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Royal Naval Biography/Astley, Edward William Corry

[Captain of 1829.]

Is descended from Sir Edward Astley, Bart., and son of Colonel Astley, of the first regiment of guards, Equerry to H.R.H. the late Duke of Cumberland. This officer was born in Norfolk, Oct, 21st, 1788; and he appears to have first embarked as midshipman on board the Elephant 74, Captain (now Sir Thomas) Foley, in Aug. 1800. We subsequently find him serving under Sir John Gore, in the Medusa frigate and Revenge 74, from which latter ship he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, Aug. 11th, 1808[1]. In Mar. and April 1810, he commanded a detachment of seamen landed from the Magnificent 74, to assist at the reduction of St. Maura, an island situated near the entrance of the Gulf of Lepanti[2], and his conduct during that siege was thus officially commended:–

“Ten of the Magnificent’s guns were landed, and 150 seamen, under the command of Lieutenant Astley, whose assiduous attention and activity in performing every duty entrusted to him, the General speaks of in strong terms of approbation.

(Signed)“Geo. Eyre, Captain, and senior naval
officer in the Ionian Sea.”

At a subsequent period. Major General Sir John Oswald wrote to Lieutenant Astley as follows:–

“I beg to assure you that I bear in perfect remembrance your very meritorious conduct during the time you served on shore with the army at the siege of St. Maura. At the time I strongly expressed to Sir George Eyre and the other several officers of the navy, the sense I entertained of the essential benefits derived from your unremitting zeal and exertions; and I shall be happy to repeat this testimony to your good conduct in any way or shape which may be most conducive to forward the objects you have in view.”

On the 14th Oct. 1811, Captain Eyre, then employed in co-operation with the Spanish patriots in Valencia, addressed an official letter to Sir Edward Pellew, of which the following is an extract:–

“Upon my arrival off Valencia, on the 8th instant, I lost no time in assuring General Blake of my readiness to undertake any service in which I could be useful in forwarding his plans for the defence of this province; and the next day I received from his Excellency a letter containing a request that I would endeavour to relieve the castle of Oropesa, which was closely invested by the enemy, and much distressed for provisions.

“I, in consequence, immediately proceeded thither, with three gunboats which the General had put under my command, and arrived there on the evening of the 11th, when I learnt that the castle had surrendered the preceding day, and that 2000 of the enemy’s troops were in the town; a tower, however, about a mile from Oropesa, and only a short distance from the sea, had the Spanish flag still flying, and the enemy were discovered constructing a strong battery against it, within musket-shot.

“Having found means to communicate with the tower, I received a letter from the commandant, informing me, that although he had refused to capitulate when summoned the day before, it would be impossible for him to hold out many hours against such a force as the enemy had brought against him: an arrangement was in consequence immediately made to withdraw the garrison. At daybreak the following morning, the enemy opened their fire, which was returned with spirit from the tower; but it was not till near nine o’clock, when the breeze sprung up, that I could proceed in with the Magnificent: I then anchored as close to the shore as the situation would admit, and sent our launch and pinnance, together with the gun-boats, to bring off the garrison, which consisted of two officers and eighty-five soldiers, all of whom I have the satisfaction to inform you were, by the exertion and steady conduct of the officers and boats’ crews, embarked by ten o’clock.

“The fire from the Magnificent kept the battery in check; but the moment the enemy perceived that the tower was abandoned, they drew down to the water-side, under shelter of a little point of land, and amongst the rocks, in great numbers, keeping up against the boats an incessant and heavy fire of musketry, from which three of our men were wounded; one of them, I am sorry to say, very dangerously.

“The officers who commanded the Magnificent’s boats upon this occasion were Lieutenants Astley and Hiatt; and I have great pleasure in representing to you, that for every duly of danger or trouble, they have always volunteered their services; and their conduct on this, as upon every former occasion, has been very satisfactory to me, and highly creditable to themselves.”

Lieutenant Astley subsequently served under Captains William Wilkinson, Charles Inglis, Sir John Louis, Bart., and William Elliot, C.B., in the Monmouth 64, Queen Charlotte 108, and Scamander 42, from which latter ship he was appointed acting commander of the Childers sloop, at Barbadoes, in the beginning of Sept. 1816. On his super-cession, he received the following letters from the commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands, and the physician of the naval hospital at Antigua:–

Antelope, English Harbour, Antigua, 1st Oct. 1816.

“Sir,– Captain Wales having arrived in H.M. sloop Brazen, to resume the command of the Childers, which you have held with so much credit to yourself during his illness, I feel on this occasion great pleasure in expressing to you the very high sense I entertain, as well of your zeal in taking charge of that sloop, at a most distressing period of disease and mortality, as of the ability you displayed in bringing her to this harbour with only fifteen hands capable of doing duty, and of your exertions since your arrival in getting her cleared and fumigated. I am, Sir, your most obedient servant,

(Signed)John Harvey, Rear-Admiral."”

Naval Hospital, 3d Oct. 1816.

“My dear Astley, – I congratulate you on your good fortune in getting the Childers cleared with so little loss of men. You ought to be particularly grateful for having escaped a disease which spared so few who came within the focus of its powers. During my servitude of seventeen years in the West Indies, I have never seen a vessel where fever prevailed to such an alarming extent. Nothing can more clearly shew how completely the brig was filled with pestilential air, than the circumstance of seven medical men sent to her assistance, one after the other, being attacked with fever, as well as every new hand who went on board of her. The men belonging to the Lord Eldon transport, who assisted her in getting into English harbour, were on her deck little more than an hour, and not suffered to go below, yet above one-third of them were attacked with the disease.

"Your having persevered under such circumstances, in clearing and purifying the vessel, I trust will meet the reward such zeal merits. Wishing you every success, I remain, &c.

(Signed)Robt. Crichton.”

Some time after this, Mr. Astley, then again senior lieutenant of the Scamander, was likewise attacked with yellow fever, and in consequence obliged to be invalided, Feb. 21st, 1817. We next find him serving as first of the Bulwark 70, bearing the flag of Sir John Gore, in the river Medway, from which ship he was lent to the Royal Sovereign yacht, during the time that that vessel was employed in bringing the Duke and Duchess of Kent to England from Calais, in April, 1819. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Aug 12th, following, on which occasion he received a very friendly letter from Sir John Gore, of which we shall here give the copy:–

Admiral’s Office, Chatham, Aug. 24th, 1819.

“My dear Astley, – I most sincerely offer you my perfect congratulation on your promotion, and more particularly as it has been the result of your services and professional reputation, and not from any interest or consideration for me, or with any reference to the flag.

“You have now served under my immediate command nearly six years as midshipman, and eighteen months as senior lieutenant of my flag-ship, during the whole of which time I have carefully watched your character, and am gratified by stating, that for zeal and ability, temper and judgment, in fulfilling all your duties as an officer and gentleman, I have been most perfectly satisfied, and think myself called upon to offer you this tribute of my approbation. I wish you every possible health and happiness, and hope that you will believe me always very faithfully your friend.

(Signed)John Gore.”

In Dec. 1819, Commander Astley was appointed Deputy-Comptroller-General of the Preventive Water-Guard service, then acting under the immediate authority of the Treasury, but transferred, in Jan. 1822, to the Board of Customs, The following is an extract from a report of survey of the coast between Seaford and Plymouth, made by a committee of the Commissioners, June 1st in the latter year:

“We have to regret that the Comptroller-General of the Coast-Guard, Captain Shortland, was prevented by ill health from accompanying us; but we had every assistance in the course of our inspection from Captain Astley, and are happy to take this opportunity of expressing our sense of his zeal, activity, and knowledge of the service he is employed in.”

In April, 1824, Commander Astley received another handsome testimonial of his services between Dec. 1819 and July 1822, accompanied by a letter worded as follows:–

“My dear Astley, – I have enclosed a certificate for the time we were serving together in the preventive department. I wish I could have added more in it, as I can assure you I entertain such a high opinion of year integrity, zeal, and abilities, as to entitle you to any mark of approbation our superiors might bestow on you. In all my service, I never met an officer so fully inclined and determined to fill the station allotted to him; our duties not being determined by any former rules, made it often completely out of our usual beat, still I always had your support and assistance to meet those exigencies; and whether at sea or on shore, I should always feel pleasure and confidence in having the assistance of your valuable services. Believe me always, my dear Astley, yours most faithfully,

(Signed)Thomas George Shortland.”

In Sept. 1825, Commander Astley transmitted to the Committee of the Shipwreck Institution, a card of instructions for the use of Captain Manby’s apparatus, together with a code of night signals to be used at the various stations where it is placed. These were perfectly approved of, and readily adopted, as appears by a letter from Thomas Edwards, Esq. secretary to the society, expressing their best thanks for the same.

On the 30th April, 1827, Commander Astley was appointed to the Herald yacht, and about the same period he received a letter from the present Comptroller-General of the Coast-Guard, of which the following is an extract:–

“I take this opportunity, with very great pleasure, of expressing, in the strongest terms, my entire approbation of your conduct on all occasions, during the period which you have served with me in this department; and I consider myself under very great obligations to you, for the assistance I have uniformly received from you, and for the zeal, assiduity, and ability, for which you have always been remarkable. I am, my dear Sir, very sincerely yours,

(Signed)“William Bowles.”

After his appointment to the Herald, Commander Astley was first employed in conveying his friend S. R. Lushington, Esq. to Madras, for the purpose of assuming the government of that presidency. He returned home from India, with Earl Amherst and his suite passengers, July 22d, 1828; sailed for the islands of Barbadoes and Jamaica with their newly appointed governors, Major-General Sir James Lyon and the Earl of Belmore, on board, Jan. 3d, 1829; and was again in England on the 3d of April following. His promotion to the rank of captain took place April 7th, 1829; and he received the honor of knighthood Oct. 27th, 1830. Lady Astley, to whom he was united in June, 1829, is the daughter of James Pitman, of Dunchideock House, near Exeter, Esq.

Agent.– J. Copland, Esq.