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Royal Naval Biography/Tetley, Joseph Swabey


JOSEPH SWABEY TETLEY, Esq.
[Post-Captain of 1812.]

This officer was made a lieutenant in Dec. 1795, and we first find him serving as senior of the Solebay, 32, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Edward Henry Columbine, (Governor of Sierra Leone) by whom he was promoted to the command of the Derwent, a fine 18-gun brig, during the expedition against Senegal, in July 1809. The capture of that settlement is thus described by Commodore Columbine’s military colleague, in a despatch addressed to Viscount Castlereagh, of which the following is a copy:

“My Lord,– When I last had the honor of writing to your lordship, I communicated such information as I had received concerning the situation of the French colony of Senegal, and my opinion of the practicability of reducing it with a small force; I also mentioned the annoyance we had received at Gorée and in its vicinity, from their privateers, during the absence of ships of war from that station.

“On the 24th June, Commodore Columbine arrived at Gorée with the Solebay frigate, and gun-brig Tigress, having the colonial schooner George, the Agincourt transport, and several merchant vessels under convoy: having communicated to him what intelligence I had lately obtained, we thought the reduction of Senegal practicable with the force we possessed, provided no obstacles should prevent our being able to pass the bar at the mouth of the river. * * * * * * *

“Having therefore procured some light vessels and boats, the best adapted for passing the bar, a detachment of the garrison of Gorée, consisting of 6 officers, 6 Serjeants, 4 drummers, and 150 rank and file, was embarked on board the Agincourt on the 4th July, when we sailed, and anchored at the bar on the evening of the 7th. Next morning, Commodore Columbine was of opinion the troops might be passed over the bar, which was accordingly effected, though with much difficulty, by the exertions of the navy. We unfortunately, however, lost a schooner and sloop, containing much of our provisions and ammunition, and the schooner George went on shore inside the bar. I landed the detachment, and 60 royal marines from the squadron, on the left bank of the river, where I took up a position, with a view to wait till provisions could be passed from the shipping, and the schooner could be got off. We then learnt that the enemy had made a formidable line of defence at the post of Babagué, 12 miles up the river, where there is a battery, in front of which three brigs and four other vessels were moored, and the whole protected by a strong boom drawn across the river.[1] On the 9th we were attacked, but speedily repulsed the enemy, and drove them within their line at Babagué; after which we returned to get off the schooner, which was effected on the following evening[2].

“The 11th was employed in refitting the schooner, and embarking provisions and water. The Solebay and Derwent were ordered to anchor opposite the post of Babagué, and bombard it, which was executed with much effect. During the night, in shifting her berth, the Solebay unfortunately got aground, but in a position which enabled her still to annoy the enemy. On the morning of the 12th the troops were embarked, and the flotilla proceeded up the river, till just without gun-shot of the enemy’s line of defence, and when every thing was in readiness for a night attack, we received information that it was the intention of the French commandant to capitulate[3].

“Willing, to spare an unnecessary effusion of human blood, the attack was postponed. On the morning of the 13th we discovered that the boom was broken, that the enemy had abandoned the battery and vessels, leaving their colours flying, and shortly afterwards a letter was received from Messrs. Degrigny and Durecu, in the name of the commandant of Senegal, offering to capitulate. Mr. Heddle, surgeon to the forces, who had acted as my aide-de-camp during the campaign, was sent forward to treat with these gentlemen, and soon returned with the articles of capitulation, which we ratified. I immediately took possession of the battery of Isle aux Anglois, and in the course of the evening, of the battery of Guêtendar facing the town. Next morning the garrison laid down their arms and were embarked. We then found that the force which had been employed against us amounted to 160 regular soldiers, and 240 militia and volunteers. * * * * * * *.

“In accomplishing this service, the officers and soldiers of the army were anxious to equal their brothers of the navy, who on all occasions distinguished themselves. I feel much satisfaction in having enjoyed the confidence of Commodore Columbine, whose exertions and ability contributed so effectually to our success[4]. I beg to bear testimony to the indefatigable and zealous exertions of Captain Tetley, Lieutenant Bones, and the other officers of the royal navy and marines * * * * *.”

(Signed)Chas. W. Maxwell, Major, Royal African Corps.”

The ordnance found mounted in the garrison of Senegal consisted of 28 long 24-pounders, 4 brass mortars and howitzers, 2 field-pieces, and 14 guns of small calibre. The only loss sustained by the English on this service, was that of Captain Frederick Parker, of the Derwent, Mr. Francis Atterbury Sealy, midshipman of that sloop, and 6 seamen, drowned in attempting to cross the bar; 1 military officer, who died in consequence of the intense heat, when charging the enemy, in the affair of the 11th; and 1 soldier wounded. We next find Captain Tetley commanding the Guadaloupe brig, mounting fourteen 24-pounder carronades, and 2 long sixes, with a complement of 102 officers, men, and boys, on the Mediterranean station.

On the 27th June, 1811, being then off Cape de Creux, Captain Tetley discovered and chased two strange sail to leeward, which afterward proved to be the French national brig Tactique, of 16 carronades, the same calibre as her own, and 2 long 8-pounders, with at least 150 men and boys; and the xebec Guêpe, of 2 long 18-pounders, 6 light carronades, and about 70 men and boys.

At 40' P.M. the British brig received the Tactique’s starboard broadside; then passing under the latter’s stern, returned it with interest, and immediately afterwards lay her opponent close alongside to leeward. A spirited action now ensued, in which the xebec took a safe, but at the same time very effective part, by raking the Guadaloupe astern. At 1-30, the French brig made an attempt to board the British, but was repulsed with considerable slaughter. The Tactique then passed the stern of the Guadaloupe; on which the latter bore up to close, and renew the action. About this time two land batteries, one of four, the other of nine heavy guns, opened a distant fire upon her. Shortly afterwards the combatants again came to close battle, and continued engaging until 2-15, when the Tactique, having had quite enough of fighting, bore up, made sail, and escaped under the batteries, whither the Guêpe had just before fled for shelter. The Guadaloupe, from which vessel the town of Port Vendres at this time was distant not more than two miles, gave the French brig a parting broadside, then hauled to the wind, and stood off shore; her loss consisted of 1 man killed, her first lieutenant (White) and 9 men severely, and 2 or 3 others slightly wounded; the Tactique is said to have had 11 slain, and 48 wounded.

Shortly after this gallant action. Captain Tetley was appointed, pro tempore; to the Perlen, a Danish-built frigate, in which he captured the French schooner privateer Syrene, of 6 guns, pierced for 12, with a complement of 61 men, near Majorca, Oct. 24th, 1811. An affair in which he was engaged, off Toulon, on the 22d of the following month, is thus described by Mr. James, in his Nav. Hist. Vol. V. p. 481, et seq.

“On the 20th Nov. when the only British force off Toulon were the two 38 gun frigates, Volontaire, Captain the Hon. G. G. Waldegrave, and Perlen, Captain J. S. Tetley, and these had been blown to some distance from the coast, a French Meet of fourteen ships of the line and several frigates sailed upon a cruise between the capes of Sicie and Sepet; intending to extend it a little beyond them, if wind and weather should permit, and if Sir Edward Pellew should approach no nearer than his present cruising ground, off Cape St. Sebastian. The French admiral remained out all that night, and all the following day and night, without being crossed by a hostile sail.

“At daylight on the 22d, however, as the Volontaire and Perlen were lying to, at the distance of two or three leagues W.S.W. from Cape Sicie, the French advanced division, consisting of three line-of-battle ships and two frigates, made its appearance in the S.E. Both parties were soon under a crowd of sail. At 9 a.m. Captain Tetley exchanged several shot with a French frigate upon his lee-quarter; and, owing to the Perlen being able, from the peculiar construction of her after-body, to bring 6 guns, three on each deck, to bear upon what is usually termed the point of impunity, he 80 cut up the French frigate forward, that, at 10 A.M. the latter bore away out of gun-shot. The Trident 74, and Amélie frigate, in the mean time, had exchanged a few distant shot with the Volontaire. The French 74 and frigate then stood for the Perlen, at whom they began firing at 11 a.m. and upon whom they gained gradually in the chase. * * *. At 1 p.m. finding that the two ships were advancing rapidly upon her, the Perlen cut away the sheet, spare, stream, and kedge anchors. At 2-30, the Trident was on her lee, and the Amélie on her weather-quarter; both still keeping up a heavy fire, and the Perlen returning it. In another quarter of an hour, provoked at being fired at so effectually, in a position from which she herself could bring no guns to bear, the Trident yawed and discharged her broadside. This of course occasioned her to drop astern; and, accompanied by the Amélie, she stood for the Volontaire. In a little while, however, the two French ships, finding that the state of their rigging gave them no hope of success in the chase, altered their course, and bore away for Toulon.

“The Perlen had her standing and running rigging and sails very much cut, and received two shots so low down as to cause her to make 9 inches of water per hour; but, fortunately, she had none of her crew hurt. The Volontaire was not struck; although, at one time, two 2-deckers, one with a rear-admiral’s flag, fired several broadsides at her.”

Captain Tetley’s post commission was confirmed by the Admiralty, Jan. 7th, 1812. He died suddenly, leaving a widow and large family, Nov. 29th, 1828.



  1. The enemy’s vessels were armed with 1 long twenty-four-pounder, 1 eighteen, 9 twelves, 6 sixes, 2 twelve-pounder carronades, and 16 light guns.
  2. The George was the principal vessel of the flotilla intended for service In the river: after many attempts to float her had failed. Lieutenant Daniel James Woodriff, then first of the Solebay, obtained permission to try his skill, and he at length succeeded in getting her off amid the loud cheers of soldiers and sailors, who were anxiously awaiting the result of this last effort.
  3. It may be here proper to remark, that the Solebay was left in charge of the master, her lieutenants having commands in the flotilla, which consisted of seven vessels, mounting IQ carronades, from 12 to 18-pounders, 3 field-pieces, and 1 howitzer; and nineteen boats of various sizes, with necessary appurtenances for all. This force was conducted In person by Commodore Columbine, who passed the bar in an American-built schooner, commanded by Lieutenant Woodriff. The other commissioned officers employed in this service were Captain Tetley, Lieutenant Robert Bones, of the Tigress, Lieutenant John Filmore, of the Solebay, and Lieutenant Reeves, R.M. The frigate was unfortunately wrecked, but all her men and part of the stores were saved.
  4. Commodore Columbine left Sierra Leone, on his return to England, in a state of great debility, brought on by the deleterious influence of that climate on European constitutions, and died of dysentery, on board the Crocodile frigate, to the westward of the Azores, June 18, 1811.