 14th. Thursday the 15th was the day on which Pitt was to begin his attack on the Government by moving for papers on the naval preparations. Pellew knew what was wanted of him even before he saw this letter. He was soon on the road to London, and Thursday found him, perhaps for the first time, sitting under the gallery in the House of Commons.
In the account given above of the question at issue between Addington and Pitt, the conflict has been reduced to its simplest terms. Before any attempt is made to describe the debate in which Pellew made the one speech of his life, it is necessary to explain that the confusion, apparently unavoidable on these occasions, was further confounded in this instance by a side issue which became entangled in the main discussion. This side issue was a controversy about the merits of gunboats. In 1804 the word gunboat was understood to mean a vessel built for use in shallow water and armed with one or two very heavy guns. Gunboats were variously rigged but usually depended largely on oars. They were unfit to be at sea except in fine weather. If they were useful at all, it was in the defence of a low coast-line, or in summer operations in a dependable climate. They could prove a nuisance to an anchored fleet after dark. They were occasionally useful in bombardments and landings. Given a sufficient number of them, they could take a frigate that was becalmed or aground. Certain enthusiasts, however, thought more highly of them. Tom Paine, for example, was ready to prove by unanswerable arithmetic that a war could be waged with gunboats alone. In a combat between gunboats and a ship of the line, each gunboat would present a target of only twenty square feet, whereas the ship would present a target of at least a thousand square feet - not counting her rigging. This was proof that the ship would be beaten. The French may not have been convinced by this reasoning, but they had built a large number of these vessels in which to invade the south coast of England. (308) There were some two hundred and fifty of them at Boulogne. Those intended to carry troops were about sixty feet long and sixteen feet broad. They rowed twenty-five oars on each side and carried a hundred men. Although much larger than ordinary gunboats they were equally un-seaworthy.
In a complete analysis of the debate the controversy concerning gunboats and the controversy concerning shipbuilding would be found to have shared the attention of the House pretty equally.
Pitt opened the battle by moving that accounts of the strength of the navy in 1793, 1801, and 1803 should be produced. He was persuaded that a comparison of these three lists would show that the means for repelling invasion had decreased as the danger of invasion became more acute. His argument, when dissected, comes to this. The French were waiting to cross the Channel in the vessels best suited for crossing it, and we had no vessels of the same kind with which to meet them. The French were said to have a hundred strong gunboats at Boulogne, and we had hardly any, and only twenty-three were being built. Then he stated that the navy needed augmentation. As ships could not be built in the royal yards, why were no ships being built in the merchants' yards ? The Admiralty had given but two contracts since coming into office, although fourteen or fifteen contracts might have been made. Lastly, he pointed out that our naval personnel had increased from 16,000 to 75,000 in 1793; while the increase since the beginning of the present war had been only from 50,000 to 86,000. The Admiralty had therefore failed to raise either enough ships or enough men.
Tierney, the treasurer of the navy, replied for the Admiralty and refused to produce a part of the information demanded. Knowing that the debate did not matter very much, as the Government would have to go out soon in any case, he was rather flippant. He used Lord St. Vincent's name as an answer to most of the charges. He suggested that contract-built ships had been found unreliable and that St. Vincent probably thought them a waste of money. 'The speech of the right hon, gent. on this point appears to me to smell of a contract.' He brought forward statistics of the number of ships in the service which might or might not mean anything, and stated that the number of men was little under the number voted by Parliament. To produce all the papers called for would be to undermine Lord St. Vincent's character.
(309) Sir Charles Pole then rose to support the Admiralty and pointed out how resolutely the French ports were blockaded. It was not necessary to meet gunboats with gunboats - frigates and sloops could meet them more effectively. Raising seamen had been found difficult because, among those discharged at the end of a war 'there was scarcely one who would not rather have died than enter again.' Nevertheless, the fleets off Brest, Ferrol, Toulon, Flushing and the Texel were all very efficient, watchful, and seamanlike.
Admiral Berkeley accused Tierney of juggling with his statistics - he had counted the marines twice and included everything that would float in the Navy List. He had counted launches and cutters which were not to be compared with the gun-brigs used in the last war. Berkeley appealed to older and more experienced officers than himself - if all officers of high rank and knowledge were present, they would agree with him. Had we possessed proper gunboats the flotilla at Boulogne could never have assembled. There were not enough frigates and sloops, and trade had suffered accordingly. His best point was the question of why the Admiralty had ordered any gun-brigs, if such craft were useless. 'Good God! If they were of no use, why build them at all? But if they were of use, why not build more, and in the shortest time possible ? ' By the time those ordered had been built, Napoleon's schemes would have either succeeded or failed. He demanded a far more rigorous examination of the Admiralty's conduct than Mr. Pitt had done. Finally 'he begged the House to remember that he warned them of it; that if the present system was pursued, whoever might be at the Admiralty, if this system is not immediately changed, the most dreadful, the most fatal calamity that ever happened to this country might be expected.'
Berkeley sat down, feeling that he had made an impression. Indeed, he probably had. The only weakness in his position was that he had not come straight from sea. And in appealing to more experienced officers than himself he was clearly appealing to a fairly wide circle. The appeal was a safe one in that the officers in question were not there. Or rather, to be exact, only one of them was.
Berkeley's appeal to experience was the signal for Pellew to open fire. The members of the Cabinet had known nothing of his powers of eloquence - indeed, he can hardly (310) have known anything about them himself - but they knew that he had what Berkeley had not; namely, a command at sea. Even if he was unable to speak, his mere presence was useful as local colour on the Government side. He might be supposed to have shaken the brine from his cloak as he entered the House. He brought with him an atmosphere if he brought nothing else.
As it happened Pellew had considerable capacity as an orator, unknown to himself or any one else, and his speech was uncommonly impressive.
Sir, as I very seldom trouble the House, I hope I may be permitted to make a few observations on a subject of which, from the professional experience I have had, I may be presumed to have some knowledge. From the debate of this night, there is one piece of information I have acquired, that the French have got upwards of a thousand vessels at Boulogne. I am glad to find they are shut up there ; we have our advantage in it, we know where they are; I wish we had any means of knowing when they intended to come out. I know this much, however, that they cannot all get out in one day, or in one night either; and when they do come out, I trust that our cockle-shells alone, as an honourable admiral has called a very manageable and very active part of our force, will be able to give a good account of them. Sir, I do not really see in the arrangement of our naval defence anything to excite the apprehensions even of the most timid among us; on the contrary, I see everything that may be expected from activity and perseverance, to inspire us with confidence. I see a triple naval bulwark, composed of one fleet acting on the enemy's coast, of another consisting of heavier ships stationed in the Downs, ready to act at a moments notice, and a third close to the beach, capable of destroying any part of the enemy's flotilla that should escape the vigilance of the other two branches of our defence.
As to the gun-boats which have been so strongly recommended, this mosquito fleet, they are the most contemptible force that can be employed; gun-brigs, indeed, are of some use, but between a gun-brig and a gun-boat is almost as much difference as between a man-of-war and a frigate. I have lately seen half a dozen of them lying wrecked upon the rocks.
As to the possibility of the enemy being able, in a narrow sea, to pass through our blockading and protecting squadrons, with all that secrecy and dexterity, and by those hidden means that some worthy people expect, I really, from anything that I have seen in the course of my professional experience, am not much disposed to concur in it. I know, Sir, and can (311) assert with confidence, that our navy was never better found, that it was never better supplied, and that our men were never better fed or better clothed. Have we not all the enemy's ports blockaded from Toulon to Flushing ? Are we not able to cope, anywhere, with any force the enemy dares to send out against us, and do we not even outnumber them at every one of those ports we have blockaded? It would smack a little of egotism, I fear, were I to speak of myself; but as a person lately having the command of six ships, I hope I may be allowed to state to the House how I have been supported in that command. Sir, during the time that I was stationed off Ferrol, I had ships passing from the fleet to me every three weeks or a month, and so much was the French commander shut up in that port deceived by these appearances, that he was persuaded, and I believe is to this very hour, that I had twelve ships under my command, and that I had two squadrons to relieve each other, one of six inside, and another of six outside.
Pellew sat down amidst applause. The ministers were delighted to find they had chosen the right man. Admiral Berkeley rose on a point of order to explain that he had been misunderstood. Then Wilberforce spoke at incredible length. He assured the House that 'he had not found a single professional man in the navy, who had not professed himself privately and confidently to him in the highest degree dissatisfied with the conduct of the Admiralty.'
Sheridan spoke next and remarked that at least one naval officer was an exception to Wilberforce's generalization. He supposed that Wilberforce had been consulting officers who were ashore and unemployed. The whole proceedings were, in his opinion, factious: 'This I am the more strongly inclined to believe from the statements of the gallant officer (Sir E. Pellew), which was quite a satisfactory reply to all the arguments that have been advanced this evening, and a full refutation of the calumnies that have been for some time back propagated relative to the condition of our navy. In that speech, which applied as forcibly to the heart as the understanding, the hon. baronet manifested not only that sincerity and frankness which is the general characteristic of that profession . . . but also a considerable share of acuteness and judgement.' Sheridan spoke well on the Government side. He roundly accused the Navy Board of corruption, and urged members not to join with a corrupt band of detected speculators in censuring the Admiralty. He thought that the age of chivalry was not dead when (312) it was proposed 'rather to oppose gunboats to those of the French than to see a crowd of them run down by an English 74.' His speech included an excellent joke on Pitt having given as a toast 'The Volunteers, and a speedy meeting with the enemy on our own shores.' For the building of gunboats was certainly the best means of giving the volunteers a full opportunity of distinguishing themselves.
Fox and his followers spoke and voted for the motion on the pretext of it being the best means of clearing the character of Lord St. Vincent. Addington spoke well, but his statistics were proved to be wrong. On the other hand, Captain Markham was able to state that Tierney's statistics were right, after all. He proved at the same time that contract-built ships had been the ruin of the navy. After several futile speeches from the back benches the debate came to an end. Pitt replied at considerable length without saying anything new, and then the House divided. The Government had a majority of seventy-one.
Pellew received many congratulations after this debate, and, in a sense, he deserved them. If he had not saved the Government from defeat, he had certainly increased the majority against the motion. His speech was very effective. On the other hand, Mr. Courtenay was more correct in praising Pellew for 'rhetorical powers for which seamen are not always distinguished ' than for 'simplicity and truth.' Sheridan, too, was a little wide of the mark in speaking of Pellew's sincerity and frankness.
It may assist the reader to grasp the extent of Pellew's 'simplicity and truth' if some extracts from his speech and correspondence are placed opposite each other on the same page.
Sir, I do not really see in the arrangement of our naval defence anything to excite the apprehensions even of the most timid among us . . . .
I hope we are going on well at Home but I fear it and that in a few weeks we shall all be put to our trumps . . . .
I know, Sir, and can assert with confidence that our navy was never better found etc etc
Cornwallis has if gathered together about 36 Line badly manned and worse exercised . . . .
Have we not all the enemy's ports blockaded from Toulon to Flushing ?
I suspect the Toulon Fleet have or are coming out of the Mediterranean . . . .
. . . do we not even outnumber them at every one of those ports we have blockaded ?
. . .there
are 18 of the Line now in Brest Road and I am told the whole
force is 24. I shall be very soon reduced to 15 ! Which is thought
(Cornwallis to Pellew)
In justice to Pellew it is needful to remember that he was perfectly sincere in the most important parts of his oration. He did not believe in gunboats and he did not believe in contract-built ships. And apart from the question of how far he may have succeeded in convincing himself of the truth of what he was saying, it must be admitted that there was a certain justification, even far deliberate falsehood. To inform the general public of any shortcomings in the naval preparations was quite obviously useless and mischievous. If panic could do anything to repel invasion there was panic enough already. And then we are to consider that Mew was speaking for his side. He had to think what effect his speech would have. Whatever his private doubts as to the efficiency of the fleet commanded by that 'odd fish' Cornwallis, he had no reason to suppose that a change in administration would improve matters. It cannot have taken him long to decide between the merits of Pitt and St. Vincent, or even between the merits of Pitt and Addington. If a defeat of the Government would bring Pitt into office, excuse can be found for the least scrupulous means of supporting Addington. This is not to say that what Pellew said on this occasion is to be commended by eternal standards. But it is possible to show that he is not to be condemned on patriotic grounds. If he acted wrongly, he at least acted disinterestedly. If he lied, it was from the best motives.
When everything has been said, however, in defence of Pellew's conduct, it is necessary to state that he expected and obtained a reward for his political services. It was not the prospect of reward that urged him to speak as he did, for the other party would have rewarded him more generously had he spoken on their side. He had, after all, supported those who would soon be driven from office. But he expected them to reward him before they fell.
It had been said that the Government had a majority of seventy-one on March 15th. This majority was thought so small that people confidently expected it to become smaller. Pitt and his friends began to arrange the details (314) of the new administration. It was planned to force Addington to resign before the end of April. Dundas, who had accepted a peerage from Addington, made strenuous efforts to secure recruits for Pitt. Government became steadily weaker until, on April 19th, Addington announced his decision to resign. But before doing so he paid his debts.
Immediately after the debate on the 15th Pellew spoke with Lord St. Vincent and received a promise of promotion for his eldest son. Then he sped back to Plymouth and to his ship. He was delayed a little on the way, at Ashburton, for want of horses, on the 20th; and when he reached Plymouth it was blowing a gale, so that communication with the Tonnant was impossible. On the 25th he wrote to Markham explaining as much but in hopes of putting to sea in a week's time. He was not allowed to stay so long. Although unable to obtain all the stores his ship needed, he was ordered to sea on the 27th. While on his way to Ferrol, on April 2nd, he wrote again to Markham, chiefly on the subject of gunners' stores. He was still something of a specialist in gunnery. The letter contains one significant sentence: 'I write this on my way to Ferrol, concluding something will be done on my return.' Actually, something had been done already, as the following letter written to Broughton on March 31st more than sufficiently demonstrates - Pownoll's promotion had been arranged.
Your kind letter reached Plymouth on the day I sailed, indeed after I had left my family, so I sent it by my son Pownoll to his Mother, requesting she would tell you about the share in the Canal. I told her at the same time that I was inclined to accept your bargain as a lottery ticket of no great extent. I hope she may have so determined and that you know it, but if she has not said anything on the subject I by this consent to your bargain and leave it in your hands to manage how you please. You see I am at sea again-and you will have heard me abused for daring to speak the Truth in the Great House, but the Truth I did speak and am so perfectly independent of great Commifsions and the support of any Great Man that I am determined I will speak the truth, but then, My dear friend, it has cost me so much money that I am quite sick of such Company. Never did any unfortunate fellow get himself into such a want of it.
I think you know George Berkeley - I really could not bear to hear a Man so little known among us take a lead against Men who so far surpafs him in knowledge of our Service - but I (315) will not bore you on the subject of Politicks. We shall all soon have something else to do than talk if Bonny makes attack. So your friend Dick is returned to his virtuous Father . . . [several lines erased]
You desire to know something of my Cubs, here is their History. Emma - well married to Capt. Halsted - who is rich, took her with Empty pocketts and settled Ten Thousand pounds on her. Pownoll left me, now on his way to Jamaica on promotion, I believe, in confidence, to a vacant Sloop and to return soon to me. Your Godson Fleet is still with me, an uncommon fine lad now 14 - well educated, Clever, and a good Sailor, in two years he will be fit for a Lieut. Julia, 16½, I bro't Home from Blackheath School finished good and pretty - sings delightfully and is fully accomplished for her walk in life. George at School in Gloster - to be a learned Man for the Bar. Ned the last, five years old next Month, at home a spoiled Child as idle as a Monkey. Are you satisfied with the Acc't, if not I will endeavour to prevail on Susan to get one or two more of a diff' cast. Joking apart, we have great reason to be thankful to God for his blefsing. Our children are all good, big and little, and old Mother most respectable and respected by all Ranks, and I am a happy Father as I hope you are and will be. Pownoll will I hope do honour to the Service and to his family. Lord St. V. promises me he shall return in a few Months. When you next write me give as full an account of your own group and tell Mrs B. I do not yet despair of being known to her. Poor old Schanky is gone to Town to undergo an operation on his Eyes with good hope of succefs. I wish it most Sincerely. I heard from him a few days since. I like him extremely. Alex - how do you think of him. Adieu. May God be with you and with us all
most affectionately yours
ALEXANDER BROUGHTON ESQ.
near Newcastle, Staffs.
Pellew evidently had his own motive for 'inspecting the Colony at Blackheath,' even though it should require four horses to drag his hired coach up the hill from Deptford. But there is no clue to show why St. Vincent chose to confer with him there. It is interesting to note the age at which Fleetwood was to have a commission. Pellew had at one time contemplated sending him to Portsmouth Academy but, St. Vincent having advised him against it, Fleetwood went straight from Tiverton to sea. If speedy promotion was the object in view the means adopted seem to have been excellent.
(316) On superseding Captain Sutton Pellew found the situation at Ferrol unaltered. Whether Gourdon still believed his enemies to be twice as numerous as they were - or whether he had ever believed it - must remain doubtful. The story is improbable on the face of it. Why should he suppose that the English needed twelve ships to blockade five or six ? On the other hand, to set against this, Pellew had every opportunity of knowing the gossip of Ferrol. For the Spanish had supplied him with a liaison officer, and one with whom he was on friendly terms. This man was an English Catholic of the name of Brickdale who commanded the Irish Brigade in the Spanish Service. It was from him that Pellew heard how easily the expedition under Pulteney might have succeeded - It was one of Brickdale's men who had polished the keys of the town in preparation for the surrender. The liaison officer often dined on the Tonnant, and it was probably on one of these convivial occasions that Pellew heard the story which so aptly rounded off the one great speech of his life.
A week after resuming the blockade, and in anticipation of a speedy removal from that post Pellew wrote to Lord Nelson and offered to serve under him. It was a greater compliment than Nelson knew, coming from one so little given to serving under any one. But Nelson - whom Pellew seems to have known slightly - preferred men of his own school. His reply did not reach the squadron off Ferrol until after Pellew had gone, but it may well be inserted at this point as it is not known when Pellew received it.
Victory, 1st May, 1804
MY DEAR SIR EDWARD
I feel more than merely obliged by your kind and obliging letter of April 10th which, notwithstanding it has been afloat in the Med'n 6 Days, conveys to us very late news. I wish our Government in their important communications with me would direct their dispatches to Mr Frere at Madrid, and direct him to forward them by a confidential person to Barcelona, where almost every week I send a frigate for information, then such a distressing circumstance as has happened to the Swift cutter could not take place. Bonaparte read all the public dispatches on April 76th. I wish they had choaked him. I wish I was sure that our letters are not read by the Way, however, what I am going to say cannot do much harm. The French have 14000 men ready for Embarkation at Toulon and as many more in the heel of Italy - they only want more Ships and my information leads me to suppose that certainly (317) the Ferrol Squadron is destined for the Mediterranean - and also the Brest fleet - either before or after they may have thrown their Corps of Troops on Shore in Ireland. Egypt and the Morea are supposed to be their great object after their English and Irish Schemes. Our force here is not equal to such a force united to the Toulon Fleet which is ten Sail of the Line seven of which are full manned . . . .
Our ships' hulls many of them are but in a very indifferent state, however we can keep nine Sail of the Line at Sea. I do not chuse to say more upon this subject, but this I may pride myself upon, that no man ever commanded a fleet better manned, more healthy, or ever great unanimity prevailed, than the one I have the honour of Commanding. I believe the Russian fleet from the Black Sea is by this time in the Mediterranean, their object I can only guess at for I have not a word of information or a scrap of a pen from England since the end of January.
I am truly sensible of the honour you do me in expressing a wish to serve under me, but you have always my dear Sir Edward proved yourself so equal to command a fleet that it would be a sin to place you in any other situation, and my services are very nearly at an end for in addition to other infirmities I am nearly blind - however I hope to fight one more Battle and then unless my health and sight mends, which is not very likely, I expect perhaps to lay down the cudgels and console myself with the Idea that there are so many more able Officers than ever I would pretend to be ready to take them up. Captains Murray and Keats are very well and desire their regards and if Louis, Geo. Martin or Sutton are with you remember me kindly to them or any other of my old Friends and believe me ever my dear Sir Edward your much obliged friend and Servant,
NELSON AND BRONTE
SIR EDWD PELLEW, BART.
In the work of blockading, those officers engaged in it acquired one common conviction in that each doubted the efficiency of every squadron but his own. Nelson did not question the possibility of the Brest fleet eluding Cornwallis, nor of the Ferrol division escaping Pellew. What he was certain of was that the Toulon fleet could not elude him. It was natural for him to assume that the French would bring the Brest fleet to the Mediterranean; for that was, according to him, their only method of extricating the ships in Toulon from imprisonment. There was no very general belief in Nelson's infallibility until he was dead, and the men blockading other ports did not scruple to differ from (318) him. They thought it much more probable that the Toulon fleet would come to relieve the ports they were blockading; for by no other means could the squadrons in them be released. Pellew was long convinced of this, and half confident in his own ability to deal with such a situation. But his views altered before he finally relinquished the command before Ferrol.
While it was still in their power to do so, Addington and St. Vincent determined to reward those who had supported them. To this end a flag-promotion took place. It was announced on April 23rd, a week before the Prime Minister gave notice of his intention of resigning. The list of rear-admirals was of enormous length. Among the followers of St. Vincent thus dignified were Pellew, Markham, and Troubridge. And for his recent service to the Government Pellew had a simultaneous appointment to the East Indies Command. His letters of recall reached him on the 29th. He wrote to Cornwallis to announce his departure some ten days afterwards.
9th May, 1804
I have the honour to inform you that his Majesty's frigate Niobe arrived here on the 6th instant, bringing Captains Jervis, Oswald, and Pym to supersede myself, Captains Sutton and Cochrane, who have received notification of being made flag officers in his Majesty's fleet.
After having made the necessary arrangements, I left the squadron in charge of the Hon. Rear Admiral Cochrane . . . .
It appears to be the intention of the French Commodore, Gourdon, to refit his squadron in Ferrol, and to seize with eagerness the first moment for bringing over the Duguay Trouin to be docked . . . .
[He describes the state of the English Squadron - some ships in need of repair, all in need of small stores.]
The crews of the whole are in high health and spirits, and supplies of fresh provisions, regular wine, and bread have been purchased as occasion required and five hundred bags of the latter were ready to be sent on board on the day I left the port.
The utmost cordiality prevails between the Spaniards and the squadron, and upon every occasion their civilities are uniform. I have no doubt, from the readiness with which they supplied an anchor to the Malta, but stores of any sort may be procured and supplied from the arsenal as readily as they ate to the French ships, if their Lordships should choose to resort to that measure. . . .
[N.R.S. Vol. xiv.]
(319) With this letter he enclosed a list of the French and Spanish ships at Ferrol and Corunna. The French had four sail of the line and one frigate at Ferrol, one ship of the line and a frigate at Corunna. On the same day he wrote privately to Cornwallis and spoke of the probable plans of the French. Although his views had altered somewhat, he was no nearer agreement with Lord Nelson. He continued to regard the Toulon fleet as potentially at large. He persisted in assuming that nothing but a large relieving force could save Gourdon from becoming the oldest inhabitant of Ferrol. In these two opinions he was unshaken, and in both of them he was justified. On May 9th he wrote to Cornwallis:
I cannot well see what can induce the French to move this way from Toulon unless the object is one grand rush for England by uniting their Naval Strength - it appears to me madness to leave the Mediterranean entirely exposed to our Fleet, and I feel very little doubt should the releasing these Ships be their object on their way to Rochefort, that Lord Nelson will be so close after them that they will fear delay, as well as Combat . . . .
Nothing certainly can exceed the anxiety they betray to get out for some great blow, and yet I do not consider them fit for any Service, previous to their getting supplies, of sails most particularly. I hope, Sir, to see something from you in a few days, and am, my dear Admiral, with great regard,
To leave the squadron under the command of Cochrane must have been a source of annoyance to Pellew. He was glad enough to leave, but there can be little doubt that he would have preferred an abler successor. He had been able to boast of the harmony among the captains - 'although we have a Scotchman among us. It can have given him little satisfaction to leave a Scotchman in command. Cochrane had quarrelled with the Spanish almost before Pellew's topsails were over the horizon.
Pellew and Sutton went home in the Niobe frigate, and with them went old Colonel Brickdale - presumably on leave. As soon as he reached port, Pellew wrote to Markham congratulating him on his promotion and thanking him for kindness, past and future. The letter ends:
As you wont hear from the chief before to-morrow I enclose state of enemies' force, which you may wish to see. I went on (320) board Nile half past eight last night, but he would see none of us - and said 'Get along ! '
[N.R.S. Vol. xxviii.]
This was written on May 15th, perhaps before the Niobe came into the Sound. It was written, as Pellew said: 'in ignorance of state affairs,' Had it been otherwise, he would not have applied in that quarter for the exchange into his flagship of the boatswain and carpenter of the Tonnant. His friends had gone out of office five days before.
Pellew's promotion to flag-rank was overdue. He was now aged forty-seven and of such seniority on the Captains' List, that he was made Rear-Admiral of the White, missing the intermediate step. This was, in some sort, a recognition of the delay in promoting him. But his flag was no part of the reward due to him for political service. Promotion was due to him in any case. His reward was a command-in-chief the one he had asked for - and the appointment of his son to a sloop at the ripe age of seventeen.
Many years afterwards, an officer whom Pellew had disappointed in his hopes of promotion read in the Naval Chronicle an account of the debate of March 15th, 1804, and then wrote in the margin:
for this speech Lord Exmouth got the Command in India, his two sons made Captains, at the same time he knew every word was untrue that he spoke, but it had the desired effect & he lost his honour in gain of fortune, so much for a man of mush-room extraction.
How far this criticism is just, it is for the reader to judge. He will do well not to judge harshly.