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Royal Naval Biography/Sibly, Edward Reynolds

[Post-Captain of 1814.]

We are not acquainted with the name of the ship in which this officer went first to sea, but we know that she was commanded by his uncle the late Rear-Admiral Reynolds, whose melancholy fate has been noticed at p. 13. In 1790, he joined the Salisbury 50, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Mark Milbanke, commander-in-chief at Newfoundland; and on the glorious 1st June, 1794, he served as midshipman under Sir Alexander Hood, in the Royal George 110[1]. His promotion to the rank of lieutenant took place about three weeks after that memorable battle.

In 1795, Mr. Sibly proceeded to the East Indies, in the Victorious 74; and he did not return home from that station until May, 1803. In the ensuing year he joined the Centaur 74, bearing the broad pendant of the late Sir Samuel Hood, at the Leeward Islands, where he assisted in capturing many of the enemies’ vessels, one of which, l’Elizabeth French schooner privateer, mounting 6 guns, was brought out from under the batteries of Basseterre by four boats entrusted to his command. The very gallant exploit for which he obtained further advancement will be seen by the following official letter:–

Centaur, off Rochfort, July 19, 1806.

“My Lord,– I beg leave to enclose to your lordship, a letter I have received from Captain Rodd, of H.M.S. Indefatigable, giving an account of an attack made by a boat from each line-of-battle ship of this squadron, and those of the Indefatigable and Iris, on two corvettes and a convoy, in the entrance of the river Gironde. Le Caesar, the largest corvette, was boarded and carried by the division of boats led on by Lieutenant Sibly, first of the Centaur, in a style highly honourable to the national character. The western breeze that sprang up after the boats left the Indefatigable, and blowing stronger as they advanced, was truly perplexing, for it was the only circumstance that could have prevented the whole falling into our hands; they took advantage on the first attack, made sail, and escaped before the wind and tide up the Gironde; it was impossible for the boats to prevent them. The firm resistance made by the corvette caused a greater loss than could be expected, but nothing could withstand the bravery of the officers and seamen employed.

“To Lieutenant Sibly’s gallantry, no words of mine are equal to do justice: every one speaks of him in terms of the highest commendation: I had before, in the West Indies, experienced his brave conduct; he now has seven severe wounds, but I hope none are mortal; and I beg leave to recommend him as an officer truly deserving the attention of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

“To Lieutenant Parker, first of the Indefatigable, much praise is due, and given him by Lieutenant Sibly, for his brave support, and able conduct in managing the corvette after he was wounded. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)Sam. Hood.”

To Right Hon. the Earl of St. Vincent, &c. &c. &c.

Le Caesar proved to be a fine brig of 18 guns and 86 men, “in every respect well prepared, and expecting the attack.” In working out past the batteries, which kept up a constant fire on her, she was engaged by her late consort (formerly an English gun-brig) for nearly two hours. The greater part of the British boats were either shot through, or so badly stove, that they were swamped, and obliged to be cut adrift from her. Lieutenant Sibly was wounded by pike and sabre, in the arm, face, and side. The officers employed under him, whose names we have been able to ascertain, were as follow:–

Conqueror’s, – Lieutenant Gamaliel Fitzmaurice, and Mr. Helpman, master’s-mate[2]. Prince of Wales’s, – Lieutenant Francis, and Mr. Thomas Mullins, master’s-mate[3]. Revenge’s, – Lieutenant Charles Manners, and Mr. Thomas Blackstone, midshipman[4]. Polyphemus’s, – none mentioned in Captain Rodd’s report. Monarch’s, – Lieutenant Dalhousie Tait[3]. Indefatigable’s – Lieutenants Thomas Parker[5], Thomas Arscott, and R. Shepherdson[3]. Iris, – none reported.

The total loss sustained by the British on this occasion, was 6 slain, 21 dangerously and severely wounded, 15 slightly wounded, and 21 missing. All the latter belonged to the Revenge’s boat, which was struck by a large shot, and would have sunk but for the proximity of the shore. The survivors, on landing, were of course made prisoners. The enemy’s loss is not stated in Captain Rodd’s letter to Sir Samuel Hood.

Captain Sibly’s commission as commander, bears date Aug. 4, 1800; and at the end of that year we find him appointed to the Hermes sloop of war; in which vessel he sailed for South America, Mar. 9, 1807. His next appointment was, May 29, 1809, to the Sheerwater a 10-gun brig, fitting at Chatham for the Mediterranean station.

An attempt made by a division of the Toulon fleet to cut off the Sheerwater, while she was employed in watching a French convoy at Bandol, on the 20th July, 1810, has been noticed at p. 650 of Vol. I. Part II. The gallant and steady manner in which she was conducted on that occasion, particularly while under the fire of two of the enemy’s ships, was viewed with no small degree of admiration by all the inshore squadron, and obtained for Captain Sibly, his officers, and crew, the highest encomiums from their Commander-in-chief.

In Dec. 1810, Captain Sibly assumed the command of the Swallow brig; and on the 26th July, 1811, he captured, near Sicily, la Belle Genoise privateer, of 2 guns and 37 men. The following is his official account of an action between the Swallow and two French national vessels, dated off Frejus, June 16, 1812:–

“Sir,– In pursuance of your directions by signal yesterday to look out, W. by S., and information by telegraph of a convoy being at anchor, off the islands of St. Margarittas, I used every exertion to get to the westward; and at day-light this morning saw them under weigh, protected by a brig of the largest class, a schooner, and several gun-boats; H.M. sloop under my command was then becalmed.

“The enemy’s brig and schooner made all sail towards us, having a light breeze in shore, apparently with intention of bringing us to action; but on our getting a breeze, about 6 A.M., they hauled their wind, tacked, and used every exertion by sweeps and boats to avoid us; which they effected, and stood towards Frejus. My hopes were now small of their giving us a meeting; but a little after noon, the breeze freshening, they again stood off, and being on opposite tacks, we neared each other fast, the schooner keeping a little to windward of her consort. Being now certain of weathering the brig, at 1 P.M. I closed, passing her to windward within 30 yards, and wore close under her stern, in the hope of keeping her head off shore; but, unfortunately, our head-braces being shot away, I was not able to keep so close as I intended, by which means he got his head in-shore in spite of all my efforts; and I had the mortification, after a close action of about 40 minutes, to be obliged to haul off, to avoid the enemy’s batteries on shore, my opponents making all sail in shore. I have no hesitation in saying, the enemy was completely beaten, his fire having slackened so much, that but a single gun was fired from him, while we were in the act of wearing off shore.

“I am sorry to say, we have suffered much from the schooner being able to take a position to annoy us the whole time we were engaged; and it is with sincere concern I have to state the loss of several brave men. The pleasing task now remains to inform you of the gallant support I received from my first lieutenant, Mr. Daniel O’Hea; Mr. John Theed, acting lieutenant; Mr. James Crocker, master; and Mr. Eugene Ryan, purser (who volunteered his services on deck); all of whom are entitled to my greatest praise; also Mr. Cole, master’s-mate, whom I frequently before had occasion to mention in terms of the strongest approbation. Nothing from my pen will ever do justice to the steady gallantry of the brave fellows I had the honor to command; and I have only to regret we were so circumstanced, that their exertions were not crowned with that success that must inevitably have attended, had we been further from the enemy’s shore. I have the honor to be, Sir, &c.

(Signed)E. R. Sibly.”

To Captain Josias Rowley, H.M.S. America.

The Swallow mounted 16 thirty-two-pounder carronades, and 2 long sixes, with the usual boat-gun: her established complement of officers, men, and boys was 120; but she went into action with only 109 on board, of whom 6 were killed and 17 wounded. Her principal opponent carried 14 twenty-four-pounder carronades (French calibre), 2 twelves, 2 long sixes, and 180 men, including many volunteer seamen, and a detachment of soldiers, sent to her from Frejus. The schooner mounted 14 eighteen-pounder carronades and 2 long sixes, and is stated to have had on board 113 persons. The enemy’s total loss must have been very great, for the brig alone, out of her regular crew, had 14 killed and 28 wounded. Several private accounts of this sanguinary action are given in the Naval Chronicle, vol. xxviii, pp. 194–196.

The subject of this memoir subsequently acted as captain of the Blossom, a post-sloop, employed in the neighbourhood of Gibraltar, where he cruised with tolerable success against the American trade, then returning home uninformed of the war with England[6]. On his being superseded in the command of that ship, he returned to the Swallow, the boats of which vessel captured a French government transport, of 4 guns, close to Port d’Anzo, Sept. 16, 1813. The particulars of this affair will be given in our memoir of Commander Samuel Edward Cook.

On the 5th of the following month, Captain Sibly assisted at the capture of twenty-nine vessels, lying in the mole of the above mentioned place, the greater part laden with timber, for the arsenal at Toulon[7]. His promotion to post rank took place Mar. 8, 1814; at which period he was appointed to the Cossack 22, but ordered to take the temporary command of the Havannah 36. In that frigate he captured the Grande Isabella, French schooner privateer, of 4 guns and 64 men, and retook a merchant vessel, her prize, off Corfu, April 15, 1814.

Captain Sibly’s last appointments were, in June 1814, to the Caledonia 120, bearing the flag of Lord Exmouth, with whom he returned home after the first abdication of Napoleon Buonaparte; and Nov, 5, 1820, to the Niemen 28, in which ship he conveyed the Right Hon, Sir Thomas Maitland to Lisbon, and then proceeded to the Halifax station, where he continued for a period of nearly three years. The Caledonia was paid off by him at Plymouth, in Sept. 1814; and the Niemen at Portsmouth, June 3, 1824.

Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.