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CHARLES PHILIP YORKE
FOURTH EARL OF HARDWICKE
BY HIS DAUGHTER
THE LADY BIDDULPH OF LEDBURY
TO HIS GRANDCHILDREN
It is with great diffidence that I lay this memoir before the public; it is my first experience in such work, but my reasons for so doing appear to me unanswerable. It was to my care and judgment that my father, by his will, committed his letters and journals, and my heart confirms the judgment of my mind, that his active and interesting life, so varied in the many different positions he was called upon to fill, and the considerable part he played in the affairs of his time, deserve a fuller record than the accounts to be found in biographical works of reference.
It has been a labour of love to me to supply these omissions in the following pages, and to present in outline the life of a capable, energetic Englishman, for whom I can at least claim that he was a loyal and devoted servant of his Sovereign and his country.
In fulfilling what I hold to be a filial obligation I have made no attempt to give literary form to a work which, so far as possible, is based upon my father’s own words. Primarily it is addressed to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to whom, I trust, it may serve as an inspiration; but I have also some hope that a story which touches the national life at so many points may prove of interest to the general public. I am greatly indebted to my son, Mr. Adeane, and to my son-in- law, Mr. Bernard Mallet, for the help and encouragement they have given me; and I have also to acknowledge the assistance of Mr. W. B. Boulton in editing and preparing these papers for publication.
ELIZABETH PHILIPPA BIDDULPH.
LEDBURY: January 1910.
I. THE YORKE FAMILY
II. ALGIERS. 1815-1816
III. THE NORTH AMERICAN STATION. 1817-1822
IV. GREEK PIRACY. 1823-1826
V. A HOLIDAY IN NORTHERN REGIONS. 1828
VI. GREEK INDEPENDENCE. 1829-1831
VII. COURT DUTIES AND POLITICS. 1831-1847
VIII. GENOA. 1849
IX. POLITICS AND LAST YEARS. 1850-1873
LIST OF PORTRAITS
CHARLES PHILIP, FOURTH EARL OF HARDWICKE From a painting by E. U. Eddis
THE HONBLE. CHARLES YORKE
From a painting by Allan Ramsay (?)
SIR JOSEPH SYDNEY YORKE
As A MIDSHIPMAN, R.N.
From a painting by George Romney
SIR JOSEPH SYDNEY YORKE
As A LIEUTENANT, R.N.
from a painting by George Romney
CHARLES PHILIP, FOURTH EARL OF
From a chalk drawing by E. U. Eddis
SUSAN, COUNTESS OF HARDWICKE
From a chalk drawing by E. U. Eddis
CHARLES PHILIP YORKE
FOURTH EARL OF HARDWICKE
THE YORKE FAMILY
The family of Yorke first came into prominence with the great Chancellor Philip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke. This remarkable man, who was the son of an attorney at Dover, descended, it is claimed, from the Yorkes of Hannington in North Wiltshire, a family of some consequence in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was born in that town in the year 1690, and rose from a comparatively humble station to the commanding position he held so long in English public life.
My object in this chapter is to recall some of the incidents of his career and of those of his immediate successors and descendants.
Philip Yorke was called to the bar in 1715, became Solicitor-General only five years later, and was promoted to be Attorney-General in 1723. In 1733 he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of England, and received the Great Seal as Lord Chancellor in 1737, and when his life closed his political career had extended over a period of fifty years.
Lord Campbell, the author of the ‘Lives of the Chancellors,’ ‘that extraordinary work which was held to have added a new terror to death, and a fear of which was said to have kept at least one Lord Chancellor alive,’ claimed to lay bare the shortcomings of the subjects of his memoirs with the same impartiality with which he pointed out their excellences. He mentions only two failings of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke: one, that he was fond of acquiring wealth, the other, that he was of an overweening pride to those whom he considered beneath him. Neither of these is a very serious charge, and as both are insufficiently corroborated, one may let them pass. He acquired immense wealth in the course of his professional career, but in an age of corruption he was remarked for his integrity, and was never suspected or accused of prostituting his public position for private ends. In his capacity of Attorney-General Lord Campbell remarks of him:
‘This situation he held above thirteen years, exhibiting a model of perfection to other law officers of the Crown. He was punctual and conscientious in the discharge of his public duty, never neglecting it that he might undertake private causes, although fees were supposed to be particularly sweet to him.’
But it was as a judge that he won imperishable fame, and one of his biographers observes: [Footnote: See Dictionary of National Biography.] ‘It is hardly too much to say that during his prolonged tenure of the Great Seal (from 1737 to 1755) he transformed equity from a chaos of precedents into a scientific system.’ Lord Campbell states that ‘his decisions have been, and ever will continue to be, appealed to as fixing the limits and establishing the principles of that great juridical system called Equity, which now, not only in this country and in our colonies, but over the whole extent of the United States of America, regulates property and personal rights more than ancient Common Law.’
He had a ‘passion to do justice, and displayed the strictest impartiality; and his chancellorship’ is ‘looked back upon as the golden age of equity.’ The Chancellor is said to have been one of the handsomest men of his day, and ‘his personal advantages, which included a musical voice, enhanced the effect of his eloquence, which by its stately character was peculiarly adapted to the House of Lords.’ [Footnote: Ibid.]
This is not the place for an estimate of Lord Hardwicke’s political career, which extended over the whole period from the reign of Queen Anne to that of George III, and brought him into intimate association with all the statesmen of his age. It was more especially as the supporter of the Pelham interest and the confidant and mentor of the Duke of Newcastle that he exercised for many years a predominant influence on the course of national affairs both at home and abroad. During the absence of George II from the realm in 1740 and subsequently he was a member, and by no means the least important member, of the Council of Regency. ‘He was,’ writes Campbell, ‘mainly instrumental in keeping the reigning dynasty of the Brunswicks on the throne’; he was the adviser of the measures for suppressing the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, he presided as Lord High Steward with judicial impartiality at the famous trial of the rebel Lords, and was chiefly responsible for the means taken in the pacification of Scotland, the most questionable of which was the suppression of the tartan! Good fortune, as is usually the case when a man rises to great eminence, played its part in his career. He had friends who early recognised his ability and gave him the opportunities of which he was quick to avail himself. He took the tide at its flood and was led on to fortune; but, as Campbell justly observes, ‘along with that good luck such results required lofty aspirations, great ability, consummate prudence, rigid self-denial, and unwearied industry.’ His rise in his profession had undoubtedly been facilitated by his marriage to Margaret Cocks, a favourite niece of Lord Chancellor Somers, himself one of the greatest of England’s lawyer- statesmen. There is a story that when asked by Lord Somers what settlement he could make on his wife, he answered proudly, ‘Nothing but the foot of ground I stand on in Westminster Hall.’ Never was the self- confidence of genius more signally justified than in his case. Not only was his own rise to fame and fortune unprecedently rapid, but he became the founder of a family many of whose members have since played a distinguished part in the public and social life of the country. By Margaret Cocks he had, with two daughters, five sons, the eldest of whom enhanced the fortunes of the family by his marriage with Jemima, daughter of the Earl of Breadalbane, heiress of Wrest and the other possessions of the extinct Dukedom of Kent, and afterwards Marchioness Grey and Baroness Lucas of Grudwell in her own right. Of his next son Charles, the second Chancellor, something will presently be said. Another son, Joseph, was a soldier and diplomatist. He was aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland at Fontenoy; and afterwards, as Sir Joseph Yorke, Ambassador at the Hague. He died Lord Dover. A fourth son, John, married Miss Elizabeth Lygon, of Madresfield. The fifth son, James, entered the Church, became Bishop of Ely, and was the ancestor of the Yorkes of Forthampton. I had the luck many years ago to have a talk with an old verger in Ely Cathedral who remembered Bishop Yorke, and who told me that he used to draw such congregations by the power of his oratory and the breadth of his teaching, that when he preached, all the dissenting chapels in the neighbourhood were closed!
It was in 1770, only six years after Lord Hardwicke’s death which occurred in London on March 6, 1764, that his second son Charles (born in 1722) was sworn in as Lord Chancellor. His brilliant career ended in a tragedy which makes it one of the most pathetic in our political history. Although unlike his father in person he was intellectually his equal, and might have rivalled his renown had he possessed his firmness and resolution of character. He was educated at Cambridge, and before the age of twenty had given evidence of his precocity as the principal author (after his brother Philip) of the ‘Athenian Letters,’ a supposed correspondence between Cleander, an agent of the King of Persia resident in Athens, and his brother and friends in Persia. Destined to the law from his childhood, Charles Yorke was called to the bar in 1743, and rapidly advanced in his profession. Entering the House of Commons as member for Reigate in 1747, he later succeeded his brother as member for Cambridge, and one of his best speeches in the House was made in defence of his father against an onslaught by Henry Fox. But in spite of his brilliant prospects and great reputation he always envied those who were able to lead a quiet life, and he thus wrote to his friend Warburton, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester:
‘I endeavour to convince myself it is dangerous to converse with you, for you show me so much more happiness in the quiet pursuits of knowledge and enjoyments of friendship than is to be found in lucre or ambition, that I go back into the world with regret, where few things are to be obtained without more agitation both of reason and the passions, than either moderate parts or a benevolent mind can support.’
Charles Yorke was an intimate friend of Montesquieu, the famous author of the ‘Esprit des Lois’ and the most far-seeing of those whose writings preceded and presaged the French Revolution, who wrote, ‘_Mes sentiments pour vous sont gravés dans mon cur et dans mon esprit d’une manière à ne s’effacer jamais_.’
On the formation of a government by the Duke of Devonshire in 1756, Charles Yorke was sworn in, at the early age of thirty-three, as Solicitor-General, and retained that office through the elder Pitt’s glorious administration. In 1762 he accepted from Lord Bute the Attorney-Generalship, in which position he had to deal with the difficult questions of constitutional law raised by the publication of John Wilkes’s _North Briton_. In November of that year, however, he resigned office in consequence of the strong pressure put upon him by Pitt, and took leave of the King in tears. Pitt failed in his object of enlisting Yorke’s services on behalf of Wilkes in the coming parliamentary campaign, and the crisis ended in an estrangement between the two, which drove Yorke into a loose alliance with the Rockingham Whigs, a group of statesmen who were determined to free English politics from the trammels of court influence and the baser traditions of the party system. When, however, this party came into power in 1765, Yorke was disappointed of the anticipated offer of the Great Seal, and only reluctantly accepted the Attorney-Generalship. The ministry fell in the following year, partly in consequence of Pitt’s reappearance in the House of Commons and his disastrous refusal of Rockingham’s invitation to join his Government, though they were agreed on most of the important questions of the day, including that of American taxation and the repeal of the Stamp Act; and Pitt, who then (August 1766) became Lord Chatham, was commissioned to form a new government in which, to Yorke’s mortification, he offered the Lord Chancellorship to Camden. Yorke thereupon resigned the Attorney-Generalship, and during the devious course of the ill-starred combination under Chatham’s nominal leadership–for during the next two years Chatham was absolutely incapacitated from all attention to business, his policy was reversed by his colleagues, and America taxed by Charles Townshend–he maintained an ‘attitude of saturnine reserve,’ amusing himself with landscape gardening at his villa at Highgate, doing its honours to Warburton, Hurd, Garrick and other friends, and corresponding among others with Stanislas Augustus, King of Poland, to whom he had been introduced by his brother Sir Joseph. Gradually, however, Chatham made a recovery from the mental disease under which he had been labouring, and in January 1770 he returned to the political arena with two vigorous speeches in the House of Lords. His first speech spread consternation among the members of the Government and the King’s party, led by the Duke of Grafton, who had assumed the duties of Prime Minister; and one of the first effects of his intervention was the resignation of Lord Camden, who had adhered to Chatham, and openly denounced the Duke of Grafton’s arbitrary measures. This event placed the Court party in the utmost difficulty, and no lawyer of sufficient eminence was available for the post but Charles Yorke, who thus suddenly found within his reach the high office which had been the ambition of his life. The crisis was his undoing, and the whole story is of such interest from a family point of view, that, although it is well known from the brilliant pages of Sir George Trevelyan’s ‘Life of Fox,’ I may be excused for telling it again, mainly in the words of two important memoranda preserved at the British Museum.
One of these was written by Charles Yorke’s brother, the second Lord Hardwicke, and dated nearly a year later, December 30, 1770; the other, dated October 20, 1772, by his widow Agneta Yorke; and the effect of them, to my mind, is not only to discredit the widely believed story of Charles Yorke’s suicide, which is not even alluded to, but also to place his action from a public and political point of view in a more favourable light than that in which it is sometimes presented.
Both the ‘Memorials’ to which I have alluded give a most vivid and painful account of the struggle between ambition and political consistency which followed upon the offer of the Chancellorship by the Duke of Grafton to one who was pledged by his previous action to the Rockingham party. Lord Hardwicke wrote:
‘I shall set down on this paper the extraordinary and melancholy circumstances which attended the offer of the Great Seal to my brother in January last. On the 12th of that month he received on his return from Tittenhanger a note from the Duke of Grafton desiring to see him. He sent it immediately to me and I went to Bloomsbury Square where I met my brother John and we had a long consultation with Mr. Yorke. He saw the Duke of Grafton by appointment in the evening and his grace made him in form and without personal cordiality an offer of the Great Seal, complaining heavily of Lord Camden’s conduct, particularly his hostile speech in the House of Lords the first day of the Session. My brother desired a little time to consider of so momentous an affair and stated to the Duke the difficulties it laid him under, his grace gave him till Sunday in the forenoon. He, Mr. Y., called on me that morning, the 14th, and seemed in great perplexity and agitation. I asked him if he saw his way through the clamorous and difficult points upon which it would be immediately expected he should give his opinion, viz. the Middlesex Election, America and the state of Ireland, where the parliament had just been prorogued on a popular point. He seriously declared that he did not, and that he might be called upon to advise measures of a higher and more dangerous nature than he should choose to be responsible for. He was clearly of opinion that he was not sent for at the present juncture from predilection, but necessity, and how much soever the Great Seal had been justly the object of his ambition, he was now afraid of accepting it.
‘Seeing him in so low and fluttered a state of spirits and knowing how much the times called for a higher, I did not venture to push him on, and gave in to the idea he himself started, of advising to put the Great Seal in commission, by which time would be gained. He went from me to the Duke of Grafton, repeated his declining answer, and proposed a commission for the present, for which precedents of various times were not wanting. The Duke of Grafton expressed a more earnest desire that my brother should accept than he did at the first interview, and pressed his seeing the King before he took a final resolution. I saw him again in Montague House garden, on Monday the 15th, and he then seemed determined to decline, said a particular friend of his in the law, Mr. W. had rather discouraged him, and that nothing affected him with concern but the uneasiness which it might give to Mrs. Yorke.
‘On Tuesday forenoon the 16th, he called upon me in great agitation and talked of accepting. He changed his mind again by the evening when he saw the King at the Queen’s Palace, and finally declined. He told me just after the audience that the King had not pressed him so strongly as he had expected, that he had not held forth much prospect of stability in administration, and that he had not talked so well to him as he did when he accepted the office of Attorney-General in 1765; his Majesty however ended the conversation very humanely and prettily, that “after what he had said to excuse himself, it would be cruelty to press his acceptance.” I must here solemnly declare that my brother was all along in such agitation of mind that he never told me all the particulars which passed in the different conversations, and many material things may have been said to him which I am ignorant of. He left me soon after to call on Mr. Anson and Lord Rockingham, authorising me to acquaint everybody that he had absolutely declined, adding discontentedly that “It was the confusion of the times which occasioned his having taken that resolution.” He appeared to me very much ruffled and disturbed, but I made myself easy on being informed that he would be quiet next day and take physic. He wanted both that and bleeding, for his spirits were in a fever.’
Up to this point Mrs. Yorke’s account, written apparently to explain and vindicate her own share in the transaction, tallies with that of her brother-in-law, except that she states that Lord Hardwicke had been much more favourable to the idea of Charles Yorke’s acceptance than the above narrative leads one to suppose; according to her the family felt ‘it was too great a thing to refuse.’ Lord Hardwicke’s wife, the Marchioness Grey, indeed, had called upon Mrs. Yorke to urge it, saying among other things that ‘the great office to which Mr. Yorke was invited was in the line of his profession, that though it was intimately connected with state affairs, yet it had not that absolute and servile dependance on the Court which the other ministerial offices had; that Mr. Yorke had already seen how vain it was to depend on the friendship of Lord Rockingham and his party; that the part he had acted had always been separate and uninfluenced, and therefore she thought he was quite at liberty to make choice for himself, and by taking the seals he would perhaps have it in his power to reconcile the different views of people and form an administration which might be permanent and lasting; that if he now refused the seals they would probably never be offered a second time … and that these were Lord Hardwicke’s sentiments as well as her own.’
Lord Mansfield’s advice had been more emphatic still. ‘He had no doubt of the propriety of his accepting the Great Seal, indeed was so positive that Mr. Yorke told me he would hear no reason against it.’ Mrs. Yorke herself was at first opposed to the idea; but influenced by such opinions and by her husband’s extreme dejection after refusing the offer, she ended by strongly urging him to accept, and was afterwards blamed for having encouraged his fatal ambition. Lord Rockingham alone, who had been greatly dependent upon the advice and assistance of Mr. Yorke, ‘to whom,’ as Mrs. Yorke remarks, ‘he could apply every moment,’ and ‘without whom he would have made no figure at all in his administration,’ put the strongest pressure on him to decline, for selfish reasons as appears from Mrs. Yorke’s story. It was therefore against the advice of his own family and ‘the generality of his friends,’ including Lord Chief Justice Wilmot, that Charles Yorke, in obedience to his own high sense of political honour, at first refused the dazzling promotion, and this fact must be recorded to his credit.
The decision, however, brought no peace to his mind, and ambition immediately began to resume its sway. He passed a restless night, and said in the morning to his wife ‘that he would not think of it, for he found whenever he was inclined to consent he could get no rest, and want of rest would kill him.’ But after another day, Tuesday, spent in conference ‘I believe with Lords Rockingham and Hardwicke,’ he was persuaded, by what means does not appear, to go again to Court. Lord Hardwicke, who, as Sir George Trevelyan observes, played a true brother’s part throughout the wretched business, thus continues:
‘Instead of taking his physic, he left it on the table after a broken night’s rest, and went to the _levée_, was called into the closet, and in a manner compelled by the King to accept the Great Seal with expressions like these: “My sleep has been disturbed by your declining; do you mean to declare yourself unfit for it?” and still stronger afterwards, “If you will not comply, it must make an eternal break betwixt us.” At his return from Court about three o’clock, he broke in unexpectedly on me, who was talking with Lord Rockingham, and gave us this account.
We were both astounded, to use an obsolete but strong word, at so sudden an event, and I was particularly shocked at his being so overborne in a manner I had never heard of, nor could imagine possible between Prince and subject. I was hurt personally at the figure I had been making for a day before, telling everybody by his authority that he was determined to decline, and I was vexed at his taking no notice of me or the rest of the family when he accepted. All these considerations working on my mind at this distracting moment induced me, Lord Rockingham joining in it, to press him to return forthwith to the King, and entreat his Majesty either to allow him time till next morning to recollect himself, or to put the Great Seal in commission, as had been resolved upon. We could not prevail; he said he could not in honour do it, he had given his word, had been wished joy, &c. Mr. John Yorke came in during this conversation, and did not take much part in it, but seemed quite astounded. After a long altercating conversation, Mr. Yorke, unhappily then Lord Chancellor, departed, and I went to dinner.
‘In the evening, about eight o’clock, he called on me again, and acquainted me with his having been sworn in at the Queen’s house, and that he had then the Great Seal in the coach. He talked to me of the title he intended to take, that of Morden, which is part of the Wimple estate, asked my forgiveness if he had acted improperly. We kissed and parted friends. A warm word did not escape either of us. When he took leave he seemed more composed, but unhappy. Had I been quite cool when he entered my room so abruptly at three o’clock I should have said little–wished him joy, and reserved expostulation for a calmer moment.’
Mrs. Yorke’s account of these ‘altercating conversations’ between the brothers, at the second of which, on the evening of the 17th, she was herself present, is naturally much more highly coloured. Charles Yorke was evidently terribly discomposed by it, speaking of Lord Hardwicke’s language as ‘exceeding all bounds of temper, reason, and even common civility.’ ‘I hope,’ he said to his wife, ‘he will in cooler moments think better of it, and my brother John also, for if I lose the support of my family, I shall be undone.’
I need not pursue the subject of this distressing difference between the brothers, which no doubt assumed an altogether exaggerated importance in the sensitive and affectionate, but self-centred, mind of poor Charles Yorke, shaken as he was by the strain and struggle of these days, but which was probably the immediate cause of his fatal illness.
‘We returned home’ (from St. James’s Square), writes Mrs. Yorke, ‘and Mr. Woodcock followed in the chariot with the Great Seal. The King had given it in his closet, and at the same time Mr. Yorke kissed his Majesty’s hand on being made Baron of Morden in the county of Cambridge. Not once did Mr. Yorke close his eyes, though at my entreaty he took composing medicines…. Before morning he was determined to return the Great Seal, for he said if he kept it he could not live. I know not what I said, for I was terrified almost to death. At six o’clock I found him so ill that I sent for Dr. Watson, who ought immediately to have bled him, instead of which he contented himself with talking to him. He ordered him some medicine and was to see him again in the evening. In the meantime Mr. Yorke was obliged to rise to receive the different people who would crowd to him on this occasion, but before he left me, he assured me that when the Duke of Grafton came to him at night, he would resign the seals. When his company had left him, he came up to me, and even then, death was upon his face. He said he had settled all his affairs, that he should retire absolutely from business, and would go to Highgate the next day, and that he was resolved to meddle no more with public affairs. I was myself so ill with fatigue and anxiety that I was not able to dine with him, but Dr. Plumptre did; when I went to them after dinner I found Mr. Yorke in a state of fixed melancholy. He neither spoke to me nor to Dr. Plumptre; I tried every method to wake and amuse him, but in vain. I could support it no longer, I fell upon my knees before him and begged of him not to affect himself so much–that he would resume his fortitude and trust to his own judgment–in short, I said a great deal which I remember now no more; my sensations were little short of distraction at that time. In an hour or two after he grew much worse, and Dr. Watson coming in persuaded him to go to bed, and giving him a strong opiate, he fell asleep.
But his rest was no refreshment; about the middle of the night he awaked in a delirium, when I again sent for Dr. Watson; towards the morning he was more composed, and at noon got up. In about an hour after he was up, he was seized with a vomiting of blood. I was not with him at the instant, but was soon called to him. He was almost speechless, but on my taking his hand in an agony of silent grief he looked tenderly on me, and said, “How can I repay your kindness, my dear love; God will reward you, I cannot; be comforted.” These were the last words I heard him speak, for my nerves were too weak to support such affliction. I was therefore prevented from being in his room, and indeed I was incapable of giving him assistance. He lived till the next day, when at five o’clock in the afternoon, he changed this life for a better.’
Lord Hardwicke meanwhile had decided to follow the very friendly and right opinion of Dr. Jeffreys, ‘that he would do his best to support the part which his brother had taken,’ and came to town with that resolution on ‘Friday in the forenoon’ but he found that Charles Yorke had been taken very ill that morning.
‘When I saw him on the evening of the 19th he was in bed and too much disordered to be talked with. There was a glimmering of hope on the 20th in the morning, but he died that day about five in the evening. The patent of peerage had passed all the forms except the Great Seal, and when my poor brother was asked if the seal should be put to it, he waived it, and said “he hoped it was no longer in his custody.” I can solemnly declare that except what passed at my house on the Wednesday forenoon, I had not the least difference with him throughout the whole transaction, not a sharp or even a warm expression passed, but we reasoned over the subject like friends and brothers…. In short, the usage he met with in 1766 when faith was broke with him, had greatly impaired his judgment, dejected his spirits, and made him act below his superior knowledge and abilities. He would seldom explain himself, or let his opinion be known in time to those who were ready to have acted with him in the utmost confidence. After the menacing language used in the closet to compel Mr. Yorke’s acceptance and the loss which the King sustained by his death at that critical juncture, the most unprejudiced and dispassionate were surprised at the little, or rather no notice which was taken of his family; the not making an offer to complete the peerage was neither to be palliated nor justified in their opinion. It was due to the _Manes_ of the departed from every motive of humanity and decorum. Lord Hillsborough told a friend of mine, indeed, that the King had soon after his death spoke of him with tears in his eyes and enquired after the family, but it would surely not have misbecome his Majesty conscious of the whole of his behaviour to an able, faithful, and despairing subject, to have expressed that concern in a more particular manner, and to those who were so deeply affected by the melancholy event.
‘A worthier and better man there never was, no more learned and accomplished in his own profession, as well as out of it. What he wanted was the calm, firm judgment of his father, and he had the misfortune to live in times which required a double portion of it. Every precaution was taken by me to prepare him for the offer, and to persuade him to form some previous plan of conduct, but all in vain. He would never explain himself clearly, and left everything to chance, till we were all overborne, perplexed and confounded in that fatal interval which opened and closed the negotiation with my brother. With him the Somers line of the law seems to be at an end, I mean of that set in the profession who, mixing principles of liberty with those proper to monarchy, have conducted and guided that great body of men ever since the Revolution.’
Fever, complicated by colic and the rupture of a blood-vessel, caused Charles Yorke’s death, the consequence of the extreme nervous tension which he had undergone, of which his widow has left a most touching and graphic description. I wish I could have found room for the whole of her account of those days. The circumstances of his physical constitution and the mental struggle he had suffered are quite sufficient to account for his death without the gratuitous assumption of suicide, which there is nothing in the family papers to support. There is no doubt that this idea was prevalent at the time, and allusions to it are to be found in many subsequent accounts, down to that in Sir George Trevelyan’s ‘Life of Fox.’ Perhaps it is not too much to hope that this allegation may be at last disposed of in the light of the papers by his brother and his wife. We have two clear and positive declarations in these papers: first, that in the beginning of his illness he declined his physic, and afterwards took an opiate; second, that there followed the rupture of a blood-vessel. When Lord Hardwicke saw him for the last time on the 19th he was ‘extremely ill’; ‘there was a glimmering of hope on the 20th in the morning, but he died that day about five in the evening.’
This is the summary of the evidence, which to my mind is conclusive. Unless one assumes a conspiracy of silence between Lord Hardwicke and Mrs. Yorke, I do not see that I can reasonably admit any other hypothesis. I therefore claim that phrase of his brother’s as a solution of the supposed mystery of Charles Yorke’s death.
If hereafter the vague rumours which have so long been current should be supported by any real evidence, my judgment will be disputed, but I am glad to have this opportunity of asserting my own firm conviction that the version of the unhappy affair given in the family papers is correct, and that Charles Yorke’s death was due to natural causes.
Charles Yorke was twice married. His first wife was a daughter of Williams Freeman, Esq., of Aspeden, Hertfordshire, by whom he had a son Philip. This son succeeded his uncle as third Earl of Hardwicke, he inherited the Tittenhanger and other estates (which passed away to his daughters on his death in 1834) from his mother, and he is still remembered for his wise and liberal administration as the first Lord- Lieutenant of Ireland after the Union (from 1801 to 1806), the irritation and unrest caused by which measure he did much to allay. [Footnote: A recent publication, _The Viceroy’s Post Bag_, by Mr. MacDonagh, gives some curious details of his correspondence from the Hardwicke Papers at the British Museum.] As a Whig he had always been in favour of Catholic Emancipation in Ireland, and though he agreed to postpone it on joining Addington’s Administration, he adhered to the cause till its triumph in 1829; and he gave a qualified support to the Parliamentary Reform Bill in 1831. He was created a Knight of the Garter in 1803, [Footnote: Lord Hardwicke married in 1782 Elizabeth, daughter of James, fifth Earl of Balcarres, the sister of Lady Anne Barnard, the authoress of _Auld Robin Gray_.] and had the misfortune to lose the only son who survived infancy in a storm at sea off Lübeck in 1808 at the age of twenty-four. The succession to the peerage was thus opened up to his half-brothers, the sons of Charles Yorke’s second wife, Agneta, daughter of Henry Johnston of Great Berkhampsted: Charles Philip (1764- 1834) who left no heir, and Joseph Sydney (1768-1831), father of the subject of this memoir. I have already alluded to the public career of their half-brother, the third Lord Hardwicke; and it is interesting to see how the tradition of political and public work was maintained by the two younger brothers, who both, and especially the younger of the two, added fresh laurels to the distinguished record held by so many of the descendants of the great Chancellor. The Right Honourable Charles Yorke represented the county of Cambridge in Parliament from 1790 to 1810, and joined Addington’s Government at the same time as Lord Hardwicke, first as Secretary at War in 1801, and then as Secretary of State for the Home Department, till the return to office of William Pitt (to whom he was politically opposed) in 1804. In 1810 he became first Lord of the Admiralty under Spencer Perceval, with his younger brother Joseph as one of the Sea Lords, and retained office till Perceval’s assassination broke up the ministry; and when in 1812 Lord Liverpool became Prime Minister he left the Admiralty and never afterwards returned to office, retiring from public life in 1818. The splendid breakwater at Plymouth was decided on and commenced while he was at the Admiralty, and a slab of its marble marks his tomb in Wimpole Church.
With Joseph Sydney Yorke, afterwards Admiral and a K.C.B., opens a chapter of family history with which this volume will be mainly concerned; and the navy rather than the law or politics henceforth becomes the chief interest of the story in its public aspect. Sir Joseph, indeed, may be looked upon as a sort of second founder of the family. Although Wimpole in Cambridgeshire, which the Chancellor purchased from the Harleys, Earls of Oxford, was for many generations the principal seat of the family, Sydney Lodge, on Southampton Water, [Footnote: Attached to Sydney Lodge on the shore of Southampton Water is a white battery containing guns taken from a French frigate and bearing an inscription, written by my father, commemorating his last parting with my grandfather, Sir Joseph. The battery encloses a well, known as ‘Agneta’s Well,’ which has refreshed many a thirsty fisherman. The inscription is as follows:–
THESE GUNS WERE THE FORECASTLE ARMAMENT OF THE DUTCH FRIGATE ‘ALLIANCE’
OF 36 GUNS
CAPTURED ON THE COAST OF NORWAY IN 1795
AFTER A CLOSE ACTION WITH H.M.S. ‘STAG’ OF 32 GUNS
COMMANDED BY CAPTAIN YORKE
OF SYDNEY LODGE
THE FATHER OF THE FOURTH EARL OF HARDWICKE WHO ON THIS SPOT IN 1829
PARTED FROM HIS BELOVED PARENT FOR THE LAST TIME
AND SAILED IN COMMAND OF H.M.S. ‘ALLIGATOR’
FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN.
HE PLACES THIS STONE TO HIS FATHER’S MEMORY
September 4th, 1871] the charming house which Sir Joseph built out of prize-money earned during the French wars, has all the associations of a home for our branch of the family, and the love of the sea is an inheritance which we all derive from him. His professional ability is shown by the position he won in the service. Entering the navy in 1780 when he was fourteen, he had plenty of opportunity of active service in those stirring times. After serving on board one or two other vessels, Joseph Yorke joined the _Duke_ commanded by Sir Charles Douglas, whom he followed to the _Formidable_. That vessel was one of Rodney’s fleet in the West Indies, and the boy fought in her at the famous action of April 12, 1782 in which that admiral completely defeated the French under De Grasse. He remained in the _Formidable_ until she paid off in 1783, and spent the years 1784- 1789 on the Halifax station. In the latter year he was promoted Lieutenant in the _Thisbe_ under Captain Sir Samuel Hood and returned in her to England. Promotion followed rapidly. Yorke became a Commander in 1790 and Captain in 1793, in which capacity he served continuously on the home station, taking part in the blockade of Brest, until the Peace of Amiens.
During this time he had the good fortune to capture several large privateers from the enemy; he also took the _Espiégle_, a French corvette, close to Brest harbour and in sight of a very superior French squadron. In 1794 Captain Yorke was given command of the _Stag_, 32, and cruised in the Channel later off the coast of Ireland, and later still, with the North Sea Fleet under Lord Duncan.
‘On the 22nd of August 1795, Captain Yorke being in company with a light squadron under the orders of Captain James Alms, gave chase to two large ships and a cutter. At 4.15 P.M. the _Stag_ brought the sternmost ship to close action, which continued with much spirit for about half an hour, when the enemy struck, and proved to be the _Alliance_, Batavian frigate of 36 guns and 240 men. Her consorts the _Argo_ 36, and _Nelly_ cutter, 16, effected their escape after sustaining a running fight with the other ships of the British squadron. In this spirited action, the _Stag_ had 4 men slain and 13 wounded, and the enemy between 40 and 50 killed and wounded.’
He was at the Nore during the dangerous mutiny of 1798, and he left among his papers a very stirring address made to his crew on the day that the mutineers were hung at the yard-arm. When the war broke out again in 1803 he was again employed in the Channel, and after commanding the _Barfleur_ and the _Christian VII_ he was appointed a junior Sea Lord in May 1810, when his brother was First Lord. In this year he was knighted when acting as proxy for Lord Hardwicke at his installation as a Knight of the Garter; on July 31 he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral; and in the following January, with his flag in the _Vengeur_, he was sent out with reinforcements for Wellington to Lisbon. These were landed on March 4, 1811, and on the news being received, Massena broke up his camp in front of the lines of Torres Vedras and began his retreat. This was Sir Joseph’s last service afloat. In 1814, while still a member of the Board, he was appointed First Sea Lord under Lord Melville as First Lord, and held that high post till 1818, a period of office which covered Lord Exmouth’s expedition against Algiers in 1816. He became Vice-Admiral and Knight Commander of the Bath on January 2, 1815, when he also received the freedom of the borough of Plymouth, and he was made a full Admiral on July 22, 1830. He had been member for Reigate since 1790, with an interval as member for Sandwich, from 1812 to 1818.
Sir Joseph married in 1798 Elizabeth Weake Rattray and had a family of four sons and one daughter, afterwards Lady Agneta Bevan. Lady Yorke died in 1812, and in 1815 he married Urania, Dowager Marchioness of Clanricarde and daughter of the twelfth Lord Winchester, who survived him. During his later years he lived mostly at Sydney Lodge, occupied with family interests, and in the administration of various charities, naval and other. My grandfather was a fine type of English sailor, very handsome in his youth, as Romney’s portraits show, affectionate and high-spirited; altogether one of the most attractive figures in our family history. Some following chapters will show him in his relations with his son, and mention the peculiar circumstances attending his accidental death by drowning.
Charles Philip Yorke was born on April 2, 1799, at Sydney Lodge, Hamble, and like his father, was destined from the first for a naval career. He must have been quite a small boy when Sir Joseph presented him to Lord Nelson, and the family tradition is that the hero accosted him with a kind smile and said, ‘Give me a shake of your daddle, my boy, for I’ve only one to shake _you_ with.’
The boy was sent to Harrow, and after a few years at that school was entered, in his fourteenth year, at the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth, where he formed a friendship with John Christian Schetky, then drawing master at the college, and later Marine Painter to Queen Victoria, and a man of note in his profession. What little is known of young Yorke’s career at Portsmouth points to diligence and capacity, for he gained the gold medal in his second year after little more than eighteen months at the college, a distinction which ensured his immediate entry into the service. On May 15, 1815, he was appointed midshipman on board the _Prince Regent_, 98 guns, the flagship at Spithead, and a training which stood him in good stead in after life was begun under the commander of this vessel, Captain Fowke. A month later he was transferred to the _Sparrowhawk_, a brig of 18 guns commanded by Captain Baines, then under sailing orders for the Mediterranean.
There was no coddling in the navy in those days, and those who survived its rigorous life were probably the fittest. I have heard my father say that at this period the middies’ soup was served in the tin boxes which held their cocked hats, and that one of their amusements was provided by races round the mess table of the weevils knocked out of the biscuit which was a part of their daily fare. Young Yorke, however, accepted this life and its hardships with all cheerfulness; and the spirit with which he entered the service and the interest he took in his profession from the first are, I think, abundantly clear from a letter he wrote home to his father on July 15, 1815 from the Mediterranean, off Celebrina, after he had been a little more than a month at sea.
* * * * *
‘I am afraid you will be surprised at my not writing to you oftener but I have had no opportunity of sending letters home, as we have spoken no ships bound for England. I am happy to say that I am in perfect health and have been so ever since I left you, and the hot country does not at all oppress me, or make me uncomfortable, as I expected it would at first, and I have not had a moment’s sickness since I have been out. I can only say that I am in every way so comfortable on the _Sparrowhawk_ that I have no desire to quit her at all. Perhaps you may think I am comfortable in her through idleness and not having much duty put upon me; but I am one of the three Mids in the ship and the duty is heavy, there being only one Mid in each watch, and he has the duty of Mate of the watch, there being none; but I like my messmates, and we have a capital berth. Captain Baines is also a kind friend to me in every way; whatever may be said of him is nothing to me, his advice and friendship to me is good and kind; he keeps me in practice with my navigation, for I work all the observations for the ship and take them also. It is, as you may perceive by my writing, my wish to remain in her, but to the will of my Father I submit; and I am also certain that seamanship and my profession I shall learn by being six months in a brig. When we get to Genoa I shall see Lord Exmouth, but I will not give your letter until I hear from you again, but I shall tell him I have written to you concerning the _Sparrowhawk_, and beg to remain in her till I hear from you.
‘I shall now give you some short description of our voyage. We sailed from England on the Tuesday after I left you and tided it down channel, at Yarmouth we went ashore with the Captain and Officers to play cricket and had an excellent match, _Sparrowhawks_ against Rosarios. In general we have had calms and fine weather, now and then a few puffs. Cape St. Vincent was the first land we made, that was on the 9th July, we anchored off the rock of Gibraltar on the 12th. Captain B. took me ashore with him to see the place, it is a most extraordinary thing. It is dreadfully hot, the reflection of the sun being so great; from thence we sailed the following day and are now off Celebrina in a dead calm. I think I shall see much of the Mediterranean in this ship, for she will be always kept cruising and likely to stay out some time. Yesterday we cleared for action for a large brig that was bearing down upon us, but to our great disappointment, it proved to be an English brig from Santa Maria to London with fruit. There is on board the _Sparrowhawk_ a carpenter by the name of Beach who sailed with you on the _Stag_, and he wishes to be shifted into a larger ship; if you could at any time have a thing of that sort in your power, you will be doing him the greatest kindness. He did not apply to you, because when he was with you he refused a warrant, not thinking himself fit to hold that situation. If you could do this, let me know, for I should like to see him get a larger ship, for he is a most excellent man.
’17th.–Here we are still in the same place off Celebrina detained by calms and light breezes, just now a breeze has sprung up which is likely to last. Last night we all went overboard and had a delightful bath.
’29th.–We have just arrived at Genoa after a tedious and unpleasant voyage, the last six days squalls and heavy gales of wind and lightning. Genoa is a most beautiful city, and situated most delightfully. Last night I was at the Opera, and it is exactly the same as our own in England, it is much larger and a most magnificent theatre. The houses are mostly of marble and beautifully ornamented, they are immensely high but the streets very narrow. There are no ships here and we sail for Marseilles as soon as we have watered. Pray give my best love to Lady C. and all hands on board.’
* * * * *
It is of interest to note the mention in this letter of Charles Yorke’s first visit to Genoa, and the impression that beautiful city, ‘Genova la superba,’ made upon his youthful imagination. As will appear further on in this memoir, he visited it again some thirty-five years later in very different circumstances, and that Genoa exists to-day, with much of its beauty unimpaired, is mainly owing to the part played by Charles Yorke when, as Lord Hardwicke, he again appeared in a British man-of-war off that port.
The boy’s wish to stay on the _Sparrowhawk_ expressed in this letter to his father was not fulfilled, for a month after his arrival in the Mediterranean he was transferred to the _Leviathan_, of 74 guns, commanded successively by Captains F. W. Burgoyne and Thomas Briggs. In her he remained a little less than a year, during which he had a serious attack of scarlet fever followed by rheumatism, which left him very weak, and raised a question as to whether he should be invalided home. He was, however, exceedingly popular with his superiors, who were most kind and attentive to him through his illness, and he was lucky enough to recover without having to return to England. In August of 1816 he was again transferred, to the _Queen Charlotte_, Captain Brisbane, a ship of the line of 120 guns, and the flagship of Admiral Lord Exmouth, commanding in the Mediterranean.
The young midshipman was most fortunate in being stationed under that command, for it was the one place in the world at that moment where there was any probability of seeing active service. The supremacy of the British navy which had been established over the fleets of France and Spain at Trafalgar, and the recent peace which had followed the defeat and surrender of Buonaparte, had removed any possibility of collision with a European State. But, as a matter of fact, the naval Powers, England in particular, had long been waiting an opportunity to settle a long-standing account in the Mediterranean with a set of potentates established on the north coast of Africa, who had for years availed themselves of the dissensions between the Great Powers to carry on a system of piracy and rapine of the most insolent and atrocious character. During the naval wars which had lasted with short intervals for half a century, the fleets of England, France, Spain, and Holland had been so much occupied in fighting each other that they had been unable to bestow much attention on the doings of these petty rulers, who were known collectively as the Barbary States, individually as the Deys of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. All of these owned nominal allegiance to the Sultan of Turkey at Constantinople when it suited them, but in reality claimed and exercised complete independence when such was convenient to any purpose they had in hand.
For half a century at least, the depredations of these barbarians had made the Mediterranean a sea of great peril for the merchant vessels of all nations, and even for the fighting ships of the smaller Mediterranean powers like Naples and Sardinia, whose weakly manned vessels were often no match for the galleys and feluccas of the Barbary corsairs. The ruffianly Deys made little attempt to conceal the piratical nature of their proceedings, and became a perfect scourge not only to the mariners of all nations in the Mediterranean, but also to the unfortunate inhabitants of its shores. They ravaged the islands and coastline of the mainland wherever there was plunder to be gained or an unprotected town to be raided, impudently hoisted the flags of one or other of the great naval powers then at war, and preyed upon the commerce of the rest, plundered and burned their shipping, and, worst of all, consigned the crews of the vessels they captured or destroyed to all the horrors of slavery in a Mohammedan country.
Among these Barbary Powers the Deys of Algiers had long been the most powerful and the most truculent. During a lull in the fighting between France and England in the middle years of the eighteenth century, Admiral Keppel, [Footnote: Admiral Keppel, second son of the second Earl of Albemarle, created Viscount Keppel for his gallant services; died unmarried in 1786. He was the eponymous hero of so many public houses.] then a very youthful-looking captain, had been sent with a squadron to curb the insolence of the Dey of that period, which he effected without the firing of a shot. Keppel demanded an interview with the Dey, and went ashore to the palace without a guard, and stated his business in very plain terms. The Dey wondered at the presumption of King George in sending a beardless boy as his ambassador. ‘The King my master,’ replied Keppel, with a glance at the Dey’s hairy countenance, ‘does not measure wisdom by the length of the beard, or he would have sent a he-goat to confer with your Highness.’ The Dey raged at this bold repartee, and began to speak of bowstrings and the ministers of death. ‘Kill me, if you will,’ replied Keppel, pointing through the open window to his squadron riding in the roadstead, ‘and there are ships enough to burn your city and provide me with a glorious funeral pile.’ Keppel’s firmness had the result of checking the Algerian piracies for a time, but during the long wars between the Powers which were shortly resumed, these were overlooked in the press of matters of more urgency, and it was only with the return of a permanent and general peace, as already noted, that the Powers had leisure to turn their attention to a state of things in the Mediterranean which had long been intolerable.
In view of her established supremacy at sea, England was generally regarded as the police-constable of Europe in naval affairs, and upon her fell the chief duty of chastening the Dey of Algiers, though on this occasion the Dutch Government also lent its assistance. Quite early in the spring of 1816, Lord Exmouth placed himself in communication with the Dey, and stated the terms of the British demands. These were that the Ionian Islands, long a hunting-ground for the Barbary pirates, should be henceforth treated as British territory; that the British Government should be accepted as arbitrator between the Barbary Powers and Naples and Sardinia, who had a long list of claims and grievances against them; and that the Barbary Powers should enter into a definite undertaking to abolish all slavery of Christians within their dominions, and to treat all prisoners of war, of whatever nation, in accordance with the customs of civilised nations. The Dey agreed to the first two demands and released the Ionian slaves as British subjects, but declined all promises as to the abolition of slavery. Leaving that matter in abeyance, Exmouth sailed on to Tripoli and Tunis, whose Deys he found more amenable to reason, and who consented to make declarations in the form demanded by the British Admiral upon all three points.
Exmouth then returned to Gibraltar, where his squadron was assembled, and at once resumed negotiations with the Dey with the intention of procuring his adhesion to the all-important undertaking to abolish Christian slavery. The Dey, after many evasions, at length repeated his refusal on the ground that he was a subject or vassal of the Sultan, and could not consent to so important a stipulation without his authority. Exmouth granted a delay of three months accordingly, and himself lent a frigate, the _Tagus_, to convey the Dey’s envoy to Constantinople.
Meanwhile, however, the Dey committed an unpardonable atrocity. A coral fishery at Bona worked under the British flag was suddenly and treacherously destroyed by an attack of the Algerines. The fishermen engaged at their work were, without warning of any kind, almost annihilated by artillery fire from the fort and by the musketry of 2000 Algerian infantry, their houses and goods were given over to the looting of the soldiery, the company’s stores and magazines were rifled, and their boats either seized or sunk. This atrocity, of course, put an end to all negotiation, and the Admiral, who had sailed for England, was at once directed by the British Government to complete the work which he had initiated, and to exact the most ample satisfaction and security for the future. He was offered any force that might be necessary, and surprised the naval authorities by his opinion, which was the result of observation upon the spot, that five line-of-battle ships, with frigates, bomb vessels and gun brigs, would be sufficient for a successful attack on the formidable defences of Algiers. In less than two months Lord Exmouth commissioned, fitted, manned and trained his fleet, and on August 14, 1816, the expedition, including his own flagship the _Queen Charlotte_ of 120 guns, the _Impregnable_ of 98, three vessels of 70 guns, the _Leander_ of 50, four smaller frigates and several armed vessels of lesser tonnage, sailed from Gibraltar. One of these, a gunboat, towed by the _Queen Charlotte_ from that port, was placed under the command of Charles Yorke, who had just completed his seventeenth year. The English admiral’s force was joined at Gibraltar by a Dutch squadron of five frigates and a sloop under Admiral Baron von de Capellan.
On the very eve of the sailing of this powerful force, young Yorke wrote home a letter to his father which shows the spirit of the young sailor and the enthusiasm which animated the fleet.
* * * * *
‘MY DEAR FATHER,
‘We are hove to for a Packet, and she is coming up fast, so my stave will be short, with a strong breeze, which is to say I am quite well. We have a great deal to do, shall be at Gibraltar to-morrow if the wind holds. We clear for action there, and leave all our chests, bulkheads, and everything we have except guns, powder, shot, &c. &c. of which we have not a little.
‘I have the honour to command one of H.M.S. _Queen Charlotte’s_ boats on service, and if there is any work, expect to cut no small caper. I have seen the plan of attack; all our fire is to be on the mole head. Us, the _Leander_, _Superb_ and _Impregnable_ are to be lashed together and as near the walls as possible. _Minden_ engages a battery called the Emperor’s Fort, and _Albion_ stands off and on to relieve any damaged ship. As soon as the Mole is cleared, we are to land; glorious enterprise for the boats.
‘Give my love to dearest Uranie and Lady C. [Footnote: Dowager- Marchioness of Clanricarde, his stepmother.] &c. &c.
* * * * *
The British fleet with its allied Dutch squadron arrived off Algiers on August 21. Lord Exmouth had sent in advance a corvette with orders to endeavour to rescue the British Consul, a humane effort which, however, succeeded only in rescuing that gentleman’s wife and child, and resulted, on the other hand, in the capture of the boat’s crew of eighteen men. The captain of the corvette reported that the Dey refused altogether to give up that official, or to be responsible for his safety, and also that there were 40,000 troops in the town, in addition to the Janissaries who had been summoned from distant garrisons. The Algerine fleet, he said, consisted of between forty and fifty gun and mortar vessels, as well as a numerous flotilla of galleys. Works had been thrown up on the mole which protected the harbour, and the forts were known to be armed with a numerous artillery and to be of excellent masonry with walls fourteen to sixteen feet thick. The Dey, thinking himself fairly secure behind such defences, was prepared with a determined resistance.
On August 27, Lord Exmouth sent a flag of truce restating his demands and giving a period of three hours for a reply. Upon the expiration of that term and on the return of the flag of truce without an answer, he anchored his flagship just half a cable’s length from the mole head at the entrance of the harbour, so that her starboard broadside flanked all the batteries from the mole-head to the lighthouse. The mole itself was covered with troops and spectators, whom Lord Exmouth vainly tried to disperse before the firing began by waving his hat and shouting from his own quarter-deck as the flagship came to an anchor at half-past two in the afternoon.
‘As soon as the ship was fairly placed,’ writes Lord Exmouth’s biographer, ‘the sound of the cheer given by the crew was answered by a gun from the Eastern Battery; a second and a third opened in quick succession. One of the shots struck the _Superb_. At the first flash Lord Exmouth gave the order “Stand by,” at the second “Fire.” The report of the third gun was drowned by the thunder of the _Queen Charlotte’s_ broadside.’
Thus opened an engagement which is memorable among the attacks of fleets upon land fortifications, and which fully justified Lord Exmouth’s opinion that ‘nothing can resist a line-of-battle ship’s fire.’ The Algerine tactics were to allow the British squadron to come to an anchor without molestation, and to board the vessels from their galleys while the British crews were aloft furling sails, for which purpose they had thirty-seven galleys fully manned waiting inside the mole. To the surprise of the enemy, however, the British admiral had given orders for the sails to be clewed from the deck, instead of sending men aloft for the purpose, and the British ships were thus able to open fire the moment they came to an anchor. The result of this smart seamanship was an instant disaster for the Algerines; their galleys were all sunk before they could make the few strokes of the oar which would have brought them alongside, and tremendous broadsides of grapeshot from the _Queen Charlotte_ and the _Leander_ shattered the entire flotilla, and in a moment covered the surface of the harbour with the bodies of their crews and with a few survivors attempting to swim from destruction.
On the molehead the effect of the British fire was terrible; the people with whom it was crowded were swept away by the fire of the _Queen Charlotte_, which had ruined the fortifications there before the engagement became general, and then crumbled and brought down the Lighthouse Tower and its batteries. The _Leander’s_ guns, which commanded the principal gate of the city opening on the mole, prevented the escape of any survivors.
The batteries defending the mole were three times cleared by the British fire, and three times manned again.
‘The Dey,’ wrote a British officer on the _Leander_, ‘was everywhere offering pecuniary rewards for those who would stand against us; eight sequins were to be given to every man who would endeavour to extinguish the fire. At length a horde of Arabs were driven into the batteries under the direction of the most devoted of the Janissaries and the gates closed upon them.’
Soon after the battle began, the enemy’s flotilla of gunboats advanced, with a daring which deserved a better fate, to board the _Queen Charlotte_, and a few guns from the latter vessel sent thirty-three out of thirty-seven to the bottom. Then followed the destruction of the Algerine frigates and other shipping in the port, which were set on fire by bombs and shells and burned together with the storehouses and the arsenal.
The Algerines, none the less, made a most determined resistance, and maintained a fire upon the squadron for no less than eleven hours. Young Charles Yorke was in command of a tender of the flagship which was moored near to his parent ship, and was consequently in the midst of the hottest fire, within sixty yards of the mouths of the enemy’s guns, throughout the engagement. Long before that period had elapsed, however, he found himself running short of ammunition, and taking one marine in his dinghy, pulled in her to the _Queen Charlotte_, climbed her side and made his way to the quarter-deck, where, saluting Lord Exmouth, he said, ‘Sir, I am short of ammunition.’ ‘Well, my lad,’ replied the admiral, ‘I cannot help you, but if you choose to go below, and fetch what you want yourself, you are very welcome.’ Charles Yorke, wishing for nothing better, again saluted and withdrew. He then descended into the flagship’s magazine, and single-handed brought up 1368 lbs. of ammunition, which he lowered over her side to his single marine in the dinghy, and in her returned to his gunboat to resume his firing until the close of the action, when, by the aid of a land breeze, which turned about half-past eleven into a tremendous storm of thunder and lightning, the fleet was able to draw out from the batteries. Nothing had been able to resist the concentrated and well-directed fire, and the sea defences of Algiers, with a great part of the town itself, had by this time been shattered and reduced to ruin.
This success was only purchased at heavy cost, for the British casualties, considering the size of the squadron, were enormous, the _Impregnable_ being the chief sufferer. One hundred and twenty- eight men were killed and 690 wounded, while the Dutch lost thirteen and fifty-two respectively. The _Leander_ had every spar injured and her rigging cut to pieces, and when her cables were at last shot away, was unable to set a single sail, and so was drifting helplessly ashore, when a fortunate change of wind allowed her boats to bring her to a second anchorage. On the flagship the enemy’s fire was so hot that Lord Exmouth himself escaped most narrowly, being slightly wounded in three places, and the skirts of his coat were shot away by a cannon-ball.
When the morning broke, the admiral found that he had brought the Dey to reason. Having first beheaded his prime minister, that potentate released the British Consul and the boat’s crew he had detained before the action, handed over the ransom money he had extorted from captured subjects of Naples and Sardinia in exchange for their freedom, amounting to no less than 382,000 dollars, and undertook, ‘in the presence of Almighty God,’ to release all Christian slaves in his dominions, to abandon the enslavement of Christians for the future, and to treat all prisoners of war with humanity until regularly exchanged, according to European practice in like cases. About 1200 slaves, the bulk of them Neapolitans and Sicilians, were embarked on the 31st, making, with those liberated a few weeks before, more than 3000 persons whom Lord Exmouth thus had the satisfaction of delivering from slavery. He sailed away from the city without leaving a single Christian slave, so far as could be gathered, in either of the Barbary States.
Charles Yorke’s conduct at this engagement was fully recognised by Captain Brisbane, who, when the young midshipman came to leave the _Queen Charlotte_ a few months later, wrote his certificate in the following terms:
* * * * *
‘These are to certify the principal officers and commissioners of His Majesty’s navy that Mr. Charles Philip Yorke served as midshipman on board H.M.S. _Queen Charlotte_ from the 11th day of July to the 16th October 1816, during which time he behaved with diligence and sobriety, and was always obedient to command. His conduct at the battle of Algiers was active, spirited, and highly meritorious.
‘(Signed) JAMES BRISBANE,
* * * * *
Charles Yorke’s share in this action, together with his later services, is recorded on a tablet, next to a similar one to Lord Exmouth, in the English chapel at Algiers, by his daughter, the writer of the present memoir.
It may be added that he always cherished the memory of the distinguished admiral under whom he served on this occasion, and that in later years he purchased from Sir William Beechy’s studio a portrait of Lord Exmouth on his quarter-deck at Algiers, in full dress and orders as the naval fashion then was, which hung on the great staircase at Wimpole.
Still in his seventeenth year, Charles Yorke had not yet served long enough for promotion, and was transferred on October 17 of the same year, 1816, to the _Leander_, commanded by Sir David Milne, who had been second in command at Algiers, and was then under orders for the North American station at Halifax, where the _Leander_ shortly sailed.
THE NORTH AMERICAN STATION. 1817-1822
A few letters which my father wrote home from the Halifax station, covering a period of about twelve months from July 1817, I set out here as giving better than any comment of my own an account of his life and experiences in Nova Scotia at that time. They present a self-reliant character, and the young midshipman who was so early recognised by his superior officers as efficient and capable was found worthy of a small, but most important, command soon after joining this station. His father, Sir Joseph Yorke, who lost no opportunity of watching his son’s progress in his profession, was a little nervous at his undertaking a responsibility of the kind, but how well his superiors’ confidence was justified will be evident from his letters. Young Yorke was full of pride in his little sloop the _Jane_, and there is no hint in his letters of the risk and danger of this service. As a fact, she was an exceedingly difficult craft to handle, and if not unseaworthy, was, to say the least, an unpleasant vessel in a sea, with decks constantly awash, and the character she bore in the service appears in her nickname the _Crazy Jane_. I have often heard my father describe this as a most arduous and dangerous service, and say that life upon the _Jane_ was ‘like living on a fish’s back.’ In her he made voyages to Bermuda from Halifax and back with despatches and ships’ mails in very heavy weather, and I find the following note referring to this service in my mother’s handwriting:
‘C. commanded the _Jane_ at the age of nineteen, carrying mails from Bermuda to Halifax during winter months when ordinary mail was struck off, during which perilous service he had not a man on board who could write or take an observation. This _crazy Jane_ was hardly seaworthy, and he finished her career and nearly his own by running her into Halifax Harbour in the dark, all hands at the pump.’
His certificate from Sir David Milne contains the following passage:
‘Mr. Charles Philip Yorke, Midshipman of H.M.S. _Leander_, commanded the _Jane_, Sloop, tender to the said ship bearing my flag, from the 23rd of December 1817 to the date hereof, during which time he took her twice in safety from Halifax to Bermuda, and from Bermuda to Halifax, and was at sea in her at different other periods, and conducted himself at all times so as to merit my entire approbation.’ Dated 28th December.
* * * * *
H.M.S. ‘LEANDER,’ HALIFAX:
July 10, 1817.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘I almost fear my letters have not reached you, for the May packet has arrived, and no letters. But silence I always take in a favourable light, so I conclude you are all well and happy; indeed I had a letter from Lady St. Germans which informed me so.
‘I am, thank God, very well and like my station very much; it is really a very pleasant place, and the inhabitants attentive and hospitable. I am now very well acquainted all over Halifax thanks to Captain Lumley’s kindness; pray tell him so, for the family he introduced me to is very pleasant and kind, so that it is a great comfort to go on shore, and to be able to spend your evenings among friends instead of being obliged to go to a dirty tavern.
‘I have been on several very delightful fishing parties, and have never returned with less than three or four dozen fine trout. This will make the English sportsmen stare, but the fishing here is beyond everything I could have imagined. The shooting has not come in as yet, and does not until August, and then it will be very fine.
‘The way I go fishing is this. I have got an Indian canoe, and I just jump into it with my gear, paddle on shore, shoulder it, and carry it to the lakes. I am become quite an Indian in the management of this canoe, and with the expense of only one ducking. I was upset in the harbour, but swam on shore and towed the canoe and all with me quite safe. I can paddle this canoe much faster than any gig in the fleet.
‘We are now just on the point of sailing for Shelburne with Ld. and Lady Dalhousie, and I fancy shall be absent about ten days. The _Jane_ has not yet arrived, so I am still a mid, not a captain, but expect her hourly. Last Monday we mids of the _Leander_ gave a grand entertainment to the inhabitants of Halifax and officers of the fleet; a play, ball, and supper, which went off remarkably well. _The Iron Chest_ was the play; the _Wags of Windsor_ the farce. I did not perform being steward of the supper, but merely spoke the prologue. Our stage was very large and scenery very good, and on the whole, nothing could go off with more _éclat_ than it did.
‘The girls of Halifax are pretty, generally speaking, and certainly rather ladylike in their manners, but not very accomplished, but there is one thing very formidable in their structure, which is tremendous hoofs, so that a kick from one of them would make you keep your bed for a week. But they certainly are 50 degrees better than the Bermudians, they are very affable and agreeable, which is the great point to an indifferent person.
‘Now I have tired your patience with lots of nonsense, which in fact is all the news I have to tell, so you must excuse it. Give my kindest love to Lady Clanricarde, Urania, and all the boys, not forgetting little Agneta, who by this time must be grown and improved much.
‘I remain, my dear Father,
‘Your most affectionate son,
‘C. P. YORKE.’
SIR J. S. YORKE,
* * * * *
H.M.S. ‘LEANDER,’ HALIFAX HARBOUR:
Aug. 8, 1817.
‘MY DEAR FATHER,
‘I have received your letter by this packet, and am very sorry to find you disapprove of my commanding the Admiral’s tender, and am also astonished to find that you can imagine I have so little command of myself that I cannot keep from what you term “low company.” This is a thing which since I have been at sea I have never kept, and especially at a time when I had charge of a vessel and the safety of men’s lives. I am happy to say I took care of myself and of the vessel, and pleased the Admiral as much as I could wish. I have not got the large tender, as I expected, on account of a prior application having been made, which I am now glad of, as you disapprove of the sort of thing, and it certainly will deter me from accepting any offer of the kind made to me, though at the same time I consider myself perfectly capable in every sense of the word.
‘I am very glad to hear Grantham has so well got over the measles.
‘We have had a very pleasant trip along shore to Shelburne, Liverpool and Mirligash(?), all of which ports you knew well in their former state. Shelburne now is miserably fallen off, not above 200 inhabitants in that once populous town, and more than half the houses falling to the ground, having no owners. I asked the price of a good house and about 40 acres of land, and they said the most they could ask for it would be £30, a cheap place to settle, for provisions also are cheaper than anywhere I have been. Liverpool is a very flourishing little town, and on the contrary with Shelburne, a rising place with a vast deal of commerce and trade which keep the place quite alive. At these two places I had capital fishing both salmon and trout. I caught one day at Liverpool three very fine salmon and two or three dozen trout. In this country they take most with the fly, and it does not matter of what description. I am now become a very expert fly fisherman, make my own flies, &c. Pray next season send me out a good assortment of fly gear which is rather difficult to get here and not good.
‘I am going to-morrow to Salmon River, a very fine river about seven miles inland on the Dartmouth side. I was there last week with two of our officers, and between the three of us we caught eleven dozen salmon trout. Fine sport, and all with the fly. Do not forget to send me a flute as soon as possible and some music; let it be new. Give my kindest love to Lady C., Urania, and all hands. How delightful the Lodge must look. I suppose the Urania is by this time ready for sea, and Henry fighting captain. I must say I envy your circle, but Adieu!
‘I remain, my dear Father,
‘Your most affectionate son,
‘C. P. YORKE.’
* * * * *
‘I imagined that the packet was just going to sail, but I am happy to say I am disappointed because I have a little news to tell you. I am just returned from a cruise of rather a curious sort. I have been sent along the coast with a party of armed men to take some smugglers who ran from the _Leander_. I landed at Chester, and marched and rode just as I could to Lunenburg, but without success, and then back, and so about twenty miles to the eastward. It gave me a good opportunity of seeing the country, and made it very pleasant, from the kindness and hospitality of the inhabitants. I have no doubt I shall have many of these trips from being in the admiral’s and captain’s notice. This letter I send by Moorsom, whom you may recollect when I was at college. Now I shall conclude with love and best wishes to all.’
* * * * *
H.M.S. ‘LEANDER,’ HALIFAX: Novr. 12, 1817.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘I received both your most kind letters by the _Forth_ and packet, which as you may suppose, gave me great pleasure and satisfaction. I return you my most grateful thanks for your great kindness in attending to my little wishes, and hope the things will arrive quite safe. I have written as you wished to Lady St. G. and told her all the news I could think of, which I shall now relate to you.
‘We have not been out of harbour since the cruise to the east, so I got leave of absence and accepted the invitation of Judge Wilkins (Lumley’s friend) to go and spend some time with him at Windsor, a small town about forty-five miles N.E. of Halifax, where I assure you, I passed my time very pleasantly in shooting, fishing, &c. In that part of Nova Scotia the country is beautiful, completely cleared of wood, very well cultivated, and yields to its owners immense crops of grain. I am now returned to the ship, and we sail for Bermuda in about a fortnight or three weeks. This I am rather sorry for, for Halifax is very pleasant during the winter, and Bermuda always very much otherwise. But Sir David Milne dreads the cold, so we go.
‘I am remarkably well in every point, and find the climate agrees with me very well indeed. I am glad to hear Urania made her _début_ with so much _éclat_ in the _beau monde_ at Winchester, pray let me also hear of her in town. I am glad to hear all the boys are well and getting on so fast in their respective schools. Agneta [Footnote: Agneta, afterwards Lady _Agneta Bevan_.] by this time must be a very fine little girl; does she ever talk of me? I really have no news to tell you worth mention, but the service is very stale for want of war, every day the same story. Adieu, my dear Father.
‘Your most affectionate son,
‘C. P. YORKE.
‘Tell my uncle Mr. Yorke I will write to thank him for his present as soon as I have it in my possession.’
* * * * *
H.M.S. SLOOP ‘JANE,’ BERMUDA:
Jan. 23, 1818.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘I sit down to write to you after rather a long silence, but I have been quite well and by no means ill employed. I did not hear from you by the last packet, so by your silence I consider all is well and right in England.
‘I have the satisfaction to communicate to you I am honoured by the command of the _Jane_ Sloop on this station, which command I shall in all probability keep till my return to England. The young man who commanded her before and whom I superseded, was obliged to invalid from her after he brought her from Halifax. She sailed in company with us and we experienced a heavy gale of wind, and the poor _Jane_ was nearly lost, but escaped with the loss of her bulwarks. She really is a beautiful vessel; was a Yankee clipper in the war; 80 tons and 12 men. I am remarkably happy in her, as you may suppose. I anticipate much pleasure going up the St. Lawrence in her next summer. I am sure you will be happy to hear of my good luck, but pray do not have any more dreads of my inability to command. I positively would not accept it if I thought myself in the least inadequate to undertake it. I have now again fitted her at the dockyard at Ireland where I saw much of your friend Commissioner Lewis, who really is to me a very kind and affectionate friend; I like him exceedingly.
‘The packet is just arrived, and I have received your letter of the 26th ult, and likewise one from Lady St. G. You may believe your letter gave me sincere gratification to find that I am giving you all satisfaction; it is the first wish of my heart to be a credit to my friends and an honour to my country. It is not my wish to be expensive in the least beyond what it is necessary for a gentleman to be, to pay my debts, have a good coat on my back, and sufficient in my pocket never to be made look foolish. Now that I keep house for myself I shall, I fear, be a little more expensive, for reasons which you must well know, and the first fit out is the worst and greatest, after that all is regular, and I am sure you do not wish me to live on His Majesty’s own altogether. Bermuda is a terrible dear place.
‘This vessel you may know something of by hearsay, Mr. Brett, the 1st Lieut. of the _Wye_ had her up the Bay of Fundy.
‘You may rely on it I will express your gratitude to Lord Dalhousie for his attentions to me the very first time I have an opportunity. I need not express to you how much I regret the loss of your departed friend Mrs. Rattray, but her great sufferings in this world made it rather a blessing than otherwise, especially to one I believe to have been so truly good. Your advice of the prudence of keeping a ship’s head off shore when near the land at night is a point of my profession I have long seen the absolute necessity of, especially on the coast of Nova Scotia where the fogs are so intense, and the shore so dangerous. But if ever there was in my humble opinion a lubberly series of accidents from the time she got on shore to the time she was on her beam ends alongside the wharf, it was on board H.M.S. _Faith_. The first thing she did after getting on shore was to anchor in Halifax harbour with her B.B. anchor without a buoy on it, slipped her cable and never buoyed it, took in moorings, unshipped her rudder and let it go to the bottom; slipped her anchors without a buoy on them, and to cap the whole, let three of her guns fall overboard in getting them out alongside the wharf. Sir D. Milne was furious, no wonder. I am sure I can with pleasure meet you halfway in your wishes to establish a free intercourse of sentiment between us, for I am perfectly sure, my dearest Father, I can nowhere find a better friend and adviser.
‘I am exceedingly happy to hear so favourable accounts of the youngsters, and of Lady Clanricarde and her fair daughter.
‘Bermuda is a dull place. I am perfectly at my ease and my own master, and the only things which annoy me are the tremendous gales of wind which blow here, and which I, of course, feel much in the _Jane._ The admiral did think of sending me to the West Indies for a cruise, but I believe that is dropped, as he now and then uses me to sail him about for his health. I am a very good pilot for Bermuda, what with the schooner and sloop _Jane_.
‘Remember me most kindly to all; I shall answer Lady St. G. immediately.
‘Adieu, my dear Father,
‘Your affectionate son,
‘C. P. YORKE.’
* * * * *
‘JANE,’ HALIFAX: June 16, 1818.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘… I am still in the _Jane,_ and continue in every way to give satisfaction. I brought her from Bermuda, parted company from the squadron in a fog, and got in before the admiral; you may suppose I was not a little pleased with my navigation. I have pretty often the honour of presiding at my own table, as Sir David often takes trips with me along shore, on fishing excursions, &c. &c., which makes it exceedingly pleasant.
‘… I have been somewhat uneasy about some drafts upon you–heavier than usual–and I fear you will be led to think I am getting into an extravagant turn, but it is not so, I assure you. In this vessel I am obliged to find everything, and Bermuda charges are so extravagant that nothing can equal them. At any time you please to call for my bills and receipts they are at your service, but mark, I have no debts. I never leave a port that I do not pay every shilling. Pray let me know what you wish; if Sir D. Milne goes home, shall I return with him or not? I have not quite a year more to serve; or shall I remain with Ld. — who I understand will supersede him?…
‘C. P. YORKE’
* * * * *
Aug. 19, 1818.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘It is with the greatest pleasure I received your most kind and affectionate letter from St. James’s St. I am delighted to see by your letter you are recovering your spirits and that you have been elected for Reigate, for I should have been very sorry for both you and my uncle to give up.
‘I am happy to inform you that I am in perfect health and enjoying all the happiness that that invaluable blessing brings, and all the little comforts which your bounty affords me, together with the happiness which the perfect approbation of my superiors and respect of my inferiors can alone give a man. I feel your great kindness and generosity more than I can express; by the way you speak on money matters I hope to God I never may offend you by an absurd extravagance.
‘I am excessively delighted with all you say of my kind family, particularly Lady St. G. who I am truly rejoiced to hear is so much better. Say everything that is kind from me to her, and my apology for not writing is that my right hand is very weak, as you may see from my writing, from an inflammation I have had in it occasioned entirely by a slight scratch on the knuckle of the fore finger; but it is now quite well, but still weak.
‘You are now enjoying the sweets of Sydney Lodge and its appendages, the _Urania_ by no means the smallest of the inanimate sort, on board of which ship I hope your 1st Lieut. that gallant officer Mr. H. Yorke continues to give perfect satisfaction, and also the mate of the decks, Mr. E. Y. mid. continues to improve his mind in those studies which a young gentleman of his abilities should attend to. I am very happy to hear Urania is grown up so fine a young woman; I most sincerely hope that all the wishes of her fond and amiable mother may be perfectly fulfilled. Pray give my love to her, if I may say so much now, if not, my esteem and regard. Pray give my love to Lady C. and tell her that I look forward with extreme pleasure to the time when I shall see her and all the family. Among my remembrances do not forget Nurse Jordan.
‘Now I will tell you the little or nothing I have been doing since I arrived. I sailed on the [ ] of June on a cruise of pleasure having the honour of the company of Sir D. Milne and Col. Duke. We sailed up the Muscadobit, or Bank’s Inlet, to fish, in which river the pilot ran us ashore three times; each time obliged to shore up, being left almost dry at low water, and on one night about eleven, all in bed, down she came bumpus on her bilge; in consequence of our shores being made of trees with the bark on, the bark and lashings went together. We returned to Halifax where I refitted, and have not been out since, but sail on Monday on a cruise to the eastward in company with _Leander_ and _Dee_, which will be very pleasant, as we touch at every harbour where there is lots of sport. Oh, I quite forgot to thank my uncle and yourself for the books that are coming….
‘C. P. YORKE.’
* * * * *
Octr. 19, 1818.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘… We had a very agreeable cruise of six weeks and on my return I am now fitting for Bermuda, to which place we sail next Sunday in company with _Leander_ and _Belette_. I have not time to give you an account of our cruise, so I must defer it to my next; suffice it to say I have enjoyed most perfect health and my little command now in high order and beauty….
‘C. P. YORKE’
* * * * *
My father got his first promotion as acting lieutenant on the _Grasshopper_ early in 1819 at the age of twenty, and was confirmed in that rank by commission bearing date of August of the same year. In the following October he joined the _Phaeton_ frigate, on which vessel he served during the rest of his service on the North American station until 1822, when he got a second step.
There is no doubt he learned his profession very thoroughly during those years in the North Atlantic; he deplores the absence of the excitement of war in one of his letters, but he had ample opportunity of graduating in the details of seamanship, which, like other professions, can be best learned at an early age, and by those whose hearts are in their work and are diligent in their business. In those qualities my father was certainly not lacking, though he managed to procure a share of enjoyment, which is the privilege of youth and high spirits. There are many anecdotes told of him at this time. On one occasion he swam across the harbour at Halifax, a feat which, in the circumstances, I have heard described with great admiration. On another, a lady giving a ball and wishing to prolong the pleasures of the evening, consulted Lieutenant Yorke as to the best way. She suggested putting back the clocks, but he advanced a step or two on that proposal, and while dancing was going on vigorously, stepped away and hung all the ladies’ cloaks on a large tree not far from the front door. Imagine the confusion and merriment! I have often heard him tell the story.
His next appointment, in 1822, was to the command of the brig _Alacrity_, where I shall be able to follow him in some interesting and important service on the Mediterranean station.
GREEK PIRACY. 1823-1826
Charles Yorke, having attained the rank of commander in May of 1822, was in August of the same year appointed to the command of the sloop _Alacrity_, and in her sailed to the Mediterranean in the autumn, anchoring at Gibraltar on November 29. He was dispatched to that station to take up some important duties in the Greek Archipelago, which arose out of the Greek War of Independence, then in full progress.
Until the year 1821, the Greeks, though often ready to rebel against the Turkish government at the instigation of the agents of foreign Powers like Russia or France, had shown little capacity for any really national movement. But the gradual spread of liberal ideas which followed the French Revolution; the bravery which distinguished the resistance of certain sections of the Hellenic peoples, such as the Suliotes, and Spakiots of Crete; the aspirations of Ali Pacha, who conceived the idea of severing his connection with the Sultan and assuming the independent government of Albania; the impunity with which the Klephts or pirates pursued their calling in the Levant, all combined to demonstrate the real weakness of the Turkish rule, and at last brought about a national rising.
This is not the place to enter into any detailed account of the War of Independence which followed, but its main events must be mentioned in order to make clear the letters which my father wrote from the scenes of the disturbance. The insurrection was begun in 1821 by Prince Alexander Hypsilantes, who crossed the Pruth in March of that year, but his efforts failed and he fled to Austria three months later; and other movements in the northern provinces had a similar fate. But the rising in the Peloponnesus under Germanos, the Archbishop of Patros, was more successful; his forces drove the Turks before them, and the independence of the country was proclaimed in January of 1823. The Greeks, however, displayed little power of combination, and their partial success was followed by internal dissensions which greatly weakened their cause. Mavrocordato was elected president, but the aspirants for honours and leadership were numberless, the various factions were continually quarrelling with each other, and there was at length open civil war inspired by Colcotronis.
Meanwhile the aspirations of Greece had excited great sympathy throughout Europe; a Greek Committee was formed in London; the Philhellenes became very powerful in most countries on the continent, as well as in America, and many volunteers, of whom Lord Byron was a notable example, enlisted in the cause of Greek liberty.
The Greek fleet, led by Miaoulis from 1823 onward, was exceedingly active; the Greek seamen inspired the Turks with great terror, and did immense damage to their fleets. The Turks retaliated by taking vengeance on the unprotected islands of the archipelago, and committed unspeakable atrocities on the inhabitants of Chios in 1822, and two years later upon those of Kasos and Psara. In 1824 the Sultan invoked the aid of Mehemet Ali, Pacha of Egypt, whose stepson, Ibrahim, landed in the Peloponnesus and with his Arab troops carried all before him, when the Greeks lost most of what they had acquired. The war, however, was continued for many years; Lord Cochrane became admiral of the Greek fleet and Sir Robert Church took command of the land forces. The action of Navarino, which occurred in 1827 almost by accident, had a great effect upon the fortunes of the struggle. The fleets of England, France, and Russia were cruising about the coasts of the Peloponnesus to prevent the ravages of the Turkish fleet on the islands and mainland, and selected a winter anchorage at Navarino, where the Turkish and Egyptian fleets lay. The Turks thinking they were menaced opened fire upon the combined fleets, and were annihilated in the engagement which followed. In the following year the Greeks had the aid of the French, who cleared the Morea of Turkish troops, and by the end of the year Greece was practically independent. Some anarchy followed the assassination of the President Capodostrias in 1831, but at length Otho of Bavaria was crowned king, and in 1832 a convention was signed by which the protecting Powers of Europe recognised the new kingdom and assigned its limits; and Greece attained an independence which she has since maintained.
Among the results of this long period of anarchy and insurrection was an outbreak of piracy among both Greeks and Turks. Individual chieftains called their followers together, established their head-quarters in out- of-the-way creeks, and preyed upon the commerce of the Levant without any interference from their Government. As in the case of the Barbary Powers, the depredations of these pirates became at length so intolerable that the Governments of Europe were obliged to interfere for the protection of their subjects.
Commander Yorke’s part as representing his country in the mission he undertook, to put down this state of things, appears fully in the letters written to his father at intervals, which follow, and we there see the important position he had to fill. He was, as he says, in those eastern waters in the double capacity of warrior and diplomatist, or in other words to command a neutral armed vessel, act impartially between Greek and Turk, and protect trade from the piracies of both nations. This was no easy task, and it appears that though his sympathies were with the Greek cause, of the two he preferred the Turk as by far the best to deal with.
It will be seen that he had to go round visiting the chief islands, Corfu, Cephalonia and Zante, and ascertain from the governors if they had any grievances to be remedied. He had no positive orders for his guidance, but only ‘act as you think most fit.’ Often he found himself in difficulties without even an interpreter, and so obliged to make himself understood, if he could, in French. His short but graphic description of Lord Byron at Missolonghi and his rencontre with Colonel Leicester Stanhope will interest many readers.
From a journal kept by Commander Yorke during this service, which he heads ‘A few Miscellaneous Remarks. H.M. Sloop _Alacrity_,’ beginning in 1823, and now with the Hardwicke MSS. at the British Museum, I find a few facts which supplement those of the letters. He records receiving much civility from Lord Chatham at Gibraltar, and sailed from that port on December 2 in company with the _Sybella_ for Malta, a passage which occupied about fourteen days. After ten days at Malta refitting, he was ordered to proceed to the Ionian station. He describes with great admiration the beauty of the scene at sunrise on New Year’s Day of 1824 as the _Alacrity_ made the coast of Epirus, the snow-covered mountains of Albania contrasting with the green and fertile shore of Corfu with its olive gardens reaching down to the water’s edge. At Corfu he dined with commissioners, generals, and at messes; and records meeting Lord Byron’s ‘Maid of Athens,’ ‘who is now rather _passée_, but certainly has remains of a fine face and a bad figure; large feet, of course, that all the Greeks have,’ he writes. There are accounts of other diversions, including a week’s shooting with a Mr. P. Steven and the officers of the 90th Regiment, which he describes as ‘a marvellous slaughter of woodcocks,’ after which he sailed to Missolonghi, where he arrived on January 23. The letters describe his further experiences.
* * * * *
H.M.S. ‘Alacrity,’ Gibraltar:
Nov. 29, 1823.
‘My dearest Father,
‘I this morning at six o’clock anchored under the cloud-cap’t top of this extraordinary rock, and found that _Alacrity_ had made a better passage by some hours than either _Ganges_ or _Sybella_ who are all here. I paid my devoirs to Lord Chatham who asked after you, also your old Teetotum G— who I found in the very act of entertaining the ladies of Gib with breakfast, music and a trip to Algeciras in the _Tribune’s_ boats to spend the day. He seems in great force and sorry to leave this part of the world, indeed, they say that love has much to do in the case. I afterwards paid my devoirs to the American Commodore, Jones, who is here in the _Constitution_, and went over his ship; I felt proud to see the ship that had captured our frigate– she is enormous. Her cable and rigging in inches the same as the _Ganges_ by level measurement, for they have taken the pains to examine, but she is now in what I should call a state of nature as bad as I could wish to see a Yankee in, with 450 men on board who look as if they were tired of their work, and the officers say so.
‘I have met a very intelligent man just left Cadiz, and have seen and conversed with some of the Spanish Constitutionalists. Spain is in a dreadful state; anarchy, confusion, highway robbery and assassination daily take place. The game is up, if France has got and will keep military possession of Cadiz. The French are disgusted with the whole thing–the country and the people…. Officers and nobles are on the highway.
‘I shall sail for Malta on Monday. I am engaged in taking big guns up. _Alacrity_ is the most comfortable vessel I have ever been in.
‘Adieu. Love to all.
‘Your affectionate and dutiful son,
‘I sailed without my Government chronometers, they were so bad I would not take them, but the one C— has on board is capital and we made the rock to a mile.’
* * * * *
March 9, 1824.
‘MY DEAREST FATHER,
‘It is a long while since I have had an opportunity of putting pen to paper to address you, not having been in any Christian Port for some time, nor have I received a single line from any one since I left you.
‘I am just arrived at this port having brought Convoy from Malta, and now I am here I think I had better begin at the other end of my story, and so come down to the present time, instead of going back; relating all the little matters just as they are and how H.M. sloop and her crew have been employ’d since I last address’d you from the same place.
‘I sailed from Gibraltar to Malta in company with my friend Capt. Pechel, and after remaining at that Island for ten days to put a little to rights I proceeded to the Ionian Islands and there, as I believe I before told you, to act in the capacity of warrior and diplomatist, or in other words, as an arm’d neutral vessel between the Turks and Greeks, to protect our trade from the piracies of both Nations, I assure you no very easy task, but certainly of the two the Turk is the best by far to deal with. I visited the Islands of Corfu, Cefalonia and Zante, inquiring of the Governors and if they had any abuses to be remedied, and I soon had over ten Petitions from Merchants whose boats had been plundered and pillaged by both parties.
‘Now we are on this station placed in rather awkward circumstances, having no positive orders how to act in cases of refusal and obstinacy on the part of these People, but only, _to act as you think most fit_; how the Government would bear us out in any act of violence such as taking by force that which they will not give up I know not; even with justice on your side, I question much whether they would support you.
‘I ask’d and consulted Sir T. Maitland on the mode I should adopt, but he seem’d to advise that where they had captured a vessel, or property, and refused to give it up on a fair review of the case, to take “vi et armis” an equivalent or the vessel that committed the act. Thus armed with his opinion it was not long before an opportunity offered, and one, take it all in all, which was to me most interesting. A vessel of the Greek fleet had captured an Ionian vessel coming from Patras to Zante with a cargo “_as the Petition stated_” worth 400 Dollars, and having plundered her and ill used the crew, permitted the vessel herself to depart. This petition is put into my hands by Col. Sir F. Steven the resident of Zante, for here a Capt. of a man of war is a species of Penang Lawyer, and whenever a petition comes to any of these gentlemen they always say “Oh! give it the Capt. of the Brig or Frigate, &c. he will soon settle it, and do it by _Club Law_.” However away I went to Missolonghi, and anchored off the Town on the 23rd of Jany. observing ten sail of Turkish men of war to leeward, went on shore, and with much difficulty we poked our way through the narrow channels of this extraordinary place, there being a low flat of sand turning out from the land about seven miles; it seems to be the only defence the town has. Had an interview with Mavrocordato who received me of course, with civility, on Divan, supposing that I came to do him no good, having with me two or three officers and an arm’d boats crew. When I landed I met with a face that put me in mind of Hyde Park, Balls, Parties, Almacks, &c. This was no one more or less than Col. Leicester Stanhope come out with Jeremy Bentham under his arm to give the Greeks a constitution.
‘Powerful in strength must he be who can manage this; long in pocket, with a head filled up with every talent that man is capable of possessing and a pair of loaded pistols in his belt, with no more words than are absolutely necessary to warn people, if they do not do this, that they will have a chance of being sent to sleep with their Fathers.
‘St. James’s Street and English notions must be abolish’d, so must all Romance of Liberty and the children of the antient Greeks struggling to shake off the yoke of the bloody Turk; Lord Byron knows all this, and is in fact the only man that has ever come out to them who understands the people. He was at Missolonghi, living in every way like a great Chief; and in fact he is so, arm’d to the teeth with 500 Suliotes, the bravest and best troops the Greeks have, and twenty German Veterans, besides a certain Count Gamba, a beautiful Albanian Page, an Italian Chasseur, and an old Scotch butler, making in all about 530 well arm’d men, besides the Suliotes from all parts of Greece flocking to him daily, he could if he liked set up a Govt. in Missolonghi, but as he hates governments, and likes this sort of life where his nod and beck are a law, he will have nothing to do with their legislation altho’ they come and offer to place him at the head of the Government victorious. He however has pay’d their fleet for them, who immediately landed their Admiral and sailed away the Lord knows where. ‘The first interview I had with this Prince Mavrocordato I could do nothing, as I plainly saw they were detaining me while they made out a case and that Stanhope’s wits were put in requisition. In addition to which I had no interpreter, and so I was obliged to speak French, the only other language Mavrocordato understood besides Greek. So I broke up the interview by saying it was late and that I should wait on him again to-morrow. This however I did not effect, as it blew a gale on the following day, but the next I again saw him, and having previously put a few questions to the purpose on paper I defeated his quibbles, and made him refund in hard dollars the value of the cargo, threatening that if he did not I should burn, sink and destroy immediately. I gave him four hours to consider of it, and stay’d with Ld. Byron until the time elapsed, much amused by all his sayings and anecdotes, firing pistols at a mark, eating, &c. &c.
‘The time pass’d and the money came; thus ended my diplomatic Mission at Missolonghi. I have just seen some English papers, they talk of Missolonghi having sixty pieces of Cannon and a large garrison.
‘I can only say from personal knowledge that if it has sixty pieces of Cannon they are all on the wrong side, or where the Dutchman had his anchor. The garrison consisted of about 1000 arm’d men 500 of whom were Lord Byron’s Suliotes. The only defence towards the sea is what bountiful Nature has given it, and a small fort on an island with two guns, one dismounted, much more like a pig stye than a fort. In short there seem’d to me to be nothing to prevent the Turkish Admiral from landing men and destroying every soul in the place, but their style of warfare is very harmless (except now and then, when they catch some poor devil alone, then they murder him). The Greeks talked much of a fine ship, and Ld. Byron recommended Mavrocordato to take boat with him in the evening and “smoke a cigar against the Turkish fleet” which however he declined. I was obliged soon to return to Zante for water, intending to go up to Lepanto and be present at the storming of that place by the Greeks. Ld. Byron and myself had agreed, he was to lead the attack and indeed had undertaken the Enterprise entirely, and as he jocosely observed to me a very fit man he was as he could not run if he wished, alluding to his club foot; but it was otherwise ordained, for to my great grief news one evening was suddenly brought me as I was dining at the Mess of the 90th Regt. of the loss of H.M. sloop _Columbine_ at Sapienza, my friend Abbot’s ship. I lost no time in being at sea and was with him on Saturday the 31st of Jany. having put to sea from Zante with a gale from the N.W. and had much ado to keep clear of the Coast of the Morea. On my arrival in Porto Longue, I found my friend and his crew all well having only lost two people; the brig’s tops just above water; she was lost by parting her S.B. cable, and had not room to bring up; she soon bilged on the rocks, and the people had much ado to save themselves; little or no property was saved, they had tents on shore and miserable enough, as the rain was almost constant. The Pasha of Modon é Aron supplied them with provisions and was most attentive to them. Abbot and myself pay’d our respects to the old boy, he regaled us with Pipes and Coffee: and acknowledgement was made him for his attentions to the shipwreck’d crew by a salute of twenty guns from H.M. sloop, four of my cut glass tumblers as sherbet glasses, and 1 lb. of Mr. Fribourg’s and Palets’ best snuff. I think you will laugh at our presents to him, but I