J. H. (John Henry) Hubback.

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

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French to greater advantage. But the whole is
at present merely conjecture, until some further
explanation of the action has taken place. The
account which the French have published in the
Moniteur, allowing for their natural boasting and
vanity, contains a greater portion of truth than

Villeneuve's letter will give an idea of what
that account was. '' The battle then began almost
along the whole line. We fired by the light of the
enemy's fire, almost always without seeing them.
The fog did not abate during the remainder of
the evening. At the first peep of dawn I made
signal to bear down upon the enemy, who had
taken their position at a great distance, and
endeavoured by every possible press of sail to
avoid renewing the action. Finding it impossible
to force them to an engagement, I thought it my
duty not to remove further from the line of my

In consequence of this Sir Robert Calder was
recalled and tried by court-martial at Portsmouth in
the following December, when he was severely re-
primanded foran '*errorinjudgment." The severity
of tone of the Naval Chronicle towards those who

145 K

Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

were fighting the country's battles finds its parallel
in the French newspapers of the date. Villeneuve
was deeply stung by a sneering remark In the
Moniteur upon what the conduct of the French
fleet might be If commanded by a man of ability —
so much so as to Induce him to disregard Napo-
leon's wishes that he should go to Toulon, col-
lecting forces on the way, and to lead him to
come to close quarters with our fleet as soon as a
convenient opportunity offered. Of that oppor-
tunity and the Battle of Trafalgar to which It led
we will speak in the following chapter.




The month of September was spent in blockading
Cadiz. The Canopus, as already stated, was one
of the squadron of five told off to keep close in
shore and watch the port. So close were they
that one time the Tigre nearly ran aground and
had to be towed off. The log on September i6th
gives an account of what could be seen of the
enemy's fleet.

**We stood in till all the enemy's fleet were
open of the town, and had an opportunity of dis-
tinctly counting them. Their whole force con-
sisted of thirty-three sail of the line and five
frigates, all apparently quite ready for sea, with
the exception of two ships of the line ; one of
which (French) had her topmasts struck, and main
top-gallant mast down on the deck ; the other
(Spanish) had her fore-mast struck and fore-stay
slack as if doing something to the bowsprit. Of
the ships of the line seventeen were French and
sixteen Spanish, of which last two were three-


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

deckers. The frigates were all French, and one
of them appeared to have a poop. We saw also
at the Carracas three large ships (two of them
appearing to be three-deckers) and two small ones,
all of them in a considerable state of forwardness
in point of rigging."

On September 28 the Victory arrived from
England, with Nelson on board, and three days
later the Canopus joined the main part of the
fleet, and was almost immediately told off to take
her turn in the duty of fetching water from
Gibraltar. The story of the month of October,
with its hopes, fears, and disappointments, is best
told by Francis Austen himself in the following
letter to Mary Gibson :

" Canopus at Sea, off Gibraltar, October 15, 1805.

** My dearest Mary, — Having now got over
the hurry and bustle which unavoidably attends
every ship while in the act of compleating provi-
sions, water and stores, I think it high time to
devote some part of my attention to your amuse-
ment, and to be in a state of preparation for any
opportunity which may offer of dispatching letters
to England. But in order to make myself under-
stood I must endeavour to be methodical, and
therefore shall commence the account I have now
to send you from the date of my last, which was
finished and forwarded by the Nimble brig on the


" A Melancholy Situation


2nd of this month. We had then just joined the
fleet from the in-shore squadron, and, I beUeve I
mentioned, were about to quit it again for Gibral-
tar and Tetuan. We sailed that evening with
four other ships of the line, a frigate, and five
merchant vessels under convoy, and on the follow-
ing morning fell in with the Euryalus, which we
had left off Cadiz to watch the enemy. Captain
Blackwood informed us by signal that he had
received information by a Swedish ship from
Cadiz that the troops had all embarked on board
the men-of-war, and it was reported they were to
sail with the first easterly wind. Though much
confidence could not be placed on the accuracy
and authenticity of this intelligence, it was, how-
ever, of such a nature as to induce Admiral Louis
to return with four of the ships to Lord Nelson,
leaving the Zealous and Endymion (both of them
crippled ships) to proceed with the convoy to
Gibraltar. We rejoined the Commander-in-Chief
on the morning of the 5th, and were again dis-
patched in the course of the day.

** The wind being directly against us, and blow-
ing very strong, we were not able to reach
Gibraltar until the 9th, when every exertion was
made to get on board such supplies of stores and
provisions as we were in want of, and the Rock
could supply. This was effected in three days, at
which time the wind changed to the westward and


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

became favourable for our watering at Tetuan,
where we anchored on the evening of the 12th.
We sailed again last night to return to the fleet,
having got on board in the course of two days,
with our own boats alone, 300 tons of water, and
every other ship had got a proportionate quantity.
You will judge from this that we have not been
idle. We are now expecting a wind to take us
out of the Mediterranean again, and hope to
accomplish it in the course of the next twenty-
four hours ; at present it is nearly calm, but
appearances indicate an easterly wind. We are,
of course, very anxious to get back to the fleet for
fear the enemy should be moving, for the idea of
their doing so while we are absent is by no means
pleasant. Having borne our share in a tedious
chace and anxious blockade, it would be mortify-
ing indeed to find ourselves at last thrown out of
any share of credit or emolument which would
result from an action. Such, I hope, will not be
our lot, though, if they do venture out at all, it
must happen to some one, as a part of the fleet
will be constantly sent in to compleat as fast as
the others arrive from having performed that

** Our stay at Gibraltar was not productive of
much gaiety to us ; we dined only twice on shore,
and both times with General Fox, the Governor.
We had engagements for several succeeding days


"A Melancholy Situation"

on our hands ; but this change of wind making it
necessary for us to move off, our friends were left
to lament our absence, and eat the fatted calf
without us. I believe I have mentioned in a
former letter that the young lady / admired so
much (Miss Smith) was married to the Colonel
Keen, whom Sutton will not acknowledge as an
acquaintance. As a matter of civility, I called
with the Admiral Louis to make them a morning
visit, but we were not fortunate enough to find
them at home, which, of course, / very much
regretted. The last evening of our stay at
Gibraltar we went, after dining with the General,
to see Othello performed by some of the
officers of the garrison. The theatre is small,
but very neatly fitted up ; the dresses and scenery
appeared good, and I might say the same of
the acting could I have seen or heard anything
of it ; but, although I was honoured with a seat
in the Governor's box at the commencement of
the performance, yet I did not long profit by it,
for one of his aide-de-camps, happening to be
married, and his lady happening also to come in
during the first scene, I was obliged to resign my
situation, happy to have it in my power to
accomodate a fair one. The play was Othello,
and by what I have been able to collect from the
opinions of those who were more advantageously
situated for seeing and hearing than myself, I did


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

not experience a very severe loss from my com-
plaisance. I believe the Admiral was not much
better amused than I was, for, at the expiration of
the first act, he proposed departing, which I very
readily agreed to, as I had for some time found
the house Insufferably close and hot. I hardly
need add that the evening was not quite so pro-
ductive of pleasure to me as the last theatrical
representation I had witnessed, which was at
Covent Garden some time in the beginning of
February last, when I had the honour of being
seated by a fair young lady, with whom I be-
came slightly acquainted the preceding year at

*' Do you happen to recollect anything of the
evening ? I think you do, and that you will not
readily forget it.

" October i8. — The hopes with which I had
flattered myself of getting out of the Straits two
days ago have not been realised, and, from the
circumstances which have since occurred, it is
very uncertain when we shall get to the fleet
again. The wind on the evening of the 15th
came to the westward and forced us back to
Tetuan, where we remained till yesterday evening,
at which time a frigate came over with orders for
Admiral Louis to give protection to a convoy then
collected at Gibraltar for Malta, as far as Carta-
gena, after which he is to return to the Com-


A Melancholy Situation"

mander-in-Chief. We accordingly came over to
the Rock this morning, and are now proceeding as
fast as possible with the trade to the eastward.
Our force consists of five sail of the line and
three frigates, which last we shall leave in charge
of the convoy as soon as we have seen them safe
past the Carthagena squadron. I can't say I
much like the prospect. I do not expect to derive
any advantage from it, and it puts us completely
out of the way in case the enemy should make an
attempt to get to sea, which is by no means im-
probable, if he knows Lord Nelson's force is
weakened by the detachment of so many ships.
It is since I last wrote to you I believe that your
No. 3 has come to hand ; it was brought by
Brigadier-General Tilson, and was enclosed under
cover from Henry. It has been months on the
journey. There are still three of yours missing,
Nos. 5, 6 and 7, some of which I suppose are
gone to seek me in the West Indies, but I trust
they will do so in vain there. We have heard
from the fleet off Cadiz, and learn that it has
been reinforced by the arrival of five men-of-war
from England, some of which I hope have brought
letters, or they might as well have stayed away.
Sir Robert Calder is gone home in the Prince of
Wales, which I am sorry has happened during our
absence, as by it a very fine opportunity of writ-
ing has been lost, which is always a source of

Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

regret to me when it occurs. I cannot, however,
accuse myself of any neglect, and you will, I hope,
as readily acquit me of it ; indeed, when you know
the circumstances, I am sure you will, though I
daresay you will feel rather disappointed to hear
a man-of-war has arrived from the Cadiz fleet
and find no letter arrived from me, unless you
happened to recollect that I expected to go to
Gibraltar and, therefore, would probably have been
absent when she left the station.

''October 21. — We have just bid adieu to the
convoy, without attending them quite so far as
was originally intended, having this day received
intelligence, by a vessel despatched in pursuit of
us, that on Saturday, 19th, the enemy's fleet was
actually under way, and coming out of Cadiz.

** Our situation is peculiarly unpleasant and dis-
tressing, for if they escape Lord Nelson's vigil-
ance and get into the Mediterranean, which is not
very likely, we shall be obliged, with our small
force, to keep out of their way ; and on the other
hand, should an action take place, it must be
decided long before we could possibly get down
even were the wind fair, which at present it is not.
As I have no doubt but the event would be highly
honourable to our arms, and be at the same time
productive of some good prizes, I shall have to
lament our absence on such an occasion on a
double account, the loss of pecuniary advantage


" A Melancholy Situation "

as well as of professional credit. And after having
been so many months in a state of constant and
unremitting fag, to be at last cut out by a parcel
of folk just come from their homes, where some
of them were sitting at their ease the greater
part of last war, and the whole of this, till just
now, is particularly hard and annoying.

" You, perhaps, may not feel this so forcibly as
I do, and in your satisfaction at my having avoided
the danger of battle may not much regret my
losing the credit of having contributed to gain a
victory ; not so myself !

'* I do not profess to like fighting for its own
sake, but if there have been an action with the
combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on
which I sailed from the squadron as the most in-
auspicious one of my life.

" October 27, off Tetuan. — Alas ! my dearest
Mary, all my fears are but too fully justified.
The fleets have met, and, after a very severe con-
test, a most decisive victory has been gained by
the English twenty-seven over the enemy's thirty-
three. Seventeen of the ships are taken and one
is burnt ; but I am truly sorry to add that this
splendid affair has cost us many lives, and amongst
them the most invaluable one to the nation, that
of our gallant, and ever-to-be-regreted, Com-
mander-in-Chief, Lord Nelson, who was mortally
wounded by a musket shot, and only lived long


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

enough to know his fleet successful. In a public
point of view, I consider his loss as the greatest
which could have occurred ; nor do I hesitate to
say there is not an Admiral on the list so eminently-
calculated for the command of a fleet as he was.
I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again
to see such a man. To the soundest judgment
he united prompt decision and speedy execution
of his plans ; and he possessed in a superior
degree the happy talent of making every class of
persons pleased with their situation and eager to
exert themselves in forwarding the public service.
As a national benefit I cannot but rejoice that our
arms have been once again successful, but at the
same time I cannot help feeling how very unfor-
tunate we have been to be away at such a moment,
and, by a fatal combination of unfortunate though
unavoidable events, to lose all share in the glory
of a day which surpasses all which ever went
before, is what I cannot think of with any degree
of patience ; but, as I cannot write upon that
subject without complaining, I will drop it for the
present, till time and reflection reconcile me a
little more to what I know is now inevitable.

**We arrived off the Rock of Gibraltar two
days ago, and having heard of the action as well
as that our fleet was in want of assistance to repair
their damages and secure their prizes, we pro-
ceeded on with a fine, fresh wind at east to run



" A Melancholy Situation "

through the Straits ; but before we were out of
sight of the garrison the wind chopped round to
the westward, directly in our teeth, and came on
to blow a very heavy gale of wind, which effec-
tually prevented our proceeding. We bore away
for this place and wait a change of wind and
weather, not a little anxious for our friends out-
side, who could have been but ill prepared to
encounter such a severe storm as they must have
experienced on a lee shore, and probably with
crippled masts. Indeed, I hardly expect to hear
they have all escaped.

"Off Cadiz, October 31. — Having at length
effected our escape from the Mediterranean prison
and rejoined our friends, I will proceed to such
particulars as have come to my ears relative to
the action, and present situation of our ships.
The object of the enemy was avowedly to get
into the Mediterranean, but at the same time they
did not, as their conduct proved, wish to avoid a
battle, expecting, no doubt, their superiority would
have ensured them at least a drawn action, and
that they would have disabled our fleet so much
as to deprive us of the means to prevent their
proceeding to Toulon ; but in this they were for-
tunately mistaken. Indeed, they acknowledge
that they had considered Lord Nelson's whole
force as only twenty-seven, and knowing that he
had detached six into the Mediterranean expected


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

to find him with only twenty-one ships, and the
irregular mass in which our ships bore down to the
attack prevented their counting them, so that till
after the action was closed the French Admiral
did not discover how great a force he had en-
countered. The van of our fleet which led the
attack have suffered very much, especially the
Victory, Royal Sovereign, Tdmdraire, Belleisle,
Mars, and Bellerophon ; but some of the rear
vessels hardly got into action at all. Had we
been there our station would have been the fifth
ship from the van, and I trust we should have had
our share.

** The battle was hardly concluded when the
weather set in so stormy (and continued so for
nearly a week) as to prevent our taking possession
of many ships which had surrendered, and of
keeping several others. Nineteen are known to
have struck ; four of which have since got into
Cadiz ; three are in our possession ; and the rest,
to the number of twelve, are either burnt, sunk, or
driven on shore. Of thirteen, which are now in
Cadiz, out of their whole force the greatest part
have lost nearly all their masts, and are so com-
pletely disabled as to make it impossible they can
be again ready for service during the winter. On
the whole, therefore, we may fairly consider their
loss as equal to twenty sail of the line.

** Our ships have been so much dispersed since


^^ A Melancholy Situation"

the action, by the blowing weather, that Admiral
Collingwood has not yet been able to collect re-
ports of their damages or loss ; but he has strong
reason to hope every ship has been able to keep
off the shore, and are now in safety. The action
appears in general to have been obstinately con-
tested, and has doubtless been unusually bloody ;
but it has also been so decisive as to make it im-
probable the Spaniards or French will again risque
a meeting with a British fleet. Had it taken place
in the open sea, away from the rocks, shoals, and
leeshores there is no doubt but every ship would
have been taken, but we engaged them under
every disadvantage of situation.

'' I was on board the Euryalus yesterday, in
which ship Admiral Collingwood has his flag at
present, and was introduced to the French
Admiral Villeneuve, who is a prisoner there. He
appears to be about forty-five years of age, of
dark complexion, with rather an unmeaning coun-
tenance, and has not much the appearance of a
gentleman. He is, however, so much of a
Frenchman as to bear his misfortunes with

** I do not yet know in what way we are to be
employed, but imagine that, as the Canopus is a
perfect ship at present, we shall be left with such
others as are fit to remain at sea, to watch the
enemy in the port ; while those ships which have


Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

been damaged will go to Gibraltar to refit. Many
of them will, I daresay, be sent home, as well
because proper masts cannot be procured for
them here, as that it will now be unnecessary to
keep so large a fleet on this station.

" By the death of Lord Nelson I have again
lost all chance of a frigate. I had asked his lord-
ship to appoint me to one when he had the
opportunity, and, though I had no positive pro-
mise from him, I have reason to believe he would
have attended to my wishes. Of Admiral Colling-
wood I do not know enough to allow of my making
a similar request ; and not having been in the
action I have no claims of service to urge in sup-
port of my wishes. I must, therefore, remain in
the CanopuSy though on many accounts I am
more than ever anxious to get into a frigate.

** November 4. — We have just rejoined the fleet
after having been detached to examine the coast
and assist distressed ships, and hear the Euryalus
is to sail very shortly for England with the
Admiral's despatches, containing, I presume, the
details of the action, with the particular loss of
each ship, all of which you will learn from the
public papers more correctly than I can possibly
relate them, for, indeed, I have as yet learnt
scarce anything more than I have already given

** I am anxiously expecting letters from England,


" A Melancholy Situation *'

and as our last news from Lisbon mentioned four
packets being due I hope soon to hear of their
arrival, and to be again blessed with the sight
of a well-known handwriting, which is always a
cordial to my heart, and never surely did I stand
more in need of some such support. I yesterday
received a letter from Henry, dated the ist of
October, which was brought out by Captain
Mac Kay of the Scout, who is an acquaintance of
mine, and an intimate friend of my brother
Charles. The Scoiit came away on too short a
notice to admit of Henry's writing to you or he
would have done it. He sends me pleasing
accounts of all my family, which is, of course,
gratifying to me.

** I must now, my dearest love, bid you farewell,
having said all I had got to say. Make my
kindest remembrances to all your family at Rams-
gate and elsewhere."

Miss Gibson must, indeed, have been hard-
hearted if she did not acquit her lover of neglect
on receiving such a letter as this while he was on
active service. It is written, as was usual, on one
large sheet of notepaper, the ** envelope," that is the
fourth page, full, except where the folds come out-
side, and the whole crossed in the fine, neat hand-
writing of the day, very like that of Jane Austen

l6l L

Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers

The scene in Cadiz Bay, after the action of
Trafalgar, can be imagined from the few facts
given in the log of the Canopus on her arrival
from Tetuan.

''October 30, at 11, saw a French ship of the
line dismasted at the entrance of the harbour.
On standing in to reconnoitre the position of the
enemy's ship it was judged impossible to bring
her out with the wind as it was, and that it was
not worth the risque of disabling one of the
squadron in an attempt to destroy her. She
appeared to be warping fast in, and to have a
great length of hawser laid out. The batteries
fired several shells over us.

** 31^/. — Passed the Juno and a Spanish 74 at
anchor. The Spanish vessel, San Ildefonso, had
lost all her masts, but was then getting up jury

** At a quarter past four, closed the Euryalus,
having Vice-Admiral Collingwood's flag, shortened
sail and hove to. The Admiral (also the Captain)
went on board the Euryalus. Several ships at
anchor around us.

** A French frigate and brig, with flags of truce,
in the squadron.

** At four we had passed the Ajax^ Leviathan,
and Orion at anchor, all of them, to appearance,
but little damaged in the action. The Leviathan
was fishing her main yard, and the Ajax shifting


^' A Melancholy Situation "

her fore-top mast. A large ship, supposed to be
the Temh-aire, was at anchor to the northward of
San Luca, with fore and mizen-top masts gone ;
and eight others were seen from the masthead to
the W.N.W.

^'November i. — Saw the wreck of a ship lying
on the Marragotes shoal.

'''November 19. — Saw the Tdmiraire, Royal
Sovereign, Tonnant, Leviathan, and Mars. These
five ships are returning here under jury masts,
having suffered considerably in the action of the
2 1st ult.

" The Sovereign was in tow of the Leviathan,
which seemed to be the most perfect ship of the

The Canopus, as Francis Austen foresaw, was
left at Cadiz with those ships which had suffered
but slightly, as well as those which had shared
their own hard fate of being out of the action
altogether. Here they stayed till the end of the
month, awaiting further developments.




Francis Austen in the letter to Miss Gibson
expresses two wishes, neither of which was to be

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Online LibraryJ. H. (John Henry) HubbackJane Austen's sailor brothers: being the adventures of Sir Francis Austen ... and ... Charles Austen; → online text (page 9 of 18)