Royal Naval Biography/Thruston, Charles Thomas
CHARLES THOMAS THRUSTON, Esq.
Second son of the late Framingham Thruston, of Market Weston Hall, co. Suffolk, Esq.
This officer entered the naval service, at the latter end of 1798, as midshipman on board la Volage 24, Captain (now Vice-Admiral) the Hon. Philip Wodehouse, with whom he sailed for Jamaica early in 1799. Shortly after their arrival on that station, Captain Wodehouse relinquished his command, from ill health, and returned to England as passenger in la Renommée frigate, accompanied by Mr. Thruston. The passage home, with a numerous convoy, was long and tedious; and the very shattered state of la Renommée rendered it at one time rather problematical whether they would ever reach England. Near the banks of Newfoundland, they encountered a most violent gale of wind, during which the ship worked so heavily as to cause several bolts to start some inches from her sides; and before her arrival at Spithead the whole fabric of the upper works was literally frapped together, by means of hawsers passed fore-and-aft through the opposite main-deck ports.
Mr. Thruston next joined the Cruiser sloop, Captain (now superannuated Rear-Admiral) Charles Wollaston, on the North Sea station, where he witnessed the capture of several privateers and neutrals, the latter laden with enemy’s property. We subsequently find him serving under Captain Wodehouse, in the Brilliant, Iris, and Resistance frigates. The last named ship was employed in attendance on King George III. at Weymouth, during the summer of 1802; and wrecked a few miles to the northward of Cape St. Vincent, when proceeding to the Mediterranean, May 31st, 1803. On joining the fleet off Toulon, her captain, officers, and crew were tried by a court-martial, and the whole, with two exceptions, fully acquitted: – these were Lieutenant Southcott, who had charge of the watch when she ran aground, and Mr. Rose, the master; the former gentleman was placed at the bottom of the list, and the latter dismissed H.M. service.
Disliking the tedium and irksomeness of a crowded flagship, Mr. Thruston, on the departure of Captain Wodehouse for England, volunteered his services to Captain Thomas Staines, and was received by that officer on board the Camelion sloop; as were also two of his fellow sufferers in the late shipwreck, (the gallant Manners, who afterwards lost his life in the command of the Reindeer; and the present Captain George Scott). The character of their new commander for enterprize is sufficiently known to warrant the belief that the three young volunteers were not idle during a cruise of some months on the coasts of Italy and France: – it was the summer season, and scarcely a night passed in which the boats, commanded by these young gentlemen, were not actively, and for the most part, successfully employed, in boarding and cutting out vessels from almost every accessible place along those shores.
From the Camelion, Mr. Thruston was discharged into the Canopus 80, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral (afterwards Sir George) Campbell, to whose patronage he had been strongly recommended by Captain Wodehouse ; and he continued to serve under that worthy officer until his return to England. The remaining few months of his time as midshipman were passed in the Prince 98, Captain Richard Grindall, attached to the Channel fleet, then commanded by Admiral Lord Gardner, to whose brother, Valentine, an old, able, and meritorious military officer, the widow of Framingham Thruston, Esq. had previously been married. Had his lordship’s life been of longer duration, this connexion would in all probability have proved beneficial to her son; but, unfortunately, the gallant veteran died in Jan. 1809, and no one of his family now survives in the naval service; his three sons, Alan, Francis, and Valentine, the two former flag-officers, and the latter a post-captain, having all died within a few years of each other.
After passing his examination, Mr. Thruston accepted the then new appointment of sub-lieutenant, and served as such in the Charles hired armed ship, Captain George Davies, employed as convoy to the Baltic trade; a service comparatively inactive, and affording but little, if any, scope for enterprise. His promotion to the rank of lieutenant took place in Nov. 1806, on which occasion he was appointed first of the Ringdove sloop, Captain George Andrews, fitting out at Chatham for the North Sea station. In the following year, we find him present at the siege of Copenhagen and capture of the Danish navy. His next appointment was, through the interest of his kind and ever constant friend Vice-Admiral Campbell, to be second of the Endymion frigate, Captain (now Rear-Admiral) the Hon. Thomas Bladen Capel.
We here pass over a series of dull uninteresting cruises, the monotony of which was only broken by the Endymion forming part o£the squadron ordered to cover the retreat and embarkation of Sir John Moore’s gallant army, at Corunna. Mr. Thruston, it appears, commanded a division of boats on that occasion. The details are so fully known to the public, that it would be superfluous now to repeat them. While we are on the subject of the peninsular war, however, we cannot refrain from transcribing part of Captain Basil Hall’s interesting narrative of the Endymion’s subsequent proceedings, in which, from peculiar circumstances, his messmate, the subject of this memoir, bore a principal share.
“The period of our cruise” (on the coast of Portugal) ”being neariy out, we were steering home again, and sailing slowly along the coast of Spain, when, in the beginning of April, 1809, being then nearly becalmed off Cape Finisterre, we saw a small vessel coming towards us from the shore. The night was falling fast, but she reached us before it was dark, as we put our head towards her, immediately on perceiving that she was making for the frigate. The Spaniards on board this vessel had been sent as a deputation from a body of insurgents, anxious to obtain assistance from any English ship on the coast. They entreated us to bring our frigate into their bay, and assured us that, with a little additional aid, the inhabitants would be enabled to expel the French from this part of the country altogether. These men were the bearers of supplicating letters from the Junta of Corcubion, setting forth, in most moving terms, that they were in want of nothing but arms – ‘Falta solamente annas!’ was the grand theme; and if their operations, said they, could only be countenanced by the presence of a British man-of-war, the success of their campaign was secure. * * * * * *
“It was resolved that we should enter the bay of Finisterre next morning, to see what was doing, before lending the patriots, as they called themselves, such assistance as lay in our power. We stood off and on for the night; and I shall never forget the state of excitement in which we were kept till the day broke. * * * When we sailed into the bay, early next morning, the frigate was surrounded by boats, crowded with people of all ranks and classes, eager to express their gratitude for such prompt aid to their cause. Old men and young men ran about the decks hugging and kissing us, according to their custom, but in a manner so repugnant to our northern habits, that such of the sailors as had never been in the way of being so saluted before, were disposed to receive these marks of affection with any thing but good will. * * * When the ship was secured at her anchors, we made arrangements for landing. We could spare our new allies only 150 muskets, and as many cutlasses; but these, together with a due proportion of boarding pikes and tomahawks, with plenty of powder and ball, when displayed on the quarter-deck, made a considerable show, and greatly delighted the deputies, who had been a little disappointed at first when told of our small supply.
“The enthusiasm amongst the peasantry and towns-people on shore rose to a still higher pitch than any thing we had seen enacted on board. The women embraced us most cordially, with tears in their bright eyes – the children ran up and down the streets of the village, squealing out, ‘Viva! viva!’ while the old folks of both sexes hobbled to their doors to greet the arrival of the heaven-sent strangers. Numerous entertainments were prepared for us; and, as these good people would never be satisfied that we gave them credit for sincerity unless we partook of every dish at every feast, we were soon overstocked with provisions. A visit to the patriot camp was, of course, our first grand object; and no sooner had we hinted a wish to proceed there, than horses and mules, by the dozen, were at the door. The muskets and swords landed from the Endymion were then placed in carts, and off we set to the field, in grand cavalcade, accompanied by all the younger inhabitants, and half the older ones, of this pretty village – too soon to become a terrible scene of misery and bloodshed. * * * At every step, as we rolled along, the crowd gained fresh numbers, till, by the time we reached Bernun, at the distance of a league or so from Corcubion, our cavalcade made a very respectable army of itself – as armies then went – and we began to think we really were destined to be the liberators of Spain! A little circumstance struck us during this memorable day’s trip, which marked strongly enough the degree of enthusiasm in the patriot cause. The ploughs in most of the fields along which we passed on our way to the camp, were guided by women, whose husbands or sons, they assured us, had been sent to join the forces assembled to repel the invasion. Whenever we stopped to compliment them on their public spirit, they shouted like the rest of the crowd, and evinced no less animation or confidence of success than was shewn by the men. * * * *
“I can recall at this distance of time, with perfect distinctness, the quiet expression of humour in our experienced captain’s countenance, while he listened to the pompous assurances of the enthusiastic Dons, on our way to the patriot camp. He spoke no Spanish, though there was reason to suspect he understood it pretty well when he heard it spoken. This probably enabled him to get on better, upon the whole, with the Junta, than if he had been able to enter personally into discussions with them. It would have been different, of course, if these Spaniards had been men of sense and experience, or if there had been any real service to be executed in concert with the insurgents; but, as it was, I believe nothing could have been better. He was fortunate, also, in having a very good supporter, while his own professed ignorance of the language afforded him leisure to reflect before he was called upon to reply. “I allude to our grand interpreter, and the main-spring of all our operations, the second lieutenant, Charles Thruston, an officer who had seen much active service, both afloat and on shore, and who, to the important advantages of experience in this peculiar line of warfare, added a knowledge of the Spanish language, and a heartiness of address peculiarly suited to win the confidence of the people we were amongst. To give efficacy to these qualifications, he was gifted with talents and resources which it is a thousand pities should not have found higher exercise in the service of his country, than in this inglorious campaign of Corcubion. It was of the greatest importance, however, to the cause, to have one man amongst us whom all parties esteemed and were quite willing to follow; and who likewise understood the language and habits of the natives so thoroughly, that no misapprehension of their meaning was ever likely to arise.
“Before these patriotic bands had called us in to assist them, they had been sorely distracted amongst themselves as to the nomination of a commander-in-chief. About 2000 men, the Junta informed us, were assembled at Bernun. Only a few of these were properly armed with fire-locks, while some carried pikes or swords, and the rest brought nothing to the cause but boundless zeal and much talk. Amongst these people were several old soldiers, who, having seen a little service in their day, knew the value of discipline; and had learned in the course of their campaigning, that the chief element of good order is a well-grounded reliance on the skill of the commander. These men naturally wished to appoint as their chief a person named Camaño, who, from having served twelve years in the regular army, it was reasonable to think, knew something of military manners. The priest of the parish, however, had the voice of the peasantry with him. This worthy and gallant pastor, whose name was Lapido, possessed the entire confidence of the villagers and neighbours who formed his congregation, and who were naturally prompted to nominate him their leader by the very same motives which induced the soldiers to call out for Camano. * * * It would have been a troublesome addition to our responsibilities, to have been called upon to decide between the rival pretensions of the sword and the gown. The proverb carried the day, however, and the soldier yielded to the churchman. The good sense and experience of the veteran, indeed, shewed him, that he might be more useful as a second, acting under one whom the great mass of the people cheerfully obeyed, than he could possibly be as commander-in-Chief, with the church secretly, if not avowedly, against him, and, of course, the body of the congregation jealous of his authority. Camaño, also, by his influence succeeded in prevailing upon the whole of his own party to adopt the same course; wisely remarking, that since, in such times, unanimity is the life and soul of enterprise, it would ill become old soldiers to be wrangling about precedence, when the enemy was at their gates.
“Things being thus amicably adjusted, the reconciled rivals set about their task of disciplining their troops. the worthy padre, however, having heretofore taken charge only of the souls of his flock, was entirely adrift when he came to the details of arranging their external operations; and Camaño, whose knowledge of the art of war was confined pretty much to the handling of a musket, was equally thrown out when busied with the intricacies of discipline, and the troublesome details of classifying the officers according to their respective merits and intentions.”
It is proper here to observe, that the Spanish priests were the most active and determined opponents of the French, and from that class most of the officers of the newly raised patriotic army were selected. The partial organization of the troops was ultimately effected under the direction and guidance of Lieutenant Thruston, to whose advice and orders Don Pedro Lapido, although dubbed a marechal, implicitly submitted, conceiving that every British uniform contained under it military knowledge of all kinds, and consequently that every Englishman wearing a sword must be a complete general.
“On reaching the camp,” continues Captain Hall, “we found the patriot army exercising by divisions, under the immediate directions of old Lapido, who buckled over his cassock a huge, rusty sabre, taken by the guerillas, he told us, from a French dragoon in the mountain passes. When we approached, a general halt was ordered, and those who had muskets presented them, while those who had none went through the motions with their pikes or staves, formed out of scythes and reaping-hooks, by which these redoubtable warriors were, according to their own account, so speedily to eject the French from their country.
“As soon as the first salutations were over, the captain of the Endymion, with a gravity which shewed how far the sense of duty can overcome a feeling of ridicule, made the patriots a speech, interpreted, sentence for sentence, by Lieutenant Thruston. He complimented them upon their appearance, their military zeal, and their generous devotion; saying, that as nothing could be more suitable to the times, than such public-spirited demonstrations of hostility to the merciless invaders of their magnificent country, so they might reckon with confidence on the hearty co-operation of England in so just a cause. A pair of colours, made by the tailors of the Endymion, were then presented to the Reverend Don Pedro Lapido, and an elegant sword to Lieutenant-General CamanO, the military mover in these grand proceedings. I need hardly say that the air was rent with vivas; and I am sure anyone ignorant of Spain, who had seen the manner in which we were pulled about, and the very hems of our garments kissed – or heard the words ‘Vivan los Ingleses!’ bawled into our ears, would have declared all the reproaches uttered against the national jealousy of the Spaniards a scandalous libel. They offered to be guided by us in every thing – wished us to lead them instantly against the enemy, lest he should escape, – even the privates in this enthusiastic army, forgetting all order, left their ranks, to come crowding round us. We should have been worse than the mules on whose backs we were swayed about in the crowd, like a ship in the trough of the sea, if we could have remained insensible to this adulation; and though we knew and said to one another that the greater part of it was ‘all my eye,’ or mere words, still, enough of the unction entered our minds to make us fancy the hour was at last come when we were to be of some splendid use to mankind. But in saying this, perhaps, I ought to answer only for us juniors, when I speak of heads being turned. Our sagacious commander, I suspect, was never taken in; and my brother-officer Thruston, as interpreter-general, had so much to do, and was consulted about so many things of real importance, that he had less leisure to be carried away by the excitements of the moment, than some of the rest of our party. * * * * * *
“Under our auspices, the peasantry continued to flock in from the adjacent country; and although we could supply scarcely a twentieth part of these patriots with arms, we aided the good cause, as far as lay in our power, by putting their posts and outposts in order, and giving them such advice as we could, respecting their commissariat, and other arrangements of the troops. Fortunately, in all these matters Mr. Thruston had considerable experience: he soon acquired, also, an influence in the camp, which, if the materials he had to deal with had been more energetic, might have saved these poor troops from great disasters. His first object was, if possible, to place the men in a situation of security against any sudden attack of the enemy, which he had too much reason to fear might overset the whole of their plans. In truth, however, it was not easy to make out what really were the plans and objects of our patriotic protégés, unanimously agreed only on two points – a bitter hatred to the French, and a perfect reliance on themselves.
“The head-quarters of the enemy’s army in Galicia were at Santiago de Compostella; from which point they sent out small or large divisions, according to circumstances, to keep the surrounding country in subjection. At the same time, compact bodies of cavalry scoured the country, and by threats of severe vengeance laid the villages under contribution for the supply of corn and provisions of all kinds. Just before we anchored in Finisterre bay, they had sent to Corcubion a fresh demand for corn and wine; to which requisition the Junta sent for answer – ‘Let the French come and take it.’ To all previous demands of a similar nature they had yielded – not without murmuring, though without any positive shew of resistance; but they were now determined to make a stand. This imprudent Junta met in council every day, and, at their desire, one of us always attended as a sort of honorary member. * * * It was our constant entreaty, that the patriots should have confidential scouts posted along the road all the way from Santiago, or wherever the French might be, in order that we might be apprised of their force and movements, so as to have it in our power to prepare for their coming, if they were not too strong, or to withdraw, if they were likely to overpower us. But the self-satisfied, soporific Junta solemnly assured us, that these precautions were carefully taken, and that they received daily, indeed almost hourly, the most exact information of all the enemy were doing. Yet it so happoned that they would never let us see any of these accredited agents of their’s, either before they set out, or when they returned; and it soon became but too manifest, that the only sources of this boasted information were the popular rumours of the peasantry. * * * *
“Under these circumstances, we felt much at a loss, not only what to advise, but what to do ourselves. * * *. We reiterated our advice to the Junta, that they would take some more systematic precautions than any they had yet adopted, against a sudden incursion of the enemy’s troops. They replied, that they had secretly done so, and that every pass was watched and guarded, except one, which, they said, it was not in their power to put in a proper state of defence without our help. The captain begged to know what kind of assistance they required; for he was not much disposed to allow his marines to act in such company. He was not a little relieved, therefore, by their saying, that what they wanted was not soldiers or sailors, but a couple of the frigate’s quarter-deck guns, to plant in one of the passes of the mountains. They described this pass as being so narrow, that, if it were once fortified in this way, the whole of the French might be kept in check, until the necessary measures could be taken to bring up the patriot forces from Corcubion to complete the victory. I was accordingly despatched to the pass, with orders to make a survey of the ground, and to report my opinion as to the practicability of its being effectually defended against the French army, by a couple of 32-pounder carronades.
“The place pointed out lay about fifteen miles from Corcubion; and I set off under the guidance of peasants provided by the Junta, with an escort of half-a-dozen soldiers from the camp, the whole party being very respectably mounted on mules. This was on the 8th of April, and we reached our destination in the course of the day. My imagination had pictured to itself a narrow gorge, or cleft in the hills, like one of those Swiss passes in which the Burgundian invaders were demolished by the rocks and trunks of trees rolled down upon them by the natives. Much was my disappointment, therefore, when I came to the spot designated by this most precious of Juntas as one capable of being defended by a couple of guns against 10,000 French troops. It was an open, cultivated valley, at least a league wide, formed by ranges of hills, not rugged and inaccessible, but quite smooth, and easily to be traversed by any description of troops, artillery inclusive. * * *
“On returning from the interior, April 9th, I found the Endymion still lying in Finisterre bay, where she had been joined by H.M. ship Loire, a frigate despatched from England, with a supply of arms and ammunition expressly for the insurgents of Spain. The whole world at Corcubion were thrown into extravagant joy by this unlooked-for piece of good fortune; and nothing certainly could have been more seasonable than a supply of several thousand muskets, being nearly one for every unarmed peasant at our camp – of those at least who were in some degree organized and drilled. But as there were still upwards of 1,000 men over and above those formed into corps, and many others were crowding in from the country, it was thought right to despatch the Loire to England for a fresh supply.
“Early next day, we proceeded to the shore in great glee, to be present at the grand distribution of arms to the patriots in their camp. On reaching the council room, however, we learned, to our utter astonishment, that the army, as they were pleased to term it, had broken up that morning at two o’clock, from Bernun, and marched to a place called Paisas, twenty miles further off. It was in vain to urge the Junta to send off immediate orders to recall, or, at least, to arrest the troops, till they had arms put into their hands, their cartouch-boxes filled, and their arrangements got into some kind of trim to meet the enemy, should he think of coming down upon them. All we could extract from the Junta was, that as their orders had been given upon solid grounds, they could not be rescinded. * * *
“As the Junta had taken no measures to keep open the communication between the town and their forces. Lieutenant Thruston was sent off to the insurgent head-quarters at Paisas, to render any service to the cause, which his talents and activity might bring to bear upon the sadly misdirected fortunes of these poor Spaniards. In the mean time, we assisted the fishermen, and more stirring part of the town’s-people, in completing the equipment of several gun-boats, which, in the absence of better means, it was thought might keep the enemy at bay, should they come near Corcubion, as the fire from these vessels commanded the main road for a considerable distance. These, and all the other precautions we couUl think of, became every hour more necessary; for reports poured rapidly in from the country, stating that the French had actually moved from Santiago in two divisions – the first of 1,000 men, the other of 600 – and that one of these corps had been seen in full march towards the coast. Still, even when we knew that the enemy was bearing down upon us, we could fall upon no means of rousing the imperturbable Junta to any thing like action, or even precaution. * * * * * *
“The captain of the Endymion now became seriously alarmed for the fate of the town he had been called upon to protect. But all he could possibly do, was to send a fresh supply of ammunition for the gun-boats, and a message to the Junta – of which I was the bearer – to say, that if they wished it, the frigate should instantly be warped close to Corcubion to cover the escape of the inhabitants, since, from all he could learn, the enemy were coming in such force as to break through and overwhelm the half-armed peasantry at Paisas.
“We rowed smartly up the bay, but had scarcely doubled the point of land at the entrance of the harbour, when we observed a smart cannonading open from the gun-boats stationed near the Santiago road. This fire was promptly returned from the neighbouring heights by a continued discharge of musketry. The enemy, in fact, had pounced, unseen, on their prey; for we could now distinguish the French soldiers pouring into the wretched town from both sides of the valley. Many of the inhabitants rushed to the fishing-boats on the beach, and leaping into them, indiscriminately pushed into the stream. As we rowed up the harbour, we met hundreds of these poor people, half dressed, screaming, and struggling hard to get beyond the reach of shot. Others fled along the sides of the hills towards the bay, hoping to be picked off the shore by the boats, or, if they failed in this, to conceal themselves in caves amongst the rocks. Of these fugitives, great numbers were brought down, like hunted deer, or like game in a ‘battu,’ by the fire of the enemy, whose cruel measures had been taken with so much skill, that the devoted town was nearly surrounded before day broke. The whole face of the little harbour was soon covered with boats flying from this scene of destruction – and happy were those who escaped with their lives. The adjacent banks, too, were crowded with groups of men, women, and children, shrieking in a most touching manner, and entreating their friends to take them into the boats – already overcrowded. So completely hemmed in, were these wretched people, that escape was almost impossible. The horror and confusion of this frightful spectacle were increased by the conflagration of the town, in the streets of which deeds of still greater atrocity were going on. Of course, we could be of no use to such multitudes – fifty such boats as I was in would not have held half the people; and long before the frigate could have entered the harbour, all was over.
“As it was useless to land, I rowed past the flaming town towards the headmost gun-boats, to supply them with ammunition. The Spanish sailors were fighting as gallantly as possible. Unfortunately, the two headmost boats got entangled some how or other, and the second in the line, not being able to distinguish her consort in the smoke, fired a shot right into the magazine of the vessel a-head of her. In one moment the boat and most of her crew were blown high into the air. We were so near at the instant of this catastrophe, that the fragments fell on board of us; indeed, had we arrived twenty seconds sooner, we must have shared the same fate. We lost no time in distributing the powder with which we were loaded, to the other boats, and then busied ourselves in saving such of the blown-up seamen as were swimming about. Meanwhile, the French made such quick work of their task of destruction, that, as we rowed down the harbour again, they were retiring from the town and re-forming on the road beyond the bend or turn opposite to which the gun-boats were stationed.
“I have already mentioned that Lieutenant Thruston, on the evening before the attack was made, had been despatched to the head-quarters of the patriots to keep up our communications, and, as far as he could, to induce the Spaniards to act with something like system or sense. He had a very difficult, as well as a delicate game to play, and acquitted himself with great discretion, in circumstances of no small intricacy as well as danger.” (Hall’s “Fragments of Voyages and Travels,” vol. III. pp. 6–73.)
The night of April 10th, 1809, was excessively dark, wet, and stormy; and this circumstance proved the salvation of Lieutenant Thruston and his guides. About 10 p.m., their mules refusing to face the storm, and they themselves being wet through, and benumbed with cold, the little party sought shelter in a hovel, distant from the road about ten or twenty yards; but had not been seated many minutes before their host rushed out to ascertain the cause of an unusual murmuring noise: in a moment after he returned, uttering, in a low whisper, “los demonios estan aqui,” (“the devils are here,”) – an appellation then invariably given to the French. The two guides immediately dropped on their knees; but there was no time for prayers – life and liberty were at stake. Lieutenant Thruston seized one with each hand, and contrived to drag them to the door, where the mules had fortunately remained quiet. Scarcely had they mounted, and struck off in a direction at right angles from the high road, when the heavy march of men and horses was distinctly heard, though nothing could be seen. The mules were goaded on, over rocks and foaming torrents, till it was ascertained that pursuit, if any had taken place, was given up. The troops from which they thus narrowly escaped, had been sent by Marshal Ney to destroy Corcubion. Had not Lieutenant Thruston been compelled by the severity of the weather to turn into the hovel, he would have trotted, with his guides, into the very head ranks of the enemy; and, as no quarter was then given on either side, this tale would never have been told. But the adventures of the night were not yet over. The trio wandered for some time in total darkness, ignorant of the direction they were taking, and only endeavouring to avoid the road they had quitted. About 2 a.m. they arrived at the outskirts of a village, from which proceeded a great noise amidst the discharge of fire-arms. One of the guides immediately dismounted, and crept on his hands and knees to discover the cause. He returned in a few minutes, and his report induced Lieutenant Thruston to dash at once into the thick of the fray. Round the house of the curd of the village, a throng of men had assembled, armed in every way according to their abilities, endeavouring to force their way in, and preventing one another by the general pressure. The guides vociferated “un oficial Ingles,” and the crowd instantly gave way. Lieutenant Thruston then rushed up stairs, and with some difficulty, forced his way into a room, where a scene of the most extraordinary nature presented itself:– a table was spread, with the remains of a supper on it, round which, but a few minutes before, a French courier and his escort, consisting of six dragoons, had seated themselves, having arrived about an hour previously, and taken up their quarters at the curé’s house, at the same time commanding refreshments, &c. for the night. Unfortunately for them, the village was one in which the insurrectionary spirit against the invaders of Spain was most conspicuous, and a considerable part of the population had arms in their possession: the news of the enemy’s arrival spread like wildfire, and in a very short time the house was completely besieged by a party, confident at least in their numbers. Upon the outer door being forced, the headmost men were shoved on by the crowd behind; and thus, whether they liked it or not, they found themselves opposed face to face with the dragoons. The latter had scarcely time to discharge their pistols before they were fairly overwhelmed; and it was at this critical moment that Lieutenant Thruston entered. The French were most of them lying prostrate, disfigured, and bleeding from wounds of various descriptions; the sub-officer, or leader, was on his knees before an athletic Spaniard, who was flourishing his sword most theatrically, not yet having made up his mind to give him the coup de grace. At the sight of the British uniform, the poor fellow made a spring towards its wearer, exclaiming, “Sauvez ma vie, pour l’amour de Dieu! sauvez ma vie, monsieur!” A respite of a few minutes was thus obtained, during which Lieutenant Thruston succeeded in prevailing on the patriots to spare the lives of their foes, and give them up to him as prisoners. Those that were able to move he immediately marched off towards the coast; but as they never arrived on board the Endymion, their ultimate fate is doubtful.
After resting an hour, Lieutenant Thruston set out in quest of Marechal Lapido, and found him with only a few men, the rest of his force having dispersed amongst the neighbouring valleys. By daylight, however, many had come in, and more were flocking to head-quarters. All parties concurred in the measure of gaining the high road in the rear of the French troops, with a view of cutting off their retreat by the same route to Santiago –
And “By dint of hard marching,” says Captain Hall, “Lieutenant Thruston managed to bring the insurgent forces to the top of the high ground which overlooks Corcubion, about the time when the enemy, fatigued with burning, murdering, and plundering, were drawing off from the town. When the French reached the foot of the hill, from the top of which the Spaniards were contemplating the destruction of their homes, the infantry very coolly sat down on the grass to rest from their labours, and the cavalry dismounted quite at their ease, as if iu perfect security, though it was clear they must have seen the ridge of the hill covered with armed patriots.
“Now was the moment, thought Mr. Thruston, to make a rush down upon the wearied invaders, for the position gave the Spaniards every possible advantage over them; and if the former had possessed any degree of firmness or good discipline, their enemies, who were not one quarter so numerous, might certainly have been overthrown, and, possibly, taken prisoners. The zealous Lapido thought so too; and, being heartily seconded by Camaño, the patriots were ordered to advance to the attack, but not to waste their fire till they came quite close to the enemy, and, indeed, rather to trust, to the effect of the rush down hill, and to the vigour of their arms in the use of the bayonet, than to the fire of their musketry.
“There was a great cheering of viva! viva! upon these orders being given, and the Spaniards moved on to the charge in a style worthy of the days of their own Cid Campeador. But this lasted only till they came within about a couple of gun-shots of the French troops, upon which, in spite of all that the officers could do, they halted, and commenced a brisk fire directed towards the enemy, who took no more notice of the circumstance than a great mastiff does of the harmless yelping of a dozen puppy dogs, ready to turn tail the instant they see their antagonist prick up his ears.
“I am sorry to say, this humiliating figure too well describes the proceedings of our patriotic allies. It was soon observable that more than half their number had gone off to the rear, under the pretence of their ammunition being expended, while those who remained merely loaded and fired off their pieces in the direction of the distant enemy, to the great waste of powder and ball, but without working the smallest mischief on their foes. The manner in which they made their own personal assurance doubly sure in this matter, was described as being ludicrous enough. They first ran to the brow of the hill, from whence they got a glimpse of the enemy, sitting at his ease in a field, and then, having fired, ran back again a hundred yards to reload in security.
“This sham fighting lasted for nearly half an hour, when the French, who by this time had taken sufficient rest, rose from the ground, buckled on their great coats and knapsacks, but without any fuss, or seeming to care one straw about the Spaniards, and advanced slowly up the hill, directly in the face of their fire.”
As the main body drew near, some riflemen threw themselves in the front, and, under the protection of every piece of uneven ground, kept up a destructive fire on the patriots. In vain did Lieutenant Thruston urge a body of men he had placed in reserve, to advance, and support the broken line. About fifty French dragoons, who had gained the hill by a circuitous route, soon made their appearance on the high level ground in the rear. Their presence alone decided the business; for in a very few minutes the hill was deserted by all except the old Spanish soldiers, not exceeding 100 in number. These brave men stood to the last, and drew off in good order to some broken ground on the left, thereby covering the retreat of Lieutenant Thruston, who succeeded in reaching the sea-shore, accompanied by his friends Lapido and Camano. The fugitives, who followed their motions, re-assembled on the beach, about a mile from the scene of action, and there met the boats of the Endymion, under the command of her first lieutenant. Thus ended the battle of Corcubion, which the renowned Junta of that place ever afterwards spoke of as a victory.
After this, the armed peasantry of Gallicia never acted together again in any great force, but dividend themselves into small parties, attacking only when certain of success. Owing to this mode of warfare, the French were at no time masters of more ground than they actually covered; and to distract them still more, Captain Capel resolved on an expedition against Camarinas, their nearest station of any importance, about twenty miles to the northward. Accordingly, a party of seamen and marines, with Mr. George V. Oughton, purser, as a volunteer, were placed under the command of Lieutenant Thruston; and to this detachment were joined about 400 of his old allies, who, though beaten, were ready to try their chance again under his guidance. The Endymion’s launch, well armed, was at the same time sent alongshore, with orders to enter the harbour, make the necessary reconnoissance, and co-operate with the party on land. The enemy, either learning the superiority of the approaching force, or having orders to that effect, retired. The inhabitants having been rather conspicuous for their attachment to the French cause, the town was taken possession of in a military manner ; the chief personages were put under arrest, and the vessels in the port immediately boarded; – among them was an English West Indiaman of considerable value, originally captured by the Spaniards, and afterwards seized by the French. After having completely dismantled two strong batteries; all the British, and part of the patriotic force, were embarked on board the prizes, and carried back in safety to Corcubion. The Spanish vessels, laden chiefly with salt fish, were given up to the Junta; the West Indiaman was sent to England for condemnation.
“Some division now took place in the councils of the redoubtable statesmen at Corcubion. There were two parties, – one of which had lost every thing by the late visit of the French; the other had still some property to lose, and could count some relatives unmurdered. Those who had lost all, were hot for war; and so in fact were the rest, but with this difference; – the ruined party were for beginning again instantly, and with most unwonted energy; the other merely wished to pause a little, – ‘mañana’ was their word; ‘poco a poco,’ – little by little. The former, however, gained the day in the discussion; and taking advantage of an offer the captain of the Endymion had incautiously, but very naturally, made at the moment of their greatest extremity, they claimed the fulfilment of his promise, to bring the frigate into the inner harbour, abreast of the town. This step, they assured him, must restore confidence to the inhabitants, who would then speedily re-assemble; while an apprehension of the ship’s broadside might keep the enemy at a distance.
“The most serious objection to the measure which the Spaniards urged upon us, was the extreme danger to which H.M. ship must be exposed by entering a narrow harbour, completely commanded by heights, to which she could not elevate her guns, but where an enemy, not resisted by military, might take up a position at any moment, and thence, by means of artillery, knock her to pieces at their leisure. Added to this, there was a powerful battery at the entrance of the harbour, sufficient of itself to slop a much larger ship than the Endymion. Of course, the Spaniards undertook to garrison this fort; but we had seen too much of the distinction which these warriors made between promise and performance, to think of relying upon such an engagement.
“Nevertheless, as there would have been some indelicacy in making difficulties dependent upon our own chance of danger, and as it appeared to be of some consequence to shew how truly the English were in earnest in the common cause, it was determined to run the hazard of bringing the ship into harbour. On the 17th of April, accordingly, we sailed in, and moored close off the town. On that very day, the wind chopped round to the southward, and in the evening it blew very hard – so much so, that had we been then assailed by a skilful enemy, possessed of the heights, and furnished with guns, and troops enough to prevent our landing, we must either have been sunk at our anchors, or have surrendered at discretion, after the greater number of the crew had been killed. To have beat out against such a breeze would have been impossible. * * * *
“Now that we had brought our ship within range of the enemy’s shot, it became of consequence to establish for ourselves something like a proper system on shore; and for this purpose. Lieutenant Thruston, who enjoyed as much of the confidence of the Spaniards as any foreigner can ever hope to gain, and who had by this time become personally acquainted with the useful men amongst them, endeavoured to rally their forces, and once more to muster them in strength. I ought to have mentioned, that before entering the harbour, we took the liberty of disarming the battery at the entrance, by pitching its guns into the sea – a proceeding to which the Spaniards reluctantly consented. * * * *
“On the morning of the 18th, just as the day broke, the first scene of the recent tragedy was acted over again – the whole harbour was once more covered with boats, crowded with the inhabitants flying from the town, while all the roads were choked with, fugitives as before. No enemy being in sight, we felt disposed to ascribe this to some panic; but, on sending a boat to enquire, we learned that a peasant had arrived with news of a large French force being again near the town, accompanied by a train of heavy cannon. This sounded disagreeably enough; but still no troops could be seen from the ship; and the inference was, that the French were making a sweep round the hill, in order to gain the heights lying between her and the harbour’s mouth, from which their guns might command the passage, and cut off all retreat.”
Shortly after, “a cannon shot, fired from the shore, whistled over the heads of the officers, and passing between the masts, fell beyond the ship. Before the glasses could be turned to the spot from whence it came, another well-directed gun was fired; but, fortunately for us, not from the heights. In the next minute, the whole ridge was bristling and alive with French infantry, marching, at double-quick time, to gain the cliffs overhanging the narrowest part of the harbour, from which position they might have fired on the ship’s decks with their musketry as she passed. A similar body of men were proceeding with equal celerity along the opposite, or eastern side of the harbour, accompanied by artillery, which were galloping furiously forward, some to gain the dismantled battery at the entrance, and others to perch themselves on the most commanding cliffs and other points, least within range of the ship’s guns.
“All the enemy’s measures, up to a certain period, had been so well taken, that, but for their impatience, it is hard to say how the frigate escaped capture, or entire destruction. Had they only kept out of sight, and refrained from firing at all till their heavy guns were brought round to the proper situations for attacking us; and if the infantry had been kept behind the ri jge till the ship, in leaving the harbour, approached close to the shore, they might have nabbed us. * * * But it seemed as if the officer in command of that detachment of guns, sent to the eastern side of the harbour, could not resist the temptation of a shot, when he first came in sight of the Endymion, which ship, as we afterwards learned from a prisoner, they already considered their prize. * * * * Whatever was the cause, however, whether it were bad generalship, which is not likely, or merely impatience on the part of the officer, which is more probable, these indiscreetly managed shot, by giving us timely warning, saved our good frigate from being pounded to pieces.
“The gun-boats, stationed off the beach, were soon driven back by the fire of several hundred men, also accompanied by field-pieces. The French troops then entered the ruined town; but the unfortunate inhabitants had already escaped over the hills, or in boats. There was nothing left, therefore, for the ship to protect; and, of course, she made sail out of the harbour as fast as possible, with an escort of flying artillery on each side of her; followed by two bodies of troops, scrambling and running along the rocks, just too late to catch their expected prey.
“I need scarcely add, that the French now completed those parts of the work of destruction left unfinished at their first visit. After this they fell back upon Santiago. The unhappy Junta were hunted about the country like wild beasts, by the enemy’s cavalry; and a high price being put on their heads, they were at length glad to seek refuge on board the Endymion. About thirty persons in all, including wives, children, and attendants, availed themselves of our protection. We built them up a large cabin on the main-deck, made the party as comfortable as we could, and, at their own request, landed them at Vigo some days afterwards; for they deemed it most prudent to keep at a distance from home for a time.”
Here terminated the operations of the Endymion on the coast of Spain. In June following we find her proceeding to Madeira.
Lieutenant Thruston was subsequently ordered out to the Cape of Good Hope, on the admiralty list for promotion; and sailed for that station in the Scipion 74, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral the Hon. Robert Stopford; with whom he also proceeded to Java, in 1811. On their arrival at Batavia, he was selected to land and keep up a communication between the naval and military head-quarters, a service highly pleasing, as it gave full leisure for observing the operations of a campaign, unshackled by any fixed duty assigned. The following narrative (written by himself) of his subsequent proceedings in the Hesper sloop, will, we are sure, be perused with lively interest.
“In the autumn of 1811, the combined British naval and military forces, under the respective commands of Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Stopford and Major-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, employed on an expedition against the island of Java, succeeded in carrying by storm the intrenched camp of General Jansen, in the neighbourhood of Batavia. The fortification had been projected and finished by General Daendals, who had lavished all the resources of military talent on a situation extremely strong by nature; but the Malay troops, though bold, and trained in European tactics, were unable to stand against the assault of our veteran regiments, assisted by the Indian troops, who emulated their companions in arms; and after a severe and bloody attack, their entrenchments were successively carried, and their remaining detached corps were in a few days either destroyed or forced to capitulate. This affair decided the fate of the Dutch empire in the east, as in the capitulation were included their various settlements in the Indian seas. The course of operations had carried the admiral to the port of Sumbaya, the most eastern establishment on the island, and there, when the arrangements were finally closed, I received the command of the Hesper, sloop of war. The climate and hard service at the batteries, during this arduous campaign, had not spared the crew of this vessel more than those of the other ships of the squadron; and out of a complement of 120 men, there remained only eighty or ninety, fifty of whom were at this time in the hospital, or on the sick list, on board.
“Shortly after the departure of the admiral from the island, a report was brought from Europe by a vessel just arrived, that a squadron of French frigates had left Brest, bound, as was supposed, for the relief of Java. The British naval officer left in command, immediately made the necessary arrangements for their reception, in the event of their finding their way into these seas; and I received orders to proceed with H.M. sloop under my command, to the Straits of Bali, to watch well their southern entrance. I received on board some few convalescents from the hospital, and immediately repaired to Balambuan, in the Straits above mentioned. While at anchor there, I had the misfortune to lose the only experienced officer on board, who sank under the effect of the marshes of Batavia; his loss was great, and, to me, irreparable. While taking in our water at this anchorage, the westerly monsoon had set in with its usual violence, and though perfectly secure where we lay, the offing held out no very agreeable prospects; and the extreme severity of the weather, accompanied with torrents of rain, of which scarcely an idea can be formed in a northern temperate latitude, made me sometimes hesitate on the propriety of proceeding to sea. But the system of naval discipline is founded on the same principle as that of the ancient Roman armies; and with us, as with them, the highest virtue is obedience without calculation. I determined to run all risk, and having completed the supply of water, stood to sea early one morning in the beginning of December, with the intention of returning to the anchorage in the evening, if I should find upon trial that the severity of the weather, or strength of currents outside, should render it necessary. In half an hour from the time of our quitting the Straits, an extremely heavy squall came on, which entirely hid the land from my view. I stood on for a few hours and then tacked, in the expectation of reaching the anchorage in the Straits before dark. The weather during the whole day had been so extremely thick, that we were never once enabled to see more that half a mile distant. About four o’clock p.m. I calculated that we were at the mouth of the Straits. The weather, as we approached in shore, became more moderate, and the land was discovered at no very great distance. I stood in with full confidence, when to our no little astonishment, the face and form of the Straits had entirely changed their character, and we soon discovered that it was in vain to search for our old friendly anchorage here; in short, I now comprehended, that the easterly current, for which it was impossible to calculate, during the thick weather of the day, had driven us in spite of every endeavour to keep to windward, into the Straits of Lombo, which are formed by the island of Bali, and that of Lombo. I endeavoured to gain the offing, as the only rough manuscript chart in my possession represented these Straits as extremely dangerous, from the extraordinary currents there prevailing. But it was too late to recede; the wind had almost at once fallen to a dead calm, and I found myself irresistibly drawn into this gulf, with a rapidity the most alarming. The vessel was now perfectly ungovernable, from the total stagnation of wind; and it is scarcely possible to describe the very extraordinary appearance and effects of the currents, which now acted upon us with the most capricious fury. At one moment, all was calm and smooth as a mirror, not a ripple to be seen or heard: in an instant after a mountainous wave rose at a short distance, and directed its course to the vessel, boiling and roaring with a noise and velocity the most appalling. It then broke over the ship on both sides, carrying on its course with the same wild appearance for a hundred fathoms more, when, suddenly, the surge ceased, and all was still again; but only for a moment. During the whole of this awful scene, the Hesper was turned round and round in the most alarming manner, appearing but as a plaything in the hands of the genii of this whirlpool. At one moment we found ourselves close to the breakers, which border the shore of the Straits, upon which we were driving with a rapidity that seemed scarcely to leave time to prepare for the catastrophe before us; and then, at the very moment when we had lost the hope of deliverance, a counter current caught us with the same violence, and hurried us over to the opposite shore, where a similar counteraction again preserved us. The chart before me was not particularly calculated to cheer us, as the Dutch navigators had marked a small island at the entrance of the Straits – “Banditti island,” another, “Murderer’s Point,” “Assassin’s Bay,” &c. I now observed with attention and satisfaction the progress of the vessel in this dreadful vortex, and found that, independently of the counter currents, the direction of the whole movement was to the northward, through the Straits, with such a velocity, that at the expiration of two hours we had opened the northern entrance; in the course of the same night we gained the entrance of the Java sea without any accident, and next morning again entered the Bali Straits by a northern passage. The weather was now for a day or two tolerably settled, so that notwithstanding the experience I had gained in my first attempt to remain at sea, I was induced to make a second experiment. Acordingly we started again by the same route. The morning was fine, and the easterly current outside did not appear too rapid to prevent us holding our ground; but towards the afternoon it grew black to the S.W., and in a short time a gale of wind came on with great fury. It blew a perfect hurricane all the night, and in the morning, when we stood in for the land, I discovered by observations of chronometer, that we were now opposite the coast of Sumbaya. The strength of the currents of course vary with the violence of the wind, and as it still continued to blow with unabated fury, I considered any attempt to return to our cruising ground as perfectly hopeless and impracticable, until the termination of the monsoon, unless I had chosen to cross the equinoctial line, and thus profiting by the contrary monsoon which blew to the northward of the equator, be enabled to return to Java; but the short stuck of provisions, and the wearied and sickly state of my crew, rendered it absolutely necessary that we should quickly find some sheltering port. I cast my eyes over the chart, and saw no place where we could expect to find refreshment nearer than Timor; and although I had no local knowledge of the state of that settlement, I concluded it, from the appearance of the chart, to be of some importance, and hoped that possibly before this time the British Government might have sent a garrison to take possession of it. I decided, therefore, to make the best of my way to that place, and ran down before the wind, running a great risk from the coral reefs, which extend to a considerable distance from Sandal Wood island, and which were not laid down in the chart. I found myself the next day in the open sea, between the above mentioned island and Timor. The weather was now occasionally clear, though still blowing with undiminished violence; but I was fortunately able to determine with tolerable precision, the latitude by double altitudes, which was of the utmost consequence, as my intention was, to enter the Straits which are formed by the two small islands lying to the westward of Timor. At eight o’clock in the evening, we were, by calculation, exactly in the latitude of the Straits, at the supposed distance of about fifty miles. I therefore ordered the ship to be hove-to for the night, and not to attempt a nearer approach until the next morning; but these orders were so unskilfully executed by the officer of the watch, that, a tremendous squall unluckily coming on at this time, the fore-yard was carried away, and to clear the wreck, it was absolutely necessary (at whatever hazard) to put before the wind, although at the imminent risk of approaching the lee shore during the night. I steered then due east for the Straits, and was obliged to remain running for a considerable time, until the wreck was cleared, when we were enabled to heave to. I knew that by this time we must be within twenty miles of the land, and my anxiety was extreme. I remained on deck all night, during which the weather was excessively bad, and the ship drifting fast to the eastward. The. day had not yet broken, when the alarm was given – ‘breakers on the lee bow;’ the vessel was instantly wore round, and scarcely had she gone on the other tack, when again – “land a head;" and the surf was seen breaking over the rocks with tremendous fury. I could now only hope that we were in the Straits; but our preservation depended on various circumstances, – upon the correctness of the latitude of the Straits, as marked down in the chart; on the precision of my observations the preceding day; and on the exactitude of our course during the night. It was a fearful moment, – if in the Straits I knew we were safe; but if a quarter of a mile to the northward or southward, nothing could possibly save us from destruction. The day was not yet clear; we wore round frequently to avoid the tremendous breakers on either side; the Straits were not half a mile in breadth; a perfect silence prevailed on board; every individual seemed absorbed in the contemplation of the imminent danger which surrounded them; and the rapid execution of every successive order, shewed the superiority of British seamen over every other in the hour of danger. I had sent men aloft to report if any opening could be observed between the land to leeward; when at once on the dispersion of a dark and heavy squall, which kept back the day, several voices exclaimed, “We are in the Straits, Sir,” and the opening appeared every moment more manifest. We had stood the cast of life or death, and the throw was successful. I now steered confidently into the Straits, and we were soon in that part of them formed by the northernmost of the two islands I have spoken of, and Timor. Here we were perfectly sheltered from the fury of the monsoon, but our difficulties were not all over. Our chart, owing to the illiberal conduct of the Dutch government, whose invariable practice was to preclude strangers from all knowledge whatever of their seas, contained no details, and I knew not in what part to look for an anchorage. Our sounding-lead could never reach the bottom with forty fathoms, and the day was employed in a vain search. I was in hopes, by the intervention of some canoe, to have opened a communication with the shore, and to have gained this so necessary information; but neither men nor habitation presented themselves in this quarter. I continued in the Straits all night, and in the morning sailed out to explore the northern coast of Timor. The weather had somewhat moderated when I quitted the shelter of the Straits. The land of Timor formed, I found, a deep bay to the northward, at the bottom of which, I suspected the settlement I was in search of existed. I stood in for a considerable time, but no signs of habitation appearing, I began almost to despair of finding the object of my search here; when, as I looked through my glass for the last time, I imagined I perceived a real habitation peeping from among the trees. I now stood in farther, and rounding a precipitous point, my doubts were changed to certitude. The picturesque town of Coupang presented itself, protected by the battery of Vittoria, which stood high on a cliff to the westward. Our colours were now hoisted, a signal gun was tired, and I expected to see the British flag hoisted on the fort; but you may judge of my embarrassment when I observed the Dutch flag wave. What measure was to be taken? I immediately despatched an officer with a flag of truce a shore, bearing a letter to the governor, in which I informed him of the reduction of the Dutch settlements in Java by the English, and demanded the surrender of the colony, and his immediate attendance on board. The officer returned with the answer of the governor, that he could not comprehend the affair; that he had had no communication with Java for nearly two years, and begged me to come on shore to explain. I did not hesitate, with the white flag in my hand; I was received on the beach with military honours, the battery was manned, and the troops and militia drawn up. I proceeded to the government-house, and commenced the conversation by a recapitulation of the late events at Java, &c. and demanded again the immediate surrender of the settlement. He required to see my authority, and the written orders usually given on such occasions. I was obliged to be frank with him, and represented the truth; that accidental circumstances had brought me to Timor, where I expected to have found a British garrison, but that not being the case, it became my duty as a British officer, to haul down an enemy’s flag wherever I might find it; adding that if he did not think proper to surrender the island on the ground of its having been included in the capitulation by General Jansen, I now summoned him in my own name to surrender to me, as an enemy of superior force, stating, that I had on board 300 men, who waited only for my return, to come a-shore and commence an immediate attack. I warned him also that the blood which might be shed in this contest must rest on his head. He was considerably agitated, and undecided what part to take. To compel him to decision I drew out my watch, ‘Sir, I give you ten minutes for deliberation; if, at the expiration of that time, you are not decided, I am, and shall return on board, and you must abide the consequences of a bombardment.’ His inquietude increased; I saw that he was inclined to obey the summons, but the fear of committing himself would not allow him to act. I whispered to my Dutch interpreter to proceed to the fort, which was in sight from the portico of the government-house, where the conversation was held, and to endeavour, by feigning himself to be the bearer of orders to that effect, to haul down the flag. He executed his commission so well, that before ten minutes were expired, and while the governor was still hesitating, the flag of Holland was lowered, and the British ensign waved in its stead. It was now too late for him to retract; I thanked him for his promptitude, and immediately established him in due form, as vice-governor provisionally, till the ulterior orders of the British government were received; and I then promised him, that, provided he would answer for the fidelity of the colonists, I would not run the risk of disturbing the harmony which I hoped would reign in the settlement, by landing a single Englishman, excepting my own boat’s crew, as a body-guard to myself. He acquiesed entirely in my views, and you will easily conceive what were really the motives of my apparent delicacy; viz. the almost total impossibility of garrisoning the fort, not having more than thirty or forty efficient men, who were scarcely sufficient for the ordinary duty of the ship. Our measures were now all amicably arranged. I received and returned the official visits of the chief personages of Coupang. Fresh provisions, &c. were sent off to us in abundance, and I procured a pilot to place the ship in a secure anchorage, which I was glad to find was at a considerable distance from the place, as by that means, I should have less difficulty in preventing communication, and letting the real state of the case and of our small force be known, till my authority was securely established: my grand aim was to secure it by conciliation. With the governor himself I had no difficulty, for the more we lived together, the more reason he had to be convinced that he was not deceived as to what had taken place at Java; but I soon found the case was far different with those who had not the same opportunities of investigation. The public mind was in a state of great ferment; weeks had now elapsed since my arrival, and no vessel had appeared from any quarter bearing the confirmation of the capture of Java, and the overthrow of their empire in these seas, which were looked upon as equally chimerical as the destruction of one of the great powers of Europe. I had a Malay slave who was much attached to me; this man brought me frequently reports of what passed in the companies at Coupang. They had already more than suspected the distressed and sickly state of our force, and exclaimed loudly against the pusillanimity of the governor, in lending a credulous ear to the improbable story I had told him; my trusty servant also told me of a report that was prevalent, that a conspiracy was entered into by the governor, the principal inhabitants, and the four native rajahs in the vicinity; who, on a pre-concerted signal, were to join their forces, make myself prisoner, and re-hoist the Dutch flag. I was the more inclined to give credit to this story, as my house had been nightly beset by parties of the natives and slaves, who bad repeatedly disturbed me by their war cries; but the activity and alertness of my guard prevented any thing unpleasant happening. It now appeared to me that matters were drawing to a crisis, and that some decided measure must be taken immediately; accordingly, I went on board my ship next morning without making my intention known, and ordered the commanding officer to bring her as close to the town as the depth of water would permit, and to have all clear for action. I next proceeded with my boat’s crew, properly armed, with the intention of making myself master of the person of the governor, as a hostage and security for the good conduct of the citizens. I chose mid-day as the season for the enterprise, as in the tropics it is the season of tranquillity and repose. I entered the inner harbour, which led to the very door of the governor’s house: no alarm was given; not a soul was stirring: I entered the inner apartment with my trusty crew, who planted themselves at the door: the governor soon appeared, alarmed and agitated. I explained to him the report which had reached my cars, of a conspiracy against us, and that he was supposed to be implicated. He was excessively distressed, called on every thing sacred to witness his perfect innocence, but admitted, that for several days past ho had not been perfectly satisfied with the behaviour of some individuals, who had made very improper proposals to him. In reply, I stated to him my extreme dissatisfaction at the want of confidence of the colonists, who appeared to have mistaken my hitherto mild manner of treating them, for a want of force and authority. It was now necessary to undeceive them. At this moment a gun was fired from the Hesper, which was the signal to me that she had taken her allotted station, a-breast of the town. I directed a call of the principal inhabitants immediately, and they were told to prepare themselves to take the oath of allegiance the following morning in the castle yard. In the mean time the governor was to remain a prisoner in his own house; and it was understood, that his person was responsible for any outrage or tumult that might take place. This sudden call and declaration, and the appearance of the Hesper’s broadside within three hundred yards of the beach, checked at once the rising seeds of disaffection. They renewed to me their promises of fidelity and attachment, and professed themselves perfectly ready to take the oath of allegiance to His Britannic Majesty. The night passed without any thing extraordinary. In the mean time, I had thrown into the battery every disposable man from the ship, leaving the convalescents and boys to do their best in keeping a constant fire on the town, in case it should be necessary. Asiatic indolence was astonished and alarmed at the promptitude and decision of our measures; they felt and acknowledged their inferiority. At nine the following morning, the procession moved from the governor’s house towards the fort. I could scarcely keep my gravity at the spectacle; the governor, secretary, and suite, had ransacked their wardrobes to make up gala dresses, and never were seen such originals; however, the solemnity was well preserved, and we entered the castle yard under a military salute from the Dutch troops and a detachment of British seamen; the four native princes also attended the ceremony at the head of their respective councils. The Malay troops were in line, and the principal inhabitants assembled around me; the governor advanced in the middle, and read aloud the oath of allegiance, which was answered by all present, amidst a salute of twenty-one guns, fired by our detachment. All seemed to pass off well, when an unlucky peal of thunder seemed to awaken the superstitious feelings of my demi-civilized friends. I determined to anticipate the evil augury, and my interpreter exclaimed, that heaven likewise joined in the solemnity we were celebrating. It was answered by a viva, and we assembled in the evening to a ball and supper, prepared under the portico of the government-house, adorned by some fine old banyan trees, which had stood there for ages, and whose successive branches having taken root, formed a most singular and picturesque shelter from the heats of the day or dews of night. Universal harmony prevailed: Keisan, the chief of the princes, paid his devotions most earnestly to the brandy bottle, which was placed near him; his attachment to his new master increased at every glass; he embraced me again and again, and swore to follow me through the world. All present seemed to feel more or less the effects of their libations. I gave the signal to rise, and at the same instant, an officer whom I had stationed with some fire-works, discharged the rockets. From that moment I felt myself perfectly secure of the fidelity of my new subjects. With few exceptions, almost all, creoles and natives, fell with their faces on the ground, and several moments elapsed before their consternation had passed away. Nothing of any moment occurred after this affair, until my departure. The monsoon had begun to relax, and towards the month of March, light and variable breezes announced the return of the fine season. I now took leave of my new friends in a state of perfect tranquillity and submission to the British government; as in the interim, a Chinese junk had touched at the island, and confirmed the news of the downfall of their eastern empire. We returned to Java without accident or difficulty, and were hailed with satisfaction and joy by the rest of the squadron, who had long given us up for lost.
(Signed)“C. T. Thruston.”
Commander Thruston’s appointment to the Hesper was confirmed at home on the 7th Feb. 1812. On the conclusion of the above service, which affected his constitution deeply, he was ordered to Madras, where, immediately on his arrival, a violent inflammation of the liver displayed itself, which in a few hours brought him to death’s door. The medical men insisting that an immediate change of climate offered the only chance of saving his life. Captain William Jones Lye, of the Doris frigate, then about to sail for England, kindly consented to receive him on board, though already encumbered with a crowd of other passengers. He returned home in Nov. 1812, and, for a year or two afterwards, sought that repose which his shattered health required. When again enabled to offer himself for service, the war had ceased; and he, with some hundreds of other officers in a similar situation, found it impossible to obtain further employment. Since then, with the interval of two or three years spent on the continent, his time has been chiefly passed in North Wales, endeavouring by magisterial and other civil duties, to keep down the longing for a life of greater activity and enterprise, but which he has little hope of prosecuting again, as the greater part of the powerful friends of his youth are no more.
Commander Thruston married, 1st, in 1815, the sole surviving child and heiress of Lewis Edwards, of Talgarth, Merionethshire, Esq.; in right of which lady he became possessed of considerable landed property in that county, 2dly, in 1829, Eliza, second daughter of Admiral Sotheby. By the former marriage, he has four children now living; their mother’s sister was the wife of the Hon. Thomas Parker, brother to Lord Macclesfield.
- Commanded by Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Alex. W. Schomberg.
- See Hall’s “Fragments of Voyages and Travels,” vol. iii, pp. 6–78.
- See Hall’s Fragments, &c. Vol. III. pp. 101–121.