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Page:Notes and Queries - Series 10 - Volume 12.djvu/346

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282


NOTES AND QUERIES. [io s. XIL OCT. 9, im.


CAPT. ROBERT PERCIVAL.

THE notice of this " traveller and writer " in the ' Dictionary of National Bio- graphy ' contains some astonishing in- accuracies, to which I would draw attention. We are told that Percival

"embarked, in 1795, in the fleet, commanded by Elphinstone, that was despatched for the conquest of the Cape of Good Hope, then held by the Dutch. Percival disembarked at the Cape, in Simon's Bay, and was entrusted by General Sir James Henry Craig with the duty of attacking the Dutch in the defile of Muisenberg, and in the strong post of Wyneberg. He succeeded in both undertakings, and the Dutch fleet sent, under Admiral Lucas (August 1796), to the help of the colony was cap- tured Following up this victory, Percival was the first to enter Cape Town (16 Sept. 1796), and there he remained till 1797. On his return he published a narrative of his journey

" In 1797 he also visited Ceylon, where he speaks of residing three years, and of which he wrote and published a description."

Now what are the facts ? Percival him- self tells us, on pp. 22-3 of his book on the Cape, that the fleet in which he sailed (the commodore of which was Capt. Osburn of the Trident) cast anchor in False Bay on 2 Aug., 1796, " after a pleasant passage of eleven weeks from England," so that he must have left about the middle of May, 1796. What the * D.N.B.' writer says about Percival's being entrusted by General Craig with the duty of attacking the Dutch at Muizenberg and Wynberg is nonsense, the actions referred to having taken place a year before Percival arrived at the Cape. It "is true that Percival witnessed the capture of the Dutch fleet ; but the surrender was a bloodless one.

The next sentence in the ' D.N.B. notice is an amazing tissue of error. Percival's " entry " into Cape Town took place on 16 August (not 16 September), when he accompanied his regiment, which had been ordered there from Simon's Bay ; but as a fact he and some fellow-officers had gone to Cape Town a day or two after their arrival. The capture of the Dutch fleet moreover took place after the very commonplace " entry," viz., on 18 August. So far from remaining at the Cape till 1797, Percival distinctly tells us (op. cit., p. 39) that on 16 Sept., 1796, he sailed from Simon's Town for Madras, where he arrived on the 14th of November.

But carelessly as the biographer appears to have read Percival's book on the Cape, it would seem as if he had not even looked at the second edition of the one on Ceylon, which opens with these words : "On my


arrival in Ceylon with his Majesty's forces, in the year 1796" (the first edition has 1797). Percival must, therefore, have left Madras with his regiment soon after his arrival there, reaching Ceylon at the end of Novem- ber or in December, 1796. He says ( * Ceylon,' p. 64) : "It was at Trincomalee I first touched the shore of Ceylon " ; and on p. 304 he says : "I arrived in Ceylon in the latter end of the year 1796," which dispels any doubt in the matter. On p. 3 Percival speaks of " a residence of upwards of three years " in the island ; and on p. 244 he- says : " I left Ceylon in 1800 to serve on the continent of India." On p. 429 he states r " I left Columbo in May, 1800 " ; and that this was when he took his departure from Ceylon is evident from the final entry in his- ' Journal of the Embassy to the Court of Candy,' an expedition which he accom- panied. That entry is dated 14 May, and states :

" The five companies of the 19th regiment, which returned from this service on the 14th of May, were- ordered to embark in .seven days afterwards for the coast of Coromandel, to serve against the Poligars. On the 30th of May they embarked at Columbo, and landed at Tutucoreen and Kilkerrie, from whence they marched to Palamcottah, Ramnah [sicl Mattura [we], Dindigul, and Trichinopoly, and served in the southern countries of the peninsula for eight months, when they returned by way of Nagapatam to Trincomalee."

Percival, however, did not accompany his regiment back to Ceylon ; for in his book on the Cape (pp. 39-40) he informs us that he returned to England in 1800 (on p. 3 he eays "in 1801, on account of ill health "), arriving at the Cape on 1 December, and leaving there on 14 January, 1801. He stayed at St. Helena from 28 January to 6 February, but he does not say when he reached England. His 'Account of the Cape of Good Hope,! published in 1804, doe* not, as the 'D.N.B.' states, contain "a narrative of his journey," being almost entirely descriptive of 'the country, its inhabitants, &c. As on each visit Percival spent only about six weeks at the Cape, he seems to have used his time well in picking up information ; but his virulent abuse of the Dutch is not in good taste.

Percival's ' Account of the Island of Ceylon,' the first edition of which was published in 1803, a second and enlarged edition being issued in 1805 (this is not mentioned in the 'D.N.B.'), is a mixture of valuable matter and gross absurdities. But Percival .does not (as the ' D.N.B.' says) attempt " to characterise three classes of ' natives ' the Cingalese of the coast, the