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Royal Naval Biography/Nicolas, John Toup

This old and respected officer was born in 1758, and commenced his naval career, under the protection of Commodore (afterwards Admiral) Lord Shuldham, in 1772. He was present, in the Orpheus 32, Captain Charles Hudson, at the blockade of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; and continued in that frigate until she was burnt by her crew, at Rhode Island, to prevent her falling into the enemy’s hands. His first commission bears date Sept. 23, 1779; at which period he was appointed to the Ocean, of 90 guns: we subsequently find him senior lieutenant of the Buffalo 60, Captain John Holloway. In 1786, he was appointed to the Sprightly cutter, which command he was obliged to resign from ill health, in 1788. From the close of 1792 till 1798, he regulated the impress service at Dartmouth, and was also employed in enrolling volunteers for the defence of the Devonshire coast. His exertions in raising and training these men induced a nobleman who witnessed his zeal spontaneously to recommend him to the Admiralty for promotion, but without success, though backed by a very strong letter from the corporation and merchants of Dartmouth, “who felt peculiarly earnest in their application on behalf of a gentleman who bad exercised the duties of the impress service (the nature of which is frequently distressing to the feelings of an officer) so as to give general satisfaction; and who, when the inhabitants of the town were threatened with the progress of a very alarming fire, by his own personal activity, and prudent and spirited direction of the men under him,” preserved it from destruction[1].

In 1798, the late Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Buller was appointed to the command of the Sea Fencibles on the coast of Devon[2]; and in Jan. 1799, he reported to the Admiralty, that “Lieutenant Nicholas, with his usual zeal,” went from Dartmouth in a custom-house boat, accompanied by one from the Nimble cutter, in hopes of coming up with a French privateer of 14 guns, which had just before taken an English merchant brig; that he was not fortunate enough to succeed in the attempt; but that he had towed the brig back into the harbour, she having been recaptured by a boat from Brixham. The Naval Chronicle informs us, that he was several times on service against the enemy’s privateers, whilst attached to the above-mentioned corps[3]. His next and last appointment was, April 14, 1803, to the command of the Resolue guard-ship, at Plymouth, where he continued until she was put out of commission, in Oct. 1810. At the time of Ins superannuation he had been 42 years in the naval service.

Commander Nicholas married, in May, 1787, Margaret, grand-daughter and co-heiress of the Rev. John Keigwin, by whom he has five sons, viz.

I. John Toup Nicolas, born Feb. 22, 1788, who derives his baptismal name of Toup from his maternal great uncle, the Rev. Jonathan Toup, Prebendary of Exeter, the editor of Longinus, and one of the most profound scholars of his age. II. Paul Harris Nicolas, a first lieutenant of the royal marines, who served in the Belleisle 74, at the battle of Trafalgar, and afterwards in the boats of the Amazon and Armide frigates, on the coast of France. III. William Keigwin Nicolas, made lieutenant in 1809, and was wounded whilst serving under the command of his eldest brother, in June, 1815. IV. Nicholas Harris Nicolas, made lieutenant in 1815, the author of a telegraphic vocabulary, and of other improvements in naval signals[4]. V. Charles Henry Nicolas. These sons have resumed the ancient manner of spelling the family name[5].

Mr. John Toup Nicolas entered the navy under the protection of Captain Edward Buller, in 1797; and served with that officer in the Edgar and Achille. During the peace of Amiens, he became an Admiralty midshipman in the Naiad frigate; but at the renewal of the war, he rejoined his patron, in the Malta 80, of which ship he was a lieutenant in Sir Robert Calder’s action, July 22, 1805[6]. His first commission bears date May 7, 1B04.

In 1807, Mr. Nicolas was introduced by Captain Buller to Rear-Admiral (now Sir George) Martin, who received him as his flag-lieutenant in the Queen 98, and with whom he removed as such to the Canopus 80, on the Mediterranean station. In Oct. 1809, Lord Collingwood gave him an order to act as commander of the Redwing 18, in which vessel he continued until Dec. following; when finding that he had been promoted by the Admiralty, on the 26th August, and appointed to the Pilot, another brig of similar force, he returned home and joined the latter at Portsmouth, in April, 1810.

About the end of that month, the Pilot sailed with a large convoy, under the orders of Captain the Hon. G. H. L. Dundas, and on their arrival off Lisbon, Captain Nicolas was directed to proceed with the merchantmen bound to Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. On his arrival at Malta, he was placed under the immediate orders of Rear-Admiral Martin, who sent him to cruise on the coast of Upper Calabria, for the purpose of intercepting the enemy’s convoys and annoying his coasting trade. An opportunity of doing so presented itself as soon as the Pilot reached her station; and the result is shewn by her commander’s official report, addressed to the Hon. Captain Wodehouse:–

H.M. Sloop Pilot, of Cape Licosa, June 24, 1810.

“Proceeding, in obedience to your directions, towards my station, on the evening of the 22nd inst., his Majesty’s schooner Ortenzia was observed in-shore of us, with the signals flying for an enemy. I consequently made all possible sail, and swept towards her; and on arriving up. Lieutenant (Edward) Blaquiere informed me, that a large convoy of the enemy were at anchor off the town of Cirella. I did every thing in my power to get in-shore daring the night, and desired him to do the same; but the winds being very light and variable, prevented our making much progress. At day-break on the following morning, the 23rd, fifty-one sail were observed pulling and tracking along the beach, escorted by five large armed settees, and eight gun-boats, about seven or eight miles distant from us. It being calm, we immediately got out our sweeps, and pulled towards them, and continued in chase with the oars alone until two o’clock p.m. as we had not an air of wind until that time, and then but a very light one.

“Finding the Ortenzia swept better than the Pilot, and that she gained much on the convoy, I sent two boats armed to assist in towing her, hoping that by doing so she might get within reach of the gun-boats, and by that means stop their progress, as well as that of the convoy, until we arrived. I had the satisfaction to find that it in some degree succeeded, as at about half-past twelve she opened her fire, and caused five of the largest merchant vessels to run on shore a little to the northward of the town of St. Lucido, and some of the others to take the ground under the battery there, where the armed vessels, now sixteen in number, having been reinforced by three at that place, drew up for the convoy’s protection, and the outermost of them, two of which wore mortar-boats, opened a heavy fire on the schooner and us as we got up. But it being nearly calm, and our people excessively fatigued by pulling at the sweeps for upwards of nine hours without intermission, I thought it proper to recall the Ortenzia, and to haul off for the time, intending when a stronger breeze came to have attacked them, and for the present to do my utmost to destroy the vessels that had run on shore to the northward of the battery, and were by this time afloat. So soon as the people had dined, we stood in for that purpose; and not seeing any troops near the spot, I was sanguine enough to hope it might be effected without serious loss. The boats, manned with volunteers, and under the direction of Lieutenant (George) Penruddocke, of this sloop, then pulled towards the vessels, with directions not to persevere if he found any musketry fired from the shore. On their getting on board the vessels, a heavy fire was opened from behind a hedge, where not a man before was visible; I instantly made the signal of recall, and being within half musket-shot of the beach, commenced with our guns, as did the Ortenzia with hers, and I hope with some execution, though not with sufficient to induce me to send the boats again. Finding therefore they could not effect the destruction of the vessels by fire, I was determined to endeavour to do it by shot, and this I had the satisfaction of observing we fully accomplished, as they were laden with powder, which the water from the shot-holes must have rendered useless.

“Although this affair has not been productive of any great advantage to us, yet it has, I trust, been in some degree useful, in shewing the enemy that they cannot pass unnoticed or unmolested by his Majesty’s cruisers, and that if ever we have the good fortune to meet them with a breeze of wind, their destruction will be as inevitable, as I am persuaded, from the confidence I have in the officers and ship’s company under my command, and the gallantry and zeal manifested by Lieutenant Blaquiere and the crew of the Ortenzia, it would have been yesterday, had the lightest wr of wind but favoured us so as to have overtaken them before they reached their battery, and were reinforced. I lament extremely the loss of three valuable lives in this affair.”

Fifteen days afterwards, the Pilot attacked another convoy, consisting of two gun-boats, three armed scampavias, and seventeen sail of transport vessels, laden with ammunition, &c.: the particulars of this attack, the opinions of Rear-Admiral Martin and the commander-in-chief, and the importance which the enemy attached to it, are satisfactorily shewn by public documents:–

Pilot, off St. Lucido, July 10, 1810.

“On leaving the Thames on the 6th inst. we kept inshore working to the northward, believing that the convoy which we had been watching off Cirella would endeavour to escape during our absence, and which at daybreak on the morning of the 8th we discovered to be the case. the moment they were seen, it being quite calm, we swept towards them, to prevent their reaching the battery of St. Lucido, which we fortunately effected, by causing the armed vessels to anchor, and the rest to run on shore about eight miles to the northward of that place. At 5 P.M. having closed them, I immediately anchored alongside the gun-boats, which had been firing at us as we swept in; but on the discharge of a few broadsides, all their people jumped overboard, and the most of them got to the shore. Our fire was then directed towards the merchant vessels, in order to destroy them, and was continued within grape-shot distance for two hours; for as they were well protected by two or three companies of soldiers, and a numerous armed peasantry amongst the rocks, I did not think it prudent to attempt to bring those off that had taken the ground; but I had the satisfaction of seeing their cargoes all washed out of them from the effect of our shot, and I judged their destruction to be as advantageous to the service as their capture, the latter of which we could not expect to accomplish, without the loss of many lives.

“I should be wanting in justice to Lieutenants Penruddocke and Annesley, were I to omit mentioning the handsome manner in which they volunteered to bring the gun-boats out from the secure position they had taken behind a small island. This service those officers were fortunate enough to effect, although they were well fastened to the shore, and all the soldiers and people with musketry kept up a very heavy fire on them whilst bringing the vessels out.

“I think it necessary to add, how highly satisfied I am with the conduct of all the officers and ship’s company under my command; and they particularly merit my best praise for the cool and steady manner in which they performed their duty when the enemy’s shot were flying fast about us, and to it alone I attribute the preservation of many lives. The convoy, I find by the prisoners who remained on board of the gun-boats, was under the direction of Captain Gorafalo, commanding a division of gun-boats, having the rank of a capitaine-de-fregate. I herewith enclose you a list of the killed and wounded[7].

“P.S. Since I have written this letter, I have stood in-shore, and observed that the swell has washed the cargoes out of all the vessels about the beach, and they are lying under water.”

For this service, Captain Nicolas received the following letter, from Rear-Admiral Martin:–

H.M. S. Campus, off the Faro, July 12, 1810.

"Sir,– I have had the pleasure of receiving your letter of the 8th instant, announcing to me the capture and destruction, by his Majesty’s sloop Pilot under your command, of a convoy of the enemy, laden with stores and ammunition for Murat’s army at Scylla, together with the two gun-boats and three scampavias which escorted them; and I beg to express to you my high admiration of your conduct, and that of all those under your command, for their behaviour on this occasion, and which I shall not fail to report to the commander-in-chief. I am, &c,

(Signed)George Martin.

To J. Toup Nicolas, Esq. &c. &c.

On the 25th of the same month, the Pilot assisted at the capture and destruction of thirty-one vessels, laden with provisions and stores for the enemy’s army at Scylla, together with seven large gun-boats and five armed scampavias, by which the transports were protected. The official account of this exploit will be found in our memoir of Captain Lord Radstock, who bore honorable testimony to the “gallantry and zeal” of Captain Nicolas, and of every other officer and man under his orders. The convoy thus disposed of, and that which had been previously destroyed by the Pilot, was acknowledged by Murat “to have been indispensably necessary to complete his preparations for the invasion of Sicily;” and it was asserted at Naples, that he alledged the loss of those convoys as the cause of his postponing, and finally abandoning, the expedition against that island.[8] The following letters were subsequently addressed to Captain Nicolas:

Private.”“Canopus, July 27, 1810.

“My dear Sir,– Most sincerely do I congratulate you on your success. Captain Waldegrave, in his public letter, has spoken of you in terms which I am sure your conduct well deserves. I would wish you to send all your prizes to the Canopus, and to be ready to proceed to your station mth the Thames as soon as possible, as another convoy is said to be expected from Naples. I am, my dear Sir,– &c.

(Signed)George Martin.

Canopus, Messina, Oct. 19, 1810.

“Sir,– In compliance with the directions I have received by letter from Sir Charles Cotton, Bart, commander-in-chief, addressed to Vice-Admiral Martin, but whose flag being struck, and the command on this station having devolved upon me, I have therefore the very pleasing duty of conveying to you the approbation of the commander-in-chief, of your conduct, and that of the officers and men under your command, in the late successful attack on the enemy’s convoys from Naples. I have the honor to be, &c

(Signed)Chas. Boyles.

Canopus, Palermo, Feb. 6, 1811.

“Sir,– I am directed by the commander-in-chief, in pursuance of directions he has received from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, to express to you their Lordships’ high approbation at the gallantry displayed by the captains, officers, seamen, and marines, of the Thames, Weazel, and Pilot, at the capture and destruction of the enemy’s convoy from Naples, under the batteries of Amanthea, on the 25th July last; and further, that in consideration thereof, their lordships had been pleased to promote Captain Prescott, of the Weazel, to the rank of Post-Captain, and Lieutenant Edward Collier, of the Thames, to the rank of Commander, with commissions bearing date the 25th of last July. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Charles Boyles.”

At the moment when Captain Prescott, the senior commander at Amanthea, was so deservedly promoted. Captain Nicolas had not completed the necessary time to be eligible to post rank; but as the Pilot alone had captured and destroyed twenty-two sail, including five armed vessels, a short time before, independently of the attack in company with the Ortenzia, it might have been supposed that he would have attained that step soon afterwards, especially as these were the first attempts to interrupt Murat’s convoys. Until October in that year the Pilot continued on the same station, and was continually employed in harassing the convoys returning from Calabria to Naples.

In April, 1811, Rear-Admiral Boyles sent Captain Nicolas to examine the whole of the lower coast, between Capes Spartivento and St. Mary. On his return to Messina, he reported as follows:–

“Only three of the vessels we have seen had the appearance of being laden, and these, I have the satisfaction to say, we were fortunate enough to get off, notwithstanding that they were hauled high on the beach, and their crews had taken every precaution to prevent our succeeding, by carrying away their launching materials, with all that was moveable belonging to them, and had brought above thirty soldiers, and as many country people armed for their protection, from the town of Monasteracci, under which they were lying. The zeal and exertions of Lieutenants (Alexander) Campbell and (Francis Charles) Annesley, together with those of Mr. (Roger) Langlands, and the petty officers and men employed on shore, soon, however, overcame every difficulty, and in about an hour they were launched. I am happy to add, that not a man of ours was hurt on this occasion, although the enemy had very favorably placed themselves, partly in houses, and partly in a wood on the top of a hill, within half-musket-shot of the beach, and from whence we could not dislodge them, notwithstanding the brig was anchored within grape-shot of the shore. The cargoes of the vessels consist of oil, going as part of the annual tribute paid by the town of Catanzara to the French government at Naples.”

On the 3rd May, several vessels were captured under similar circumstances, near the town of Riacci; and on the 10th of that month, the Pilot, in company with the Herald ship-sloop, Captain George Jackson, attacked a small convoy near the town of Monasteracci. The execution of this duty was entrusted to Captain Nicolas, the Herald’s boats being sent to assist those of the brig. Captain Jackson’s report of the affair, which was marked by great gallantry, and attended with complete success, was acknowledged by Rear-Admiral Boyles in the following terms:–

Campus, Palermo Bay, 18th May, 1811.

“Sir,– I have to acknowledge your letter of the 10th inst. received by the Messina military courier this morning, and therefore do not lose a moment in answering your detailed account of the very handsome services of his Majesty’s sloop under your command, and that of the Pilot, under Captain Nicolas, in a co-operation in the annoyance of the enemy’s trade, and destruction of their craft on the coast of Upper Calabria; which has been accomplished in so judicious, and so gallant a manner, that I am confident the commander-in-chief, to whom I shall take the earliest opportunity to transmit your original letters, will feel with myself the merit that is due to the officers and men engaged in the enterprise, and particularly to the prudent and cool intrepidity of Lieutenant Alexander Campbell, in conducting the service, which, I have the pleasure to remark is the general characteristic of that brave officer, shewn on many similar occasions, which I have had the honor to be officially acquainted with, and which honorable testimonials have gone through me to the commander-in-chief, and I have not a doubt but very soon I shall have the happiness of transmitting his approbation and thanks for such meritorious services to all who have been employed. However, Sir, before I can receive such gratifying commands, I beg you will, as well as Captain Nicolas, Lieutenant Campbell, and the rest of the officers and men who had the honour to be engaged in this enterprise, accept my warmest thanks and approbation for their steady and gallant conduct on this and former occasions.

“You will please to make known these my sentiments to Captain Nicolas, that he may acquaint the officers and men employed on the active service therewith. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Charles Boyles.”

To Captain Jackson, H.M.S. Herald.

At the same time, Captain Nicolas received the annexed private letter from Rear-Admiral Boyles:–

Canopus, Palermo, May 20th, 1811.

“Dear Sir,– I give you joy of your success; the whole affair has been conducted in a most officer like manner: I think Lieutenant Campbell to have the greatest merit, both on this last service, in the company of the Herald, as well as the exploits before. I have by this opportunity written to Captain Jackson my public approbation of the very essential services performed since you have been on the station of Upper Calabria, where I wish you to remain. If I had a brig, with a junior officer to yourself, I would send her to you. I shall not fail to appreciate the zeal and gallantry of Lieutenant Campbell, the other officers and men employed on this service, the merit of whom deserve every thing. I hope your prizes will be a small reward for their very good conduct: on the service of annoying the coast, which you are so very effectually doing, I should recommend by no means to incommode your ship with prisoners, unless they are Frenchmen. As to the natives, and Neapolitans, let them go off, making a merit of your humanity, as the great principle of the little war you are carrying on upon the coast, is as much as possible to facilitate the complete blockade of Corfu, which we must do, to secure to the British government the Ionian Isles, and to place them under the British flag, a thing of all others the inhabitants of these isles are desirous of. I shall send your information, as well as all the letters, to the commander-in-chief: the code of information is very clear, and well conceived, and eventually will be of service. I am, dear Sir, your very faithful humble servant,

(Signed)“Charles Boyles.”

J. Toup Nicolas, Esq.

On the 26th May, the boats of the Pilot captured and destroyed four settees, laden with commissariat stores, almost immediately under the town of Strongoli, where they were protected by a tower within half-musket shot of the beach, and by a detachment of troops at least 140 strong. In this affair she had only one man wounded. Between that period and Sept. 3, 1811, a number of other vessels were taken and destroyed, near Cape St. Mary’s, Cotrone, and Strongoli: on one of those occasions, the carpenter of the Pilot was severely wounded[9]. The next service performed is thus officially detailed:–

H.M. Sloop Pilot, Syracuse, 11th Sept. 1811.

"Sir,– I do myself the honor of reporting to you, that early on the morning of the 6th instant, an armed ketch was observed to be secured to the walls of the castle of Castellar, and that, in order to bring her out or destroy her, H.M. sloop was immediately anchored close before the town, so as to drive the troops, that were collected for her protection, from their different positions. Having partly accomplished this, Lieutenant Alexander Campbell pushed off with the boats, and with great gallantry effected a landing under the ruins of the castle, and then after some opposition advanced to the town, from whence the few troops that remained precipitately fled. Finding the ketch was bilged, he hove her guns, six 6-pounders, overboard, and set her on fire. Having now full possession of Castellar, the marines were stationed in the castle, and we began to ship off as much grain and flax as our boats could convey, before a reinforcement of the enemy might oblige us to evacuate it; and I have the pleasure of saying, that we got about fifteen tons of corn, and a quantity of flax, by four o’clock, when they made their appearance with about 100 regular troops, 25 of whom were dragoons; but as we saw them early from our mast-head, our people embarked from the castle, by signal, just as the enemy entered the town. I have peculiar satisfaction in adding, that this has been accomplished without the smallest loss on our part. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)J. Toup Nicolas.”

To Rear-Admiral Boyles.


The gallant and successful exertions of Captain Nicolas, his officers, and crew, did not fail to obtain the approbation of their new commander-in-chief, Sir Edward Pellew, who, in a despatch to Rear-Admiral Boyles’ successor, the late Sir Thomas F. Freemantle, expressed himself in these terms. “The services mentioned in Captain Nicolas’s letters appear to do much credit to those employed therein. I shall forward them to the Admiralty.”

On the 4th April, 1812, a Neapolitan flotilla, consisting of a brig, three schooners, and fourteen gun-vessels, was engaged by the Pilot, in company with the Thames frigate, then commanded by Captain Charles Napier. Unfortunately, however, from its being a perfect calm, the enemy were enabled to effect their escape under the strong batteries of Salerno. On the 16th, nine vessels, laden with oil, were launched by the Pilot’s crew from the beach near Policastro, above 80 of the civic militia having been previously driven out of that town by a party of small-arm men and marines under Mr. Roger Langlands, who was soon afterwards rewarded with a lieutenant’s commission for his able conduct and conspicuous bravery on every occasion whilst acting as master of the Pilot. In the course of the same month, above a dozen other small craft were brought off from under the towns of Camerota, Lela, and Pisciota, where they were hauled up on shore for security: several towers were also blown up in the vicinity of those places.

On the 14th May, 1812, the Thames and Pilot attacked the port of Sapri, which was defended by a strong battery and tower, mounting two 32-pounders, which surrendered at discretion, after being battered for two hours within pistol-shot; the fortifications were then blown up, and the guns thrown into the sea. During the day, 28 vessels laden with oil were launched; but from a heavy gale of wind coming on in the night, they were driven on shore, and the greater part went to pieces. In his report of this attack, Captain Napier says, “I owe much to the support I received from Captain Nicolas, who flanked the battery in a most judicious manner, and afterwards commanded the launching[10]”.

In reply to that communication. Rear-Admiral Freemantle expressed “much pleasure in conveying his sentiments of the zeal by which Captains Napier and Nicolas had been actuated.”

Previous to this event, the Pilot was engaged in harassing a large convoy laden with timber, protected by fourteen gunboats and several scampavias; but in consequence of a calm it was found impossible to prevent them from escaping. In June following she joined the Euryalus frigate and Cephalus brig, in an ineffectual attempt to destroy a large convoy at Dino, protected by three batteries, several gun-boats, and numerous troops, on which occasion they were warmly engaged for five hours, but the Cephalus alone sustained any loss[11]: her consorts, however, were much cut up in sails and rigging.

In addition to the above mentioned services, the Pilot captured and destroyed numerous small merchantmen, while employed on the east and west coasts of Calabria, between April, 1810, and July, 1812. The total number of vessels thus disposed of by her, alone, during that period, exceeded 130; indeed scarcely a week elapsed without her doing something towards the complete annihilation of the enemy’s trade. Her aggregate loss did not exceed 8 men killed and 24 wounded: among the latter wore Mr. Henry Pierson Simpson, master’s-mate, and Mr. John Barnes, midshipman. The other young gentlemen who commanded boats, on these occasions, and distinguished themselves, were Messrs. Thomas F. Leigh and Nicholas Harris Nicolas. Mr. Simpson was subsequently killed by a grape-shot, when in pursuit of a privateer, off Galita.

In July, 1812, the Pilot was sent to the Adriatic, and there placed under the orders of Captain Edwards Lloyd Graham, of the Alcmene frigate, in company with which ship several guns were destroyed at Almezza and in the island of Brazza.

Captain Nicolas was next employed in cruising between Sicily and the coast of Africa, on which station he made several captures; and among them, June 4, 1813, after the third long and anxious chase, the French armed brig Harp, formerly a celebrated privateer pierced for 16 guns, and with a valuable cargo on board, from Marseilles bound to Tunis.

There has been some discussion lately as to when shells were first fired from carronades, and it has been contended, that it is a recent invention of the French. From 1810 to 1813, the Pilot was constantly in the practice of using shells in this manner, and repeated broadsides of them were frequently discharged. They were first obtained from her prize gunboats, and she was afterwards regularly supplied with them at Messina, as they proved most efficacious in dislodging the troops when collected to defend vessels driven on shore. A singular instance of their utility occurred when in chase of the Harp. The pursuit commenced at dusk, and the Pilot did not get within gun-shot until midnight. The first carronade fired threw a shell over the enemy’s brig, which, bursting on the other side of her, convinced her commander that it was a shot from another English man-of-war; when, thinking he was between two fires, he deemed escape hopeless, instantly brought to, and surrendered.

Shortly after the peace with France, in 1814, Captain Nicolas was sent by Lord Exmouth to Murat, then King of Naples, to inquire into a supposed insult offered by a Neapolitan frigate to H.M. sloop Pylades. This circumstance was proved by Joachim, in a personal interview, to have arisen from a mistake; and nothing could exceed the respect which the temporary monarch expressed for the English nation. About the same period, Captain Nicolas had the high gratification of receiving the annexed private letter from his Commander-in-chief:

Caledonia, Palermo Bay, 12th June, 1814.

“Dear Sir,– As the arrangements are making for the return of the fleet to England, and it will soon fall to the lot of the Pilot to bend her course the same way, I should regret your departure from my command without taking with you my best wishes for your promotion and success, and my testimony of satisfaction with your conduct during the three years you have served under my flag. I have had uniform pleasure in receiving reports of your gallantry and zeal, and my own observation has confirmed and strengthened your claim to my good opinion, to which no officer under my command has higher pretensions. I am, dear Sir, with esteem, your very faithful servant,

(Signed)Exmouth.”

The Pilot was ordered to call for the Oporto convoy on her way to England, with which she arrived at Portsmouth, Oct. 6, 1814. Captain Nicolas then obtained six weeks’ leave of absence, and soon afterwards received the following letter from his late Admiral:

London, Nov. 12, 1814.

“My dear Sir,– It is with sensible pleasure I hear from you, that Lord Melville acknowledges your just pretensions to promotion; I can safely say your conduct under my flag fully entitles yon to his consideration, and I hope you may soon experience the benefit of his good disposition towards you. Wishing you perfect success, I am, my dear Sir, very faithfully yours,

(Signed)Exmouth.”

From the want of interest to support his claims. Captain Nicolas was advised to ask the officers who severally commanded at Sicily for their testimonials of the Pilot’s services on that station, and this request procured for him the letters which we subjoin.

Plymouth, Oct. 2, 1814.

“Dear Sir,– Yesterday I was favoured with your letter of the 18th inst. and am very happy to reply to it in such a way as gives me much pleasure, and if I could assist your promotion, I should be very glad indeed. What I had an opportunity of saying to Sir Edward Buller, was what you justly deserved; for the services rendered by the activity of his Majesty’s sloop Pilot, when under my orders, I considered of such consequence in annoying the enemy’s coasting trade upon the coasts of Calabria and Naples, that I repeatedly had to perform a very agreeable part of my duty, by writing you public letters, to express my admiration of the zeal and gallantry shewn by yourself, officers, and crew of the Pilot, in many well conducted enter prises. I am very glad to hear you are well, and if you are disappointed in your promotion to a higher rank for a short time, I hope you have been more successful in prizes, as a consolation in a small degree for your privation of the step of post-captain. I am, dear Sir, Your obedient and faithful humble servant,

(Signed)Cha. Boyles[12].”

Brussels, 26th October, 1814.

“Dear Sir,–I have this moment received your letter of the 18th inst. requesting my opinion of your conduct during the time you served under i my flag as lieutenant, as well as in the command of ‘The Pilot’ sloop on the coast of Calabria. I beg to assure you that I had every reason to be most perfectly satisfied with your conduct upon all occasions, and that I did not fail to represent to the commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean station, the particular services performed by you as commander of the Pilot. I am, dear Sir, very truly yours,

(Signed)George Martin.”

Marwelton House, Nov. 18th, 1814.

“Dear Nicolas,– I congratulate you on your return to England after so long an absence, but feel mortified to find that you are still in the Pilot; for I must do you the credit to say, I never saw any sloop of war in better order in every respect, or more ready for service at all times; and indeed I was so much pleased with your conduct and attention whilst under my orders, when I commanded in Sicily and on the coast of Naples that I felt a pleasure in doing my duty, by mentioning you as I did to the Commander-in-chief, then Sir Edward Pellew. I regretted much your being absent on other service when I sent the expedition against Ponza[13], and likewise when I was singly in the bay of Naples, as I little doubt but that you would have brought out the frigate at anchor there, and thus ensured yourself a rank which, in my humble opinion, you most fully merit. Indeed, although we never met until you were placed under my orders, I must say I feel that interest in your welfare as a zealous, good, and attentive officer, that I regretted much not finding your name on the post list. I wish you could in any way get recommendations to Lord Melville, as I am certain he has every desire to bring forward officers of real naval merit, and your services in the Pilot do you so much credit. With best wishes, believe me, dear Nicolas, your very sincere friend,

(Signed)Robert Laurie.”

On rejoining the Pilot, Captain Nicolas applied to the Admiralty to have that sloop altered agreeably to a plan he proposed, by which a shot-hole between wind and water, in any part of the ship, could be immediately stopped; and which, in the former arrangements of the bread and storerooms, was impossible. This, it had been confidently asserted, was the principal cause of the capture of the Avon and Peacock. The Admiralty not only complied with his request, but ordered all the 18-gun brigs then under repair at Portsmouth to be fitted on the same plan.

On the return of Napoleon Buonaparte from Elba, Lord Exmouth was ordered to resume the chief command in the Mediterranean; and the Pilot being selected by his lordship to accompany him, she joined his flag, off Plymouth, in April, 1815. After passing Gibraltar, the Admiral confided to Captain Nicolas the important duty of opening a communication with Marseilles and the coast adjacent, in order to assure those who adhered to the royal cause, of the assistance of Great Britain in their efforts. Whilst proceeding on this duty, he heard, from a vessel he boarded at sea, that the Duke d’Angouleme was at Barcelona; he therefore determined on seeing his Royal Highness: and on learning the Duke’s wishes, the Pilot conveyed one of his staff to Lord Exmouth at Genoa, and returned with the aide-de-camp to Barcelona. She afterwards rejoined the flag at Naples, and was sent from thence to watch Porto Ferrajo. In the execution of these orders, she fell in with and defeated the French national ship la Legère, of 28 guns and about 300 men, including troops, commanded by Mons. Touffet, capitaine de frégate. This action is particularly entitled to consideration, not only from the great disparity in the force of the combatants, but from its being the last rencontre between our ships and those of France, and excepting the capture of la Melpomene frigate by the Rivoli 74[14]. the only one during the war of 1815. The particulars are detailed in the following official letter from Captain Nicolas to Lord Exmouth, dated at Leghorn, June 19, 1815:–

“My Lord,– I do myself the honor to report to your Lordship, the circumstances attending an action which took place on the 17th inst. about 50 miles west of Cape Corse, between this brig and a French ship of war mounting 28 guns (twenty 26lb. carronades, and two long 12-pounders on the main deck, and six long guns, 9 or 12-pounders, with some smaller ones, on her upper deck); and the disinclination of our opponent to renew the contest, alone, I am assured, prevented its terminating in his capture. Should I enter too much into detail in describing the event to your Lordship, I hope that it will be attributed solely to an earnest desire to do justice to the merits of those whom I had the honor to command on the occasion.

“At daylight on the 17th, a frigate was observed in the E.N.E. which, from not answering our signals, I concluded to be an enemy. I continued to approach her until I could see her water-line from the deck, and then, having ascertained that she had only twelve ports of a side on the main-deck, I thought she was not more than a match for the Pilot, and consequently did my best to get alongside of her. At 2 p.m. the stranger having taken in his small sails, and apparently prepared for action, he hauled towards us, and fired a gun to windward, hoisting a tri-coloured pendant and ensign. At half-past 2, after some manoeuvring on both sides to endeavour to gain the weather-gage, I placed the Pilot close on his weather beam, and hoisted our colours. Observing that he was preparing to make sail to pass us, and an officer having hailed in a menacing tone, desiring me ‘to keep further from him,’ and his people continuing to train their guns at us, I ordered a shot to be fired through his foresail to stop his progress. The flash of our gun proved the signal for the general discharge of his broadside, and the action then commenced within pistol range, our shot being from the lee guns, and directed low, evidently striking his hull in quick succession, and his disabling our rigging greatly. By 4 o’clock, the fire of our opponent had slackened considerably, and I sanguinely looked and expected every instant to see the tri-coloured ensign hauled down. At half-past 4, he hauled up his mainsail, and backed his mizen-top-sail, in order to drop a-stern; I endeavoured to shorten sail also, to retain our position on his beam, but I found every brace, bowline, and clue-garnet cut away. We thus unavoidably ran a-head of him, and as the only alternative, I put the helm up to rake his bows, of which he took immediate advantage, by hauling close to the wind, and making off with all the sail he could carry: and it was with deep regret I saw that I had it not in my power to follow him immediately, in consequence of our disabled state aloft, the yards being wholly unmanageable, the main-top-gallant-mast over the side, the main-top-sail-yard shot away in the slings, and our stays, and the greater part of our standing, and all our running rigging, gone. Thus situated, it was some time before we could secure the masts and yards, so as to follow the French ship: however, in less than an hour we had another main-top-sail-yard across, and the tail set, and by 7 o’clock were going nearly 7 knots by the wind in chase of our opponent, with the hope of forcing him to a renewal of the contest. He was then on our weather bow, distant from us about 5 or 6 miles. We continued in pursuit until the 18th, at daylight, when it was with real sorrow I discovered that the enemy had eluded us during the night, no vessel being in sight; and as we were near to Antibes, I concluded that she must have got into some port thereabouts. The wind being fresh from the W.S.W. and not having any hope of again meeting the object of our pursuit, I most reluctantly steered to resume my station.

“Had this action, my Lord, fortunately terminated in the capture of the French ship, I might with confidence have presumed to recommend to your Lordship’s notice, and to their Lordships’ protection, the first lieutenant of this sloop, Mr. W. Keigwin Nicolas, an officer of six years’ standing; but the circumstance of having closely engaged for nearly two hours, a ship, in my belief, precisely of the class of the Rainbow[15], and having obliged her to seek safety in flight, wMl I hope be admitted as an excuse for mentioning the name of this officer, together with that of Lieutenant William Gibbs Dowden, and Mr. William Weaver, acting master, who has passed his examination for a lieutenant nearly four years, and has been severely wounded in action before; as also that of Mr. Thomas Rowe, the purser, who volunteered his services on deck; by all of whom, as indeed by every individual on board, the greatest gallantry and exertion were shewn: they are fully entitled to the highest commendation I can bestow on them, and I trust their conduct on this occasion will be honoured with your Lordship’s approbation. After a contest of this sort, many might be supposed to have suffered; but it is with great happiness I have to forward to your Lordship so small a report of killed and wounded[16]. This, added to our opponent’s firing high, is in a great degree to be attributed to the precision with which our people directed their fire, as it repeatedly caused the silence of many of the enemy’s guns, and thereby, as was observed from aloft, obliged the soldiers who were employed at musketry, to quit the upper deck to re-man them« I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)J. Toup Nicolas.”

The enemy’s loss, as ascertained afterwards, at Marseilles, was 22 killed and 79 wounded, being very nearly as many as the Pilot had on board altogether. The following is an extract of the letter from Lord Exmouth to the Admiralty, dated June 28, 1815, enclosing the above:

“I think it right that their lordships should be put in possession of the particulars of this affair, as it reflects so much credit on Captain Nicolas, his officers, and ship’s company. Captain Nicolas is an officer of great merit; active, intelligent, and highly deserving their lordships’ favorable notice.”

The official answer to this communication was:-

“My Lord,– Having laid before my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty your lordship’s letter of the 28th June, transmitting one from Captain Nicolas, of the Pilot, detailing the particulars of a severe action with a French ship of war, of very superior force, which, from the disabled state of the Pilot, succeeded in effecting her escape, I have their Lordships’ commands to express to you their approbation of the gallantry displayed by Captain Nicolas, his officers, and ship’s company, on this occasion. I am, &c.

(Signed)John Barrow.”

To Admiral Lord Exmouth, K.C.B.

Mr. Barrow’s letter was dated Aug. 14, 1815; and Captain Nicolas’s advancement to post rank took place on the 26th of the same month. His brother, then an officer of upwards of six years’ standing, who was senior lieutenant of the Pilot, and wounded, in her spirited action with la Legère, has not yet been promoted.

An instance of heroism occurred during that action, which has seldom been surpassed, and which is scarcely rivalled by even Greek or Roman valour.

The Pilot having had her main-top-sail-yard shot away, the people were employed aloft in preparing to send up another, and were in the act of reeving a hawser for the purpose when a voice was heard from the captain’s-cabin (to which, as is usual in brigs, the wounded were sent, and through the skylight of which the mainmast is visible) exclaiming “you are reeving the hawser the wrong way.” This proved to be the case; and on looking down to see who had detected the mistake at the mast-head, it was found to be John Powers, quarter-master’s-mate, who was at the moment lying on his back on the table under the skylight, undergoing the amputation of his thigh, his leg having just before been carried away by a round shot. The man who under such circumstances can think only of his duty, is a hero, and whether a common sailor or an admiral, deserves to have his name placed on record. John Powers was an Irishman, about 25 years of age. It was not likely that his conduct should pass unnoticed, and on his captain’s representing it, he obtained for him the object of his ambition, – a cook’s warrant. He was in the Drake sloop of war when that vessel was wrecked on the coast of Newfoundland, and though with but one leg, was amongst the eleven men who were saved.

Captain Nicolas was one of the six commanders who were nominated Companions of the Bath when that class of the Order was first created, in June, 1815. On the 4th Oct. following, the King of the Two Sicilies was pleased to confer on him the small cross of the order of St. Ferdinand and Merit, “in consideration of the distinguished services rendered by him to his royal crown during the late war;” and on the 26th April, 1816, his Sicilian Majesty “again deigned to manifest to him his sovereign favor for the many services he had afforded his royal crown,” by conferring on him the cross of a Knight Commander of that Order, which he was permitted by the Prince Regent to accept and wear, “in consequence of the signal intrepidity manifested by him while commanding H.M. sloop Pilot, in effecting the capture and destruction of several of the enemy’s vessels, in various actions near Cetraro, Amanthea, Salerno, Sapri, Castellar, and other places on the east and west coasts of Calabria, during the years 1810, 1811, and 1812.” At Marseilles, in Nov. 1815, during the visit of the Duke d’Angouleme to that city. Captain Nicolas, after dining with H.R. Highness, had the honor of receiving his personal thanks, “for the services he had rendered the royal cause;” which compliment was repeated on board Lord Exmouth’s flag-ship, a day or two afterwards.

Whilst in the Mediterranean, Captain Nicolas’s attention was drawn to the inaccuracies in the Admiralty charts; and when not otherwise employed, he examined various parts of the coast, and pointed out to that Board the errors he had discovered. Some extracts from the Hydrographer’s letters to him will evince the value of these communications:–

Hydrographical Office, Sept. 7, 1812.

“I have to offer my best thanks for the information contained in your letter dated the 1st March, 1812, as well as for the sketches of shoals on the cast coast of Calabria, which were immediately presented to their lordships, who were pleased to pass very high encomiums thereon.”

1st April, 1815.

“By this evening’s coach I have sent a package, containing your two books of charts lent to this office, and for the use of which I offer you my very best thanks. – With respect to Mediterranean charts, should your ship be ordered on that station, and a sufficient time allowed me previous to your sailing, I will have a particular box made up for you.

“We feel too much indebted to your very zealous attentions in supplying our hydrographical wants and deficiencies, not to comply with all your requests and wishes, as far as may be within our power. The many valuable communications you have from time to time transmitted to us, are placed amongst our most valuable documents; and when brought forward in correction of our charts, which will shortly be done, care will be taken to let the world know to whom this OiHcc has been obliged. Accept my best wishes, and believe me, very sincerely, yours.”

13th August, 1816.

“I have to acknowledge the receipt of your favour from Looe, together with a book of remarks, for both of which I beg to offer my best thanks. The book contains some very acceptable, and highly useful information, and will, I flatter myself, enable us to correct a few of the great errors to be met with in all the published charts of the Mediterranean, particularly between the southern coast of Sardinia, Cape Don, and Maritimo, the relative bearings and distances of these places each from the other, as well as of their true positions with respect to latitudes and longitudes, we have no satisfactory knowledge of. I therefore again repeat my thanks for your valuable communication, and am,” &c.

(Signed)Thomas Hurd.”

In Oct. 1814, Captain Nicolas addressed a letter to Mr. Wilberforce, on the traffic carried on by the Barbary powers in Christian slaves. He pointed out the policy and naval force of the States of Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers; the facility with which they might be kept in check; the cruelty which they daily perpetrated by carrying off whole families from the coasts of Sardinia, Rome, and Naples; and in strong and nervous language called upon Mr. Wilberforce to exert his wonted humanity by arousing the British Government to a proper state of its dignity, so as to put a final termination to the disgraceful system. As might be expected, Mr. Wilberforce received this communication with great interest; nor is it too much to infer, that it hastened, even if it did not mainly tend to, the treaties entered into with Tunis and Algiers in April 1810, when all the Christian slaves were released by Lord Exmouth and the trade promised to be terminated for ever, the violation of which engagement, by the Dey of Algiers, was so signally punished by his lordship in the month of August following. The letter alluded to is printed at length in the Naval Chronicle, Vol. 40, pp. 421–426.

The success of the American navy formed the subject of universal conversation among officers after the peace with France, and occupied a more than usual share of Captain Nicolas’s attention. Having committed his opinions on the cause of those disasters, and their remedies, to paper, he was induced by some officers of high rank, to print them; and towards the end of 1814, he published a pamphlet, entitled “An Inquiry into the Causes which have led to our Late Naval Disasters, by an Officer in the Navy, in a Series of Letters to a Friend.” This tract, which was confined to private circulation, though bearing evident marks of haste, contains some valuable remarks, and many important truths. It denies that the principal causes of the superiority of the American navy arose from the size of their ships, but from the different manner in which they were manned, and from their crews being constantly practised to fire at a mark; whilst by the naval instructions, our first rates were allowed to fire only sixteen guns a month for the first six months, and eight afterwards. This, with many other faults which that pamphlet exposed, have since been remedied; and though the immediate interest which gave it birth has passed away, numerous points are adverted to, which arc still deserving of consideration.

In April 1816, the Pilot accompanied Lord Exmouth to Algiers and Tunis, and returned to Plymouth in July following, when she was paid off. It is an act of justice, not only to Captain Nicolas, but to the officers of the Pilot, to allude to the beautiful state of discipline in which she was kept, which excited the admiration of those who saw her, and frequently produced to her commander the most flattering expressions from his superior officers. Nor did it escape the Admiralty, that the perfect order for which she was distinguished in the Mediteranean, was produced without severity of punishment; and when, in January 1813, their lordships thought proper to reprehend an excess in a late gallant captain of a frigate, they directed his attention to the Pilot, on board of which not a man had been flogged for twelve months.

For upwards of three years. Captain Nicolas remained on half pay; and during his residence near Falmouth, his mind was employed in arranging a plan for placing the packets under the Admiralty, instead of the Post Office. He communicated his ideas on the subject to Lord Melville, in 1819; and in 1823 his suggestions were adopted, by the transfer being made.

In January, 1820, Captain Nicolas was appointed to the Egeria 28, and sent to Newfoundland, where he had to perform the anomalous duties of a naval surrogate. Though of course foreign to his previous pursuits,yet by the exertion of his usual zeal and abilities, he not only succeeded in giving ample satisfaction to the inhabitants, but out of upwards of one thousand causes, which he tried at St. John and Harbour Grace, only three appeals were lodged; and in each of these his decision was confirmed by the supreme court. Having to trust to his own resources alone, as the ice prevented a reference to the chief justice on the numerous difficult technical points that occurred, it was his constant practice to study the best legal writers, after the close of the court on each day, and on the next to deliver his judgments. These, which evince unusual tact, and great versatility of talent, as they abound in references to authorities, and enter fully into the law of the case, were regularly reported in the newspapers of the island; and present an extraordinary example of the duties which naval officers are sometimes called upon to perform.

the liberal support of the chief justice of the colony; the warm approbation of the principal inhabitants; the admission of the writers on both sides of a controversy respecting the propriety of employing naval officers as surrogates, of his talents, integrity, and zeal; and more than all, the gratitude of the poor fishermen, of whose rights he was the constant protector, amply compensated him for the unexpected opposition and annoyance which he encountered from a high quarter.

Nothing could more fully prove the estimation in which his conduct was held, than the readiness with which the inhabitants of Harbour Grace defended him, and the generous ardour with which they assured him of their esteem, when some of his decisions were attacked by an anonymous libeller. The proceedings on that occasion are copied from a Newfoundland newspaper.

At a meeting of the inhabitants of Harbour Grace and its vicinity, it was resolved unanimously to present the following address to Captain Nicolas, “expressive of the detestation evinced by the meeting, at the publication of two false and scandalous placards,” for the discovery of the author of which 400l. were subscribed, and “stating the high sense entertained by them of the zeal and impartiality shewn in the discharge of his duties as surrogate:”

Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, Mar. 26, 1822.

“Sir,– We have the honor to state, that in consequence of two false and scandalous libels appearing lately posted in this town, the one tending not only to injure your character as a surrogate (by creating animosities and exposing you to public hatred and contempt), but also threatening your person, and the other holding his Majesty’s courts of Justice to ridicule–

“We, the greater part of the most respectable inhabitants of this town and neighbourhood, viewing the said libels with perfect disgust and detestation, with a desire to bring the writer or writers of the same to justice, have felt it a duty we owe you and ourselves, as a body of loyal subjects, voluntarily to come forward and make a subscription, which we have offered as a reward to any informer; thereby hoping and believing that this measure will lead to the detection of him or those concerned in this base and cowardly transaction. The ability, zeal, and impartiality shewn by you as a judge, during your residence amongst us, have proved that you are undeserving of censure, – but, on the contrary, your general attention to the interests of this community, require our warmest thanks.

“We beg leave further to add, that all diligence will be manifested by us to discover the malicious writer in question, whereby he may be prosecuted. In the mean time, permit us to subscribe ourselves, with respect. Sir, your obedient servant,

James Bayly, Chairman.
“[At the request of the meeting].”

To John Toup Nicolas, C.B., &c &c. &c.

On receipt of the above address, Captain Nicolas returned the following reply:–

H.M.S. Egeria, Harbour Grace, Mar, 28, 1822.

“Sir,– Did I not sensibly feel the great attention which has been shewn me by the respectable meeting of which you are the chairman, in thus coming forward so handsomely to mark your detestation of the writer of the base libel against my public character, – some coward who, like an assassin, has in the dark dared to insinuate that my judgment as a surrogate has been corruptly influenced, in favour of one of the poorer classes of society, in opposition to the justice due to one of the more wealthy, – I should ill deserve the favor which has been done me. – The honorable and liberal conduct of the inhabitants on this occasion, is the best answer to such a charge, for those who during the last seven months, have almost daily witnessed the proceedings of this court, arc the best qualified to reply to such an aspersion. Next to the approval of our own conscience, and Its assurance that we have done right, every man must be proud to learn, that he has succeeded in giving satisfaction to those to whom he has been called upon to administer, to the best of his abilities, the laws of his country. Under these impressions, no man can feel more deeply than I do, on this occasion, the truth of the words of a great statesman, now no more, that ‘to be the object of calumny and misrepresentation, will cause uneasiness, it is true, but an uneasiness not wholly unmixed with pride and satisfaction, since the experience of all ages teaches us, that calumny and misrepresentation are frequently the most unequivocal testimonies of the zeal, and possibly the effect, with which he, against whom they are directed, has done his duty.’

“The strong armour of truth is not always proof against the shafts of calumny;– truth however will ultimately make its way to the light, and bring its reward.

“Calumny, like persecution, may for the moment be enjoyed In secret by those who may have employed such weapons to irritate, and perhaps may afford the heartless employers a temporary gratification: they may exult in silence, in their fancied achievements, and flatter themselves that they have accomplished their purposes; but they will be sure, eventually, to meet their just desert. And though whilst in a short lived triumph they may succeed in wounding the peace of the individual against whom their poisoned arrow had been directed, yet the day of retribution will sooner or later arrive, when they will discover that the wound they have inflicted, and caused to smart for the hour, has teen healed by the soothing antidote of sympathy, manifested by the society by whom that individual is surrounded; then their best punishment will be in their own hearts – accusing reflections, which will goad them during many successive years of their future lives.

“It now becomes my pleasing duty to beg that you will assure all those whom you represent, of my very grateful acknowledgment for the flattering kindness they have done me. The assurance they now make, that my humble services in this district, during the last seven months, have been useful to the public good, causes me to feel most happy that I should have been selected by his Excellency the Governor for the duty which I was so unexpectedly called upon to perform.

“Their generous proceedings on this occasion I shall not fail to lay before his Excellency. It will afford the best proof of the gratitude which the much greater part of the inhabitants of this town, whom you have been appointed to represent, entertain for the protection that has been given by the presence of a ship of war with a surrogate on board during the winter: and should it fall to my lot, at any future period, to be called upon to execute the same duties, the past will, I trust, prove to them an earnest of the future, that my best zeal shall ever be shewn in promoting the public good.

“Permit me individually, Sir, to thank you and the gentlemen who formed the deputation conveying to me the address of the majority of the inhabitants of this town and its vicinity, for the handsome manner in which you have expressed to me their sentiments; and in the confident hope that your exertions will tend to bring to punishment the malicious writer of the libel in question, I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)J. Tour Nicolas, Captain of H.M.S. Egeria,
and Surrogate for the Island of Newfoundland.

To James Bayly, Esq. Deputy Collector
of his Majesty’s Customs, &c.

The Egeria returned to England in May, 1822; and in August following »he was selected to form one of the royal squadron that escorted his Majesty on his visit to Scotland: she was afterwards sent to the North Sea for the prevention of smuggling.

In November in that year, a dispute arose between the keelmen and the ship masters and ship owners of Newcastle; and 80 alarming a spirit of insubordination was displayed., that government found it necessary to send a small squadron to the River Tyne, to aid the civil power in subduing the riots; the command of which was entrusted to Captain Nicolas. The same success which has marked the whole of his professional career, attended him on this occasion; and obtained for him the marked approbation of the merchants, of the civil authorities, of his commander in chief, of the Admiralty, and of the Secretary of State for the Home department.

On his arrival in the Tyne he learnt that the conduct of the keelmen had produced a total stagnation of the coal trade ; and he therefore suggested to the mayor of Newcastle, and the magistrates in the vicinity, the possibility of opening the trade by the crews of his Majesty’s ships under his orders, and thus to prove to the refractory keelmen the folly of their resistance. This plan, though never before tried, in similar “strikes.” was adopted, with a zeal on the part of the mayor, Colonel Hell, which did him the highest honor, and with great thankfulness by the coal owners. The next morning, at one o’clock, all the boats of the squadron, aided by two gun-boats, assembled under Captain Nicolas’s command, at the mayor’s stairs, where they were joined by the mayor in his barge, and proceeded to the different coal sheathes, several miles above the town. They reached these places before daylight, and found there the 3rd dragoon guards, under Lieut. Colonel Holmes, and the Northumberland cavalry, under Colonel Bradling, ready to protect them. The keelmen had collected in large bodies along the banks of the river, to oppose the men-of-war’s men in taking possession of their keels; but notwithstanding their resistance, by throwing heavy stones from every point which the boats passed in going tip and down the river, upwards of one thousand tons of coals were conveyed to Shields on the that day, the same plan was pursued, and the same quantity brought, on the next, and every succeeding day, for nearly six weeks, and the vessels, which had been detained for two months, were laden and sent to sea.

On one occasion, when the boats of the men-of-war were endeavouring to take possession of some keels at a village a few miles above Newcastle, the keel men assembled in great numbers, using the most insulting language and gestures, accompanied by stones, and dared the boats to land. Captain Nicolas immediately requested the officer commanding the dragoons to charge round the village, pulled in shore in his gig, and without waiting for the other boats, jumped on shore, unattended even by his own boat’s crew, seized six of the ringleaders with his own hands, and sent them off in one of the boats to Newcastle. This resolute act was productive of the best effects. It convinced the rioters they would not succeed in their object by intimidation; and on the following day, when they had collected to oppose the boats as usual. Captain Nicolas again fearlessly landed among them, and having expostulated with them in a conciliatory tone on the folly and illegality of their conduct, he asked in what their grievances consisted? promising, if they were just, to represent them to the government. This conduct was attended with the happiest result. They immediately agreed to do what he might dictate, and the next day delegates were sent to wait on him at Newcastle, when he repeated his remonstrances, and they soon afterwards returned to their usual labours.

Thus, by a mixture of firmness, decision, and forbearance on the part of the king’s officers, aided by the same qualities in the mayor and civil authorities. Captain Nicolas had the satisfaction of bringing those alarming riots to a close; at the expiration of six weeks, without the loss of a single life; though such was the hostile conduct of the keelmen,, at one moment, in throwing stones and other missiles, and more than once, by even using fire arms against the boats, that at his request the mayor issued public notices, that if they persisted in those measures, the most severe means would be adopted.

Before quitting Newcastle, Captain Nicolas had the honor of receiving the following letters and addresses of thanks for his services, on this occasion:

Newcastle on Tyne, 10 Dec. 1922.

“Dear Sir,– I cannot permit you to leave this Port without expressing the very deep sense of obligation I entertain for the able and effectual support which you have afforded to the civil authorities during the late disturbances amongst the keelmen of the Tyne. I beg you will therefore allow me, in my own name, and in the name of the other magistrates, to offer my sincere thanks to yourself, Captain William Rochfort[17], and Lieutenants Benjamin Aplin[18], and Robert Stuart[19], and to the officers, seamen, and marines of his Majesty’s ships Egeria, Nimrod, and Swan, under your command, for their zealous and indefatigable exertions in the performance of an arduous duty; and you may rest assured that the cheerfulness and alacrity with which it has been performed will not soon be forgotten.

I must at the same time beg the favor of you to convey my acknowledgments to Lieutenant Stuart who commanded the Swan in the mouth of October last, for the very spirited assistance, which he rendered me in quelling a riotous attempt of the seamen to obstruct the navigation of the port. I have the honor to be, dear Sir, with very sincere regard, your obliged humble servant,

(Signed)Robert Bell, Mayor.”

To John Toup Nicolas, Esq. C.B. &c.

Office of the Clerk of the Peace for Northumberland,
Newcastle,
12 Dec. 1822.

“Sir,– I am desired by the magistrates acting for the Castle Ward in the county of Northumberland, to state to you, that although they are aware that the service in which you have been engaged during the late disturbances among the keelmen of the River Tyne, has been necessarily confined to the adjoining county of Newcastle upon Tyne, yet they feel themselves called upon to acknowledge the very beneficial effects in the preservation of the public peace within their district, from your judicious and indefatigable exertions in aid of the civil authorities; and I am at the same time desired to say, they request that you will be pleased to convey to the officers, petty officers, non-commissioned officers, seamen and marines, of the several ships of war under your command during the above service, how highly the magistrates appreciate the zeal, firmness, and uniform good conduct they displayed on all occasions while employed in assisting the civil power. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Thomas Davidson, Clerk of the peace
for the county.”

To Capt. Nicolas, C.B., H.M,S. Egeria, &c. &c. &c.

Gateshead Justice Room, Dec. 7, 1822.

“Sir,– We have great satisfaction in tendering to you and Capt. Rochfort, and the officers and men under your command, our thanks for your firm, persevering, and humane conduct on the occasion of the late disturbances; and for the assistance you have rendered to the civil power during their continuance.

Adam Aiken, Magistrates acting for
Chester Ward in the
County of Durham.”
Charles Thorp,
John Collinson,
H. G. Liddell, &c.


To Captain Nicolas, C.B.

Newcastle on Tyne, Dec. 10, 1822.

"Sir,– I have the honor to convey the unanimous thanks of the Gentlemen interested in the Coal trade, to yourself and the officers, seamen and marines of H.M. ships Egeria, Nimrod, and Swan, under your command, for the great and eminent services rendered by you and them during the late disturbances amongst the Keelmen of the River Tyne. We are fully sensible that the exertions of the naval force were most importantly serviceable in protecting the trade of the river, and in producing the ultimate submission of these misguided men, and their return to order and subordination. I have the honor to be, &c.

Dickson Brown, Chairman.”

To John Toup Nicolas, Esq. C.B.”

(enclosure.)

“Resolved unanimously, that the warmest thanks of this meeting, which consists of Gentlemen interested in the Coal trade above bridge, be given to Captain Nicolas, and the officers, seamen, and marines under his command, for the important services rendered by them to the trade of the port, and for their zealous and unremitting exertions, distinguished equally by their firmness and moderation, in protecting those who were employed in navigating their keels in opposition to the interruptions given by the Keelmen; and that this resolution be laid before the general meeting of the trade to be held on Tuesday next.”

“Resolved that Mr. Clayton and Mr. Lamb be requested to wait upon Captain Nicolas with a copy of this resolution.”

“Newcastle, 10 Dec. 1822.

“Dear Sir,– Amongst other pleasant duties which the general meeting of the Coal trade held this day had to perform, they most cheerfully entered into the consideration of what was fit to be done towards the men who under your command have rendered them important services and in consequence order me to beg you will have the goodness to direct the distribution of 110l, amongst the men of the Egeria; 110l. amongst the men of the Nimrod; and 50l. amongst the men of the Swan, as a compensation, for their extraordinary labours; and for this purpose I have the honor to enclose a bill for 270l[20]. I remain, dear Sir, your faithful and obliged servant,

Nath. Clayton.”

Capt. Nicolas, C.B., H.M.S. Egeria.

The approbation of the Admiralty, and of Mr. Secretary Peel, was conveyed in the following letters:

Genoa, Sheerness, 11th Dec. 1822.

“Sir,– The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, referring to your letter of the 7th instant, reporting that the keelmen of the River Tyne had returned to their work, and that you would proceed to your station as soon as the civil authorities should consider the presence of His Majesty’s ships to be no longer necessary in the Tyne, have directed me to express to you their approval of your proceedings, and of the conduct of the officers and men under your orders, during the time they have been employed in the said river. I have great pleasure in communicating their lordships’ approbation to you, and I beg you will make the same known to all the parties who have been employed under your orders. I have the honor to be, &c.

{{right|“Ben. Hallowell, Vice-Admiral.”

Captain Nicolas, C.B., H.M.S. Egeria.

(copy.)

Whitehall, Dec. 13th, 1822.

“Sir,– I am directed by Mr. Secretary Peel to acquaint you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that the keelmen on the River Tyne have at length returned to habits of subordination; and Mr. Peel has much satisfaction in adding, that the magistrates of Newcastle consider they are greatly indebted for this result to the exertions of Captain Nicolas, and the officers, seamen, and marines of H.M. ships Egeria, Nimrod, and Swan, by whose aid protection has been afforded, both by night and by day, and on all points, to the navigation of the river, and through whose coolness this struggle with a numerous and determined body of men has been terminated without bloodshed. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)H. Hobhouse.”

To J. William Croker, Esq.

The Egeria’s period of service having expired, she was paid off early in 1823, since which Captain Nicolas has not been employed; but before quitting his station he had the honor of receiving the following written approbation of his services from that distinguished officer Vice-Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell, under whose orders he had been placed, in addition to a most flattering expression relative to his conduct in the Tyne, personally.

Chatham, Jan. 14, 1823.

“My dear Sir,– I assure you that I never was more satisfied with the conduct of any officer than I have been with yours since you have been under my orders; and it will afford me pleasure at any time to have yon again placed in a ship under my command. I am, my dear Sir, &c.

(Signed)Ben. Hallowell.”

Captain Nicolas married, in Aug. 1818, Frances Anna, eldest daughter of Nicholas Were, of Landcox, co. Somerset, Esq., by whom he has three sons and one daughter: he has resided for some time in Brittany. His uncle, Nicholas Harris Nicholas, Esq. obtained a commission in the marines at an early age, but afterwards removed into the line, and became a captain in the 44th and 89th regiments. He was at the battle of Bunker’s Hill, in 1775. After the peace of 1783, he became major of the Royal Cornwall Fencible dragoons, the colonel of which was the late Viscount Falmouth, and the lieutenant-colonel, the present Lord de Dunstanville. That corps was eminent for its effectiveness and soldierly appearance, and was employed in various parts of England. Major Nicholas died in Nov. 1816.

It is deserving of remark, that the aggregate number of years during which this family, in the present and last generation, have held commissions, either in the army, navy, or marines, is 178 years, forming a period of service, by six persons, of upwards of two hundred years.

Agents.– Messrs. Stilwell.



  1. See Nav. Chron. Vol. 40, p. 338.
  2. See Vol. I. part I. note ‡ at p. 351.
  3. See Vol. 40, p. 334.
  4. See United Service Journal, Vol. I. p. 50.
  5. The Rev. John Keigwin, mentioned in the last page, was the second son of John Keigwin, of Mousehole, co. Cornwall, Esq. by Margaret, daughter of John Giffard, of Brightley, co. Devon, Esq. (a distinguished loyalist, and a Colonel in King Charles the First’s army) who married Joan, sixth daughter of Sir John Wyndham, ancestor of the Earl of Egremont, and the lineal descendant of Sir John Wyndham and Lady Margaret Howard daughter of John, first Duke of Norfolk, K.G. whose mother was fifth in descent from King Edward the First. The Rev. Mr. Keigwin, married Prudence, daughter and sole heiress of John Busvargus, of Busvargus, in Cornwall, Esq. (who was descended from the ancient families of Courtenay, Grenville, Arundel, Vyvyan, Beville, Carminow, Bonville, and many others of great antiquity in that county), and widow of the Rev. John Toup, by whom she was the mother of the celebrated scholar above noticed.
  6. See Vol. I. Part I. p. 352.
  7. One boy killed, and two men wounded.
  8. See Suppl. Part I. pp. 190–192.
  9. See Captain Alexander Campbell.
  10. See Suppl. Part II. pp. 4 and 5.
  11. See Suppl. Part III p. 80.
  12. Vice-Admiral Charles Boyles died at Plymouth, in Nov. 1816.
  13. See Suppl. Part II p. 5 et seq.
  14. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 298.
  15. Formerly l’Iris French national ship, pierced for 32 guns, mounting, on the main-deck, twenty-two 24-pounders, carronades, and two long twelves. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 869.
  16. One killed, one mortally wounded, one dangerously, seven severely, and six, including Lieutenant W. Keigwin Nicolas and the purser, slightly wounded.
  17. Of the Nimrod sloop.
  18. Commanding the Swan cutter.
  19. First of the Egeria.
  20. The lords of the Admiralty signified to Captain Nicolas, that under the peculiar circumstances of this case, “they did not object to the men receiving from the merchants of Newcastle and its neighbourhood such pecuniary present as they might wish to distribute amongst the men, as a mark of their acknowledgment of the service rendered by the seamen on that occasion.