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Royal Naval Biography/Tullidge, Joseph Crew


Was made a lieutenant in Oct. 1800. We first find him serving under Captain John Edgcumbe, of the Heron sloop; and next in the Africaine frigate, Captain Robert Corbett. In June, 1810, the Africaine sailed from Plymouth with despatches for the Governor-General of India, containing orders for the immediate equipment of an expedition against the Isles of France and Bourbon. On the 9th Sept., she touched at the island of Rodriguez, to replenish her water; but, learning what had befallen the squadron under Captain Samuel Pym, at Port Sud-Est, in the Isle of France[1], and that Isle Bourbon was already in possession of the British, Captain Corbett determined upon changing his route, and hastened to join Commodore Rowley, the officer then charged with the blockade of Port Louis. On the 11th of the same month, the Africaine’s barge and jolly-boat sustained a loss of two men killed, and a marine officer, a master’s-mate, a midshipman, and thirteen men wounded, in an unsuccessful attempt to bring off a French transport schooner which had run on shore near Grande-Baie. Captain Corbett’s subsequent proceedings are thus detailed by Mr. James:

“As soon as her two boats returned, the Africaine bore up for Bourbon, and at 4 a.m. on the 12th, made the island. At 6, two ships were observed in the offing of St. Denis; and at 7, Captain Corbett learnt from a transport at anchor in the bay, that they were French, as well as a man-of-war brig, now also seen to windward of the frigates. At 8 a.m., Captain Corbett went on shore; and the Africaine continued standing off and on, clearing herself for action. At 10 a.m., the two frigates (Iphigénie and Astrée) telegraphed each other; and then the brig (Entreprenant) made sail to the N.E., and was soon out of sight. The frigates stood in upon the larboard tack, as if disposal to offer battle; whereupon Captain Corbett, who was employed in landing his badly wounded, hoisted a broad pendant and red ensign. The object of doing this was, by deceiving the French into a belief that the Africaine was their old acquaintance the Boadicea, to conceal the fact of any additional British force having arrived on the station.”

It is proper here to state, that the broad pendant and red ensign were displayed at the suggestion of Lieutenant Edward Lloyd, of the Boadicea, whom Commodore Rowley had left in charge of the signal posts at St. Denis, in order to watch and report the movements of the enemy’s squadron which blockaded Isle Bourbon, after Captain Pym’s unfortunate affair in Port Sud-Est.

“At noon, or shortly afterwards, the Boadicea herself weighed from the bay of St. Paul, and accompanied by the 16-gun sloop Otter, Captain James Tomkinson, and gun-brig Staunch, Lieutenant Benjamin Street, proceeded in chase of the two French frigates. At 2 p.m. she rounded Pointe du Galet, having the wind well from the southward; while the Iphigénie and Astrée were under all sail on the starboard tack, with the wind, a common occurrence in the vicinity of Madagascar, fresh from the eastward. The instant she cleared the bay of St. Paul, the Boadicea was descried, and, making her number, became at once recognised by the Africaine. Commodore Rowley, when getting under weigh, had received an intimation from the Lieutenant-Governor of Isle Bourbon, that an English frigate, reported to be the Africaine, had arrived at St. Denis: he therefore knew that the frigate in sight was her. Captain Corbett now returned on board his ship, attended by Major Barry, of the Honourable Company’s service, and Captain Elliott, of the British regulars. At about the same time the frigate received from the shore a lieutenant and 25 soldiers of the 86th regiment, to replace her wounded, most of whom were able seamen.

“The Africaine immediately made sail upon the starboard tack, the same as that on which the French ships were standing. These, at about 3 p.m., had descried the Boadicea and her two consorts. The latter Captain Bouvet (of the Iphigénie) knew were the Otter and Staunch; but the Boadicea, on account of the ruse practised by the Africaine in the morning, he took to be the Windham (re-captured East Tndiaman), equipped as a ship of war. By 6 p.m. the Otter and Staunch had so dropped astern in the chase, as to be entirely out of sight of the Africaine; and about the same time the Boadicea, being headed by the east wind, took in her studding-sails and braced up. This brought her about eight miles on the Africaine’s lee quarter. At 6-20 p.m., the Africaine lost sight of the Boadicea; and in ten minutes more the latter lost sight, in the opposite direction, of the Otter and Staunch. The weathermost French frigate, finding the Africaine approaching fast, bore up to join her consort; and at 7-30 p.m. the Africaine was about two miles and a half on their weather quarter, with such a decided superiority in sailing as to keep way with them under topsails and foresail, while they were carrying top-gallant-sails and courses.

“Proceeding thus under easy sail, in order to allow the Boadicea time to get up, the Africainc, as soon as it grew dark, begun firing rockets and burning blue-lights, to point out her situation. At 9 p.m. the Boadicca saw a flush in the S.E., and at 9-30 observed the enemy and the Africaine burn blue-lights. At 1-50 a.m. on the 13tb, in the midst of a fresh squall, the French frigates bore up; and immediately the Africaine, fearing their intention might be to run or wear, bore up also, and manned her starboard guns. At 2-10, the Astrée and Iphigénie again hauled to the wind on the same tack; and the Africaine, having hauled up likewise, found herself within less than musket-shot distance on the Astrée’s weather quarter. The Boadicea was now four or five miles distant on the lee quarter of the Africaine; but having been thrown, by accident, into so good a position, and knowing that a run of two or three hours more would bring the enemy to Port Louis, Captain Corbett could not refrain from becoming the assailant.

“Accordingly, at 2-20 a.m. the Africaine fired her larboard guns, loaded with two round shot each, into the weather quarter of the Astrée, who immediately returned the fire. The second broadside from that ship mortally wounded Captain Corbett, a shot striking off his right foot above the ankle, and a blow from a splinter causing a compound fracture of the thigh of the same leg. The command of the Africaine now devolved upon Lieutenant Joseph Crew Tullidge, who was ordered by Captain Corbett, as he was removing below, to bring the enemy to close action. At 2-30 a.m., having had her jib-boom and the weather-clue of her fore-topsail shot away, and fearing that her bowsprit had suffered, the Astrée ranged a-head clear of her opponent’s guns. On this the men at the Africaine’s foremost main-deck guns began hurraing, and the remainder of the ship’s company caught and repeated the cheer. The lightness of the breeze, which had been gradually falling since the action commenced, would have deprived the Africaine of her former advantage in point of sailing, even had the Astrée’s fire not cut away the greater part of her running rigging: hence she had scarcely steerage-way through the water. The Iphigénie, meanwhile, had bore up, and now took a station on the lee quarter of her consort. The breeze freshening a little at this time, the Africaine made sail, and running alongside the Iphigénie to windward, recommenced the action, having the Astrée on her weather-bow. A sudden fall in the wind enabled the latter ship to retain her position; and thus lay the Africaine, with one ship of equal force within half pistol-shot on her larboard-beam, and another, of the same or a greater force, close on her starboard-bow, raking her with a most destructive fire of round, grape, and langridge.

“At 3-30 a.m. the Africaine had her jib-boom and fore-topmast shot away, and shortly afterwards her mizen-topmast. Lieutenant Tullidge, by this time, had been severely wounded in four places, but could not be persuaded to go below. Lieutenant Robert Forder, the next officer in seniority, had been shot through the breast with a musket-ball, and taken below; and at 4 a.m. the master (Samuel Parker) had his head carried off by a round shot. Still the Africaine continued the action; but her fire gradually grew feebler, until about 4-45 a.m., when it entirely ceased. The ship was now with her three lower masts reduced to a tottering state, her hull pierced in all directions, her quarter-deck nearly cleared of officers and men, and her main-deck so thinned that only six guns could be properly manned. Being in this disabled state; seeing also, from the calm slate of the weather, no chance of relief from the Boadicea, whom the opening day-light discovered about four or five miles off, and having no hope of escape, nor means of further resistance, the Africaine, at a few minutes before 5 a.m., hauled down her colours. Although this was done, and every light extinguished, the French, contrary to the law of arms, continued, for nearly fifteen minutes, to fire into the British frigate; whereby Captain Elliott, of the army, and several men were killed.

“Of her complement, including soldiers, of 295 men and boys, the Africaine had 49 killed and 114 wounded. Captain Corbett bad his leg amputated below the knee during the action, and died about six hours after the operation had been performed. Had he survived, he must have submitted to a second amputation above the compound fracture. The loss sustained by the French frigates, as stated in the letter of Commodore Bouvet, amounted to 10 killed and 35 wounded. The damages they sustained bore a proportion to their loss of men. The Astrée was very slightly injured in hull or spars: the Iphigénie had her masts, yards, and rigging more or less wounded and cut, but none of her masts so dangerously struck as to require replacing.”

Mr. James, in continuation, says, “No sooner was the Africaine in possession of her captors, than her shot-lockers were ransacked to supply the Iphigénie, whose guns were of the same calibre; but only fifty round shot remained of the former’s originally ample store. That they had been expended in the action is certain; but there is reason to believe, that the Africaine’s crew had been very little, if at all, exercised at the guns: consequently that, in nine times out of ten, the men might as well have fired blank cartridges as shot.” The former part of this statement is certainly incorrect. – Not only was her shot-locker nearly full, but even the racks around the hatchways still contained many shot, blackened as they were before the action. Our informant, now a captain in the navy, is of opinion, as are many other persons, that the Africaine’s crew, disgusted With their captain’s tyrannical conduct, did not shot the guns at all after the second or third broadside.

“At a few minutes before the Africaine hauled down her flag, a breeze began to swell the sails of the Boadicea; and the latter, very soon after daylight, ‘passed within musket-shot of the enemy.’ It was now discovered that the Africaine was a prize to the French frigates, and greatly disabled, while they apparently had suffered but little. At 6 a.m. the Boadicea tacked and stood to-windward of them, to look for the Otter and Staunch, whose very bad sailing was at this time particularly unfortunate. At 6-10, the Africaine’s foremast was seen to fall by the board; at 7, her mizen-mast and main-topmast; and at 8 a.m., her main-mast. Her bowsprit, or the head of it, also, we believe, went; and thus was the Africaine a totally dismasted hulk. * * * * * *

“At 7-30 a.m., the Boadicea discovered the Otter and Staunch to-windward, and at 10 was joined by them. At forty minutes past noon they all bore up, with a fine breeze from the S.S.E., for the two French frigates and the wreck of the Africaine. At 1-30 p.m. the Boadicea hauled up her fore-sail, and came to the wind on the larboard tack. At 3-30 she and her consorts again bore up; and in ten minutes afterwards the Astrée, taking the Iphigénie in tow, abandoned the Africaine and made sail to-windward. At 5 p.m., by which time the Boadicea had arrived close abreast of the Africaine, the latter fired two guns and hauled down the French colours. * * * * * * On the 22d, in the morning. Captain Bouvet, with his two frigates and a prize (the Hon. Company’s cruiser Aurora), anchored in the harbour of Port Louis.”

Lieutenant Tullidge, and about ninety of the Africaine’s surviving officers and crew, including more than forty of the wounded, were removed to the French frigates, and consequently continued in captivity until the reduction of the Isle of France, in Dec. 1810.

On the 23d April, 1811, a court-martial assembled on board the Gladiator, in Portsmouth harbour, to try Lieutenant Tullidge for the loss of the above ship; and having examined into the circumstances attending her capture, agreed, “That H.M. said ship Africaine was captured by a very superior force of the enemy, after an action which was commenced by the order of her deceased commander, the late Captain Robert Corbett, in a very brave and spirited manner; and after he was disabled by the loss of his right leg, by the second broadside of the enemy, was continued by the said Lieutenant Tullidge, in the most gallant and determined manner, although he had received four severe wounds during the action, as long as there was the least chance of preserving her from the enemy; and did adjudge the said Lieutenant Tullidge, his surviving officers, and ship’s company, to be most honorably acquitted.”

On the 1st of Aug. following, Lieutenant Tullidge was promoted to the rank of commander; and on the 7th[errata 1] Oct. 1813, appointed to the Clinker sloop of war. He obtained a pension of 150l. per annum, April 4th, 1816.

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