Royal Naval Biography/Brenton, Edward Pelham
EDWARD PELHAM BRENTON, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1808.]
Second son of the late Rear-Admiral Brenton, and brother to Captain Sir Jahleel Brenton, Bart., K.C.B., &c. Born July 19, 1774.
This officer entered the navy, in Nov. 1788, as a midshipman, on board the Crown 64, bearing the broad pendant of the Hon. William Cornwallis, with whom he sailed for India in Feb. 1789.
“Nothing deserving of historical notice occured on the passage out, except the incident of the squadron putting into Rio Janeiro, where it was received by the Portuguese with every outward mark of respect, and watched during its continuance in port with the most careful and jealous circumspection: * * * *. The wants of the squadron were relieved, and a timely check given to that dreadful disorder, the sea-scurvy, which had already begun to make its ravages among the men, owing to the quality of the provisions put on board in England. These consisted chiefly of the beef and pork which remained from the American war, and which, after lying five or six years in store, were, from a false principle of economy, supplied to ships bound on a long voyage, and requiring every attention to preserve the health of the crews.”
The Crown was the first British ship of the line that anchored in Port Cornwallis, which had been taken possession of the preceding year, and fortified, in consequence of the supreme government at Calcutta perceiving the distress to which our navy and commerce were likely to be reduced for want of a harbour on the coast of Coromandel. After making some observations there, the Commodore proceeded to another place farther north, on the Great Andaman, called North East harbour, which appeared to be better adapted for the required purpose than the other; and effective means were taken for establishing a dock-yard and forming an extensive settlement.
“The inhabitants of the Andaman islands,” says Captain Brenton, “were few in number, but their hostility was at first troublesome; they were very expert with the bow and arrow, transfixing, as they wandered along the shore, the small fish with great certainty; and the wild hog seldom escaped from the dexterity of his pursuers. * * * At North East harbour our boats rowed along the thick jungle, which projecting some feet from the land, grew over and touched the water, forming an impenetrable thicket, whence the savage shot his arrow in security with almost unerring aim: the boats returned with four men wounded, and disappointed in the object of their search, to find fresh water. The Commodore, with a strong party of officers and marines, landed on a small island, to which their canoes had been seen to go early on the same morning: on this spot the trees were, as on the main land, so thick, that our men could not penetrate; and as they walked round the sandy beach in search of an entrance, eleven of them received severe wounds from the arrows of the savages concealed in the wood. Some hours elapsed before they were discovered; at length, when seen in the tops of the trees, the enraged marines quickly despatched seven of them, and three were taken with their canoes. Never was man found in a more perfect state of nature: they were all mules, without a vestige of clothing; their woolly heads smeared with a red ochre, their bodies tattooed; their stature under the middling size, or about four feet seven inches. They exhibited the utmost degree of terror when brought on board, with their hands tied behind their backs, and attempted to bite all who came near them, but were pacified by kindness, and soon became so familiar as to dance in their stile to our drum and fife. We had strong suspicion of their being cannibals, some of the governor’s people at Port Cornwallis having been found murdered, and slices cut out of them, as if intended for food: they appeared apprehensive they were to meet a similar fate, and at night one of them jumped overboard and escaped; the other two, on the following day, were landed, and we saw them no more. On the recapture of Trincomalee in 1795, the possession of the Andaman islands was no longer of that advantage which they had promised to be in 1788, and the proposed naval establishment at North East harbour was laid aside. The small settlement of Port Cornwallis was retained, in order to preserve the British right to the islands, and in the course of the war our ships frequently resorted to them.”
Mr. Brenton continued on the East India station until Dec. 1791, at which period the Crown was ordered home, under the command of Captain Robert Manners Sutton; Commodore Cornwallis having previously shifted his broad pendant to the Minerva frigate.
Shortly after the Crown’s arrival in England (May, 1792), Mr, Brenton was placed by the late Sir Philip Affleck, then a Lord of the Admiralty, on board the Bellona 74, Captain George Wilson. In Aug. 1704, we find him joining the Queen Charlotte, first rate, bearing the flag of Earl Howe, from which ship he was promoted into the Venus frigate, at the commencement of 1795, a period when “the princes of the house of Bourbon and the British ministers, notwithstanding the misfortunes which had happened to the royalists in la Vendee, began to entertain hopes that an impression might be made in the western part of France, by an armament composed of emigrants, and assisted by English ships of war.
“It had been represented, we fear, with too little regard to truth, that the Chouans of the Morbihan, and the country in the neighbourhood of Quiberon bay, required but small excitement to induce them to rise in arms against the existing government, and that a simultaneous movement would take place in La Vendee, where Charette and his ill-fated partisans had once more reared the royal standard. Glad of an opportunity to employ a large corps of emigrants recently taken into our service, the ministers listened to the propositions with eagerness and attention. An expedition was immediately planned; the naval part was placed under the command of Sir John B. Warren: that of the land forces was confided to the Count de Puissaye, an emigrant nobleman, who, whatever might have been his other good qualities, certainly was no soldier. No expense was spared; artillery, small-arms, ammunition, and provisions, were furnished in abundance; transports to convey them, and a squadron of ships of war ordered to attend their landing.
“They reached Quiberon bay on the 25th June, and were joined by a few hundreds from the broken and dispersed army of Conde, and the royalists collected at Coblentz, who had found their way to the Elbe, and embarked on board the British frigates Venus, Captain Lawrence William Halsted (of which ship Mr. Brenton was then third Lieutenant); Leda, Captain John Woodley, and Lark, sloop, Captain William Ogilvy. These ships proceeding to Spithead, were joined by some transports, and the whole reached Quiberon bay on the 16th July, after the landing of the great body was effected, and unfortunately only in time to partake of the general calamity that awaited them.”
In 1796, Lieutenant Brenton removed with Captain Halsted into the Phoenix 36, and assisted at the capture of the Dutch frigate at p. 430 of our first volume.
“The coast of Norway is well known to be indented with secure harbours, particularly between Christiana and North Bergen: in these the privateers of France found a sure asylum, and assistance in case of need; and while protected by the Danish government, committed the greatest depredations on our Baltic trade. Nor was it possible for the most vigilant cruiser to protect the convoys on all occasions, as they were obliged, of necessity, to pass near the Naze, on their passage to or from the Sleeve. The privateers and row-boats, concealed behind a rock, or in some little cove, darted on them, either by night or day, and boarding suddenly, carried them within some jutting head-land, or under the protection of a merely nominal battery, where a honey-combed gun, without ammunition, represented the power of Denmark, and established the neutrality of the port. This had long been endured by the merchants, when very serious complaints were made to Admiral Duncan, who sent Captain Halsted, in the Phoenix, with verbal and discretionary orders, to act as circumstances might require. The Phoenix was accompanied by a small squadron, and cruised off the harbour of Ejeroe, not far from the Naze; where he soon gained information that a French and a Dutch cutter, with three English prizes, had taken refuge. Captain Halsted sent his boats in, and took them all out. The privateers, though vessels of force, surrendered without opposition; the enemy, as well as the Danes, cautiously avoiding to give the slightest justification of our aggression. The two privateers and the three merchant vessels were sent to England for adjudication; but, on a representation from the court of Copenhagen, were immediately returned to the place whence they were taken.”!!!
Shortly after this occurrence, so honorable on the part of the British government, Lieutenant Brenton left the Phoenix, in consequence of some disagreement with his commander, to whom he had been known ever since his first embarkation on board the Crown, of which ship Captain Halsted was then the first Lieutenant.
We next find the subject of this memoir serving as fourth of the Agamemnon 64, on the North Sea station. The mutiny which took place on board that ship, in 1797, is thus noticed at p. 423, et seq. of his first volume:
“On the morning of the 29th May, when the signal was made for the fleet to weigh, it was reluctantly complied with, and such ships as did weigh returned into Yarmouth roads: * * * * * * before twelve o’clock all of them had deserted the Admiral, except the Adamant 60, bearing the flug of Vice-Admiral Onslow; the Glatton, commanded by Captain Trollope; and the Agamemnon, by Captain Fancourt: at one o’clock the two latter ships also mutinied, and leaving the Venerable and Adamant to proceed off the Texel, returned into Yarmouth roads. On board the Agamemnon little suspicion was entertained of an intention to mutiny, till the people had dined; when they were called by the boatswain’s-mate, but none appearing, a petty officer came and gave information that the ship’s company had retreated to the fore part of the lower-deck, and refused to come up: the Captain being acquainted with this, desired (Lieutenant Brenton) the officer of the watch, to accompany him down to speak to them: they went forward on the lower-deck, and found the men had made a barricade of hammocks from one side of the ship to the other, just before the fore hatchway, and had left an embrasure on each side, through which they had pointed two twenty-four-pounders; these they had loaded, and threatened to fire in case of resistance on the part of the officers: the Captain spoke to them, but being treated with much contempt, returned to the quarterdeck. A few minutes after a number of the people came up; some seized the wheel, while others rounded in the weather-braces and wore the ship, passing under the stern of the Venerable; the Admiral made her signal to come to the wind on the larboard tack, the same as he was on himself; she answered with the signal of inability. * * * On the following morning she reached Yarmouth roads, and joined three other ships, each having a red flag flying at her fore-top-gallant-mast-head: the Agamemnon hoisted one also, which was called by the delegates the flag of defiance. The officers kept charge of their watches during the whole of this time, the seamen obeying them in any order for the safety of the ship, but no farther. A meeting of the delegates was immediately called, at which it was decided, that the Agamemnon, Ardent, Leopard, and Isis, should go to the Nore to augment the number of ships at that anchorage in a state little short of open rebellion, but not with any view of assisting or being assisted by the enemies of their country; and it is certain that, had these put to sea, we should have immediately gone in pursuit of them, with the same zeal and loyalty as at the beginning of the war. As soon as the determination was made known of taking the ships to the Nore, the officers declined doing duty, and retired to their cabins or to the wardroom, where they remained unmolested, and were even treated with respect.
(P. 426) “The four ships anchored at the Nore about the 6th June, late in the evening, under the entire command of the quarter-masters and delegates, the pilots taking charge as usual. At this time they observed a heavy firing of great guns and musketry from the whole fleet assembled there, which they soon found was directed at the Serapis, that had effected her escape from among the mutinous ships, following the noble example of the Clyde, of 38 guns, commanded by Captain Charles Cunningham  * * * * * *.
“It is impossible to describe the heat and irritation of the seamen at the Nore, at the time of the arrival and the accession of the four ships of the line to their cause: the insolence of the leaders was raised to such a height that it was difficult to say where their excesses might end; and it was intimated, by some of the delegates who came to visit the Agamemnon, that violence might be offered to the officers and their adherents. Under these melancholy circumstances, – into which they had been betrayed by the want of resolution and firmness in the captains of the four ships, and not by their tyranny, – the officers prepared for the worst, went to their cabins, put their pistols by their sides, and lay down in their clothes: a seaman was placed as sentinel at the ward-room door with three loaded pistols, two of which were stuck in his belt, and the third he held in his hand; but no incivility was offered to any one. At day-light the next morning the report of guns and small arms awoke them, and they saw, what they supposed to be, the execution of officers and men at the yard-arms of some of the ships, as they were run up in the smoke of the guns; and while hanging, volleys of musketry were fired at them; they now concluded that they should very soon share the same fate; nor was it till two or three hours afterward that they were undeceived, and informed that the figures suspended were only effigies meant to represent the Right Hon. William Pitt.
“* * * * * About ten o’clock Richard Parker came on board the Agamemnon in his barge, with a band of music playing ‘God save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’; the corps of marines maintained its good character to the last, and, had they been supported, would infallibly have quelled the mutiny in the North Sea fleet * * * * *.
(P. 432) – “The desertion of the Clyde, St. Fiorenzo, and Serapis, had thrown a damp over the spirits of the ringleaders; and however they might have affected to despise the act, or to rejoice at the accession of the four ships, it had very important consequences; it spread distrust among them, and led to doubt the firmness of each other; and every one sought by indirect means, to make his peace and secure his own safety; this was the secret feeling and principle of action among all except Parker and his most guilty adherents; * * * * *. The leading men on board the Agamemnon, not choosing to resign the situation of delegate, got drunk purposely, and were consequently dismissed by a vote of the ship’s company.
(P. 434) – “The Leopard of 60 guns, under the command of Lieutenant Robb (the Captain having been sent on shore), had the distinguished honor of being the first to abandon the cause, after the infamous proposal of going over to the enemy was made known. * * * * *
(P. 436 et seq.) – “The example of the Leopard was soon followed by the Repulse of 64 guns. * * * * * From this time the cause of mutiny rapidly declined; the ships deserted, one after the other, in quick succession. On the 13th June, the Agamemnon left the Nore, and went up to Tilbury fort, with the Standard, Nassau, Iris, and Vestal.”
In 1801, Lieutenant Brenton was again applied for by Captain Bligh, and accordingly appointed to the Theseus 74, then fitting for the flag of Lord Radstock, who had recently been nominated commander-in-chief in India, but whose appointment was cancelled in consequence of the preliminaries of peace being signed on the 1st Oct., same year. The following anecdote is related at p. 416 et seq. of the “Naval History.”
“The Dutch ships which surrendered to Admiral Mitchell hoisted the Orange flag, and were stationed in different British ports, victualled and paid by England; they were not expected to perform much service, but were merely kept in passive neutrality. In order to give the reader an idea of the seamanship of the officers, and the efficiency of these ships, we shall mention a fact to which the author was a witness. The Ambuscade, of 32 guns, had just received a very expensive repair in the dock-yard at Sheerness, and was ordered thence to the Nore; in coming out of the harbour, it blew nearly a gale of wind; instead of having a sail suitable to the weather, they set their top-gallant-sails. The ship, when clear of the garrison-point, would not steer, and in a minute after upset, and went down: fortunately, the spot, where the accident took place, was in four fathoms water, consequently most of the people who were on deck were saved upon the side of the vessel; those who were below were all drowned except one. * * *. "The author, at that time Lieutenant of the Theseus, was, with many other officers, very soon on the wreck of the ship; and as they walked on her larboard bends, her guns pointing to the zenith, and the sea washing over her, a sailor of the Theseus begged that he might be permitted to break open a lower-deck port (the Dutch frigates having generally two of a side); the officer replied that he might do so, but what purpose would it answer? ‘Please your honor,’ said the sailor, ‘I think there is some poor devil of a Dutchman alive below.’ The officer, though not so sanguine in his hopes, gave permission, and the sailor went to work with his axe (one was always kept in each boat). The port was opened, and up rose a Dutchman, who made but one spring into the Theseus’s cutter, rescued by this honest fellow from a lingering and painful death. Not satisfied with what he had done, the sailor, through the opening he had made, descended into the lower-deck, while chests, bags, and hammocks, floated up against the side (to which the water reached within one foot) and prevented the approach of those who might yet be alive. Another man, however, was taken hold of by the persevering tar; but the poor Dutchman, exhausted and feeble, slipped from his grasp, and sunk to rise no more!"”
The following extract from the same volume brings us to the close of the author’s services as a Lieutenant.
“No sooner were the preliminaries of peace signed in Europe, than it became necessary to send a strong squadron of observation to the West Indies. By one of the articles of the treaty, the French were to be permitted to send a large force to reconquer the island of St. Domingo. Hopeless attempt! but nevertheless, at the instigation of the planters, it was undertaken. The army of le Clerc, consisting of 30,000 men, was embarked in ships of war and transports, and sailed for their fatal destination, whence few, if any, were ever to return; it was supposed that the chief consul was willing thus to dispose of a supernumerary body of men, which the leisure of peace did not permit him to employ at home: glad to rid himself of their importunities, he sent them on a forlorn hope, where, whether successful or not, a great object would be gained to the state.
“To watch this formidable armament, the scene of whose operations was within sight of Jamaica, it became absolutely necessary to send a fleet of ships to the West Indies, besides those already on that station. Rear-Admiral Campbell sailed with six ships of the line in Feb. 1802; he was followed by Commodore Stopford with seven more, in the month of March. These squadrons, having touched at Barbadoes and Martinique, ran down to Jamaica, where Sir John Duckworth, having formed a fleet of twenty-two sail of the line, sent them under the orders of Rear-Admiral Campbell to cruise off the Navassa, a small island between Point Morant and Cape Dona Maria. This service lasted until the month of July, when the news arrived of the signing of the definitive treaty: the fleet was divided into squadrons, one of which was sent to England, another to Halifax, and a third, consisting of the best ships, was retained upon the station until the renewal of the war in the following year. Commodore Stopford remained commander-in-chief at Martinique, Rear-Admiral Totty having then recently died of the yellow-fever.
“The author was at this time third Lieutenant of the Theseus, commanded by his respected and valuable friend Captain (now Rear-Admiral) John Bligh: from this ship he was, by the kindness of the Earl of St. Vincent, appointed commander of the Lark sloop of war, and he returned to England in Aug. 1802.”
During the short peace. Captain Brenton sent to the Admiralty the model of a gun-boat, sharp at both ends, and carrying her gun on a slide, which might at pleasure be lowered into the boat’s bottom as ballast, or raised to fight, either advancing or retreating. This boat, simple in her design, was highly approved of by Earl St Vincent, but justly condemned by many as being very clumsy, the builder having made a mistake in her scantling.
At the renewal of hostilities, Captain Brenton was appointed to the Merlin, an old collier fitted as a sloop of war, and mounting sixteen guns between decks; in which vessel he was frequently engaged with the enemy’s flotilla and land batteries in the neighbourhood of Havre. On the 27th Oct. 1803, he drove on shore, and directed the destruction of a French privateer of 2 guns and 30 men.
In Dec. following, Captain Brenton was sent by Captain R. D. Oliver to destroy the Shannon 36, which frigate had run on shore under the strong batteries of Tatihou island, near La Hogue, from whence the enemy were about to remove her, as she had sustained but little damage.
“The crew were made prisoners, and marched into the interior: and the enemy preparing to get the ship off, were prevented by the zeal and enterprise of two young officers. Lieutenants John Sheridan, and Henry C Thompson, who, with a select band of men from a sloop of war, boarded her in the night, and set her on fire. The forts opening upon them, continued a heavy but ineffectual discharge of artillery, and they returned to their ship without a man being hurt. At day-light not a vestige of the frigate remained above water. The loss of this ship may be easily accounted for. She stood from Cape La Heve towards La Hogue, with a gale of wind at S.S.W.; as she approached the latter the tide took her under the lee-bow, and carried her up towards the river of Isigny, and when the Captain” (Edward Leveson Gower) “supposed himself to the northward of Cape Barfleur, he had that light-house bearing about north. The night was extremely dark and tempestuous: the Merlin sloop of war, which was in company, made the land about eight o’clock, in a flash of lightning, and instantly wove, under her fore-sail and close-reefed main-top-sail. About this time the Shannon must have grounded.
It will be seen by reference to the first three pages of this volume, that the Merlin formed part of the squadron under Captain Oliver, at the bombardment of Havre, July 23, and Aug. 1st 1804. In Jan. following, Captain Brenton was appointed to the Amaranthe, a fine new brig, mounting 18 guns, with a complement of 120 men. From that period until his promotion to post rank, he appears to have been very actively and successfully employed on the North Sea and Leeward Islands stations.
“In the month of Nov. 1808, Sir Alexander Cochrane received orders to blockade Martinique, preparatory to its invasion. the island, from the vigilance of our cruisers, became daily more straitened for provisions: the Americans in vain endeavoured to relieve it; and the British merchants of the neighbouring islands scrupled not, in defiance of the blockading squadron, and of every moral obligation and duty to their country, to supply our enemies with the most essential articles for their defence and subsistence. The captures made by our cruisers, and the number of American vessels condemned for breach of blockade, exceeded that of any former period; and so deeply sensible was Buonaparte of the wants of the island, and of its importance to France, that he despatched squadrons of fast sailing frigates, corvettes, and schooners, with provisions, ammunition, and artillerymen; most of which were intercepted.”
The destruction of three French national vessels by the Amaranthe and her consorts, on the 13th Dec. 1808, is thus described by the officer under whose immediate orders Captain Brenton was then serving:–
“H.M.S. Circe, off St. Pierre’s, Martinique, Dec. 14, 1808.
“On Monday, at 11 A.M. his Majesty’s brig Morne Fortunée informed me by signal, that an enemy’s brig and two schooners were at anchor off the Pearl. I immediately recalled the look-out vessels, named as per margin, and made sail towards the enemy. On our nearing St. Pierre’s, I perceived a large French schooner towing along shore, under cover of a number of troops. The schooner finding it impossible to get between St. Pierre’s and the Circe, the Stork closing fast, they ran her on shore under a battery of four guns, flanked by two smaller ones, and the beach lined with troops. The signal was then made to close with the enemy, and engage in succession, the Circe leading, followed by the Stork and Morne Fortunée: being within pistol-shot the small batteries were soon silenced, and the troops driven from the beach. Seeing the brig and schooner unloading, I directed the Morne Fortunée to watch the schooner in shore, and to give similar orders to the Epervier, on her coming up. We then made sail towards the brig and the other schooner, which were lying well to windward, close to the beach, under cover of four batteries, and an immense number of troops and field-pieces, which they had brought down to protect her. Having placed the barge and two cutters under the command of Lieutenant Crooke, Mr. Collman (purser), Mr. Smith (master), and Mr. Thomas (carpenter), who handsomely volunteered with 68 men to bring the brig out, I then made sail with the Stork and Express towards her, and directed the boats to lie off until the brig’s fire slackened. It getting late, the vessels lying close in with the rocks, and having no pilot on board, I stood in, and was handsomely seconded by Captain Le Geyt, of the Stork. The ships did not commence action until our men were wounded from the beach with musketry. We then bore up under a heavy fire of great guns and small arms. Having passed the batteries and the brig, the Circe’s boats, not waiting for the Stork’s to come up, boarded in the most gallant manner; and it is with extreme concern I have to add, that their gallantry did not meet with its due reward: they were beat back with dreadful slaughter; one boat taken and one sunk, the other entirely disabled. Our loss in the boats killed, wounded, and missing, amounted to 56,” (9 of whom were slain, and 21 wounded). “By this time it was dark. I stood off until day-light, determining to persevere and destroy the brig if possible. In the evening I was joined by the Amaranthe, who watched the brig during the night.
“At 8 A.M. we perceived she had weighed: Captain Brenton, in the most handsome manner, volunteering to bring her out (she was then towing and sweeping close in shore towards St. Pierre’s), the boats of the Circe and Stork, and men from the Express, were sent to tow the Amaranthe up, who was at this time sweeping and using every exertion to close with the enemy. At 10, the French brig grounded near several batteries, to the northward of St. Pierre’s; the Amaranthe tacked, and worked in under a heavy fire from the batteries and brig (from which she suffered considerably, having 1 killed and 5 wounded), followed by the Circe; the rest of the squadron engaging the batteries to leeward. The Amaranthe’s well-directed fire soon obliged them to quit the brig. Lieutenant Hay, of that sloop, on this service distinguished himself very much, and speaks of the gallantry of Messrs. Brooke and Rigmaiden, of the same vessel, in very handsome terms, who, with the boats of the Circe, Amaranthe, and Stork, boarded her under a heavy fire from the batteries and troops on shore. Lieutenant Hay, finding her bilged, and that it was impossible to get her off, effectually destroyed her in the evening. Captain Brenton again volunteered to destroy the schooner then on shore: I ordered Lieutenant George Robinson, second of the Amaranthe, but acting first of the Circe, on this occasion to follow the directions of Captain Brenton. At nine o’clock I had the pleasure to see her on fire, and burnt to the water’s edge. I am sorry to add, that, on this service, Mr. Jones, master of the Amaranthe, was wounded; and one seaman killed, and three wounded, belonging to the Express.
“The captains, officers, and men of the squadron you did me the honor to place under my command, behaved with that coolness and intrepidity inherent in British seamen, particularly the Amaranthe, whose gallant conduct was noticed by the whole squadron. From the troops of the Royal York Rangers, doing duty as marines, I received every assistance. Lieutenant Crooke, who commanded the boats, I am sorry to say, is severely wounded in four places; the loss of this gallant young man’s services is severely felt on board the Circe. I am likewise sorry to add, that Mr. Collman is among the number dangerously wounded; his conduct on this, and other occasions, deserves my warmest approbation.
“The brig destroyed was la Cygne, of 18 guns and 140 men, with flour, guns, &c. for the relief of Martinique. The two schooners had likewise flour, and were armed; I have not yet learnt their force or names; I am happy to say, that the one left off the Pearl is on shore bilged.
(Signed)“F. A. Collier.”
“To Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, &c.”
Captain Brenton also assisted at the capture of many vessels bound to the relief of Martinique, but was defrauded of most of his prize-money through the roguery of the agents employed to conduct his affairs. During the subsequent operations against Martinique, he served on shore with the rank of Lieutenant-colonel, under the orders of Commodore Cockburn.
“In the month of January” (1809) “the British forces began to assemble at Barbadoes, and soon after took their positions round the island of Martinique. * * * *
“The reduction of Pigeon Island has always been a prelude to any attempt against the town of Fort Royal, and the once tremendous fortresses of Bourbon and Republique. This island commands the anchorage in the upper part of the bay. Captain Cockburn and Brigadier-General Sir Charles Shipley reconnoitred the ground, and fixed on Morae Vanier (a steep hill) as the most proper situation to erect their batteries. On the night of the 31st Jan., a 13-inch mortar was landed and mounted by Lieutenant Burton, of the Neptune; and on the morning of the 1st Feb. opened its fire on the astonished garrison * * * *. The artillery was landed under the direction of Captain Cockburn, who was directed to hoist a broad pendant on board the Pompée 74, and to take the rank of a Brigadier-General. The obstructions to our landing were numerous; the ruggedness of the rocks, and the fire of the enemy’s battery of Pigeon Island on our boats, as they opened the point of land between the fleet and that fort, gave us considerable annoyance. Two of the Pompée’s men were killed by the bursting of a shell. A road was cut through a very thick wood to the top of Morne Vanier, which overhung Pigeon Island: a 9-inch hawser was next carried up and secured to the stumps of trees, and from this hawser tackles were attached to the guns. The sailors, delighting in such work, ran down the hill with the tackle-falls, as the guns flew up with almost incredible velocity, notwithstanding the depth of the mud, the incessant rain, and the steep acclivity of a newly cut road.
“There is something indescribably animating to the mind of British seamen, whenever they are ordered to land with a great gun. The novelty of getting on shore, and the hopes of coming into action, give a degree of buoyancy to their spirits, which carries them to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. A hundred sailors, attached by their canvas belts to a devil-cart, with a long 24-pounder slung to its axletree, make one of the most amusing and delightful recollections of former days. On this occasion, when the Governor, the worthy and gallant Villaret, was told how they were dragging the cannon along, he replied, ‘It is all over with us.’
“Works were in the mean time thrown up behind some brushwood on the top of the hill; and in the evening of the 3d, a battery of one 13-inch mortar, and three 8-inch howitzers, was ready to open from Morne Vanier against Pigeon Island. It began at six o’clock the same evening, and continued with very little intermission till day-light the next morning, when the fort hung out a flag of truce and surrendered. This was no sooner perceived at Fort Royal, than the Amphitrite, a beautiful frigate of 44 guns, lying in the Carenage, was set on fire and destroyed.
“Having reduced Pigeon Island, Commodore Cockburn was directed to cross the bay, and take possession of the anchorage at Negro Point. This was immediately effected, in a small but beautiful sandy cove. All the guns and mortars intended for the investment of fort Bourbon, on the side of Tartanson, were landed. * * * * A brigade of 600 seamen formed a strong battery within 1200 yards of Bourbon, on the side of the river Monsieur. The lower-deck guns of the Intrepid were landed at Paradise bay, where the enemy had abandoned two strong forts. The navy, without any interruption to their labours, advanced with their guns to Tartanson, where ‘the sailors’ battery’ was constructed; and on the 19th Feb. we had completely invested the fort * * * *.
* * * * “Sunday the 19th, at 5-30 P.M., was the time agreed on for commencing the attack: at the same minute the fire from all our batteries opened. The scene was awfully grand; and as the evening advanced, was magnificent beyond all description. The whole hemisphere was illuminated with continued streams of fire, with the flashes of guns, and the bursting of shells. The fire of the enemy was equally severe. * * * * On the 22d a great explosion was observed in the fort, which we afterwards learned was occasioned by their small magazine having been blown up by one of our shells. On the same night the laboratory tent, in the rear of our great mortar battery, exploded, killing and wounding 9 men belonging to the Amaranthe. This accident was caused by the tent having been incautiously placed directly to leeward, and within a few yards of the mortars, the sparks from which ignited the powder. * * * * On the 24th, after an almost incessant bombardment of five days, Villaret capitulated. * * * * The terms were nearly similar to those of other colonies, with the exception of the entire demolition of fort Dessaix; and that the garrison should be taken to France in British ships, and there exchanged for British subjects.”
After the reduction of that valuable colony, Captain Brenton was appointed to the Belleisle 74, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Cockburn.
“The French garrison was embarked on board the Belleisle, and the Ulysses 44, with seven sail of transports. Commodore Cockburn, having the captain-general and all his staff embarked on board the Belleisle, proceeded to Europe, agreeably to the terms of the capitulation.
“On the 23d April, the Commodore anchored in Quiberon bay, with the Ulysses and convoy. Colonel Boyer, chief of the staff taken on the island, was immediately sent with a letter from the captain-general to the minister of the marine, and another from Commodore Cockburn to the same personage, stating the circumstances under which they had arrived. The boat which landed Colonel Boyer, in the Morbihan, brought a note from him, stating that an officer was waiting there for the arrival of the prisoners, with full powers to treat for their exchange. The word ‘treat’ was understood to conceal some chicanery, by which the enemy were to gain possession of their men, without returning ours. The capitulation of Martinique had been received in France previous to our arrival, or how should an officer have been ‘waiting for us with full powers?’ and had there been any honorable intention of fulfilling the treaty, an equal number of British prisoners would have been prepared to embark. ‘Treating’ had ended at Martinique before the men laid down their arms. We must therefore relate one more instance of the falsehood of Napoleon.
“Monsieur Redan, the commissioner, soon appeared, covered with silver lace and smiles; he approached and saluted the commodore, after which he pronounced some flattering eulogiums on the valour and generosity of England, particularly of her navy; and did not fail to claim a large share of those qualities for the great Napoleon, and the French nation. So earnest was Monsieur Redan to begin the work of exchange, that he proposed immediately disembarking the prisoners; but the commodore was in no such hurry. He observed to Monsieur Redan, that he would proceed up the bay, nearer to the town, for the purpose of more ready communication, and in the mean time the Ulysses should remain off Hedic with the transports. This was of course agreed to, under the stipulation also provided by the commodore, that during any delay of negotiation, the British and the prisoners should he supplied with such refreshments as they might require after their long voyage and arduous services.
“Ou the following day, the commissioner again appeared, with a joyful countenance; ‘Allons, Monsieur le Commodore, toute est arrangée.’ ‘I am glad to hear it,’ said the commodore, ‘but where are the 2400 Englishmen in exchange for as many Frenchmen?’ ‘Je les ai dans ma poche,’ replied the flippant commissary. The commodore looked very grave, and returned no answer to this impertinent familiarity; whilst Monsieur Redan handed from his pocket a list of 3700 Englishmen, whom he pretended had been liberated by French cruisers, observing that the commodore would no doubt redeem the honor of his country by taking up these receipts; and then with the most unparalleled effrontery he added, ‘When Monsieur le commodore has put on shore the whole garrison of Martinique, he will still be indebted to the French government 1300 men!’ It is very easy to suppose the kind of answer given to this insolent Frenchman, who affected, or perhaps really felt some surprise, that his proposals were rejected. He entreated, however, that the commodore would wait the return of a courier from Paris: this was granted, and in the mean time a constant and vigilant guard was kept on the motions of the prisoners. At the end of four days, an answer arrived from the minister of the marine, repeating the former rejected proposals as a sine qua non; and Monsieur Redan intimated, that unless these terms were acceded to, all further communication with the shore was to be interdicted. Turning with indignation from the agent of a government so faithless, and which could thus cruelly forsake its servants in the hour of extreme distress, the commodore ordered the signal to he made to weigh; it was instantly complied with; and as the squadron moved out of the bay, it was followed by numerous boats, ia which were the wives, the parents, the children, of many of the unhappy prisoners, in a state of grief which it would be vain to attempt to describe. The poor men, afraid to trust each other, shouted, with ill dissembled joy, ‘Vive Napoleon!’ This was the magnanimous and humane Emperor, who consigned his soldiers ‘to the confinement of hideous pontons,’ and separated them, at least in this world, from all that renders life worth retaining. Look, after this, at the termination of his captivity, and say, whether the decree of Providence was not founded in justice.”
Oh his arrival at Spithead, Captain Brenton found himself posted for his gallant conduct in the affair with la Cygne, and that his commission was dated back to the day on which he so highly distinguished himself.
“Sir Arthur Wellesley having the command of the British army in the peninsula, and his plans being crowned with singular success, the government determined to send out his brother, the Marquis Wellesley, as ambassador to the Supreme Junta of Seville. His lordship embarked at Portsmouth, on board the Donegal 80, Captain E. P. Brenton (acting for Captain Malcolm), and sailed on the 24th July, 1809. The ship arrived at Cadiz on the 1st August; and as she let go her anchor, at 9 o’clock in the morning, the batteries round the harbour from Santa Catalina to the lighthouse, together with the guns and musketry of the shipping in the harbour, were celebrating, by continued discharges, the victory then recently obtained by the British army on the plains of Talavera. The coincidence was singular; the news of the event having just reached the city as the arrival of the British ambassador was announced.”
The Donegal returned home with the Marquis Wellesley, in Nov. 1809; and Captain Brenton, being then superseded, remained on half pay till April 1810, when he obtained an appointment to the Cyane 22. In Sept. following, he was appointed to the Spartan frigate, as a mark of attention to his brother, whose severe wounds prevented him from continuing in active service.
After cruising for some time on the French coast, Captain Brenton was sent to reinforce the squadron under Vice-Admiral Sawyer, on the Halifax station, where he appears to have been very actively employed for upwards of two years. The following American privateers were captured by the Spartan in July 1812:
Active, schooner, of 2 guns and 20 men; Actress sloop, 4 guns and 53 men; Intention schooner, 1 gun, 3 swivels, and 29 men.
Early in the following month, her boats assisted at the capture and destruction of six other armed vessels, in the bay of Fundy; viz.
The Morning Star, of 1 gun, 4 swivels, and 40 men; Polly, of similar force; Madison, Olive, and Spence, each mounting 2 guns; and Commodore Barry, a revenue cutter, pierced for 10, hut only mounting 6 guns.
Among numerous other prizes taken by Captain Brenton, but condemned as droits of Admiralty, were the Melanthe, a beautiful ship, from Valparaiso, with a cargo of hides and copper; and a brig laden with merino wool, opium, and wine; each having on board several thousands of dollars. The Spartan being found defective, was paid off about Sept. 1813.
Captain Brenton’s next appointment was, April 11, 1815, to the Royal Sovereign, a first rate, fitting for the flag of Rear-Admiral Hallowell, which ship he fully equipped in the short space of 18 days; part of his crew at the same time employed rigging and completing the stores of a brig, whose commander was thanked by the Admiralty for his diligence, although the active exertions of Captain Brenton and his first Lieutenant were not even acknowledged.
On the 31st of the following month. Captain Brenton was removed to the Tonnant 80; the command of which ship he resigned in Nov. 1815. His “Naval History” has been so long before the public as to render any remark of ours upon that work superfluous. Contemporaries are not always the most impartial judges – posterity will decide whether he has or has not been profitably employed. That he has made many enemies is certain; but we have no doubt that he has also gained some friends. His style will be seen by the preceding extracts.
Captain Brenton married, Mar. 20, 1803, a daughter of the late General Thomas Cox.
Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.
- See Vol. I. p. 337 of “The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Year 1783 to 1822” – a work published by Captain Edward Pelham Brenton, in 1823.
- See id. pp.341–343.
- See Nav. Hist. Vol. II, p. 33, et seq.; also Royal Nav. Biog. Vol. I. Part I., note at p. 169 et seq.; and Vol. II, Part I. p. 43.
- Quere Hitteroe?
- See Nav. Hist. Vol. II, p. 102 et seq.
- See Royal Nav. Biog. Vol. II. Part I. p. 78.
- See Royal Nav. Biog. Vol. I, Part I, note at p. 163.
- At the Texel – see Royal Nav. Biog. see Royal Nav. Biog. Vol. I, Part II, p. 414 et seq.
- See p. 180 of this volume.
- Nav. Hist. Vol III, p. 102.
- Nav. Hist. Vol. IV, p. 267.
- Stork, ship-sloop, Captain George Le Geyt; Epervier brig, Captain Thomas Tudor Tucker; and Express schooner, Lieutenant William Dowers. The Morne Fortunée, gun-brig, was commanded by Lieutenant John Brown.
- The Stork had also one man killed and one wounded.
- The spirited conduct of Captain (now Sir S. John-Brooke) Pechell, led to this result. See p. 365.
- Nav. Hist. Vol. IV, p. 362 et seq.
- The governor of Martinique was the well known Villaret Joyeuse, the opponent of Earl Howe, June 1st, 1794.
- Nav. Hist. Vol. IV. p. 377 et seq.
- Id. p. 343.
- See Royal Navy. Biog. Vol. II. Part I. p. 268 et seq.