Admiral Lord Exmouth

LIKE the English tongue itself, the names of British seamen show the composite origin of their nation. As the Danes, after the day of Copenhagen, to them both glorious and disastrous, claimed that in Nelson they had been vanquished by a man of their own blood, descended from their Viking forefathers ; as Collingwood and Troubridge indicate the English descent of the two closest associates of the victor of Trafalgar ; so Saumarez and the hero of this sketch, whose family name was Pellow, represent that conquering Norman race which from the shores of the Northern Ocean carried terror along the coasts of Europe and the Mediterranean, and as far inland as their light keels could enter. After the great wars of the French Revolution and the battle of Algiers, when Lord Exmouth had won his renown and his position had been attained, kinship with him was claimed by a family still residing in Normandy, where the name was spelled “ Pelleu.” Proof of common origin was offered, not only in the name, but also in the coats of arms.

In England, the Pellew family was settled in the extreme southwest, in Cornwall and Devonshire, counties whose nearness to the great Atlantic made them the source of so much of the maritime enterprise that marked the reign of Elizabeth. Lord Exmouth’s grandfather was a man of wealth; but, as he left many children, the juniors had to shift for themselves, and the youngest son, Samuel Pellew, the father of the admiral, at the time of the latter’s birth commanded a post-office packet on the Dover station. He accordingly made the town of that name the home of his wife and children; and there Edward, the second of his four sons, was born, April 19, 1757. Their mother was the daughter of a Jacobite gentleman, who had been out for the Pretender in 1715, — a fact which probably emphasized the strong Hanoverian sympathies of Samuel Pellew, whose habit was to make his children, every Sunday, drink King George’s health upon their knees.

In 1765, when the future admiral was only eight years old, his father died, and the mother making an imprudent marriage three years later, the children were thrown upon the world, with small provision and scanty care. The resolute, active, and courageous character of the lads, however, brought them well forward among their equals in age. At school, Edward was especially distinguished for fearlessness. Of this he gave a marked instance, when not yet twelve, by entering a burning house where gunpowder was stored, which no other of the bystanders would approach. Alone and with his own hands the lad brought out the powder. A less commendable but very natural result of the same energetic spirit was shown in the numerous fighting matches in which he was engaged. Being threatened with a flogging for one of these, the circumstance became the immediate occasion of his going to sea. If flogged, he declured, he would run away; and, as a decided taste for a seafaring life had already manifested itself, his guardian thought better to embrace at once the more favorable alternative and enter him regularly in the navy. He thus went afloat towards the end of 1770, the date at which Nelson, also, though one year younger, began his career.

Pellew’s first cruise was in the Mediterranean. It came to a premature end through an incident which merits recording as indicative of the rude condition of the British navy at that time, though a generation had passed since Smollett underwent the experiences which he has handed down to us in his Roderick Random. The captain of Pellew’s frigate, a man of low antecedents, kept on board a woman not his wife ; and a quarrel between her and one of the midshipmen led to the latter being expelled from the ship and sent on shore in Marseilles. Pellew insisted upon accompanying his messmate, and the two lads of fourteen, aided by some of the lieutenants, secured a passage home. It shows a pleasing trait in our hero’s character that, some years afterwards, he advanced materially the professional fortunes of the son of the captain who had thus abused his power.

Pellew next passed under the command of a Captain Pownoll, between whom and himself were established such warm relations, of affectionate interest on the one side and reverential regard on the other, that Pownoll became a family name among the descendants of the admiral. He himself gave it to his first-born, and it still appears in the present generation. Under him, also, Pellew was brought into direct contact with the American Revolution ; for on hoard the frigate Blonde, Pownoll’s ship, General Burgoyne embarked in 1775 for Canada, there beginning the undertaking which ended so disastrously for him. It is told that when the distinguished passenger came on board, the yards being manned to receive him with the honors due to his rank, he was startled to see on one yardarm a midshipman standing on his head. Upon expressing alarm, he was laughingly reassured by the captain, who said that Pellew — for he it was who put this extra touch upon the general’s reception — was quite capable of dropping from the yard, passing under the ship’s bottom, and coming up on the other side. A few days later the young officer actually did leap from the yardarm, the ship going fast through the water, — not, however, as bravado, but to aid a seaman who had fallen overboard, and whom he succeeded in saving.

Throughout his youth, the exuberant vitality of the man delighted in these feats of wanton power. To overturn a boat by press of canvas, as a frolic, is not unexampled among lads of daring; but it is at least unusual, when a hat goes overboard, to follow it into the water, if alone in a boat under sail. This Pellew did, on one occasion, when be was old enough to know better ; being at the moment in the open Channel, in a small punt, going from Falmouth to Plymouth. The freak nearly cost him his life ; for, though he had lashed the helm down and hove to the boat, she fell off and gathered way whenever he approached. When at last he laid hold of her rail, after an hour of this fooling, barely strength remained to drag himself on board, where he fell helpless, and waited long before his powers were restored. It is trite to note in such exhibitions of recklessness many of the qualities of the ideal seaman, though not so certainly those of the foreordained commander in chief. Pellew was a born frigate captain.

At the end of 1775 the Americans were still engaged in the enterprise against Quebec, the disastrous termination of which is familiarly known. The raising of the siege, already inevitable, was finally determined by the appearance of the small naval force of which the Blonde was one. Immediately upon its arrival, towards the beginning of March, 1776, the commanding British general, Carleton, attacked the besiegers, who, already prostrated by disease and privation, abandoned their positions and fell back upon Sorel, at the mouth of the river Richelieu, the outlet, from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence. Here they remained until June, when the enemy, who had received heavy reinforcements, advanced in overpowering numbers. The Americans again retired above the rapids of the Richelieu to St. Johns. From that point there is a clear channel; and, embarking there, the retreating force, without further molestation, reached Crown Point, a fortified post at the head of the lake, commanding the narrow stream to which it is reduced in its upper part. Twelve miles above Crown Point is Ticonderoga, the well-known border fortress of the Colonial and Revolutionary wars ; and for fifteen or twenty miles farther the stream is navigable for boats of some size, thus affording an easy means of communication in those early days of impassable forests and scanty transport.

Though greatly superior on land, the British had now for a time to stay their pursuit; for the water highway essential to its continuance was controlled by the flotilla under the command of Benedict Arnold, forbidding further advance until it was subdued. The presence of these vessels, which, though few, were as yet unopposed, gained for the Americans, in this hour of extremity, the important respite from June to October, 1776; and then the lateness of the season compelled, the postponement of the invasion to the following year. The toil with which this little force had been created, a few months before, was thus amply justified ; for delay is ever to the advantage of the defense. In this case, it also gave time for a change of commanders on the part of the enemy, from Carleton to Burgoyne, which not improbably had a decisive effect upon the fortunes of the next campaign.

As soon as established at St. Johns, the British took steps to place a naval force upon the lake, an undertaking involving trouble and delay, notwithstanding their greatly superior resources in men and material. Some thirty fighting vessels, suitable to the waters upon which they were to act, were required, and also four hundred bateaux for the transport of the troops. These had either to be built upon the spot, despite the lack of all dockyard facilities, or else to be brought bodily from the St. Lawrence, dragged overland, or through the rapids of the Richelieu, until the deep water at St. Johns was reached. In this hardy, strenuous work, Pellew, naturally, was conspicuously active; and in its course he gained a particular professional accomplishment which afterwards stood him in good stead. Several vessels were built upon the shores of the stream ; among others, one of three hundred tons, the Inflexible, whose heavier timbers had been brought from England and carried overland to St. Johns. The construction of these craft was superintended by a lieutenant of scientific knowledge as a ship architect; and through close association with him Pellew’s instinctive appreciation of all things nautical received an intelligent guidance, which gave him a quick insight into the probable behavior of a ship from an examination of her build, and enabled him often to suggest a suitable remedy for dangerous faults.

Thirty days after the keel of the Inflexible was laid at St. Johns, the vessel herself not only was launched, but had set sail for the southward. Except, the principal pieces of her hull, the timber of which she was built was hewed in the neighboring forest; and indeed, the whole story of the rapid equipment of this squadron recalls vividly the vigorous preparation of Commander Perry, in 1813, for his successful attempt to control Lake Erie. The entire British force, land and naval, now moved toward Crown Point. On the 11th of October the American flotilla was discovered. a short distance above Plattsburg and about twenty miles from the foot of the lake, drawn up between Valcour Island and the western shore. It lay there so snugly that the British, wafted by a northwest wind, had actually passed to the southward without seeing it, and the discovery was purely accidental, — a fact which suggests that Arnold, who must have felt the impossibility of a force so inferior as his own contesting, or even long delaying, the enemy’s advance by direct opposition, entertained some purpose of operating in their rear, and thus causing a diversion which at this late season might effectually arrest their progress. It. is true that such a stroke would frightfully imperil his little squadron ; but, in circumstances of absolute inferiority, audacity, usually the best policy in war, offers the only chance of success. Retreat, however methodical, must end in final destruction. To act towards St. Johns, trusting to dexterity and to local knowledge of the network of islands at the foot of the lake to escape disaster, offered the best chance ; and that the situation thus accepted would not be hopeless was proved by the temporary evasion of pursuit. by the Americans, even in the open and narrow water of the middle lake.

The British moved to attack as soon as the hostile shipping was discovered. Pellew was second officer of the schooner Carleton, of twelve guns, the third vessel of the flotilla in point of force. The wind being contrary, and apparently light, the Carleton alone of the sailing vessels got into action ; and although she was supported by a number of rowing gunboats, whose artillery was heavy, the match was unequal. Her first officer lost an arm ; her captain, Lieutenant Dacres, was so severely wounded that he was about to be thrown overboard as dead; and Pellew, thus left without a superior, fought the vessel through the engagement When signal was at last made to withdraw, the Carleton was able to do so only by help of the gunboats, which towed her out of fire. On the other hand, Arnold’s flagship, the schooner Royal Savage, which had fought in advance of her consorts and under canvas, was so badly crippled that she ran ashore on Valconr Island, and was abandoned in the subsequent retreat.

Pellew’s personal activity and strength enabled his gallantry to show to particular advantage in this sanguinary contest. When the Carleton, in her attempt to withdraw, hung in stays under the island, her decks swept by the bullets of the riflemen on shore, it was he who sprang out on the bowsprit to bear the jib over to windward. When the towrope was cut by a shot, it was Pellew again who exposed his person for the safety of the vessel. His two seniors being forced by their wounds to leave the schooner, he succeeded to the command, in which he was afterwards confirmed.

The British flotilla anchored to the southward of Arnold’s little force ; but that active and enterprising officer succeeded, during the night, in stealing between it and the western shore, and retired upon Crown Point. The chase to windward continued during the next day, but a favorable shift of wind reached the British first, and enabled them to close. Arnold again behaved with the extraordinary bravery and admirable conduct which distinguished him in battle. Sending on the bulk of the squadron, he, with two galleys, took the rear, covering its retreat. Fighting like a lion, he opposed the enemy’s advance long enough to secure the escape of six of his vessels ; and then, seeing his one consort forced to strike, he ran his own galley ashore and set her on fire. “Arnold,”says the naval historian Cooper, “ covered himself with glory, and his example seems to have been nobly followed by most of bis officers and men. The manner in which the Congress was fought until she had covered the retreat of the galleys, and the stubborn resolution with which she was defended until destroyed, converted the disasters of this part of the day into a species_ of triumph.” “ The Americans,” says a contemporary British writer, “ chiefly gloried in the dangerous attention paid by Arnold to a nice point of honor, in keeping his flag flying, and not quitting his galley till she was in flames, lest the enemy should have boarded and struck it.”

Pellew received like recognition, not, perhaps, from the popular voice, but from his official superiors. Sir Charles Douglas, the senior naval officer at Quebec, Lord Howe at New York, and the First Lord of the Admiralty in England, all sent him personal letters of commendation ; and the two latter promised him promotion as soon as he came within their respective jurisdictions.

These two gallant enemies were soon again brought together in an incident which came near to change the career of one of them, and, in so doing, to modify seriously the fortunes of many others. Arnold having one day pulled out on the open lake, in his venturesome manner, Pellew gave chase in another boat. The Americans being hard pressed and capture probable, Arnold unbuckled his stock and himself took an oar. So nearly caught was he that he had to escape into the bushes, leaving behind him stock and buckle ; and these, as late as sixty years after, remained in the possession of Pellew’s brother. Had he thus been deprived of the opportunity that Saratoga gave him the next year, Arnold’s name might now be known to us only as that of the brave officer who kept his country’s flag flying till his vessel was in flames.

On the 14th of October Carleton landed at Crown Point, which the Americans had abandoned ; but the lateness of the season deterred him from advancing against Ticonderoga, and he soon afterwards returned to Canada. The following year the invasion was resumed, under General Burgoyne. Pellew accompanied him with a body of seamen, taking part in all the operations down to the final surrender. Burgoyne, indeed, afterwards chaffed him with being the cause of the disaster, by rebuilding the bridge which enabled the army to cross from the east bank of the Hudson to the west.

Returning to England in the early part of 1778, Pellew was made lieutenant, and in 1780 we find him again serving under Captain Pownoll, as first lieutenant of the Apollo frigate. On the 15th of June, in the same year, the Apollo met the French frigate Stanislas. A severe action followed, and at the end of an hour Pownoll was shot through the body. As his young friend raised him from the deck, he had barely time to say, “Pellew, I know you won’t give his Majesty’s ship away,” and immediately expired. The engagement lasted an hour longer, when the enemy, which had all the time been standing in for the Belgian coast, took the ground, the most of her spars, already wounded, going overboard with the shock. The Apollo had hauled off a few moments before, finding that she had less than five feet of water under her keel.

Though unable again to attack the Stanislas, which claimed the protection of the neutral flag, the result was substantially a victory ; but to Pellew’s grief for the death of a tried friend was added the material loss of a powerful patron. Happily, however, his reputation was known to the head of the Admiralty, who not only promoted him for this action, but also gave him a ship, though a poor one. After a succession of small commands, he was fortunate enough again to distinguish himself, — driving ashore and destroying several French privateers, under circumstances of such danger and difficulty as to win him his next grade, post captain. This step, which, so far as selection went, fixed his position in the navy, he received on the 25th of May, 1782.

The ten years of peace that shortly followed were passed by many officers in retirement; but Pellew was a seaman to the marrow, and constantly sought employment afloat. For five years, accordingly, he commanded frigates, chiefly on the Newfoundland station; and in them, though now turning thirty, he displayed the superabundant vitality and restless activity that had characterized his early youth. “ Whenever there was exertion required aloft,” wrote a midshipman who served with him at this period, “ to preserve a sail or a mast, the captain was foremost in the work, apparently as a mere matter of amusement, and there was not a man in the ship that could equal him in personal activity. He appeared to play among the elements in the hardest storms. I remember once, in close-reefing the main topsail, the captain had given bis orders from the quarter-deck and sent us aloft. On gaining the topsail yard, the most active and daring of our party hesitated to go upon it, as the sail was flapping violently, making it a service of great danger; but a voice was heard from the extreme end of the yard, calling upon us to exert ourselves to save the sail, which would otherwise beat to pieces. A man said, ‘ Why, that s the captain ! How the — did he get there ? He had followed us up, and, clambering over the backs of the sailors, had reached the topmast head, above the yard, and thence descended by the lift,” — a feat unfortunately not easy to he explained to landsmen, but which will be allowed by seamen to demand great hardihood and address.

All this was the simple overflow of an animal energy not to be repressed, the exulting prowess of a giant delighting to run his course. It found expression also in joyous practical jests, like those of a big boy, which at times had ludicrous consequences. On one occasion of state ceremony, the king’s birthday, Pellew had dressed in full uniform to attend a dinner on shore. The weather was hot, and the crew had been permitted an hour’s swimming around the ship. While his boat was being manned, the captain stood by the frigate’s rail watching the bathers, and near by him was one of the ship’s boys. “ I too shall have a good swim soon,” called the latter to a comrade in the water. " The sooner, the better,” said Pellew, coining behind him and tipping him overboard. No sooner had the lad risen to the surface from his plunge than it was plain that he could not swim; so in after him went the practical joker, with all his toggery. “ If ever the captain was frightened,” writes the officer just quoted, " it was then.”

But along with all this physical exuberance and needless assumption of many of the duties of a foremast hand, Pellew possessed to a very remarkable extent that delicate art of seamanship which consists in so handling a ship as to make her do just what you want, and to put her just where she should be; making her, to use a common sea expression, do everything but talk. This is a faculty probably inborn, like most others that reach any great degree of perfection, and, while a very desirable gift, it is by no means indispensable to the highest order of naval excellence. Nelson did not at all equal Pellew in this respect, as is indicated by an amusing story transmitted by a Colonel Stewart, who served on board the great admiral’s flagship during the expedition against Copenhagen : “ His lordship was rather too apt to interfere in the working of the ship, and not always with the best, judgment or success. The wind, when off Dungeness, was scanty, and the ship was to be put about. Lord Nelson would give the orders, and caused her to miss stays. Upon this he said, rather peevishly, to the officer of the watch, ‘ Well, now see what we have done. Well, sir, what mean you to do now ? ’ The officer saying, with hesitation, ‘ I don’t exactly know, my lord. I fear she won’t do,’ Lord Nelson turned sharply to the cabin, and replied, ‘ Well, I am sure if you do not know what to do with her, no more do I, either.’ He went in, leaving the officer to work the ship as he liked.” Yet Nelson understood perfectly what ships could do, and what they could not; no one could better handle or take cave of a fleet, or estimate the possibility of performing a given manœuvre; and long before he was called to high command he was distinguished for a knowledge of naval tactics to which few, if any other, of his time attained. He was a great general officer ; and whether be had the knack of himself making a ship go through all her paces without a fault mattered as little as whether he was a crack shot with a gun.

Pellew’s powers over a ship (certainly the most beautiful and most graceful of machines; a machine, too, so varied in its movements and so instinct with life that the seaman affectionately transfers to her credit his own virtues in handling her) were so remarkable that it is somewhat singular to find him, in his first frigate action, compelled to discard manœuvring, and to rely for victory upon sheer luck and pluck. When war with the French republic began in 1793, his high reputation immediately insured him command of a frigate, the Nymphe. The strength of England as a naval power lay largely in the great reserve of able seamen manning her merchant ships ; but, as these were scattered in all quarters of the world, great embarrassment was commonly felt at the outbreak of a war, and especially when it came with the unexpected rapidity of the revolutionary fury. As the object of first importance was to get the fleets of ships of the line to sea, Pellew had to depend chiefly upon his own indefatigable exertions to procure a crew for his vessel. Seamen being hard to find, he had on board a disproportionate number of landsmen when the Nymphe, on the 19th of June, 1793, encountered the French vessel Cléopâtre, of force slightly inferior, except in men, but not sufficiently so to deny the victor the claim of an even fight.

A peculiar incident preceding the action has interest, as showing the strong preoccupation of men’s minds at the opening of war, before meetings with the enemy have lost novelty. Pellew’s younger brother, Israel, a commander in the navy, being otherwise unemployed, had come out with him for the cruise. The Cléopâtre having been first seen in the early morning, Edward would not have him called till just as the Nymphe was closing. As he came on deck, the brother said affectionately, “Israel, you have no business here. We are too many eggs from one nest, I am sorry I brought you from your wife.” But the other was unheeding, his eyes fixed upon the stranger. “ That’s the very frigate,” he cried, “ that I’ve been dreaming of all night! I dreamt that we shot away her wheel.” And, hastening to the after-gun, he made the French ship’s wheel the object of an unremitting fire.

By the way the enemy was handled it was evident that she was well manned and ably commanded. She had, in fact, been in commission for oyer a year. Great as was his own skill, Pellew could not venture upon manœuvres with a green crew, untrained save at the guns, and only filled the night before by pressing from a merchant vessel. He therefore determined upon a simple artillery duel. The Frenchman waited under short canvas, while the Nymphe, with greater way, drew slowly up on his starboard, or right-hand side ; both ships running nearly before the wind, but having it a little on the left side. Each captain stood uncovered, and as the bows of the Nymphe doubled upon the stern of the Clœopâtre, within three hundred feet, a French sailor was seen to run aloft and fasten a red cap of liberty to the mainmast head. The eyes of the British seamen Were fastened upon their commander, awaiting the gesture which he had set, instead of word of mouth, for opening fire. At 6.15 he gave it, raising his cap to his head. A furious cannonade at once began, and, the Nymphe shortening sail as soon as fairly abreast her antagonist, the two frigates continued on parallel lines, maintaining their relative positions as though at anchor, and rolling easily in the soft summer sea under the recoil of their guns. So nearly matched were the gunners that the conflict, unusually deadly though it was, might have lasted long, but at a little before seven Israel Pellew’s dream was fulfilled. The Frenchman’s wheel was shot away, and, the mizzenmast going overboard at the same time, the Clœopâtre yielded to the impulse of her forward sails, turned sharp round to the right, and ran perpendicularly into the Nymphe. The British boarded her, fixed in this disadvantageous position, fought their way aft, and, although the French crew was numerically superior, in ten minutes hauled down the colors. In this brief hour they had lost 23 killed and 27 wounded, the enemy 63 killed and wounded, out of ships’ companies numbering respectively 240 and 320.

This was the first decisive frigate action of the revolutionary war, and in consequence great was the enthusiasm aroused. Lord Howe wrote to Pellew, “ The manner in which you have taken the enemy’s ship will set an example for the war.” In truth, however, while admitting the soundness of Pellew’s judgment, the demand upon his personal skill was less, and the credit due therefore less, than in the second successful frigate action,, in the following October, in which Sir James Saumarez commanded. Not only was the French vessel’s superiority in force more marked, but Saumarez’s ship there met with an accident similar to that which befell the Cléopâtre, from the consequences of which she was extricated by his masterly seamanship. Both captains, however, deserved the reward of knighthood bestowed upon their success. Israel Pellew was promoted to post captain.

During the first three years of this war, British commerce in the neighborhood of the Channel suffered most severely from French cruisers. The latter resumed the methods of Jean Bart and other celebrated privateers of the days of Louis XIV.; the essence of which was to prey upon the enemy’s commerce, not by single vessels, but by small squadrons of from five to seven ships. Cruisers so combined, acting in mutual support, were far more efficient than the same number acting independently. Spreading like a fan, they commanded a wider expanse than the single vessel; if danger arose, they concentrated for mutual support; did opportunity offer, the work was cut out and distributed, thus insuring by cooperation more thorough results. At the suggestion of Sir Edward Pellew, the British Admiralty determined to oppose to these organized depredators a similar system. Squadrons of crack frigates were formed, and sent to cruise within the limits of the Channel fleet, but independent of its admiral. In these squadrons Pellew served for the next five years; to him a period of incessant, untiring activity, and illustrated by many brilliant and exciting incidents, for which the limits of this sketch afford no space.

There are, however, two episodes in which he was so distinctly the central figure that they demand at least a brief narration. In January, 1796, while his ship was repairing, a large East Indiaman, carrying some six hundred troops and passengers, was, by a series of mishaps, driven ashore on the beach of Plymouth, then an unprotected sound. As she struck, all her masts went overboard, and she lay broadside to the waves, pounding heavily as they broke over her. Pellew was at this moment driving to a dinner with his wife. Seeing crowds running from various directions towards the same quarter, he asked the reason. Upon learning it, he left his carriage and hurried to the scene. When he arrived, he recognized, by the confusion on hoard, by the way the ship was laboring, by the poverty of the means that had been contrived for landing the imperiled souls, — only a single hawser having been run to the shore, — that the loss of nearly all on board was imminent. Night, too, was falling, as well as the destruction of the vessel impending. After vainly offering rewards to the hardy boatmen standing by, if they would board the wreck with a message from him, he said, “ Then I must go myself.” Though then close to forty years of age, his immense personal strength and activity enabled him, though sorely bruised thereby, to be hauled on board through the breakers by the hawser, which alternately slacked and then tightened with a jerk as the doomed ship rolled to and fro in the seas. Once on board, he assumed command, the want of which, through the absence of the proper captain, had until then hampered and well-nigh paralyzed all effectual effort. When his well-known name was spoken, three hearty cheers arose from the troops on board, echoed by the thousands of spectators on shore; and the hope that revived with the presence of a born leader of men showed itself at once in the renewed activity and intelligent direction of effort, both on the decks and on the beach. The degree of the danger can be estimated from the fact that boats from the ships of war in port, his own included, tried in vain to approach, and had to run for safety to the inner harbor. With sword drawn, — for many of the soldiers were drunk and riotous, — Pellew maintained order, guided with a seaman’s readiness the preparations for landing, and saw the women, the children, — one child but three weeks old, — the sick, landed first, then the soldiers, lastly the seamen. When he himself was transferred to the beach by the same means that his skill had contrived for others, but three persons remained on board, officers of the ship, who eased him on shore. The injuries he had received in his perilous passage out, and which confined him to his bed for a week, forbade his being last.

The year that opened with this magnificent act of self-devotion saw Pellew, at its close, bearing a seaman’s part in the most serious crisis that befell his country during the wars of the French Revolution. The end of 1796 and the earlier months of 1797 marked the nadir of Great Britain’s military fortunes. The successes of Bonaparte’s Italian campaign were then culminating; Austria was on the point of making peace with France; England was about to find herself alone, and the discontent of the seamen of the navy, long smouldering, was soon to break out into the famous and threatening mutinies of the Channel fleet and of the Nore. At the same time, France, relieved on her eastern frontiers, felt able to devote seventeen ships of the line and eighteen thousand troops to the invasion of Ireland.

Pellew, with two frigates besides his own, was stationed off the mouth of Brest harbor to watch the enemy’s movements, the main British fleet being some fifty miles to seaward. To this emergency he brought not only the intrepidity of a great seaman and the ardor of an anxious patriot, but likewise the intense though narrow Protestant feeling transmitted from a past, then not so remote, when Romanism and enmity to England were almost synonymous. “ How would you like,” said he to an officer who shared Pitt’s liberal tendencies, " to see Roman Catholic chaplains on board our ships ? ” and to the end of his life he opposed the enfranchisement of persons of that creed.

The French expedition against Ireland sailed from Brest on the 16th of December, 1796. Having sent off successively each of his consorts with information for the fleet, Pellew remained with his own ship alone, the Indefatigable, at the moment of the final start. There are two principal channels by which Brest can be left, one leading to the south, the other due west. The French admiral had at first intended to use the former ; but, the wind showing signs of an unfavorable shift, he endeavored to change the orders just as night was falling. The weather being hazy, his signals were understood by but few of the forty odd vessels composing the force : eight or ten joined him ; the remainder followed the original instructions and went out by the south. Pellew attached himself to the admiral’s division, kept along with it just out of gunshot, and by making false signals, burning blue lights and sending up rockets, introduced into the attempts to convey the wishes of the commander in chief such confusion as rendered them utterly futile. Having satisfied himself as to the general direction taken by the enemy, he left them, and made all sail for Falmouth, where he arrived on the 20th.

Space does not allow us to follow the fortunes of the expedition. Suffice it to say that the greater part reached Ireland safely, but, through stress of weather, was unable to land the troops, and went back to France, by detachments, in January, 1797. It is during this process of return that Sir Edward Pellew again appears, in perhaps the most dramatic incident of his stirring career.

On the afternoon of January 13, being then in company with the frigate Amazon, and about one hundred and twenty miles west of Brest, a French ship of the line was discovered. The stranger, named the Droits de l’Homme, was returning from Ireland, and heading east. The frigates steered courses converging towards hers, seeking to cut her off from the land. The weather was thick and gloomy, with a strong west wind fast rising to a gale. At half past four, as night was falling, the French ship carried away her fore and main topmasts in a heavy squall; and an hour later, the Indefatigable, now under close reefs, passed across her stern, pouring in a broadside from so near that the French flag floated across her poop, where it was seized and torn away by some of the British seamen. The enemy, having on board nearly a thousand soldiers besides her crew, replied with heavy volleys of musketry, and, as the frigate passed ahead, sheered violently towards her, attempting to board, and in her turn grazing the stern of the Indefatigable. In another hour the Amazon drew up, and then the two frigates took their positions, one on either bow of the Droits de l’Homme, whence, by easy movements of the helm, they alternately raked her. The labor of the gunners, however, was most severe, due to the deep rolling of the ships, on board which, also, the seas poured in volumes through the gun-ports. On the main decks the men fought up to their middles in water, the heavy cannon broke away from the breechings, or ropes used to control them, and even the iron bolts tore out from the ships’ sides under the severe recoil of the guns. Thus through the long winter night the three ships rushed headlong before the gale towards the French coast, intent on mutual destruction ; the constant Storm of shot, though flying wild under the violent motions of the vessels, tearing through spars and rigging, and crippling them in much that was essential to their safety.

At four o’clock in the morning of the 14th, long before daybreak, land was sighted right ahead. The Indefatigable hauled at once to the southward, the Amazon to the northward ; the French vessel alone, seemingly unconscious of the danger, kept on, and as she passed Pellew’s ship fired a broadside which severely wounded all the masts. The situation of the combatants was well-nigh desperate. They had reached the coast of France at a point where it forms a deep recess, called Audi erne Bay, from either side of which project capes that must be cleared in order to gain once more the open sea. But one of the three escaped. The Droits de l’Homme, unmanageable for want of sail power, tried to anchor, but drove, and struck on a shoal some distance from the beach. Of sixteen hundred souls on hoard when the battle began, over one hundred had been killed ; and of those who survived the fight, three hundred perished in the wreck. The Amazon, likewise crippled, though not so badly, went ashore to the northward only ten minutes after she ceased firing. Of her people, but six were drowned. The Indefatigable, beating back and forth against the gale before the scene of the disaster, upon which her crew gazed with the solemn feeling that such might soon be their own fate, succeeded at last in clearing the southern cape at eleven o’clock, nearly twentyfour hours after first meeting the foe.

The interest of Pellew’s career centres mainly in his command of frigates. This independent but yet restricted sphere afforded the fullest scope for a conspicuous display of those splendid qualities — fearlessness, enterprise, sound judgment, instant decision, and superb seamanship — which he so eminently possessed. He was above all the frigate captain. “ Nothing like hesitation was ever seen in him. His first order was always his last; and he often declared of himself that he never had a second thought worth sixpence.” In 1799, by a new Admiralty rule, he was transferred to a ship of the line, and thenceforth served in that class of vessel until his promotion to admiral.

As a general officer, Pellew had no opportunity to show whether he possessed ability of the highest order. For five years he held the command in India ; and soon after Collingwood’s death he was, in 1811, appointed commander in chief in the Mediterranean. On both stations he evinced that faculty for careful organization, systematic preparation, and sagacious distribution of force which carries success up to the point which administrative routine can reach ; and it was to this, rather than to any brilliant tactical dispositions, that he afterwards owed his victory at Algiers, in a square stand-up fight against stone walls. All this, however, falls far short of the genius of a great captain. Whether, having forged his weapon, Pellew could also wield it ; whether, having carefully sowed, he could also reap, must remain uncertain. The indications are not favorable. His biographer, who seems to have known him well and had access to his papers, did not, from this intercourse, draw any very fruitful conceptions as to tactics or strategy ; for he quotes approvingly the following argument addressed by a British officer to Napoleon : “ The officer soon convinced him that the tactics which he had made so effectual on land, by concentrating an overwhelming force upon his enemy, were not applicable to naval operations.” After the Nile and Trafalgar, there is about this a kind of hopelessness, upon which it is needless to enlarge.

Pellew’s Mediterranean command coincided in time with the period of Napoleon’s falling fortunes. After Trafalgar, the Emperor decided to increase his navy largely, but to keep it in port instead of at sea, forcing Great Britain also to maintain huge fleets, the expense of which, concurring with the commercial embarrassments that he sought to bring upon her, might exhaust her power to continue the war. In consequence of this policy, British military achievement on the grand scale was confined to the army in the Spanish peninsula; and in the bestowal of rewards, after Napoleon’s first abdication, but one peerage was given to the navy. The great claims of Sir James Saumarez were disregarded on the ground that his flag was not flying at the moment, and Pellew was created Baron Exmouth.

During the process of settlement which succeeded the final fall of Napoleon at Waterloo, Lord Exmouth remained in the Mediterranean. In the early part of 1816, he was ordered to visit with his fleet the Barbary ports, and to compel the unconditional release of all slaves who were natives of the Ionian Islands ; they having become subjects of Great Britain by the terms of the peace. For many years, while the powers of Europe were engrossed in the tremendous strife of the French Revolution, these piratical states, under pretense of regular hostilities, had preyed upon the coasts as well as upon the commerce of the weak Mediterranean countries, and captives taken by them were kept in bitter slavery. The United States alone, although then among the least of naval powers, had taken arms to repress outrages that were the common reproach of all civilized states, — a measure whose success went far to establish the character of her navy and prepare it for 1812. Lord Exmouth was also directed to demand peace for Sardinia, as well as for any other state that should authorize him to act for it. Only Naples availed itself of this opportunity.

As far as his instructions went, his mission was successful ; but, by a happy accident, he was able, at Tunis and Tripoli, to extort from the rulers a promise that thereafter captives should be treated as in civilized countries; in other words, that they should no longer be reduced to slavery. Algiers refused this concession ; and the admiral could not take steps to enforce it, because beyond his commission. The Dey, however, undertook to consult the Porte ; and the fleet, with a few exceptions, returned to England, where it arrived towards the end of June.

Meanwhile English public feeling had become aroused ; for men were saying that the outrages of the past had been rather welcome to the commercial selfishness of the country. The well-protected traders of Great Britain, shielded by her omnipotent navy, had profited by crimes which drove their weaker rivals from the sea. Just then news came that at the port of Bona, on the Algiers coast, where there was, under the British flag, an establishment for carrying on the coral fishery, a great number of the fishermen, mostly Italians, had been wantonly slaughtered by a band of Turkish troops. To insist, arms in hand, upon reparation for such an outrage, and upon guarantees for the future, would doubtless he condemned by some of our recent lights ; but such was not then the temper of Great Britain. The government determined at once to send a fleet to the spot, and Lord Exmouth was chosen for the command, with such a force as he himself should designate. The gist of his instructions was to demand the release, without ransom, of all Christian slaves, and a solemn declaration from the Dey that, in future wars, prisoners should receive the usage accorded them by European states. Great Britain thus made herself, as befitted the obligation imposed by her supreme maritime power, the avenger of all those oppressed by these scourges of the sea. The times of the barbarians were fulfilled.

During a long career of successful piracy, the port of Algiers bad accumulated an extensive and powerful system of defenses. These had doubtless suffered in condition from the nonchalant fatalism of Turkish rule, encouraged by a long period of impunity ; but they constituted still, and under all the shortcomings of the defenders, a most imposing menace to an attacking fleet. To convey a precise impression of them by detailed verbal description would be difficult, and the attempt probably confusing. It may be said, in brief, that the town faces easterly, rising abruptly up a steep hill; that from its front there then projected a pier, nearly a thousand feet long, at whose end was a circular fort, carrying seventy guns in three tiers ; from that point a mole extended at right angles to the southward, — parallel, that is, to the town front. This mole was something over a thousand feet in length, and carried throughout two tiers of guns, linked at their northern extremity to the circular fort at the pier end. These principal works were flanked and covered, at either end and on the hillside, by others, which it is unnecessary to particularize. The total number of guns in position numbered five hundred, of very respectable size for that day. The basin formed by the pier and the mole constituted the port proper, and in it, at the time of the attack, was collected the entire Algerine navy, nine frigates and corvettes and thirty-seven gunboats, the paltry force that had so long terrorized the Mediterranean.

To the surprise of the Admiralty, Lord Exmouth asked for but five ships of the line, five frigates, and five smaller vessels, to which were added four mortar boats to play upon the town and arsenal. To all expressions of doubt he replied, “ I am satisfied, and take the responsibility entirely upon myself.” He trusted to the extreme care of his preparations, which neglected no particular of equipment or organization, elaborating every detail of training and discipline, and providing, by the most diligent foresight and minute instruction, that each officer concerned should know exactly what was expected of him. In short, it was to perfection of quality, and not to an unwieldy bulk of superfluous quantity, that Exmouth confided his fortunes in this last hazard.

The fleet sailed from England on the 28th of July, 1816, was joined at Gibraltar by a Dutch squadron of five frigates, whose commander asked to share the coming contest, and on the 26th of August was off the north point of Algiers Bay, some twenty miles from the town. At daybreak the next morning, the weather being almost calm, a flag of truce was sent in, bearing the British demands. During its absence a breeze from the sea sprang up, and the fleet stood in to a mile from the works, where it stopped to await the reply. At two p. M. the boat was seen returning, with the signal that no answer had been given. The flagship queried, “ Are you ready?” Each ship at once replied, “ Yes ; ” and all filling away together stood down to the attack, the admiral leading.

The Algerine batteries were fully manned ; the mole, moreover, was crowded with troops. With singular temerity, they fired no gun as the ships came on ; fearing, seemingly, that, if thus received, the prey might turn and escape. The British, on their side, observed the utmost silence ; not a gun, not a cheer, marred the solemn impression of the approach. The flagship, Queen Charlotte, piloted by an officer who had served continuously with Exmouth since 1793, anchored by the stern across the mole head, at a distance of fifty yards, her starboard batteries pointing to sweep it from end to end. Still no sound of battle, as she proceeded to lash her bows to those of an Algerine brig lying just within the mole. This done, her crew gave three cheers, as well they might. Then the stolid, unaccountable apathy of the barbarians ceased, and three guns in quick succession were fired from the eastern battery. Stirred by a feeling of compassion, Lord Exmouth, from the flagship’s poop, seeing the Moorish soldiery clustered thick upon the parapets to watch the ships, waved to them with his hand to get down. At the first hostile gun, he gave the order “ Stand by ! ” at the second, “Fire!” and simultaneously with the third the Queen Charlotte’s broadside rang out, and the battle began.

The other ships in succession took the posts assigned them, — with slight inaccuracies, it is true, but upon the whole the admiral’s plan was substantially realized. The broadsides of the ships of the line were opposed from end to end to the heavy central batteries on the mole and pier; the lighter vessels engaged the flanking works, thus diverting the fire which would have harassed the chief assailants ; and the bomb vessels from the rear threw their shells over the fighting ships into the town and arsenal. Soon after the contest opened, the thirty-seven Algerine gunboats, crowded with troops, were seen advancing, under cover of the smoke, to board the flagship. The attempt, rash to insanity, met the fate it should have expected; thirty-three were sent to the bottom. An hour later, Lord Exmouth determined to set fire to the enemy’s frigates. The service was performed by an officer and boat’s crew, with a steadiness which elicited from him such admiration that, on the return of the party, he stopped the firing of the ship’s upper battery to give them three cheers. As the hostile vessels burned, one of them drifted so near the Queen Charlotte as nearly to involve her in the same fate.

From three to ten P. M. the battle lasted, steady disciplined valor contending with a courage in no way inferior, absolutely insensible to danger, but devoid of that coherent, skillful direction which is to courage what the brain and eye are to the heart. “ I never,” wrote Exmouth to his brother, “ saw any set of men more obstinate at their guns, and it was superior fire only that could keep them back. To be sure, nothing could stand before the Queen Charlotte’s broadside. Everything fell before it, and the Swedish consul assures me we killed above five hundred at the very first fire, from the crowded way in which the troops were drawn up, four deep above the gunboats, which were also full of men. It was a glorious sight,” he continues, “to see the Charlotte take her anchorage, and to see her flag towering on high, when she appeared to be in the flames of the mole itself ; and never was a ship nearer burnt; it almost scorched me off the poop. We were obliged to haul in the ensign, or it would have caught fire.” He was himself struck thrice, though not seriously injured. A cannon ball carried away the skirts of his coat, and one glass of the spectacles in his pocket was broken, and the frame bulged, by a shot.

At ten P. M., the ammunition of the fleet running short, and its work being substantially accomplished, the ships began to haul off. The sea defenses and a great part of the town were in ruins. “To be again effective,” wrote Exmouth, “the defenses must be rebuilt from the foundation.” The flanking batteries and the hill forts continued to annoy the vessels as they retired, but the spirit of the Dey was broken. Towards eleven a light air from the land sprang up, which freshened into a violent and prolonged thunderstorm, lasting for three hours; and the flashes of heaven’s artillery combined with the glare of the burning town to illuminate the withdrawal of the ships.

The following morning the Dey signified his submission, and on the 30th of August Lord Exmoutlx made known to the fleet that all the terms of Great Britain had been yielded ; that Christian slavery was forever abolished, and that by noon of the following day all slaves then in Algiers would be delivered to his flag. This was accordingly done, the whole number amounting to 1642 ; which, with those previously released at Tunis and Tripoli, raised to 3003 the human beings whom Lord Exmouth had been the instrument of freeing from a fate worse than death. Of this total, but eighteen were English ; the remainder were almost wholly from the Mediterranean countries. On the 3d of September, just one week after the attack, the fleet sailed for England.

Profuse acknowledgment necessarily awaited the hero of a deed in which gratified martial exultation so happily blended with the sentiment of pity for the oppressed. The admiral was raised to the next rank in the peerage, and honors poured in upon him from every side, — from abroad as well as from his own countrymen.

Here Lord Exmouth’s career closes. He lived yet sixteen years in honored retirement, bearing, however, the burden of those whose active occupation is withdrawn at an age too advanced to form new interests. Though in vigorous health and with ample fortune, “ he would sometimes confess,” says his biographer, “ that he was happier amid his early difficulties.” Though not a party man, he was strongly conservative, so that the agitations of the Reform era concealed from him the advantages towards which it was tending, and filled him with forebodings for the future of his country.

Like his distinguished contemporary, Admiral Saumarez, and like many others of those lion - hearted, masculine men who had passed their lives amid the storms of the elements and of battle, — and like our own Farragut, — Lord Exmouth was a deeply religious man. Strong as was his self-reliance in war and tempest, he rested upon the Almighty with the dependence of a child upon its father. His noble brother, Sir Israel Pellew, who had followed Nelson into the fire at Trafalgar, departed with the words, “ I know in Whom I have believed ; ” and of the admiral himself, an officer who was often with him during the closing scene said, “ I have seen him great in battle, but never so great as on his deathbed.”

Lord Exmouth died on January 23, 1833. He was at the time Vice-Admiral of England, an honorary rank conferred upon distinguished services.

A. T. Mahan.