Royal Naval Biography/Bennett, Thomas
THOMAS BENNETT, Esq.
[Captain of 1828.]
Was born at Hereford, Feb. 22d, 1785; and appears to have been borne on the books of the Iphigenia and Hermione frigates, for two years previous to his first embarkation as midshipman, which took place in March, 1797. He was then placed under the care of his uncle, Mr. Francis Bennett, purser of the Monarch 74, at that time commanded by Captain John Elphinstone, and attached to the Channel fleet; but subsequently by Captain Edward O’Bryen, and bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral (afterwards Sir Richard) Onslow, on the North Sea station.
We have stated in our first volume (p. 151), that the memorable battle of Camperdown, which may be considered as having annihilated the remnant of Dutch naval glory and power, was commenced by the Monarch breaking through the enemy’s line, and engaging the flagship of Vice-Admiral Reintjies, whom she at length compelled to surrender. Her loss on this glorious occasion was, with one exception, greater than that of any other British ship, no less than 36 of her officers and crew being slain, and 100 wounded, besides others who received slight hurts, but were not included in the report of casualties: – amongst the latter we find Mr. Thomas Bennett, whose hand was lacerated by a splinter.
This young officer soon afterwards joined the Nassau 64, Captain George Tripp, stationed off the Nore light as an extra guard-ship. In the beginning of 1798, he was removed to the Amphion 32, a new frigate just commissioned by his friend Captain Richard H. A. Bennet, and of which his uncle, the late Commander William Bennett, was appointed first lieutenant. In that ship he served, on the North Sea, African, and Jamaica stations, until Aug. 1801; and then joined the Sans Pareil 80, bearing the flag of Lord Hugh Seymour, to whom his captain had strongly recommended him for promotion, but of which he lost his chance by the death of that distinguished nobleman, on the 11th Sept. following.
In January, 1802, Mr. T. Bennett was appointed by Rear-Admiral Robert Montagu acting lieutenant of the Tartar frigate, at the particular request of her captain (the late Rear-Admiral) James Walker, with whom he afterwards served in the same capacity on board the Vanguard 74. Neither of these appointments, however, were confirmed; and as he had no sort of interest with Sir John T. Duckworth, the new commander-in-chief, he returned home a passenger in the Cerberus 32, Captain James Macnamara, and again joined the Amphion during the short peace of Amiens.
The Amphion was at this time commanded by Captain (now Sir Thomas Masterman) Hardy; and on the renewal of hostilities, in May 1803, she conveyed Lord Nelson from off Brest to the Mediterranean. A few days after joining the squadron employed in the blockade of Toulon, Mr. Bennett, to whom, at the recommendation of his friend Captain Hardy, the immoral hero had already given charge of a watch, was promoted into the Camelion brig; and this appointment, the first that was signed by his lordship after assuming the chief command on the above station, was confirmed at home, Dec, 9th, 1803.
The active services of the Camelion have been recorded in our memoir of the late Captain Sir Thomas Staines; but it is proper here to state, that Lieutenant Bennett commanded her boats on every occasion to which we have there alluded; and that he always most zealously and gallantly assisted that enterprising officer in keeping the whole of the enemy’s coast, from Toulon to Leghorn; in constant agitation and alarm. On the 29th Aug. 1803, whilst attacking five vessels under the batteries at Rimasol, his clothes and hat were shot through in an extraordinary manner, and every person in his own boat, except himself, two men, and a boy, was either killed or wounded. The French national vessel mentioned at p. 84 of Suppl. Part. I. was le Renard schooner, afterwards commissioned as a British cruiser.
In the summer of 1805, the Camelion was ordered to England, being quite worn out, and Lieutenant Bennett gladly availed himself of an opportunity of exchanging into the Seahorse 38, then commanded by Captain the Hon. Courtenay Boyle, but soon afterwards by the late Captain Robert Corbett, – of whom it has been said, that “his guns were a secondary consideration, but in all the evolutions of a ship, – unmooring, weighing, making and shortening sail, furling, reefing, tacking, &c. &c. none could approach the one he commanded without a certainty of being second.” Many tried to excel the Seahorse in these points, but they were all beaten. “In default of meeting with enemies to engage,” says one of her officers, “Captain Corbett amused us with a tolerable proportion of drilling, by dint of which, and with a little other assistance, he brought the ship into that state of (shall I say) discipline, that I never witnessed any thing like it.”
In April, 1800, Captain Corbett was superseded, off Cadiz (on his return from an unauthorised trip to the West Indies), by the late Captain John Stewart, whose manner of treating his officers and men was such, that “he could command their every nerve, fibre, and faculty, to the very gates of death.”
In March, 1807, the Seahorse, now having been thoroughly refitted at Sheerness, was ordered again to the Mediterranean; but, while beating through the Straits of Dover, in a thick fog and strong gale of wind, she struck on the Varne shoal, owing to a mistake of the master, and knocked off her false keel and rudder. In endeavouring to save the latter. Captain Stewart and Lieutenant Bennett were both considerably bruised by the snapping of a hawser, with which they were trying to hang it. Having beat over the shoal, the ship was brought up for the night with three cables an-end; and next morning, the wind being then to the northward, she worked back to the Downs, with a gun-brig and pilot-boat in tow to steer by, keeping pace with, and going as fast to windward, as the Clyde frigate, and several crack vessels of the Boulogne squadron. Having fitted a temporary rudder in the Downs, she proceeded from thence to Plymouth, where all her defects were made good, and from whence she finally sailed for the Mediterranean, with a fleet of merchantmen under her protection.
After touching at Malta and Messina, the Seahorse joined Lord Collingwood, near the entrance of the Dardanelles, and found Sir Arthur Paget (who had been sent out on an embassy to Constantinople, after Sir John T. Duckworth’s failure), making an unsuccessful effort to restore peace between Great Britain and Turkey. In August, 1807, Captain Stewart was despatched to examine the ports in the Cyclades; to report as to their capacity, means of refreshment, &c.; and to offer such of the islands as had shipping, and where commerce might be introduced, every facility for carrying on a trade with Malta. On the 15th Nov. following, he wrote to a friend as follows:–
“I have been very busy chasing vessels of all descriptions, and, of course, too much engaged to think of writing – it is only to-day that we are quite idle, and nearly becalmed. After staying about a week with the fleet at Imbros, Lord Collingwood moved us all over to Tenedos, as it was near the season when we might expect southerly winds, and that island afforded better shelter than the other. Sir Arthur Paget went at the same time in the Thetis, with a flag of truce, to get a final answer from the Turks, and returned on the fourth day, when war seemed perfectly certain. Lord Collingwood determined to sail with half the fleet, and ordered me to proceed again through all the Cyclades, to put all their governments into the hands of the old Primates; and to drive from amongst them all the vessels that had been privateering under the Russian flag, but who, being Ionian islanders, now lived on the defenceless inhabitants, and in short were pirates. I sailed on this service, Sept. 17th, and continued going from island to island until the middle of October, by which time I had nearly put them all in order, and had effectually performed the last part of my instructions; for as soon as I made known, by a circular paper, the service I was come upon, it spread like wild-fire – the Greeks finding it to be their interest to frighten the banditti; and though I only remained three days at Miconi, where I published the paper, I found that the Ionians had every where got on board their vessels, and had set off as fast as they could, after having committed the greatest devastation in several islands.”
About this period, a band of Epirots, who had been in the pay and service of Russia previous to the peace of Tilsit, being left by Vice-Admiral Siniavin at the mercy of their former masters, took possession of two islands near the Gulf of Salonica, from whence, with large boats, they laid the coast, as far as the Dardanelles, under contribution, and made prize of all vessels going to Constantinople. The tribute from these parts of the Ottoman empire, being principally paid in corn, was thus intercepted, and the Turks having no force outside of the Dardanelles sufficient to crush this nest of pirates, made application to Captain Stewart, to know whether he would interfere with any squadron sent for that purpose? – to which he replied, that he should repel by force any ships attempting to come out. The Capitan Pacha was not, however, ignorant of the British force in the AEgean sea; and being anxious to suppress the Epirots, he sent a squadron of two frigates, two corvettes, two mortar-vessels, and some xebecs, for this purpose. On the approach of the Turks, the pirates despatched one of their chiefs with the intelligence to Captain Stewart, then at the island of Syra, who immediately weighed, and proceeded in search of the enemy; the chief and three of his men remaining, at their own request, on board the Seahorse.
“In working to the northward amongst the Islands” says Captain Stewart, “I found the consternation of the Greeks general: from each place I received accounts of the Turkish ships being out, and most of these accounts exaggerated. As I knew that whatever the enemy’s force was, it would be certainly much superior to my ship, I devised in my head most of the cases likely to arise: and determined, if the disparity was not excessive, to attack them; and if they were under sail, to do so in the night, I felt my situation critical. I was alone and could not get assistance for some time. If I were driven out of the Archipelago, the whole of the islands would he instantly overrun by the Turks, and our character and influence suffer in consequence. On the contrary, if I could strike a blow on the first that came out, it would give them an earnest of what the British could do; it might possibly prevent the rest from coming out, and would certainly exalt our character with the Greeks, especially if it saved their islands from pillage. A pretty good judgment may be found of my feelings when I got sight of two Turkish men-of-war, between the islands of Scopulo and Killidroni. It was a fine morning when we saw them; we were standing towards Sciatho. I could not think how they came there, as I had only that day (July 5th, 1808) heen positively assured by a polacre, that the Turkish squadron was still at Sciatho; I feared they might he line-of-battle ships coming to reinforce the others, and was distressed at the thought of it. They passed to windward of the island, and we worked up towards it. In the afternoon there suddenly came on a strong north wind: I continued snug under the island, knowing they would come to leeward of it before night, if they could not get to Sciatho.
“I was walking the deck with much anxiety when, at half-past six, a large frigate, with fifteen ports on a side, was observed coming through the passage between Scopulo and Killidroni. Then followed a smaller ship, with thirteen ports on a side; and then a galley. This seemed to be within my compass. I knew my crew to be brave active men, and purposely kept from engaging the enemy until dark, when I judged we should have a greater advantage in manoeuvring.”
The brilliant result of the Seahorse’s night action with this Turkish force is thus officially described by Captain Stewart, in a letter to Lord Collingwood, dated off Skiro, July 6th, 1808.
“The action begun at half-past nine, the Turks going a little off the wind, under easy sail, and continually endeavouring to run us on board; indeed I early saw that their chief attention was directed to this object, and as the largest ship appeared of great force and full of men, I kept the Seahorse in a position not to be boarded. At ten o’clock, observing a good opportunity of more particularly attacking the small ship to advantage, we dropped alongside of her, and after a quarter of an hour’s hot fire, at half pistol-shot distance, her fire having totally ceased, we left her in a state of the greatest distress and confusion, with her sails mostly down, and just before she had partially blown up forward. By this time the large frigate, which, from having fallen a little to leeward, had not been able to assist her consort, had again got pretty close up, and the action between us soon recommenced; but so obstinate was the resistance of the Turks, it was not till a quarter-past one we rendered her a motionless wreck. As they now would neither answer nor fire, I conceived it most prudent, knowing the character of the people, to wait for daylight to send on board her. At daylight, observing her colours upon the stump of the mizen-mast, we poured a broadside into her stern, when she struck, and I had the pleasure to take possession of the Badere Zaffer, a very fine frigate, of the largest dimensions, carrying 52 long brass guns, 24-pounders on the main-deck, except two, which are 42-pounders, and 12-pounders on the quarter-deck and forecastle. She had a complement of 500 men, and was commanded by Scanderli Kichuc Ali, who, I am informed, was only prevented by his own people from blowing her up. Her loss in killed and wounded is prodigious, 165 killed and 195 wounded; ours comparatively small, five killed and ten wounded. Our mizen-mast fell soon after the action, which is the greatest injury we have sustained. The other ship was named the Alis Fezan, carrying 24 brass 12-pounders and two mortars, commanded by Daragardi Ali, with a complement of 230 men. I understand they took most of the men out of the galley before the action, and sent her away.
“Having now, my Lord, given you the details of this affair, there only remains the pleasant office of recommending to you the officers and ship’s company, who, during a tedious night action, where much depended upon working the sails as well as the guns, behaved in a manner to command my utmost gratitude. The disparity of force, with the loss sustained by the enemy, will prove the greatness of their exertions; to which I shall add, that thirty men were absent from the ship. Mr. Downie, the first lieutenant, is an officer of merit, ability, and experience, and I beg strongly to recommend him to your Lordship’s protection for promotion. Mr. Lester, master’s-mate, who has passed, is also very deserving of promotion. Thomas Hubby, gunner’s-mate, and an excellent man, acted as gunner; and, from his conduct, is very deserving of such a situation.
“I am now proceeding with the prize for any port I can first get into among the islands, as it is with difficulty we can keep her above water.
Just as Captain Stewart was about to renew the action with the Badere Zaffer, after silencing her consort, a man in the maintop of the Seahorse hailed the quarter-deck and exclaimed, “the little frigate has given three rolls, and gone to hell, Sir!” A marine also reported having seen her go down; and this was the last time that mortal eyes ever beheld the Alis Fezan.
The Seahorse mounted thirty long 18-pounders (two of which were brass guns taken on board at Messina, in lieu of her four 9-pounders) and twelve 32-pounder carronades, with an established complement of 281 officers, men, and boys, of whom, as Captain Stewart states, thirty were then absent. The Badere Zaffer had on board, including part of the galley’s crew, 543 men of every description. The British frigate measured 998 tons, her principal opponent nearly 1300, and the Alis Fezan about 730. The superior officers of the Seahorse at this period were Lieutenants George Downie, Thomas Bennett, and Richard Glinn Vallack; Mr. Thomas Curtis, master, and Lieutenant John Cook, of the royal marines. On the 9th July, the Seahorse and her prize anchored in the harbour of Miconi; the Turkish prisoners having worked at the pumps, on being promised their liberty. From thence they had a good passage to Malta, whore Captain Stewart had just completed the refitment of his own ship, when he heard that a British Ambassador was come to Palermo, on his way to Turkey, but doubted, after hearing of the late action, how to proceed. Captain Stewart immediately volunteered to go over to him, and he soon determined to sail for the Dardanelles in the Seahorse.
This diplomatist was Mr. Robert Adair, who in consequence of some important information, obtained by Captain Stewart, respecting the state of affairs in Turkey, had been sent out from England to renew the negociations with the Porte; and who thus speaks of the Seahorse’s action:–
“This event happened a very few days before, my arrival at Palermo; and I confess that, on a first view, I could not but consider it as extremely embarrassing. It was impossible to judge, either what change so desperate an encounter might not produce on the pacific dispositions of the Turks; or whether the encounter itself might not rather have been occasioned by a previous alteration in those views; and this embarrassment, coming in addition to what I had also just learned, of a fresh revolution in Constantinople, in which the Sultan, to whom I was accredited, had been deposed, and most of the ministers supposed to be friendly to us had been put to death, caused me to hesitate, for a moment, as to the course most proper to be pursued. From any apprehensions, however, as to the bad effects likely to result from Captain Stewart’s vigorous proceeding, I was relieved on my first interview with him. Indeed I soon found that, in one sense, it was likely to assist rather than impede my negociation: as, besides the benefit of the example, it enabled me to ascertain the true character of the revolution which had just happened, and which at first sight appeared fatal to my mission.
“Having embarked on board the Seahorse, on the 3d of September, we proceeded to Tenedos, and remained there until the arrival of a Turkish plenipotentiary to open the conferences with me; and then removed to Barbieri bay, an anchorage between the first and second line of castles which defend the Straits. During our stay at Tenedos, I thought it advisable, although the negociation had not yet commenced, that the Turkish trade, which at this time was carrying on with considerable activity, should be suffered to pass unmolested to the capital. Captain Stewart acceded without hesitation to my wishes, and, by this act of disinterestedness, helped to keep alive, and to confirm the prevailing good humour of the Divan; a service the most essential, as it afterwards turned out, – for on the very day preceding my first conference with the plenipotentiary, another insurrection took place at Constantinople, and was followed by the death of the deposed Sultan, the slaughter of ten or fifteen thousand Turks, and the burning of a third part of the city. In this, as in the whole of his previous conduct, I conceive myself greatly indebted to Captain Stewart, for the success of the negociation entrusted to one.”
The treaty of peace between Great Britain and Turkey was signed on the 6th of January, 1809; after which the Seahorse proceeded to Constantinople, and remained there nearly three months, at the express desire of Mr. Adair, who required Captain Stewart’s assistance in several things he had to settle with the Ottoman Government; particularly to assist at a conference that was held, on the 23d March, relative to a proposed co-operation in case of a war between Russia and the Grand Seignor. During his stay at Constantinople, Captain Stewart and his officers were treated with marked civility by the Turks, which, as he had almost the whole conduct of the war against them, he attributed to his having personally well treated all their countrymen whom he had taken prisoners. The Seahorse subsequently visited Smyrna, for the purpose of seeing that the British Factory was re-established, and then returned to Malta, where her captain received two letters from Lord Collingwood, of which the following are extracts:–
“Notwithstanding the high opinion I have ever entertained of the excellent discipline and order which are established in the Seahorse, and the firmness and enterprise which are manifest in every service on which she is engaged; yet I cannot sufficiently express my admiration of the result of this action, against a force so much superior, and which can only be attributed to the eminent skill with which it was conducted. The exertions of the officers and ship’s company deserve every regard. I beg you to accept my sincere congratulations on your success.”
“I am commanded by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to express to you, the high sense they entertain of your meritorious conduct in that encounter. The ability with which it was conducted, and the success which ensued, have given their lordships a satisfactory proof that the skill, bravery, and discipline of British seamen and marines, when guided by officers of enterprise and talent, are irresistible. It is their lordships’ directions, that you make known to the officers and ship’s company of the Seahorse, their approbation of their zealous and gallant conduct: – a conduct so in unison with the high character which British seamen have on all occasions maintained in their country’s service.”
About the same time, Captain Stewart received a letter from Lord Mulgrave, then presiding at the Board of Admiralty, wherein his lordship expressed great satisfaction at transmitting him the naval medal which accompanied it, “as a mark of His Majesty’s gracious approbation of the skill and gallantry that had been displayed by him on the 5th July, 1808, and added: –
“The best testimony that I can bear of the sense which I entertain of the distinguished service of that day, will be found in the enclosed list of promotions, which the Admiralty have wade in the several ranks on board the Seahorse.”
The Seahorse was subsequently employed in cruising between Corsica and the coast of Italy. On the 10th May, 1809, Captain Stewart reported to Lord Collingwood, “the destruction of the enemy’s forts on the small islands of Gianuti and Pianoza, in which services great gallantry appears to have been displayed by the officers and men who were employed under the directions of Lieutenants Bennett and Pearse,” the latter belonging to the Halcyon sloop of war. “One private marine, of the Seahorse, only was killed, and another wounded. About 100 of the enemy were made prisoners[errata 1].” On the 21st June his lordship wrote to Captain Stewart as follows:–
“Ville de Paris, June 21st, 1809.
“Dear Sir,– I am quite aware of the meritorious conduct of your first lieutenant upon all occasions, as well from my own observation as by your frequent communications to me of services performed by him, and I sincerely hope that the Admiralty will promote him as a reward for his late gallant conduct at Pianoza; but should that not be the case, I will, as I promised, take him into this ship the first vacancy which may occur, for the purpose of making him a commander, whenever an opportunity may be afforded me for doing so. This will secure to him a ship, as well as promotion. Believe me, with great truth, dear Sir, Yours very sincerely,
“To Captain Stewart, H.M.S. Seahorse.”
On the 6th Nov. 1809, Lord Collingwood informed Captain Stewart that the Board of Admiralty had been pleased to express their high approbation of the conduct of his then first Lieutenant, and of all who were employed in the boats under that officer’s command.
From this period we find no particular mention of the Seahorse until the summer of 1811, when she conveyed Lord Amherst and his family from Palermo to England, and narrowly escaped another thump on the Varne shoal, which was only avoided by Lieutenant Bennett accidentally going on deck before day-light. She was soon afterwards paid off at Woolwich, on which occasion Captain Stewart addressed the following letter to Lord Mulgrave’s successor:–
“Sir,– I feel it my duty to write to you, to recommend Mr. Thomas Bennett, first lieutenant of H.M. ship Seahorse, who is one of the best officers in His Majesty’s service, and very deserving of promotion, as well for his general merits as for particular services performed by him. He was second lieutenant of the ship in the action with the Turkish squadron. He headed the men who stormed and look the island of Gianuti, destroying the forts and taking the garrison prisoners. He commanded the party which took the island of Pianola and its forts, with a garrison of upwards of 100 men, after shewing great judgment in conducting his people, and
fighting upwards of four hours beFore the enemy surrendered. For these and other services, he was strongly recommended to Lord Collingwood, who knew, acknowledged, and would, no doubt, have rewarded them. I feel very confident that I do not exaggerate in my recommendation of him, and I have the honor to be, &c.
“To the Right Hon. Charles Yorke,
&c. &c. &c.”
On the 22d Jan. 1812, Lieutenant Bennett was appointed first of the Crescent 38, Captain John Quilliam, then stationed in the Baltic, but afterwards employed in convoying a fleet of merchantmen from Cork to Halifax and Newfoundland. In that ship, he assisted at the capture of the American privateer schooner Elbredge Gerry, pierced for 14 guns, with a complement of 60 men, Sept. 16th, 1813.
With the exception of this solitary capture, the Crescent, although one of the very best-sailing frigates in the British navy, did literally nothing against the enemy; her captain seemed to have an antipathy to making prize-money, and a sort of horror at the idea of gaining a medal. Under these circumstances, Lieutenant Bennett considered that she would never make him a commander, and he therefore, being very unwell, got surveyed and invalided; not, however, until he had applied for a court-martial upon himself, in consequence of some assertions, which Captain Quilliam, in the exuberance of his fancy, had publicly made to him. The desired investigation was refused at that time, as no representation, reflecting upon him, had then been made by his captain to the commander-in-chief. On his return to England, as passenger in a merchant vessel, he found that he had been promoted on the 15th June, 1814, and, by way of set-off, that a court-martial was ordered to try him upon charges founded on representations made to Sir Richard Goodwin Keats by Captain Quilliam, alter he had quitted the Newfoundland station. The charges were, that he had beaten the captain’s boy; that he had given as a toast, at the gun-room table, “Damnation to the captain;” and that he had not maintained proper discipline and regularity while serving on board the Crescent.
Captain Quilliam had by this time arrived at Spithead, and subpoenaed the whole of his officers and crew as witnesses, together with most of the merchants of St. John’s, Newfoundland, several gentlemen holding civil appointments, and many military officers stationed there. This occasioned a reference to the Admiralty, as to the means of procuring the attendance of all these witnesses; and, Captain Quilliam’s aversion to the trial going on, and his fear for the probable issue, being manifest, their lordships thought proper to direct the court to proceed in examining those already on the spot, amounting to more than 300 persons, at least one-third of whom had been impressed by their late first lieutenant, and some of whom, it might have been supposed, would be found to convict him, if guilty of any of the alleged offences.
The court accordingly assembled on board the Crescent, Sept. 3d, 1814, and Captain Quilliam, who pertinaciously refused to prosecute, was called upon as principal evidence. His answer to the very first question astonished every one present. – “Have you any thing to allege against the prisoner, and what?" enquired the court. "Nothing whatever,” replied he; “for although I have had complaints of him, they were not of that nature to call for a court-martial!” The president, Rear-Admiral Foote, here remarked to the other members of the court, that, “if the captain of the ship stated this much on oath, it was sufficient;” but the prisoner urged that they were ordered to try him for his conduct, for nearly three years; and although decidedly illegal, as far as regarded any thing prior to the last twelve months, he preferred having it laid open, and thoroughly investigated. The court then decided to proceed; and next day, being pretty well tired of the business, adjourned to the Gladiator, in Portsmouth harbour. All the officers of the Crescent, and their servants, as well as many of the ship’s company, were examined, but not one among the whole could bring forward a single instance of insubordination, or of unseamanlike or ungentlemanly conduct, on the part of the accused. Some of the witnesses were hardy enough to make comparisons between him and their captain, not very much to the advantage of the latter. On the third day, the prisoner made a short, but unnecessary defence, and the sentence pronounced was, – “That the charges had not been proved against the said Captain Thomas Bennett; that no blame whatever was imputable to him for his conduct while serving as first lieutenant of H.M.S. Crescent, but that the imputations against him were unfounded and vexatious. The court did therefore adjudge him, the said Captain Thomas Bennett, to be fully acquitted.”
We must not omit to mention, that the subject of this memoir had previously preferred several charges against Captain Quilliam, one of which was – “neglect of duty in not doing his utmost to come up with a ship supposed to be an enemy’s frigate.” Suffice it to say, that Captain Bennett, with others, thought his charges had been proved (although one of the principal evidences for the prosecution had been provided with money, and permitted, by Captain Quilliam, I to absent himself before the trial commenced); but, possibly from the supposition that they originated in a wish to recriminate, or on some such ground. Captain Quilliam was acquitted; – not, however, with any softening qualification.
On the 2d July, 1819, Captain Bennett was appointed to the Cygnet, a new 10-gun brig; and in the following month, he had the honor of dining with his late Majesty, then Prince Regent, on board the Royal George yacht, at Spithead.
The Cygnet first cruised on the Irish station, but was subsequently sent to St. Helena, where she continued with the squadron under Rear-Admiral Lambert, until the death of Napoleon Buonaparte, when she carried despatches to the Isle of France, and then joined Commodore Lillicrap at the Cape of Good Hope.
Since the publication of the latter officer’s memoir (in Suppl. Part II.), a circumstance has been made known to us, with which we were not at that time acquainted. The boats of the Cygnet, it appears, were the first to go to the assistance of the Hon. East India Company’s extra-ship Albion, and were of equal service with those of the Hyperion frigate, in rescuing that valuable merchant vessel “from the situation of extreme peril in which she was placed, on the 10th June, 1822, when, in a strong gale of wind, she broke from her anchorage in Simon’s Bay, and drove to within the distance of a few fathoms from the rocks;” for which service, supposing it to have been performed under the personal directions of Commodore Lillicrap, who was then residing on shore, and by the boats of the Hyperion alone, the Hon. Court of Directors presented the commodore with “500l., for the purchase of a piece of plate, as a token of the Court’s appreciation of his meritorious conduct upon this occasion;” and voted a further sum of 500l. “to the officers and seamen of His Majesty’s navy, who were employed in rendering assistance to the Albion, whereby so many lives, and so much valuable property, were preserved from imminent danger;” the latter sum to be divided proportionately with Commodore Lillicrap’s estimation of their respective services, but not one (shilling of which was awarded by him to the officers and men of the Cygnet, whose commander, being on board his vessel at the time, personally sent them to assist the Albion.
The Cygnet was lying in Table Bay at the commencement of a tremendous N.W. gale, during which she had as narrow an escape from destruction as any ship or vessel ever experienced.
On the 10th July, 1822, at 1-30 a.m., the Sarah, a free trader of about 900 tons burthen, deeply laden with a valuable cargo, parted one anchor, swung nearly into the hawse of the little ten-gun brig, and appeared to ride exceedingly heavy; the storm, which had been gradually increasing ever since the morning of the 9th, then blew with great fury; and the Cygnet, pitching bowsprit under, was taking green seas fore-and-aft. Captain Bennett, although very ill at the time, was fortunately on deck, and directed the whole of the larboard chain-cable to be instantly veered away. Shortly afterwards he observed the Sarah in great confusion, and heard the whole of her crew hailing together; but owing to the violence of the gale, it was impossible to understand what they were so anxious to communicate. She had sprung a leak forward, which her pumps could not keep free, and it appeared impossible to save her from foundering. Mr. Alexander Simmonds, boatswain of the Cygnet, contrived to got alongside in a boat, and returned with information that she was actually going down at her anchor. The boat was sent back with directions to her to slip, and endeavour, by a spring, to cast her head inshore, as the only chance of getting into shallow water, and saving some part of her cargo; but, in a few minutes, the crew hailed again to say she was sinking fast. They then began to loose their top-sails, and the Cygnet’s situation became perilous in the extreme; the Sarah being still nearly in her hawse, and almost water-logged, and a tremendously high sea rolling into the bay, accompanied with a heavy ground swell. The preservation of the little “tenny,” one of a much calumniated class of vessels, now depended entirely on the ability of her crew to heave ahead, and allow the sinking ship to drift past her; – Captain Bennett called his men to the capstan, and in a few short, but impressive words, pointed out their situation, and that their lives depended upon their activity and exertions. – Well did they make use of their powers; for, after slipping the larboard cable, they hove the brig ahead against one of the heaviest gales ever witnessed, and a sea that was almost sufficient to drown such a vessel, without forcing her against it. The Sarah had by this time cut or slipped her cable, and was rolling, an unmanageable log, towards the Cygnet, her gunwales level with the water, and her topsails split to pieces; but by the exertions of the chief-mate, whose coolness, fortitude, and presence of mind, in such extreme danger, are beyond all praise, her fore-lack was hauled on board, and the wind having, at that moment, providentially shifted about two points, her head paid off, and she went past at the distance of not more than half her length. In a few minutes more, she gave a heavy lurch and disappeared. Captain Bennett heard the cries of her crew, and, fortunately for most of them, he had anticipated what would occur; – two light boats, under the command of Mr. Robert Lee Stephens, whom he had sent to attend the Sarah, and with orders to stick by her, succeeded in saving all the crew, except four persons.
This danger past, Captain Bennett endeavoured to heave in the larboard cable again; but when it came up to the bows, some part of the hawser was found twisted round the chain, which prevented it coming in-board. The hawser soon parted, and the boatswain, who, after being slung by Captain Bennett himself, had obstinately persisted in going over the bows without a rope round his body, was knocked overboard by the end of the chain, and drowned before any assistance could be given him. As day-light broke, the bay presented a scene of devastation. All the shipping had signals of distress flying, having lost anchors and cables; several boats were drifting about, upset; two fine brigs were on shore; the Madras, a large merchant ship, which had parted her cable on the 9th, was riding in the surf near them; and the unfortunate Sarah lay bottom up in the N.E. part of the bay.
It is worthy of remark, that the commander of the Sarah, now a Brazilian commodore, had very recently been pointing out to Captain Bennett the great danger of lying in Table Bay at that season, and the certainty, as he thought, of a small brig like the Cygnet foundering, should she be caught there in a heavy north-wester. At the same time, he directed Captain Bennett’s attention to the majestic appearance of the Sarah; spoke much of her patent cables, patent anchors, &c. and consoled him with the remark, that in the event of any thing happening to the Cygnet, the Sarah would be near to render assistance. Poor man! he little thought how soon his ship, which was not insured, would need the like from that humble little “tenny.” Captain Bennett subsequently received a letter from him, of which the following is a copy:
“Morrison’s Hotel, Cape Town, 15th July, 1822.
“Sir,– It would be an injustice to my own sentiments, did I not seize the first leisure opportunity my late calamity has spared me, to express to you in this way, as I have already had the honor of doing personally, the sense of gratitude I feel at the humane, prompt, and effective succour you bestowed on my ship at a moment when your own was placed by her is a critical and perilous situation.
“I trust, Sir, that you will also permit me the gratification of impressing on your attention, the admirable manner in which Mr. Stephens, the officer appointed by you to that dangerous duty, fulfilled your intentions and orders, at the risk of his own life and those of your boats’ crews. His humanity, presence of mind, and cool courage, were the cause of preservation to the many lives that were saved – these (qualities were equally and eminently conspicuous during a scene the most appalling and afflicting that can be imagined.
“The conduct of your gig’s crew on this unhappy occasion has no doubt been reported to you; it is sufficient for me to observe, that they amply and efficiently seconded their commander.
“I cannot close my letter without expressing my regret at the loss of your boatswain, a meritorious seaman, of whom, I am given to understand, you had a high opinion, and whose life appears to have been sacrificed to his too great negligence of personal safety while in the discharge of his duty. I have the honor to subscribe myself, with sentiments of the highest respect, gratitude, and esteem. Sir, your most obedient and devoted servant,
(Signed)“James Norton, late commander of the ship Sarah.”
The first lieutenant of the Cygnet was on shore during this terrific gale; and the acting second lieutenant, Mr. Charles Brand, [who has written an article on the subject of her “narrow escape,” for the “United Service Journal,” wherein he somewhat strangely describes himself as “her commanding officer,” at the time, although he admits, that “to Captain Bennett’s judgment as a seamen and an officer is every merit due for saving his brig,”] had only just joined her from a midshipman’s berth. Mr. Robert Lee Stephens, the gentleman whose conduct is so highly eulogized by Mr. Norton, has since obtained the rank of lieutenant.
The Cygnet subsequently accompanied Commodore Nourse to Madagascar, Zanzibar, Delagoe Bay, and along the eastern coast of Africa; after which she made two trips to Ascension, with stores for that island, and touched at St. Helena on her way to England. She was paid off in the spring of 1823.
Commander Bennett’s next appointment was, April 30th, 1827, to the Trinculo of 18 guns, in which sloop he served on the Irish station, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Plampin and his successor, the Hon. Sir Charles Paget, until promoted to the rank of Captain, Sept. 16th, 1825.
This officer married, Nov. 16th, 1815, Sarah, eldest daughter of W. Watkins, of Hereford, Esq. and has issue two sons and three daughters. His eldest boy, Edward Watkins Bennett, served as volunteer of the first class on board the Trinculo, under his command.
Captain Bennett’s sister is the wife of the Rev. Walter Williams, of Brecon.
Agents[errata 2].– William M‘Inerheny, Esq.
- See Suppl. Part I. p. 157 et seq.
- See Suppl. Part III. p. 41.
- Lieutenant George Downie, to the rank of commander; Mr. William Lester, to be lieutenant of the Seahorse; and Thomas Hully, to be a gunner. Mr. George Flintof, purser, and the boatswain and carpenter, noted for appointments to ships of a higher rate. Captain Downie was killed in action with the American flotilla on Lake Champlain, Sept. 14th, 1814. See Suppl. Part IV. pp. 95–102.
- London Gazette, Sept 1809.
- Captain Stewart died on the 26th Oct. 1814.
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