P. H. (Philip Howard) Colomb.

Memoirs of Admiral the Right Honble. Sir Astley Cooper Key, G.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S., Etc. online

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the kind, but the circumstances are characteristic of Key's
early life, and will explain much that came afterwards.

" The reader will excuse the few words which have been
necessarily bestowed on Key's rival, since those alone could
bring out the biography of the man himself; but he will
not be troubled with any more. Both went off to sea and
took different lines, the result, exhibited in different ways,
of the common life they had led at Portsmouth and

I have said that the remanents of Key's life at College
under his own hand are scanty. There are just a few lines


which should be quoted as illustrative of the account
Captain Burrows has given of him at this time. He writes
to his mother, under date 25 th September 1842 —

" If you have Keith's Signs of the Times would you be kind enough to lend
and send it to me, and also his Evidences of Prophecy, which I think you have in
town. I have kept my resolution bravely, not having been out to a single
evening-party except to Lady Hastings' one evening she asked me to go in.
Burrows and I are both in good health, and working very hard, and getting on
equally well.

1 ' We have such a nice set of captains and commanders here now. There is
one commander, Captain Caffin, 1 a great friend of mine ; he was an old friend of
Holland's. The captain is very kind to me ; I like him more and more every
day. You can have no idea with what pleasure I shall look back on the year I
have spent here. I am certain that I shall always consider it as the best
employed year in my whole life.

Again on 9th October —

" I read your last delightful letter with a great deal of pleasure ; it enlightened
me on other points beside the one in question. My reason for asking the ques-
tion was, that I had Molyneux on Regeneration of Baptism put into my hands ;
and as he is, I believe, a very low churchman, I did not like to read it before
asking your opinion on the subject first, for fear of being influenced in any way
by him, but now I can read it with safety.

" Now I am going to ask you another question on a subject which I am afraid
is difficult to explain. What is meant by Christ's descending into hell ? You
need not explain it to me, but refer me to passages in Scripture where I can find
it out myself. What a delightful book the Evidences of Prophecy is ! you may
think I am a long time reading it, but I am only half through it now. The only
time I can possibly spare is Monday afternoon, and after evening service on
Sunday. Our quarterly examination commences to-morrow, and lasts till
Thursday. I hope I shall beat Burrows."

The next scrap of a note is without date beyond the
day of the week (Tuesday), but it relates most probably to
the examination just referred to —

"lam first, I am happy to say, by several numbers. I only trust I shall be
so next time, but I do not think about it. . . . Burrows has just been in my
room while I am writing, and asked me what I was about. I said I was writing
to you, telling you that I was first ; so he says I am to give you his love at the
same time. And really, although he only said it in joke, yet I am sure he loves
you for my sake. We often talk about you. It is so delightful to think that we
are such good friends."

1 The late Admiral Sir James C. Caffin, K.C.B.


THE CURAQOA 1843-1844

THE Curacoa was a ship with a poop, a sixth rate, carry-
ing 24 guns and 240 men. She was commissioned
at Chatham on the 1st March 1843 by Captain Sir
Thomas Pasley, Bart., 1 and on the 6th the newly promoted
lieutenant, Key, joined her as junior and gunnery lieutenant,
and there he found, to his delight, his old friend in the
Cleopatra, Frank Denison, installed as first-lieutenant, and
next day Mr. Carmichael joined as second - lieutenant.
Other officers soon made their appearance, and the fitting
out of the ship went on at a rate which was, for those days,
brisk. A piece of scientific improvement which does not
appear to have had its day, I find noted in the log. Some
of the sails were dipped in " Burnett's solution." Sir William
Burnett was medical director-general of the navy, and his
name was long preserved by means of a disinfectant, largely
used in the navy, which bore it ; but what the object of the
present solution was I am unable to say. It may have
been a non-inflammable compound or a preservative. No
doubt it was duly watched and noted by the junior lieu-

On the 27th of April the ship was towed down to
Gillingham Reach by the Monkey tug — a very early ex-
ponent of the new system of propulsion, and there she was
employed for the two succeeding days, as the log has it, in

1 Sir Thomas Pasley was afterwards captain of H.M.S. Royal Albert during
the Crimean War ; then successively captain-superintendent of Pembroke Dock-
yard, rear-admiral superintendent of Devonport Dockyard, and admiral com-
mander-in-chief at Portsmouth. He retired from the navy in 1870, and died at
Moorhill, Hants, in 1884.



" swinging ship to find local attraction." This, again, was
one of the innovations or advances with which Key no
doubt much concerned himself. The existence of what is
now called " local deviation " in the compass was a com-
paratively recent discovery. It was always slight in wooden
ships, but in the early iron ships was found to be so great
that it used to be seriously discussed whether the fact alone
would not hinder the employment of such material in ship-

It seems strange to us now to recall the indifference
with which errors of the compass were treated only so short
a time ago. Sir Thomas Pasley was more alive to the
point than some of his contemporaries ; and though he
speaks in his journal of Captain Johnstone, who was then
devoting himself to this branch of naval science, somewhat
slightingly as " the compass man," he yet used his influence
to obtain that without which no ship would now be thought
fit to go to sea, and was supplied with " a standard com-
pass as a favour."

Every ship in those days, if not in earlier ones, was
pursued by experimentalists, and anchors of experimental
construction were supplied to the Cura^oa when she had
completed the examination of her compass deviation. She
was given a " Roger's " anchor on the one bow and a
" Porter's " on the other. Roger's was but a modified form of
the ancient anchor still in use, with an iron instead of a
wooden stock. Porter's anchor was a curious novelty, with
its crown and flukes in one piece, rather in the form
of a boomerang, and pivoted through the centre on which
it worked. Falling into the hands of a Mr. Trotman, who
made a slight modification in it, it became well known on
paper for a great many years, owing to the persistent
advocacy it received at the hands of the modifier, notwith-
standing which it fell out of use.

The progress seawards was in those days somewhat
deliberate. The Curagoa was towed down to Sheerness
by H.M.S. Tartarus on the ist of May, and she was
inspected by Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Brace next day.
On the 3rd she was towed as far as Margate by the

THE CURAQOA— 1843-1844


Tartarus and African, when a thick fog compelled an

Sir Thomas Pasley had been twelve years on shore
when he assumed command of the Curacoa. The days
when the necessity for large reserves of officers was not
admitted had not yet arrived. There was but a slight
indication of "retirement schemes," and officers accepted
early promotion and long rests on shore afterwards as
inherent in the naval system. The manning of the navy,
too, still remained as it had been. The Curacoa was sixty
men short as she lay at anchor off Margate, and with four-
teen men on the sick-list could have made no approach to
that efficiency which is now demanded of a man-of-war
before she leaves her port. Even while at Portsmouth, Sir
Thomas records his attempts to man his ship, and regrets
that owing to the rain he was only able to pick up two

The coming change from sail to steam finds a regretful
record in the captain's journal. The Curacoa passed the
Cyclops, which was a sister steamer to the Gorgon, hereafter
to be spoken of. Captain Pasley notes her, and records his
sorrow that he did not take command of her instead of the
Curacoa, she being so independent, while the Curacoa was
in tow.

On the 4th of May the Curacoa managed to get as
far as the Downs by the use of her own sails, and on the
5 th she finally put to sea, arriving on the afternoon of the
6th at Spithead. By the 1 oth she had got as far as Ply-
mouth Sound, and was detained there, as the log says,
" fitting new chain cable compressors, the old ones being
useless," which gives us a hint that chain cables were still
somewhat on their trial.

She was, however, ready for sea on the 22nd, and the
ponderous and rather inconsequent methods of the old
time are illustrated by the log noticing that on that day
" Rear- Admiral Sir S. Pyne came with pay clerks to pay
two months' wages." The two objects of remark being, that
it took a rear-admiral and staff of civil clerks to do that which
is now done monthly by the paymaster of the ship without


excessive note; and that care was taken in these bygone
days not to let the men get their money until it was certain
they could not spend it, unless they had run into debt
beforehand. In this case the Curaqoa sailed next day.

The passage from Plymouth to Rio Janeiro occupied
fifty-four days, being broken by short stays of a day or two
at Madeira, and at Santa Cruz in TenerirTe. The apparently
dull recitals in the log of the changes of wind and weather
were to the voyagers the elements of that romance of the
sea which everyone felt in the days of sails, but which dis-
appeared, possibly for ever, when steam became a common-
place. Apart from these changes, there was not much out
of the ordinary track to influence the character whose
history we are tracing.

The gloominess of the first day at sea, when the absence
from all those each one holds dear is a fresh wound, leaves
a record in Key's journal —

" How wretchedly dull everyone seems ! The chaplain is the only happy-look-
ing man in the mess. The way they are all employed is rather amusing. Denison
is on deck, looking very sulky, growling at everybody ; I would not like to tread
on his toes for something. The master, having seen the ship clear of the land, is
just come below, and immediately sits down, pulls out three old letters in a lady's
hand, and reads them. The marine officer, who is subject to alternate fits of
sentiment and sea-sickness, is leaning with his head on his hand and the Army
Evolutions before him upside down."

But the young lieutenant, full of an eager spirit, though
sailor-like he was not now unmindful of the girl he had left
behind him, and full of memories of his much-loved home
circle, was the last person in the world to suffer his energies
to be hampered by soft remembrances. He plunged at
once into his regular " three watches," adding thereto the
gunnery duties for which he was appointed to the ship.
" All my spare time," he says, " is taken up with drilling.
But one is never so happy as when always employed."

On the night of 27th May, Key's innate readiness and
seamanship came in to save a serious collision with probable
loss of life. The ship was close hauled on the starboard
tack, and Key and the captain, Sir Thomas Pasley, were
walking the quarter-deck together, Key being officer of the
watch, at half-past nine at night, when the lookout reported


a sail ahead. In those days no anti-collision lights were
carried, and there was not, any more than there is now,
any settled teaching as to what is safe and what is
dangerous in approaching another ship at night whose
condition is not made out. So Sir Thomas gave what was
a usual but yet dangerous order in calling to the helmsman,
" Luff!— keep a close luff!" Key, not easy in his mind as
to the result, rushed forward to the forecastle, and there
saw that they were running straight into a ship which was
close under their bows. Key was quick with the reversing
order: "Hard a-starboard ! — let go the peak halyards!"
and had the satisfaction of finding the ship pay off, so
that the CuraqocCs flying boom just cleared the stranger.

A couple of days later, Key being below, heard the
always startling cry of " A man overboard ! " and, rushing
on deck, he found Denison, the first-lieutenant, in the act
of jumping after the man ; but the latter caught a rope,
and Key and Denison hauled him in.

The old-world character of times so little distant in
point of years comes strangely out of the pages of Key's
journal on this and the next day —

"A man was found drunk this morning; I suppose he will be flogged to-

"The captain flogged that man this morning; gave him three dozen, and
wound up with a short appropriate speech. We were all much pleased with
the captain's behaviour, as the first flogging is generally taken as a criterion of
his future conduct towards the ship's company, in the way of supporting his

None of the facts, and little of the sentiment, remain
at the present day, where the finding of a man drunk at
sea is almost impossible, and no trial of the public char-
acter of the captain, and his capacity of self-control, exists
under the rule of law which prescribes everything, and
hides punishment from sight.

Key's view of the blessing of work always seems to
have kept his spirits at high level —

"This has been a beautiful day," he writes on 31st of May. "If we
had not a foul wind I should enjoy it above all things. At 6 p.m. we turn
the hands up to dance and skylark, and the men on one side are dancing to


the bugle and fiddle ; on the other, they are playing at two or three different
games, all looking so happy ! On the quarter-deck the youngsters are skylarking
and racing up aloft."

On 6th June the ship anchored at Funchal, Madeira,
and Key, setting eyes for the first time on this soft and
languorous paradise, is in all ways enraptured with it, He
is particularly struck by the wealth and variety of the fruits
and flowers —

"Madeira is the only place in the world where you see such a variety of
fruits and flowers. I assure you there are fuchsia and geranium hedges ; and then,
you see the cherries, peaches, gooseberries, currants, etc., growing alongside of
the mango, shaddock, pine-apple, and all the West Indian fruits."

What used to strike me more and more on every visit
to Madeira was its soft stillness, so that the clattering of a
horse's hoofs on the pavement of the town was quite an
alarming sound. Key had his fill of the Madeira horses,
charging equally up or down hill, with their attendants
holding on to their tails. Nor does he forget to remark
that, in charging down hill, the approved plan is to fix your
cigar tight in your mouth and hope for the best with a
loose rein.

The Curacoa was at Santa Cruz on the i ith, and made
an effort to weigh the anchor on the 1 2th, with the intention
of putting to sea, but there was no ordinary power which
could move it. All blocks and tackles applied gave way
under the strain, and at half-past nine at night the task
was given up in despair. They guessed that they had
accidentally hooked an anchor and cable lost there by the
Winchester nine years earlier, and which it had been the
thankless task of many men-of-war subsequently to search
for without result. All the next day they were at it with
improved and strengthened purchases, and by the afternoon
had secured not only the lost Winchesters anchor of three
tons weight, with 150 fathoms of cable attached to it, but
another smaller anchor and cable, the whole weight being
over eight tons.

The contrast in our views of what constitutes swiftness
of movement at sea is brought out by a note of the
Curacoa' s passage to Rio Janeiro. Sailing from Santa Cruz

THE CUR A CO A— 1 843-1 844


on 14th June, she arrived at Rio on 16th July. She never
on any occasion ran for an hour at a greater speed than
9.6 knots, and her greatest run in one day was 2 1 1 miles,
her average being less than 122 miles per day. And yet
the Curaqoa was a good sailer, and easily passed merchant
ships. But her officers thought she was " rattling away "
when she attained the speed of eight knots.

The Curaqoa was now on her station — the south-east
coast of America, the interest of which centred at this time
between possible captures of slavers to the northward and
possible wars with revolutionary parties in the river Plate.
But Sir Thomas Pasley being required to carry on the
senior officer's duties at Rio, the Curaqoa lay there for two
months and a half, which were comparatively uneventful.

Key had, however, one opportunity of snowing the stuff
he was made of, which he thus describes —

"The only other affair of any interest that has happened since is a very
narrow escape a boat's crew and myself had the day before yesterday. There
are two American frigates and a corvette here — the Brandywine, Columbia, and
Sf. Louis. Between the anchorage where we are and the town, there is what
they call a bar, running across. It is a sandbank, on which there is a tremendous
surf when there is any swell in the harbour after a gale of wind. For the last
week there has been a very heavy surf running on the bar, the heaviest the
Brazilians have ever seen since 1833. There is one place where it can be
crossed. Two days ago I was going on shore in one of the cutters, with the
chaplain and one or two of the midshipmen in the sternsheets, I being in com-
mand of the boat, of course. I steered straight for the passage (even there some
very heavy surfs broke occasionally), but as we were on the bar I saw a tremen-
dous roller coming up astern. I sang out, ' Give way for your lives, men ! '
when the surf struck us on the stern, broke over us, unshipped the oars, and
hove one man overboard, clean out of the boat. The surf carried us on about
twenty fathoms, and left us up to our waists in water, and the unfortunate man
still struggling in the centre of the surf. We had lost four oars, but we got the
boat round to pull into the middle of the surf again for the man, and succeeded
in picking him up. In the meantime two American frigates' boats and one shore
boat were pulling past us towards the surf. In half a minute they were on the
bar, and a heavy roller was fast coming up with them. Fancy my horror at
seeing all three boats capsized and turned bottom up at the same time, there
being twenty human beings struggling for their lives in the middle of a most
tremendous surf, and apparently no chance of a boat being able to save them.
I of course pulled right in towards them, and succeeded in picking up all but
five. Only one of those five was drowned, and the others picked up by the
commander of one of our brigs anchored near, who shoved off just before the
boats were capsized. I took the men I had picked up on board the Brandywine,
the ship they belonged to, for which, of course, I received hearty thanks. The


American commodore has twice sent to thank our captain for the assistance of
our boats in saving their men's lives.

"I mentioned that our chaplain, Jenkins, was in the cutter with me the other
day. He was very much frightened ; so much so that in the evening he broke
a blood-vessel, and is still lying in a very dangerous state. The doctor says it is
owing to the shock he received crossing the surf. Even if he recovers, he will
be sent home. Poor fellow ! we shall be sorry to lose him."

Key describes a soiree at the emperor's palace to
celebrate the birthday of his sister, to which he was invited,
and with the airy contempt for all that is not British which
possesses the young sailor, more perhaps than any class of
our island race, he " thinks it was worth going to, merely
to see how the goose of an emperor behaved himself."
" His sister," he continues, " the Princess Donna Januaria,
is a nice-looking girl about twenty. She was the only
decently - dressed woman in the room. . . . The lord-
chamberlain came to our skipper to say that the princess
wished to dance with him. Sir Thomas was by far the
handsomest and most gentlemanly-looking man in the

Early in September Key witnessed a terrible sight in
the arrival of a slaver captured by Lieutenant Cumming 1
in one of the Frolics boats. In effecting the capture he
had shot the captain of the slaver, but had found himself
alone in boarding her, facing a large crew fully armed.
She only measured fifty-five tons, but had 338 slaves on
board when she arrived.

Of this occurrence Sir Thomas Pasley writes —

M I went this morning (September loth), the first thing after breakfast, to see
the negroes taken from the slaver and down to the Crescent (hulk), and in my
life I have never witnessed anything so shocking. About 450 were packed into
that small vessel, as you would pack bales of goods ; and disease of all sorts
became rife among them. One hundred had died before she was taken, and they
were, and are still (a month after), dying daily. Some were carried up the side in
a state of emaciation such as I would not have imagined possible to exist with
life ; others with raw sores, their bones all but through them, and some dreadful
cases of smallpox, covered from head to foot. These were all sent back to the
schooner, being contagious, none such being allowed in the Crescent. Some
children were in the last stage of emaciation and sores. It was dreadful ; and
so distressing, I could have cried. The patience, or rather the apathy, with
which it was all borne was astonishing.

1 Afterwards Admiral Sir Arthur Cumming, K.C.B. Died in 1893.

THE CURAQOA— 1843-1844 81

" Happily for them, they have not the same feelings we have. They were fed
immediately they came on board, and soon recovered their spirits. Those who
were not ill were ready to sing and dance the next day. Some of the women
had infants ; but of the other children, whose ages were from five to nine, there
were no parents, or none to be discovered amongst the adults. After all these
miserable creatures were brought on board, several women came, tolerably well
dressed, and fat and sleek — to my great astonishment, till I was told that these
were the harem of the prize's crew, and were well fed and taken care of. Ill-
looking rascals these crew were, twenty-seven of them, mostly Portuguese.
They were all confined in the Crescent's prison by night, and left at large in the
day-time for the present.

" The officers and men of the Frolic were not a little to be pitied who had to
live on board such a disgusting vessel, first with the Africans and afterwards
when they were removed, for the shocking state of filth, and the stench, was not to
be endured, and yet, tracing the smallpox among them, I would not let them
communicate with this ship."

How far from our own time these events were, a little
note which Sir Thomas Pasley makes brings home to us.
The Fisguard and Cormorant had just arrived from England,
and at a drawing-room at the palace their officers arrived
in uniform with the present white facings, while all the
Curaqods officers were wearing red facings. Moreover, the
newly arrived lieutenants were wearing two epaulettes,
while Key and his brother-lieutenants were wearing one
only, on the right shoulder.

A sad loss fell upon the ship in the middle of
September, when the first-lieutenant, Denison, Key's old
and dear friend, was invalided for epilepsy, and had to be
sent home. All, and not least Sir Thomas Pasley him-
self, were in great grief over this loss. Sir Thomas had
the highest regard for him, and greatly feared that his loss
could not be supplied. 1 Lieutenant Knott, who had arrived
in the Cormorant, on his way to join the Dublin on the Pacific
station, was appointed to fill Denison's vacancy, and re-
mained first-lieutenant till Key left the Curaqoa.

The ship lay at Rio until 4th October, when she pro-
ceeded to Bahia. Key's somewhat uneventful life had
meantime been only broken by a few days' shooting trip
up the river, which he much enjoyed.

Bahia was reached on the 19th of October, and the
passage there had been enlivened by some racing with

1 Mr. Denison died a few months after leaving the Curacoa.


H.M.S. Satellite. The trim of the Curacoa having been
altered by shifting the quarter-deck guns into the bow-ports,

Online LibraryP. H. (Philip Howard) ColombMemoirs of Admiral the Right Honble. Sir Astley Cooper Key, G.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S., Etc. → online text (page 8 of 55)