ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
Entry into the Navy – Life in the Britannia - My First Sea-going Ship - A Sailing Passage to Bombay - Discipline on Board - Chasing Slave Dhows - The Slave Market at Zanzibar - Lessons in Seamanship – Gazetted Sub-Lieutenant - With H.M.S. Active on the West Coast of Africa - Life on Ascension Island - A Punitive Expedition up the Congo - A Successful Operation - More River Expeditions - On Board the Guardship at Cowes - An Incident of the Crimea.
THE association of my family with the Royal Navy goes back for four generations ; my great-grand-father was a captain in the Service. My grandfather was a doctor and a man, I believe, of considerable talent. He attempted some innovations in surgery - an art which has, of course, been revolutionised since his time ; but the medical profession in those days did not welcome any departure from their recognised and often primitive methods. His inventions included some instruments for assisting the deaf, which I understand came into general use after his death. In the course of my career I was to experience the same sort of attitude on
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
the part of those in authority, and I have sometimes reflected with a passing bitterness how little the obstructive attitude of one generation in such matters differs from that of another.
My father was a solicitor, a good linguist and an excellent public speaker. Foreign business - or the gaming-tables - took him to Baden Baden once a year, and I am told that he was a perfect loser. He was always very good to me and gave me advice that has been invaluable. It was a principle with him never to make a fuss about anything, and he impressed upon me that every occurrence, whatever it might be, should be taken with imperturbable quiet. He would quote that passage from "Pelham" who declares that among the properly educated a calm pervaded all their habits and actions, whereas the vulgar could take neither a spoon nor an affront without making an amazing noise about it. In discussing my future career, he would point out to me that in a household a fussy person could only disturb the few inmates, but in a ship one fussy person might disturb what was equivalent to a whole village. How true I have found that statement in H.M. Navy ! His ideas on education were as quaint as those which exist at some of our large English schools and colleges. He wanted me to be taught only Latin and Greek, as he declared that those languages were the foundation of everything. I read Cæsar with him, and having won the first prize at my dame's school, thought I knew something. Then I went on to the University College School and continued to thrive on Latin and Greek.
GAZETTED AS A CADET
At 11½ years of age I got a nomination for the Navy and was sent to Eastman's Naval Academy at Portsmouth. I shall never forget my first interview with the Headmaster. He asked me what I knew. I rather proudly replied that I had done " As in Presenti, Propria qui maribus, Cæsar, and had started Ovid." He told me that they required living languages in the Navy, and that I was dreadfully backward in all useful subjects. He added that I should have to work half my playtime, and even then he doubted if I should be able to pass the qualifying naval examination. Subsequently he took a great interest in me, was most kind in helping me with my extra lessons, and a month before the examination prophesied that I was sure to pass.
The exciting day for us all at length arrived, and about a hundred little boys presented themselves at the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth, for examination. A week afterwards I was gazetted a naval cadet in H.M. Navy. Sixty-four had passed in. I was forty-sixth on the list and one place above me was a candidate who was destined to become Field-Marshal Viscount French. Forty years later we, side by side, marched past H.M. King Edward VII. at Aldershot. Sir John French (as he then was) commanded the Army and I the Naval Brigade.
Before joining the Britannia we naval cadets were given a month's leave. My father thought it would be a good thing for me to see something of the war then in progress between Prussia and Austria, so he took me to Germany. The Prussians entered Wiesbaden the day we arrived.
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
The next morning all the sentry boxes and flag-staves were painted black and white instead of red and white, and the Black Eagle was flying everywhere. In another town near where a battle had been fought we saw a large square full of wounded men and prisoners. Thus at the age of thirteen I was an eye-witness of some of the effects of war.
On the 26th August, 1866, 1 went to Dartmouth and joined H.M.S. Britannia. She was an old three-decker, fitted with a large mess-room for the cadets. We each had a sea chest and we slept in hammocks. The decks were well saturated with salt water every morning, summer and winter, and the authorities considered that this hardened the cadets. Possibly it did ; at any rate it weeded out those who were not strong.
We were kept in very good discipline. The birch was used freely. It was administered publicly with great ceremony, and was the only punishment that incorrigible boys did not like. No idea of disgrace was attached to it, but it hurt. How stupid it is to talk of doing away with the birch at our public schools ! In a large community of boys there will always be a small percentage of very black sheep who have no good side to their nature to appeal to, and who, unless well birched, will encourage other boys to follow their bad example.
Shortly after I joined it was rumoured that the damp and evil-smelling old ship was not a suitable home for boys of between thirteen and fourteen years of age, and that she was to be done away with. The Commissioners of the Admiralty considered the question, and successive Boards
FIRST SEA SERVICE
discussed it, but as the matter was important they did not act hastily - their deliberations, in fact, extended over about thirty years. Finally, in 1898, work was begun on a college on shore in place of the Britannia, and the old ship of many memories was doomed.
On leaving the Britannia I joined H.M.S. Bristol, & 50-gun frigate; she was employed as a sea-going training ship. From there, on the 25th August, 1868, I went to my first real seagoing ship, the Forte, a 50-gun frigate of 2,364 tons. She had engines, but of such small horsepower that they were only serviceable in a flat calm.
We started from Sheerness, and en route to Portsmouth we youngsters were fortunately introduced under sail to a gale of wind. Four hours on deck, close-reefing the topsails and clearing away broken spars, probably cured every one of sea-sickness for the remainder of their lives - at any rate, it cured me. An excitement of this sort is, I believe, the only cure for sea-sickness. We got to Spithead, and we midshipmen were delighted at being turned out in the middle of the night for a collision. Colliding with or being rammed by another ship, or ramming another ship, is a necessary part of an officer's education. In this case the barque Blanche Maria had got across our bows, at the change of the tide. There was a lot of crunching, but eventually we got clear without much damage. The Blanche Maria said that we had given her a foul berth ; we declared she had dragged her anchor. However that may be, we midshipmen were all delighted at having seen a collision.
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
We left Portsmouth on the 2nd October, 1868, practically to make a sailing passage to Bombay, via the Cape of Good Hope. This we accomplished in a little over three months.
In those old sailing days in fine weather it was very delightful ; a man-of-war was a gigantic yacht, scrupulously clean, for we were seldom under steam and as a consequence did not often coal. Shortage of water for the purpose of washing was our great inconvenience ; our Commander, either for economy or to save the dirt of coaling, made a great fuss about the coal used for condensing. Consequently we were very often short of water for washing ; water for drinking was not limited. On the main deck there was a tank with a tin cup chained to it, so that any one could get a drink. But there was a little waste, as the men did not always drain the cup dry. In order to check this, the Commander introduced what was called a "suck-tap" ; the tap and the cup were done away with and a pipe placed in lieu of these, and any one wanting a drink had to take the nasty lead pipe into his mouth and suck the water up ; it was a beastly idea, which our new Commander immediately did away with.
In the evening the men always sang, and it was very fine to hear a chorus of about 800 men and boys, many of the latter with unbroken voices. We had one young man who used to sing "A che' la morte" and other tenor songs from Verdi's operas, as well as many singers that I have heard on the stage. The songs, however, were not always of this high class.
I remember one or two lines of a very popular
LIFE IN A FRIGATE
song called "Mr. Buggins' Ball." The song, in referring to the guests, described the dress of one :
" Round 'is arm 'e 'ad some crep 'on,
'Cause 'is wife was dead, poor soul ;
Round 'is waist 'e 'ad an apron,
Because 'is breeches 'ad a 'ole."
We midshipmen knew all the men's songs, and their parlance, which was sometimes strong ; many of their comparisons and similes were often witty and quite original.
During the Great War some people seemed to think that milk, butter, cheese and vegetables were necessities of life. In my first ship there were about 750 men and boys in the perfection of health and strength. Their rations at sea consisted of salt beef, salt pork, pea soup, tea, cocoa and biscuit, the last named generally full of insects called weevils. Later on, preserved beef was introduced ; it was issued in tins, very convenient for making into paint pots and other recepticals (sic). Its official name was "Soup and bouilli" ; the bluejackets called it by various names - "soup and bullion," "two buckets of water and one onion," or it was called " bully beef," but the most common name was "Fanny Adams." At the time of the introduction of this preserved meat into the Navy, a girl called Fanny Adams disappeared, and a story got afloat that she had been tinned, or as the Americans would say canned. To this day the tins which contain preserved meat, and which are utilised for all sorts of purposes, are called "Fanny's."
En route we found out what a magnificent seaman our Captain, John Hobhouse Alexander, was, and what a bully we had in our Commander.
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
We midshipmen had a terrible time with the latter. I contradicted him once, and as I happened to be right, he never forgave me. I saw more of the masthead than I did of the gun-room mess. Sending a boy to sit up at the masthead on the cross-trees was a funny kind of punishment. In fine weather with a book it was rather pleasant ; in bad weather you took up a waterproof. Masthead for the midshipmen, and the cat for the men, was the Commander's motto. I saw one man receive four dozen strokes of the cat on Monday and three dozen on Saturday, and he took them without a murmur. That is the spirit which made this a great country ; we love men who take punishment without flinching. This particular Commander revelled in flogging, and the sight of it seemed to be the only thing that gave him any pleasure. It was a form of self-indulgence which finally led to his ruin.
On arrival at Bombay, Captain Alexander went home. We became the Senior Officer's ship on the East Indies Station, and flew the broad pennant of Commodore Sir Leopold Heath, K.C.B. He was a clever, kind and able seaman. He made me his A.D.C., an honour which I appreciated, but which got me into further trouble with the Commander, as he did not approve of it. I had more leave stopped than ever and was continually under punishment. However, an end came to it all under the following circumstances. While the Commodore was up country in Ceylon, an able seaman refused one morning to obey an order. The case was investigated by the Commander, and at one o'clock - two hours later - the offender received
HUNTING SLAVE DHOWS
four dozen lashes. On the Commodore's return the man laid his case before him, and complained that the King's Regulations, which order commanding officers not to inflict corporal punishment until twenty-four hours after the offence, had not been observed. The Commander was tried by court-martial and dismissed the ship.
We spent a good deal of time on the East Coast of Arabia, looking for slave dhows, but only caught one. She was a small craft about 40 feet long, but had on board a crew of five Arabs and eighty slaves, consisting of ten youths, twelve women, thirty-seven girls, twenty boys and one baby. Those wretched beings were naked and horribly emaciated, and had been so crowded that most of them during their eighteen days' voyage had not moved from the position they were packed into. We took the slaves on board, washed and fed them and dressed them in some sort of clothes and then, having landed the Arabs, used the dhow as a target. We opened fire on her with all our guns, but expended a quarter's allowance of ammunition without result and finally sank her by ramming. This was my first lesson in gunnery.
The eighty slaves had come from a village a few miles north of Zanzibar. While the men were away fighting another tribe, the Arabs had swept down and marched off all their women and children, embarking them for the Persian Gulf, where they would have got, on an average, about £20 a head for them. The baby slave was rather a difficulty, as none of the women would look after it, but the boatswain made a sort of cradle for it, a feeding arrangement was extemporised,
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
and the child did very well. We eventually landed the whole eighty at Aden, and got prize bounty at the rate of £5 apiece for them. A midshipman's share of the prize was £1 4s. 6d.
At Zanzibar the slave market was in full swing. It was quite a large place in which all the slaves sat round in concentric circles, with spaces in between so that the buyer could pass through and inspect them. They were arranged according to their "chop," or quality. A first "chop" man meant extremely good physique and youth. The women were divided into two classes, those destined for work and those suitable for adorning an Arab's harem ; a nicely rounded-off maiden of eighteen or twenty years could not be bought under about £40. It was a loathsome sight to see the rich old Arabs inspecting these girls as though they were so much merchandise. The Arabs looked dirty and generally had horribly diseased eyes, upon which the flies settled ; they were too lazy to brush them off. When I visited Zanzibar thirty years afterwards I found that an English cathedral had been erected on the site of the slave market.
In chasing one dhow we went too near the shore and bumped on a coral reef, whereby all our false keel was knocked off and we leaked badly for the remainder of the commission.
Our new Commander was a great success. He gave us midshipmen plenty of boat-sailing, took us on shore to play cricket, and encouraged sport of every kind. He made us dress properly, and in appearance set us a fine example. He took a long time over his toilet, but when he did emerge from
SUNDAY ON BOARD SHIP
his cabin it was a beautiful sight, though he might have worn a few less rings on his fingers.
The ship he absolutely transformed. All the blacking was scraped off the masts and spars, and canary-yellow substituted. The quarter-deck was adorned with carving and gilt, the coamings of the hatchways were all faced with satin-wood, the gun-carriages were French-polished, and the shot were painted blue with a gold band round them and white top. Of course we could not have got these shot into the guns had we wanted to fight, but that was nothing. Some years afterwards the Admiralty issued an order forbidding the painting of shot and shell.
In a sailing ship the midshipmen were brought into very close contact with the seamen, always working with them aloft, on deck, and in boats. This I think was a most desirable practice, as the officers acquired at an early age that knowledge of the men's customs and ideas which is really the key to managing them. If officers nowadays knew more about their men there would be fewer defaulters.
One thing I learnt was how the sailor hated Sunday. When he was turned out in the morning it was - hurry out, it is Sunday ; hurry over dressing, it is Sunday; hurry over breakfast, it is Sunday ; get out of this, it is Sunday. At 9 A.M. he was fallen-in on deck and his clothes were inspected by his Lieutenant, whereby he might get into trouble. Then the Captain walked round and inspected clothes, and he again ran the risk of something being wrong with his uniform. Then the Captain went below and inspected every hole
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
and corner of the ship. This occupied about two hours, during which the men were left standing on deck. At 11 o'clock there was church, which generally was not over until after 12, so the men got a cold dinner.
I learnt from the men what a godsend it would be to them if they could only get an hour on Sunday mornings to write letters, and when I became a Captain 1 arranged for church always to be over by 11 o'clock. By this means the men got an hour to themselves, a hot dinner, and a peaceful Sunday. It is a pity that all ships do not adopt this routine.
In those days there were widely different opinions about uniform, and great trouble was caused. Some Captains encouraged men to ornament their clothes with embroidery ; others did not like it, so men had to cut it out again if they went from one ship to another. Some Captains allowed their officers to wear any fancy uniform they liked ; others insisted on their wearing a blue frock-coat, even on the West Coast of Africa. One Admiral always wore a white billycock hat instead of a uniform cap ; another wore a tall white Ascot hat. There was no promotion by merit, all went by patronage. Every Admiral on hauling down his flag was allowed to make his Flag Lieutenant into a Commander, and if a death vacancy occurred on his station he could promote whom he liked - generally a relative. Admiral Fremantle, in his memoirs, says : "The young officer so promoted often had no merit, and his promotion was a gross injustice to those senior to him." 1 This was the
1 "The Navy as I have known it" (Cassell & Co.).
general opinion in the Navy, but the abuse continued until about 1880.
Our gunroom was sometimes conducted very well. The youngsters who misbehaved themselves were tried by the seniors, and if found guilty "cobbed," that is, got two dozen smacks with a dirk scabbard. If they had been reported to the Captain they would have lost time, and their careers in the Navy would, perhaps, have been spoiled. The gun-room corrective while in operation hurt the boy ; the service punishment hurt his career and brought grief to his parents.
At Trincomalee we transferred the flag to another frigate of 51 guns, the Glasgow, and started under sail on our homeward voyage of about 12,999 miles.
The night before reaching Sheerness, off Dungeness, we had our second collision ; a steamer ran into us and did a good deal of damage. Had we been a merchant ship instead of a strongly built frigate, we should have been sunk. The steamer did not stop to ask how we were, but made off as fast as she could. The Admiralty had great difficulty in tracing her, but they eventually got her.
On the 17th February, 1872, we paid off, having been in commission for three and a half years. To the midshipmen it was a sound three and a half year's education in seamanship and in travel. We had seen the ship twice go on shore, and twice in a collision. This constituted my introduction to the old Navy of the sailing-ship days. Little did I think that I was to live to see every familiar thing disappear, and to watch the
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
growth of a new Navy, with marine turbines, high-powered guns, automobile torpedoes, and to discuss the relative value of the Dreadnought and the submarine.
At the expiration of my six weeks' leave, I joined H.M.S. Hercules. She was our most modern armoured ship, and carried fourteen 18-ton guns. She could steam well, and the only blot on her fighting capacity was that she had masts and sails. The Navy did not in fact abandon these relics of a past age till thirty years later : it was thought to be a policy of economy, but it was in fact one of real extravagance and folly. I was Signal Midshipman, and as we did a good deal of manoeuvring I got some education in that branch. Nothing of interest happened during the year that I was in her, except that I experienced a third collision. At Madeira the Northumberland anchored ahead of us and parted her cable. She fell across our ram, and we made a hole in her that a horse and cart could have been driven into. Fortunately the inner bottom saved her.
I was gazetted a Sub-Lieutenant on the 17th December, 1872, and went to the Excellent and the Naval College at Portsmouth to complete my examinations. By July, 1873, these were finished, and as the Ashantee War had broken out, I volunteered for service on the West Coast of Africa. Commodore William Nathan Wrighte Hewett, V.C., was going out in the 10-gun screw frigate Active, and he applied for me. There was, however, no room for me in the ship, as she had already twelve sub-lieutenants on board, so I took passage out in a hospital ship and joined the Active at Cape
THE ASHANTEE WAR
Coast Castle. I was distressed that I could not land with the Naval Brigade ; however, we people who were left at the base had a busy time of it.
Sir Garnet Wolseley, who conducted the campaign, arrived at Cape Coast Castle early in October, and found that the Navy had done a great deal to prepare the way for him. We understood that this was his reason for taking a Naval Brigade with him, leaving some of the troops behind.
In December plenty of troops had arrived, but the advance was delayed by the difficulty of getting carriers, for the roads were impassable for vehicles or mules. Each man carried 70 lbs., a woman 40 lbs., and a child 15 to 20 lbs. for a distance of seven miles. One woman gave birth to a baby en route ; she put it in the bush. On her return she picked it up, placed it in her empty packing case with a bunch of bananas, and arrived at Cape Coast Castle, smoking and smiling, with the packing case, bananas, and baby on her head.
The Naval Brigade, under Commodore Hewett, V.C., landed at the end of December, and on the 6th February, Coomassie was entered and burned, and peace followed on the 13th.
In the engagements, Lieutenant A. B. Crosbie, R.M.L.I., Sub-Lieutenants Gerald Maltby and Wyatt Rawson were wounded, and Sub-Lieutenant Robert Munday was killed. Sub-Lieutenants Ficklin and Bradshaw died of fever. Each of these three young officers was an only son.
In this campaign the Active received the following promotions and honours : Commodore W. N. W. Hewett, V.C., to be K.C.B.,
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
Staff-Surgeon Henry Fegan to be C.B., and Lieutenant Adolphus Brett Crosbie was "mentioned."
At the conclusion of the campaign I broke my leg, and was sent to hospital at the island of Ascension. I soon got well, but could not go back to my ship, so I had an opportunity of studying this unique island. It is treated like a man-of-war ; it has a captain, officers and crew, with a few of their wives, but no other inhabitants. If a baby is born on the island, its name is put on the books and provisions allowed for it by the Admiralty. There are no shops, but certain things can be purchased at a canteen, and you buy your clothes from the Cape of Good Hope, 1600 miles distant. All the lower part of the island are lava and clinker. In the centre stands Green Mountain, a peak of cinder, from whose summit you look down on the craters of about a dozen extinct volcanoes. On the mountain the cinders, decomposing under the tropical sun's rays, have produced a rich soil in which everything will flourish. I was told that if you put your umbrella in the ground it would grow.
The energetic naval inhabitants had put down pheasants, partridges, and rabbits, and there were about six hundred wild goats. I should think they are there now, as they are very difficult to shoot. I spent all day and every day stalking them, but got very few.
We annexed the island when Napoleon went to St. Helena, and the expense of keeping it up has often been discussed. At the time we were there the question of fortifying it was submitted to our Commodore. We were told he was very much
PIRACY UP THE CONGO RIVER
against the proposal, and he suggested withdrawing all the naval officers and men from the island and leasing it to Messrs. Spiers and Pond for the turtle, about three hundred and sixty of which were turned in the year. They would have gladdened the eyes of any City alderman.
The remaining part of 1874 brought the Active some lively work. We got information that a trading schooner, the Geraldine, while beating up the Congo River, had got on shore, and had fallen a victim to the pirates who infested the river. The bandits had boarded the vessel, killed the crew, and looted her. We went off at once at full speed and anchored in the delta of the Congo.
On the following day, the Commodore, with a small party of officers, proceeded up the river in a gun-boat. We inspected the Geraldine, and found she had been gutted ; the pirates had even commenced stripping the copper off her bottom. We then went on to a trading station about forty miles up, and all the native chiefs were summoned to a palaver.
They arrived, armed, in war canoes ; we had journeyed up without arms, notwithstanding the apprehensions of the traders. Sir William Hewett, however, did not know the meaning of fear. Through our interpreter, he told them that unless they produced at once the murderers, he would later on, in the dry season, return and burn every village from the mouth of the Congo to where we were then. The chiefs refused to give up the murderers (a decision which pleased us young officers), so we returned to the Active, and for the next few months were busy with preparations. All boats were plated with one-eighth inch
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
steel plate from the gunwale two feet up ; guns, rockets, provisions, and transport were provided.
At the end of August, the whole squadron, consisting of the Active, Encounter, Spiteful, Merlin, Foam, and Aerial, arrived in the Congo, and the chiefs were again asked to surrender the murderers. No reply being received, hostilities were begun, and from the 30th of August to the 12th September, we were busy every day attacking their villages and burning them. The villages were generally situated up a creek off the river, and these creeks were so overgrown with vegetation, that we had often to cut our way through, all the time keeping up a brisk musketry fire into the bush. The method of procedure was simple. On nearing a village the boats carrying the guns shelled the place all round as a preliminary to the landing of the marines, 1 who formed a cordon and fired into the bush, while the remainder of the brigade disembarked. An advance was then made, firing the whole time. The villages were generally found deserted and a search usually revealed some relic of the Geraldine. Such operations ended with the destruction of the village and canoes by fire. Thus Sir William Hewett kept his promise of burning everything from the entrance of the river to Punta-da-Lenha. The lesson effectually stopped piracy, and increased trade in the river.
At some of the villages the natives fired a great deal, but our entire loss was only one killed and six wounded. The forethought of the Commodore in armouring our boats saved a great many
1 This was practically an artillery barrage, which, thought to be new in 1917, was used in 1874.
casualties, as slugs discharged by the natives were harmless against the steel plating.
I had command of the largest steamboat in our flotilla. She was towed over from Ascension. Our broadside fire was twenty-five marines on each side, under the most able officer that I have ever met in H.M. Navy, Lieutenant Adolphus Crosbie, R.M.L.I. We were always the leading boat in attacking and the last boat on leaving. The marines were magnificent. At the boom of a volley from the natives in the bush, which might have meant death to them (as they were showing well above the armour-plating), we always ducked. The marines, on the other hand, did not move a muscle, but came to the present at Crosbie's order as if they were doing position drill.
At night the boat was sometimes a very trying place to live in. Anchored up a creek, with a rain awning over the top of the armour plating, no fresh air could get in or foul air out, and the total of seventy occupants inside, including thirty black men, worked out at about ten cubic feet per man - a condition which is, I understand, according to the laws of hygiene, impossible for a human being to live in. We managed to live, but it was not pleasant, and I was always glad when the morning came. We should have liked to bathe, but as a crocodile rose to everything that was thrown overboard bathing was not permissible. The hippopotami during the night were a source of annoyance ; they breathe so noisily through their wide-opened mouths. But though they came very near the boats they did no harm.
After leaving the river the whole squadron
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suffered terribly from malarial poisoning, and two officers and many men died, besides a large number who were invalided.
Their Lordships the Commissioners of the Admiralty signified their appreciation of the expedition by making the following promotions: Sub-Lieutenant Percy Scott to be Lieutenant, and Sub-Lieutenant A. C. Middlemas to be Lieutenant.
In November, 1875, at Lagos, Commander Verney Lovett Cameron came on board the ship, having just completed a walk across Africa from sea to sea. He started from Zanzibar in 1873 with two companions, to visit Dr. Livingstone. It was their ill fate to find the famous explorer dead. Captain Cameron completed his long walk alone, his companion turning back. His walk as the crow flies was 2000 miles ; by the route he took it was 3000 miles. As the Americans say, it was some walk !
Whereas 1874 and 1875 had produced plenty of expeditions and promotions for the Active, 1876 opened peacefully, and the sub-lieutenants who had recently joined complained of the humdrum state of affairs. They had not long to wait for a change. Before the end of January a letter arrived from the Governor of Lagos, stating that the King of Dahomey had been maltreating British subjects, and asking for Naval assistance. The Commodore - a man of action, if ever there was one - gave us twenty-four hours to coal, provision, and fill up with ammunition, and we were off at full speed for Whydah, the port of Dahomey. We arrived there in February, inquired into the case, and the
DECLARATION OF A BLOCKADE
King of Dahomey was ordered to pay a fine of 500 barrels of palm oil within three months on the pain of a blockade of his coast. The fine was not forthcoming, and the 1st July found us once more anchored off Whydah with H.M.S. Spiteful and H.M. Gunboat Ariel, and a blockade was declared.
The Commodore was full of fight, and "taking Dahomey" was the only topic of conversation. But we hung about Whydah for some time waiting in vain for the authorities at home to make up their minds as to what was to be done. The golden opportunity of seizing Dahomey was lost, and as subsequent events proved the task fell to the lot of the French.
Whydah was not a very nice place to blockade, as it is situated in about the hottest part of the coast of Africa, and we were overjoyed when one day a steamer came along with a signal flying "Important dispatch for you." The dispatch was sent for, and in ten minutes steam was ordered for full speed and preparations were at once commenced for a landing party on a large scale.
What the official instructions disclosed was that an English steamer had been attacked by natives in the River Niger. The steamer had engaged in regular trade up the river to the resentment of the natives, who were determined to capture her. Their method of attack was ingenious. As soon as the vessel had passed the village of Akado, they prepared for her return by stretching a rope across the river - 150 yards at this spot - well securing the ends of it round trees on the bank. I saw a piece of this rope later and found it to have been made of strong fibre plaited together so as to form
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
a cable about eight inches in diameter. It was kept on the surface by large cottonwood floats.
In due course the steamer returned, and tried to steam through the obstruction. The rope, however, stopped her, and immediately a murderous fire from cannon and small arms was opened on her and some of the crew were killed. Fortunately the captain managed to cut the rope and the vessel got clear.
We arrived off the mouth of the Niger on the 27th July, 1876, and our landing party, with guns and rockets, were transferred to the gunboats Cygnet and Ariel. The guns and their crews were put on board the local steamer Sultan of Sokato. On the following day the three ships proceeded up the river to Akado, and found the ends of the hawser, some well-dug rifle-pits, and three small cannon. There being no sign of life, however, the little squadron moved on to the town of Sabogrega. Here, on attempting to land, the men were met by fire from rifle-pits behind strong stockades. A bombardment of the stockades was maintained throughout the night and in the morning the whole brigade were embarked in boats and at a given signal dashed in under a heavy fire. The stockade was carried, the native force driven back, and the town burned.
Our losses were five officers wounded, one man killed and nine wounded. Among the wounded were the Commodore's secretary, Cecil Gibson, and our chaplain, the Reverend Francis Lang. They were not in the landing party, but seeing a wounded seaman on the beach they pulled ashore from the gunboat in a dinghy to bring him off.
RETURN TO PORTSMOUTH
A native in hiding fired at them while they were lifting the man up and wounded them both very severely.
Their Lordships marked their appreciation of this expedition in the River Niger by promoting Lieutenant Nesham to Commander, and Sub-Lieutenants Harry Reynolds, John Casement, Frank Thomas, and Bowden Triggs to Lieutenants.
We then returned to Whydah to assist in the blockade, but the Commodore, as I have said, could get no definite decision from the Government and we left for the Cape of Good Hope.
In April, 1877, our eventful commission terminated, and at Portsmouth Sir William Hewett received a great ovation. He was certainly a wonderful man. In handling a ship under sail he was a master sailor ; under fire he was absolutely fearless ; and his boldness and swiftness in decision were equalled by his readiness to take any and every responsibility. He had won his Victoria Cross in the Crimea, and had seen more war service than any officer in the Navy. He was too go-ahead for the Admiralty, but still, if we had gone to war, I am sure he would have been put in command of the Fleet.
At the expiration of my leave, I went for a short time to H.M.S. Warrior. We were guardship at Cowes, as Queen Victoria was staying at Osborne. One Sunday I had to take a dispatch to her Majesty. I had delivered it, and was feeling very proud of entering the portals of Osborne House, when to my surprise the officer-in-waiting told me not to go, as her Majesty might wish to see me . A minute or two later he was conducting
ENTRY INTO THE NAVY
me to the lawn, where the Queen was sitting in a chair with an awning looking through a pile of correspondence. Her Majesty questioned me about the ship, and then asked me how an officer named Hyde was getting on, and whether I knew that he lived at Osborne. I explained that my ignorance on the matter was due to the short time I had been in the ship. On my return I told Hyde, and he said he and his brother had lived at Osborne under the Queen's protection all their lives. His story was a strange one. During the Crimean War the Naval Brigade in returning to the coast passed the scene of a massacre of some men, women, and children. All were dead except two very young boys, who were dreadfully wounded. The sailors picked them up, took them to their ship, and they gradually recovered. The question then arose what was to be done with them, and her Majesty solved the case by ordering them to be sent to England and housing them at Osborne. They were called Hyde after the captain of the ship which brought them here. Her Majesty had them educated at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, and they eventually joined the Navy as clerks, and both became assistant paymasters.
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