Copyright
Edward Fraser.

The sailors whom Nelson led : their doings described by themselves online

. (page 1 of 31)
Online LibraryEdward FraserThe sailors whom Nelson led : their doings described by themselves → online text (page 1 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE SAILORS WHO
NELSON LED



EDWARD FRASER




THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



GIFT OF



COMMODORE BYRON MCCANDLESS



THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE WAR DRAMA OF THE EAGLES
IN THE FIGHTING DAYS AT SEA
FAMOUS FIGHTERS OF THE FLEET, ETC.



HI- KLINO-EVi: SIC.NAL OF lOl'HN HAGKN AND MLSON's ANSWER.



Tin- fliif.'s NtKon rtt'usid tu see.

Sitiiiiil No. 39:
"Discontinue the enHi'Kement."



Nelson's rtjoiniler:

"Niiil mine to the mast!''

Signal No. 16 :

" Entfatje the F.tuiiiN closer."









.l^-^'i



tu



ij^'



,lb






1



Hi: Hn.Ll.T WHIIH KIFLKI) NELSON.



(hXACT REFROI>UCTION OF THE COLOURED DRAWING MADE IMMEDIATELY AFTER
EXTRACTION HV SURGEON BEATTV OF THE "VICTORY," IN DECEMBER, I805.)



THE SAILORS WHOM

NELSON LED

THEIR DOINGS DESCRIBED BY THEMSELVES



BY



EDWARD FRASER

AUTHOR OF "the SOLDIERS WHOM WELLINGTON LED"



WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS AND FOUR MAPS



METHUEN & CO. LTD.

36 ESSEX STREET W.C

LONDON



Fit St Published in ig/j






DEDICATED BY PERMISSION TO

ADMIRAL LORD CHARLES BERESFORD,

G.C.B.. G.C.V.O.



or^-



PREFACE

MY aim here has been, as far as possible throughout,
to describe how Nelson's sailors won their battles,
using the words of officers and men who fought
on board ship, and were actual eyewitnesses of what
took place under fire. In regard to that, I think I
may venture to claim for this book a place on its own
account, as taking a line of its own that is original and
new. Nelson himself and some of his officers and men,
for example, relate in their own language the doings before
the enemy of the ever-famous Agamemnon, which Nelson
commanded as Captain. The "Band of Brothers" tell
of things that occurred within their own knowledge and
before their own eyes at the Battle of the Nile. The
Copenhagen Captains and others in that battle contribute
narratives of personal experiences in like manner, and a
number of those who fought at Trafalgar, Captains and
Lieutenants, midshipmen, seamen, and marines, answer
between them for events on that triumphant final day.
In this manner, and by these means, I have attempted
to call up a series of living pictures, as it were, which I
trust will have an interest of their own, and prove alike

instructive and attractive.

E. F.



vu



CONTENTS



PAGE



I. "We are Few, but the Right Sort" — Captain

Nelson's " Agamemnons " - - - i

II. At the Nile - - - - - 8i

ON THAT WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON - - 8l

"GOLIATH" STRIKES THE FIRST BLOW - - lOO
CAPTAIN SAMUEL HOOD TAKES THE FRENCH VAN

SHIP - - - - - - 106

WITH NELSON IN THE FLAGSHIP " VANGUARD " - 109

THE CAPTAIN OF THE " ORION " AND HIS MEN - II 6
WHAT THE CAPTAIN OF THE " THESEUS " SAW AND

DID - - - - - -120

HOW THE " BILLY RUFF'nS " TACKLED MIGHTY

"l'orient" - - - - - 128

the british captain who fell at the nile - 141

in the last hour of the french flagship - 1 45

THE FATE OF NELSON's NILE DISPATCH - ■ '55

III. At Copenhagen _ . - . . 162

THE OPENING OF THE CAMPAIGN - - - 162

BY nelson's side ON THE QUARTER-DECK - 1 72
WITH nelson's second IN COMMAND - "179

IN THE VERY HOTTEST OF THE BATTLE - " 183
HOW ONE OF nelson's OLD MESSMATES HAD HIS

SHARE - - . . . 193

THE HARD LUCK OF THE " B ELLON AS " - - 1 98
THE OFFICER WHO CARRIED NELSOn's LETTER TO

THE CROWN PRINCE - - - - 203

ON BOARD SIR HYDE PARKEr's FLAGSHIP - - 207

ix



X THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

PACE

IV. At Trafalgar - - - - - 210

GOING DOWN TO BATTLE - - - - 2 1 I
" ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO

HIS duty" .... - 220

ON BOARD THE " VICTORY " - - - 228
UNDER FIRE WITH COLLINGWOOD AND HIS " TARS

OF THE TYNE" .... 244

THE FIGHT OF THE "FIGHTING 'T^M^RAIRE'" - 260

THE •* BELLEISLES " HOLD THEIR OWN AT BAY - 268

"'BILLY RUFF'n ' — VICTORY OR DEATH!"- - 276

HOW THE CAPTAIN OF THE " MARS " MET HIS FATE 291

THE "conquerors" MAKE GOOD THEIR NAME - 297

WHAT THE CAPTAIN OF THE " ORION " SAW AND DID 309
WITH THE MEN OF THE " REVENGE " - "313

MIDSHIPMAN JACK SPRATT OF THE " DEFIANCE " - 316

ON BOARD nelson's NILE PRIZE, THE " TONNANT " 318

V. The Man who hoisted Nelson's Signal at

Trafalgar ..... 324

VI. The Avenger of Nelson ... - 329

VII. How England heard the News of Nelson's

Death ... - - 337

Index ._ - -. 349



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



The "Blind Eye" Signal of Copenhagen, and

Nelson's Answer - - - - ^ Frontispiece

The Bullet which killed Nelson

PACING PAGE

Nelson as a Post-Captain - • - - i6

From a portrait by an unknown artist ; now in Norwich Castle
Museum. Reproduced by permission of the Curator.



The British Mediterranean Fleet off Gibraltar —

1798

From a contemporary painting by Captain Elliot, R.N.



72



Four Leaders of " The Band of Brothers ": Captains

AT the Nile - - - - - 86

Nelson's "Statement of Wounds," 1800 - - 112

Facsimile from Nelson's Petition to the Admiralty for " Blood-
Money ' ' allowance.

Peace with Honour: the "Victory "in Portsmouth

Harbour - - - - - - 212

The " Victory's " Trafalgar Figure-Head - ■ 230

From a pencil sketch made in December, 1805, on the " Victory's "
return to England.

Fore- TOPSAIL of the " Victory "; as returned to Store

AT Chatham Dockyard after Trafalgar- - 230

xi



xii THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

FACING PAGE

" Nelson's Hardy " at the Time of Trafalgar - 242

From a painting by L. F, Abbott. ^

Silver Pencil- Case used by Captain Hardy to write

DOWN Signals at Trafalgar - - - 242

" Crippled but Unconquered " : the Rescue of the

"Belleisle" at Trafalgar- - - - 272

From the tainting by W, L. Wyllie, R.A.

Sir John Franklin — Signal-Midshipman on Board

THE " Billy Ruff'n " at Trafalgar - - 276

The Two Captains who fell at Trafalgar : John

Cooke and George Duff - - - - 296

The Avenger of Nelson : Captain John Pollard, R.N. 330

The Man who signalled Nelson's Trafalgar Message:

John Roome — as a Greenwich Pensioner - 330



LIST OF MAPS AND PLANS



FACING PAGE

Chart of the Western Mediterranean : where Cap-
tain Nelson of the " Agamemnon " served - 6

Nelson's Attack at the Nile - - • -82

From an original plan drawn by one of the officers of the British
Squadron.

The Approaches to Copenhagen - - - 164

Reproduction of the Admiralty Chart used by Nelson.

Collingwood's Plan of the Battle of Trafalgar - 214

Reproduction of the plan sent to the Admiralty with Colling-
wood s dispatch, as corrected for the positions of the ships of
the Combined Fleet by Villcncuve's Flag-Captain, a prisoner
of war in the ' ' Euryalus. ' '



xni



" He leads, we hear our Seaman call.
In the roll of battles won;
For he is England's Admiral,
To the setting of her sun."

George Meredith



THE SAILORS WHOM
NELSON LED



"WE ARE FEW, BUT THE RIGHT SORT "—CAPTAIN
NELSON'S "AGAMEMNONS"

"T T 7E are few, but the right sort." French bomb-
\/ y shells were bursting in the neighbourhood
when Nelson wrote that sentence in a letter
home, one April afternoon of the year 1794, from the
trenches before Bastia. A reminder of that time, and of
Nelson and his Agamemnons in particular, is to be seen
in London now, in the form of five faded French flags,
which hang in the historic Banqueting-Hall of the old-
time Palace of Whitehall, the present home of the Royal
United Service Institution. The five are military flags of
the period of the French Revolution, and the men who
had the lion's share in making them British trophies were
those splendid hard fighters who ever had a foremost
place in Nelson's affectionate regard as his " Old Aga-
memnons," the fine fellows who manned the first ship
of the line which Nelson commanded.

East Anglians, lads of the old Norse breed, formed a
fair proportion of them : 24 per cent, or so of the total
crew — 120 sturdy fellows from Nelson's own county of
Norfolk and from Suffolk, got together mainly by



2 THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

Nelson's own exertions, on first learning of his appoint-
ment, in sending officers round the coast towns and villages
of the two counties to beat up capable hands. A number
came from Burnham Thorpe and the other Burnham
villages round about Nelson's birthplace, also from Wells,
and King's Lynn, and Cromer, and Sheringham, who had
volunteered to ship with Captain Nelson, that month of
February, 1793, when, one fair and mild winter's morning
— a Thursday, by the way — the most famous commission-
ing pennant that British man-of-war ever flew was hoisted
on the stumpy main-mast of a yellow-sided two-decker,
then lying a hulk in Ordinary, among the ships in reserve,
at moorings in the Medway off Chatham Dockyard. His
Norfolk men were first favourites with Nelson at all times.
" I always reckon one of them as good as two others,"
said he to a brother Captain one day during their first
cruise. A score and more of tough Yorkshire lads from
Hull and Bridlington, and as far north as Robin Hood
Bay and Whitby, were among the Old Agamemnons as
well ; and nearly as many good hands from Lincolnshire,
from Grimsby and the Humber estuary — coaster-seamen
and fisher-lads mostly, picked up by some of Nelson's
friends to whom he had written when he first knew he
was to be appointed to a ship, asking them to get together
for him as many likely fellows as they could.

The men so obtained came in slowly at first, but fairly
steadily. By the end of the first week, 74 men had joined ;
by the end of February, 143 ; by the middle of March there
were 190 names on the Agamemnon's muster-books; by
the first week in April, 266 ; and 396 by the eighteenth of
the month, when the Agamemnon weighed anchor from
the Nore to join the fleet at Portsmouth.

Half a hundred promising fellows — fifty-two exactly,
according to the ship's books — came in from Kent and
Essex while the Agamemnon was fitting out at Chatham.



"WE ARE FEW, BUT THE RIGHT SORT" 3

In that manner, and with volunteers from Thames mer-
chantmen, about half Nelson's crew was made up. The
other half was mostly sent on board by means of the
press-gangs and tenders belonging to the guard-ship at
the Nore. Thanks to the ready aid of his former-time
Captain and devoted friend ever since those never-forgotten
West Indian days, old Commodore Locker, just then in
command at the Nore, together with an additional draft
received when at Spithead, Nelson was able to sail from
England in the first week of May with on board a total
ship's company of 433 officers and men ; just 58 short
of the regulation complement of a sixty-four-gun ship.

Content in the main with the stamp of men who were
* to form his Agamemnons, Nelson from the outset was
no less pleased with his officers : " All good in their
respective stations and known to me," as he wrote.

Lieutenant Martin Hinton, the First-Lieutenant of the
Agamemnon, a smart and energetic officer, and described
as "a first-class seaman," had been Nelson's Second-
Lieutenant in the Albemarle ten years before, when he
showed something of his quality in the boat attack on
Turk's Island in the West Indies. Lieutenant Hinton
breakfasted with Nelson at the Mitre at Chatham (the
bedroom that Nelson occupied during the two months
his ship was in dockyard hands is one of the " sights " of
the modernized hotel) on the morning that the Agamem-
non was commissioned, and came off with him to the
ship, and was beside him at the hoisting of the pennant.
The Second - Lieutenant of the Agamemnon, Joseph
Bullen, an older man, and a remarkably fine officer,
had been Nelson's Fourth-Lieutenant in the first ship
that Nelson commanded as a Post-Captain — the Hinchin-
broke. In that capacity he had served with Nelson in
the pestilential Nicaraguan Expedition during the Ameri-
can War, in which, out of a ship's company of 200 officers



4 THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

and men belonging to the Hmchinbroke, only lo sur-
vived — among them Bullen, whose tough constitution
brought him through, and Nelson himself, invalided to
Jamaica and thence to England just in time to save his
life. Captain Poison, of the then 6oth Regiment, the
military officer in command of the expeditionary force,
gives in a private letter, by the way, perhaps the earliest
glimpse that we have of what Nelson looked like in his
young days : " A light-haired boy came to me in a little
frigate," he relates, ** of whom I first made little account.
In two or three days he displayed himself, and afterwards
he directed all the operations."

Lieutenant George Andrews, the Agamemnon's Third-
Lieutenant, was the brother of the young lady, an Eng-
lish clergyman's daughter, to whom Nelson proposed,
while at St. Omer during his visit to France to learn the
language after the American War, and was rejected from
motives of prudence — he having nothing beyond his pay,
and she nothing at all. The lady seems to have been
of an attractive and winning personality. Had the two
been able to marry, would the Capuan witchery of Lady
Hamilton have had power to prevail over Nelson — in his
inmost nature a true-hearted and faithful mate ? If only
the Viscountess Nelson had been of a less cold and formal
type, she might well have saved the situation — of the
danger of which she had timely warning during those
months of temptation at Naples — and no shadow of any
kind would have rested over Nelson's memory. George
Andrews after that was taken by Nelson as a midshipman
into the Albemarle, where two other midshipmen, as
principal and second, forced a duel with one of them
on the boy, in which young Andrews was seriously
wounded, to Nelson's extreme grief. He put both the
two aggressors in irons for their conduct, and turned
them out of the ship. *' They will," he wrote, " stand



"WE ARE FEW, BUT THE RIGHT SORT" 5

a good chance of hanging if the youth should unfortu-
nately die." Of Nelson's previous acquaintance with his
Fourth and Fifth Lieutenants, Wenman Allison and
Thomas Edmonds, little is known. The Master of the
Agamemnon, Mr. John Wilson, had been with Nelson as
Master at the time of his first independent command of
all, as Master of the Badger brig, to which Lieutenant
Nelson was promoted Commander.

Another old acquaintance, whose services Nelson took
special steps to obtain for the Agamemnon was a
naturalized foreigner — a Portuguese — his former boat-
swain in the Boreas, Mr. Joseph King. Mr. King, at
the time, was serving as Commodore Locker's boatswain
in the Sandwich, the guardship at the Nore. Nelson
specially wrote to the Duke of Clarence, who also knew
Mr. King well, having had to do with him in the West
Indies, and through the Duke got the Admiralty to
grant leave for the Commodore to transfer King to the
Agamemnon. A very exceptional man was Boatswain King,
at all times in high favour with Nelson.

Among the Agamemnon's midshipmen was a distant
relation of Nelson's, Maurice Suckling, who also had been
with him in the Boreas, and was before long promoted
a Lieutenant of the Agamemno7i, for good service ; his
stepson, Josiah Nisbet, now going to sea for the first
time, and several Norfolk boys, the sons of friends.
William Bolton was one (afterwards Sir William and
a distinguished Captain) ; William Hoste was another,
destined by reason of his many noble qualities to be
Nelson's special pet and great favourite, and later in the
war to prove himself as brilliant a frigate leader as the
British Navy has ever known. Both these were the sons
of near neighbours at home. Other Norfolk lads with
Nelson in the Agamemnon were Thomas Withers, from
North Walsham, a Christ's Hospital " mathemat " ; and



N



6 THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

the two sons of a Norfolk clergyman, named Weatherhead,
one of whom was killed by Nelson's side at Teneriffe.

On the day that he left the Nore to join Lord Hood's
fleet at Spithead, April i8, Nelson wrote this to his father :
" I not only like the ship, but think I am well appointed
in officers, and we are manned exceedingly well ; therefore
have no fear but we shall acquit ourselves well should the
French give us a meeting." " We are all well," he wrote
to his wife on getting to Spithead ; " indeed, nobody could
be ill with my ship's company ; they are so fine a set."

Midshipman Hoste tells the story of the Agamemnon's
first fight in one of his letters home, as also does Nelson
himself; the midshipman's account, however, will serve
for our purpose. It was after Lord Hood and the main
fleet had taken possession of the French fleet and arsenal
of Toulon in the autumn of that year. So far, during
that opening phase of the Mediterranean campaign, cruising
by themselves, with no luck at all coming their t^y, had
been the lot of the Agamemnons. " Here," said Nelson,
" there is no prize-money ; all we get is honour and salt
beef."

They had their first fight while on their way to join
a detached squadron, sent off by Hood at Toulon to
Tunis, in charge of Commodore Linzee, in order to put
pressure on the Bey of Tunis, and, if possible, induce him
to close his ports to the French, who were using them as
havens of shelter and sources of supply.

" On October 22, running down the Isle of Sardinia,"
young Hoste relates, " we saw five sail of ships, about two
o'clock in the morning, standing to the north-west, when,
on seeing us, they tacked and stood to the east. Captain
Nelson, suspecting them to be a French convoy, imme-
diately stood after them.

'* About four o'clock we got to within gun-shot of the
hindermost, and hailed her in French. On her returning



"WE ARE FEW, BUT THE RIGHT SORT" 7

no answer, we fired a gun ahead, for her to bring-to and
shorten sail. We observed her making signals with sky-
rockets to her consorts, who were some distance to wind-
ward. After we had repeatedly hailed to no purpose, we
fired one of our eighteen-pounders at her, to oblige her
to shorten sail ; at the same time opened our lower-deck
ports, which frightened her, as she immediately made
more sail to get away ; by that it appears she took us for
a frigate. It was daylight before we got up with her
again, as she had the start of us.

"About five a.m. we were within half gun-shot, and
found her to be a fine forty-gun frigate. She hoisted
National colours, and favoured us with a broadside. We
returned the compliment, though our situation was rather
unfavourable, as our shot did not at all times hit her,
while the frigate, owing to her superiority of sailing, kept
her position and pointed her guns to advantage, firing in
an angular direction, which did more execution. She
bravely engaged us in this way for three hours, both
sailing at the rate of six knots an hour, till, by our constant
firing, it fell calm. The other frigates were coming after
us with a fresh breeze, consequently we expected to have
some warm work ; therefore were anxious to despatch this
gentleman before the others came up.

" About eight o'clock, by a change of wind, the frigate
got out of range of our guns. Our last broadside did her
infinite damage ; nor was ours inconsiderable, as our rigging
was shot away and our main-top-mast sprung, which pre-
vented us from going after her. We had one man killed
and two wounded.

" By this time the other ships were within a league of
us (the nearest one appeared of the same force as our-
selves), and were coming down with all sail set. We
expected nothing less than that they would engage us,
and were prepared for their reception; but their courage



8 THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

failed them, as we had given their friend so complete
a drubbing. She made signals of distress; all of them
went to her assistance, and hoisted their boats out. We
pursued our journey to Cagliari, being satisfied with offer-
ing them battle. Had the breeze continued, we should
have preserved our distance from the other frigates, and
our antagonist must have either struck or sunk ; though,
if she had struck, we could not have taken possession of
her in sight of a force so superior. The Agamemnon
had only three hundred and fifty men at quarters, con-
sequently she was no better than a fifty-gun ship."

None of the five frigates, it may be added, ever saw
Toulon Harbour again. In the course of the next twelve
months they were all taken or destroyed in the Corsican
ports to which they fled for refuge.

The Agamemnons were at the time on their way to
join Commodore Linzee at Tunis. Nelson went on there
after the fight, and found his consorts at their destination.
Some of them had, for their part, been balked of a fight
in another way.

One of Berwick's officers, whose ship had had the
adventure, relates the story ; which further, incidentally,
helps to nail down a small modern lie about a certain
naval detail.

" During the cruise," he says, " before we put into
Cagliari and joined the Commodore, we fell in with six
sail of the line, who, not answering the private signal,
were taken for a French squadron. It being late in the
evening, we made all sail and stood from them ; they gave
chase the whole of the night, but only two could come up
with us, and they took good care not to come alongside,
and well for them they did not ; all our guns were loaded
with round and double-headed shot, and our sixty-eight-
pounders (carronades) on the forecastle were crammed
with grape and canister, and our fellows (two-thirds of



"WE ARE FEW, BUT THE RIGHT SORT" 9

them Irish) were determined to give them a lesson that
would never be forgotten. This they seemed to anticipate,
as they kept hankering on the quarter until morning, when
they hoisted Spanish colours; one of them sent a boat on
board of us.

" The officer," as our Berwick friend goes on to say,
" seemed so astonished when he saw our men at quarters,
their black silk handkerchiefs tied round their heads, their
shirt-sleeves tucked up, the crows and handspikes in their
hands, and the boarders all ready with their cutlasses and
tomahawks, that he told Sir John Collins they put him in
mind of so many devils."

This statement knocks on the head the persistently told
story that the black silk neckerchiefs our bluejackets wear
nowadays were introduced into the navy " as a mark of
mourning for Nelson." Equally a cock-and-bull yarn
is the other modern popular tale, to the effect that the
three stripes of white tape worn on our sailors' collars
were placed there by the Admiralty to commemorate
Nelson's three great victories of the Nile, Copenhagen,
and Trafalgar.

Nelson's Agamemnons had their forbearance tested
while they were at Tunis. A French seventy-four, the
Duquesne was at anchor in the bay with a convoy of
fifty sail of laden merchantmen, sheltering under the pro-
tection of Tunisian neutrality. Commodore Linzee made
a display of what he would like to do, but he lacked the
moral courage to take on himself the responsibility of
doing it, of making short work of the French man-of-
war and the convoy — suffering the man-of-war, indeed, to
make mock of the British squadron.

" The Agamemnon and Lowestoft were sent," says
the Berwick's officer, to watch the convoy, and the
three seventy-fours anchored, one abreast, another on the
bow, and one on the quarter of the Duquesne, ready to



TO THE SAILORS WHOM NELSON LED

bring her to action, and there were six sail of the Hne
(Spanish) to assist in this great undertaking. But all
this mighty preparation came to nothing. The cargoes
were safely landed from the convoy, and the Duqiiesne,
after laughing at us for several weeks, and singing the
Marseillaise hymn morning and evening, with the English
jack spread over her round-house, got under way and
arrived safe at Toulon, which had been evacuated by the
fleet and army ; and all this because Tunis was a neutral
port. Now everybody knew that before the squadron
sailed, and also that Tunis was nothing less than a nest
of thieves ; besides, we were out of gunshot of their forts,
and might have taken the whole with the greatest ease
imaginable."

Nelson said as to that, in a letter written while on his
way back to rejoin Hood :

" I am just returned from Tunis, where I have been,
under Commodore Linzee, to negotiate for a French
convoy from the Levant. You will believe the English
seldom get much by negotiation, except the being laughed
at, which we have been, and I don't like it. Had we taken,
which in my opinion we ought to have done, the men-of-
war and the convoy, worth at least £3,000,000, how
much better we should have negotiated — given the Bey
5^50,000, he would have been glad to have put up with
the insult offered to his dignity. . . . Thank God, Lord



Online LibraryEdward FraserThe sailors whom Nelson led : their doings described by themselves → online text (page 1 of 31)