Royal Naval Biography/Irby, Frederick Paul

[Post-Captain of 1802.]

This officer is the second son of Frederick Lord Boston, by Christian, only daughter of Paul Methuen, Esq. of Corsham House, Wilts., and M.P. for Great Bedwin, in the same county. He was born April 18, 1779; entered the naval service as a Midshipman on board the Catherine yacht, commanded by Sir George Young, Knt. in 1791; and subsequently served in the Winchelsea frigate, Hannibal 74, and Montagu of the same force, on the Halifax and Channel stations. The latter ship was commanded by Captain James Montagu, who fell in the battle of June 1, 1794[1]. On her being put out of commission at the latter end of 1795, Mr. Irby joined the London, a second rate, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Colpoys, with whom he continued till 1797, when he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the Circe of 28 guns, in which frigate and the Apollo he served, under the present Vice-Admiral Halkett, until the latter was wrecked on the Haak Sands, near the Texel, Jan. 7, 1799[2]. His next appointment was to the Glenmore of 36 guns, on the Irish station.

In 1800, Lieutenant Irby was made a Commander, into the Volcano bomb, and attached to the squadron sent under Vice-Admiral Dickson, to support Lord Whitworth in his demands on the Danish court at Copenhagen[3]. In the following year he was appointed to the Jalouse of 18 guns, employed on the North Sea station. His post commission bears date April 14, 1802.

From this period Captain Irby remained on half pay till 1805, when he obtained an appointment to the Sea Fencibles on the coast of Essex. Towards the close of 1807 he was appointed to the Amelia, a 38-gun frigate, fitting for Channel service; and on the 24th Feb. 1809, we find him assisting in the destruction of part of a French squadron, near the powerful batteries of Sable d’Olonne, by a detachment from Lord Gambier’s fleet, under the orders of Rear-Admiral Stopford. The Amelia on this occasion had her bowsprit shot through, and was much cut up in her rigging; but although hulled in several places, did not lose a man. Her commander’s conduct may be inferred from the following letter:

Caesar, Basque Roads, March 18, 1809.

“Sir,– I have great pleasure in communicating to you, by the direction of the commander-in-chief, the high approbation which the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty are pleased to express of your gallantry, as well as that of the officers and men under your command, for their conduct in presence of the French squadron which lately sailed from Brest, and in the attack made upon the three frigates belonging to the said squadron. You will communicate to the officers and men their Lordships’ high approbation accordingly[4]. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Robert Stopford, Rear-Admiral.”

Hon. Captain F. P. Irby,
H.M.S. Amelia.

In May following, Captain Irby was sent by Lord Gambier to co-operate with the patriots on the north coast of Spain; and on the 10th June, being off St. Andero, in company with Captain Boys of the Statira, he captured la Mouche French corvette, mounting sixteen brass 8-pounders, with a complement of 180 men; la Rejouie national brig of 8 guns and 51 men; a schooner of 1 gun and 25 men; and two armed luggers with cargoes. These vessels had several soldiers and part of the enemy’s hospital staff on board, and were endeavouring to escape the fate of the French garrison at St. Andero, the whole of whom were taken prisoners on the same day by General Ballasteros.

Captain Irby subsequently captured several other vessels, one of which was le Charles, of Bourdeaux, a remarkably fast sailing corvette privateer, of 20 guns, 300 tons, and 170 men. On the 24th Mar. 1811, the Amelia had 2 men killed and wounded in an attack made on l’Amazon, a French frigate of the largest class, which had been previously driven into a bay, near Cape Barfleur, where she was destroyed by her crew on the morning of the 25th, to avoid capture[5].

At the latter end of 1811, we find Captain Irby proceeding to the coast of Africa, as senior officer of the squadron employed there for the suppression of the Slave Trade. In June 1812, he received information that the natives of Winnebah had treacherously seized on the person of Mr. Meredith, the Governor of a fort by which they had often been protected, and that the unfortunate man had fallen a victim to their barbarous treatment. This intelligence being accompanied by an application from the Governor-in-Chief of Cape Coast Castle and its dependencies for Captain Irby’s assistance, he lost no time in proceeding to the relief of Fort Winnebah; and having anchored off that place on the 2d July, landed his marines, and a small detachment of the African corps under Mr. Smith, Governor of Tantumquerry, who immediately destroyed the town, from which the natives had fled on the Amelia’s approach. The possession of the fort, under these circumstances, presenting no advantage to the Company’s trade, and it being no check whatever upon the slave dealers, a consultation was then held as to the propriety of abandoning the place entirely; and the whole of the officers present agreeing on that subject, every thing was embarked on board the frigate, and the works entirely demolished[6].

On his return to Cape Coast, Captain Irby received the following letter from the Governor-in-Chief and Council, dated at the Castle, July 8, 1812:

“Sir, We request you will honor us with the acceptance of our grateful thanks for the prompt and effectual aid you have given us in the affair at Winnebah. We are certain you will be gratified in being assured, that your interference has restored peace and confidence in the minds of the While residents in this part of the globe; at the same time that it has struck awe and terror in the surrounding natives. The good effects cannot fail of being lasting, and of rendering the British flag as much respected in future on this coast, as it is in all other parts of the world. We have the honor to remain, Sir, &c. &c.

(Signed)Ed. Wm. White, Governor-in-Chief, &c. &c.
(Signed)Geo. Richardson, Governor of Annamaboe Fort;
(Signed)John H. Smith, Governor of Fort Tantumquerry;
(Signed)Fred. James, late Governor of Fort Winnebah.”

Commodore Hon. F. P. Irby.

Previous to her departure from the coast of Africa, the Amelia, with a crew greatly debilitated by the climate, fought a most sanguinary battle with l’Arethuse French frigate, commanded by Mons. Bouvet, an officer of approved talent and bravery. The combat is thus described by Captain Irby, who was himself severely wounded on the occasion:

Amelia, Spithead, March 22, 1813.

“Sir,– I beg leave to acquaint you, for the information of the Right Honorable the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that when I was about to quit Sierra Leone river for England, in H.M.S. under my command, on the 29th Jan. inst. Lieutenant Pascoe arrived there with the chief part of the crew of H.M.’s gun-brig Daring, he having been obliged to run his vessel on shore, and blow her up at Tamara, (one of the Isles de Los), in consequence of having been chased by a French frigate, in company with two other ships, apparently frigates: he reported having left them at anchor off the islands on the 27th. I immediately despatched Lieutenant Pascoe in a small schooner, to reconnoitre the enemy; and on the 3d Feb., he returned, having ascertained their force to be two frigates of the largest class (l’Arethuse and la Rubis), and a Portuguese ship, their prize; that they had nearly completed their water; and, after unloading the Portuguese ship, intended to give her up to her crew, and proceed themselves to sea to intercept our homeward-bound trade. Conceiving that if I cruised off the Isles de Los, (in the event of their not having left them), I might be enabled to fall in with any of H.M.’s ships that might be coming down the coast, and also protect the vessels bound to Sierra Leone, of which I had received intelligence[7], I prepared to weigh, when a cartel arrived from the islands, with the Master and a boat’s crew of the Daring, and the crew of another vessel they had taken; whose accounts corroborating Lieutenant Pascoe’s report, I left Sierra Leone river, and worked up to the islands[8]. Standing in at day-light on the 6th ult., towards the island of Tamara, we joined the Princess Charlotte government schooner, who informed me one of the frigates was at anchor at a considerable distance to the northward of the other, which was apparently unloading the prize. I despatched the schooner to Sierra Leone, to leave directions to any ships that might arrive to repair to me. Having neared the island in the evening, the frigate to the northward weighed, and stood out to sea; the other frigate had signals flying, and being observed at sun-set with her top-sails hoisted, I stood off for the night; and the next morning, one of the frigates (I believe l’Aréthuse), was just visible from the deck: it was then calm. On a breeze springing up about noon, she stood towards us. As I had hopes of drawing her from her consort, we continued standing out to sea till sun-set; when not perceiving the other ship from the mast-head[9], and the breeze failing, we shortened sail, wore, and stood towards her. A little after seven, the enemy tacked, and hoisted his colours. At 7h 45', being within pistol-shot on his weather-bow, both ships commenced firing nearly at the same time, which continued (remaining nearly in the same situation,) until twenty-one minutes past eleven, when the enemy bore up, having the advantage of being able so to do, leaving us in an ungovernable state, with our sails, standing and running rigging cut to pieces, and masts injured. During the action, we twice fell on board the enemy, in attempting to thwart his hawse, when he attempted to board, but was repulsed by the marines (who were commanded by Lieutenant Simpson) and the boarders. Though I most sincerely lament the numerous list of killed and wounded, which amounted to 141; yet it is the greatest consolation in reflecting, that we were never once exposed to a raking shot, or the slightest accident occurred; all fell by fair fighting[10].

“It is with the most poignant regret I have to mention the names of the senior and second Lieutenants, John James Bates and John Pope, and Lieutenant Grainger, of the marines, among the slain: they fell early in the action. Having been more than five years in the ship, I have had ample opportunities of knowing their inestimable characters, and the consequent loss the service has sustained by their falling. It is with equal concern I have to mention Mr. George Wills, the junior Lieutenant, who fell while carrying on the duty on the quarter-deck, when I had received a wound which obliged me to quit it; and also that good and zealous officer, Lieutenant Pascoe, late of the Daring, who commanded the midship guns on the main-deck; Mr. John Bogue, late Purser of the Thais (invalided), received & mortal wound below, after having been before wounded on the quarter-deck.

“When I have the misfortune to state such a severe loss, I trust it will be clear, every person must have done his duty. I feel most grateful to my gallant officers and crew, as well as the supernumeraries late belonging to the Daring, for their cool, steady, and persevering conduct, which was worthy the utmost success; but the superior force of the enemy, she carrying on her main-deck heavy French 24-pounders, the considerable quantity of gold dust we have on board, as well as the certainty of the other frigate coming up, would have prevented me seeking a renewal of the action, if it had not been totally impracticable[11].

“I should not omit to mention to their Lordships, the admirable conduct of Mr. De Mayne, the Master, who placed the ship so ably at the commencement of the action, and his unremitting assiduity till the enemy kept away. My most grateful thanks are due to Lieutenant Simpson, of the marines, and Mr. John Collman, the Purser, who exerted themselves to the utmost; as well as Mr. Saunders, of the African corps. Having received the greatest assistance from Lieutenant Reeve, invalided from his Majesty’s sloop Kangaroo, who was wounded more than once during the action, I appointed him to act as first Lieutenant of the ship. Mr. Samuel Umfreville, Master’s-Mate, a deserving and valuable officer, as second; and Mr. Edward Robinson, Master’s Mate, who received a severe wound, as third.

“The crippled state of the ship, and deplorable condition of the wounded, having rendered the object, for which I sailed from Sierra Leone, abortive; and having every reason to conclude, that the state of the enemy must have been such, as to have greatly foiled him in his intended operations, he being much cut up about his hull, I thought myself justified in not remaining on the coast, and therefore proceeded, with the intention of touching at Madeira or the Western Islands, for refreshments for the sick, which the badness of the weather prevented, and I arrived here this day.

“I must not omit to report to their Lordships the high sense I entertain of the humane and skilful attention of Mr. Williamson, Surgeon, and Mr. Burke, his Assistant; as also that of Mr. Stewart, late Assistant-Surgeon of the Daring, to the wounded, since this sanguinary conflict.

“I should also state, that although our numbers were apparently strong at the commencement of the action, yet from the length of time we had been on the coast, being much reduced by sickness, we had barely our complement fit for duty, and they much enervated. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Frederick Paul Irby.”

John Wilson, Croker, Esq.

A comparison having been drawn between the above action and that of the Java and Constitution[12], we feel it due to Captain Irby and his gallant companions to state, that Lieutenant-Governor Browell, of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, after examining the Amelia’s wounded men, preparatory to their being placed on the pension-list, told Captain Irby, he wondered how he could have done any thing with people in so debilitated a state; and that he could not help remarking the great difference between them and the Java’s men, who were surveyed at the same time.

The following extracts, from letters addressed to Captain Irby, after his arrival in England, will show how much the Amelia had suffered through sickness, some months previous to her meeting l’Aréthuse, which ship Mr. James admits “was not filled with conscripts and raw hands, in number crowding each other; but had a fair complement of experienced seamen, and good artillerists,” “commanded by one of the best officers in the French navy[13].”

From Robert Thorpe, Esq. Judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court at Sierra Leone, to Captain Irby, dated London, July 23, 1813.

“When I consider the infirm state of the Amelia’s crew, which you preserved even in an enfeebled state, by running to St. Helena (in Aug. 1812), I congratulate you on your escape, and wonder at what you have done.”

From Captain Edward Scobell, of H.M.S. Thais, to Captain Irby, dated Portsmouth, Dec. 13, 1813.

“You rightly calculate that my last months in Africa were mo st tedious and fatal, justly to be dated so from the time of our parting (in Nov. 1812); for shortly after we were assailed by sickness, more calamitous than what I even met you in, and which rendered both our ships inefficient: scarce a man escaped disease, nor was there an exception to general enervation and lassitude, – an helplessness which does not easily wear off, nor does it yet seem to give way to our native climate.”

From the same to the same, dated Penzance, Cornwall, Mar. 2, 1814.

“When last I had the pleasure of writing you, I had not determined on what I have since done, in giving up the Thais for the renovation of my health, and I must now congratulate myself on the resolution. The whole of the Thais’ crew have been in succession to the hospital, and perhaps they are almost as extremely enervated and debilitated as your Amelia’s were when I saw them, – a cause that must have acted most unhappily, and been insurmountable in your late gallant action[14].”

So much for the “effectiveness” of the Amelia: let us now present our readers with the means of forming an opinion of their own, as to the loss and damage sustained by her antagonist.

M. Bouvet, or rather the French Minister of Marine for him, says, “l’Arethuse had suffered enormously; 20 men killed outright had been thrown into the sea during the engagement; 88 men, previously wounded, were down in the surgeon’s berth; and, excepting the master-carpenter, all my naval officers were killed or wounded: such men as were only slightly wounded had not quitted their posts, or had returned to them after having their wounds dressed; and in the midst of this scene of carnage, the fourth part of the crew left wished only for recommencing the attack[15].”

Lieutenant Henry Ducie Chads, late of the Java, who, when on his return to England with the surviving officers and crew of that ship, was boarded by l’Arethuse, in a letter dated Mar. 20, 1813, says:– “She had suffered most severely, having all her lowermasts, fore and main-yards, gaff, spanker-boom, and mizen -top-mast fished, and upwards of 30 round shot in her hull on the starboard side below the quarter-deck. In her cabin was the drawing of an action, said to have taken place on the 7th Feb., off the coast of Africa, between her and an English frigate; and on the sides of this view was her list of 31 killed and 74 wounded. * * * * L’Aréthuse is a large frigate, and appeared very full of men[16], mounting twenty-eight French 18-pounders on the main-deck, sixteen 36-pounder carronades and two long guns on the upper-deck. From her very crippled state, and chasing us three days to the N.E., which I don’t think she would have done had not our courses laid together, I am inclined to suppose she was bound into port[17]."

Finally, Lieutenant Charles M‘Arthur, who had served with Captain Irby as a Midshipman, previous to his sailing for Africa, being at Rennes in 1816, met with a young man applying to the Prefect of that Department and to the Marquis de Boissiere, to sign a petition to the Minister at War, praying for a commission in one of the regiments about to embark for the colonies. This young man, whom the Marquis described as being of a respectable family, had been forced into the service by the conscription, and was severely wounded on board l’Aréthuse, when she encountered the Amelia. He acknowledged that the slaughter among his countrymen was very great, estimated their total loss at 195 men, and stated that himself and four other marines were all that escaped out of the whole detachment, 50 in number.

By the enemy’s own account it thus appears very evident, that much execution was done by the Amelia’s emaciated crew; what then would have been the case, had not her powder suffered by the dampness of the magazine? This circumstance appears not to have struck any previous writer on the subject, as worthy of observation; but it is nevertheless indisputably true, that the larger portion thereof had become caked a considerable time previous to the action; and although it was sent on shore to be dried, the evil was but partially corrected.

The Amelia was paid off in May 1813; and Captain Irby’s health being much impaired, he did not join any other ship during the remainder of the war. We are happy to say, it has since been firmly re-established. The following letter and its enclosure, will shew the sense entertained of his services by the African Institution:

36, Suffolk Street, Charing Cross, March 31, 1813.

“Sir, I have the honor of transmitting to you the copy of a resolution unanimously passed by the Directors of this Institution, at a Board held on the 1st December last. I am, sir, &c.

(Signed)Thomas Harrison, Secretary.”

Hon. Commodore Irby.


“The Duke of Gloucester moved, and it was resolved, that the best thanks of the Board are eminently due, and shall be given to the Honorable Commodore Irby, for his able, persevering, and successful exertions for the abolition of the slave trade on the coast of Africa, and for the very important and interesting information afforded by his valuable letters, which have from time to time been communicated to the Board. That as Commodore Irby is expected in England in the course of a very short period, Mr. Harrison do communicate the foregoing resolution to him upon his arrival[18].”

Captain Irby married, 1st, Dec. 1, 1803, Emily Ives, youngest daughter and co-heiress of the late William Drake, Esq. of Amersham, co. Bucks.; 2dly, Jan. 23, 1816, Frances, second daughter of Ichabod Wright, Esq. of Mapperly Hall, in Nottinghamshire; and has several children. One of his brothers, Edward Methuen, an officer in the third regiment of foot guards, was killed at Talavera, July 27, 1809; another, Charles Leonard, is a Commander, R.N., and one of the only four Europeans now in existence who have ever visited and travelled round the Dead Sea; this tour he performed in company with Captain James Mangles, R.N. Copious extracts from their very respectable work, entitled “Travels in Egypt and Nubia, Syria, and Asia Minor,” will be found in the “London Literary Gazette” No. 354, et seq.

Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.

  1. See Vol. I. note * at p. 41* et seq. and p. 663*.
  2. Captain Halkett received the thanks of the Admiralty and the freedom of Hull for the conduct of his ship during the mutiny of 1797. The Circe, as we have already stated in our memoir of that officer, was one of the repeaters to Admiral Duncan’s fleet in the memorable battle off Camperdown. See Vol. I. p. 574.
  3. See Vol. I. note at p. 349.
  4. The frigates alluded to were the Calypso, Italienne, and Sybille, each mounting 44 guns. They were first discovered by Captain Irby near Belleisle, Feb. 23, 1809, and chased by him and Captain Abdy, of the Dotterel brig, during the whole of that night. By day-light, on the 24th, the Amelia and her consort had approached so near to the enemy’s rearmost ship that the others found it necessary to haul up to her support; and the Indefatigable, another British frigate, having previously joined in the pursuit, the whole made sail for the Sable d’Olonne, where they were attacked in the course of the forenoon by three 2-deckers under Rear-Admiral Stopford, assisted by the Amelia, who had formed a junction with that officer, after firing into the Sybille when passing on opposite tacks. The action continued about an .hour and a half, when the enemy, although powerfully assisted by the formidable land batteries, finding themselves unable to withstand the fire of their opponents, either ran or drifted on shore, and having taken the ground at the top of high water, could never afterwards be got afloat. Their loss amounted to 24 men killed and 51 wounded. The British had only 3 men killed and 31 wounded.
  5. The Berwick 74, Niobe frigate, and two sloops of war, were in company with the Amelia on this occasion.
  6. It should here be remarked, that the Winnebahites had ever been a most refractory set, and had, in many previous instances, grossly insulted the British governors. They were constantly at war with the surrounding tribes; and a few months previous to the murder of Mr. Meredith, that gentleman had paid a considerable sum of money to prevent their town being destroyed by the Ashantees. An account of the horrible cruelties practised toward Mr. M. will be found in the “Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Papers relating to the African Forts.
  7. The Tweed of 24 guns, with the trade from England under her protection was then daily expected at Sierra Leone.
  8. The Master of the Daring, and the other men brought to Sierra Leone by the cartel, were landed there, they having been liberated on condition of not serving against France or her allies until exchanged. Their paroles stated them to have been captured by l’Aréthuse of 44 guns and 330 men; and la Rubis of 44 guns and 375 men. Mr. James, in his “Naval History” only gives the former ship 340 men, including a boat’s crew from her consort. The Amelia’s full complement was 265 men and 30 boys: 12 of the latter borne as supernumeraries for wages and victuals.
  9. The Naval Chronicle charges Captain Irby with saying that la Rubis was in sight just before the commencement of the action. We can discover nothing like such an expression in his letter.
  10. Forty-six killed; 5 mortally, 13 dangerously, 33 severely, and 44 slightly wounded.
  11. Captain Irby was not aware, when he wrote his account of the action, that l’Aréthuse’s consort had been disabled by striking on a rock previous to the Amelia’s arrival off Tamara. Seeing la Rubis with her top-sails hoisted at sun-set on the 6th Feb., he was fully justified in supposing she was about to come out with the other frigate in pursuit of him. N.B. There appears a difference between his letter and one written by Lieutetenant Chads, late of the Java, respecting the Frenchman’s weight of metal; see p. 498.
  12. “The Amelia, like the Java, had a number of supernumeraries on board; but owing to the general sickness of the men, Captain Irby says, ‘We had barely our complement fit for duty, and they much enervated.’ A sickly old, and a healthy new ship’s company, are about equal in effectiveness.” See James’s Naval Occurrences between Great Britain and America, p. 196.
  13. See id. p. 197, and Nav. Hist. v. 5, p. 362.
  14. The late Sir George Collier, in his report to the Admiralty, printed by order of the House of Commons, May 25, 1820, says – “The vessels employed in the Slave Trade are navigated almost entirely by natives of Africa, or of similar climate, and they are thereby enabled to endure that which no ships, manned by Europeans, ever can. For I venture confidently to predict, that every British cruiser, exposed to the deluging rains of Africa during the sickly season, for a few days only, will generate fever of so malignant a nature, that half the crew may be the sacrifice, and herself thereby incapacitated from service.” We have already shewn, that the Amelia had been upwards of twelve months on that station: the enemy’s frigates only sailed from France ten weeks and four days previous to the action.
  15. See Nav. Chron. v. 29, p. 385.
  16. Captain Olivier and the whole of la Rubis’s crew were at this time on board l’Aréthuse, the former frigate having been burnt on the 8th Feb. in consequence of its being found impossible to get her afloat. Query, might she not have been saved by the assistance of her consort, had no English ship appeared in sight, and drawn the Commodore off from the land, which he did not make again till the day after her destruction?
  17. Lieutenant Chad’s conjecture was right; l’Aréthuse arrived at St. Maloes on the 19th of the following month. See Nav. Chron. v. 29 .386.
  18. Captain Irby sailed from the coast on his return to England in Dec. 1812; but having captured a slave ship, put back with her to Sierra Leone a most fortunate circumstance for the trade, as otherwise l’Aréthuse and la Rubis would have found a field open for their ravages, without the least probability of being encountered by any force able to cope with them.