Contents Back Chapter XII Home Exmouth
Edward Pellew - By Parkinson, C. Northcote, London, 1934
CHAPTER XI - Mediterranean
. . .We sailed for
the Toolong fleet.'
' What fleet ?' inquired I.
` Why, the Toolong fleet, so called, I thought, because they remained too long in harbour, bad luck to them . . . .' - 'Peter Simple,' Marryat,
(382) PELLEW was aged fifty-two when he came on shore in 1809. But five years in the East had done something to undermine his health. The strain had begun to tell. He was older than his years. And the question must naturally, arise as to whether he was wise in taking the command in the East Indies, whether he did not give too much for what he gained. We have seen what he gained - a fortune and the promotion of his two sons. To find an answer to this question it is now necessary to consider what he gave. Now, the price paid for the advantages obtained must be reckoned in terms both of what he lost by his stay in the East and what, he might have gained had he remained in Europe.
With regard to his actual, ascertainable loss, only his health need concern us. And here the reader must observe that what Pellew said of himself is not altogether to be trusted. No man can describe the general state of his health with any accuracy at the moment when he is feeling ill. From one of Pellew's letters to Broughton it would be natural to conclude that he had not long to live. 'I begin to wear . . . My floor timbers are very shaky . . . Grey as a badger . . .' - this is hardly what one would expect to hear from a man destined to live for another twenty years and more. Yet Pellew did not die until he was seventy six. It is true that his astonishing physical activity had somewhat deserted him at this time. It would have been very remarkable if it had not. But even here the facts do not justify the gloomy view of his health which a few days of sickness produced in him. In 1808, when the Culloden lost a foretopmast on the Malabar Coast, Pellew was one of the first to reach the foretop and begin clearing away the wreckage. (383) And if his bodily activity had not altogether disappeared, his mental activity was not lessened at all. His presence of mind was still extraordinary. On one occasion when his flagship caught fire, the air with which he directed operations was described as 'nonchalant ' ; and the fire was hardly out before the seamen who had lost their heads were being flogged for it. During the second attack on Java the Culloden softly grounded on a shoal. Not for an instant at a loss, Pellew made the frigate astern almost run into him rather than risk the temporary loss of a second ship. To the end of his life he could always make a decision. He always knew his own mind even if he sometimes changed it. At fifty-two he was not thought of as an old man.
Then again, this matter of health must be treated comparatively. He was not the only man to feel the strain of fifteen years of warfare. It would be truer to say that he was the only man who did not. He seems to have felt it less than anyone else. He may sometimes have felt old age approaching, but half his contemporaries were already worn out or dead. Conditions which made him feel his age would have killed most men.
As to what he lost by not remaining in Europe, we are necessarily on more doubtful ground. There are, however, two things to be borne in mind. In the first place, staying in Europe would not have led to his fighting at Trafalgar. Had he been a captain, he might have been there as his brother Israel was. But there is a limit to the number of rear-admirals a fleet may have. There was no vacancy for him. Besides, Lord Nelson had refused to have him. In the second place, it is known that the Admiralty would have sent him with the Walcheren Expedition if he had returned home soon enough. Now, there is no reason to suppose that his being in the place of Strachan would have made the result any different. No one but the Earl of Chatham thought that the navy could have done much more than it did. The expedition was ill-planned from the very start, partly through sheer ignorance of what was being attempted; and Pellew had no special local knowledge by virtue of which he could have advised the Government to order things better. He and Lord Chatham were personal friends, it is true. But then, he had been on very good terms with Maitland. He had refrained from physical violence when conversing with Pulteney. Mere politeness cannot instil energy. Pellew had no secret method of causing soldiers to proceed with the business in hand.
(384) Apart from these two virtual certainties - that Pellew, by not going to India, would have been no nearer fighting under Nelson's orders; and that he might easily have injured his reputation in the Scheldt - all must be conjecture. There were several actions he might possibly have fought. He was too junior an admiral to have been in Calder's place off Ferrol. He might have been second-in-command to Calder - but that would have done him no good. He might have been at the Basque Roads. But there was little credit to be gained there. On the whole, we may conclude that Pellew was as well in the East Indies as he would have been anywhere else. By staying in Europe he might have fought in a general action. On the other hand, he might not. And even if he had, there was greater possibility of discredit than glory.
The command in the East had been a disappointment in some respects, admittedly. There had been no fighting of the kind which confers fame. Even the operations at Java looked more important on paper than they actually were. But his reputation was, in the main, rather increased than diminished; and his return to England was remarkably apt.
On returning to Hampton House, where his family still lived, Pellew's first concern was with the marriage of his youngest daughter. His fears that Lady Pellew did not visit Bath with sufficient regularity to get Julia married proved, in one sense, unfounded. But if he meant that she would not make a good marriage, he was right. Living at Plymouth and moving in naval circles, it is not surprising that she married a captain in the navy. Pellew would, of course, have preferred her to strengthen the family interest by marrying into a noble family. As it was, it is plain that she conferred more honour than she received in marrying young Captain Harward. But Pellew was not disposed to be critical or angry at having a new protégé in the Service. Harward would, after all, become an admiral some day Pellew would see to that himself. The marriage took place at Plymouth soon after Pellew's return, and probably at Charles Church where Dr. Hawker, the friend of the family, still preached with astounding effect.
But if this new alliance was of no use to the family, Pellew had quite recently acquired some influential friends who were to help him a great deal. To begin with, he now began to correspond with the Duke of Northumberland. The duke, it seems, was accustomed to spend the winter at (385) Teignmouth, in Devon, for the benefit of his daughter's health. He and Pellew probably met in November of this year. The duke was not in power at the time but he had all the prestige of his rank combined with the possession of considerable borough-influence. It soon appeared that he had favours to ask as well as patronage to confer. He was an old man, suffering grievously from gout: 'it shifts from one part to another,' he complained. Then there was Sidmouth. It is probable that Sidmouth was in a penitent mood and inclined to think Pellew a wronged man. This very useful connexion was soon to prove important. Of less obvious use was a friendship formed in India with Lord William Bentinck, who had come home to England at about the same time as he himself had. Although but a humble soldier and diplomat, Bentinck was a member by birth of the governing group. He was connected with most of the great families. He might have no particular wealth or influence, but he always knew what was happening in politics. Pellew had also found a useful friend of a different kind - a gentleman called Hoseason. It is possible that this connexion was formed in India also. To define Hoseason's occupation is impossible now and was probably difficult even then. But he appears to have made himself useful to a number of people, both in political and private affairs, Bentinck being among his friends or patrons. To Pellew he was useful as an agent and financial adviser. At this time it was one of Pellew's chief objects to invest his money in land as soon as possible. Probably without much knowledge, he was anxious to buy land in Norfolk - a county notorious for agricultural improvement - and it was Hoseason who tried to find a suitable estate for him there.
It is possible that Pellew was not regarded with much favour by the Portland ministry. He was not employed throughout the autumn of 1809. A change of ministry took place at the end of the year which brought into power Lord Wellesley, to whom he was known. Although this may have improved his prospects, he was clearly becoming anxious by the spring of 1810, as the following letter to him from Hoseason may serve to indicate.
Harley St. 21st April 1810
MY DEAR SIR EDWARD
. . . Lord and Lady William [Bentinck] are now in Town and extremely well. They dined here a few days back, and we had a long conv'n about you, your views, prospects etc. They have (386) just got into their new House, 26 Bruton St, and a most excellent House it is - but it will cost a great deal of Money. I told them in confidence all that had pafsed between you and Lord M . . . ve. Lord W. was much delighted to hear you had parted such good friends, he entirely approves of everything you have done - and indeed he told me, that he had all along advised you to be well afsured how you stood before you accepted of any Command - and he has no doubt of your being called upon whenever such services as yours are required - at present everything at Sea is inactivity, for nothing is to be done, and therefore we all think as things stand at this moment you are as well on shore as on board. And you may rest afsured, that should an active and able Man be required, you will be called upon - this is likewise the opinion of Ld and Ldy W. and many more of your friends.
You have of course heard of all our late troubles with the Burdett party. Thank God, from my own observation and firm opinion, they are neither numerous or respectable . . . a retail Linen Draper in the Chair . . . really upon the whole I think the conduct of Sir Francis Burdett has done good - for if good can arise from strengthening the present Adminis'n, it has certainly done that - and therefore you must not at present differ from the Men in power, if you want employment . . . after you get to town we will settle about the trip to Marshland . . . I am going to Shetland Farm and will show you the whole Country, where you may invest a Large Fortune if you please . . . .
Except to Ld and Ldy Wm I never show or make known any part of your letters . . . it goes only to those you desire it should be seen by. Mrs Hoseason unites in kindest and best wishes and trusts that you will soon be in Town and in the Adm'ls room; and that you will likewise be able to persuade Lady Pellew to accompany you . . . .
With real esteem and affection
Your most obliged and most faithful
Hoseason wished Pellew to take a house in London, so as to live within easy reach of that holy of holies - the Admirals' Room. This scheme probably appealed to Pellew; but there was no possibility of the move taking place. Lady Pellew was a strong-minded person and evidently had a strong dislike for London. This was very likely the origin of her objections to his entering Parliament. On the other hand, they were both contemplating a removal of some kind. It may be noted that Pellew's talk of buying land in Norfolk does not necessarily mean that he intended to live there (387) himself. It is highly improbable that he ever thought of it. All his relatives lived in the south. His elder brother was still at Falmouth. His eldest daughter, Mrs. Halsted, lived at Phoenix Lodge, near Portsmouth. All his naval friends tended to live on the south coast. He would never have consented to live in Norfolk. There was, however, at this time, a disagreeable event which may have increased Lady Pellew's desire to leave Hampton House. It is best told in the words of the local newspaper.
Last Sunday night Hampton House, the seat of Vice-Admiral Sir E. Pellew, Bart. was broken open, and robbed of about 3ool's worth of Plate; among which, we are sorry to state, there was an elegant silver salver, value 100 guineas, presented to him by the Patriotic Fund at Lloyd's, in compliment of his taking the La Cleopatra, 44, by La Nymphe, 36, in the year 1794. The villains got clear off with it through the garden gate. They made their way into the house through the parlour window-shutters, by making a hole about eight inches apart, with a cooper's gouge, and then an oval aperture large enough to admit a mans hand to thrust back the bolt of the window. They left the empty plate chest in the garden, and all the articles that were plated on the grass plat. They were scientific rogues, and were very deliberate in the execution of their plan, as they lit a wax-light and left it extinguished. They drew two hangers, which they left unsheathed in the lobby. Sir E. Pellew has offered 100 guineas reward.
The rogues may have been scientific enough to perpetrate their crime while the formidable owner of the house was in London. Pellew, at any rate, was in Town in the spring of 1810. He was not seeking a house there. What he was seeking was a command; and this he managed to obtain. On June 21st he was appointed commander-in-chief in the North Sea, his flag to be in His Majesty's Ship Christian VII, and his task to be the blockading of the Scheldt. Among those to congratulate him was the Earl of Chatham.
Hill St. June 27th 1810
MY DEAR SIR
I regret much that I lost the pleasure of seeing you when you were so good [as] to call yesterday - I shall be happy to see you any other morning it may be convenient to you to call, and if you will name any hour, I will take care to be at home.
I have many acknowledgements to offer you for your very (388) kind Note, as well as to congratulate you, which I do most sincerely, on your appointment to a Command now of very considerable importance. Had you fortunately pofsefsed it last summer, it would, I am confident, have ceased, comparatively, to be of any, and my individual happinefs would not have been lefs secured by it, than the honor and interests of the Country. With my warmest wishes for your succefs on all occasions, I remain
My Dear Sir
Your Most faithful
Pellew's flag was hoisted in the Downs on July 2nd, and he shortly afterwards began an uneventful blockade. His fleet of ten or twelve sail of the line quietly besieged the Scheldt throughout the summer. The enemy fleet lay in Flushing Basin, which had been repaired since the previous summer, and which had, in fact, received little damage. Towards the end of September Pellew received a deputation of pilots who thought he was remaining at sea too late in the year. He nevertheless remained loyally at his post for another three weeks, after which time he began to share the pilots' anxiety and accordingly took shelter in the Downs. He was still there in April 1811, when orders came to him to haul down his flag and come on shore.
To explain how it came about that Pellew was now given the command in the Mediterranean is not easy. Lord Collingwood had died in March 1810. His successor in the Mediterranean was Admiral Sir Charles Cotton. In 1811 the command of the Channel fleet fell vacant and Sir Charles Cotton accepted it, leaving the Mediterranean once more without a ruler. To enumerate and eliminate all the officers who might possibly have been given this post would be a hopeless enterprise. In 1809, however, when there was talk of the possibility of Collingwood being removed, rumour had it that Sir John Duckworth was to succeed him. Since then, Duckworth had accepted an appointment ashore, and had therefore ceased to be a candidate. Sir James Saumarez was another officer senior to Pellew, and one who would have liked this command. But to him there were several objections. He seems, in the first place, to have lacked interest. What was even more decisive, though, was that he had accepted the command in the Baltic. Sir John Borlase Warren was out of the question for a similar reason - he had accepted the command in North America. (389) Altogether, it is reasonable to conclude that, if influence had something to do with Pellew's appointment, his return from India at the right moment had more.
Pellew came on shore in the first week in April, and received his commission as commander-in-chief in succession to Sir Charles Cotton, who was still in the Mediterranean, waiting to be relieved. Presumably at his own request, Pellew was given leave of absence until May 31st, The intervening weeks sufficed for him to make his preparations and receive his final instructions. On June 1st Pellew's flag was punctually hoisted on board the Caledonia at Spithead.
The Caledonia was at that time the biggest ship ever built in an English dockyard, and one of the finest ships in the navy. She carried 120 guns and her crew numbered little short of nine hundred. She was a new ship, sailed exceedingly well, and was greatly admired at the time. One circumstance in the arrival on board of the great man was eminently characteristic of him, although there is no evidence of it having attracted much attention. This was the fact that the rear-admiral who followed him as captain of the fleet was his brother, while the captain who greeted him on the quarter-deck was his son-inlaw. After this it may seem very remarkable that neither of his sons had yet arrived. One of them, however, was soon to be under his father's orders. Hawke-Locker came with Pellew as secretary, and his old follower John Gaze now became his master of the fleet. To complete the party, the military commander-in-chief destined to sail in the Caledonia was none other than Lord William Bentinck.
Bentinck came on board on June 12th and the Caledonia sailed on the 14th. A fortnight later, off Cadiz, Pellew was joined by the squadron of Sir Richard Keats, passing the Straits on the following day. After a call at Port Mahon, Pellew joined the fleet blockading Toulon on July 15th. He assumed command of the fleet on the 18th. On the day after his flag was hoisted as commander-in-chief, and almost before Sir Charles Cotton was out of sight, he very nearly fought an action with the Toulon fleet.
This affair, which might have placed Pellew's name on a level with the first of English admirals, was occasioned by two French frigates coming from Genoa and running the blockade into Toulon. Pellew, who was cruising off Cape Sicie with sixteen sail of the line, signalled his inshore squadron to cut them off. The two ships of the line, which, (390) with three frigates, composed this advanced guard, were prevented from performing this service by Vice-Admiral Emeriau who sailed out of Toulon to cover the frigates with thirteen sail of the line. A few distant broadsides were exchanged, the inshore squadron fell back, and Emeriau hastened back to harbour as Pellew approached with the main fleet. Pellew appears to have thought that a general action might have been brought about - presumably by the inshore squadron behaving with greater spirit. That the two leading ships might have attempted to detain the French fleet by sacrificing themselves is hardly in doubt. But whether Emeriau would not have deserted two or three stragglers rather than risk a battle must remain uncertain.
On August 7th Pellew took the fleet into Hyères Bay, leaving a small squadron 'to polish Sicie.' The anchorage in Hyères Bay was convenient for the blockader of Toulon. It was safe in summer and not too distant from the port to be blockaded. Although surrounded by an enemy coast bristling with artillery, it was possible to anchor well out of range. On the day that Pellew arrived there he was joined by Captain Codrington, afterwards the hero of Navarino. Although some officers had gloomily predicted that a worthy successor of Collingwood was hardly to be found, Codrington was impressed by the new commander-in-chief.
I like Sir Edward Pellew; and I have no doubt that attention to duty will ensure his approbation. He is a man of tried ability and courage, and I think he will give confidence to his fleet in the event of being placed in any difficult situation.
This initial impression, combined with an appointment to a command off the coast of Valencia and his former intense dislike of Collingwood, saved Pellew from his censure on that unfortunate day, the 13th of August. Through ignorance of the locality Pellew allowed his flagship to drift within range of the battery on Point de Medes as the fleet got under way. The result may be described in Codrington's words.
I weighed at daylight this morning from Hières (Hyères) Bay, and the Admiral, at the same time, made the general signal for the fleet to do so, there being a nice breeze directly out of the bay. But the wind headed us as we stood out, and I clearly foresaw mischief would happen from the Téméraire passing too near the battery, because they did not try their distance on us, or on the (391) Leviathan which was nearer, in order to reserve for the Admirals, who were evidently falling nearer as the wind lessened. I dare not, however, hint by signal a thing which ought to be as evident to them as to me; and as I saw that I should escape, and had reason to think I should weather the island of Porquerolle, I stood on. However, whilst I was snug sheltered from the fort, it opened upon the Téméraire and Caledonia, who were both obliged to fire in return for their own protection. And the result is that, before they could be towed away, the former was struck several times, and has eleven killed and wounded .... The Caledonia was struck also once or twice, but I believe without injury. Sorry as one is naturally at any unnecessary loss or suffering, this little event will have its good effect and become a lesson for the whole fleet hereafter. When we went in, the Admiral, rather, as I think, from the youthful ardour of his son-in-law captain, was going to send me to destroy two frigate store-ships, which I well knew were protected by many batteries. I said nothing of the batteries, which I thought would soon speak for themselves, but begged he would give me a boat to put me on board without waiting for my own. In their great eagerness they were not quick in lowering the boat, and by the time she was down, the Admiral saw enough to order me to stay where I was, and that the boat should be hoisted up again. The momentary influence which is created by the eagerness of the inexperienced, will not, I think lead him to persevere in any of those nonsense's, as I think them, after his own sense has given him time to think.
While Pellew was having this first taste of his antagonists' powder, Lord William Bentinck had gone on to Palermo in a frigate. That port was to be the base for his operations. What these operations were to be was still undecided.
After cruising off Toulon for some two months without bringing the French to action, Pellew left a squadron of observation to watch them, and took the fleet to Port Mahon, where he arrived at the end of October. The fleet remained there all the winter, except for a short visit to the neighbourhood of Toulon at the beginning of December. The French fleet now outnumbered the English and was boldly manoeuvring just outside its own port when Pellew appeared. Emeriau promptly returned to harbour. During this winter, the commander-in-chief's main concern was with the cooperation afforded to the Spanish patriots by Codrington and Eyre. But, as the subject of this co-operation is too complex to admit of condensation here, it may be as well at this point to survey the extent of Pellew's responsibilities.
Although the Channel fleet was still, apparently, regarded (392) as the chief command afloat, the Mediterranean at this time presented a far greater field of operations. It would be impossible to describe adequately the innumerable activities Pellew had to oversee. The forces at his disposal in the Mediterranean itself, exclusive of twelve or more ships stationed at Cadiz, consisted of about twenty-five sail of the line, twenty-one frigates and twenty-two sloops. He had often between eighty and ninety vessels under his orders. This may serve to indicate the complexity of his task. The fact is, however, misleading if it conveys the impression that he wielded an overwhelming force. This was far from the case - so far, that a digression is necessary to combat the popular theory on the subject.
There seems to exist a lingering belief among all but naval historians, that the Battle of Trafalgar ended the war at sea. 'After Trafalgar the glory had gone out: Nelson was dead, the French were beaten, the eyes of England no longer looked seawards.' The theory has its convenience. But it has no relation to fact. It would have been highly convenient if the French fleet had been extinguished at Trafalgar. But, unfortunately, it was not. Pellew was outnumbered by the fleet he had to blockade. The French, it is true, showed no great desire for battle after 1805. But then, they had shown no great desire for battle before 1805. Pellew has been blamed for inventing no ruse for enticing the French fleet out. What could he have done ? The French did come out. They came out daily. Only, they failed to come out far enough; and they instantly went in again whenever he appeared.
If it be asked why no means were found for destroying the French fleet at its moorings, the answer is plain. While the French were in the habit of performing evolutions outside Toulon there was always some hope of bringing them to action. As long as this hope survived, it was not in the nature of an English admiral to throw away his chance of fame. It may have been possible to assault Toulon with fireships or rockets but an officer like Pellew would never have resorted to such methods while any chance remained of fighting a battle. To enter one's enemy's harbour on a dark night is a difficult and dangerous feat. But no admiral receives as much credit for it as for a battle. Pellew wanted to destroy the Toulon fleet in spectacular fashion, in the open; and he was right in supposing that the opportunity might arise. The French cannot have been laboriously building ships and teaching each other how to tack in (393) succession without some object in view. It was believed that force of habit would take them to the West Indies. But, wherever bound, Pellew thought he could intercept them. Besides, there was always a chance of a battle taking place by accident off Toulon.
Although nothing but complete inactivity on the part of the French would have induced Pellew to visit their anchorage, the navy contained certain officers who thought differently. Lord Cochrane, in particular, specialized in explosives and experimented with smoke-screens and noxious fumes. In May 1812, he proposed to destroy the Toulon fleet with fire-ships. He assured Lord Melville that ten explosion vessels ballasted with sand and laden with 2,000 barrels of gunpowder, 5,000 shells, 5,000 carcasses, 12,000 unfixed fuses, 15,000 rockets, and all the grenades to be obtained, would be sufficient for the purpose. By what process he arrived at these precise figures did not appear. To the lay mind this quantity of explosives would seem more than ample. Perhaps, like Pellew on a former occasion, he expected his bill to be taxed and made it out accordingly. As an alternative scheme, he described how troops might be landed to seize the harbour, with a view to bringing out the ships intact. He was positive that a landing party would encounter but trifling resistance - the batteries on Cape Cepet were ill-manned and the barracks empty.
Unfortunately for Cochrane's reputation, this last statement seems to have been so grotesquely inaccurate as to throw doubt on all that went before. Pellew estimated the men at work on the batteries as at least ten thousand. That they were ill-manned when Cochrane had last seen them was probably true. But it is impossible not to suspect that he knew nothing of the conditions there in 1812. His alternative proposal was clearly fantastic at the time it was made. And even the attack by explosion vessels would not have been infallible. It could not have succeeded in the same way as the attack on the Basque Roads succeeded. For, in this case, no purpose would have been served by driving the French on shore. The batteries would have prevented ships moving in to complete the work. They might, for that matter, have prevented the explosion vessels reaching their target. A heavy fire might have blown them up on their way in. For these or other reasons, the scheme was rejected.
As no immediate attack on Toulon was contemplated, the blockade of that port remained Pellew's principal concern. (394) Including the ships being built there during the winter of 1811-12 Toulon contained some twenty sail of the line, four of which carried 120 guns. To blockade this fleet Pellew could seldom muster more than sixteen sail. In December 1811 he had only twelve. He had other ships elsewhere, of course. But so had the French - at Genoa, Naples and Venice. That he was normally inferior to them in numbers is sufficient to dispose of the legend that the French navy ceased to exist in the month of October 1805 . Most of the material for another Trafalgar existed in 1812 .
The winter of 1811-12 brought Pellew no naval distinction. It marked, however, his entry into the ranks of the landed gentry. When last ashore he had been looking for an estate, apparently without success. It was left for Lady Pellew to take the important step by which he became a landowner. The result of her negotiations was that he became the possessor of the estate of Canonteign in the parish of Christow, some ten miles south-west of Exeter. Reckoned in thousands of acres, the estate was impressive. Regarded as an investment, however, the purchase was not particularly fortunate. The estate was more picturesque than profitable. Most of the land was on, or beyond, the margin of cultivation. When the war ended the rents became very disappointing. There had once been a certain amount of mining activity there, but this industry had died out. There was china clay in the neighbourhood, but Pellew had not the luck to buy any of it. Financially, the estate was, and remained, a failure. The ownership of land, however, carries with it certain advantages altogether unconnected with rents. In this case, Pellew acquired local importance, the reputation of being a landowner, and the means of founding a county family. Perhaps his most solid gain was in the salmon, snipe, and woodcock which the Teign valley produced.
There was no house at Canonteign in those days - at least, no house in which a gentleman would care to live. There was, to be sure, a decrepit Tudor building of some size. This was not, at that date, considered as anything but an eyesore. It was good enough for the bailiff. A certain weakness for Gothic architecture was becoming apparent among the younger generation. But this weakness did not extend to later periods; nor was it shared by the Pellews, who were plain folk and not at all addicted to such sentiment. It was therefore inevitable that a sensible house in the style of the Regency would soon be built. It was not destined (395) that Pellew should build it, if only because he had no intention of living at Canonteign. The estate had been bought for his eldest son, and it was Pownoll who built the house, during his father's lifetime. The house was surprisingly beautiful, considering the period at which it was built. The same cannot be said for the house Pellew acquired simultaneously for himself.
Why Lady Pellew should have decided to live at Teignmouth is fairly easy to understand. It was necessary, first of all, to choose a house within easy reach of Canonteign. It was advisable to choose a house near the sea - for Pellew's peace of mind. Teignmouth satisfied these two requirements by being the point on the coast nearest to Canonteign which could be reached by following the River Teign inland for fifteen miles or so. As minor advantages, Teignmouth had the reputation of being healthy and frequently visited by the Duke of Northumberland.
The house Lady Pellew bought at Teignmouth may still be seen. It was then called West Cliff House and was surrounded on three sides by a small park, part of which has now been built over. It is in the landward outskirts of the town and overlooks the tiny harbour. It is very ugly. A rather large one storied house covered with brown stucco, it stands among its trees, approached by a short drive on the town side and by wriggling paths on the side nearest the river. Stucco pilasters separate the windows and vainly pretend to support an invisible roof. So far from supporting anything, these pilasters seem rather to dangle in mid-air, struggling in vain to reach the ground. It is a comfortable house with rather pretty views from most of its windows. Lady Pellew took especial pride in the one addition she had made - so Pellew was told by her nephew, a don at Oxford
' . . . the Conservatory, I afsure you Sir, looks very handsome, and is a very Complete thing in its kind . . . it will produce a very fine effect as you enter it from the House it is quite my Aunt's hobby horse . . .'
Pellew's expenses at this time must have been very great; the more so in that he had recently parted with certain sums to a blackmailer and was soon to pay even larger sums to a college at Oxford. From the first he was rescued by his friend Hoseason. That there were incidents in his past of which he was ashamed is more than probable. But the blackmailer does not seem to have discovered anything of importance: 'for Gods sake keep your Mind at rest and do not let yourself be imposed upon by any threats whatever (396) - he will never publish you may rest afsured - and if he does it will never do you harm . . .' The college was a more serious affair. George Pellew went up to Oxford in 1812 and wrote to Lady Pellew in April: ' I hope I shall be able to do with £350 after the first year but as for attempting to do with that now is quite out of the question, and I am disposed to think that even 400 will not be sufficient.'
To meet all this expenditure, together with the considerable expenses in entertaining to which a commander-in-chief was put (and Pellew erred, if at all, on the lavish side), the admiral had chiefly to rely on his share of the freight charged by his ships on the transport of specie. By a process of making the seas unsafe for all other vessels, the English ships of war enjoyed at that time a practical monopoly in this trade. Few prizes were taken in the Mediterranean, and none of any great value. But the carrying of treasure was an unfailing source of income.
Pellew left Port Mahon on April 3rd, 1812, and was off Toulon by the 14th. During the following month the French ships occasionally ventured out of their harbour, but only when the weather conditions were such as to favour a speedy return to it. The frigates attached to the inshore squadron vainly tried to lure the French to leeward of the port. Although in better order than any French fleet Pellew had ever seen, the Toulon fleet carefully avoided battle. The blockade had therefore to continue.
Except as regards the Toulon fleet itself, the blockade was not very effective. Cruisers and trading vessels entered and left the port and Pellew found it impossible to stop them. The French had established an elaborate system of signals along the coast as far as Italy. By means of this admirable system their convoys were regulated with 'the greatest precision.' Pellew's fleet could not be always off the harbour mouth, and convoys invariably contrived to appear when he was in Hyères Bay. If he cruised to the eastward or westward the French cruisers could slip in or out of Toulon on the other side. The inshore squadron could not help matters because Emeriau always came out in force to cover the entry of any new arrivals. As Toulon depended on Valona, in Morea, for its supply of pitch, this blockade-running had its serious side. As some small consolation, Pellew possessed the key to the French signals and daily learnt, with some interest, the movements of his own cruisers off Genoa. A more important discovery than the French code of signals was a method of obtaining fresh water while (397) on blockade duty. This method was simply to enter the mouth of the Rhone and send the boats to fill the casks a short distance up the river - Nelson never discovered that this was possible. The French agreed not to molest the boats in return for a promise not to steal their cattle, and this agreement was observed by both sides until the end of the war.
Pellew's information as to the state of the French ships and forts was only partly the result of reconnaissance. In 1811 and 1812 he was more indebted for his facts to certain inhabitants of Marseille - who may or may not have been royalists. They communicated regularly with the English cruisers, coming out in fishing boats for that purpose. The most useful of these spies was an officer in the French marines called Charabot. His usefulness came to an abrupt end, however, in August. Two American seamen had succeeded in deserting from one of the boats of a vessel employed in the Rhone estuary. As these men knew Charabot by sight, as an occasional visitor to their ship, they were kept at Marseille for the purpose of detecting him. The result was that the spy was arrested and sent to Paris. Other agents were arrested at the same time. One, who happened to be in the Caledonia at the time, did not dare to return to Marseille. All secret communication with the shore was thus interrupted.
Annoyed as Pellew was at this happening, only half his attention was given to his blockading work. For, ever since his arrival, Lord William Bentinck had been busy organizing an Anglo-Sicilian force at Palermo, and Pellew was anxious about the destination of these troops. It had never been settled what exactly was to be done with them. The original plan was to land them to assist the insurgents in Catalonia, as a diversion in favour of Lord Wellington. Pellew was strongly in favour of this scheme, and so, on the whole, was the Government. But Lord William Bentinck, as Envoy Extraordinary, had been given a great deal of discretion in the matter and eventually decided to invade Italy instead. Pellew protested against this as a betrayal of the Spanish, who had been led to expect help. Bentinck was impenitent. He had the unification of Italy at heart. 'The good of mankind is my Vanity,' he wrote, 'I had rather make a Nation happy than gain thousands of Battles and all the glory attendant thereon.' Pellew did not cease to lament the fate of Catalonia.
At this time Pellew's connexion with the Duke of (398) Northumberland became much closer. In recognition of favours, both past and to come, Pellew had promoted the duke's son, Lord Algernon Percy - now a junior lieutenant in the Caledonia. He now regularly sent the duke news of his proceedings and received many long letters descriptive of affairs in England. Becoming as he grew older more ready to take offence, Pellew seems to have been on the point of resigning his command owing to some real or fancied injury at the hands of the second Lord Melville. The duke wrote sensibly, advising him against it.
You may depend upon it I will make all pofsible Enquiries respecting Lord M. I do not know any thing of him myself; nor am I just now certain whether any of my Acquaintance are in habits of Intimacy with him, but I will contrive somehow or other to learn his feeling with respect to you. I confefs it appears to me, my dear Sr Edward, as you ask my opinion, that it would not be proper for you just now to resign your Command, but that it will be deemed a much nobler Conduct in you to overlook any seeming Neglect which may have been shown you, for the sake of your Country, till his Lordship's real disposition towards you is more clearly and positively ascertained, and which cannot fail soon to be apparent. Men in high situations, like yourself, must pretend not to see many disagreeable Circumstances which happen to them; attributing always to accident, what perhaps however they know was done by design.
If Pellew had ever seriously contemplated resigning, it is probable that he had given up the idea long before the above letter reached him. As he grew older he became more petulant, but his anger was always short-lived. That it was formidable while it lasted may be gathered from a letter written to Hawke Locker by Sir Peter Parker in September of that year. His description of a cutting-out expedition which had been accomplished only with great loss, ends with the postscript: 'I would write to Sir Edward but I am almost afraid.'
In July 1812, Sir Sidney Smith was appointed as second-in-command in the Mediterranean, owing to the transference of Sir Richard Keats to the command off Newfoundland. Pellew and Keats were old friends and their separation was fortunate from the point of view of the biographer in that it occasioned correspondence between them. From other points of view the change was for the worse. Pellew lost a very able adviser and received in exchange one who (399) might be called the maritime aspect of the Gothic Revival. Sir Sidney Smith was a poor substitute for Keats. He aroused the hatred of most right-minded naval officers and only just failed to arouse the hatred of Pellew. Without actually quarrelling, the two men found ample matter for friction. Smith arrived in September, pausing on his way to do a little amateur soldiering at Carthagena, and almost instantly annoyed Pellew by allowing a court martial to acquit a surgeon against the wishes of the commander-in-chief. As a result of this and other disputes, Smith found it convenient to return to England early in 18I4, on account of his health.
Pellew's blockade of Toulon ended in the middle of October and he returned to Port Mahon for the winter. His irritation at the cautious behaviour of the French was aggravated by the insistence with which they proclaimed their readiness to fight him, if only he would give them the opportunity. The Duke of Northumberland told him of this.
I perceive from the Moniteur, that your French Admiral at Toulon puffs very much. By his accounts he goes out, and drives you off the Coast almost every day, and then collects and covers the entry of his Convoys and even single ships with stores etc, not one of which, he says, thro' his care and the fear you have of being obliged to come to an action with him, should you approach any of them, have you been able to capture. Well puffed, Monsieur 1'Admiral ! ! Probably he is a Gascon.
Another letter written by the duke at about the time Pellew was going into winter quarters contains reference both to his grievance against Lord Melville and to his reward for continuing to protect Lord Algernon Percy. It is fairly clear that the former was connected with his wish to obtain the Order of the Bath. The nephew mentioned in the letter was Israel Pellew's only son, who had recently joined the army.
Alnwick Castle 10th Oct. 1812
MY DEAR SR EDWARD
I have not written to you for some time because I really had nothing worth communicating and I was in hopes every day of being able to acquaint you with your Nephew's promotion. But I do not find it has yet taken place altho' I contrived that the D[uke] of Y[ork]'s Memory should be refreshed (400) by the P. Regent . . . I am grieved at it, and sorry that as yet I have not been able in this way to give you a proof of the great obligation I feel due to you for your uncommon goodnefs to my Son. I have however endeavoured to do this, in another way. As you are at a Distance, and therefore a Seat in Parliament would be of no Service to you, I have taken the Liberty of recommending your Eldest Son to my friends at Launceston. He will hold the seat as your Representative, with the exprefs understanding of resigning it again on your return. This is all the solid acknowledgements I have been able to make for your extraordinary Kindnefs . . . .
I cannot help being a good deal surprized at Lord Melville's Conduct and Silence. Probably however you may have heard from his Lordship before this reaches you .... When your son is in Parliament, a little hint perhaps coming from me may even be of some use, under such Circumstances, as it will in some measure authorize me to interfere in your affairs at the Admiralty, because we have a Vote or two on certain occasions to use as an Allure . . . .
Your ever faithful friend
. . . Everybody was well in West Teignmouth House. Your two sons were gone to my house at Winnington to wait the Launceston Election . . . .
During the winter of 1812-13 the plan of landing troops in Catalonia was revived, but only on a small scale. Pellew refers to this in the following letter to Lord Sidmouth.
Caledonia Mahon 5th Dec'r 1812
MY DEAR LORD
. . . we are so situated in face of a force of 19 Sail of the Line and 8 or 10 frigates that I am not able to detach from my Fleet - as no man can tell the hour they may bolt from Port where they are kept constantly ready and under exercise. I do pray most earnestly that they will not keep us in this confounded state of Expectation many Months longer. Indeed I think our affairs are becoming brighter in all Quarters, and I trust ere long we shall produce powerful Diversion on this side in support of Lord Wellington . . . . My Dear Lord, if you keep things going on well at Home, we shall bring this Tyrant down at last and I think before the year 13 pafses over our heads . . . . Your firmnefs and faithful attachment to our dear Country has long ago produced the warmest feelings in my heart and secured a lively interest in all which concerns your Lord- (401) ships happynefs; Esteem founded on such a basis is not likely to be shaken. Believe me ever, My Dear Lord, with faithful attachment and Regard
and hble Serv't
The fleet did not remain at Mahon for the whole of the winter, owing to the need for co-operating with the army in the peninsula. A letter of the Duke of Northumberland's, written at this time, contains a comment on this which deserves quotation.
. . . I am sorry the situation of affairs in the Peninsula compells you to keep your large Ships out in this boisterous Weather. I remember Lord St. Vincent told me that the three Deckers were excellent ships, beat any of the Frigates in sailing, and were charming Sea Boats, till they came to be obliged to take in the second Reef; but as soon as that was the case he found they were quite ungovernable and he would advise any Officer who Commanded one to get into Port then, as quickly as he could, or he would not answer for the consequences . . . .
If the duke supposed that any of Pellew's first-rates were often at sea after the end of October or before the beginning of April, he was almost certainly misinformed. But he may have thought that this stay in port was not long enough. The ships kept at sea during the winter months, whether as scouts off Toulon or on any other service, were never larger than two-deckers.
Pellew returned to his post off Toulon on April 17th, 1813, bringing with him about twelve sail of the line. The comparative strength of the two fleets, the blockaders and blockaded, had altered in two respects during the previous twelve months. In the first place, the numerical inequality between them had become more pronounced. In the second place, the larger fleet had become less formidable.
As regards numbers, the English fleet had rather dwindled than grown. Whereas Pellew had sixteen sail of the line in 1811, he had now only thirteen. The French ships, on the other hand, had become more numerous. Espionage had become unfashionable at Marseille since certain persons had been made, as Pellew said, 'the sacrifice of their imprudence ' - with the result that the English had now to rely on reconnaissance. Luckily, the commander of (402)
the inshore squadron, Sir John Gore, seems to have known his business. On May 14th he reported the number of French ships of the line, including those refitting, under repair, or on the stocks, as twenty. On August 13th he reported their number as twenty-one, fifteen being ready for sea. He made out six first-rates, four ready for sea and another nearly so. The French, it appears, could do very little without being observed from the mizen-top of the Revenge.
As regards efficiency, the French suffered during 1812 through the removal of seamen detailed to join Napoleon's army as gunners. In 1813 the Toulon fleet was greatly undermanned - so much so that some of their ships were rendered inactive, while all must have lost in efficiency. The batteries were correspondingly weakened, though results seem to indicate that their weakness was rather due to inexperience than under manning. How far Pellew was aware of this it is difficult to say.
After seeing his brother duly elected as Member for Launceston, Captain Fleetwood Pellew came out to join his father's fleet. He arrived in the early summer of 1813, with results which must have occupied Pellew's mind for most of that year. The frigate he came out to command, the Resistance, may have been in a bad state under her former captain. Fleetwood, at any rate, thought it necessary to discipline the ship. Now, it has already been suggested that there was at one time more than a streak of the martinet in Pellew himself. Owing to premature promotion, both of his sons had this tendency strongly developed. On this occasion, there can be no doubt that Fleetwood went a great deal too far. A mutiny took place of the most serious kind. All the crew were implicated and even the marines seemed disloyal. On July 26th four seamen were sentenced to death and three others to be flogged round the fleet. Pellew hastened to exonerate his son - perhaps a little too eagerly - and reminded the Admiralty of the trouble he himself had experienced in l'Impetueux. But certain ugly rumours reached England and the affair was remembered many years afterwards, to the ruin of Fleetwood's career.
Lord William Bentinck's expedition to Spain, which Pellew had urged as preferable to Bentinck's schemes for introducing into Italy the rather doubtful blessings of parliamentary government, took place in September. It failed as a campaign and was not particularly successful (403) as a diversion. Bentinck forthwith returned to Palermo and to his Italian projects.
Just before the fleet finally quitted its post off Toulon for the year, there was another slight encounter with the enemy. On November 5th, when the fleet was arriving at the cruising ground, after being blown off by a series of gales, a sudden change in the direction of the wind gave the inshore squadron the opportunity of cutting off some of the French ships. Emeriau had fourteen sail of the line out exercising, five of which, with four frigates, formed the rear as the admiral hastened back to port. It was this detached squadron which was exposed to attack. Unfortunately Captain Heathcote, who commanded the four ships of the line forming Pellew's inshore squadron, proved unequal to the occasion, although reinforced by another ship soon after the firing began. Out sailing the rest of the fleet, the Caledonia, Boyne and San-Josef came up in time to exchange a few distant shots with the French rear. They also came under the fire of the batteries, which eventually checked the pursuit and covered the retreat of the French ships. Heathcote's failure to cut off any of the ships opposed to him prevented any serious fighting taking place, and the losses were trifling on both sides. It is only fair to say that the whole inshore squadron agreed in declaring their inability to fetch the enemy. To the present writer, on the other hand, Pellew's opinion to the contrary seems conclusive. As the best seaman in the fleet and an eye-witness of the whole affair, he was in a position to know what happened; and he definitely thought Heathcote to blame. His opinion will be found in the second of the two letters about to be quoted, written from him to Sir Richard Keats. In the first letter, written before this skirmish took place, he describes a state of affairs which makes the failure of the inshore squadron less difficult to understand.
Caledonia off Sicie 12th Sept. 1813
MY DEAR FRIEND
I sit down to offer you congratulations on all the good fortune which has attended your Command since your departure from England, whatever this may be . . . .
I do not know that any one event has occurred since your leaving us that can be interesting to you or that you will not have heard by various other means. We have gone on as usual, sometimes living in Squalls of Wind and tempers and at others the relaxation of Calms and serene Countenances. I don't know if the thought ever occur'd to you, But it does (404) frequently to me, that Captains of the Navy are very like spoilt Children every thing out of common course goes ag't the grain and the subjects of discontent are infinite.
Scarcely any do their Duty from Principle, Zeal is out of the Question. He is the ablest Man who can get offnest into Port and do lefs than his neighbour - such bouncing and flouncing, such black looks - such reluctance to pay even the Common forms of Civility are quite disgusting. Some times one Man must speak and sometimes another and any Duty is called hardship. Such is my opinion and a very uncomfortable one it is. We have had no established Growlers equal to Lawyer King who when he took out Drury refused him a tub to wash his feet in, but we have some hard goers and growlers. One wont serve if promotion does not take place, another only waits for it to cut and run, and so on it goes until I am heartily sick of hearing such empty headed boasters and even disgusted with the Service - so changed I believe, or else I am more out of the way of it. T. L [?] you know is good temper itself - fond of contriving to become the prominent feature in the show. He feeds every Body high and low - give him some foreigners to hang or a few old Gazettes. . . . and he is pleased . . . . poor fellow, he spends more than I do and where it comes from I know not, besides two Houses and Horses and two Carriages at Mahon - in fact he is quite a Child at his affairs. I think he courts Entre Nous a little popularity by bad feeding, for nobody lives worse - but he laughs when fifty odd sit down to barely enough for 20 - and so he gets on. My hardest task is to foil his getting away from me - Once he pleaded such a case wherein a Lady fair was concerned . . . [that] I could not resist and let him go .... - and by the Lord he staid away for 8 Months, so now it is thrust and parry and hard work I find, and when driven to a Corner I draw up in stately Silence like other great Men when they can parry no longer. He must go to Turin, to Naples, to Venice - in fact any where but in view of this delightful object, Pellew's Summer House of Sicie . . .
. . . The great objection in Winter is the constant hard Gales at NW cut you off from all supplies. Nothing for three Months can get up to the Bay, nor can you in such weather receive any Communication from your Frigates off Toulon. I mean to skulk another fortnight here, if I can, and thereby save a great deal of Caulking . . . .
. . . Our friends of the Pandemonium. . . amount to 22 afloat - 6 are of trois ponts. They launched a three and two Decker within half an hour of each other on the 15th Aug't last in our full view. But I despair of their ever coming out and you know next Summer my time expires and if I was to Credit report, I have half a dozen Succefsors. Whoever they may (405) be I envy them not, they will not find it a bed of Roses any more than I have, yet I must own I have had more annoyance from our own Fleet than theirs.
I believe I stand pretty well with the premier . . . . But I have every day the knowledge of ill will and envy in the polite Neptune's, Who of late have to my mind behaved with grofs illiberality towards me and have suspected me of having interfered with an ordinary arrangement made at Home for private and Sinister purposes - and have absolutely carried their resentment so far as to punish that poor unfortunate friend of mine Fitzgerald for my offences . . . . Now all this is shocking and I had very near thrown up at once - but it occurred to me that this might be exactly their wish and then you know the Mind revolts and says No I wont . . . . improper motives and suspicions are entertained of my integrity, or a baser motive of intriguing with a Mans Wife and Sisters attributed to me . . . . Sir Arch'd C has on my acc't drunk the last bitter cup of Gall administered by a Board who should be Gentlemen and whom I will put to shame yet. I know B - D and S and Y are liberal Men. Yet the former can job for his furniture and the latter Kifs the stool provided he can keep his place. And are such men to pafs a verdict where liberality is required. But I have done and write myself warm - to them I have said nothing but in my Public Reply, that I hope is proper for the occasion, and I can tell you more temperate than I wish'd to have been .
. . . And thus my dear Keats have I let you into all our concerns. You will I know consider the whole confidential and for yourself alone - by your next years return you will find me at Teignmouth, where to see you will make Susan and me most happy - and they may call out the very last Man of the local Militia before they find me 'list again. Your Prize concerns here I believe go on badly - what with bad Agents, bad Courts, bad fortune, bad plagues and bad look out, I fear we are all in a bad Way. The total of my Whack up to the 1st of Feb'y stands 10200 - 0 - 0 and at Malta we are breaking and the Court at a stand still. At Gib is no judges and so we are all lost. Not one Yankee have we got. Fremantle is tired and off. Pickmore on the move and tired also. King is good humoured and Entre Nous is to be his papa's Captain of the Fleet. Locker just gone to Madrid - Murray I believe will be tried there. If you have a good wet day and nothing else to do, give me two hours of it with all your news as well as other Mens - and believe me with the Sincerest Regard
and Affectionate friendship
Caledonia 5th Mar. 1814
. . . Sir W will be glad to be off, I dare say - We have seen some folks here from that Country [America] cutting both ways at him as false friends and obstinate foes. I should have expected he had made much money there. You say probably his Wind-Up will be large - I believe Lord Keith Weathers every Body on that score by a great deal. As for us they took care to cut off all our sweets from America and so compleatly that not one has fallen to our lot - and we creep on I believe. My amount of all sorts up to this does not amount to more than 16,000 - and our Wind-Up I believe will be little or nothing.
I was in hopes you would do better among the fish fags. Do not, I pray you, take my Wild operations there for Ensample. I look back with terror and amazement and I fear my old friend judge Carter speaks too partially . . . . St. Johns I dare say has grown very large and very saucy. In my time His Excellency was a God the first Year, a merely Human Being the Second and le Diable the third . . . .
I do not know how Sir Sidney's letters of the 8th of Nov. got before mine - unlefs he wrote by Gib. I wrote by Spain by Lord Wellington and God knows it was not worth writing about. Entre Nous, I was not satisfied with my Inshore Chief that day - a poor Devil; and there were chances but I said only when he ask'd me - I suppose you did your best - He could have cut off three at least and have established his fame for ever. On that 13th of Feb'y, it was not pofsible to do more - indeed we did too much and had Sicie South 1/2 West and Cape Sepet [?] on board of us. Boyne was delightfully fought and managed with great Skill to the very last - so I am just as well pleased as if we succeeded. If we had not been thrown off Sicie about 2 that Morning when we were running to be close in Toulon at Day Light, We sh'd have succeeded. And what was still more unfortunate - at Day Light we saw the whole Six - the wind at North allowed [us] to lay upon them with Top'Gt Studding sails until near him, when the wind sprang up at East very strong and they had it an hour before us. I expected a Chace to Ajaccio and expected we should get up to them when they reached the variable and Calm airs as they approached the Land. We are unlucky and I believe I have no chance now of being shot and buried in a Clean Hammock in the pure Element of Salt Water but must be content, sorely against my Will, to be thrust into a dirty hole with the frogs . . . .
[Sir S. Smith] as Gay and thoughtlefs as ever wants to go with 5 Sail to summon Genoa. I think he will go Home in Hibernia . . . P - lock'd up as usual with his delightful (407) female Companion, his head puzzled and I think a bad way. King laughs and enjoys himself and upon the whole the Set since the Lawyer's absence are improved and have discovered that growling does no good with me. However, we all grow tired and I shall be heartily glad to throw off Harnefs . . . and now I take my leave. May God blefs you and keep
you from Slanderous Tongues -
The ' Sir W ' mentioned at the beginning of this letter is presumably Sir John Borlase Warren, commander-in-chief on the American station. The action described in the last half of the letter remains to be dealt with.
This affair on February 13th, 1814, was the result of the French planning to move a ship of the line from Genoa to Toulon before Pellew was expected to appear on the scene. Returning to the blockade much earlier in the year than usual, Pellew found Rear-Admiral Cosmao-Kerjulien with six sail standing out of Toulon to meet this expected ship from Genoa. Pellew had fifteen sail and at once gave chase, hoping to cut the French off from their harbour. The Boyne, out sailing the rest of the fleet, reached close quarters with the stern-most French ship, Romulus, inflicting a great deal of damage but without cutting her off. Captain Burlton, of the Boyne, might have sunk a frigate immediately ahead of the Romulus but refrained from firing into her. He said afterwards with reference to this forbearance: "It would have been a great shame and could have done no good." Both of the rear French ships, however, came under the distant fire of the Caledonia, the second ship to arrive. No other ships came into action, for Pellew discontinued the chase. He did so none too soon. The ardour of pursuit had carried him right under the batteries, which 'looked as if close over head,' and he was lucky to escape unharmed. He certainly did not lose his head at the prospect of driving the Romulus ashore, nor did he forget about the batteries. As the Caledonia neared the port, he said to Gaze, his master of the fleet, speaking 'in a very low voice:' "Keep your eyes about you, and don't commit me;" and when the proper moment arrived he duly hauled his wind and directed Burlton to do the same. That the Caledonia and Boyne were almost unscathed was due to the inexperience of the French gunners on Cape Brun. The fire from the batteries was heavy, but inaccurate owing to the absence of trained artillerymen. Shortly after this partial action, Pellew (408) went to Genoa in time to see it reduced by Lord William Bentinck and Commodore Rowley. And immediately afterwards the war came to an end.
With the final placing of the Toulon fleet beyond his reach, it is to be supposed that Pellew's thoughts centred on Fleetwood's future and his own chance of obtaining the red ribbon. Reference to both topics will be found in the following letters. Fleetwood, it must be understood, was sent back to England shortly after the mutiny took place in his ship. It was, apparently, Pellew's first thought to find him a wife. To that end he appealed, rather pathetically, to Lady Bentinck.
Thomas' Hotel Jan'y 21 (1814)
MY DEAR SIR EDWARD
I have rec'd your letter by Fleetwood and have heard nothing more about him. I imagine he must have been weather bound at Plymouth . . . . However, I am glad Ldy Pellew has been enabled to see so much of him. You may depend upon it, I shall do all in my power to introduce him to some of my assembly acquaintance, he will then by degrees establish himself in the correct society here, if I had a house I might certainly be of use to him and as it is I hope to make him acquainted with some of the respectable families here and where he may without fear or danger select for himself a good wife. Had he the pecuniary advantages of his eldest Brother this would not be difficult but Papa and Mama too frequently lay much strefs on fortune, and some I grant them is necefsary for happinefs. There is no one at present in Town but in the month of March and certainly April the houses will be overstocked with livestock - this will be the time for him to make his appearance and I hope he will do so at the first mentioned period . . . .
I hope you received my letter about the D[uke] of C[larenc]e. I met him a short time since and he afsured me that he considered the affair of the ribbon as settled, but he added that he should have a conversation with Ld Melville on the subject before he embarked for Holland - tell me whether you have heard any thing on the subject.
I have not yet seen Mr Brown, probably he remains with Fleetwood at Plymouth - yr account of the poor men belonging to the Resistance does him infinite credit. I have heard no more about that mutiny. Indeed I never go out in consequence of the severity of the weather - but I shall tell Fleetwood when I see him all that I have been told on the subject.
God blefs you and yours
(409) Whether Pellew's instinct was sound in thinking Fleetwood in need of a wife, it is for the reader to determine. That he was wise in asking Lady Bentinck's help is beyond question. Where the scheme broke down was in Fleetwood's failure to appear in London at all, whether in the best or in any other circles. Lady Bentinck told Pellew of this soon afterwards.
. . . I see nothing of Fleetwood - I hope you may have put him in another ship. I want very much to write to him, certain reports have gone abroad with respect to his discipline which I wish him to be informed of. I do not believe they are general - but this mutiny has occasioned some conversation, conjectures etc etc, upon this.
The Duke of Clarence called here very lately - we talked a great deal of you, he afsured me that your conduct was highly approved - he added, 'and you may tell him from me that I consider him the best Officer in the Service after Sir R. Keats' - he said he was urging the P. Regent to give you the Red Ribbon, I think he said to make you an extra Knight - the P. was perfectly well disposed but there was some difficulty to get over first - this had better go no further for the present - the next time I see him I shall ask him what progrefs he has made.
Adieu, God blefs you. I wish all this may be so, what do you think ?
What obstacle there was to making Pellew an extra Knight of the Bath does not appear. That it was very real the following letter proves. It seems, in the end, to have been insuperable.
Adm' ty 11th Feb. 1814
MY DEAR SIR ED.
I received your kind present; the first I have received since I have been sec. of the Adm'y, wch I would only accept from an old friend like you. I thank you and shall drink your health in it.
I have nothing to tell you about the - . In this house and in another great house all is smooth but there is a delay in another quarter which with all my efforts I cannot at present get over - the thing will be done; it is settled; but nothing is so [annoying] as this procrastination.
I am my dear Sir Edward
Very faithfully yours
J. W. CROKER
(410) It is interesting to observe that twenty years' experience had confirmed Pellew in his habit of sending liquid presents to the proper people on suitable occasions. He had particular faith in Madeira - it was at about this time that he sent a pipe of it to Lord Sidmouth.
On April 29th the instructions were sent to Pellew from the Admiralty, directing him to return to England as soon as peace should have been made, bringing his three-deckers with him. At this date the question of the red ribbon was still unsettled, but a letter of Lady Bentinck's brought the first hint of better things.
London 10th May (1814)
. . . I have ascertained from good authority that you are to get the order of the Bath - this was intended before the business at Genoa - I hear also (but this entre nous) that the Navy would like to have its prestige added to this List, in consideration of the five which have been made from the Army, when I say they would like it, I meant to say that some of them have exprefsed annoyance that it is not so - all this I was informed yesterday by a Naval friend of mine - no other person has mentioned it - if matters could so work out as to bring forth a Peerage for you, how very sincerely delighted I should be - my informant added that such a thing he thought might be brought to pass . . . .
Lady Bentinck wrote again on the 11th, congratulating Pellew on his being awarded the coveted ribbon. This award, if made, was cancelled on the following day - when it was decided to give him a peerage instead. Melville and Sidmouth had most to do with this, and it was probably the former who sent for Pownoll Pellew, then in town, to make him choose the title. On his refusing to do so, the question was settled by Croker. He thought that the name of a seaport near Pellew's estate was indicated. This reduced the possibilities to two - Teignmouth or Exmouth - or rather to one because there was a Lord Teignmouth already. Baron Exmouth of Canonteign came thus into being, suitably pensioned, and, as Lady Bentinck said: 'The £2,000 per annum is not the least part of yr Peerage.' In adding, however, that there were 'two Admirals very angry at not being included,' she was probably understating the facts. There must have been countless admirals white with fury. For in this case the number senior to the favoured man was particularly large. The most conspicuous of the aggrieved
(411) admirals was Sir James Saumarez, who went as far as to protest about it to the Admiralty - understandably enough considering that he and Pellew had not been on speaking terms for nearly two decades. Pellew was doubtless preferred on political grounds. But had merit been the sole consideration, the decision must have been the same. Pellew was far the abler man of the two.
The Caledonia with four other sail left the Mediterranean in July and arrived at Plymouth on 17th August. Lord Exmouth, as we must now call him, hauled down his flag and came ashore on the 19th. It was probably then that he first heard of his promotion to the rank of Admiral of the Blue. This may have been some consolation for the beggarly £3,000 which was his share in the prize-money for the taking of Genoa. He was soon at West Cliff House, preparing to rival Sir Richard Keats in the planting of cabbages. Certain negotiations with the Duke of Wellington had long since gained for his nephew a troop in the Horse Guards. All that now remained to satisfy his immediate ambitions was the securing of a fellowship at All Souls for his son George. But in this, perhaps owing to a shortage of Madeira, he failed.
Before closing this chapter it seems proper to consider the various contemporary opinions on the state of the Mediterranean fleet during his command. This is the more necessary in that the evidence on this point is conflicting.
There are, to begin with, a number of favourable descriptions which perhaps deserve quotation.
It was a glorious sight to see our ships standing close to the enemy's harbour, and manoeuvring within gunshot of a closely blockaded and superior fleet: there the hostile tricoloured flag was displayed from fort and vessel; but ours swept the sea, and floated from the peaks of twenty-four sail of the line . . . .
I would not pay England so bad a compliment, as to take my readers from the present to another part of the globe, without making a remark upon the general discipline, appearance, and efficiency of the Mediterranean fleet decidedly the finest fleet England ever possessed. The great credit of this is due to Lord Exmouth: his enemies, if he had any, must admit him to have been one of the best practical seamen that ever adorned the navy-list; and while he placed that fleet above all others, in point of order and activity, he never did an action unworthy of a kind-hearted man, or (412) derogatory to the character of a gentleman. I have known him in public service and private life, and a more excellent man did not exist.
We have a very fine fleet in admirable order off Toulon, and I wish them nothing better than a speedy sight of the Frenchmen. With such a chief, and such ships and men, the Lord have mercy on the monsieurs !
Pellew himself, soon after taking over the command, told his brother that:
Keats is a host of strength to me; and we are all well together, eager for the day, which I trust will help to put an end to the miseries of war, and the irksome eighteen years' confinement between wooden walls we have all experienced.
Finally, there is the testimony of James, the naval historian:
With respect to the Mediterranean fleet, it was particularly to be regretted that, while there was such a dearth of seamen in the home ports and on the North-American station, so many thousands of the very best of seamen, who, under the wise regulations of Sir Edward Pellew, had been daily improving themselves in the neglected art of gunnery, should be denied the power of showing their proficiency where it was so much wanted.
Now, all this testimony, taken together, presents a pleasing picture of enthusiasm, discipline and efficiency. Unfortunately, however, none of these witnesses is entitled to much credit. James shows no authority for his statement. Charier was serving in a frigate at the time, and not in the battle fleet itself. Hoste was not serving off Toulon at all, but in the Adriatic. And Pellew wrote this before he knew anything of the men he commanded. The evidence, in short, amounts to this, that the fleet was impressive to look at.
It is not to the present purpose to discuss the appearance of the fleet. It clearly looked very formidable. So, for that matter, did the French. In both cases there is evidence to show that all was not as well as it looked. The French seamen were admirably trained, but there were not enough of them. And the reader has already gathered from Exmouth's correspondence that his officers left something (413) to be desired. Here, it is true, something must be allowed for the melancholy from which he himself was suffering. His wife commented on this when writing to him in March 1814: 'how is it, dear, that you always think you have Enemies projecting evil for you and yours? It is a sad alloy to Your Comfort and nine times out of ten ill founded . . . .' On the other hand, it is sufficiently clear that Exmouth had, as he said, more trouble with his own fleet than with the French. Sir Richard Keats wrote soothingly on the subject: 'the greater the Command the greater the exercise for your patience. Lord Nelson had the luckiest knack of hitting us off. Your Judgment and Self-Command will do much and your Champagne compleat the businefs. . .' Exmouth was not Nelson; and it is to be doubted whether his champagne ever did complete the business. Without reciting again his own complaints, it may be as well to admit the evidence of Rear-Admiral Laughton.
Trident, Malta Feb. 20th 1812
. . . You cannot be more dissatisfied with the tardiness of many of the Captains and Commanders than I am. I never omit expressing my disapprobation where zeal and energy appear to me wanting. I have reason to believe that it is the practice of all ships sent here to refit not to give you the extent of their defects, and when they arrive they are spun out to a considerable length. I am sorry to have occasion to observe a great Degeneracy and want of zeal throughout the various classes of Officers . . . . The number of Surveys going constantly on in this Harbour occupies a great part of the time that ought to be appropriated by the Commanders and other officers in refitting their respective ships. But what appears the more destructive to the Public Service are the pleasures and amusements held out to young men by the apparent Hospitable Disposition of families resident here.
Lastly, there is the serious criticism of Napier, the author of the 'Letters from a Post Captain to Lord Viscount Melville.'
I have heard many officers attribute the falling off of discipline to the length of the war, and the entire disappearance of the enemy, leaving the Navy little or nothing to do; but I am of opinion it proceeded more from the age of the officers, not only commanding the fleets, but the ships of the line, with the addition of the latter being tired of the command of a single (414) ship; and I am certain had the fleets and ships been in the hands of younger men, they would not only have found means of annoying the enemy much more than was done, but of preserving the discipline and keeping up the zeal of the Navy.
The Mediterranean Fleet, which was under the command of one of the most distinguished officers in the Navy, to look at was the finest I ever saw, but in performing evolutions the most lubberly. I speak of it as a fleet, although there is no doubt but there were exceptions. I served in it three years, and it was accounted almost tyranny by the old officers to keep a ship in anything like order. I don't believe there was one-fourth of the line of battle ships in that fleet that had been exercised at firing powder and shot (and without that all other exercise, even with powder, is of little use, for if not accustomed regularly to load the guns, they will know nothing of it ; and if powder alone is used in exercise, one half of them will forget to put in their shot in action); and as for firing with precision they knew nothing of it . . . .
It can easily be supposed that, at a certain time of life, officers get wearied of the constant attention necessary to keep their ships in a proper state of discipline; and as they approach their Flags, it generally depends on their First Lieutenant, whether ships are in a tolerable condition or not .... Whether the generality of First Lieutenants were bad, or unsupported, I shall not pretend to decide; but it is beyond a doubt, that at the conclusion of the war, more than one half of our ships of the line were in such bad order, and so infamously manned, as to render them unequal to contend with a disciplined enemy; they would have beat a French or a Spanish ship, who were worse than themselves; but I will stake my existence, had an American line of battle ship fallen in with one half of them, they would have been taken . . . .
The belief that discipline and gunnery decayed after Trafalgar is very prevalent, and historians do not hesitate to mourn solemnly over ` A Perished Navy.' But much of the evidence supporting this view is of the weakest possible kind. If we discount the grumbling of old officers like St. Vincent, or Exmouth himself, there is little evidence left. A great deal of evidence exists to prove that the navy was degenerate after Trafalgar. But then there is a great deal of evidence to show that it was degenerate before Trafalgar. Gunnery was certainly bad in 1812. But it may have been bad in 1805. The Basque Roads action happened after Trafalgar - and Calder's action happened before it. The result of Trafalgar does not prove that the gunnery of the English fleet was good at that time. It merely proves that (415) it was better than that of the other side. And this was still true in 1814 - as the 'Post Captain' admits. Had fortune thrown the Toulon fleet in his way, Lord Exmouth would have utterly destroyed it. And, had he done so, there would have been no talk of the decadence of the navy after Trafalgar.
A final description of the Mediterranean Fleet, when at anchor in Port Mahon, may serve to close this chapter; and this, not because it goes to support one argument or another, but because it bears witness to the beauty and dignity of the great ships, and to the ordered life on board them.
The British Mediterranean fleet, under Sir Edward Pellew, now Lord Exmouth, was anchored not far from us; and it was impossible to witness a more splendid naval armament. Together with several seventy-fours and frigates, there were five immense three-deckers ; the port was constantly covered with small vessels and boats, exhibiting a scene of the utmost animation; music seemed to be the principal source of amusement on board the English fleet. The morning and evening gun, accompanied by a volley of musketry from each ship, produced a grand effect, when echoed through the surrounding heights, though it might not have been so welcome to some drowsy listeners . . . . Besides the reveille played by drums and fifes, at day-light, there was a military symphony every evening after sun-set: this, performed in reciprocal responses by the different ships, and associated with a serene sky, and the stillness of the sea, really seemed to partake of magical illusion.