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Royal Naval Biography/Webley Parry, William Henry

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath; and a Knight Companion of the Royal Swedish Order of the Sword.
[Post-Captain of 1802.]

This officer was made a Lieutenant Sept. 21, 1790; and was serving as such on board the Juno frigate when she made her extraordinary escape from Toulon harbour, on the night of Jan. 11, 1794; a circumstance to be attributed, in a great measure, to his presence of mind, as will be seen by the following narrative of that event, sent by his gallant commander, the late Sir Samuel Hood, to the commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean station:

Juno, in Hieres Bay, Jan. 13, 1794.

“My Lord,– I beg leave to enclose your Lordship a narrative of the fortunate escape of H.M.S. Juno, under my command, from the port of Toulon, after having run ashore in the inner harbour on the night of the 11th instant. The firm, steady, and quiet manner in which my orders were carried into execution by Lieutenant Turner, supported by the able assistance of Lieutenants Mason and Webley, in their respective stations; the attention of Mr. Kidd, the Master, to the steerage, &c, with the very good conduct of every officer and man, were the means of the ship’s preservation from the enemy, and for which I must request permission to give them my strongest recommendation. I have the honor to be, &c. &c.

(Signed)Samuel Hood.”

To the Right Hon. Admiral Lord Hood.

“On the 3d inst. I left the island of Malta, having on board 150 supernumeraries, 46 of whom are the officers and private marines of H.M.S. Romney, the remainder Maltese, intended for the fleet[1]. On the night of the 7th I passed the S.W. point of Sardinia, and steered a course for Toulon. On the 9th, about 11 A.M., made Cape Sicie, but found a current had set us some leagues to the westward of our reckoning: hauled our wind, but it blowing hard from the eastward, with a strong lee current, we could but just fetch to the westward of the above Cape. The wind and current continuing, we could not, till the evening of the 11th, get as far to windward as Cape Sepet: finding, a little before ten o’clock, that the ship would be able to fetch into Toulon, I did not like to wait till morning, having so many men on board, and considering it my indispensable duty to get in as fast as possible. At ten I ordered the hands to be turned up to bring the ship to anchor, being then abreast of Cape Sepet, entering the outer harbour. Not having a pilot on board, or any person acquainted with the port, I placed two Midshipmen to look out with night glasses for the fleet; but not discovering any ships until we got near the entrance of the inner harbour, I supposed they had moved up there in the eastern gale; at the same time seeing one vessel, with several other lights, which I imagined to be the fleet’s, I entered the inner harbour under the top-sails only; but finding I could not weather a brig, which lay a little way above the point called the Grand Tour, I ordered the fore-sail and driver to be set, to be ready to tack when we were the other side of her. Soon after the brig hailed us, but I could not make out in what language: I supposed they wanted to know what ship it was, and told them it was an English frigate called the Juno. They answered Viva; and after asking in English and French for some time, what brig she was, and where the British Admiral lay, they appeared not to understand me, but called out, as we passed under their stern, Luff! Luff! several times; which made me suppose there was shoal water near: the helm was instantly put a-lee, but we found the ship was on shore before she got head to wind. There being very little wind, and perfectly smooth water, I ordered the sails to be clewed up and handed: at this time a boat went from the brig towards the town. Before the people were all off the yards, we found the ship went a-stern very fast by a flaw of wind that came down the harbour: we hoisted the driver and mizen-stay-sail, keeping the sheets to windward to give her stern way as long as possible, that she might get further from the shoal. The instant she lost her way we let go the best bower anchor, when she tended head to wind; but the after part of the keel was aground, and we could not move the rudder. I ordered the launch and cutler to be hoisted out, and put the kedge anchor with two hawsers in them, to warp the ship farther off. By the time the boats were out, a boat came alongside, after having been hailed, and we thought answered as if an officer had been in her: the people were all anxious to get out of her, and two of them appeared to be officers; one of them said he came to inform me it was the regulation of the port, and the commanding officer’s orders, that I must go into another branch of the harbour to perform ten days’ quarantine. I kept asking him where Lord Hood’s ship lay; but from his not giving me any satisfactory answer, and one of the Midshipmen having said, “they were national cockades,” I looked at one of their hats more stedfastly, and, by the moonlight, clearly distinguished the three colours. Perceiving they were suspected, and on my questioning them again about Lord Hood, one of them replied, “Soyez tranquille, les Anglois sont de braves gens, nous les traitons biens; l’Amiral Anglois est sortie il y a quelque tems[2].” It may be more easily conceived than any words can express, what I felt at the moment. The circumstance of our situation, of course, was known throughout the ship in an instant; and saying we were all prisoners, the officers soon got near me to know our situation. At the same time a flaw of wind coming down the harbour, Lieutenant Webley said to me, ‘I believe, Sir, we shall be able to fetch out, if we can get her under sail.’ I immediately perceived we should have a chance of saving the ship; at least, if we did not, we ought not to lose her without some contention: I therefore ordered every person to their respective stations, and the Frenchmen to be sent below. The latter, perceiving some bustle, began to draw their sabres; on which I directed some of the marines to take the half-pikes and force them below, which was soon done: I then ordered all the Maltese between decks, that we might not have confusion with too many men. I believe, in an instant, such a change in people was never seen; every officer and man was at his duty; and I do believe, within three minutes, every sail in the ship was set, and the yards braced ready for casting. The steady and active assistance of Lieutenant Turner, and all the officers, prevented any confusion from arising in our critical situation. As soon as the cable was taut, I ordered it to be cut, and had the good fortune to see the ship start from the shore. The head sails were filled: a favourable flaw of wind coming at the same time, gave her good way, and we had every prospect of getting out, if the forts did not disable us. To prevent our being retarded by the boats, I ordered them to be cut adrift, as also the French boat. The moment the brig saw us begin to loose sails, we could plainly perceive she was getting her guns ready, and we also saw lights on all the batteries. When we had shot far enough for the brig’s guns to bear on us, which was not more than three ships’ lengths, she began to fire, also a fort a little on the starboard bow, and soon after all of them, on both sides, as they could bring their guns to bear. As soon as the sails were well trimmed, I beat to quarters, to get our guns ready, but not with an intention of firing till we were sure of getting out. When abreast of the centre part of Cape Sepet, I was afraid we should have been obliged to make a tack; but as we drew near the shore, and were ready, she came up two points, and just weathered the Cape. As we passed very close along that shore, the batteries kept up a brisk a fire as the wetness of the weather would admit. When I could afford to keep the ship a little from the wind, I ordered some guns to be fired at a battery that had just opened abreast of us, which quieted them a little. We then stopped firing till we could keep her away, with the wind abaft the beam, when, for a few minutes, we kept up a very lively fire on the last battery we had to pass, and which I believe must otherwise have done us great damage. At half-past twelve, being out of reach of their shot, the firing ceased. Fortunately we had no person hurt. Some shot passed through the sails, part of the standing and running rigging cut away, and two French 36-pound shot, that struck the hull, was all the damage we received[3].

(Signed)Samuel Hood.”

We are not exactly informed as to the manner in which Mr. Webley was employed from this period till the memorable battle of the Nile, when he served as first Lieutenant of the Zealous, 74, commanded by Captain Hood[4]. Being promoted for his conduct on that occasion, he was subsequently appointed to the Savage sloop of war, and continued to command her till the peace of Amiens.

It does not appear that he was again called into service till the latter end of 1806, when we find him commanding the Centaur 74, bearing the broad pendant of his friend, Commodore Hood, with whom he served during the expedition against Copenhagen; and whilst there we find him displaying great promptitude in extinguishing an alarming fire which broke out in the naval arsenal during the night of Sept. 22, 1807.

On his return from Copenhagen Sir Samuel Hood was sent, in conjunction with the present Lord Beresford, to take possession of Madeira, which was effected without resistance on the 26th Dec. in the same year. He subsequently went to the Baltic, as second in command of the fleet stationed there, to act in concert with the Swedes[5]. On the 26th Aug. 1808, he sailed from Oro Road, in company with the Implacable 74, and a Swedish squadron under Rear-Admiral Nauckhoff; and on the following day succeeded in capturing and destroying the Sewolod, a Russian 74, and compelling the rest of the enemy’s fleet to take shelter in the port of Rogerswick, for which service the late King of Sweden presented him (as also Captains Martin and Webley) with the Order of the Sword, an honor never conferred but in acknowledgment of victory.

Sir Samuel Hood’s official letter to Sir James Saumarez, the commander-in-chief, describing the above event, has been greatly admired for its perspicuity. It would be an act of injustice towards the captains, officers, and men, who fought under his orders, were we not to insert it at full length:

Centaur, off Rogerswick, Aug. 27, 1808.

“Sir,– It is with pleasure I acquaint you that the Russian squadron, under the command of Vice-Admiral Hanickoff, after being chased thirtyfour hours by his Swedish Majesty’s squadron, under Rear-Admiral Nauckhoff, accompanied by this ship and the Implacable, under my orders, have been forced to take shelter in the port of Rogerswick, with the loss of one 74-gun ship. I shall have great satisfaction in detailing to you the services of the captains, officers, seamen, and marines, under my command; and have also to state, that in no instance have I seen more energy displayed than by his Swedish Majesty’s squadron, although from the inferiority of their sailing they were prevented from getting into action Rear-Admiral Nauckhoff, and the captains under his command, from their perseverance and judicious conduct, were enabled to give confidence to our ships; and could we have forced the enemy to a general action, the whole of their squadron must have fallen to the superior bravery of the united force of our respective Sovereigns, in so just and honorable a cause.

“My letter of the 25th will have acquainted you of the Russian squadron having appeared off Oro Road op the 23d. The arrangements for quitting that anchorage, after his Swedish Majesty’s ships from Jungfur Sound had joined Rear-Admiral Nauckhoff, were completed on the evening of the 24th. Early the next morning the whole force put to sea; and soon after the Russian fleet was discovered off Hango Udd, the wind then at N.E. Not a moment was lost in giving pursuit, and every sail pressed by the Swedish squadron. From the superior sailing of the Centaur and Implacable they were soon in advance; and at the close of the evening the enemy were noticed in the greatest disorder, apparently avoiding a general battle. On the morning of the 26th, about five o’clock, the Implacable was enabled to bring the leewardmost of their line-of-battle ships to close action, in a most brave and gallant manner; and so decidedly and judiciously was the manoeuvre executed, that the Russian Admiral, who bore up with the whole of his force, could not prevent that marked superiority of discipline and seamanship being eminently distinguished. Although the enemy’s ship fought with the greatest bravery, she was silenced in about twenty minutes; and only the near approach of the whole Russian fleet could have prevented her then falling, her colours and pendant being both down; but I was obliged to make the signal for the Implacable to close with me. Captain Martin’s letter, stating the brave and gallant conduct of Lieutenant Baldwin, his other officers and men, I send herewith; and it would be needless for me to add more on their meritorious conduct. If words of mine could enhance the merit of this brave, worthy, and excellent officer, (Captain Martin) I could do it with the most heartfelt gratification; and the high esteem I have for him as an officer and a friend, no language can sufficiently express[6].

“The Russian Admiral, having sent a frigate to tow the disabled ship, again hauled his wind; and the Implacable being ready to make sail, I immediately gave chase, and soon obliged the frigate to cast off her tow, when the Russian Admiral was again under the necessity to support her, by several of his line-of-battle ships bearing down, and I had every prospect of this bringing on a general action; to avoid which he availed himself of a favorable slant of wind, and entered the port of Rogerswick.

“The line-of-battle ship engaged by the Implacable having fallen to leeward, grounded on a shoal just at the entrance of the port; there being then some swell, I had a hope she must have been destroyed: but the wind moderating towards the evening, she appeared to ride at her anchor, and exertions were made to repair her damage. At sunset, finding the swell abated, and boats sent from the Russian fleet to tow her into port, I directed Captain Webley to stand in and endeavour to cut her off. This was executed in a manner that must ever reflect the highest honor on Captain Webley, the officers, and ship’s company of the Centaur, for their valour and perseverance in the support of my orders. The boats had made a considerable progress, and the enemy’s ship was just entering the port, when we had the good fortune to lay her on board; her bowsprit taking the Centaur’s fore-rigging, she swept along with her bow grazing the muzzles of our guns, which was the only signal for their discharge, and the enemy’s bows were drove in by this raking fire. When her bowsprit came to our mizen-rigging, I ordered it to be lashed, which was performed in a most steady manner by the exertions of Captain Webley, Lieutenant Lawless, Mr. Strode, the Master, and other brave men, under a very heavy fire from the enemy’s musketry, by which, I am sorry to add, Lieutenant Lawless is severely wounded. The ship being in six fathoms water, I had a hope I should have been able to have towed her out in that position; but an anchor had been let go from her unknown to us, which rendered it impossible. At this period much valour was displayed on both sides, and several attempts made to board by her bowsprit; but nothing could withstand the cool and determined fire of the marines under Captain Bayley and the other officers, as well as the fire from our stern-chase guns; and in less than half an hour she was obliged to surrender. On this occasion I again received the greatest aid from Captain Martin, who anchored his ship in a position to heave the Centaur off, after she and the prize had grounded, which was fortunately effected at a moment when two of the enemy’s ships were seen under sail standing towards us, but who retreated when they saw us extricated from this difficulty.

“The prize proved to be the Sewolod, of 74 guns, Captain Ruodneff. She had so much water in her, and being fast on shore, that after taking out the prisoners and wounded men, I was obliged to give orders for her being burnt; which service was completely effected under the direction of Lieutenant Biddulph of this ship, by seven o’clock in the morning.

“I cannot speak too highly of the brave and gallant conduct of Captain Webley, and every officer and man under his command; and I beg leave to recommend to you, for the notice of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, Lieutenant Lawless, for his exertions and gallant conduct, and who has severely suffered on this occasion: I also must beg leave to recommend Lieutenant William Case, the senior officer of this ship[7].

“Herewith you will receive a list of the killed and wounded on board this ship and the Implacable; and from every information that it was possible to collect, thut of the enemy’s ship captured[8]. I have the honor to be, &c.,

(Signed)Samuel Hood.”

To Sir James Saumarez, Bart.
&c. &c. &c.

Captain Martin’s letter, alluded to by Sir Samuel Hood, was couched in the following modest terms:

“Sir,– The action this morning between the Implacable and the rear ship of the Russian line, was so immediately under your own observation, that it would be superfluous to trouble you with any statement upon that point; but in transmitting a list of killed and wounded, I trust I may be allowed the opportunity to express my thankfulness to the officers and ship’s company of the Implacable, for their eager and active exertions to close with the enemy, and the truly noble and splendid conduct which they displayed during the engagement; but it is my duty to acknowledge, hi a more particular manner, the great assistance I derived from Mr. Baldwin, the first Lieutenant, and Mr. Moore, the Master; and if the fact of our opponent being completely silenced, and his colours (both ensign and pendant) down, when the approach of the whole Russian fleet occasioned your recalling me, can tend to make the affair worthy of being distinguished by any mark of approval from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, it is impossible that patronage can be bestowed upon a more thoroughly deserving officer than Mr. Baldwin. I have the honor to be, &c.

(Signed)T. B. Martin.

“To Sir Samuel Hood, K.B.
Rear-Admiral of the White[9].”

Early in 1809, we find Sir Samuel Hood and Captain Webley employed at Corunna, under the orders of Rear-Admiral de Courcy; and subsequently receiving the thanks of Parliament for the prompt and effectual assistance rendered by them during the embarkation of the army lately commanded by the lamented Sir John Moore[10]. In 1810 and 1811, they served together in the Centaur, on the Mediterranean station; and on Sir Samuel’s appointment to the chief command in India, vacant by the death of Vice-Admiral Drury, we believe that the subject of this memoir was again selected to be his Flag-Captain.

Captain Webley assumed the name of Parry about 1815, in which year he commanded the Swiftsure 74, at the Leeward Islands. He was appointed to the Prince Regent of 120 guns, bearing the flag of Sir Benjamin Hallowell at Chatham, Dec. 6, 1822; and is now completing the usual period of service under that officer’s successor.

  1. The Juno had been sent to Malta for reinforcements previous to the evacuation of Toulon, in Dec. 1793.
  2. Make yourself easy; the English are good people; we will treat them kindly; the English Admiral has departed some time.
  3. Lieutenant Joseph Turner, the officer alluded to in the above narrative, was made a Commander, October 7, 1794; and died about the month of May, 1816.
  4. Captain Hood was the officer who first discovered the French fleet in Aboukir Bay. On being asked by Nelson, “what he thought of attaching the enemy that night?” he replied, “We have now eleven fathoms water; and, if you will give me leave, I will lead in, making known my soundings by signal, and bring their van ship to action.” Late as it was, the firmness of this answer decided the Rear-Admiral, who said, “Go on, and I wish you success.” During this conversation the Goliah passed the Zealous, and took the lead, which she kept; but, not bringing up alongside the first ship, went on to engage the second. On this Captain Hood exclaimed to his officers, “Thank God! my friend Foley has left me the van ship.” He soon after took such a position on the bow of the Guerriere, the ship in question, as to shoot away all her masts, and effect her capture, in twelve minutes from the time that the Zealous commenced her fire. He afterwards engaged the flying ships until called off by signal. The Zealous, strange as it may appear, had only eight men killed and wounded on this glorious occasion. After this victory, Sir Horatio Nelson proceeded to Naples, leaving part of his squadron on the coast of Egypt, under the orders of Captain Hood, who kept the port of Alexandria closely blockaded; took and destroyed upwards of thirty of the neutral transports which had been employed in the service of the French army; and contributed, in a material degree, to the interests of Great Britain, by his amicable communications with the servants of the Grand Seignior.
  5. Sir Samuel Hood was made a Rear-Admiral Oct. 2, 1807.
  6. Captain T. Byam Martin has since been created a K.C.B., and advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral. See Vol. I, p. 491 et seq.
  7. Lieutenant Paul Lawless was made a Commander on the 19th of the ensuing month. Lieutenant Case did not obtain promotion till Aug. 7, 1812.
  8. Centaur 3 killed, 27 wounded; Implacable 6 killed, 26 wounded; Sewolod 303 killed, wounded, and missing; 43 of this number were slain, and 80 wounded, in her action with the Implacable; but 108 fresh sailors and soldiers were brought to her by the boats from Rogerswick.
  9. The allied force on the above occasion consisted of twelve two-deckers, mounting in the whole 882 guns; five frigates, mounting 208 guns; and one brig. The enemy had only nine sail of the line, but two of them were three-deckers, and they carried altogether 756 guns; three of their frigates mounted 50, and two others 44 guns each; besides which they had six other vessels mounting 124 guns, and four whose armament could not be ascertained. Allowing the latter as a set off against the Swedish brig, the numbers will be found to be as follow: British and Swedes, seventeen sail and 1090 guns; Russians, twenty sail and 1118 guns. Upwards of a third of the Swedish sailors were either ill in bed with the scurvy, or had previously been sent to sick quarters at Carlscrona.
  10. See Vol. I, p. 335.