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THE VETERANS OF CHELSEA HOSPITAL.
BY THE REV. G. R. GLEIG, AUTHOR OF
THE SUBALTERN," ETC.
Proving that Jack himself can run rusty at times, and gains nothing by it. It took us several weeks after our arrival in Malta,” said John Bain, resuming the thread of his narrative, “ to complete the repairs of which we were in need ; for the island was not then in possession of the English, neither was there English energy in any of its establishments. But the job, though slowly done, was done effectually; after which we hastened back to rejoin the admiral. We found him before Cadiz, blockading the port, and amusing himself from time to time by bombarding the fleet that found shelter therein, the effects of which practice were to knock down a good many houses, without, as far as I could discover, doing any serious damage to the ships. But the shipping did not escape uninjured neither. Signals would occasionally order the boats of particular vessels to be manned, which after night-fall stole in beneath the batteries ; and more than one prize, acquired by skill, and now and then by hard fighting, testified to the excellency of the arrangement. A cutting out, from such a situation as the harbour of Cadiz, at least, is under every circumstance a nervous affair; so it may not be amiss if I describe in detail a service of the kind in which I was once engaged. The inshore
squadron, to which all the frigates were attached, had it in charge to observe narrowly whether any vessels passed to or from the harbour, and to report such changes of position as the fleet which lay at moorings within the basin might attempt. One day a fine brig, taking advantage of a skiff of wind, which did not reach us, came creeping along the shore, and, in spite of a sharp chase from the boats, which were immediately ordered out, succeeded in passing the cape, and brought up under the guns of a strong battery. There was a sort of bravado in this which Nelson, who commanded our squadron, did not quite relish, so he determined to convince the Spaniard that he was not so safe as he fancied himself to be. Accordingly, up went the well-known signal for the boats of our ship and the Terpsichore to get ready for service soon after nightfall, while the captains were desired to come on board the admiral to receive orders. What passed in the admiral's cabin I can't tell; but when the skippers returned, the whisper soon went about that we were going to make a prize of the saucy Spaniard ; and, as volunteers were looked for to execute a service of some hazard, every soul on board hastened to give in his name. I had the good luck to be heard among the first, and so was chosen ; and good luck I call it, because all the credit and very
little of the risk of hard service came to me. stowed away our cutlasses and pistols in the proper place, ate a merry supper with our comrades, drank our grog to the toast of success, and about ten o'clock at night went quietly over the ship’s side, and awaited the order to start.
It was a calm and beautiful night. There was no moon in the sky, but the stars were out by millions, and the sea lay under their
soft pale glitter as still as a baby when it is sleeping. We were at this time above five miles from the shore, yet upon the gentle air there came off to us, even at that distance, the perfume of the many scented shrubs which grow in abundance among the gardens that surround the town. I don't know whence it came about, but I felt unusually sobered down that night. I had no fear of death ; I did not even fancy that I was going to be killed; but I became grave and thoughtful to a degree which, without making me unhappy, acted upon my spirits as in some situations we are apt to be affected by melancholy music. I was sitting next one of my messmates, with whom I had long lived on terms of great intimacy; a fine bold rollicking fellow, called Ben Hartley, a capital singer, a famous spinner of a yarn, and the best dancer of Jacky-tar among all the ship's company. We had been merry enough between decks while the grog was circulating, and Ben seemed nowise inclined to check his mirth now; for he was the most thoughtless of mortals, and would have cracked his joke, I verily believe, at the foot of the gallows. However, I did not join chorus with my laugh, and once or twice I gave him no answer.
Why, Jack,” said he, “what's the matter? Art out o' sorts, or out o' spirits, -or what ails thee? ”
“ Nothing, Ben," answered I ; "only, I can't tell how, but I fancy that both you and I had better be grave than merry just at this moment."
Why so, messmate?” answered he. “ Afraid, I know you aint ; but has the old fellow under hatches there been 'sinuating that he might want you by and by?”
“ No, Ben,” replied I; I think that I shall see the ship again ; but others will not, and mayhap yourself may be of the number.”
“ So be it,” replied Ben gaily. “ If it come to-night, it won't come to-morrow ; and if it don't come now, it must come hereafter. And yet, Jack, if it should be so, don't forget poor Sall. Give her my backy-box, and tell her-Pooh !—what's the use of grieving."
The word was by this time passed to give way, and we stretched on our oars lustily. Silence, too, was the order of the night ; for the brig lay within half-musket shot of one battery, and was commanded by the guns at a very narrow range of another. It was therefore as much as many lives were worth that we should at least reach her unobserved. Fortunately for us, the shadows of the land fell darkly and strongly on us; for we did not pull straight to the harbour's mouth, but rather obliquely towards it; so we succeeded beyond our most sanguine expectations, and the prize seemed to have fallen into our very hands. But we had reckoned a little beyond our host. There was an open space to cross : the harbour, though narrow, lay between us and the brig, and we could not hope to pass it unnoticed. Quietly, therefore, but resolutely, each said to his other, “Hurrah ! hurrah!” and at her we dashed like men who pull for their lives. There was a challenge from the brig's forecastle, — a single musket was discharged, and we lay under her bows. Up we sprang, and in five seconds she was ours.
Yet a blow or two had been struck while we were scrambling up, and there was one plunge back into the water, nobody at the instant could tell of whom. And now began the hoisting of canvass, the cutting of cables, and the turning, with might and main, our prize into mid-channel, that she might catch the land-wind, which blew gently but steadily in our favour. It is astonishing to me even at this moment that we should have been permitted to go through with our work so quietly. Not a gun from the shore-battery opened ; indeed we were actually under weigh, and leaving all danger behind, before the Dons appeared to become conscious of our proceedings. Then, indeed, there arose a prodigious bustle everywhere. Men shouted, drums beat, and all Cadiz was roused, -but it was too late. The batteries began to fire only when we were so far distant as to render their efforts of small avail, and we escaped without having been once struck. We brought our prize in triumph under the admiral's quarter, and were thanked for the skill and gallantry which we had displayed in securing her.
During the hurry of active operations, especially when they are carried on at night, there is neither time nor opportunity to inquire into the casualties that may have taken place. It was not, indeed, till we broke up to return, each boat's-crew to its own ship, that the absence of Ben Hartley was noticed, and even then we were slow to believe that he had not joined himself to the other party. But when we met on our own quarter-deck, and Ben answered not to his name, all doubt on the subject was removed. I recollected the circumstance of which I have already spoken,—the splash that was heard while we scrambled up the brig's sides, and Ben's fate was no longer a mystery. How strange it is that the death of one man should, when it occurs under such circumstances as this, affect us much more powerfully than the loss of hundreds whom a general action have swept away! I declare that there was deeper and more sincere lamentation over Ben than we had thought of paying to the memory of all of whom the battle of Cape St. Vincent had deprived us. For myself, I felt for a while like one whom some terrible personal calamity had overtaken, and there was not a soul in our mess that did not mourn with me.
Besides this, and other expeditions of the kind, we moved in more than once to cover the fire-ships, which in their endeavours to destroy the Spanish feet at its moorings wrought the town of Cadiz no little damage. It was on one of these occasions that Nelson with his boat's crew encountered and made prisoner of the Spanish commandant Don Miguel Tyrason. I was not personally engaged in that affair ; I only witnessed it from a distance, - I cannot therefore undertake to describe it. But the superiority of British seamen was fully proved by it, inasmuch as Nelson had but fifteen hands to back him, while his adversary was supported by six-and-twenty. Out of these eighteen were killed in the mêlée, and of the remainder all received wounds before they surrendered.
And now I come to a matter concerning which I would willingly keep silence,-first, because I really cannot speak in full of it as to the designs of those engaged; and next, because it forms the one dark page in the volume of England's naval history. There was a sad spirit of disaffection in those days throughout the British fleet. Grounds of complaint the seamen doubtless had, and serious grounds too when the movement began; but these, at the period when Lord St. Vincent's crews caught the infection, had been removed; as far, at least, as a compliance with the demands of the Portsmouth mutineers could remove them. The truth, however, I believe to be, that a good deal of the misfortune is attributable to the mistaken means which were then adopted of filling the King's ships. Neither by voluntary enlistment nor the use of the press-gang could hands enough be picked up, and recourse was had in an evil hour to the prisons. Rogues and vagabonds from all quarters, pickpockets, thieves, and swindlers; fellows who, if tried, were sure to cross the herring-pond, if indeed they escaped the gallows, were allowed, when brought before the magistracy, to volunteer for his Majesty's navy,—nay, I am mistaken if, in some instances, the very inmates of condemned cells were not cleared out, and handed over to the officers commanding tenders. Now these fellows had all a certain degree of education, with a great deal of cunning, and the gift of the gab; and they were always ready, not only to get up grievances for themselves, but to impress upon the minds of those about them, that they were aggrieved also." I know that in Lord St. Vincent's fleet we had our own share of these land-sharks, and I am inclined to think it was by them that our mutiny was got up.
But, however this may be, the crews of several of the ships began about the end of June to run rusty, and the officers found it no easy matter to maintain even the appearance of discipline. And here again I must take care to add, that I make these statements rather from hearsay than personal knowledge; for our ship never caught the infection, though no efforts were spared to inoculate us. There never came a boat from the St. George, for example, that did not bring one or more disseminators of mischief, who did their very best to make us discontented with our lot, and seemed both astonished and annoyed that we would not adopt their views. But they had a taut hand to deal with in old Jarvis, who made such good use of the yard-arm, when the necessities of the case required, that he came to be familiarly spoken of among the seamen as hanging Jarvis. I don't mean to say that he ever hanged a man improperly; and am quite sure that the gentlemen whom he strung up on the present occasion, richly deserved their fate.
Mutiny is the very last means to which either sailor or soldier will think of resorting for the purpose of getting redress even of serious grievances; but mutiny in the presence of an enemy-the man who can think of that deserves more than hanging. Now such was precisely the situation of our fleet when symptoms of discontent became so frequent and so glaring among us, as to render the interference of authority prompt, bold, and ruthless, absolutely necessary. think it was in the St. George that this spirit first showed itself, though it was not there that, in the outset, at least, matters were carried to an extreme; but the admiral having caused three rare jail-birds to be tried by court-martial, determined that the St. George's crew should have the honour of casting them off. The people looked exceedingly blank when the prisoners came on board, though they said nothing, neither was any opposition offered to the arrangement which placed them, in close irons, under charge of the marines; but the same evening a remonstrance was presented to Captain Peard, by which the delegates declared that the whole ship's company would stand, and which he was required to lay before the admiral. He took it, of course,-he could not well avoid taking it, -and he carried it to the flag-ship. But the mutineers, if they calculated on overawing Lord St. Vincent, had entirely mistaken their 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 too 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 seven o'clock in the evening of the 6th of June. But 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 throughout the fleet. We knew, indeed, that an execution had been appointed for the morrow; and as the causes of 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 which I am now speaking. We may hate the crime, and think hardly of the criminal; but as the moment