« PreviousContinue »
man. Captain Peard was directed to return their paper to his people, and to tell them that the culprits should be executed, as their sentence required, at the yard-arm of their ship.
Captain Peard was a resolute man, and he was well supported by his officers, especially by his first lieutenant, John Hatley. He saw, from the bearing of his crew, that there was mischief brewing, and he made up his mind to deal with it vigorously whenever it should come to a head. Accordingly, when on the evening previous to the day which had been fixed for the execution, intelligence reached him that their plans had all been matured, he boldly threw himself with his first lieutenant into the waste, where the ship's company were assembled.—“I know what you are up to, my lads," said he. “ You have spoken of seizing the ship, turning the officers adrift, and giving these scoundrels their liberty. I warn you that the attempt to do so will cost you dear, for I will resist you to the utmost of my power ; and, as I know the ringleaders, I will bring them, at all events, to justice.” The men heard him; but either fancying that matters had gone 100 far, or worked upon by the obstinacy of their leaders, they not only refused to go to their quarters, but gave utterance to threats of defiance. Captain Peard and Mr. Hatley had taken their part, and they went through with it. They rushed into the middle of the throng, grasped the ringleaders by the collar, and dragging them out unopposed, except by the efforts of the mutineers themselves, put them in irons. There is nothing like a display of courage and selfpossession in such cases for getting rid of difficulties. The mutinous seamen returned at once to their allegiance, and the same night there was not a better conducted crew in all the fleet than that of the St. George.
We knew nothing of what had happened, and were therefore at a loss to assign a cause for the appearance of a signal, which as a repeating frigate we sent on, requiring all the ships to draw together round the St. George. This was about ceven o'clock in the evening of the 6th of June. We obeyed it of course; and I can testify to the fact, that decks more quiet than those of the ship in question were not to be seen throughɔut the fleet.
We knew, indeed, that an execution had been appointed for the morrow ; and as the causes for that execution were more than usually stringent, we should have taken it for granted that the object of this concentration was to give to it all the weight of an extended example, had not the position of the St. George been such as to carry us farther than seemed to be convenient from the harbour's mouth. But as the case stood, this hardly satisfied us, and we demanded one of another whether all were right. No boats were permitted all that night to pass from ship to ship; no certain information therefore reached us. Yet the care with which the admiral laid the Ville de Paris alongside the St. George, and kept her there, left very little for a more direct messenger to communicate. We suspected that here, as well as elsewhere, evil spirits had been busy, and we watched for the dawn of day with some anxiety. It came at last, and with it the firing of the gun, and the hoisting of the pennant half.mast high, which told of preparations going on for the violent extinction of human life. There is something very awful, I had well-nigh said humiliating, in such a scene as that of wbich I am now speaking. We may hate the crime, and think hardly of the criminal, but as the moment
approaches which is to put an end to his career, we shrink almost in. voluntarily from the sight of his last agonies. I defy you, indecd, to close your eyes, or even to turn them away, so soon as the second gun gives notice that all is in readiness: and when the booming of the third is followed by the running up of the doomed men to the yard-arm, you watch them while they spin aloft, as if you were com. pelled to do so by the influence of a spell._Poor devils ! the sufferings of these three seemed to be very short. They never stirred a muscle after their heads reached the block.
Let me hurry over this part of my story. There was another courtmartial on the leaders of the revolt in the St. George, another con. demnation, and another hanging match ; but there the matter ended. Both in her and in the rest of the ships the people returned to their senses, and the blockade was continued with unremitting energy and perfect success.
Containing some account of other perils than war which accompany a soldier's life, and showing how a man may establish a quiet claim of admission into Chelsea Hospital.
From this date, up to the conclusion of the short peace in 1802, I continued knocking about, through the Mediterranean, along the Bay of Biscay, now and then taking a cruise in the Adriatic, but never setting foot on shore, at least in an English port. At last the order arrived—a pleasant one for us—to make the best of our way to Ports. mouth, outside which we no sooner anchored than the captain left us. By and by came the signal to work in from Spithead to the harbour, and to dismantle and strip the frigate, preparatory to her being laid up in ordinary; while to us, who were still kept together, births were as. signed in an old hulk hard by, with full liberty to go on shore as often as we liked.
| enjoyed this season of half work half play exceed. ingly, but it did not last long; for just as we were reckoning on being paid off, and sent adrift in concert, fresh instructions were received, and the frigate was again put in order for service. Away we next went to Deptford, where the Alarm, of twenty-eight guns, was lying, and into her we were, without the smallest ceremony, bundled. But it soon came out that our connection with the new ship was not intended to be a lasting one. We were carried round to Portsmouth, and almost immediately afterwards got our discharge.
I had not forgotten Ben Hartley's injunction to seek out Sall, and give her his dying message. I knew that she was to be heard of in Portsmouth; for, if the truth must be spoken, Sall was not, more than sailors' sweethearts in general, very fastidious as to the sort of company which she kept ; yet, somehow or another, I had not been able, when there with the Caroline frigate, to discover any trace of her. This time I was more fortunate. We were paid off on the 23d of April, and that same day I met her at the Point. Why should I make a short tale long? Sall was a kind creature ; she wept when she saw Ben's backy.box, and she smiled through her tears as I en. deavoured to comfort her. We became sworn messmates on the spot, and the very next day we were married.
My wife was a native of a village near Birmingham; and, as all parts of the world were the same to me, I agreed, at her suggestion,
to remove thither, and begin housekeeping. We went accordingly, and for several years I spent my days there very pleasantly, if at times somewhat hardly; for Sall was an excellent manager ; my pen. sion was regularly paid, I picked up an odd job wherever I could get it, and the arrears of my pay, which were at the time of our mar age considerable, helped to keep the wolf from the door even when work was slack. But the war broke out again, and the press for seamen be. came by and by so great, that I could not reckon from day to day on an escape from capture. Now I had got tired of a sea life, before I abandoned it in 1802, and the thought of returning to it, after so long a rest on shore, was very disagreeable to me. Yet, as rewards were offered to such as would report to the officer on the impress service where seamen might be found, I knew that I was continually at the mercy of any person who might think it worth his while to sell me.
I became annoyed and irritable, and said to myself, let come what will, I won't go to sea. Therefore, in order to avoid that risk, I went one day to a public-house, where a recruiting party from the thirty-eighth regiment hung out, and having drank pretty freely, I offered myself, and was accepted, as a soldier. It was in the se. cond battalion of the thirty-eighth, which was then newly formed, that I enlisted. I cannot say that I retain any very agreeable impression of the effect which was produced upon me by my early career as a soldier. The perpetual drill was a nuisance intolerable, especially to me, who could not for a long while be made to understand their words of command; and the stiff stocks, and the pipeclay, and all the rest of it, “I did not know whether to laugh at the whole concern, or to be driven to my wits' end by it. But custom reconciles us wonderfully to all things. When we got our route for Ireland, about four months after I joined the corps, I had become, though I say it myself, a smart soldier; and during the entire period of my service with the regiment, I am not aware that I ever forfeited the character.
I am not sure that much good would be accomplished were I to give a detailed account of my home service, which wore itself out partly in Ireland, partly in the island of Guernsey. In the former of these countries we went through the usual routine of marching,—from Waterford to Cork, from Cork to Kinsale, from Kinsale to Dublin, where for some time we were stationary. In the latter, which we reached in the early part of 1810, we did not linger long. We were ordered soon after our arrival to join the army in Portugal, and embarked for that purpose. It was now, for the first time since our marriage, that I parted from my poor wife, and a sore heart the parting occasioned to both; for, in spite of the haste with which the wedding was got up, we loved each other tenderly. But there was no help for it, inasmuch as her name did not come up in the list of those who were to accompany the regiment. Accordingly she betook herself to her native village, unencumbered, happily for her, with any children; while I went away with my comrades on board of the transport, which waited to receive us.
We had a fair passage, tedious perhaps, but not otherwise uncom. fortable, and landed in Lisbon, where we were put into quarters till the necessary field equipments should be supplied. These came in due time; after which we were marched up the country, and joined the army in its position behind the Coa, just as the French, under Massena,
were advancing to besiege Ciudad Rodrigo. We were immediately attached to General Leith's division, and brigaded with the first battalion of the ninth regiment, as gallant a corps as ever shouldered arms, or drew trigger in presence of an enemy.
I am not going to describe the retreat to the lines of Torres Vedras, nor yet the battle of Busaco, which broke in upon its
monotony. These tales have been told at least a hundred times, and I could add nothing to the interest which others have shed over them. For what could I relate, except that we toiled on day after day, heavily laden, indiffer. ently fed, and witnessing all round us spectacles of desolation which wrung our very hearts. So also in reference to the battle ; if I were to give my version of it, there are fifty chances to one if it would not be found to be at variance with the versions of others. I saw nothing, and heard nothing, except the line of Frenchmen whom my own regi. ment opposed, and the noise of their and our musketry, enlivencd by a heavy fire of cannon; and as to the rest, soldiers have described their feelings both before and after so frequently, that there really seems to me nothing of which I can make mention. Enough, then, is done when I state, that I went through the day's work unscathed, and that the following morning I retired with the rest of the army, pleased with the victory which we had gained, yet well knowing that to retire was necessary.
I am not, and never was, a very strong man; and even at the date of the battle of Busaco I had passed my prime. My early habits, too, were all against me in sustaining the fatigues of such a campaign, and I sank before long under them. At Coimbra I fell sick, and could keep my place in the ranks no longer. Together with many others, whose case was similar to mine, I was accordingly put into a waggon, and sent on under an escort to the general hospital at Belem. I can. not say that everything was arranged here on the scale of abundance which marked the arrangement of affairs in the naval hospital at Plymouth; yet we had no right to complain, for the medical gentle. men were unremitting in their attentions, and all was done for us, I verily believe, which the state of the magazines wouid allow. But it was found, after I had been an inmate of the hospital for some time, that I was not likely to be of farther use in Portugal; so they sent me home, together with a whole batch of invalids, to be disposed of as the commander-in-chief might deem expedient. To have kept me on the strength of the thirty.eighth regiment, under such circumstances, would have been clearly an act of imposture. I was accordingly transferred to the third garrison battalion, and joined it in the au. tumn of 1812, while it was doing duty among the forts and batteries, which at that period overlooked in all directions the entrance of Cork harbour.
I do not know how far the composition of the garrison battalions, as they then existed, may be generally understood. Originally embo. died as an army of reserve, these corps, fourteen in number, were never expected to serve beyond the limits of the United Kingdom, that is to say, they were liable to be seni anywhere throughout Great Britain and Ireland, and the islands adjacent, but could not be called upon to cross the seas, even for the purpose of occupying one of our more distant possessions. As the war thickened, however, this reservation of their usefulness was found to be inconvenient; so instead of enlisting fresh men, they had their casualties supplied by
drafts from regiments of the line, those persons being selected to do duty with them whom wounds or natural infirmities had rendered incapable of active service. As soon as by such means the numbers of two or three of them became abundant, the limited-service men were all drafted out of them, and thus they became available, as far as a body of invalids could well be, for any service, in any part of the world, to which the government might send them. The third battalion was one of those which had been thus dealt with. In point of numbers, 100, it was, when I joined it, exceedingly strong. I believe that our muster-roll told a tale of twelve hundred rank and file, at the least. But such a collection of halt and lame, and blind, and sick, and lazy! I verily believe that a single good light company would have thrashed us all. Nevertheless, we were considered quite efficient enough for garrison duty either at home or abroad
; and abroad it soon came out that we were destined to go. I had not occupied my barrack-room on Spike Island a month, when we received orders to prepare for foreign service, and two or three troop-ships coming in soon afterwards, we were with all practicable haste put on board and sent to sea.
I had been rejoined by my wife at the Isle of Wight, whither, on my return from Portugal, I was sent, and had brought her thence, not anticipating another separation, to Ireland. We both pleaded hard for leave to make the voyage together; but this was contrary to the rules of the service, and could not be acceded to. Once more, there. fore, we bade each other farewell, and once again she went back sorrowful and faint-hearted to her relatives in the neighbourhood of Birmingham. Meanwhile the regiment pursued its voyage, and early in the spring of 1813 reached Malta. It may perhaps be supposed that of service in that most quiet of quiet stations I can have absolutely nothing to tell ; and had Malta been circumstanced as it usually is, the supposition would have been well founded. But the case was quite otherwise. When we reached the place the plague was raging with excessive violence, and the state of excitement in which we were kept by it was extreme. I am quite ignorant whether or not any account of that terrible visitation has ever appeared; but to what I myself both saw and heard I may in either case bear my testimony, warning you that mine must necessarily be but a meagre narrative, inasmuch as the utmost care was taken to hinder the corps in garrison from holding any communication, verbal or other. wise, with the inhabitants.
I have reason to believe that the plague was imported into Malta so early as the year 1810 or 1811, and that it was brought thither by a ship from the coast of Barbary, of which the lading was cotton. I believe, too, that the infected goods were smuggled on shore : for the ship was put into quarantine as usual--and yet the disease broke out. Be this, however, as it may, weeks and even months elapsed before the authorities became aware of its prevalence in the island ; so fearful were the Maltese of the consequences which were sure to follow, and of the total stop which the discovery would put to their trade and their amusements. But by degrees things came to such a pitch, that an universal alarm was created. People died by dozens and scores daily; and the knell rang so often, and funeral processions became so frequent, that the attention of the government was called to it, and an inquiry was instituted.