Royal Naval Biography/Staines, Thomas
SIR THOMAS STAINES,
[Post-Captain of 1806.]
Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath, Knight Commander of the Royal Sicilian Order of St. Ferdinand and of Merit, and Knight of the Imperial Ottoman Order of the Crescent.
This ofﬁcer was born at Dent de Lion, near Margate, co. Kent, in 1776; and commenced his naval career at the beginning of Jan. 1790, from which period he served as a Midshipman on board the Solebay frigate, commanded by Captain Matthew Squire, on the West-India station, till the spring of 1792. We subsequently ﬁnd him proceeding to the Mediterranean, under the command of Captain (now Commissioner) Cunningham, with whom he continued in various ships, from the commencement of the French revolutionary war, until the surrender of Calvi, in Aug. 1794. The services in which he was engaged during that period have been noticed at p. 76 et seq. of Vol. II. Part I.
Two days after the final subjugation of Corsica, Mr. Staines was removed from the Lowestoffe frigate into the Victory, a first rate, bearing the flag of Lord Hood, in which ship he assisted at the destruction of l’Alcide French 74, near Toulon, July 13, 1795. He afterwards served as mate of the signals, under the immediate eye of Sir John Jervis, by whom he was made a Lieutenant, and appointed to the Peterel sloop, July 3, 1796.
In Dec. following, Lieutenant Staines landed on the coast of Corsica, which island had been recently evacuated by the British, where he took possession of a martello tower, and threw the gun, a long brass 12-pounder, over a precipice into the sea. This service was performed without any loss; but on returning to the Peterel. he found her aground within musket-shot of the beach, where she remained for three hours, exposed to a continual fire of small arms, by which 3 of her crew were wounded.
The Peterel was at that time commanded by the Hon. Philip Wodehouse, and subsequently by the late Lord Proby. Towards the latter end of June, 1797, Lieutenant Staines obtained permission from the latter officer to attack a French privateer, which had violated the neutrality of Tuscany, by taking forcible possession of several merchant-vessels that had arrived at Castiglione from Elba, under the protection of the Peterel. Two boats, containing 20 officers and men, being placed under his orders, he rowed up to the enemy, boarded, and succeeded in carrying her, after a sharp conflict, in which 6 of his party were wounded. Lieutenant Staines, on this occasion, was personally opposed to the French commander, who died soon afterwards in consequence of his wounds. The vessel thus taken mounted 2 long guns and several swivels, with a complement of 45 men.
In Sept. 1798, the Peterel, then at Gibraltar, under the command of Captain Digby, was charged with despatches from Earl St. Vincent, and ordered to land them at Faro, on the coast of Portugal, in order that they might be forwarded to England by the Lisbon packet. In the execution of this service, Lieutenant Staines had a very narrow escape, the Peterel’s jolly boat, in which he was proceeding to the shore, being upset by a heavy sea near the bar of Faro, by which accident 4 men, including the pilot, were drowned, and himself and the only other survivor exposed to the most imminent peril for upwards of four hours.
From the account given us by a gentleman who formerly sailed with the subject of this memoir, it appears that one of the unfortunate sufferers perished immediately the boat capsized, and that Lieutenant Staines had considerable difficulty in getting clear of the others, they having caught hold of his coat-tail, and thereby increased his personal danger. Disentangled at length from these poor fellows, and being an excellent swimmer, he succeeded in reaching the boat; but, although he contrived to right her several times, and as often got into her, she was again and again turned over by the tremendous breaking sea. In this desperate situation, the Lieutenant managed to pull off his coat, and lash it to a thwart, trusting that the despatches, by being washed on shore, would still reach their destination, even if he should perish. Providentially, however, it was ordered otherwise, as he succeeded in reaching Cape St. Mary, on which point of land his remaining companion was likewise thrown, the latter quite exhausted.
Having thus miraculously escaped from the waves, Lieutenant Staines immediately ran over to the other side of the island, and engaged an old fisherman, a woman, and a little boy, to assist him in removing his man to the boat, she being then on the river side, and in smooth water. After performing this humane action, he took an oar, and rowed all the way up to Faro, where he was hospitably received by the Governor, who entertained him until the ensuing day, when he returned on board the Peterel, to the great surprise and joy of Captain Digby, who had witnessed his disaster, but could not send him any assistance, from the conviction that any other boat would have met with a similar fate.
On the 12th Oct. following, the Peterel was captured near the Balearic islands, by four Spanish frigates, one of which is said to have given her a broadside after she surrendered. The enemy also beliavcd most shamefully to their prisoners after removing them from the sloop, plundering them of their clothes, bedding, and every other article, and murdering a seaman who attempted to defend his little property.
This squadron was chased the next day by several British ships, under the orders of Commodore Duckworth; and the Peterel, in endeavouring to escape round Majorca, was fortunately retaken by the Argo 44. The frigate, however, completely out-sailed their pursuers, and returned to Carthagena, from which port they had recently been sent with supplies for the garrison of Minorca.
After a detention of 14 days at Carthagena, Lieutenant Staines and his fellow-prisoners were embarked in a merchant brig bound to Malaga; but they did not arrive there until the 24th Dec, a westerly wind having obliged the vessel to anchor off Almeira, where she was detained upwards of three weeks, and her passengers confined on shore during that period.
From Malaga, our countrymen were marched to Gibraltar, under a strong escort of soldiers, who treated both officers and men with great brutality, but particularly Lieutenant Staines, who received a sabre wound in the wrist, whilst parrying a blow which one of those ruffians had aimed at his head. On their arrival at the rock, a court-martial was assembled to investigate the circumstances attending their capture by the Spanish squadron; and as no blame could be attached to any individual, the whole of them were sent back to the Peterel immediately after their acquittal.
At the time of her falling into the hands of the enemy, the Peterel was commanded by Captain George Long, who afterwards fell in a sortie whilst employed defending the island of Elba. On the 3d Feb. 1799, that gallant officer was superseded by Captain Francis William Austen, with whom Mr. Staines continued as first Lieutenant until Oct. 16, in the same year, during which period he was present at the capture of three French frigates and two brigs of war; also of an armed galley, a transport brig laden with brass guns and ammunition, and twenty merchant vessels, most of which were cut out from the enemy’s harbours by boats under his own directions. It is worthy of remark, that the gentleman who succeeded him as senior Lieutenant of the Peterel was killed in a boat attack, near Barcelona, on the third day after Mr. Staines was removed from that sloop.
In May 1799, the Peterel was sent to inform Lord Nelson, then at Palermo with only one line-of-battle ship, that a powerful fleet from Brest, having eluded the vigilance of Lord Bridport, had passed the straits of Gibraltar (intending to form a junction with the Spanish naval force at Carthagena, to embark troops at Toulon, and to act successively against Minorca, Ischia, Procida, and Sicily).
On his arrival off the N.W. end of Sicily, the wind being easterly. Captain Austen despatched Lieutenant Staines with the important intelligence, overland to the capital, where he arrived at nine o’clock in the evening of May 13, having performed a journey of at least 34 miles in two hours and a quarter, notwithstanding the road was very bad, and his horse so little used to such great exertion that it died the following morning. For his very zealous conduct on this occasion, Lieutenant Staines had the honor of receiving Nelson’s personal thanks on board the Peterel, and of being ever afterwards kindly noticed by that great hero.
Upon leaving the Peterel, Mr. Staines became third Lieutenant of the Foudroyant 80, bearing the flag of Lord Nelson, in which ship he assisted at the capture of two French Rear-Admirals, Messieurs Perrée and Decrès, Feb. 18 and Mar. 30, 1800.
After Nelson’s departure from Leghorn for England, June 1800, the Foudroyant received the flag of Lord Keith, under whom Lieutenant Staines served as signal officer during the whole of the Egyptian campaign. The superior medal of the Turkish Order of the Crescent (or more properly speaking, of the Star and Crescent) was presented to him for his services at that memorable period. On the 3d Dec. 1801, Lieutenant Staines was appointed to act as Commander of the Romulus troop-ship, during the illness of Captain John Culverhouse; and in her we find him employed conveying a detachment of the 64th regiment from Alexandria to Malta, where he rejoined the Foudroyant, Jan. 9, 1802.
On the 15th May following. Lieutenant Staines was promoted by Lord Keith into the Camelion brig; and this appointment appears to have been confirmed at home, July 24, in the same year.
During the remainder of the short peace, Captain Staines was employed keeping up a communication between Malta and Naples; but immediately on the renewal of hostilities with France he entered upon a series of services much more congenial to his active mind and enterprising spirit.
On the 28th June, 1803, the Camelion joined Lord Nelson off Toulon, and after a short cruise in the gulf of Genoa, Captain Staines was sent to Barcelona, ostensibly to procure bullocks, but in reality to obtain all the information he could respecting the intentions of the Spanish government towards Great Britain; a convincing proof of the confidence that Nelson reposed in his ability and discretion.
Captain Staines returned to the blockading squadron on the 2d Aug., and was immediately detached to his former cruising ground, where the Camelion and her boats very soon succeeded in capturing nine sail of merchant vessels, and a French packet from Corsica bound to Toulon. One of the former prizes, a polacre ship, was cut out from under the batteries near Genoa, on which occasion the British had 1 man killed, and a Lieutenant (___ Jones) and 6 men wounded; the enemy 4 killed and 7 wounded. On the 29th Aug. the Camelion had also an officer and 9 men wounded,whilst endeavouring to capture five vessels which had taken shelter under the batteries at Limasol; and on another occasion her boats sustained some loss in boarding a settee off Alassio, which vessel they brought out, in conjunction with those of the Niger frigate.
On the 16th Nov. 1803, whilst lying nearly becalmed off Cape Corse, and in sight of the British fleet, Captain Staines discovered an armed schooner with a transport under her convoy: the Camelion’s sweeps were immediately maimed, and he soon had the satisfaction of securing the former, which proved to be a French national vessel, mounting 12 guns, with a complement of 90 men. Her consort was afterwards taken possession of by an English 64.
Between this period and the month of Aug. 1804, Captain Staines was most actively employed along the coasts of Italy and Provence, from Genoa to Marseilles; off which latter place he not only offered battle to a large corvette and a brig of war, but actually chased them back to their strongly protected anchorage. During this cruise the Camelion and her boats captured ten vessels, destroyed one under the batteries at Port Maurice, assisted at the capture of three others, and brought off a raft of spars and timber from the beach near Hieres.
In Sept. 1804, Captain Staines was sent up the Adriatic, with permission from Lord Nelson to cruise for three months according to his own discretion; but we are not aware of his having met with any success on that station. From Dec. 1804 until April 1805, he was principally employed affording protection to the Levant trade; and we subsequently find him accompanying a large homeward bound fleet as far as Gibraltar. On the 15th June, 1805, whilst in the Straits, he was attacked by a flotilla of Spanish gunboats; but on seeing the Camelion get out her sweeps, and a light breeze springing up at the same time, the enemy retreated without doing her any damage.
Captain Staines was next stationed off Carthagena, under the orders of Captain George Digby, commanding the Beagle sloop of war; and on one occasion, when reconnoitring that port, the Camelion appears to have run along the north side of Isle Ascombrera, and stood out through the eastern passage, under a heavy but harmless fire of shot and shells from the different batteries.
A few days after this hazardous proceeding. Captain Staines observed six merchant vessels going to the eastward under the protection of a guarda-costa, and immediately despatched his boats to cut them off. Unfortunately however they were all too well armed, and the gallant party was obliged to retreat with the loss of 5 men killed, wounded, and missing; the latter either drowned in attempting to board the guarda-costa, or secured by the Spaniards after gaining her deck. On the 15th Aug. 1805, the Camelion was obliged to throw all her carronades, shot, provisions, and stores of every description overboard, and to cut away three anchors, in order to effect her escape from a Spanish 74, by which she was chased after her usual daily reconnoitre; and although thus lightened, it is more than probable that Captain Staines would have been obliged to abandon her (as the enemy was bringing a breeze up with him), had not four sail hove in sight to the S.W., towards which vessels both British brigs immediately stood, making various signals, and thereby alarming the enemy, who worked back to his anchorage, followed by the Beagle and Camelion, the former having closed with her consort for the purpose of taking her in tow, and removing her crew if it should be found necessary to do so.
The Camelion was paid off at Portsmouth in Sept. 1805; and Captain Staines had the honor of dining with Nelson, on board his flag-ship, the very day previous to that great hero’s last departure from England, on which occasion the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the late Treasurer of the Navy, were also entertained by his lordship.
Captain Staines attained post rank Jan. 22, 1806; but was not again employed until Mar. 28, 1807, when he received a commission appointing him to the Cyane of 32 guns and 155 men, in which ship he was present during the whole of the operations that led to the capitulation of Copenhagen, and the consequent surrender of the Danish navy.
After the departure of the British fleet and army with their prizes, Captain Staines was employed blockading Zealand, and affording protection to the trade still remaining in the Baltic, on which station he continued under the orders of Captain (now Vice-Admiral) Alexander Fraser, until Nov. 30, 1807, when he sailed from Helsinburgh, on his return to England, in company with the Vanguard 74, several sloops of war, and as many merchantmen as could possibly be collected.
In Feb. 1808, Captain Staines once more proceeded to the Mediterranean; and on the 22d May following, whilst cruising off Majorca, he captured the Medusa Spanish letter of marque, of 12 guns and 80 men. This was, we believe, the last armed vessel ever taken from that power by any of our cruisers. The Cyane and her boats had previously captured eight merchantmen of different descriptions.
On the 3d June, 1808, Captain Staines received a letter from the Captain-General of the Balearic Islands, stating that the inhabitants of Majorca had declared in favor of Ferdinand VII., and requesting that he would repair to Palma bay for the purpose of treating with the Supreme Junta on subjects which might be advantageous to their respective nations. The Cyane accordingly proceeded thither, exchanged salutes with the Spanish garrison, and communicated with a deputation from the capital; after which Captain Staines hastened with the gratifying intelligence to his senior officer, Rear-Admiral Thornbrough, who immediately despatched Sir Francis Laforey, in the Apollo frigate, to negociate with the Junta. For ten months from this period, the Cyane was almost constantly employed on the south coast of Spain, assisting the patriots, and annoying their oppressors. Whilst on this service she was repeatedly engaged with the enemy’s batteries, and her boats made several captures.
On the 8th May, 1809, Captain Staines captured a bombard, and drove another vessel on shore near Naples. Two days afterwards, in company with the Alceste frigate, he engaged a French convoy at Terracina, on which occasion two gun-boats were destroyed by shells thrown from the Cyane. On the 14th and 15th of the same month, those two ships brought off as much timber as they could stow, from a depot near Monte Circello; and on the 17th Captain Staines obtained possession of two martello towers in the following easy manner.
A detachment of seamen and marines under his orders having landed in the evening unobserved by the enemy. Captain Staines directed the respective officers to remain with their men at a good distance from the nearest tower, whilst he advanced with only a single attendant to reconnoitre it. Meeting with no interruption, and finding a ladder placed against the entrance, he ascended without hesitation, looked through the key-hole of the door, and descried the garrison carelessly carousing. Not a moment was lost by him in bringing forward his whole force; and after placing the men in ambush within a few yards of the tower, he re-ascended the ladder, taking with him an Italian whom he had purposely brought on shore to act as an interpreter. The enemy were then summoned to surrender, and at the same time given to understand that a large quantity of gun-powder had been so placed as to ensure their destruction if they did not immediately comply with his demand. A great bustle now took place among the French soldiers, and Captain Staines, suspecting that they were about to make resistance, instantly discharged a musket through the key-hole, which was sufficiently large to admit the muzzle of the piece. This completely frightened them, although no one was hurt thereby; the door soon flew open, and the whole were taken prisoners without any opposition.
Leaving a small party in charge of this tower. Captain Staines pushed on for the other, and directed the French officer whom he had already surprised and taken, to acquaint his countrymen that unless they quietly surrendered, their little fortress would certainly be blown to atoms, and themselves involved in its destruction. This menace also had the desired effect, and both towers were demolished without a single casualty. Captain Staines subsequently blew up another fortification of the same description, and we need scarcely add, that his able and resolute conduct was duly reported by Captain Murray Maxwell, the officer under whom he was then serving.
At this period, Lieutenant-General Sir John Stuart, Commander-in-chief of the British forces in Sicily, and Rear Admiral (now Sir George) Martin, the senior naval officer on that station, were making a diversion in favor of Austria, by threatening Naples with an invasion, and thereby causing Murat, the usurper, to recall a considerable body of troops that had been sent by him as a reinforcement to the French army in Upper Italy. The proceedings of the expedition thus undertaken will be seen by the Rear-Admiral’s official letter to Lord Collingwood, of which the following is an extract:
“H.M.S. Canopus, off Ischia, July 2, 1809.
“My Lord,– I have the honor to acquaint your Lordship that I sailed from Melazzo on the 11th June, in company with the Spartiate, Warrior, Cyane, and Espoir; and the same day I detached the Philomel (brig) with four transports, containing two regiments of infantry, which Sir John Stuart wished to be landed on the coast of Calabria, for the purpose of destroying the enemy’s batteries, and of undertaking the siege of Scylla, should it be found practicable. I proceeded with the remainder of the transports, gun-boats, &c., amounting in the whole to cue hundred and thirty-three sail, into the gulf of St. Eufemia, and close along the coast of Calabria, in the hope of diverting the attention of the enemy from Lower Calabria, and of enabling the two regiments detached by the Lieutenant-General, to effect the purpose for which they were sent. For four or five days it was nearly calm; and the whole expedition continued in sight of Calabria. On the 15th, the transports from Palermo, amounting to nearly one hundred sail, accompanied by two Sicilian frigates, and H.M. ship Alceste, joined us; H.R.H. Prince Leopold was on board one of the frigates, and Lieutenant-General Bourcard, appointed to command the Sicilian troops employed on this expedition, in the other. Sir John Stuart, upon being joined by this force, expressed a desire, that General Bourcard should continue with his division on the coast of Calabria, putting some men on shore to effect a diversion, and that in the mean time we should proceed with the British and Sicilian troops (15,000 in number) which had sailed with us from Melazzo, to make an attack on the islands of Ischia and Procida. On the 24th, I anchored to the northward of the said islands; and on the morning of the 25th, a landing was effected on the island of Ischia under cover of H.M. ships Warrior and Success, H.S.M, sloop Leone, and several gun-boats, without the loss of a man, and the whole taken possession of, except a strong insulated castle, off the S.E. part if the island, which did not surrender till the 1st instant, after batteries had been erected and opened against it. The island of Procida capitulated on the evening of the 25th; and that night I received information that a flotilla of gun-boats, &c. was coining from Gaeta along shore; in consequence of which, the few gun-boats near us were detached in that direction; and at day-light on the 26th, the flotilla, consisting of forty-seven sail, was seen, and a signal made to the Cyane to prevent the gun-boats from entering the bay of Naples. Captain Staines executed that service with the same ability and judgment which he has shewn upon every other occasion; and by turning the enemy, and preventing them getting round the point of Baiae, they were brought to action by our gun-boats, supported by the Cyane and Espoir. Eighteen of them were taken and four destroyed. No language, which I am master of, can convey to your Lordship an adequate idea of the gallantry, judgment, and good conduct displayed by Captain Staines * * * * * *.”
We must now, for a moment, lay down Rear-Admiral Martin’s letter, in order to describe the Cyane’s proceedings more clearly and fully than it does; likewise to correct an error or two therein.
Captain Staines appears to have commenced active operations against the enemy, on the 24th June, by driving twelve gun-boats, each mounting a long 24-pounder, into the bay of Pozzuoli. In the course of the same day and the ensuing night, his boats cut out two polacre ships from under different batteries, and one of them was found to contain a detachment of troops, intended to reinforce the garrison of Procida.
On the morning of the 25th, a frigate of 42 guns and 350 men, a corvette of 28 guns and 260 men, the above-mentioned division of gun-boats, and eight others of the same description, came out of Pozzuoli bay, apparently with the intention of forcing their way to Naples. This formidable force, however, was intimidated by the daring manoeuvres of the Anglo-Sicilian detachment, and returned to its anchorage after a mutual cannonade of about one hour and a quarter, during which the Cyane sustained no loss, and but very little damage.
In the action of June 26, the Cyane sustained the fire of two heavy batteries for nearly three hours, received 23 large shot in her hull, and was much cut up in her masts, yards, sails, and rigging. Her loss on this occasion consisted, according to the official return, of 2 killed, 1 mortally, and 6 slightly wounded. The enemy, in addition to their heavy gun-boats, had to regret the loss of fifteen other armed vessels, making a total of thirty-seven taken and destroyed on that occasion.
Scarcely had the enemy’s flotilla been thus disposed of, when Captain Staines observed a flag of truce flying in a battery on Point Mesino. His boats on arriving there found 15 French soldiers ready to abandon their post, which afforded the commanding officer an opportunity of spiking the guns (four 42-pounders), destroying the carriages, and bringing off all the powder, the deserters of course accompanying him. The same night. Captain Staines annoyed the enemy’s frigate, corvette, and gun-boats, in Pozzuoli bay, by throwing shot and shells among them.
At 8 A.M. on the following day, the Cyane was becalmed so near to the shore that a battery of eight 42-pounders, two 10-inch mortars, and two howitzers opened upon her, and became so troublesome by 10 o’clock, that Captain Staines determined not to put up with the annoyance any longer. He therefore got into a boat, led the flotilla under his orders to the attack, soon silenced the enemy’s fire, then landed with a party of men, gained the height on which the battery was situated, spiked the guns, &c. threw one of the mortars into the sea, and returned to his ship without the slightest accident happening either to himself or to any of his gallant subordinates.
On the same day, according to Rear-Admiral Martin’s letter, “Captains Staines and Mitford attacked the enemy’s frigate and corvette, which, with a number of gun-boats, were moving from Baiae to the mole of Naples. The action lasted from 7 till half.past 8 P.M. with the frigate (the corvette out-sailing her much, soon made the best of her way to Naples). During the greater part of the time, the Cyane was within half-pistol shot of the frigate; but from her being so near the shore, and supported by a number of gunboats and batteries, she was not able to continue the action.”
Captain Staines and his first Lieutenant being dangerously wounded in this conflict, the second Lieutenant also disabled, and the command of the Cyane having in consequence thereof devolved upon the Master, we presume that Rear-Admiral Martin was not acquainted with all the particulars of the action when he wrote his official letter respecting it. The fact is, that the Espoir and the Sicilian flotilla were too far astern to be of much service to the Cyane, whilst on the other hand the enemy’s frigate received considerable support from the corvette, as well as from the Neapolitan gun-boats. A journal kept on board the Cyane affords us the following information:
“At 6-15, the frigate weathered Nisida, and appeared becalmed – out sweeps, and cut all the boats adrift, with a keeper in each. The total number of officers, men, and boys, now remaining on board, able to come to their quarters, did not exceed 150.
“At 7, a battery tried to annoy us, and in five minutes afterwards we were abreast of the frigate, within half pistol-shot. The corvette, then half a mile a-head, and the batteries of Naples, as also the gun-boats, opened their fire upon us.
“At about half-past 7, the frigate received some men from the shore, notwithstanding which she ceased firing, and hauled down her colours, a few minutes before 8 o’clock. On obtaining a second reinforcement she again hoisted her ensign, and returned our fire, but with less vigour than before. In half an hour more she was completely silenced; but as our powder was all expended, and we were fast approaching the mole of Naples, then only 1½ miles distant, Castel Uovo and several batteries at the same time annoying us considerably, it was impossible, without boats, to profit by the enemy’s confusion. We therefore reluctantly hauled off, and swept into the offing.
Rear-Admiral Martin concludes his official report in the following terms: –
“It is with sincere concern I have to inform your Lordship, that during the action Captain Staines and both the Lieutenants of the Cyane, were wounded; but the ship was fought, the latter part of the action, by Mr. Joseph Miller, the Master, whom Captain Staines speaks of in the highest terms, and begs to recommend to your Lordship. He also speaks very highly of the conduct of Lieutenant James Hall, first of the Cyane, and of every officer and man under his command. * * * * * * Captain Staines has lost his left arm out of the socket, and is wounded also in the side, but he is in a fair way of recovery. Lieutenant Hall is likewise severely wounded in the thigh and arm, but there ia every reason to hope he will do well.”
The loss and damages sustained by the Cyane, in this last action is thus described in the journal now before us:
“Two men killed; the Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 1 Midshipman, and 16 men wounded. The fore and mizen masts badly wounded by large shot; all the other masts and yards much injured by grape; the standing and running rigging cut to pieces; all the sails rendered useless; 19 large shot through the hull, 26 others lodged in the sides; 6 chain-plates, 4 port-timbers, and 2 port-cells destroyed; one knee on the gun-deck broke, and 4 guns disabled in consequence of the breeching ring-bolts giving way.” The enemy acknowledged that their loss amounted to 50 killed and wounded.
Lord Collingwood, when transmitting Rear-Admiral Martin’s despatch to the Board of Admiralty, expressed himself as follows:
“It is represented to me that nothing could exceed the gallantry which was displayed by Captain Staines in all these several attacks in which he was for three days (and with little interruption by night) engaged in a succession of battles. * * * * * * As the Cyane has suffered very much in her hull, masts, and other respects, I have sent orders for her to proceed to England to be refitted.”
Captain Staines arrived at the Motherbank, Oct. 16, 1809; and received the honor of knighthood on the 6th Dec. following, about which period he also obtained his sovereign’s permission to accept and wear the insignia of a K.F.M. which had been conferred upon him by the King of Sicily, as a reward for his distinguished bravery on the coast of Naples. In April, 1810, several of the principal gentlemen in the isle of Thanet gave him a dinner at Margate, and presented him with an elegant sword, “as a mark of the very high admiration in which they held both his public and private character.”
A few days after this flattering entertainment, Sir Thomas Staines was appointed to the Hamadryad of 42 guns, in which ship we find him successively employed convoying a transport to the banks of Newfoundland (on her way to Quebec,) cruising off the Western islands, escorting some troops, &c. to the mouth of the Tagus, accompanying a fleet of East Indiamen from St. Helena to the Downs, and cruising on the Irish station. His next appointment was, May 7, 1812, to the Briton frigate; but being at sea when it took place, he did not join her until the 17th June following.
Between the latter period and Dec. 1813, Sir Thomas Staines cruised with his usual activity, in the Bay of Biscay, where he captured the Sans Souci French privateer of 14 guns and 120 men; la Melanie letter of marque; the Joel Barlow, an American vessel of the same description; and six unarmed merchantmen. He also recaptured an English ship and two brigs; drove on shore two coasting traders; and assisted at the capture of five American vessels, the whole having valuable cargoes.
On the 31st Dec. 1813, Sir Thomas Staines sailed from Spithead in company with several men of war and 49 merchantmen, destined for the East Indies; but on their arrival off Madeira he separated from his consorts in order to assist and protect a disabled Indiaman, with which he arrived at Rio Janeiro, on the 19th Mar., 1814. From thence the Briton was suddenly ordered round Cape Horn, in quest of a large American frigate which was reported to have gone thither to join the Essex of 46 guns, commanded by Captain David Porter, who had already done considerable injury to our whale fishery, and was then, according to the best information, refitting his ship in the port of Valparaiso. The capture of the Essex, by the Phoebe frigate and Cherub sloop of war, has been described in our memoir of Captain James Hillyar, C.B., whom Sir Thomas Staines found lying at Valparaiso, in company with his prize and the Tagus frigate, the latter commanded by Captain Philip Pipon.
After seeing the Phoebe and Essex as far as the island of Juan Fernandez, the Briton and Tagus proceeded to Callao, Paita, and some other places of inferior note on the coast of Peru; thence to the Gallapagos and Marquesas islands, but had not the good fortune to fall in with any thing like an enemy.
On the 28th Aug. 1814, Sir Thomas Staines took formal possession of Nooaheevah, one of the most considerable of the latter group, on which island Captain Porter had built a fort, &c. and hoisted American colours. The following are extracts from a ridiculous document written by that pompous personage, and found by the British in a bottle buried under the flag-staff:–
“It is hereby made known to the world, that I, David Porter, a Captain in the Navy of the United States of America, and now in command of the U.S. frigate Essex, have, on the part of the said United States, taken possession of the island called by the natives Nooaheevah, generally known by the name of Sir Henry Martyn’s Island, but now called Maddison’s Island; that by the request and assistance of the friendly tribes residing in the valley of Tuhuoy, as well as the tribes residing in the mountains, whom I have conquered and rendered tributary to our flag, I have caused the village of Maddison to be built, consisting of six convenient houses, a ropewalk, bakery, and other appurtenances; and for the protection of the same, I have constructed a fort calculated to mount l6 guns, whereon I have mounted 4, and have called the same Fort Maddison.
“Our right to this island being founded on priority of discovery, conquest, and possession, cannot be disputed; but the natives, to secure themselves that friendly protection which their defenceless situation so much required, have requested to be admitted into the great American family, whose pure republican policy approaches so near to their own; and in order to encourage those to their own interests and happiness, as well as to render secure our claim to an island, valuable on so many considerations. I have taken upon myself to promise them they shall be so adopted; that our chief shall be their chief; and they have given me assurances that such of their brethren as may hereafter visit them from the United States, shall enjoy a welcome and hospitable reception among them, and be furnished with whatsoever refreshments and supplies the island may afford; that they will protect them against their enemies, and, as far as lays in their power, will prevent the subjects of Great Britain (knowing them to be such) from coming among them until peace shall take place between the two nations.”
Returning from the Marquesas to Valparaiso, and steering a course which ought, according to his chronometers, and the Admiralty and other charts, to have carried him nearly three degrees to the eastward of Pitcairn’s island, Sir Thomas Staines was greatly surprised by its sudden appearance on the 17th Sept.; and as this incident enabled him correctly to ascertain the manner in which H.M. late ship Bounty was disposed of, we shall first avail ourselves of the information he obtained on that head from the only surviving mutineer, and then add some interesting particulars respecting the descendants of Mr. Christian and his deluded followers.
Disappointed in his expectations at Toobouai, and dreading a discovery if he remained in the neighbourhood of Otaheite, Mr. Christian committed himself to the mere chance of being cast upon some desert island; and accident threw him upon that of Pitcairn, situated in the midst of the vast Southern Ocean, distant upwards of 1100 leagues from the continent of America, and far from any other island. Finding no anchorage near it, he ran the ship upon the rocky shore, caused her to be cleared of the live-stock and every thing useful, and then set her on fire, by which means he deprived himself and his wretched adherents of every hope of escape.
After this rash act, Mr. Christian became very sullen and peevish; his moroseness and irritability daily increased, and he soon disgusted every one by his very oppressive conduct. His treatment of the Otaheitean men and the Toobouaites appears to have been particularly severe and cruel; those who had hitherto lived harmoniously together were thereby divided into parties, disputes frequently took place, and often ended in affrays of a serious nature.
In this state of affairs, and within a twelvemonth after their landing, Mr. Christian’s Otaheitan wife bore him a son, the first child born on the island, who was soon afterwards deprived of both his parents, the mother dying a natural death, and the father being shot by a Toobouaite, whilst he was digging in his own yam plantation. The cause assigned for this act of violence was his tyrannical conduct on all occasions, but particularly in taking the wife of an islander to himself, shortly after the dissolution of his own female partner. The opportunity of revenge had been anxiously sought for, and the assassin committed the act unobserved, firing from a thicket which skirted the plantation. Thus terminated the miserable existence of this ill-fated young man, who was neither deficient in talent, energy, nor connexions, and who might therefore have risen in the service, and become an ornament to his profession.
Desperate contentions now ensued between the Englishmen and the islanders, nor did they cease until four of the former were killed, and the whole of the latter annihilated. Previous to Mr. Christian’s death, one Englishman had been killed in a drunken quarrel, and consequently there were only three of the Bounty’s people remaining alive at this latter period; of these, one died of asthma, and another destroyed himself in a fit of insanity, leaving a widow who was afterwards taken by the only survivor, to supply the place of his deceased help-mate. This man, Alexander Smith, appears to have had a narrow escape during the sanguinary strife, a musket-ball having entered his right shoulder, behind, and gone out through the right breast.
The first ship descried off the island was seen on the 27th Dec. 1795; but as she did not approach the land, they could not make out to what nation she belonged. A second appeared some time in 1801, but did not attempt to communicate with them. A third came sufficiently near to see their habitations, but did not venture to send a boat on shore; which is the less surprising, considering the uniform ruggedness of the coast, the total want of shelter, and the almost constant and violent breaking of the sea against the stupendous rocks around it.
The only vessel that ever communicated with the descendants of the Bounty’s mutineers, (previous to the Briton and Tagus) was the Topaze, an American trader, commanded by Mr. Mayhew Folger, who touched at the island in Feb. 1808, and whose report of its situation very nearly corresponds with that made by Sir Thomas Staines, viz. lat. 25° 4' S. (by meridian observation); and long. 130° 25' W. (by the chronometers of the two frigates) . We shall now proceed to give an account of the interesting little colony which Sir Thomas so unexpectedly fell in with.
On the 17th Sept. 1814, at 2 A.M., Lieutenant Charles Belfield Louis having reported land on the lee-bow, he went immediately on deck and distinctly made it out to be a small island; the Tagus was then hailed, and both ships hove too until day-light, when they filled and stood towards it. On approaching the island. Sir Thomas Staines first observed the upper part to be cultivated; then discovered a hut near the summit: afterwards several others forming a square, about half-way from the sea upwards; and at length saw several men descending with canoes on their shoulders.
At 8 A.M., the frigates being then within a mile of the shore, four canoes, containing six persons, paddled alongside the Briton; and to the great astonishment of Sir Thomas Staines, who was about to ask them some questions in the language of the Marquesans, he found that they all spoke very good English.
The two men that first got on board the Briton soon explained the mystery, for one of them enquired whether any person knew a William Bligh, in England; and the other was introduced by him as Thursday-October-Christian, son of the unfortunate gentleman whose fate we have just recorded. This interesting stranger was then about 24 years of age, and is described as being a fine fellow, about six feet high, his hair deep black, his countenance open and engaging, complexion of a brownish cast, but free from that mixture of a reddish tint, which prevails among the islanders in the Pacific Ocean; his only dress was a piece of cloth round his loins, and a straw hat, ornamented with the black feathers of the domestic fowl. “With a great share of good humour,” says Captain Pipon, who was then on board the Briton, “we were glad to trace in his benevolent countenance all the features of an honest English face; and I must confess, I could not survey him without feelings of tenderness and compassion.” One of his companions was named George Young, a fine youth, about 18 years old, son of the only midshipman who continued with Mr. Christian.
Young and another lad, named Quintal, came alongside in the same canoe; and so eager were they to see the ship, that they both jumped on board together, when their little bark went adrift and capsized, but she was soon picked up and towed back by another. “I then,” says Sir Thomas Staines, “for the safety of their boats, found it necessary to direct that one person should remain in each, and desired Quintal to go into his, leaving Young on board to inspect the ship. Quintal, however, whose curiosity was equally unsatisfied, immediately said, with a smile on his countenance ‘I should like to see the ship too; suppose you let us draw for it, I think that will be the fairest way.’ This was spoken with the greatest good nature, and I must own that I was greatly surprised to hear them speak the language of their fathers so correctly.”
If the astonishment of Sir Thomas Staines was great on hearing their first salutation in English, his surprise was unbounded when, on taking the young men below, and setting before them something to eat, they rose up, and placing their hands together in a posture of devotion, distinctly repeated, and in a pleasing tone and manner – “For what we are going to receive, the Lord make us truly thankful.” They expressed great surprise on seeing a cow, and said they could not conceive what that great red thing with horns was; but, although they had never seen a dog before, the moment Young saw a little terrier belonging to Sir Thomas Staines, he exclaimed, “Oh! what a pretty little thing, I know what it is – it is a dog.”
After breakfast, the two Captains accomplished a landing through the surf, and were introduced to the head of this little colony, whom they found to be a venerable looking person, upwards of 60 years of age, but of robust stature, and in perfect good health. His wife appeared still older, and was then totally blind.
The little village of Pitcairn forms a pretty square, the houses at the upper end of which were occupied by this ancient couple and their offspring by both marriages: their youngest child is described by Sir Thomas Staines as the finest boy he ever saw. On the opposite side was the dwelling of Thursday-October-Christian, who had married a woman much older than himself, she being the widow of one of the Bounty’s people, and consequently a native of Otaheite; in the centre was a smooth verdant lawn, on which the poultry were let loose, but fenced in so as to prevent the intrusion of the domestic quadrupeds.
The inhabitants of Pitcairn’s island at this time consisted of 41 persons, old and young, the whole in such perfect health that they had not so much as a head ache among them. It is almost needless to say, that they all looked up to the old Englishman, Alexander Smith, alias John Adams, as their head and adviser, both in temporal and spiritual matters; and, says Sir Thomas Staines, “his exemplary conduct and fatherly care of the whole little colony, could not but command admiration.”
The young men were very athletic, and of the finest forms; their countenances open and pleasing, indicating much benevolence and goodness of heart; whilst in every action they appeared studious to oblige each other; but the Pitcairn females were objects of particular regard; tall, robust, and beautifully formed, their faces beaming with smiles and unruffled good humour; their teeth, like ivory, were regular and beautiful, without a single exception; all of them had fine eyes, and the most marked English features; their dress, which the heat of the climate requires to be scanty, was still such as the strictest modesty would require; and their behaviour is entitled to the warmest praise; for instead of the wanton and licentious carriage which characterizes the females of all the other South Sea islands, the greatest propriety prevailed in all their actions.
Smith, whom we shall hereafter call John Adams, assured Sir Thomas Staines, that, since Mr. Fletcher Christian’s death, there had not been a single instance of infidelity in the married women, nor of doubtful chastity in the others, and that he was equally ignorant of any attempt at seduction on the part of the males. They were all made to labour while young in the cultivation of the ground; and when possessed of a sufficient quantity of cleared land, and of stock sufficient to maintain a family, they were allowed to marry, but always with the consent of Adams, who united them by a formal ceremony; and “they bade fair,” says Sir Thomas Staines, “to raise a progeny, beautifully formed as any in Europe.”
The greatest harmony prevailed in this little society; their only quarrels, and these rarely happened, being, according to their own expression, “quarrcls of the mouth.” They were honest in their dealings, which consisted of bartering different articles for mutual accommodation. Their habitations were extremely neat: all that was done was obviously undertaken on a settled plan, unlike any thing to be met with in the other islands. In their houses they had a good deal of decent furniture, consisting of beds laid upon bedsteads, with neat covering; they had also tables and large chests to contain their valuables and clothing, the latter of which was made from the bark of trees growing on the island, prepared chiefly by the Otaheitean women, five of whom were still surviving, exclusive of the wives of Adams, and young Christian. The ground produced abundance of cocoa-nuts, bananas, bread-fruit, yams, and plantains; they had also plenty of fowls, goats, and pigs; the woods abounded with a species of wild hog, and the coasts of the island with several kinds of good fish; these constituted the whole of their resources, except a little sugarcane, which Adams told Sir Thomas Staines, with a smile on his countenance, enabled him to make a small quantity of bad rum.
Their agricultural implements were made by themselves, from the iron supplied by the Bounty, which, with great labour, they beat out into spades, hatchets, &c. Adams kept a regular journal, in which was entered the nature and quantity of work performed by each family, what each had received, and what was due on account; there was, it seems, besides private property, a sort of general stock, out of which articles were issued on account of the several members of the community; and, for mutual accommodation, exchanges of one kind of provision for another were very frequent, as salt for fresh meat, vegetables and fruit for poultry, fish, &c.; also when the stores of one family were low, or wholly expended, a fresh supply was raised from another, or out of the general stock, to be repaid when circumstances were more favorable; all of which transactions were carefully noted down in the patriarch’s journal.
But what was most gratifying of all to the visitors, was the simple and unaffected manner in which the members of this little community returned thanks to the Almighty for the many blessings they enjoyed. They never failed to say grace before and after meals, to pray every morning at sunrise and again on retiring to rest. The day on which Sir Thomas Staines and Captain Pipon landed, was Saturday the 17th Sept., but by John Adams’s account it was Sunday the 18th; and they had already commenced their Sabbath devotions when the frigates were first discovered by them. This difference in the time was occasioned by the Bounty having proceeded thither by the eastern route, and the Briton and Tagus having gone to the westward; the master of the Topaze found Adams right, according to his own reckoning, he having also approached Pitcairn’s island from the eastward.
John Adams declared, as it was natural enough he should do, that he was not concerned in the mutiny on board the Bounty, being in his hammock at the time it took place; but this, we know, is not exactly true, for it was him who told Churchill, the master at arms, “to look sharp after James Morrison,” the boatswain’s-mate, as he had seen him shake hands with John Milward, when Mr. Fryer, the Master, spoke to them about rescuing their commander, and recovering possession of the ship. It is, however, only an act of justice to state, that Adams was not particularly active on that lamentable occasion, neither did he offer any insult to Lieutenant Bligh, of whose harsh and severe treatment he spoke to Sir Thomas Staines in terms of strong feeling; he also expressed his utmost willingness to surrender himself, and be taken to England; indeed, he rather seemed to have an inclination to revisit his native country; but the young men and women flocked around him, and with tears and entreaties begged that “their father and protector” might not be taken from them, “for without him they must all perish.” It would therefore have been an act of the greatest inhumanity to remove him from the island; and it is hardly necessary to add, that Sir Thomas Staines lent a willing ear to their entreaties, thinking no doubt, that, if he were even among the most guilty, his care and success in instilling religious and moral principles into the minds of this young and interesting society, had, in a great degree, redeemed his former misconduct.
To the foregoing outline we have the pleasure of adding, that old Adams was still living, when H.M.S. Blossom touched at Pitcairn’s island, in 1826; that himself and his flock have received that support from this country, the peculiarity of their situation so justly entitle them to; and that they are now amply supplied with every thing which can contribute to their comfort, or tend to increase their happiness. After his departure from Pitcairn’s island. Sir Thomas Staines revisited Valparaiso and Callao, touched at Coquimbo and Juan Fernandez, and continued in the Pacific, affording protection to the British interests, until April 1815, at the latter end of which month he returned to Rio Janeiro, and delivered a letter to his commander-in-chief, of which the following is a copy:
“Valparaiso, 27 Mar. 1816.
“Sir,– The undersigned English merchants resident in Chile, think it their duly most respectfully to inform you, that they conceive the presence of an English ship of war in the South Seas, essentially necessary for the protection of their interests here, during the present very unsettled state of these countries; and they therefore join in requesting that before the Indefatigable leaves these seas she may be replaced by another vessel of war, if it be not incompatible with his Majesty’s service.
“In case this application should meet with, as we doubt not it will, your approbation, we beg leave to add, that from the highly honourable character of Sir Thomas Staines, and from the useful services he has always so willingly lent to British interests here, we conceive him most peculiarly qualified in every respect to promote the commercial interests of our country, and to maintain and protect its character.
“We have the honor to subscribe ourselves, with the greatest respect, your most obedient servants,
|(Signed)||“Colin Campbell.||“Andrew Blest.|
|“Jno. Jas. Barnard.||“John Blest.|
|“N. Crompton.||“T. Beetenson.|
|“George Cood.||“James Ingram.|
“To Vice-Admiral Manly Dixon.”
On his arrival at Rio Janeiro, Sir Thomas Staines found the commander-in-chief preparing to return home, in consequence of the termination of hostilities between Great Britain and America; and, notwithstanding the above application, he received orders to accompany that officer, with whom he arrived at Plymouth on the 8th July, 1815.
The Briton being shortly afterwards put out of commission, we find no farther mention of Sir Thomas Staines until July 19, 1821, on which day he attended the coronation of his present Majesty, and was marshalled, as a K.C.B., next to Sir James Alexander Gordon, a gentleman who had also lost a limb in battle, and whose services we have already recorded.
On the 23d Oct. 1823, Sir Thomas Staines was appointed to the Superb of 78 guns: in the following month he conveyed part of the 12th regiment of foot from Portsmouth to Gibraltar: and we subsequently find him visiting Barbadoes, St. Vincent’s, Dominica, Bermuda, and Lisbon, at which latter place he continued for a very considerable period. The Superb was paid off Dec. 19, 1825.
Sir Thomas Staines enjoys a pension of 300l. per annum, granted to him for the loss of his arm, &c. He married, in May 1819, Sarah, youngest daughter of Robert Tournay Bargrave, of Eastry Court, Kent, Esq.
Agents.– Messrs. Cooke and Halfords.
- The Victory then bore the flag of Rear-Admiral Mann. See Vol. I, p. 159.
- See id. note * at p.255.
- See Vol. II. Part I. p. 97.
- Each frigate had on board 50,000 dollars. This money was all thrown overboard during the chase, to prevent the British from obtaining possession of it.
- See Vol. II. Part I. note † at p. 232.
- See id. note † at p. 276.
- See id. note * at ib.
- See id., p. 26; and Vol. I. pp. 378, 643, and See Vol. I. p. 779..
- The Cyane was only rated a 22-gun ship, but she mounted exactly that number of long 9-pounders on her main-deck, and the quarter-deck and forecastle were armed with 8 18-pounders and two long-sixes: to these Captain Staines afterwards added 2 brass howitzers, and at his request her long nines were exchanged for 32-pounder carronades, and her complement was increased to 175 officers, men, and boys.
- See Memoir of Admiral Lord Gambier.
- Each of the towers mounted two heavy guns.
- The two former were 74-gun ships, commanded by Captains Sir Francis Laforey and John William Spranger. The Canopus 80, bearing Rear-Admiral Martin’s flag, was commanded by Captain Charles Inglis; and the Espoir, an 18-gun brig, by Captain Robert Mitford. The Cyane joined this squadron at Melazzo on the 26th May.
- On the appearance of this detachment, the enemy abandoned their posts opposite Messina, which were immediately seized and dismantled by the British.
- On the 20th Captain Staines was detached, with the Espoir and twelve Anglo-Sicilian gun-boats under his orders, to cruise between Procida and Point Miseno, for the purpose of preventing any reinforcement or supplies from being conveyed to the enemy’s garrisons.
- See Captain John Ayscough.
- Lieutenant Hall was promoted a few months after the action, but did not recover from his wounds as had been anticipated. He died at Scarrington, near Bingham, co. Notts., in the summer of 1810.
- See Nav. Chron. v. 22, p. 97.
- See Kentish Gazette, 27th April, 1810.
- See Vol. II. Part II. p. 861, et seq.
- The disgraceful manner in which Captain Porter rendered the mountain tribes tributary to the American flag, is related in “Shillibeer’s Narrative of the Briton’s Voyage,” an interesting little volume, published by Law and Whittaker, in 1817. Fort Maddison and the village were destroyed immediately after Captain Porter’s departure from the island.
- Nooaheevah and the adjacent islands were discovered by the Spaniards 180 years previous to the declaration of North American independence.
- Principally, we presume, on account of its excellent harbour, Port Anna Maria; and the facility with which a plentiful supply of good water can be obtained at all seasons.
- The only authentic account of the mutiny on board the Bounty, that has ever been printed, is incorporated with our memoir of Captain Peter Heywood. See Vol. II. Part II, pp. 747–786. N.B. Errata at p. 764, first line of note *, for William Muspratt, read Thomas Burkitt.
- Although Pitcairn’s island is at all times difficult of access, it may be approached with safety, as there is no bottom to be got with 120 fathoms of line, within a mile of the shore.
- See Vol. II. Part II. p. 755.
- Sir Thomas Staines was nominated a K.C.B., Jan. 2, 1815.