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Chapter Nineteen.
A sad parting—I set out to rejoin my ship—How our fleet was manned—Scene at the Point, Portsmouth—An explosion—A narrow escape—I am transferred with Dick Hagger and others to the Culloden, 74—A bad crew—Intelligence received of the sailing of the French fleet—We sail—Looking out for the enemy—A general chase—Lord Howe’s victory of the first of June—Behaviour of the Culloden—Return to England—Discontent on board our ship—The Lord Mayor’s men—My signature is obtained—What came of it—Mutiny breaks out—Among the mutineers.

The time for which I had obtained leave came soon, far too soon, to amend. It seemed as if I had been but a few hours with my dear wife, and now I must part again from her for an indefinite period, how long I could not tell. I knew that while I had health and strength, no sum could obtain my discharge. Men were wanted for the service, and every effort was made to get them, while strict watch was kept on those who had been obtained. Pressgangs were sent on shore every day all along the coast where there was a chance of picking up men. Agents even visited the mines, and people who had been working under ground all their lives, were suddenly transferred to the deck of a man-of-war, and very fine seamen they made too, for they were hardy, intelligent fellows, and liked the change, and no wonder.

Captain Nelson, and other officers, had thus picked up from the Cornish mines a number of prime seamen. However, as I was saying, the time came for me to part from my wife and my kind uncle and aunt. I would not let Margaret accompany me on board, though she wanted to do so, for the reason I have before stated. She and Uncle Kelson, however, came with me down to the Point, where Jerry had promised to be on the look-out to take me on board. Even there the scene was such as it must have pained any right-minded woman to witness.

Drunken seamen and marines, and women, and Jews, and crimps, all crowded together so that it was difficult to get through the surging mass of human beings, many of them fighting and wrangling and swearing, while the Jews were trying to sell their trumpery wares to such of the poor ignorant sailors as had any money left in their pockets, and the more sober of the men were endeavouring to lift their tipsy shipmates into the boats.

I led Margaret back up the street; “Go home with uncle, dearest,” I said, “I cannot be happy with you in this fearful crowd. The sooner you are out of Portsmouth the better.”

Uncle Kelson took her arm, and led her along the street, while I hurried back to the Point, for I had not many minutes to spare, as I would not have been a moment behind-hand on any account.

I remember seeing an old Irish woman with a pipe in her mouth, seated on one of several casks placed close together in the middle of the Point. I fought my way through the crowd, and seeing Jerry’s wherry, jumped into her, begging him at once to shove off as I was late. He and his boy pulled away; but scarcely had we got half a dozen fathoms from the Point when there was a dreadful explosion. Flames burst up from the midst of the crowd, arms and legs and human bodies were lifted into the air, while others were shot out into the water or on board the boats, while fearful shrieks and screams rose from the scene of the catastrophe. Almost immediately afterwards not a single person could be seen standing on the Point, but many lay there dead, or fearfully mangled. Boats full of people were pulling away from the spot, and the rest of the crowd were flying up towards the street.

It turned out that the old Irishwoman I had noticed seated on the cask, not dreaming that it contained gunpowder, had shaken out the ashes from her pipe on it. How the casks of powder came to be left there is more than I can say. All I know is, that great carelessness prevailed in all departments of the navy in those days, and it’s only a wonder that more accidents did not occur.

Numbers of persons were killed by the explosion, others were dreadfully mutilated, and scarcely a scrap of the old woman herself could be discovered. I felt grateful to Heaven that my dear wife and uncle had escaped. Had they come on with me, we should have been close to the spot and among the sufferers. I could not go back, though Jerry wanted to do so, as I had to be on board by noon, and there were but a few minutes to get alongside the ship.

I reported myself to the first lieutenant as having come on board.

“Very well,” he said, and just then it struck eight bells. I had not been long on board when I heard it reported that the Nymph was to go into dock, and that the crew would be turned over to other ships wanting hands. It was but too true, and I found that Dick Hagger, I, and others were to be transferred to the Culloden, 74, forming one of the Channel fleet, under Earl Howe, and then commanded by Captain Schomberg. She was soon ready for sea, and we went out to Spithead, where the ships were rapidly collecting. I had never seen so many men-of-war together, for there were thirty-four sail of the line, eight frigates, and smaller vessels.

No leave was granted, so I could not get on shore, for we were to be ready to start at a moment’s notice, directly intelligence should arrive from the numerous cruisers off the French coast that the Brest fleet had put to sea.

We had a mixed crew, and a bad lot many of them were—jailbirds, smugglers, who were good, however, as far as seamanship was concerned, longshore men, and Lord Mayor’s men, picked up from the London streets, the only difference between the two last being that the latter had tails to their coats,—one slip of the tailor made them both akin,—and we dubbed them K.H.B., or king’s hard bargains. Then we had a lot of ordinary seamen, and very ordinary they were. We A.B.’s were in the minority by a long chalk. Lastly came the marines; they were mostly steady men, and, as they had been at sea before, were better sailors than the ordinary seamen, besides which they knew their duty and did it. Without them I am very sure the crew could never have been kept under.

Flogging was the order of the day; scarcely a morning passed but we had two or three triced up, and the boatswain’s mates swore that they had never worn out so many cats-o’-nine-tails before.

I don’t know that it was the officers’ fault, for they knew no better way of maintaining discipline. It was because some hundreds of men, few of whom had ever served on board a man-of-war, were brought together.

I had been on board some days when I caught sight of a face I knew too well; it was that of Charles Iffley. I was certain it was him, though when I inquired I found that he had entered under the name of Charles Trickett.

I saw him start when he first recognised me, but he kept out of my way, and I had no wish to speak to him. His presence, I feared, boded me no good. Whether his feelings of revenge were satisfied, I could not tell; but if not, I was very sure that he would wreak them on my head if he could.

During the early spring, merchant vessels of all sizes, but mostly large ones, kept coming in until nearly a hundred were assembled, when the whole fleet, including men-of-war, amounted to one hundred and forty-eight sail,—three being of a hundred guns, four of ninety-eight, while a large number were seventy-fours. The merchantmen were bound out either to the West Indies or Newfoundland, and some of the men-of-war were intended to convoy them.

At last, on the 2nd of May, a frigate came in with the news that the Brest fleet had put to sea. We immediately made sail from Saint Helen’s and stood down Channel.

Besides looking out for the French fleet, which Lord Howe had determined to attack, we had to see the merchantmen clear of the Channel, and besides that to try and intercept a French convoy coming from America, said to consist of three hundred and fifty sail, laden with provisions and stores, the produce of the West Indian islands, of which the French Republic stood greatly in need.

On arriving off the Lizard, eight of the large ships and six of the frigates were detached to see the merchantmen clear of the latitude of Cape Finisterre, while the Channel fleet, thus reduced to twenty-six sail of the line, besides seven frigates and smaller vessels, stood for Ushant. Before long the frigates made the signal that the French fleet were at sea.

We after this kept cruising up and down looking for them, though our Admiral knew that many of the ships were far larger than ours, but our numbers were equal.

To describe all that took place is more than I can do. I know that it was on the 28th of May that the Admiral heard through some prizes which had been taken that the French fleet of which he was in search were close to us.

Soon after sunrise we made them out bearing down towards us with topgallant sails set. The signal was at once thrown out by the Admiral to prepare for battle. It was a fine sight to see them coming down upon us; but though there was a strong breeze blowing and a heavy sea on, they did not near us as fast as we had expected, and we were ordered to go to dinner. It was the last many a fine fellow on board some of the ships was to take, but I do not believe that any one, on account of the thoughts of the coming battle, ate a worse meal than usual.

Greatly to our disappointment, a short time after we returned on deck, the French fleet were seen making off, but our spirits revived when Lord Howe threw out the signal for a general chase, followed, almost immediately afterwards, by another to engage the enemy’s ships as soon as we should arrive up with them. Only our leading ships were, however, able to do so, and we saw them blazing away at the Frenchmen till night closed in on us.

The Audacious got most fighting, and being terribly knocked about, was nearly taken by the enemy. She gave as much as she received, and so battered the Révolutionnaire that the French ship had to be taken in tow by one of her own frigates.

Next day we had some more fighting, much in the same fashion as on the first, but more severe, several of our ships having lost their topmasts and yards, and two or three of the French being completely disabled.

Thus we kept manoeuvring for two days, till, to our great disappointment, we lost sight of the French fleet during the night of the last of May. We had been standing to the westward, when at daybreak on the first of June, latitude 47 degrees 48 minutes north, longitude 18 degrees 30 minutes west, the wind a moderate breeze, south by west, and the sea tolerably smooth, we descried the French fleet, carrying a press of sail about six miles off on our starboard or lee bow, and steering in a line of battle on the larboard tack. At 5 a.m. our ships by signal bore up together and steered north-west. At about 7 a.m., we having again hauled to the wind on the larboard tack, plainly saw the French fleet, consisting of twenty-six sail of the line, the whole, with the exception of one or two, complete in their masts and rigging.

Shortly after this we saw the welcome signal flying, ordering us to breakfast, and as soon as it was over, the still more welcome one to bear down on the enemy. The next signal thrown out was for each ship to steer for and independently engage the ship opposite to her in the enemy’s line, the Caesar leading the van. The Bellerophon, or Billy Ruffian, as she used to be called, followed her; next came the Leviathan. We were about the thirteenth in line. The ships of both fleets were carrying single-reefed topsails. Of those of the French, some were lying to, and others backing and filling to preserve their stations. We were steering about north-west, with a fresh breeze south by west, and going little more than five knots an hour.

We were standing on, every ship keeping regularly in line, when what was the disgust of the true men on board the Culloden to hear the captain give the order to back the fore and main-topsails, three other ships having done the same, though we were not even yet within range of the enemy’s guns. We soon, however, saw the Admiral speaking with his signals, and ordering us to make more sail. Our brave old chief was at the same time setting topgallant sails, and letting fall his foresail in order that the Queen Charlotte might be first through the enemy’s line. In a short time that noble ship was engaged singlehanded with three of the enemy, for neither the Gibraltar nor the Brunswick were near enough to aid her. She was opposed to one French hundred-and-twenty gun ship, and two of eighty guns. In a short time, down came her fore-topmast, followed shortly afterwards by her main-topmast, while so damaged were her lower yards and rigging, that she was almost unmanageable. Notwithstanding this, she kept blazing away, till she beat off the two eighty gun ships, which made their escape, and had now only the biggest opposed to her.

The action had now become general, a few of our ships had cut their way through the French line, and engaged the enemy to leeward; the remainder hauled up to windward and opened their fire, some at a long, others at a more effectual distance. I am sorry to say the Culloden was among the former. Perhaps our captain thought, with his undisciplined crew, that it would be hazardous to venture alongside an enemy’s ship. He was wrong if he thought so. Bad as our fellows were, we had enough good men to load and fire the guns and the others were able at all events to haul them in and run them out again. It was impossible to see what was taking place. Each captain had to act for himself, and the greater number were doing their duty nobly. The Brunswick for some time was hooked by her anchors alongside a French ship, which she almost knocked to pieces. Another, coming up to rescue her friend, received so tremendous a fire that her three masts were speedily cut away by the board.

One ship after another of the French struck, and several were almost dismasted. Of these, four were recovered by the French Admiral, who now stood away to the northward, leaving Earl Howe in possession of six line-of-battle ships which had been captured. The victory was an important one, for although many of our ships had suffered severely, we had not lost one, while besides the six we had taken from the French, we had fearfully knocked about a large number of others.

The old Earl, as far as I know, made no complaint of the way in which some of the ships had disobeyed his orders and kept out of action. We in the Culloden, who knew what ought to have been done, felt ashamed of ourselves, that’s all I can say.

As soon as the worst damages could be repaired, the whole fleet made sail and stood up Channel, steering for Spithead, where we arrived early on the morning of the 13th, and brought up with our six prizes.

I felt very little of the enthusiasm which animated most of the thousands of visitors who came off to see us; but many were mourners, anxious to obtain information of the loved ones they had lost, and others to see their wounded relatives and friends groaning in pain below. My great desire was to let my wife know that I had escaped, and I was very thankful when Jerry Vincent came alongside, and I was able to despatch a letter by him, he promising to deliver it immediately, and to tell her that I looked well and hearty.

A few days afterwards the King and Queen came down to Portsmouth, and went on board the Queen Charlotte, to present the old Admiral—for he was then seventy years of age—with a diamond-hilted sword, and to hang a gold chain round his neck. They then dined with him, and returned on shore in the evening. One of the vice-admirals was made Lord Graves, and the other Viscount Bridport. The rear-admirals were created baronets, and the first lieutenant of every line of battle ship in the action was made a commander. The rest got empty thanks, and a small share of prize-money, which was spent by the greater number of the men the first time they got ashore, so that the grog-sellers, lodging-house keepers, and Jews, benefited chiefly by that. The ships which had suffered went into Portsmouth harbour to refit; but as the Culloden had no honourable wounds to show, we were kept at Spithead, and no leave was granted.

The men grumbled and growled, complaining that they were ill-treated, and that it was not their fault that they had not taken a more active part in the battle. The captain and officers best knew the reason why, and they also were out of sorts, for they heard it whispered that they had shown the white feather. They consequently, being out of temper, bullied us, and we were kept at work, exercising at the guns, and making and shortening sail.

Our former captain being removed, Captain Thomas Trowbridge, well-known as a good officer, took command of the ship, and we put to sea for a cruise.

The state of the crew, however, had become too bad to be amended in a hurry. Discontent of all sorts prevailed on board.

As we lay at Spithead, one day Hagger came to me and said:

“Will, I don’t like the look of things, there’s something going to happen. The men complain that the provisions are bad, and we don’t get fresh meat and vegetables from shore as we ought, and there’s no leave given, and flogging goes on just as it did before, and that our present captain is as severe as the last. There’s a knot of them got together, and they are plotting something. That fellow, Charles Trickett, is at the bottom of it, though he takes good care not to be too forward. They have won a good many men over, and they tried to win me, but I’m not going to run my head into a noose to make bad worse.”

“I know all you tell me,” I replied, “except that I was not aware there was any plotting going on. No one has spoken to me, and Trickett is the last person to do so, though he would be ready to get me into a scrape if he could. I don’t think they would be mad enough to attempt anything when they must know what would be the upshot. The leaders will be taken, and either flogged round the fleet, or hung at the yard-arm. I’m glad that you’ve kept clear, Dick.”

Next day a man I had seldom spoken to came up while I was writing a letter to my wife, and asked me to put my name to a paper which he said wanted a witness, and he could not find any man just then who could sign his name. He was one of the Lord Mayor’s men, but notwithstanding by this time had become a pretty smart hand. He had been a pickpocket or something of that sort it the streets of London, and always spoke of himself as being a gentleman, and was fond of using fine language.

“You’ll render me an essential service, Weatherhelm, if you’ll just do as I request. Here is the paper,” and he produced a large sheet folded up. “You’ll see me write my name, and you’ll just write yours as a witness under it. There’s the word ‘witness,’ you see, in pencil, you need not cover it up.”

He wrote down his own name as Reginald Berkeley, and I attached my signature.

“Thank you extremely,” he said, taking up the paper before I had time, notwithstanding what he said, to write down the word “witness,” which I knew ought to be in ink. “That is all I require. It may, I hope, be the means of bringing me a nice little income of a thousand a year or so, to which I am entitled if I obtain my rights, as my solicitor tells me I am sure to do. I’ll not forget you, Will, depend upon it. You shall come and stay with me at a snug little box I own down at Richmond,—that is to say, as soon as I come into possession of it, for I have not, properly speaking, got it yet,—or if you want a few pounds at any time, they are at your service. Thank you, thank you, go on with your letter. I must apologise for interrupting you;” and putting the paper in his pocket, he walked away.

I thought no more about the matter, and having finished and closed my letter, went on deck to get it sent on shore, as I knew my wife would be anxiously expecting to hear from me.

A short time after this another fellow, very much the same sort of man as Berkeley, as he called himself, addressed me, and invited me to come forward and take a glass of grog with him.

“I’ve got a little store of liquor of my own, and I like to share it with honest fellows like you, Weatherhelm,” he said. “You and I haven’t had much talk together, but I have heard of you from Hagger and others, and seen what a prime seaman you are.”

“I’m much obliged to you, Pratt,” I answered, for that was his name, “but I am not over fond of spirits, and never take a glass except when they are served out, and even then I had as soon, on most occasions, go without it as have it.”

“I dare say you are right,” answered Pratt, “there’s nothing like keeping a cool head on your shoulders; we want cool heads now to guide us. You see we have been barbarously treated, and I am sure you will agree that we ought to get our rights, if we are worthy of being called men. I am told that some of the best hands in the ship have made up their minds on the subject, and they have asked me to join them; but I want to know what your opinion is, for I do not suppose, as you are a fellow of spirit, that you’ll be hanging back.”

I guessed what he was driving at, and was cautious in what I said. I advised him not to join any mad attempt to gain by force what he called our rights, saying that I had made up my mind to have nothing to do with anything of the sort. On this I endeavoured to get clear of him, but he stuck to me, and managed somehow or other to lead me among a knot of men who were all talking eagerly together. Several of them spoke to me, and one of the party began to go on much in the same strain that Pratt had done. As he held me fast by the arm, I could not get away from him without using violence, and that I did not want to use. The men were talking away, many of them together, speaking of their grievances, and complaining of the treatment they had received. Some swore that they had been flogged unjustly for things they had never done, others complained of their leave being stopped, some of the badness of their provisions, others of the tyranny of the officers, and the hard work they had to do. I made no observation, for I did not wish to have myself mixed up with them.

There was some truth in what they said, but a great deal of exaggeration, and I observed that the King’s Hard Bargains were the very men to make most to do of what they suffered. Except that I had escaped a flogging, and being an able seaman never had to perform what is called dirty work, I had to suffer as much as any of them.

All this time, neither Trickett, or rather Charles Iffley, nor the fellow who called himself Reginald Berkeley, had appeared among us.

They came at last, as if sauntering by, and joining in, asked the men what they were talking about. Several again went over the list of their grievances.

“It’s not to be borne!” cried Iffley.

“I should think not!” exclaimed Berkeley; “I’ve heard tell of a crew taking the ship from their officers, and sailing away, either to live the life of free rovers of the ocean, or to carry her into some foreign port where they have sold her for a large sum of money, and divided the profits among themselves. I don’t say this is what we should do, or what we should be compelled to do, if things don’t mend.”

Soon after Berkeley had spoken, half-a-dozen of the most ruffianly fellows in the ship, two of whom boasted of the murders they had committed,—others had been smugglers or pirates for what I know,—came among us, and proposed that we should begin work that very night.

“Now is our opportunity,” they said. “The captain is on shore, so are many of the officers, including the lieutenant of marines.”

I soon found that matters had proceeded much farther than I had supposed, and that Berkeley and Pratt had spoken to me merely to try and get me to join them, their plans being already formed. Still, what those plans were I could not tell, or I ought, I considered, to go aft and tell the first lieutenant. If I went now, he would think that I had got hold of some cock-and-bull story, and very likely take no notice, while, should the mutineers suspect me, I might have been knocked on the head and have been hove overboard by them in revenge.

I told Hagger, however, what I feared. He acknowledged that he had been spoken to on the subject, but did not think it would be wise, without more certain information, to take any steps in the matter.

The long evening drew on, the hammocks were piped down as usual, and the watch below pretended to turn in; but I observed that they merely kicked off their shoes, and slipped under the blankets all standing.

It had just gone four bells in the first watch, when every man turned out of his hammock. The watch on deck came springing down below and immediately unshipped the ladders. While some were engaged in lashing up the hammocks, others rushed aft and secured the warrant and petty officers.

Another more daring band made their way down to the magazine, took out a quantity of ammunition, and as many muskets and tomahawks as they could lay hands on. They then set to work to form a barricade across the deck between the bits with the hammocks, and shifted the two second guns from forward, which they loaded with grape and canister, and pointed them towards the hatchway. Hunting about, I found Dick Hagger, and he agreed with me that we should try to get on deck; but the ladders being unshipped, we had no means of doing so, and several of the men, seeing what we were about, swore that they would cut us down if we made the attempt. There were several others who also wished to escape, and observing what we had been trying to do, came and joined us. I saw a few marines among the mutineers, but the larger body of the “jollies,” on turning out of their hammocks, retreated aft with their sergeants and corporals; but as the guns were pointed at them, they could do nothing.

The whole lower part of the ship was thus in possession of the mutineers, together with the magazine, stores, and water, though they could not prevent the officers from getting away or sending on shore to give information of what had occurred.

All night long things continued in this state. No one slept. Councils were held among the men, who swore that until their grievances were redressed they would not give in, and they would rather, if force were used, blow the ship up, and go to the bottom. There was nothing to prevent them doing this except their unwillingness to destroy themselves. There were some daring spirits among them, but the greater part had cowardly hearts. They thus fortunately took half measures. They might have destroyed all the officers, overpowered the marines, and carried the ship off. They knew well enough, however, that there was not a man among them capable of navigating her, and that there was a great chance that they would run her ashore before they got away from Saint Helen’s. They were sure also that there was not an officer who would have taken charge of her, even if they had held a pistol to his head to try and compel him to navigate the ship.


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