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Royal Naval Biography/Manby, Thomas


THOMAS MANBY, Esq
[Post-Captain of 1798.]

This officer is descended from a family whose existence we can trace to the reign of Henry III, His progenitors possessed large estates at Manby in Yorkshire; and his father, Captain Matthew Pepper Manby, considerable property at Hilgay, co. Norfolk[1].

When very young, he was appointed one of the Stationers to the Ordnance department, over which his friend the late Marquis Townshend at that time presided; but notwithstanding the emoluments of this situation, his predilection for the Naval profession was so great as to induce him to resign it, and embark as a Midshipman on board the Hyaena of 34 guns, in which ship he served on the Irish station from 1783 till 1785; at which latter period his naval patron, the late Hon. Admiral J. Levison Gower, placed him in the Cygnet sloop of war, under the protection of Captain (now Sir Henry) Nicholls, with whom he proceeded to the West Indies, and afterwards removed into the Amphion frigate.

After visiting the whole of the West India and Bahama islands, the Mosquito Shore, Bay of Honduras, Carthagena, and the Spanish Main, he returned to England in the Amphion, and soon after joined the Illustrious pf 74 guns, bearing his patron’s flag. Towards the close of 1790 he embraced an offer made him by Captain George Vancouver, to accompany him as a Master’s-Mate, in the Discovery, a ship which had been fitted out early in the year, for the purpose of exploring the N.W. coast of America, but detained in consequence of an expected rupture with the court of Spain. That cloud having blown over, she was ordered to Nootka Sound, for the purpose of receiving formal restitution of the territories on which the Spaniards had seized; after which she was to make an accurate survey of the coast, and obtain every possible information respecting the natural and political situation of that country.

The Discovery, attended by a brig called the Chatham, commanded by Lieutenant W. R. Broughton[2], proceeded on her voyage early in 1791; visited the Canary Islands, Cape of Good Hope, New Holland, and New Zealand; discovered the island of Oparo; touched at Otaheite, and all the Sandwich islands; made considerable discoveries on the N.W. coast of America; and arrived at Nootka Sound in the autumn of 1792. At this place some disputes arose with the Spanish authorities; in consequence of which, Captain Vancouver despatched officers to England for further instructions, and at the same time appointed Mr. Manby Master of the Chatham. For nearly two years from this period, the vessels were employed exploring a considerable portion of the interior navigation of N.W. America, and the southern shores of California, passing each winter amongst the Sandwich islands.

On one occasion, the Chatham was sent from Atooi to Cook’s river, where she arrived after a passage of three weeks, during which short period the thermometer had fallen from 90 to 5 below zero. This rapid change caused all the crew to be afflicted with violent rheumatic complaints, and laid the foundation of those pains with which the subject of this memoir has long been tortured. Whilst exploring this river, the Chatham was hurried down a fall; the velocity of the current rendered it impossible to anchor, and her destruction appeared inevitable: but fortunately the channel, though narrow, was free from rocks, and on her reaching an immense basin of water, after being twirled round several times, she was brought up by her masts and yards becoming entangled among some trees; from which dilemma it required the greatest exertions of her officers and crew, during two days, to extricate her.

From Cook’s river, the Chatham proceeded to Nootka Sound, where she again joined the Discovery; with which ship she afterwards went to the southward, for the purpose of exploring Columbia river, then recently discovered. On arriving at the entrance thereof, the Chatham led in and anchored; but from the state of the weather, the Discovery was obliged to stand out to sea, and ultimately proceeded to Port St. Francisco, in New Albion.

The examination of Columbia river occupied near three weeks; in which time the constant gales of wind had thrown up so dreadful a surf across the entrance, that to gain the offing appeared almost impossible. For several days Mr. Manby was employed sounding the bar; and not finding less than three fathoms water, his commander resolved to make the attempt. A favorable breeze assisted their efforts; and notwithstanding the fury of the surf, by which she was often erected nearly an end, Mr. Manby, from the fore-top-sailyard, succeeded in conning her out to sea without any serious injury, although each surge, after breaking at the height of the lower yards, swept her deck, and threatened destruction to all on board. A more perilous time was never known by the oldest seaman.

At length Captain Vancouver, finding the officers he had sent to Europe, concerning the adjustment of the differences relative to Nootka Sound, did not return, promoted Mr. Manby from the Chatham, to be a Lieutenant in the Discovery, where he continued till that ship returned to England, and was paid off, in the fall of 1795.

This expedition added much to the geographical knowledge of the world, the vessels having kept sight of the continental shore from the 30th to the 62d degree of North latitude. On their passage home, they called at the island of Cocoa, the Gallapagos, and Valparaiso; rounded Cape Horn, and anchored at St. Helena.

Lieutenant Manby afterwards served in the Juste of 84 guns, commanded by the Hon. Thomas Pakenham; and in 1796, when the late Lord Hugh Seymour prepared a squadron for the South Sea, that nobleman applied for him to be placed under his orders; in consequence of which he was promoted to the rank of Commander in the Charon 44, armed en flute, intended to carry stores for the armament; but circumstances inducing government to countermand Lord Hugh’s orders, she was subsequently employed affording protection to the trade between Cork and the Downs, and conveying troops to Ireland during the rebellion in that country. On one occasion she received a regiment of 1000 men; the whole of whom were landed at Guernsey twenty-four hours after leaving PorUmouth. Before sun-set, the ship was again under weigh, with the Glengarry and Nottingham Fencibles, 1000 strong, embarked; and the following day those corps were landed at Waterford. The alertness thus displayed by Captain Manby at so momentous a crisis, was highly praised by Sir Hugh Dalrymple, the Governor of Guernsey, and gained him the approbation of the Admiralty.

Whilst in Ireland, Captain Manby landed several times with his crew, to dislodge the insurgents from their strong holds near the banks of Waterford river; and on his return to England, he had the honor of presenting to his late Majesty at Weymouth, several pikes taken from his rebellious subjects.

The exemplary conduct of the Charon’s officers and men during the disgraceful mutiny in the British navy, was so much approved by Sir John Orde, the Port-Admiral at Plymouth, that a considerable part of the petty officers were rewarded with warrants by order of the Admiralty, and Captain Manby himself obtained a promise of promotion to post rank. He was afterwards sent to cruise in the Channel, where he captured a French privateer, March 2, 1798. During the time he commanded the Charon, he gave protection to no less than four thousand seven hundred and fifty-three vessels, not one of which was lost. In addition to these services, he for some time assisted at the blockade of Havre de Grace. His post commission bears date Jan. 22, 1799. The following anecdote will explain why this advancement did not take place at an earlier period:

In Oct. 1798, the Charon was ordered to prepare at Woolwich for foreign service, Captain Manby to be posted, and the late Lord Camelford to succeed him in the command of that ship. Unfortunately, his Lordship soon entered into so many altercations with the Navy Board, that the Admiralty directed Captain Manby to superintend her outfit; a circumstance to be lamented by him, as he would otherwise have stood at least one-third nearer the top of the Post-Captains’ list than he does at present. Lord Camelford attended the Charon daily, had several boats built and fitted with brass guns, at a great expence and, the various alterations he wished for being nearly completed, despatched an intelligent person to France for the purpose of purchasing, at any cost, plans of all the French ports in the Mediterranean; his Lordship’s agent not succeeding, he resolved on the hazardous enterprise of going himself to Paris, and actually left London with that intent late in December. Lord Camelford had travelled near two stages on the Dover road in his own carriage, when the mail-coach drove up, in which he took a place, and found three foreign gentlemen as his fellow passengers; one of whom was the celebrated Monsieur Bompard, who had recently been taken prisoner by Sir John Borlase Warren[3], and was then returning home on his parole. His Lordship, who spoke French as fluently as English, to humour the French commander, extolled the republican government, and so far ingratiated himself in his good opinion, that M. Bompard offered to serve him in any way he could. At Dover, Lord Camelford requested to have a private interview with his new friend, hoping by a little flattery to work on the Frenchman’s credulity, and thereby ensure his own safety to Paris, His request being complied with, he said to his dupe, “I am an officer of the British Navy, and most desirous to get to Paris, having a wish to see the Minister Barras, to unfold important information that would prove of essential service to the republic.” In an instant Bompard embraced him, called for pen and ink, and wrote an introductory letter to Barras, which was sealed and pocketed by his Lordship, who laughed in his sleeve at having thus hoaxed his fellow traveller. He then went to the beach, and agreed with the crew of an open boat to land him on the French coast. The boat was promised to be got ready in two hours, and Lord Camelford returned to the inn to take refreshments. Whilst he was thus employed, the boatmen suspecting something wrong from his extreme anxiety to cross the Channel, communicated their suspicions to the Collector of the Customs, who, taking some of the civil power to his aid, placed himself near the boat, and on his Lordship coming down to embark, seized his person, and conveyed him back. On searching his pockets, they found the identical letter written by M. Bompard, together with a considerable sum of money, a brace of pistols, and a dagger. His Lordship refusing to answer any questions, they hurried him into a post-chaise, and proceeded to the office of the Secretary of State, in London. A Privy Council was immediately summoned, an investigation took place, and on Lord Camelford saying all his intentions were known to Captain Manby, the latter was waited on by Lord Grenville, and received an order from the Duke of Portland to attend the following morning at the Treasury, where he underwent a long examination before the Privy Council assembled for that purpose; and by his answers, set every thing in its proper light. His Lordship was forthwith liberated, but soon afterwards received an official message from the Board of Admiralty, acquainting him that he was not to have the Charon. Hurt and mortified at this intelligence, as he had made great preparations for assuming the command of that ship, his Lordship wrote to desire his name might be erased from the list of Commanders, which the Board instantly complied with; at the same time giving post rank to Captain Manby, and appointing Captain Mackellar to succeed him in the Charon[4]. Towards the latter end of the same year, Captain Manby was appointed to le Bourdelois of 24 guns; in which ship, during a long cruise off the Western islands, he captured a valuable French schooner from Guadaloupe, laden with coffee. Le Bourdelois was afterwards employed in the blockade of Flushing; but from her lowness in the water, and great length, she proved so perpetually wet, that her crew got sick, and rendered it highly necessary to remove her from that service. She was therefore ordered to Spithead, and from thence to the West Indies[5].

Le Bourdelois sailed from England at the close of 1800, under the orders of the Andromache frigate, Captain Bradby, and in company with a fleet of merchantmen. The convoy being dispersed in a gale of wind off Cape Finisterre, Captain Manby proceeded to the rendezvous at Madeira; from whence he was despatched by the commodore, to keep a look out for the scattered ships, one hundred leagues to windward of Barbadoes. On his way to that station, he re-captured two of the stragglers, which had been taken by a French privateer[6]; and on the 28th Jan. 1801, he had the good fortune to discover two large brigs and a schooner, which had been sent from Cayenne by Victor Hugues, to intercept the West India fleet. These vessels were first seen at noon, and being to windward, Captain Manby brought them down by stratagem, reserving his fire till the largest brig had arrived within hailing distance, when he brought her to action; and after a close carronade of more than half an hour, compelled her to surrender. The other vessels observing le Bourdelois could fight both sides at once, behaved very shy on this occasion, and made off when they saw the fate of their commodore; but not before they had received such a dose from the English ship, as effectually spoiled their cruise. The prize proved to be la Curieuse of 390 tons, pierced for 20 guns, mounting 18 long 9-pounders, with a complement of 168 men, about 50 of whom were killed and wounded, including among the latter her commander, Captain George Radelet, who lost both his legs, and survived but a few hours. Many of the prisoners were in an equally pitiable state; and the vessel was so completely torn to pieces, that she went down just as our seamen had removed the last of the wounded Frenchmen from her. The floating wreck buoyed up many from destruction; but Messrs. Spence and Auckland, two promising young gentlemen, with five of Captain Manby’s gallant and humane crew, unfortunately perished, in consequence of their perseverance in the meritorious service on which they were employed. The delay occasioned by this unhappy event, securing the prisoners, and repairing damages, detained Captain Manby about three hours before he could pursue the flying enemy which was done, however, with all alacrity, but without success, as the night favored their escape. They were la Mutine of 300 tons, sixteen long 6-pounders, and 156 men; and l’Esperance of six 4-pounders and 52 men. La Bourdelois at this time mounted twenty-two 32-pr. carronades, and two long 9-pounders, with a complement of 195 men. She had 1 killed and 7 wounded.

The discomfiture of this little squadron saved the scattered fleet from capture, and induced the commodore to write the following official letter, which was transmitted to the Admiralty, with Captain Manby’s account of the action:

Andromache, Barbadoes, Feb. 6, 1801.

“Sir.– Enclosed are two letters from Captain Thomas Manby to me, from which the service he baa rendered to the different islands, by destroying a squadron Sent out by Victor Hugues, for the interception of the outward bound convoy, speaks for itself.

(Signed)J. Bradby.”

To Rear-Admiral Duckworth, &c. &c.

Le Bourdelois having landed her prisoners at Barbadoes, proceeded to Martinique, and convoyed the trade from thence to Jamaica, where Captain Manby joined his noble friend Lord Hugh Seymour, by whom he was sent to cruise in the Mona passage, on which service he continued for several months. During the time he was thus employed, a Spaniard came on board from Porto Rico, and begged protection, as he had just murdered his officer. Captain Manby heard his story with indignation, and immediately put the wretch in irons. He then proceeded to the bay of Aquadilla, and sent his first Lieutenant on shore to the Governor, with the assassin, and a laconic epistle, of which the following is a copy:

“Sir. The British colours disdain to protect a murderer. I send you one, and hope he will meet the fate he merits. I am, &c. T. Manby.”

The Governor, much pleased with this act of British generosity, sent back a most complimentary letter, and forwarded a large supply of fruit, vegetables, and many other articles, for the use of le Bourdelois’ crew.

Some time after this event, Captain Manby chased a large privateer schooner, mounting 18 guns, into Aquadilla bay, where she anchored under a battery. An effort was made to destroy her, but did not succeed; and le Bourdelois having received much damage in her masts, yards, and rigging, was obliged to return to Jamaica to refit.

During his absence on a subsequent cruise in the Gulf of Mexico, Captain Manby had the misfortune to receive intelligence of Lord Lord Hugh Seymour’s demise, by which he was deprived of a most valuable friend. At the termination of the war, he assumed the command of the Juno frigate, and was employed with other ships to watch the motions of a considerable fleet and army sent from France to recover St. Domingo from the Blacks. The Juno being at length ordered to England, the merchants of Jamaica, who had often witnessed Captain Manby’s activity as a cruiser, collected a large sum of money for him to carry home, and which yielded him a welcome freight. He was put out of commission at Woolwich, in Aug. 1802.

Early in October following, Earl St. Vincent, who then presided at the Admiralty, sent for Captain Manby, and on his arrival said, “I don’t like to see an active officer idle on shore; I therefore give you the Africaine, one of the finest frigates in the British navy.” This ship was soon after commissioned at Deptford, and mounted 48 guns. The short interval between paying off the Juno, and his appointment to the Africaine, had been passed by our officer at Rainham Hall, Norfolk, the residence of his friend and patron, the Marquis Townshend, by whom he had the honor of being introduced to H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, who was much gratified on viewing the innumerable curiosities collected by Captain Manby on his voyage round the world, and presented by him to the Marchioness Townshend. Many articles from the South Sea were presented to the Princess, likewise some valuable furs of rare animals, procured on the N.W. coast of America; which induced H.R.H., whilst the Africaine was fitting out, to honor Captain Manby with several invitations to dinner at Montagu House, Blackheath.

Whilst off Gravesend, on his way to the Nore, Captain Manby received an express from town, directing him to commence an impress at midnight; this order was promptly obeyed, and before sun rise on the following morning, 394 prime seamen were secured. From the Nore, he proceeded with a 24-gun ship under his orders, to blockade two large French frigates, with troops on board, lying at Helvoetsluys. On this irksome service he continued about two years, during which the Africaine had many narrow escapes from the surrounding dangerous shoals, and was once set on fire in several places by lightning, which destroyed the fore-mast, killed 1 of her men, and wounded 3 others.

The blockade of an enemy’s port is a service which seldom presents any incident worthy the particular attention of the historian. The unwarrantable detention of Captain Manby’s first Lieutenant however,by order of the French consular government, at a time when he was employed in the sacred character of a flag of truce, should not be passed without notice, in a work of this description; but as it is our intention to introduce this subject when the time shall arrive for us to speak of Captain W. H. Dillon, the officer alluded. to, it may be sufficient in this place to say, that that gentleman, to the eternal disgrace of the republic, was kept in captivity for more than four[errata 1] years, notwithstanding many appeals were made by the British nation to Napoleon Buonaparte, the tyrannical ruler of France against such indefensible conduct.

The French frigates which Captain Manby had so long watched, being at length dismantled and passed through the inland canal to Flushing, the Africaine was ordered to reinforce the squadron off the Texel, where she continued several months under the command of that most worthy officer, the present Admiral Russell. Previous to his quitting the blockade of Helvoetsluys, Captain Manby, who had never molested the Dutch fishing-vessels, was much mortified on observing several shot fired by order of the French General at Scheveling at the Africaine’s jolly boat, in which four boys had been sent to take shrimps from a sandbank near the Maas. By way of retaliation, he that night seized sixty large vessels employed in the fishery, most of which were sent to Yarmouth, and then addressed the following brief letter to the French myrmidon:

“Monsieur le General. As you have prevented my having Shrimps to my Turbot, I will deprive you of Turbot to your Shrimps, by taking every fishing vessel you have.I am, &c.T. Manby.”

The Hague was thus deprived of the usual supply of fish for many weeks.

During the period Captain Manby was employed off the Texel; and while the Africaine, with three cables an end, was riding out a heavy gale of wind, the main piece of her rudder broke near the water line, and before it could be got clear off, occasioned serious injury to the stern post. On the storm abating, the Glatton was ordered to see her over to Yarmouth; and accordingly towed her into the entrance of St. Nicholas’ Gat; but it being the first of a flood tide when she arrived there, secure anchorage could not be obtained. In the night, a furious gale sprang up from the eastward, two cables parted, and she was only saved from destruction by cutting away all her masts. After refitting at Sheernees, she escorted a large fleet of merchant vessels to Surinam, Essequibo, Demerara, Trinidad, and other islands in the West Indies, and arrived at Barbadoes with a crew of 340 men, in perfect health. There Captain Manby received orders from Sir Alexander Cochrane, to take charge of the homeward bound trade, and to receive on board some invalids from the naval and military hospitals, for a passage to England. In forty-eight hours after his departure from Carlisle Bay, the yellow fever raged in the most malignant manner; and not an hour passed without one or two gallant fellows being committed to a watery grave. The surgeon and his assistant fell victims to this dreadful disease, the second day after it appeared; and Captain Manby himself took charge of the sick, following the directions of Dr. Armstrong, who kindly came off from St. Kitt’s, and recommended ten grains of calomel to be administered every two hours to each patient, and the cold effusion directly after. This had the effect of checking the career of death in a slight degree; but Captain Manby’s anxiety for the safety of his valuable charge, added to feelings of the most acute nature, brought on an attack of the fever, which had nearly numbered him with the dead, and made an impression on a good constitution that we fear will never be totally eradicated. At Tortola, a medical assistant was procured; and the Africaine, after losing nearly one-third of her officers and crew, arrived in six weeks at Falmouth. On the malignity of the disease being made known, she was ordered to perform forty days quarantine at the Scilly islands, whither a physician was sent from London to attend her. Being at length released, she proceeded to Sheerness, and was there put out of commission.

Captain Manby’s next appointment was to the Uranie of 36 guns; but that ship, being soon after found very defective, was paid off and taken to pieces. The next frigate that became vacant was the Thalia, to which he was appointed by Lord Mulgrave; who likewise gave him the command of a small squadron stationed off Jersey; where he passed a year without any thing particular occurring, except the capture of le Requin, a French privateer, of 14 guns. In 1808, he was sent with the Medusa frigate and Locust brig, under his orders, to look out for two French frigates, supposed to have gone to Davis’s Straits for the purpose of destroying our Greenland fishery. On this frigid service he continued twelve weeks, without seeing an enemy. In the course of that period, each vessel received much damage from the ice, as several days frequently elapsed without the possibility of seeing fifty yards in any direction, owing to the prevailing thick fogs; and the dangers by which they were surrounded could only be avoided by listening for the breakers as they dashed on immense floating masses, many of which measured two hundred feet above the surface of the water, and extended between two and three miles in circumference. On quitting this inhospitable station, the Thalia and Medusa found an excellent anchorage on the coast of Labrador, affording an abundant supply of wood and water; which Captain Manby surveyed, and named Port Manvers, in honor of his esteemed friend the late Earl of that name[7]. From thence he proceeded to Newfoundland, the Western Islands, Cadiz, Gibraltar, and England.

Captain Manby’s health was so much impaired by this northern cruise, (having nearly lost the use of his right side,) and several internal complaints, occasioned by the great quantity of calomel he had taken in the West Indies, that his medical advisers strongly urged him to give up his ship, as the only chance of being restored to health. This advice he reluctantly complied with, and nearly four years elapsed before he became sufficiently convalescent to ask for employment. The downfall of Buonaparte soon rendering an application unnecessary, he purchased an estate at Northwold in Norfolk, where he now resides in a state of comfortable independence, anxiously looking for that step which alone can reward an officer who has ever served his country with vigilance, zeal, and fidelity.

Captain Manby married, in 1800, Miss Hamond, of Northwold, by whom he has two daughters. His brother, George W. Manby, Esq., formerly Barrack-Master at North Yarmouth, and who now holds an office of value in the Ordnance department, is the gentleman who brought into practice the method of saving shipwrecked persons, upon a plan published by Serjeant Bell, about twenty years before.

The subject of this memoir is, we believe, preparing for publication a new chart of the South Sea; a work which will prove that the innumerable islands in the Pacific Ocean are all peopled from the same stock; and that the same hieroglyphical characters are known from one extreme of that sea to the other.

Agent.– Thomas Stilwell, Esq.



  1. Captain M. P. Manby, was owner of the Wood Hall estate, and Lord of the Manor. He served several years in the Welch Fuzileers; but being severely wounded during the siege of Belleisle in 1761*, he was compelled to withdraw from service in the field. He subsequently acted as an aide-de-camp to George Viscount Townshend, Viceroy of Ireland.

    * See Schomberg’s Naval Chronology, Vol. I. p. 354, et seq.

  2. See Vol. I. note *, at p. 165.
  3. See Vol. I. p. 171.
  4. Lord Camelford was one of Captain Manby’s messmates in the Discovery. The barony became extinct by his demise in 1804. See Vol. I note at p. 716.
  5. Le Bourdelois had formerly been a French privateer, belonging to Bourdeaux. She was pierced for 26 guns, and at the time of her capture, mounted 16 long brass 12-pounders, and 8 brass 36-pr. carronades, on a flush deck, with a complement of 202 men. Her extreme length was one hundred and forty-nine feet. In form she was like a dolphin; but although the most beautiful model ever seen, many of Captain Manby’s brother officers considered her the most dangerous vessel in the service, and were therefore induced to call her the coffin. Sir Edward Pellew, now Viscount Exnouth, viewing her one day as she lay alongside the Jetty at Plymouth dock-yard, gave this advice to her commander: “Whenever you are in a gale of wind, stanchion up your main-deck fore and aft; for should a heavy sea break on board, she will go down like a stone, as her frame is very weak, and she has no beam to support it.” This precaution was always taken, and le Bourdelois survived; but two sloops of war, the Railleur and Trompeuse, of the same build, but smaller, both went to the bottom in a gale off Brest, May 16, 1807, and every person on board them perished. Had the above measure been adopted, most probably they would not have foundered. Le Bourdelois was taken by the Revolutionnaire frigate, Oct. 11, 1799, after a chase of 114 miles in nine hours and a half. She was at this time on her second cruise, and had previously outsailed all her pursuers. At the termination of her first trip, during which she took twenty=nine valuable prizes, her owners gave a splendid dinner to her officers; and upon their relating how often she had been chased, her builder being present said “England has not a cruiser that will ever touch her except the Revolutionaire; and should she ever fall in with that frigate in blowing weather, and be under her lee, she will be taken.” This actually occurred on her second cruise. The same builder constructed both vessels.
  6. See Captain Robert Barrie, C.B.
  7. See note at p. 183.


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