Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 29.djvu/365

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


by acclamation. The lords passed a similar vote on the 8th. A pension of 3,000l. a year was settled on Jervis, the city of London voted him its freedom in a gold box, and most of the principal towns in the kingdom followed its example. The king had previously nominated him for a peerage in reward for earlier services and his exertions in 1796. The victory gave him an independent claim, and therefore he was gazetted at one step to an earldom, the king himself choosing for him the title of St. Vincent, which he signed for the first time on 16 July (Tucker, i. 225, 421).

Meanwhile the Spanish fleet, still formidable in respect of numbers, lay in Cadiz, where Jervis was ordered to blockade it. As the year wore on the duty was rendered more difficult by the mutinous spirit which had spread from Spithead and the Nore, and most dangerously infected the crews of the ships under his command. Sternly and with inflexible severity Jervis suppressed it. Measures were taken to prevent any joint action, ship-visiting was strictly forbidden, and on every overt act courts-martial were appointed to try the offenders, and the extreme penalty at once inflicted. On one occasion (8–9 July) two men convicted late on Saturday evening were hanged first thing on Sunday morning; a promptitude which drew from Nelson an expression of warm approval, though Vice-admiral Thompson censured it in a public letter as ‘a profanation of the Sabbath;’ for which, wrote Jervis, ‘I have insisted on his being removed from this fleet immediately, or that I shall be called home.’ Throughout the year the danger was imminent, and came to a head in the May of 1798, when Sir Roger Curtis joined the fleet with a detachment from the Channel and the coast of Ireland. Many of these ships were most seriously disaffected. The Marlborough was supposed to be the worst. One of the ringleaders on board her was brought to a court-martial and sentenced to death. St. Vincent ordered him to be hanged on board his own ship and by his own shipmates. The captain of the Marlborough went on board the flagship to remonstrate. The men, he urged, had sworn that they would not allow one of their comrades to suffer death. ‘If you cannot command the Marlborough,’ was St. Vincent's stern reply, ‘I will immediately send on board an officer who can. The man shall be hanged by his own ship's company; not a hand from any other ship in the fleet shall touch the rope.’ And, with very exceptional precautions to prevent the possibility of an open outbreak, the man was hanged at eight o'clock the next morning.

This long-continued strain told on St. Vincent's health and reacted on his temper, never too gentle. Harsh and dictatorial at all times, he became still more exacting, if not tyrannical; and his quarrel with the second in command, Rear-admiral Sir John Orde [q. v.], whom he summarily ordered home, was but one of many instances which have been recorded. Orde formally applied for a court-martial on him, as having been guilty of cruelty and oppression; and, though the admiralty refused to order one, they wrote to St. Vincent strongly disapproving of his conduct in this instance. Notwithstanding this, the work of the station was carried on with the most satisfactory results. Throughout the year Cadiz was sealed, and while one detachment of the fleet, under Sir Horatio Nelson, destroyed the French in the bay of Aboukir, another, under Commodore Duckworth, captured Minorca without the loss of one man. When the ships that had been most shattered at the Nile came to Gibraltar, St. Vincent ordered them to be refitted there instead of going to England, and under severe pressure the orders were obeyed, although the storehouses were depleted and the officers unwilling. The labour, however, was excessive, and under the fatigue, anxiety, and confinement St. Vincent's health broke down, and he was compelled to ask for permission to resign his command. Lord Keith was accordingly sent out with reinforcements and as his successor, should he be obliged to go home. For some months longer he struggled to retain the command, staying at Gibraltar, and afterwards at Minorca, while Keith conducted the more active operations off Cadiz or in pursuit of the French fleet which had escaped from Brest. The divided command, however, caused misunderstanding, embarrassment, and failure; and St. Vincent, finding himself more and more feeble, finally relinquished the command on 15 June 1799 [see Elphinstone, George Keith, Viscount Keith].

For some months after his return to England St. Vincent lived in close retirement at Rochetts, a little property in Essex which he had purchased. It was not till October that his health was in any degree re-established. No sooner was this known than Sir John Orde sent him a challenge as a sequence to their quarrel off Cadiz. St. Vincent refused it on the grounds of not being personally responsible for his public measures; and while Orde was attempting to convince him that it was his private, not his official, conduct by which he felt aggrieved, the affair became known, and they were both bound over to keep the peace, while the