Royal Naval Biography/Willoughby, Nisbet Josiah
SIR NISBET JOSIAH WILLOUGHBY, Knt.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1810.]
It appears by the records of the College of Arms, that this officer is lineally descended from Edward Willoughby, of Cossall, in Nottinghamshire, Esq., who was the second son of Sir Percival Willoughby, Knt., by Bridget, eldest daughter and co-heir of Sir Francis Willoughby, of Wollaton, in the same county, Knt. and that the eldest son of the said Sir Percival (Sir Francis Willoughby, of Wollaton,) was the direct ancestor of the present Lord Middleton. It also appears, by the same records, that the before mentioned Edward Willoughby, of Cossall, was paternally descended from Sir Christopher Willoughby, Knt., summoned to Parliament as Baron Willoughby de Eresby, a lineal descendant and representative of William de Willoughby, lord of the manor of Willoughby in Lincolnshire, in the reign of King John; that he was maternally descended from Sir Richard Willoughby, Knt., Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in the reign of Edward II.; and that his paternal and maternal ancestry intermarried with and were descended from several noble and illustrious families, distinguished in the history of this country. Among Sir Nisbet’s paternal ancestors, we find one fighting at the famous battle of Cressy; another bearing a part in the glorious achievement at Poictiers; and a third distinguishing himself under Henry V. at Agincourt.
The latter gentleman, Sir Thomas Willoughby, of Parham, was brother to Robert Lord Willoughby, the last English governor of Paris, whose name is recorded among the greatest soldiers of that age, and mentioned by Hume, in chap. XX. of his English history, edit, of 1767.
Sir Francis Willoughby, who prevented the castle of Dublin from being seized by Roger Moore’s partisans, is spoken of by Dr. Leland; and the stout resistance made by the fifth Lord Willoughby, of Parham, against the parliamentary forces sent to reduce Barbadoes, in 1651, is noticed by Bryan Edwards, in his Political and Commercial Survey of the British West India Islands, vol. I. p. 343.
The motto of that branch of the family to which Sir Nisbet J. Willoughby belongs, originally “Courage sans Peur,” is now “Verite sans peur.”
The subject of the following memoir is a son of the late Robert Willoughby, of Cossall and Aspley Hall, both in the county of Notts, and of Cliffe, in Warwickshire, Esq., by Barbara his second wife, one of the daughters of James Bruce, of Wester Kinlock (and the family of Airth), Esq., by Janet, daughter of Sir Edward Gibson, Bart, of Pintland, N.B. and Barbara his wife, daughter of the Hon. John Maitland, spn of Earl Lauderdale.
Mr. Nisbet Josiah Willoughby was born in 1777; and he commenced his naval career, as a midshipman on board the Latona frigate. Captain Albemarle Bertie, May 12, 1790. Subsequent to the Spanish armament, we find him serving in the Edgar 74, Captain Anthony J. P. Molloy; Alligator 28, Captain Isaac Coffin; and Vengeance, a third rate, bearing the broad pendant of Commodore Pasley, commander-in-chief at Sheerness.
On the 13th Jan. 1793, Mr. Willoughby joined the Orpheus 32, Captain Henry Newcome, then about to sail for the coast of Africa, where he assisted in cutting out four French brigs and a schooner, April 22 and 24 in the same year. The capture of these vessels, and Mr. Willoughby’s subsequent shipwreck, when conducting one of the brigs to Sierra Leone, have been noticed at p. 35 et seq. His escape on the latter occasion may justly be deemed miraculous; for even if it had been within the limits of possibility to have gained the shore, he would certainly have been enslaved for life, if not instantly murdered. The manner in which the Orpheus was employed after her return to England will likewise be seen by reference to our memoir of Captain William Goate.
On the 5th May, 1794, the Orpheus, then off the Isle of France, captured le Duguay-Trouin, a French 18-pounder frigate, after a sharp action, in those days termed brilliant, of an hour and ten minutes, during which the enemy, out of 403 persons on board, had 21 killed and 60 wounded; the British, only 194 in number, 1 slain and 9 wounded. An extract of Captain Newcome’s official letter on this occasion is given at p. 36 et seq.
In Aug. 1795, Mr. Willoughby assisted at the capture of Malacca. The public despatches reporting that event, inform us, that the measures adopted by the Dutch authorities, subsequently to the amicable proposals tendered by the British naval and military commanders, having rendered it necessary to land the troops sent against that settlement, hostilities commenced by the Resistance frigate firing upon, and, after the exchange of two guns, taking possession of the Constantia, a Dutch armed ship, which had warped herself into the mud, between the English squadron and the fort; – the dashing manner in which that ship was taken possession of is not mentioned.
Finding the Dutch governor determined upon resistance, the signal was made by Captain Newcome for all the armed boats of the squadron to assemble near the Orpheus, as he intended that they should proceed under the command of one of his own Lieutenants to secure and bring out the Constantia, she being an impediment to the debarkation of the troops.
Lord Camelford (of whom we have twice had occasion to speak), was then a Lieutenant of the Resistance, and he commanded one of the boats that first reached the Orpheus. Impatient of delay, and anxious to distinguish himself, his lordship desired Mr. Willoughby, who had the charge of a cutter, then lying off on her oars, to follow him:– this was done in the most quiet manner possible; and, when at some distance from the frigate, both boats gave way, for the purpose of boarding the enemy, one on each side.
The Dutch ship being of considerable tonnage, extremely light, and well armed, with about 100 men on board, the result of this attack would in all probability have proved fatal to the whole of the assailants, had not the captain of the Resistance fortunately perceived Lord Camelford’s unauthorized proceeding, and, trembling for the consequences, opened his fire upon the Constantia, which, although distant and harmless, gave the enemy an excuse for hauling down her colours. At this moment the two boats were close to their object, and they actually got alongside before the others had well left the Orpheus!
In 1796, Mr. Willoughby assisted at the reduction of Amboyna and Banda, with their several dependencies; after which he appears to have been successively removed into the Heroine frigate and Suffolk 74; the former ship commanded by Captain Alan Hyde Gardner, the latter bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Rainier, by whom he was made a Lieutenant, and appointed to the Victorious 74, Captain William Clark, Jan. 13, 1798.
Ou the 30th June following, Lieutenant Willoughby was suspended from his duty and placed in confinement, for asking his captain whether he should go into the waist himself, to see the mainsheet hauled aft, his orders to that effect not being promptly obeyed, and the captain finding fault with him for the remissness of others.
Conscious of having always obeyed Captain Clark’s orders with becoming alacrity, that he had never intentionally treated him with contempt or disrespect, and that by allowing himself to be released without a proper explanation he would subject himself to a repetition of such unmerited treatment. Lieutenant Willoughby declined returning to his duty, when an offer to that effect was made him, unless the captain would admit that he had placed him under arrest without any just cause.
This admission being withheld. Lieutenant Willoughby applied for an investigation of his conduct; but owing to the disposition of the ships composing Rear-Admiral Rainier’s squadron, nearly twelve months elapsed before his request could be complied with; “and by that time,” says an officer who was present, “his health was so much impaired, through want of exercise and the medicine he had been obliged to take in consequence, that he was more fit for an hospital than to stand the brunt of a court-martial. His tongue was so enlarged that articulation was painful to him, and those who were present at his trial declared, he was in such a state that he oniy appeared anxious to get through the business, seeming perfectly indifferent as to the result.”
The consequence was, the prosecutor had only to make his statement in his own way, and the court came to the conclusion that Lieutenant Willoughby, in turning round when spoken to, and asking whether he should go into the waist, &c., “did behave to Captain Clark in a contemptuous and disrespectful manner; but in consideration of his long confinement, and his health having been apparently injured by it,” his judges did “only” sentence him to be dismissed his ship.
On the 14th June 1799, the very next day after his dismissal from the Victorious, Lieutenant Willoughby was appointed to command the Amboyna, a beautiful brig, Vice-Admiral Rainier considering that his punishment had already been more than adequate to the alleged offence. Scarcely had he joined that vessel, however, when his indisposition increased so much that he was obliged to invalid, and remove to the Sceptre 64, for a passage to the Cape of Good Hope.
On the 19th Sept. 1799, the boats of that ship were sent to attack a French brig, moored within a reef of rocks, close to the island of Rodriguez; but after being absent a very considerable time, they returned with the information that no passage could be found through the heavy surf by which she was protected. Lieutenant Willoughby, having been there before, no sooner heard this report than he volunteered to conduct them over the reef; and they were accordingly ordered to renew the attempt, under his pilotage, and the command of another Lieutenant, the present Captain Thomas Tudor Tucker.
In the mean time the brig’s broadside had been brought to bear on the passage; and when the boats got within range of grape she began firing upon them: immediately afterwards she appeared in flames, and on boarding her it was found that a pile of hand grenades on the deck had exploded, killing two of her crew, wounding several others, and throwing the remainder into such confusion that she was carried without much resistance. She proved to be l’Eclair privateer, of 10 guns, 4 swivels, and 83 men, some of whom effected their escape to the shore.
Night now approaching, and the Sceptre having a valuable fleet under her convoy, the prize was necessarily destroyed, it being impossible to bring her out through such an intricate navigation at that late hour.
Scarcely had Lieutenant Willoughby returned from this service, when he obtained additional credit by jumping overboard and endeavouring to extricate a poor fellow who was unable to get from between the bottom and the thwarts of a boat, swamped under the ship’s quarter, owing to the mismanagement of the officer commanding on deck, who had ordered her to be hoisted up whilst the Sceptre was going fast through the water. This generous and humane attempt proved unsuccessful, and the unfortunate man consequently perished; but Lieutenant Willoughby’s efforts to save him did not cease until his own strength was quite exhausted.
On the 5th Nov. following, the Sceptre was driven on shore in Table bay, and totally wrecked, by which disaster about 290 persons lost their lives, among whom were her Captain, two Lieutenants, the Master, and four Midshipmen: most of the other officers, including Lieutenant Willoughby, were then at a ball on shore, and thus providentially escaped. A list of those who were saved will be found at p. 222 of Suppl. Part I.
Lieutenant Willoughby’s next appointment was, Aug. 26, 1800, to the Russel 74, Captain (now Sir Herbert) Sawyer; which ship formed part of Lord Nelson’s division at the capture and destruction of the Danish line of defence before Copenhagen, April 2, 1801.
On that glorious occasion. Lieutenant Willoughby greatly distinguished himself by his gallantry in boarding the Provesteen block-ship, of 50 guns, under a heavy fire from her lower-deck, kept up in opposition to the wishes of her commander, who had hauled down his colours in token of submission. The manner in which this service was performed excited general admiration, and obtained him three cheers from the Russel’s crew, by order of their new captain, the late Rear-Admiral William Cuming.
It appears that, of the Danes on the lower-deck, many were literally drunk, and the rest in a state of great excitement: these men not only abused their officers for striking the colours and allowing the British to come on board, but even threatened to force the hatchways, and recover possession of the upper decks; nor did they cease firing for nearly an hour after the latter had been given up to Lieutenant Willoughby, who with his people, about 30 in number, were all that time exposed to the shot of the Isis and Polyphemus, the two ships immediately opposed to that end of the Danish line. Even after all firing had ceased on both sides, and during the whole of the ensuing night. Lieutenant Willoughby’s situation was by no means pleasant, as the Danes continued extremely riotous, and often menaced the destruction of the ship, which there was much reason to fear they would carry into execution: for although Lieutenant Willoughby had managed to lock up the magazine, he could not spare men to guard it, nor indeed would his whole party have been sufficient to do so effectually, against such overpowering numbers as were then assembled on the lower-deck. He was therefore obliged to content himself with guarding the hatchways until he received assistance on the morning after the battle.
From Copenhagen the Russel proceeded up the Baltic, where Lieutenant Willoughby had the misfortune to lose his commission under the following circumstances.
Having incurred the displeasure of Captain Cuming, whose general character is well known, that officer deprived him of the charge of a watch, ordered him to do the duty of signal Lieutenant, and forbade him ever to quit the poop, on any occasion whatever, during day-time, without first acquainting the officer of the deck that he was about to do so, and for what purpose. This degrading order, mortifying as it must have been to a young man of high spirit, Lieutenant Willoughby most punctually obeyed ; but, unfortunately, the wardroom dinner was one day announced ready just as Captain Cuming had entered into conversation with the gentleman to whom he must necessarily report his intention of going below, and to whom he imprudently repeated a wish, often expressed by every one of his messmates, but which was at length to produce an effect that none of them had ever expected.
Captain Cuming was born near a borough town that gives its name to a beverage of which he was exceedingly fond, and it seems that he never sat down to dinner without expressing regret that he had none to offer his guests. On the unfortunate occasion to which we allude, Lieutenant Willoughby, after acquainting the officer of the watch that he was going down to dine, added, “I hope the caterer has provided some Ashhurton Pop!” upon hearing which. Captain Cuming accused him of contempt, placed him under arrest, and instantly applied for a court-martial, the result of which was his dismissal, June 23, 1801, from a service that now justly boasts of him as one of its brightest ornaments.
After leaving the Russel, Mr. Willoughby joined the Leviathan 74, bearing the flag of Sir John T. Duckworth, commander-in-chief on the Jamaica station, that officer having kindly appointed him to act as a Lieutenant, and thereby afforded him an opportunity of recovering his lost rank.
On the 17th July, 1803, being then off Cape Donna Maria, Mr. Willoughby, in a boat with only two midshipmen and seven men, boarded and secured, after a row of seven or eight miles, l’Athenaise French national armed ship, commanded by a Lieutenant de frégate, and having on board about 50 persons, including several military officers going from Jacquemel to Port-au-Prince, and who had not yet heard of the renewal of hostilities.
During the remainder of the same year, the squadron under Sir John T. Duckworth was particularly active and successful; but the most important occurrence on that station was the capitulation of the French army at Cape François, which led to the surrender of three 40-gun frigates, a brig of war, an armed schooner, two hospital-ships, and twenty sail of merchantmen.
According to the terms agreed upon between the senior officer of the blockading force and General Rochambeau, the French men of war were to keep their colours hoisted until they got outside of the harbour, when they were each to dig charge a broadside in return to a shot fired athwart their bows by one of the British ships, and then to make the usual token of submission.
In this manner, la Surveillante frigate, the national brig, and one hospital-ship, came out, accompanied by three or four merchantmen, on the 30th Nov.; but owing to a sudden shift of the wind, the others were prevented from following them; and la Clorinde frigate, having grounded under Fort St. Joseph, at the entrance of the harbour, was in so desperate a situation that the light boats sent from the British squadron, to assist the French in removing out of the reach of Dessalines and his black adherents, were returning to their respective ships, supposing that nothing could save her from destruction.
At this critical period, the launch of the Hercule 74, which had just been hoisted out, was proceeding towards the harbour, under the command of Mr. Willoughby, who had removed to that ship on her being selected for the flag of Sir John T. Duckworth, in July 1803.
Anxious to rescue the numerous Frenchmen on board la Clorinde from the certain fate that awaited them, whether they remained in her or swam to the shore, (for no quarter was then given by either the blacks or their opponents); at the same time feeling it to be disgraceful to the character of the British navy not to make an effort in their behalf, this zealous officer took upon himself the whole responsibility, and instantly pulled towards the grounded frigate.
Finding, as he approached la Clorinde, that her side was crowded with troops ready to spring into the launch, and fearing that some disaster would happen if he took his boat alongside, Mr. Willoughby searched for, and after some time found a small punt, in which he proceeded to the frigate, resolved to put in practice every resource to save her passengers and crew, amounting, as he soon found, to at least 900 men, women, and helpless children.
On board la Clorinde was the French General Lapoype, to whom Mr. Willoughby represented, that, as by the terms of the capitulation, the ships and vessels of war were to haul down their colours when outside the harbour, it would not be a greater sacrifice of national honour, considering the situation of the ship, she then heeling much and beating heavily, if he did so immediately and gave her up to him. “I will then,” said Mr. Willoughby, “hoist English colours, wait upon Dessalines, and demand, not only that the British flag shall be respected, but that, if assistance cannot be procured from the shore, and la Clorinde is lost in the night, now fast approaching, the crew and passengers shall be considered as prisoners to the English, and protected as such until the senior officer has it in his power to send for them.”
General Lapoype readily assented to this proposal; upon which Mr. Willoughby hoisted British colours, hailed Fort St. Joseph, and told the Haytian officer in command there that he wished to wait upon his chief. Permission was immediately granted, and Mr. Willoughby, after experiencing some difficulty in landing, obtained an interview with Dessalines, who received him kindly and promised all that he asked for.
About this time, two or three other boats arrived from the Hercule; and a favorable change taking place in the weather, la Clorinde was soon hove off, with the loss of her guns and rudder, but without having sustained any material damage. “Thus to the uncommon exertions and professional abilities of acting Lieutenant Willoughby,” were owing the preservation of so many people, and the acquisition to the British navy of a frigate, which continued for many years afterwards to be one of the finest of the 38-gun class.
We have reason to believe that Mr. Willoughby was restored to the rank of Lieutenant for his excellent conduct at Cape François, the commander-in-chief having recommended him most strongly to the protection of the Admiralty, in the despatch which we have just quoted.
On the 31st Jan. 1804, a squadron consisting of the Theseus 74, Captain John Bligh, senior officer; Hercule, Captain Richard Dalling Dunn; Blanche and Pique frigates, Captains Zachary Mudge and Charles B. H. Boss; and Gipsy schooner, commanded by Mr. Michael Fitton, arrived off the town of St. Ann, Curaçoa; having been sent by Sir John T. Duckworth to demand the surrender of that island upon liberal conditions, and in case of a refusal, to endeavour to reduce it by force. The following is an outline of the operations that ensued; and by comparing it with the account given by Mr. James, our readers will be enabled to correct several material errors in that part of his naval history.
Captain Ross having embarked on board the Gipsy, was despatched with a flag of truce and a summons to the Dutch governor, to surrender the colony to the British. At 9-30 A.M., the Gipsy stood out of the harbour, with a preconcerted signal displayed, announcing that the proposed terms had been rejected.
“The passage into the harbour is so narrow, that even with a fair wmd, (and it now blew off the land) a line-of-battle ship can with difficulty enter; and the batteries that command the harbour and town, including Fort République, against which, from its situation, an attack by storm is impracticable, mounted nearly 100 pieces of cannon. In the harbour were lying the Dutch 36-gun frigate Hatslaar, and two French privateers. Under these circumstances, no alternative remained but to try the effect of a landing. Leaving, therefore, the two frigates, as well to blockade the harbour, as to cause a diversion of the enemy’s force. Captain Bligh, with the two 74’s and schooner, bore up for a small cove which had been pointed out by Mr. Fitton as the most eligible spot for effecting a disembarkation.”
According to a previous arrangement, the boats of the squadron, containing 605 officers, seamen, and marines, had assembled alongside the Hercule; and the whole detachment was placed under the orders of Captain Dunn.
“In passing Fort Amsterdam, situated on the S.E. side of the entrance to St. Ann, the two 74’s were fired at, but without effect, the shot falling short. At 11-30, Fort Piscadero, mounting 10 Dutch 12-pounders, and protecting the intended point of disembarkation, opened a fire. This was immediately returned by the Theseus, within half-musket shot, although the ship was unable to remain alongside owing to a strong head wind and lee current. By-making short tacks, however, the Theseus brought her guns to bear with such effect, that the fort fired only an occasional gun when the ship was in stays. At 1 P.M. the first division of seamen and marines in the boats stormed and carried the fort without loss, and struck the Dutch colours, which the enemy, on retreating, had left flying. By a rapid movement, the British, “under the command of Lieutenant Willoughby,” reached the heights, and, with the loss of only 4 or 5 killed and wounded, drove the Dutch soldiers from their position. This done, the remainder of the seamen and marines were landed, and the Gipsy schooner anchored in the cove.”
On the 1st Feb. two 18-pounder carronades and a light field-piece were landed from the Theseus, and, with great difficulty, dragged four miles to the advanced post, situated about eight hundred yards to the westward of the town, which it in part overlooked. This post was placed under the command of Lieutenant Willoughby; and a battery erected near it was confided to the charge of Mr. Eaton Travers, midshipman, who had most gallantly supported him at the storming of Piscadero, &c.
On the 2d and 3d, two long 18-pounders, four more carronades, and one or two field-pieces were brought on shore and mounted. A Dutch 12-pounder, also, was transported from the fort to Willoughby’s battery, and a constant fire kept up between the adverse parties.
“On the evening of the 4th, there was a smart skirmish between the British at the advanced post, and the enemy’s sharp-shooters, in which the latter were repulsed; and on the morning of the 5th, a more serious affair took place “in front of that battery, Lieutenant Willoughby having marched out with nearly his whole force, consisting of about 80 or 85 seanen and marines, for the express purpose of giving battle to about 500 Dutch and French, the latter privateers’ men, who had landed their guns, and mounted them in a battery of their own construction. On this occasion the British again defeated their adversaries, but sustained a loss of 23 killed and wounded, the whole in fair fight with muskets alone, not a man having suffered “from the cannon of Fort République," The senior marine officer, serving under Lieutenant Willoughby’s command, was Mr. Edward Nicholls; and his principal naval assistant, the midshipman above mentioned.
The cannonade between the batteries was resumed on the 6th Feb.; but Lieutenant Willoughby, finding it in vain to point any of his guns at fort République, directed them against Fort Amsterdam and the shipping: the Hatslaar would probably have been destroyed had not two large merchant vessels, purposely placed between her and the shore, received almost every shot intended for that frigate.
“In this way passed a number of successive days, the force of the British gradually decreasing, not merely by loss from the cannon of the forts, and in the different skirmishes, but from fatigue and sickness,” till at length, the only officers left at the advanced battery, of those originally stationed there, were Lieutenant Willoughby and his right-hand man, Mr. Eaton Travers. 63 men were obliged to be re-embarked, owing to an attack of dysentery; “a circumstance not to be wondered at, considering that both officers and men lay upon the ground, without any of those conveniences deemed indispensable in the encampment of an army. The force of the Dutch too, instead of amounting to only 160 regulars,” as Sir John T. Duckworth had been led to believe, “consisted of 250 effective men, besides a body of local militia, and the crews of the vessels in the harbour. In addition to all this, the Dutch learnt by deserters, 9 of whom quitted in one night, the weak state of the British force, and that the squadron must soon raise the blockade for want of provisions.”
In this state of affairs. Captain Bligh despatched Mr. Fitton to apprise the commander-in-chief of his intention, unless any thing favorable should happen, to re-embark his people on the 4th of March. In the course of the same day, Feb. 23, the Dutch received a reinforcement; and in the evening the Pique was obliged to depart for Jamaica, on account of having damaged her rudder.
About 30 of the Hercule’s marines were Poles, part of the prisoners taken at Cape François, and who had been allowed to enter the British service. On the 24th Feb., these men evinced so clear an intention of going over to the enemy, that they were obliged to be sent on board their ship with all haste. The re-embarkation of the whole remaining force could now no longer be delayed; and on the 25th, by 9 P.M. every person had quitted the shore, except two small parties under Lieutenant John B. Hills and the subject of this memoir; the former left to destroy fort Piscadero, the latter remaining behind to cover the retreat from his own batteries and head quarters. After continuing there about three quarters of an hour, without receiving any annoyance from the enemy. Lieutenant Willoughby joined his brother officer, assisted at the demolition of the works, and embarked with him in the same boat, at 11 P.M.
According to the official returns, the loss of the British, in the different skirmishes that had taken place, amounted to 18 killed and 42 wounded; but many other men, not reported in the latter list, were obliged to be embarked from time to time, in consequence of the ulceration of bruises and slight wounds, which when first received were considered unworthy of notice: the circumstances under which Lieutenant Samuel Perrot, R.M., lost an arm, are so extraordinary as to be worthy a recital.
During the 25 days that the advanced post was held by the British, Lieutenant Willoughby frequently took his meals in an exposed situation, but not, as Mr. James says, sitting in a chair upon the breast-work of the battery. “The earth was ploughed up all around, and one man, we believe, was killed close to the spot; but still the table and chair, and the daring officer who sat there, remained untouched.” One afternoon, Mr. Perrot was induced to occupy Lieutenant Willoughby’s usual seat; but “scarcely had he done so, when a shot came, took off his left arm, badly wounded the knee upon which it had been resting, and knocked the table to atoms. We should here observe, that Lieutenant Willoughby, instead of being unwarrantably reckless of his person, had good reasons for exposing himself in the way he did:– the novelty of serving against an enemy ashore having soon worn off, the severe duties to be performed by the handful of men at the advanced post, the great privations every one suffered, the extraordinary large proportion of killed and wounded, the numbers taken sick, and the utter hopelessness of ultimate success, all combined to depress the spirits of his party, and rendered it highly necessary that he should set a more than common example of cheerfulness and daring. We must here add, that he always obliged the seamen and marines to take their meals under cover of the rampart.
On the 14th Mar. 1804, we find Lieutenant Willoughby commanding the Hercule’s launch, and with two light boats under his orders, capturing la Felicity French privateer, which vessel had sailed from one of the Spanish ports in St. Domingo for the express purpose of intercepting two valuable homeward bound merchantmen, then about to sail from Port Royal, and of whose approaching departure her commander had been apprised by the master of a neutral vessel. On this occasion, the weather being perfectly calm, and the launch having an 18-pounder carronade mounted. Lieutenant Willoughby directed the other boats to tow him within grapeshot distance of the enemy, and then to lay off on his beam whilst he engaged and rowed up to her. In the action which ensued the launch had a midshipman (Mr. George Lawrence Belli) and two men severely wounded: her consorts, commanded by Lieutenant Russel and Mr. Travers, were not fired upon, and consequently sustained no loss, the enemy having struck without waiting to be boarded.
In consequence of his gallant and excellent conduct on so many occasions, Mr. Willoughby was, about this period, ordered by Sir J. T. Duckworth to take upon himself the office of first Lieutenant; and in that capacity we find him setting another example of intrepidity to those about him.
Towards the latter-end of Aug. 1804, the Hercule sailed on a cruise to the northward of St. Domingo, in company with the Theseus 74, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Dacres; and on the 6th Sept., she encountered as sudden and severe a hurricane as ever wan experienced:– the Silver Keys then bearing about S.W., distant 54 miles.
At this period Lieutenant Willoughby was ill, and in the doctor’s list; but knowing that the ship was by no means prepared for such a tremendous visitation, he resumed his duty the moment the storm commenced.
Scarcely had he reached the deck when the fore-top-mast was literally blown over the side, and to his astonishment, although the Hercule had a fine ship’s company, not a man stirred to clear the wreck. Seeing that even the oldest seamen were either appalled or paralyzed, he immediately ran forward and mounted into the fore top, followed by Lieutenant Russel and Mr. Stewart the gunner, with whose assistance he succeeded in cutting away the wreck, and thereby saving the lower mast, which was previously in a tottering state. In a short time afterwards, the mizzen-mast went by the board; and next morning, the main-mast was likewise rolled away.
The whole of the main-deck ports and dead-lights being stove in, and the ship labouring so much as to render it almost impossible for the people to remain at the winches, the water in the hold gained upon the pumps for a very considerable period; but by the united and extraordinary exertions of the officers and men, they were at length got to suck, and on the third day a fire was lighted for the first time since the beginning of the storm.
The Theseus lost all her masts; and being an old ship, she suffered still more in every respect than her consort. It has been ascertained, that upwards of 300 vessels either foundered or were totally wrecked during this dreadful hurricane.
On the 1st Feb. 1805, the Hercule captured a merchant schooner of about 90 tons burthen, from Cuba bound to Carthagena; and one of the prisoners having given information that a fine Spanish corvette, of 20 guns and 130 men, was lying at St. Martha, Lieutenant Willoughby immediately volunteered to attack her; but it was not until after three days importunity that Captain Dunn would comply with his wishes. On the 4th Feb., himself, 3 passed midshipmen, and 30 volunteers, all young and active, parted company in the prize, taking with them 14 days’ provisions. During the first two nights, it blew so very hard that the vessel was every minute expected to go down, the sea breaking over her in such a manner as rendered it impossible for a man to remain at the helm, or for the hatches to be opened in order to get rid of the cargo. On the 6th, his little bark having weathered the storm. Lieutenant Willoughby stood into the harbour of St. Martha; a midshipman (the present Captain Samuel Roberts, C.B.) at the helm, with a check shirt on, his head decorated with a French kerchief, and his face and hands blackened with burnt cork and grease. All the rest of the gallant band below, except two men; one a black the other a mulatto. The schooner being well known, this deception had the desired effect: no interruption was given to her as she passed the batteries, and every thing seemed to promise success: unfortunately, however, the corvette had sailed a few days before; and there was not another vessel at the anchorage worth bringing out. Mortified in the extreme, Lieutenant Willoughby now put about: the enemy on shore discovered the ruse that he had been practising, and the batteries on the island that protects the harbour immediately opened upon him, keeping up a steady fire for more than half an hoar, but luckily without once striking his diminutive and slightly built vessel:– had she been hulled by a single shot, the consequences would in all probability have been fatal, as she was very rotten, and had not a boat of any description belonging to her.
This enterprise appears to have been one of the most hazardous ever recorded; and we leave our renders to judge what were the feelings of Lieutenant Willoughby, then first of a flag-ship, on finding that the opportunity of stamping his character as a hero was denied him. Had the corvette been found at the anchorage of St. Martha, we have no doubt that she would have met with a similar fate to the Hermione, in which case he would have been appointed to command her, and a new line marked out for his future career in life. His subsequent exploits sufficiently prove what an example he would have set to those who accompanied him in Feb. 1805.
On the last day of that month, Sir John T. Duckworth appointed Lieutenant Willoughby first of the Acasta frigate, in which ship he himself was about to return home, fully expecting that his protege would be promoted immediately he struck his flag, and that he should be able to obtain him the command “of a fine sloop” as soon as he arrived in London. The Vice-Admiral’s court-martial, however, put an end to these flattering prospects, and the subject of this memoir was consequently obliged to serve as a Lieutenant for at least two years longer.
Mr. Willoughby’s subsequent appointments were, Aug. 11, 1805, to the Prince 98, Captain Richard Grindall; Dec. 28, 1800, to the Formidable 98, Captain Francis Fayerman; and Jan. 15, 1807, to the Royal George 110, bearing the flag of Sir John T. Duckworth, who was then about to proceed on an expedition against Constantinople.
The accidental destruction of the Ajax, an 80-gun ship belonging to Sir John Duckworth’s squadron, has been noticed at p. 648 of vol. I. Lieutenant Willoughby’s humane exertions and miraculous escape on that occasion, are worthy of particular mention.
At the time of this dreadful disaster, the Ajax was lying at anchor close to the Royal George, and as her cable was soon burnt, the latter was obliged to cut and run out of her way. Upon the first alarm of fire, Lieutenant Willoughby had hastened in a cutter to the assistance of the unfortunate ship’s company, and he very soon rescued as many men from a watery grave as his boat could possibly float with; numbers, however, were still surrounding him – some swimming, others clinging to various buoyant articles, and many on the point of sinking, for want of that aid which it was impossible for him to render them; the cutter’s gunwale being only a few inches clear of the water, although masts, sails, and every other moveable article, except two or three oars, had been thrown overboard to lighten her. The Admiral was then so far off, that to reach the Royal George, or indeed any other ship, was quite impracticable; but, fortunately, some launches and barges at length arrived, received the poor fellows already saved by the light boats of the squadron, and continued to do so until they also were crowded. The Ajax, all this time, was drifting towards the island of Tenedos, with her stern and broadside alternately presented to the wind.
Lieutenant Willoughby had picked up and discharged a second boat load, and was again nearly, filled with people who had been so long in the water that they were nearly insensible, when he observed the Ajax round to, and at the same time several men hanging by ropes directly under her head.
Trusting that he should be able to rescue those men, and get clear of the ship before she again fell off, lieutenant Willoughby procured some more oars from other boats, then immediately dashed towards her, and succeeded in the first part of his object; but not until the burning fabric was once more right before the wind, with the cutter across her hawse, and flames issuing from every part of her hull and rigging.
To extricate himself from this unparalleled state of danger without the Divine aid was impossible; for every moment increased the velocity with which the Ajax was going through the water, while the sea she threw up at her bows threatened his small boat with instant destruction: to add to the horror of his situation, the men who had been lying apparently half dead, in the bottom of the cutter, endeavoured to get upon their legs, and greatly increased the confusion which very naturally prevailed among his crew. Dreadful as the scene then was, a most appalling circumstance soon took place, as if to prove the possibility of his situation being rendered still more terrific.
Whilst the Ajax was propelling the cutter in the above alarming manner, the flames reached the shank-painter and stopper of her remaining bower anchor, and it fell from her bows, nearly effecting the destruction of the boat at its first dash in the water: the cable caught her outer gunwale, over which it ran, apparently a complete sheet of fire: orders, or exertion and presence of mind, were now out of the question: death to all appeared inevitable ; the only alternative left was to be burnt or drowned, for every one was too much exhausted to swim: the scene was altogether indescribable. The boats at a distance saw that the cutter was enveloped in a sheet of fire, and therefore considered it impossible to assist her: all that Lieutenant Willoughby and his companions could do, while the cable was running over and binding her more firmly to the ship, was to keep the sparks and flames as much as possible from the uncovered parts of their persons. Providentially, however, although the inner portion of the cable had been burnt through, tnc anchor took the ground, and gave the ship’s head a check to windward, before the less consumed part had entirely left the tier; and thus the very event which seemed to fix the doom of the cutter, was, in all probability, ordained by the Almighty for her preservation, the alteration in the ship’s position enabling her to get clear; but not before every individual in her was more or less dreadfully scorched, and the heat no longer to be borne. Among those who shared in the above unprecedented dangers, was Nevin Kerr, Esq. one of the principal Turkey merchants, whom Lieutenant Willoughby had just before picked up in a very exhausted state.
By reference to p. 317 et seq., of Vol. I., it will be seen that the British squadron passed the Dardanelles, Feb. 19, 1807; and, on the 20th, brought up about 8 miles from the Turkish capital “At 10 o’clock,” says Sir J. T. Duckworth, “I sent Captain Capel, in the Endymion, to anchor near the town, if the wind, which was light, would permit the ship to stem the current; and to convey the Ambassador’s despatches to the Sublime Porte, in the morning, by a flag of truce; but he found it impracticable to get within 4 miles, and consequently anchored at half-past 11 P.M.”
At this latter period. Lieutenant Willoughby received an order to hold himself in readiness to leave the ship with a flag of truce, early enough to reach Seraglio Point by the first break of day: his surprise at being selected for such an important service was only equalled by the pleasure he felt on the occasion.
About 2-30 A.M. Lieutenant Willoughby shoved off, taking with him a letter from the Hon. William Arbuthnot to the Grand Vizier, demanding the surrender of all the Turkish men of war, with stores sufficient for their equipment; and promising that, in case a favorable answer was given, every hostile demonstration should immediately cease. Lieutenant Willoughby was also charged with an energetic message from the Ambassador and Vice-Admiral, allowing the Grand Seignor only half an hour, after the translation of the letter, to determine upon peace or war. We should here particularly remark, that the British Minister had hitherto failed in obtaining an answer to any of his despatches.
Accompanied by Mr. Arbuthnot’s dragoman, Lieutenant Willoughby arrived close to Seraglio Pohit by daybreak; at which time numerous vessels and boats, of every shape and size, crowded with men, were rapidly passing over from the Natolian shore to protect Constantinople.
Ignorant of the nature of a flag of truce, many of this heterogeneous flotilla fired at Lieutenant Willoughby’s unarmed boat, as they passed a-head of her, thereby obliging him to increase his distance from them; even the regular sentries at the point invariably opened their fire whenever he attempted to near it; and to and to his embarrassment, the dragoman, who had resided nearly all his life at Constantinople, generally attached to the British embassy, grew so alarmed and nervous, that he used every argument that fear could dictate, or his knowledge of the Turkish character inspire him with, to return to the Royal George. Lieutenant Willoughby, however, although aware that the Porte had hitherto treated Mr. Arbuthnot’s representations with silent contempt, and that the destruction of the Ottoman squadron, off Point Pesquies, would naturally enrage both the government and the populace, felt the importance of delivering the above letter and message to be so very great, as it would afford him an excellent opportunity of reconnoitring, that he determined to persevere, whatever might befal him at such a moment of general excitement.
After many ineffectual attempts to open a communication. Lieutenant Willoughby was at length allowed to approach Seraglio Point, near which a large gun-boat was stationed to receive him. Having explained to her commander that he was charged with a letter from the British Ambassador, and that he had orders, if possible, to communicate with the Turkish government, an officer came off from the point and requested that he would accompany him to the Grand Vizier. This officer proved to be Ysak Bey, of whom mention is made in Sir John T. Duckworth’s despatches of Mar. 6, 1807.
On his way to the dock-yard. Lieutenant Willoughby was enabled to reconnoitre the different military positions, &c.; and from having read and heard much of the sluggishness of the Turks, he was astonished to find the whole harbour exhibiting as much energy and activity as could have been shown in any English port under similar circumstances. On landing, the same hostile spirit displayed itself; and before he left the naval arsenal, he felt perfectly convinced that but little good would be effected by negociation.
The first house Lieutenant Willoughby entered was the residence of Ysak Bey, who pretended sudden indisposition, and left his guest several times, evidently for the purpose of detaining him until the breeze should die away, which was then favorable for an attack.
To put an end to this farce. Lieutenant Willoughby rose, ordered the dragoman to say that he would wait no longer, and that he was determined to return on board; upon which Ysak Bey replied he would conduct him to the Grand Vizier. After a short walk, Lieutenant Willoughby found himself at the entrance of a large building, and was speedily ushered into a superb saloon, where 6 or 7 persons of consequence were seated. In about a quarter of an hour after, the whole Divan assembled, and the Grand Vizier was made acquainted with the object of the Lieutenant’s visit; the contents of Mr. Arbuthnot’s letter, and Sir J. T. Duckworth’s message, being translated and communicated to him by the dragoman.
A conference, in whispers, now took place; during which pipes, sherbet, and cofifee were passed round, according to Oriental custom. Of the latter, Lieutenant Willoughby partook; as he had also done at the house of Ysak Bey.
Finding from the conversation, or rather the repeated questions addressed to him through the dragoman, that the Grand Vizier was still trying to gain time; and having been strictly enjoined only to allow a stated period to elapse after the delivery of the Admiral’s message. Lieutenant Willoughby rose to the very moment his orders permitted him to remain, and demanded with firmness, but in the most respectful manner, the answer he was to take back, and permission to depart; both of which were immediately given.
On his return to the Turkish gun-boat. Lieutenant Willoughby was again escorted by Ysak Bey, who took hold of his arm in a familiar manner, as if for support, although he had not betrayed the least symptom of indisposition while attending the Divan. In all probability, however, this ruse was of service to the British officer; for although Ysak gained time for his countrymen to complete their warlike preparations, by obliging his companion to walk at a very slow pace, he thereby led the immense mob to believe that the negociation was proceeding in a friendly manner: had the armed rabble, then collected at Constantinople, been aware that a British Admiral, with only seven sail of the line, two frigates, and two bombs, neither of them having a single soldier on board, had demanded the surrender, without resistance, of two three-deckers, ten other line-of-battle ships, nine frigates, and numerous small craft, protected by “a chain of batteries,” and ready to be defended by “near 200,000 troops,” from the enthusiastic janizary to the wild arab, there cannot be a doubt that Lieutenant Willoughby, the dragoman, and the English boat’s crew, would all have fallen victims to the insulted feeling of the proudest and most haughty nation in Europe.
Lieutenant Willoughby took leave of Ysak Bey,, off Seraglio Point, between 9-30 and 10 A.M., at which time the wind was still favorable for the British to attack Constantinople. Anxious to see decisive measures adopted, and knowing what the result of the expedition would otherwise be, he immediately proceeded on board the Endymion, communicated, by telegraph, to Sir John T. Duckworth, the answer he had received (“a negociator will be sent off to the British Admiral at noon”), and then pulled for the Royal George, in order to afford every information which his chief might require, as to the state of the Turkish fleet, the batteries, &c.
“At noon of the 21st.,” says Sir John T. Duckworth, “Ysak Bey came off; from whose expressions Mr. Arbuthnot thought it impossible not to believe that, in the head of the government there really existed a sincere desire for peace, and the negociation was carried on till the 27th;” but not one word does he mention about Lieutenant Willoughby, or his delicate mission. To the telescopes on board the Royal George, and not to the information obtained from his zealous subaltern, does he acknowledge himself indebted for the intelligence, “that the time granted the Sublime Porte to take its decision had been employed in warping the ships of war into places more susceptible of defence, and in constructing batteries along the coast, therefore rendering it his duty to lose no time.”
This, however, is not to us so much a matter of wonder, when we remember that even the name of Captain Dunn, his old and faithful follower, did not appear in either of the public letters which he wrote concerning that abortive expedition; although an officer of the same rank, who volunteered to serve in the Royal George, after the accidental destruction of his own ship, is highly praised “for his able assistance in regulating the fire of the middle and lower decks,” when first passing the Dardanelles.
To prevent any misconception on the part of the future historian, we must here add, that Lieutenant Willoughby was the only officer that landed at Constantinople, after the flight of the British Ambassador and merchants; and that, if he had failed in obtaining an interview with the Grand Vizier, it is more than likely that the Turkish government would not have deigned to communicate with the British authorities, after contemptuously neglecting to notice, either their former threats or persuasions. The situation in which Lieutenant Willoughby was so unexpectedly placed, appears to us to have been one of the most extraordinary and dangerous nature: no one but a man of the strongest nerve could possibly have acquitted himself as he did; and no officer could have more acutely felt the official neglect which he experienced. On the day previous to Sir John T. Duckworth’s retreat from before Constantinople, he addressed a letter to Lord Collingwood, of which the following is an extract:–
“My Lord,– I have to inform your Lordship, that it was perceived at nine o’clock yesterday morning, that the Turks had landed on the island of Prota, near which the squadron was anchored, and were erecting a battery in a position to annoy us: I immediately ordered the marines of the squadron to be prepared for landing, and the boats to be manned and armed; the Repulse, with the Lucifer, having been directed to cover them, they proceeded towards the island. The Turks, on the ships firing a few grape to scour the beach, quitted the island in their boats, when all but one boat with eleven men escaped; the which, with two guns they had intended to mount, fell into our possession.”
On this occasion. Lieutenant Willoughby commanded a double-banked cutter, in which he was lying off upon his oars, waiting for the boats of the squadron to assemble near the Royal George, at the time when the enemy began to reembark. Perceiving that they were exerting themselves to reach the Asiatic shore, and that the whole would escape if not attacked before all the British boats could be got together, he immediately dashed on towards their main body, obliged the two sternmost boats to alter their course, and gave way to board the nearest.
During the pursuit, the boats thus cut off ran alongside of each other, apparently to exchange some men, but separated again in a minute or two, and continued pulling with great velocity towards the main land. On approaching pretty close to them, Lieutenant Willoughby distinctly saw that one was manned with about 20 Greeks, and that the other had a Turkish crew, 13 in number: the former soon ceased rowing, held their hands up, and cried for mercy. No honour could be gained by capturing them, and they were, therefore, allowed to escape. After exchanging a few musket-shot with the Turks, they likewise laid in their oars; and when Lieutenant Willoughby arrived within about twenty yards of them, their chief took his sword by the point, and presented the handle to him, thereby indicating that he surrendered.
Having continued to advance. Lieutenant Willoughby was about to take hold of the sword thus offered in token of submission, when, to his great astonishment, two Turks pointed their pistols towards the stem of his boat, and fired, killing one man and mortally wounding another. Enraged at this treacherous act, the remainder of the British sailors would instantly have commenced an indiscriminate slaughter; but as Lieutenant Willoughby had kept his eye constantly fixed upon the Turkish officer, he felt convinced that it was not connived at by him, and therefore he would only allow the two guilty individuals to be slain – of the others not a man was hurt.
The principal captive taken by Lieutenant Willoughby’ proved to be a person of rank; and as the Turks had just before captured the Endymion’s jolly-boat, with a young midshipman and four lads, he was allowed to depart from the Royal George, for the purpose of endeavouring to effect an exchange of prisoners, promising that he would return, and again surrender himself, in case of failure: no exchange, however, took place; neither did the Turkish officer ever afterwards make his appearance, although, if we are not greatly in error, he had been sworn, on his own copy of the Alcoran, to do so. Mr. Harwell, the midshipman alluded to above, and his unfortunate juvenile boat’s crew, were detained on board the ship of the Capitan Bey until she was taken by the Russians, off Lemnos, July 1, 1807.
Another affair, in which Lieutenant Willoughby was the commanding officer, and one of the principal sufferers, is thus described by Sir John T. Duckworth:–
“At half-after two o’clock in the afternoon” (Feb. 27) “Sir Thomas Louis” (the third in command of the squadron) “sent to inform me, that he had received intelligence of a small number of Turks being still on the island, and requesting permission to send marines to take them; my reply was, that no risk whatever must be run, but if it could be effected without hazarding the people, it might; and a party of the Canopus’s marines was immediately sent on shore in consequence, with the most positive orders to Captain Kent, from Sir Thomas Louis, not to pursue the object if he found it attended with any hazard. At four o’clock the party on shore made the signal for assistance, and the marines and boats were directly ordered away from the Royal George, Windsor Castle, and Standard, with particular directions to bring off the Canopus’s people, but to avoid being drawn into danger. A little before sun-set, an officer was despatched with orders for the whole to return on board.
On the return of the boats, which was not until after dark, I heard with the deepest regret of the loss we had sustained, a list of which I herewith transmit; and do most particularly lament Lieutenant Belli, a young officer of the fairest promise, who had never served but with myself. To account in some degree for this unlucky affair, it appears that the information of a few Turks only having remained on the island was entirely false, as nearly one hundred of them had retired to an old convent, from loopholes in the walls of which they defended themselves with musketry. The people of the Canopus had in the first instance advanced close under the walls, and in endeavouring to relieve them from their unpleasant situation, the others suffered.”
On this, as on the former occasion, Lieutenant Willoughby pushed on without waiting for the detachment of boats to assemble. On landing at Prota he found that the marines of the Canopus had attacked a large building situated on an eminence in the centre of the island, surrounded with a strong iron railing, and defended by at least one hundred Turks, two or three of whom were firing through each of its numerous loop-holes and windows. An attempt was now made to get part of the marines round to the left wing; and Lieutenant Willoughby, perceiving three men to be much exposed, was calling to them to stoop, when two pistol-balls struck him, one entering his head just above the right jaw, and, from the upward position of his face at the moment, taking a slanting direction towards the region of the brain, where it has ever since remained. The other shot cut his left cheek in two, and he lay, for more than six or seven minutes, apparently lifeless on the ground; but, at the very moment that his party began to retreat, one of his arms was observed to move, and he was carried off to the ship as one of whom no hopes were entertained. In short, so desperate was his case, that the surgeon of the Royal George also considered him to be mortally wounded, and officially reported him as such for three days afterwards.
The commissioned officers slain at Prota were Caption Kent, R.M. and Lieutenant Belli, of the Royal George; which latter gentleman, it will be remembered, was wounded when serving under Lieutenant Willoughby, at the capture of la Felicité, in March, 1804. Among the badly wounded were Messrs. John Alexander and John Wood Rouse, midshipmen, both of whom were with him when he so gallantly pursued the Turkish boats in the morning of the same day. It is worthy of remark, that Messrs. Willoughby, Belli, Alexander, and Rouse, all belonging to the same ship, were nearly touching one another when each received one or more of the Turkish shot.
Although Lieutenant Willoughby’s perseverance, gallantry, and sufferings, whilst employed in the sea of Marmora, were not publicly reported by Sir John T. Duckworth, with whom he had always been on the most friendly terms, his praiseworthy conduct was afterwards represented by that officer to the Admiralty, in a private communication, and duly appreciated by their Lordships.
Lieutenant Willoughby’s discharge from the Royal George took place July 13, 1807; immediately after which we find him proceeding to the Rio de la Plata, as a passenger on board the Otter sloop, for the purpose of assuming the command of la Fuerte, a very fine Spanish corvette, pierced for 28 guns, which vessel had fallen into the hands of the British, at Monte Video, in the month of Feb. preceding.
On his arrival in that river. Lieutenant Willoughby had the mortification to find that la Fuerte was not destined to wear an English pendant, the Spaniards having compelled Lieutenant-General Whitelocke to retire from South America, and the shipping taken at Monte Video being again in their possession. From thence, our disappointed officer proceeded in the Otter to the Cape of Good Hope, where he succeeded Captain John Davies (a) in the command of that sloop, Jan. 10, 1808. His commission as a Commander was confirmed by the Admiralty, April 9, in the same year.
The Otter’s first cruise off the Isle of France was under the orders of Captain Robert Corbett, then commanding la Nereide, a frigate universally allowed to take the lead of every other “crack” one in the British navy; and Captain Willoughby, anxious that his first command should be marked by the high state of discipline in which he kept his sloop, made her vie with, and endeavour, if practicable, to excel that ship in every manoeuvre. On her return to the Cape, Vice-Admiral Bertie, then commanding on that station, received an anonymous letter, which led him to believe that Captain Willoughby had exceeded the usual esprit de corps in striving to effect his object, and he therefore thought proper to have his conduct investigated by a court-martial; the result of which was an honorable acquittal of the whole of the charges upon which he had been tried. During his next cruise, Captain Willoughby, with volunteers from the same sloop, performed services which induced the Vice-Admiral, who deeply regretted what had taken place, to give him the command of la Nereide, although he had many old followers whom he wished to serve, and a Commander was also under his orders who had been directed to receive the first Admiralty vacancy. Vice-Admiral Bertie did more; for on Captain Willoughby assuming the command of la Nereide he allowed a large proportion of the Otter’s best men, who volunteered, to accompany him. We shall presently have an opportunity of shewing how highly he admired, and how duly he appreciated the subsequent daring conduct of an officer who had first embarked as a midshipman under his command.
On the 14th Aug. 1809, Captain Willoughby, then cruising in the Otter off Cape Brabant, Isle of France, discovered a brig, a lugger, and a gun-boat, at anchor under the protection of the batteries of Black River. The brig had recently arrived from France with a cargo, and the lugger was also a merchantman: thinking it practicable, notwithstanding the immense strength of the Batteries, to cut out these vessels, he resolved to make the desperate attempt that same night. In the mean time, to prevent suspicion, the Otter bore away for Bourbon until dark; then hauled up and worked back to the vicinity of Black River. At 11-30 P.M., being close enough in, Captain Willoughby pushed off in his gig, accompanied by Lieutenant John Burn in the yawl, and Mr. William Weiss, midshipman, in the jolly-boat. The plan arranged was, for the gig, supported by the other two boats, to carry the gun-vessel; the yawl was then to secure the brig, and the jolly-boat the lugger.
Favored by the darkness, the three boats got into the harbour unperceived; and having from the same cause, and the silence of the enemy, missed the gun-vessel, they pulled alongside of and captured the lugger. After securing her. Captain Willoughby detached the yawl and jolly-boat to board the brig, and then proceeded himself in search of the armed vessel. Lieutenant Burn soon got along side the brig, and found a body of soldiers drawn up on deck to defend her. In the face of a heavy fire of musketry from them, the British boarded, and after a smart struggle carried her. The cable was then cut by a man left in the yawl for that purpose, but not till he had been wounded in the head by the French mate, whom he killed with a blow of his axe. Captain Willoughby in the mean time approached so near to the innermost battery as to be hailed by one of the sentries: the alarm soon became general, and the batteries, four in number, immediately opened their fire.
The brig being firmly moored to the shore, with her yards and top-masts down, and the weather very tempestuous, there was no possibility of bringing her off; Captain Willoughby therefore gave orders to take out the prisoners and destroy her; but as many of them were wounded, and could not be removed, she was ultimately abandoned. The boats then took the lugger in tow, and brought her out under a heavy fire of shot and shells, from the batteries on both sides of the river. To enable them to distinguish their object, the enemy on shore threw up fire-balls of a superior description, which illumined the whole river; and they continued doing so every half-minute until she was out of range.
Under all these circumstances, it is rather surprising that no greater loss was sustained by the British than one killed and three severely wounded; particularly as the boats, when towing their prize past a particular reef, were at least ten minutes directly in front of a very heavy battery. The principal advantage derived from this attack was the evidence it afforded of the practicability of cutting out vessels from a river so strongly protected both by nature and by art. Had the gunboat been found, there cannot be a doubt that she would have shared the fate of the lugger.
The capture of St. Paul’s, in the island of Bourbon, has been briefly noticed at p. 626 et seq. of our first volume. The conspicuous part borne by Captain Willoughby on that occasion will be seen by the following extracts of the official letters published in the London Gazette, Feb. 13, 1810.
Captain Josias Rowley to Vice-Admiral Bertie.
“The force intended to be landed were the detachment of his Majesty’s and the Company’s troops, reinforced by the marines of the squadron, and a party of about 100 seamen from this ship and the Otter, under the command of Captain Willoughbys, whose zeal induced him to volunteer the command of so small a party. * * * * * *. The guns and mortars at the different batteries and on the beach being spiked, their carronades burnt or destroyed, and magazines blown off under the directions of Captain Willoughby, the whole of the troops, marines, and seamen, were embarked, * * * * * *. I beg leave to refer you for details to Lieutenant-Colonel Keating’s letter; and am happy to say he mentions in high terms the conduct of Captain Willoughby, the officers, seamen, and marines employed on this occasion.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Keating to the Bombay Government.
“At 6 A.M. on the 21st” (Sept. 1809), “the troops were disembarked to the southward of Point de Galotte, seven miles from St. Paul’s, and immediately commenced a forced march, with a view of crossing the causeways that extend over the lake, before the enemy could discover our debarkation or approach to the town, which we were fortunate enough to effect; nor had they time to form in any force until we had passed the strongest position. By seven o’clock we were in possession of the first and second batteries, Lambousière and la Centière; when Captain Willoughby, of the royal navy, who commanded a detachment of about 100 seamen on shore, and to whose zeal, activity, and exertions, I feel much indebted, immediately turned the guns upon the enemy’s shipping, from whose fire, which was chiefly grape, and well directed, within pistol-shot of the shore, we suffered much, being necessarily exposed to it during our movements upon the beach, and through the town. From the battery la Centière, Captain Imlack was detached with the second column to take possession of the third, or battery of la Neuf, deserted by the enemy. On his way thither, he fell in with and was opposed by the entire force of the French, who had concentrated and taken up a very strong position behind a stone wall, with eight brass field-pieces, 6-pounders, upon their flanks. This post was instantly charged in the most gallant manner by that officer and his men: the enemy, however, maintained their position, and Captain Hannor, of the 56th regiment, was ordered to proceed with the third column to his support, who charged, and took two of the enemy’s guns. The action now became warm, but never doubtful.
“The enemy being reinforced from the hills, and having also received 110 troops of the line from the French frigate la Caroline, and the squadron not being able to stand in to support us, our movements being endangered by their fire except at intervals, which they always took advantage of. Captain Willoughby was directed to spike the guns of Lambousière and la Centière, and with the seamen to man the third battery, la Neuf, continuing the fire from thence upon the enemy’s shipping. By this arrangement, Captain Forbes, who with the reserve had covered those batteries, was enabled to advance against the enemy, who, after an honorable resistance, were compelled to give way. Their remaining guns being carried by that excellent officer, a sufficient number of men were ordered to act as light troops, and to pursue the enemy, whilst the third column, with part of the reserve, advanced against the fourth and fifth batteries, la Piere and la Caserne, which fell into our hands without opposition, and whose entire fire was immediately directed against the enemy’s shipping. By half-past eight o’clock, the town, batteries, magazines, 8 brass field-pieces, 117 new and heavy iron guns, and all the public stores, were in our possession, with several prisoners. The instant the squadron perceived that the object in landing had succeeded, and that they could, with safety to the troops, stand in effectually, they immediately anchored close to the enemy’s shipping, which after a short firing surrendered. The entire of the batteries being destroyed, and the town completely commanded by our squadron, the troops were re-embarked by eight o’clock the same evening. * * * *.
“On the 22d, late in the evening, the enemy appeared in some force upon the bills, and a heavy column was observed advancing from St. Denis, which I since understand to have been under the immediate command of General Des Brusleys: the commodore and myself now agreed upon the propriety of landing a sufficient force to destroy all public property; and accordingly the marines, with a few sailors, under Captain Willoughby” (who again volunteered), “were ordered upon this service, when I had an opportunity of again witnessing the steadiness and good conduct of the seamen and royal marines, who effectually burnt an extensive government store of considerable value; the remaining stores were only saved from some doubt existing respecting their being public property.
“On the following morning, the entire force was put in boats to reland and attack the enemy; whose retreat, however, to St. Denis, during the night, prevented the necessity of any further debarkation.”
On this latter occasion, the boats containing the troops, armed seamen, and marines, pulled in shore and reached the intended landing place, to the eastward of St. Paul’s, facing the position in which Des Brusley’s army was supposed to have encamped in the night of the 22d.
After waiting some time for Lieutenant-Colonel Keating to arrive and give the necessary orders, Captain Willoughby, anxious to ascertain if the French were really there, and having taken proper precautions for ensuring a speedy retreat if necessary, landed with two of his gig’s crew, all the boats anxiously watching his motions, particularly when he disappeared over the sand hills, as it was then believed by every officer and man that the enemy were close at hand, ready to oppose them. From this state of suspense they were soon relieved by his re-appearance, and waving for two more men to join him. Atter a second absence of ten minutes, he returned to his gig, with a 9-inch brass mortar, taken from one of the batteries which had been dismantled on the 21st. During this reconnoissance he did not see a single Frenchman; and therefore, as Lieutenant-Colonel Keating says, “the necessity of any further debarkation was prevented.”
Mons. St. Michiel, the military commandant of St. Paul’s, being now disposed to enter into negociations, the preliminary articles were drawn up, some of which it is necessary for us to subjoin; and that officer accompanying Lieutenant-Colonel Keating on board Captain Rowley’s ship, they were there signed by all the parties, subject to confirmation or rejection by the French commander-in-chief, General Des Brusleys, whose chagrin at the success of his intrepid opponents was so great, that he rashly put an end to his existence.
Articles of Agreement, &c.
“It is agreed, that in consequence of the town being in possession of the English, and the situation of the inhabitants, a mutual suspension of arms shall immediately take place * * *.
“Art. II. That public property of every description, such as guns, stores, merchandise, and money, in the town of St. Paul, shall remain in the possession of the English.
“Art. III. That the limits of the town are considered to be the Canal running near the Promenade, and from thence to the Cavern.
“Art. VII. That nothing here above mentioned shall be considered as preventing the English from attacking any other part of the island, either by sea or land.”
This latter article was “accepted, under the condition that no disembarkation or movement of troops should take place at St. Paul’s within the limits above mentioned.”
As by this agreement there was nothing to prevent the British from pursuing offensive measures, provided no part of their force marched from within the lines of St. Paul’s, an expedition was determined upon, having for its object the destruction of the works at St. Luce, a seaport town, about 12 or 13 miles to the westward; and as it was necessary to obtain good information respecting the military strength of St. Gilles, the intended place of debarkation, Lieutenant-Colonel Keating resolved to land at an intermediate village for that purpose, taking with him a black pilot, named Johnson, to whom alone he communicated his intentions. This man had been taken prisoner by Captain Willoughby, in whose boat the Lieutenant-Colonel proceeded from St. Paul’s.
On the 2d Oct., after dark, Lieutenant-Colonel Keating asked for the Otter’s yawl, into which he got, accompanied by two or three of his own officers, and followed by Captain Willoughby; the latter impelled by curiosity to know how the military commander was about to act, but not suspecting that he intended any thing further than to reconnoitre the coast, and select a proper place for landing the next day. We have no doubt that our readers will consider the captain’s subsequent situation as one of the most unpleasant he could possibly have assigned himself.
At midnight, after rowing for some time with their oars muffled, and every one perfectly silent, Johnson pointed to a small open bay, and Lieutenant-Colonel Keating immediately desired to be landed:– the pilot followed him, but neither of the military officers did the same. Seeing this, and feeling it a point of honor not to allow him to proceed unattended, Captain Willoughby instantly jumped onshore; but with the exception of some orders given to the boat’s crew, to guard them against surprise, &c. not a word was spoken by any individual.
Lieutenant-Colonel Keating, Captain Willoughby, and the pilot, now walked into a middling sized village, inhabited by blacks, sword in hand, and still maintaining the most profound silence. At length perceiving a faint light, occasioned by the embers of an almost extinguished fire, Johnson pointed to, and entered the hut where it was, asking in a gentle tone for permission to light his segar, which request was granted in a rough voice by a man half asleep, in one corner of the cottage. Nearly two minutes elapsed before another word was spoken on either aide, when Johnson began a slow conversation upon various subjects, that lasted ten minutes, during which time, the British officers stood within the hut to avoid detection, knowing that strong French night guards were constantly prowling along shore, particularly in the creeks and bays where a landing could be effected.
A pause now took place, and at the end of about a quarter of an hour. Captain Willoughby heard Johnson whisper something to the owner of the hut, who immediately got up, discovered his other visitors for the first time, and, followed by his wife and children, walked quietly to the boat without any interruption.
Captain Willoughby’s anxiety during the whole of this curious negociation was naturally very great, knowing as he did that a French guard could not be many hundred yards distant, and bearing in mind that Johnson, whose family and connections lived amongst the enemy, had neither deserted to the British, nor yet committed himself so far as to endanger his own life, should he betray the trust then reposed in him. From the time of their pulling in to land, until they were again seated in the yawl, Lieutenant-Colonel Keating and Captain Willoughby did not address a word to one another.
On the following day, in consequence of the information obtained from the black villager, a descent was made at St. Gilles; but after capturing the battery there without resistance, and storming a second in their advance upon St. Luce, the British commanders found that the latter town was crowded with regular troops and militia, and that, although it might possibly have been carried by assault, even complete success would not have justified them in attempting to do so, as they must have sacrificed many lives in order to obtain their object. Lieutenant-Colonel Keating and Captain Willoughby therefore reluctantly abandoned the attempt, and contented themselves with the destruction of the above mentioned batteries (containing four long 10-pounders and 9 twelves), a guard-house, and a new public building. We should here remark, that the battery taken by storm was first entered by Captain Willoughby, at the head of his gig’s crew.
Of the naval detachment serving on shore under Captain Willoughby, at the capture of St. Paul’s, 7 were killed, and 18, including Lieutenant Edward Lloyd, of the Raisonable, and 2 marine officers wounded. Not a single person was hurt on board any one of the squadron. The total loss sustained by the British has been stated See id. p. 627 et seq..
For his zealous, gallant, and active exertions during this expedition. Captain Willoughby was immediately promoted into la Nereide, the frigate mentioned at p. 140, mounting 26 long 12-pounders and 12 carronades (24-prs.), with an established complement of 251 officers, men, and boys. His commission, however, was not confirmed by the Admiralty until Sept. 5, 1810; on which day, the then recently appointed First Lord of the Admiralty addressed a note to him, the contents of which we shall presently lay before our readers. The following is an extract of his commander-in-Chief’s official letter reporting the capture of St. Paul’s:–
“Captain Rowley and Lieutenant-Colonel Keating alike express their high approbation of the conduct of Captain Willoughby, of the Otter, both by sea and land: his many wounds are honorable testimonies of his former services, and on no occasion can he have distinguished himself beyond the present.
Towards the latter end of April, 1810, Captain Willoughby discovered a ship in Black River, moored in such a manner between the formidable land batteries that her stern was alone visible. Supposing her to be a ship of war, he immediately worked up towards the anchorage, and discharged several broadsides at her nearly within point-blank distance, receiving in return a heavy fire of shot and shells from the shore, many of the latter bursting near, and without la Nereide. The enemy’s ship was afterwards ascertained to be l’Astree, a large 40 gun frigate, recently arrived from Cherbourg, with troops and supplies for the Isle of France.
On the 30th of the same month, a large merchant ship was discovered at Jacotel, within pistol-shot of two batteries commanding the entrance of that harbour; and Captain Willoughby, having confidence in the ability, resolution, and integrity of his black pilot, resolved to attempt cutting her out; although he considered the enterprise so desperate, and so nearly a forlorn hope, that, for the sake of inspiring his men with more than usual enthusiasm, which the occasion required, he headed them himself in his full dress uniform, a circumstance which had more effect upon the gallant fellows than if their number had been doubled.
About midnight, this heroic officer left la Nereide, taking with him his three Lieutenants (John Burn, Thomas Lamb Polden Laugharne, and Henry Colins Deacon), two marine officers, and 100 men; but owing to the intricacy of the channel, it was full five hours before he reached the only spot where a landing could be effected; and even there the surf was half filling the boats when the French national schooner l’Estafette, of 4 brass guns and 15 men, including an enseigne de vaisseau, lying close to the shore, hailed, and gave the alarm. Both batteries, assisted by two field pieces, immediately played upon the place of debarkation, and the British had no sooner formed on the beach than they found themselves likewise exposed to a heavy fire of musketry. Their subsequent proceedings are thus described by Captain Willoughby, in his official letter to the senior officer off Port Louis, dated May 1, 1810:–
“As every officer knew before we landed what was to be done afterwards, the whole party was instantly upon the run, and in ten minutes in possession of the nearest battery: having spiked the guns (2 long 12-pounders), we moved towards the guard-house, protected by 2” (6-pounders) “field-pieces, 40 troops of the line, 26 artillery, and a strong party of militia, the whole commanded by Lieutenant Rockman, of the 18th regiment. This detachment, while we were taking the battery, had attacked and driven our boats into the centre of the harbour. Their opening fire upon us was the signal for charging; and, to my astonishment, they instantly gave way with a speed we could not equal: their officer, who deserved to command better soldiers, was taken prisoner, with his two field-pieces, which he was in the act of spiking.
“Hitherto twilight had hid our force: full day shewed to the enemy the Nereide’s small band of volunteers, consisting of 50 seamen, and the same number of marines. The strongest battery was still in their possession, to gain which it was necessary to pass the river Jacotel at the foot of a high hill covered with wood, and defended by the commandant of the Savanne district. Colonel Etienne Bolger, 2 cannon, and a strong body of militia. Owing to the late heavy rains, we found the river swollen, and the current so strong that the tallest men could scarcely wade across; the short were helped over, more than half of them upon the swim, and the whole exposed to a heavy fire. This difficulty was no sooner surmounted, with the loss of the greatest part of our ammunition, than three cheers warned the enemy to prepare for the bayonet. The jungle-hill, 2 guns, battery, and colours, were carried in style; and the commandant taken prisoner; nor do I think an officer or man of the party, except myself, had an anxious thought for the result of this unequal affair.
“Having spiked the guns and one mortar, burnt and destroyed their carriages, the works, magazines, &c., and embarked the field-pieces, together with some naval and military stores, I was upon the point of returning to the ship, when the strong party we had driven from the first battery and field-pieces, appeared to have recovered from their panic, and, strongly reinforced by the militia and burgeois inhabitants of the island, re-assembled upon our left.
“As the Nereide’s attack of Jacotel was the first ever made upon any point of the Isle of France, and aware that its principal defence consisted in its militia, I determined on running some risk in letting them know what they had to expect if their island was ever attacked by a regular British force. Moving towards them, the enemy at the same time advancing within musket-shot, they opened their fire, and I instantly turned direct into the country in an oblique line to them, to get into their rear, and if so, not to leave to the defeated party the resource of a retreat: at first they halted and remained upon their ground; but the moment we began to move in quick time, and they understood my intention, then they again gave way, and beat us in fair running for more than a mile into the country. On returning to our boats, we burnt the signal-house, flag-staff, &c., a mile from the beach; and having sounded the harbour, and done all I wished, I again embarked and returned to the Nereide.
“I now beg you will allow me to express how highly I approve of the gallant and regular conduct of every officer and man landed. Indeed, I feel myself under the greatest obligation to the senior officers. Lieutenants Burn, Laugharne, and Deacon; also to Lieutenant Cox, commanding the marines, with Lieutenant Desbrisay under him. I have to regret my return of killed and wounded.
“The loss of the enemy could not be ascertained, nor do I know the force opposed to us; but from every information gained, and from the French officers themselves, they declare that 600 men can reinforce the batteries by signal in an hour. I remained on shore four hours, in a clear morning, and the signal was flying the whole of the time.”
On returning to la Nereide, Captain Willoughby took along with him the French schooner, which the midshipman left in charge of the boats had secured just as she was sweeping to sea. The ship proved to be an American; but although detainable for a breach of blockade, he did not think proper to bring her out.
Speaking of this heroic enterprise. Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N., who was then a prisoner in the Isle of France, says:–
“Captain Willoughby, of the Nereide, made a descent upon the south side of the island, at Port Jacotel, where he cut out l’Estafette packet-boat, spiked the guns of the fort, carried off the officer, with two field-pieces, and M. Etienne Bolger, commandant of the quarter of la Savanne * * *. This sullying of the French territory produced a fulminating proclamation from General De Caen, nearly similar in terms to that of the Emperor Napoleon, after the descent at Walcheren * * * *. Three days afterwards a flag of truce was sent out to negociate an exchange for M. Bolger and the officer who had commanded the fort, for whom 20 soldiers of the 69th regiment were given.”
In addition to these soldiers, an equal number of British subjects were exchanged for the crew of l’Estafette, on board which vessel Captain Willoughby had found a mail for Bourbon, consisting of nearly 600 public and private letters, laying open for the first time the military resources, the condition of the mercantile interest, and the views of the inhabitants of both islands.
The restoration of the above-mentioned men, many of whose fellow prisoners had been seduced into the French service, was an immediate good result of the enterprise at Jacotel. The benefits of a more permanent nature, arising from the gallant exploit of Captain Willoughby, were an instance of the practicability, hitherto doubted, of making a descent upon the Isle of France, and a proof that the principal part of the troops in that colony consisted of militia, previously considered equal to soldiers of the line, but whose military character was now at once ruined. The following is a copy of the note to which we alluded at p. 148:–
Mr. Yorke presents his compliments to Captain Willoughby, and has the pleasure to acquaint him, that in consequence of the gallantry he has displayed at Jacotel, it is his intention to take a very early opportunity of promoting him to the rank of Post-Captain.
“Admiralty, 5th Sept. 1810.”
Had the former First Lord of the Admiralty bestowed upon Captain Willoughby the reward to which he was justly entitled for his admirable conduct at Black River, and during the expedition against St. Paul’s, he would have taken postrank from Nov. 10, 1809, the date of his appointment to la Nereide, instead of Sept. 5, 1810, on which day Mr. Yorke, with his usual liberal feeling, signed a commission for him.
On the 15th June, 1810, a serious accident happened to the enterprising commander of la Nereide, then watering at Isle Platte, a small island near the northern extremity of the Mauritius.
Captain Willoughby was on shore, exercising his men at small arms, when a musket in the hands of a marine burst, inflicting upon him a dreadful wound, supposed at the time to be mortal. His lower jaw on the right side was badly fractured, and his neck so lacerated that the windpipe lay bare. The surgeon feared that it would slough away with the dressings, and of course end the life of his patient. For three weeks he could not speak; however, by skilful treatment, aided by a temperate habit of body, the wound at length healed; but not until a painful exfoliation of the jaw had taken place; and so great was the injury he received that even now (1828), he cannot open his mouth to any considerable extent:– after eating very distressing feelings ensue, and continue for some time.
Scarcely had Captain Willoughby recovered his speech, when he volunteered to superintend the landing of a light corps, about 550 strong, embarked at Rodriguez, and conveyed by la Nereide to the Riviere des Pluies, for the purpose of assisting at the reduction of Bourbon, a service thus described by Captain Josias Rowley, in an official letter to Vice-Admiral Bertie:–
“H.M.S. Boadicea, road of St. Denis, Isle Bourbon, July 11, 1810.
“Sir,– I feel much satisfaction in announcing to you the surrender of Isle Bourbon to his Majesty’s arms.
“According to the communication I had the honor to make to you on the 14th ult., I proceeded to the Isle of Rodriguez, where, having joined the transports from India, and, in concert with Lieutenant-Colonel Keating, made the necessary arrangements relative to the troops, and embarked on board the Boadicea and Nereide as many as they could stow, we proceeded to join the ships of the squadron which I had left off the Isle of France, under the orders of Captain Pym, blockading the three frigates of the enemy then in port, having previously detached a light transport to apprise them of our sailing. We joined them at the appointed rendezvous, between the isles of France and Bourbon, on the 6th; and having embarked on board the frigates, the remainder of the European and part of the native troops, made all sail in the evening towards the points of attack, it being intended to push on shore the greatest part of our force with all possible celerity, for which purpose each ship was provided with additional boats taken from the transports. While the main force drew the attention of the enemy off St. Marie, about two leagues to the eastward of St. Denis, Captain Pym, with his usual skill and activity, effected a landing about 2 P.M., on the 7th, from the Sinus, of all the troops embarked on board of her, at a part of the beach called Grande Chaloupe, six miles to the westward of the town, where the enemy were totally unprepared for an attack. The Riviere des Pluies, about three miles to the east of St. Denis, was intended for the other point of descent. The remaining frigates, when it was supposed the first landing was secured, immediately pushed for anchorage, and were followed by the transports as they arrived: the weather, which till now had been favorable, began to change: the beach on this side of the island being steep, and composed of large shingles, is generally of difficult access; but it was supposed on reconnoitring it, that the landing was practicable; and Captain Willoughby, who undertook to superintend it, pushed off in a small prize schooner, captured by the Nereide, with a party of seamen and a detachment of light troops” (under Lieutenant-Colonels Macleod and Campbell), “and, with some of the boats which followed, effected a partial landing; but the surf still increasing, several were stove on the beach: it being, however, considered by Lieutenant-Colonel Keating of much importance to effect the landing at this point, a light transport was placed with great judgment by Lieutenant Edward Lloyd, of the Boadicea, in order to act as a breakwater; but the stern cable parting, she only formed a momentary cover for a few boats; and notwithstanding every exertion of the skill and experience of Captain Willoughby, the officers, and seamen, it was found necessary, on the close of the day, to relinquish any further attempts at this point for the present. I am concerned to state, that two seamen (belonging to la Nereide) and two soldiers, were drowned on this occasion; the party, however, maintained their ground, and took possession of the battery and post of St. Marie during the night.
The Magicienne, with two transports, was now detached to support the brigade landed at Grande Chaloupe; but Captain Curtis alone gained the anchorage, and landed the troops embarked in her. In the morning of the 8th, the beach still appearing unfavorable, I weighed, at the desire of Lieutenant-Colonel Keating, and proceeded to the anchorage off Grand Chaloupe, where we landed the remainder of the troops, guns, &c. * * * * * *; at 10 P.M., I received a message from the Lieutenant-Colonel, that he had entered into a capitulation with the enemy, and at his request landed next morning, in company with Mr. Farquhar, appointed to the government of the island, when we signed the terms of capitulation. * * * * * *. To Captains Pym, Lambert, Curtis, and Willoughby, I feel particularly indebted, for the prompt assistance and support I received from them on every occasion; and the active exertions of the officers and men on this short but fatiguing service, could not be surpassed. Lieutenant-Colonel Keating has mentioned, in high terms of approbation, the conduct of Captain Willoughby, the officers and seamen employed on shore with the troops; and Lieutenant Cottrell, with the brigade of marines under his orders.
Shortly after the surrender of Isle Bourbon, 100 grenadiers of the 33d and 69th regiments, and 12 artillery-men, were embarked on board la Nereide, for the purpose of co-operating with Captain Willoughby in an attack upon l’Isle de la Passe, situated about 4 miles from Port Sud-Est, in the Isle of France, and commanding the narrow and intricate entrance to that harbour. The main object of this enterprise was to enable Captain Willoughby to land in the vicinity of Grand Port, to open a communication, and commence negociating with some of the principal inhabitants of that town; and at the same time to distribute among the islanders in general numerous copies of a proclamation addressed to them by the governor of Bourbon, “holding out to them not only the advantages they had enjoyed under the protection of France, but the pre-eminent advantages of British colonies – free trade, and the fullest protection to the produce of the island in the markets of Great Britain,” provided, when the British came to conquer it, they offered no resistance: in short, as the principal strength of the Isle of France, after its forts should be carried, would consist of the unembodied militia, the grand object was, by sapping their integrity, to render them comparatively powerless; which service Lieutenant Willoughby effectually performed.
On the 10th Aug., la Nereide arrived off Port Sud-Est, in company with the Sirius and Staunch; the latter a gun-brig, commanded by Lieutenant Benjamin Street.
Towards the evening, the boats of the two frigates, containing about 400 seamen, marines, and soldiers, under the command of Captain Willoughby, were taken in tow by the Staunch, and proceeded to attack l’Isle de la Passe; but the night becoming very dark, and the weather extremely tempestuous, so as to occasion several of them to run foul of each other, and some to get stove, la Nereide’s black pilot began to falter, and at length declared, that it was impossible to enter the channel under such disadvantageous circumstances. Captain Willoughby offered him 1000 dollars, if he would persevere and carry the boats in; but still he persisted in his declaration of the impractibillty of the undertaking, and it was therefore reluctantly abandoned. The manner in which risle de la Passe was ultimately taken will be seen by reference to our memoir of Captain Henry Ducie Chads, C.B.
After obtaining possession of that island, the senior officer of the blockading squadron returned to his station off Port Louis, leaving Captain Willoughby to pave the way for “the most important of all our colonial conquests since the commencement of the war.”
Between the 10th and 14th Aug., reinforcements were marched from various parts of the Mauritius to Grande Porte; the militia were called out, and the second in command of the island. General Van de Masson, was sent from headquarters to oppose Captain Willoughby. This French officer had upon his line of defence, extending from Grand Port to Grand Riviére, at least 2200 men, including cavalry, protected by Fort du Diable, several other military posts, and a brigade of artillery.
Notwithstanding this immense disparity of force, and his having no field-officer of the army to confer with, la Nereide’s intrepid commander resolved to persevere, though fully sensible that, if taken prisoner when in the act of negociating with the inhabitants, he would suffer the same fate as Major Andrè, in the first American war. The nature of the service in which he was thus voluntarily engaged will be seen by his official letter to Captain Pym, dated Aug. 19, 1810:–
“In obedience to your order of the 15th instant, (received the 16th) to remain at the anchorage of l’Isle de la Passe for its protection, and to use my own discretion in landing upon the main, for the distribution of the proclamations given to me by his Excellency the Governor of Bourbon, and intended for the inhabitants of the Isle of France, as I felt they were of the utmost consequence to our future operations against the island, I determined, after well rcconnoitreing with Lieutenant Davis of the Madras engineers, to land and attack their principal post of Point du Diable, the fort that commanded the N.E. passage into Grand Port; and having upon the 17th instant, embarked 50 men of the 33d and 69th regiments, and their respective officers, an officer and 12 artillery-men, 40 men from the Staunch, and 100 men from la Nereide (50 marines and the same number of seamen, the whole of the different parties volunteers), I left the ship at one a.m.” (without a single field-piece), “and landed before day-light at the Canaille de Bois, and after a march of six miles reached the point, and carried the works without the loss of a man: the commanding officer and three men on the side of the enemy were killed, and three gunners taken prisoners. Having halted three hours, spiked eight 24-pounders, and two 13-inch mortars, burnt the carriages, blown up the magazines, and embarked a 13-inch brass mortar in a new praam, well calculated for carrying troops or guns over flats, I moved on to the old town of Grand Port, a distance of twelve miles, leaving in the houses and villages we passed, the proclamations addressed to the inhabitants. On the whole of our march, we were attended by three of the Nereide’s and Staunch’s boats, with guns mounted, commanded by Lieutenant Deacon; and from the nature of the ground, they so completely commanded our road, that scarcely an enemy could shew himself; a strong party who were advancing to attack us were put to the rout by their fire, and six killed and wounded. General Van de Masson, the second in command of the island, who had arrived with a strong reinforcement upon the 14th instant, and commanded this party, was reconnoitreing us the whole of the day, retiring as we advanced. At sun-set, having succeeded in every view I bad for landing, and gained from some of the most respectable inhabitants and well-wishers to the English, the most satisfactory information, I returned on board; but wishing to know what effect the proclamations would have upon the inhabitants, I landed with the same force yesterday morning, taking the Staunch in with me to support us, and cover our retreat if necessary. I pushed on, destroyed the signal-house, staffs, &c., of Grande Riviére, and perceived the enemy had 700 or 800 men in or near the battery, but upon the opposite side of the river: I then returned to Point du Diable, and continued there three hours, blowing up the remainder of the works; after which I moved on to Canaille de Bois, and embarked at sun-set, leaving the Staunch to command and protect the harbour. The inhabitants appeared much tranquillized and satisfied with our conduct on shore, and the proclamation. The loss of the enemy in the two days was 8 men killed, the number of wounded not known: mine as per margin.”
During the whole of this march of nearly 22 miles, in an enemy’s territory, not one of Captain Willoughby’s party was killed, and only two were wounded. This forbearance on the part of the islanders was, no doubt, occasioned by the orderly manner in which the seamen, marines, and soldiers conducted themselves, and by the strict attention they paid to their leader’s injunctions, – “to abstain from giving offence to the inhabitants by pilfering the slightest article of their property.” Even the sugar and coffee, laid aside for exportation, and usually considered as legitimate objects of seizure, remained untouched; and the invaders, when they quitted the shore for their ship, left behind them a high character, not merely for gallantry, but for a rigid adherence to promises. Had Captain Willoughby burnt the commercial property within his reach, or entered into terms for its embarkation, his dashing exploit would probably have been gazetted; but, for the good of his country, he preferred relinquishing present fame, and all pecuniary benefit. He well knew that the whole of the British forces collected at Bourbon, were anxiously waiting the result of his daring enterprise; – Governor Farquhar had informed him, that the distribution of the printed proclamations would be of the utmost importance to the success of the meditated operations against the Isle of France; – he had promised his Excellency that he would execute his wishes; – and for the honor of the navy he persevered under circumstances of difficulty and danger, which every one but himself considered insurmountable. This esprit de corps has been the main-spring of all his actions. – Honor he has sought on every occasion – in the present instance prize money was quite out of the question. Had the latter been his principal object in landing at Point du Diable, the Mauritius would not have been so easily subdued when attacked by the British in December 1810.
“On the 19th and 20th August, Captain Willoughby again landed; and, as there were no more batteries in that quarter to attack and destroy, and no opposition was offered to him by either the regular troops in the vicinity, or by the inhabitants among whom, it may be said, he was sojourning, the trip on shore was considered in the light of a pleasant excursion, rather than of a forced irruption into an enemy’s territory; when, at about 10 A.M. on the last-named day, an event occurred which gave a complete change to the aspect of affairs, and placed the whole party, who had hitherto considered themselves so secure, in the utmost jeopardy.”
This alarm was caused by the discovery of five strange ships to windward, steering under easy sail for the grand entrance to Port Sud-Est. Leaving the other boats to get up in the best manner they could, Captain Willoughby hastened away from the shore in his gig, and after a hard pull, of nearly 5 miles directly to windward, arrived, about noon, on board la Nereide, then lying in a small bight of deep water just at the back of l’Isle de la Passe; which anchorage was afterwards occupied by Captain Lambert, of the Iphigenia, who found himself obliged to surrender both his ship and the island, from their almost defenceless state, and great scarcity of provisions, water, &c. The Staunch had previously been sent by Captain Willoughby to join the squadron off Port Louis.
“At 12,” says Captain Willoughby, “I clearly make them out to be the long expected enemy’s squadron, consisting of the Bellone, Minerve, and Victor corvette, with two large Indiamen in company, their prizes, which I found afterwards to be the Ceylon and Windham. As I knew the French force in Port Louis consisted of three heavy frigates and a fine corvette ready for sea, and if the former squadron joined them, they would be far too strong for the Sirius, Iphigenia, and Magicienne, then blockading that port and Black River, though my anchorage was only supported by four guns (two of those upon open platforms, and only meant to protect the landing place against boats,) I felt it my duty to use every means to draw the enemy into Grand Port; and l’Isle de la Passe answering their private signals, together with our French colours, so completely deceived them, that at 1 P.M. the Victor led in. As I had given the most positive orders that the fire of the island was to be entirely guided by the manoeuvres of the Nereide, the Victor passed the sea-battery, and when within pistol-shot of us, our union was hoisted, and our fire opened. She was so cut up, that she struck her colours, and hailed us to cease firing. As she anchored, in obedience to my orders, I did so, and directed my whole attention to the Minerve, who, following close to the Victor, and within the same distance, received and returned our fire: she then ordered the corvette to cut and follow her, which I had the mortification of seeing instantly done, though my first Lieutenant was alongside of her to take possession. The two Indiamen attempted to haul out; the Windham succeeded, sailed to the southward, and was captured next morning by the Sirius; the Ceylon was obliged to bear up and pass our fire; the Bellone following her in (going 7 knots), steered direct for our bow, with every demonstration of boarding; but perceiving we were ready, had just time to alter her determination, sweeping our yard-arms, and giving us her broadside.
“The enemy’s squadron must have suffered: our foremast is badly wounded, driver-boom cut in two, spars much cut, also lower rigging, and fore and main-stays: my killed and wounded as per margin. I beg leave to express how zealously I was seconded by Captain Todd, commanding upon the island, and the whole of the party under his command; but owing to five guns in the sea-battery, and one in the rear, dismounting the first fire, and a heavy explosion of nearly 100 cartridges blowing up 16 men, put it out of his power to give that support he wished.
“Though not an officer or man in the Nereide but knew their fate if the enemy had anchored and engaged us, yet more cheerful zeal could uot be displayed.”
The situation of la Nereide’s boats, with a great proportion of her crew in them, besides soldiers and artillery-men, appears to have been a very critical one, as they were successively passed by the Minerve, Ceylon, and Victor, the former ship running so close to them that they were obliged to lay in their oars, yet not a word was spoken by the enemy; an enigma not to be explained, especially when it is considered how promptly the French captain, Mons. Bouvet, had just before hailed the Victor, and desired her to follow him. Had he given the same orders to the boats, they must have obeyed; otherwise, with the velocity with which they were sailing, the Ceylon and Victor could with ease have run them down: he did not do so, and they therefore reached their ship in safety, just as the Bellone had made sail for the passage.
A contemporary notices another circumstance, which Captain Willoughby’s modesty would not allow him to mention.
At the moment when the boats were pulling up the narrow channel, with the prize praam in tow, and their capture appeared inevitable, it was observed that the French commodore, M. Duperré, instead of following la Minerve, &c., had hauled off on the larboard tack, as if intending to seek another port, in company with the Windham. Although in only a 12-pounder frigate, with so many of his men absent, Captain Willoughby thought his ship a match for the Minerve, Victor, and Ceylon, particularly if he embarked the 34 serviceable soldiers remaining upon l’Isle de la Passe; but just as he was about to slip his cable for the purpose of attacking them, his sails already loose, la Bellone bore up for the harbour, thereby compelling him to abandon his design, and prepare to receive a fresh antagonist.
At 4 P.M., Captain Willoughby sent Lieutenant Deacon, in the launch, with a note for the senior officer off Port Louis, or any other captain of the blockading squadron he could first meet with, announcing the arrival of the enemy, and volunteering, if reinforced by a single frigate, to lead in and attack them; as he knew the passage well, and had sounded every part of it.
At 4-30 P.M., the cutter, with Mr. William Weiss, was sent upon the same errand; but at sun-set she returned , not having been able to pull ahead on account of the fresh breeze and rough sea. It may naturally be asked, why Captain Willoughby, considering how exposed he lay to an attack by two heavy French frigates and a corvette, did not get under weigh and proceed to join the Sirius, instead of lessening his means of defence, by thus despatching two officers and as many boats’ crews. The truth is, that as he had been ordered to protect l’Isle de la Passe, he was resolved to defend that newly acquired post as long as he was able; and at the same time, his anxiety for the safety of the British frigates off Port Louis, determined him rather to subject himself to the imputation of rashness, than endanger them by allowing Mons. Duperré to come out unopposed, and form a junction with the other French squadron, which would doubtless be ready to start from that harbour the moment his approach was announced. Captain Willoughby, surely, had a right to anticipate, that one or the other of his boats would succeed in reaching either the Sirius, Iphigenia, or Magicienne, before the enemy could find time to send a reinforcement of men overland to Duperré; and he felt confident, from the enthusiasm of every one on board la Nereide, that the co-operation of a single frigate would have secured a most brilliant victory. The disasters that afterwards befel the Sirius, on two successive days, and which we shall presently have occasion to notice, may therefore be deemed truly unfortunate.
On the following day, to prove to Commodore Duperré that the Victor had struck her colours, to impress upon him an idea of the confidence with which la Nereide maintained her position, and to reconnoitre and obtain a correct knowledge of that taken up by the enemy. Captain Willoughby sent in a flag of truce, with a letter, of which the following is a copy:
“Sir,– Trusting to the honor of the French flag, and the laws of war, I demand that the Victor corvette shall be given up to my disposal, in consequence of having yesterday struck her colours to his Majesty’s ship under my command; hailed she had done so, and anchored, in obedience to my orders, close to the Nereide.
“Lieutenants Burn and Pye, whom I send with this letter, were in a boat alongside the Victor, to take possession of her, when she cut and followed the Minerve, being hailed and ordered to do so by her. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“N. J. Willoughby.”
“To Commodore Duperré.”
On the 22d August, Captain Willoughby received just such an answer as he expected the enemy to return:–
“Sir,– In answer to the letter you did me the honor of writing, I am commanded by his Excellency the commander-in-chief. General De Caen, to say that he objects to your extraordinary demand. I have the honor to be, &c.
When it is remembered that la Nereide mounted only 12-pounders on the main-deck, that nearly 100 seamen and marines were absent in her boats, and that Captain Willoughby was not chased and obliged to fight in his own defence, but that he sought the above conflict with his usual ardour, and made use of a justifiable ruse de guerre to accomplish his wishes, we doubt not that it will be considered one of the most heroic, if not the most unequal, of all the frigate actions fought during the late war. We shall merely add, that he thereby saved the British frigates off Port Louis, from the consequences of an attack which the enemy would doubtless have made upon them with his united force, had M. Duperré proceeded thither instead of suffering himself to be decoyed into the harbour of Grand Port; and that by deterring the Windham from following her consorts, he rendered a most important service to his country, as the masts and stores of that ship enabled Captain Rowley to re-equip the Africaine frigate, at a most critical moment, and by doing so, to regain our naval superiority in the Indian ocean. The manner in which that ascendancy was for a short time lost by the British is thus described in an official letter from Captain Pym to Captain Rowley:
“L’Isle de la Passe, August 26, 1810.
“Sir,– By my last you were informed of my intention to attack the frigates, corvette, and Indiaman in this port.
“Magicienne having joined just as the re-captured ship was about to make sail, I sent Captain Lambert orders to bring her and the gun-brig with all despatch off l’Isle de la Passe; and that the enemy in Port Louis should not be alarmed, I made all sail round the south side, and although blowing very hard, reached l’Isle de la Passe next day. At noon, Nereide made signal ‘ready for action;’ I then closed, and from the situation of the enemy, decided on an immediate attack; and when her master came on board as pilot, made the signal to weigh, but when within about a quarter of an hour’s run of the enemy, he unfortunately put me on the edge of the inner narrow passage. We did not get off, and that with wonderful exertion, until 8 o’clock next morning. At noon on the 23d, the Iphigenia and Magicienne came in sight; the enemy having moved further in, and making several batteries, as also manning the East India ship, and taking many men on board the frigates, I called them to assist in the attack: having all the captains and the pilot on board, and being assured we were past all danger, and could run direct for the enemy’s line, we got under weigh (at 4-40 P.M.) and pushed for our stations, viz. Sirius alongside Bellone, Nereide between her and the Victor, Iphigenia alongside Minerve, and Magicienne between her and the East India ship. Just as their shot began to pass over us, sad to say, Sirius grounded on a small bank, not known; Captain Lambert gained his post, and had hardly given the third broadside before his opponent cut her cable. Magicienne, close to Iphigenia, ran on a bank, which prevented her bringing more than six guns to bear; poor Nereide nearly gained her post, and did in the most gallant manner maintain that and the one intended for Sirius, until Bellone cut. All the enemy's ships being on shore, and finding Sirius could not get off, the whole of them opened their fire on Nereide; but notwithstanding this unequal contest, and being aground, she did not cease firing until 10 o’clock, and sorry am I to say, that the captain, every officer, and man on board, are killed or wounded.
“Captain Lambert would have immediately run down with the enemy, but there was a shoal a very little distance from, and between him and them; he did all that could be done, by keeping up a heavy, although distant fire; nothing was wanting, to make a most complete victory, but one of the other frigates to close with la Bellone.
“I must now inform you, that the moment we took the ground, every possible exertion was made to get the ship off, by carrying out stream and kedge anchors; but both these came home together. I then got a whole bower cable and anchor hauled out (not a common exertion for a frigate), as also the stream; but although heaving the one with the capstan, and the other with purchase on purchase, we could not move her one inch, from the nature of the ground, and the very heavy squalls then blowing. We continued lightening every thing from forward, and made many severe but fruitless attempts to heave the ship off before day-light, all, however, to no effect. At that time the Nereide was a perfect wreck, Magicienne in as bad a situation as Sirius, no possibility of Iphigenia closing with the enemy, and the whole or the latter on shore in a heap. We then tried the last resource, by warping the Iphigenia to heave us off, but could not get her in a proper situation until the 25th in the forenoon.
“I now had a survey by the captains, masters, and carpenters, in which they agreed it was impossible to get the ship off: having the same report yesterday from Captain Curtis, and that his men were falling fast, I ordered Magicienne to be abandoned and burnt; and as the enemy’s frigates cannot get off, I thought it most prudent to preserve l’Isle de la Passe, by warping Iphigenia for its support; and having no prospect of any other immediate protection, I considered it most advisable to quit my own ship, then within shot of all the enemy’s posts and squadron, and only able to return their fire from two guns. After seeing every man safe from Sirius, Lieutenant Watling and myself set her on fire; and, I trust, Sir, although my enterprise has been truly unfortunate, that no possible blame can be attached to any one: never did captains, officers, and men, go into action with a greater certainty of victory; and, I do aver, that if I could have got alongside of Bellone, all the enemy’s ships would have been in our possession in less than half an hour. My ship being burnt, I have given up the command to Captain Lambert, and have recommended his supporting and protecting this island with Iphigenia, and the ships’ companies of Sirius and Magicienne. Provisions and water will immediately be wanted.
“I have the honor to be, &c.
We have already stated that Captain Lambert was obliged to capitulate to the Port Louis squadron, on the 28th of the same month: la Nereide’s glorious defence is thus described by one of Captain Willoughby’s commissioned officers, in a letter to the author:
“The French force in India was now divided, and it was considered expedient instantly to make an attack, as the enemy lay exposed, except from the difficulties of the navigation; they were moored, mth springs on their cables, in the form of a crescent, and supported hy two flanking batteries.
La Nereide had the honourable station assigned her of leading in, which was done in the most masterly style, receiving the enemy’s raking fire in silence, until we had taken our station on the bow of the French commodore, and quarter of the corvette, within half-pistol-shot, when we opened an effective fire, and with the greatest confidence of success, anxiously looking for the support and assistance of the rest of our squadron, who we now perceived had grounded in rotation, leaving us in this most desperate situation, exposed to the very unequal and destructive fire of the whole French squadron. The Sirius had grounded nearly out of gun-shot, and the other ships were in a position which would allow very few of their guns to bear: had any of our squadron floated, and come to our assistance, the contest must very soon have terminated in our favour. We afterwards learned that the decks of our principal opponent had been thrice cleared, and that the French, from Port Louis, refusing to go on board, the ship had been partly re-manned by Irish traitors, previously taken by the enemy, and enlisted into their service. We continued this unequal conflict until nearly all on board were killed or wounded: Captain Willoughby lost an eye, and the sight of the other was much impaired; the first Lieutenant was killed; aud the second wounded in the throat, breast, legs, and arms. Finding there was no possibility of obtaining any relief, we were under the painful necessity of striking, which the enemy did not regard, but continued firing through and through us the whole of the night, during which we were in momentary expectation of being blown up by their red-hot shot, which more than once set us on fire: we were also in imminent danger of sinking; but the latter disaster was fortunately prevented by the cables and spring being shot away, and the ship running aground. We were then in the most dreadful state of carnage ever witnessed – 92 dead bodies lying on the deck, many of the crew dying, and most of the remainder severely wounded: words cannot express the horrors of the scene. I have only to add, that this action was the most severe ever recorded in history, and that it was prolonged in the full hope and expectation, that some of the squadron would be able to come to our assistance; for had we sooner yielded, all chance of success would then have been destroyed, owing to the unfortunate situation of our consorts.”
The disastrous events of Aug. 22 and 23, and the noble conduct of Captain Willoughby on the latter day, are still more minutely described by Mr. James, who has, however, made several material mistakes, which it is now our business to correct. He says:–
The Sirius picked up the Nereide’s boat with Lieutenant Deacon on board; and on the 32d, at 11-10 A.M., arrived off the island, and exchanged numbers with the Nereide, still at anchor within it; and who immediately hoisted the signals ‘ready for action,’ ‘enemy of inferior force.’ Having, from the situation of the French squadron, decided on an immediate attack. Captain Pym made the signal for the master of the Nereide. Mr. Robert Lesby accordingly went on board the Sirius, to conduct her, as he supposed, to the anchorage at the back of the island. the Sirius now made all sail, with the usual E.S.E. or trade wind, and bore up for the passage; and at 2-40 P.M., agreeably to a signal to that effect from the Sirius, the Nereide got under weigh, and, under her staysails only, stood after her consort down the channel to Grand Port. At 4 P.M., having still the Nereide’s master on board, but not her black pilot, who was the only person that knew the harbour, the Sirius unfortunately grounded upon a point of the shoal on the larboard side of the channel; and, having run down with her square-sails set, and consequently with a great deal of way upon her, the ship was forced a considerable distance on the bank. The Nereide immediately brought up, and Captain Willoughby went on board the Sirius, to assist in getting her afloat.”
Instead of la Nereide following the Sirius, she preceded her; and Captain Willoughby, being personally well acquainted with Port S.E., would have led Captain Pym safely alongside the enemy, had not the latter officer carried so much sail that he was obliged to yaw about, in order to avoid running aboard la Nereide – it was in consequence of his being under this necessity, that the Sirius grounded. Mr. James should have added, that the master of la Nereide knew less of Port S.E. than any other officer belonging to her, as he was always left in the command of the ship, whilst Captain Willoughby and his Lieutenants were either on shore or employed in sounding the harbour:– in fact, Mr. Lesby had never before been so far in as the spot where the Sirius grounded on the 22d August.
“At 10 A.M., Aug. 23, the Iphigenia and Magicienne were seen beating up for Isle de la Passe; and Captain Willoughby immediately sent his master, who had returned from the Sirius, to conduct them to the anchorage. * * * *. At 4-40 P.M., by signal from the Sirius, the four frigates got under way; and, preceded by the Nereide with her black pilot on board, stood down the channel to Grand Port. * * * * * *.
“The Nereide, still with stay-sails only, cleared the tortuous channel, and stood along the edge of the reef that skirts the harbour directly for the rearmost French ship. The Sirius, about a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes after she had weighed, keeping this time too much on the starboard hand, touched the ground. Very shoal water appearing ahead, the best bower anchor was let go; but the velocity of the ship was so great; as to run the cable out in spite of stoppers and every other effort to check her way. The small-bower was then let go, but to no purpose, the ship continuing to tear both cables out with great rapidity; and unfortunately, the helm having been put a-port, the ship struck on a coral reef, which, a minute or two before, must have been on her starboard bow. Just as the Sirius had taken the ground, the French ships began firing, and their shot passed over the Nereide.
“With the Sirius as a beacon, the Magicienne and Iphigenia successively cleared the channel; but, at 5-15 P.M., while steering for her station, and of course wide of the track in which the Nereide, with the only pilot in the squadron was steering, the Magicienne grounded on a bank, in such a position, that only three of her foremost guns on each deck could bear upon the enemy; from whom she was then distant about 400 yards. Seeing what had befallen the Magicienne, the Iphigenia, who was close in her rear, dropped her stream anchor, and came to by the stern in six fathoms: she then let go the best bower under foot, thereby bringing her starboard broadside to bear upon the Minerve; into whom, at a pistol-shot distance, the Iphigenia immediately poured a heavy and destructive fire. By this time the Nereide was also in hot action, and to her we must now attend.
“Just as, regardless of the raking fire opened upon the Nereide in her approach, he was about to take up his allotted position on the bow of the Victor, Captain Willoughby saw what had befallen the Sirius; and, with characteristic gallantry, steered for, and in his 12-pounder frigate anchored upon the beam of the Bellone, at the distance of less than 200 yards. Between these two ill-matched ships, at about 5-15 P.M., a furious cannonade commenced; the Victor, from her slanting position on the Nereide’s quarter, being also enabled to take an occasional part in it. At 6-15, after having received an occasional fire from the bow guns of the Magicienne, and the quarter guns of the Iphigenia, the Ceylon hauled down her colours, and Captain Lambert immediately hailed the Magicienne to take possession: at that instant the Ceylon was seen with her top-sails set, running on shore. At 6-30, the Minerve, having had her cable shot away, made sail after the Ceylon. Both these ships grounded near the Bellone; but the Ceylon first ran foul of the latter, and compelled her to cut and run aground also: the Bellone, however, lay in such a position that her broadside still bore on the Nereide.”
La Bellone did not cut in consequence of the Ceylon running foul of her; but voluntarily, and that for the express purpose of getting further from la Nereide’s fire, as is implied in Captain Pym’s letter, and tacitly admitted by Monsieur Duperré. Mr. James continues his account in the following terms:–
At a few minutes before 7 P.M , the Nereide’s spring was shot away, and the ship immediately swung stern on to the Bellone’s broadside. A most severe raking fire followed. To avoid this, and bring her starboard broadside to bear, the Nereide cut her small bower cable, and, letting go the best, succeeded so far in her object. At about 10 P.M., or a little afterwards, a piece of grape, or langridge, from one of the Nereide’s guns, cut Captain Duperré on the head, and knocked him senseless upon the deck. As the fire of the Minerve was now completely masked by that of the Bellone, Captain Bouvet removed from the former on board the latter, and took the command.”
La Nereide did not make use of langridge, but grape and canister she discharged in abundance; which no other ship was near enough the enemy to do.
The fire of la Minerve was never completely masked by la Bellone. On the contrary, that of her long 18-pounders and two 36-pounder carronades continued incessantly to play upon la Nereide during the remainder of her five hours’ desperate and sanguinary battle, the whole time within hail of la Bellone.
Since the early part of the action. Captain Willoughby had been severely wounded by a splinter on the left check, which had also torn his eye completely out of the socket. The first Lieutenant lay mortally, and the second most dangerously wounded; 1 marine oificer, 2 officers of foot, 1 of artillery, 2 midshipmen, and the greater part of the crew and soldiers, wore either killed or disabled. Most of the quarter-deck, and several of the main-deck guns were dismounted; the hull of the ship was shattered in all directions, and striking the ground astern. His frigate being in this state, and five hours having elapsed since the commencement of the action, without the arrival of a single boat from any one of the squadron, or even a signal being made to her, Captain Willoughby now ordered the feebly maintained fire of the Nereide to cease, and the few survivors of the crew to shelter themselves in the lower part of the ship. He then sent acting Lieutenant William Weiss (a very young man who had not yet served his full time as a midshipman), with one of the two remaining boats, on board the Sirius, “to acquaint Captain Pym with the defenceless state of the ship; leaving it to his judgment, as the senior officer, whether or not it was practicable to tow the Nereide beyond the reach of the enemy’s shot, or to take out the wounded and set her on fire; an act that would have greatly endangered, and might have been the means of destroying the Bellone herself, as well as the whole cluster of grounded ships, the situation of which cannot be better expressed than in the words of Captain Pym himself, – ‘the whole of the enemy on shore in a heap.’”
At about 10-46 P.M., a boat from the Sirius, with an officer of that frigate, also Lieutenant Davis of the engineers, and Mr. Weiss, whose boat had been sunk before he got well alongside of the commodore, reached la Nereide, with a message from Captain Pym, requesting her persevering commander to abandon his ship and come on board the Sirius; but, with a feeling that did him honor. Captain Willoughby sent back word that he would not quit her, until every officer and man was first removed.
Although Captain Willoughby refused to leave his ship, he ordered all the wounded officers to be taken on board the Sirius, and they, of course, gladly availed themselves of the opportunity, with the exception of the master, who, not being dangerously hurt, remained with his heroic commander. At that period no one on beard la Nereide supposed that the Sirius was in danger of being lost: on the contrary, those who were removed to the latter ship felt happy in having thus escaped being made prisoners, seeing that they had thing to fear from the enemy’s distant fire. That Captain Pym himself did not then consider the Sirius in an utterly hopeless state, is evident from his anxiety for Captain Willoughby’s removal to her, lest the conduct of the latter, in having negociated with the inhabitants of Grand Port, and distributed Governor Farquhar’s proclamations, might prove prejudicial to him.
"At 11 P.M., Captain Willoughby sent an officer to the Bellone, which still continued a very destructive fire, to say that the Nereide had struck; but, being in a sinking state from shot-holes, the boat returned without having reached the French ship. At about 30 minutes past midnight, the main-mast of the Nereide went by the board. At 1-30 A.M., on the 24th, several of her ropes caught fire, but the flames were quickly extinguished. At about 1-50, after having been repeatedly hailed without effect by one or the other of the French prisoners who were on board the Nereide, the Bellone discontinued her fire. The Iphigenia and Magicienne, a portion of whose fire had already dismounted the guns at the battery de la Reine, then ceased theirs; and all was silent.
“At day-light the Bellone re-opened her fire upon the Nereide. To put a stop to this, French colours were lashed to the fore-rigging; but still the enemy continued their fire. It was now surmised, and very naturally too, that the cause of this persevering hostility was the union-jack at the mizen-top-gallant-mast-head, which could not be hauled down; for by one account it had been nailed there; and, by mother, the haliards had been shot away, as well as all the rigging and ropes by which the mast could be ascended. As the only alternative, the mizen-mast was cut away, and the firing of the Bellone instantly ceased.”
Of la Nereide’s established complement, as stated at p. 148, only 202 were on board when she went into action;– she had sailed from the Cape (in April) with only 228; since then 10 had been either killed or invalided, and a master’s-mate and 15 men were absent cruising in her tender. To the first mentioned number, however, should be added 3 military officers, 2 of whom were killed, the other severely wounded, 12 artillery men, 50 grenadiers, and 10 light infantry, part of those recently exchanged at Port Louis, making a total of 277 persons. Commodore Duperré says, in his official report to General De Caen:–
“Le 22, la frégate anglaise le Syrius se joignit à la frégate la Nereide, mouillée sous l’Isle de la Passe; toutes deux firent un mouvement pour m’attaquer. Dans ce moment votre Excellence connaissant la position des equipages considerablement affaiblis par l’armement des prises et les engagements soutenus pendant la campagne m’expédia un detachement de 60 marins de la frégate la Manche et de la corvette l’Entreprenant, sous le commandement de MM. Coste, lieutenant de vaisseau; Vieillard, Esnouf Junot, enseignes; et Duhosq, Vergos, Fautrel, Arnauld, et Descombes, aspirants; auquel j’assignai de suite un porte à bord des divers bâtiments.
The loss on board the French ships, according to Commodore Duperré’s statement, amounted to 37 killed, and 112 wounded. Amongst the former were “MM. Montozon et Meunier, officiers de la Bellone; Lanchon, de la corvette le Victor; et Arnaud, aspirant.” Our readers will not fail to observe, that those officers, the only French ones slain, belonged to la Nereide’s immediate opponents; and that Captain Willoughby’s was the only English ship that had an officer killed. The number of men on board la Bellone at the commencement of the battle, could scarcely have been less than 400 or 420, and none were wanted to attend to the sails. The enemy’s admitted loss, considering that it must nearly all have been inflicted by la Nereide, was highly creditable to the skill and exertions of her officers and crew; to whose assistance not a single man was sent during the whole conflict, although, at the time when all the French ships and batteries opened upon her, or, more properly speaking, at the commencement of the second action, Captain Willoughby, the two senior Lieutenants, and half of her men, were already hors de combat.
We say at the commencement of the second action, because we consider that la Nereide fought two distinct battles on the 23d Aug. 1810 – the first with la Bellone and le Victor, which ships, although supported by a flanking battery, were indisputably defeated by her; and the second with the whole French squadron, supported by several batteries.
Judging from what la Nereide effected alone, we also think that Captain Pym was perfectly justified in saying, “nothing was wanting, to make a most complete victory, but one of the other frigates to close with la Bellone;” and that if he could have got alongside of her, all the enemy’s ships would have been taken in less than half an hour. It is our firm belief, that if it had been decreed from above, that even the Magicienne, the weakest of the other three British frigates, should have followed Captain Willoughby into close action, the victory would have been theirs in a very short time.
The French did not take possession of la Nereide until nearly 3 P.M. Lieutenant Roussin then went on board for that purpose, spiked all the guns, liberated 20 of his countrymen who had been taken by the British, and reported to Commodore Duperré, that 100 of the latter were lying dead or dying upon her decks.
“M. le Lieutenant de Vaisseau, Roussin,” says the Commodore, “fut envoyé à mariner la Néreide. Il la trouva dans un état impossible à décrire; 100 morts ou mourans étaient sur les ponts; son capitaine, M. Willoughby, était blessé.”
In justice to the petty officers, seamen, marines, and soldiers on board la Nereide, we must here observe, that the few who escaped unhurt, and very few there were, together with those not totally incapacitated by their wounds, most heroically kept up the unequal fight for some time after they had been left without a single commissioned or warrant officer to direct them:– the following is a list of the officers belonging to, and supernumeraries on board la Nereide, Aug. 23, 1810:
N. J. Willoughby, Captain, dangerously wounded.
John Burns, 1st Lieutenant, mortally . . .
Henry C. Deacon, 2d ditto, dangerously . . .
William Weiss, 3d ditto, (acting,) no one yet joined in lieu of the former.
William Lesby, Master, received a severe contusion in the side by a splinter, during the action; and afterwards had his hand badly burnt in extinguishing the fire in the rigging.
Thomas R. Pye, Lieut. R.M., not recovered from a wound received at the attack of St. Pauls; see p. 148, par. 1.
Thomas S. Cox, Lieutenant, R.M., severely wounded.
John Strong, Boatswain, . . . ditto.
John Constable, Gunner, Quartered below.
John Martin, Carpenter, . . .
George Young, Surgeon, . . .
Thomas Stones, Purser, absent on duty at Bourbon.
Lieutenant Davies, Mad. Eng. absent on board Sirius.
_______ Aldwinkle, Mad. Art. Killed.
_______ Morlett, 33d Regt. . . .
_______ Needhall, 69th do. severely wounded.
Vice-Admiral Bertie, when reporting the destruction of the Sirius and Magicienne, and the surrender to the enemy of the Iphigenia and Nereide, says “the latter after a GLORIOUS resistance, almost unparalleled even in the brilliant annals of the British navy.” In another part of the same letter he acquaints the Admiralty that, “having found it practicahle to equip the Venus,” a French frigate captured by Captain Rowley, on the 18th Sept. 1810, he had not hesitated “to commission her for the time being, under the name of the Nereide, in commemoration of the gallant defence of his Majesty’s late ship bearing that name.”
Captain Willoughby being now a prisoner, a council was held by General De Caen, to determine whether or not he should be punished for having intrigued with the leading people of the island, and distributed proclamations, having a tendency to subvert the allegiance of the inhabitants in general. It was decided, notwithstanding his previous liability, that, as he had been taken in honorable fight, he should be treated as a prisoner of war. On this occasion, the French governor is reported to have said, “Let the foutre live; he has lost his eye and his ship, after defending her most gallantly.” It is almost needless to add that poor Johnson, the black pilot, who had been Captain Willoughby’s guide in all his landings, was immediately put to death.
As for la Nereide, she was rendered so completely hors de combat before her colours were hauled down, that we doubt whether the enemy ever attempted to repair her: at all events, the British, when they captured the Mauritius, found it impossible to do so, and she was consequently sold only to be broken up. The following statement appears in “Brenton’s Naval History:”
“No part of her was sheltered; the shot of the enemy penetrated to the hold and the bread-room, where a young midshipman was killed, as he lay bleeding from a previous wound. Captain Willoughby, having lost an eye, and being otherwise severely hurt, was removed from the bread-room to the fore part of the hold, as less exposed to shot.”
This passage in the “Naval History” gave rise to a correspondence, which we shall now transcribe, although its insertion here is not strictly according to chronological order:
“Royal Naval Club, Bond Street, Feb. 10, 1826.
“My dear Sir,– In reading your Naval History, I find respecting myself a few errors, which I trust you will correct in your second edition: the one to which I particularly allude, is in volume 4th, page 469, where you say ‘I was, after being wounded, removed from the bread-room to the fore part of the hold, as being less exposed to shot.’ This you will find, upon enquiry, is not the fact, as, after I was wounded, I was in no part of the ship but the gun-room and cock-pit. I remain, my dear Sir, very truly yours,
(Signed)“N. J. Willoughby.”
“To Captain Edward Brenton, R.N.”
“4. Park Lane, Feb. 10, 1826.
“My dear Sir,– I am extremely sorry that any statement of mine should have caused you one moment’s pain. Upon the circumstance of your removal from the bread-room to the fore-part of the ship, or fore-hold, I was mis-informed, as appears by your surgeon’s letter, and the statement of other officers. I shall have great pleasure in contradicting it; and with respect to the other inaccuracies, they shall be corrected in another edition. I remain, my dear Sir, yours very sincerely,
(Signed)“E. P. Brenton.”
“To Captain Willoughby, R.N. C.B.”
“The Court is of opinion, that the conduct of Captain Willoughby” (on the twenty-second Aug.) “was injudicious, in making the signal ‘enemy of inferior force’ to the Sirius, she being” then “the only ship in sight, and not justifiable, as the enemy was superior. But the Court is of opinion, that his Majesty’s late ship Nereide was carried into battle” (on the twenty-third) “in a most judicious, officer-like, and gallant manner; and the Court cannot do otherwise than express its high admiration of the noble conduct of the captain, officers, and ship’s company, during the whole of the unequal contest, and is further of opinion, that the Nereide was not surrendered to the enemy, until she was disabled in every respect, so as to render all further resistance useless, and that no blame whatever attaches to them for the loss of the said ship: the Court doth therefore adjudge Captain Willoughby, the officers, and ship’s company of his Majesty’s late ship Nereide, to be most honorably acquitted; and they are hereby most honorably acquitted accordingly.”
Captain Willoughby’s address to the Court, corroborates what we have stated at pp. 159 and 161, respecting the enemy at Port Louis being ready for sea, and his volunteering to lead in and attack Duperré’s squadron. It moreover informs us, that the signals “ready for action” and “enemy of inferior force” were made, to counteract the effect of an indication of inability, by the appearance of a stage up la Nereide’s foremast, which had been badly wounded on the 20th August.
Having thus placed upon record the “glorious” and “noble” conduct of “poor Nereide,” whose officers, &c., were, in our opinion, rather to be envied than pitied, we cannot avoid remarking, how weighty a responsibility Captain Willoughby took upon himself, in volunteering to lead his senior officer into action; and the anxiety he must have experienced both on the 22d and 23d August: had la Nereide, from any unforeseen circumstance, got on shore when running down to the enemy, a universal outcry would have been raised against him, and his judges would have passed something very different to the above unprecedented sentence, We shall now make our readers acquainted with the opinion entertained by the Governor-General of India, of her sanguinary battle at Port Sud-Est, on which occasion she had many more men killed than the whole British squadron, in the much talked-of recent affair at Navarin, and at least 20 more than were slain in our whole fleet, at the celebrated battle off Cape St. Vincent, Feb. 14, 1797. The following are extracts of two letters from Lord Minto to Governor Farquhar, dated Oct. 19, and Oct. 21, 1810:–
“It is superfluous to express the extreme concern and disappointment which the occurrence of this disaster has occasioned to my mind; but deeply as I lament the failure of the gallant attempt to capture or destroy the enemy’s naval force in the harbour of Port S.E., and especially the loss of the ships which have been destroyed, and of the many valuable officers and men who have fallen on this occasion, it is yet satisfactory to reflect, that the result of it is alone to be ascribed to the operation of causes beyond the controul of human foresight and precaution, while it affords another and distinguished instance of that spirit and heroism which characterize the British navy, and which in the recent contest has been displayed in a degree seldom equalled, and perhaps never surpassed, under the most trying circumstances of difficulty, danger, and distress.”
“The first feelings I am anxious to convey, are those of regret and affliction, at the loss of so many precious lives, and the sufferings of the surviving officers and men, in the affair at Port S.E.: that sentiment, however, is immediately succeeded by admiration of the extraordinary heroism that distinguished that disastrous day, and which has attached to it a species of, and degree of glory, which fortunate events alone cannot confer. Courage which survives hope, and unbroken spirit under such complicated evils as those of the 23d August, are the highest efforts of human character, and place those who have displayed them amongst the superior beings of our race. What are we to think, therefore, of a whole profession, which never fails to produce those demi-gods, whenever they are called for; and may we not reasonably be proud of a country which constantly produces, to that profession, fresh and successive crowds of such heroes.”
Presuming that some of our readers have not perused the accounts given by Brenton and James, of Capt. Willoughby’s daring conduct at Jacotel and in Port Sud-Est, we shall here give some extracts of their statements. Speaking of the successes of Commodore Rowley, previous to the reduction of the Isle of France, the former writer says:–
“There was one circumstance attending the attack on this island, which, though hitherto scarcely noticed by historians, contributed greatly to enlighten the minds of the inhabitants, till then kept in profound ignorance of the state of things. We mean the daring adventure of Capt. Willoughby, of the Nereide, who, after landing at Jacotel, penetrated into the interior of the island, and distributed the proclamations which made the inhabitants acquainted with the views of the British government, and induced them, on our forces’ landing, to lay down their arms, and gladly avail themselves of British protection.”
After recording the most honorable acquittal of Captain Willoughby, Mr. James thus happily expresses himself:–
“To this testimony in favor of the Nereide, we shall merely add, that the noble behaviour of her officers and crew threw such a halo of glory around the defeat at Grand Port, that, in public opinion at least, the loss of the four frigates was scarcely considered a misfortune.”
On the morning of the 30th Nov. 1810, the day after the debarkation of the British troops under Major-General Abercromby, “there was a slight skirmishing between the adverse pickets; and on the 1st and 2d of December, an affair, rather more serious, took place between the British main body and a corps of the enemy, who with several field-pieces had taken a strong position to check the advance of the invaders. The French, however, were soon overpowered by numbers, * * * * * *. Immediately after the termination of this battle. General De Caen, who, in the slight support he received from the Colonial Militia, now learnt to appreciate the effects of the proclamations so industriously spread among them by Captain Willoughby, proposed terms of capitulation; and on the following morning, the 3d, the articles were signed, and ratifications exchanged, surrendering the island to Great Britain. The garrison of the Isle of France consisted, it appears, of no more than 1300 regular troops, including, to their shame be it spoken, a corps of about 500 Irishmen, chiefly recruits taken out of the captured Indiamen. But the militia force amounted to upwards of 10,000 men; a number which General De Caen, no doubt, would have gladly exchanged for at many more regulars as he had under his command.”
Governor Farquhar to Captain Willoughby.
“Port Louis, 8th Jan. 1811.
“Sir,– The unfortunate, though gallant affair, in which you so eminently distinguished yourself at Grand Port, and which for a short time interrupted all communication witli you, prevented my replying immediately to your despatch, which I received on the 21st August, informing me of your having landed in the Isle of France, on the 17th and 18th that month; of your having destroyed the batteries and magazines at Grand Port, and distributed the proclamations with which I had entrusted you, for the inhabitants of the Isle of France. I cannot, however, permit you to quit this colony without expressing to you my warmest acknowledgments, for the very satisfactory manner in which yon executed every part of this important duty. I feel it the more necessary now to make this official declaration of my sentiments to you, from the more intimate know, ledge I have acquired, since I assumed this government, of the beneficial effects produced by those proclamations on the minds of the inhabitants. However much, therefore, I am disposed to admire that enterprising spirit and perseverance which dared to land at the second principal port of the main island, at the head of only 200 men, and to effect a long march of 20 miles, for the purpose of destroying the defences, in the face of an enemy far superior to you; and however much I must commend that prudence and discretion which enabled you to re-embark without the loss of a single man, after having effected every object you had in view, it is still more my indispensable duty, as being in my immediate province, to bear this public testimony of the prompt and efficient execution of the delicate and dangerous service which you undertook, of issuing my proclamations to the inhabitants of a neighbouring hostile colony! I feel convinced that this, amongst the many other more brilliant services in which you have been engaged, and of which you bear so many honorable marks, will speedily replace you in a situation which will afford ample scope for the exercise of the distinguished naval talents and undaunted heroism which your countrymen, as well as the enemy, unanimously bear testimony of your possessing. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“R. T. Farquhar.”
Lieutenant-Governor Keating to Captain Willoughby.
“St Denis, Isle of Bourbon, 27th Dec. 1810.
“Sir,– I cannot allow you to depart from these islands, that have so often witnessed with wonder the intrepid, daring valour of your conduct, without joining in the general wish – that qualities so valuable may be duly appreciated by our Country, and that services so singularly eminent may be distinguished by the beneficence of our gracious Sovereign.
“Among the applauses of your own service, and the admiration of ours, the testimony of my sentiments can add but little to your fame; but I should be ungrateful, did I not state how large a share is due to you in the conquest of these islands, where so much has been done by the few – so little by the many.
“On my first reconnoitreing these citadels of French power in the East, I found the name of Willoughby already familiar with the inhabitants as a vigilant enterprising’ enemy – and a generous conqueror.
“When we captured St. Paul’s, it was the gallant Corbett who reconnoitred our landing place, and enabled us to debark with a secrecy and rapidity perhaps unequalled. You then fought by my side, leading by your example 80 seamen to the most daring achievements. I felt the full value of your services; my testimony of them is on record. When I had led my force back to Rodriguez, you, ever indefatigable and on the watch for the enemy, made a landing at Jacotel, in the Isle of France, and experimentally confirmed our information as to the strength of the enemy, while your gallantry in carrying off a number of prisoners ia the face of a superior enemy, was a new proof of unshrinking determination, that surprised even your friends.
“The conquest of Bourbon was the next scene in which your conduct was displayed, and this also is on record.
“After this achievement, while most were refreshing themselves after the toils, hardships, and privations, that were the lot of all, you, never inactive while any thing remained undone, volunteered to take the Isle de la Passe, commanding the chief entrance to S.E. Port, and I gave you 100 chosen men to assist in that important service.
“Your next attempt was on Point du Diable, the strongest post in the south of the Mauritius, and doubly valuable as commanding the other entrance of Port S.E.
“The gallantry of this attack, its complete success without the loss of a man on your side; your march of 20 miles afterwards, when from the disposition of your force, you compelled a superior to retreat before you with loss; your distribution of the proclamation of the Honorable the Governor, which was attended with effects so beneficial, by demonstrating the views of our country in taking possession of these colonies; the orderly conduct of your force in abstaining from any act of irregularity, and thus gaining the confidence of the inhabitants; these were services of no ordinary description.
“I now approach that period of your services, which will hand your name to posterity among those consecrated by the admiration of our country. Here, in the nervous language of the Governor-General, ‘you displayed a heroism almost fabulous, and acquired a glory of too transcendent a character, to be reaped by any other portion of the human race, than the seamen and soldiers of our own nation.’
“Whatever I could add to a testimony so exalted, would be superfluous. I must now take my leave; you quit those scenes where we have fought together and bled for our country; but you return to no ungrateful country; she has long been known to reward that portion of her sons who have raised her name to the most exalted of the earth; and in thus honoring the splendid exertions of superior merit, has founded the most impregnable bulwark of her strength. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“Hy. S. Keating.”
On his return to England, Captain Willoughby was surveyed by the College of Surgeons, and in consequence of their report, a pension of 300l. per annum was granted to him, Oct. 4, 1811; they stating, that he had not only lost an eye, but that his other wounds were more than equal to the loss of a limb. In 1815, this pension was increased to 550l. per annum, commencing from July 1, in that year, agreeably to H.M. Order in Council, dated Nov. 27.
Having now arrived at the conclusion of Captain Willoughby’s naval services, during the late war, we cannot help remarking, that he had the peculiar good fortune never to be discomfited, either afloat or on shore, when the service to be performed was arranged by himself, and the plan carried into execution under his own directions. From the time of his joining the Otter until the twentieth of August, 1810, that day also included, his astonishing efforts to signalize himself were invariably successful. His only unfortunate action was fought under the orders of a superior officer!
In 1812, having no immediate prospect of employment afloat. Captain Willoughby obtained leave to go abroad; and repaired to the Baltic, ready to serve as a volunteer wherever active service might be in contemplation.
Hearing upon his arrival, that Riga was about to be besieged by the French and Prussian forces under Marshals Macdonald and Yorck; and that Rear-Admiral T. B. Martin had gone thither to co-operate with ’the Russian garrison, Captain Willoughby immediately made a tender of his services to that officer, from whom he received a handsome letter in return, acquainting him that there was no immediate apprehension of an attack.
Upon receiving the Rear-Admiral’s answer. Captain Willoughby’s enterprising spirit led him without loss of time to St. Petersburgh, at which court Earl Cathcart was then residing as British Ambassador, and through whom he solicited permission to serve in the Russian army; offering to furnish himself with all necessary equipments, and to continue under the Imperial standard, without pay or compensation of any kind, during the war then recently begun between Alexander and Napoleon.
A short correspondence took place, in consequence of his being an English officer on half-pay; but at length his services were accepted by the Czar, who commanded that he should repair to Riga, and put himself under the orders of General Essen, the governor of that city. While there, we find him living with the commanding officers of the British flotilla, the present Captains Hew Steuart and John Brenton. On the 26th Sept. 1812, Captain Willoughby left Riga, under the command of Lieutenant-General Count Steinheil, who had lately arrived from Finland, with 15,000 troops, supposed to be the finest corps in the Russian service, and whose intention it was to fight his way through Macdonald’s army, for the purpose of joining General Wittgenstein, who was then besieging Polotzk, and also threatening the left flank of the French army at Smolensk. The result of this movement will be seen by the following extracts of Count de Segur’s history:
“By the middle of October, the Russian array at that point amounted to 62,000 men, while ours was only 17,000. In this number must be included the 6th corps, or the Bavarians, reduced from 22,000 to 1800 men, and 2000 cavalry. The latter were then absent; St. Cyr being without forage, and uneasy respecting the attempts of the enemy upon his flanks, had sent them to a considerable distance up the river” Düna, “with orders to return by the left bank, in order to procure subsistence and to gain intelligence.
“This marshal was afraid of having his right turned by Wittgenstein and his left by Steingell (Steinheil), who was advancing at the head of two divisions of the array of Finland, which had recently arrived at Riga. Saint Cyr had sent a very pressing letter to Macdonald, requesting him to use his efforts to stop the march of these Russians, who would have to pass his army, and to send him a reinforcement of 15,000 men; or if he would not do that, to come himself with succours to that amount, and take the command over him. In the same letter he also submitted to Macdonald all his plans of attack and defence. But Macdonald did not feel himself authorized to operate so important a movement without orders. He distrusted Yorck, whom he perhaps suspected of an intention of letting the Russians get possession of his besieging artillery. His reply was that he must first of all think of defending that, and he remained stationary. In this state of affairs, the Russians became daily more and more emboldened; and finally, on the 17th October, the out posts of St. Cyr were driven into his camp, and Wittengenstein possessed himself of all the outlets of the woods which surround Polotzk. He threatened us with a battle, which he did not believe we would venture to accept * * * *. The night which followed” the desperate engagement at the village of Guravitchne “was perfectly tranquil, even to Saint Cyr. His cavalry brought him wrong intelligence; they assured him that no enemy had passed the Düna, either above or below his position: this was incorrect, as Steingell and 13,000 Russians had crossed the river at Drissa, and gone up on the left bank, with the object of taking the marshal in the rear, and shutting him up in Polotzk, between them, the Düna, and Wittgenstein.
“The morning of the 19th exhibited the latter under arms, and making every disposition for an attack, the signal for which he appeared to be afraid of giving. St. Cyr, however, was not to be deceived by these appearances; he was satisfied that it was not his feeble entrenchments which kept back an enterprising and numerous enemy, but that he was doubtless waiting the effect of some manoeuvre, the signal of some important operation, which could only be effected in his rear.
“In fact, about ten o’clock in the morning, an aide-de-camp came in full gallop from the other side of the river, with the intelligence, that another hostile army, that of Steingell, was marching rapidly along the Lithuanian side of the river, and that it had defeated the French cavalry. He required immediate assistance, without which this fresh army would speedily get in the rear of the camp, and surround it. The news of this engagement soon reached the army of Wittgenstein, where it excited the greatest joy, while it carried dismay into the French camp. Their position became dreadfully critical. Let any one figure to himself these brave fellows, hemmed in, against a wooden town, by a force of treble their number, with a great river behind them, and no other means of retreat but a bridge, the passage from which was threatened by another army.
“It was in vain that St. Cyr then weakened his force by three regiments, which he despatched to the other side to meet Steingell, and whose march he contrived to conceal from Wittgenstein’s observation. Every moment the noise of the former’s artillery was approaching nearer and nearer to Polotzk. The batteries, which from the left side protected the French camp, were now turned round ready to fire upon this new enemy. At sight of this, loud shouts of joy burst out from the whole of Wittgenstein’s line; but that officer still remained immoveable. To make him begin” (to act in concert) “it was not merely necessary that he should hear Steingell; he seemed absolutely determined to see him make his appearance.
“Meanwhile, all Saint Cyr’s generals, in consternation, were surrounding him, and urging him to order a retreat, which would soon become impossible. St. Cyr refused: convinced that the 50,000 Russians before him, under arms, only waited for his first retrograde movement to pounce upon him, he remained immoveable, availing himself of their unaccountable inaction, and still flattering himself that night would come on before Steingell could make his appearance.
“He has since confessed, that never in his life was his mind in such a state of agitation. A thousand times, in the course of these three hours of suspense, he was seen looking at his watch, and at the sun, as if he could hasten his setting.
“At last, when Steingell was within half an hour’s march of Polotzk, when he had only to make a few efforts to appear in the plain, to reach the bridge of the town, and shut out Saint Cyr from the only outlet by which he could escape from Wittgenstein, he halted. Soon after, a thick fog, which the French looked upon as an interposition from heaven, preceded the approach of night, and shut out the three armies from the sight of each other.
“Saint Cyr only waited for that moment. His numerous artillery had already silently crossed the river; his divisions were about to follow it and conceal their retreat, when Legrand, either from custom, or regret at abandoning his camp untouched to the enemy, set fire to it: the other two divisions, fancying that this was a signal agreed upon, followed his example, and in an instant the whole line was in a blaze.
“This fire disclosed their movement; the whole of Wittgenstein’s batteries immediately began their fire; his columns rushed forward, his shells set fire to the town; the French troops were obliged to contend every inch of ground with the flames, the fire throwing light on the engagement the same as broad day-light. The retreat, however, was effected in good order; on both sides the loss was great, but it was not until three o’clock, on the morning of the 20th October, that the Russian eagle regained possession of Polotsk.
“As good luck would have it, Steingell slept soundly at the noise of this battle, although he might have heard even the shouts of the Russian militia. He seconded the attack of Wittgenstein during that night, as little as Wittgenstein had seconded his the day before. It was not until Wittgenstein had finished on the right side, that the bridge of Polotzk was broken down, and St. Cyr, with all his force on the left bank, and then fully able to cope with Steingell, that the latter began to put himself in motion. But De Wrede, with 6000 French, surprised him in his first movement, beat him back several leagues into the woods which he had quitted, and took or killed 2000 of his men.”
It is but too true, that the fine Finland corps was cut up in the manner described by de Segur, and that the French troops were thus allowed to escape from nearly four times their numbers. Among the prisoners taken by De Wrede was Captain Willoughby, whose generous conduct on this occasion entitles him to as much praise as any of his former brilliant actions:– it is thus described in “Gifford’s Memoirs of Napoleon,” vol. ii, note † at p. 199 et seq.–
“Captain Willoughby displayed the greatest ability, as well as intrepidity; but became a victim to his own generosity, so far as to fall into the hands of the enemy; for having observed two Russian soldiers badly wounded, and who were attempting with bleeding and mangled limbs, to withdraw from the scene of slaughter, he instantly dismounted, and ordering his attendant cossack to do the same, he actually placed the wounded men upon the horses, and attended them upon foot, by which means he fell into the hands of a party of French hussars.
“No sooner did the Emperor Alexander hear of this circumstance than he directed a letter to be sent to Napoleon, requesting his exchange, and offering any French officer in his possession, in lieu: to which the invader answered, that no Englishman would be exchanged!”
Although then possessed of only a few ducats, and with no prospect of being able to obtain money by bills or England until his arrival at Dantzic, Captain Willoughby readily signed the paper, thereby binding himself to proceed to Mayence in the department of Mont Tonnére:– our readers will readily conceive, how great must have been his astonishment and indignation, at finding that he was nevertheless ordered to march in company with the other prisoners. In vain did he complain of this shameful imputation on his honor; and equally fruitless was his demand, that the paper should be given up to him.
The limits of this work prevent us from giving a description of the extraordinary and heart-rending scenes, which Captain Willoughby witnessed during the retreat of the French from Moscow; neither are we able to enter into a detail of what he himself suffered from cold, fatigue, and hunger, while traversing the vast deserts of Russia and Poland, amid the dreadful storm of men and elements that accelerated Napoleon’s downfall.
After reaching Minsk, Captain Willoughby was conducted by a gen d’arme to Wilna, the capital of Lithuania, where he arrived in the same shirt which he had worn ever since he was taken prisoner, and the same outward garments in which he had daily fought with the enemy, whilst marching from Riga to Polotzk.
On his arrival at Wilna, Captain Willoughby, and the other prisoners of rank, were ordered to appear before the governor, Count Horgendorf, who accosted him rather rudely, and expressed his surprise at seeing a British naval officer serving with such a people as the Russians; to which he replied, that he did not care in what sort of company he fought, so long as it was against the enemies of his country! Nothing more passed till the following day, when he again received a summons, but which none of the other captives did, to attend the governor, who he was then surprised to find could speak as good English as himself – their previous conversation having been carried on in French. Count Horgendorf, it appears, had also changed his manners with his language; for after acquainting Captain Willoughby, that he was a Dutchman by birth, but compelled by the state of political affairs to become a French General, he stated, that he had formerly had much intercourse with Englishmen; that he had the highest opinion of their honor, and that he therefore felt happy to have an opportunity of alleviating the sufferings of a British officer:– the Count concluded with an offer to supply his astonished auditor with whatever money he might require, not only for his present relief, but to render the remainder of his wearisome journey, as comfortable as the circumstances of the war would admit!!!
This unexpected generosity on the part of a political enemy, was probably the means, under Providence, by which Captain Willoughby escaped the fate of many thousands who were endeavouring to reach a milder climate by the same route as himself. It enabled him at once to put off his ragged and filthy apparel, and to procure such articles of nourishment and warm clothing as his enfeebled stomach and emaciated frame required.
The horrible condition to which the unfortunate men just alluded to were reduced before death ended their sufferings, is thus spoken of by de Segur:–
“After leaving Malodeczno, and the departure of Napoleon (from Smorgoni for Paris), winter with all his force, and doubled in severity, attacked us. * * * * * *.
“Henceforward there was no longer fraternity in arms, there was an end to all society, to all ties; the excess of evils had brutified them. Hunger, devouring hunger, had reduced these unfortunate men to the brutal instinct of self-preservation, the only understanding of the most ferocious animals, and which is ready to sacrifice every thing to itself: a rough and barbarous nature seemed to have communicated to them all its fury. Like savages, the strongest despoiled the weakest; they rushed round the dying, and frequently waited not for their last breath. When a horse fell, you might have fancied you saw a famished pack of hounds; they surrounded him, they tore him to pieces, for which they quarreled among themselves like ravenous dogs.
“On the 6th December, the very day after Napoleon’s departure, the sky exhibited a still more dreadful appearance. You might see icy particles floating in the air; the birds fell from it quite stiff and frozen. The atmosphere was motionless and silent; it seemed as if every thing which possessed life and movement in nature, the wind itself, had been seized, chained, and as it were frozen by a universal death.
“The army was in this last state of physical and moral distress, when its first fugitives reached Wilna. Wilna! their magazine, their depôt, the first rich and inhabited city which they had met with since their entrance into Russia. * * * * * *. For the space of ten hours (Dec. 9), with the cold at 27 and even at 28 degrees, thousands of soldiers who fancied themselves in safety, died either from cold or suffocation, just as had happened at the gates of Smolensk, and the bridges across the Berezina.”
Such were the last days of Napoleon’s “grand army,” – the greatest that has ever existed in modern warfare.
After passing through Grodno, guarded the whole of his journey by a gen d’arme. Captain Willoughby arrived at Königsberg, where he was confined to his bed with fever, and totally blind, for seven weeks, during which long and severe illness, he had the good fortune to be attended by Dr. Motherby, an English physician, settled in that city, whose professional abilities and constant kindness saved him. At Konigsberg, he likewise found a British merchant, named Smith, who kindly gave him money for his bills, and thus enabled him to repay the benevolent Count Horgendorf, by means of his banker at Dantzic.
Captain Willoughby did not leave the ancient capital of Prussia until the cossacks were seen from its walls, when nearly 20,000 French soldiers, all wounded or ill, likewise took their departure. He subsequently passed through Dantzic, Stettin, and many other strongly fortified places still in the hands of the enemy, and at length entered Berlin, where he had a personal conference with one of the King’s household, to whom he related all the disasters that had befallen Buonaparte’s legions, and which was the first true account that ever reached the Prussian court.
The base conduct of St. Cyr, in retaining possession of the paper signed by Captain Willoughby, at Polotzk, was most sensibly felt by the latter after his entry into Prussia, as he was not only often urged to make his escape, but even frequently insulted by the officers of that nation, for refusing to follow their advice: they argued, that as the French had broke the contract, under which he affixed his signature to that instrument, he was by no means bound to adhere to the promise it contained; and they declared that he was not doing justice to his country in going as a prisoner to France, when he could so easily recover his liberty. Every one of them assured him, that their King was ready to break his connection with Napoleon, and to join the Russians as soon as they advanced in force: on one occasion, during the momentary absence of his guard, a party actually dragged him by main force to an outhouse, from whence they would have removed him to some secure place of concealment: all their entreaties, taunts, and assurances, however, proved unavailing; he had signed his name to the paper, and he was well aware that, if he escaped, it would be gazetted, not only by the French, but by every government under their influence, that an English officer of rank had dishonorably broke his parole, as had already been done in another case, under nearly similar circumstances.
While passing through the Prussian territory. Captain Willoughby travelled slow; and not a night passed without his being invited to join parties, so eager were the subjects of Frederick William III. to question him respecting the Russian campaign, the famed expose of which had not yet been issued by Napoleon, but whose partisans were every where employed fabricating and spreading accounts of dreadful losses sustained by the Russians, both by the sword and the severe winter. As Captain Willoughby spoke with the greatest confidence of the almost total annihilation of the invaders, and as the account he gave at one place always agreed with what he had represented at another, the intelligence received general credit, and spread like a fire-brand in every direction, among the ill-treated and exasperated Prussians, who were already ripe for any act of vengeance against their oppressors, and who at length compelled their sovereign to adopt decisive measures.
Although, on these occasions. Captain Willoughby purchased permission to spend his evenings unattended by the gen d’arme, he was perfectly aware, that his constant communication with those who were disaffected to France, could not but be well known to him; but as by so doing, he felt that he was acting well in the great cause, and not infringing the terms of the document, unjustly withheld by St. Cyr, he was quite indifferent as to the notice that might be taken of his conduct by the French government; nor was he surprised to find himself conducted to a prison the moment he had crossed the Rhine.
At Mayence, Captain Willoughby was confined in the same prison with three officers who had been condemned to death, and were in hourly expectation of being called out to face a file of musketeers: these unfortunate men had formerly belonged to the gallant corps under Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick, who, in his romantic retreat from Saxony to the Weser (1809), was obliged to leave them, and all his other badly wounded followers, to the mercy of an implacable enemy.
After remaining about six weeks at Mayence, Captain Willoughby was removed to Metz, in Lorraine, where he enjoyed the liberty of walking about the town unattended, but under the surveillance of the police; an indulgence, he now, for the first time, obtained without money.
At the end of 12 or 14 days (April 20, 1813), Napoleon Buonaparte likewise arrived at Metz, accompanied by Marshal Berthier, with whom he was proceeding to join the newly organized army in Germany, having succeeded by extraordinary exertions in reviving the spirit, and calling forth the vast resources of his empire. Scarcely had he entered the town, when an order was issued for Captain Willoughby to be hurried off, and confined au secret in the Chateau de Bouillon, the birth place of Duke Godfrey, who first reigned over the principality of that name, and who commanded the crusaders at the taking of Jerusalem.
This vindictive mandate was immediately obeyed; and for nine months from that period, he was confined au secret in every respect, except being allowed to correspond with some friends, whom he had met with at Verdun, on condition that the governor of the chateau should always see the contents of his letters.
Bearing in mind the fate of poor Wright and many others, we shudder at the thought of what might have been Captain Willoughby’s destiny, had not the triumphant advance of the allies rendered it necessary for the enemy to remove all their prisoners further from the frontier, and thus proved the means of hi« deliverance from a French state prison.
On leaving the Chateau de Bouillon, Captain Willoughby was conducted to Peronne, in which city he continued till the arrival of the allies at Chalons, when he contrived to make his escape, and again join Earl Cathcart.
We next find Captain Willoughby at Paris, where he witnessed the entry of Louis XVIII., and was presented by Earl Cathcart to the Emperor Alexander, after which, he received an intimation that he was immediately to be honored with a Russian order; but which has never yet been conferred upon him. At a subsequent period, he received the following letter from Count Steinheil, in answer to one written some time after his return home, thanking that general for his kindness to him, while attached to the Finland corps, and acquainting the Count that he had conformed to the usual etiquette, in being introduced to the Emperor and the Minister of War, before he quitted his Imperial Majesty’s service:–
“Monsieur le Capitaine,– N’ayant pas reçu de vos nouvelles depuis le temps lorsque vous fûtes fait prisonnier, votre lettre du 5 Mars qui m’apprit que vous êtes parmi les vivants et que vous vous trouvez dans votre patrie, m’a causé une satisfaction particulière.
“Après mon retour d’une inspection, j’ai ordonné d’abord de faire une relation exacte de vos services; je l’ai communiquée sous le 31 Juillet, vieux style, au ministre fonctionnaire de la guerre, Monsieur le Prince de Gortzchakoff, avec la prière de demander de sa Majesty Impériale pour vous, en récompense de vos mérites, l’ordre de Ste Anne de la seconde classe. Je ne doute pas que Sa Majesté Impériale rende justice aux raisons que j’ai eu le plaisir de pouvoir alléguer en votre faveur, conformément à la vérité.
“En vous souhaitant une restitution parfaite de votre maladie j’ai l’honneur d’être avec estime. Monsieur le Capitaine, votre trés humble et trés obéissant serviteur.
“Abo, ce 4-6 Août, 1815.“Steinheil.”
“A Monsieur le Capitaine N. J. Willoughby, de haut bord de la marine Royal d’Angleterre.”
On the 4th Jan. 1815, a Supplement to the London Gazette of the preceding day, announced that H.R.H. the Prince Regent, being desirous of commemorating the auspicious termination of the long and arduous contest in which this empire had been engaged, and of marking, in an especial manner, his gracious sense of the “valour, perseverance, and devotion,” manifested by the officers of his Majesty’s forces by sea and land, had thought it fit to advance the splendour and extend the limits of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath, to the end that those officers who had had the opportunities of signalizing themselves by eminent services during that contest, might share in the honors of the said Order, and “that their names might be handed down to remote posterity, accompanied by the marks of distinction which they had so nobly earned.”
Without wishing to refer invidiously to the honors which were then bestowed on any of Captain Willoughby’s brother officers, every one of whom who had lost a limb or an eye in battle, while holding post rank, was created a Knight Commander, we may be permitted to say, that the dangers which he has ever been forward to encounter, the hard fought actions in which he has been engaged, the many dangerous wounds which he has received, and the numerous honourable records of his devotion to the service of his country, were sufficient to excite in him a hope, that in the distribution of honors, forming as it were a scale by which professional merit would necessarily be measured in the public esteem, a higher rank might have been allotted to him than that of a Companion. We do not believe that there is an officer in either profession who has ever exhibited greater “valour, perseverance, and devotion:” the foregoing recital of his services will prove that he “nobly earned” the latter “mark of distinction” on ten several occasions, while commanding the Otter and Nereide: the loss of an eye in battle, after he obtained the command of a frigate, was in itself sufficient to constitute a fair claim to the higher honor of K.C.B. – added to this, he received two other nearly mortal wounds when serving as a Post-Captain; and the College of Surgeons, as we have before observed, officially reported that, in addition to the loss of his eye, he had sustained injuries more than equal to that of a limb. We, therefore, cannot but consider, that in two points, wherein others were deemed entitled to that superior rank, he was unfairly excluded. Altogether, Captain Willoughby has received five nearly mortal wounds, besides others more trifling.
It is no less worthy of remark, that although Captains Pym, Lambert, and Curtis, were all appointed to frigates soon after their return from captivity at the Isle of France, Captain Willoughby did not succeed in getting another command until Sept. 1818, when he received a commission for the Tribune 42; in which ship he served for some time on the coast of Irelaild, and afterwards conveyed Rear-Admiral Fahie to the Leeward Islands station. This, his last appointment, he held till July 15, 1823.
It affords us much gratification to add, that one of the first acts of H.R.H. the Lord High Admiral, was to sooth the wounded feelings of Captain Willoughby, who had endured, for twelve years, that which to an honorable mind is nearly analogous to disgrace. Estimating the gallant captain’s services by their own circumstances, rather than by the measure of honorary reward which had been allotted to them in 1815, H. R. Highness was graciously pleased to obtain him ihc honor of knighthood, June 30, 1827. More than this the august Prince could not do, as none beneath the rank of General and Flag-officers are now admitted to the honor of K.C.B.
One of Sir Nisbet J. Willoughby’s brothers, a captain in the 50th regiment of foot, was drowned at the debarkation of the British army, under Earl Cathcart, near Copenhagen, August 16, 1807. His youngest brother Ferris, perished in the Sylph sloop, off Long Island, Jan. 17, 1815.
There is an excellent full length portrait of Sir Nisbet J. Willoughby (by Barber) at VVollaton, the principal seat of the head of his family, Henry Lord Middleton: the same mansion also contains one of Admiral Sir Hugh Willoughby, who was frozen to death in a desert part of Russian Lapland, when endeavouring to discover a N.E. passage to China, in the year 1553.
SIR NISBET JOSIAH WILLOUGHBY.
[Post-Captain of 1810.]
(See Suppl. Part II. p. 195.)
In Aug. 1832, this heroic officer was created a Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order; previous to which he had received the suhjoined flattering communication from His Majesty’s private secretary:
“Windsor Castle, July 28th, 1832.
“Sir,– I have not delayed to submit your letter of the 21st inst. to the King, and I have been honored with His Majesty’s commands to acquaint you, that he will have great satisfaction in taking the earliest opportunity of conferring upon you the Commander’s Cross of the Guelphic Order, and to assure you, that His Majesty is persuaded that he cannot grant this distinction to any individual who is more deserving of it, or whose character and services will do more credit to the Order. I have the honor to be. Sir, &c.
“The King has ordered me to add the expression of his sincere concern that you continue to suffer so much from your wounds. I beg to return General Steinheil’s letter.”
- See Leland’s History of Ireland, Vol. III. p. 110 et seq.
- See Vol. I. Part II. p. 715 et seq. and Vol. II. Part I. pp. 202–204.
- We have noticed the above circumstance, because it affords a proof how little Lord Camelford considered his personal safety when there was the least prospect of gaining fame; and also of the injustice that has been done to his memory by comparing him with the notorious George Robert Fitzgerald – a bully and a coward.
As Lord Camelford’s impetuous public career and untimely end are better known to the world than his private actions, we shall here transcribe a passage from “The Clubs,” a popular work recently published:–
“Though the latter fought several duels, it is well known that he generally ititd sufficient provocation, and that he received several insults which he never thought worthy of public notice; in short, his general deportment was mild, and he never sought a quarrel, for which Fitzgerald was on the constant look-out. Camelford, likewise, had a most generous heart; for whilst the fashionable world was taken up with his eccentricities, he was in the habit of performing many private charitable acts, amongst those of the poor who were ashamed to beg. His charities were invariably administered under an assumed name, and he never failed to threaten those whose curiosity he suspected, with a suspension of their salary, if they dared to follow him, or tried to find out who their benefactor was. He usually went out on such expeditions at night, and he has often left a crowded and brilliant assembly, to dress himself in an old brown coat and slouched hat, in order to visit some poor family in the crowded courts between Drury Lane and Charing Cross. In such deeds as these, and at the expence of several thousands a year, did this unaffected philanthropist pass the hours which he stole from the dissipation of high life; and his protegies were not aware of the name or quality of their benefactor, until his untimely fate put a period to hit munificent donations.”
- See Vol. I, Part I, note at pp. 366–371; and Id. Part II, note at p. 847.
- Mr. James erroneously states, that the Hercule’s launch was among the rearmost of the boats which left la Corinde to her fate. See Nav. Hist. Vol. iii, p. 302.
- Sir John T. Duckworth’s official letter to Sir Evan Nepean, dated Dec. 18, 1803. – N.B. The preservation of la Clorinde is noticed in Nicholas’s Imperial Encyclopedia, and also in Rainsford’s Hayti.
- James, v. iii, p. 414.
- James, v. iii, p. 415.
- Id. p. 416.
- James, v. iii, p. 416. N.B. Not even a drop of water, nor a bit of fire-wood, could be procured, unless brought from a great distance.
- Id. p. 417.
- James, v. iii, p. 418.
- See Vol. I, Part II, pp. 823-826.
- Sir John T. Duckworth was tried on charges preferred against him by Captain (now Sir James) A. Wood, whom he had unjustifiably dispossessed of the command of the Acasta, a circumstance noticed at p. 794 of Vol. I.; and, although he managed to obtain an acquittal, he did not retain sufficient influence to get any of his followers promoted.
- See Vol. I. pp. 316, 798, and 808, et seq . N.B. The following corrections should be made at p. 318 of that volume:– for 100,000 read near 200,000: and at the end of the same paragraph, for force consisted of eight ships of the line, two frigates, and two brigs, read force now consisted of seven sail of the line, two frigates, and two bombs.
- The affair at Navarin proves how little flags of truce are respected by the Turks.
- Extract of his correspondence, as translated from the Moniteur.
- See Vol. I. p. 649 et seq; – and make the following correction in the note * at p. 803, for the name of each of the Captains, read the names of several Captains.
- Total, 2 officers, 4 seamen, and 1 marine killed; 2 officers, 3 midshipmen, 6 seamen, and 8 marines wounded.
- See Vol. I, note at p. 625 et seq.
- Raisonable 64. See Captain Edward Lloyd.
- Mr. James states, that the government store, destroyed by Captain Willoughby, contained all the raw silk which the enemy had found on board the Streatham and Europe, East Indiamen, and that it was valued at more than half a million sterling.
- Long 12-pounders.
- An invasion of the Mauritius had often been attempted, particularly by Boscawen, in 1748 – See Nav. Chron. vol. vii, p. 188 et seq.
- Mr. James erroneously states that “Captain Willoughby resolved to get into the rear of his opponents in order to cut them off in the retreat to which, he knew, they would again resort.” See Nav. Hist. vol. v, p. 391.
- One marine killed; Lieutenant Deacon, 4 seamen, and 2 marines wounded.
- See Flinders’ Voyage to Terra Australis, vol. ii, p. 481.
- L’Estafette, and the whole of la Nereide’s boats, were dashed to pieces. The schooner, steered by Captain Willoughby, with the dressings still on his wound, was so crowded with troops, that Lieutenant-Colonel Macleod and many of his men were nearly drowned before they could gain the shore.
- The enemy’s regular force amounted to only 676 rank and file; but he had an organized militia force of 2717 men. The British had 1800 European and 1860 native troops, of whom 8 were killed and 78 wounded.
- Sir Robert T. Farquhar’s speech in the House of Commons, June 3, 1825, when supporting a proposition then suggested and carried in favor of the trade of Mauritius; on which occasion. Captain Willoughby’s name was introduced by that gentleman in the following terms:–
“The House will excuse my intruding myself on its attention, as I naturally feel a strong interest in the prosperity of a colony whose affairs I so long administered. In 1810, I proceeded with the expedition to the capture of the Isle of Bourbon, accompanied by that meritorious officer. Captain Willoughby, who has shed his blood so often in the service of the country, and who distributed the proclamations holding out, &c., &c., &c.” See Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, new series. Vol. 13, p. 1041, et seq.
- Speech of the member for Bedford, in the House of Commons, Feb. 13, 1811.
- See Dodsley’s Annual Register for the year 1781, pp. 39–46.
- Most of which were actually backed with Captain Willoughby’s compliments, as an indirect answer to the proclamation issued by De Caen after the attack of Jacotel. – See p. 151.
- James, v. 405 et seq.
- The Bellone and Minerve were 24-pounder frigates, each mounting 44 guns. Captain Willoughby obtained the information of the enemy’s ships at Port Louis being ready for sea from Captain Lambert, of the Iphigenia. who had, a day or two before, approached within signal distance of la Nereide, and telegraphed to that effect.
- See Commander John Wyatt Watling.
- 3 slain, 1 wounded.
- Captain Todd, of the 69th regiment, was the senior officer of the military detachment serving under Captain Willoughby’s orders. Of the men blown up, 3 were killed, and all the remainder severely burnt.
- James, v. 408.
- See Vol. I. note at p. 631. N.B. It will be seen by the extract of Captain Willoughby’s official report, and the note † at p. 169, that the enemy’s united force would have been five heavy frigates and two corvettes; whereas the Sirius, Iphigenia, and Magicienne, were only rated at 36 guns each; and the latter armed in a similar manner to la Nereide. In the said note we observe a typographical error, – la Bellone and Minerve were both 18-pounder frigates – the latter, however, was pierced for 52 guns. Since the preceding sheet was printed, it has been suggested to us, that probably Captain Bouvet, on finding l’Isle de la Passe in the possession of the British, imagined that the districts of Savanne and Grand Port were likewise held by them, in which case his ultimate capture was inevitable; it being impossible for him to repass la Nereide, with the wind then blowing. To this erroneous impression on Mons. Bouvet’s mind, the officers and men in the boats of la Nereide were, perhaps, indebted for their safety. It is also probable that the French captain imagined, as the boats were filled with marines and soldiers, that they belonged to the shore, and not to the British frigate.
The gentleman from whom we received the above hint acquaints us, that la Bellone’s best bower anchor was cut away from the bow by la Nereide’s shot, but owing to the cable being stoppered in board, it did not take the ground – a circumstance much to be regretted; for had the anchor gone to the bottom, the ship in rounding to, must inevitably have got on shore, and would consequently have lain with her head exposed to la Nereide’s raking broadside.
- La Minerve, the enemy’s van ship, was stationed just behind a patch of coral; next to her was the Ceylon, then la Bellone, and lastly le Victor, with her stern close to the reef that skirts the harbour.
- Commodore Duperré says, that the springs of la Minerve and the Ceylon were shot away by the first broadside, and that those ships consequently cast to leeward and ran aground. See Gazette des Iles de France et Bonaparte, 26th Sept. 1810.
- The three foremost on each side.
- La Nereide did not take the ground until some hours after la Bellone and le Victor had cut, in order to get further from her fire; and then only in consequence of her best bower cable and the spring being shot away. See p. 167.
- The Magicienne’s total loss amounted to 8 killed and 20 wounded. La Bellone hove herself off on the 26th Aug., and the other French ships were also afloat by noon on the 27th. The Sirius, if actually, “within shot of all the enemy’s posts and squadron,” was wonderfully fortunate, for she had not an officer or man hurt from the beginning to the end of the business.
- See Vol. II. Part II. p. 718; and at p. 717 make the following correction:– for used every effort to prevent the French squadron from entering the harbour, read succeeded in decoying the enemy into the port.
- Captain Pym’s letter proves that, although the Iphigenia did not actually get aground, she was unable to give la Nereide any effectual support: another officer informs us, that when bringing up, la Nereide’s flying jib-boom scarcely cleared la Bellone!!
- See p. 179, last par. of the text.
- Nav. Hist. v, p. 413.
- Although the master of the Sirius was unacquainted with the harbour, he of course attended to the steering of the ship, and took particular notice of every cast of the lead. From two charts drawn by Mr. Lesby, and now lying before us, we find that the soundings in la Nereide’s track were very regular; the depth of water gradually decreasing from 16 to 5 fathoms.
- Nav. Hist. v, p. 415.
- Nav. Hist. v. 416.
- The above fact was sworn to by Mr. Weiss, at the subsequent trial of Captain Willoughby, &c.
- Nav. Hist. v. 417.
- La Nereide’s log.
- Nav. Hist. v. 418.
- Gazette des Isles de France et Bonaparte, 26 Sept. 1810.
- French Gazette. – Of the above number, two, and two only, were killed after la Neriede ceased to resist. N.B. According to Mr. James, she had at least 137 wounded; his statement respecting the slain, agrees with that given at p. 166: – Capt. Brenton says that 116 were killed and many mortally wounded.
- We believe that la Nereide had only four midshipmen on hoard, one of whom, Mr. George Timmins, was killed; another, Mr. Samuel Costerton, severely wounded. Some of the circumstances attending her famous defence, strongly remind us of the last battle fought by Sir Richard Grenville, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. That heroic officer, being advised to trust to the good sailing of his ship for safety, peremptorily refused to fly from the enemy, telling his officers, “that he would much rather die than leave such a mark of dishonor on himself, his country, and the Queen’s ship.” In consequence of this resolution, he was presently surrounded by the whole Spanish fleet, which he most gallantly fought from about 3 P.M., August 31. 1591, until the break of day next morning, continuing to give his orders although wounded early in the action. Of his officers and crew, only 103 in number, 40 were killed and almost all the rest wounded: his masts were shot away, and his ship reduced to a perfect wreck, unable to move one way or the other. See Campbell’s Lives of the Admirals, edition of 1813, Vol. I, p. 448.
- Mr. George Timmins, the midshipman alluded to by Captain Brenton, was wounded at his quarters on the main-deck, and had his head shot off while sitting at the door of his mess-berth.
- See Captain Sir Thomas Fellowes, C.B.
- Brenton, v, 481.
- James, v, 431.
- Id. 475. – N.B. In this we perfectly agree with Mr. James; for General De Caen, knowing that Captain Willoughby, at the head of only 200 men, had landed and marched upwards of 20 miles in the face of 2200, must have felt that he could stand but little chance of retaining his government, by means of the French militia, after 13,000 British and native troops had been brought against him.
- Captain Willoughby’s predecessor in la Nereide, of whom mention is made at p. 629, of our first volume.
- See Gifford’s History of the Wars, Vol. I, p. 798.
- General Wittgenstein’s army was chiefly composed of enthusiastic patriots, very few of whom had ever before been called upon to face danger in the field of battle.
- See De Segur’s History of Napoleon’s Expedition to Russia, Vol. II, pp. 182–189.
- De Segur, Vol. ii. pp. 341–351.
- Buonaparte’s exposé of the campaign of 1812, was the truest he ever issued – in it, none of his disasters were disguised.
- A treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, between the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia, wai signed by their respective plenipotentiaries, Feb. 22, 1813.
- Dr. Robertson says:– “Richard Chancelour, the captain of the other vessel, was more fortunate; he entered the White Sea, and wintered in safety at Archangel. Though no vessel of any foreign nation had ever visited that quarter of the globe before, the inhabitants received their new visitors with an hospitality, which would have done honor to a more polished people. The English learned there, that this was a province of a vast empire, subject to the great Duke, or Czar of Muscovy, who resided in a great city, 1200 miles from Archangel. Chancelour, with a spirit becoming an officer employed in an expedition for discovery, did not hesitate a moment about the part which he ought to take, and set out for that disiant capital. On his arrival in Moscow, he was admitted to audience, and delivered a letter, which the captain of each ship had received from Edward VI, for the Sovereign of whatever country they should discover, to John Vasilowitz, who at that time filled the Russian throne. John, though he ruled over his subjects with the cruelty and caprice of a barbarous despot, was not destitute of political sagacity. He instantly perceived the happy consequences that might flow from opening an intercourse with the western nations of Europe; and, delighted with the fortunate event to which he was indebted for this unexpected benefit, he treated Chancelour with great respect; and, by a letter to the King of England invited his subjects to trade in the Russian dominions, with ample promises of protection and fovor.”