A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Addendum: Dickinson, Thomas

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DICKINSON. (Captain, 1832.)

Thomas Dickinson, when a Midshipman of the Dreadnought, assisted in the boats of that ship at the capture and destruction of numerous convoys off Cadiz. He first attracted the notice of the late Lord Collingwood by the judgment and conduct he displayed during a heavy gale in bringing alongside of the ship for which they were intended several long spars, which had been taken into tow by the boats of the fleet under an officer whose want of skill had greatly endangered the lives of his men, and whom he had been in consequence sent to supersede. So pleased at his general behaviour was the Admiral that he took him with him as his follower into the Royal Sovereign, and generally selected him for any particular piece of service that was to be performed. The opinion entertained of him, indeed, by Lord Collingwood may be inferred from the annexed extract from an official letter addressed by the latter to the First Lord of the Admiralty, subsequently to the battle of Trafalgar:– “After the action, to supply the vacancies, I gave acting orders to young men who were recommended to me for their activity, and, amongst others, to a Mr. Dickinson, whom I found in the Dreadnought and removed with me to the Royal Sovereign, because he had more knowledge of his profession than is usual, and seemed to be the spirit of the ship when anything was to be done.” After be had been promoted, Mr. Dickinson was appointed by Lord Collingwood First-Lieutenant of the Active. While serving with his Lordship he had been at one time, we may add, for 14 months at the blockade of Cadiz without casting anchor. In the memoir given in the body of this work we have noticed the fact that Mr. Dickinson was present at the capture of La Trave. He was also on that occasion First-Lieutenant. In his despatch to Lord Keith, Capt. Tobin makes the following honourable mention of him:– “The zeal and professional talents of Mr. Dickinson I have long known and endeavoured to appreciate, and on all occasions have sought with avidity his clear and comprehensive counsel; nor is it possible that I can ever cease to cherish a remembrance of it with the warmest gratitude.” During the action Mr. Dickinson had his thigh and knee both broken; he was severely contused, too, on the head, and received several minor wounds in different parts of the body. So severe were his sufferings that he was for seven months confined to the Hospital at Plymouth. At the end of that period he was discharged as incurable; and it was not until two years later that he was enabled to serve again. For his conduct he was promoted to the rank of Commander. While senior officer, in the Lightning, in the Rio de la Plata, he had the good fortune, with the assistance of the British Vice-Consul, to effect a reconciliation between Generals Lavalleja and, Fructuoso Rivera, at a period when those personages were contending for the Presidency of Monte Video, and by their operations had brought about a state of things very inimical to the commercial interests of Great Britain. In Dec. 1830, while refitting at Rio de Janeiro on his return from a voyage to the Pacific, Capt. Dickinson heard for the first time of the wreck of the Thetis; which frigate had struck against the cliffs of the uninhabited island of Cape Frio, on the coast of Brazil, and had gone down in deep water in the open ocean with 810,000 dollars on board. From the thoroughly exposed nature of the spot at which the disaster had occurred, and the utter absence of the ordinary implements of submarine operation, the recovery of any part either ot the stores or of the vast amount of treasure engulfed was deemed altogether hopeless. Possessed, however, of a mind ever fertile jn resources, oad endowed with that spirit of determination and enterprise which brooks no obstacle, and is always necessary to the execution of a bold design, Capt. Dickinson, with no other means at his disposal than such as could be drawn from the slender vessel he commanded, resolved on making the great attempt. Much do we regret that our limits do not permit of our entering into a detail of the contrivances he adopted, the dangers he braved, the impediments he encountered. After struggling for 14 months with difficulties unparalleled, surrounded often with sickness, and in the midst always of privation and want, the issue of his persevering exertions, and of the consummate mechanical and nautical skill he has called into action, was seen in the triumphant recovery of all the guns and stores, and of about 600,000 dollars. He was then relieved by Capt. Hon. John Fred. Fitzgerald De Ros of the Algerine 10, who, availing himself of the machinery already constructed, rescued 150,000 dollars more. With a constitution broken by the fatigue he had undergone, Capt. Dickinson returned to England, and years elapsed before he was restored to comparative health. Short, however, of his promotion to Post-rank, he obtained from the Admiralty not the least token of approbation for the almost superhuman undertaking he had accomplished. In 1842, to mark the sense they entertained of the ingenuity he had evinced at Cape Frio in converting water-tanks into diving-bells, the Society of Arts presented him with a gold medal. The regret we feel at being deprived of the pleasure we should have in entering more at large into a history of Capt. Dickinson’s achievement is somewhat mitigated by his having already published ‘A Narrative of the Operations for the Recovery of the Public Stores and Treasure sunk in H.M.S. Thetis,’ &c.; a volume which should unquestionably be read by those who are disposed to take interest in an account of perhaps the most astonishing performance of the kind ever achieved by the Captain of a British man-of-war. Capt. Dickinson was admitted into the Royal Hospital at Greenwich 26 Aug. 1847.


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