Part 9 out of 12
days, seeing that I expect her to drop every minute like an over-ripe
sleepy pear. So don't think any more about her, my son, for without
you are back in a jiffy, her body will be laid in consecrated ground,
and her happy, blessed soul in purgatory. _Pax vobiscum._ Amen! amen!
"And now having disposed of your father and your mother so much to
your satisfaction, I'll just tell you that Ella's mother died in the
convent at Dieppe, but whether she kept her secret or not I do not
know; but this I do know, that if she didn't relieve her soul by
confession, she's damned to all eternity. Thanks be to God for all his
mercies. Amen! Ella Flanagan is still alive, and, for a nun, is as
well as can be expected. I find that she knows nothing at all about
the matter of the exchanging the genders of the babbies--only that her
mother was on oath to Father M'Dermot, who ought to be hanged, drawn,
and quartered instead of those poor fellows whom the government called
rebels, but who were no more rebels than Father M'Grath himself,
who'll uphold the Pretender, as they call our true Catholic king, as
long as there's life in his body or a drop of whiskey left in ould
Ireland to drink his health wid.--
"Talking about Father M'Dermot puts me in mind that the bishop has not
yet decided our little bit of a dispute, saying that he must take time
to think about it. Now, considering that it's just three years since
the row took place, the old gentleman must be a very slow thinker not
to have found out by this time that I was in the right, and that
Father M'Dermot, the baste, is not good enough to be hanged.
"Your two married sisters are steady and diligent young women, having
each made three children since you last saw them. Fine boys, every
mother's son of them, with elegant spacious features, and famous
mouths for taking in whole potatoes. By the powers, but the offsets of
the tree of the O'Briens begin to make a noise in the land, anyhow, as
you would say if you only heard them roaring for their bit of suppers.
"And now, my dear son Terence, the real purport of this letter, which
is just to put to your soul's conscience, as a dutiful son, whether
you ought not to send me a small matter of money to save your poor
father's soul from pain and anguish--for it's no joke that being in
purgatory, I can tell you; and you wouldn't care how soon you were
tripped out of it yourself. I only wish you had but your little toe in
it, and then you'd burn with impatience to have it out again. But
you're a dutiful son, so I'll say no more about it--a nod's as good as
a wink to a blind horse.
"When your mother goes, which, with the blessing of God, will be in a
very little while, seeing that she has only to follow her senses,
which are gone already, I'll take upon myself to sell everything, as
worldly goods and chattels are of no use to dead people; and I have no
doubt but that, what with the furniture and the two cows, and the
pigs, and the crops in the ground, there will be enough to save her
soul from the flames, and bury her dacently into the bargain. However,
as you are the heir-at-law, seeing that the property is all your own,
I'll keep a debtor and creditor account of the whole; and should there
be any over, I'll use it all out in masses, so as to send her up to
heaven by express; and if there's not sufficient, she must remain
where she is till you come back and make up the deficiency. In the
meanwhile I am your loving father in the faith,
Good sense in Swinburne--No man a hero to his valet de chambre, or a
prophet in his own country--O'Brien takes a step by strategy--O'Brien
parts with his friend, and Peter's star no longer in the ascendant.
O'Brien was sorry for the death of his father, but he could not feel as
most people would have done, as his father had certainly never been a
father to him. He was sent to sea to be got rid of, and ever since he
had been there, had been the chief support of his family; his father was
very fond of whiskey, and not very fond of exertion. He was too proud of
the true Milesian blood in his veins to do anything to support himself,
but not too proud to live upon his son's hard-earned gains. For his
mother O'Brien felt very much; she had always been kind and
affectionate, and was very fond of him. Sailors, however, are so
estranged from their families when they have been long in their
profession and so accustomed to vicissitudes, that no grief for the loss
of a relation lasts very long, and in a week O'Brien had recovered his
usual spirits, when a vessel brought us the intelligence that a French
squadron had been seen off St Domingo. This put us all on the _qui
vive_. O'Brien was sent for by the admiral, and ordered to hasten his
brig for sea with all possible despatch, as he was to proceed with
despatches to England forthwith. In three days we were reported ready,
received our orders, and at eight o'clock in the evening made sail from
Carlisle Bay. "Well, Mr Swinburne," said I, "how do you like your new
"Why, Mr Simple, I like it well enough; and it's not disagreeable to be
an officer, and sit in your own cabin; but still I feel that I should
get on better if I were in another ship. I've been hail-fellow well met
with the ship's company so long, that I can't top the officer over them,
and we can't get the duty done as smart as I could wish: and then at
night I find it very lonely stuck up in my cabin like a parson's clerk,
and nobody to talk to; for the other warrants are particular, and say
that I'm only acting, and may not be confirmed, so they hold aloof. I
don't much like being answerable for all that lot of gunpowder--it's
queer stuff to handle."
"Very true, Swinburne; but still, if there were no responsibility, we
should require no officers. You recollect that you are now provided for
life, and will have half-pay."
"That's what made me bite, Mr Simple. I thought of the old woman, and
how comfortable it would make her in her old age; and so, d'ye see, I
"How long have you been married, Swinburne?"
"Ever since Christmas '94. I wasn't going to be hooked carelessly, so I
nibbled afore I took the bait. Had four years' trial of her first, and,
finding that she had plenty of ballast, I sailed her as my own."
"How do you mean by plenty of ballast?"
"I don't mean, Mr Simple, a broad bow and square hulk. You know very
well that if a vessel has not ballast, she's bottom up in no time. Now,
what keeps a woman stiff under her canvas is her modesty."
"Very true; but it's a rare commodity on the beach."
"And why, Mr Simple? because liquor is more valued. Many a good man has
found it to be his bane; and as for a woman, when once she takes to it,
she's like a ship without a rudder, and goes right before the wind to
the devil. Not that I think a man ought not to take a nor-wester or two,
when he can get them. Rum was not given by God Almighty only to make the
niggers dance, but to make all our hearts glad; neither do I see why a
woman is to stand out neither; what's good for Jack can't hurt Poll;
only there is a medium, as they say, in all things, and half-an-half is
quite strong enough."
"I should think it was," replied I, laughing.
"But don't be letting me prevent you from keeping a look-out, Mr
Simple.--You, Hoskins, you're half a point off the wind. Luff you may.--
I think, Mr Simple, that Captain O'Brien didn't pick out the best man,
when he made Tom Alsop a quarter-master in my place."
"Why, he is a very steady, good man, Swinburne."
"Yes, so he is; but he has natural defects, which shouldn't be
overlooked. I doubt if he can see so far as the head of the mainsail."
"I was not aware of that."
"No, but I was. Alsop wants to sarve out his time for his pension, and
when he has sarved, you see if, when the surgeons examine him, they
don't invalid him, as blind as a bat. I should like to have him as
gunner's mate, and that's just what he's fit for. But, Mr Simple, I
think we shall have some bad weather. The moon looks greasy, and the
stars want snuffing. You'll have two reefs in the topsails afore
morning. There's five bells striking. Now I'll turn in; if I didn't keep
half the first, and half the morning watch, I shouldn't sleep all the
night. I miss my regular watch very much, Mr Simple--habit's everything
--and I don't much fancy a standing bed-place, it's so large, and I feel
so cold of my sides. Nothing like a hammock, after all. Good-night, Mr
Our orders were to proceed with all _possible_ despatch; and O'Brien
carried on day and night, generally remaining up himself till one or two
o'clock in the morning. We had very favourable weather, and in a little
more than a month we passed the Lizard. The wind being fair, we passed
Plymouth, ran up Channel, and anchored at Spithead.
After calling upon the admiral, O'Brien set off for town with his
despatches, and left me in command of the ship. In three days I received
a letter from him, informing me that he had seen the First Lord, who had
asked him a great many questions concerning the station he had quitted;
that he had also complimented O'Brien on his services. "On that hint I
spake," continued O'Brien; "I ventured to insinuate to his lordship,
that I had hoped I had earned my promotion; and as there is nothing like
_quartering on the enemy_, I observed that I had not applied to Lord
Privilege, as I considered my services would have been sufficient,
without any application on his part. His lordship returned a very
gracious answer: said that my Lord Privilege was a great ally of his,
and very friendly to the government; and inquired when I was going to
see him. I replied, that I certainly should not pay my respects to his
lordship at present, unless there was occasion for it, as I must take a
more favourable opportunity. So I hope that good may come from the great
lord's error, which, of course, I shall not correct, as I feel I deserve
my promotion--and you know, Peter, if you can't gain it by _hook_, you
must by _crook_." He then concluded his letter; but there was a
postscript as follows:
"Wish me joy, my dear Peter. I have this moment received a letter from
the private secretary, to say that I am _posted_, and appointed to the
_Semiramis_ frigate, about to set sail for the East Indies. She is all
ready to start; and now I must try to get you with me, of which I have
no doubt; as, although her officers have been long appointed there will
be little difficulty of success, when I mention your relationship to
Lord Privilege, and while they remain in error as to his taking an
interest in my behalf." I rejoiced at O'Brien's good fortune. His
promotion I had considered certain, as his services had entitled him to
it; but the command of so fine a frigate must have been given upon the
supposition that it would be agreeable to my uncle, who was not only a
prime supporter, but a very useful member, of the Tory Government. I
could not help laughing to myself, at the idea of O'Brien obtaining his
wishes from the influence of a person who probably detested him as much
as one man could detest another; and I impatiently waited for O'Brien's
next letter, by which I hoped to find myself appointed to the
_Semiramis_; but a sad _contretemps_ took place.
O'Brien did not write; but came down two days afterwards, hastened on
board the _Semiramis_, read his commission, and assumed the command
before even he had seen me; he then sent his gig on board of the
_Rattlesnake_ to desire me to come to him directly. I did so, and we
went down into the cabin of the frigate. "Peter," said he, "I was
obliged to hasten down and read myself captain of this ship, as I am in
fear that things are not going on well. I had called to pay my respects
at the Admiralty, previous to joining, and was kicking my heels in the
waiting-room, when who should walk up the passage, as if he were a
captain on his own quarter-deck, but your uncle, Lord Privilege. His eye
met mine--he recognised me immediately--and, if it did not flash fire,
it did something very like it. He asked a few questions of one of the
porters, and was giving his card, when my name was called for. I passed
him, and up I went to the First Lord, thanked him for the frigate; and
having received a great many compliments upon my exertions in the West
India station, made my bow and retired. I had intended to have requested
your appointment, but I knew that your name would bring up Lord
Privilege's; and, moreover, your uncle's card was brought up and laid
upon the table while I was sitting there. The First Lord, I presume,
thought that his lordship was come to thank him for his kindness to me,
which only made him more civil. I made my bow and went down, when I met
the eye of Lord Privilege; who looked daggers at me as he walked up
stairs--for, of course, he was admitted immediately after my audience
was finished. Instead of waiting to hear the result of the explanation,
I took a post-chaise, and have come down here as fast as four horses can
bring me, and have read myself in--for, Peter, I feel sure, that if not
on board, my commission will be cancelled; and I know that if once in
command, as I am now, I can call for a court-martial, to clear my
character if I am superseded. I know that the Admiralty _can_ do
anything, but still they will be cautious in departing from the rules of
the service, to please even Lord Privilege. I looked up at the sky as
soon as I left the Admiralty portico, and was glad to see that the
weather was so thick, and the telegraph not at work, or I might have
been too late. Now I'll go on shore, and report myself to the admiral,
as having taken the command of the _Semiramis_."
O'Brien went on shore to report himself, was well received by the
admiral, who informed him, that if he had any arrangements to make, he
could not be too soon, as he should not be surprised if his sailing
orders came down the next morning. This was very annoying, as I could
not see how I should be able to join O'Brien's ship, even if I could
effect an exchange, in so short a time. I therefore hastened on board of
the _Semiramis_, and applied to the officers to know if any of them were
willing to exchange into the _Rattlesnake_; but, although they did not
much like going to the East Indies, they would not exchange into a brig,
and I returned disappointed. The next morning, the admiral sent for
O'Brien, and told him confidentially, for he was the same admiral who
had received O'Brien when he had escaped from prison with me, and was
very kind to him, that there was some _hitch_ about his having the
_Semiramis_, and that orders had come down to pay her off, all standing,
and examine her bottom, if Captain O'Brien had not joined her. "Do you
understand what this means?" said the admiral, who was anxious to know
O'Brien answered frankly, that Lord Privilege, by whose interest he had
obtained his former command, was displeased with him; and that, as he
saw him go up to the First Lord, he had no doubt but that his lordship
had said something to his disadvantage, as he was a very vindictive man.
"Well," said the admiral, "it's lucky that you have taken the command,
as they cannot well displace you, or send her into dock without a
survey, and upon your representation."
And so it proved; the First Lord, when he found that O'Brien had joined,
took no further steps, but allowed the frigate to proceed to her
intended destination. But all chance of my sailing with him was done
away, and now, for the first time, I had to part with O'Brien. I
remained with him the whole time that I could be spared from my duties.
O'Brien was very much annoyed, but there was no help. "Never mind,
Peter," said he, "I've been thinking that perhaps it's all for the best.
You will see more of the world, and be no longer in leading-strings. You
are now a fine man grown up, big enough and ugly enough, as they say, to
take care of yourself. We shall meet again; and if we don't, why then,
God bless you, my boy, and don't forget O'Brien."
Three days afterwards, O'Brien's orders came down. I accompanied him on
board; and it was not until the ship was under weigh, and running
towards the Needles with a fair wind, that I shook hands with him, and
shoved off. Parting with O'Brien was a heavy blow to me; but I little
knew how much I was to suffer before I saw him again.
I am pleased with my new captain--Obtain leave to go home--Find my
father afflicted with a very strange disease, and prove myself a very
good doctor, although the disorder always breaks out in a fresh place.
The day after O'Brien had sailed for the East Indies, the dockyard men
came on board to survey the brig, and she was found so defective as to
be ordered into dock. I had received letters from my sister, who was
overjoyed at the intelligence of my safe return, and the anticipation of
seeing me. The accounts of my father were, however, very unsatisfactory.
My sister wrote, that disappointment and anxiety had had such an effect
upon him, that he was deranged in his intellects. Our new captain came
down to join us. He was a very young man, and had never before commanded
a ship. His character as lieutenant was well known, and not very
satisfactory, being that of a harsh, unpleasant officer; but, as he had
never been first lieutenant, it was impossible to say what he might
prove when in command of a ship. Still we were a little anxious about
it, and severely regretted the loss of O'Brien. He came on board the
hulk to which the ship's company's had been turned over, and read his
commission. He proved to be all affability, condescension, and
good-nature. To me, he was particularly polite, stating that he should
not interfere with me in carrying on the duty, as I must be so well
acquainted with the ship's company. We thought that those who gave us
the information must have been prejudiced or mistaken in his character.
During the half hour that he remained on board, I stated, that now that
the brig was in dock, I should like very much to have an opportunity of
seeing my friends, if he would sanction my asking for leave. To this he
cheerfully consented, adding, that he would extend it upon his own
responsibility. My letter to the Admiralty was therefore forwarded
through him, and was answered in the affirmative. The day afterwards, I
set off by the coach, and once more embraced my dear sister.
After the first congratulations were over, I inquired about my father;
she replied, that he was so wild that nobody could manage him. That he
was melancholy and irritable at the same time, and was certainly
deranged, fancying himself to be made of various substances, or to be in
a certain trade or capacity. That he generally remained in this way four
or five days, when he went to bed, and slept for twenty-four hours, or
more, and awoke with some new strange imagination in his head. His
language was violent, but that, in other respects, he seemed to be more
afraid of other people, than inclined to be mischievous, and that every
day he was getting more strange and ridiculous. He had now just risen
from one of his long naps, and was in his study; that before he had
fallen asleep he had fancied himself to be a carpenter, and had sawed
and chopped up several articles of furniture in the house.
I quitted my sister to see my father, whom I found in his easy-chair. I
was much shocked at his appearance. He was thin and haggard, his eye was
wild, and he remained with his mouth constantly open. A sick-nurse, who
had been hired by my sister, was standing by him.
"Pish, pish, pish, pish!" cried my father; "what can you, a stupid old
woman, know about my inside? I tell you the gas is generating fast, and
even now I can hardly keep on my chair. I'm lifting--lifting now; and if
you don't tie me down with cords, I shall go up like a balloon."
"Indeed, sir," replied the woman, "it's only the wind in your stomach.
You'll break it off directly."
"It's inflammable gas, you old Hecate!--I know it is. Tell me, will you
get a cord, or will you not? Hah! who's that--Peter? Why you've dropped
from the clouds, just in time to see me mount up to them."
"I hope you feel yourself better, sir," said I.
"I feel myself a great deal lighter every minute. Get a cord, Peter, and
tie me to the leg of the table."
I tried to persuade him that he was under a mistake; but it was useless.
He became excessively violent, and said I wished him in heaven. As I had
heard that it was better to humour people afflicted with
hypochondriacism, which was evidently the disease under which my father
laboured, I tried that method. "It appears to me, sir," said I, "that if
we could remove the gas every ten minutes, it would be a good plan."
"Yes--but how?" replied he, shaking his head mournfully.
"Why, with a syringe, sir," said I; "which will, if empty, of course
draw out the gas, when inserted into your mouth."
"My dear Peter, you have saved my life: be quick, though, or I shall go
up, right through the ceiling."
Fortunately, there was an instrument of that description in the house. I
applied it to his mouth, drew up the piston, and then ejected the air,
and re-applied it. In two minutes he pronounced himself better, and I
left the old nurse hard at work, and my father very considerably
pacified. I returned to my sister, to whom I recounted what had passed;
but it was no source of mirth to us, although, had it happened to an
indifferent person, I might have been amused. The idea of leaving her,
as I must soon do--having only a fortnight's leave--to be worried by my
father's unfortunate malady, was very distressing. But we entered into a
long conversation, in which I recounted the adventures that had taken
place since I had left her, and for the time forgot our source of
annoyance and regret. For three days my father insisted upon the old
woman pumping the gas out of his body; after that, he again fell into
one of his sleeps, which lasted nearly thirty hours.
When he arose, I went again to see him. It was eight o'clock in the
evening, and I entered with a candle. "Take it away--quick, take it
away; put it out carefully."
"Why, what's the matter, sir?"
"Don't come near me, if you love me; don't come near me. Put it out, I
say--put it out."
I obeyed his orders, and then asked him the reason. "Reason!" said he,
now that we were in the dark; "can't you see?"
"No, father; I can see nothing in the dark."
"Well, then, Peter, I'm a magazine, full of gunpowder; the least spark
in the world, and I am blown up. Consider the danger. You surely would
not be the destruction of your father, Peter?" and the poor old
gentleman burst into tears, and wept like a child.
I knew that it was in vain to reason with him. "My dear father," said I,
"on board ship, when there is any danger of this kind, we always _float_
the magazine. Now, if you were to drink a good deal of water, the powder
would be spoiled, and there would be no danger." My father was satisfied
with my proposal, and drank a tumbler of water every half-hour, which
the old nurse was obliged to supply as fast as he called for it; and
this satisfied him for three or four days, and I was again left to the
company of my dear Ellen, when my father again fell into his stupor, and
we wondered what would be his next fancy. I was hastily summoned by the
nurse, and found my poor father lying in bed, and breathing in a very
strange manner. "What is the matter, my dear sir?" inquired I.
"Why don't you see what is the matter? How is a poor little infant, just
born, to live, unless its mother is near to suckle it, and take care of
"Indeed, sir, do you mean to say that you are just born?"
"To be sure I do. I'm dying for the breast."
This was almost too absurd; but I gravely observed, "That it was all
very true, but unfortunately his mother had died in childbirth, and the
only remedy was to bring him up by hand."
He agreed with me. I desired the nurse to make some gruel with brandy,
and feed him; which she did, and he took the gruel just as if he were a
baby. I was about to wish him goodnight, when he beckoned to me, and
said, "Peter, she hasn't changed my napkin." This was too much, and I
could not help laughing. I told the nurse what he said, and she replied,
"Lord bless you, sir, what matter? if the old gentleman takes a fancy,
why not indulge him? I'll fetch the kitchen table-cloth." This fit
lasted about six days; for he went to sleep, because a baby always slept
much: and I was in hopes it would last much longer: but he again went
off into his lethargic fit, and, after a long sleep, awoke with a new
fancy. My time had nearly expired, and I had written to my new captain,
requesting an extension of leave, but I received an answer stating that
it could not be granted, and requesting me to join the brig immediately.
I was rather surprised at this, but of course was compelled to obey;
and, embracing my dear sister once more, set off for Portsmouth. I
advised her to humour my father, and this advice she followed; but his
fancies were such, occasionally, as would have puzzled the most
inventive genius to combat, or to find the remedy which he might
acknowledge to be requisite. His health became certainly worse and
worse, and his constitution was evidently destroyed by a slow,
undermining, bodily and mental fever. The situation of my poor sister
was very distressing; and I quitted her with melancholy forebodings.
I ought here to observe that I received all my prize-money, amounting to
L1560, a large sum for a lieutenant. I put it into the funds, and gave a
power of attorney to Ellen, requesting her to use it as her own. We
consulted as to what she should do if my father should die, and agreed
that all his debts, which we knew to amount to three or four hundred
pounds, should be paid, and that she should manage how she could upon
what was left of my father's property, and the interest of my
We receive our sailing orders, and orders of every description--A
quarter-deck conversation--Listeners never hear any good of themselves.
When I arrived at Portsmouth, I reported myself to the captain, who
lived at the hotel. I was ushered into his room to wait for him, as he
was dressing to dine with the admiral. My eyes naturally turned to what
lay on the table, merely from the feeling which one has to pass away the
time, not from curiosity; and I was much surprised to see a pile of
letters, the uppermost of which was franked by Lord Privilege. This,
however, might be merely accidental; but my curiosity was excited, and I
lifted up the letter, and found that the second, the third, and indeed
at least ten of these were franked by my uncle. I could not imagine how
there could be any intimacy between him and my uncle, and was reflecting
upon it when Captain Hawkins, for that was his name, entered the room.
He was very kind and civil, apologized for not being able to extend my
leave, which, he said, was because he had consulted the admiral, who
would not sanction the absence of the first lieutenant, and had very
peremptorily desired he would recall me immediately. I was satisfied: he
shook my hand, and we parted. On my arrival on board the hulk, for the
brig was still in dock, I was warmly received by my messmates. They told
me that the captain had, generally speaking, been very civil, but that,
occasionally, the marks of the cloven foot appeared.
"Webster," said I, to the second lieutenant, "do you know anything about
his family or connections?"
"It is a question I have asked of those who have sailed with him, and
they all say that he never speaks of his own family, but very often
boasts of his intimacy with the nobility. Some say that he is a
_bye-blow_ of some great man."
I reflected very much upon this, and connecting it with the numerous
franks of Lord Privilege, which I saw on the table, had my misgivings;
but then I knew that I could do my duty, and had no reason to fear any
man. I resolved, in my own mind, to be very correct, and put it out of
the power of any one to lay hold of me, and then dismissed the subject.
The brig was repaired and out of dock, and for some days I was very busy
getting her ready for sea. I never quitted her; in fact, I had no wish.
I never had any taste for bad company and midnight orgies, and I had no
acquaintance with the respectable portion of the inhabitants of
Portsmouth. At last the ship's company were removed into the brig: we
went out of harbour, and anchored at Spithead.
Captain Hawkins came on board and gave me an order-book, saying, "Mr
Simple, I have a great objection to written orders, as I consider that
the articles of war are quite sufficient to regulate any ship. Still, a
captain is in a very responsible situation, and if any accident occurs
he is held amenable. I therefore have framed a few orders of my own for
the interior discipline of the vessel, which may probably save me
harmless, in case of being _hauled over the coals_; but not with any
wish that they should interfere with the comforts of the officers, only
to guard against any mischance, of which the _onus_ may fall upon
I received the order-book, and the captain went ashore. When I went down
into the gun-room, to look through it, I at once perceived that if
rigidly conformed to, every officer in the ship would be rendered
uncomfortable; and if not conformed to, I should be the party that was
answerable. I showed it to Webster, who agreed with me, and gave it as
his opinion that the captain's good nature and amiability were all a
blind, and that he was intending to lay hold of us as soon as it was in
his power. I therefore called all the officers together, and told them
my opinion. Webster supported me, and it was unanimously agreed that the
orders should be obeyed, although not without remonstrance. The major
part of the orders, however, only referred to the time that the brig was
in harbour; and, as we were about to proceed to sea, it was hardly worth
while saying anything at present. The orders for the sailing of the brig
came down, and by the same post I received a letter from my sister
Ellen, stating that they had heard from Captain Fielding, who had
immediately written to Bombay, where the regiment was stationed, and had
received an answer, informing him that there was no married man in the
regiment of the name of Sullivan, and no woman who had followed that
regiment of that name. This at once put an end to all our researches
after the wet-nurse, who had been confined in my uncle's house. Where
she had been sent, it was of course impossible to say; but I gave up all
chance of discovering my uncle's treachery; and, as I thought of
Celeste, sighed at the little hope I had of ever being united to her. I
wrote a long letter to O'Brien, and the next day we sailed for our
station in the North Sea.
The captain added a night order-book to the other, and sent it up every
evening, to be returned in the morning, with the signature of every
officer of the night watches. He also required all our signatures to his
general order-book, that we might not say we had not read them. I had
the first watch, when Swinburne came up to me. "Well, Mr Simple, I do
not think we have made much by our exchange of captains; and I have a
shrewd suspicion we shall have squalls ere long."
"We must not judge too hastily, Swinburne," replied I.
"No, no--I don't say that we should; but still, one must go a little by
looks in the world, and I'm sure his looks wouldn't help him much. He's
just like a winter's day, short and dirty; and he walks the deck as if
planks were not good enough for his feet. Mr Williams says, he looks as
if he were 'big with the fate of Cato and of Rome:' what that means, I
don't know--some joke, I suppose, for the youngsters are always joking.
Were you ever up the Baltic, Mr Simple? Now I think of it, I know you
never were. I've seen some tight work up there with the gun-boats; and
so we should now with Captain O'Brien; but as for this little man, I've
an idea 'twill be more talk than work."
"You appear to have taken a great dislike to the captain, Swinburne. I
do not know whether, as first lieutenant, I ought to listen to you."
"It's because you're first lieutenant that I tell it you, Mr Simple. I
never was mistaken, in the main, of an officer's character, when I could
look him in the face, and hear him talk for half an hour; and I came up
on purpose to put you on your guard: for I feel convinced, that towards
you he means mischief. What does he mean by having the greasy-faced
serjeant of marines in his cabin for half an hour every morning? His
reports as master of arms ought to come through you, as first
lieutenant; but he means him as a spy upon all, and upon you in
particular. The fellow has begun to give himself airs already, and
speaks to the young gentlemen as if they were beneath him. I thought you
might not know it, Mr Simple, so I thought it right to tell you."
"I am much obliged to you, Swinburne, for your good wishes; but I can do
my duty, and why should I fear anything?"
"A man may do his duty, Mr Simple; but if a captain is determined to
ruin him, he has the power. I have been longer in the service than you
have, and have been wide awake: only be careful of one thing, Mr Simple;
I beg your pardon for being so free, but in no case lose your temper."
"No fear of that, Swinburne," replied I.
"It's very easy to say 'no fear of that,' Mr Simple; but recollect, you
have not yet had your temper tried as some officers have. You have
always been treated like a gentleman; but should you find yourself
treated otherwise, you have too good blood in your veins not to speak--I
am sure of that. I've seen officers insulted and irritated, till no
angel could put up with the treatment--and then for an unguarded word,
which they would have been _swabs_ not to have made use of, sent out of
the service to the devil."
"But you forget, Swinburne, that the articles of war are made for the
captain as well as for everybody else in the ship."
"I know that; but still, at court-martials captains make a great
distinction between what a superior says to an inferior, and what an
inferior says to a superior."
"True," replied I, quoting Shakespeare:
"'That's in the captain but a choleric word, Which in the soldier is
"Exactly my meaning--I rather think," said Swinburne, "if a captain
calls you no gentleman, you mus'n't say the same to him."
"Certainly not, but I can demand a court-martial."
"Yes; and it will be granted: but what do you gain by that? It's like
beating against a heavy gale and a lee tide--thousand to one if you
fetch your port; and if you do, your vessel is strained to pieces, sails
worn as thin as a newspaper, and rigging chafed half through, wanting
fresh serving: no orders for a re-fit, and laid up in ordinary for the
rest of your life. No, no, Mr Simple, the best plan is to grin and bear
it, and keep a sharp look-out; for depend upon it, Mr Simple, in the
best ship's company in the world, a spy captain will always find spy
"Do you refer that observation to me, Mr Swinburne?" said a voice from
under the bulwark. I started round, and found the captain, who had crept
upon deck, unperceived by us, during our conversation. Swinburne made no
reply; but touched his hat and walked over to leeward. "I presume, Mr
Simple," said the captain, turning to me, "that you consider yourself
justified in finding fault, and abusing your captain, to an inferior
officer, on His Majesty's quarter-deck."
"If you heard the previous conversation, sir," replied I, "you must be
aware that we were speaking generally about court-martials. I do not
imagine that I have been guilty of any impropriety in conversing with an
officer upon points connected with the service."
"You mean then to assert, sir, that the gunner did not refer to me when
he said the words, 'spy captain.'"
"I acknowledge, sir, that as you were listening unperceived, the term
might appear to refer to you; but the gunner had no idea, at the time,
that you were listening. His observation was, that a spy captain would
always find spy followers. This I take to be a general observation; and
I am sorry that you think otherwise."
"Very well, Mr Simple," said Captain Hawkins--and he walked down the
companion ladder into his cabin.
"Now a'n't it odd, Mr Simple, that I should come up with the intention
of being of service to you, and yet get you into such a scrape? However,
perhaps it is all for the best; open war is preferable to watching in
the dark, and stabbing in the back. He never meant to have shown his
colours; but I hit him so hard, that he forgot himself."
"I suspect that to be the case, Swinburne; but I think that you had
better not talk any more with me to-night."
"Wish I hadn't talked quite so much, as things have turned out," replied
Swinburne. "Good-night, sir."
I reflected upon what had passed, and felt convinced that Swinburne was
right in saying that it was better this had occurred than otherwise. I
now knew the ground which I stood upon; and forewarned was being
We encounter a Dutch brig of war--Captain Hawkins very contemplative
near the capstan--Hard knocks, and no thanks for it--Who's afraid?--Men
will talk--The brig goes about on the wrong tack.
At daylight the next morning we were off the Texel, and could see the
low sand-hills; but we had scarcely made them out, when the fog in the
offing cleared up, and we made a strange vessel. The hands were turned
up, and all sail made in chase. We made her out to be a brig of war; and
as she altered her course considerably, we had an idea that she was an
enemy. We made the private signal, which was unanswered, and we cleared
for action; the brig making all sail on the starboard tack, and we
following her--she bearing about two miles on our weather bow. The
breeze was not steady; at one time the brig was staggering under her
top-gallant sails, while we had our royals set; at another we would have
hands by the top-gallant sheets and topsail halyards, while she expanded
every stitch of canvas. On the whole, however, in an hour we had neared
about half a mile. Our men were all at their quarters, happy to be so
soon at their old work. Their jackets and hats were thrown off, a
bandana handkerchief tied round their heads, and another, or else their
black silk handkerchiefs, tied round their waists. Every gun was ready,
everything was in its place, and every soul, I was going to say, was
anxious for the set-to; but I rather think I must not include the
captain, who from the commencement, showed no signs of pleasure, and
anything but presence of mind. When we first chased the vessel, it was
reported that it was a merchantman; and it was not until we had broad
daylight, that we discovered her to be a man-of-war. There was one thing
to be said in his favour--he had never been in action in his life.
The breeze now fell light, and we were both with our sails set, when a
thick fog obscured her from our sight. The fog rolled on till we met it,
and then we could not see ten yards from the brig. This was a source of
great mortification, as we had every chance of losing her. Fortunately,
the wind was settling down fast into a calm, and about twelve o'clock
the sails flapped against the mast. I reported twelve o'clock, and asked
the captain whether we should pipe to dinner.
"Not yet," replied he; "we will put her head about."
"Go about, sir?" replied I, with surprise.
"Yes;" said he, "I'm convinced that the chase is on the other tack at
this moment; and if we do not, we shall lose her."
"If she goes about, sir," said I, "she must get among the sands, and we
shall be sure of her."
"Sir," replied he, "when I ask your advice, you will be pleased to give
it. I command this vessel."
I touched my hat, and turned the hands up about ship, convinced that the
captain wished to avoid the action, as the only chance of escape for the
brig was her keeping her wind in the tack she was on. "'Bout ship--'bout
ship!" cried the men. "What the hell are we going about for?" inquired
they of one another, as they came up the ladder. "Silence there, fore
and aft!" cried I. "Captain Hawkins, I do not think we can get her
round, unless we wear--the wind is very light."
"Then wear ship, Mr Simple."
There are times when grumbling and discontent among the seamen is so
participated by the officers, although they do not show it, that the
expressions made use of are passed unheeded. Such was the case at
present. The officers looked at each other, and said nothing; but the
men were unguarded in their expressions. The brig wore gradually round;
and when the men were bracing up the yards, sharp on the other tack,
instead of the "Hurrah!" and "Down with the mark!" they fell back with a
"Brace up those yards in silence, there," said I to the men.
The ropes were coiled down, and we piped to dinner. The captain, who
continued on deck, could not fail to hear the discontented expressions
which occasionally were made use of on the lower deck. He made no
observation, but occasionally looked over the side, to see whether the
brig went through the water. This she did slowly for about ten minutes,
when it fell a perfect calm--so that, to use a common sea phrase, he
gained little by his motion. About half-past one, a slight breeze from
the opposite quarter sprung up--we turned round to it--it increased--the
fog blew away, and, in a quarter of an hour, the chase was again
visible, now upon our lee beam. The men gave three cheers.
"Silence there, fore and aft," cried the captain, angrily. "Mr Simple,
is this the way that the ship's company have been disciplined under
their late commander, to halloo and bawl whenever they think proper?"
I was irritated at any reflection upon O'Brien, and I replied, "Yes,
sir; they have been always accustomed to express their joy at the
prospect of engaging the enemy."
"Very well, Mr Simple," replied he.
"How are we to shift her head?" inquired the master, touching his hat:
"for the chase?"
"Of course," replied the captain, who then descended into his cabin.
"Come, my lads," said Swinburne, as soon as the captain was below, "I
have been going round, and I find that your _pets_ are all in good
fighting order. I promise ye, you sha'n't wait for powder. They'll find
that the _Rattlesnake_ can bite devilish hard yet, I expect."--"Aye, and
without its _head_, too," replied one of the men, who was the Joe Miller
of the brig. The chase, perceiving that she could not escape--for we
were coming up with her, hand over hand, now shortened sail for action,
hoisting Dutch colours. Captain Hawkins again made his appearance on the
quarter-deck, when we were within half a mile of her.
"Are we to run alongside of her or how?" inquired I.
"Mr Simple, I command her," replied he, "and want no interference
"Very well, sir," replied I, and I walked to the gangway.
"Mr Thompson," cried the captain, who appeared to have screwed up his
courage to the right pitch, and had now taken his position for a moment
on one of the carronades; "you will lay the brig right--"
Bang, bang--whiz, whiz--bang--whiz, came three shots from the enemy,
cleaving the air between our masts. The captain jumped down from the
carronade, and hastened to the capstern, without finishing his sentence.
"Shall we fire when we are ready, sir?" said I; for I perceived that he
was not capable of giving correct orders.
"Yes--yes, to be sure," replied he, remaining where he was.
"Thompson," said I to the master, "I think we can manage, in our present
commanding position, to get foul of him, so as to knock away his
jib-boom and fore topmast, and then she can't escape. We have good way
"I'll manage it, Simple, or my name's not Thompson," replied the master,
jumping into the quarter-boat, conning the vessel in that exposed
situation, as we received the enemy's fire.
"Look out, my lads, and pour it into her now, just as you please," said
I to the men.
The seamen were, however, too well disciplined to take immediate
advantage of my permission; they waited until we passed her, and just as
the master put up his helm, so as to catch her jib-boom between our
masts, the whole broadside was poured into his bow and chess-tree. Her
jib-boom and fore-topgallant went down, and she had so much way through
the water, that we tore clear from her, and rounding to the wind shot
a-head. The enemy, although in confusion from the effects of our
broadside, put up his helm to rake us; we perceived his manoeuvre, and
did the same, and then, squaring our sails, we ran with him before the
wind, engaging broadside to broadside. This continued about half an
hour, and we soon found that we had no fool to play with. The brig was
well fought, and her guns well directed. We had several men taken down
below, and I thought it would be better to engage her even closer. There
was about a cable's length between both vessels, as we ran before the
wind, at about six miles an hour, with a slight rolling motion.
"Thompson," said I, "let us see if we cannot beat them from their guns.
Let's port the helm and close her, till we can shy a biscuit on board."
"Just my opinion, Simple; we'll see if they won't make another sort of
running fight of it."
In a few minutes we were so close on board of her, that the men who
loaded the guns could touch each other with their rammers and sponges.
The men cheered; it was gallantly returned by the enemy, and havoc was
now commenced by the musketry on both sides. The French captain, who
appeared as brave a fellow as ever stepped, stood for some minutes on
the hammocks; I was also holding on by the swifter of the main rigging,
when he took off his hat and politely saluted me. I returned the
compliment; but the fire became too hot, and I wished to get under the
shelter of the bulwark. Still I would not go down first, and the French
captain appeared determined not to be the first either to quit the post
of honour. At last one of our marines hit him in the right arm: he
clapped his hand to the part, as if to point it out to me, nodded, and
was assisted down from the hammocks. I immediately quitted my post, for
I thought it foolish to stand as a mark for forty or fifty soldiers. I
had already received a bullet through the small of my leg. But the
effects of such close fire now became apparent: our guns were only half
manned, our sides terribly cut up, and our sails and rigging in tatters.
The enemy was even worse off, and two broadsides more brought her
mainmast by the board. Our men cheered, and threw in another broadside.
The enemy dropped astern; we rounded to rake her; she also attempted to
round to, but could not until she had cleared away her wreck, and taken
in her foresail, and lowered her topsail. She then continued the action
with as much spirit as ever.
"He's a fine fellow, by God!" exclaimed Thompson; "I never saw a man
fight his ship better: but we have him. Webster's down, poor fellow!"
"I'm sorry for it," replied I; "but I'm afraid that there are many poor
fellows who have lost the number of their mess. I think it useless
throwing away the advantage which we now have. He can't escape, and
he'll fight this way for ever. We had better run a-head, repair damages,
and then he must surrender, in his crippled state, when we attack him
"I agree with you," said Thompson; "the only point is, that it will soon
"I'll not lose sight of him, and he cannot get away. If he puts before
the wind, then we will be at him again."
We gave him the loaded guns as we forged a-head, and when we were about
half a mile from him, hove-to to repair damages.
The reader may now ask, "But where was the captain all this time?" My
answer is, that he was at the capstern, where he stood in silence, not
once interfering during the whole action, which was fought by Thompson,
the master, and myself. How he looked, or how he behaved in other points
during the engagement, I cannot pretend to say, for I had no time to
observe him. Even now I was busy knotting the rigging, rousing up new
sails to bend, and getting everything in order, and I should not have
observed him, had he not come up to me; for as soon as we had ceased
firing he appeared to recover himself. He did not, however, first
address me; he commenced speaking to the men.
"Come, be smart, my lads; send a hand here to swab up the blood. Here,
youngster, run down to the surgeon, and let him know that I wish a
report of the killed and wounded."
By degrees he talked more, and at last came up to me, "This has been
rather smartish, Mr Simple."
"Very smart indeed, sir," replied I, and then turned away to give
directions. "Maintop there, send down the hauling line on the starboard
"Ay, ay, sir."
"Now then, my lads, clap on, and run it up at once."
"Maintop, there," hailed the captain, "be a little smarter, or by
G----d, I'll call you down for something." This did not come with a
good grace from one who had done nothing, to those who were working with
all their energy. "Mr Simple," said the captain, "I wish you would carry
on duty with less noise."
"At all events, he set us that example during the action," muttered the
Joe Miller; and the other men laughed heartily at the implication. In
two hours, during which we had carefully watched the enemy, who still
lay where we left him, we were again ready for action.
"Shall I give the men their grog now, sir?" said I to the captain; "they
must want it."
"No, no," replied the captain; "no, no, Mr Simple, I don't like what you
call _Dutch_ courage."
"I don't think he much does; and this fellow has shown plenty of it,"
said the Joe Miller, softly; and the men about him laughed heartily.
"I think, sir," observed I, "that it is an injustice to this fine ship's
company to hint at their requiring Dutch courage." (Dutch courage is a
term for courage screwed up by drinking freely.) "And I most
respectfully beg leave to observe, that the men have not had their
afternoon's allowance; and, after the fatigues they have undergone,
really require it."
"I command this ship, sir," replied he.
"Certainly, sir, I am aware of it," rejoined I. "She is now all ready
for action again, and I wait your orders. The enemy is two miles on the
The surgeon here came up with his report.
"Good heavens!" said the captain, "forty-seven men killed and wounded,
Mr Webster dangerously. Why, the brig is crippled. We can do no more--
positively, we can do no more."
"_We can take that brig, anyhow_," cried one of the seamen from a dozen
of the men who were to leeward, expecting orders to renew the attack.
"What man was that?" cried the captain.
No one answered.
"By G----d! this ship is in a state of mutiny, Mr Simple."
"Will _soon_ be, I think," said a voice from the crowd, which I knew
very well; but the captain, having been but a short time with us, did
not know it.
"Do you hear that, Mr Simple?" cried the captain.
"I regret to say that I did hear it, sir; I little thought that ever
such an expression would have been made use of on board of the
_Rattlesnake_." Then, fearing he would ask me the man's name, and to
pretend not to have recognised it, I said, "Who was that who made use of
that expression?" But no one answered; and it was so dark, that it was
impossible to distinguish the men.
"After such mutinous expressions," observed the captain, "I certainly
will not risk His Majesty's brig under my command, as I should have
wished to have done, even in her crippled state, by again engaging the
enemy. I can only regret that the officers appear as insolent as the
"Perhaps, Captain Hawkins, you will state in what, and when, I have
proved myself insolent. I cannot accuse myself."
"I hope the expression was not applied to me, sir," said Thompson, the
master, touching his hat.
"Silence, gentlemen, if you please. Mr Simple, wear round the ship."
Whether the captain intended to attack the enemy or not, we could not
tell, but we were soon undeceived; for when we were round, he ordered
her to be kept away until the Dutch brig was on our lee quarter: then
ordering the master to shape his course for Yarmouth, he went down into
the cabin, and sent up word that I might pipe to supper and serve out
The rage and indignation of the men could not be withheld. After they
went down to supper they gave three heavy groans in concert; indeed,
during the whole of that night, the officers who kept the watches had
great difficulty in keeping the men from venting their feeling, in what
might be almost termed justifiable mutiny. As for myself, I could hardly
control my vexation. The brig was our certain prize; and this was
proved, for the next day she hauled down her colours immediately to a
much smaller man-of-war, which fell in with her, still lying in the same
crippled state; the captain and first lieutenant killed, and nearly
two-thirds of her ship's company either killed or wounded. Had we
attacked her, she would have hauled down her colours immediately, for it
was our last broadside which had killed the captain. As first
lieutenant, I should have received my promotion, which was now lost. I
cried for vexation when I thought of it as I lay in bed. That his
conduct was severely commented upon by the officers in the gun-room, as
well as by the whole ship's company, I hardly need say. Thompson was for
bringing him to a court-martial, which I would most gladly have done, if
it only were to get rid of him; but I had a long conversation with old
Swinburne on the subject, and he proved to me that I had better not
attempt it. "For, d'ye see, Mr Simple, you have no proof. He did not run
down below; he stood his ground on deck, although he did nothing. You
can't _prove_ cowardice, then, although there can be no great doubt of
it. Again, with regard to his not renewing the attack, why, is not a
captain at liberty to decide what is the best for His Majesty's service?
And if he thought, in the crippled state of the brig, so close to the
enemy's coast, that it wasn't advisable, why, it could only be brought
in as an error in judgment. Then there's another thing which must be
remembered, Mr Simple, which is, that no captains sitting on a
court-martial will, if it be possible to extricate him, ever prove
_cowardice_ against a brother captain, because they feel that it's a
disgrace to the whole cloth."
Swinburne's advice was good, and I gave up all thoughts of proceeding;
still it appeared to me, that the captain was very much afraid that I
would, he was so extremely amiable and polite during our run home. He
said, that he had watched how well I had behaved in the action, and
would not fail to notice it. This was something, but he did not keep his
word: for his despatch was published before we quitted the roadstead,
and not the name of one officer mentioned, only generally saying, that
they conducted themselves to his satisfaction. He called the enemy a
corvette, not specifying whether she was a brig or ship corvette; and
the whole was written in such a bombastic style, that any one would have
imagined that he had fought a vessel of superior force. He stated, at
the end, that as soon as he repaired damages, he wore round, but that
the enemy declined further action. So she did--certainly--for the best
of all possible reasons, that she was too disabled to come down to us.
All this might have been contested; but the enormous list of killed and
wounded proved that we had had a hard fight, and the capture of the brig
afterwards, that we had really overpowered her. So that, on the whole,
Captain Hawkins gained a great deal of credit with some; although
whispers were afloat which came to the ears of the Admiralty, and
prevented him from being posted--the more so, as he had the modesty not
to apply for it.
Consequences of the action--A ship without a fighting captain is like a
thing without a head--So do the sailors think--A mutiny, and the loss
of our famous ship's company.
During our stay at Yarmouth, we were not allowed to put our foot on
shore, upon the plea that we must repair damages, and proceed
immediately to our station; but the real fact was, that Captain Hawkins
was very anxious that we should not be able to talk about the action.
Finding no charges preferred against him, he re-commenced his system of
annoyance. His apartments had windows which looked out upon where the
brig lay at anchor, and he constantly watched all our motions with his
spy-glass, noting down if I did not hoist up boats, &c., exactly at the
hour prescribed in his book of orders, so as to gather a list of charges
against me if he could. This we did not find out until afterwards.
I mentioned before, that when Swinburne joined us at Plymouth, he had
recommended a figure-head being put on the brig. This had been done at
O'Brien's expense--not in the cheap way recommended by Swinburne, but in
a very handsome manner. It was a large snake coiled up in folds, with
its head darting out in a menacing attitude, and the tail, with its
rattle appeared below. The whole was gilded, and had a very good effect;
but after the dock-yard men had completed the repairs, and the brig was
painted, one night the head of the rattlesnake disappeared. It had been
sawed off by some malicious and evil disposed persons, and no traces of
it were to be found. I was obliged to report this to the captain, who
was very indignant, and offered twenty pounds for the discovery of the
offender; but had he offered twenty thousand he never would have found
out the delinquent. It was, however, never forgotten; for he understood
what was implied by these manoeuvres. A new head was carved, but
disappeared the night after it was fixed on.
The rage of the captain was without bounds: he turned the hands up, and
declared that if the offender was not given up, he would flog every hand
on board. He gave the ship's company ten minutes, and then prepared to
execute his threat. "Mr Paul, turn the hands up for punishment," said
the captain, in a rage, and descended to his cabin for the articles of
war. When he was down below, the officers talked over the matter. To
flog every man for the crime of one was the height of injustice, but it
was not for us to oppose him; still the ship's company must have seen,
in our countenances, that we shared their feelings. The men were talking
with each other in groups, until they all appeared to have communicated
their ideas on the subject. The carpenters, who had been slowly bringing
aft the gratings, left off the job; the boatswain's mates, who had came
aft, rolled the tails of their cats round the red handles; and every man
walked down below. No one was left on the quarter-deck but the marines
under arms, and the officers. Perceiving this, I desired Mr Paul, the
boatswain, to send the men up to rig the gratings, and the
quarter-masters with their seizings. He came up, and said that he had
called them, but that they did not answer. Perceiving that the ship's
company would break out into open mutiny, if the captain persisted in
his intention, I went down into the cabin, and told the captain the
state of things, and wished for his orders or presence on deck.
The captain, whose wrath appeared incapable of reflection, immediately
proceeded on deck, and ordered the marines to load with ball-cartridge.
This was done; but, as I was afterwards told by Thompson, who was
standing aft, the marines loaded with powder, and put the balls into
their pockets. They wished to keep up the character of their corps for
fidelity, and at the same time not fire upon men whom they loved as
brothers, and with whom they coincided in opinion. Indeed, we afterwards
discovered that it was a _marine_ who had taken off the _head_ of the
snake a second time.
The captain then ordered the boatswain to turn the hands up. The
boatswain made his appearance with his right arm in a sling.--"What's
the matter with your arm, Mr Paul?" said I, as he passed me.
"Tumbled down the hatchway just now--can't move my arm; I must go to the
surgeon as soon as this is over."
The hands were piped up again, but no one obeyed the order. Thus was the
brig in a state of mutiny. "Mr Simple, go forward to the main hatchway
with the marines, and fire on the lower deck," cried the captain.
"Sir," said I, "there are two frigates within a cable's length of us;
and would it not be better to send for assistance, without shedding
blood? Besides, sir, you have not yet tried the effect of calling up the
carpenter's and boatswain's mates by name. Will you allow me to go down
first, and bring them to a sense of their duty?"
"Yes, I presume you know your power; but of this hereafter."
I went down below and called the men by name.
"Sir," said one of the boatswain's mates, "the ship's company say that
they will not submit to be flogged."
"I do not speak to the ship's company generally, Collins," replied I;
"but you are now ordered to rig the gratings, and come on deck. It is an
order that you cannot refuse. Go up directly, and obey it.
Quarter-masters, go on deck with your seizings. When all is ready, you
can then expostulate." The men obeyed my orders; they crawled on deck,
rigged the gratings, and stood by. "All is ready, sir," said I, touching
my hat to the captain.
"Send the ship's company aft, Mr Paul."
"Aft, then, all of you, for punishment," cried the boatswain.
"Yes, it is _all of us for punishment_," cried one voice. "We're all to
flog one another, and then pay off the _jollies_."
This time the men obeyed the order; they all appeared on the
quarter-deck. "The men are all aft, sir," reported the boatswain.
"And now, my lads," said the captain, "I'll teach you what mutiny is.
You see the two frigates alongside of us. You had forgotten them, I
suppose, but I hadn't. Here, you scoundrel, Mr Jones"--(this was the Joe
Miller)--"strip, sir. If ever there was mischief in a ship, you are at
"Head, sir," said the man, assuming a vacant look; "what head, sir? Do
you mean the snake's head? I don't know anything about it, sir."--
"Strip, sir!" cried the captain in a rage; "I'll soon bring you to your
"If you please, your honour, what have I done to be tied up?" said the
"Strip, you scoundrel!"--"Well, sir, if you please, it's hard to be
flogged for nothing." The man pulled off his clothes, and walked up to
the grating. The quarter-masters seized him up.
"Seized up, sir," reported the scoundrel of a sergeant of marines who
acted as the captain's spy.
The captain looked for the articles of war to read, as is necessary
previous to punishing a man, and was a little puzzled to find one, where
no positive offence had been committed. At last, he pitched upon the one
which refers to combination and conspiracy, and creating discontent. We
all took off our hats as he read it, and he then called Mr Paul, the
boatswain, and ordered him to give the man a dozen. "Please, sir," said
the boatswain, pointing to his arm in a sling, "I can't flog--I can't
lift up my arm."--"Your arm was well enough when I came on board, sir,"
cried the captain.
"Yes, sir; but in hurrying the men up, I slipped down the ladder, and
I'm afraid I've put my shoulder out."
The captain bit his lips; he fully believed it was a sham on the part of
the boatswain (which indeed it was) to get off flogging the men. "Well,
then, where is the chief boatswain's mate, Miller?"
"Here, sir," said Miller, coming forward: a stout, muscular man, nearly
six feet high, with a pig-tail nearly four feet long, and his open
breast covered with black, shaggy hair.
"Give that man a dozen, sir," said the captain.
The man looked at the captain, then at the ship's company, and then at
the man seized up, but did not commence the punishment.
"Do you hear me, sir?" roared the captain.
"If you please, your honour, I'd rather take my disrating--I--don't wish
to be chief boatswain's mate in this here business."
"Obey your orders, immediately, sir," cried the captain; "or, by God,
I'll try you for mutiny."
"Well, sir, I beg your pardon; but what must be, must be. I mean no
disrespect, Captain Hawkins, but I cannot flog that man--my conscience
won't let me."
"Your _conscience_, sir!"
"Beg your pardon, Captain Hawkins, I've always done my duty, foul
weather or fair; and I've been eighteen years in His Majesty's service,
without ever being brought to punishment; but if I am to be hung now,
saving your pleasure, and with all respect, I can't help it."
"I give you but one moment more, sir," cried the captain; "do your
duty." The man looked at the captain, and then eyed the yard-arm.
"Captain Hawkins, I will _do my duty_, although I must swing for it." So
saying he threw his cat down on the quarter-deck, and fell back among
the ship's company.
The captain was now confounded, and hardly knew how to act: to persevere
appeared useless--to fall back was almost as impossible. A dead silence
of a minute ensued. Every one was breathless with impatience, to know
what would be done next. The silence was, however, first broken by
Jones, the Joe Miller, who was seized up. "Beg your honour's pardon,
sir," said he, turning his head round; "but if I am to be flogged, will
you be pleased to let me have it over? I shall catch my death a-cold,
naked here all day." This was decided mockery, on the part of the man,
and roused the captain.
"Sergeant of marines, put Miller and that man Collins, both legs in
irons, for mutiny. My men, I perceive that there is a conspiracy in the
ship, but I shall very soon put an end to it: I know the men, and, by
God, they shall repent it. Mr Paul, pipe down. Mr Simple, man my gig;
and recollect, it's my positive orders that no boat goes on shore." The
captain left the brig, looking daggers at me as he went over the side;
but I had done my duty, and cared little for that; indeed, I was now
watching his conduct as carefully as he did mine.
"The captain wishes to tell his own story first," said Thompson, coming
up to me. "Now, if I were you, Simple, I would take care that the real
facts should be known."
"How's that to be done," replied I; "he has ordered no communication
with the shore."
"Simply by sending an officer on board of each of the frigates to state
that the brig is in a state of mutiny, and request that they will keep a
look-out upon her. This is no more than your duty as commanding officer;
you only send the message, leave me to state the facts of my own accord.
Recollect that the captains of these frigates will be summoned, if there
is a court of inquiry, which I expect will take place."
I considered a little, and thought the advice good. I despatched
Thompson first to one frigate, and then to the other. The next day the
captain came on board. As soon as he stepped on the quarter-deck he
inquired how I dare disobey his orders in sending the boats away. My
reply was that his orders were, not to communicate with the shore, but
that, as commanding officer, I considered it my duty to make known to
the other ships that the men were in a state of insubordination, that
they might keep their eyes upon us. He _kept his eyes_ upon me for some
time, and then turned away without reply. As we expected, a court of
inquiry was called, upon his representations to the admiral. About
twenty of the men were examined, but so much came out as to the _reason
why_ the head of the snake had been removed--for the sailors spoke
boldly--that the admiral and officers who were appointed strongly
recommended Captain Hawkins not to proceed further than to state that
there were some disaffected characters in the ship, and move the admiral
to have them exchanged into others. This was done, and the captains of
the frigates, who immediately gave their advice, divided all our best
men between them. They spoke very freely to me, and asked me who were
the best men, which I told them honestly, for I was glad to be able to
get them out of the power of Captain Hawkins; these they marked as
disaffected, and exchanged them for all the worst they had on board. The
few that were left ran away, and thus, from having one of the finest and
best organised ship's companies in the service, we were now one of the
very worst. Miller was sent on board of the frigate, and under
surveillance: he soon proved that his character was as good as I stated
it to be, and two years afterwards was promoted to the rank of
boatswain. Webster, the second lieutenant, would not rejoin us, and
another was appointed. I must here remark, that there is hardly any
degree of severity which a captain may not exert towards his seamen,
provided they are confident of, or he has proved to them, his courage;
but if there be a doubt, or a confirmation to the contrary, all
discipline is destroyed by contempt, and the ship's company mutiny,
either directly or indirectly. There is an old saying, that all tyrants
are cowards; that tyranny is in itself a species of meanness, I
acknowledge: but still the saying ought to be modified. If it is
asserted that all mean tyrants are cowards, I agree; but I have known in
the service most special tyrants, who were not cowards: their tyranny
was excessive, but there was no meanness in their dispositions. On the
contrary, they were generous, open-hearted, and, occasionally, when not
influenced by anger, proved that their hearts, if not quite right, were
not very much out of their places. Yet they were tyrants; but, although
tyrants, the men forgave them, and one kind act, when they were not led
away by the impetuosity of their feelings, obliterated a hundred acts of
tyranny. But such is not the case in our service with men who, in their
tyranny, are mean; the seamen show no quarter to them, and will undergo
all the risk which the severity of the articles of war renders them
liable to, rather than not express their opinion of a man whom they
despise. I do not like to mention names, but I could point out specimens
of brave tyrants, and of cowardly tyrants who have existed, and do even
now exist in our service. The present regulations have limited tyranny
to a certain degree, but it cannot check the _mean_ tyrant; for it is
not in points of consequence, likely to be brought before the notice of
his superiors, that he effects his purpose. He resorts to paltry
measures--he smiles that he may betray--he confines himself within the
limit that may protect him; and he is never exposed, unless by his
courage being called in question, which but rarely occurs; and when it
does occur it is most difficult, as well as most dangerous, to attempt
to prove it. It may be asked why I did not quit the ship, after having
been aware of the character of the captain, and the enmity which he bore
to me. In reply, I can only say that I did often think of it, talked
over the subject with my messmates, but they persuaded me to remain,
and, as I was a first lieutenant, and knew that any successful action
would, in all probability, insure my promotion, I determined, to use a
nautical expression, to rough it out, and not throw away the only chance
which I now had of obtaining my rank as commander.
[Footnote 1: Marines.]
News from home not very agreeable, although the reader may laugh--We
arrive at Portsmouth, where I fall in with my old acquaintance, Mrs
Trotter--We sail with a convoy for the Baltic.
I had written to my sister Ellen, giving her an account of all that had
passed, and mentioning the character of the captain, and his apparent
intimacy with my uncle. I received an answer from her, telling me that
she had discovered, from a very communicative old maiden lady, that
Captain Hawkins was an illegitimate son of my uncle, by a lady with whom
he had been acquainted about the time that he was in the army. I
immediately conceived the truth, that my uncle had pointed me out to him
as an object of his vengeance, and that Captain Hawkins was too dutiful
and too dependent a son not to obey him. The state of my father was more
distressing than ever, but there was something very ludicrous in his
fancies. He had fancied himself a jackass, and had brayed for a week,
kicking the old nurse in the stomach, so as to double her up like a
hedgehog. He had taken it into his head that he was a pump; and, with
one arm held out as a spout, he had obliged the poor old nurse to work
the other up and down for hours together. At another time, he had an
idea that he was a woman in labour, and they were obliged to give him a
strong dose of calomel, and borrow a child of six years old from a
neighbour, to make him believe that he was delivered. He was perfectly
satisfied, although the child was born to him in cloth trousers, and a
jacket with three rows of sugar-loaf buttons. Aye, said he, it was those
buttons which hurt my side so much. In fact, there was a string of
strange conceptions of this kind that had accumulated, so as to drive my
poor sister almost mad; and sometimes his ideas would be attended with a
very heavy expense, as he would send for architects, make contracts,
&c., for building, supposing himself to have come to the title and
property of his brother. This, being the basis of his disease, occurred
frequently. I wrote to poor Ellen, giving her my best advice, and by
this time the brig was again ready for sea, and we expected to sail
immediately. I did not forget to write to O'Brien, but the distance
between us was so great that I knew I could not obtain his answer
probably for a year, and I felt a melancholy foreboding how much I
required his advice.
Our orders were to proceed to Portsmouth, and join a convoy collected
there, bound up the Baltic, under the charge of the _Acasta_ frigate,
and two other vessels. We did not sail with any pleasure, or hopes of
gaining much in the way of prize-money. Our captain was enough to make
any ship a hell; and our ship's company were composed of a mutinous and
incorrigible set of scoundrels, with, of course, a few exceptions. How
different did the officers find the brig after losing such a captain as
O'Brien, and so fine a ship's company! But there was no help for it, and
all we had to do was to make the best of it, and hope for better times.
The cat was at work nearly every day, and I must acknowledge that,
generally speaking, it was deserved; although sometimes a report from
the sergeant of marines of any good man favoured by me, was certain to
be attended to. This system of receiving reports direct from an inferior
officer, instead of through me, as first lieutenant, became so annoying,
that I resolved, at all risk, to expostulate. I soon had an opportunity,
for one morning the captain said to me, "Mr Simple, I understand that
you had a fire in the galley last night after hours."
"It is very true, sir, that I did order a stove to be lighted; but may I
inquire whether the first lieutenant has not a discretionary power in
that point? and further, how it is that I am reported to you by other
people? The discipline of this ship is carried on by me, under your
directions, and all reports ought to come through me; and I cannot
understand upon what grounds you permit them through any other channel."
"I command my own ship, sir, and shall do as I please in that respect.
When I have officers I can confide in, I shall, in all probability,
allow them to report to me."
"If there is anything in my conduct which has proved to you that I am
incapable, or not trustworthy, I would feel obliged to you, sir, if you
would, in the first place, point it out;--and, in the next, bring me to
a court-martial if I do not correct it."
"I am no court-martial man, sir," replied he, "but I am not to be
dictated to by an inferior officer, so you'll oblige me by holding your
tongue. The sergeant of marines, as master-at-arms, is bound to report
to me any deviation from the regulations I have laid down for the
discipline of the ship."
"Granted, sir; but that report, according to the custom of the service,
should come through the first lieutenant."
"I prefer it coming direct, sir;--it stands less chance of being
"Thank you, Captain Hawkins, for the compliment." The captain walked
away without further reply, and shortly after went down below. Swinburne
ranged up alongside of me as soon as the captain disappeared.
"Well, Mr Simple, so I hear we are bound to the Baltic. Why couldn't
they have ordered us to pick up the convoy off Yarmouth, instead of
coming all the way to Portsmouth? We shall be in to-morrow with this
slant of wind."
"I suppose the convoy are not yet collected, Swinburne; and you
recollect there's no want of French privateers in the channel."
"Very true, sir."
"When were you up the Baltic, Swinburne?"
"I was in the old _St George_, a regular old ninety-eight; she sailed
just like a hay-stack, one mile ahead and three to leeward. Lord bless
you, Mr Simple, the Cattegat wasn't wide enough for her; but she was a
comfortable sort of vessel after all, excepting on a lee-shore, so we
used always to give the land a wide berth, I recollect. By the bye, Mr
Simple, do you recollect how angry you were because I didn't peach at
Barbadoes, when the men _sucked the monkey?_"
"To be sure I do."
"Well, then, I didn't think it fair then, as I was one of them. But now
that I'm a bit of an officer, I just tell you that when we get to
Carlscrona there's a method of _sucking the monkey_ there, which, as
first lieutenant, with such a queer sort of captain, it is just as well
that you should be up to. In the old _St George_ we had seventy men
drunk one afternoon, and the first lieutenant couldn't find it out
"Indeed, Swinburne, you must let me into that secret."
"So I will, Mr Simple. Don't you know there's a famous stuff for cuts
and wounds, called balsam?"
"What, Riga balsam?"
"Yes, that's it; well, all the boats will bring that for sale, as they
did to us in the old _St George_. Devilish good stuff it is for wounds,
I believe; but it's not bad to drink, and it's very strong. We used to
take it _inwardly_, Mr Simple, and the first lieutenant never guessed
"What! you all got tipsy upon Riga balsam?"
"All that could; so I just give you a hint."
"I'm much obliged to you, Swinburne; I certainly never should have
suspected it. I believe seamen would get drunk upon anything."
The next morning we anchored at Spithead, and found the convoy ready for
sea. The captain went on shore to report himself to the admiral, and, as
usual, the brig was surrounded with bumboats and wherries, with people
who wished to come on board. As we were not known on the Portsmouth
station, and had no acquaintance with the people, all the bumboats were
very anxious to supply the ship: and, as this is at the option of the
first lieutenant, he is very much persecuted until he has made his
decision. Certificates of good conduct from other officers were handed
up the side from all of them; and I looked over the books at the
capstern. In the second book the name struck me; it was that of Mrs
Trotter, and I walked to the gangway out of curiosity, to ascertain
whether it was the same personage who, when I was a youngster, had taken
such care of my shirts. As I looked at the boats, a voice cried out, "O,
Mr Simple, have you forgot your old friend? don't you recollect Mrs
Trotter?" I certainly did not recollect her; she had grown very fat,
and, although more advanced in years, was a better-looking woman than
when I had first seen her, for she looked healthy and fresh.
"Indeed, I hardly did recollect you, Mrs Trotter."
"I've so much to tell you, Mr Simple," replied she, ordering the boat to
pull alongside; and, as she was coming up, desired the man to get the
things in, as if permission was quite unnecessary. I did not
counter-order it, as I knew none of the others, and, as far as honesty
was concerned, believed them all to be much on a par. On the strength,
then, of old acquaintance, Mrs Trotter was admitted.
"Well, I'm sure, Mr Simple," cried Mrs Trotter, out of breath with
climbing up the brig's side; "what a man you've grown,--and such a
handsome man, too! Dear, dear, it makes me feel quite old to look at
you, when I call to mind the little boy whom I had charge of in the
cockpit. Don't you think I look very old and ugly, Mr Simple?" continued
she, smiling and smirking.
"Indeed, Mrs Trotter, I think you wear very well. Pray, how is your
"Ah, Mr Simple, poor dear Mr Trotter--he's gone. Poor fellow! no wonder;
what with his drinking, and his love for me--and his jealousy--(do you
recollect how jealous he was, Mr Simple?)--he wore himself out at last.
No wonder, considering what he had been accustomed to, after keeping his
carriage and dogs with everybody, to be reduced to see his wife go a
_bumming_. It broke his heart, poor fellow! and, Mr Simple, I've been
much happier ever since, for I could not bear to see him fretting. Lord,
how jealous he was--and all about nothing! Don't you want some fresh
meat for the gun-room? I've a nice leg of mutton in the boat, and some
milk for tea."
"Recollect, Mrs Trotter, I shall not overlook your bringing spirits on
"Lord, Mr Simple, how could you think of such a thing? It's very true
that these common people do it, but the company I have kept, the society
I have been in, Mr Simple! Besides, you must recollect that I never
drank anything but water."
I could not exactly coincide with her, but I did not contradict her.
"Would you like the Portsmouth paper, Mr Simple?" taking one out of her
pocket; "I know gentlemen are fond of the news. Poor Trotter used never
to stir from the breakfast table until he had finished the daily paper--
but that was when we lived in very different style. Have you any clothes
to wash, Mr Simple,--or have any of the gentlemen?"
"I fear we have no time, we sail too soon," replied I; "we go with the
"Indeed!" cried Mrs Trotter, who walked to the main hatchway and called
to her man Bill. I heard her give him directions to sell nothing upon
trust, in consequence of the intelligence of our immediate sailing.
"I beg your pardon, Mr Simple, I was only desiring my head man to send
for your steward, that he might be supplied with the best, and to save
some milk for the gun-room."
"And I must beg your pardon, Mrs Trotter, for I must attend to my duty."
Mrs Trotter made her courtesy and walked down the main ladder to attend
to _her duty_, and we separated. I was informed that she had a great
deal of custom, as she understood how to manage the officers, and made
herself generally useful to them. She had been a bumboat woman for six
years, and had made a great deal of money. Indeed, it was reported, that
if a _first lieutenant _wanted forty or fifty pounds, Mrs Trotter would
always lend it to him, without requiring his promissory note.
The captain came on board in the evening, having dined with the admiral,
and left directions for having all ready for unmooring and heaving short
at daylight. The signal was made from the frigate at sunrise, and before
twelve o'clock we were all under weigh, and running past St Helen's with
a favourable wind. Our force consisted of the _Acasta_ frigate, the
_Isis_ ship, sloop, mounting twenty guns, the _Reindeer_, eighteen, and
our own brig. The convoy amounted to nearly two hundred. Although the
wind was fair, and the water smooth, we were more than a week before we
made Anholt light, owing _to_ the bad sailing and inattention of many of
the vessels belonging to the convoy. We were constantly employed
repeating signals, firing guns, and often sent back to tow up the
sternmost vessels. At last we passed the Anholt light, with a light
breeze; and the next morning the main land was to be distinguished on
How we passed the Sound, and what passed in the Sound The Captain
overhears again a conversation between Swinburne and me.
I was on the signal-chest abaft, counting the convoy, when Swinburne
came up to me. "There's a little difference between this part of the
world and the West Indies, Mr Simple," observed he. "Black rocks and fir
woods don't remind us of the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, or the cocoa-nut
waving to the sea-breeze."
"Indeed not, Swinburne," replied I.
"We shall have plenty of calms here, without panting with the heat,
although we may find the gun-boats a little too warm for us; for, depend
upon it, the very moment the wind goes down, they will come out from
every nook and corner, and annoy us not a little."
"Have you been here before, with a convoy, Swinburne?"
"To be sure I have; and it's sharp work that I've seen here, Mr Simple--
work that I've an idea our captain won't have much stomach for."
"Swinburne, I beg you will keep your thoughts relative to the captain to
yourself; recollect the last time. It is my duty not to listen to them."
"And I should rather think to report them also, Mr Simple," said Captain
Hawkins, who had crept up to us, and overheard our conversation.
"In this instance there is no occasion for my reporting them, sir,"
replied I, "for you have heard what has passed."
"I have, sir," replied he; "and I shall not forget the conversation."
I turned forward. Swinburne had made his retreat the moment that he
heard the voice of the captain. "How many sails are there in sight,
sir?" inquired the captain.
"One hundred and sixty-three, sir," replied I.
"Signal for convoy to close from the _Acasta_" reported the midshipman
of the watch.
We repeated it, and the captain descended to his cabin. We were then
running about four miles an hour, the water very smooth, and Anholt
lighthouse hardly visible on deck, bearing N.N.W. about twenty miles. In
fact, we were near the entrance of the Sound, which, the reader may be
aware, is a narrow passage leading into the Baltic Sea. We ran on,
followed by the convoy, some of which were eight or ten miles astern of
us, and we were well into the Sound, when the wind gradually died away,
until it fell quite calm, and the heads of the vessels were laid round
My watch was nearly out, when the midshipman, who was looking round with
his glass on the Copenhagen side, reported three gun-boats, sweeping out
from behind a point. I examined them and went down to report them to the
captain. When I came on deck, more were reported, until we counted ten,
two of them large vessels, called praams. The captain now came on deck,
and I reported them. We made the signal of enemy in sight, to the
_Acasta_, which was answered. They divided--six of them pulling along
shore towards the convoy in the rear, and four coming out right for the
brig. The _Acasta_ now made the signal for "Boats manned and armed to be
held in readiness." We hoisted out our pinnace, and lowered down our
cutters--the other men-of-war doing the same. In about a quarter of an
hour the gun-boats opened their fire with their long thirty-two
pounders, and their first shot went right through the hull of the brig,
just abaft the fore-bits; fortunately, no one was hurt. I turned round
to look at the captain; he was as white as a sheet. He caught my eye,
and turned aft, when he was met by Swinburne's eye, steadily fixed upon
him. He then walked to the other side of the deck. Another shot ploughed
up the water close to us, rose, and came through the hammock-netting,
tearing out two of the hammocks, and throwing them on the quarter-deck,
when the _Acasta_ hoisted out pennants, and made the signal to send our
pinnace and cutter to the assistance of vessels astern. The signal was
also made to the _Isis_ and _Reindeer_. I reported the signal, and
inquired who was to take the command.
"You, Mr Simple, will take the pinnace, and order Mr Swinburne into the
"Mr Swinburne, sir!" replied I; "the brig will, in all probability, be
in action soon, and his services as a gunner will be required."
"Well, then, Mr Hilton may go. Beat to quarters. Where is Mr
Webster?" The second lieutenant was close to us, and he was ordered
to take the duty during my absence.
I jumped into the pinnace, and shoved off; ten other boats from the
_Acasta_ and the other men-of-war were pulling in the same direction,
and I joined them. The gun-boats had now opened fire upon the convoy
astern, and were sweeping out to capture them, dividing themselves into
two parts, and pulling towards different portions of the convoy. In half
an hour we were within gunshot of the nearest, which directed its fire
at us; but the lieutenant of the _Acasta_, who commanded the detachment,
ordered us to lie on our oars for a minute, while he divided his force
in three divisions, of four boats each, with instructions that we should
each oppose a division of two gun-boats, by pulling to the outermost
vessel of the convoy, and securing ourselves as much as possible from
the fire, by remaining under her lee, and be in readiness to take them
by boarding, if they approached to capture any of our vessels.
This was well arranged. I had the command of one division, for the first
lieutenants had not been sent away from the _Isis_ and _Reindeer_, and
having inquired which of the divisions of gun-boats I was to oppose, I
pulled for them. In the meantime, we observed that the two praams, and
two gun-boats, which had remained behind us, and had been firing at the
_Racehorse_, had also divided--one praam attacking the _Acasta_, the two
gun-boats playing upon the _Isis_, and the other praam engaging the
_Rattlesnake _and _Reindeer_; the latter vessel being in a line with us,
and about half a mile further out, so that she could not return any
effectual fire, or, indeed, receive much damage. The _Rattlesnake_ had
the worst of it, the fire of the praam being chiefly directed to her. At
the distance chosen by the enemy, the frigate's guns reached, but the
other men-of-war, having only two long guns, were not able to return the
fire but with their two, the carronades being useless.
One of the praams mounted ten guns, and the other eight. The last was
opposed to the _Rattlesnake_, and the fire was kept up very smartly,
particularly by the _Acasta_ and the enemy. In about a quarter of an
hour I arrived with my division close to the vessel which was nearest to
the enemy. It was a large Sunderland-built ship. The gun-boats, which
were within a quarter of a mile of her, sweeping to her as fast as they
could, as soon as they perceived our approach, directed their fire upon
us, but without success, except the last discharge, in which, we being
near enough, they had loaded with grape. The shot fell a little short,
but one piece of grape struck one of the bowmen of the pinnace, taking
off three fingers of his right hand as he was pulling his oar. Before
they could fire again, we were sheltered by the vessel, pulling close to
her side, hid from the enemy. My boat was the only one in the division
which carried a gun, and I now loaded, waiting for the discharge of the
gun-boats, and then, pulling a little ahead of the ship, fired at them,
and then returned under cover to load. This continued for some time, the
enemy not advancing nearer, but now firing into the Sunderland ship,
which protected us. At last the master of the ship looked over the side,
and said to me, "I say, my joker, do you call this _giving me
assistance?_ I think I was better off before you came. Then I had only
my share of the enemy's fire, but now that you have come, I have it all.
I'm riddled like a sieve, and have lost four men already. Suppose you
give me a spell now--pull behind the vessel ahead of us. I'll take my
I thought this request very reasonable, and as I should be really nearer
to the enemy if I pulled to the next vessel, and all ready to support
him if attacked, I complied with his wish. I had positive orders not to
board with so small a force (the four boats containing but forty men,
and each gun-boat having at least seventy), unless they advanced to
capture, and then I was to run all risks.
I pulled up to the other vessel, a large brig, and the captain, as soon
as we came alongside, said, "I see what you're about, and I'll just
leave you my vessel to take care of. No use losing my men, or being
knocked on the head."
"All's right--you can't do better, and we can't do better either."
His boat was lowered down, and getting in with his men, he pulled to
another vessel, and lay behind it, all ready to pull back if a breeze
As was to be expected, the gun-boats shifted their fire to the deserted
vessel, which our boat lay behind; and thus did the action in our
quarter continue until it was dark, the gun-boats not choosing to
advance, and we restricted from pulling out to attack them. There was no
moon, and, as daylight disappeared, the effect was very beautiful. In
the distance, the cannonading of the frigate, and other men-of-war,
answered by the praams and gunboats, reinforced by six more, as we
afterwards found out--the vivid flashing of the guns, reflected by the
water, as smooth as glass--the dark outlines of the numerous convoy,
with their sails hanging down the masts, one portion of the convoy
appearing for a moment, as the guns were discharged in that direction,
and then disappearing, while others were momentarily seen--the roar of
the heavy guns opposed to us--the crashing of the timbers of the brig,
which was struck at every discharge, and very often perforated--with the
whizzing of the shot as it passed by;--all this in a dark yet clear
night, with every star in the heavens twinkling, and, as it were,
looking down upon us, was interesting as well as awful. But I soon
perceived that the gun-boats were nearing us every time that they fired,
and I now discharged grape alone, waiting for the flash of the fire to
ascertain their direction. At last I could perceive their long, low
hulls, not two cables' length from us, and their sweeps lifting from the
water. It was plain that they were advancing to board, and I resolved to
anticipate them if possible. I had fired ahead of the brig, and I now
pulled with all my boats astern, giving my orders to the officers, and
laying on our oars in readiness. The gun-boats were about half a cable's
length from each other, pulling up abreast, and passing us at about the
same distance, when I directed the men to give way. I had determined to
throw all my force upon the nearest boat, and in half a minute our bows
were forced between their sweeps, which we caught hold of to force our
The resistance of the Danes was very determined. Three times did I
obtain a footing on the deck, and three times was I thrown back into the
boats. At last we had fairly obtained our ground, and were driving them
gradually forward, when, as I ran on the gunwale to obtain a position
more in advance of my men, I received a blow with the butt end of a
musket--I believe on the shoulder--which knocked me overboard, and I
fell between the sweeps, and sunk under the vessel's bottom. I rose
under her stern; but I was so shook with the violence of the blow, that
I was for some time confused; still I had strength to keep myself above
water, and paddled, as it appeared, away from the vessel, until I hit
against a sweep which had fallen overboard. This supported me, and I
gradually recovered myself. The loud report of a gun close to me
startled me, and I perceived that it was from the gun-boat which I had
boarded, and that her head was turned in the direction of the other
gun-boat. From this, with the noise of the sweeps pulling, I knew that
my men had succeeded in capturing her. I hallooed, but they did not hear
me, and I soon lost sight of her. Another gun was now fired; it was from
the other gun-boat retreating, and I perceived her pulling in-shore, for
she passed me not twenty yards off. I now held the sweep with my hands,
and struck out off the shore, in the direction of the convoy.
A light breeze rippled the water, and I knew that I had no time to lose.
In about five minutes I heard the sound of oars, and perceived a boat
crossing me. I hailed as loud as I could--they heard me, laid on their
oars--and I hailed again--they pulled to me, and took me in. It was the
master of the brig, who, aware of the capture of one gun-boat, and the
retreat of the other, was looking for his vessel; or, as he told me, for
what was left of her. In a short time we found her, and, although very
much cut up, she had received no shot under water. In an hour the breeze
was strong, the cannonading had ceased in every direction, and we had
repaired her damages, so as to be able to make sail, and continue our
course through the Sound.
Here I may as well relate the events of the action. One of the other
divisions of gun-boats had retreated when attacked by the boats. The
other had beaten off the boats, and killed many of the men, but had
suffered so much themselves, as to retreat without making any capture.
The _Acasta_ lost four men killed, and seven wounded; the _Isis_, three
men wounded; the _Reindeer_ had nobody hurt; the _Rattlesnake_ had six
men killed, and two wounded, including the captain; but of that I shall
I found that I was by no means seriously hurt by the blow I had
received: my shoulder was stiff for a week, and very much discoloured,
but nothing more. When I fell overboard I had struck against a sweep,
which had cut my ear half off. The captain of the brig gave me dry
clothes, and in a few hours I was very comfortably asleep, hoping to
join my ship the next day; but in this I was disappointed. The breeze
was favourable and fresh, and we were clear of the Sound, but a long way
astern of the convoy, and none of the headmost men-of-war to be seen. I
dressed and went on deck, and immediately perceived that I had little
chance of joining my ship until we arrived at Carlscrona, which proved
to be the case. About ten o'clock, the wind died away, and we had from
that time such baffling light winds, that it was six days before we
dropped our anchor, every vessel of the convoy having arrived before us.
[Footnote 1: Webster, however, had left the ship at Yarmouth. See p.
The dead man attends at the auction of his own effects, and bids the
sale to stop--One more than was wanted--Peter steps into his shoes
again--Captain Hawkins takes a friendly interest in Peter's papers--
Riga Balsam sternly refused to be admitted for the relief of the ship's
As soon as the sails were furled, I thanked the master of the vessel for
his kindness, and requested the boat. He ordered it to be manned,
saying, "How glad your captain will be to see you!" I doubted that. We
shook hands, and I pulled to the _Rattlesnake_, which lay about two
cables' length astern of us. I had put on a jacket, when I left the brig
on service, and coming in a merchantman's boat, no attention was paid to
me; indeed, owing to circumstances, no one was on the look-out, and I
ascended the side unperceived. The men and officers were on the
quarter-deck, attending the sale of dead men's effects before the mast;
and every eye was fixed upon six pair of nankeen trousers exposed by the
purser's steward which I recognized as my own. "Nine shillings for six
pair of nankeen trousers," cried the purser's steward.
"Come, my men, they're worth more than that," observed the captain, who
appeared to be very facetious. "It's better to be in his trousers than
in his shoes." This brutal remark created a silence for a moment. "Well,
then, steward, let them go. One would think that pulling on his trousers
would make you as afraid as he was," continued the captain, laughing.
"Shame!" was cried out by one or two of the officers, and I recognised
Swinburne's voice as one.
"More likely if they put on yours," cried I, in a loud, indignant tone.
Everybody started, and turned round; Captain Hawkins staggered to a
carronade: "I beg to report myself as having rejoined my ship, sir,"
"Hurrah, my lads! three cheers for Mr Simple!" said Swinburne.
The men gave them with emphasis. The captain looked at me, and without
saying a word, hastily retreated to his cabin. I perceived, as he went
down, that he had his arm in a sling. I thanked the men for their kind
feeling towards me, shook hands with Thompson and Webster, who warmly
congratulated me, and then with old Swinburne, (who nearly wrung my arm
off, and gave my shoulder such pain as to make me cry out,) and with the
others who extended theirs. I desired the sale of my effects to be
stopped; fortunately for me, it had but just begun, and the articles
were all returned. Thompson had informed the captain that he knew my
father's address, and would take charge of my clothes, and send them
home, but the captain would not allow him.
In a few minutes, I received a letter from the captain, desiring me to
acquaint him in writing, for the information of the senior officer, in
what manner I had escaped. I went down below, when I found one very
melancholy face, that of the passed midshipman of the _Acasta_, who had
received an acting order in my place. When I went to my desk, I found
two important articles missing; one, my private letter-book, and the
other, the journal which I kept of what passed, and from which this
narrative has been compiled. I inquired of my messmates, who stated that
the desk had not been looked into by any one but the captain, who, of
course, must have possessed himself of those important documents.
I wrote a letter containing a short narrative of what had happened, and,
at the same time, another on service to the captain, requesting that he
would deliver up my property, the private journal, and letter-book in
his possession. The captain, as soon as he received my letters, sent up
word for his boat to be manned. As soon as it was manned, I reported it,
and then begged to know whether he intended to comply with my request.
He answered that he should not, and then went on deck, and quitted the
brig to pull on board of the senior officer. I therefore determined
immediately to write to the captain of the _Acasta_, acquainting him
with the conduct of Captain Hawkins, and requesting his interference.
This I did immediately, and the boat that had brought me on board not
having left the brig, I sent the letter by it, requesting them to put it
into the hands of one of the officers. The letter was received previous
to Captain Hawkins' visit being over, and the Captain of the _Acasta_
put it into his hands, inquiring if the statement were correct. Captain
Hawkins replied that it was true that he had detained these papers, as
there was so much mutiny and disaffection in them, and that he should
not return them to me.
"That I cannot permit," replied the captain of the _Acasta_, who was
aware of the character of Captain Hawkins; "if, by mistake, you have
been put in possession of any of Mr Simple's secrets, you are bound in
honour not to make use of them; neither can you retain property not your
own." But Captain Hawkins was determined, and refused to give them to
"Well, then, Captain Hawkins," replied the captain of the _Acasta_, "you
will oblige me by remaining on my quarter-deck till I come out of the
The captain of the _Acasta_ then wrote an order, directing Captain
Hawkins immediately to deliver up _to him_ the papers of mine in his
possession; and coming out of the cabin, put it into Captain Hawkins'
hands, saying, "Now, sir, here is a written order from your superior
officer. Disobey it, if you dare. If you do, I will put you under
arrest, and try you by a court-martial. I can only regret, that any
captain in His Majesty's service should be forced in this way to do his
duty as a gentleman and a man of honour."
Captain Hawkins bit his lip at the order, and the cutting remarks
accompanying it. "Your boat is manned, sir," said the captain of the
_Acasta_, in a severe tone. Captain Hawkins came on board, sealed up the
books, and sent them to the captain of the _Acasta_, who re-directed
them to me, on His Majesty's service, and returned them by the same
boat. The public may therefore thank the captain of the _Acasta_ for the
memoirs which they are now reading.
From my messmates I gained the following intelligence of what had passed
after I had quitted the brig. The fire of the praam had cut them up
severely, and Captain Hawkins had been struck in the arm with a piece of
the hammock-rail, which had been shot away shortly after I left.
Although the skin only was razed, he thought proper to consider himself
badly wounded; and giving up the command to Mr Webster, the second
lieutenant, had retreated below, where he remained until the action was
over. When Mr Webster reported the return of the boats, with the capture
of the gun-boat, and my supposed death, he was so delighted, that he
quite forgot his wound, and ran on deck, rubbing his hands as he walked
up and down. At last, he recollected himself, went down into his cabin,
and came up again with his arm in a sling.
The next morning he went on board of the _Acasta_, and made his report
to the senior officer, bringing back with him the disappointed
passed-midshipman as my successor. He had also stated on the
quarter-deck, that if I had not been killed, he intended to have tried
me by a court-martial, and have turned me out of the service; that he
had quite enough charges to ruin me, for he had been collecting them
ever since I had been under his command; and that now he would make that
old scoundrel of a gunner repent his intimacy with me. All this was
confided to the surgeon, who, as I before observed, was very much of a
courtier; but the surgeon had repeated it to Thompson, the master, who
now gave me the information. There was one advantage in all this, which
was that I knew exactly the position in which I stood, and what I had to
During the short time that we remained in port, I took care that _Riga
balsam_ should not be allowed to come alongside, and the men were all
sober. We received orders from the captain of the _Acasta_ to join the
admiral, who was off the Texel in pursuance of directions he had
received from the Admiralty to despatch one of the squadron, and we were
selected, from the dislike which he had taken to Captain Hawkins.
An old friend in a new case--Heart of oak in Swedish fur--A man's a man
all the world over, and something more in many parts of it--Peter gets
reprimanded for being dilatory, but proves a title to a defence--
When we were about forty miles off the harbour, a frigate hove in sight.
We made the private signal: she hoisted Swedish colours, and kept away a
couple of points to close with us.
We were within two miles of her when she up courses and took in her
topgallant sails. As we closed to within two cables' lengths, she
hove-to. We did the same; and the captain desired me to lower down the
boat, and board her, ask her name, by whom she was commanded, and offer
any assistance if the captain required it. This was the usual custom of
the service, and I went on board in obedience to my orders. When I
arrived on the quarter-deck, I asked in French, whether there was any
one who spoke it. The first lieutenant came forward, and took off his
hat: I stated that I was requested to ask the name of the vessel and the
commanding officer, to insert it in our log, and to offer any service
that we could command. He replied that the captain was on deck, and
turned round, but the captain had gone down below. "I will inform him of
your message--I had no idea that he had quitted the deck;" and the first
lieutenant left me. I exchanged a few compliments and a little news with
the officers on deck, who appeared to be very gentlemanlike fellows,
when the first lieutenant requested my presence in the cabin. I
descended--the door was opened--I was announced by the first lieutenant,