Aug 312017
 

Time to dust off a blog I did a year ago commemorating the death of a remarkable Frenchman:bougainvilleaEvery so often, I have a complete mental aberration and decide to write something nice about a Frenchman. What has prompted it this time? Looking out the window at the magnificent bougainvillea which has spread across the head of the steps leading from my terrace here in Spain. And yes, I am well aware that the brightly coloured red papery ‘ petals’ are actually bracts, not flowers. The flowers are small, white and insignificant. The plant grows like wild-fire, and has vicious spikes which retaliate if ever you try and prune the beast… a Louis_Antoine_de_BougainvilleBut the point is: it got me thinking about Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville, because he really was a remarkable man.

Yes, he was a thorn in the side of the British (perhaps that is why the plant was named after him!) but he was also a great explorer, the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world, and a very talented man. Born in  1729 (the same year as my ancestor Richard) he showed early signs of being a brilliant mathematician, publishing books on calculus. He then packed that in, and joined the French army, seeing service in the French territories of North America during the Seven Years War. 1759 was spent harrying British troops along the St Lawrence River, preventing them from landing, and cutting their supply lines.

 

He was involved in the battle on the Plains of Abraham  in which Quebec fell to the troops led by General Wolfe, and later became a diplomat, involved in negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Seven Years War. So far, nothing very naval about him. As part of the peace settlement large numbers of Acadians – settlers of French origin who had established homes in what are now Eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces, (such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Price Edward Island ) – were  chucked off their land and forced to return to France. Good old Bougainville felt bad about that, and out of his own purse set up an expedition to re-settle the Acadians…..in  the “Isles Malouines”. We know them as the Falkland Isles…. Bougainville accompanied the expedition which claimed the islands for France in April 1764. He must have been a tad miffed when the French then did a deal with the Spanish and ordered him to hand control over to the Spanish. It was after all his money which had financed it all, but he was “bought off” to the tune of 700,000 francs, and Spanish the Falklands became. At least until 1766 when Captain Macbride on the frigate ‘Jason’ called by, and announced that it was really a British colony after all….. a BougainvillegIn 1766 he was granted permission to establish an expedition to circumnavigate the world – something no other Frenchman had done before. With two ships called La Boudeuse and  the Étoile  and a crew totalling 330 men (well, 329 actually) he set sail on 15 November 1766.

One of those on board was the botanist Philibert Commercon, who was accompanied at all times by his valet, one Jean Baré (otherwise Jeanne Baret). Female, but always dressed in a man’s clothing. How she managed to conceal her gender from over three hundred randy Frenchmen for eighteen months is a bit of a mystery, but as a twenty-seven year old she was apparently able to masquerade as a young man in Tahiti, which they reached in March 1767.  She later returned to France, the first woman to sail round the globe, and died at a ripe old age in 1807, taking with her to her grave the story of her remarkable life. Bougainville wasn’t the first to discover Tahiti, but he thought he was, since he was unaware that an Englishman called Samuel Wallis on HMS Dolphin had landed there in the previous year. a -Bougainville_Voyage_around_the_World_1772Bougainville published his travel-log as Voyage autour du monde  in 1771, translated into English and re-published the following year as A Voyage Around the World. It created  a sensation, with its description of the noble savages of Tahiti and their idyllic existence.

He didn’t have a chance to put his feet up for long: he played a crucial part in the French victory at the Battle of the Chesapeake, a turning point in the American War of Independence, and which led to the eventual defeat of Great Britain. At the age of 52 he then decided to get himself married, fathering four sons (including one poor blighter lumbered with the name Hyacinthe…) all of whom went on to serve in the French armed forces. In 1782 he got caught up in the Battle of the Saintes in which Admiral Rodney dealt a crushing blow to the French Navy in the Caribbean, led by  the Comte de Grasse. Somehow Rodney failed to press home his advantage, and Bougainville was able to slip through the net, extricating eight ships of the line and sail them to safety. His action prevented the defeat from being a catastrophe – in itself, a sort of victory.

Gillray's caricature of Admiral Rodney presenting the sword of de Grasse to George III

Gillray’s caricature of Admiral Rodney presenting the sword of de Grasse to George III

He then apparently decided to explore cooler waters, and proposed a trip to the North Pole! The French government was not enthusiastic, and he had to abandon the idea. In 1787 he was made a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and in 1804 Napoleon made him a Grand Officier de la Légion d’honneur . Four years later, Napoleon conferred upon him the title of count (the Comte de Bougainville), and when he died on 31 August 1811 he was buried with great pomp at the Panthéon in Paris. His name lives on – as the plant, as an island in  Papua New Guinea, and in ‘Port Louis’ in the Falklands. I have also had the pleasure of reclining languidly under the Seychelles sun on Anse Bougainville, and very pleasant it was too!

Indeed, I hope to include Bougainville in my list of talks I will be giving next year when I go as guest speaker on board the Boudicca, as she visits Reunion, Mauritius, The Seychelles and the Comoros Islands. It is not that Bougainville did a lot of exploring here, but the French were hugely important in this part of the Indian Ocean, and his name will be as good a peg as any other on which to hang a talk!

I will do other talks on treasure hunting, on castaways, but possibly not on pirates as I fear that this might be a tad too close for comfort, given that the Comoros Islands are well within reach of the modern day pirates based in Somalia… And I will definitely include the story of sixty slaves abandoned for FIFTEEN YEARS on an otherwise uninhabited  strip of coral sand known as L’Ile de Sable. When they were finally rescued, only seven people were found alive – plus one baby. Given that all the rescued adults were women, it does raise the question – who was the daddy and what happened to him? How on earth did they survive on an island without any trees, without crops or fruit? How did slaves, captured from the highland areas of Madagascar, cope with adapting to living in a fishing community, and how on earth can you live off  sea birds and turtles for fifteen years? And why were there no traces of the 53 adult slaves who didn’t survive – what happened to them? Oh, and in case you are wondering, the Europeans who were accompanying the slaves all got off the island in a boat  – but there wasn’t room for the slaves so they abandoned them. Well, they did promise to come back for them, but it apparently escaped their minds … for fifteen years. Not a very edifying tale, but one which deserves to be told.

In Britain we remember Captain Cook, who was an exact contemporary of  Bougainville, but I certainly never learned about the French equivalent to Cook when I was at school all those years ago. No wonder we are such an insular and ignorant lot….

Mar 172017
 

The diary entry of my ancestor Richard Hall, for March 1800, reads: “The Queen Charlotte Man of War took fire and blew up – it is feared not less than 700 lives are lost.” It was typical of many such diary entries of my ancestor, who seemed to get more and more agitated in his old age about accidents and calamities around the world.

The destruction by fire of the British warship HMS Queen Charlotte on 17 March 1800 was one of the most disastrous naval accidents of the era. The flagship of Admiral Lord Keith was anchored off the Italian port of Livorno (otherwise known as Leghorn) in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It had been intended that the ship would sail to capture the island of Cabrona from the French; but the Admiral and a number of the ship’s officers had gone ashore for the night. At about six in the morning a match, which had been kept alight to fire a signal gun, accidentally set ablaze some hay left on the half-deck. There were some 900 men on board and for five hours they struggled to get the blaze under control. In vain they flooded water into the lower decks to stop the fire spreading. Equally in vain, they tried to hurl buckets of water up into the blazing sails and rigging.

At about 11 in the morning the fire reached the massive gunpowder store and blew the ship to smithereens. 673 of the officers and crew on board perished, with only 165 survivors being picked up. The British Register ‘State of Public Affairs’ for April 1800 recounts the story:

We have the painful duty to state the loss of his majesty’s ship Queen Charlotte, of 100 guns, captain Todd, which was burnt off Leghorn on the 17th of March, when the commander and nearly 800 of the crew perished by the explosion. Vice admiral Lord Keith, whose flag was flying on board of her, was, at the time, with some of the officers, providentially on shore. Twenty commissioned and warrant officers, two servants, and 141 seamen, were the whole of the persons who escaped destruction. The particulars are detailed by Mr John Braid, carpenter of the Queen Charlotte: as he was dressing himself about six o’clock, he heard throughout the ship a general cry of ” Fire.” He then states the particulars until half past ten o’clock, when, finding all efforts to extinguish the flames impossible, lie jumped from the jib boom, and swam to an American boat approaching the ship, by which he was picked up and put into a Tartan, then in the charge of lieutenant Stewart, who had come off to the assistance of the ship.

On the morning of the accident. Lord Keith being, as above stated, on shore at Leghorn, had the mortification of discovering the Queen Charlotte on fire four or five leagues at sea. This sight rendered Lord Keith almost frantic – he immediately gave orders for all the vessels and boats to put off, and every assistance to be given; and in this service he was zealously seconded by the Austrian General, and all ranks in Leghorn. They came to an anchor, as the wind blew strongly off the land, but the flames were so rapid that very little hopes could be entertained of saving her. Between eight and nine o’clock the masts and rigging caught fire, and made a most awful blaze; the crew, however, cut the masts by the board ; and, going over the ship, they no longer threatened mischief; but the fire had taken strong hold of the body of the vessel, and continued to rage. The guns began to go off, and the people in the boats and other vessels, who had gone from Leghorn, were much alarmed for fear of the shot, that they would not approach the ship.

It was an ignominious end to a ship named after the wife of George III, and built in 1790 only ten years earlier. In 1796 she had been Admiral Howe’s victorious flagship at the Battle of the Glorious Ist of June, and it is shown here guns blazing away at two French ships of the line. Six were captured and one was sunk.

The Glorious First of June was the first major fleet battle of the French Revolutionary War, 1793-1801. Fast forward to 1800 and it must have been a most appalling experience for Admiral Keith to have to watch as his pride and joy went to its watery grave in a ball of flame.

On the left: a carving of Queen Charlotte in full regalia, in miniature. It was probably made before the full-size carving for the figurehead was commissioned, and would have been used to obtain Royal approval to the design.

Nov 202016
 

1759 thanksgiving

A week after the naval victory over the French at Quiberon Bay, Richard noted the “Day of General Thanksgiving, observed for the great and plentiful harvest, and the train of successes the Lord has been pleased this year to give us over our Enemies in Europe, Asia, Affrica and America”. The Battle of Quiberon Bay was the icing on the cake, rounding off the ‘annus mirabilis’ which saw British forces triumph around the world.

File:Quibcardinaux2.jpg                Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum.  ‘The Battle of Quiberon Bay’ by Nicholas Pocock, painted in 1812.

Quiberon Bay is situated off the French coast near St Nazaire. The English fleet under Sir Edward Hawke had been attempting to bottle up the French navy in Brest harbour so as to stop any possible invasion plan; a vicious storm had developed, forcing the bulk of the English fleet to run for cover in the Channel, but enough ships remained to see the French attempt to break the blockade under cover of the storm. The English with 24 ships of the line, re-grouped and chased the French into Quiberon Bay, notorious for its shallows and rocky passages. In the teeth  of the gale Hawke’s ships cornered the French under the command of Marshal de Conflans. After a battle which lasted for hours in the storm-lashed bay, the English captured, or forced aground, six of the French ships of the line.

File:The-battle-of-quiberon-bay-12-november-1759-the-day-after.jpg

Battle of Quiberon Bay, the Day after. Richard Wright, 1760.

Marshal de Conflan’s flagship, the mighty Soleil Royal, was driven onto the shallows, and torched.  Two and a half thousand experienced French sailors were killed or captured. Although a number of large French ships escaped, they were but a shadow of the original force, and posed little threat to the British navies for the rest of the Seven Years War. The battle was a turning point in the balance of sea power, and so when news of the victory reached London, the Day of Thanksgiving was announced. The clergy took to their pulpits in droves to praise the Lord for helping us trounce our enemies, and Horace Walpole remarked that “our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories”.

For Richard and the rest of the population it was apparent that the very real threat of invasion by the French was completely finished – it must have been a huge relief. After years of demoralizing news the country had triumphed over the French in every theatre of war. With hindsight it can be said that 1759 marked the occasion when the British Empire eclipsed the French one. And Richard was able to sit down with a sharp pair of scissors, spectacles perched on the end of his nose, and cut out a piece of paper to show the might of Britsh Armed Forces.

Aug 312015
 

bougainvilleaEvery so often, I have a complete mental aberration and decide to write something nice about a Frenchman. What has prompted it this time? Looking out the window at the magnificent bougainvillea which has spread across the head of the steps leading from my terrace here in Spain. And yes, I am well aware that the brightly coloured red papery ‘ petals’ are actually bracts, not flowers. The flowers are small, white and insignificant. The plant grows like wild-fire, and has vicious spikes which retaliate if ever you try and prune the beast…

a Louis_Antoine_de_BougainvilleBut the point is: it got me thinking about Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville, because he really was a remarkable man. Yes, he was a thorn in the side of the British (perhaps that is why the plant was named after him!) but he was also a great explorer, the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world, and a very talented man. Born in  1729 (the same year as my ancestor Richard) he showed early signs of being a brilliant mathematician, publishing books on calculus. He then packed that in, and joined the French army, seeing service in the French territories of North America during the Seven Years War. 1759 was spent harrying British troops along the St Lawrence River, preventing them from landing, and cutting their supply lines. He was involved in the battle on the Plains of Abraham  in which Quebec fell to the troops led by General Wolfe, and later became a diplomat, involved in negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Seven Years War.

So far, nothing very naval about him. As part of the peace settlement large numbers of Acadians – settlers of French origin who had established homes in what are now Eastern Canada’s Maritime Provinces, (such as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Price Edward Island ) – were  chucked off their land and forced to return to France. Good old Bougainville felt bad about that, and out of his own purse set up an expedition to re-settle the Acadians…..in  the “Isles Malouines”. We know them as the Falkland Isles….

Bougainville accompanied the expedition which claimed the islands for France in April 1764. He must have been a tad miffed when the French then did a deal with the Spanish and ordered him to hand control over to the Spanish. It was after all his money which had financed it all, but he was “bought off” to the tune of 700,000 francs, and Spanish the Falklands became. At least until 1766 when Captain Macbride on the frigate ‘Jason’ called by, and announced that it was really a British colony after all…..

a BougainvillegIn 1766 he was granted permission to establish an expedition to circumnavigate the world – something no other Frenchman had done before. With two ships called La Boudeuse and  the Étoile  and a crew totalling 330 men (well, 329 actually) he set sail on 15 November 1766. One of those on board was the botanist Philibert Commercon, who was accompanied at all times by his valet, one Jean Baré (otherwise Jeanne Baret). Female, but always dressed in a man’s clothing. How she managed to conceal her gender from over three hundred randy Frenchmen for eighteen months is a bit of a mystery, but as a twenty-seven year old she was apparently able to masquerade as a young man in Tahiti, which they reached in March 1767.  She later returned to France, the first woman to sail round the globe, and died at a ripe old age in 1807, taking with her to her grave the story of her remarkable life.

Bougainville wasn’t the first to discover Tahiti, but he thought he was, since he was unaware that an Englishman called Samuel Wallis on HMS Dolphin had landed there in the previous year.

a -Bougainville_Voyage_around_the_World_1772Bougainville published his travel-log as Voyage autour du monde  in 1771, translated into English and re-published the following year as A Voyage Around the World. It created  a sensation, with its description of the noble savages of Tahiti and their idyllic existence.

He didn’t have a chance to put his feet up for long: he played a crucial part in the French victory at the Battle of the Chesapeake, a turning point in the American War of Independence, and which led to the eventual defeat of Great Britain. At the age of 52 he then decided to get himself married, fathering four sons (including one poor blighter lumbered with the name Hyacinthe…) all of whom went on to serve in the French armed forces. In 1782 he got caught up in the Battle of the Saintes in which Admiral Rodney dealt a crushing blow to the French Navy in the Caribbean, led by  the Comte de Grasse. Somehow Rodney failed to press home his advantage, and Bougainville was able to slip through the net, extricating eight ships of the line and sail them to safety. His action prevented the defeat from being a catastrophe – in itself, a sort of victory.

Gillray's caricature of Admiral Rodney presenting the sword of de Grasse to George III

Gillray’s caricature of Admiral Rodney presenting the sword of de Grasse to George III

He then apparently decided to explore cooler waters, and proposed a trip to the North Pole! The French government was not enthusiastic, and he had to abandon the idea. In 1787 he was made a member of the French Academy of Sciences, and in 1804 Napoleon made him a Grand Officier de la Légion d’honneur . Four years later, Napoleon conferred upon him the title of count (the Comte de Bougainville), and when he died in 1811 he was buried with great pomp at the Panthéon in Paris.

His name lives on – as the plant, as an island in  Papua New Guinea, and in ‘Port Louis’ in the Falklands. I have also had the pleasure of reclining languidly under the Seychelles sun on Anse Bougainville, and very pleasant it was too!

In Britain we remember Captain Cook, who was an exact contemporary of  Bougainville, but I certainly never learned about the French equivalent to Cook when I was at school all those years ago. No wonder we are such an insular and ignorant lot….

Bougainville and La Boudeuse

May 072015
 

As daylight broke on 7th May 1765 there were scenes of frantic activity down at the docks at Chatham Dockyard: men with adzes were frantically hacking chunks of wood off the gate-posts at the entrance of the dry dock where a ship was waiting to be launched. Someone had got their measurements wrong, and without these last minute corrections there was no way that the launch could take place.

Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Image

HMS Victory, in all her painted glory

It was not a very auspicious start for a vessel which had already taken an absolute age to be built, and which was not going to see any action, or even go to sea, for some thirteen years. Her keel had been laid on 23 July 1759, nearly six whole years earlier. For three of those years her plans were simply moth-balled – the end of the Seven Years War meant that there was no urgency to see the vessel launched, and the frame was left, under cover, while the timber slowly seasoned. Even when the ship was launched, through gates which had been hacked back nearly five inches on each side, there was controversy, on account of her name. After all, the Victory was a name previously held by a ship which had gone down in a violent storm in the Channel in October 1744, with the loss of all on board. She had been the flag ship of the Channel Fleet, and it was rumoured that she had been wrecked off the Casquets, a rocky group of islets northwest of Alderney. It was an area known as the graveyard of the English Channel, and her loss led to the court-martialling of the keeper of the Alderney lighhouse, who was blamed for not keeping his lights properly lit. Ironically, when the wreck of the Victory was finally discovered in 2008 she was found to have gone down more than fifty nautical miles away… .

Despite this unfortunate nomenclature, the Victory she was named. A ship without a cause, since Britain was no longer at war. She was moored up in the River Medway, and slowly left until her keel become home to all manner of marine life. She represented a total waste of the cost of construction – equivalent to more than seven and a half million pounds in today’s money. Years passed, and it was not until this white-elephant-of-a-vessel was finally commissioned, in 1778, that she started her illustrious career.

The Vicotry from three different angkles, painted by J M W Turner, shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

The Victory, from three different angles, painted by J M W Turner, shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art

Admiral Keppel chose her as his flagship and she was sailed  round to Portsmouth to be fitted out, and over the next two decades she saw action particularly at the First and Second Battles of Ushent, the Siege of Gibraltar, and the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797. By then she was completely knackered and worn out, and the order was given for her to be withdrawn from service, consigned to an ignominious fate as a prison ship for captured French and Spanish sailors. But then the Admiralty had a change of plan and decided that the Victory should be re-commissioned. Work started in 1800, and was far more extensive (and expensive) than anticipated. But the Victory emerged from her re-fit, with 104 guns, in a new yellow-and-black livery, with a new figurehead, and with a new Vice-Admiral: Horatio Nelson, who raised his flag on board on 18 May 1803, just over thirty-eight years after she had been launched. And the rest, as they say, is history…

Apr 262013
 

I am delighted to have a guest blog today from the irrepressible Elizabeth Hopkinson, author of  a just-released novel Silver Hands which contains lots of detailed background information about trade with the Far East in the 17th and 18th Centuries. She has kindly agreed to  do this post on the activities of the East India Company:

Chinese wallpaper, courtsey of the V&A

High-class people in the 18th century were obsessed with East Asia. Go to any stately home of the period and you will find any amount of Chinese wallpaper and lacquered cabinets. European well-to-do’s sought to imitate their oriental cousins. They rode in sedan chairs (a sort of European version of the palanquin). They communicated with fans. Even the oh-so-English custom of taking tea, which derives from the period, is a poor imitation of the Chinese tea ceremony.Why the fascination? Because European fleets were making the journey to and from the Far East in order to furnish people with luxuries, and bringing back tales of exotic lands with them.

The big trading powers in the water at the time were the East India Companies: the English and the Dutch (known as the VOC, or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie). The two countries had already fought each other over the right to control the spice trade in the 17th century, and England had lost. The Netherlands controlled the main part of the spice trade from their base in Batavia (Jakarta). They were also the only Europeans allowed to trade directly with Japan after the Sakoku (closed country) Edict of 1635. They were restricted to the man-made island of Deshima, in Nagasaki harbour, and all other European traders had to go through them. (That’s why if you see any genuine Japanese lacquer-ware from before 1868 – as opposed to the inferior Chinese sort – in an English stately home, you can be sure it was very, very expensive!) England, however, had its company factories in India (where it exerted ever-increasing power), China, and a changing array of places in between.

To get there, the journey began in London. East India Dock didn’t open until 1806, so the ships loaded and unloaded in the City of London (between Tower Bridge and London Bridge). East India Company ships were big: between 500 and 1,400 tonnes, with a crew of 90, and with 30-48 guns. They looked like warships and were run like warships, with uniforms and strict discipline; and they travelled in fleets to protect each other. This was because there was a huge threat of piracy. Ships carried gold and silver bullion, along with all manner of expensive goods and a well-stocked medicine chest – a tempting target to any pirate. Still, they did take passengers, including brides being sent to ex-patriots in India, who must have been in for a pretty terrible journey. One army wife slept in a hammock above a cannon and bilge water, and humbler women could be berthed with the horses! The more well-to-do passenger could bring a variety of things with which to make themselves more comfortable: tables, chairs, writing desks, sofas, coffee-making equipment, soap, sweets, perfume, soda water and musical instruments. However, this wouldn’t help them much in the worst of conditions, and the most common causes of death among passengers were illness, suicide and falling overboard.

The prevailing winds bellied out away from the West Coast of Africa, coming into the haven of the Cape of Good Hope after about 6 months. (Since both the Dutch and English stopped to replenish there, this explains the origins of modern South Africa). They would then have to avoid being attacked by pirates from the island of Madagascar, and get to the Company factory in Madras. A typical “Madras landing” was a far from pleasant experience, involving pitching through turbulent waves in small boats. Once ashore, the white walls of the city awaited, along with Fort St George, St Mary’s church (est. 1680), and presumably the new (and Englishwoman-starved) husbands of any bride who had made it through the journey so far.

 

From there, the journey continued through the Straits of Malacca, where more pirates were waiting in the South China Sea. And if the ship made it through that, it would eventually reach China. The main company factory in China was originally Canton (est. 1699), followed later by Shanghai. (The nature of Canton as a trading port helps to explain why Cantonese is spoken so widely by Chinese people outside China, and why Shanghaiese and Cantonese are the biggest dialects after Mandarin in China itself). Canton in the 18th century had factories (trading stations) from Holland, England, Sweden, France, Denmark and the Holy Roman Empire. These stood in a row on the waterfront, each flying its own flag. (The English one apparently had gardens too, which were the envy of the others). Along the back of the factories ran “Hog Lane”: a haunt of thieves, prostitutes, and a drink made from alcohol, tobacco juice, sugar and arsenic! Factories housed around 12 officers, along with 8 clerks, 2 tea inspectors, 2 surgeons and a chaplain. They only opened during the season that the winds allowed the ships to visit: the rest of the year, the men went to live in Macao.

Canton

China wasn’t much more keen than Japan on allowing other nations within its borders, so all internal trade was handled by the Chinese, with external trade only taking place in the trading stations, and only with the licenced guild of Co-Hong merchants. The main commodity England wanted from China was tea, along with porcelain, ginger, lacquer-ware, ivory carving, wallpaper and raw silk. In return, the English could offer wool from home and cotton from India. (There was also a time from 1720-50 when silver was worth more than gold in China, so traders did a direct swap of bullion!) If there was room in the hold, a captain of the East India Company was allowed to conduct his own private trade as well as the Company’s, and so come home a richer man.

Finally, with the hold full of tea and other goodies, all the captain and crew had to think about was reversing the entire journey and getting back to London. How truly Gulliver said to the Houynhmns, “that this whole Globe of Earth must be at least three Times gone round, before one of our better Female Yahoos could get her Breakfast, or a Cup to put it in.”

 

 

Main sources: The East India Company: Trade and Conquest from 1600 by Antony Wild (1999) and 1688: A Global History by John E Wills (2001)

 

I am most grateful to Elizabeth for her post: she is on Twitter as @hidden_grove and her new book is available on Amazon and Kindle. Silver Hands is a novel set in 1706-7, and reflects a huge amount of research into the English and Dutch East India Companies, international trade routes, and life at sea (including sea surgery). It also contains fascinating details about Japan’s secret feudal society  in that period. You can find details at Top Hat Books and her website is here.

Apr 232013
 

Writing in his notebook about extreme weather conditions, Richard Hall notes:

Terrible

The Terrible, launched in Harwich in 1762, was the fourth of that name (if you include vessels captured from the Spanish and the French, and then re-named). It doesn’t seem to have had a particularly impressive life. It was classified as a ‘third rate ship of the line’ and had taken part in the First Battle of Ushant in 1778. Later she went on to feature in the Battle of the Chesapeake but was badly damaged in the encounter and was scuttled by fire (1782). A sad end for a crew which had already suffered the indignity of losing their shirts in a lightning storm!

Apr 022013
 

Writing in his note-book of extreme weather conditions my ancestor Richard comments:

A

In late November 1790 HMS Elephant narrowly avoided total destruction when lightning struck her whilst she was in Portsmouth harbour. The main topmast  exploded but was held in place by a top-rope, which prevented it plunging through the quarterdeck.

HMS Elephant,© National Maritime Museum

HMS Elephant,© National Maritime Museum

HMS Elephant was one of a class of a dozen ships designed by the brilliant naval architect Sir Thomas Slade (he also designed HMS Victory). Plans for the class of third-rate warships
were standardised and distributed to a number of individual boat-builders. In the case of HMS Elephant the builder was George Parsons who operated on the banks of the River Hamble in Hampshire. She was launched on 24 August 1786.

elephantShe was not a particularly handy ship – she was slow, she was unresponsive at the helm, but she had qualities which made her invaluable in battle: she could pack a huge punch, and she was built to take a lot of punishment. On the gundeck she sported 28 thirty-two pounders, with the same number of eighteen pounders on the Upper gundeck. On the Quarter deck she could call on 14 nine-pounder guns, plus another four on the foc’sle. Seventy-four guns in all…. a formidable fighting ship.

In addition she had a very shallow draft – an ideal feature when attacking a fleet at anchor.
Small wonder that Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson chose HMS Elephant as his flagship, when he was appointed to  lead the main attack on the Norwegian-Danish fleet anchored off Copenhagen in 1801. The squadron was under the overall command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, and the rival fleets clashed on 2nd April 1801 in what was to become known as the Battle of Copenhagen.

Battle Of Copenhagen

Reportedly, at some stage in the fiercely-fought battle Sir Hyde Parker gave the order to retreat. Nelson acknowledged the order but declined to pass it on or to implement the instructions – he is supposed to have stood on the deck of the Elephant, holding the telescope to his blind eye, and announced that he could see no signal. He stayed in position and led his ships to a great victory, one which many consider to be Nelson’s hardest-fought battle.

HMS Elephant ended up being re-fitted as a 58 gun fourth-rate ship in 1818, and finally ended her days when she was broken up in 1830. Not a bad life for a ship which was so nearly destroyed in that storm which swept Hampshire at the end of November 1790.

Aug 012012
 

On 1st August 1797 the ship Lady Shore was some four days off the coast of Brazil. The ship had been built for the East India trade, and had gained its name after Lady Charlotte Shore, wife of Sir John Shore, who was Governor General of India at the time. It was on its way to Botany Bay in Port Jackson (the original name for Sydney) and on board were a decidedly motley crew and cargo. The purser, John Black, had joined the ship in Torbay a couple of weeks earlier and had described the sixty soldiers on board (destined to join the new South Wales Corps) in a letter to his father as “the most disagreeable, mutinous set of villains that ever entered into a ship.”  There had already been an attempted mutiny – the soldiers did not want to go to New South Wales, and their number included deserters as well as French and Irish Prisoners of War.

In a well-rehearsed plot, in the early hours of 1st August the French-led soldiers mutinied. At 2 a.m. the cry of “Vive la République !” rang out and the mutineers ran to take their fighting positions. According to the account in Wikipedia: one controlled the hatch of the women’s quarters; two, the hatch of the quarters where soldiers slept, threatening to kill anyone trying to get out; two covered the deck and were to shoot any sailor or soldier present there and who would not surrender; two would control the hatch of the officers’ quarters; two would arrest the captain; two would seize the three officers on deck and prevent them from giving alarm; and the last one would open an ammunition box, distribute it to his fellow mutineers, and patrol to prevent anyone to flank them.

The captain, by the name of James Willcocks, was killed along with the Chief Mate Lambert.The mutineers quickly took control of the ship and anyone not part of the mutiny was locked below decks (apart from the ship’s carpenter, by the name of Thomas Millard, who was given the job of building a long boat). Intriguingly two of those on board kept diaries which have survived – one by the purser John Black, and the other by Thomas Millard. Fate was to have rather different outcomes in store for the two diarists…

An extract from Millard’s diary, courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Millard describes the events of 1st August: ‘We were Alarm’d by the firing of Musketts on the deck and to my Great Surpris the Capt falling down the steeridge ladder which woke me out of my Sleep,’ he wrote.

Another officer was shouting: ‘Give them the ship, Give them the ship.’

Millard records: ‘I was afraid every minute that some or the others would Blow my brains out with Pistol or run the Bayonets into me.’

Millard was obviously good at his job in constructing a sea-worthy vessel, because a fortnight after the Lady Shore had been seized the purser and 28 others were set adrift in the longboat, along with “three small casks of water, containing about ninety gallons, four bags of bread and three pieces of salt beef.” Thomas Millard was kept behind on board the Lady Shore, as a prisoner of the mutineers.

The castaways had also managed to smuggle aboard “two hams, two cheeses, and a small keg containing about four gallons of rum.”  They were also given a quadrant for navigation (John Black was the navigating officer as well as being the purser) and he had a small pocket compass. They were some 300 nautical miles from the Portuguese controlled coastal settlement of Rio Grande…. and they were the lucky ones!

Remaining on board were the mutineers and the cargo – which just happened to consist of 66 female prisoners on their way to the New South Wales penal colony, for offences which we would now describe as minor – mostly theft and pilfering. For them, the freedom they thought had suddenly materialised was to bring untold horrors.

Staying with the castaways, they encountered tropical storms, torrential rain and high sea, but after only two days found themselves hurled ashore at Rio Grande where the locals took pity on their condition, gave them food and shelter, and in due course escorted them to Rio de Janeiro. For the purser it was a chance to resume his sailing career, mainly as a privateer i.e. someone authorized by the British Government to carry out acts of piracy on the High Seas (mostly against the Spanish and French merchant vessels). He later became a whaler in New South Wales, and subsequently bought land, built a liquor store and developed a successful business. He continued to have itchy feet and spent most of his time at sea, leaving the shop to be managed by his wife. Some years later (1802) he was on board The Fly which sank with all hands on its journey from India back to Tasmania.

But let us return to the unfortunates on board the Lady Shore, heading for an unknown future…

The Lady Shore headed not for Portuguese territory of Brazil but for the Spanish controlled territories of Uruguay, landing at Montevideo some 300 miles to the south. There they were all imprisoned. Well, more accurately, the prettier female convicts were billeted on eager locals throughout the town, while those less endowed with female graces were locked up along with the soldiers who had taken part in the mutiny. There is no record of the fate which met them, but the conditions in which they were kept must have been appalling. For the women, a life as an unpaid house servant was probably the best they could hope for…

The carpenter, Thomas Millard, was allowed out of prison during the day because his skills were needed as a shipwright – and because it was accepted that he alone of the prisoners had taken no part in supporting the mutiny. He was ultimately released from captivity, in the summer of 1799, and made his way north to America, settling in New Jersey, marrying, and having 2 children.

It is Millard’s diary of the ensuing 18 months which was auctioned at Sotheby’s on May 9th this year, fetching £12,500. It provides a fascinating companion to the story written by John Black and which was published by his father on the basis of letters home etc.

I find it strange that we all know the story of The Mutiny on the Bounty – but not the Mutiny on the Lady Shore. Here, if ever there was one, is a film crying out to be made! With a cast of 66 women, a handful of Frenchmen and a suitably swash-buckling John Black it sounds like a sure-fire box office success!