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Title: History of the Post-Office Packet Service between the years 1793-1815 - Compiled from Records, Chiefly Official
Author: Norway, Arthur H. (Arthur Hamilton)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SERVICE BETWEEN THE YEARS 1793-1815***


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      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).



HISTORY OF THE POST-OFFICE PACKET SERVICE


[Illustration: M M & Co.]

[Illustration:

  Frontispiece.

  WINDSOR CASTLE—CAPT. ROGERS, COMMANDER.]


HISTORY OF THE POST-OFFICE PACKET SERVICE
BETWEEN THE YEARS 1793–1815

Compiled from Records, Chiefly Official

by

ARTHUR H. NORWAY



London
Macmillan and Co.
and New York
1895

All rights reserved


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                 NOTE.


My acknowledgments are due to Mrs. Ball, of Roscarrach, Falmouth, for
permission to make use, in illustrating this work, of four pictures in
her possession, namely, two of the action of the “Duke of Marlborough”
with the “Primrose” one of the “Windsor Castle,” and one of the
“Hinchinbrooke” To Mr. Burton, of the Old Curiosity Shop, Falmouth, I am
indebted for an illustration of Russell’s Wagons; and to many other
friends, in Cornwall and elsewhere, for very kind assistance and advice.



                               CONTENTS.


                                                        PAGE

                              CHAPTER I.

           FALMOUTH IN THE OLDEN TIME,                     1


                              CHAPTER II.

           LAX ADMINISTRATION,                            13


                             CHAPTER III.

           A FIRMER RULE,                                 35


                              CHAPTER IV.

           THE WEST INDIA MERCHANTS,                      56


                              CHAPTER V.

           THE END OF THE ABUSES,                         83


                              CHAPTER VI.

           THE NORTH SEA PACKETS,                        106


                             CHAPTER VII.

           THE SECOND FRENCH WAR,                        120


                             CHAPTER VIII.

           THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE CONTINENTAL SYSTEM,  147


                              CHAPTER IX.

           TWO BRILLIANT YEARS,                          171


                              CHAPTER X.

           THE MUTINY AT FALMOUTH,                       197


                              CHAPTER XI.

           THE OUTBREAK OF THE AMERICAN WAR,             222


                             CHAPTER XII.

           THE AMERICAN WAR,                             245


                             CHAPTER XIII.

           THE AMERICAN WAR,                             264


           INDEX,                                        306



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


       WINDSOR CASTLE—CAPT. ROGERS, COMMANDER,    _frontispiece_

       RUSSELL’S WAGONS,                       _to face page_ 10

       H.M. PACKET, MARLBOROUGH,                             128

       PRIMROSE—MARLBOROUGH: COMMENCEMENT,                   274

       PRIMROSE—MARLBOROUGH: CLOSE,                          276

       HINCHINBROOKE AND AMERICAN PRIVATEER,                 282



                               CHAPTER I.
                      FALMOUTH IN THE OLDEN TIME.


No nation can afford to forget its past history; and England, of all
others, whose power is so deeply rooted in sea-fights, should not be
careless of her naval records. After many generations of almost
ceaseless warfare, there has been a long breathing time of peace, an
interval which could not be better spent than in collecting and
recording the actions of those brave men whose struggles ensured our
ease, and preserving them for our own benefit, as well as for that of
posterity.

This task has been accomplished long ago as regards the great
sea-battles; and most of even the lesser fights in which the ships of
the Royal Navy were engaged have been sufficiently described. But there
remains a service distinguished over and over again, an ancient service,
highly useful to the public, and associated with a great department of
State, whose history has been left untold till all the officers
connected with it have passed away, and the personal recollections which
are the lifeblood of such a narrative are lost to us irretrievably—I
refer to the Post-Office Packet Service.

The very name has grown unfamiliar to our ears. It brings nothing to our
minds, recalls no train of recollections, stirs up no dim memories. For
the whole world, with the exception of a few people in Cornwall and on
the east coast of England, the Packet Service is dead, like all the men
who made it, and fought in it, and laid their lives down for it. It was
a fighting service, yet the naval histories scarcely mention it. It was
for a century and a half the regular vehicle of travellers; yet among
the multitude of books which treat of the journeys of our grandfathers,
few indeed take note of the fact that they sometimes crossed the ocean.
Its records, containing many a story which other nations would have set
with pride in the forefront of their history, have lain neglected for
eighty years. Some have perished through the carelessness of three
generations; some were wantonly destroyed as possessing neither use nor
interest. Even in Falmouth itself, so long the headquarters of the
Service, the actions which distinguished it are forgotten; and you may
search for half a day before finding some old sailor, mending his nets
in the stern of a boat, in whose memories those stories linger which
have never been collected, and which few indeed of his fellow-townsmen
have cared to remember.

Seeing, therefore, that this oblivion has descended on the Service, it
will be necessary at the outset to give some description of its nature
and functions, of the men who constituted it, the voyages they
performed, the profits they made, and so forth. This will best be done
by describing the life of a single station; and, as it was at Falmouth
that the largest number of Packets was stationed, and the most important
business transacted, there is no other station so suitable for the
purpose.

The town of Falmouth was associated most intimately with the Post-Office
for more than a century and a half. Indeed, it would scarcely be an
exaggeration to say that the town was made by its connection with the
Mail Service. Certain it is that when the Post-Office selected Falmouth
in 1688 as the point of embarkation and departure for the newly
established Spanish mail boats, the Department found not an old
established town and port, but a place as yet of the smallest
consequence, only recently incorporated, possessing hardly any trade in
spite of its advantages of situation, and hampered in its growth by the
jealousy of neighbouring towns. In all those traditions of the past
which made the glory of Fowey, Looe, Penryn, and a dozen other ports
along the coast, the Falmouth men had no share whatever. Their town was
a bare hillside when the Fowey men vindicated their claim to rank among
the Cinque Ports. It was nothing but a cluster of cottages when the
Armada sailed up the Channel.

This very absence of traditions and of vigorous commercial life made the
place more suitable for a Post-Office station, and may have largely
influenced its choice. It would not have served the Department nearly so
well to send its officers to a port where their affairs must have taken
rank among other transactions, and the despatch of mails might have been
delayed by the pressure of urgent commercial business. At Falmouth My
Lords the Postmaster General[1] took what was practically a clear board,
and could write on it what they pleased.

Footnote 1:

  The office of Postmaster General was until the year 1823 always held
  jointly by two Ministers of the Crown.

Throughout the eighteenth century the links which bound the Post-Office
Service to the town grew steadily stronger. As the numbers of the
Packets increased the local tradesmen prospered; the demand for naval
stores was incessant; and in those days of difficult and slow
communication it was necessary to obtain almost all supplies locally.
Shipbuilding yards sprang up, rope walks were laid out, inns were built
for the accommodation of the travellers who came from all parts of
England to take passage for Spain or the West Indies. A considerable
number of merchants found their chief occupation in supplying the
officers of the Packets with goods to be sold on commission in foreign
ports, for the statute which prohibited such trade was not enforced, and
many more were engaged in disposing of wines and lace, tobacco and
brandy, which were smuggled home on board the Post-Office vessels under
cover of the opportunities created by this irregular traffic. The sons
of the sailors, as they grew up, sailed with their fathers. The sons of
the commanders took up their fathers’ appointments, while the old men
retired on their pensions and their savings to comfortable houses in the
pleasant neighbourhood of Falmouth, creating with their wives and
families a society among themselves, and so binding closer with each
successive generation the ties between the town and the Service in which
their lives were spent.

And so as the town of Falmouth grew and developed it continued to be
what it had been at the outset, a Packet town, every trade and interest
which its inhabitants professed being drawn irresistibly towards the
important State Department which had settled itself down in their midst.
Merchants and tradesmen were to be found of course, who conducted
prosperous businesses upon independent lines; but it is probably safe to
say that at the end of the last century there was hardly one person in
the place who did not feel that he would have been injured in his
profession, and yet more in his sympathies and his pride, by any step
which impaired the permanence of the relation between Falmouth and the
Post-Office Service.

The life of a seaport can never be dull with the hopeless insipidity of
an inland town, and Falmouth especially, possessing a harbour which
formed an unequalled station for watching the French coast, had its
share of excitement in the coming and going of the warships. But in the
vessels belonging to the port, the Falmouth Packets, there was an even
greater and more enduring interest. For the Packets were the regular
vehicles of news. Their commanders were under orders to inform
themselves of the situation of affairs in every country at which they
touched; and wherever military or naval operations were being conducted,
it was to them that everybody looked for a full and accurate plan of the
campaign.

Thus the news for which all England was waiting reached Falmouth first,
and was ventilated and discussed in every tavern in the town a full day
at least before it was in the hands even of Ministers in London. A
look-out man was constantly stationed on the Beacon Hill above Falmouth,
whence the returning Packets could be seen for a great distance coming
up the coast. As soon as one was sighted the watchman hastened down and
spread the news about the town, receiving in accord with regular custom
a shilling from every woman whose husband was on board; and then the
people crowded out towards Pendennis to see the Packet sailing in,
speculating and guessing as to whether she had spoken with the fleet,
whether a battle had occurred, watching anxiously to see whether the
sides or rigging of the vessel bore any marks of shot—for it was a
common thing for them to fight their way across the ocean. Then the gigs
from the hotels, well manned with sturdy rowers, would shoot out from
the inner harbour, racing as eagerly as in a regatta to catch the first
of the passengers; and in a little while the Market Strand, which was
the usual landing-place, would be packed with people pushing and
struggling to congratulate the home-comers, to hear how stoutly the
Packet had beaten off a Privateer, to understand exactly where the great
battle of our fleet was fought, and how many French ships had been
taken. On such occasions the town seethed with excitement, and it was a
frequent thing to close the day’s proceedings by a dance on the deck of
the Packet as she lay at anchor in the harbour.

A Spanish traveller, Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella, who visited England
in 1808, has left in his published letters an amusing account of the
noise and racket which went on in Falmouth immediately after the arrival
of the Packet from which he landed.

“The perpetual stir and bustle in this inn,” he plaintively observes,
“is as surprising as it is wearisome. Doors opening and shutting, bells
ringing, voices calling to the waiter from every quarter, while he cries
‘coming’ to one room, and hurries away to another. Everybody is in a
hurry here; either they are going off in the Packets and are hastening
their preparations to embark, or they have just arrived and are
impatient to be on the road homeward. Every now and then a carriage
rattles up to the door with a rapidity which makes the very house shake.
The man who cleans the boots is running in one direction, the barber
with his powder bag in another. Here goes the barber’s boy with his hot
water and razors; there comes the clean linen from the washerwoman, and
the hall is full of porters and sailors bringing up luggage, or bearing
it away. Now you hear a horn blow because the post is coming in, and in
the middle of the night you are awakened by another because it is going
out. Nothing is done in England without a noise, and yet noise is the
only thing they forget in the bill.”

So vivaciously writes Don Manuel of what he saw and heard on his landing
in Falmouth, and while it would be futile to deny that his amiable
sarcasm about our national propensity for noise contains a grain of
truth, yet it may be fairly claimed that the affairs of an establishment
so large as that which the Post-Office maintained at Falmouth could not
have been conducted with the leisurely and well-bred movements to which
Spanish life had accustomed him.

There were, when the Don landed at the Market Strand, thirty-nine
Packets at Falmouth, of which one sailed every week for Lisbon, one for
San Sebastian, or some other port on the north coast of Spain, whence
communication with our army in the Peninsula could be maintained, one
for the West Indies, sailing alternately by a different route among the
islands, and others at somewhat longer intervals for the Mediterranean,
Brazil, Surinam, Halifax, and New York. The officers and crews of these
Packets formed a body of no less than twelve hundred men, all
permanently employed by the Post-Office, while the passengers numbered
between two and three thousand in the course of a year.

The mere coming and going, and the natural demands of so large a number
of people, created a great prosperity in Falmouth. There was plenty of
money in the town, and it was spent as freely as it had been gained. The
commanders were all making large incomes. The passage money was the
chief source of profit, and from this alone each one of them drew a net
income of approximately £1000 per annum. Their fees on the carriage of
bullion were more variable, but at times very considerable; while, as
long as the privilege of private trading existed, there were few
commanders who did not turn over as much by the sale of goods on
commission as he drew from the passenger fares. These, with the regular
official pay of £8 a month in war, and £5 in peace, formed the
commander’s legitimate receipts. Some people said that his financial
transactions did not end there; but that is as it may be. And, after
all, smuggling was not condemned by public opinion in the West of
England; though probably in the early years of this century much less
was done in this way at Falmouth than in the previous generation.

It may be interesting to record the sums paid by passengers on a few of
the voyages most frequently made in those days. The rates here given are
those current in 1807, and were somewhat higher than were in force ten
years earlier.

From Falmouth to Gibraltar the fare was thirty-five guineas, and to
Malta fifty-five guineas. The cost of the necessary provisions in the
Mediterranean ports was so much greater than at Falmouth, that the
homeward fares were higher still, viz., sixty guineas from Malta, and
forty-five guineas from Gibraltar. Passengers for Jamaica paid
fifty-four guineas, and were provided with everything except bedding;
but when they returned they were by old custom to provide themselves
with food in addition, and yet were mulcted of fifty guineas.

As for the bullion brought home in the Packets, there were landed at
Falmouth in a single year the following sums:

                     Dollars,             1,126,861
                     Doubloons,              17,829
                     Sterling Coin,         £20,707
                     Gold (in ounces),          745
                     Silver (in ounces),      2,984
                     Milreas,                 8,548
                     Half Joes,                 317
                     Platina (in pounds),        50
                     Louis d’Ors,                10

[Illustration:

  To face p. 10.

  RUSSELL’S WAGONS.]

A treasure of such value demanded special precautions for its safe
keeping. It was stored in a chamber cut in the solid rock which forms
the hillside on which the town of Falmouth lies. This chamber was lined
with sheet iron, and its doors were of oak strongly bound with iron
bars. Here the treasure lay in absolute safety until arrangements could
be made for conveying it to London. It travelled by vehicles which are
yet well remembered in Cornwall, and which, in their day, constituted
one of the chief modes of communication between London and the West of
England. Russell’s wagons were indeed travelling upon the Great West
Road before the first mail coach bowled out of London; and as the
passenger fares by the “Highflyer” or the “Rocket” were beyond the means
of poor people, there were always some, even until the days of railways,
who preferred to journey with the wagons, sleeping by night beneath the
tilt, and trudging all day beside the wagoner’s pony. There was no
difficulty in keeping pace; for the rate did not exceed two, or at most
three, miles an hour. The horses never trotted; the progress was a sort
of stroll. Inside the wagon rode a man armed with pistol and
blunderbuss. The drivers were provided with horse pistols, and, when
treasure was in the wagons, a guard of soldiers marched up to London
with them, one on either side, two in the rear, to guard against
surprise.

The roads were unsafe enough in old days, but there is no memory of any
attack upon Russell’s wagons; though a tradition lingers that such a
venture was once planned, but frustrated by a dream which revealed the
robbers’ plot. Hardly fifty years have passed since these old wagons
might still have been met, toiling at their leisurely pace along the
western road. But the new railway was fast devouring the country; the
busy inns were closing one by one; that great silence was falling over
the country roads which has lasted until now. The passengers went by
train; the specie no longer came to Falmouth. The old wagons had had a
long day, but it was past; and they went the way of other anachronisms.
The illustration which faces this page shows perhaps more clearly than
any description, the picturesqueness of this phase of by-gone life.

It was not with the wagons that the change in progress either began or
ended. The construction of railways was changing the face of England,
robbing certain districts of their old importance, and raising others to
a consequence which they had never before enjoyed. The picturesque and
busy life of Falmouth was doomed. The same silence was fast stealing
over the port and town as had settled on the country roads. The townsmen
fought hard and long to retain their ancient Service, but the spirit of
the age was too strong for them. Bit by bit the Packets were removed to
other ports, and an old and memorable chapter of our history was brought
to a close.



                              CHAPTER II.
                          LAX ADMINISTRATION.


It may be that from the bird’s-eye view given in the previous chapter,
the reader has gathered some impression of the magnitude of the
Post-Office establishment at Falmouth, and of the strength and number of
the ties which united it with the prosperity of that town.

To describe in similar detail the life of other Packet Stations would be
tedious and useless; for no one of them could vie with the great Cornish
seaport in any circumstance of interest. The Dover Station, whence the
Calais Packets sailed, was closed during every French war. The Harwich,
or Yarmouth boats, for they sailed during several years from the latter
port, stood next to Falmouth in importance. They maintained the Postal
Service for Holland and Northern Europe generally, sailing chiefly to
the Brill and to Hamburg. Their voyages on the stormy North Sea were
often dangerous; and were performed with great skill and hardihood, but
with little variety of incident. It was not until the Continental System
established by Napoleon began to force the exclusion of English vessels
from every seaport which his hand could reach, and like a creeping
paralysis, the hostile influence mounted steadily up the shores of the
North Sea and the Baltic,—it was only then that the Harwich Packets
began to serve as counters in a game of exceptional difficulty. The
Holyhead Station confronted no dangers worth speaking of. The Milford
Packets ran to Waterford, often making rough and troublesome passages,
but offering very little detail worth recording. The boats between
Portpatrick and Donaghadee were still less interesting.

In every sense Falmouth was the chief station. Nearly every vestige of
interest connected with the ancient Mail Service centres there, and the
Falmouth Packets may be regarded as the most perfect type of the
Post-Office Establishment.

No account appears to be extant of the circumstances attending the
institution in the year 1688 of a Service of Packets from Falmouth
Harbour, but they may be easily surmised. For fourteen years the
communications were with Corunna alone. It could scarcely have been for
the convenience of passengers that in those days of difficult roads, the
most westerly port in England was chosen as the place of embarkation.
The selection suggests that the Government were guided in their choice
by the paramount necessity of quick passages, and the swift transmission
of news; and this anxiety for haste is amply accounted for by the
growing importance of Spanish politics at the time. Questions were
indeed arising in that quarter of the world which were of vital
consequence to England; and the Ministry in providing a means of
forwarding and receiving despatches with regularity, were impelled by
something like necessity.

The idea of a Regular Service of Packet boats, supported by the
Government, was not a novel one. Such a Service had existed on the
eastern coast of England from very early times; and in the Packets of
Harwich or Dover a model for the new establishment was ready to hand. A
somewhat different type of vessel was required for the Corunna voyage.
The new Packets were considerably larger, nearly two hundred tons, while
those serving in the North Sea did not usually exceed sixty tons. They
were also more heavily armed, as became vessels which ventured further
from the protection of English cruisers in the home waters, and carried
a larger complement of men. They were hired under contract, and were not
the property of the Post-Office, which, indeed, at no period of its
administration, became the owner of the Packets, though the officers and
men serving on them were from very early days the servants of the
Postmaster General, not of the contractors.

It might have seemed more natural that the new Packets should sail from
the same ports as the old ones, and be located on the east coast, where
all the machinery needed for their administration was at work already.
But it seems to have been recognized from the outset that for the
Spanish Service that port was the most suitable which lay furthest to
the west. Falmouth was chosen from the first, and though in the early
years of the last century the contractors were occasionally allowed to
despatch their boats from Plymouth, and even once or twice (under a
strong representation of the danger of Privateers watching a known point
of departure) from Bideford, the Postmaster General, as time went on,
became less ready to fall in with the whims of these gentlemen, and the
Service settled down regularly at Falmouth.

That the right port was chosen there cannot be a doubt. The extreme
westerly position of Falmouth Harbour gives it an advantage which is
rendered evident by a single glance at the map. From no other harbour in
this country can an outward bound vessel clear the land so soon. No
other is so quickly reached by one homeward bound running for shelter.
On the darkest nights and in dense fog, ships unacquainted with the
harbour enter it in safety, so easy is it of access; and sailing vessels
can leave it in any wind, save one blowing strongly from the east or
south-east. The prevalent gales in the English Channel are from the
west. These are head winds for a ship leaving Plymouth, the port with
which Falmouth is most naturally compared; but they are favourable for
Falmouth. In fact, it happened only on very rare occasions that the
despatch of the mails was delayed by stress of weather;[2] and the
Post-Office agent, when giving evidence on the subject in 1840, could
not remember one instance of such delay throughout his whole service,
extending over forty-five years.

Footnote 2:

  The standing rule was that the Packets must put to sea immediately on
  receiving the mails, _whatever the wind was_, provided only that they
  could carry a double-reefed topsail—a striking proof of the certainty
  with which a good and well-found sailing vessel can clear the Channel
  from Falmouth.

If, however, Falmouth excelled in ease of access, the natural advantages
of the harbour were still more evident when the ships had reached it. It
is, in fact, the safest anchorage in the country, protected from the
full strength of the Atlantic rollers by the great promontory of
Meneage, and abounding in sheltered creeks where vessels might lie in
practical immunity from the worst of storms.

On one of these creeks the town of Falmouth stands; and this inlet, the
King’s or Inner Harbour, was assigned to the Packets as their special
anchorage. It lies in such a situation that the swell entering the
harbour is diverted from it by the high land of Pendennis, at the
entrance of the port; and the advantage of this aspect is so great, that
vessels may be seen lying in the Inner Harbour without perceptible
motion, while just outside others are rolling gunwale under.

There is seldom any difficulty in leaving this sheltered anchorage. With
a fair wind a vessel may be in the open sea in a quarter of an hour
after slipping her moorings off Green Bank, opposite the town of
Falmouth; and here the Packets used to lie until the day before sailing,
when they warped out into Carrach Roads, and lay there to receive the
mails, in order that not the slightest loss of time might occur in
proceeding to sea when the bags were once on board.

At Falmouth then the Post-Office located itself in the year 1688, with
two Packet boats hired from a contractor, one Daniel Gwin, who appears
to have received a salary of £70 per annum, in addition, doubtless, to
whatever he could make indirectly out of his contract. Probably his
gains were considerable. At any rate the Government made none, for the
accounts show from year to year a loss of several thousand pounds upon
the maintenance of these two boats, from which, indeed, the revenue
seems seldom to have received more than £450. Expensive as the Corunna
Packets proved to be, it may be presumed that the promoters of the
Service were not dissatisfied with it; for early in the new century they
proceeded to develop it. The West Indian trade was becoming important
enough to make its wishes felt. The merchants engaged in it may probably
have represented that the regular communication now established with
Corunna gave their colleagues in the Spanish trade more facilities than
they enjoyed. All Governments have found it difficult to resist such an
argument; and accordingly, in 1702, Packets were established at Falmouth
to ply to Barbados, Jamaica, and certain places in the Southern States
of North America. Two years later a Service with Lisbon was set up; and
the Post-Office Service at Falmouth began to assume the form which it
preserved until within the memory of men now living.

It is no part of the present writer’s purpose to trace in detail all the
events which went to make up the history of the Packet Station at
Falmouth during the last century. Such a task would doubtless throw much
light on naval history, and some, perhaps, on other subjects not without
their share of interest. The materials are scanty, however, and the
record might be dreary reading. The personal recollections which would
have lit the story up and made it real are lost beyond recall. What has
come down to us is hardly more than the bald record of administrative
changes—at such a time there were two West India Packets, at another
four; under one regime they touched at Charlestown and Pensacola, while
under its successor their voyages were restricted. There were such
changes of rule in regard to victualling the sailors, such and such
difficulties in controlling them; and so on. It is nothing but an arid
waste of technicalities, almost devoid of interest save for the
professed student of naval or commercial history.

One or two facts stand out from this mass of detail, and arrest
attention as we pass it by. There is the occasional mention of a sea
fight, in which so many men (in proportion to the number of the crew)
were killed and wounded, as to create a strong desire to know the
details.

Thus, an order of the Postmaster General, dated May 16th, 1744, recounts
that a petition has been received from one Hannah Christophers, widow of
Joseph Christophers, who lost his life on June 24th, 1740, on board the
“Townshend” Packet, Captain John Cooper, in an engagement against the
Spaniards, wherein five men (whose names are given) received “several
grievous wounds in defence of the Packet, and afterwards suffered a long
and cruel imprisonment of sixteen months.” By the rules and customs of
His Majesty’s service, the order goes on to observe, these poor men are
entitled to “some bounty or allowance for their comfort and support”;
and the Postmaster General, having in mind this laudable usage, and
moreover, “having in part experienced it will be impossible to carry on
the sea service of this office without great difficulty, danger, and
interruption, unless some such encouragement be constantly given in the
like cases,” proceed to award bounties ranging from £4 to £10, and in
one case even a pension of no less amount than £4 per annum!

We shall hear further of the “Townshend” Packet, for the mantle of
Captain John Cooper descended on the commander of another “Townshend,”
by whom some seventy years later a great action was fought against
hopeless odds with such determined bravery as must be admitted to
surpass any other recorded achievement of the Post-Office fleet.

Again, on July 25th, 1759, it is ordered that Captain John Jones be
allowed £100 for his gallant defence of the “Fawkener” Packet, when
attacked by a large French sloop of twelve carriage guns and upwards of
one hundred men between Barbados and Antigua; and three years later the
same sum was awarded to Captain Bonell, for bravery and good conduct in
action with a French Privateer.

Many more such quickly jotted entries of the perils of brave men can be
traced in the ancient records. The details of their conduct were allowed
to perish. The question of account alone survives. Enough has been said
however to show that from the outset the Falmouth Packets formed a
fighting service, that is to say, a service which was frequently called
upon to fight, and understood how to acquit itself when occasion arose.

It is true that the Packet officers were not allowed to seek
engagements; and this rule, though obviously necessary, seeing that the
safety of the mails was the sole object of the Service, proved most
difficult to enforce. The difficulty was not caused by any especial
unruliness on the part of the Falmouth officers. It grew from a much
deeper root, and flourished in the natural tendency of all mankind to
pick up any articles of value which can, even by a stretch of
conscience, be regarded as fair prize.

A long succession of years of peace has so confirmed the sacredness of
the principles of _meum_ and _tuum_ in the minds of most of us, that it
is not easy to realize how far they were undermined in days of war,
especially upon the high seas. The world has grown very punctilious, and
looks askance on even honest privateering, while piracy is universally
held to deserve no better fate than a post and chains in Execution Dock.
In the last century these excellent sentiments were by no means
generally entertained, at any rate in quarters where they were likely to
be acted on. Among men of the sea, the ocean was regarded in the light
of a great lucky bag, into which you thrust your hand and pulled out the
best thing you could find. If the thing belonged to your neighbour, so
much the worse for him. He should have kept his guns in better practice,
and trained his men more carefully to the use of small arms.

Now there were sailing on the seas in those days a considerable number
of ill-defended ships which were so very valuable as to make a poor
sailor’s mouth water and his fingers tingle. Of the wealth of the
Spanish treasure ships every one has heard. The sums they are reported
to have carried in their clumsy holds sound fabulous even to us as we
read of them in the sober light of history; and exaggerated as they
doubtless were in the heated atmosphere of a Falmouth tavern, where
every sailor strove to surpass his neighbour in marvellous tales of the
sea, these reports must have seemed to many a poor Packet captain to
open a road to untold wealth. Such galleons were captured very easily
sometimes. A little disguise to make the Packet look like a sloop of
war, a bold onset, a desperate boarding assault, and the prize would be
won. Many a well-armed vessel had been taken by a handful of men!
England was at war with Spain during a great part of the last century;
and did not that fact make the Spanish argosies the fair prize of any
Englishman who could seize them?

Whether, under the influence of such considerations, a treasure ship was
ever taken by a Packet, is not mentioned in the scanty records. But it
is certain that a good deal of piracy in a quiet way was done by the
Falmouth commanders, especially early in the century, when the control
from headquarters was lax, and the necessity of watching the use made of
the armaments supplied by the Government was not clearly seen. The
officers showed a disposition to call the irregularity “privateering”;
but a vessel which takes prizes without a license from the Crown is a
Pirate, not a Privateer, and the Packets never held such licenses.

Of course without a license there was a difficulty in disposing of a
captured vessel. The intervention of the Admiralty Court could not be
sought, unless indeed it was possible to represent the Packet as having
been attacked, and as having captured her prize in self-defence. The
Admiralty Courts were not models of incorruptibility, as all who
recollect Lord Cochrane’s descriptions of them will allow, and doubtless
did not inquire too closely into any plausible story. But if the matter
would not bear even their examination, there were a dozen ports known to
all sailors where a vessel and her cargo could be sold without any
questions asked.

Of course these practices, however full of charm for the officers who
profited by them, were very strongly condemned by the Postmaster
General, who had to consider only the safety of the mails, and to guard
against the chance of heavy claims being made upon the Government for
the value of captured Packets. As far as was possible, therefore, they
forbade piracy and punished the offenders; and yet the frequency of the
offence is pretty clearly shown by the fact that it was constantly being
adduced as the best of all reasons for not arming the Packets heavily.
About the year 1780, as was detailed before a committee of the House of
Commons, a sailor called at the General Post-Office, to announce the
capture of the Packet in which he sailed. He described the gallant stand
which his officers and his fellow seamen had made against hopeless odds,
spoke feelingly of the cruel captivity they had undergone, in which some
of them were still languishing, exhibited the scar of the wound he had
received, and confidently claimed the “smart money” which he had earned
so well.

The story was imposing, but it did not survive cross-examination.
Something suggested suspicion; and by degrees the true facts were wormed
out of the brave fellow. It was quite true that his Packet had been
captured. In the early dawn of a certain summer morning, as the Packet
was running towards New Orleans, she descried two innocent-looking
vessels lying-to off the shore. They were remarkably like sugar ships,
such as would fetch a substantial sum, if sold judiciously; and being
traders, were doubtless well within the power of the Falmouth vessel,
which accordingly ran down, and sent a shot across their bows, only to
find the strangers were a French frigate and her consort, which quickly
turned the tables on their presumptuous adversary.

Of course in such a case as this the Government would admit no claim for
the value of the Packet lost by gross misconduct, and it may probably be
assumed that the money loss thus thrown upon the owners was not the only
punishment imposed. There were cases, however, in which conduct equally
irregular, but which happened to succeed, was entirely condoned; and a
striking instance of this leniency shown towards success occurred in the
year 1808, at a time when several years of strong administration had
purified the Packet Service of many of its blemishes. It may be safely
concluded that for every such case occurring in the present century,
there were half a dozen in the last.

It was a Harwich Packet which was concerned in this curious case; and it
may be that the Postmaster General thought it unnecessary to apply a
strict rule to a station on which the Packets came but rarely into
conflict with the enemy. The circumstances were as follows:—

On June 16th, 1808, the “Earl of Leicester,” Captain Anthony Hammond,
homeward bound from Gothenburg with mails and passengers, was met about
ten leagues to the westward of the Scaw by a gale of wind which obliged
her to bear away for Marstrand. On the way thither she encountered two
Danish vessels laden with corn from Jutland for their army in Norway.
Now, under his instructions Captain Hammond had nothing to do with these
vessels, but to leave them alone. It is true this country was at war
with Denmark at the time; but the “Earl of Leicester” was neither one of
H.M. cruisers, nor a letter of marque, and had no business to involve
herself in the matter. Captain Hammond never asserted that the Danish
vessels attacked him. Indeed both he and they had quite enough to do at
the moment with their own affairs, for a full gale of wind was blowing,
and all the ships were labouring heavily. Nevertheless Captain Hammond,
it being as he said “too rough to board them,” ordered them to regard
themselves as prizes, and to follow him.

The two Danish ships being unarmed had no choice but to obey these
orders, and Captain Hammond made joyfully for Marstrand with his prizes.
He had not proceeded very far when one of them flew signals of distress,
and made known that she was in danger of sinking. Captain Hammond
lowered a boat and at great risk took the crew out of the foundering
vessel, which went down as soon as the boat had got clear of her. The
remaining prize duly reached Marstrand, and was handed over to the
British Consul at that port, to await the decision of the Admiralty
Court. The crews of both vessels were liberated, on giving a promise to
do their utmost to secure the release of the crew of the “Unity” Packet,
captured in the previous November.

On board the “Earl of Leicester” were three Swedish passengers, who were
so far from feeling satisfied with Captain Hammond’s conduct on this
occasion that they addressed a special letter of complaint to the
Postmaster General. In this letter they by no means admit that the
prizes were picked up by Captain Hammond as he went along, in the casual
way detailed by him, without delay or interruption to his voyage. On the
contrary, they assert roundly, that he chased the two little vessels
during a whole night, keeping up a continual fire both of cannon and
musketry; that the “Earl of Leicester” was far past Schagen when the
prizes were first seen, which of itself proved that Captain Hammond put
in to Marstrand with no other motive than that of realizing them secure;
and they add: “On account of this chase and capture, in which, in our
opinion, Packets have no right to engage, our voyage to England was
entirely broken off, because, during the above hostile operations, we
were in continual anxiety and fear, loaded guns being carried about in
the cabin where we lay, and several shots fired from them; and we had
reason to fear that the war-like scene might soon be acted again,
wherefore we did not venture to pursue our voyage on board the said
Packet, but returned to Gothenburg.”

Captain Hammond, in reply to these charges, maintained that three
gentlemen who, by their own admission, were extremely frightened, and to
his knowledge were also lamentably sea-sick, were not the most
trustworthy witnesses of what occurred, and with this argument, together
with some evidence that the return to Marstrand was really made
necessary by the weather, the Postmaster General remained content. The
matter was dropped; and Captain Hammond, after waiting some five years,
during which time the Admiralty Courts considered his case in their
pleasant, leisurely way, received the value of the prize.

Smuggling was a practice very frequently charged against the Packet
Service by its critics who, towards the end of the last century, raised
an outcry loud enough to become heard in Parliament. It may be feared
that the charge was by no means groundless. Indeed it would be strange
if it were, seeing that throughout the west of England, if not
elsewhere, the game of eluding the revenue laws was played with infinite
zest and enjoyment by all classes of society. Falmouth itself was a nest
of smugglers. The old town was full of hiding-places. The women entered
into the sport with audacious ingenuity; and probably there was neither
man, woman, nor child in the town, with the possible exception of the
revenue officers, who did not regard the success of a smuggler as a
triumph for his kind against men who were scarcely to be distinguished
from foreign enemies.

It is true there was a high officer of the Post-Office at Falmouth,
whose duty it was to discover malpractices of every kind, and report
them to the Postmaster General. The contractor, from whom the Packets
were hired at their first institution, had long since disappeared.

The Packets were hired from the commanders; and over these officers was
set an agent, to whom each one of them was responsible for his actions.
This agent was not Postmaster. His duties did not extend beyond the
foreign mails and the conduct of the Packet officers and seamen. He was
the link which united the sea service with the internal system of the
Post-Office. His duties were multifarious and of the greatest
consequence to the welfare of the service.

It is perfectly clear that the duties of a controlling officer cannot be
properly performed unless he keeps his affairs and interests totally
distinct from those of his subordinates. The misfortune was that the
agents at Falmouth in the last century could not grasp this principle,
but departed from it so far as to have trading relations with the
commanders. The agent dealt in naval stores: the commanders supplied
their Packets with spars and cordage from his stock.

This was not the only way in which the agent’s affairs became entangled
with those of the men he was placed at Falmouth to control. The Packets,
though nominally owned by the commanders, with whom the Government
contracted for their hire, were in most cases really the property of a
syndicate, or of private individuals, who put forward the commander to
represent them, on condition of receiving the larger part of the
emoluments. This capitalist in the background was frequently no other
than the agent himself.

Relations such as these of course rendered it very difficult for the
agent to perform the duties of his position at all effectually, and, as
a matter of fact, he did not so perform them. Abuses of every kind crept
into the Falmouth service. The captains were subjected to gross
extortions by the agent, who in turn relaxed discipline in any way they
might desire. If, for instance, it occurred to any commander, that by
sailing with a few men short of his complement, he could save their
victualling allowances and so increase his own profits; the agent, whose
duty it was to muster the men immediately before sailing, would either
neglect the muster altogether, or else make it, and be careful not to
see the shore-boat which, immediately afterwards, took off three or four
of the men who had answered to their names. If the captain wished to
stay ashore, whilst his Packet went to sea, the agent would accept and
forward to London a certificate that he was ill, without asking any
questions either as to the nature of the illness or the qualifications
of the person appointed to command the ship, who was not infrequently a
common seaman. If the captain had received from some Bristol merchant a
larger consignment of goods to be sold on commission at Lisbon or
Barbados than his vessel ought to carry, the agent would still certify
that she was in trim when she left Falmouth harbour, and had nothing on
board which could impede her sailing. In fact, there were a hundred ways
in which the agent could oblige those captains who dealt largely with
him; and without attempting to go more deeply into the events of the
last century, it may fairly be doubted, in the light of the scandals
discovered in its closing years, whether misconduct far grosser than any
here indicated was not practised by the commanders and tolerated by the
agent.

This is a matter which will be dealt with more fully in succeeding
chapters. Enough has been said to show that the state of affairs at
Falmouth was unsatisfactory to the last degree; and while it may very
probably be that a considerable number of individuals acted with
scrupulous fidelity to their trust, there is no doubt whatever that very
many betrayed it systematically.

Of course, a strong administration from headquarters would have changed
all this. But the General Post-Office itself was by no means exempt from
the taint which had fastened on Falmouth. There was scarcely a single
official, from the secretary down to the door-keepers, who did not own
shares in the Packets, and each one of them was for ever trying to
secure advantages for the particular vessel in which he was interested.
The ancient system of paying the clerks merely nominal salaries, and
leaving in their hands privileges and perquisites out of which they were
expected to make their chief, if not their sole, remuneration, produced
its natural effect in causing every officer to judge upon departmental
matters in the light of his own pecuniary advantage; and, in short, it
can only be said that when the outcry in Parliament, which has been
mentioned already, made itself heard, it was high time for some change
to occur.

In truth, the end of an age of corruption was approaching. In all
departments of Government a purer atmosphere was spreading. The
Post-Office was no worse than other public offices. It was what the
spirit of the times had made it, and it did but partake of the vices
which were characteristic of the age. The old, bad system was everywhere
breaking down, crushing individuals beneath it, as such rotten growths
will when they fall at length. At Falmouth, a certain agent went too
far. The unsavoury story need not be probed. Even at the time, as would
appear, the facts were not fully disclosed; for it no sooner became
plain that a searching inquiry into the agent’s conduct would be made,
than the miserable man shut himself up in his office and blew his brains
out.

That tragic occurrence marked, or coincided with, a turning point in the
history of the Packet Service. On one side lies corrupt and slovenly
administration, with its natural sequel of scandals and disorder. On the
other can be traced the commencement of earnest endeavours for reform,
the springing up of patient and honest striving after an ideal; and as
the course of events in the Packet Service is followed from this moment
through the forty years or so which intervened before the control passed
from the hands of the Post-Office, the effect of these endeavours
becomes continually more manifest, till they culminate at last in
something resembling absolute success.

This is the story told in the ensuing pages. It is taken up from the
year 1793, because that year, the first of the great struggle for
mastery on which no Englishman can look back without pride, serves well
to mark the commencement of the new order of things. Moreover, much more
is to be known about the Packet Service from 1793 onwards than can be
gleaned concerning the earlier period. The departmental records are
fairly complete thenceforward; some account, at least, of every sea
fight is preserved; and among piles of brown and dusty papers, from some
of which the ink is fading fast, there has lain untouched for ninety
years, not only the story of a piece of administrative work, as
difficult and as useful to this country as any that has ever been
carried through by patient effort, but also a whole series of naval
actions, of which the Post-Office was once proud, and of which
Cornishmen are proud still, though they have forgotten the details of
most.



                              CHAPTER III.
                             A FIRMER RULE.


At the beginning of the year 1793, then, while the relations of this
country with France were quickly growing desperate, the two statesmen
who, according to the custom of the time, jointly filled the office of
Postmaster General, were engaged in endeavouring to set their Department
in order, and to reduce the expenses of administration, as the House of
Commons Committee had directed.

The difficulty of any interference in a system which had grown up
through a whole century was obviously very great. Malpractices which
four generations of officers at Falmouth had learned to regard as their
natural privileges would not be given up at the first word of rebuke
from headquarters. The profits of smuggling would not be dropped without
a struggle. Laxity of discipline, remissness, carelessness of the credit
of the Department—these were faults which, where they existed, could be
cured only by a firm rule and in course of years. One decision had,
however, been taken, and was already being carried out, from which
important results proceeded, and which upon the whole effected much
good.

Throughout the whole existence of the Falmouth Packets up to this time
it had scarcely been questioned that on the long Atlantic voyages the
safety of the mails was directly proportionate to the heaviness of the
armament. The West India merchants were perpetually forcing this point
on the Postmaster General, and whenever a mail for Barbados or Jamaica
was lost, the General Post-Office was beset with an indignant throng of
merchants, loudly demanding that more and more guns should be assigned
to every Packet which had to run the gauntlet of the West India Islands.

The influence of wealthy merchants upon the Post-Office is perhaps in
our own day as great as is convenient. But a hundred years ago it was
infinitely greater. For the General Post-Office, which has now grown
into something resembling a populous town, was then itself scarcely
larger than the office of any considerable merchant. Between St.
Martin’s le Grand, as we know it, and the office of whatever city firm,
there may be interchange of views, but there can be no intimate
association; and it is exactly this which existed between the
Post-Office in Lombard Street, in 1793, and the neighbouring offices,
which were as large, if not as important, as itself.

The Post-Office Packets in those days were carriers of news as well as
of the mails. The officers had instructions to record most carefully in
their journals full details of any events of public importance occurring
in the countries which they visited. These journals, which frequently
contained news later and more authentic than any which had yet reached
London, were sent up from Falmouth immediately after the arrival of the
Packets, and lay at the Post-Office open to the inspection of the
merchants, who were thus continually in the office, inquiring and
commenting on every detail connected with the administration of the
Packets, proffering suggestions, and criticizing in season and out of
season.

This constant association with the clerks of the Post-Office placed in
the hands of the West India merchants very great opportunities of
pressing their views about the armament of the Packets, and they did
press them with such pertinacity and vehemence that it must have
required courage on the part of Lords Chesterfield and Carteret to
announce the resolution not to increase those armaments, but to cut them
down, and to send the Packets to sea in future totally unfit to resist
Privateers of their own size.

Such was the new policy, arranged in concert with the Navy Board. It was
not lacking in audacity. The Packets stationed at Falmouth were of
different sizes and varying rig. In future, all new vessels were to be
of a certain fixed design, of 179 tons burden, carrying a crew of
twenty-eight men and boys, with four 4–pounders, two 6–pounders, for use
as chasers, and a proportionate quantity of small arms.

A vessel armed and manned in this way was clearly not a fair match for
any but the smallest class of French or Spanish Privateer. My Lords the
Postmaster General admitted this, and stated that their reliance was on
the capacity of the new Packets to outsail their enemies. The most
patient thought had been given to the selection of the model. It was
believed that vessels built on the new design would outsail most things
afloat, and in order to give them a fair chance of doing so they were to
carry as little weight of metal as possible. If they could keep off
row-boats on entering or leaving the channel, more was scarcely expected
of them save in the last resort. The commander’s duties were summed up
in this formula, “You must run where you can. You must fight when you
can no longer run, and when you can fight no more you must sink the
mails before you strike.”

Here at one blow perished the system of Privateering in the Packet
Service. A ship armed so lightly could not afford to cruise after
prizes, but was sufficiently concerned with her own safety.

The West India merchants prophesied disaster, and indeed it seems that
the Postmaster General in framing their plans were not untainted by the
proverbially excessive zeal of the convert. The events of the next few
years certainly suggest that the point of safety had been passed in
reducing the armaments; and all the changes effected by further
experience throughout the war were in the direction of increase.

Such as the system was, however, it was established, and My Lords had no
time to discuss its merits or defects. The declaration of war burst upon
them before their plans were executed, and forthwith the General
Post-Office was beset with armourers and powder merchants, while the
clerks were called off from handling letters and newspapers to discuss
the pattern of a boarding pike, or to consult with Mr. Nock about the
quality of the pistols which he had supplied.

Not one of the Packets had received its armament when the war broke out.
It had not lasted three weeks when an incident occurred which showed how
little time there was to waste.

The declaration of war had been immediately followed by a general
embargo on shipping, but, in pursuance of an agreement between the
French and English Governments, an order in Council exempted from this
embargo Packets, and bye boats (vessels hired temporarily for the Postal
Service), and announced that they were to continue to run for some time
longer.

Under this agreement the “Despatch,” a Dover Packet, commanded by
Captain John Osborn, set sail as usual; but on February 20th, while
lying in Ostend Roads, she was summoned to surrender by a French
Privateer. Captain Osborn had no means of resistance. His protests were
disregarded, his ship was seized, and he with his crew were made
prisoners of war.

The “Despatch” was carried into Dunkirk, and, despite the remonstrances
of the British Government, was condemned as a prize. Captain Osborn was
exchanged within a few weeks of his capture, but his crew were less
fortunate. One of his sailors, after remaining in prison for nearly
three years, during the whole of which period, if his statement may be
trusted, he supported life on a handful of horse beans, served out every
twenty-four hours, and a small allowance of dirty water, came over to
England in a cartel in December, 1795. The rest of the crew were then
still in prison, and probably remained there until peace was declared in
1802.

Under the stimulus of this unfortunate event the work of arming the
Packets proceeded briskly. The guns and small arms for the Falmouth
boats were shipped on board a vessel lying in the Thames, and after a
series of irritating delays, caused chiefly by the necessity of waiting
for convoy, reached their destination towards the end of March. The few
guns needed for the Harwich Packets were soon provided. It had been
intended to give them 4–pounders, but the commanders objected, declaring
that four 2–pounders each were as much as their ships could carry. This
was probably true enough, for the North Sea Packets ranged only from
fifty to eighty tons burden. And indeed they had small need for heavy
armaments, for though they doubtless had occasionally to skirmish with
row-boats it does not appear that throughout the war any one of these
Packets was attacked, or at least seriously engaged on the high seas—a
somewhat remarkable immunity, which is perhaps to be accounted for
partly by their own excellence of sailing, and partly by the
thoroughness with which the important trade route over which their
various voyages were made was patrolled by British cruisers.

It had not been customary in former wars to arm the Holyhead and Dublin
boats, but a few light guns were now allowed to them, as well as to
those from Port Patrick to Donaghadee. The Packets running between
Milford Haven and Waterford were somewhat more exposed to the attacks of
Privateers, which might be expected to hang about the entrance to St.
George’s Channel in the hope of intercepting the shipping out of
Bristol, but here a curious difficulty was raised by the proprietors, a
body of merchants, nineteen in number. All but six of these gentlemen
were members of the Society of Friends, and, being sincerely convinced
of the sinfulness of war, they put in a decided objection against the
proposal to provide their vessels with implements of strife and
destruction.

The Postmaster General proceeded to reason with these ardent theorists,
and pointed out that as, by the existing rule, the Department was bound
to pay the value of captured Packets it was but reasonable that it
should be allowed, at its own cost, to protect them. The men of peace,
touched by the financial argument, admitted this, but retorted that if
only the Government would refrain from the wickedness of placing guns
and cutlasses in the hands of their sailors, they, that is to say the
thirteen Quaker proprietors, would waive all claim to compensation in
the event of capture. It was true, they admitted, that the six
proprietors who were not Quakers were by no means ready to make this
sacrifice, but the Government, they urged, might fairly be expected to
risk the liability for six-nineteenths of the loss when a principle was
at stake.

By this time, however, the Postmaster General had become tired of the
discussion, and closed it with a brief intimation that if the Packets
were not armed the contract would be withdrawn, and in view of this
unsympathetic attitude the Quakers sold their shares and retired from
the concern.

That the unwarlike attitude of the Quakers was by no means always
accompanied by any want of natural courage was demonstrated not long
after this period by a certain inhabitant of Falmouth, an old and
greatly respected member of the Society of Friends. This gentleman held
the appointment of surgeon to the Post-Office establishment, and was one
day cruising on board a Packet when a French Privateer hove in sight. It
was obvious that there was going to be a fight; and the commander,
knowing his passenger’s principles, suggested that he had better go
below. The doctor, a fine tall man, declined to budge from the deck; and
the captain thereupon offered him a cutlass and pistol, observing that
as he intended to remain in the way of danger, he might at least use
weapons in self-defence. But this suggestion also the doctor refused to
entertain; and, standing quite unarmed on the quarter-deck, he remained
an interested and placid spectator of the action. After a sharp
cannonade, the French vessel hurled her boarders into the Packet. The
doctor showed no sign of excitement as he saw the fierce St. Malo men
swarming up the sides, cutlass in hand; but when, a moment later, a
swarthy giant came clambering up unperceived, at a point where there was
no one to resist him, the doctor calmly stepped forward, threw his arms
round the astonished Frenchman with a grip few men could have resisted,
and saying, gently, “Friend, thee makes a mistake, this is not thy
ship,” tossed him into the sea.

The work of armament was complete at last. The Packets, armed on the new
system, sailed on their distant journeys; and at the General Post-Office
there was no more to do than to await the reports how they fared.

The interval of waiting must have been full of anxiety. It was generally
known that the number of French Privateers which were being sent out
from St. Malo, Bordeaux, Nantes, and a dozen other ports, to prey on
British commerce was beyond all precedent. Many of these Privateers
cruised with the express intention of intercepting the Packets,
attracted not only by the bullion which the Falmouth vessels frequently
had on board, but even more by the hope of intercepting the Government
despatches, and of striking blows at British trade by sending mercantile
correspondence to the bottom of the sea.

How seriously such disasters were felt in the City of London the
Postmaster General knew well; and they knew too that the West India
merchants, those unfriendly critics who were constantly at their side,
would pounce unmercifully on the first misfortune, and declare that the
new system had broken down. Month after month went by, however, and no
bad news reached Lombard Street. Packet after Packet came into port, and
recorded uneventful voyages. Some had been chased, a few had exchanged
shots with an enemy; but not one had been seriously engaged, or had
experienced the least difficulty in escaping an antagonist; and the end
of the year came before any Packet crept in beneath Pendennis Castle
with battered sides, and sails torn by shot.

The “Antelope” Packet was commanded by Captain Kempthorne, a member of
an old Cornish family which for many generations gave the navy some of
its best officers. Captain Kempthorne, by some accident which he
regretted during the short remainder of his life, had remained at home,
and given over the command of his ship to Mr. Edward Curtis, the master,
an officer of courage and discretion.

Under the charge of her acting commander, the “Antelope” was off
Cumberland Harbour, in Jamaica, homeward bound, when she fell in with
two schooners which at once gave chase. This was on the 1st December.
Mr. Curtis put the ship to her best point of sailing, and she behaved so
well that throughout the day the Cornishmen felt no doubt of being able
to shake off their enemies. On the following morning one of the
schooners was out of sight, but the other held on, and about four P.M.
opened fire with her bow chasers. The “Antelope” replied smartly with
all the guns she could bring to bear; and the Privateer, finding there
was to be no bloodless victory, dropped astern, with the evident design
of waiting for daylight before she commenced the action. Fearing a
surprise, Mr. Curtis kept his men at their quarters throughout the
night. The hours of waiting must have been trying to the nerve of the
Falmouth men; but all was quiet until five A.M. At that hour the
Privateer (her name was the “Atalanta”) suddenly ran down, aided by her
sweeps, for the wind had dropped, and, laying herself alongside the
“Antelope” to starboard, she poured in a broadside, which was promptly
returned, and immediately a furious discharge of cannon and small arms
set in on both sides. Under cover of the smoke the “Atalanta” cast out
grappling irons and locked herself to the Packet, and at the same
moment, by a shrill signal, her boarders were called to their stations.

Mr. Curtis was perfectly alive to the danger of his position. Some of
his hands having been disabled by fever, he had but twenty-two men fit
for service, counting the surgeon as a combatant; and a single glance
was sufficient to show that the French were in much greater numbers.
There was no chance of avoiding the assault, now that the grappling
irons were securely fixed: yet, if the Privateersmen made good their
footing on the deck of the Packet, the Cornishmen were tolerably certain
to be overwhelmed by numbers.

At the moment when Mr. Curtis was watching the boarders congregating on
the quarter, it was reported to him that a second party was forming at
the bow. The Packetsmen were all too few to resist a single attack, and
the design of the enemy clearly was to keep the whole force occupied at
the stern, while a second party clambered over the bow nettings
unresisted, and took the Cornishmen in the rear. Mr. Curtis hurried
forward. There was not an instant to lose. The boarders were already
mounting the bulwarks of their own ship. Some fifteen in number, they
crowded together in a dense body, and in another instant would have
leapt at the “Antelope,” when Mr. Curtis brought his two bow guns to
bear upon them, double-shotted with round and grape. At that short range
the discharge of these guns created terrible havoc, and killed or
disabled the whole of the opposing party.

One peril had been successfully overcome, and the pressing danger was
now on the starboard quarter, against which the attack had been
delivered before Mr. Curtis could regain his quarter-deck. There was no
gun which could be brought to bear, and the boarders consequently met
with no obstacle in climbing up the side. Here, however, in the breezy
language of the boatswain, John Pasco, “they were deceived by our
boarding nettings and handspikes,” and after a desperate scuffle half of
them were shot or thrust into the sea, while the remainder were glad
enough to regain their own ship.

So far, fortune had favoured the Cornishmen; but success had been bought
at a heavy price. Mr. Curtis lay dead on the deck—shot while encouraging
his men without regard for his personal danger. The steward and a
passenger were also killed; while the mate was so severely wounded as to
be incapable of taking command of the ship, or indeed of giving any
orders at all. The command thus devolved upon Pasco, the boatswain, an
illiterate fellow, who could not write his name, but who in this
emergency displayed the qualities of a brave sailor, and a born leader
of men. He assumed the responsibility thus suddenly thrust on him
without hesitation, and gave orders for a continuous fire of musketry to
be maintained upon anything which showed itself on the French vessel’s
decks. The “Antelope” was considerably higher than her antagonist, and
the Cornish marksmen were thus under cover, while the decks of the
“Atalanta” were swept by their bullets. At the same time a sharp
cannonade was maintained, and by an unfortunate shot one of the
“Antelope’s” guns was dismounted, whereupon Henry Bond, a seaman,
believed to be one of the strongest men in England, coolly took up the
gun in his arms, remounted it under a heavy fire, and returned to his
post unharmed.

The effect of the musketry fire maintained by the Cornishmen was now
beginning to show. The French were growing restless under it; and their
officers, seeing that they were losing heavily, ordered the boarders
forward once more. Pasco and his little crew were ready for them when
they came, pleased to return to the occupation of “deceiving” the French
with a handspike; and the end of it was that the boarders were driven
back with great loss, but once more at a heavy cost, for three of the
brave Packetsmen were disabled in the fight.

By this time the spirit of the French was daunted. They had lost all
hope of capturing the “Antelope,” and, casting loose the grapplings,
endeavoured to sheer off. Now was the time for Pasco to bear in mind the
new official maxim, that commanders of Packets were not expected to
resist an enemy of equal force. He had suffered heavy losses, he had but
a handful of men fit for service, he had earned distinction by his brave
defence, and if he let the French vessel go, he had nothing but credit
to expect. But the man’s blood was up, and he meant to carry the affair
through. The moment he saw the vessels separating, he sprang into the
rigging, ran up aloft, and lashed the “Atalanta’s” squaresail yard to
the “Antelope’s” fore shrouds.

  “Thereupon,” to quote his own words once more, “we found the fire
  slacken, which greatly encouraged us. We kept up a constant fire for
  half an hour more, when we had the pleasure of hearing them cry for
  mercy. But to all appearance they deserved none, nor expected any,
  as some of them jumped overboard and drowned themselves, for their
  bloody flag was nailed to the masthead. They were ordered to tear it
  down, and we took possession, which it was lucky was so soon; for
  our mainsail, nettings, quarter cloths, and hammocks were on fire,
  which in the midst of the fire and smoke was not seen. To save the
  ship we were obliged to cut all away.”

Thus ended this gallant action. When Pasco and his men had leisure to
examine their prize, they found that out of her crew of sixty-five men
only sixteen remained unhurt, while no less than thirty-two lay dead
upon the deck. Of the “Antelope’s” crew only two were slain, namely, Mr.
Curtis and the steward; though Mr. Walpole, the surgeon, afterwards
died, exhausted, as would appear, by the fatigue of attending on so many
wounded men.

In James’ _Naval History_ (vol. i., p. 111), where this action is
briefly described, it is stated that the “Atalanta” carried eight
3–pounders, and the “Antelope” six. If this is correct, the “Antelope”
had not yet been armed on the new principle described in the preceding
pages. She was an old vessel, and it may have been thought wiser to
leave her armaments unaltered.

When the circumstances of the action became known, the public enthusiasm
rose to a height which seems in the retrospect a little overstrained,
but which may certainly be accepted as a proof of the high degree of
importance attached to the preservation of the mails. The news,
moreover, reached England at a time when no great naval engagement had
taken place, and when the success of several single ship actions had
whetted the public appetite for glory without satisfying it. There was,
too, something in the circumstances which touched the imagination; for
it was not every day, even in the years of our greatest sea-fights, that
a ship was brought out of action by her boatswain. It was seriously
proposed to strike a medal in Pasco’s honour. The Jamaica House of
Representatives voted five hundred guineas to be distributed among the
crew. The Society for Encouraging the Capture of French Privateers—it
was a Committee of Lloyds—granted a substantial sum for the same
purpose, in addition to a gold boatswain’s call which they presented to
Pasco, who was also rewarded by the Postmaster General with another
similar call; while “smart money” and pensions were granted on the
highest scale consistent with the regulations.

Even in distributing these rewards the Postmaster General found an
opportunity for asserting their new principle. The Secretary’s letter to
the agent at Falmouth ran as follows: “But Mr. Pender must let it be
thoroughly understood amongst the officers and crews that these rewards
are given only in consequence of the particular circumstances attending
this glorious action, in which the “Antelope” was first chased from nine
o’clock A.M. December 1st to December 2nd, when she was obliged to
defend herself against an attack, but did not first attack an enemy. For
the Postmaster General by no means intend to depart from the principle
which they have been ordered to adopt, of considering it to be the duty
of the Packets to outsail the enemy whenever they can, and by no means
to fight when it can possibly be avoided.” In such terms the Secretary
pointed his moral, perhaps a little incautiously. How his instructions
were interpreted will appear hereafter.

Before leaving the subject of the “Antelope’s” action, it must be
observed that the newspapers of the time were full of praise of the
extraordinary bravery of a certain M. Nodin, a passenger, formerly a
midshipman in the French navy. The circumstances, if true, are
remarkable enough; but there is still in existence an official copy of a
declaration signed by Pasco himself and by the gunner of the “Antelope,”
in which the whole story is denied. M. Nodin resented this disparaging
deposition, and threatened proceedings against the two petty officers
for defaming his character, a suit which the Postmaster General
described as “absurd,” and which does not seem to have been proceeded
with. It is quite clear that the Post-Office authorities did not believe
the story of M. Nodin’s prowess. The matter might not have been worth
mentioning had not the tale acquired authority by being set forth by
James (_Naval History_, vol. i., p. 112). The authors and upholders of
the new system were, doubtless, cheered and encouraged by this action,
which seemed to show that great results might be achieved with even
smaller armaments than those recommended for the new Packets. The fact
that one of the oldest and worst equipped ships had won this striking
success was hailed as a happy augury; and so the old year went out among
mutual congratulations and good hope for the future.

The sunshine was of short duration. The storm was rising already. In the
first days of January the loss of the “Arab” was reported at the
Post-Office. The “Arab” was one of the new Packets, and her capture was
a serious misfortune. It appeared that she had been taken by a French
frigate, “L’Insurgente,” while on her homeward passage from Corunna on
Christmas Eve; and while it was evident that resistance would have been
a useless sacrifice of life, there was some disappointment on finding
that the “Arab’s” fine sailing qualities had not saved her.

Another disaster was quickly announced, though belonging this time more
plainly to the category of accident. The “Princess Augusta,” again one
of the new ships, caught fire while lying in the Tagus, and was
completely burned. This was a mere piece of bad luck; but so much could
not be said of the loss of the “Expedition,” which was carried into
Brest, in April, by a French frigate, which she had failed to outsail.
The matter was the more serious since not only one mail was lost, but
three, the scarcity of Packets having compelled the Post-Office agent at
Lisbon to despatch the mails of three successive weeks by a single ship.
The precaution commonly taken in those days of sending duplicates of all
despatches and important letters by the next mail following that which
had carried the originals was thus completely frustrated on this
occasion, and the inconvenience to the Government and the mercantile
community must have been immense.

To losses of this nature, however, of which, in these days, people
rarely think, the merchants of a hundred years ago were well accustomed;
and on the whole they endured them with exemplary patience. The
prevalent ideas of the risks of business were formed on the experience
of a century of almost constant war. So far, the losses of Packets had
been less numerous than in the last war; and there was, therefore, no
great degree of discontent.

In July, the “King George,” a Lisbon Packet commanded by Captain
Yescombe, was captured. She was about thirty leagues off Ushant, on her
homeward voyage from Lisbon, when she fell in with four large French
ships standing on the same tack. Captain Yescombe wore ship, and ran to
the southwest until he had lost sight of the enemy for an hour or more;
but had scarcely resumed his proper course when the four ships came in
sight again, followed by four more in the same quarter; and in trying to
avoid these squadrons, Captain Yescombe manœuvred himself into the jaws
of the French 40–gun ship “Unité”; whereupon he sank the mails and
despatches and struck his colours.

His experiences as a prisoner in France were rather curious. The “King
George” was carried into Brest, and after remaining some time at that
port, Captain Yescombe and his crew were sent to Quimper. It would
appear from his letters that the English sailors confined in the naval
prison of that town suffered great hardships, and that within nine weeks
of his arrival no less than three hundred out of the whole number died
miserably for want of proper food. From the risk of sharing their fate
Captain Yescombe was delivered by a singular piece of good fortune. A
lady residing near the prison, who happened to be related to the
Commissary in charge of the prisoners, became aware of his forlorn
condition, and obtained permission for him to lodge at her house. This
arrangement continued for several months, when Captain Yescombe managed
to escape, being, as he always maintained, not on parole at the time. He
made his way to Brest, where he remained concealed for several weeks;
and during this time he witnessed the sailing of the great fleet, which
got out of Brest on the 31st December, 1794, under the command of
Villaret Joyeuse; and gathered details concerning its composition and
equipment which afterwards proved of service to the British Government.
Towards the end of January he managed to obtain a passage across the
Channel, and landed at Plymouth, greatly broken in health by the
hardships he had undergone.

The romantic circumstances of this escape attracted attention both in
England and in France. In the newspapers of the latter country it was
indeed freely asserted that Captain Yescombe had broken his parole; and
though the Postmaster General accepted their officer’s assurances on
this point, yet the charge was so strongly asserted in France, and
threats were so publicly made of meting out rigorous treatment to
Captain Yescombe if he should again become a prisoner of war, that it
was thought more prudent to allow his duties to be discharged by deputy
for a time, and the “King George” accordingly sailed under command of
her master until peace was declared in 1802.



                              CHAPTER IV.
                       THE WEST INDIA MERCHANTS.


The period on which the Post-Office now entered was, as far as its
Foreign Mail Service was concerned, one of struggle and disaster. A long
series of calamities was at hand, sufficient to shake the faith of those
who trusted most firmly in the new system, and furnishing to those who
from the first disliked and feared it, a well-nigh inexhaustible supply
of arguments.

Before entering on this category of misfortunes it is necessary to
remark again that throughout the war terminated by the peace of Amiens
in 1802, the officers of the Falmouth station held a low standard of
duty. There were doubtless many individuals among them who, in the midst
of the prevailing laxity, maintained a more honourable course, and
discharged their duties with perfect fidelity and vigour; but the fact
that there was much ground for criticism in the conduct of the general
body is proved by the frequent recurrence of minutes such as the
following, inscribed in August, 1793, by command of the Postmaster
General:—“The Postmaster General cannot but lament when they look at the
absentee list of their captains in time of war, to see how many reasons
they are constantly urging to stay at home, and of how little use they
must consider their own presence at sea. There are now twelve Packets at
sea, and no less than ten of the captains of them ashore.” The excuses
urged were plausible enough; and it was only by considering them in the
aggregate that the Postmaster General could make plain their shifty
character. Remonstrances were frequent, but unavailing, and the
Postmaster General proceeded to use such modes of compulsion as occurred
to them.

Their first proceeding was to stop absolutely the comfortable old system
whereby all the superior officers of a Packet stayed at home at ease,
while the mails entrusted to them made their distant journey to Barbados
or Jamaica under the charge of a common seaman, who felt his way across
the Atlantic by rule of thumb. None of the officers lost a penny by this
arrangement. The captain, or the owners whom he represented, whose
profits were made largely out of the passengers and in a less degree out
of the sum paid for the hire of the Packet, with a small annual salary,
received every item of these amounts without deduction whether he made
the voyage or not; and in these circumstances the natural inclination of
mankind to turn their employments into sinecures was constantly
asserting itself at Falmouth. In fact, the idea that so long as the
commander, whether on board or not, was nominally responsible for the
safety of his ship, no further questions ought to be asked, seems to
have been elevated to the rank of an accepted principle of conduct at
Falmouth, recognized by agent and commanders alike.

There was therefore a good deal of indignation when, in 1793, the agent,
Mr. Pender, began to upset established practice, and went so far as to
lay down the rule that, in the absence of the commander, no officer of
lower rank than the master was to assume charge of a Packet. Mr. Pender
explained that he was acting under instructions from headquarters; but
the commanders could not believe that headquarters would be so
unreasonable; and it needed a sharp, peremptory minute from the
Postmaster General to convince them of the fact.

Of course this new arrangement was more costly to the commanders than
the old one, for the master would not act as the captain’s deputy
without receiving considerably more money than would have contented a
common sailor. At the same time the Postmaster General reached the
pockets of the absentee captains in another way, for they laid down that
any commander who, by shirking voyages in time of war, abrogated his
functions as a fighting officer, should receive only the salary paid in
times of peace, which was two pounds a month lower than the pay of the
war establishment.

These penalties bore too small a proportion to the whole income of the
Falmouth commanders to influence their conduct greatly, and matters,
therefore, went on very much as before. “The Postmaster General,” says a
minute of the latter part of 1793, “cannot help thinking there must be
some mistake about Captain D.’s application for leave, for, if they are
right, he has been ashore on private business since September 11th,
1792, and yet has asked leave to be ashore this voyage. If that is so,
they decidedly refuse him the leave he now asks for.” Captain D.
probably thought it wiser to accept this decision without protest, but,
whether by passive resistance or active subtlety, he certainly escaped
going to sea; and five years later another Postmaster General commented
on his proceedings in the following terms: “... We cannot forget that
Captain D. has been absent from his duty during many years, assigning no
other cause than the death of his mother _in 1792_. We shall be sorry
for new occasions to revert to this consideration. Such occasions may
lead to a decision that Captain Deake has not that due zeal for the
service which we are obliged to expect from those who remain in it.”
This incisive minute was penned by Lord Auckland, and its subtly-worded
reference to some “two-handed engine” which might yet operate on Captain
D. had the useful effect of frightening him back to his ship.

Such being the temper prevalent at Falmouth, good results were not to be
expected. It will be necessary to return to this subject in a later
chapter. It is now time to resume the catalogue of the various disasters
which befell the sea service of the Post-Office in the latter years of
the last century.

When the authorities at Lombard Street reviewed the events of the year
1794, they may have been, on the whole, fairly well satisfied with what
had occurred. It was true that since the loss of Captain Yescombe in the
“King George,” two other Packets had been captured, and one of these
misfortunes was especially regretted since it was no other than the
“Antelope,” the vessel fought so bravely in the previous year, which had
fallen into the hands of the enemy. The “Antelope” ended her career
without dishonour indeed, but yet ingloriously. She was on a voyage to
Halifax, under the personal command of her captain, William Kempthorne,
and on the 19th September became involved in a dense fog which lasted
many hours; when the fog cleared off Captain Kempthorne found himself
completely surrounded by a squadron of French frigates, against which it
would have been folly to resist. Accordingly he sank his mails, struck
his colours, and he with his brave crew became prisoners of war.

The Falmouth Service could ill have spared an officer of Captain
Kempthorne’s qualities, even for the limited period which might be
expected to elapse before he could be exchanged. But a worse misfortune
was at hand, for Captain Kempthorne had been no more than a few days in
the hands of the French when he fell ill of a putrid fever, and died
after a very short illness. No officer could have been more regretted,
for Captain Kempthorne, who had served in the navy as midshipman and
lieutenant, had in the last war fought one of the most notable actions
of which the Post-Office could boast, having sustained for some hours
and at last repulsed the joint attack of three American Privateers, of
which the smallest was of greater force than his own ship.

The same French squadron captured the “Thynne” Packet four days after
the “Antelope,” but the last four months of 1794 went by without further
mishap, and when the New Year arrived the retrospect must have been
fairly encouraging. Though four Packets had been captured no one of them
had fallen to a Privateer. Three had indeed been captured by squadrons
against which any armament conceivable would have proved useless, and,
on the whole, it might fairly be argued therefore that the new system
held its ground.

The time was at hand, however, in which this immunity from the ravages
of Privateers was to be broken. In the year 1795 the French turned their
chief attention to the task of destroying commerce, and their change of
policy makes itself felt at once in the records of the Post-Office, for
though the Packets captured in 1795 were again only four in number,
every one of them was taken by a Privateer, and in each case without a
fight.

This was certainly not very satisfactory, for if the qualities of the
new Packets, their sailing powers and their capacity for fighting in the
last resort, could not protect them against Privateers the model must
stand condemned. Questions doubtless arose in Lombard Street about the
bloodless nature of every one of these conquests, but no trace of such
discussions appears in the records. My Lords the Postmaster General had
certainly impressed on their commanders that their safety was in flight,
but they had not intended to convey that all the qualities of timid
animals were to be copied, and that the commanders were to give
themselves up for lost when overtaken.

In the following year (1796) the record is more pleasant to read. Three
Packets were captured, apparently without effective resistance, by
French Privateers, and one was seized by the Spaniards in Corunna
harbour upon the declaration of war with England; but there were three
gallant fights, which were the more welcome by reason of the fact that
during two years the commanders seemed to have forgotten that guns were
made to be fired.

Of the first of these encounters it happens unfortunately that no
details are preserved. It was fought by the “King George,” the Packet
nominally commanded by that Captain Yescombe whose romantic escape from
prison was mentioned in the last chapter, and a letter from him is still
in existence in which he speaks in the highest terms of the gallantry
displayed by Mr. Bett, the master, who was in command of the Packet, as
well as of the firmness with which he was supported by Mr. Jinkin, the
mate, and by all the ship’s crew. That these were not empty words is
proved by the return of casualties, which shows that though none of the
Packet’s men were killed, six were wounded, some dangerously. The action
was completely successful, and, even in the imperfect state of our
information regarding it, may be set down as deserving credit.

The other two actions were fought by the same Packet, and within three
weeks of each other. Both occurred, moreover, in those narrow seas of
the West Indian archipelago which, since the British were driven out of
Guadeloupe in December, 1794, had become doubly and trebly dangerous to
our commerce. The vessel engaged was the “Portland,” sailing under
command of her master, Mr. Nathaniel Taylor.

A young man, untried in the responsibilities of command, Mr. Taylor was
making his first voyage in charge of the “Portland”; and being, as the
scanty record tells us, engaged to be married on his return to Falmouth,
he was doubtless eagerly looking out for opportunities of distinction—an
aspiration which was destined to be amply gratified.

The “Portland” was somewhat more than a month out from Falmouth when, on
October 1st, 1796, she was attacked in the neighbourhood of Barbados by
a French Privateer which, after a close action of some duration, she
succeeded in repulsing, with the loss apparently of only one man.
Neither the name and force of the attacking vessel, nor any other
details of the fight, have been preserved; but if the “Portland” was not
outmatched in force, it can only be said that her antagonist was a much
smaller vessel than any other Privateer, French, Spanish, or American,
which came into conflict with a Packet throughout the war.

There were in fact few Privateers afloat which were not armed more
heavily than the Post-Office Packets. It could not be otherwise, for the
highwayman, whose arms were not superior to those of the peaceful
traveller, could expect neither a long nor a merry life, and would see
Tyburn earlier than he need.

It is certain, therefore, that the enemy repulsed by the “Portland” in
this earlier action was a vessel stronger than herself; and Mr. Taylor,
who had found his opportunity and grasped it, may have congratulated
himself with the thought, that by the law of chances the perils of his
voyage were over, and may thus have counted on carrying his laurels back
to Falmouth.

But it was decided otherwise. On October 17th the “Portland” was lying
becalmed off Guadeloupe—that hot-bed of privateering, a fatal monument
of the shortsightedness of our naval administration—when an armed
schooner, full of men, came out of a creek at no great distance, and
using her sweeps, bore down on the “Portland.”

A very light breeze enabled Mr. Taylor to get his ship’s head off shore,
and to make way under easy sail towards Martinique, at which island he
was to touch. All night the strange schooner hung upon the “Portland’s”
wake, and at daylight, on the 18th, the distance between the vessels was
the same as at dusk on the previous evening.

Shortly after the first light the schooner bore down towards the Packet,
and Mr. Taylor, thinking it time to bring the matter to an issue,
hoisted his colours and fired a shot at the approaching vessel. The shot
was instantly returned, and the next moment the colours of the French
Republic were flying at the peak of the schooner, surmounted—in strange
companionship with the ensign of a great and honourable nation—by the
bloody flag, which signified that she would give no quarter in the
coming fight.

There were on board the “Portland” four officers, Captain G. A. Tonyn,
48th Regiment; Captain J. Johnston of the Buffs; Captain G. Rainy of the
45th Regiment; and Captain W. Maxwell, 93rd Highlanders; together, with
Dr. Green, surgeon to the Forces at Antigua, and five merchants resident
on that island, St. Vincent, or Martinique. All these gentlemen appear
to have taken part in the action, so that Mr. Taylor’s available force,
allowing for the loss of one man in the former action, was increased to
forty-one men and boys, some of whom, however, had probably been wounded
when their sea-mate was killed. On board the French vessel there were,
as was afterwards discovered, sixty-one fighting men; and relying on
this superiority of force, which they quickly discerned, the French,
after a short cannonade, ran down to close quarters, intending to finish
the affair by an impetuous assault.

Mr. Taylor seems to have desired nothing more, and resolving to hold his
enemies to the ground which they had selected, he seized the Privateer’s
jib-boom as it ran aboard, lashed it securely, and then called his men
forward, requesting the passengers at the same time to maintain a close
fire of musketry on anything which showed itself on the deck of the
enemy.

Then began a series of hand to hand combats, fought out desperately with
cutlasses and boarding pikes. No details of these fights are left us;
but we are told that out of the Privateer’s crew no less than forty-one
were killed or wounded, and that the remnant were at last driven to haul
down their colours, finding the Falmouth men had gained secure
possession of their deck.

Some of the French had taken refuge below, and a few of these, not
knowing, it may be hoped, that the colours had been struck, fired a
volley in the very moment when Mr. Taylor was restraining the fury of
his men; and the brave young captain fell, shot through the heart in the
moment of victory.

Whether this unhappy occurrence was, as the passengers decided at the
time, an act of premeditated treachery, or whether it may not more
probably have found some justification in the confused circumstances of
the moment, is a question which can never be determined. It is clear,
however, that at the instant when he fell, though the colours were then
certainly struck, Mr. Taylor found his authority needed to restrain
further carnage; and if this were so, the responsibility for his death
does not rest with the French. In any case, no charge of treachery
should be made against honourable foes, save on evidence much clearer
than is here forthcoming.

By the united testimony of the passengers, Mr. Taylor, throughout the
action, was “perfectly calm, cool, and collected.” He achieved part at
least of his wish. He made his reputation, and though he did not live to
wear it, yet it survived him many years, and forms one of the few bright
spots in the history of the Falmouth Packets during the last decade of
the eighteenth century.

At Lombard Street there was need of all the credit which his gallantry
had earned; for troubles were gathering thickly round the administrators
of the sea service, and in the City the voice of discontent was loud and
menacing. The war had now lasted four years. Within that period twelve
Packets had been captured, having on board—for there was not always a
ship ready to embark the mail—no less than eighteen mails. On several
occasions original letters and duplicates made for safety had both been
lost. The inconvenience was immense, and the merchants grew restive
under it.

It was easy enough to argue, as the Post-Office did, that in former wars
the average of losses had been higher; and that to expect the Packets to
carry every mail in safety was much the same as asking them to teach
forbearance and morality to the enemy’s Privateers. The West India
merchants neither listened nor replied to these contentions. They did
not want arguments. They wanted security for their correspondence, and
they looked to the Post-Office to obtain it for them, whether in war or
peace.

When the Postmaster General and the other high officials cast their eyes
around to discover what prospects there were of satisfying this very
natural desire, they could not fail to discern that in the near future
they were likely to fare worse than in the past. The hopes of peace
raised by Lord Malmesbury’s negotiations in the autumn of 1796 had been
disappointed. Even the Packet told off to convey despatches from the
ambassador, having been driven ashore near Calais by a violent storm,
was seized by the French and condemned as lawful prize, notwithstanding
the full explanations which were rendered by her commander and by the
British Government. The number of Privateers which were reported week by
week to be issuing from St. Malo, Nantes, Bordeaux, and a hundred other
ports was absolutely without precedent. Between 20° and 30° W. long.
there were, as the officers of a Nantes Privateer informed some
Packetsmen whom they had captured, no less than forty vessels like
herself cruising with the sole object of preying on British commerce,
and through this belt of enemies every West India Packet must pass. Many
of these wolves of the ocean were hardly less powerful than frigates;
and the smallest of them was an overmatch for any Packet in every point
save that of individual courage and resource.

Moreover, when the war broke out it had been a duel between England and
France alone, and the enmity of Holland on the north and Spain on the
south somewhat limited the French powers of offence. Of whatever value
this advantage might have been it was now lost; and the three powers
henceforward presented a united front to England. The Privateers of any
one could shelter, refit, or dispose of prizes in the ports of any
other; and while this circumstance gave them an added strength in
European waters, the case was even worse in the West Indies, where the
French gained lurking places in every creek of the Spanish islands, and
were enabled to lie in ambush for British commerce at numberless points
where our ships were used to think themselves in safety.

It was easier by far to discern these facts of evil augury than to
discover any remedy. They were still being pondered in Lombard Street
when the merchants opened their attack and lodged a memorial in Downing
Street in which they complained in the strongest terms of the failure of
the Post-Office to protect their correspondence. Scarcely had this
memorial been received when the loss within one month of three West
India Packets stamped it with an urgency which even its promoters had
not foreseen, and raised the subject immediately from one chiefly
affecting a single class to a grave matter of national concern.

The “Princess Elizabeth,” homeward bound from Barbados and Jamaica, was
taken on February 28th, by the “Actif,” a Privateer carrying fourteen
guns and a hundred and thirty men. The “Swallow” carried the outward
mails of February 1st, for the same islands, while the “Sandwich” took
out those of February 15th and March 1st. Three consecutive mails were
thus on board these two Packets; and even the most anxious of merchants,
sending important letters in triplicate by successive mails, might
fairly have thought his precautions adequate to the risks. How great
then was the anger and alarm when the news arrived that both Packets
were captured and the three mails lost may be easily conceived.

Even more alarming than the present loss was the apprehension for the
future raised by the great force of the Privateers concerned in these
captures. The “Du Gay” which captured the “Sandwich” carried no less
than two hundred men and eighteen guns; while the captor of the
“Swallow” was armed with sixteen guns (nines and sixes) and a hundred
and twenty men. How, the Postmaster General demanded, could the Packets
be expected to resist such force? And the merchants, echoing the
question, declared that impossibility to be the basis of their whole
argument; for the Packets, they asserted, had no more effective power of
resisting Privateers than so many wherries from Blackfriars stairs.

The prayer of the merchants’ memorial was that the Packets might be so
equipped as to enable them to resist any enemy of equal size. This, as
the Postmaster General pointed out, meant that each one of the
Post-Office fleet should carry at least fourteen guns and one hundred
men—a proposition which would involve rebuilding every Packet afloat,
since no one of them was constructed to carry such an armament; and
besides, that great capital expenditure would more than treble the
charges of the Service, which already resulted in a yearly loss of over
£12,000, exclusive of the liabilities for captured Packets, amounting at
this time to more than £34,000.

It was natural enough that the Government, involved in a dangerous and
costly war, should decline to entertain such a costly proposal. The
Post-Office, however, willing to strengthen its hands against the
merchants, put forward a modified scheme for arming each Packet with ten
four-pounders and forty men, at an extra cost of £8,000 yearly; and if
more losses had been reported while that scheme was before the Treasury,
it may have been that the Government would have accepted it. But
unfortunately for the merchants, there was at this particular period a
lull in the storm. Four months passed without disaster. Then came the
report that the “Grantham” had been captured, but after a stout fight;
and following the receipt of that news another equal period of good
fortune. The disasters of February seemed to be exceptional. A House of
Commons Committee was urging that by every means Post-Office expenditure
should be reduced; the Treasury yielded to the greater pressure, and
declined the Postmaster General’s proposals.

The “Grantham” was commanded by Captain James Bull, an officer of long
experience and proved ability, whose son, Captain John Bull, afterwards
made a considerable reputation as commander of “Duke of Marlborough,” of
which much will be heard in subsequent chapters of this work. The
“Grantham” was attacked near Barbados by a French Privateer of “fourteen
double fortified four-pounders and one hundred and eleven men.” She was
much shattered in the action which preceded her capture; but no details
of the fight have been preserved. Not long after it was decided, the
“Tamar” frigate happily chanced to pass that way, and delivered Captain
Bull and his men from the prospect of a French prison.

Those optimists who held the comfortable faith that the disasters of
February, 1797, were not likely to be repeated received an uncomfortable
shock in the last month of that year and the first of the new one.

The “Countess of Leicester,” which sailed from Falmouth on November 21st
with mails for New York, should, under normal circumstances, have
carried only those of the previous week. But it was at this time a
practical impossibility to despatch every mail as soon as it reached
Falmouth; and—strange as it seems to us to hear of such delays—the
“Countess of Leicester” had on board not only the bags made up for her
regular turn, but also those which should have been despatched from
Falmouth on November 1st, but which had lain there three weeks, waiting
for a Packet. It is difficult in these days even to imagine the outcry
which would be caused by the delay of a mail for three weeks at the port
of embarkation. But in 1797 such inconveniences were the trifles at
which reasonable men did not cavil. The grievance lay in the fact that
both mails were ultimately lost altogether.

The scarcity of Packets was already so great that it may be presumed
that the “Prince Edward,” which left Falmouth in the middle of December,
and was captured off Barbados, was carrying out more mails than one;
while this blow was instantly followed by the loss of two successive
homeward mails, carried by the “Prince Ernest” and the “Portland.” It
can scarcely be conceived that the brave crew of the latter vessel
surrendered without struggle; but still, fight or no fight, the mails
were gone.

This was more than the patience of the merchants could bear. To lose in
one month at least two outward and two homeward mails—and it is quite
possible that on board the three Packets even more mails had been
stowed—was almost sufficient to bring their business to a standstill.
The inconvenience was mounting to an intolerable pitch. They applied for
a conference with the Postmaster General; and had scarcely done so when
the news arrived that the “Roebuck,” homeward bound from the Leeward
Islands, and the “Swallow,” outward bound on the same voyage, had both
been captured by a single Privateer.

There was the same story of overwhelming force against which the Packets
could not contend. The captor of the “Roebuck” was a Nantes Privateer,
“La Liberale,” carrying over two hundred men, and armed with eighteen
18–pounder guns, and it may be stated by the way that the captured
officers told a remarkable story of the elfish mischievousness of the
victors, who seemed to have behaved more like riotous schoolboys than
like seamen. “On the enemy taking possession of the Packet,” says
Captain Servante, “they plundered her of every cabin and ship-store; and
what they did not take with them, they wilfully destroyed or threw
overboard. Several new sails they cut to pieces and divided among them;
and a suit of sails that were bent to the yards, little the worse for
wear, they suffered to blow to pieces, there not being a seaman among
them who would venture aloft to take them in.”

The conference between the merchants and the Postmaster General was
grave and weighty, according to the dignified manners of those days. The
merchants, after remarking that no arrangement of the Packet Service
could be adequate for the purposes of their trade, which did not render
it highly improbable that even one homeward bound Packet would be lost,
proceeded to ask whether it really was the case that the new Packets had
attained that swiftness of sailing to which all their qualities of
defence had been sacrificed. The average duration of the outward passage
to Jamaica (touching at Barbados and other islands) is, they said, 45
days, and from Jamaica to Falmouth (touching only at Cape Nicola), 35
days. Now, these are very ordinary passages, remarkable in no way for
speed. And the merchants emphasized their point by repeating that
Packets designed expressly for speed ought to have been able to outsail
Privateers. Why, then, had they not done so? Because, they concluded,
some abuses exist in the mode of loading or navigating the Packets.

They were right; abuses did exist, of which the nature must be more
fully explained in the next chapter. But before entering upon that
subject, it will be well to complete the record of disasters, so that it
may be understood more fully of what the merchants had to complain.

One of the practical suggestions made at the conference was that the
Admiralty might be asked to lend a cutter which could be sent out with
mails for the Leeward Islands and Jamaica. The request was made and
granted by the Admiralty; but the cutter fared no better than the
Packets, for on her homeward voyage she, too, was captured.

Great as was the number of Privateers which issued from the French and
Spanish islands in the West Indies throughout this war, it was never so
great as in the year 1798. How many were actually afloat will never be
known; but, doubtless, the number captured by our cruisers in any one
year bore some kind of rough fixed proportion to the whole body. Now, in
1796—if the figures given by Southey (_Chronological History of the West
Indies_, Vol. III., p. 149) are correct—only sixteen were captured; but
in 1797 the number had risen to sixty-seven; and in 1798 no less than
ninety-nine of these sharks were brought in by our sloops and frigates.

It may be that for every one so captured there were five still lurking
in the creeks and shallow waters round Guadeloupe or Cuba; and numbers
such as these might suggest that it was well-nigh impossible for our
Packets to sail among the islands without encountering an enemy. But the
ocean is wide, and it is marvellously easy for vessels to miss each
other, even when both have the desire for an encounter.

The conference was held in March. In April no Packets were lost, but at
the end of May the “Princess of Wales,” outward bound for Jamaica, was
taken by a Privateer; and a week or two later the “Prince Adolphus,”
which was carrying a mail to Lisbon, met with a similar fate. About the
latter vessel there hangs a curious story, which is worth relating.

It appears that when the French took possession of the “Prince
Adolphus,” they sent Captain Boulderson, her commander, with the greater
part of his crew, on board the Privateer. Five men remained on the
Packet, among whom the surgeon was the only officer; and a prize crew
was instructed to navigate the prize into whatever French port could
first be made.

Mr. Bullock, the surgeon, was by no means anxious to go to prison; and
when the Packet had separated from her captor, he began to work on the
cupidity of the prize master, and ultimately persuaded him to give up
the ship, and restore all his prisoners to liberty in consideration of
receiving a sum equivalent to about £4000, to be paid on the arrival of
the vessel at Lisbon, where Mr. Bullock felt confident that the money
would be forthcoming.

Accordingly, the “Prince Adolphus” was navigated into the Tagus, and Mr.
Bullock, persuaded that he had made a good bargain—for, while the Packet
itself was not worth less than the stipulated ransom, the goods on board
were worth as much again—repaired to the office of the Post-Office agent
at Lisbon, Mr. Gonne, and demanded help in carrying out the transaction
to which he had pledged the credit of the Government. But here an
unexpected check occurred; for Mr. Gonne, asking grimly whether the
doctor wished both of them to be drawn and quartered on a scaffold at
Tyburn, produced an Act of Parliament, recently passed, which declared
it treason for any British subject to remit money to persons owing
obedience to the French Government.

Mr. Bullock and his companions were thus left to take their choice of
three painful alternatives. Firstly, they might break their pledge
freely given to the prize master; secondly, they might execute that
pledge and submit to the penalties of high treason; or lastly, they
might once more go on board the “Prince Adolphus,” and—if indeed the
harbour authorities would have allowed a vessel under French command to
leave the Tagus in safety—permit the prize master to put to sea, and
conduct them whither he would.

The last alternative, distressing as it was for men who had once set
foot in freedom, seemed the only practicable one. This was recognized by
every one concerned, but before adopting it the case was referred to the
Postmaster General, who, after consultation with ministers, decided that
the ransom should be paid, and that a clause should be inserted in a
forthcoming Act of Parliament, indemnifying the persons concerned in the
transaction.

The money was accordingly handed over to the Frenchmen, who departed
full of praises of the honourable treatment they had received, and which
they did their best to requite in kind, for they wrote to the French
Minister of Marine, stating what had occurred, and begging that, if only
to mark their high esteem of the conduct of the English Government,
Captain Boulderson might at once be liberated. This request was complied
with, and Captain Boulderson very shortly returned to Falmouth.

Such was the end of a difficult affair, and if in its conclusion the
Postmaster General found some ground for satisfaction, it could only
have been with a chastened pleasure that they read the story of how the
best had been made of a serious misfortune, and how a Packet, designed
to escape the French, had been got out of their hands without so very
much loss after all. But a gleam of better fortune was at hand, and the
valour of one officer did much to redeem the record of the Falmouth
Station in the year 1798.

The “Princess Royal” was commanded by Captain John Skinner, an officer
of long experience and proved courage. On June 22nd, the Packet being
then in Mid-Atlantic, bound for Halifax, a brig was discovered at
daybreak in chase of the Packet, and Captain Skinner promptly caused the
decks to be cleared for action, and barricaded the ship as far as
possible with hammocks and spare sails.

The wind was unfortunately very light, and the sea calm, so that though
the “Princess Royal” crowded all sail to get away, the Privateer, which
was using sweeps, gained ground perceptibly. It was not until 7 P.M.,
however, that she came within gunshot. A few broadsides were then
exchanged without much effect on either side, after which the Privateer,
having satisfied herself that resistance was intended, laid in her
sweeps and waited for the day.

At 3 A.M. she swept up somewhat suddenly. Captain Skinner was quite
ready however, and as she drew near he began to play upon her with his
two 6–pounder stern chasers. Unfortunately one of these guns was
rendered useless after the first discharge by the snapping of its axle
tree, but the other was served with vigour. The one gun, however, did
not suffice to stop the advancing Privateer, for at 3.30 A.M. she was
alongside, and the action was in full progress.

James, who in his _Naval History_ mentions but three of the numerous
actions fought by the Packets, states that at this point Captain Skinner
succeeded in bringing his six guns to bear on the side on which he was
attacked.[3] Captain Skinner does not mention this in his report to the
Postmaster General; and indeed, as has been seen, one of his six guns
was already useless. Very probably some such arrangement of the
remaining five was attempted, but if so, any advantage which might have
resulted from it was quickly lost, for Captain Skinner tells us that
very shortly after the loss of his 6–pounder the axle trees of two of
his 4–pounders gave way, and that he fought practically throughout the
whole action with three guns only.

Footnote 3:

  _Nav. Hist._, Vol. II., p. 207.

That he succeeded under these unfortunate circumstances in holding his
ground against a more powerful antagonist is a striking proof of courage
and seamanship. The cannonade lasted two hours, and during the whole of
that time the “Princess Royal” was so manœuvred by her captain that the
French had no opportunity of boarding, and were thus in some measure
deprived of the advantage of their superior numbers. Meantime the
passengers, under the direction of General Murray, had formed themselves
into a body of riflemen, and were keeping up a galling fire on their
enemies with excellent effect, for at 5.30 P.M. the Privateer sheered
off.

It would have been folly for Captain Skinner with half his guns
dismounted to endeavour to renew the action, so with a few parting shots
from the chaser, which appeared to create confusion on the Privateer,
the vessels separated, and the “Princess Royal” pursued her voyage.

In this action two men were badly wounded, and Captain Skinner himself
was hurt less seriously by the explosion of a powder-horn. It happened
that on board the Privateer there were thirty English and American
prisoners; and from some of these men it was afterwards ascertained that
the “Princess Royal” had engaged the “Aventurier” of Bordeaux, a
Privateer carrying fourteen long 4–pounders, and two 12–pound
cannonades, with eighty-five men, an armament which might have been
expected to secure a quick and almost bloodless victory for its
possessors. The event, however, was so far otherwise that while two of
the “Aventurier’s” crew were killed, and four wounded, the vessel
herself was so much injured that with all her masts shot through and no
less than nineteen round shot in her hull, she was obliged to break up
her cruise and return to Bordeaux to refit.



                               CHAPTER V.
                         THE END OF THE ABUSES.


Disaster came treading close on the heels of success, and while the
reports of Captain Skinner’s gallant defence were still being digested
in Lombard Street, the news arrived that the “Duke of York,” outward
bound for Barbados and Jamaica, had been captured by a Privateer
carrying twenty “long double fortified four-pounders,” and no less than
one hundred and seventy men.

The remaining months of 1798, and the early ones of 1799 passed away
without further misfortunes. If it had been otherwise, it is not easy to
see how the service could have been maintained with any sort of
regularity, for the recent captures had caused the very greatest
embarrassment. Sixteen established Packets were commonly employed on the
West India voyage, a supply which was certainly not more than barely
adequate to keep up the usual fortnightly service, but of these sixteen
only seven were available in December, 1798; and though by hiring
temporary vessels the numbers were made up to ten, the extra vessels
were less efficient than the regular ones; and the delay of mails and
despatches, which were kept waiting at Falmouth for a Packet, grew very
serious. The agent, who was immediately responsible, was bitter in his
protestations against being blamed for what he could not help.

The commanders, he declared, were very much in fault. No less than nine
of them had received permission to remain ashore to supervise the
building of new Packets. It was doubtless most desirable that the
commanders should supervise this work. The construction of the Packets
was a matter of vital concern to the officers who had to sail and fight
them; and, besides, it was only reasonable to suppose that under the
commander’s eye the work would be done more quickly as well as better.

Such were the arguments put forward by the commanders, very plausible as
all their reasonings were, but breaking down in some odd way in actual
practice. Each one of the nine captains demonstrated quite clearly that
he was bestirring himself with zeal. Yet, somehow or other, the new
Packets did not advance; and the Postmaster General, on calling for a
return, could not but be struck by the astonishingly long time which it
took to complete the brigs of one hundred and eighty tons, or
thereabouts, which were required for the service. Captain Servante, for
instance, with his utmost exertions, as he himself testified on repeated
occasions, could not get one built in less than two years and five
months, during the whole of which time his personal supervision was
given to the work.

At this period the Post-Office administration had passed into the hands
of men whose habit it was to draw direct and forcible inferences from
facts such as these. Lord Auckland who, jointly with Lord Gower, now
held the office of Postmaster General, possessed a dry and penetrating
intellect, with an instinctive comprehension of the value of arguments
used before him and of the worth of the persons using them. In writing,
his style was direct and pungent; he knew how to state a principle and
give it force without appearing to drive it down the throats of
unwilling subordinates. He was thoroughly dissatisfied with the
condition of the Packet Service, and determined to improve it as
opportunity served during his term of office.

The other man whose strong hand began to influence the Post-Office at
this crisis was Mr. Francis Freeling, lately appointed Secretary, an
administrator whose brilliant and courageous work throughout the whole
period of the war is by no means yet forgotten.

Two rulers so clear sighted and sagacious, acting together and
supporting each other as they did in every emergency, could scarcely
fail to discover the roots of the mischief at Falmouth; but before
entering on a description of the measures taken, and while the
Postmaster General and the Secretary, assuming office at much the same
time, are making their preliminary survey, taking note now of some
indefensible practice which must be stopped, now of some suspicious
action which demands stringent inquiry, it will be well to complete the
tale of disasters to the Packets, which furnished so much material to
these dissatisfied watchers at headquarters.

The earlier months of 1799 passed away as uneventfully as the later ones
of 1798; and it was not until April that bad news reached the
Post-Office. The “Chesterfield” was captured on the 23rd of that month;
and three months later the “Carteret” hauled down her colours to a
Privateer. Then there was again a period of success; and, except for the
loss of one of the small schooners employed among the West India
islands, the Packets made their voyages in safety until November.

Comparatively speaking, the captures had been so few during the last
sixteen months, that there was doubtless some exultation at Lombard
Street, and a growing confidence that the great problem how to convey
the mails in safety during war-time was approaching a solution. The
agitation of West India merchants had died away; complaints from
irascible Colonial Governors, whose despatches were adorning some coral
reef, or washing about in mid-ocean, were few and far between. It seemed
indeed as if a golden age had dawned at last; but in the last six weeks
of the year these bright anticipations were rudely shaken.

Towards the end of November the same Privateer which had captured the
“Chesterfield” in July took possession of another Packet, the “Lady
Harriet,” outward bound for Lisbon; and only a few days later the
“Halifax,” homeward bound from the Leeward Islands, was seized by the
“Vengeance,” of sixteen guns and one hundred and thirty men.

The next homeward Packet expected from the West Indies was the
“Westmoreland.” She was captured on December 7th by a Privateer of
twenty-six guns and two hundred and fifty men. In her were lost the
duplicates of the letters and despatches captured in the “Halifax”;
while, as if resolved that no cautious Colonial Governor or merchant who
might have forwarded his correspondence in triplicate should profit by
the precaution, the French lay in wait for the next homeward Packet
also. It was the “Adelphi,” and on December 22nd she fell into the hands
of the “Grand Buonaparte,” a Privateer of twenty-two guns and two
hundred men.

How great a loss was caused by these three captures, how serious the
interference in the machinery of government, may be surmised, but can
never now be calculated. Grievances sustained a hundred years ago did
not become vocal in the public press until they had grown absolutely
intolerable, if then. But though there was no newspaper outcry, there
was an abundance of personal protests, both from ministers and from the
merchants; while, if the attitude of Lord Auckland on this important
subject may be judged from his subsequent actions, he was doubtless well
pleased at finding his hand strengthened at a moment which was big with
reform for Falmouth.

So the year 1799 passed away, and the new year opened upon indignant
clamour outside the Post-Office, and careful, anxious deliberation
within its walls.

One circumstance which struck Lord Auckland as singular was that the
number of mails lost on the homeward passage was larger than on the
outward voyage. When first observed this fact was brushed aside as an
accidental occurrence, with the expectation that the next series of
captures would redress the balance, and show that the risks of the
outward bound Packets were no less great.

Time went on, and the balance was not redressed. Persons outside the
Post-Office began to notice which way it inclined, and ugly rumours were
already circulating when an unparalleled series of disasters riveted the
attention of the authorities on this point which at first seemed so
insignificant.

The “Princess Royal,” whose officers and crew had fought so bravely in
June, 1798, was the first Packet reported lost. Her gallant captain had
been promoted to a command on the Holyhead station, which was both more
lucrative and less arduous than the post in which he had won
distinction. How far Captain Skinner might have succeeded in repulsing
the “Courier” Privateer, to which the “Princess Royal” struck her
colours on February 27th, being then on her homeward voyage from the
Leeward Islands, it would be profitless to inquire. Ten days later the
“Carteret,” homeward bound from Jamaica, hauled down her colours to the
“Bellona,” a powerful Privateer of thirty guns and two hundred and fifty
men. The “Jane,” the outward Packet of March 2nd for the West Indies,
was captured, after a sharp engagement, on the 12th of that month; and
though she was recaptured a few days later by an English cruiser, that
event happened too late to save her mails. On May 4th the “Princess
Charlotte” was captured; on May 6th the “Marquis of Kildare” succumbed;
on May 11th the “Princess Amelia” was seized by a Bordeaux Privateer;
and, after an interval of some months, the “Duke of Clarence” was sent
into Teneriffe as the prize of a Spanish Privateer.

Every one of the four last Packets was homeward bound. The coincidence
was too obvious to be overlooked.

Another fact about these captures must have arrested Lord Auckland’s
attention. There was hardly any fighting. Why was there not? The
capturing Privateers were, it is true, of overmastering force in many
cases, if not in all. But the “Antelope,” the “Portland,” and the
“Princess Royal” had successfully resisted superior forces; and when was
it ever imputed to English sailors that they feared to defend themselves
against an enemy because they could not bring into action man for man,
or gun for gun? On this very Falmouth station, in past years, numberless
actions had been fought as bravely as any in our annals; and these
glories were by no means eclipsed for ever, but were in a few years to
shine again with no less splendour than before, though Lord Auckland had
not the satisfaction of foreseeing this.

It is not asserted that every Packet whose capture is mentioned in these
pages was surrendered without firing a shot; but it is certainly true
that in hardly one case did any serious fighting occur. The very sailors
who were captured were not devoid of spirit, as appeared in the case of
the “Marquis of Kildare,” whose loss was mentioned above. The greater
part of the crew of this Packet remained prisoners on board the
Privateer, but twelve were left on their own ship, in charge of a prize
crew. In the night these twelve rose upon their captors, drove them into
the hold, and triumphantly navigated the Packet into Falmouth. They were
doubtless commended, and perhaps rewarded, on arriving there; but it may
be hoped that the agent took occasion to point out to them how much more
serviceable their valour would have been had they proved it before their
ship was captured and their mails lost.

Nobody believed the Falmouth sailors to be cowards. Indubitable facts
and the long experience of the past showed that they were not. The root
of the mischief must be sought deeper than that.

Wherever it might lie, there was clearly no time to lose in searching
for it. The complaints of the merchants were incessant; and when Mr.
Henry Dundas, at that time Secretary of State for the Colonies, went so
far as to instruct the general officer in command in the West Indies to
send home duplicate and triplicate copies of his despatches by
well-armed merchant vessels, “which appear to have a better chance of
safe arrival than the regular Packets,” and forwarded a copy of this
galling letter to the Postmaster General, no one could any longer doubt
that unless some quick and searching remedy could be found, the
Post-Office might almost as well lay down the pretence of conveying the
mails in safety. Lord Auckland frankly owned that Mr. Dundas’ letter had
not surprised him. Long before matters reached this point, he had
inquired what evidence was taken that the capture of any particular
Packet had occurred in the manner described by her officers. He was told
that of evidence, properly so called, there was none at all, except the
sworn statement of the captain, made before a notary selected by
himself.

An officer of the navy who lost his ship, Lord Auckland observed, was
invariably brought to court-martial. A number of honourable and
experienced officers were appointed to judge his conduct; he was called
before them, and required to prove on oath, and by the evidence of
witnesses, that his courage and skill had been properly exerted.

A Packet captain in the same situation was summoned before no court at
all. He went, in company with one or two of his chief officers, to a
notary in Falmouth, and before that gentleman executed a sworn
statement, technically called a “protest.” In form, this document
“protested” against the conduct of the enemy which had captured, or
injured, the Packet. It detailed just so much, or so little, of the
facts as the captain thought proper to relate; and the notary had no
other responsibility in the matter than the administration of an oath.

This was the whole proceeding. When the “protest” reached the General
Post-Office, it was accepted as a matter of course; and on it steps were
taken for repaying to the commander the amount of his loss.

Could it be right, Lord Auckland asked, that there should be no public
inquiry, no examination of the whole crew, no statements taken from
passengers! The Inspector of Packets was the person to whom it fell to
answer this question; and he at once came forward to testify that he
thought it the most satisfactory system in the whole world. It was the
time-honoured custom at Lloyds, and must therefore be good enough for
the General Post-Office. A sworn declaration! Were there no penalties
against perjury! The fear of incurring these penalties must be a perfect
safeguard, if any be needed among honourable men!

The value of the opinions held by this Inspector of Packets, who must
have somewhat resembled Dr. Pangloss (except, as shown by mountainous
papers still existing, where his own fees were concerned), was quickly
put to a fresh test. But in order to make clear the nature of the very
important question which now arose, some amount of explanation and of
retrospect is necessary.

Allusions have been made in previous chapters of this work to the fact
that all Packets throughout the last century carried goods. Now this
practice was expressly forbidden by a statute of Charles II.; but it
does not appear that the prohibition had ever been enforced. Mr.
Freeling, the Secretary of the Post-Office, stated in a report made
about this time that he had been unable to trace the steps by which the
trade had developed itself in the teeth of the statute, and that in his
opinion the custom “was coeval with the Packet Service itself.” However
that may have been, the trade was certainly of antiquity sufficient to
have struck deep roots at Falmouth. It was carried on without the
slightest concealment; and was indeed expressly sanctioned by the
Government, though it remained, as it had always been, illegal. In
reports made on the capture of Packets, the presence of goods on board
the vessel was set down with no more comment than that of provisions.
Indeed, so recently as in 1798, in a code of new regulations applicable
to the Packet station at Falmouth, the trade had been explicitly
recognized, and the only instruction given to the agent in regard to it
was that he must satisfy himself that no Packet carried so large a
quantity of goods, or stowed them in such a manner, as to put her out of
trim.

The Post-Office always looked unfavourably on this trade; and from time
to time sought the assistance of the Treasury in abolishing it, and
restricting the Packets to their proper use. But in those days of
constant war, when the seas were unsafe for merchant vessels, and the
ports now of one nation, now of another, were closed to English ships,
the Government held that it would be inopportune to stop a commercial
outlet on which many merchants of Bristol and other towns in the west
depended for a chief part of their trade; and so the irregular system
went on and grew unchecked.

On the Lisbon station the trade seems to have been more important than
on the West India boats, though it was very profitable on both. The West
India boats carried out cheese, potatoes, boots, and shoes, and, curious
addition to the list, fighting cocks, for which there was a brisk
demand. The Lisbon Packets exported every kind of manufactured goods,
often to the value of £4000 on a single voyage. These were by no means
the speculations of the captain or of the officers alone. The seamen
traded, each on his own account. Every man had his own stowage space
reserved under the ceiling of the forecastle. Here his “ventures” were
suspended, and no one claimed to interfere with them.

Sometimes the seaman’s ventures consisted of goods entrusted to him by
some merchant, to sell on commission at Lisbon or Barbados; sometimes he
had purchased them himself; for not a few of the seamen were capitalists
on a small scale, and most of them had formed regular connections with
the merchants. The goods once sold in foreign ports, others were of
course purchased there. Silks, wines, tobacco, numberless things which
by a little ingenuity could be smuggled into Falmouth duty free; and in
order to facilitate disposing of these imported bargains, a whole corps
of female pedlars was in existence, locally named “troachers,” who
trudged the country and hawked about the goods of Jamaica or New York
from farm house to country mansion.

There was thus at Falmouth an irregular trade of great value. Every
seaman in the employment of the Post-Office was engaged in it. To most
it had formed a chief inducement to enter the service; for the wages
were very low, and would not of themselves have attracted men away from
the Revenue Service or the Royal Navy.

More than once during the last few years of the century suggestions had
been made of scandals connected with the Falmouth trade; and hints had
been thrown out that a stringent inquiry, conducted on the spot, might
bring to light facts which would explain the frequent captures of
Packets. The West India merchants, in guarded language, “prayed that ...
any abuses in the loading of the Packets ... might be remedied”; but
other persons spoke plainly what was here only hinted; and roundly
declared that it was sometimes very profitable to be captured, and that
the officers who were the most often captured were the most quickly
growing rich.

The charge soon took clearer shape. It was said that, in accordance with
a common practice, the goods received on board the Packets at Falmouth
were insured in England for the double voyage, out and home. If then the
goods were sold in the West Indies, it would be a possible thing for the
crew to remit the purchase money in bills by some safe channel; and to
surrender themselves quietly to the first Privateer they met. They ran
the risk of spending some years in a French prison; but one cannot grow
rich without some risk, and there was a good chance that the Privateer
would put them ashore in their own boat.

When they once reached England, they were secure from detection. They
declared before the Insurance Company that the Privateer had taken from
them large quantities of goods which they had not succeeded in selling
abroad, or which they had purchased there hoping to sell at home. They
claimed the value of those goods, and by the next Packet received that
value a second time in the bills which they had themselves remitted.

This was the charge against the Falmouth officers,—a charge involving so
much base dishonesty that one hesitates before accepting it as true of
even the smallest section of the Service at which it was levelled.

Lord Auckland declined to believe in the possibility of “so black and
desperate a fraud.” Still, whatever incredulity might be felt at
headquarters, the accusation was clearly one which demanded instant
notice; and accordingly the optimistic Inspector of Packets was directed
to proceed to Falmouth, and report on the matter.

Little time was lost by the Inspector. He quickly produced a report
which positively asserted the existence of such fraud to be impossible.
His reason was that no insurance company would pay the value of its
policy in the absence of an affidavit declaring precisely the quantity
and quality of the goods on board the Packet at the time of the capture.
The honest man forgot that the very nature of the charge involved
treachery and lying; and that men who could be supposed guilty of those
basenesses would not be likely to hesitate at a perfectly safe perjury.
Of course the Inspector’s conclusion was not necessarily absurd, because
his reasoning was unsound. But there are two stories on record which go
some way to prove that the one and the other were equally wrong.

To take the least conclusive story first. The “Earl Gower,” commanded by
Captain Deake, was on her way home from Lisbon in June 1801 when she
encountered the “Télégraphe” Privateer cutter, of fourteen guns and
seventy men, a force considerably superior of course to her own. Captain
Deake plied his guns with vigour, however, and might perhaps have got
clear off, had not fully half his crew gone below in a body, refusing
either to work the vessel or to fight her. The action of these men is
scarcely comprehensible on any other supposition than that they wished
to be captured. Cowardice would have impelled them to flight; but they
refused to work the ship, which was of course taken.

The second case tells a plainer story; and must always stand,
exceptional as it may be, as a black disgrace upon the records of the
Falmouth Service. The facts are as follows.

The “Duke of York,” a Packet homeward bound from Lisbon, was chased
throughout September 18th, 1803, by a Privateer of scarcely more than
half her size, though more heavily manned. Towards evening the master,
who was acting commander at the time, consulted with the surgeon as to
the course proper for them to take in view of the fact that the enemy
was obviously gaining on them. The surgeon stated that in his opinion
resistance was impossible. He advised surrender; and the master, after a
short conversation, adopted his view. They came to this resolution while
the enemy’s vessel was still a mile distant from them, and before she
had even fired a summoning gun they hauled their colours down.

It was then seven o’clock, and the night was falling rapidly. This
circumstance however did not suggest to them that there was a chance of
escaping under cover of the darkness; it brought to their minds only the
fear that the enemy might not have seen their flag pulled down. And so,
to avoid any misapprehension on the subject of their shame, they sent a
boat on board the Privateer and proclaimed it in advance.

The story as here told leaked out by degrees. However, on the first
receipt of the news in London, Lord Auckland heard it with so much
suspicion that he resolved to use the occasion for instituting the Court
of Inquiry, about the necessity of which he and the Inspector of Packets
held such divergent views. A Court was accordingly constituted at
Falmouth, composed of all the commanders in port at the time, under the
presidency of the agent; but the result was disappointing. The
commanders put their questions in such a manner as to shield the
culprits as far as possible; and finally stultified themselves by
finding that all the officers did everything possible to save their
ship.

Perhaps little else was to be expected at the outset of such inquiries.
The commanders doubtless resented the change of system as an insult to
themselves. They were all old friends and neighbours; _esprit de corps_
was strong among them in proportion as their numbers were few; and,
moreover, their Court having no legal standing, nor any power to
administer oaths, there was nothing to excite a feeling of
responsibility, or dignity, among the individuals composing it, such as
might have outweighed the natural dislike to its establishment. The
responsibility developed; the dislike wore off. In course of time these
inquiries, which became part of the regular routine of the station, were
found useful enough, and even indispensable.

On this first occasion, however, the finding of the Court was useless,
if not positively mischievous; and some more stringent inquiry was
plainly needed. It was entrusted to the Inspector of Packets, who was
acute and shrewd when he could cast off the preconceived ideas bred by
his long experience, and who had been shaken out of his optimism in some
degree by recent events. He set himself to work in Falmouth with zeal
and energy, and gradually disclosed a number of very remarkable facts.
He traced, so far as possible, the value of the goods which each officer
and sailor had on board, what insurances he had effected on the outward
voyage, and what on the homeward, and finally what sum (if any) he had
gained by being captured.

One man, he found, admitted that he had gained £300 by his misfortune.
The surgeon, who advised the surrender, had certainly made £250 out of
it; but, by a remarkable lapse of memory, he was quite unable to
recollect what sum he had received in Lisbon for goods sold there; so
that it was impossible to arrive at the full amount of his profit. The
steward’s mate was richer by £250; one of the seamen by £200; and most
of the crew had pocketed substantial sums, made in the identical way
indicated by the rumours spoken of above.

The next step was to ascertain whether any of these men, and especially
those who had made large profits on this occasion, had been captured
before.

The surgeon, who had been foremost in counselling surrender, and who was
also (probably) the largest gainer among this pack of scoundrels, had
also been captured more frequently than any of the crew, except three
men, having been taken prisoner no less than three times before. How
much money he had made on those three occasions is not stated. Three of
the crew had been equally lucky. Four other men had been captured twice
before, most of the rest once, and eight of them had been on board the
“Earl Gower” at the time of the disgraceful circumstances related above.

The inference from these facts was so plain that not even the Inspector
of Packets could fail to draw it. His report was hesitating, but on the
whole conclusive: and it contained this striking passage, “I cannot help
being of opinion that if during the war officers and seamen are
permitted to carry out merchandise on commission or otherwise, there is
reason to fear that the loss of Packets may be very considerable, unless
indeed under disinterested or high-spirited commanders.”

There is a barb in this sentence for all who love Falmouth, and one
would fain drop the subject at this point. But history has no concern
with sentiment; and, as the matter is of importance, the following
extract may be quoted from the minutes of the Postmaster General,
written after a careful review of the whole subject.

  “... These papers prove beyond a doubt that His Majesty’s Packet
  could not have been captured if the skill and courage of her crew
  had been properly exerted. Their Lordships even incline to think
  that the French Privateer might have been captured if our vessel had
  been carried into action with the spirit which characterizes British
  seamen in general. No resistance was made. It was not even seen what
  was the force of the Privateer. The Packet was not even hailed or
  fired at by the enemy, yet a boat was sent off to meet the Privateer
  and to accelerate a surrender of which the seamen themselves speak
  as dishonourable and dishonest.... Under these circumstances my
  Lords the Postmaster General ... never will consent that Mr. —— the
  acting commander, or Mr. —— the surgeon, shall again be employed in
  their service.”

So then, it must be taken as proved that in this one case certain
officers of the Falmouth Service sold their honour and betrayed their
country. One naturally asks whether any of the other captures mentioned
in the previous pages were due to a similar treason. Since the war broke
out thirty-two Packets had been captured, and of these twenty-one were
taken on the homeward voyage.

It may be said at once that, as far as the now existing records show, no
such misconduct as was proved against the officers of the “Duke of York”
was ever alleged against any others. Doubts may have been raised in the
minds of Lord Auckland or of Mr. Freeling; but if so, they were allowed
to slumber again, and, after the lapse of well-nigh a hundred years, it
cannot be necessary to reawaken them.

In order to bring out more clearly the nature of these charges, and to
show precisely how far they were well-grounded, the proper sequence of
events has been somewhat neglected.

During the four years which elapsed between the first rumour of the
scandals and the capture of the “Duke of York,” considerable progress
had been made in limiting the trade. Early in 1800 complaint of the
existence of an illegal trade at Falmouth was made to Mr. Pitt by a
private individual. Who this person was, on what grounds he objected to
the trade, or by what influence he prevailed on the Treasury to issue a
prohibition for which successive Postmasters General had appealed in
vain,—these are inquiries on which the records throw no light. The fact
however is that he did prevail, and an order was issued prohibiting the
private trade on the West India Packets, though for the present it was
permitted to continue on the Lisbon boats.

In looking back on these events one cannot but suppose that in thus
vitally altering the ancient conditions of service on the Falmouth
station the Government were actuated by some motive much more potent
than the desire to gratify a single individual. It must have been
foreseen that the sailors would resent the loss of their large profits;
that the chief attraction of the Service in their eyes was about to be
destroyed, and this in the midst of a dangerous and costly war.

The discontent showed itself at once. There was something resembling
mutiny at Falmouth. The crews of several vessels refused to proceed to
sea, and their captains reported that they could not obtain sailors
unless the trade were restored. The Government stood firm. The memorials
of the seamen pointed out that their wages, if they must rely on them
solely, were not sufficient for their maintenance and for that of their
families. The statement was perfectly true, for the trade had been so
fully recognized by the authorities that it was always held to be
unnecessary to pay any but low wages to men who were earning so much by
private speculation. The wages had to be increased, but the increase of
course could not be equivalent to the amount of profit lost by the new
rule; and a smouldering mass of discontent was left at Falmouth which in
years to come broke out again and again into mutiny.



                              CHAPTER VI.
                         THE NORTH SEA PACKETS.


Thus far, for the sake of clearness, the narrative has concerned itself
with the Falmouth Packets alone. The successive developments by which
the root of the mischief existing on the Cornish station gradually
revealed itself to all the world were too important to be complicated
with the affairs of other stations, especially when those affairs, with
very few exceptions, were neither interesting nor considerable. In fact,
it is only on the stations whence the North Sea Packets sailed that one
is tempted to linger at all after leaving Falmouth. The record of the
Irish Packets is incomparably dull. Squabbles between the Post-Office of
Great Britain and the Post-Office of Ireland about the precise amount of
influence which each should exercise over the Holyhead or the Milford
boats, interminable arguments concerning the regulations under which
noblemen’s carriages might be stowed on deck during the voyage, lengthy
surveys of the coast, complaints from the agent that the captains were
disrespectful and from the captains that the agent interfered
unwarrantably in their private affairs—such were the subjects of the
bulky reports which filled the pigeon-holes devoted at the General
Post-Office to the affairs of the two lines of communication with the
opposite side of St. George’s Channel.

The Irish Packets, so far as we know, were never in action during the
years of which this volume treats. Almost the same remark indeed might
be made of the North Sea Packets; but here an interest of another kind
arises. The Harwich and Dover boats played manfully a part in a drama of
the greatest moment to this country. It was a game in which shot and
powder had scarcely any part; yet it called for courage of the highest
order, and for resource and seamanship such as British sailors have
always shown themselves possessed of in time of need.

The Continental system which called out these faculties was as yet only
a dream in Napoleon’s heart; and the story of the North Sea Packets
might have been left untouched until that system began to develop
itself, had it not happened by a curious chance of fortune that in the
year 1798 a sort of rehearsal occurred of the dangers of that troublous
time which was yet to come. The winter proved to be of extraordinary
severity. The shores of Holland and Northern Germany were beset with
ice; the rivers were all closed, and by a sudden turn of temperature the
Post-Office was confronted with the identical situation which the
masterful hostility of Napoleon created a few years afterwards.

Before proceeding to speak of the difficulties thus created, it will be
necessary to explain that the North Sea Packets by no means corresponded
to the Falmouth model. Small as the Cornish Packets must appear in the
eyes of our generation, accustomed to the vast dimensions of the
floating palaces in which travellers of to-day make the Atlantic voyage,
the Harwich and Dover boats were smaller still. Many of them indeed were
of only fifty tons, while none exceeded eighty tons. The Harwich boats,
which plied to Helvoetsluis as their normal port of call, were a trifle
larger than the Dover Packets which undertook the shorter voyage to
Calais, and they carried somewhat heavier guns. Three-pounders were
found to be too heavy for the Dover boats, and had to be exchanged for
two-pounders; but the Harwich Packets always carried four four-pounders,
and at a later period some of them were allowed a couple of extra guns
of the same calibre.

In 1793, when the war broke out, the port of Calais was of course closed
to English ships, and the mails for Italy and the Mediterranean could no
longer cross France. The situation thus created was too familiar in the
last century to occasion any embarrassment at the General Post-Office.
In fact, the relations between the Postal authorities in London and
Paris were in those days so much the reverse of cordial, even when the
two countries were at peace, that the outbreak of hostilities seems to
have been not altogether unwelcome at Lombard Street, as closing a
channel of communication which had never been used without friction and
dispute.

The Dover station was at once closed, and the Packets transferred to
Harwich, whence, after a short interval, the whole fleet of both
stations was removed to Yarmouth, a port which was supposed to be more
conveniently situated for the duties which lay before them. All the
mails were forwarded to Helvoetsluis. The relations between the
Post-Offices of England and Holland had always been good; and the
Service worked well and smoothly until the French power menaced the
integrity of Holland.

Throughout the year 1794 the rupture of relations with Holland loomed
through the troubled atmosphere, and early in 1795 it became an
accomplished fact. Town after town declared for the French. Pichegru’s
cavalry, careering over the frozen waters of the Texel, captured the
Dutch fleet; the English troops retreated; the Batavian Republic was
proclaimed; the resources of Holland were added to those of France, and
another outlet for the Continental mails must be found, Helvoetsluis
being henceforth closed against us as rigidly as any port in France
itself.

In this emergency the British Post-Office naturally looked to Hamburg,
with which ancient city it had been in alliance for many generations.
The mails were despatched to Cuxhaven, and were there landed and
despatched _via_ Hamburg into the interior without obstruction for more
than three years. A great frost set in, however, during December, 1798,
and before Christmas the severity of the weather had already produced
serious difficulties for the Post-Office. The mails began to arrive at
very irregular intervals; and each Packet as she reached Yarmouth
brought fresh reports of the alarming speed with which ice was forming
not only in the Elbe, but even beyond the estuary of the river, so as in
a great degree to threaten interruption of all access to the coast.
Meantime the frost grew daily more severe. On the 28th December four
Hamburg mails were due, and London had been without trustworthy news
from the Continent for the best part of a fortnight.

Such an interruption of the regular course of post would have been
serious enough at any time; and if commerce only had been injured by it,
would have called for the promptest remedy possible. But far greater
interests were at stake than those of Threadneedle Street and Mincing
Lane. Political events were occurring on the Continent of which
intelligence reached London all too slowly at the best of times; and it
was quite possible that in the bags lying idle in the Hamburg
Post-Office there might be despatches containing news which, whether for
good or evil, touched the very existence of the country.

The forethought of the directors of the Hamburg Office had provided to
some extent for such a contingency as had now occurred. They had
established an agent on the island of Heligoland, whose instructions
were to receive the mails whenever the Packets were unable to reach
Cuxhaven, and to use any means suggested by his experience for
forwarding them to their destination. It was scarcely likely that
officials in London could quicken this agent’s apprehension of the
urgency of the situation, or suggest any expedient which he had left
untried; and yet the uneasiness both in Downing Street and the City was
rising to such a pitch that it was resolved to send an energetic officer
to attempt both these tasks.

This resolution was hardly taken when the “Champion” frigate, having on
board Mr. Grenville, a diplomatist charged with a mission of some
importance, put back to Yarmouth, from which port she had sailed for
Cuxhaven about a week before. The officers reported having encountered
head winds against which they had vainly struggled to make their port,
or even to reach the Holstein coast, where the envoy might have landed
with some prospect of reaching his destination. They had sighted three
Post-Office Packets beating about in the neighbourhood of Heligoland,
apparently unable to proceed, while the master of a Bremen galliot had
informed them that both the Elbe and the Weser had been frozen up for
three weeks.

The prospect appeared hopeless. Where the “Champion” had failed, it
seemed useless to expect that a Post-Office clerk would succeed. For a
few days, therefore, the matter drifted; but on the 4th January Mr.
Freeling was summoned to Downing Street, and in the course of the
interview which he had with Ministers so much stress was laid on the
necessity of making a great immediate effort to obtain the mails and
despatches which were lying at Cuxhaven, that on his return to the city
he at once selected Mr. Henry Chamberlayne for the duty, and instructed
him to make ready for an immediate departure.

At Downing Street the opinion was held that the conditions of weather
which rendered it impracticable to reach the mouth of the Elbe might
admit of a landing at Norden in Friesland, from which place a journey
overland to Hamburg ought to offer no insuperable difficulties.

A sloop of war was sent round to Yarmouth, where it took up Mr.
Chamberlayne, with two King’s messengers, and at once set sail in
company with a Post-Office Packet and a lugger. The latter craft was to
be detached to obtain the mails at Heligoland, and bring them on to
Norden, whither the sloop and the Packet were to proceed direct. The
scheme failed hopelessly however. It proved absolutely impossible to
land either at Norden or elsewhere within striking distance of Hamburg;
and after beating about the North Sea for ten days, wearing themselves
out in ineffectual efforts to accomplish their mission, Mr. Chamberlayne
and the King’s messengers returned with the report that the thing was
impracticable, and that no mails must be looked for until the weather
moderated.

Their report, though in the main true enough, and made only after very
great efforts to succeed, was already partially disproved in advance. A
daring officer of the Yarmouth station had demonstrated that the ice
blockade was not impenetrable, and had shown that on a service of this
nature the proper person to despatch was a seaman, and one moreover to
whom the navigation of the stormy North Sea was thoroughly familiar.

Captain Bridge, commander of the “Prince of Orange,” had received two
mails for Cuxhaven on board his Packet on the 9th of December; and it
may be interesting to readers of our own day who by long experience have
gained confidence in the speed and certainty of mails, to observe how
long these mails remained in Captain Bridge’s possession, and how he
fared in his efforts to dispose of them.

It was by no means in the power of a Packet captain a hundred years ago
to proceed to sea whenever he pleased. He was under the necessity of
waiting on the winds; and for a full week after Captain Bridge had
received his mails, those winds blew so fiercely from the east that it
was quite impossible for the “Prince of Orange” to set out on her
voyage.

Nothing short of absolute necessity kept the Packets lying idle. If any
craft afloat got out to sea they were expected to do so; but not the
best will or the finest seamanship around the coast could take a Packet
from Yarmouth upon her course for Hamburg in the teeth of an easterly
gale. And so the “Prince of Orange” lay at anchor, while more mails
continually collected in the agent’s office, until, when at last the
wind veered round, and blew from the south, there were three other
Packets also ready to put out to sea.

All four set sail in company; but almost before they had weighed anchor
they were suddenly enveloped in a dense fog, in which they separated. At
the same time the wind shifted again into the north-east, and rose
quickly to a strong gale, with showers of snow and sleet, against which
the four Packets beat vainly throughout two nights and a day, when,
finding it absolutely impossible to make progress, they returned once
more to Yarmouth. Two days afterwards the wind again became favourable,
and the Packets, once more hoisting their anchors, went out of Yarmouth
Roads with a strong breeze from west-south-west. The fair weather lasted
long enough to bring the “Prince of Orange” in sight of Heligoland,
where she remained throughout the night, making signals for a pilot,
which were not responded to.

Now Captain Bridge was well aware of the critical importance of the
service he was engaged on, and by no means intended to be prevented from
executing it by the cowardice or sloth of the Heligoland pilots. He knew
the coast well, and resolved to attempt a landing. Possibly he might
succeed as well without a pilot as with one, since the case was one
demanding resolution and daring rather than an exhaustive knowledge of
the coast. He was venturing a good deal; for the risks of the sea were
his, the Government accepting only those of capture or damage by the
enemy.

At daybreak Captain Bridge took in his signals, and made all sail for
the mouth of the Elbe. The voyage proved unexpectedly easy. The “Prince
of Orange” met with no obstacles. The ice, possibly, had shifted by the
action of the tide; but however that may be, the “Prince of Orange”
succeeded where others had failed, and at 2 P.M. shot the ice close to
Cuxhaven Pier.

This was well enough; but the dangers of the voyage were by no means
over. With great difficulty and no small danger a line was got ashore
across the pack ice; but this occupied some time. The tide was ebbing
like a chain; the Packet had already begun to drift down stream; and
before the line could be made fast by the helpers on the quay, it
parted, and the “Prince of Orange” lay at the mercy of the stream.

Her position was now highly dangerous. The ice floes closed around her,
and navigation was impossible. There was nothing for it but to wait
until she grounded, which she did at last upon a sandbank some
considerable distance below the town, and not far from the village of
Doos.

The “Prince of Orange” lay upon her side at some distance from the
shore. Night was falling; the winter darkness was thick, and nothing
could be done until daybreak. During the night the ice bore down on the
Packet so heavily as to threaten momentarily to capsize her; but though
at times it seemed impossible that she could stand the strain of the
floes grinding against her timbers, she was still in much the same
position when morning came. Moreover, the tide had fallen so far during
the night that it was possible to reach the land; and Captain Bridge at
once put the mails in safety, and ordering his crew to get ashore
whatever they could of value from the ship, which still seemed only too
likely to go to pieces, he hired a wagon in the village, and himself
delivered the mails and despatches at the agent’s office in Cuxhaven.

He made no long delay in Cuxhaven, being in great anxiety about his
ship, but taking over all the bags which the agent had in charge, drove
back in his wagon to Doos. The position there had changed for the better
during his absence. The Packet had floated off the sandbank, and
appeared on examination to be uninjured. The mails were put on board
without delay, and Captain Bridge set sail for Yarmouth, where he
received great credit for his plucky exploit.

The Yarmouth commanders were all bold seamen, but few of them were
willing to take the risks which Captain Bridge had run. The frost
continued week after week, and with one exception, when Captain Hammond
in the “Carteret” repeated Captain Bridge’s feat, bringing home three
mails in triumph, all intercourse with Northern Europe was cut off until
the end of January.

It must appear to our modern ideas scarcely possible to exaggerate the
inconvenience and distress proceeding from this long stoppage of
political and commercial intercourse with the Continent. Such an event
occurring at the present day would assuredly bring down to the ground
many an old business house, and even shake the foundations of public
credit. But our ancestors traded before the days of speedy answers and
quick transactions. They were well used to the loss or long delay of
letters, and had adjusted their affairs to the conditions of their time.
The loss to them, therefore, cannot be measured by what it would impose
on us; yet, after making all allowances, it remained very severe, and
caused great anxiety to the Government.

As January sped away, bringing with it no change for the better, various
suggestions were laid before the Postmaster General by persons who
conceived themselves qualified to advise. Among these the most curious
was considered to be one for the use of balloons. Great merriment was
made in Lombard Street over this idea. It was brought before Lord
Auckland in a jocular report, and he, minuting the case in the same
spirit, professed his readiness to appoint the inventor of the notion to
the post of “Controller of Balloons,” on the usual conditions of
personal service, and of being paid after the return voyage. The project
seems to us less mad than Lord Auckland thought it; but few men would
have been found a century ago to whom the possibilities of ballooning
had revealed themselves.

However, whilst one suggestion was being rejected after another, it was
certainly desirable to do something, if only to avoid the reproach of
inertness; and the receipt of letters of advice from several Greenland
merchants in the city seemed to offer ideas which were worth pursuing.
These merchants pointed out that it would be easy to collect a number of
sailors who were accustomed to find themselves entangled in the ice, and
whom experience had taught how to make the best of such a situation. A
few such men were hastily brought together, and added to the crews of
two of the Packets, each of which was also provided with an ice-boat. At
Heligoland preparations were made for more carefully organized attempts
to reach the mainland. All these designs were, however, formed too late,
for while they were still being perfected, the thaw came, the ice broke
up, and the postal communication fell back into its normal course.

So great a difficulty does not seem to have been caused by frost on any
other occasion. But the time was drawing near when the will of one man
was to erect and hold against English ships a barrier more impenetrable
than that of winter, and during those years of doubt and of anxiety, the
experience gained by the Post-Office in 1798 and 1799 was turned to good
account.



                              CHAPTER VII.
                         THE SECOND FRENCH WAR.


With the outbreak of the second French War, the Falmouth service entered
on a new and better period. It is in fact to the years now opening that
Falmouth men look back with pride and satisfaction, years in which one
gallant action followed another in quick succession, whilst the officers
and crews of every Packet seemed to vie with each other in courage and
devotion to their duties.

A large portion of the credit of the better temper which manifested
itself from this time forth must of course be attributed to the zeal
with which Lord Auckland and Mr. Freeling had plied the reformer’s
broom; but as no regulations or discipline from headquarters can avail
greatly against a supine or hostile executive, it is only fair to
acknowledge that the officers at Falmouth worked most heartily in the
same direction as their chiefs. Indeed, it would seem as if the reproach
cast upon the station by the conduct of the officers of the “Duke of
York” had bitten deeply into the heart of the whole establishment, and
roused them to shake off the old and evil practices which had led to
such disgrace. There was a dark stain on the honour of the Service, and
every man set himself to wipe it out. How nobly this was done the
following pages will amply show.

Among a number of less important reforms which had been carried out
during the last three years perhaps the most useful was the ingenious
system by which the absenteeism of the commanders was checked, while at
the same time a substantial benefit was conferred on the Service. A
system of mulcts was established, under which every commander wishing to
remain on shore when his turn came for proceeding to sea sacrificed a
certain proportion of the profits which he would have made upon the
voyage. But at the same time the sting was taken out of these money
fines, and they were even made popular, by a regulation throwing them
all into one fund, the interest of which was devoted to pensioning the
widows and orphans of captains and masters who were left in distressed
circumstances. Mulcts, which were really nothing more than enforced
subscriptions towards an object which must be congenial even to the
mulcted, were in fact not open to criticism. The amount of the penalty
was sufficiently large to induce some hesitation before incurring it,
but as no exemptions from it were granted, even for reasonable business,
the pension fund grew and prospered, and proved of the greatest benefit
to the Service.

Among the captains who by this salutary new rule were tempted back to
their own quarter-decks was Captain Yescombe, the remarkable story of
whose escape from a French prison in the year 1794 has been told in a
former chapter.

Since the events there described, Captain Yescombe, at his own urgent
request, had been allowed to perform his duties by substitute, on the
plea of having received a strong hint that it would go hardly with him
if he were a second time made prisoner.

What it was that he feared, or on what ground, is not easy to make out;
but it is clear that he had some apprehension of more than ordinary
danger in resuming his sea life, and that he managed to convince the
authorities of the reality of this danger. It is therefore not a little
strange to find that on his first voyage after the war broke out again
his forebodings were verified, and his ruin compassed by a French vessel
named “The Reprisal.”

It was on July 23rd, 1803, that the “King George” set sail from Lisbon
for Falmouth. The passage should have occupied about a week; but the
“King George” never arrived in port. Her fate was not long doubtful. On
August 12th the “Auckland” Packet, which had left Lisbon some days
later, sighted a Swedish galliot, which signalled to her to speak with
them. On bearing down accordingly, the officers of the “Auckland” found
that the galliot was manned by their friends and colleagues of the “King
George,” the refugees of a lost sea fight, in which, though most of them
had received severe wounds, all had escaped alive, save only Captain
Yescombe, who had died of his hurts on the previous day.

The fight, it appeared, had occurred on the 30th July. The Packet made a
stout resistance, and at first with some hope of success,
notwithstanding the obvious superiority of the enemy, a Privateer
carrying fourteen 4–pounders and a hundred men, whilst the “King George”
had only twenty-six men and six guns. The Falmouth men served their guns
well, but they suffered so heavily in their spars and rigging that at
last, after a heavy cannonade lasting nearly an hour, the enemy obtained
an opportunity of boarding.

From that moment the last chance of saving the Packet disappeared. The
French poured fifty men, chiefly blacks, upon her decks. There was a
desperate scuffle, but a few minutes decided the affair. Captain
Yescombe fell, shot through the thigh. Mr. St. Aubyn, the mate, and
three seamen were wounded, the rest were quickly overpowered, and the
ship was won.

The French carried their prize into Vigo, and it was in that port that
the Cornishmen hired the galliot, in which they were returning home when
the “Auckland” met them. Captain Yescombe, by the accounts of those who
were present at his last fight, conducted it with skill and courage. He
was highly respected by his colleagues, and it cannot be said that he
left them any but an animating example.

It may be observed at this point that the maxim enunciated so often in
1793, when the new model was introduced, namely, that “the idea of
defence was to be wholly abandoned,” appears much more rarely in
official reports of the early years of this century. It was still
cherished by the Department, but chiefly for public consumption. It
reappeared down to the very eve of the peace whenever the merchants
complained, but to their own officers, my Lords the Postmaster General
used very different language. They could not indeed supply their
captains with heavier armaments, but they could and did stimulate them
on every occasion to make a spirited use of what they had, and to such
encouragement the Falmouth men responded nobly.

At this period a figure appears on the stage at Falmouth which deserves
more than a passing mention. Captain John Bull was exceedingly well
known in his day, both as a good seaman and a gallant officer, and his
ship, the “Duke of Marlborough,” shared in his well-earned reputation.

In the “Duke of Marlborough” Captain John Bull fought more actions than
any other Packet officer, and, though he by no means won them all, yet
when he was most unfortunate, he emerged with credit, and an added title
to the confidence of the public. There was, moreover, a bluff heartiness
about him, a breezy contempt of danger, a dogged persistence in carrying
through whatever he had undertaken, which excites our admiration even
after the lapse of so many years, and goes far to explain how it
happened that in his life-time he was regarded as the embodiment of the
best qualities of the Falmouth Service, and by an affectionate deference
on the part of his colleagues was awarded by them the nickname, or
title, of “the Commodore.”

The “Commodore’s” first voyage as commander—in succession to his
father—served to prove the qualities which brought him fame. The “Duke
of Marlborough” was not yet built, and Captain Bull was in command of
the “Grantham,” a fine, full-rigged ship, which, from some unexplained
accident, suddenly foundered while lying at Barbados. Captain Bull was
on shore at the time, and the officer left in charge had only time to
save the mails before the ship went down, carrying with her almost the
whole of Captain Bull’s possessions.

The blow was a heavy one, for the “Grantham” belonged to Captain Bull.
If he had remained on the spot, he might have recovered some portion of
his property by salvage, but there was no time for delay. His duty was
to convey the mails to Jamaica, and he lost no time in chartering a
schooner, in which he reached Jamaica even earlier than he had been
expected. The plucky way in which so young a captain faced his
misfortunes won for him a considerable amount of esteem among the
merchants in the island; and feeling confident that their property was
safe in his hands, they appealed to the Governor and to the Deputy
Postmaster of the colony to entrust to him the mails which the
“Grantham” should have carried home to England, and to authorize him to
charter a vessel for the passage. The Postmaster hesitated. He would
have preferred to hold the mails over until the Packet of the following
month arrived, but in the end he yielded to the wishes of the merchants.
A Privateer, the “Caroline,” was hired, and Captain Bull set sail for
England.

It was curious how persistently ill-fortune pursued him. On the very day
on which the “Caroline” left Kingston harbour she sprang a leak, and
after vainly endeavouring to keep the water under, Captain Bull was
obliged to bear up for port. To add to the dangers of his position, a
strong breeze rose, which quickly increased to a full gale. The ship was
labouring heavily, and making water most uncomfortably fast. It was
clear that she could never reach port, and Captain Bull resolved that
their only chance lay in running her ashore.

In such a storm the expedient was desperate enough, but a spot was
selected in which it seemed possible that the ship might hold together,
and by skilful management the lives of all on board were saved. The
mails, too, were got ashore uninjured, and for the second time within
ten days Captain Bull presented himself at Kingston in the capacity of a
shipwrecked mariner, possessing nothing of his own except the clothes in
which he stood, but bringing with him all the public property entrusted
to his care.

Confirmed in their confidence by this second proof that it was well
bestowed, the merchants would have their mails entrusted to no one else,
and within three days Captain Bull was once more afloat, this time on
board the “Thomas,” an armed ship bound for Liverpool. The “Thomas” was
a good and seaworthy craft, and the voyage passed over without incident
until in mid-Atlantic she encountered a French corvette of twenty-four
guns, which bore down and opened fire on the “Thomas.” A sharp action
followed, which might have ended unfortunately had not a lucky shot cut
away the mizzen-mast of the corvette, and in the confusion of this
disaster the “Thomas” made good her escape.

Captain Bull had lost his ship, but he had gained his reputation. From
this time forth he was always named as one of the most active commanders
on the station. The “Duke of Marlborough” replaced the “Grantham,” and
in this famous Packet many notable people elected to make the voyage
home to Falmouth, relying on the skill of her well known captain. So
general indeed was the impression that the passage could be made with
perfect safety on board the “Duke of Marlborough” that Sir Thomas
Maitland, when his command in the Windward Islands expired, refused to
go home in a frigate, declaring that he preferred to sail with Captain
Bull.

In April, 1804, the “Duke of Marlborough” was outward bound to the
Leeward Islands; and, when about twenty-five leagues to the eastward of
Barbados, she was chased by an armed schooner. Captain Bull altered the
course of his ship, and made all sail to avoid an action, if possible;
but at the end of an hour it was evident that the stranger ship was
gaining ground. Her behaviour left little doubt that she was a Privateer
out of one of the French islands; but, in order to settle the matter,
Captain Bull made the private signal; and finding it remained unanswered
he called his men to quarters.

All preparations for the coming fight were completed long before the
enemy came within range. The boarding nettings were triced up, and
stuffed with hammocks and spare sails; the boat was cut away, so as not
to impede the action of the stern guns; the mail was brought on deck,
weighted with pigs of iron, and placed near one of the portholes, in
charge of a sailor who was instructed to sink it instantly should the
enemy appear likely to take the vessel; the small arms were served out;
the men had their dinner, and were all at their posts when at about 3
P.M. the enemy came within range, and opened fire.

A broadside from the “Duke of Marlborough” was the answer to this
salute; and before the smoke of these discharges cleared away the
Privateer was within pistol shot distance of the Packet, both running
before the wind; and a very hot cannonade ensued.

[Illustration:

  To face p. 128.

  H.M. PACKET, MARLBOROUGH.]

A few minutes’ observation sufficed to show Captain Bull that he was in
the hands of an enemy of much superior force. There were five guns on
the schooner’s broadside, while the “Duke of Marlborough” had but three;
and whenever he could get a view of his opponent’s deck, he saw it
crowded with men, beside whom his little handful of thirty-two men and
boys looked insignificant. But this was not the worst of it; for ere
long musket balls began to rattle about the decks of the Packet. A
passenger fell, shot through the head; a few minutes later a seaman was
killed; and it was soon seen that no less than fifty riflemen were
posted in the tops of the schooner, whence they were picking off any one
who showed himself from under cover of the bulwarks.

Captain Bull could spare no man from the deck of his ship; and was thus
unable to retaliate. He was now, however, within about twelve leagues of
Barbados; and there was a good chance of running under shelter of the
island, if he were not first dismasted. At the end of an hour, however,
during which he maintained a stout resistance, it was clear that he
could not much longer manœuvre his ship, which had suffered greatly in
her spars and rigging. Two more of his men were down. He himself was
almost wholly incapacitated by a rifle bullet which had pierced both
cheeks; and at this juncture, the Privateer ran suddenly alongside, the
“Duke of Marlborough” refused to obey her helm, the French made fast
their grapplings, and were pouring down in overwhelming numbers upon the
Packet’s deck, when Captain Bull, perceiving that further resistance was
hopeless, ordered the mail to be sunk, tore up his private signals, and
struck his colours.

The French captain knew how to appreciate a gallant enemy; and Captain
Bull always acknowledged the kindness shown to him, and to the wounded.
The “Duke of Marlborough” was navigated into Guadeloupe, where the
unwounded sailors were thrown into what Captain Bull described as “the
most horrible dungeon that can be conceived, where they had scarcely
sufficient air to breathe.” Fortunately they were not kept long in this
confinement, but were liberated after a short captivity, and permitted
to return to England.

It may be useful to remark at this point that these French Privateers,
of which such numbers were sent out from Guadeloupe and Martinique, were
not only formidable by reason of the numbers of their crews and the
weight of metal which they carried, but even more on account of the
desperate courage with which they attacked. Many a sloop of the British
Navy, armed and manned with a force far superior to that of the
Post-Office Packets found it no child’s play to encounter one of these
ocean free-lances, and some had reason to regret having challenged them.
The “General Erneuf” was widely known and dreaded in the Caribbean
Archipelago, as was also her sister ship, “La Dame Erneuf.” The career
of the latter vessel was stopped in 1805 by H.M. brig “Curieux,” after a
very sharp action, in which, as Captain Bettesworth testifies in his
report, the French had “30 killed and 41 wounded.” And “in justice to
his gallantry,” the captain adds, “I must say he never struck whilst
there was a man on his decks.”

Such being the spirit in which the French Privateers were fought, it is
not wonderful that they committed great ravages among our commerce. The
“Duke of Marlborough” was converted into a Privateer, and on her first
voyage captured H.M. sloop “Lily.” The sloop in her turn was
rechristened “General Erneuf,” the original vessel of the name having
been lost in some unexplained manner. The name had lost its luck,
however, for she was quickly brought to account by H.M. sloop “Reynard,”
Captain Jeremiah Coghlen, who in thirty-five minutes reduced her to such
a condition of helplessness that her captain blew her up in preference
to surrendering.

With facts such as these before us, it is impossible to make light of
the actions fought by the Falmouth Packets against these formidable
adversaries. The merit of a fight does not depend on the numbers of the
men engaged, but on the quality of the defence offered by the weaker
party. The character of a forlorn hope attaches to every one of the
battles into which these little vessels carried so high a spirit; and it
must always be a matter of regret that the records of so many of them
have been allowed to perish.

There lies before the writer a list of actions fought in the years 1804
and 1805, every one of which might well be thought to deserve some
record, had not the details of them been forgotten. It was justly
accounted no disgrace to Captain Bull to surrender to the “General
Erneuf”; yet Captain Patterson, in the “Eliza,” fought and beat this
very Privateer a few months later. The action lasted two hours and a
half; and one would give much to know what passed during that time, for
it is certain that the Privateer did not drop the prey in which she had
fixed her teeth without hard and heavy fighting.

In May, 1805, Captain Mudge, in the “Queen Charlotte,” defended himself
for two hours against a Privateer of 16 guns and 110 men. Captain Mudge
had seen much service in the navy, and had been present at the
engagement with Admiral Langara off Cape St. Vincent in 1781. He was a
brave and experienced officer, of whom it might be said with confidence
that he fought to the very utmost before he surrendered.

It is unfortunate that these and many another gallant fight can never
now be described; but we are happily in possession of fuller details of
a very important public service rendered about this time by a Falmouth
officer, on almost the only occasion when the forces of a Packet were
employed, and properly employed, in an action which might have been
avoided, but was deliberately sought.

The island of Dominica, in some respects the most beautiful of all the
West Indian group, was an object of continual envy on the part of the
French. Lying as it did almost within sight of their own island of
Guadeloupe, it seemed not impossible that by a sudden attack it might be
captured; and it is strange that the danger of such a surprise was not
more carefully guarded against by the English Government.

Whatever may be the explanation of this negligence, it happened that in
May, 1806, though a number of sugar ships fully laden were lying in
Rozeau Bay, the capture of which would inflict a most serious loss upon
the planters, there was actually no ship of war in the bay or in the
neighbourhood for their protection. It is true that H.M. sloop
“Dominica” had been sent to cruise off Guadeloupe; but even with the
greatest zeal and enterprise, this vessel could scarcely have counted on
intercepting more than a small proportion of the Privateers which lurked
in every bay and creek of that notorious island, while, as it happened,
any schemes which her officers had formed in this direction were
promptly frustrated by a mutiny of the crew, who seized the vessel, took
her into Guadeloupe, and reported to the French the defenceless state of
Dominica.

Of course such an opportunity was not likely to be lost; and it was
fortunate for the Dominica planters that no French frigate or ship of
the line was lying at Guadeloupe that day. Had the French been able to
place such a vessel at the head of their flotilla, it can scarcely be
doubted that the island must have fallen, for its shore defences were
not adapted for resisting a strenuous attack, and the troops in
garrison, consisting of detachments of the 46th and 3rd West India
Regiments, were by no means numerous.

As it was, the outlook was sufficiently serious. The French promptly
took the traitorous crew out of the “Dominica,” replaced them with
sailors of their own nationality, and added as many troops as the vessel
could carry. They re-named her “Napoleon,” gave her as consorts
“L’Imperial,” a national schooner, and a sloop, both packed with troops,
and added a couple of row-boats or galleys well stored with arms and
ammunition. General Hortade took command, and the flotilla appeared off
Dominica on the 24th May.

Its appearance aroused very great and natural alarm. A glance showed
that the expedition was a strong one; and, even if a landing could be
prevented, it was difficult to see how the sugar ships could be saved.
To slip their moorings, and stand out to sea in different directions,
would probably be to meet destruction singly; while in harbour they were
at least under protection of whatever guns could be placed in position
for their defence. There was no time to unload the cargoes, and but
little chance of saving them; and the merchants gathered on the quay in
consternation, watching the French ships grow nearer and nearer.

At this crisis, and while the enemy was still some miles off the land,
two English ships entered the bay. One of them was the Packet, “Duke of
Montrose,” commanded by Captain Bert Dyneley, a brave and skilful
officer. The other was H.M.S. “Attentive,” which had been told off to
convoy the Packet and the mails from Barbados through the archipelago of
islands, among which Privateers swarmed almost as thickly as the sea
birds.

The arrival of an English ship of war seemed to the Dominica merchants a
providential deliverance, and under the orders of General Dalrymple,
President of the island, the “Attentive” lost no time in standing out to
sea again to intercept the enemy.

Her movements were watched from shore with keen anxiety, but the
“Attentive” proved herself a wretched sailer. It was not the practice of
the Admiralty to tell off for convoy duty any vessel which would make a
good cruiser; and if the emergency had been less serious. Captain
Dyneley, who must have found it difficult and irksome to keep back his
own fine sailing brig to the slower pace of the escort, might have been
amused to see that the “Attentive” stood no chance whatever of
intercepting the French ships, every one of which was sailing easily
away from her.

There was now no time to be lost. It was plain enough that the enemy
would work havoc among the sugar ships, and might even land their troops
before the “Attentive” could get into action. Only one chance of
checking them remained; and General Dalrymple, backed by all the
merchants of the island, appealed to Captain Dyneley to take a
detachment of troops on board his Packet, and risk her in defence of the
island. This was a proposal which raised several serious considerations.

The Packets of course were no part of the fighting forces of the
country. They were not even national property, but belonged nominally to
the commander.

The undertaking of the Department to pay for damage sustained in action
might or might not apply to the present case. As far as Captain Dyneley
knew there was no precedent for it. His standing orders were to avoid
action whenever he could; but he was now called on to seek an
engagement, to throw his Packet in the way of a greatly superior force,
and that, moreover, on a service quite distinct from the business of the
Post-Office. Here was no question of protecting the mails, but rather of
putting them in danger.

It is true that the service he was asked to render seemed the only means
of averting a national disaster, and might be thought likely to
establish a strong claim on the gratitude of the Government. But Captain
Dyneley was well aware that when the actions of officers on critical
occasions came to be considered in the serene atmosphere of Whitehall,
they were often measured by standards very different from those applied
to them on the spot; and while he probably felt little doubt that the
Postmaster General would make a generous appeal to the Treasury not to
let him remain a loser for acting patriotically, he could be by no means
certain that the trustees of the national purse would not argue that he
ought to have stood out to sea, leaving the sugar ships to fight it out
with the French, and that he acted most irregularly in thrusting his
Packet into danger.

Captain Dyneley stated these facts to the President and merchants, and
pointed out that while he was quite willing to risk his life and the
lives of his crew upon a very hazardous service, it was scarcely
reasonable to ask him to stake his ship also, which was worth £5000. He
therefore proposed that the merchants should jointly guarantee to pay
this amount, in case the “Duke of Montrose” were lost, and the
Government declined to pay for her. But the merchants declined
absolutely to entertain the proposal.

Captain Dyneley then proposed to divide the responsibility, taking on
himself the risk of the masts, yards, rigging, and all the equipments of
the Packet, if the President and the merchants would guarantee the value
of the hull. This offer also was declined, and it was made clear to
Captain Dyneley that if he attempted to save the merchants’ property, he
must stake all his own on the event. The merchants would guarantee
nothing. Not even the sight of the French ships drawing momentarily
nearer induced them to unlock their purse-strings; and if Captain
Dyneley had insisted on his perfectly reasonable request, Dominica would
have fallen, and might have remained a French possession to this day.

Happily for this country, its honour at that crisis did not depend upon
a merchant. It was in the hands of a man whose mind was not dominated by
the fear of money loss, and who, much as he might regret the risk of
losing the capital on which his wife and children must depend if he fell
in the coming action, dreaded far more the disgrace of seeing the Union
Jack hauled down, and the tricoloured ensign floating over Rozeau Bay.
At this moment the Falmouth captain stood for England.

There was no time for reflection, and very little for preparation.
Captain Dyneley cheerfully resolved to take upon himself the whole risk
and responsibility of employing his Packet upon a service which, however
it might result, could not be called a Post-Office service. He sent on
shore all the mails which he had in charge, giving careful instructions
that they were to be destroyed if in any danger of capture by the enemy.
He called his crew together, explained to them what he was about to do,
pointed out that they were by no means bound to follow him, and offered
leave to go ashore to any man who cared to do so.

Of course not one of the Falmouth men flinched, and by the time Captain
Dyneley had satisfied himself on this point, several boats full of
troops had come alongside. Twenty-six men of the 46th Regiment, and
thirteen of the 3rd West India Regiment, were taken on board the “Duke
of Montrose,” making up with her own crew a complement of rather less
than seventy men; and thus provided, the Packet slipped her cable, and
stood out of the bay to meet the advancing enemy.

It may be conceived with what anxiety the movements of the “Duke of
Montrose” were watched from shore. The flotilla of French ships was full
in sight, perilously near the harbour. The “Attentive” was lying at some
distance, evidently unable in the light wind which prevailed to manœuvre
with any effect. Captain Dyneley’s Packet, a vessel of not more than one
hundred and ninety tons, was no larger than the smallest of the three
sloops in the track of which she was thrown, and to the spectators on
the quay it seemed that the three, acting in concert, must quickly send
the “Duke of Montrose” to the bottom.

The first encouraging fact noticed by the merchants was that the Packet
sailed incomparably better than any one of her enemies, and could choose
her position as she pleased. She was, moreover, very skilfully handled,
availing herself of every puff of the wind, which was now growing so
light as to give some uneasiness. Whether by accident or design, the
French vessels had become scattered, and Captain Dyneley seized the
opportunity of dealing with them separately. By far the most formidable
of them was “L’Imperial,” and he therefore singled her out, and bore
down on her as fast as the weather permitted.

Unfortunately, the wind now failed altogether, and the spectators on the
quay saw with dismay that the “Duke of Montrose” was ceasing to cut the
water, and lay with canvas hanging loose out of gunshot of “L’Imperial.”
As quickly as this was perceived, however, hasty movements were seen on
board, the boats dropped over the side, a dozen men leapt into them, and
with a cheer which came faintly over the water to the ears of the
merchants, and put some heart into them, the Falmouth men towed their
ship towards the enemy.

A short range was what Captain Dyneley wanted, his eight guns consisting
chiefly of 12–pounder carronades, and he placed the “Duke of Montrose”
within pistol shot of “L’Imperial.” A very hot action then began. From
the shore nothing could be distinguished but a cloud of smoke in which
the two vessels were obscured. The “Attentive” was unable to attain a
position which would enable her to give the Packet any assistance; and
irksome as it must have been to her officers to see their convoy doing
the work, she seems to have contributed nothing to the result, unless,
indeed, it was her presence on the scene which restrained the other
French vessels from interfering in the fight.

If so, she rendered invaluable service, for Captain Dyneley had his
hands full, and a very little would have inclined the scale against him.
During three-quarters of an hour the fighting was desperate; but at last
the English gained the upper hand; the smoke began to clear away, and
the people watching on shore saw the tricoloured ensign drop from the
mast and the Union Jack hoisted in its place.

This was an excellent beginning, but the work was only half done; and
Captain Dyneley, having taken possession of his prize, lost no time in
giving chase to the “Napoleon,” which vessel appears to have been
occupied chiefly in demonstrating how much faster than the “Attentive”
she could sail, and in declining the action which the latter offered. In
this prudent course she found no difficulty; but when the “Duke of
Montrose,” an incomparably swifter vessel bore down and offered fight,
her crew flushed with the victory which had robbed the expedition of its
most powerful component, the commander of the “Napoleon” judged that the
time for Fabian tactics had gone past, and sought refuge in flight.

Unfortunately for himself he had delayed a little too long. Not only was
the “Duke of Montrose” in a position whence she could have overhauled
the “Napoleon” in a comparatively short space of time, but there were
already in view, rounding a point of the coast, the white sails of an
English cruiser, which, attracted by the firing, was running down to see
if she could be of use. Captain Dyneley continued the chase long enough
to assure himself that the newcomer, which proved to be H.M.S. “Wasp,”
Captain Bluett, could not miss the “Napoleon,” and then returned to
Rozeau Bay where he found the circumstances completely changed.

The “Attentive” had succeeded in capturing the row-boats, and as the
“Duke of Montrose” reappeared on the scene of action had just scuttled
them. There remained only one vessel of the whole flotilla, and about
this one it was unnecessary for either the “Attentive,” the “Duke of
Montrose,” or the “Wasp” to concern themselves. For the apprehension of
a conflict on shore was no sooner removed by the capture of
“L’Imperial,” than the soldiers who were in charge of the land defences
became impatient of their inaction; and Lieutenant Hamilton, having
obtained leave, manned a couple of boats with soldiers of his own, the
48th, regiment, pulled out to the French ship, and captured her after a
brief encounter.

Thus of the whole expedition not one ship or man escaped; and an hour’s
energetic action had turned the well-founded apprehensions felt for the
safety of Dominica into security. Captain Dyneley was undoubtedly the
saviour of the island. Had he not checked the course of “L’Imperial,”
that vessel, which doubtless carried General Hortade, would have
executed her plans without impediment. The “Attentive” could not
overhaul her; the “Wasp” was too far away to be of use in preventing a
landing. Had the French troops been disembarked there must have been
desperate and bloody fighting, the result of which could not be
forecast. The loss of property would have been immense, the discredit to
England and the loss of prestige in the West Indies would have been
greater still.

Whether the merchants expressed their acknowledgments to Captain Dyneley
in any form is not recorded in the official papers from which these
facts are drawn; but General Dalrymple in his despatch to the Admiralty
stated the case not unfairly, though it cannot be said that he wrote
with any undue appreciation of the services of the Post-Office
commander. He admitted that the capture of the two most formidable ships
in the hostile flotilla was due, the one directly, and the other
indirectly, to Captain Dyneley’s enterprise and pluck; and added, “his
zeal and disinterestedness are highly commendable, as from his
instructions he had a good deal to lose.”

On Captain Dyneley’s return to England his own chiefs were well able to
interpret this carefully guarded language, and from them at least he
obtained the admiration which was his due. The Postmaster General
prevailed on the Admiralty to convey to him a special expression of
thanks and approval, and marked their own sense of his conduct by an
honorarium of a hundred and fifty guineas. The Patriotic Society voted
him a handsome piece of plate, and congratulations reached him from
every quarter.

It is satisfactory to read that recognition of his gallant conduct
reached him promptly, because the time within which it could serve to
gratify him was already short.

The “Duke of Montrose” lay at Falmouth until the middle of November,
when she sailed again for the West Indies. A month later she was within
fifty leagues of Barbados, that fatal region in which so many Packets
had to fight for their existence, when in the early dawn a strange sail
was descried from the masthead. An hour made it plain that the newcomer
had altered her course and was chasing the Packet: in the course of the
morning she drew so near that no doubt was left of her being a French
Privateer.

Captain Dyneley put his ship to her best point of sailing, and did all
in his power to avoid an action as his instructions enjoined. Well as
the “Duke of Montrose” sailed, however, the enemy sailed better, and
throughout the day she gradually gained steadily. During the night she
was not shaken off, and about 9 A.M. on the following day, December
12th, she came within range, opened fire, and almost at the same moment
ran down and grappled the “Duke of Montrose,” hoping to capture her by a
sudden assault.

In an attack of this kind the superior numbers of the Privateer’s crew
(she carried eighty-five men against twenty-eight on the Falmouth
vessel) gave her an immense advantage, and this advantage was turned
into an overwhelming preponderance by the fact that she possessed a long
12–pounder (called in one report a 24–pounder) fixed upon a traverse,
and so capable of being directed on any spot with ease.

Captain Dyneley maintained a most obstinate resistance, though on this
occasion the safety of his capital was not in question, since the
Post-Office was pledged to pay for Packets captured while employed on
their own service. Time after time the French were driven back to their
own ship, unable to gain the slightest advantage. For no less than three
hours the two ships remained locked together fighting incessantly, and
it is impossible to say how the action would have ended had not Captain
Dyneley unhappily fallen in one of the boarding attacks. His mate and
three seamen were already slain. Two others were dangerously wounded,
and the crew, dispirited by the loss of their commander, and exhausted
by their long and desperate resistance, hauled the colours down and
surrendered.

So ended, bravely and honourably, the career of Captain Bert Dyneley.
The naval history of this country tells of many exploits performed upon
a grander scale than his and followed by consequences of more
importance. But if the quality of the achievements be considered rather
than the numbers of the contending forces, Captain Dyneley, who
cheerfully risked his property as well as his life in a national service
entirely out of his line of duty, and who a few months later laid down
that life in defending his trust with an obstinacy which his chiefs did
not expect and had not equipped him for, deserves a better fate than to
be entirely forgotten.



                             CHAPTER VIII.
              THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE CONTINENTAL SYSTEM.


Relieved as they were by recent events from all apprehension about the
conduct of the Falmouth Packets, my Lords the Postmaster General yet
found themselves involved in anxieties and difficulties, which were
daily growing more acute. It was the growth of the Continental System,
the blockade of all intercourse with the ports of Europe which give rise
to these difficulties; and to follow plainly the efforts made to cope
with this new situation of affairs, it will be necessary to revert once
more to the outbreak of hostilities in 1803.

The inhuman decree issued by Napoleon at the commencement of the war,
ordering the seizure and detention of all English subjects between the
ages of 18 and 60 who, for whatever reason, were present on territory
subject to French control at the moment when war was declared, has no
defenders now. That barbarous seizure of peaceful travellers, both men
and women, of merchants following their lawful callings, and of
Government servants, who had not yet been ordered to quit their posts,
stands universally condemned as the act of a savage rather than of a
civilized enemy. “It was an act,” says M. de Bourrienne, “which no
consideration can justify”; and in face of this emphatic condemnation of
Napoleon’s private Secretary, it might not have been necessary to refer
to the matter had not the decree struck the Packet Service with peculiar
force.

The war broke out suddenly, and almost without warning. At Helvoetsluis
the business of the Packet Station was in full progress. Four Packets
lay in the roadstead; the commanders were on shore, the agent was
transacting business in his office. No hint or rumour of danger to
themselves had reached them. They knew that the negotiations between
their own Government and that of France had reached a critical stage;
but they believed that timely notice would be given of any rupture, and
they continued their peaceful avocations in reliance on the good faith
which regulates the intercourse of nations.

So strong was the confidence in this good faith that not one of the
Packets was armed. Their guns were lying in store at home, as was the
practice in time of peace; for to make show of readiness of war would
not only have been unnecessary but insulting, and might well have
precipitated a catastrophe. Thus, when a small force of French soldiers
marched suddenly into Helvoetsluis, no apprehension was felt at first;
and no other feeling than incredulity was excited by the intimation of
the officer in command that the English must consider themselves
prisoners, and their ships prizes of war.

Remonstrance was utterly useless. The agent, the commanders, the seamen,
even the British envoy, Mr. Leston, whose character as a diplomatist
should have rendered his person sacred, all were seized, and thrown into
the common prison of the Brill. The unfortunate men did not yet doubt
that the French commander had exceeded his authority, and would be
promptly disavowed by his Government; and as more and more prisoners
were continually added to their number, they kept up their spirits by
the confident anticipation of a speedy release.

Somewhat earlier on this memorable day, two messengers, Mr. East and Mr.
Wagstaff, had left the Hague charged with despatches of great
importance. They found themselves in some danger of arrest while they
were still within the city; but having gained the open country, they did
not doubt that in some one of the Packets which were lying at
Helvoetsluis they would be able to get a passage home. They had not
travelled far when the news of what had happened at Helvoetsluis was
given them by some country people. Mr. East did not believe it; and,
being directly connected with the Diplomatic Service, he felt confident
of his personal safety even if the intelligence were correct.

Mr. Wagstaff was in a different position; and was inclined to attach
more credence to the story. It was decided that the two travellers
should separate; Mr. Wagstaff making for Scheveningen, in charge of the
despatches, while Mr. East, who was acquainted with their tenor,
continued his journey to Helvoetsluis, where he was promptly arrested,
despite his protestations, and sent to join his countrymen in the Brill
prison.

Mr. Wagstaff, travelling on foot through the night, managed, after
several narrow escapes, to reach the seashore, along which he proceeded
to Scheveningen, sheltering himself among the sandhills which line that
coast.

Scheveningen, though within two miles of the Hague, where French
soldiers already swarmed, proved to be unguarded. The town was then, as
it is still in these days, no more than a small fishing village,
possessing neither pier nor harbour, but only an open shore, on which
the fishing luggers beach themselves on returning from a voyage. Perhaps
the French thought the place too insignificant to need a guard; but,
however that may be, Mr. Wagstaff found a fisherman willing to take him
across the channel, and landed safely in England on May 26th, 1803.

It may be that the kidnapping of the unlucky prisoners at Helvoetsluis,
and many another town in Holland and France, was a symptom rather than a
cause of the peculiar exasperation with which the coming war was fought,
but it certainly added vastly to the hatred with which Napoleon was
regarded in this country; and when it was found that the release even of
the diplomatists could be obtained only with the greatest difficulty,
while all the remaining prisoners were reserved for a confinement of
indefinite length, the general indignation knew no bounds.

A few of the Packets’ men, headed by Captain Flynn, managed to burst out
of the Brill prison on the last evening of their sojourn there. They
succeeded in reaching the beach, seized an open boat, and after many
hours of great danger, were picked up by an English ship. The rest of
the prisoners were taken to Verdun, where they appear to have been not
ill-treated. Mr. Sevright, the Post-Office agent at Helvoetsluis,
retained during the whole period of his captivity, which lasted for nine
years, the authority with which he had been invested, keeping up some
sort of discipline, and constituting himself the protector of the
sailors. He received and distributed the allowance of six sous a day
which the English Government granted to each captive sailor; and, being
gifted with strong sense and discretion, was able to intervene with good
effect whenever his men came into conflict, as restless seamen will,
with the Commissary or his subordinates; to secure justice for them, and
in many ways to mitigate the hardships of their unfortunate position.

Before leaving these men in their dreary captivity, it may not be out of
place to refer to the extraordinary courage and endurance shown by some
of the prisoners who attempted to escape.

John Carne, a native of Penryn, had been captured on one of the Falmouth
Packets. He lay in prison for fifteen months; until one night he found
an opportunity of climbing the prison wall. The wall was forty feet
high; but Carne took the chance and leapt down. He fell upon his head
and shoulders, broke his collar bone, and bruised himself very severely;
but fortunately he was still able to walk, and, injured as he was, got
clear away from pursuit. Travelling always by night, through bye roads
and over hedges, half-crippled with his broken bone which remained
unset, he lay by day concealed under bridges, or among reeds in river
beds; and so, toiling on doggedly, he reached the coast at last, and in
some way managed to cross to his own country.

Bourrienne in his memoirs tells on good authority a still more
extraordinary story. Two English sailors in the year 1804 made good
their escape from Verdun, and arrived at Boulogne without having been
discovered, though all the roads were watched with great care. When
these men reached the sea-coast, whence England was in sight, they were
still as far from liberty as at Verdun. Napoleon was at Boulogne,
supervising the collection of the flotilla which was to convey his
armies into England. Every craft for miles along the coast was
registered and watched. The two seamen had no money, and lay in hiding,
desperate and almost hopeless.

At last they determined to construct a boat, and began gathering such
scraps of wood as they could find. They had no tools except their
knives, but with these the ingenious fellows fashioned a boat at last,
though it was no more than three or four feet wide, and a trifle more in
length. They covered it with a piece of sailcloth. It was so light that
a man could easily carry it on his shoulders; and in this frail
cock-boat they determined to cross the channel.

An English frigate one day lay off the coast, reconnoitring, and the two
sailors made a bold effort to reach her. They pushed off in their skiff,
but not unobserved; for they had made only a few hundred yards when they
were pursued and brought back by the Custom-house officers. They then
ran an excellent chance of being shot as spies, but their story reached
Napoleon’s ears. He sent for them, and questioned them. Their boat was
brought with them.

“Is it really true,” he asked, “that you thought of crossing the sea in
this thing?”

“Sire!” they answered, “if you doubt it, give us leave to go, and you
shall see us depart.”

Napoleon could not but admire their audacity, and, acting on a generous
impulse, gave the men their liberty, and caused them to be placed on
board an English ship. The incident was never forgotten by him; and even
in his last days at St. Helena he referred to it with admiration.

One more incident of the same nature is worth recording. A number of
sailors of the Packet Service were in confinement at Amboise on the
Loire. The gaol was densely crowded, the food was bad and insufficient;
fever broke out, and the havoc among the unhappy sailors was immense.

To relieve the congestion in the prison some of the men were allowed a
certain amount of liberty, and permitted to earn a few sous by ferrying
persons across the river. One day they escaped, and after long
wanderings reached the town of Nantes, where they were at once arrested,
and brought before the prefect. They declared themselves to be
Americans, but the prefect was incredulous and questioned them in a very
searching manner. The men however had some knowledge of New York, and
answered his inquiries well enough. The prefect was thrown back by the
accuracy of their replies, but still not satisfied. At last a final test
occurred to him.

“You say you were in New York in the year 17—,” he observed, and the men
assented.

“Do you remember anything of particular interest which occurred in that
year?”

“Certainly,” the spokesman of the party answered readily. “A large
vessel lying at the pierhead foundered suddenly and unaccountably.”

“Pass them on,” said the prefect, “their story is true, I was there
myself, and saw the vessel founder.”

When it was no longer possible to forward mails to Calais or to
Helvoetsluis, the administrators of the Post-Office turned their
attention to the Hamburg route, as in former years. But Napoleon was
already pressing his great policy of excluding English trade from the
Continent, and one of his first measures was to station a considerable
force at Cuxhaven for the express purpose of stopping all commerce with
this country. The independence of Hamburg was not yet violated, and the
Senate of the ancient Hanse town was quite ready to receive in secret
any mails which could be smuggled into the city. To manage this was not
impossible, though very difficult, and throughout the year 1804 a
considerable number of letters appear to have filtered through.

For their greater convenience in plying this dangerous system, the North
Sea Packets frequently made Heligoland their station; but as mails alone
could be disembarked upon that island, while all passengers must find a
safer route, the normal passage was to Gothenburg.

The voyage to Gothenburg was long and stormy, and it became advisable to
select a point nearer Hamburg. Husum in Holstein was admirably situated
for the purpose; and throughout 1805 and the early months of 1806 the
mails were sent thither. There does not appear to have been any
insuperable difficulty in forwarding them from Husum to Hamburg. There
was still a British agent in the latter city, and the Danish Government
which controlled the former was as yet neutral, if not friendly to
England.

It was by no means in accordance with Napoleon’s purposes, however, that
the Hamburg gates should remain ajar to English commerce and
correspondence. Closely occupied as he was throughout the year 1805, he
found time to advance his great design for striking at England through
her commercial supremacy. “Go to Hamburg,” he said to Bourrienne in
March, “it is there I will give a mortal blow at England.”

And so the power of France grew steadily in Hamburg, while the ancient
Syndic of the city saw its independence gradually sapped. Already
violent outrages were committed by the French agents upon messengers
carrying English letters. A courier on his way from Vienna to England
was seized in a forest, robbed of his despatches, and left bound to a
tree, where he would certainly have perished, had he not been released
by a woman who was accidentally passing through the forest. Such were
the risks confronted by the English messengers; but despite all such
dangers the Postal Service was maintained, irregularly indeed, and with
delays and interruptions which caused wide-spreading losses. The wonder
is not that the Service was imperfect, but that it was maintained at
all.

The difficulties grew as the months went by. The decrees of March, 1806,
which Prussia was forced to issue, excluding British ships from all the
ports of Prussia and Hanover, added little to the difficulties of the
Post-Office, for neither Denmark nor Hamburg was concerned in it. But a
darker cloud was rising fast. The French began to menace actively the
independence of Hamburg. In October it was notified by the Hamburg
Post-Office that the situation of affairs no longer admitted of the
receipt of mails for Prussia, Russia, or Germany, and for many days
after the receipt of this gloomy notification no news whatever reached
London from the Elbe.

Late in November a few bags of letters filtered through, giving a more
hopeful account of the situation, but even while these letters were
being read, the French had entered Hamburg, and the revenues of the
Post-Office, the ancient property of the House of Tour and Taxis, had
been appropriated by the agent of Murat.

Quickly on the heels of the messengers who carried this intelligence
followed others bringing the notorious Berlin decrees, of which the
paragraph affecting the Post-Office was short and simple. “All trade and
correspondence with the British Islands are prohibited. In consequence,
all letters and packets addressed to England, or to an Englishman, or
written in English, shall not be transmitted by the Post-Office, but
shall be seized....” Napoleon had struck his “mortal blow,” and the
clang of the Custom-House doors closing against British goods along the
whole coast of Europe, north, west, and south simultaneously, save only
in Portugal and Denmark, sounded in his eager ears the knell of
England’s power.

Thus was created the most serious situation which had ever confronted
the General Post-Office, the most serious, one might say, if it is ever
safe to forecast the complications of international affairs, with which
it can possibly have to deal. The public looked to the Postmaster
General to carry their correspondence, commercial and private; the
Government called on them for the safe delivery of despatches. My Lords
took down the map of Europe and found that from the Elbe to Dalmatia
their Packets could land in Portugal alone, a country whence mails must
be forwarded not only through a hostile territory, but across lofty
mountain passes, and through provinces so wild and unsettled that it
appeared hopeless to think of organizing mail routes from Lisbon for
Germany or Austria.

The chances of smuggling letters into Hamburg was the only one worth
consideration, and the thoughts of the officials in Lombard Street
remained fixed on Northern Europe.

When the French entered Hamburg, Mr. Thornton, the British Consul,
retired to Husum. He saw no prospect whatever of forwarding the mails
which arrived from England, and being somewhat uncertain how long his
position in Holstein might be secure, he thought it well to send the
bags back to London. This was in November; and in the following July
those mails were lying still at the General Post-Office, waiting for
some chance of conveyance to their destination. It needs but a small
effort of the imagination to realize what widespread mischief might
result from the detention of a mail for seven months. Such a fact, more
than pages of description, brings home to our minds how hard and heavy
was the burden which our grandfathers bore in the days of the great war.

The scope of the present work, concerned as it is solely with the
difficulties and successes of Postal administration, does not demand any
relation of the various measures and counter-measures taken by one or
the other of the parties in the struggle for supremacy. It is enough to
observe that the great system proved scarcely more successful than any
other attempt to fetter the natural impulses of nations by any
artificial restriction. Licenses to import English goods were granted in
great numbers by Napoleon himself, as a source of revenue. His officers
in many places, seeing that the chief burden of the system fell on the
German merchants not on the English, evaded their instructions. “I
received orders,” says Count Rapp, “to commit all articles of English
merchandise to the flames. This measure would have been most disastrous.
I evaded it ... and Dantzig lost no more than what amounted to 200
francs, and Koenigsberg still less.” A gigantic system of smuggling grew
up, and on this contraband trade Count Rapp also looked benevolently. “I
frankly confess,” he writes, “that I did not watch the coast of the
Baltic with the vigilance that was prescribed to me.” And thus it
happened that what with licenses, a convenient blindness of the
executive, and a bold and daring trade by smuggling, the great barrier
erected against England proved to be rather a trellis than a barricade,
and was penetrable at many different points.

Of course it was more difficult to introduce letters than goods into
Germany. Mail-bags must be consigned to some responsible person. They
betrayed their origin moreover, and were thus a certain source of
trouble in case of discovery at any point of the route by which they
travelled. All letters addressed in English or bearing English
post-marks were opened and read by the French officials before being
destroyed. If they contained any reference to property, that property
was liable to be seized and burnt as being English or of English origin.
These risks were avoided for the present by sending all letters from
England to correspondents in Altona, who enclosed them in fresh covers
and re-posted them to Hamburg or to places beyond.

The following extract is from a letter written to the Secretary of the
General Post-Office by Mr. Nicholas, British Consul at Altona, to whose
judgment and knowledge of the various changes in the situation of
affairs the Department was very frequently indebted.

“I am sorry to tell you,” Mr. Nicholas writes, under date of May 30th,
1807, “that we this moment receive the intelligence of Dantzig being in
possession of the French on the 26th inst.... Such letters for that
place as I may receive from you before this letter reaches you, I shall
keep in my office until I receive your directions, as the French will at
first look after all letters to discover British property.... I have
made many inquiries how English letters sent under cover to merchants of
this town addressed to Austria and Italy have gone. A banker of this
place, Messrs. Israel and Dehn, assures me that they forward at least 50
to 200 a week, which he receives under cover from England, and that he
has as yet never known one miscarry, nor heard of their being opened. I
readily believe this, as to judge from the general conduct of the
persons employed, their only object is to make money.... I am convinced
that the mercantile correspondence is not interrupted in the least, and
that the revenue alone suffers, as from what I saw in Husum, the
practice of the merchants is to write on a very thin paper and put their
letters under one cover. I observed some instances of this nature where
certainly 30 or 40 letters were enclosed, and the postage charged was
not the amount which ought to have been paid for five single letters.”

Mr. Nicholas was firmly persuaded that the patriotism of the Duke of
Berg’s (Murat’s) agents in Hamburg was so far qualified by respect for
the Post-Office revenues which they had seized as to leave them open to
a bargain. He accordingly approached them secretly, and found them quite
disposed to treat. The Duke’s Postmaster pledged himself that the
letters should go safely; that they never had been, and never would be,
opened; while Mr. Nicholas, who strongly urged the conclusion of this
bargain, was persuaded that the greed of the Berg officials was an
excellent pledge of their good faith.

Bourrienne, who, in addition to his other functions, was the Duke of
Berg’s agent in Hamburg, has nothing to say about this negotiation, so
strangely opposite to the policy of Napoleon that one might call it
traitorous if one did not acknowledge that the base motive of pecuniary
interest may have been mingled with a more honourable desire to avoid
the total commercial ruin of the countries which the Continental System
was crushing into bankruptcy.

For the English Government the question of good faith was not the only
one to be considered. It was a strange proposal that a friendly treaty
should be made with the agents of a hostile nation. The whole situation
was extraordinary; but even if natural scruples could be set aside, even
if honour permitted such a negotiation, it was clear that the ancient
friendship of the Hamburg office would be jeopardized by concluding it.
The French occupation would pass away, and the lawful owners of the
Hamburg revenues would resume them in happier times. Nothing must be
done which could be construed into a recognition by the British office
of the violent usurpation of the French. And so the provisional
agreement concluded by Mr. Nicholas was set aside, much to the
disappointment of the Duke of Berg’s officials, who renewed their
proposals more than once, but always with the same result. Probably this
termination of the matter was lamented also by the English merchants, if
indeed they knew of the negotiations; but they had more ground for
complaint a few weeks later.

The device of forwarding letters under cover to Altona had, as Mr.
Nicholas showed, proved successful; but the time was at hand when this
channel was to be blocked. Holstein was already threatened by the
French. Writing on the 29th July, an old correspondent of the British
Post-Office warned the Secretary that in another fortnight Holstein
would be beset. The crisis was more serious than the writer of the
friendly warning knew. The treaty of Tilsit had been signed. The
movement on Holstein was preparatory to a seizure of the Danish fleet,
to be used against this country. The English Government struck hard and
quickly, and within the period named a British fleet was working into
position before Copenhagen.

What followed is well known; but the measures of the English were taken
so secretly that the general public by no means understood what was
going on, and two Packets arriving early in August at Tonningen, which
for some time had been their station, were greatly perplexed on finding
an English gun brig stationed at the mouth of the river Eyder, giving
orders for no British vessels to pass.

Such orders did not in the opinion of the commanders justify them in
carrying their mails back to England. Their vessels might be stopped,
but boats were allowed to come and go as before; and the two commanders
consequently went up the river in their boats, taking the mails with
them.

When they approached the town they were hailed from the Danish
quarantine cutter, with orders that unless the Packets came up to their
usual anchorage, which happened to be exactly under the guns of the
battery, the mails should not be landed. The captains insisted; the
Danish officer grew furious, and actually proposed to flog the Danish
pilots, who had accompanied the captains, for leaving the Packets
outside the bar of the river.

In the end, the dispute was arranged and the mails were landed; but
events were occurring which could not fail to sting the Danes into the
bitterest enmity against us; and most of our countrymen in Denmark were
indeed already applying for their passports. The English brig at the
mouth of the Eyder seems to have been removed after a few days; and the
Packets came up the river as before.

On August 15th, the “Lord Nelson,” Captain Stewart, arrived at Tonningen
with mails from Harwich. The bags were landed without interruption, and
were being taken through the town to the agent’s office, when the wagon
in which they were carried was suddenly surrounded by a throng of Danish
officers and soldiers who, on looking into it and seeing that it
contained mails, compelled the driver to proceed not to the office of
the British Post-Office agent, but to the Danish Post-Office. “Upon
this,” wrote the agent in reporting the circumstances to London,
“Captain Stewart endeavoured to conceal the bag for the agent containing
the despatches and letters for His Majesty’s Ministers on the Continent;
but this bag was also taken from the steward, who had placed it under
his coat, and everything was delivered at the Danish Post-Office.
Captain Stewart immediately repaired to me, informed me of the
circumstance, and also told me that another Packet boat was in sight. I
therefore despatched a message to the captain of the second Packet
ordering him not on any account to land his mails or despatches, and to
keep, if possible, out of range of the batteries.

“I then wrote to the Danish Postmaster requesting he would immediately
deliver to the gentleman bearing my note those bags ticketed “the agent
at Tonningen.” Mr. Schultz who carried this note found sentinels at the
door of the Post-Office, and had some difficulty in presenting my note.
Ultimately he brought me a verbal answer, refusing the delivery of the
bags. The Postmaster told Mr. Schultz he was authorized in what he had
done, but refused to name the source of his authority.

“I then myself repaired to the Postmaster, who named the Commandant of
the port as having authorized the detention of the bags. I immediately
wrote in polite terms to the Commandant, requesting he would issue the
necessary orders for delivering to me that part of them which was
directed to the agent. To this letter I received a verbal message
stating he did not think it necessary to answer my letter, and that he
was much surprised that those gentlemen who had the day before taken out
their passports had not left Tonningen. I believe every person connected
in any way with the British Government had the preceding day taken out
passports to enable them to depart as circumstances should occur. During
these transactions the second Packet boat had arrived, and, the
messenger not having been able to deliver my orders, had landed her
mails. The captain endeavoured in vain to regain possession of them. He
himself with the mails and despatches, was escorted to the Danish
Post-Office. After many difficulties the two captains, some English
people, and myself got permission for a boat to convey us on board the
Packet boats; and while lying alongside the Danish guardship, waiting
for permission to pass her, a gentleman from the shore came on board the
boat to say that if I would return, the bags destined for me should be
put in my possession the following morning. I then proceeded on board
one of the Packets, both of which (from the circumstance of the Battery
at Vollonig having received a considerable addition of soldiers in the
course of the evening) had thought proper to drop down out of reach of
the guns. The following morning I repaired again to Tonningen and
received the bags destined for me, their seals perfectly unbroken. I
disposed of the contents of the bags according to directions received
from Mr. Thornton, and prepared to follow that gentleman, having
understood he had already left Altona.

“It being Post-day, I sent to the Danish Post-Office and received the
mail as usual for England. Captain Kentzinger and Mr. Agent Schultz, who
had disembarked again from the Packets, now waited upon the Commandant
to sign our passports again prior to our final departure, who
immediately expressed much surprise that we were not departed. We stated
that we had returned to execute the business of our different
departments, having received an intimation that we might do so in
perfect security. The Commandant expressed himself a perfect stranger to
any such indulgence or permission having been granted, and said the
measure of detaining the mails proceeded entirely from the hostile
measures of the English in putting Zealand into a state of blockade; and
conceiving this declaration demonstrative of the insecurity of any
despatches that might arrive in future, and Mr. Thornton’s instructions
recommending my departure, I left Tonningen with the Packet destined to
sail on Sunday, the 16th instant, first leaving instructions to the
captain of the Packet who brought the second mail to remain in the river
a few days to warn any other Packet that might arrive of the danger, and
to bring away any remaining English passengers who might not have had
sufficient notice of the necessity of immediately embarking.”

The Danes had shown themselves both honourable and forbearing in
allowing the Packets an opportunity of getting clear away, but to permit
one of them to remain hanging about the mouth of the Eyder, as the agent
had directed, was quite another matter. Accordingly, about 5 A.M. on the
17th August, Captain Deane, who had been left in the “Lady Nepean” upon
this service, descried a brig being towed down the river by several
boats. It was the guardship from Tonningen which was upon them; and as
she had evidently not left her anchorage without hostile intent, Captain
Deane thought it prudent to weigh anchor, and make ready for departure.

The sails were hoisted but it was unfortunately almost dead calm, and
though the Packetsmen got out their boat and towed, the Danish brig made
far quicker progress, and at 6 A.M. had come within musket shot. At that
moment, just in the nick of time, a little breeze sprang up from the
northward, and the “Lady Nepean,” receiving it first, forged ahead once
more.

Seeing what had occurred, the Danish boats dropped back alongside the
guardship, and Captain Deane could see that a number of muskets and
cutlasses were being handed in, while the crews of the boats were
increased to about 50 men. The situation was growing awkward. The breeze
was still light, and the “Lady Nepean” forged only slowly through the
water. The boats were fast coming on, the men cheering loudly. Captain
Deane hailed them, but received no answer, and thereupon, not choosing
to assume that they meant to attack him, ordered one or two muskets to
be fired in the air. Instantly the boats replied with a volley of small
arms, and at the same moment the brig opened fire. By this time,
however, the breeze was rising fast. A few well-directed shots caused
the boats to sheer off in some confusion. The fire from the brig did
little harm. Ere long the Packet was out of range, and she completed her
voyage to England without misadventure.

It is impossible to avoid drawing contrasts between the conduct of the
Danes at Tonningen and that of the French under the very similar
circumstances at Helvoetsluis. In both cases English ships were in port
and English officials engaged on shore, in reliance on their absolute
safety until due warning was given to them that they must leave. The
circumstances were, it is true, not exactly alike; for the French had no
greater cause for exasperation against us than must always exist between
hostile nations, whereas the Danes were smarting under an aggression
which was unprovoked and intolerably wounding to their pride. Whether it
is or is not possible to justify our seizure of the Danish fleet is a
question over which historians will wrangle till the end of time. But to
the Danes it could have seemed nothing but a gross and wanton outrage,
and though the events just described preceded the actual bombardment of
Copenhagen, the British expedition had already made such progress that
in looking at the self-control exhibited, one can only wonder and
admire.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                          TWO BRILLIANT YEARS.


The loss of Denmark’s friendship may possibly have been balanced in the
eyes of Mr. Canning by the possession of her fleet, but to the
Postmaster General and the other officials at Lombard Street, who were
responsible for the maintenance of Postal communications it was a very
grievous disaster. The device of sending letters under cover to Altona,
involving as it did much inconvenience and delay even if the letters
were as safe as Mr. Nicholas believed, had been resorted to with much
grumbling on the part of the merchants, who only discovered its value
when it had become impossible. Gothenburg was now the only port in
Northern Europe available for the Packets. The station was inconvenient;
the passage was long and stormy. The Swedish Post-Office in Hamburg had
been closed for some months, and it was consequently by no means clear
that there was any great advantage in sending the mails out of England
at all. A certain number were doubtless forwarded from Gothenburg by
various secret and irregular routes, but it was indeed a desperate
crisis which made it necessary to entrust valuable letters or
remittances, on which the credit of a substantial merchant might rest,
to smugglers and the other wild and lawless characters who would alone
venture to incur the risks inseparable from the undertaking.

The situation was intolerable. The merchants were clamorous for some
assistance, and it was only too evident that unless the trade of the
country were to perish, and with it our supremacy, an expedient must be
quickly found. At this juncture the capture of Heligoland provided a
base from which efforts might be made to reach Hamburg with some chance
of success.

No exposition is needed to show how great the value of Heligoland was to
this country. The island lies but a few hours’ sail from the mouths of
the Elbe, the Weser, and the Ems. British goods might be landed there
with perfect confidence, for little need be feared from any naval
attack, and could lie there unmolested until the fishermen of the
island, or of the Hanover and Holstein coasts, smuggled them into Bremen
or Hamburg. A very valuable trade of this description soon sprang up,
for the profits were great enough to gild the risks. The goods were, of
course, contraband in Hamburg, but the exacting requisitions of clothing
for Napoleon’s army made it necessary for the citizens to chance the
penalty, and to trade with the smugglers at any hazard for Yorkshire
cloth.

Heligoland was captured on September 4th, 1807, and whilst the
Government were still debating about the best means of making use of it,
news was arriving from the opposite corner of Europe which made the new
acquisition seem more and more valuable, for the French designs on
Portugal were becoming manifest. The Prince Regent’s friendship for us
was receiving shock after shock from Napoleon’s menaces, and it was
obvious that the time was at hand when the cordon which had blocked
against our shipping every harbour from the Baltic to Dalmatia, except
Gibraltar and the coasts of Portugal, would be drawn across the entrance
of the Tagus also.

Napoleon demanded three things of the Prince Regent. Two of these
demands, of which the whole number were levelled against England, the
Prince had courage to refuse, namely, the detention of all Englishmen
then in Portugal, and the confiscation of their property. The third
demand, which was also the most important of the three, he at last
conceded, with a kind of weak belief that he would thereby, while
sacrificing the neutrality of his country, promote a general peace; and
accordingly, on October 27th, Mr. Chamberlain, the Post-Office agent at
Lisbon, transmitted to his Department a copy of a proclamation issued on
the 22nd, which announced that the harbours of Portugal were henceforth
closed to British vessels, whether of war or commerce.

“Some private information I have just received,” wrote the agent, in
commenting on this proclamation, “leads me to apprehend that this
government may seize the English who remain here—and certainly they have
had strong and sufficient warning to withdraw—in order thereby to
appease the wrath of Bonaparte.” And he went on to lament that the
moment had been let slip for supporting the Prince Regent with a British
fleet. “Every preparation is made to oppose the entry of a fleet, and I
much fear that it will now be impossible for any but a very immense
force to attempt the Tagus. I have long dreaded this, for I have been
aware of the system that was being carried out, and it grieves me beyond
expression to see the moment rapidly approaching when the navy and all
the Brazilmen, which are just so many men-of-war, the finest vessels in
the world for carrying troops, fall into the hands of Bonaparte. There
is perhaps yet time to prevent this evil, but it is barely possible....”

On the following day he wrote again. “We are in hourly expectation of a
proclamation ordering his Majesty’s subjects to quit the kingdom. Our
stay must be short.” It was, indeed, a hazardous position. Junot at the
head of his army was pushing rapidly through Spain. The Portuguese
Cabinet saw no safety save in acts of hostility towards the English. The
crime of Helvoetsluis stood on record as a warning of what might be
expected when the French arrived, and the British residents on the Tagus
poured out of the country day by day. Mr. Chamberlain’s duty was to
maintain the Postal Service until the very last moment; no order for
arresting the English had yet appeared, but it was expected hourly, and
the agent, who could not hope to be exempted from its scope, took the
precaution of chartering a small armed schooner which was to lie off the
coast in readiness for sailing night or day.

The crisis came on November 11th. All Englishmen, save the Ambassador
and his staff, were to be arrested. Mr. Chamberlain concealed about his
person a number of despatches for the Foreign Secretary, and, escaping
from his lodging, made his way to the coast. To his dismay his schooner
was nowhere to be found. A violent storm had blown her out to sea. He
hired a boat, and made efforts to reach some of the British vessels in
the offing, but the sea ran so high that he was obliged to put back
three times, and at last the sailors declined to go out again. Mr.
Chamberlain therefore started off on foot, and after a perilous journey
reached Cascaes, where, by good luck, he found the “Walsingham,” a
Falmouth Packet, which, on attempting to enter the Tagus as usual on the
previous day, had been fired on from the batteries, and was now standing
on and off the coast in the hope of ascertaining the precise situation
of affairs. Mr. Chamberlain’s arrival settled any doubt as to the
hostility of the Portuguese, and the “Walsingham” at once set sail for
Falmouth.

The only hope of the Post-Office now lay in schemes of smuggling,
conducted from Heligoland. Suggestions were pouring in upon them. Plans
more or less impracticable emanated from every crazy enthusiast in
London, and the general public demonstrated no less clearly than in our
own times its conviction that it was qualified to instruct the experts.

There were anxious consultations at the Foreign Office between Mr.
Canning, Mr. Freeling, and Mr. Thornton, who was fortunately at hand to
give the benefit of his unrivalled local knowledge and of that sagacity
which had extorted the admiration of Bourrienne.

The immediate difficulty was to find a means of communicating to the
Senate of Hamburg, then, as always, friendly to the English, the fact
that mails were lying at Heligoland, and to concert with them some
scheme for introducing those mails into the city.

To do this was a matter of great difficulty, since all the approaches to
Hamburg were very closely watched. It was also dangerous, for if the
messenger were captured, he would certainly have to face a long
imprisonment; and worse than imprisonment might befall him, for he ran
an excellent chance of being shot as a spy. A man of courage must
therefore be chosen, and one of resource, of undoubted honesty, faithful
to his employers, and adroit in action. Such a man was not easily found;
but Mr. Thornton at last put forward his servant, James Giltinan, who
had been long with him in Hamburg, and was well acquainted with all the
surrounding territory.

Giltinan accepted the dangerous mission very readily. He sailed from
Harwich on a Packet bound for Heligoland, and within a few hours of his
arrival in that island he left it again on board a schuyt, bound for the
mouth of the Elbe. The Heligolanders were confident that he would never
succeed in penetrating to Hamburg, and the event proved them right. A
furious storm delayed all news for some days, but at last the schuyt
returned with the melancholy news that Giltinan had been made prisoner
between Neuwerk and Cuxhaven, and sent to Hamburg in close confinement.
What befell him there does not appear ever to have become known.

Upon the failure of this gallant venture various plans were considered,
but all were laid aside as offering no prospect of success commensurate
with the risk involved. The Post-Office declined to make itself
responsible for any further efforts, and resolved to confine itself to
landing the mails at Heligoland, where they must lie until good fortune
provided some means of forwarding them. To such a condition of impotence
the policy of Napoleon had reduced the Post-Office in the year 1807.

It is now time to return to the operations of the Falmouth Packets. A
new service to Gibraltar and Malta had been opened in the year 1806, in
deference to the wishes of the Mediterranean merchants, and still more
perhaps to the foresight of the Government which anticipated the closing
of the Northern ports. The “Cornwallis,” Captain Anthony, was the first
Packet despatched on this voyage, which the hostility of Spain rendered
rather dangerous. The passage through the Straits brought the
“Cornwallis” into close quarters with the Spanish coast, and six
gun-boats sallied out from Tarifa to intercept her.

These gun-boats carried 24 and 30–pounders, heavy guns for those days,
with from fifty to seventy men each, and their plan of attack was a
simultaneous onslaught. They were probably Privateers, for they fought
under the bloody flag in token of their resolution to give no quarter.
Captain Anthony had anticipated some such attack; and on meeting
Collingwood’s fleet on the previous day, had asked for convoy through
the straits. Collingwood, however, could not spare a convoy, being in
constant hope of meeting the French fleet and bringing it to action.

“Just at first,” says a passenger on board the “Cornwallis,” “when we
saw the enemy coming we wished we had had the convoy; but we soon forgot
that when our blood warmed, for all on board had to turn to and work his
best. Everybody on board did not seem to mind at all, down to the little
boy who serves us in the cabin, although we could see they more than
twice outnumbered all of we, for one Englishman is as good as two
frog-eaters, and I am sure as good as any two of those rags of
Spaniards. I saw that little David, the cabin lad who carried up the
powder from below, sang merry until he had no wind with running up and
down so much, and he only cried one bit at first, when a splinter from
the boat’s bottom cut his forehead. His face was very black from the
smoke, and he looked mighty comick when I wrapped his head up in my
large kerchief, which I did when I was recovered from my fright.

“It was at ten o’clock on Monday morning, July 28th, 1806, a very hot
day with little wind, that we engaged in coming through the Gutt, and we
fought them for getting on for two hours, till nearly noon, about
fifteen to twenty miles from Gibraltar.... The captain, seeing as how I
was quite well again from my sea-sickness, and that I look steady, gave
me the charge of all the powder, which gave me plenty to do. To every
man on board cutlasses was served out, for we must not trust to our
cannon alone, as they mostly try to board a ship, and take it by power
of numbers.

“If a light wind, they make use of their oars and sweep along very fast,
and board on all quarters at once if they can. Our ship with her stern
gun, a long 9–pounder, spoke such language as they could not understand.
She fired about sixty shots, and kept them at their proper distance, and
was our principal defender. I suppose we fired two hundred shots on the
whole, and did much damage to the gun-boats, one of which we sunk, and
many of her men, thank God, was drowned in the sea, though the other
boats being near picked up some. Once or twice when we struck them with
our grape their shrieks was very awful and loud.

“Captain Anthony behaved bravely, and much praise is due to him for his
spirited conduct. Mr. Mitchell, from Berwick on Tweed, fought with
uncommon vigour; he fired three of the guns. As soon as one was
discharged he ran to another; and directed the shot in a gallant style.
The first shot that the Spaniards fired blew away the bottom of the boat
which hung astern of the ship, and broke the cabin windows. A piece of
wood from the boat struck me in the back, and I was much alarmed lest I
was shot; but I received no hurt, only a great fright, at which Captain
Anthony found time to laugh heartily.

“They fired grape-shot at us, which did much damage to the sails, and
broke one of the irons which support the boarding net, and wounded some
of our men. Only one was killed in the engagement, a man named Reeves,
from Lichfield it is thought, who was a brave and good sailor. He was
shot through the thigh and breast, and must have been killed
instantaneous, for he did not look agonized. This is the first man I
have seen killed. At about twelve o’clock the five gun-boats retired,
having had more than they expected; the breeze was still light, and they
returned, but we think not all of them, to Tarifa.”[4]

Footnote 4:

  This quotation is made, with the kind permission of the editor of the
  _Cornhill Magazine_, from an article which appeared therein in May
  1887, entitled “From a Diary of 1806.”

Now this somewhat rambling account, the narrative of a plain merchant,
not much skilled in the use of his pen, telling us exactly what struck
him, too manly to be ashamed of owning himself to have been both
sea-sick and frightened, yet showing us in his modest way that he was
usefully employed in helping those who did the actual fighting, this
straightforward, sensible story puts the whole scene before us more
clearly than a thousand official reports. Little David running upstairs
“singing merry,” not old enough to keep his tears back when the splinter
wounded him on the forehead, forms a picture too vivid to be forgotten.
Captain Anthony’s hearty laugh when his passenger thought himself shot,
helps us to realize the joviality with which our grandfathers went into
action, too confident in themselves to trouble their heads about the
issue, even when fighting against six enemies at once.

The Postmaster General did not think much of this action, ranking it
somewhat low among the achievements of the Packets chiefly because it
was a running fight. One might have supposed that the sinking of one of
the gun-boats, together with the skill in manœuvring exhibited by
Captain Anthony in repelling the other five, entitled him to a
considerable share of credit. He gained more however for his conduct
nearly a year later, namely on July 2nd, 1807.

On that date the “Cornwallis” was chased by a lugger about thirty
leagues off Brest. The lugger came on under English colours; but Captain
Anthony, finding that she made no answer to the private signal,
instantly cleared his decks, called his men to their stations, served
out cutlasses and pistols, and waited for the lugger with his guns ready
shotted.

It was well that he had sailed the seas long enough to be cautious; for
the lugger, having flown her English colours until she came within half
pistol shot distance, suddenly hauled them down, and ran up the Spanish
flag at the mizzen, and the French ensign, topped with a red flag, the
signal of no quarter, at the main. In the same moment, without hail or
summoning gun, a broadside roared out, followed by a rattling volley of
small arms, by which her commander doubtless thought to shake the nerve
of the Falmouth men, and by one sudden blow to win an opportunity of
boarding.

He was mistaken in his men, and he had forgotten the “Cornwallis’” stern
guns. Her broadside came crashing into him before the smoke of the first
discharges had blown away, and Captain Anthony was perfectly awake to
the manœuvre his enemy was contemplating. He saw the lugger making sail;
he understood full well that she was bearing down to grapple him on the
starboard quarter. His couple of 12–pounder carronades were
double-shotted, and as the lugger sheered up under the stern of the
“Cornwallis” she got such a storm of grape and canister along her decks
as took the heart out of her for boarding; while as she fell away in
some confusion the Packet’s starboard guns came to bear, and were
discharged at short range with terrible effect.

This was the decisive moment of the action, and the event was never
afterwards doubtful, though the fight was by no means over. The lugger
sheered off to a safer distance, and commenced a heavy cannonade which
did much injury to the “Cornwallis,” dismounting one of the stern guns
which had served her so well, wounding three men seriously, and almost
crippling her in sails and rigging. The enemy, however, either suffered
more, or did not realize how effective her fire had been; for she showed
no inclination to come to close quarters again, and after about an hour
hauled off, and stood away to the southward, leaving the Packetsmen to
enjoy their triumph.

Somewhat earlier than this, namely on May 28th, 1807, the “Duke of
Marlborough” was in the neighbourhood of Barbados, when the look-out at
her masthead reported a schooner in sight running before the wind a few
miles away to the southward. Captain Bull was not on board, and the
Packet was in charge of Mr. James, the master, an officer whose growing
reputation both as a navigator and in action already marked him as
destined for an independent command. Mr. James was well aware of the
great probability that any strange vessel encountered in that situation
was an enemy; and he made his preparations without loss of time. It was
half-past four in the afternoon when the schooner was sighted. By five
o’clock the decks were cleared, the boarding nettings triced up, the
arms served out, the mail brought on deck, the guns loaded, and the men
were at their quarters, cheerful and confident.

Hardly were these arrangements completed when the schooner tacked and
made all sail in chase. At 10.15 P.M. she came up astern and fired the
first shot, to which the Cornishmen replied with their full broadside.
On this the action became general, and the two vessels pounded each
other for three-quarters of an hour at close range without serious
damage on either side.

Mr. James, confident in the gunnery of his men, felt no apprehension
about the result of this cannonade. What he did fear was a boarding
assault, for the numbers of the enemy were far superior to his own. At
11 P.M. he perceived that the French were collecting their boarders. The
moment was favourable to them. The vessels were nearing each other. The
boarders were gathering in numbers sufficient to sweep the little crew
of Cornishmen into the sea; and Mr. James saw with alarm that the
situation of the vessels was such that for the moment he could not bring
a single gun to bear.

There was not an instant to lose. The Frenchmen were already clambering
upon the bulwarks of their ship balancing themselves in the act of
springing. In another moment the whole party would have been scrambling
over the nettings of the Packet, when Mr. James, seizing the helm,
jammed it hard-a-port, and laid the “Duke of Marlborough” right across
the enemy’s bows.

By this bold manœuvre the tables were turned. As the Packet forged
across the schooner’s track, every gun in her broadside came to bear
successively. Each one in turn raked the French ship from stem to stern
with grape-shot and canister, and when Mr. James had leisure once more
to look about him, he saw that there was confusion among the enemy, who
had evidently sustained a heavy loss. The Frenchmen rallied from this
blow surprisingly fast, and in a few minutes secured another opportunity
of boarding. The favourable moment had gone by however. The Cornishmen
were fully prepared, and not one of the boarders managed to gain the
deck of the “Duke of Marlborough.” This second failure seemed to take
the heart out of the attack, for shortly afterwards the Privateer
sheered off and was seen to heave to with the evident intention of
repairing damages.

She had not yet done with the Packet, and about midnight made sail once
more in chase, coming within range at 8 A.M., when a heavy fire of great
guns were opened on both sides, and maintained very warmly for two hours
and a half. At the end of this time, finding she had gained no decisive
advantage, and having had enough of close quarters on the previous
evening, the Privateer again sheered off and left the “Duke of
Marlborough” to pursue her voyage unmolested.

In these two actions six Packetsmen were wounded, one mortally. The
amount of loss sustained by the Privateer, which was a large vessel of
fourteen guns, well known as having captured many English merchantmen,
could not be ascertained, but it was the opinion of some of the officers
of the “Duke of Marlborough,” that if they had pressed their advantage
she could not have escaped. Allowing, however, for very heavy losses,
the number of Privateersmen capable of fighting at the close of the
action doubtless far exceeded the whole complement of the Packet, and
Mr. James, whose first duty was to expose the mails to no unnecessary
risk, certainly exercised a wise discretion in refusing to embark in
such an adventure.

This, it may be added, was by no means the only case in which the crew
of a Packet, flushed with success, were compelled to refrain from
pushing their victory to a conclusion, and so to abandon the prize money
which was almost in their grasp. It was hard to let a beaten enemy
escape, and it is a striking proof of the good feeling existing among
the sailors on the Falmouth Packets that they tolerated such an event
without a mutinous outbreak.

A few months later there occurred a fight, which, if not more bold and
desperate than half a dozen others recorded in this volume, attracted a
larger share of public recognition, and won for the officer in command
something like that fame which was so often deserved by the Falmouth
commanders, but so very seldom bestowed on them. The action of the
“Windsor Castle” on October 1st, 1807, is, indeed, one of the three or
four fights to which the world outside Falmouth paid some attention. It
has found a niche in the naval histories, and is still remembered when
almost every other action of the Packets, however glorious, is
forgotten.

The “Windsor Castle” was commanded by Captain Sutton, but that officer
had remained at home, and the ship was in charge of Mr. William Roger,
the master. She sailed from Falmouth at the end of August, 1807, with
mails for the Leeward Islands, and after a tedious voyage was nearing
Barbados, in those waters which were a veritable cockpit of the
Atlantic, when the look-out reported that a strange schooner, which came
in sight a few minutes earlier, had altered her course and appeared to
be chasing the Packet.

Mr. Rogers at once caused every stitch of canvas to be set; but at the
end of an hour there could be no doubt that the enemy had the heels of
the “Windsor Castle,” and that an action was inevitable. Perhaps Mr.
Rogers and his crew, having obeyed their orders by attempting to escape,
were not ill-pleased on finding that they could not do so. To the
former, especially, who held only a temporary command, the chance of
distinguishing himself was doubtless welcome, and he set about his
preparations with a cheerful confidence which had an excellent effect
upon his men.

About noon the strange schooner came within range, hoisted French
colours, and opened fire. The Cornishmen replied by playing on the enemy
with their stern chasers, those long brass guns which in so many other
fights had proved serviceable in delaying the advance of an enemy. On
this occasion, however, they appear to have done little execution, for
the schooner drew on rapidly, and, coming within hail, ordered Mr.
Rogers, in what he termed “very opprobrious language,” to strike his
colours. On finding that he treated this demand as it deserved, the
French opened a very heavy fire, both of cannon and musketry, which they
maintained without intermission for more than an hour.

The Privateer carried three guns in her broadside, as did the “Windsor
Castle” also, but they were 9–pounders, whereas the Packet’s broadside
guns were only 4–pounders, and her chasers 6–pounders. Moreover the
Privateer had a long 18–pounder fixed on a swivel in the centre of the
main-deck, and traversing on a circle, so that it could be brought to
bear on any point with ease. The fire of this powerful gun could not
fail to exercise a large effect on the action, and in fact great damage
was done by it to the spars and rigging of the Packet. At last the
French, believing the moment favourable, seized an opportunity of
boarding, and grappled the “Windsor Castle” on the starboard quarter. A
strong party leaped into the nettings of the Packet, slashing at them
with swords, and hacking at the ridge-ropes with long poles armed with
hooks of sharpened steel. But the nettings were lofty and well-secured,
the Falmouth men understood the use of pikes and cutlasses, and in a few
minutes several of the boarders were wounded and thrust into the sea,
while the remainder leaped back to their own ship. On the failure of
this attack, the French cut the grapplings, and would have sheered off,
probably to resume their cannonade, but the mainyard of the Packet had
locked itself in the rigging of the Privateer, and the wind having
almost completely died away, the two vessels could not possibly
separate. “Thereupon,” says the account, written by a passenger on the
“Windsor Castle,” “our pikemen again flew to their muskets, pistols and
blunderbusses, our gallant captain all the while giving his orders with
the most admirable coolness, and encouraging his crew by his speeches
and example in such a way that there was no thought of yielding,
although many of our heroes now lay stretched upon our deck in their
blood. But then we saw the enemy’s decks completely covered with their
dead and wounded, and the fire from our great guns doing dreadful
execution.”

For more than two hours the Packet and the Privateer lay locked
together, and during all that time the cannonade was furious, while the
losses on both sides were very heavy. The French gunnery seems to have
been defective, and though men were falling fast on the “Windsor
Castle,”—out of eight-and-twenty men and boys three were killed and ten
wounded—they were dropping infinitely faster on the Privateer. “At every
discharge,” says the account already quoted, “we began to hear them
scream, which so inspired our gallant crew that many of the wounded
returned to their quarters,”—a vivid touch of description, which helps
one to realize the desperate character of this long day’s fighting off
the shore of Barbados.

At three o’clock this stage of the action terminated. The French,
seeming to feel the necessity for some great effort, formed a second
boarding party, mustering every available man for the attack. Happily
Mr. Rogers detected their design, and bringing to bear on them one of
his 6–pounders, “crammed with double grape, canister, and one hundred
musket balls,” let fly this murderous charge into their midst at the
very moment when they were grouped together for the assault. A great
number fell, the rest made a dash under cover. They were becoming
demoralized, and Mr. Rogers saw that the moment for which he was waiting
was at hand. His men saw it too, and were growing eager, but there were
only fifteen of them unwounded, and the French were still at the
smallest computation, two to one. And so Mr. Rogers held his men back,
and let the gunners have their way a little longer. At last, about a
quarter-past three, he leapt upon the bulwarks, and, followed by five or
six of his best men, sprang down, sword in hand, on the decks of the
Privateer. There ensued a fierce scuffle, but it lasted only a few
minutes. The French captain led his men on bravely, but he fell dead,
and his men, dismayed at the loss of their commander, wavered, lost
heart, and were driven below decks. A Packetsman exultingly hauled the
French colours down, and the day was won.

Thus ended this long and memorable fight, a striking instance of the
degree in which courage and skill could, in the old days, overcome a
superiority of force and armament. Praises and rewards were unsparingly
bestowed on Mr. Rogers and his brave crew. The former received, almost
immediately, his commission as commander of a regular Packet, together
with a complimentary letter from My Lords the Postmaster General, and a
gratuity of a hundred guineas; the inhabitants of Tortola presented him
with a sword of honour and an illuminated address, and the city of
London, on his return to England, conferred its freedom on him.
Moreover, the value of the prize was paid over to the General
Post-Office and divided among the officers and crew, for though the
Packets were not licensed to take prizes, it was obvious to everybody on
this occasion that the “Windsor Castle” had no alternative but to
capture or be captured.

It appears that at the time of this action the “Windsor Castle” had no
surgeon on board, a most unfortunate occurrence, which probably resulted
in the unnecessary sacrifice of several lives. Many other Packets were
in the same plight, for the Falmouth captains found it difficult to
induce surgeons to offer themselves for the pay authorized, and it does
not seem to have occurred to them to supplement that pay out of their
own resources.

The navy offered better terms than the Post-Office, and so secured
almost all the young surgeons who were willing to go to sea. In former
times the difficulty had been met by stifling all curiosity about the
qualifications of candidates for employment, but such an accommodating
attitude naturally resulted in bringing into the service men of no
qualifications at all, and a stricter rule was reluctantly adopted. It
was not, however, until the year 1810 that the pay of surgeons in the
Packet Service was increased to a point which attracted a sufficient
supply of competent men. The chief duty of the surgeon at ordinary times
was, it may be added, to read prayers to the crew, he being regarded by
My Lords as the most suitable person to perform that office; but the
opportunity of officiating as chaplain does not seem to have added
materially to the attractions of the post.

There were no other actions in 1807, but the following year was marked
by two or three which deserve to be recorded. The fact is, however, that
at this period the conduct of the Packets was so invariably
distinguished by the highest courage and the most zealous sense of duty,
that the narrative of events is perhaps open to the charge of monotony,
and the inclination of the chronicler is to pass somewhat lightly over
the details of many a fight which, if the balance of account were not
already so much in favour of the Packets, would shine with considerable
lustre. Yet it would be manifestly unjust to omit the mention of any
considerable action, and such certainly was that in which the “Prince
Ernest,” Captain James Petre, was engaged in March, 1808.

Captain Petre had been a master in the navy. He bore an excellent
reputation, and kept his men at such a point of training in the use of
their arms as might have been anticipated from an officer of long
experience in war. On March 19th, 1808, the “Prince Ernest,” outward
bound, had entered the belt of ocean patrolled by the Privateers of
Guadeloupe, and a most careful look-out was being maintained. At 8 A.M.
a hail from the masthead informed Captain Petre that a schooner of
suspicious appearance had been sighted to the northward, and somewhat
later a second schooner came in view some miles to the east. Both these
strange vessels altered their course, and bearing down towards the
Packet chased her all the morning.

Captain Petre, as he watched the two enemies crawling up, may well have
felt doubtful of success in the coming fight. Most fortunately, however,
one of the schooners abandoned the chase early in the afternoon, and by
half-past two o’clock only one was in sight. That one was almost within
range of shot, and Captain Petre, recognizing that there was no longer
room for effort to avoid an action, shortened sail and waited for the
enemy.

There was no long delay. At 3 P.M. the Privateer was within pistol shot,
and opened a tremendous fire. She carried ten guns of which four were of
very large calibre, together with over a hundred men, and in the first
half-hour the “Prince Ernest” received so much damage in her sails and
rigging that it was very difficult to handle her. Accordingly about 3.30
P.M. the French secured an opportunity of boarding. They were repulsed,
however, with some loss, and the cannonade recommenced, continuing
unabated for another hour. At 5 o’clock the enemy prepared themselves
for a great effort. The great guns roared out with redoubled fury, the
musketeers planted in the tops of the Privateer sent a storm of balls on
the deck of the Packet, and at the same moment the French captain laying
his ship alongside the “Prince Ernest” hove his boarders into her in
great numbers.

“My choice little crew,” as Captain Petre called them, were perfectly
prepared to receive their enemies, and harassed them with pikes and
cutlasses as they struggled up the boarding nettings. The numbers of the
French were so great, however, that they would doubtless have
overpowered the Cornishmen in the end, had not Captain Petre, noticing
that the enemy had omitted to cast out grapplings, so that nothing but
the direction of the Privateer’s helm kept the ships together, ordered
his best marksman to shoot the steersman.

As the man fell, and the tiller swung round, another ran forward and
jammed it into the necessary position, but he had hardly done so when he
too fell across his comrade’s body. There was a moment’s hesitation
before another man sprang to seize the helm, and in that moment the
vessels parted.

It was then an easy matter to dispose of the few Frenchmen who had made
good their footing on the Packet. As the Privateer sheered off, the
Falmouth men clutched at the colours flying from her maingaff, and tore
away the greater part of them. “I regret,” said Captain Petre, with
pardonable triumph, when on his return to England he forwarded this
trophy to the Postmaster General, “I regret that they had hold of
nothing stronger.” Perhaps he did, but looking at the relative force of
the two vessels it can scarcely be supposed that My Lords with their
higher responsibility shared his regret.

In September, Captain Anthony, whose successful actions in the
“Cornwallis” have been described above, fought the Privateer “La
Duquesne” of twelve guns for over two hours at close quarters, and beat
her off at last with the loss of two men killed and two wounded; while
in November, Captain John Bull had the misfortune to be captured, after
a very gallant resistance, by “La Josephine,” a French brigantine
carrying fourteen 24–pounders and sixty-eight men.



                               CHAPTER X.
                        THE MUTINY AT FALMOUTH.


For some years My Lords the Postmaster General had found an ever growing
source of satisfaction in the conduct of their Packets in face of the
enemy. There was abundant credit to be had out of controlling a body of
officers who went into action with the spirit of Captain Anthony,
Captain Rogers, or Mr. James. The navy itself could have produced no
better seamen or more gallant officers: yet, just as the navy was
tainted here and there with mutiny, so the sailors of the Post-Office
Service broke out occasionally in revolt, which was the more difficult
to quell since the men were not subject to the provisions of the Mutiny
Act.

The source of the disturbances, which occurred at Falmouth in the year
1810, is to be found in the suppression of the private trade, of which a
description was given in a former chapter of this work. From that
suppression the Lisbon Packets had been exempted; and this preferential
treatment of that section of the Service which in other ways enjoyed the
greatest opportunities of profit, naturally increased the feeling of
injustice which rankled in the minds of the men employed on the West
India boats.

It was long before the sailors could believe that their little
opportunities of making profit were at an end. “The Government has been
obliged to prohibit trade,” they argued among themselves, “but they will
wink at it all the same.” And so the men laid our their savings on boots
and cheeses just as before, fancying that the “searcher,” the newly
appointed officer who was to examine every Packet before she proceeded
to sea, would be conveniently blind, that the whole search was to be a
farce, and that all they were asked to do was not to flourish their
cheeses in the searcher’s face, but bring them up the side disguised as
bedding, or hidden in their sea-chests.

At first this answered well enough, for the searcher had to gain his
experience, and some time elapsed before he was a match for the seamen
in wiliness. At last, however, he gained ground upon them, and the
following list of goods turned out of the “Townshend” will be read with
admiration of the cunning which could bring so many and such bulky
articles on board and secrete them in the face of the officers and in
defiance of their commands: eleven loose cheeses; two baskets of cheese;
three large bundles of dried ling; four hogsheads of potatoes; six bales
of dry goods; three boxes of the same; three bags of shoes; a large
quantity of shoes secreted loose in different places. The major part of
these articles was turned out of the sailor’s hammocks, some few came
out of the boatswain’s cabin; but with one consent all the men professed
the greatest astonishment on seeing them. The boatswain was confident
that the sailors must have put them in his cabin; the sailors themselves
could offer no explanation at all, but were indignant at the mere
suspicion of having had any hand in the affair. The searcher was
perplexed. The Inspector of Packets wanted to make each man declare on
oath whether he had or had not brought the goods on board; but Lord
Auckland, with his usual good sense, declined to “place a whole ship’s
company in the alternative between worldly ruin and a perjury,” and so
the affair remained one of those insoluble mysteries which occur in the
experience of every public department.

The goods which were nobody’s property were sent on shore before the
“Townshend” sailed, and doubtless were reclaimed by their original
owners, so that, though the seamen lost their chance of profit, they
incurred no actual loss. Possibly this is the reason why the seizure
made so small an impression on the Service. If the goods had been
confiscated, the searcher’s duties might have been less arduous; but, as
it was, he found it necessary to report a few months later, that only
four Packets out of the entire number employed on the Falmouth Station
had not been detected in breaking the rule. It seemed impossible to
teach the men that the new rule was intended seriously; and many a brave
fellow, who had fancied foolishly enough that he would be exempted, or
that he could evade the searcher, had the mortification of seeing the
boots and cheeses which he had bought out of his scanty savings swimming
in the harbour, or tossed unceremoniously into the first boat which came
alongside, to be landed on the quay, where they would be at the mercy of
any chance Autolycus.

These things were hard to bear and not easily forgiven; while the blow
was driven home on the arrival of the Packet at her destination, when
the merchants’ clerks would come down offering Jack famine prices for
the very goods he had been robbed of—so he would naturally put it to
himself—and the price of many a spree on shore, to say nothing of pretty
things for the wife at home, would go back into the merchant’s pocket
instead of jingling in Jack’s.

The wages were raised on the boats which were no longer allowed to
trade, but the increase by no means compensated for the profits lost,
and the seamen maintained that they were still lower than the current
rate in the Merchant Service. If they were reminded that merchant
sailors were exposed to the danger of the pressgang, while Packetsmen
carried protections, they retorted that the protections were not always
respected.

This was true enough. For when the press-gangs were sweeping the streets
of Falmouth, bursting forcibly into sailors’ drinking shops, and, half
drunk themselves, giving chase to any sturdy fellow whom they met, it
often happened that a Packetsman was seized and only laughed at, or
knocked down and soundly cursed, when he claimed exemption. Sometimes
his protection was torn in the scuffle. Sometimes it was fraudulently
taken from him; and if then he lost his temper and became violent, he
was told that his mutinous conduct had deprived him of any right to
protection; and not even the intervention of the agent, or of the
Postmaster General, could restore him to the Packet Service.

So the irritation at Falmouth went on, sometimes seeming to die away,
but ever reasserting itself, and often threatening serious trouble.
There needed but some natural occasion for an outbreak; and such an
occasion was found in 1810.

In that year, for some unrecorded reason, the Lisbon Packets were
brought into line with the West India boats, and private trade was
henceforth forbidden on both. The Lisbon sailors resented the new rule
fiercely; and the long-threatened tumult broke out at last in resentment
over the somewhat excessive zeal with which the searchers and the
Custom-House officers enforced it.

Before entering on the details of the curious events which accompanied
this outbreak, it will be well to refer to two actions fought about this
time, not only because both were skilfully conducted and very gallantly
fought; but even more because the crew of the “Duke of Marlborough,”
which was the Packet engaged, were ringleaders in the coming revolt, and
the circumstances show that their discontent in no way affected the
spirit in which they fought.

The first of these actions occurred on July 26th, 1810, when the “Duke
of Marlborough” was on her homeward voyage from Lisbon, under the
command of Mr. James, who had defended her so bravely in 1807. Her
adversary was a French brig Privateer, carrying no less than eight guns
(believed to be 18–pounders) on her broadside, in addition to one on the
forecastle, with a very large complement of men; and the action was
conducted at such close quarters that one of the French sailors, having
fired his musket at Mr. James, and missed him, threw the weapon at him.
It was well for the Falmouth men, outnumbered as they were, that this
was so; for if the Privateer had chosen a more distant position, her
heavy guns must in the end have given her the victory; whereas in
meeting boarders the British sailor is in his element, and time after
time as the French came on the Falmouth men met them cheerfully, and
always drove them back.

For an hour and fifty minutes of almost ceaseless fighting Mr. James and
his brave crew maintained their dogged and obstinate resistance, until
at last a well aimed shot brought down the Privateer’s foretopmast, and
she sheered off, leaving the “Duke of Marlborough” to pursue her voyage.
It was not too soon, for there were several feet of water in the
Packet’s hold, and she would probably have sunk if the fight had lasted
much longer. Mr. James had three men wounded, but fortunately none
killed.

The second action was remarkable in this respect, that it occurred in
full sight of home.

It was on October 1st, in the same year 1810. The “Duke of Marlborough”
was once more homeward bound from Lisbon, and was approaching the coast
of Cornwall on a thick, hazy morning, when she sighted a strange
schooner, but almost at once lost her again in the mist. At 9 A.M. the
Packet was within three leagues of the Lizard, and Pendennis Castle,
which crowns the entrance to Falmouth Harbour was in sight, when the
strange vessel reappeared suddenly, standing towards the Packet under a
press of sail. Captain Bull made the private signal, but it remained
unanswered; and though the English coast was so close that it appeared
the height of audacity for an enemy to venture an attack, he judged it
prudent to order the ship to be cleared for action. His orders were
obeyed with alacrity; and having seen the boarding nettings triced up,
the mail brought on deck and shotted, and every other preparation made,
he spoke a few encouraging words to his crew. He was a man of brief and
pithy speech, and knew his crew too well to suppose that any but the
plainest eloquence was needed. Therefore, pointing to the shore, which
was then clearly visible, he simply said, “Now, my lads, there is
Pendennis, there are your homes,” and felt content, as well he might,
that no man on board would forget that he was about to fight under the
eyes of his friends, and in sight of his own cottage door.

The wind had almost dropped, and the sea was perfectly smooth, so that
the vessels neared each other slowly, and in silence. There was a period
of waiting. The schooner had hoisted no colours, and her nationality was
still uncertain, when Mr. James, perhaps losing patience, fired a musket
at her, whereon she ran up the French ensign, with a bloody flag, in
token that she would give no quarter. This was quite enough for Captain
Bull. He gave the word to his gunners, and a broadside of canister and
musket balls roared out across the bay, doing great execution at the
short distance which separated the vessels.

This was at 10 A.M., and the engagement at once became general. At 10.30
A.M. the Privateer ran down with the evident intention of boarding; and
as the enemy were seen to be in great numbers it was judged prudent to
sink the mail. It was unfortunate that this decision was not delayed a
few minutes longer; for just as the two ships were grazing each other,
and the boarding party were grouped together on the forecastle of the
Privateer, they were discouraged by a gun crammed with canister which
Captain Bull fired into their midst.

In the confusion following this slaughter, the Privateer fell away, and
the opportunity of boarding was lost. The cannonade was then resumed,
but without much spirit, and in half an hour more the Privateer got out
her sweeps, and placed herself beyond the reach of her adversary’s guns.
It was indeed high time for her to be off: for Lieutenant James Cock,
R.N., who was stationed at the signal post at Falmouth, put off from
land with two boats full of men as soon as he heard the firing, and was
now close at hand. The action was over however before he came on board,
and there was nothing left but for him to congratulate the victors. Such
was the conduct of the crew of the “Duke of Marlborough” in face of the
enemy; and it will be only fair to set this conduct to their credit as
against the part they took in the events now to be related.

In August, 1810, Mr. Saverland, the Post-Office agent at Falmouth,
reported to his chiefs in London that there was some “uneasiness” among
the sailors of the Lisbon Packets. This restless and dissatisfied
feeling originated of course in the sailors’ standing grievance, namely
the suppression of the private trade. But it had another basis also; and
they were certainly on stronger ground when they pointed out that since
the rate of their wages was fixed, a rate intended to include some
compensation for the loss of trading profits, the prices of all
commodities had risen so enormously as to render it a sheer
impossibility for the men to support their families on their pay.

There seems little doubt that the rate of wages was too low. The agent
certainly was of that opinion; and he stated that the seamen urged their
complaint with great moderation and propriety. They assembled in great
numbers outside the agent’s office on August 15th, and selected two men
from the crew of each Packet, whom they charged with the presentation of
their memorial. This document contained a temperate statement of their
case, and was in due course forwarded to London for consideration.

The Post-Office took the not unnatural view that the question of
increasing the wages of the seamen was one for the consideration solely
of the captains, who received a fixed yearly payment from the office,
and might distribute it, within certain limits, as they pleased. There
was, moreover, some intention of re-opening the question of the private
trade, and of seeking legal sanction for it, on the condition that a
certain portion of the profits should be appropriated by the Department.
Both these considerations led to some delay in dealing with the
memorial.

On August 24th the seamen returned in a large body to the agent’s
office, and inquired whether there were any answer to their memorial. On
being told that none had been received they dispersed quietly, and Mr.
Saverland, in reporting the matter to London, stated that he did not
apprehend any disturbance, but thought that if the position of the men
was not in some way improved, many of them would leave the Service. It
was finally resolved to obtain the materials for a full comparison
between the wages paid to the seamen serving on the Packets and those
employed in the navy and the Revenue Service. With some care the
comparison was made, and it resulted that the seamen on the Packets were
somewhat better paid than those in the navy. It did not of course follow
necessarily from this that the wages were fully adequate, but none could
expect that a public department would pay more than the current rate.

It was early in October when this conclusion was reached; and though it
was of course not acceptable to the sailors, it seems possible that a
contented feeling might have sprung up again. At this moment, however,
the smouldering discontent was blown up into a fierce fire by the action
of the Customs officers.

The “Prince Adolphus,” Captain Boulderson, was announced to sail on
October 24th, for the Mediterranean, and at noon on that day her crew
was mustered, the mails and passengers were on board, and the Packet was
ready to slip her moorings. The “Duke of Marlborough” was to sail in
company with her for Lisbon. At the last moment the Customs officer came
on board; and, not content with satisfying himself that no large
quantity of goods was stored in either Packet, he caused the sailors’
chests to be broken open, and confiscated the little private ventures
which the men considered themselves entitled to retain. The crew of the
“Prince Adolphus” at once refused to take the ship to sea; and after
trying in vain to induce them to return to their duty, Captain
Boulderson made the signal for the agent to come on board. Mr. Saverland
lost no time in boarding the Packet, and reasoned with the crew,
pointing out that by refusing to obey orders they forfeited their claim
to protection against the Impress. He failed, however, to produce any
effect; and was returning on shore to consult with Captain Slade, the
senior naval officer then at Falmouth, when he was hailed by Captain
Bull. On pulling alongside the “Duke of Marlborough,” Mr. Saverland
learned that the Customs officer was then on board that Packet, acting
with the same violence which had provoked the sailors of the “Prince
Adolphus,” and that Captain Bull feared the same results would follow.
Mr. Saverland was, however, powerless to interfere and returned on shore
where he held a consultation with Captain Slade. They were quickly
joined by Captain Bull, who stated that his crew had, as he feared,
refused to proceed to sea. He thought, however, that the personal
influence of the agent might have a good effect, and it was noticed that
the “Duke of Marlborough’s” men did not return the cheers with which the
crew of the “Prince Adolphus” announced what they probably considered a
moral victory. Having arranged therefore that Captain Slade should
forthwith board the “Prince Adolphus,” and impress the mutineers, Mr.
Saverland returned to the “Duke of Marlborough” where he remained for
two hours, using every kind of argument, but in vain. Captain Bull
therefore ordered the sails to be furled: and the mutinous seamen from
his ship also were pressed. This was not done without some difficulty.
Several of the older men resisted stoutly; and one drew his knife on
Captain Slade, fortunately, however, without injuring him.

On the following morning a very large number of seamen assembled in the
court-yard before the agents office, loudly demanding the release of the
men who had been pressed; and asserting that they would not return to
their duty until this demand was complied with. It was unanimously
resolved that no concessions could be made to the men while they
remained mutinous; and the disturbance shortly became so great that the
magistrates were sent for and the Riot Act read. The seamen thereupon
retired, cheering as they went, but the aspect of affairs was so
threatening that the garrison was got under arms, and Mr. Saverland
thought it prudent to acquaint Sir Robert Calder, who was then in
command at Plymouth, with the facts of the case.

On the following day there was no improvement. The sailors assembled on
the bowling green, on an eminence above the town. They had been joined
by practically all the Packetsmen who were in Falmouth at the time; and
Mr. Saverland, visiting each Packet in succession, found only the
officers and a few boys on board. The mutineers had now added to their
demand for the release of the pressed men, a claim for additional pay.
The next day the public crier went round the streets of Flushing calling
on all Packetsmen, lumpers, and riggers, to assemble that evening at the
“Seven Stars” Tavern. The object of the meeting was to select two
delegates who were to proceed to London, and lay the complaints of the
men before the Postmaster General. Accordingly two men, Richard Pascoe
and John Parker, were chosen; and started by the mail coach for London
on the morning of the 28th.

The naval officers, who were acting in concert with Mr. Saverland, were
strongly of opinion that the mutiny was the work of a few men, and would
collapse if the ringleaders could be secured. They determined,
therefore, to surround the “Seven Stars” while the meeting was in
progress, and with this view a boat’s crew entered Mylor Creek, and was
marched over the hill down into the town of Flushing. The mutineers kept
good watch however, if, indeed, the suspicion entertained by the naval
officers, that there was bad faith on the part of some of the
magistrates acquainted with the scheme, was groundless, and the
attacking party found the tavern empty.

By this time a certain friction was manifest between the mayor (Mr.
Angove) and magistrates of Falmouth, and the naval officers with whom
the agent acted. Mr. Saverland complained that the magistrates had shown
no proper anxiety to secure the ringleaders; and there is little room
for doubting that not only the magistrates, but the whole town of
Falmouth, sympathized with the seamen; and, if they did not openly help
them, were yet unwilling to take side against them. On the morning of
the 28th Captain Slade urged the mayor to call in military aid, and to
forcibly enter the houses of the ringleaders to secure their persons. At
noon he left the mayor in the belief that both his proposals had been
accepted; but the suggestion of search warrants was quietly dropped; and
though a body of the West Essex Militia, then quartered in the
neighbourhood, were summoned, they did not enter the town till six
o’clock, while at four o’clock the sailors had marched in large parties,
quite unmolested, into the open country.

In the meantime two cutters sent by Sir Robert Calder had arrived in the
harbour, and were placed under the command of Captain Slade. The West
Essex Militia were quartered in the town, and a sergeant’s guard was
located in Flushing.

It is now necessary to return to the delegates chosen by the seamen to
represent their grievances at the General Post-Office. Mr. Saverland had
been careful to acquaint his chiefs with the fact of their departure;
and had despatched an express for this purpose, which, out-stripping the
coach, reached London on the morning of October 29th. A consultation was
at once held as to how Pascoe and Parker should be received. It seemed
to the strict disciplinarians of that day impossible to countenance an
act of mutiny by parleying with these men. Whatever foundations of
justice there might be in their complaints, it was essential that the
sailors should return to their duty before any discussion could take
place. It was therefore suggested to the Admiralty that Pascoe and
Parker should be impressed as soon as they arrived; and having obtained
the necessary instructions to the Regulating Officer at the Tower, and
had the warrant backed by the Lord Mayor, whose authority was required
before the men could be pressed within the limits of the city, the
chiefs of the General Post-Office awaited the coming of the delegates
with confidence. The men arrived late on the afternoon of the 29th, and
were ushered into the room where the Secretary sat expecting them in
company with the City Marshal. Their explanations were cut short; they
were told that they had no claim to be heard; and they were handed over
without more ado to the City Marshall, who forthwith lodged them in the
Poultry Compter.

It must be remembered, if this proceeding seems harsh, that Pascoe and
Parker came to London as representatives of men who were in open and
riotous mutiny, and whose conduct, by impeding the mails, was inflicting
serious loss on the mercantile community, and possibly even hampering
the movements of the commanders of our troops and fleets then engaged in
active operations. Had these men come to London to present a memorial
temperately urged by persons who were at the same time performing their
duty, they would have been very differently received.

It appears, moreover, that the delegates had not been discreetly chosen.
Pascoe, who was known in Falmouth by the nickname of “Sir Francis
Burdett,” had served as steward of the “Prince William Henry” Packet,
and had afterwards been in the Excise, whence he was discharged for
“seditious and treasonable expressions.” Parker was an American. There
is no doubt that both men were noisy demagogues.

It had been the intention to bring the men up for examination at the
Mansion House on October 30th, but on the morning of that day it was
discovered that the Lord Mayor had doubts about his powers of
impressing, within the city, men whose offence, if any, had been
committed at Falmouth. A remand was accordingly granted in order that
the matter might be reconsidered.

By this time the situation at Falmouth had materially changed. That
firmness and zeal against the seamen which no entreaties or arguments
used by the naval officers could arouse in the mayor and magistrates,
was inspired in a moment by a happy thought of Mr. Saverland’s. He
commenced to throw out hints of an important decision which would be
taken very shortly if the mutiny did not subside, and which would be
regretted by the town for many a day. The seed thus sown sprang up in a
few hours into a very promising crop of rumours and reports. People went
about with an uncomfortable suspicion that something was about to
happen, and Mr. Saverland’s office was besieged by persons anxiously
inquiring whether it was true that the Government had decided to remove
the Packets to Plymouth. Mr. Saverland had received no hint of any such
intention, but, seeing how great an effect the mere suggestion had
produced, he dilated on the extreme probability of such a step, and
protested that the conduct of the Falmouth seamen, and the almost avowed
sympathy shown them by the constituted authorities of the town, had
brought him, and his chiefs also, to the extreme limit of their
patience.

The situation thus created was, as the mayor immediately felt, too
serious to be ignored. The loss of the Packets would bring ruin on the
town; and on October 30th, a meeting of the citizens was hastily
convened, and the whole situation was fully discussed.

There is perhaps some room for doubt whether the naval officers and the
agent, on whom the chief burden of responsibility fell throughout these
anxious days, did not overrate the extent to which the mayor and
magistrates supported and encouraged the mutineers. It is certain,
however, that on the very day on which the town’s meeting was held the
aspect of affairs began to improve, and that evening Mr. Saverland was
able to report to London that some men were already returning to their
duty. On the following day the upward tendency was more marked, and it
was intimated to the agent that the greater part of the men would return
if they could be assured that they would be well received, and would not
be abandoned to the pressgang. Mr. Saverland at once caused a notice to
be printed and distributed, promising protection to all men who would
return except four or five who were specially named, and who had
distinguished themselves by particularly riotous conduct. This notice
had an excellent effect, and on the evening of the day on which it was
issued there was a full muster of men on board all the Packets.

The mischief was, however, done. The threatening aspect of the mutiny,
and the impossibility of despatching the mails, had caused an amount of
anxiety and alarm which was not to be allayed by the simple announcement
that the men had returned to their ships. It was felt necessary to mark
the occasion in some signal way, and the idea of removing the Packets to
Plymouth, which had entered Mr. Saverland’s mind on October 30th,
occurred quite independently to the Secretary of the Treasury on the
same day. It thus happened that the Secretary of the Post-Office, on
repairing to Whitehall on October 31st, to suggest the adoption of this
plan, found that it was already being favourably considered, and that
very day instructions were sent to Sir Robert Calder to despatch
forthwith to Falmouth a force sufficient to navigate the Packets round
to Plymouth.

The news fell like a thunderbolt on Falmouth. It was received on
November 2nd, and even Mr. Saverland was not prepared for it. The
sailors had, as already stated, returned to their ships, and the step
appeared so little necessary that the agent thought that his chiefs in
London must have failed to comprehend how much the situation had
improved, and he consequently sent off an express with a full report.
The measure was, however, dictated by a strong feeling that it was
necessary, once for all, to show the seamen and the inhabitants of
Falmouth that they were not masters of the position. It was felt, not
unjustly, that the danger and inconvenience of any interruption of the
Postal Service was great enough to warrant the Department in giving a
severe lesson, and the decision to remove the Packets was consequently
persisted in.

On November 6th “H.M.S. North Star,” accompanied by a frigate and two
sloops of war, entered Falmouth Harbour, and set sail again for Plymouth
in company with six Packets. On first reaching Plymouth the Packets lay
in Hamoaze, while a temporary office was secured for the agent and his
staff at the “Fountain Inn.”

It was not long before agent, officers, and men, wished themselves
heartily back at Falmouth. Writing to the Secretary of the Post-Office
on November 13th Mr. Saverland says:

  “I hope the Packets will not remain here as a fixed station. If they
  do, the establishment must be greatly increased and the
  correspondence delayed. Both the West India and American Mails were
  ready yesterday by about noon, but what with the passengers in
  different and distant inns, the Packets in different places, the
  cartage of the mails, the purchasing of their anchors in very deep
  water—pilotage not one man-of-war ever goes to sea without, so
  dangerous is the passage—that I see very clearly we shall not gain
  anything in getting to sea, though the mail arrives here in the
  morning.... In the late gale the ‘Diana’ parted her cable and was
  nearly on shore, and the ‘Stately,’ a 74, nearly ran on board the
  “Despatch,” and would have sunk her if she had, but fortunately she
  ran on board a hulk, and just saved the Packet.... In Hamoaze and
  the Sound the water is so deep that if it blows a little the Packets
  cannot weigh their anchors, and anchors are so distributed about by
  ships cutting and slipping their cables that cables are worn out in
  a few hours. The “Elizabeth” cut a new cable which cost £140 nearly
  through last night, getting foul of some anchor or wreck....”

Again a few days later he wrote:

  “The Packets lie very badly here.... Unless moorings are laid down,
  and a separate place assigned, some of them will be lost before the
  winter is over. The seamen are obliged to be victualled constantly
  on board, and stock of all kinds is dearer than at Falmouth,
  together with greater wear and tear, exclusive of risk....”

These representations were of course not without effect, and were
pressed home by the fact that on more than one occasion Packets which
set sail from Plymouth in stormy weather were obliged to run for
Falmouth for shelter. The Post-Office, moreover, was exposed at this
time to strong pressure exerted by prominent persons in Cornwall, who
used all their influence to secure the return of the Packets to
Falmouth.

At that time forty-four members were returned to the House of Commons
from Cornwall, and it was rightly foreseen that these members would act
unanimously in the matter. A deputation of the inhabitants of Falmouth
had, moreover, reached London early in November. It consisted of the
mayor, Mr. James Bull, Mr. John Carne, and Mr. Robert W. Fox. These
gentlemen had an interview with the Secretary of the Post-Office on
November 10th, but received what was to them an unsatisfactory answer to
their representations. The unyielding disposition shown to them was due
not only to a conviction that it was much too soon to give way, but also
to the difficulties arising from the case of Pascoe and Parker.

These two men were in a high state of exultation. The consultations held
upon their case had led to the conclusion that they could not legally be
punished, and there was no alternative but to set them at liberty. It
was not to be expected that under the circumstances they would let slip
the opportunity of making capital out of their arrest, and they promptly
commenced an action for false imprisonment against the Secretary of the
Post-Office, laying the damages at the modest sum of £5000 each. In
order to obtain the funds necessary for the preliminary steps in the
matter they issued an appeal at Falmouth. It was headed, “To the Friends
and Advocates of Justice,” and described in feeling terms the sufferings
endured by the delegates during their confinement of three days “in a
dreadful gaol, having nothing to make use of, not even straw to lie on.”
It does not appear what response this appeal met with.

The mayor and his companions passed many days in London, and at last
returned to Cornwall without having obtained any pledge concerning the
return of the Packets to Falmouth. In fact, a strong effort was made at
this time by persons interested in the port of Fowey to persuade the
Post-Office that that harbour was better suited for a Packet station
than Falmouth. There was never any great prospect that this contention
would prevail, but it deserved consideration, and it was thought
desirable to have a full report upon Fowey made by a competent engineer.

That report when received was unfavourable, and by the end of the year
there was no longer any doubt in the minds of the Government that no
harbour existed which combined so many advantages for the purposes of a
Packet station as Falmouth. It was not thought, however, that the town
had been sufficiently punished, and only at the end of January, 1811,
did the Treasury sanction the return of the Packets. Long before that
time the action threatened by Pascoe and Parker had been dropped.
Pressure was applied to them by the townspeople, who rightly judged that
it was their interest to conciliate the Post-Office rather than to fight
it. The first result of this pressure applied is shown in the following
curious letter addressed apparently to the attorney who had charge of
the case:—

  “Mr. Andrew Young,

        “Sir,

  “Having maturely considered our discourse this morning relative to
  the Packets, and being ever anxious and desirous, as far as lie in
  my power and compatible with the true feelings of a man, to render
  every assistance to mankind in general, but more particularly to our
  Friends, Relatives, and the Inhabitants of Falmouth, have well
  weighed and thereby fixed unalterably (like the Laws of the Medes
  and Persians) the Rule and Criterion whereon and whereby we fix the
  Basis on which we make this Declaration, and offer terms, which when
  we consider the damages we have laid, namely Five Thousand Pound
  each, are not nominal, but such as we have reason to expect will be
  allowed by Lord Ellingboro’ and an Impartial Jury of our countrymen.
  By which means it will appear we are ready to sacrifice a large sum;
  and like Brutus and Manlius, altho’ not offering up our children for
  a total sacrifice, offer up that patrimony they for the unhappy
  moments have suffered thro’ their fathers and only friends being
  unlawfully detained in a dreadful gaol, and which they are lawfully
  and justly entitled to. But to return to the Question, we are of
  opinion, and that not a vague one formed in a hasty moment, that the
  town of Falmouth is in a ruined state unless the Packets return; and
  well knowing that the Inhabitants (those principal ones we mean) are
  deprived of their lucrative trade and great rents unless the Packets
  can be restored to their former channel, and which we learn and
  anticipate cannot be done without our sacrificing our private
  feelings, which although difficult to do, we will do provided we
  receive the pecuniary satisfaction we demand, which is when
  considered, a trivial sum, one thousand pounds each. Now, Sir, far
  be it from us to beg or desire a settlement of the Business in this
  way, but for the good of the town, and we leave you to make,
  according to your judgment, whatever use you think proper of this
  our Final determination.

                                                      “RICHARD PASCOE.
                                                      “JOHN PARKER.

  “Falmouth, Sunday, Nov. 25, 1810.”

This document breathes such an elevated spirit that it is painful to
have to relate that the moderation of these two estimable men did not
serve them. The action was not compromised on these or any other terms,
but was dropped unconditionally.



                              CHAPTER XI.
                   THE OUTBREAK OF THE AMERICAN WAR.


The contrast between the events detailed in the last few chapters on the
one hand, and on the other those which occurred in the nine years
preceding the Peace of Amiens, must strike the most casual reader very
forcibly. Where, in those earlier years, was that splendid daring with
which Captain Rogers led his men to victory, that dogged obstinacy which
brought Captain Anthony successfully out of three fights against a heavy
superiority of force within two years, that self-sacrificing zeal which
animated Captain Dyneley in his great exploit at Dominica, enabling him
to accept the whole burden of the risk which the merchants declined, and
so to save a rich island for the British crown?

The evil days on the Falmouth Station had passed away like a dream, and
if they are here recalled, it is but with the object of claiming for the
Headquarter Staff, and for the officers themselves, full credit for the
patient labours which had destroyed the evil practices and created the
better spirit. None but those who have shared in the labour of
controlling a large body of subordinates can fully appreciate the
difficulty of carrying out even such changes of practice as are
generally accepted as necessary and reasonable. There is among every
large body of men an inertia which only time and patience can overcome.
The individual can be moved, but the mass as a whole declines to stir.
So it is when rules not specially distasteful are enforced; but when the
new regulation cuts at the root of ancient privilege, when it strikes
off a profit which by long prescription is regarded as a right, then a
number of forces come into opposition more powerfully than the dead
weight just mentioned, and the administrator finds his judgment and
discretion subjected to a heavy strain.

Therefore, to have enforced the new rules, and not only that, but to
have evolved and called out a spirit so different from that which
existed on the Falmouth Station ten years before, was an achievement of
which the Postmaster General and the Secretary might well feel proud.
The conduct of the Packets had been increasingly brilliant, and when the
year 1812 began they were in a state of discipline and ardour which
would have done credit to any naval force.

It was well that their condition was so good, for the time was at hand
when they were to be put to a fiercer test than any which the French
Privateers had been able to apply. There were still old men at Falmouth
who could remember how the Packets fared in the first American War, and
who knew well that the Privateers of Boston or Newport were ten times
more formidable than those of Nantes or of Bordeaux. The national belief
in the superiority of British pluck to that of any other country would
scarcely hold against sailors of our own race; and, as a matter of fact,
it is well known that the American cruisers, both national and private,
were largely manned with picked men from the British navy, driven by the
somewhat harsh and inconsiderate treatment which was too prevalent in
our ships to take service with a power which at least fed and paid them
well, and treated them with reasonable consideration.

The temptations offered by the Americans to the trained sailors of
English ships had always constituted one of the greatest difficulties of
the Packet captains, any one of whom had lost at different times numbers
of his best men by desertion. Probably many of the sailors who thus
deserted their flag rejoined it on the outbreak of war; but it is
certain that a great number remained in their adopted service, arguing,
perhaps, in some confused way, that a war between two sections of the
English race which only a generation ago were one united power was of
the nature of a civil war, in which there was no question of treason,
but every man might take sides according to his judgment.

Whether they salved their consciences with sophistries or not, yet there
they were; and the knowledge of this fact was alone sufficient to
convince My Lords the Postmaster General that an enemy very different
from the French was at hand. It was indeed; but few even of the officers
who formed this conclusion could have anticipated such desperate
fighting as actually occurred, or could have looked to the little
Packets for such splendid conduct as they showed, in what, if the truth
must be admitted, was not the brightest period of British naval history.

The war broke out in June, 1812, but it was not until September that any
one of the Packets was brought to action.

On the 15th of that month the “Princess Amelia,” three days out from St.
Thomas on her homeward voyage, was brought to action by the Privateer
“Rossie” of Baltimore, Commodore Barney. The “Princess Amelia” was
commanded by Captain Moorsom, a brave and energetic officer of a family
well known in our naval annals, both then and since. The “Rossie”
carried ten 12–pounders, in addition to a long 9–pounder mounted on a
traverse. The “Princess Amelia” had but six guns—she should have carried
eight; the cause of the deficiency is not explained—of which at least
four were only 6–pounders, the others 9–pounders, and she carried
twenty-eight men and boys as against ninety-five upon the Privateer.

There are but scanty details of the fight. The “Rossie,” which had
chased the Packet for several hours, and had not answered the private
signal, came within range at 6 P.M. She was flying Spanish colours; but
Captain Moorsom, suspecting her nationality, ordered a shot to be fired
at her, whereupon she immediately hoisted the Stars and Stripes, crossed
the Packet’s stern, and fired a broadside as she did so. The action
immediately became warm, and the first ten minutes proved that the
Americans were masters of their weapons. Within the first half-hour four
or five of Captain Moorsom’s crew were hit. At half-past six the master,
Mr. Nankivell, was shot through the head. Twenty minutes later Captain
Moorsom himself was killed by a grape-shot which pierced his left
breast. The command devolved on Mr. Ridgard, the mate, who was himself
badly wounded; and on looking round he discovered that out of the
complement of the “Princess Amelia,” consisting only of twenty-eight
hands, three were killed, and no less than eleven wounded, for the most
part seriously, so that the crew was already reduced to half its number,
while the enemy were as five to one. Mr. Ridgard reluctantly concluded
that all had been done which was possible to save the Packet.
Accordingly the mail was sunk, and at seven o’clock the “Princess
Amelia” hauled down her colours.

Such was the first action fought by the Falmouth Packets during the
American war, a rough forecast of what was to come, justifying anxiety
about the immediate future. For Captain Moorsom was one of the ablest of
the Post-Office commanders. His ship and crew were in high condition;
and yet the accounts of his last fight showed that the event was never
doubtful, though his high courage led him to prefer dying on his own
quarter-deck to surrendering his trust, even to a crushing superiority
of force.

In November of the same year a fight upon a greater scale took place,
one indeed which was perhaps the most memorable of all those in which
the Packets were engaged. Many of the actions described in these pages
are out of the common; but a few stand forth from among the rest, marked
by quite exceptional circumstances of bravery and devotion. Among these
few the action of Captain James Cock in the “Townshend” on November
22nd, 1812, stands first, though unsuccessful.

The “Townshend” was armed somewhat more heavily than the “Princess
Amelia,” having on board eight 9–pounder carronades, with a long gun of
similar calibre used as a chaser. Her crew was also slightly larger,
numbering twenty-eight men and four boys. She was within a few hours of
dropping her anchor at Bridgetown, Barbados, when the first light of
morning revealed two strange vessels cruising in company at no great
distance.

These vessels proved to be two American Privateers, the “Tom,” Captain
Thomas Wilson, and the “Bona,” Captain Damaron. The former was armed
with fourteen carronades, some 18 and some 12–pounders, as well as two
long 9–pounders, and carried a hundred and thirty men. The latter had
six 18–pounders, with a long 24–pounder mounted on a traverse, and a
crew of ninety men. The forces on each side were therefore as follows,
assuming that the “Tom” carried as many 18 as 12–pounders:—

                           Weight of metal, in       Number of men.
                                 pounds.
 Privateers,                                 360 220
 Packet,                                      78  32 (besides four
                                                 passengers, who seem to
                                                 have rendered some
                                                 assistance).

This enormous preponderance of force was greatly increased in effective
power by being divided between two opponents. A single vessel might be
crippled by a lucky shot; but if good fortune rid the “Townshend” of one
antagonist in this way, there still remained the other to be reckoned
with, more powerful in every way than herself.

If ever circumstances justified surrender after a short resistance, they
were present in this case. It might even be thought that resistance was
a useless sacrifice of life; but such was not Captain Cock’s view. He
held it to be his plain duty not only to keep the mails out of the hands
of the enemy—which could be done effectually by sinking them at any
moment—but to use every means in his power to preserve them for their
proper owners, and not to abandon hope of delivering them at the agent’s
office in Bridgetown until every chance of doing so was gone. Now there
were still two chances in his favour; first, that he might hold out
until the noise of firing attracted some of the British cruisers which
were probably in the immediate neighbourhood, and if that chance failed,
he might run the “Townshend” ashore on some shoal of the coast now in
sight where the Privateers could not follow him. Both these chances were
desperate enough; but Captain Cock saw his duty clear before him, and
cared nothing for the consequences. All his preparations were quickly
made, and every man was at his post before the Privateers came within
range, which they did about 7 A.M.

At 7.30 A.M. the “Tom” had placed herself abeam of the Packet to
larboard, while the “Bona” lay on the starboard quarter, and both their
broadsides were crashing into the “Townshend” at pistol shot distance,
all three vessels running before the wind. This lasted till eight
o’clock. The Americans, as was usual with them, made great use of
“dismantling shot,” _i.e._ chain and bar shot; the effect of which upon
the rigging of the “Townshend” was most disastrous. It was not long
before her sails were hanging in ribbons, and her spars greatly damaged;
and in some momentary confusion from this cause the “Tom” seized an
opportunity of pouring in her boarders, while the “Bona” redoubled her
fire, both of great guns and of musketry, to cover their attack.

In what force the boarders came on this occasion we are not told, but as
the crew of the “Tom” consisted of one hundred and thirty men there is
no improbability in supposing that they numbered fifty or sixty. Captain
Cock, moreover, having a foe on either quarter, could not bring the
whole even of his handful of men to meet them, but must leave a
sufficient number to work the guns, which were keeping the “Bona” at a
respectful distance. He may perhaps have had twenty men at his back in
this hand-to-hand fight; but each one of them acquitted himself so well
that after a fierce tussle the Americans were driven back to their own
ship. This success was only won by the loss of four of Captain Cock’s
best hands, who received disabling wounds in the fight.

Thereupon both Privateers resumed the cannonade, maintaining the
positions which they had taken up at the commencement of the action, and
for another hour the “Townshend” endured the fire of her enemies’ heavy
guns, the courage of her commander and crew remaining as high and
stubborn as ever.

The Packet was now so much shattered that she could with difficulty be
handled. Again and again the “Tom” bore down upon her, and hurled fresh
boarders up her sides. Time after time Captain Cock led his wearied men
to meet them, and each time drove them back.

In these repeated close fights the Cornishmen met with heavy losses, Mr.
Sidgman, master of the “Townshend” being killed, and six more sailors,
making ten in all, desperately wounded. His crew was now so reduced in
numbers that it was with the greatest difficulty that Captain Cock could
continue to serve the guns, and at the same time to collect sufficient
men to meet the constantly recurring boarding attacks. It was plain that
this situation of affairs could not last. There was no sign of succour
on the sea, and when Captain Cock looked aloft, he could not but admit
that in the crippled condition of his ship, all chance of running her
ashore was gone. The “Townshend” was in fact a mere wreck. Her bowsprit
was shot in pieces. Both jib-booms and head were carried away, as well
as the wheel and ropes. Scarcely one shroud was left standing. The
Packet lay like a log on the water, while the Privateers sailed round
her, choosing their positions as they pleased, and raking her again and
again.

Still Captain Cock held out. It was not until ten o’clock, when he had
endured the attack of his two powerful enemies for nearly three hours,
that he looked about him and recognized that the end had come. There
were four feet of water in the hold, and the carpenter reported that it
was rising rapidly. The Packet was in fact sinking. Nearly half the crew
were in the hands of the surgeon. The rest, exhausted and hopeless of
success, had already fought more nobly than even he could have foreseen,
and were now being uselessly sacrificed. Still Captain Cock’s pride
rebelled against surrender; and as he saw the colours he had defended so
well drop down upon the deck, it is recorded that he burst into tears.

There lies before the writer a faded yellow scrap of paper on which one
of the American captains recorded in generous terms his opinion of his
foe. It runs as follows: “I do certify that Captain James Cock, of the
Packet brig ‘Townshend,’ captured this day by the private armed
schooners ‘Tom’ and ‘Bona,’ did defend his ship with courage and
seamanship, and that he did not strike his colours until his vessel was
perfectly unmanageable and in the act of sinking. Sd., Thomas Wilson, on
board the ‘Townshend,’ November 22nd, 1812.” Subjoined to this
certificate is a statement of the force of the Privateers, as given
above. The loss of the “Townshend” has already been indicated; that of
the Privateers Captain Cock was allowed no opportunity of ascertaining.
He believed, however, that it was heavy, and he mentions positively that
the “Tom,” the larger of the two, had received so much injury in her
spars, sails, and rigging, that it was the intention of her captain to
put back to port to refit.

When the Americans took possession of the “Townshend,” they found her so
literally a wreck that they could make no use of her; and they therefore
resolved to set her on fire, sending the crew, whom they did not wish to
retain as prisoners, ashore in their own boats. Against this decision
Captain Cock protested vehemently, pointing out the inhumanity of
exposing so many wounded men to the perils of a voyage in boats which
were so much shattered as to make it extremely doubtful whether they
could reach the land. Finally, he was permitted, in exchange for a bill
for £1200, to resume possession of his ship, after it had been plundered
of everything of value. His unwounded men set to work with a will,
plugged the shot-holes, held the leaks in check, and at 7 P.M. the
“Townshend” dropped her anchor in Carlisle Bay. There her injuries were
repaired as far as the imperfect appliances of the dock-yard permitted,
and shortly after the New Year she set sail for England, still in a
rather crazy state.

On January 18th at 1 P.M. a large schooner came in sight, about four
miles away on the larboard bow. When first seen, the schooner was
laying-to; but she made sail in chase almost immediately, and at 2.30
P.M. hoisted English colours. At 3 P.M. the stranger was within half a
mile; and was seen to be hauling down the English ensign and hoisting
the Stars and Stripes. At the same time she fired a gun across the
“Townshend’s” bows, a summons to which Captain Cock replied with his
full broadside, running up his own colours to the main-peak as he did
so. Half-crippled as she was, the “Townshend” was in for it again.

The Privateer hung on the wake of the Packet, yawing every few minutes
so as to deliver her broadside. Captain Cock on his part, not choosing
to risk the loss of ground, kept a steady course, and confined himself
to the use of his chasers, those long brass nine-pounders—“Post-Office”
guns, as they are still called by the old sailors at Falmouth—which had
so often served the Packets in good stead. With these two pieces he kept
playing upon the following enemy with such good effect that at 3.30 P.M.
he had the satisfaction of seeing her foreyard rattle down. There was
some confusion on her decks in consequence of this disaster, and Captain
Cock, seizing the opportunity to drive home the blow, gave the word to
yaw, and delivered his full broadside of round and grape-shot with such
precision as did great injury to the enemy’s spars and rigging, then
hauling to the wind again, resumed practice with his stern guns.

The excellence of the Cornish gunnery had done its work, and by 4 P.M.
the Privateer was observed to be dropping fast astern. In another
quarter of an hour a severe squall came on, and the vessels parted. When
the enemy was last seen she was laying-to, her sails hanging in every
direction, and her crew employed in knotting the shrouds and backstays
and repairing the running rigging.

So, in a manner beyond all praise, ended this cruise of the “Townshend,”
a glorious incitement and example to all the other Packets on the
Falmouth Station.

Great as was the satisfaction at Lombard Street when Captain Cock’s
story became known, there was yet an admixture of less pleasurable
feeling. It was already perfectly clear that the Packets were in greater
danger than at any previous time, unless, indeed, in the first American
war. Already two had been captured by squadrons of frigates, one by the
famous Commodore Rogers, the other by the almost equally well known
Captain D. Porter, each of whom commanded a force against which it would
have been madness to resist. And now two accounts were to hand of fights
with Privateers; and in both, though the resistance of the Post-Office
commanders was even desperately gallant, the force of the enemy had
proved irresistible. However, where the spirit of the officers and men
was so high, My Lords could not doubt that they would give a good
account of themselves; and just at this time an incident occurred which,
though not very important in itself, served to show that audacity was
sometimes the safest of all policies.

The “Lady Mary Pelham,” Captain Stevens, was on her voyage to Malta,
when at daylight on October 15th a large brig was seen standing across
the bows of the Packet. She was evidently a Privateer, and a powerful
one. Captain Stevens felt no doubt that if it came to a fight his vessel
would be over-matched, and he resolved accordingly to play the game of
bluff, relying, as he said “on the ‘Pelham’s’ good looks.” The “Lady
Mary Pelham,” though her force was no greater than that of any other
Packet, had in a remarkable degree the appearance of an eighteen-gun
brig, and this resemblance was increased by Captain Stevens’ conduct.
For instead of manifesting any desire to escape, he showed by all his
actions the greatest readiness for a fight, and hauling up, waited to
receive his enemy. The Privateer came on in doubt, and Captain Stevens,
playing his part boldly, fired a gun across her bows as soon as she came
within range, and ordered her to heave to. On this the enemy, convinced
that she had encountered a British cruiser, hoisted English colours, and
made all sail to escape. Captain Stevens desired nothing more than to
let her go, and resumed his course without any effort to stop her. The
very celerity with which he did this aroused suspicion on board the
strange vessel, which hoisted French colours and fired several guns,
whereupon Captain Stevens, with unabated impudence, hauled up and waited
for her again. This second demonstration of readiness for action
convinced the stranger, which went her ways and troubled the “Lady Mary
Pelham” no more.

In the following month an important service was rendered to the colony
of Demerara by Captain Kirkness, commanding the Packet “Queen
Charlotte,” a service recalling in some degree the patriotic conduct of
Captain Dyneley at Dominica six years before.

The “Queen Charlotte” was lying in Georgetown harbour in the month of
November, waiting for her mails, and Captain Kirkness from the deck of
his ship could see hanging about the entrance to the port a
suspicious-looking vessel. He made his observations quietly, and, having
satisfied himself about the matter, took his boat, went on shore, and
demanding an audience of the governor, General Carmichael, informed him
that an American Privateer was cruising outside the harbour.

It so happened that General Carmichael had that day received letters
from Berbice, informing him, on the authority of a captured merchant
captain, that the “Rattlesnake,” a Privateer which had made herself
extremely notorious since the outbreak of the war, was on her way to
Demerara with the design of intercepting the Cork fleet, which was
expected to arrive in Georgetown from day to day. He had, moreover,
information of another powerful Privateer, which, a day or two before,
had engaged a well-armed merchant vessel for three hours, and which had
since captured several smaller craft within sight of the shore. Both
these vessels were known to be heavily armed and manned. The
“Rattlesnake” carried sixteen 9–pounder carronades, two long nines, and
her “Long Tom,” mounted on a traverse, was no less than a 42–pounder. If
her consort carried an equal weight of metal, the two, acting together,
could easily scatter the Cork fleet.

General Carmichael stated these facts to Captain Kirkness, and appealed
to him to do whatever might be in his power to hold the Privateers in
check, and so provide for the safe arrival of the expected fleet, there
being at the time no British ship of war at his disposal. Captain
Kirkness undertook the adventure willingly. There was, indeed, no other
course, unless he was prepared to stand by idly while the Privateers
swooped down and worked their will on the coming merchantmen. He
received on board a large party of troops, with some volunteers from the
militia; and aided, as Captain Stevens had been, by his Packet’s “good
looks,” sallied out to meet the fleet.

The two Privateers were sighted as soon as the “Queen Charlotte” left
the harbour; but by some curious hesitation, a most unusual quality in
Americans, they did not attack, but hung on the wake of the Packet, as
if believing her too strong for them, until she met the fleet; and then,
recognizing that their opportunity was lost, they bore away on another
tack, and were not seen again.

The credit due to Captain Kirkness for this exploit is not lessened by
the fact that the enemy hung back from action, for this was a stroke of
luck on which he could not have calculated. He risked a fight against
overwhelming odds—for the “Rattlesnake” alone could have blown the
“Queen Charlotte” out of the water—and by his courage and audacity saved
the merchants of this country and of Demerara from very serious losses,
which nothing but his interposition could possibly have averted.

Time has dealt hardly with the records of the Falmouth Service, and the
historian, anxious to do justice to the memory of every officer whose
conduct was distinguished, searches in vain among the brown and dusty
papers for full reports of many a stubborn fight. Eighty years of
neglect have broken frequent gaps in what might have been a continuous
story. As a rule the Post-Office actions were not reported either in the
Gazettes or in the public press; and thus it happens that when the
original letters are not forthcoming, the details of the whole story are
irretrievably lost.

Such is the case with Captain Hartney’s fight in the “Montagu” on
February 1st, 1813. Captain Hartney had on board no less than £16,000 in
bullion, a fact of which the Privateer which attacked him may have got
wind. At any rate she fought with great obstinacy. The battle raged for
three hours within pistol shot, till at last the Americans sheered off,
in the very nick of time, for the Falmouth men had fired away the whole
of their grape, canister, and double-headed shot, and had only a few
round shot left. So ended triumphantly what was evidently a gallant
fight, about which we would gladly know more than the scanty record
tells.

In June the “Duke of Montrose,” Captain Blewitt, was in mid-Atlantic,
outward bound for Halifax, when, on the 9th of that month, she
encountered an American Privateer of superior force. The crew of the
“Duke of Montrose” were in a high state of training, having succeeded,
about five months previously, in beating off the assault of a similar
craft, which they repulsed after an action of six hours, never having
allowed her to close with them during the whole of that long period. The
confidence in themselves and in their officers which they won on that
occasion stood them in good stead now; and, as they watched the onset of
their powerful adversary, every man was cool and confident of success.

At noon the schooner was closing fast on the Packet, and at 12.30 P.M.
she fired three guns. Captain Blewitt, thinking that the enemy would
shortly close, ordered the gunners to reserve their fire until it could
be delivered with more effect; but the Privateer had no intention of
coming to meet the broadside at short range, and Captain Blewitt, seeing
that she hung back, bore up, gave her his stern guns, and then, hauling
across the schooner’s bows, raked her with his starboard guns, and wore
again with the intention of closing, pouring in the fire of his larboard
guns as they came to bear. Thus, while the “Duke of Montrose” had
received only a single broadside, every gun that she carried had been
fired into the Privateer at short range, and the execution must have
been deadly. At 1.45 P.M. the schooner ran down and endeavoured to
grapple the Packet, but the fire of the Cornish gunners was too
well-directed, and she sheered off again to a safer distance.
Half-an-hour later she ceased firing and tacked to the eastward,
whereupon Captain Blewitt tacked to the westward and resumed his voyage
in the best of spirits.

Unhappily his elation was short-lived, for on the following morning
Commodore Rogers in the United States frigate “President” passed that
way. Resistance against such a force as the “President” possessed was
out of the question. The mails were sunk, and the “Duke of Montrose”
surrendered.

Commodore Rogers treated his prisoners with very honourable forbearance
and liberality. He would not permit them to be plundered of the least
trifle, and informed Captain Blewitt that he proposed to send him, with
all his crew and passengers, back to England in their own ship, on
condition that they would enter into a contract to send the Packet back
to America with an equal number of American prisoners in England. This
agreement, drawn up in the most binding terms, was subscribed “upon our
sacred honour” by all the persons concerned; and the “Duke of Montrose,”
having on board a single American officer, arrived at Falmouth towards
the end of June. It then appeared that in the view of the British
Government the agreement was contrary to law; and as it had been
notified to the American Government that exchanges of prisoners on the
high seas would not be recognized as valid, the whole transaction was
declared void; the “Duke of Montrose” was restored to the Post-Office,
the officers and crew were told that they might resume their duties
without being exchanged, and the American officer was sent back to his
own country empty-handed.

The story is not a pleasant one; and while the action of the Government
may have been strictly warranted by the notification made to the United
States, yet the transaction smacks overmuch of the methods of a sharp
attorney, and one cannot but regret that the generous confidence of
Commodore Rogers was not met in the same spirit.

It is impossible to describe, even with the fulness of the official
records, every action which took place during this war; and yet where
all were gallant there is some injustice in making a selection. One
would willingly linger over the story of how Captain Elphinstone in the
“Manchester” fought the “York Town” through a whole day, and did not
surrender till his last round of ammunition had been fired; of how
Captain White in the “Princess Charlotte” beat off an unknown American
vessel in three separate actions extending over four days, during the
whole of which time the enemy kept in company; or of Captain Caddy’s
plucky conduct when the “Governor Tompkins,” a Privateer of ten long
9–pounders, a long 24–pounder on a traverse, and ninety-nine men,
captured his Packet, the “Mary Anne,” after a fight in which the latter
was reduced to a mere wreck.

These fine stories must be summarized; but one fight which occurred
about this time takes rank among the greater actions of the Falmouth
Service, and deserves a fuller description.

The “Express,” Captain John Quick, sailed from Rio de Janeiro on March
23rd, 1813, having on board, in addition to the mails and despatches,
about £20,000 in specie. There seems to have been something in the smell
of specie which attracted Privateers, for the “Express,” which had made
her outward voyage without sighting any suspicious vessel, encountered
near the Cape Verde Islands the “Anaconda,” an American Privateer,
carrying sixteen long 9–pounders, and a hundred and twenty men. This
formidable adversary chased the “Express,” and, after a long pursuit,
brought her to action.

Unfortunately no account has been preserved of the details of the fight.
We are told that it lasted for an hour at close quarters, and it is
clear that the cannonade during that hour must have been very fierce,
for the record says that “the Packet’s sails were cut in pieces fore and
aft, the main and foremast very badly wounded, the main-topmast shot
away, the fore-topsail yard shot away, the foreyard badly wounded, the
main and forestay shot away, the main and fore-rigging very badly cut,
the braces fore and aft and the topsail-sheets shot away, all the
rigging fore and aft in a most shattered condition, four of the
starboard guns dismounted (the ‘Express’ carried only eight), several
shot between wind and water, three feet and a half of water in the hold,
and the Packet actually sinking.” To such a condition had Captain
Quick’s ship been reduced before he judged it consistent with his honour
to surrender. And this in face of a Post-Office regulation, never yet
repealed, which instructed him that “the idea of resistance, except
against Privateers of the smallest class, must be abandoned.” So far
from abandoning resistance, this gallant captain fought his ship till
she was sinking under him, and would certainly have gone down carrying
her brave defenders with her had the surrender been delayed a few
minutes longer.

Such is the spirit in which the Falmouth men fought their losing
battles, earning glory if they could not reach success.



                              CHAPTER XII.
                           THE AMERICAN WAR.


The number of Packets stationed at Falmouth was not as large as to
enable My Lords, or their Secretary, Mr. Freeling, to contemplate the
ravages of the American Privateers without dismay. The mere fact that so
many Packets were either in the hands of the enemy or undergoing repairs
which must necessarily be lengthy, was enough to create much
embarrassment in the present, while the outlook for the immediate future
was gloomy and depressing. The difficulties were exasperated by the
total loss of the “Hinchinbrooke” in a hurricane in the West Indies,
while, as if to show that Fortune had turned her back on the
Post-Office, the news of this disaster was quickly followed by the
report that the “Lady Emily” had been wrecked on a reef of rocks near
Bermuda.

Even these misfortunes did not exhaust the run of ill-luck. A violent
outbreak of plague occurred at Malta. Every Packet arriving from the
Mediterranean must perform quarantine at Sandgate Creek on the Kentish
coast, and the delay and inconvenience thus caused proved a well-nigh
intolerable addition to the perplexities of the administrators at
Lombard Street.

The West India merchants, moreover, who had held their peace of recent
years, as well they might, seeing with what courage and devotion their
interests were guarded, were once more complaining of the loss of mails,
and demanded that every Packet should have twenty guns and sixty men. My
Lords, however, in the gallantry of their officers and men, were
fortified with arguments which they had not possessed in former
discussions with these critics. Twenty guns, they pointed out, would not
have saved the “Duke of Montrose” from Commodore Rogers, and though
Captain Cock in the “Townshend” had achieved so much with his scanty
armament that it was difficult to say what he might not have done with
an increased force, yet My Lords claimed, not unjustly, that such a case
was too far removed from ordinary experience to serve as the basis of an
argument.

Yet the prayer of the merchants was not altogether set aside; and when
in July the brig “Morgiana” was tendered for service as a temporary
Packet, Mr. Freeling noted that, being of 260 tons, considerably larger
than any other vessel on the station, she ought to carry forty men and
sixteen guns, and expressed the hope that this larger armament would
restore some confidence in the city. The sequel is now to be related. It
is curious to notice how some malignant influence mocked at all these
efforts to arm the Packets more heavily, and rendered them all in turn
equally vain.

For some unexplained reason the “Morgiana” was not provided on her first
voyage with the sixteen guns which Mr. Freeling had declared to be
proper to her size; but was armed with eight 9–pounders, which were
perhaps all that could be procured in the short space of time available
for fitting her out. She received, however, the complement of men which
the Secretary had indicated; and thus equipped, she sailed from Falmouth
at the end of August, bound for Surinam, under the command of Captain
James Cunninghame, who had been Lord St. Vincent’s sailing master in the
action of February 14th, 1797. Early in the morning of September 26th,
the “Morgiana” being then off the coast of Surinam, a large
hermaphrodite brig hove in sight, which, on perceiving the “Morgiana,”
at once crowded all sail in chase. The wind was very light, and at seven
o’clock it was observed that the stranger vessel had got out her sweeps,
and was gaining fast on the Packet.

About 10 A.M. the sea breeze made partially, and the Privateer,
receiving it first, was enabled to decrease the distance between the two
vessels so materially as to render it shortly obvious that there would
be no escape by sailing. At half-past twelve Captain Cunninghame gave
orders to pipe to dinner, conceiving that by the time his crew had
dined, the enemy would be within range of shot. What followed should be
told in his own vivid words:—

  “In this interval I cautiously inspected every article of
  preparation we had made, and confess that I felt a great
  satisfaction, and no small share of confidence at the arrangements.
  At 1.30 P.M. the hands were turned up, and, calling them aft, I
  addressed them to the following effect: ‘That they had witnessed my
  endeavours to elude engaging an enemy who to all appearance was much
  superior to ourselves, but that the chances of action, if supported
  with steadiness and courage, might not only give us an opportunity
  to beat him off, but also to capture; that they were aware that,
  besides my holding a commission to command the Packet, I had passed
  the great proportion of my life as an officer in His Majesty’s Naval
  Service; that I had been frequently engaged with the enemy,
  consequently a battle was no new thing to me; and that, independent
  of our characters as Englishmen, we were bound by our duty to the
  service now employed on to defend the mails with all possible
  obstinacy; that it was my own determination not to give the ship
  away till I was no longer able to defend her, and hinted that should
  any of them feel unwilling to support me in my resolution, they had
  my full liberty to go below, and that I would endeavour to fight the
  ship with the braver part of the crew who would remain to second
  me.’

  “With much pleasure I have to acknowledge that one sentiment of
  determination pervaded all; all were unanimously anxious to engage,
  and showed a disposition to cheer, which I checked. At 2 P.M., the
  enemy being within range of shot, I took in the studding sails,
  ordered the jolly boat to be cut adrift, and opened a fire on him
  from our stern guns, which evidently disconcerted him, the first
  shot having carried away some of his standing rigging. He then
  yawed, and gave us his whole broadside, which did no other injury
  than a shot or two through the topgallant sails. We continued to
  play the stern guns on him, and he to give us an occasional charge
  from his foremost guns, when he could get them to bear without
  losing ground; but finding himself exposed to a raking fire, which
  he stood well, he endeavoured to gain our starboard quarter, and his
  superior sailing soon placed him in a situation in which our after
  guns could be used with effect. Anxious to profit by this event, and
  with the hope that our broadside would deter him from closing with
  us altogether, we gave him the fire from our starboard guns, then
  bore up till the stern guns could again act; but after five or six
  discharges from them I had the mortification to see that the
  ringbolts had drawn out from both sides the stern, and these guns,
  which had as yet been our principal defence, rendered of no more use
  in that point. The disposition of the enemy was now evidently
  directed to boarding us on the larboard quarter, and he accordingly
  ranged up with that intent; but our fire was too heavy to be
  despised. He therefore gave up the idea of boarding, and, manning
  his guns, returned our broadsides with vigour.

  “The action was now something hot, and was supported by both sides
  with an equal degree of spirit for about an hour and twenty minutes,
  both vessels running before the wind, within pistol distance of each
  other, and at times not more than a few fathoms apart.

  “The tops of the Privateer were filled with men armed with
  blunderbusses and muskets who gave us great annoyance, and his fire
  of grape was sharp and galling, wounding several of our men. In this
  part of the action I found that a grape-shot had grazed my left leg,
  and stuck in the opposite side of the ship. It was not, however, of
  very serious consequence, and, tying it up with a handkerchief, I
  was enabled to resume my station. A short time after a musket ball
  struck my left wrist, which made but a slight wound, and at the same
  instant I saw the sailmaker, who was stationed at the wheel, fall,
  he having received a mortal wound from a charge of grape.

  “In consequence of the helm being left the ship took a sheer, by
  which the sides of the two vessels came into contact, and the enemy,
  exasperated at finding himself so long disappointed of his prize by
  such a handful of men, and with a hope of ending the contest, took
  this opportunity of heaving his boarders into us. I ran to the
  wheel, and put the helm apart, which caused us to separate, and his
  people, many of whom had established themselves in the main rigging,
  with some on the poop, now thought of nothing but securing a
  retreat, which we endeavoured to cut off. We pressed them
  warmly—some gained their vessel, others jumped overboard to escape
  our pikes; and one man, who had reached the top of our boarding
  netting, with whom I had been personally engaged, now begged for
  quarter, which of course I granted. In this conflict I received a
  severe cutlass wound on the head from the man alluded to above, who
  in a state of desperation from his pistol aim having missed, hove
  his cutlass at me with an extraordinary violence which levelled me
  with the deck, from which position I prepared to fire at him when he
  sued for mercy and obtained it.

  “Our firing again commenced, but finding the strength of the enemy
  much too powerful for us, and with some apprehension of defeat
  should he still attempt to carry us by boarding, I took the first
  opportunity of tearing up my private signal sheet, and hove it
  overboard together with my instructions, and gave the master fresh
  injunctions respecting the destruction of the mail in case of
  necessity.

  “Our sails and rigging being now rendered nearly useless, and the
  ship unmanageable, the enemy was enabled to pursue his resolve to
  carry us by heaving the bulk of his crew on board, and accordingly
  closed with us on the larboard bow, which I found it impossible to
  prevent. With an anxious desire to make every practicable
  resistance, I was in the act of running forward to the threatened
  part of the ship when I was struck by a musket ball in the upper
  part of the right thigh, by which the bone was shattered, and which
  brought me once more to the deck. In this state, with a third part
  of my crew either killed or wounded, and those my best men, I
  consequently gave up all hope of further success in a contest so
  very unequally maintained; and waving to the master to sink the
  mail, felt a secret relief when I saw that object accomplished. At
  the same time one of the people asked me if he should haul down the
  ensign, to which I reluctantly assented. The crew of the Privateer
  had gained complete possession of the forecastle and fore-rigging,
  and the remainder of the ‘Morgiana’s’ men fled for shelter. Further
  resistance was now out of the question, for more than seventy men
  had gained a footing in the Packet, the two vessels lying
  yard-locked with each other. I was much weakened with the loss of
  blood, which was flowing fast from four wounds, but had strength to
  intimate to the first that approached me that ‘we had struck,’ but
  this did not appear to satisfy the fury of a few, who rushed at me
  with uplifted cutlasses, evidently to despatch me altogether, had it
  not been for the man to whom I had given quarter. He advanced to
  check their rage, begging them to spare my life for having given him
  his when I could easily have taken it, and to his timely
  interference I am certainly indebted for my existence.... I was now
  carried below to have my wounds staunched and examined, when I felt
  extreme grief to see so many in the same state. I requested the
  surgeon to give me his candid opinion of my thigh, when I was
  informed that he feared the wound would be of mortal consequence. I
  then asked to be put into my cot, and carried to the upper cabin,
  which was done, and from thence I exultingly surveyed the shattered
  state of both vessels. Scarce a sail was left to the yards, every
  standing or running rope either wounded or carried away, the sides
  and spars studded with shot, and everything a wreck; and I learned
  from the prize master that His Majesty’s Packet, armed with eight
  9–lb. carronades, and manned with only thirty-nine persons
  altogether, which had only been one month in commission, had been
  thus contending for two hours with an enemy carrying sixteen long
  carriage guns (chiefly 12–pounders), a powerful train of small arms,
  and a crew of one hundred and thirty-six picked seamen....

  “The captain of the Privateer confessed that we had fought him
  bravely, nay, desperately, and added (though with no idea of
  complimenting me) that I had fought him too long with so weak a
  crew.”

The Privateer was the “Saratoga” of New York, Captain Thomas Adderton.
That gentleman, in his letter to the owners (published in a New York
paper of October 23rd, 1813), assigned to the “Morgiana” eighteen guns,
presuming perhaps on the fact that, as was probably the case, she was
pierced for that number of cannon. He did not, however, attempt to
conceal the desperate character of the resistance which he encountered.
“The ‘Saratoga,’” says the letter, “as well as her prize were made
almost wrecks—stays, shrouds, etc., almost all cut away, and more than a
hundred shot-holes in our mainsail, many in our masts, spars, hull,
etc.... They fought desperately, and even beyond what prudence would
dictate.” From other sources it appears that eighteen were killed or
wounded on the Privateer.

The “Morgiana” was conveyed to Newport, Rhode Island, where Captain
Cunninghame was landed on October 19th. From a letter written by him in
the following March it appears that his wounds still confined him to
bed, and that his recovery was even then uncertain. He did, however,
eventually recover; and was not without friends who could alleviate his
sufferings; for he states that he received much kindness from a Mr.
Baring, nephew of Sir Francis Baring, as well as from other persons in
Newport.

In August, 1814, he was able to appear before a Court of Inquiry held at
Falmouth to investigate the circumstances connected with the loss of the
“Morgiana.” The court found, “That the conduct of Captain Cunninghame on
this occasion was that of a most brave and experienced officer, ... and
do therefore most strongly recommend him to their Lordships as highly
deserving of their attention.” This recommendation was not neglected;
though indeed Captain Cunninghame would have obtained a permanent
appointment in the Falmouth Service even if the approval of the Court of
Inquiry had been less strongly expressed. Mr. Freeling needed no
prompting when it was a question of rewarding bravery, or of securing
gallant officers for the service of the Department.

The “Morgiana” had three men killed and nine wounded; a heavy loss out
of a crew of thirty-nine men. That loss was, however, exceeded in the
next action, which indeed presents a heavier list of casualties than any
other recounted in these pages. The fighting was not perhaps more
desperate; but it would be an ungracious task to measure against each
other the conduct of the crews of the “Townshend,” the “Morgiana,” and
the “Montagu.”

This action, fought by the “Montagu” in company with the “Lady Mary
Pelham,” was one attended with circumstances which roused an
extraordinary degree of heated feeling not only in Falmouth, but far
beyond; and which involved the Post-Office in a controversy more
troublesome and difficult than any other arising out of the Packet
Service within the period dealt with in this work.

The “Lady Mary Pelham” Packet was under orders to sail for Brazil, when
her commander, Captain Stevens, received the news of his promotion to
the Holyhead station. He was naturally anxious to take up his new
appointment as soon as possible; and as the voyage on which his ship was
ordered would occupy five months, he cast about for some person who
would be willing to act as his substitute. The proper person to select
would have been the master, Mr. Carter, an excellent officer, who served
as acting first lieutenant of the “Thunderer” at Trafalgar, and had been
present in nearly every important engagement of the war. A better choice
could not have been made; but Mr. Carter had only recently entered the
Packet Service, and Captain Stevens, seized with an unaccountable
scruple, declined to entrust his property to an officer of whom he knew
so little, save by repute.

It was the practice of the Post-Office to defer as much as possible to
the wishes of the commanders on the rare occasions when it was necessary
to choose a substitute, and Mr. Saverland, the agent, felt that he could
not urge that Mr. Carter should be appointed in opposition to the
captain’s wish, especially as the latter had selected a person whom he
preferred. This person, to whom the command of a Packet on an Atlantic
voyage in time of war was to be entrusted, was not even a trained
seaman. He was a retired lawyer, living at Falmouth, who occupied his
leisure a good deal in yachting.

Mr. Saverland demurred to this proposal. It was, however, six o’clock in
the evening when the interview took place, and the “Lady Mary Pelham”
was to sail on the following morning. There was not time to make any
other arrangements; and Mr. Saverland, recollecting that at least the
master of the vessel was a brave and experienced officer, gave way and
signed the appointment—a piece of complaisance which he long regretted.

The “Lady Mary Pelham” thus sailed from Falmouth on October 13th under
the command of a retired lawyer, whose knowledge of the sea had been
entirely gained upon a yacht. Six days later the “Montagu” sailed from
Falmouth upon the same voyage, commanded by Captain John Arthur Norway,
R.N.

Of the crew of the “Montagu,” the reader has already heard. Their
gallant conduct, earlier in the year, under Captain Hartney had gained
them reputation. Their present commander was making his first voyage in
the service of the Post-Office; and it will not be irrelevant to state
very briefly what his career had been.

Captain Norway entered the navy as midshipman in 1785. In January, 1793,
when Captain Edward Pellew (afterwards Sir Edward, and finally Lord
Exmouth) was appointed to the “Nymphe” frigate, Norway joined as mate,
and was promoted to lieutenant for gallantry in the well known action
with the “Cléopatre” frigate, in which he was wounded. He served with
Pellew in all his actions until the year 1799, and was second lieutenant
of the “Indefatigable” on that January night in 1797, when, in company
with the “Amazon,” she fell in with the “Droits de l’Homme,” the last
remnant of Hoche’s scattered expedition, labouring homeward full of
troops. The circumstances of the action which ensued will hardly be
forgotten by any one who has read the story in James’ work; and for his
conduct in that most memorable fight, Norway was appointed first
lieutenant of his own ship. In this capacity he served until 1798, when
he was invalided home, but was shortly afterwards appointed to command a
cutter on the Irish station. And when war broke out afresh he obtained a
command at Portsmouth. He had been made commander in 1802, and in 1806,
in consequence of broken health, was placed on half-pay. On recovering
he found his applications for employment disregarded, in common with
those of many other good officers who lacked interest; and after having
spent several years fruitlessly in importuning the Admiralty he resolved
to enter the Packet Service, which he accordingly did, with the
advantage of testimonials of the highest kind.

The “Montagu” made a better passage than the “Pelham,” and at 1.30 P.M.
on November 1st she landed her mails at Funchal. Captain Norway did not
anchor, but stood off and on, waiting for the mails to be brought on
board. Early in the evening he saw the “Lady Mary Pelham” to windward,
and made the night signal, but received no answer. Shortly before 2 A.M.
a strange schooner hove in sight. The crew were called to quarters; and
at 5 A.M. the schooner ran down alongside the “Montagu,” poured in her
broadside, received one in return, and sheered off without much damage
on either side.

The officers of the “Lady Mary Pelham” lying-to under the land heard the
firing, which appeared to them to be coming off shore, but at daybreak
they sighted the “Montagu,” whereupon Mr. Carter, the master, boarded
her, and learned what had occurred. The schooner, which was evidently a
Privateer, lay to all day in sight of the land, obviously waiting for
the Packets, and it was apparent to everyone that there was going to be
a fight.

Both Packets received their mails between 7 and 8 in the evening, and
set sail in company without delay. Nothing was seen of the schooner
during the night, but on the following morning, November 2nd, she
appeared in chase, though at some distance. The crew of the “Montagu”
exercised their great guns, and both Packets were cleared for action.

The wind was moderate, blowing from the east or north-east; and at 2
P.M. the Privateer was coming up fast astern under studding sails.
Captain Norway, having ordered the “Lady Mary Pelham” to take up a
position ahead of the “Montagu” on the starboard bow, and within hail,
hoisted his colours, and the crew of both Packets gave three cheers.

At 2.50 P.M. the “Montagu” opened fire with her stern chaser (a long
9–pounder), to which the Privateer replied with her bow guns. This
cannonade caused little damage on either side; and the enemy, continuing
to come up quickly with the “Montagu,” was upon her starboard quarter
shortly after 3 o’clock.

A close engagement ensued within half pistol shot distance, which was
vigorously supported on both sides. It had lasted only a short time when
the jib-boom of the Privateer ran into the “Montagu’s” main rigging, and
a party of twenty boarders came swarming out along it, dropping from it
on the deck of the Packet. A desperate struggle followed, and the
schooner, having brought an 18–pounder swivel to bear, sent repeated
charges of grape and chain-shot among the Cornishmen. A great number of
the latter were hit. Captain Norway was wounded severely in the leg, but
refused to go below, though the enemy were by this time retreating, and
the Packetsmen drove them back upon the main-boom, along which they had
come. At this moment by some wrench of the vessels the main-boom was
unshipped, and ten of the retreating Americans fell into the sea. The
rest were either killed or piked overboard. None of them regained their
own ship.

The affair lasted only a few minutes. Just before it ended a chain-shot
struck Captain Norway in the body, cutting him almost in two. The
surgeon, Mr. Ure, who saw the captain stagger, ran up to catch him, but
as he held his commander in his arms his own head was shattered by a
round shot, and the two men fell to the deck together. Two seamen were
killed in this sharp encounter, and four wounded, so that the force of
the “Montagu” was now reduced to twenty-four men and boys, while the
Americans were still nearly a hundred.

When the captain fell the command devolved on Mr. Watkins, the master.
The Privateer probably perceived that her true tactics were to remain at
close quarters with one of her antagonists, in which her great
superiority in men gave her an enormous advantage, and at all hazards to
avoid placing herself in a position in which both could manœuvre round
her. Up to this moment, moreover, the “Lady Mary Pelham” had taken no
part in the fight. Had she, too, closed with the Privateer the case of
the Americans would have been desperate; and they, well knowing this,
resolved to make a final effort to carry the “Montagu” before her
consort had plucked up courage to assist.

Accordingly, the Privateer sheered over on the larboard quarter of the
“Montagu,” and prepared to board in overwhelming numbers. The musketry
fire from her tops was very galling, and to this the “Montagu” could
make hardly any effectual reply, having scarcely more men left than were
needed to work the guns. Those few were dropping fast. Mr. Watkin’s left
hand was shattered by a ball, and almost immediately afterwards he was
shot through the body, and carried below incapable of giving any further
orders. The mate and the carpenter were both severely wounded, and the
gunner, Mr. Hensell, was called up from below to take the command, and
do what he could with the ship. The colours were shot away, but were
immediately re-hoisted. The pendant remained flying throughout the
action.

When the gunner came on deck, seeing nearly half the crew killed or
disabled, and the Americans preparing to board in great numbers, he
judged it prudent to sink the mail. This was scarcely done before the
enemy were upon them once more, and the handful of men remaining were
summoned to repulse them. There was a second desperate scuffle. Four
only of the enemy set foot on the deck of the “Montagu.” One was killed
as he reached it. Another was recognized as a Packetsman who had
deserted at New York, and for such as he there was no quarter. The other
two, of whom one was the first lieutenant of the Privateer, were made
prisoners and sent below.

In this second fight the cook was mortally wounded, and the total number
of casualties brought up to eighteen—a heavy loss out of a complement of
thirty-two.

It is now necessary to turn to the “Lady Mary Pelham,” which vessel had,
it will be remembered, been ordered by Captain Norway to take up her
station ahead of the “Montagu,” on the starboard bow. From this position
an easy manœuvre would have laid her also alongside the Privateer.

At this crisis, however, the incompetence of her lawyer commander began
to exhibit itself. His orders betrayed so absolute an ignorance of the
management of a ship in action that after some precious minutes had been
wasted Mr. Carter and Mr. Pocock, the master and the mate, jointly
represented to him the propriety of deputing to the former the conduct
of the fight. They understood that he had done so; but at the moment
when the seamanship of Mr. Carter was about to repair the follies of the
commander, the helm was suddenly shifted, and the “Lady Mary Pelham”
sheered away from the fight.

Mr. Carter attributed this alteration of the ship’s course to cowardice
on the part of the steersman; and knowing only one punishment for such
an action in presence of the enemy, he ran towards him, drawing a pistol
as he did so, when the man cried out, “Don’t kill me, sir, it was the
captain’s order.” The proper position of the Packet could not be
regained until all the fighting which has been described had occurred.
The “Lady Mary Pelham” then, however, intervened, and maintained a
cannonade for some time. She was not engaged close alongside; she
sustained very slight damages; her captain received a ball through his
thigh, and one seaman was slightly hurt. There were no other casualties.

The Privateer sheered off soon after four o’clock. She was evidently
much damaged; and both the Packets chased her, but she outsailed them.

The official papers from which the foregoing account is taken are very
bulky. They contain many positive declarations of irreconcilable facts,
with accusations and insinuations, which, as Mr. Freeling said in
deprecating their publication, would inevitably lead to one or more
duels if they should become known. The present writer has desired to
record only those facts which are not open to dispute, and he believes
that the story as told above is demonstrably true.

The lawyer, whom an unkind destiny had placed temporarily in a position
for which he was utterly unfit, made many charges against most of the
persons concerned in this affair. His conduct was emphatically condemned
by his own officers, and needs no further comment.

Of Captain Norway, Mr. Freeling, who was certainly better qualified than
any other person to form an impartial opinion, wrote in the following
terms to the Postmaster General on receiving news of the action: “Your
Lordship’s Service, distinguished as it is, cannot boast a more gallant
officer, a better seaman, or a more honourable man.” Two years later,
when the commander of the “Lady Mary Pelham” thought fit to have his
case brought up in Parliament, and a member speaking in his interest had
used some words depreciating Captain Norway’s seamanship, Mr. Freeling
observed: “The reputation of Captain Norway stands too high to be
assailed by anything which the partizans of Mr. —— can say. In conduct
and in character he was alike irreproachable.” About the same time a
merchant who had been in the Canary Islands at the time when the
Privateer put in there to refit after the action, and had availed
himself of opportunities of hearing the story from the American
officers, wrote to Mr. Freeling a letter which is still extant, and
which remarkably confirms the account of the affair which has just been
given.

The Privateer was the “Globe” of Baltimore, Captain Moon. The total loss
was not ascertained, but it was known that out of thirty-nine men
engaged in the two boarding assaults on the “Montagu” not one had
escaped. The crew of the “Montagu” had, therefore, disposed of
considerably more than man for man of their number.



                             CHAPTER XIII.
                           THE AMERICAN WAR.


It is now necessary to revert briefly to the state of the postal
communications with northern Europe, which, when the subject was last
mentioned in the ninth chapter of this work, were stated to depend on
the chances of a system of smuggling organized from the newly acquired
island of Heligoland. Within two years from that time (1807) the
contraband trade had increased along the whole coast of the North Sea
and the Baltic in an astonishing degree. Bourrienne, who was still at
Hamburg, and who did not love the continental system, on which his
master relied for striking his “mortal blow” at England, remarks with a
half-sympathetic amusement how very little difference that system made
in postal and commercial arrangements when once the smugglers had become
expert. “The continental system,” he observes, “had made the smuggler’s
trade a necessity, so that a great part of the population depended on it
for subsistence.” Moreover, not goods alone, but news also circulated
pretty freely from England in 1809, and correspondence addressed to
merchants in the German towns was posted by agents despatched from
Heligoland to Embden, Knipphausen, Varel, and other towns.

In truth, the great barricade proved little better than a trellis,
penetrable anywhere by those who possessed the necessary courage and
audacity. A good supply of those qualities was of course needed, for the
trade was risky; and yet the disposition of the country people, which
was strongly hostile to the French Customs officers, did much to rob it
of its dangers. So determined were the people to obtain the English
goods that they did not hesitate to take arms against the over-zealous
Customs agents; and at Brinksham, in July, 1809, when the officers had
seized no less than eighteen wagons loaded with English goods, the
peasantry rose in force, recaptured the wagons, and escorted the goods
to their destination.

To keep apart, on the one hand, a people so resolute to trade, and, on
the other, a nation whose prosperity, if not its existence, depended on
maintaining its commercial supremacy, something more was needed than a
paper decree and a staff of Customs officers. “The trade with
Oldenburgh,” writes Bourrienne, “was carried on as uninterruptedly as in
time of peace. English letters and newspapers arrived on the continent,
and those of the continent found their way into Great Britain, as if
France and England had been united by ties of the firmest friendship.”

Such was the testimony of the man who of all others was best qualified
to appreciate the enterprise and skill with which the operations of the
Post-Office were conducted in these troublous days. It may, no doubt, be
true that the credit of this success is to be divided between the
Post-Office and private persons; for the merchants, in their constant
communications with the smugglers, doubtless entrusted to them a
considerable number of letters which had not passed through the British
Post-Office. When all deductions are made, however, one cannot fairly
refuse to Mr. Freeling and his colleagues the praise due to success in a
perilous and difficult undertaking.

Circumstances which had already turned the peaceful officials of the
Post-Office into arbiters of battles, had now made them smugglers,
controllers of a series of operations as wild, as dangerous, and as
picturesque as any which have been conducted within the limits of
history. They took up their new parts with a happy adaptability, and
played them with a degree of skill and resource which must always be
remembered as constituting one of the greatest achievements in the past
history of the Post-Office. When to this success is added the credit of
having evolved out of the chaos of disorder and misrule which existed at
Falmouth when he entered on office, a Service which could boast of such
triumphs as those which have been described in this book, one is
inclined to credit Mr. Freeling with capacities for administration which
have not often been surpassed.

Only once after 1803 did any Packet surrender to the enemy without a
resistance which was obviously the utmost that she could offer. In that
single instance a captain of old service and of honourable record, both
won by himself and inherited from his father, was cashiered for
cowardice in the face of the enemy. Such incidents will happen
occasionally in every body of men trained to war; and, even if it could
be proved that the officer was rightly punished, there would be no
occasion to make much of a solitary exception. The justice of his
treatment was, however, very strongly questioned; and as all, or nearly
all, the official papers which contain the evidence have been lost, the
facts can never now be fully stated.

There was no other commander whose conduct was even, doubtful, and as
report followed report, each bringing the news of some fresh feat of
gallantry against great odds, the satisfaction and pride of My Lords and
Mr. Freeling mounted very high.

Early in November, 1813, the “Lapwing” sailed from Falmouth for
Barbados, under command of Captain Furze. The “Lapwing” had been
captured earlier in the year, and stripped of her guns. When she came to
be refitted at Falmouth, it happened, unfortunately, that the
store-keeper could not supply the long brass 9–pounders, “Post-Office
guns,” which the Atlantic Packets used as chasers, and which had done
them yeomen’s service in many a hard fight. Captain Furze would have
willingly given any other three guns in exchange for the “Post-Office
guns” which he lacked. However, he could obtain only one long 6–pounder
to serve as a chaser, and six 6–pounder carronades—a scanty weight of
metal with which to run the gauntlet of the most heavily armed
Privateers yet seen on the seas.

All went well until the voyage was nearly over; but on November 22nd,
when the coast of Barbados was in sight, the “Lapwing” was chased by an
American Privateer, the “Fox,” which brought her to action towards
evening about three miles from shore.

It was now that Captain Furze had reason to lament the want of his two
brass guns, by the aid of which he felt confident that he could have
crippled his enemy. At any rate, the lack of all effective means of
attacking her rigging before she closed took away his only chance of
success; for the result of an action alongside could not have been
doubtful to the least experienced sailor. The “Fox,” it is true, mounted
only five guns, but three of these were long 12–pounders, and two were
heavy carronades, while all five were mounted on circular platforms
amidships, so that they could be directed with ease on any point, thus
giving them a united power much greater than their weight. The
“Lapwing’s” guns, on the other hand, could be fired only through her
ports, which meant that in a close fight, only three could be in action
at one time. Moreover, the “Fox” carried a hundred and seven men, of
whom no less than seventy were in her tops armed with muskets, and these
marksmen kept up a constant fire throughout the action, doing great
execution. The “Lapwing,” out of a crew of thirty-two men and boys,
could spare but few from the handling of the ship and the service of the
guns.

However, in a fight so close to port, there was always the chance that
the sound of cannon might attract some friendly cruiser; and Captain
Furze answered the summoning gun with a broadside. The American
immediately ran down and closed. A desperate fight followed. After the
cannonade had lasted some considerable time, the American captain seized
a favourable opportunity, and hurled his boarders into the Packet. They
were bravely met with pike and musket, and in the end repulsed with
loss. A second time the stormers came swarming up the “Lapwing’s”
nettings, and again they were driven back. But by this second success
the small numbers of the Post-Office men were sensibly diminished, while
the musketry fire from the enemy’s tops made itself severely felt. Four
of Captain Furze’s men lay dead, eight more were in the hands of the
surgeon, and others were falling fast. Mr. Henry Senior, an ensign in
the 60th Regiment, who was on board as a passenger, was shot through the
thigh. A musket ball broke Captain Furze’s arm, and he had barely gone
below to have his hurt tended, when Mr. Hodge, the master, who had been
left in command on deck, was brought down, shot through both thighs. The
resistance had lasted three hours. Half the crew of the Packet were
disabled, and, near as the coast of Barbados was, there appeared no sign
of succour. Captain Furze reluctantly concluded that it was hopeless to
prolong the struggle, and he ordered the mails to be sunk, and the
colours to be struck.

Unfortunate as the result of this action was, Captain Furze received
considerable credit for the gallant resistance he had made, and there
can be no doubt that this credit was fully earned.

Very early in the new year the Falmouth Service sustained a heavy loss
by the capture of the “Townshend,” which had been so nobly defended by
Captain Cock hardly more than a year before. She was on her way to
Lisbon, when she fell in with the French frigate “La Clorinde,” an
ancient enemy of the Packets, which had certainly captured one at least
before, and had not improbably been detached to cruise in their track,
in the hope of intercepting despatches. That this was her object on the
present occasion admitted of little doubt, for when “La Clorinde”
overhauled the “Townshend,” she concealed her nationality, though no
resistance was offered, ran up Portuguese colours, and sent off a boat.

Some officers might have been deceived, but Captain Cock was too
experienced to be entrapped by so artless a device. He had caused the
mails to be brought on deck as soon as the chase began. The bags,
heavily shotted, lay beside an open port-hole, and a sailor was told off
to throw them overboard the moment the captain gave the signal. The boat
drew nearer, and Captain Cock, while it was yet at a safe distance,
hailed in Portuguese, which he spoke fluently. The halting accent of the
answer told him he had no Portuguese to deal with. He raised his hand.
The mails slid into the water; and before the angry Frenchman came on
board, despatches and commercial letters were safely delivered at the
bottom of the sea.

The disappointed tricksters revenged themselves by scuttling the
“Townshend,” and Captain Cock had the grief of seeing the ship, which he
had fought so bravely, sunk ingloriously in mid-ocean. He and his crew
were taken on board “La Clorinde,” where for ten days they were allowed
a good deal of freedom, and enjoyed an excellent opportunity of studying
the internal discipline of a French ship of war. They were not
favourably impressed with what they saw; and the near prospect of a
French prison made them gloomy enough. It is easy, therefore, to imagine
their feelings when on the tenth day, an English 38–gun frigate, the
“Eurotas,” commanded by Captain Phillimore, hove in sight.

Captain Cock was convinced from what he had observed on the French ship
that however suitable she might be for capturing Packets, she was by no
means a match for any English frigate of her own size and class, and he
begged to be allowed to remain on deck to witness the action. This was
not permitted. He and his brave crew were conducted down into the hold,
where they remained listening with exultation to the roar of cannon and
the din of musketry. For a long time they had no means of discovering
which way fortune was inclining, until Captain Cock, wearied of pacing
up and down, threw himself back against the mizzen-mast, and felt it
tremble. He listened attentively, and a moment later he heard the crash
of its fall. He sprang up and placed his ear to the mainmast. In a very
short time that also began “to beat, tremble, and shake,” and ere long a
second crash announced its fall. With what impatient eagerness the
prisoners heard these evidences of their countrymen’s success may be
imagined. They could scarcely believe that “La Clorinde” was not
captured, and every moment they hoped to be released. But to their
intense disappointment the noise of battle died away, and no tidings
reached them.

At last Captain Cock was summoned on deck. He found the ship had
suffered terribly in the action, though her English antagonist could
claim little advantage over her in this respect, being likewise
dismasted, and lying a mile or two away. Night had fallen. The “Eurotas”
appeared in a blaze of light. Lanterns were hung all over her; blue
lights were being burnt, and from time to time a rocket shot up into the
sky. The French captain consulted Captain Cock as to the meaning of this
illumination. Were the lanterns signals of distress? Did Captain Cock
think the “Eurotas” was sinking, and, if so, could they offer any
assistance? Captain Cock had formed a shrewd guess as to why Captain
Phillimore wanted all this light, but he was discreet enough to hold his
tongue, and professed an entire inability to divine what was going on.
In the morning the mystery was cleared up; for the dawn revealed to the
astonished Frenchmen their crippled foe of the previous evening coming
up in the handsomest style at the rate of seven knots under jury masts,
which her crew had worked throughout the night in rigging up, while
another English cruiser, the “Dryad,” attracted by the rockets, was
standing down, and would evidently come into action before the
“Eurotas,” which during the night had drifted to a considerable
distance. “La Clorinde,” in her shattered state could make only two
knots, and was incapable of defending herself adequately against a
perfectly fresh antagonist. Captain Phillimore had thus the
mortification of seeing the work which he had begun taken out of his
hands, and all the great exertions of the night rendered fruitless.

Captain Cock, who by this fortunate turn of affairs regained his
liberty, did not live to fight more battles for the Post-Office. Worn
out by hardships, he died a few months later. Shortly before his death
he received from the Prince Regent of Portugal, who understood better
than his own government how to acknowledge faithful and devoted public
service, a gold medal of honour and the military Order of the Sword; but
Whitehall had no distinctions for officers of the Packet Service.

The circumstances of the action next to be narrated are very singular.

On the 12th March the “Duke of Marlborough,” under the command of
Captain John Bull in person, was off Cape Finisterre on her passage to
Lisbon. At one o’clock in the afternoon a strange brig was seen from the
masthead, laying-to with her head to the eastward. At three o’clock this
vessel hoisted her mainsail and bore down on the “Marlborough,” which
accordingly altered her course and made all sail to avoid an encounter.
At the same time Captain Bull made the private signal, and kept it
flying. The signal was not answered; and without further delay the crew
of the “Marlborough” were called to quarters, the boarding nettings were
got up, and stuffed with spare sails, hammocks, and mattresses; the
topsail-sheets were stoppered; and a spare topsail yard was slung across
the stern for a boarding boom. At four o’clock the brig hoisted a blue
ensign, yawed, and fired two guns to leeward, and shortly afterwards
hauled down the blue ensign, and hoisted another which Captain Bull and
his officers believed to be American, but which they could not
distinguish clearly. These details have an important bearing on the
event.

[Illustration:

  To face p. 274.

  PRIMROSE—MARLBOROUGH: COMMENCEMENT.]

Thereupon, since an action appeared to be inevitable, the
“Marlborough’s” private signal was hauled down, and her colours hoisted.
It was then growing dark, and Captain Bull made the private night
signal, consisting of two blue lights, one on each quarter. This signal
also remained unanswered; and as he was in the act of making it. Captain
Bull plainly saw in the gathering darkness a match put to a gun on the
forecastle of the approaching vessel, which was then full in view right
astern of the Packet.

By this time the round shot from the brig were going over the
“Marlborough.” Captain Bull cut away his boat so as to free the stern
guns, and fired each of them twice. He then hoisted a lantern at the
mizzenpeak, and waited for the enemy to come up. The strange vessel soon
came up abreast of the Packet and poured in her starboard broadside with
round and grape-shot at half pistol shot distance. The “Duke of
Marlborough” was not slow in replying; and the action was continued
hotly for an hour and a quarter, when the enemy bore down and attempted
to board the “Duke of Marlborough” on the starboard quarter. On coming
up, however, his bow struck the boarding boom, which Captain Bull’s
forethought had provided, and compelled him to sheer off. The Falmouth
men improved this advantage by firing their two brass guns and several
muskets right into their enemy; and, as the two vessels were almost
grazing each other at the time, they doubtless did, as they supposed,
great execution.

[Illustration:

  To face p. 276.

  PRIMROSE—MARLBOROUGH: CLOSE.]

The enemy thereupon hauled off to repair damages; and Captain Bull,
examining the injury which his own ship had received, found that a
32–pound shot had passed between wind and water, that there were already
three feet and a half of water in the hold, and that the leak was
increasing fast. The carpenter was sent below to endeavour to stop it,
and the pumps were being actively worked, when, at nine o’clock, the
enemy ran down and renewed the action at close quarters. The fire of her
heavy guns had by this time reduced the “Duke of Marlborough” to a mere
wreck. The running and standing rigging was cut and torn in every
direction; the Packet was almost unmanageable, and in a half-sinking
state. Her lantern was twice shot away; but a fresh one was prepared,
and for greater security lashed fast to the main-boom. No less than
eleven of Captain Bull’s men had been wounded; one of them had lost both
arms, and several others were seriously hurt. Lieutenant Andrews, of the
60th Regiment, a passenger on his way to Lisbon, was killed after
showing great bravery throughout the action. Notwithstanding these
losses, however, and the manifest superiority of the enemy, the
Cornishmen were quite prepared to fight it out; and when, after another
close contest of fifty minutes, resulting in no obvious advantage to
either side, the enemy hailed them, asking, “What ship is that?” Captain
Bull, not choosing to own his inferiority of force, replied, “His
Majesty’s brig ‘Vixen,’” demanded the name of the other, and must have
doubted his ears when he received the answer, “His Majesty’s brig
‘Primrose.’” There was a pause; then another hail was heard from the
“Primrose,” asking again with what ship she had been contending. To this
question, there being now no object in evasion, Captain Bull replied by
stating the name and service of his vessel; and was desired to make the
private signal, which he did. It was at once answered; and the captain
of the “Primrose” thereupon requested Captain Bull to come on board.
Being informed that the “Duke of Marlborough’s” boat had been cut away,
he sent his own; but Captain Bull allowed no one except the lieutenant
in command to come on deck until he had satisfied himself that the
vessel he had to do with was really an English cruiser. When he was
convinced of this he went on board the “Primrose”; and on returning to
his own vessel found that five 32–pound shot had gone through her side
close to the water’s edge; so that he was obliged to get immediate
assistance from the carpenters of his late antagonist.

That the “Duke of Marlborough” was much shattered in this action is not
surprising. What is really extraordinary is that she was not blown out
of the water at an early stage of the affair. The “Primrose” carried
sixteen 32–pound carronades, one 12–pound carronade on the forecastle,
and two long 6–pounders. Her crew consisted of one hundred and
twenty-five men. The “Marlborough” carried twelve guns, mostly
6–pounders, and none heavier than nine, with thirty-two men and boys.
She had also on board seven male passengers; but it is not stated that
any of these took part in the action, except Lieutenant Andrews, who was
unfortunately killed.

On the arrival of the “Duke of Marlborough” at Lisbon, the passengers,
feeling grateful to Captain Bull not only for his gallantry, but also
for his kind treatment of the ladies who were on board, presented him
with a sword, and distributed four hundred dollars among the crew.

The account of this action given by James (_Naval History_, Vol. VI.,
page 278, ed. 1837) is not written with the evident desire to be fair
which that historian usually evinced. The story as told by him suggests
that Captain Bull was solely, or at least chiefly to blame; and as the
Post-Office came to a totally different conclusion, while the Admiralty
itself censured Captain Phillott, and made no complaint concerning
Captain Bull, it cannot be presumptuous to question the accuracy of Mr.
James’ conclusion. In an earlier edition of his history it appears that
an account more favourable to Captain Bull appeared; but in the edition
of 1837 this account was revised; and the author states that when the
former one was written, he had not seen the minutes of the court-martial
on Captain Phillott. As reference is thus pointedly made to the
court-martial, it would have been more candid to notice the fact that
the finding of that court imputed negligence to Captain Phillott. The
sentence of the court, held at Plymouth on April 16th, 1814, was in the
following words: “The Court is of opinion that the circumstance of the
‘Duke of Marlborough’ being in moderate weather without any lower
studding sails, and with her royal masts down, appears to have left the
Prisoner, Captain Phillott, and the officers of the ‘Primrose,’ under an
impression that she was a merchant vessel; and the very small size of
the flag and pendant used by the Packet in making the private signal,
and the topgallant sail being close up to the masthead, may reasonably
account for not seeing the signal; and the night private signal made by
the Packet, viz., two false fires, appears not to have been seen on
board the ‘Primrose.’ But the Court is of opinion that when the Packet
was found to be an armed vessel, by firing a stern chase gun, it was the
duty of the Prisoner to have made the private signal. And the Court
laments that the then near approach of the vessel induced Captain
Phillott to prefer hailing the Packet; and this Court doth therefore
judge the said Captain Phillott to be admonished to be more circumspect
in future.” This is the whole sentence, the preamble only being omitted.
It will be observed that while the circumstances favourable to Captain
Phillott are duly brought forward, no word is said in condemnation of
Captain Bull. If anything had been elicited at the court-martial which
cast blame on the Packet, the Admiralty, which was never very favourably
disposed towards the Post-Office Service, would at once have forwarded a
copy of the pleadings to the Postmaster General, with a request that
Captain Bull might be punished. Nothing, however, was heard at the
Post-Office of the result of the court-martial until ten days had
passed, when Mr. Freeling wrote and asked for it. It was then sent to
him, with a short covering letter, which contained absolutely no comment
whatever.

Probably it is not necessary to go beyond these indisputable facts in
defence of Captain Bull; but a few comments upon the account given by
James may not be misplaced. His unfavourable verdict on the “Duke of
Marlborough” appears to be based on four circumstances: (1) that she had
no lower studding sails or royals set when the “Primrose” first sighted
her; (2) that no one on board the Packet, except the gunner, knew the
difference between a blue light and a false fire; (3) that whereas
Captain Phillott hailed once, and his second lieutenant (who had a loud
voice) twice, the hail was answered only by a broadside; (4) that the
flags used by the Packet were only half the established size. The first
of these points was carefully investigated by the Court of Inquiry at
Falmouth, which obtained from Captain Bull a written statement of his
reasons for having his royal masts on deck. The explanation was
perfectly natural and clear; and whereas it was admitted that Captain
Phillott, not knowing the circumstances, might have been misled, Captain
Bull pointed out that the square rig of the “Duke of Marlborough” ought
to have shown that she was no merchantman. The second point is of no
value. It is not probable that so experienced an officer as Captain Bull
was ignorant of any detail connected with the private signals which were
so important to the safety of his ship. Even Mr. James admits that the
gunner had proper knowledge on the subject. If the night signal had been
made in an improper manner, the court-martial would have adduced that
fact in support of Captain Phillott. A signal was certainly made on the
Packet, whether with blue lights or false fires. The officers of the
“Primrose” alleged that they did not see it. That could scarcely be the
case; since the vessels were so near at the time that Captain Bull, who
assisted in making the signal, distinctly saw the match put to a gun on
board the sloop of war. No hail was heard on board the Packet, until the
action had lasted more than two hours, as already described. It is
difficult to believe that the “Primrose” really hailed three times
before opening fire. There were upon the Packet many persons who had an
interest in avoiding an engagement; there was not one who had the
slightest motive for forcing one. Several passengers were on board; two
of them were accompanied by their wives. If these gentlemen had heard
English voices hailing them, can it be supposed that they would not have
interfered, and done all in their power to stop the fight? So far,
however, from showing the least dissatisfaction with Captain Bull’s
conduct, even when they learned with what vessel he had been contending,
they united in an address of gratitude to him, in which they used the
following terms: “No words which we can make use of can sufficiently
convey to you an idea of our admiration of your conduct and that of your
gallant crew....” They marked this admiration by presenting the captain
with a sword of honour. These were the persons chiefly injured by
negligence on the part of Captain Bull, if any such charge could be
sustained; and this is how they estimated his conduct, being in the best
possible position for judging of it. As for the fourth point, the ensign
and pendant were produced at the Court of Inquiry at Falmouth. The
pendant was thirty feet long; the ensign was nine feet four inches by
four feet six inches, and was larger than was usual in the Packet
Service.

[Illustration:

  To face p. 282.

  HINCHINBROOKE AND AMERICAN PRIVATEER.]

James remarks with some complacency that “the damages received by the
‘Marlborough,’ as admitted by Captain Bull and his officers, were of a
very serious nature.” No admission from anybody is needed to show that
when a vessel carrying sixteen 32–pounders and three other guns (James
does not count the 12–pounder at the forecastle) engages one armed with
twelve 6 and 9–pounders, the latter must suffer very heavily. It is
astonishing, and by no means creditable to the “Primrose,” that her
heavier metal did not end the action at a very early stage. James admits
that “owing to the manœuvres of the ‘Duke of Marlborough,’ the
‘Primrose’ found a difficulty in firing with any effect.” Very probably
she did: Captain Bull was an excellent seaman, and could not be expected
to heave to in order to present an easier mark to the gunners of the
“Primrose.” The fair judgment upon his proceedings on this occasion is
that he acted like a good sailor and a brave commander. This was
certainly the opinion of Mr. Freeling, and few people were more
competent to judge.

On May 1st, 1814, the “Hinchinbrooke,” to which Packet Captain James, so
often distinguished as master of the “Duke of Marlborough,” had been
promoted, was on her homeward passage from St. Thomas, and had reached
the neighbourhood of the Azores—a favourite cruising ground of the
American Privateers, and one on which their ravages were long unchecked
by the presence of any British man-of-war—when the look-out at the
masthead reported a suspicious-looking vessel to the eastward. The
strange sail drew rapidly nearer. At half-past four she hoisted American
colours, and was drawing on fast. She fired no gun, nor was any hail
heard; and as Captain James bade his men reserve their fire for closer
quarters, the two ships neared each other in grim silence for the best
part of an hour. At twenty minutes past five they lay within pistol shot
distance, and, as if at a preconcerted signal, the two broadsides roared
out in the same moment.

On this followed a tremendous cannonade. The American carried sixteen
heavy guns, the calibre of which could not be ascertained. They were,
however, certainly of greater weight than the “Hinchinbrooke’s”
9–pounder carronades, and at the short range at which they were
discharged, did great execution on the Packet’s hull and rigging. This
lasted for an hour; at the end of which time the Packet had suffered so
much that Captain James was scarcely able, if he had wished it, to avoid
the boarding attack which he saw the Americans were preparing. Indeed,
confident in the strength of his nettings, and in the quality of his
small handful of men, he may possibly have even welcomed the prospect of
a hand-to-hand fight, wherein his men, who were doubtless growing
restive under the long pounding of guns heavier than their own, might
work off their suppressed fury, and perhaps gain an encouraging success.
The assault was quickly upon them, delivered in great numbers, and with
all the impetuosity which the Americans evinced in these attacks. Had
the nettings been one whit less lofty, or less firmly secured, the
Privateersmen must have gained a footing on the Packet’s deck. As it
was, impassable though the nettings were, the small band of picked men
led by Captain James to repulse them suffered heavily, one being slain
outright, while three others, who could very ill be spared, received
disabling wounds.

Relieved for the moment from the apprehension of boarders, Captain James
could turn his attention to the state of his ship, which by this time
had received serious injury. The Privateer had drawn off again to a
little distance, and her heavy shot were crashing into the
“Hinchinbrooke’s” sides in a manner which justified anxiety. Already
several shot had passed between wind and water. The carpenter was one of
the men badly wounded in repelling the boarders; and as the ship was
reported to be making water fast, Captain James sent the master below,
ill as he could spare him from the deck, with instructions to search for
the leaks and endeavour to stop them.

The master found that the ship was in danger of sinking; and, what was
almost worse, that the water had already entered the magazine and was
spoiling the powder. There was no time to be lost. He returned on deck
and asked for a party of men to help him in removing it to the after
cabin. It was a difficult matter for Captain James to find these men. In
the interval of the master’s absence from deck five more men had been
hit, and the number available for fighting the ship was now lamentably
small. Two or three sailors were, however, told off for the purpose,
while the Americans, observing that several men had left the deck,
seized the moment, and cast their boarders a second time upon the sides
of the “Hinchinbrooke” with more fury than before, covered by a
tremendous fire of great guns and of small arms from her tops. Reduced
in numbers as they were, the Falmouth men succeeded in beating back this
second assault as they did the first, and then, quite suddenly, came
Captain James’ chance.

Throughout the action up to this point the Privateer had chosen her
position as she pleased, being a much faster vessel than the Packet. But
this very quality of speed now served her ill, for, when the ships
separated, on the failure of the boarders, the American shot ahead.
Instantly Captain James saw his opportunity, and, without a moment’s
loss of time he luffed under his opponent’s stern, and raked her in
succession with each of his three larboard guns, loaded with a treble
charge. What execution he did by this manœuvre he could not judge, but
it was probably deadly, for it shook off his enemy’s hold. Very shortly
after it occurred the Cornishmen had the satisfaction of seeing her haul
her wind to the northward, and she gave them no more trouble.

Thus ended this brave and well-fought action, conducted against heavy
odds with a courage beyond all praise. The exact force of the Privateer
was not ascertained. She carried sixteen guns, which may probably have
been 12–pounders, and was “full of men.” It is scarcely likely that her
crew numbered less than a hundred and twenty men; and, accepting that
not excessive estimate, it must be allowed that for Captain James, with
his eight 9–pounders and thirty-two men, to fight so strong a vessel for
three hours, and to beat her in the end, was creditable to the last
degree.

Captain Furze, who defended the “Lapwing” so gallantly at the end of
1813, was incapacitated by his severe wound from serving during the
early part of the following year. On his recovery he was appointed to
the “Chesterfield,” and towards Christmas sailed once more out of
Falmouth with mails for Surinam.

The voyage passed without incident until January 4th, when the
“Chesterfield” had entered the cruising ground of the American
Privateers. Early in the morning when Madeira was well in sight, a
strange schooner was spied from the masthead, and ere long it was
manifest that she was chasing the Packet, and gaining on her fast.

The morning wore away before Captain Furze had convinced himself that
escape was impossible, but being at last fully satisfied of the
necessity of fighting, he took in his studding sails and awaited the
attack. The schooner, as she came nearer, was seen to be a formidable
antagonist, mounting sixteen guns, and having her decks literally
crowded with men. She was flying American colours, which fact of itself
was enough to show the Packetsmen that if they were to save their vessel
and their liberty, it would be no child’s play that they had to face.

The unfortunate result of Captain Furze’s former action in the “Lapwing”
was attributed, as will be remembered, to the fact that he had been
obliged to sail from Falmouth without the two long brass 9–pounders
which the Atlantic Packets used as chasers, and with which he believed
he could have kept the enemy at a respectful distance. On the present
occasion he had his guns; but, as if some destiny were resolved to
equalize the conditions of the two fights, the slide of one of the
9–pounders broke at the second discharge, and the gun was thenceforth
useless. The remaining one was served with redoubled vigour, but it was
not enough to keep off a determined enemy, and about one o’clock the
action was in full progress.

At half-past one the enemy came close up under the larboard quarter of
the “Chesterfield,” with the evident intention of boarding; whereupon
Captain Furze put the helm hard a-starboard, and gave him the larboard
broadside. The guns were skilfully pointed, and must have done great
damage, for the American sheered off in some confusion, and resumed her
cannonade at pistol shot distance, pouring in also a fire of musketry,
which, from whatever reason, did less execution on the Packet than was
usual on such occasions. One man was killed about two o’clock, and
shortly afterwards two others were severely wounded. But these
casualties, which were the only ones throughout the action, were not in
proportion to the number of the enemy’s sharpshooters, and were
insufficient to discourage the Packetsmen.

A more serious misfortune was that a round shot dismounted one of the
“Chesterfield’s” guns, thus reducing her broadside to two guns. By dint
of great exertions, however, two guns were brought over from the
starboard side (the Packets were always pierced for more guns than they
carried), and the lost ground was quickly recovered. Indeed, the fire of
the Cornish gunners was so steady and continuous that the Americans seem
to have had no further opportunity of attempting to board, and confined
themselves to endeavouring to cripple their plucky little opponent. At
this game the Cornishmen were as good as their enemies; and after the
action had lasted for three hours. Captain Furze had the gratification
of seeing that the fire of the Privateer was gradually lessening. About
four o’clock she hoisted her squaresail, and made off, apparently much
damaged; though had she persisted a little longer, she might possibly
have been rewarded by success, for the “Chesterfield” was left in a
sorry plight. Her mainmast was very badly wounded, not a single brace or
bowline left intact. Her sails were hanging torn in every direction, and
the number of shot lodged in her hull testified plainly enough to the
severity of the struggle. However, the ship was still quite seaworthy,
and after such repairs as the stores on board enabled Captain Furze to
make, she resumed her voyage, and reached Surinam without further
mishap.

In the course of this year, 1814, some fresh disturbances among the
seamen at Falmouth revealed the fact that the lesson taught by the
removal of the Packets to Plymouth in 1810 had already been in part
forgotten.

On the 12th July, when the “Speedy” Packet had completed her complement
of men, had taken her mails on board, and was about to slip her
moorings, a number of her crew refused to join the vessel, and, headed
by the gunner, went to the agent’s office and demanded their discharge.
Being asked for their reasons, they had nothing better to say than that
they did not like the voyage, and that if they were to go upon it they
must have more pay. The agent, willing to concede whatever was possible,
paid them a month’s wages in advance, whereupon they became more riotous
and intractable than before. Seeing that they were quickly passing out
of his control, being in fact in a state of excitement which made them
for the time quite inaccessible to reason, the agent sent a message to
the captain of the Guardship; and in an hour two strong parties were
scouring every alley and public-house in the town in search of the
malingering seamen of the “Speedy,” but could find no trace of them. Nor
was this surprising, for the deserters were all Falmouth men, and the
old town contained hiding-places which more careful searchers than the
press-gangs might have failed to discover.

Meanwhile, Captain Sutherland, who commanded the “Speedy,” had engaged
other men at unusually high rates of pay, to take the place of the
missing ones. But these new men were resolved not to fall short of the
high example set before their eyes, and they too decamped as soon as
they had secured a payment in advance.

It was impossible to allow the mails to suffer delay from conduct such
as this, and in order to demonstrate that the Service could go on very
well without the Falmouth sailors, the “Speedy” was sent round to
Plymouth, where she completed her crew without difficulty. This reminder
of the ease with which the prosperity of Falmouth, dependent as it was
chiefly on the Packets, could be destroyed by their removal, had a very
sobering effect. The sense of insecurity which outbreaks of this kind
created in the minds of the authorities was, however, a grave misfortune
for Falmouth, contributing, as it doubtless did, to the formation of the
scheme which a few years later placed the Service under Admiralty
control, and ultimately removed it from Falmouth altogether.

It is scarcely possible within the limits of a work such as this to
describe all the gallant fights of the Falmouth vessels in the period
under consideration. The conditions of naval warfare in those days were
simple, the incidents of one sea fight resembled another, and the
recital of them is apt to become wearisome, unless kept within narrow
limits. There is one fortunate little action which may, however, be
described before the subject is closed; a fight which is less remarkable
for the desperate or bloody character of the fighting than for the
breezy confidence with which the Falmouth commander took his ship into
action, and the skill or good luck which brought him through it with
absolute success.

The “Walsingham,” under the temporary command of Mr. William Nicholls,
was on her way to Barbados, and about a hundred miles distant from that
island, when a sail was seen from the masthead standing towards the
Packet. It was not long before the strange vessel was made out to be a
schooner under easy sail, having her fore-topsail close reefed. In those
seas any vessel of such a class was far more likely to be a privateer
than a peaceful trader; and Mr. Nicholls, who was well aware of this,
turned the hands to quarters and cleared the ship for action while the
stranger was still hull down on the horizon.

A short time made it plain that the “Walsingham” was the inferior
sailer, and that the other vessel was overhauling her fast, keeping her
wind until she got upon the Packet’s quarter, about two miles away, when
she fired a gun, and hoisted a blue English ensign. This was a favourite
trick with Privateers, the only object being to gain time and the choice
of positions; but Mr. Nicholls had not sailed those waters from his
boyhood without having learnt to distinguish the lines and rig of an
American ship from an English one, and he calmly proceeded with his
preparations, paying not the smallest attention to the blue ensign.

Seeing this, the enemy set her main-topsail and squaresail, let three
reefs out of her fore-topsail, and bore up in chase. When she had gained
a little more ground, Mr. Nicholls, who was busily engaged in getting
the 9–pounder guns aft, suspended his labours for a few minutes in order
to see the private signal properly made. It was kept up ten minutes, but
no reply appeared. By that time the enemy was coming up very fast. Mr.
Nicholls took in his studding sails and awaited the approach of the
Privateer.

He had not long to wait. The enemy was scarcely more than a mile away.
The Cornishmen could see her decks completely covered with men; while
from her sides projected twelve guns of unusual length, which Mr.
Nicholls subsequently concluded to have been long 9–pounders.

The Privateersmen gave three cheers as they came into action, but
reserved their fire; and from the circumstance that a large party of men
was collected on the forecastle, Mr. Nicholls judged that the Americans
intended to board at the very outset, and so, by their superior numbers,
finish the action at one blow. He therefore began to play upon the
advancing vessel with his stern chasers, in the hope of checking her
onset; but though the range was already so short that the fire of the
Cornish gunners must have done some execution among the dense masses of
men on their adversary’s decks, yet the Privateer did not alter her
course, but kept on with a deadly persistency until considerably within
musket shot, when, yawing suddenly, she poured in a raking broadside of
round and grape from her starboard guns, accompanied by a rattling
musketry fire.

By this impetuous assault the Americans had doubtless hoped to disable
the “Walsingham,” or, at least, in the confusion, to gain an opportunity
of boarding. But the event was otherwise. There was no confusion, and
very little damage; whilst on the other hand, the onrush of the
Privateer brought her within pistol shot of the Packet’s larboard guns.

This was an effective distance. The guns were crammed to the muzzles
with double-headed shot, grape, and canister; and a well-directed fire
swept over the enemy’s decks, doing mischief enough to discourage his
inclination to close with the “Walsingham,” and to cause him to sheer
off to a safer distance.

The Cornishmen, inspirited by their advantage, served their guns
eagerly; and for about half-an-hour the action went on very warmly, both
vessels receiving much damage, while five men on board the Packet were
wounded by musket balls. Mr. Nicholls, however, had the satisfaction of
seeing that the fire from the Privateer was gradually lessening; and he
thereupon called on his men to redouble their efforts. All the guns in
action were double-shotted by his orders, most carefully levelled at the
rigging of the enemy, and discharged simultaneously. As soon as the
smoke cleared away it was seen that their broadside had been splendidly
successful, for it had brought down the enemy’s maingaff, cut his
foresail through in the after leach, shot away his squaresail, and
rendered his fore-topsail nearly useless.

The Falmouth men, seeing prize money before their eyes, attempted to
close. But every brace on board had been shot away, and before the
“Walsingham” could be got under management, the Americans had succeeded
in reeving main halliards, got their mainsail up, and were sailing away
from the Packet at such a speed that pursuit was useless. Mr. Nicholls
and his crew were disappointed at the loss of a vessel which they
believed they could have captured with ease.

In the early summer of 1814 the hired Packet, “Little Catherine,”
Captain Vivian, was captured by a French frigate, “Le Sultan.” The
Packet was scuttled, her officers and crew were taken on board the
frigate. There they remained, as Captain Vivian himself used to tell the
story, amused spectators of the unsailorly conduct of the French crew,
who were, in fact, not seamen at all, but landsmen swept together, in
the course of Napoleon’s desperate efforts to create a powerful fleet,
from every fortress in the country. The captain was a brave old officer,
recalled from a long and honourable retirement by the necessities of the
moment, and age had largely unfitted him for command. Upon the vessel
thus manned a furious storm broke. The landsmen could do nothing with
the ship. Half of them lay about in the scuppers, sea-sick and helpless;
the rest were as incompetent as untrained men must be at sea.

In this emergency the French commander appealed to Captain Vivian,
asking him to undertake with his own men the navigation of the ship, on
the pledge of handing her back when the weather moderated. This offer
Captain Vivian accepted, and kept most honourably; restraining his men
when they pressed him almost to mutiny for permission to overpower their
sea-sick enemies; and in the end handing back the vessel as he had
received her. It had been part of the understanding that in exchange for
his services he was to have the first prize captured by the French
frigate. This happened to be the Packet “Duke of Montrose,” which was
accordingly handed over to Captain Vivian, who embarked in her with all
his crew, and returned safely to Falmouth. It is pleasant to dwell on
the honourable temper in which this understanding was kept on both
sides.

The American War, which had called forth so much gallantry among the
Falmouth Packets, was now nearly over. The date was fixed for the
cessation of hostilities, but before it arrived one more glorious memory
was added to the records of the Packet Service.

Nearly eight years had passed since Mr. (at this time Captain) Rogers,
in the “Windsor Castle,” repulsed and captured the French Privateer,
“Jeune Richard.” It was this Packet, now commanded by Captain R. V.
Sutton, which, four days before the close of the war, encountered the
American Privateer “Roger.” The weather was very hazy; and neither ship
saw the other until they were scarcely more than a mile apart. The enemy
hoisted English colours; but Captain Sutton, on making the private
signal, found that it remained unanswered, and accordingly prepared for
action.

At 7.15 P.M. the American was coming up fast, and the Falmouth men
opened fire with their stern guns. The enemy replied with such guns as
could be brought to bear, and very shortly ranged up alongside the
“Windsor Castle,” lying now on one now on the other quarter, and
maintaining steadily a very galling and destructive fire. This lasted
for more than two hours; but shortly after 9.30 P.M. the fire from the
“Roger” slackened, and she dropped astern. Captain Sutton availed
himself of the opportunity to repair the rigging, which was much cut, so
far as possible. Only one man was hit in this first action, namely the
master, Mr. Foster, whose knee was smashed by a musket ball.

The attack was not renewed for some hours, but throughout the night the
“Roger” ranged up frequently within musket shot, keeping the crew
constantly at their quarters, and permitting no interval for rest. At
daylight she hoisted American colours, on seeing which the Packetsmen
opened fire, and a warm contest ensued for about half-an-hour, at the
end of which time the “Roger” hauled off to repair damages. The damages
of the “Windsor Castle” were by this time such as it was not possible to
repair in the intervals of an action. Her eight 9–pounders were ill
pitted against the metal carried by the enemy, which consisted of ten
12–pounder carronades, two long sixes, one long 18–pounder on a
traverse, and one five and a half inch brass howitzer.

At half-past eight the “Roger” made sail again, and laid herself once
more alongside the “Windsor Castle.” It was obviously a final effort.
The little crew of Packetsmen, who had been at their quarters for
fourteen hours continuously, were greatly fatigued, but responded with
the utmost spirit, and Mr. Foster, though suffering great pain from his
wounded knee, returned on deck and did his duty with the rest. Three men
were wounded about this time, and as the surgeon, Mr. Krabbé, was below
attending to their wounds an 18–pound shot entered the cabin where they
lay, and caused a splinter which wounded him dangerously, breaking
several of his ribs.

On deck Captain Sutton continued to defend his ship with a courage
deserving of high praise. The two vessels lay within pistol shot of each
other; and so long as it was possible to manœuvre Captain Sutton
defeated all efforts on the part of his opponent to take up a raking
position, or to board. At 9.45 A.M., however, the “Roger” bore down with
the evident intention of boarding; and, on endeavouring to handle his
ship, Captain Sutton found her quite unmanageable, and lying like a log
upon the water. Not one brace or bowline was left to the yards or sails;
almost the whole of the running and standing rigging was shot away;
while the after-yards swinging round brought the ship by the lee. This
gave the Americans the opportunity to board on the larboard quarter; and
as the boarding netting in that part of the ship was cut to pieces,
there was no obstacle to their attack. At this moment Mr. Foster was
again severely wounded, and obliged to quit the deck. The fire of
musketry from the “Roger” redoubled, and Captain Sutton felt that he had
no alternative but to sink the mails, and to surrender. The last of the
heavy portmanteaux was sunk before the colours were struck; and when
Captain Sutton laid down his sword it could not be said that he had not
done his duty to the last.

Captain Sutton, with his master, mate, carpenter, and a boy, were sent
back to England on a merchant vessel. The remainder of the crew were
sent in their own vessel to Norfolk, where the “Roger” was owned. The
following extract from _The Norfolk Herald_ of the 28th April, 1815,
throws some light on their subsequent treatment.

“The following statement of an affair which took place in this harbour
on Wednesday evening last, we have prepared from the evidence given
before the inquest which was held on the bodies of the two unfortunate
men who were killed. We have been more minute in stating the facts than
the importance of the case should seem to demand; but we deem the detail
necessary to prevent misrepresentations which might obtain credence, to
the prejudice of that magnanimity and justice which the United States,
in all their intercourse with England, have ever strictly adhered to.
The crew of the ‘Windsor Castle,’ brought in by the Privateer ‘Roger,’
were on Wednesday last put on board a small schooner, and sent down to
Craney Island in charge of Mr. Westbrook, an officer of the ‘Roger,’
with a guard of eight United States’ soldiers. Owing to a low tide the
schooner anchored some distance from the island, and the prisoners had
to be debarked in a row-boat. Mr. Westbrook took thirteen of the
Englishmen, with four of the guard to row the boat, leaving eleven
others in charge of four soldiers on board the schooner. Before his
return to the schooner, the prisoners on board rose upon the guard, and
endeavoured to disarm and throw them overboard, in which, owing to the
suddenness of the assault, they had nearly succeeded. Mr. Westbrook got
alongside the schooner while the soldiers were yet struggling with the
superior numbers of their assailants, but they still held their arms.
Desirous to quell the mutinous proceedings of the Englishmen he
expostulated, entreated, and threatened, but to no purpose; and it was
evident from their expressions that they were determined on taking
possession of the schooner and making their escape in her. He then
leaped on board and attempted to rescue one of the soldiers, when the
fellow who held him, quitting his hold, seized the tiller and aimed a
blow at Mr. Westbrook, who warded it off and ordered the released
soldier to fire at him, which he did, and killed him. At the same time
another soldier, having disengaged himself, shot his opponent dead. The
mutineers, having the other two soldiers confined, exclaimed, ‘Now is
the time, boys! don’t give them time to load again,’ and were rushing
forward to seize Mr. Westbrook, when he drew a pair of pistols and
commanded the mutineers in a firm and determined tone to go below,
declaring that he would shoot the first man who refused. This decisive
conduct had the desired effect; they all immediately descended into the
hold, where they were put in close confinement. The conduct of Mr.
Westbrook was truly praiseworthy. His intrepidity certainly saved the
lives of the soldiers, and prevented the conspirators from carrying off
the schooner, an act which, it is said, they premeditated. The two
unhappy wretches who threw away their lives in this affair are
represented by the mate of the ‘Windsor Castle’ to have been habitually
turbulent and mutinous.... The verdict of the jury of inquest entirely
acquitted the two soldiers of any blame in taking their lives.”

It may be added that Captain Sutton gave a very different character to
the two sailors who perished in this bold attempt to escape, and that
the Postmaster General, regarding their conduct as natural and
praiseworthy, pensioned their relatives as if the men had been killed in
action.

                  *       *       *       *       *

With this fight the battle-roll of the Post-Office Service ends. A few
weeks later the guns were laid away in store, the pikes and cutlasses
were sold. The crews were reduced to the numbers of a peace
establishment, and the gunners were idle. The Packets came and went
unnoticed by the Privateers. The fighting days were over, and from then
until now Falmouth has never looked upon the once familiar sight of a
vessel creeping in beneath Pendennis Castle with her sides shattered by
round shot.

It was a momentous change; the opening of a long peace after more than a
century of almost ceaseless warfare. The first result at Falmouth was
curious enough. A civil department had controlled the Packets as long as
there was fighting to be done; when there was no longer any, a fighting
department took them over.

The war had not been at an end more than three years when the Admiralty
claimed the Packet Service as a training ground for seamen, and a means
of providing for half-pay officers, whose applications for employment
were in the highest degree embarrassing. The Post-Office protested, and
fought to retain the service which had become distinguished under its
control, but all in vain. By degrees the Admiralty expelled the ancient
governors of the Packets, changed the regulations, altered the type of
ship, and in the end Falmouth knew the Postal officers no more.

The details of these changes, if of any public interest, lie outside the
scope of this work, which has aimed only at describing the Packet
Service in its prime.

Three full generations have passed away since the last fight mentioned
in these pages was fought, and in that long period nearly every detail,
even of the bravest among them all, has been forgotten. At Falmouth,
where there is still a considerable interest in the ancient service of
the Post-Office, no one has collected the facts or given any labour to
preserve them from perishing. One by one, as the survivors of the
Service died, their memories died with them. Captain Cock has passed out
of recollection in the town of his adoption as completely as if he had
never lived. Nobody remembers Captain James. The “Morgiana” and the
“Montague” are forgotten as absolutely as if no remarkable events had
been connected with their names. A few stories are known, half-a-dozen
officers are named, but of precise information there is little indeed to
be found where it might have been sought most confidently. The present
writer, after wandering about the neighbourhood all day in search of
recollections, found himself at last towards evening in the pleasant
churchyard of Mylor. The ground slopes rapidly down to the beautiful
harbour, the blue water and the white sails of a passing boat were
clearly visible through the openings of the trees. Sitting on a low wall
in the sunshine was the sexton of the church, an old man blind and bowed
with age, who had crept out, supported on two sticks, to taste the
evening freshness in a spot where every detail of the scene was clear
before his mental sight, and whence he could hear the water lapping on
the shore below.

Sitting here the old man pointed out that many of the graves lying round
were those of Packet officers; and turning his memory back towards those
days of which few people, he complained, cared to talk, he brought forth
many an anecdote of the Packets, told with an old man’s relish in the
times which are gone by. At last, warming to his subject, he plunged
into the story of the “Antelope,” telling with spirit and enthusiasm how
Pasco, the boatswain, had lashed the Packet to the Privateer, and
boarding bravely, had won a noble victory. Not far away, across the
harbour, was the little hamlet where Pasco lived. The sexton had known
his children; and, when a child himself, had even seen the golden call
which, as told in the third chapter of this work, was presented by the
Postmaster General to the hero of the fight. It was a pity, the old man
thought, that Pasco was forgotten. But all the others were forgotten
too; many a statue had been put up in honour of people not so brave.

In this way the old man rambled on till the weariness of age overtook
him, and he could draw forth no more recollections. He stayed there
sitting in the sun until the child who led him returned to guide him
home—a not unfitting symbol of the decay which has fallen on the Service
for which his enthusiasm was reserved, and on the reputations of the
officers who made it great.



                                 INDEX.


 “Adelphi” captured, 87.

 Admiralty, Packet Service taken over by, 303.

 Admiralty Courts, 24.

 Agents, Packet, their duties, 29;
   malpractices of, 29–32.

 Altona, 160, 161, 163, 171.

 American ships, largely manned by British seamen, 224, 225.

 “Anaconda,” 243.

 “Antelope,” fight between, and the privateer “Atalanta,” 44–49, 305;
   her crew rewarded, 50, 51;
   capture of, 60.

 Anthony, Captain, 178–183, 196.

 “Arab” captured, 52.

 Armaments of the West India Packets reduced, 37;
   scheme for increasing them, 72.

 “Atalanta” privateer, 44.

 “Attentive,” H.M.S., 135, 142, 143.

 Auckland, Lord, 85, 118, 120;
   inquires into suspicious captures of Packets, 88–93, 97, 99, 102.


 Balloon postal service suggested, 118.

 Berlin decrees, as affecting the postal service, 157–159.

 Bideford, 16.

 Blewitt, Captain, 241, 242.

 “Bona,” 227, 228.

 Bonell, Captain, 21.

 Boulderson, Captain, 208.

 Bounties to wounded sailors, 20.

 Bourrienne, M. de, quoted, 148, 152, 153, 264, 265.

 Bridge, Captain, succeeds in landing his mails, 113–117.

 British subjects, seizure and imprisonment of, on French territory,
    147–151;
   some attempts to escape, 151–155.

 Bull, Captain James, 72.

 Bull, Captain John, 203, 204, 205, 208, 209;
   his early misfortunes, 124–126;
   his reputation made, 127;
   capture of his ship, 128–130, 196;
   his fight with the “Primrose,” 274–283.

 Bullion, amount carried by the Packets, 10;
   how transported to London, 11.

 Bullock, Mr., and the “Prince Adolphus,” 77–79.


 Caddy, Captain, 243.

 Calais Packets, 13.

 Calder, Sir Robert, 210, 211.

 Captains, Packet, their incomes, 9;
   instructions issued to, in time of war, 38, 51;
   absenteeism among, 57–59;
   system of fines for absenteeism, 121.

 Carne, John, 152.

 “Carteret” captured, 86.

 Chamberlain, Mr., 173;
   his escape from Lisbon, 175.

 Chamberlayne, Mr. Henry, 112, 113.

 “Champion,” 111.

 “Chesterfield,” capture of, 86;
   beats off an American privateer, 287–290.

 _Chronological History of the West Indies_ (Southey), cited, 76.

 Cock, Captain James, 227 _et seq._, 270–274.

 Conference between the merchants and the Postmaster General, 73, 74.

 Continental System, Napoleon’s, 147 _et seq._;
   Post-Office attempts to evade it, 155, 156, 160–163, 172, 264–266;
   the Berlin decrees, 157–159;
   causes of its failure, 159, 160, 264, 265.

 Contractors, the, for the Packets, 15, 16, 18.

 Cooper, Captain John, 20.

 “Cornwallis,” her fight with the Spanish privateers, 178–181;
   and with the lugger, 182, 183.

 Corunna, Packet communication with, 14, 18.

 “Countess of Leicester,” 73.

 Court of Inquiry into captures of Packets, 99, 100.

 Cunninghame, Captain James, 247;
   his description of his fight with the “Saratoga,” 248–252;
   his services rewarded, 253.

 Curtis, Mr. Edward, 45–47.

 Cuxhaven, despatch of mails to, 110;
   mail service at, during the great frost, 111 _et seq._;
   the port closed, 155.


 Deake, Captain, 59, 98.

 Deane, Captain, 168, 169.

 Decree ordering seizure of British subjects on French territory,
    147–151.

 Demerara, privateers repulsed from, 237–239.

 Denmark, English mails seized in, 165–168.

 “Despatch” Packet illegally seized, 39, 40.

 Dominica, French expedition against, 134, 135;
   its repulse by Captain Dyneley, 136–143.

 “Dominica,” H.M. sloop, handed over to the French by her crew, 133.

 “Dryad,” 273.

 “Duke of Clarence” captured, 89.

 “Duke of Marlborough,” 124, 127, 208;
   capture of, 128–130;
   fights with privateers, 184–186, 202–205;
   her fight with H.M. brig “Primrose,” 274–283.

 “Duke of Montrose,” 135 _et seq._;
   her fight with a privateer, 240, 241;
   how captured and regained, 297.

 “Duke of York” captured, 83;
   surrender of, 98, 99;
   result of the Inspector’s inquiry, 100–102.

 Dundas, Mr. Henry, 91.

 Dyneley, Captain, 135;
   repulses the French expedition against Dominica, 136–143;
   his last fight, 144–146.


 “Earl Gower,” how captured, 98.

 “Earl of Leicester” piracy case, 26–28.

 East, Mr., 149, 150.

 Elphinstone, Captain, 242.

 Espriella, Don Manuel, his impressions of a Falmouth inn, 7.

 “Eurotas,” 271, 273.

 “Expedition” captured, 53.

 “Express,” 243, 244.


 Falmouth, before its selection as the Packet headquarters, 3;
   growth and prosperity of, 4, 5;
   effect of the railway on, 12;
   why selected for a Packet station, 14–16;
   natural advantages of the port and harbour, 16, 17;
   a nest of smugglers, 29;
   the mutiny at, 197 _et seq._;
   magistrates in sympathy with the mutineers, 211, 214, 215;
   removal of the Packets from, 216, 217;
   and their return, 220.

 Fares paid by passengers, 10.

 Flynn, Captain, 151.

 Fowey as a Packet station, 219.

 Freeling, Mr. Francis, 85, 93, 112, 120, 246, 253.

 Frost, the great, of 1798, 110 _et seq._

 Furze, Captain, 267–270, 287–290.


 Giltinan, James, 177.

 Gothenburg as a Packet station, 155, 171.

 Gower, Lord, 85.

 “Grantham,” 125;
   capture and re-capture of, 72.

 Gwin, Daniel, 18.


 “Halifax” captured, 87.

 Hamburg, mails smuggled into, 155;
   occupied by the French, 157;
   Mr. Nicholas’ agreement with the P.O. officials at, 162, 163.

 Hammond, Captain, and the Danish grain-ships, 26–28.

 Hartney, Captain, 239.

 Heligoland as a mail depôt, 111, 155;
   capture of, 172.

 Helvoetsluis, the port closed, 109;
   seizure and imprisonment of British subjects at, 148–151.

 “Hinchinbrooke” wrecked, 245.

 “Hinchinbrooke” beats off an American privateer, 283–287.

 Holland, closing of her ports, 109.

 Holyhead Packets, 14, 41, 106, 107.

 Husum as a Packet station, 155, 156.


 Inspector of Packets, and the suspicious captures, 92, 93;
   his inquiries into the private trading abuses, 97, 100–102.


 James, Mr., 184–186, 202, 203, 283–287.

 “Jane,” capture and re-capture of, 89.

 Jones, Captain John, 21.


 Kempthorne, Captain, 44, 60, 61.

 “King George” captured, 54, 122–124;
   action fought by, 62, 63.

 Kirkness, Captain, 236–239.


 “Lady Emily” wrecked, 245.

 “Lady Harriet” captured, 87.

 “Lady Mary Pelham,” 235, 236, 254, 255;
   the conduct of her lawyer-captain, 261, 262.

 “Lady Nepean,” 168, 169.

 “Lapwing,” 267;
   her fight with a privateer, 268–270.

 Leston, Mr., 149.

 Letters, the practice of duplicating, 53.

 Lisbon Packets, private trading permitted on, 104, 197;
   its prohibition, 201.

 “Little Catherine,” 296.


 Mails, the insecurity of, 53, 68, 70, 117;
   demand of the merchants for increased security of, 70, 71, 75;
   delays in forwarding, 73, 110, 159;
   smuggling them into Germany, 155, 156, 160–163, 174, 264–266;
   seizure of, by the Danes at Tonningen, 165–168.

 Maitland, Sir Thomas, 127.

 “Marquis of Kildare” captured, 89, 90.

 Merchants, West India, 18;
   their influence on the Post-Office, 36, 37;
   complain of the insecurity of mails, 68, 246;
   their memorial to the Postmaster General, 70, 71;
   their conference with him, 75, 76.

 Milford Packets, 14, 106, 107;
   the arming of, 41, 42.

 “Montagu,” 239, 255, 256;
   her fight with the “Globe” privateer, 258–263.

 Moorsom, Captain, 225, 226.

 “Morgiana,” her fight with the “Saratoga” privateer, 247–252.

 Mudge, Captain, 132.

 Mutineers pressed, 209;
   their demands, 210;
   meeting of, _ib._;
   magistrates in sympathy with, 211;
   their delegates pressed, 212, 213;
   return to their ships, 215;
   fate of the delegates, 220,221.

 Mutiny of the crew of the “Speedy,” 290, 291.

 Mutiny of Packetsmen, causes leading up to, 197 _et seq._


 _Naval History_ (James), cited, 49, 50, 52, 80, 278;
   its account of Captain Bull’s case examined, 280–283.

 News, foreign, Packet boats as vehicles of, 6, 36, 37.

 Nicholas, Mr., 161–163.

 Nicholls, Mr. William, 292–295.

 Nodin, M., 51, 52.

 _Norfolk Herald_ quoted, 300–302.

 North Sea (Harwich) Packets. _See_ Packets, North Sea.

 Norway, Captain, his character and career, 255, 256, 262, 263.


 Packet Service, Post-Office, its chronicles neglected, 2, 239, 303,
    304;
   established at Falmouth, 3, 4;
   as the vehicle of foreign news, 6, 36, 37;
   number of seamen employed by, 8;
   minor Packet stations, 13, 14;
   reasons for the choice of Falmouth, 14–16;
   the contractors, 15, 16, 18;
   the Corunna Packets, 18;
   West India and other Packets established, 19;
   pensions and bounties awarded in, 20, 21;
   a fighting service, 21;
   lax administration in, 22 _et seq._;
   piracy as practised by the ships of, 22–28;
   malpractices of the controlling agents, 29–32;
   corruption at headquarters, 32;
   the beginning of the reforms, 35;
   armament and type of ships altered, 36–39;
   instructions to captains in time of war, 38, 51;
   superior officers and the absentee system, 57–60, 84, 121;
   the working of the new system, 60–62;
   the demands of the merchants for increased security of mails, 70, 71,
      75;
   amount of annual deficit, 71;
   suspicious captures of Packets, 88–93;
   the private trading system, 93–95;
   scandals rumoured in connection with this, 96–98;
   result of inquiry into these, 99–104;
   partial prohibition of private trading, 104;
   the North Sea service during the great frost, 110–119;
   success of the firmer administration, 120, 121, 222, 223;
   seizure of its employés at Helvoetsluis, 149;
   how the Continental System was evaded, 155, 156, 160–163, 172,
      264–266;
   the Berlin decrees as affecting, 157–159;
   reduced to impotence by Napoleon’s policy, 176, 177;
   mutiny at Falmouth, and its causes, 197 _et seq._;
   removed to Plymouth, 216;
   return to Falmouth, 220;
   taken over by the Admiralty, 303.

 Packets, Falmouth, their routes, 8, 19, 178;
   tonnage and type of, 15;
   reforms in the armament and type of, 36–39;
   captures of, by French ships, 52 _passim_;
   scheme for increasing their armaments, 71, 72;
   time spent in building, 84, 85;
   suspicious captures of, 88 et seq.;
   captures of, by American ships, 226, 232, 241, 251, 270, 300.

 Packets, North Sea, 13, 14;
   the arming of, 40;
   type and armament of, 108;
   ports of Holland closed against, 109;
   their stations at the outbreak of war, _ib._, 109;
   during the great frost of 1798, 110 _et seq._

 Packets, West India, armaments reduced and type altered, 37, 38;
   number employed, 83;
   private trading on, 93–95;
   abuses in connection with this, 96–104;
   private trading prohibited on, 104. _See_ Packet Service _and_
      Packets, Falmouth.

 Parker, John, 210, 213, 218, 219;
   letter to the attorney, 220, 221.

 Pasco, Boatswain, 47, 48, 49, 305.

 Pascoe, Richard, 210, 213, 218, 219;
   letter to the attorney, 220,221.

 Passengers, number of, carried by the Packets, 9;
   fares paid by, 10.

 Patterson, Captain, 132.

 Pender, Mr., 58.

 Pension fund established, 121.

 Petre, Captain James, 193, 194, 195.

 Phillimore, Captain, 271, 273.

 Piracy practised by Packet officers, 22–25;
   the case of Captain Hammond, 26–28;
   prevented by decreasing armaments, 37, 38.

 Plague at Malta, 245, 246.

 Plymouth, 16;
   Packet station removed to, 216, 217;
   the disadvantages of, 217, 218.

 “Portland,” two actions fought by, 63–67;
   capture of, 74.

 Portugal, Napoleon’s demands from, 173;
   her ports closed against British ships, 174;
   seizure of British subjects in, 175.

 Postmaster General, the office held jointly by two ministers, 4_n_;
   on bounties to wounded sailors, 20;
   and the Quaker merchants, 41, 42;
   rewards the crew of the “Antelope,” 50, 51;
   on absentee captains, 57;
   conference with the West India merchants, 73, 74;
   on the surrender of the “Duke of York,” 102.

 Post-Office headquarters, lax administration in, 32;
   influence of the merchants upon, 36, 37. _See_ Packet Service.

 Post-Office Packet Service. _See_ Packet Service.

 Press-gangs, Packetsmen seized by, 201.

 “Prince Adolphus,” 207, 208;
   capture and redemption of, 77–79.

 “Prince Edward” captured, 73.

 “Prince Ernest” captured, 74;
   her fight with a privateer, 193–196.

 “Prince of Orange,” 113–117.

 “Princess Amelia” captured, 89, 225, 226.

 “Princess Augusta” burned, 53.

 “Princess Charlotte” captured, 89.

 “Princess Elizabeth” captured, 70.

 “Princess of Wales” captured, 77.

 “Princess Royal,” her fight with a privateer, 79–82;
   captured, 88.

 Privateers, American, formidable character of, 224;
   Packets captured by, 226, 232, 251, 270, 300.

 Privateers, French, 43, 44, 69;
   Packets captured by, 61 _passim_;
   armaments of, 71, 74;
   number captured by British ships, 76;
   formidable antagonists, 130–132.


 Quaker merchants and the arming of their ships, 41, 42.

 “Queen Charlotte,” 236–239.

 Quick, Captain John, 243, 244.


 Railways, results of the growth of, 12.

 Rapp, Count, quoted, 159, 160.

 Records of the Packet Service neglected, 2, 239, 303, 304.

 Riots among the Packetsmen at Falmouth, 209, 210.

 “Roebuck” captured, 74.

 Rogers, Commodore, 241, 242.

 Rogers, Mr. William, 187–192.

 “Rossie,” 225, 226.

 Routes of the Falmouth Packets, 8, 19, 178.

 Russell’s wagons, 11.


 “Sandwich” captured, 70.

 “Saratoga,” 252.

 Saverland, Mr., 205, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 254, 255.

 Scheveningen, 150.

 Schultz, Mr., 166, 167.

 Seamen, number of, employed in the Packet Service, 8;
   their wages, 104, 200, 206, 207, 210.

 Servante, Captain, 84;
   quoted, 74, 75.

 Skinner, Captain John, 79, 80, 81, 88.

 Slade, Captain, 208, 209.

 Smuggling, in the Packet Service, 28, 29;
   on the Continent during the war, 264–266.

 Spain, mail communication with, 14, 15, 16.

 “Speedy,” mutiny of her crew, 290, 291.

 Stevens, Captain, 254;
   how he escaped a privateer, 235, 236.

 Surgeons, Packet, 192, 193.

 Sutton, Captain, 297–300.

 “Swallow” captured, 70, 74.


 Taylor, Mr. N., 63–67.

 Thornton, Mr., 158.

 “Thynne” captured, 61.

 “Tom,” 227, 228.

 Tonningen, seizure of mails at, 165.

 “Townshend,” private goods found on, 198, 199;
   her fight with the two Americans, 227–233;
   beats off a privateer, 233, 234;
   capture of, 270.

 Trading, private, on the Packets, 9, 93–95;
   rumours of abuses in, 96, 98;
   results of inquiry into these, 99–104;
   prohibited on the West India Packets, 104;
   consequent discontent among the sailors, _ib._;
   evasions of the prohibition, 198–200;
   rigorous confiscations of goods by Custom-House officers, 208.


 Vivian, Captain, navigates a French frigate, 296.


 Wages of the Packetsmen, 104, 200;
   their memorial regarding, 206, 207;
   increase of, demanded by mutineers, 210.

 Wagstaff, Mr., 150.

 “Walsingham” beats off an American privateer, 292–295.

 “Wasp,” H.M.S., 142, 143.

 West India merchants. _See_ Merchants.

 West India Packets. _See_ Packets, West India.

 “Westmoreland” captured, 87.

 White, Captain, 242.

 “Windsor Castle,” captures a privateer, 187–191;
   her fight with the “Roger” privateer, 297–300;
   her crew attempt to escape, 300–302.


 Yescombe, Captain, 62;
   his experiences as a prisoner in France, 54, 55;
   his last fight, 122–124.



                                ERRATA.


   Page 47, line 6 from bottom, _for_ “developed,” _read_ “devolved.”
   Page 74, last line, _for_ “did take,” _read_ “did not take.”
   Page 114, line 1, _for_ “King George,” _read_ “Prince of Orange.”
   Page 212, last line, _for_ “City Marshall,” _read_ “City Marshal.”


  GLASGOW: PRINTED AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS BY ROBERT MACLEHOSE AND CO.



------------------------------------------------------------------------



Transcriber’s note:

 1. Corrected errors listed in the Errata.

 2. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.

 3. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
      printed.

 4. Footnotes have been re-indexed using numbers.





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