Royal Naval Biography/Inglefield, John Nicholson

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[Retired Captain.]

This officer attained the rank of Lieutenant about the year 1768; and served as such in the Courageux and the Robust 74’s, commanded by the brothers Captains Samuel and Alexander Hood, both of whom were afterwards advanced to the peerage. He was made a Post-Captain October 11, 1780; and soon after appointed to the command of the Barfleur, a second rate, bearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, whom he accompanied to the West Indies, with a reinforcement for the squadron in that quarter, under the orders of Sir George B. Rodney.

On the 29th April, 1781, Sir Samuel Hood having been detached with eighteen sail of the line to cruise off Martinique, fell in and had a partial action with the French fleet under the Count de Grasse, consisting of twenty-four ships of the line and two of 50 guns. In this affair the Barfleur had 5 men killed. The total loss sustained by the British was 41 slain and 130 wounded. Amongst the former were Captain Nott, of the Centaur, and Mr. Plowden, his first Lieutenant, two brave and excellent officers. The next day, the enemy’s van and centre being at some distance from their rear, Sir Samuel Hood, by a bold manoeuvre, notwithstanding his inferiority, attempted to cut them off; but having failed in this resolute enterprise, he was obliged, from the bad condition of many of his ships, to bear away for Antigua. On the 31st July following, he assumed the chief command of the fleet, Sir George B. Rodney having sailed for England.

In the ensuing month Captain Inglefield, who had been removed into the Centaur on the death of her late commander, accompanied Sir Samuel Hood to the coast of America, in pursuit of M. de Grasse. He returned to Barbadoes with the same officer, after the surrender of Earl Cornwallis to the combined armies of France and America[1].

During the subsequent operations at the island of St. Christopher, Captain Inglefield was several times sent with flags of truce to the Marquis de Bouille and the Count de Grasse. He was also employed in the hazardous service of establishing signals between the fleet and the garrison of Brimstone Hill, by means of personal communication with the officer commanding there[2].

The Centaur formed part of the red division of Sir George B. Rodney’s fleet in the glorious battle of April 12, 1782, the particulars of which will be found in our first volume, p. 35, et seq. In August following she sailed for England, in company with the prizes taken on that memorable occasion, and a large fleet of merchantmen, the whole under the orders of Rear-Admiral Graves. Nothing material occurred until the night of the 22d, when l’Hector, a French 74, being badly manned and a heavy sailer, dropped a-stern and parted company. On the 8th September it blew a strong gale, and the leaks of the Caton, another of the prizes, and the Pallas frigate, had so much increased, that the Rear-Admiral was under the necessity of ordering them to bear away for Halifax. On the 16th the fleet encountered a heavy gale from the E.S.E. which continued to blow with unabating fury till three o’clock next morning, when on a sudden it shifted to the N.N.W., and soon increased to a hurricane. As the day broke, it discovered an indescribable scene of horror and tress; some of the ships of war had lost their masts, and were otherwise much disabled; many of the convoy had not only suffered similar disasters, but had actually foundered; and the sea was covered with wrecks. Numbers of miserable wretches of both sexes were seen, either lashed or clinging to them; and what rendered their dreadful situation still more piteous, was the impossibility of giving them the smallest assistance; the storm continued to rage, and the sea so rough and agitated, that no boats could be put out to their relief. A few indeed were fortunate enough to be saved by ropes thrown from the ships as they approached them. When the squall came on, the Ramillies 74 had her main-sail set, and in this situation was taken aback. Before the clue-garnets could be manned the main-mast went over the side, carrying with it the mizen-mast, fore-top-mast, and fore-yard. The tiller broke in the rudder head; and in a short time, from the chain pumps being choaked, the water in the hold had increased to six feet. In the course of the day several of the guns and heavy stores were thrown overboard, to ease the ship; but these efforts proved ineffectual; the pumps could not be cleared, and by the 21st the leak had gained so considerably that Rear-Admiral Graves began to despair of saving her. Fortunately the gale abated sufficiently to allow the few merchantmen still in company to take out the crew; which being effected by four o’clock in the afternoon, she was set on fire and soon after blew up.

The melancholy fate, of the Centaur was still more deplorable. The squall had laid her so much on her beam ends, that the water burst through from the hold between decks; she lay motionless, and seemed irrecoverably overset. Her masts falling overboard, she in some degree righted, with the loss of her rudder, and such extreme violence as caused unspeakable mischief and confusion. The guns broke loose, the shot were thrown out of the lockers, and the water that came from the hold swept away every thing between decks, as effectually as the waves had from the upper. The officers, when the ship overset, ran up from their beds naked; neither could they get at a single article of clothes to put on in the morning, nor receive any assistance from those who were upon deck, they themselves having no other but what they had on.

The unshaken fortitude of the crew, under every difficulty, and with scarcely the possibility of escape remaining, while it heightens the merit of the sufferers, only serves to render their fate the more grievous. By their unwearied exertions, the ship was kept afloat until the 23d; but on the morning of that day, all their efforts appeared fruitless. The water in the hold had blown up the orlop-deck, the ship was filling fast, and going gradually down. Every countenance was painted with horror and despair; not a shadow of hope now remained; the people could be no longer prevailed on to bail, and the vessel was left to her fate. Some of the bravest seamen, who had hitherto persevered in their sufferings and labour, without a murmur or any expression of fear, geeing that all was over, and being suddenly struck with a melancholy and tender recollection of their country, and of every thing that was most dear to them, burst openly into tears, and wept like children; others, appearing perfectly resigned to their fate, went to their hammocks, and requested their messmates to lash them in; numbers were lashing themselves to gratings and email rafts. Amidst this scene of misery and distress, the idea most prevalent among the men was that of equipping themselves in their best and cleanest clothes. Although rafts were made, and the boats put into the water, the bulk of the officers and men, convinced of the impossibility of being saved, preferred resigning themselves quietly to their fate, rather than take the chance of prolonging their wretched existence for a few hours. At 5 o’clock in the evening, Captain Inglefield, who had not yet formed any determination for himself, perceiving a few of the people getting into the pinnace, and others preparing to follow them, beckoned to Mr. Renny, the Master, who was the only officer on deck, and instantly jumped into the boat, followed by that gentleman[3]. The sea ran so high, it was with much difficulty they could get her clear of the ship; numbers of the people who were on the gangway, endeavouring to follow their example, fell into the sea and were drowned. Mr. Robert Baylis, a Midshipman, only, 15 years of age, jumped overboard, and had the good fortune to reach the boat, though it was with some difficulty Captain Inglefield could prevail on his companions to take him in[4]. The whole number now in the boat was twelve, adrift in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a dark and stormy night approaching, without either compass, quadrant, or sail. Their provisions consisted of a bag of bread, a small ham, a single piece of pork, a few French cordials, and two quart bottles of water. A blanket which had been thrown into the boat, they bent to one of the stretchers, and used as a sail. Providentially, the next morning the weather proved more moderate, and the wind continuing to blow from the N.W. buoyed them up with the hope of being able to reach the Azores, which, at the time they quitted the Centaur, were about 260 leagues to the S.E. On the fifth morning it was discovered that the salt water had spoiled the greater part of their bread; this reduced them to the necessity of living upon the miserable pittance of two biscuits for the twenty-four hours, which were divided equally between the whole. The neck of a bottle with the cork in it, was the measure of water allotted to support each individual for the same period. For the want of this necessary article they must shortly have perished, had not a pair of sheets been found in the boat; rain coming on, they were enabled, by alternately spreading and wringing them, to catch and save a few quarts of water; but not by any means a sufficiency to allay their thirst. Captain Inglefield, to divert the attention of the people from their situation and distress, induced them during the heavy and pensive hours of the night, to amuse each other by relating a story, or singing a song, in turn.

On the 16th day after their departure from the ship, the last ration of bread and water was distributed, and all hope vanished. The Almighty, however, who had conducted these unfortunate people through so many perils, still favored them with his divine protection; and on the same day, to their inexpressible joy, land was discovered, for which they instantly steered, and before night arrived safely in the harbour of Fayal, where they met with every humane attention, and from whence they soon after proceeded to England[5].

On the 25th Jan. 1783, Captain Inglefield and the other survivors of the Centaur, were tried by a court-martial at Portsmouth, for the loss of that vessel, and fully acquitted of all blame on account thereof[6].

Immediately after his trial, Captain Inglefield was appointed to the Scipio of 64 guns, stationed as a guard-ship in the river Medway. His next appointment was in the autumn of 1788, to the Adventure of 44 guns; in which ship he went to the coast of Africa, and returned from thence in Aug. 1789. He afterwards made three successive voyages to the same station, in the Medusa of 50 guns.

The Medusa, coming up Channel in Sept. 1792, passed the frigate in which our late venerable monarch was making his usual marine excursion from Weymouth. After saluting the royal standard, Captain Inglefield followed her to the anchorage, and on the following morning was received by the King with marked distinction and approbation, and honored with a long conference on the esplanade.

On the Medusa’s arrival at Chatham, she was ordered to be put out of commission; and Captain Inglefield soon after obtained the command of l’Aigle frigate, in which ship we find him serving at the reduction of Corsica, under the orders of Lord Hood, by whom he was appointed, conjointly with Vice-Admiral Goodall, Captain James Young, and his Lordship’s Secretary, Mr. M‘Arthur, to draw up the articles of the capitulation, by which Bastia was surrendered to the British arms.

In the spring of 1794, our officer was appointed to succeed the late Sir Hyde Parker, as Captain of the Mediterranean fleet; and towards the close of the same year, he returned to England with Lord Hood, in the Victory of 100 guns. From this period until the summer of 1811, he appears to have been employed as a resident Commissioner of the Navy, successively, at Corsica, Malta, Gibraltar, and Halifax. Preferring the retention of his civil appointment to a flag, he was placed on the retired list of Post-Captains in Feb. 1799. Captain Inglefield is the reputed author of “A View of the Naval Force of Great Britain,” published in 1791. His son, Samuel Hood Inglefield, obtained post rank in 1807, and his daughter is the lady of that excellent officer, Vice-Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell, K.C.B.

Agent.– William Marsh, Esq.

  1. After the partial action off the Chesapeake, September 5, 1781, which we have already noticed in our first volume, p. 133, the British fleet, commanded by the Rear-Admirals Graves, Hood, and Drake, returned to Sandy Hook, and took on board 7000 troops under Sir Henry Clinton, destined for the relief of Earl Cornwallis, who was closely invested at York and Gloucester, by the French and rebel armies. On the 24th October the armament arrived off the Chesapeake, when the British commanders had the mortification to find that his Lordship, owing to the exhausted and sickly state of his army, and being without any hopes of relief, had entered into a capitulation for the surrender of those important posts on the 17th. By this unfortunate event 6000 British troops, and 1500 seamen, fell into the hands of the enemy.
  2. Sir Samuel Hood, after his return from America, remained in Carlisle Bay, with his fleet moored in order of battle, in daily expectation of a visit from the French, till January 14, 1782, when he received intelligence that the Count de Grasse had relinquished his plan of attacking Barbadoes, and gone to St. Christopher’s; on his arrival at which island the Marquis de Bouille was landed with 8000 troops, and the British garrison consisting of only 600 men, under Brigadier-General Fraser, obliged to retire into the fort at Brimstone Hill. The Rear-Admiral, notwithstanding the superiority of the enemy, determined on a measure of unusual boldness, for the preservation of that valuable island. Instead of waiting their approach, he resolved to confound the enemy by an immediate attack, and to engage them as they lay at their anchors. For this purpose he immediately put to sea from Carlisle Bay, embarked General Prescott and the few troops that could be spared from Antigua, and proceeded without loss of time to attack the enemy in Basseterre Road.

    At day-break on the 24th the signal was made to form the line of battle, for the purpose of bearing down to the attack; but the untoward accident of the Alfred’s running foul of the Nymph, arrested the prosecution of this well-concerted design, and obliged the fleet to bring to whilst the former vessel repaired her damages. Towards the evening of the same day the Count de Grasse quitted his anchorage and put to sea, that his ships might have full room to act, and thus secure the advantages of their superiority in point of number.

    At day-light on the 25th, the enemy’s fleet was observed about three leagues to leeward, formed in order of battle, and consisting of twenty-nine sail of the line. Sir Samuel Hood, who had only twenty-two line-of-battle ships, instantly perceived the great advantages to be derived from this movement, and carried on every appearance of an immediate and determined attack, which drove the enemy farther to leeward, whilst he himself pushed for Basseterre, and anchored his fleet in line of battle a-head, in Frigate Bay. The Count de Grasse, astonished at this excellent manoeuvre, and apprehensive that all communication with the army might be cut off, made a most furious attack upon the rear of the British fleet, commanded by Commodore Affleck; but that gallant officer made so noble a defence, and was so ably supported by his seconds, the Hon. William Cornwallis in the Canada, and Lord Robert Manners in the Resolution, who kept up an incessant fire, covering the other ships of the division while they brought up in their stations, particularly the Prudent, whose wheel was shot away, and the rudder choked by a shot which had lodged between it and the stem-post, that the enemy, finding they could not make any impression on the resolute firmness of the British, bore up and stood to sea.

    The next morning, at 8 o’clock, the French fleet stood in, as if determined to force the British line, which they attacked with great violence from van to rear, without making the least visible impression on it; they then wore and stood to sea. Sir Samuel Hood, having observed that the rear of his fleet was too much exposed, took this opportunity to change the position thereof, and directed the Alfred, Canada, Prudent, Resolution, Belliqueux, Centaur, and Monarch, to extend themselves in a line towards the town of Basseterre, forming an obtuse angle, by which means no one part of the fleet could suffer a partial attack. The Count de Grasse, not yet discouraged, renewed the engagement in the afternoon, directing his attack principally against the centre and rear divisions; he was again repulsed, and suffered more material damage than in the preceding battle. The Ville de Paris, bearing de Grasse’s flag, was upon the heel all the next day, covering her shot-holes; and according to information which Sir Samuel Hood subsequently received from the shore, upwards of 1,000 wounded Frenchmen were sent to St. Eustatius. The loss sustained by the British, in all the attacks, amounted to 72 killed, and 244 wounded.

    On the 28th, part of the 13th regiment, and the whole of the 28th and 69th, were landed under cover of four frigates. After a smart skirmish with a detachment of French troops, which were beaten, and obliged to retreat with great loss into Basseterre, General Prescott took post upon a commanding hill. The following morning, the Marquis de Bouille arrived with 4,000 troops from Sandy Point; but finding the British General’s position to be too strong to venture an attack, he proceeded to the siege of Brimstone Hill. As no object could be gained by General Prescott remaining on shore, he re-embarked the same evening.

    Soon after the arrival of the fleet, Captain Inglefield of the Centaur, was sent to Brigadier-General Fraser with a message of importance, and returned in safety, after establishing signals between the fort and the squadron. The vigilance of the enemy cut off all further communication. Many attempts were afterwards made to throw succours into the garrison, all of which proved ineffectual; and several officers sent with messages to the Brigadier, were detected and taken prisoners.

    The enemy prosecuted the siege with unabating vigour till the 13th Feb., when a practicable breach was made in the works, and BrigadierGeneral Fraser and the Governor, having given up all hope of succour, reluctantly consented to capitulate.

    On the morning of the 14th, the French fleet, reinforced by five ships of the line, anchored off Nevis; and it being no longer necessary for the British to continue in its present situation, which was useless and dangerous, not only from the vast superiority of the enemy’s fleet, but that they were preparing to erect gun and mortar-batteries on a hill commanding the anchorage, Sir Samuel Hood issued orders to the respective Captains to slip or cut their cables without signal, at 11 P.M., the sternmost and leewardmost ships first, and so on in succession, then to proceed under an easy sail until directed otherwise by signal. That this order might be punctually obeyed, the Captains were directed to set their watches by Sir Samuel’s time-piece . This was performed with the utmost order and regularity, without being molested or pursued by the French fleet; which was lying within five miles, and must have witnessed the manoeuvre. The British fleet anchored at Antigua on the 19th, and a few days after was joined by Sir George B. Rodney, with a reinforcement from, England.

  3. Mr. Renny was afterwards made a Lieutenant, and appointed to the command of a cutter, which foundered on her passage to Gibraltar with despatches, and all on board perished.
  4. Mr. Baylis died a Lieutenant of the Mercury frigate, at St. John’s, Newfoundland, Sept. 1., 1799.
  5. Thomas Matthews, a quarter-master, died in the boat the day before land was discovered. Those who escaped from the ill-fated Centaur, in addition to Captain Inglefield, the Master, and Midshipman mentioned above, were Mr. James Clark, Surgeon’s Mate; Timothy Sullivan, the Captain’s coxswain; John Gregory, a Quarter-Master; and five seamen.
  6. The following is a list of the ships of war which sailed from Jamaica under the orders of Rear-Admiral Graves; and will show how they were disposed of:
    Ramillies 74 Rear-Admiral T. Graves
    Captain S. Monarty.
    Abandoned after being set on fire.
    * Ville de Paris 110 Captain A. Wilkinson. Foundered, and their crews perished.
    * Glorieux 74 Captain Hon. T. Cadogan.
    Canada 74 Captain Hon. W. Cornwallis. Arrived in England, with the loss of her mizen-mast.
    Centaur 74 Captain J. N. Inglefield. Foundered, only 11 of her crew preserved.
    * Hector 74 Captain J. Bouchier. Foundered, crew saved by a letter of marque.
    Jason 64 Captain John Aylmer. Arrived in England.
    Caton 64 Captain T. Fisher. Arrived at Halifax.
    * Ardent 64 Captain R. Lucas. Returned to Jamaica.
    Pallas 36 Captain C. Parker. Went to Halifax very leaky, and afterwards lost on one of the Western Islands; crew saved.

    * Taken by Sir George B. Rodney, April 12, 1782.

    † Taken by Sir Samuel Hood, in the Mona Passage, April 19, 1782.