Royal Naval Biography/Matthews, Alfred
ALFRED MATTHEWS, Esq.
Third surviving son of the late John Matthews, Esq., of Belmont, Herefordshire; and brother to the ingenious author of the “Diary of an Invalid.” The first of these very worthy and much esteemed gentlemen represented the above county in parliament for several years, and was colonel of the first regiment of local militia: the latter died soon after his elevation to the bench in the island of Ceylon.
Mr. Alfred Matthews entered the royal navy in Jan. 1803, (then only eleven years of age,) as midshipman on board the Culloden 74, Captain ____ Lane, from which ship he followed Rear-Admiral (afterwards Sir George) Campbell into the Canopus 80. We next find him serving under Captain Benjamin Hallowell in the Tigre 80, forming part of that compact little squadron which, under the immortal Nelson, pursued the combined fleets of France and Spain to and from the West Indies, thereby saving our colonies from plunder and devastation.
After serving through the second Egyptian campaign, from the capture of Alexandria to its evacuation, the Tigre returned to England, and Mr. Matthews joined the Iphigenia frigate, Captain Henry Lambert, with whom he visited Quebec, and subsequently proceeded to the Cape station.
In Aug. 1809, whilst cruising off the Mauritius, the Iphigenia accidentally ran on board the Boadicea frigate, and thereby lost her bowsprit and foremast. The next night she got aground under a heavy battery, where she was long exposed to a very severe cannonade. Not thinking it possible to save her, the senior officer of the squadron sent orders to set her on fire; but, after throwing some guns overboard, she was at length got off, through the persevering gallantry and uncommon exertions of her captain, officers, and crew. In July 1810, she formed part of the squadron under Captain (now Sir Josias) Rowley, at the capture of the Isle of Bourbon.
The disastrous result of an attack made by the Iphigenia and three other frigates, under the orders of Captain Samuel Pym, of the Sirius, upon a French squadron in Grande Port, Isle of France, Aug. 23d, 1810, has been officially described in Suppl. Part II. pp. 164–166. The particular share borne by the Iphigenia in this destructive combat is more fully shewn at p. 169 of the same volume. Her subsequent proceedings, and surrender by capitulation, are narrated in Vol. III. Part I. p. 242, et seq.
From this period, Mr. Matthews was a prisoner at Port Louis until the subjugation of the Isle of France in Dec. 1810. We next find him serving as lieutenant under Captain (now Sir Charles M.) Schomberg, in the Astraea frigate, on the Cape station. His promotion to that rank took place Feb. 11th, 1812; and his next appointment, to the Hermes 20, Captain the Hon. William Henry Percy, fitting out for the North American station, April 18th, 1814. The circumstances which led to the destruction of the latter ship, on the coast of West Florida, Sept. 5th, 1814, are detailed in two official letters, written by her truly gallant commander, and of which we have given copies in Suppl. Part III. pp. 64–69. In one of them he makes honorable mention of Lieutenant Matthews, who, it appears, assisted him in performing the painful duty of setting the ship on fire, after all the other surviving officers and crew had been safely removed from her. We have only here to add an expression of our regret that the same deliberate valor and seamanlike conduct which were displayed on board the Hermes, in the attack upon Fort Bowyer, had not been brought to bear on an adversary of more equal force, in which case a much happier result might have been confidently expected.
After this sanguinary affair, Lieutenant Matthews volunteered to serve with the army acting against New Orleans, and assisted in the successful dash across the Mississippi, on the fatal morning of Jan. 8th, 1815. In the following year, he was appointed senior lieutenant of the Alert sloop, Commander John Smith (b), on the North Sea station, where, in one of that vessel’s gallies, he captured a smuggling lugger. In 1817, he took command of the Drake revenue cruiser, on the Land’s End and Scilly station; and, considering the very low ebb to which the contraband trade has been happily reduced in that quarter, was not unfortunate in the number of his captures. He obtained his present rank on the 19th July, 1822; and subsequently commanded the Surinam and Icarus sloops, on the West India station. His last voyage appears to have been in an element not much navigated by gentlemen of the naval profession – we allude to his ascent in Mr. Green’s balloon from Hereford, Oct. 1827. In describing his aerial excursion, he says, “A field of sheep looked like so many mites crawling about a cheese; a waggon on the Weobly road reminded me of the vehicle of Queen Mab, ‘in size no bigger than a hazel nut, drawn by a team of little atomies;’ a church like a child’s toy, and other things in similar proportion.”
- The late Admiral Sir B. H. Carew, G.C.B.
- The Tigre, it will be remembered, was one of a few unlucky ships of the line which, after all the irksomeness of a tedious blockade, and all the anxieties of an arduous chase, lost by a hair’s breadth chance their share of the glories of Trafalgar. To have been in the immediate vicinity of such a conflict, in such a ship, without any participation in its honors, must doubtless be regarded in the nature of a permanent misfortune; and one which is not much mitigated by the reflection that, under other circumstances, the Tigre’s advanced station in the line, her high state of discipline, and, above all, the zeal and devotion of her commander, would too probably have secured her a prominent place in the foreground of that imperishable piece.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 482.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 627, et seq.
- See Suppl. Part IV. p. 18, et seq.