J. H. (John Henry) Hubback.

Jane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; online

. (page 5 of 18)
Online LibraryJ. H. (John Henry) HubbackJane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; → online text (page 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in chace.

** Half-past II. — In steering sails.

** At noon. — Moderate and clear weather, pass-
ing through between Ivica and Formenterra,
prize in company.

** Half-past 12. — Fired five guns at the chace
to make her bring to, but without effect.

"At I o'clock. — She anchored close under a
signal tower with four guns on it. Hoisted out


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

the pinnace, and sent her armed under the
direction of the second lieutenant to board the

** Half-past 2. — The pinnace returned with the
brig ; sent her away to cut out a small vessel,
which was then riding about half a mile to the
westward of the tower. The brig appears to
be French, but no one was found on board
her. Sent an officer and five men to take charge
of her.

'* At 5 o'clock. — The pinnace returned with the
other vessel, a Spanish settee, appearing by
papers found on board to be the Alicant packet.
Her crew had quitted her on seeing our boats
approach. Sent an officer and five men on board
to take charge of her. Took her in tow and made
sail ; prizes in company."

Such days as this were of quite frequent occur-
rence. Sometimes the prizes were of great value,
as on April ii, when the Peterel, in com-
pany with the Powerful and the Leviathan,
assisted in capturing a vessel which they thought
to be a despatch-boat, and therefore of the first
importance. She proved to be a fishing-boat,
employed in carrying a brigadier-general, a lieu-
tenant-colonel, and a captain of the Walloon
Guards over to Ivica from Alicant. She had on
board specie to the amount of 9000 dollars. The
PetereHs share of this valuable prize was 1469


The Peterel Sloop

dollars, which was paid out in the following pro-
portions :

To a captain .

. 750 dollars

„ a lieutenant

. 62i „

,, a warrant officer

. 36I „

„ a petty officer .

. loj „

„ a foremast man .

2 „

It is to be feared that the prize-money was a
doubtful blessing to the foremast hands, especially
as th^ Peterel -wdiS then nearing Port Mahon, where
they lay at anchor for three days, during which
it was no doubt easy to incur the punishments for
drunkenness and neglect of duty which we find
meted out two days later.

Another capture of political importance is de-
tailed on the 26th April, when a Spanish tartan,
the San Antonio de Padua, was brought to, having
on board fifty-three soldiers belonging to a com-
pany of the 3rd battalion of the Walloon Guards,
who were being conveyed from Barcelona to
Majorca. These, with sailors and a few recruits
also on board, summed up a capture of seventy-
nine Spanish prisoners, who were taken on board
the Peterel.

The tartan was manned by a midshipman and
seven men, and taken in tow. The prisoners
were afterwards transferred to the Centaur, and
the prize, after everything was taken out of her,
was scuttled.


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

These few instances will serve to show the
kind of life of which we get such tantaHsing hints
in ** Persuasion."

The account Captain Wentworth gives to the
two Miss Musgroves and to Admiral Croft of his
earlier commands is a case in point. The date
is not the same, for we remember that Captain
Wentworth first got employ in the year six
(1806), soon after he had parted in anger from
Anne Elliot.

" The Miss Musgroves were just fetching the
* Navy List ' (their own ' Navy List,' the first
there had ever been at Uppercross), and sitting
down together to pore over it, with the professed
view of finding out the ships which Captain Went-
worth had commanded.

** ' Your first was the Asp, I remember. We
will look for the Asp,'

" ' You will not find her there. Quite worn out
and broken up. I was the last man who com-
manded her. Hardly fit for service then. Re-
ported fit for home service for a year or two, and
so I was sent oft to the West Indies.'

'* The girls looked all amazement.

** ' The Admiralty,' he continued, * entertain
themselves now and then with sending a few hun-
dred men to sea in a ship not fit to be employed.
But they have a great many to provide for ; and
among the thousands that may just as well go to


The Peterel Sloop

the bottom as not, It is impossible for them to
distinguish the very set who may be least

**'Phoo! phoo!' cried the Admiral. * What
stuff these young fellows talk! Never was there
a better sloop than the Asp in her day. For an
old built sloop you would not see her equal.
Lucky fellow to get her ! He knows there must
have been twenty better men than himself apply-
ing for her at the same time. Lucky fellow to
get anything so soon, with no more interest than

** * I felt my luck. Admiral, I assure you,' replied
Captain Wentworth seriously. * I was as well
satisfied with my appointment as you can desire.
It was a great object with me at the time to be at
sea ; a very great object. I wanted to be doing

" * To be sure you did. What should a young
fellow like you do ashore for half a year together ?
If a man has not a wife, he soon wants to be
afloat again.'

** * But, Captain Wentworth,' cried Louisa,
*how vexed you must have been when you came
to the Asp, to see what an old thing they had
given you.'

" * I knew pretty well what she was before that
day,' said he smiling. * I had no more discoveries
to make than you would have as to the fashion


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

and strength of an old pelisse, which you had seen
lent about among half your acquaintance ever
since you could remember, and which at last on
some very wet day is lent to yourself. Ah ! she
was a dear old Asp to me. She did all I wanted.
I knew she would. I knew that we should either
go to the bottom together, or that she would be the
making of me ; and I never had two days of foul
weather all the time I was at sea in her ; and after
taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I
had the good luck in my passage home the next
autumn to fall in with the very French frigate I
wanted. I brought her into Plymouth ; and here
was another instance of luck. We had not been
six hours in the Sound when a gale came on
which lasted four days and four nights, and which
would have done for poor old Asp in half the
time, our touch with the Great Nation not having
improved our condition. Four and twenty hours
later and I should only have been a gallant Cap-
tain Wentworth in a small paragraph at one
corner of the newspapers ; and being lost in only
a sloop, nobody would have thought about me.'

** The girls were now hunting for the Laconia ;
and Captain Wentworth could not deny himself
the pleasure of taking the precious volume into
his own hands to save them the trouble, and once
more read aloud the little statement of her name
and rate, and present non-commissioned class-


The Peterel Sloop

Observing over it that she too had been one of
the best friends man ever had.

'* 'Ah, those were pleasant days when I had the
Laconia ! How fast I made money in her ! A
friend of mine and I had such a lovely cruise to-
gether off the Western Islands. Poor Harville,
sister ! You know how much he wanted money :
worse than myself. He had a wife. Excellent
fellow ! I shall never forget his happiness. He
felt it all so much for her sake. I wished for him
again next summer, when I had still had the same
luck in the Mediterranean.' "

One cannot but feel, when one comes on such
a conversation in Jane Austen's novel, how per-
fectly she understood the details of her brothers'
lives. Her interest and sympathy were so great
that we can almost hear Francis and Charles re-
counting experiences to their home circle, with a
delicious dwelling on the dangers, for the sake of
inward shudders, or "more open exclamations of
pity and horror " from their hearers, with sidelong
hits at the Admiralty, and with the true sailor's
love of, and pride in, the vessels he has com-




It will be remembered that at the close of 1796
scarcely a British man-of-war was to be seen in
the Mediterranean. To estimate the work that
St. Vincent and Nelson had since accomplished,
it is only necessary to say that by the summer of
1799 the British Navy was everywhere, blockading
Genoa and Malta, patrolling the Egyptian and
Syrian coasts, and in possession of Minorca,
while Nelson was stationed at Palermo. The
French armies in Italy were cut off from re-
inforcements by our ships before Genoa. Bona-
parte's soldiers in Egypt were equally helpless,
though he himself managed to get home in spite
of the danger of capture.

Attempts were of course made by the French
to change this position. Rear-Admiral Perree
had served on the immense fleet which Bonaparte
took to Egypt in 1798, and there was appointed
to the command of the light flotilla intended to
patrol the Nile. Most of his seniors were shortly


The Patrol of the Mediterranean

afterwards killed or captured by Nelson's fleet in
Aboukir Bay, and he then took charge of the
remaining frigates which had safely anchored at
Alexandria, and which were compelled to remain
there, as Captain Troubridge had established a
blockade of the coast. When Bonaparte marched
for Syria, early in 1799, Perree was ordered to
bring battering cannon to Haifa for the attack on
Acre. It was some time before he got the oppor-
tunity to slip out of Alexandria, and he then
found Jaffa the only place available for landing
the guns. Accomplishing this, he vainly endea-
voured to co-operate in the siege of Acre, but was
driven off by the Tigre and Theseus under Sir
Sydney Smith. The blockade made it impossible
for Perr6e to re-enter Alexandria. The five
vessels therefore sailed for Toulon, and on
June 18 we have in the log of the Peterel the
account of the capture of this unlucky squadron,
within a few hours of their French haven.

June 17. — ** Admiral (Lord Keith) and fleet in
company. The Emerald made signal for five sail
in sight. The Admiral signalled for general chace.
Answered his signal to us to keep between the
Admiral and the chacing ships in N.E., to repeat
signals. At 8 p.m. Emerald N.E., six or seven
miles. Admiral west, four miles.

June 18. — *'One o'clock p.m. Saw four sail bear-
ing N.W. At six, five sail of strangers in sight.


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

At seven, perceived the Centaur open a fire on
the chace, which was returned. Saw two of them
strike and shorten sail. Half-past seven, the
Emerald got up with, and took possession of,
another. At eight o'clock the Centaur brought
to a fourth. The Success and the Triton in chace
of the fifth.

June 19. — ''At daylight, ten of the fleet and
five prizes in company. Boats of the fleet em-
ployed on the 19th getting the prisoners out of
the prizes. These ships proved to be a squadron
which had escaped out of Alexandria on the 19th
of March, and, after cruising a considerable time
off Joppa, were returning to Toulon. Their names
are as follows :

Lajunon .

38 guns, 600 men (with a Rear-Admiral

on board).

VAIceste .

36 guns.

La Courageuse .

32 guns, 300 men.

VAlerte .

i6-gun brig.

La Salamine

i6-gun ditto."

Marshal Suwarrow, in command of the Russian
and Austrian armies, was now making use of
Bonaparte's enforced detention in Egypt to drive
the French out of Italy. By June, after the
battle of the Trebbia, he had not only shut
up Moreau's army in Genoa, but had driven
Macdonald back into Tuscany. It was only
with the greatest difficulty that the two French


The Patrol of the Mediterranean

commanders were able eventually to join forces in
Genoa. With characteristic want of confidence in
their generals, the French Directory sent out
General Joubert to take command in the place
of the two who had been worsted. Almost
immediately after his arrival, he was himself
utterly defeated and killed at the battle of Novi.
Nothing was left of the French possessions in
Italy except Genoa, and a few smaller fortified
places. To Genoa Massena came after his suc-
cessful exploits in Switzerland, and made his
memorable stand, against the Austrian army
besieging by land and the British blockading
by sea.

With these events during 1799 and 1800, the
Peterel was in constant touch. On one occasion,
off Savona, a vessel was taken containing two
hundred and fifty wounded soldiers, who were
being conveyed from Genoa back to France after
the indecisive battle of the Trebbia. On this
Captain Austen remarks, ''As many of them
were in such a state as not to be moved but at
the risque of their lives. Captain Caulfield (of
the Aurora), from motives of humanity, let the
vessel proceed."

Another capture shows how much the French
were hampered by our blockade, their general
being unable to reach his army excepting by sea.
In Francis Austen's own words :

8r F

Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

August 2, 1799. — " Last night at 9 p.m. the
Minerves boats came alongside ; sent them along
with our own, armed, under the command of the
first lieutenant to cut out some vessels from the
Bay of Diano.

** About midnight saw a very heavy fire of
cannon and musketry in Diano Bay. Towards
dawn the boats returned on board, having brought
out a large settee laden with wine, and a French
armed half-galley, mounting six guns, and rowing
twenty-six oars. This galley had lately arrived
from Toulon with General Joubert, appointed to
supersede Moreau in the command of the French
army of Italy, and was to have proceeded to-day
with the general to the headquarters, near Genoa.
She was manned with thirty-six people, twenty of
which jumped overboard and swam ashore as
soon as our boats attacked them. The other
sixteen were made prisoners, amongst which was
the commander of her, having the rank of ensign
de vaisseau in the service of the Republic. The
vessel is called La Virginie^ is Turkish built, and
was taken by the French at Malta when they got
possession of that place last year."

Another time the chace is described as follows :

July 14. — ''This vessel proved to be the El
Fortunato Spanish ship polacre of about 100
tons burden, from Cagllari bound to Oneglia,
laden with wine, and having on board an officer


The Patrol of the Mediterranean

charged with despatches from the King of Sar-
dinia to General Suwarrow, Commander-in-Chief
of the combined armies of Russia and Austria in

The autumn and winter of 1 799 were spent by
the Peterel cruising again in the west of the
Mediterranean, chiefly off Minorca ; but in the
spring of 1800 they were again near Marseilles.
The capture of the French brig La Ligurienne,
described in the following letter, is another
witness to the fruitless attempts of the French to
get help to the army which Bonaparte had left
behind in Egypt.

" Peterel at Sea, March 22, 1800.

" Sir, — I have to inform you that the vessels
with which you saw me engaged yesterday after-
noon near Cape Couronne, were a ship, brig, and
xebecque, belonging to the French Republic ; two
of which, the ship and xebecque, I drove on shore,
and, after a running action of about one hour and
a half, during the most of which we were not
more than two cables length from the shore, and
frequently not half that distance, the third struck
her colours. On taking possession, we found her
to hQ La Lzgurzenne, French national brig, mount-
ing fourteen six-pounders, and two thirty-six-
pound howitzers, all brass, commanded by Fran9ois
Auguste Pelabon, lieutenant de vaisseau, and
had on board at the commencement of the action


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

one hundred and four men. Though from the
spirited conduct and alacrity of Lieutenant Packer,
Mr. Thompson, the master, and Mr. Hill, the
purser (who very handsomely volunteered his ser-
vices at the main deck guns), joined to the gal-
lantry and determined courage of the rest of the
officers, seamen and marines of his Majesty's
sloop under my command, I was happily enabled
to bring the contest to a favourable issue ; yet I
could not but feel the want, and regret the absence,
of my first lieutenant, Mr. Glover, and thirty men,
who were at the time away in prizes. I have a
lively pleasure in that this service has been per-
formed without a man hurt on our part, and with
no other damage to the ship than four of our
carronades dismounted, and a few shots through
the sails. La Ligurienne is a very fine vessel of
the kind, well equipped with stores of all sorts,
in excellent repair, and not two years old. She
is built on a peculiar plan, being fastened through-
out with screw bolts, so as to be taken to pieces
and put together with ease, and is said to have
been intended to follow Bonaparte to Egypt. I
learn from the prisoners that the ship is called Le
Cerf, mounting fourteen six-pounders, xebecque
Le Joillet, mounting six six-pounders, and that
they had sailed in company with a convoy (two of
which, as per margin, I captured in the forenoon)
that morning from Cette, bound to Marseilles. I


The Patrol of the Mediterranean

enclose a return of the killed and wounded, as far
as I have been able to ascertain it,

** And am, your very humble servant,

" Francis Wm. Austen.

** To Robert Dudley Oliver, Esq.,

** Captain of H.M. Ship Mermaid,

" Return of killed and wounded in an action
between his Britannic Majesty's sloop Peterely
Francis Wm. Austen, Esq., Commander, and the
French national brig La Ligurienne, commanded
by Fran9ois Auguste Pelabon, lieutenant de

'' Peterel: Killed, none; wounded, none.

^' La Ligurienne : Killed, the captain and one
seaman ; wounded, one gardemarin and one

''(Signed) Francis Wm. Austen."

The captures, **as per margin," are of a French
bark, name unknown, about two hundred and fifty
tons, and of a French bombarde. La Vestic, about
one hundred and fifty tons, both laden with wheat,
and both abandoned by their crews on the Petered s

If, as is stated. La Ligurienne was intended to
go to Egypt, it seems not improbable that the
reason for her peculiar construction was that she
might be taken to pieces, carried across the


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

desert, and launched again in the Red Sea, there
to take part in an attempt on India.

This exploit, though related in a matter-of-fact
way by Captain Austen in his letter, was not in-
considerable in the eyes of the authorities, and
the result was his immediate promotion to post
rank. He himself knew nothing of this advance-
ment until the following October; only an instance
of the slowness and difficulty of communication,
which was so great a factor in the naval affairs of
that time.

It should be mentioned that the frigate Mer-
maid was in sight during part of this action,
which perhaps had something to do with the two
French vessels running themselves ashore, also
that the capture of La Ligurienne was within six
miles of Marseilles. The Peterel took her three
prizes to Minorca, where the prisoners were sent
on board the Courageuse, one of Perrde's frigates
captured in 1799 as already described.

The next voyage was to Malta, where the for-
tress of Valetta was still in French hands, with a
few ships under the command of Rear-Admiral
Villeneuve. The British blockading squadron
had just taken the Guillaume Tellm the endeavour
to escape from Valetta harbour, after eighteen
months' stay. This ship of the line was the only
one remaining to the French from Bonapartes
expedition to Egypt and the Battle of the Nile.


The Patrol of the Mediterranean

The P^/^r^/ took on board, in the Bay of Marsa
Sirocco, thirty-five of the crew of the Guillaume
Tell, by orders of Commodore Troubridge of the
CullodeUy and with these prisoners made sail for
Palermo, where for a few days she hoisted Nelson's
flag. Arrived once more at Port Mahon, in
Minorca, the French sailors were added to the
number on the Courageuse, and the Peterel found
her way to Lord Keith's fleet, now closely invest-
ing General Massena in Genoa.

The great events of the campaign of Marengo
are matters of European history. The British
fleet's blockade of the coast was clearly a deter-
mining factor in the choice of the St. Bernard
route by the First Consul, inasmuch as the
Riviera road was commanded from the sea. It
must remain a question whether Bonaparte deli-
berately left Massena's army to risks of starvation
and capture, in order that the destruction of the
Austrian forces in Piedmont might be complete.
Massena had been compelled to extend his lines
too far, so that he might secure from a moun-
tainous country the supplies which could not
reach him from France. This made it possible
for the Austrians to press their advantage, and to
isolate the fortresses of Nice, Savona, and Genoa.
The unceasing patrol of the sea completed the
circle of hostile forces. The French army was
entirely shut up in Genoa, and throughout the


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

month of May the town was several times bom-
barded by the ships and the armed boats of the
fleet. These armed boats had already reduced the
small garrison of Savona. It Is recorded in the
Peterel log that a **polacre laden with artillery
and ammunition for the army of General Baron
d'Ott " came from that port. The Peterel was
detailed by Lord Keith to cruise in shore as near
as possible to Genoa, and Captain Austen received
the thanks of this Admiral for his energetic per-
formance of that duty. One night the vessel was
under fire from the lighthouse forts, and received
several shots. A feature of the blockade was the
plan of ''rowing guard" each night, in order to
prevent access to the harbour after dark. The
Peterel^s pinnace was frequently on this duty in
turn with the other boats of the fleet, and took
part in cutting out the Prima galley after mid-
night on the 2 1 St of May. This galley was
intended to take part in an attempt on the smaller
vessels of the British fleet, but was attacked by
the boats^ crews at the Mole when just ready to
come out. She was boarded in the most gallant
manner, in spite of a large force of fighting men
on board, and of a heavy fire from the harbour
forts. The capture was greatly helped by the
conduct of the 300 galley slaves, who rowed out
so fast that they almost outstripped the boats that
were towing her. These slaves were allowed on


The Patrol of the Mediterranean

deck when the prize was out of gunshot range
from the harbour, and great were their manifesta-
tions of joy at their release. The sequel of the
incident was tragic. Lord Keith sent most of
them back to Genoa with the other French
prisoners, no doubt with the idea of forcing their
support on the half-starved garrison. The galley
slaves were shot as traitors in the market-place.

During the preliminary conference with General
d'Ott and Lord Keith, preceding the French sur-
render at Genoa, it is said that some contempt
for Austria was expressed by Massena, who went
on as follows : " Milord, si jamais la France et
TAngleterre s'entendre, elles gouverneraient la
monde." This almost foreshadows the ** entente
cordiale " of 1904.

On June 4 the French army capitulated. Genoa
town was handed over to the Austrians under
General Melas, and the port was occupied by Lord
Keith in his flagship Minotaur.

But already the First Consul had descended
into Italy, had taken possession of Milan, and
was in full march to defeat Baron d'Ott at
Montebello. On the 14th Marengo was fought,
and the tide of fortune turned. Genoa, Savona,
and all the fortresses of Piedmont were made
over to the French. Massena came back on
June 24, and Lord Keith had just time to
move out of the harbour and to resume his


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

blockade. The victorious First Consul was again
in full possession of Northern Italy.

Before the end of May the Peterel was already
on her way southward, and the log records the
transport of thirty-two men to H.M.S. Guillaume
Tell (recently captured) off Syracuse, then another
call at Malta (St. Paul's Bay) where the blockaders
were busy with the later stages of the reduction
of Valetta. The destination of the Peterel was
the coast of Egypt, where Sir Sydney Smith was
locally in command. Alexandria and other har-
bours were still held by the French, now quite
cut off from outside support. A Turkish fleet of
twelve ships was at anchor off Alexandria, and
the blockade was supposed to be maintained by
them, but in actual practice the burden devolved
upon the three British vessels, Tigre, Transfer y

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryJ. H. (John Henry) HubbackJane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; → online text (page 5 of 18)