Royal Naval Biography/Maxwell, Murray


SIR MURRAY MAXWELL, Knt
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; and Fellow of the Royal Society.
[
Post-Captain of 1803.]

This officer is a nephew of the late Sir William Maxwell, of Monteith, N.B. Bart, whose daughter Jane married Alexander, 4th Duke of Gordon.

He commenced his naval career under the auspices of the late Vice-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood; obtained his first commission as a Lieutenant in 1796; and was promoted to the command of the Cyane sloop of war, at the Leeward Islands, in Dec. 1802.

The Cyane formed part of Commodore Hood’s squadron at the reduction of St. Lucia, June 22, 1803; and Captain Maxwell was immediately afterwards appointed to the Centaur, a third rate, bearing the broad pendant of his patron, under whom he also served at the capture of Tobago, Demerara, and Essequibo, in July and September following. His post commission was confirmed by the Admiralty on the 4th Aug. 1803.

Captain Maxwell was subsequently employed in the blockade of Martinique; and in April 1804, we find him accompanying Commodore Hood and Major-General Sir Charles Green, on an expedition against Surinam, the only colony then possessed by the enemy in Dutch Guiana; Berbice having surrendered to the British soon after the above mentioned Batavian settlements.

On the 25th April, the Centaur anchored about ten miles from the mouth of the Surinam river; and the next day a division of the army, commanded by Brigadier-General Maitland, was sent under convoy of the Hippomenes corvette, to effect a landing at Warappa creek, about thirty miles to the eastward. The object of this operation was to obtain a communication by water with the Commewyne, and to procure a sufficient number of plantation boats to transport the troops down that stream, towards its junction with the Surinam, and thereby facilitate their approach to a position in the rear of Fort New Amsterdam, situated on the confluence of those rivers, and mounting upwards of 80 guns.

In order that no time should be lost, preparations were also made for landing a body of troops to take possession of Braam’s Point, on which was a battery of seven 18 pounders, completely commanding the entrance of the Surinam. Brigadier-General Hughes undertook to superintend this service; and the wind proving favorable, Captain Edward O’Brien, of the Emerald frigate, pushed over the bar with the rising tide, and anchored close to the fort, followed by the Pandour troop-ship, and Drake sloop of war. The enemy kept up a brisk fire as the Emerald approached, but it was soon silenced by a few broadsides from that ship and her consorts. A party of the 64th regiment then landed, and secured forty-five prisoners, three of whom were wounded. In the course of the following day most of the ships were got into the river, but the Centaur was obliged to remain outside, on account of her great draught of water.

At this period Captain Maxwell and the Major-General’s Aid-de-Camp were sent with a summons to the Dutch Governor, whose answer, conveying a refusal to capitulate, was not received until the morning of the 28th. Commodore Hood, and his military colleague, having previously removed to the Emerald, now used every effort to get up the river before dark; but owing to the shallowness of the water, that ship was obliged to force her way through the mud, in three feet less water than she drew, and it was not till late at night that she arrived near the lower redoubt, named Frederici, on which were mounted twelve heavy pieces of cannon.

We should here observe, that the Surinam coast is very difficult of approach, being shallow and full of banks: a landing is only to be attempted at the top of high water, and at particular points; the land is uncleared, and the soil very marshy; so that it is impossible for an army to penetrate into the interior, except by the rivers and creeks. The shores on both sides of the Surinam river below Frederici redoubt, with the exception of one spot on the eastern shore, are equally difficult of access, and the enemy, by means of their forts, ships of war, armed merchantmen, and gun-boats, were completely masters of the navigation between Frederici and Paramaribo, the capital of the colony.

On the 29th, Lieutenant-Colonel Shipley, of the engineers, went on shore at the above mentioned spot, where a plantation had lately been established; and having explored the road through the woods, he reported on his return that a body of men might be conducted from thence to the rear of fort Frederici. In consequence of this information a detachment, consisting of 140 soldiers belonging to the 64th regiment, and 30 others equipped as pioneers, was placed under the command of Brigadier-General Hughes, who landed about 11 P.M. and immediately commenced his march, accompanied by Captain Maxwell, and 30 seamen under his orders.

A great quantity of rain having recently fallen, it was found that the path, at all times difficult, had become almost impassable; but no obstacle could damp the enterprising spirit of our brave countrymen, who overcame every obstacle, and after a laborious march of five hours, arrived near the place of their destination. The alarm was then given, and the enemy opened a heavy fire of grape-shot upon them whilst forming into columns, previous to their quitting the wood, and of musketry as they advanced to the battery, which was stormed and carried with the greatest intrepidity. Brigadier-General Hughes and Captain Maxwell then moved on to Fort Leyden, a place of equal strength; and by a repetition of the same impetuous attack, soon obliged the enemy to call for quarter. The number of prisoners taken on this occasion was 121; the remainder of the garrisons effected their escape across the Commewyne to Fort New Amsterdam.

By this brilliant affair a position was secured, from whence a heavy fire could be directed against fort New Amsterdam; and a communication with the Commewyne river being opened, the means of forming a junction with Brigadier-General Maitland were established. The British at the same time obtained possession of the finest part of the colony, abounding with resources of every description. Captain Maxwell’s exertions upon this occasion were highly meritorious, and much of the success attending the enterprise may justly be attributed to his animating example.

On the same day, April 30, Sir Charles Green received information that Brigadier-General Maitland had effected a landing at the Warappa creek, under the able superintendence of Captain Conway Shipley, commanding the Hippomenes, assisted by Captain Kenneth Mackenzie of the Guachapin, who had with great zeal quitted his sloop fifty leagues to leeward, finding from baffling winds and currents she could not get up, and proceeded with 50 of her crew in boats to aid that part of the army.

Under these circumstances no time was lost in disembarking the remainder of the troops, about 1000 in number, at fort Leyden, and pushing them on by the north bank of the Commewyne, to meet the others on their passage down that river. The artillery, stores, and provisions, were at the same time conveyed by boats; and an armed flotilla established in the Commewyne by the indefatigable exertions of the navy[1].

On the 3d May Brigadier-General Maitland, having taken possession of the enemy’s post at Warappa creek, after a short resistance, and with great diligence procured a number of boats to convey his corps, appeared coming down the river in very good order, and landed at a plantation on the south side, where he was soon joined by part of the forces, from the opposite bank.

This desirable object being effected, and the enemy’s communication cut off by the activity of the ships’ boats, the army being on the advance, and every preparation made by the squadron for attacking fort New Amsterdam, the Batavian Commandant thought proper to send out a flag of truce, with proposals to surrender on terms of capitulation. The negociations for that purpose were conducted on the part of the British by Captain Maxwell and Lieutenant-Colonel Shipley, and at 5 P.M. on the 5th May, the fortress was taken possession of by an advanced corps under Brigadier-General Maitland.

The valuable colony of Surinam was thus added to the British dominions: a frigate of 32 eighteen-pounders, a corvette mounting 18 guns, and all the other national vessels in the rivers, were likewise surrendered. The total number of prisoners taken, exclusive of the staff and civilians, was 2001; the loss sustained by the English amounted to no more than 8 killed and 21 wounded; 5 of the former and 8 of the latter were naval officers and seamen. We shall close our account of this conquest with an extract from Sir Charles Green’s official report to Earl Camden, dated “Paramaribo, May 13, 1804:”

“In all conjunct expeditions the zealous co-operation of the navy becomes of the most essential importance; but such is the peculiar nature of the military positions in this country, that our success depended chiefly upon their exertions, no movements being possibly made without their assistance. It is therefore incumbent on me to bear my sincere testimony to the cordial, zealous, and able support the army has received from Commodore Hood, and all the Captains and other officers of the squadron under his command, which must ever be remembered with gratitude. Captain Maxwell, of the Centaur, having been more particularly attached to the troops under my immediate command on shore, I am bound to notice his spirited and exemplary behaviour.”

Captain Maxwell returned to England with the Commodore’s despatches in June, 1804; and we subsequently find him commanding the Centaur as a private ship on the Jamaica station, where he removed into the Galatea frigate in the summer of 1805. His next appointment was to the Alceste of 46 guns, formerly la Minerve, one of the frigates captured by part of a squadron under Sir Samuel Hood, in Sept. 1806[2].

On the 4th April, 1808, Captain Maxwell being off Cadiz with the Mercury 28, and Grasshopper brig under his orders, observed a fleet of Spanish vessels coming along shore from the northward, under the protection of about twenty gunboats, and a formidable train of flying artillery. On their arrival off Rota he stood in with his little squadron, and commenced a vigorous attack upon them, which continued from 4 o’clock until 6h 30' P.M. when two of the flotilla being destroyed, the remainder obliged to retreat, the batteries at Rota silenced, and many of the merchantmen driven on shore, the boats of the frigates were sent in under the directions of Lieutenant Allan Stewart, who boarded and brought off seven tartans, loaded with valuable ship timber, from under the very muzzles of the enemy’s guns, although supported by numerous armed barges and pinnaces sent from Cadiz to assist in their defence. This spirited service was performed in the teeth of eleven French and Spanish line-of-battle ships then lying ready for sea, and must therefore be considered as reflecting the highest credit on Captain Maxwell and his brave companions, whose situation during the action was rather a critical one, as the wind blew dead upon the shore, and the ships were compelled to tack every fifteen minutes, in order to avoid the dangerous shoals near Rota. The loss sustained by the British was confined to the Grasshopper, whose noble conduct will be more particularly noticed in our memoir of her commander, the present Captain Thomas Searle, C.B.

Subsequent to this event Captain Maxwell was actively employed on the coast of Italy, where he assisted at the destruction of several armed vessels and martello towers, as also in bringing off a large quantity of timber from a depot belonging to the enemy at Terracina. On the 22d May, 1810, a party from the Alceste landed near Frejus, stormed a battery of two 24-pounders, spiked the guns, broke the carriages, blew up the magazine, and threw the shot into the sea. A few days afterwards her boats attacked a French convoy bound to the eastward, captured four vessels laden with merchandise, drove two others on shore, and obliged the remainder to put back.

In the ensuing autumn Captain Maxwell was attached to the inshore squadron off Toulon: and in the spring of 181 1 we find him cruizing on the coast of Istria, under the orders of Captain (now Sir James) Brisbane, to whose memoir we must refer our readers for an account of the destruction of a French national brig in the small harbour of Parenza, by the Belle Poule and Alceste, on which occasion each ship had two men killed and the same number wounded[3]. The action afterwards fought in the Adriatic by a squadron under the command of Captain Maxwell, is thus described by him in his public letter to the senior officer on that station, dated off Lissa, Dec. 1, 1811.

“Sir,– H.M. ships under my orders having been driven from their anchorage before Lugina, by strong gales, had taken shelter in Lissa, when the telegraph on Whitby hill signalized “three suspicious sail south.” The Alceste, Active, and Unité were warped out of Port St. George the moment a strong E.N.E. wind would permit; and on the evening of the 28th ultimo, off the south end of Lissa, I met with Lieutenant M‘Dougal, of his Majesty’s ship Unité, who, with a judgment and zeal which do him infinite credit, had put back, when on his voyage to Malta in a neutral, to acquaint me he had seen three French frigates forty miles to the southward. All sail was now carried in chase, and at 9 A.M. on the 29th, the enemy were seen off the island of Augusta: he formed in line upon the larboard tack, and stood towards us for a short time; but finding H.M. ships bear up under all sail, in close line abreast, he also bore up to the N.W. and set studding-sails. At 11 the rear ship separated, and stood to the N.E.; I immediately detached the Unité after her, and Captain Chamberlayne’s report to me of the result I have the honor to enclose[4]. At 1h 20' P.M. the Alceste commenced action with the other two, by engaging the rearmost in passing to get at the Commodore; but an unlucky shot soon afterwards bringing down our main-top-mast, we unavoidably dropped a little astern: cheers of ‘Vive l’Empereur’ resounded from both ships; they thought the day their own, not aware of what a second I had in my gallant friend, Captain Gordon, who pushed the Active up under every sail, and brought the sternmost to action, within pistol-shot; the headmost then shortened sail, tacked, and stood for the Alceste, which, though disabled in her masts, I trust he experienced was not so in her guns. After a warm conflict of two hours and twenty minutes the French Commodore made off to the westward, which, from my crippled state, I was unable to prevent. The other surrendered, after being totally dismasted, with five feet water in her hold, and proved to be la Pomone, of 44 guns and 322 men, commanded by Captain Rosarnel, who fought his ship with a degree of skill and bravery that has obtained for him the respect and esteem of his opponents. The other was la Pauline, of similar force, commanded by Mons. Montford. They were from Corfu, going to join the squadron at Trieste[5]. The Alceste had 20 killed and wounded, Active 35, and Pomone 50; and it is with poignant regret I inform you, that Captain Gordon has lost a leg; but, thank God, he is doing well. His merits as an officer I need not dwell upon; they are known to his country, and he lives in the hearts of all who have the happiness to know him. His first Lieutenant, William Bateman Dashwood, lost his arm soon after he was wounded, and the ship was fought by Lieutenant George Haye, in a manner that reflects the highest honor upon him: his services before had frequently merited and obtained the highest approbation and strong recommendation of his Captain, who also speaks in the warmest praise of acting Lieutenant Moriarty; Mr. Lothian, the Master; Lieutenant Meers, R.M.; and every officer, seaman, and marine under his command.

“Although our success was not so complete as I trust it would have been could the Alceste have taken up her intended position alongside la Pauline, instead of that ship, from the fall of our topmast, being enabled to manreuvre and choose her distance, I feel it my duty to state, that every officer and man here behaved most gallantly. I was most ably assisted on the quarter-deck by my first Lieutenant, Andrew Wilson: and Mr. Howard Moore, the Master: the main-deck guns were admirably directed by Lieutenant James Montagu and Mr. James Adair, acting in the place of Lieutenant Hickman, left at Lissa with the gun-boats[6]. In justice to two very deserving officers, Lieutenant Miller, R.M., of the Active, and Lieutenant Lloyd, R.M. of the Alceste, it is necessary to mention that they were ashore with most of their respective parties at Camesa castle and Hoste’s islands, for the defence of Lissa, hourly threatenedwith an attack from the enemy, assembled in great force at Lesina. * * * * * * * * I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Murray Maxwell.”

To Captain Rowley, H.M.S. Eagle,
Senior officer of the Adriatic squadron.

We now lose sight of Captain Maxwell till July 2, 1813, when he had the misfortune to be wrecked in the Daedalus frigate, on a shoal near Ceylon, whilst convoying a fleet of Indiamen to Madras. In. Oct. 1815, he was re-appointed to the Alceste, at the particular request of Lord Amherst, who was then about to proceed on an embassy to China, the result of which is so well known as to render any remarks in this place superfluous.

The Alceste sailed from Spithead Feb. 9, 1816, touched at Madeira, Rio Janeiro, the Cape of Good Hope, Anjere, and Batavia; entered the China sea by the straits of Banca; communicated with Canton; passed through the straits of Formosa, into the Tung-Hai, or Eastern Sea, and finally anchored in the gulf of Pe-tche-lee, on the 28th July, after a passage of only 15 days from the neighbourhood of Macao. Her consort, the Lyra brig, commanded by Captain Basil Hall, had previously been despatched thither to announce the approach of the embassy.

Lord Amherst having landed at the mouth of the Pei-ho river on the 9th Aug. and it being certain that several months must elapse before his Excellency could return from Pekin to Canton, the place where he intended to re-embark for England, Captain Maxwell determined to employ the interval in examining some parts of the different coasts in that unfrequented portion of the globe. The first object which seems to have attracted his attention was to obtain a complete knowledge of the gulf of Pe-tche-lee; and for this purpose he took to himself the northern part, assigning the southern to Captain Hall, and so directing the return of the General Hewitt as to enable her commander to explore the central passage[7].

The course taken by the Alceste led to a partial survey of the gulph of Leo-tong, never before visited by any European ship. In coasting along the western shore, a view was obtained of the Great Wall of China, extending its vast, but unavailing defences, over the summits and along the skirts of hills and mountains. Stretching across to the opposite shore, she anchored, and completed her water, in a commodious bay, situated in lat. 39° 33' N., long. 121° 19' E. From thence Captain Maxwell proceeded to the southward until he reached the extreme Tartar point of the gulf; and then, steering in the same direction, passed through a cluster of islands, named by him the Company’s Groupe, which, with those at Mee-a-tau, may be said to divide the Yellow Sea from the gulf of Pe-tche-lee. He then stood to the eastward, and put into Che-a-tow bay, on the coast of Shan-tung, where he found the General Hewitt, and was soon after joined by Captain Hall, who had kept the coast of China in sight as much as possible, and obtained a complete knowledge of that part of the gulf lying between the Pei-ho and the place of rendezvous.

Had Captain Maxwell sailed from hence to Chu-san, and there awaited the change of the monsoon, any expectations originally formed by him would have been more than gratified by the result of this hasty survey: little, indeed, could he have anticipated the further extension and increased importance of discoveries that awaited him.

Leaving the General Hewitt to complete the ulterior objects of her voyage, the Alceste and Lyra sailed from Che-atow bay on the 29th Aug. and proceeded to examine the S.W. coast of Corea, where they had some interesting communications with the natives, who appear to have been prevented by the strict orders of their government from encouraging an intercourse, which, if liberated from this restraint, their inclinations would have led them to cultivate. The researches of Captain Maxwell in this quarter enabled him to rectify an enormous geographical error respecting the peninsula of Corea, and reveal the existence of myriads of islands, forming an archipelago, a fact before unknown and unsuspected. It is to be remarked, that the Lion, of 64 guns, employed to convey Lord Macartney, the former Ambassador, was the only ship which had ever before penetrated into the gulph of Pe-tche-lee; but her commander, Sir Erasmus Gower, kept the coast of China aboard only, and neither touched at the Tartar nor Corean side. Cooke, Perouse, Broughton, and others, had well defined the bounds on the eastern coast of this country, but the western had been laid down by the Jesuits in their map, from Chinese accounts and their own imaginations only[8].

Having thus materially benefited nautical science, Captains Maxwell and Hall visited the Great Loo-Choo island, anchoring in Napa-kiang roads on the 16th Sept. The natives at first shewed the same disinclination to intercourse as those of Corea, and it required great discretion and mildness to produce a contrary feeling. In this object, however, they succeeded. The judicious forbearance manifested by them on. their first arrival secured the favorable opinion, and disarmed the jealousy of the public authorities; whilst their uniform kindness of manner won the general regard of this truly amiable people, from whom they received the most liberal assistance and friendly treatment, during a stay of six weeks; at the end of which time their separation took place, under circumstances of mutual esteem and regret. Whether the Loo-Choo islands can be rendered either of political or commercial utility, may deserve consideration; and looking to the possibility of the question being decided in the affirmative, the information thus obtained respecting them, and the favorable impression produced, must be deemed both interesting and important[9].

Returning from Loo-Choo, the Alceste and Lyra passed the Pa-tchou islands, and the south end of Formosa, crossed the straits in very boisterous weather, and arrived off Lin-tin on the 2d day of November.

Captain Maxwell now lost no time in applying to the Viceroy of Canton, through the local authorities, for a pass to carry the Alceste up the Tigris, to a secure anchorage, where she could undergo some necessary repairs. Evasion after evasion, accompanied by insulting messages, were the only proofs that he obtained of his application having been received. He therefore determined to proceed without permission; but had scarcely approached the narrow entrance of the river, when an inferior mandarin came on board, and desired, in a high and domineering tone, that the ship should be directly anchored; stating, that if Captain Maxwell presumed to pass the Bocca, the batteries would instantly sink her.

Fully satisfied that the tame submission of others had only added to the arrogance, and fostered the insolence of the Chinese – convinced also, that the petty tyrant who attempted to dishonour his country’s flag would not respect the person of her Ambassador the more on account of his forbearance, Captain Maxwell calmly told the mandarin that he would first pass the batteries, and then hang him at the yard-arm for daring to come off with so impudent a message. His boat was then cut adrift, and himself taken into custody.

Orders were now given for the Alceste to be steered close under the principal fort. On her approach the batteries and seventeen or eighteen war-junks endeavoured to make good the threat, by opening a heavy, though ill-directed fire. The return of a single shot silenced the flotilla; and one broadside, poured in with three hearty cheers, proved quite sufficient for her more formidable opponent. The other batteries being soon after, quieted, the Alceste proceeded without further molestation to the second bar, and subsequently to Whampoa, at which latter place she remained until the arrival of Lord Amherst and his suite, in Jan. 1817.

The effects of Captain Maxwell’s decisive conduct was soon evinced by the arrival of all kinds of supplies to his frigate, and a cargo to the General Hewitt, before withheld on the plea of her being required to carry back the tribute which she had brought from England to the celestial empire: also by the publication of an edict[10], endeavouring to make the affair at the Bocca Tigris appear to the natives as a mere salute, or “ching-chinning” ceremony, although the report of their loss, promulgated previous to this official fabrication, stated it to be 47 killed, and many others “spoiled” (wounded), which probably was near the truth, as the Chinese warriors stood rather thick in the batteries, and the Alceste’s 32-pounder carronades were well loaded with grape. It likewise came to pass, that the viceroy thought proper to send down a high mandarin, attended by one of the hong, or security merchants, to wait upon Captain Maxwell, welcome him into the river, and compliment him with all possible politeness!

Lord Amherst having re-embarked, the Alceste sailed from Whampoa, on the 21st Jan. 1817; exchanged friendly salutes with the guardians of the Bocca Tigris; touched at Macao, and Manilla; rounded the numerous clusters of rocks and shoals lying to the westward of the Philippines, and to the N.W. of Borneo; and then shaped a course for the Straits of Caspar, which she entered soon after day-light on the 18th of February.

The morning was fine, the wind fresh and favourable, and the Alceste moving rapidly through the water; every appearance promised a rapid passage into the Java sea, for which Captain Maxwell, who had been on deck the whole of the preceding night, was steering the course laid down in the most approved charts, and recommended by the sailing directions in his possession, when the ship struck against a sunken rock, three miles distant from Pulo Leat, or Middle Island, and having grated over it for a few seconds, took a slight heel to starboard, and became immoveable. The rapidity of her motion at the instant of striking, rendered it highly probable that she had received serious injury; and every doubt on this subject was soon removed by the appearance of her false keel floating alongside; and the report of the carpenter, who stated that the water in the hold had increased from 2J to 7 feet, and that it was gaining rapidly on the pumps.

The sails, which had at first been thrown a-back, were now furled, and the best-bower anchor was dropped, to keep her fast, from the apprehension, if she went off the rock, of her instantly sinking. At this alarming crisis, not the slightest confusion or irregularity occurred: every necessary order was as coolly given, and as steadily obeyed, as if nothing unusual had happened; every one did his duty calmly, diligently, and effectually.

The boats being hoisted out, Lord Amherst and the gentlemen of his suite, within half an hour after the striking of the ship, were in the barge, and making for the nearest part of the above-mentioned desert island. After leaving the Alceste, they saw more accurately the dangerous nature of her situation. The rock on which she had struck was distinctly seen from the boat, extending only a few yards from her. Beyond, the water was dark and deep for nearly half a mile; it then became so shallow, that the beautiful but fatal coral was continually seen as they approached the shore. When about a mile from Pulo Leat, rocks, covered by not more than from one to three feet water, surrounded them on all sides. The barge struck several times, but was saved from any serious accident by the skill of Lieutenant Hoppner, who commanded her. After sailing or rowing for about an hour, they gained what had appeared from the ship to be land covered with wood, but to their mortification discovered nothing but insulated masses of granite, interspersed with mangrove trees growing in the water. Being now joined by a cutter, with the servants of the embassy, and part of the guard, they proceeded along shore in quest of a more convenient place for debarkation. Several creeks, which seemed to penetrate inland, were in vain explored; they all terminated in deep swamps. Similar attempts were reiterated, till anxiety to send back the boats determined his Excellency to land on the first rocks which should be found sufficiently large or numerous for the reception of the party. This intention was at length effected in a small bay, where the rocks were so mingled with the trees as to afford firm hand-hold. The boats were then immediately despatched to assist in bringing on shore whatever could be saved from the wreck. A more convenient landing place being subsequently discovered near an eminence on which an encampment might be formed, the whole party removed thither, leaving a marine behind to communicate with the boats as they successively approached the shore.

The heat of the day as it advanced, and the exertions of the men in clearing the ground, for the reception of persons and baggage, produced great thirst, and rendered it necessary to search for water, of which none had been brought on shore, except a very small quantity collected from the dripstones on deck. A search for this purpose was conducted in several directions without success; and night coming on, it was relinquished in the hopes of better fortune on the morrow. During the whole day, and till a late hour in the evening, the boats were constantly employed conveying articles from the wreck, and towing ashore a raft on which had been placed the baggage, stores, and a small supply of provisions, rescued with much labour and difficulty, under the superintendence of Captain Maxwell, whose exertions and self possession were most highly spoken of by all his fellow-sufferers.

Towards midnight, as the tide rose, the swell of the sea lifted the ship from the rock, and dashed her on it again witlj such violence, as to render it necessary for the top-masts to be cut away. In doing this, two men were very severely bruised.

The following morning, Captain Maxwell landed[11]; and after consulting with Lord Amherst, it was determined that his Excellency, and the gentlemen of the embassy, should proceed without delay to Batavia in the barge, with a picked crew, commanded by the junior Lieutenant (Mr. Hoppner): one of the cutters was also prepared to accompany them, for the purpose of assisting in case of attack or accident. The master of the Alceste was sent on board the latter to navigate the boats. At this season there was no probability of the passage to Batavia exceeding 60 hours, the distance being only 197 miles; the inconvenience to which his Excellency would be subjected was, consequently, very limited in duration; and much additional expedition in the despatch of relief might be expected from his personal exertions at Batavia. The stock of liquors and provisions furnished to the boats was necessarily very small, and only sufficient on very short allowance to support existence for four or five days; only seven gallons of water could be spared for the whole party, consisting of 47 persons; but they were fortunately visited by a heavy fall of rain on the day after their departure, which more than supplied the place of what had already been expended. The following extracts from “Ellis’s Journal,”[12] contain a rapid outline of subsequent occurrences, which the interesting narrative of the late Dr. M‘Leod, Surgeon of the Alceste, have rendered a more detailed account of unnecessary.

“The boats left the island on the evening of the 19th, and after what may be considered a tedious passage, made Carawang Point on the evening of the 22d, to the great joy of all on board, and to the relief of the crews, who were beginning to sink under the continued exertion of rowing, and the privations to which all were equally subjected. It was judged advisable by Mr. Mayne, the Master, to come-to for the night, as well to rest the men, as from a consideration that little advantage could be derived from reaching the roads before daylight. During the night, one of the sailors suffered from temporary delirium, caused, no doubt, by a want of sufficient fluid aggravated, however, by large draughts of salt water, from which no injunctions or entreaties could induce some of the crew to desist[13]. All the provisions and liquors were distributed during the passage with the most scrupulous equality; if ever a difference was made, it was in favour of the men. Messrs. Hoppner and Cooke[14], and some of the other gentlemen, occasionally relieved the men at the oars; and, on the whole, it may be said, that as the danger and difficulty were common, the privations and fatigue were not less so.

“The boats had advanced but a short distance towards the roads on the morning of the 23d, when one of the sailors, in washing his face over the side of the barge, discovered that the water was fresh. The discovery soon became general, and, although the circumstance was much inferior, the exultation of all on board almost equalled that of the ten thousand on catching the first glimpse of the sea; for the conscious proximity to Bataviahad not carried such complete conviction of the termination of our troubles, as the unexpected abundance of fresh water. It was soon ascertained that we were opposite the mouth of a river, and that the flowing in of the stream freshened the sea-water for a considerable distance[15]. The sailors pulled with renewed vigour, and we got alongside the Princess Charlotte, an English merchant ship, soon after ten o’clock.

“Letters were immediately sent by his Excellency to the Dutch Governor and to Mr. Fendall, whom, with the other British Commissioners, we were fortunate enough to find still on the island[16]. All parties were alike zealous to afford every assistance to those who had arrived, and to send relief to the larger body that had remained behind. The East India Company’s cruiser, Ternate, was luckily in the roads, and that vessel, together with the Princess Charlotte, were got ready for sea by the next morning, when they sailed for Pulo Leat. The sincere friendship I felt for Captain Maxwell, and my regard for the officers of the Alceste generally, had led me to promise, on leaving them, that I would return with the first succours; and I was happy to have an early opportunity of redeeming my pledge, by embarking on board the Ternate.

“This vessel, owing to the skill and unremitting attention of Captain Davison, succeeded in reaching an anchorage 12 miles distant from the nearest point of Pulo Leat, on the 3d of March. She was unable to approach nearer, from the strength of the current rendering it impracticable to work against the wind, then also unfavourable. On coming to an anchor we observed a fleet of Malay proas, or pirate boats, off the extremity of the island, in the act of precipitately getting under weigh, evidently alarmed by our arrival; the circumstance increased our anxiety for the situation of our companions, whose discomfort, if not sufferings, must have been aggravated by the presence of a barbarous enemy. Indeed, under every view of the case, it was impossible not to feel the most serious apprehensions as to what might be their actual condition. When we left them their whole stock of provisions did not exceed one week at full allowance; only two casks of water had been saved; and though on digging to the depth of 12 feet a prospect existed of obtaining water by further perseverance, it had not then actually been realized, much less its quality ascertained. Should sickness have appeared amongst them, the total want of comfort, or even protection from the inclemency of the weather, combined with the deficiency of medical stores, must have rendered its progress most destructive. Fourteen days had now elapsed, and the evils under which they were likely to suffer were certain to increase in intensity from the mere daily continuance. The firmness and commanding character of Captain Maxwell were sufficient security for the maintenance of discipline; but even upon this head it was difficult to be wholly without alarm.

“Soon after sunset our anxiety was relieved by the arrival of a boat with Messrs. Sykes and Abbot on board; from them we learnt that water had been procured from two wells, in sufficient quantity for the general consumption. Only one casualty had occurred, and that too in the person of a marine, who had landed in a state of hopeless debility[17]. The Malay proas had made their appearance on the 22d February, and had been daily increasing in numbers. The first Lieutenant (Hickman) and a detachment of the crew had, in consequence of their approach, been obliged to abandon the ship, and another raft that had been constructed. The pirates had subsequently set fire to the wreck, which had burnt to the water’s edge. Supplies of provisions, liquors, and arms had, however, been obtained from it. The creek, where the boats of the ship were laid up, had been completely blockaded by the proas, sixty in number, carrying from 8 to 12 men each, until the appearance of the Ternate, when they had all hastened away[18].

"Captain Maxwell had carried his intention into effect of establishing himself on the top of a hill near the landing-place. By cutting down trees and clearing the underwood, an open space had been obtained sufficient for the accommodation of the crew, and the reception of the stores and baggage. The trees and underwood cut down had furnished materials for defences, capable of resisting a sudden attack from an enemy unprovided with artillery; platforms had been erected at the most commanding points, and a terre pleine of some yards extent had been formed immediately without the defences to prevent surprise; some hundred rounds of ball cartridge had been made up and distributed to the men with the small arms: pikes, however, some of bamboo with the ends pointed and hardened in the fire, were the weapons of the majority. None had been exempted from their share of guard-duty, nor had the slightest want of inclination been manifested; in fact the wise arrangements and personal character of Captain Maxwell, while they had really given security, had inspired proportionate confidence; and it might safely be asserted that an attack from the Malays was rather wished for than feared.

“On the evening preceding our arrival, Captain Maxwell had addressed the men upon their actual situation, the dangers of which he did not endeavour to conceal, but at the same time he pointed out the best means of averting them, and inculcated the necessity of union, steadiness, and discipline. His address was received with three cheers, which were repeated by the party on guard over the boats, and every heart and hand felt nerved to ‘do or die[19].’ The appearance of the Ternate, however, prevented this desperate trial of their courage being made. We may attribute the precipitate retreat of the Malays to their habitual dread of a square-rigged vessel, and their not considering the actual circumstances of the case, which rendered the Ternate almost useless for the purposes of assisting the party on shore, the anchorage being too distant to allow of any effective co-operation.

“My expectations of the security of the position were more than realized when I ascended the hill; the defences were only pervious to a spear, and the entrances were of such difficult access, and so commanded, that many an assailant must have fallen before the object could be effected. Participation of privation, and equal distribution of comfort, had lightened the weight of suffering to all; and I found the universal sentiment to be an enthusiastic admiration of the temper, energy, and arrangements of Captain Maxwell. No man ever gained more in the estimation of his comrades by gallantry in action, than he had done by his conduct on this trying occasion: his look was confidence, and his orders were felt to be security.

“The next and part of the following day were employed in embarking the crew and remaining stores on board the Ternate. We sailed in the afternoon of the 7th, and reached Batavia on the evening of the 9th. The Princess Charlotte, from inferiority of sailing and other adverse circumstances, did not reach the Straits of Caspar till the 17th, and was then obliged to come-to at a much greater distance from the island than the Ternate had done.

“His Excellency and Captain Maxwell having deemed it adviseable to combine the conveyance of the embassy with that of the officers and crew of the Alceste to England, the ship Caesar was taken up for those purposes; and all the necessary arrangements being completed, we sailed from Batavia Roads on the morning of the 12th April, and anchored in Simon’s Bay, after a voyage of 45 days.”

On his passage home Captain Maxwell had an interview with Napoleon Buonaparte, who remembered that he had commanded at the capture of la Pomone, and said to him “Vous étiez très méchant – Eh bien! your goverment must not blame you for the loss of the Alceste, for you have taken one of my frigates[20].” That his government had no cause to censure him will be seen by the decision of a Court-Martial, held on board the Queen Charlotte at Portsmouth, in August, 1817:–

“The Court is of opinion that the loss of H.M. late ship Alceste, was caused by her striking on a sunken rock, until then unknown, in the straits of Caspar. That Captain Murray Maxwell, previous to the circumstance, appears to have conducted himself in the most zealous and officer-like manner; and, after the ship struck, his coolness, self-collection, and exertions, were highly conspicuous; and that every thing was done by him and his officers within the power of man to execute, previous to the loss of the ship, and afterwards to preserve the lives of the Right Hon. Lord Amherst, H.M. Ambassador, and his suite, as well as those.of the ship’s company, and to save her stores on that occasion; the Court, therefore, adjudge the said Captain Murray Maxwell, his officers and men, to be most fully acquitted.”

Amongst the witnesses examined on this occasion was Lord Amherst, who stated “that he had selected Captain Maxwell, on the occasion of the embassy, from motives of personal friendship, as well as from the high opinion he entertained of his professional character, which opinion had been much increased by the events of the voyage.”

Captain Maxwell was nominated a C.B. in 1815, and received the honor of knighthood on the 27th May, 1818. At the general election in the same year he stood as a candidate for the city of Westminster, and sustained severe personal injury from the vile rabble with which the hustings in Covent Garden is on such occasions surrounded. On the 20th May, 1819, the Hon. East India Company presented him with the sum of 1500l. for the services rendered by him to the embassy, and as a remuneration for the loss he sustained on his return from China. He was appointed to the Bulwark, a third-rate, bearing the flag of Sir Benjamin Hallowell, at Chatham, in June, 1821; and removed to the Briton frigate, on the 28th Nov. 1822. He is at present employed on the South American station.

Sir Murray is one of nine brothers, six of whom, besides himself, devoted themselves to their country’s service. Two, Keith and John, were brought up in the navy: the former died a Post-Captain, and the latter has also obtained that rank.

Agent.– Sir Francis Ommanney, M.P.



  1. The flotilla was commanded by Captain Charles Richardson, of the Alligator troop-ship, whose conduct and exertions throughout the campaign are very highly spoken of in the public despatches.
  2. See Vol. I, p. 570.
  3. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 408.
  4. Captain Chamberlayne reports the capture of la Persanne, a French store-ship, mounting 26 nine-pounders, with a complement of 190 men, having in her hold 120 iron guns and several pieces of brass ordnance. She kept up a running fight from noon till 4 P.M. and did not surrender whilst the least chance remained of escaping from her very superior opponent. The Unité was much cut up in her masts, yards, sails, and rigging, by a galling fire from the Frenchman’s stern-chasers, but fortunately only one of her crew was wounded. The enemy, whose masterly manoeuvres and persevering resistance reflect great credit on her commander, Mons. Satie, had 2 men killed and 4 wounded. La Persanne, being found unfit for the British navy, was sold at Malta to an agent of the Tunisian government, for 15,500l.
  5. La Pomone had in her hold 42 iron guns, 9 brass ditto, and 220 iron wheels for gun-carriages. She was one of the largest class of French frigates, and had been built by the citizens of Genoa for that nautical mushroom, Jerome Buonaparte, to whom she was presented on his obtaining the rank of a Captain in the imperial marine.
  6. Lieutenant John Collman Hickman, 1 midshipman, and 30 seamen, were left in three prize vessels for the protection of the island against the designs of Marshal Bertrand, the Alceste having also left behind 1 lieutenant, 1 serjeant, 2 corporals, and 48 privates of the royal marines, had on board only 218 officers and men. The Active was equally short of complement. For farther particulars of the action, see Captain Sir James Alexander Gordon, K.C.B.
  7. The General Hewitt, Indiaman, Captain Walter Campbell, had been taken up by the Hon. Court of Directors, for the conveyance of the presents intended for the Emperor of China.
  8. Captain Maxwell found the main land of Corea from 100 to 130 miles farther to the eastward than his charts led him to believe.
  9. Captain Hall, on his return to England, published a very interesting narrative of the “Voyage to Corea, and the Island of Loo-Choo.” This work he dedicated to Sir Murray Maxwell, “to whose ability in conducting the voyage, zeal in giving encouragement to every inquiry, sagacity in discovering the disposition of the natives, and address in gaining their confidence and good will,” he attributes “whatever may be found interesting” in his pages.

    The first edition of Captain Hall’s publication, which gives a full account of the voyage to Corea and Loo-Choo, is divided into a Narrative, an Appendix, containing charts and various nautical and scientific notices, and a Vocabulary of the Loo-Choo language. The second edition is confined to the narrative alone, to the exclusion of all technical and other details, not calculated to interest the general reader. The former is a 4to. volume, price 2l. 2s. – the latter, containing four plates, and a general chart showing the track of the Alceste and Lyra, is a small 8vo. price 7s. 6d.

  10. The word “edict” appears to be applied by the Chinese to any piece of common information, whether it is from the Emperor, or has the force of a law, or not.
  11. The water had by this time risen to the main-deck from below; and was beating over it through the starboard ports as the ship lay on her beam ends.
  12. Henry Ellis, Esq. Third Commissioner of the Embassy.
  13. “Salt water,” says Dr. M‘Leod, “although an article of Materia Medica, in very extensive use, has never been known to take the direction of the head.”
  14. Lieutenant J. Cooke, R.M. commanded the Ambassador’s guard of honor during his travels through China, and was now sent with 7 marines to assist in protecting his Excellency in case of the boats being attacked by pirates between Pulo Leat and Batavia.
  15. “We were now opposite the Carawang river, whose waters, from their lower specific gravity, rolled on the surface of the sea.” Vide “Abel’s Narrative,” p. 260.
  16. The Alceste took out duplicate despatches, ordering the British troops to evacuate Java.
  17. This poor fellow had contracted a liver complaint in China, whilst accompanying the Ambassador as one of his guard. The only thing he complained of in his enfeebled state, was his inability to turn out and face the Malays with his comrades. Another man, who was a foreigner, and a very troublesome character, thought proper to leave his shipmates on the third day after they landed, saying, he considered himself free from the English service after the frigate was wrecked. He may have been bitten by a serpent in the woods, and died there, or have fallen into the hands of the savages; but he was never afterwards heard of. See M‘Leod’s Voyage, p. 272.
  18. On the 26th May, Lieutenant Hay, in the second barge, pursued two proas, one of which he came up with, and was on the point of boarding, when she sunk with 4 of her crew. The remaining six swam with great dexterity, and refusing quarter, continued to fight with their spears until quite exhausted, when two of them dived and were seen no more. The others were taken prisoners, but two died soon after they had been dragged into the boat.
  19. For Captain Maxwell’s speech, see “M‘Leod’s Voyage,” p. 255.
  20. See “M‘Leod’s Voyage,” p. 320.