Frederick’s father was descended from a Normandy huguenot who escaped from the the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. His mother came from a family of prominent American loyalists and he was born in London on 10 July 1792. Ten weeks after his fourteenth birthday in 1806, he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman on board the IMPÉRIEUSE, a 38 gun frigate, commanded by Captain Lord Cochrane. He spent his first winter at sea in the stormy waters of the Bay of Biscay blockading the estuary of the Gironde and on the 6 January 1807 he watched as the ship’s boats attacked a fort at the entrance to the Bason d’Arcachon and destroyed four 36 pounders, spiked a 13” mortar and brought off seven vessels laden with wine, butter and cheese.
The following September IMPÉRIEUSE left Spithead with a convoy for the Mediterranean where her boats lost sixteen killed and wounded in a action with a Maltese privateer which had been mistaken for an enemy warship. About the same time Marryat jumped into the sea to save the life of a fellow midshipman, Henry Cobbett, who had accidentally fallen overboard. At the beginning of 1808 the frigate sailed from Malta to cruise off Catalonia and the Balearic Islands where she destroyed or captured fifty merchantmen, seven small warships and a privateer. In the capture of the latter, she lost her first lieutenant and eleven of her ship’s company were killed or wounded.
Soon after this the Spaniards changed sides and local patriotic juntas appealed for help to drive out the French. Lord Cochrane responded by capturing and destroying batteries and bridges in the vicinity of Barcelona to impede the invaders. On 31 July 1808 the castle of Mongat, which commanded an important pass, surrendered to IMPÉRIEUSE and was destroyed. The French garrison were taken prisoner. She kept the whole coast in a state of constant alarm.
The 16 year old Marryat is first mentioned in a letter from Lord Cochrane when midshipmen Stovin, Stewart and Marryat were especially commended for their part in the defence of the fortress of Rosa when 50 seamen and 30 marines from the frigate stiffened the resistance of the small Spanish garrison when they were on the point of surrendering. They were unable to hold out for very long and embarked in the boats after firing the powder trains for exploding the magazines.
On 30 December she warped into the harbour of Cadaques, captured the batteries, two French national ships and twelve vessels loaded with wheat. Lord Cochrane’s last action in the Mediterranean was to embark four brass guns from the French battery at Port Selda on 9 January 1809 after driving the enemy off.
On the 11 April, during a night attack on a French squadron in the Aix Roads, Marryat, with Lieut. Urry Johnson and three seamen, served in an explosion vessel containing 1500 barrels of gunpowder with 300 shells and several thousand hand grenades packed on top. The fuses were ignited as they drifted down with the tide towards the French boom, then they tumbled into a small boat and waited in the darkness to be picked up. Urry Johnson, who was only 21, died in 1816. In the autumn Marryat was brought back to England from the Scheldt in VICTORIOUS, 74, suffering from malarial fever after supporting an abortive attack on Antwerp by the incompetent Lord Chatham.
He went back to the Mediterranean in Centaur, 74, the flagship of Sir Samuel Hood for about twelve months. Off Toulon he again risked his life to save a seaman, Thomas Moubray, who had fallen into the sea from the main-yard.
On his return from the Mediterranean Marryat sailed as a passenger on board the ATLAS, 64, to Bermuda, and once more he leapt into the sea after another seaman, James Walker, but was unable to save him. The ship had being doing seven knots in the trade winds and he was nearly two miles astern when the boat found him, after being in the water for more than 30 minutes. It is not surprising that he received the nickname “Lifeboat”.
The schooner CHUBB took him from Bermuda to Halifax where he joined the frigate AEOLUS, 32, Captain Lord James Townsend, on 27 April 1811. After visiting Quebec the frigate was sent to join the squadron under Capt. Bastard in ATLAS which was cruising off New York. On 30 September 1811, when AEOLUS was about 300 miles out in the Atlantic a gale coming up from the S.E. blew her on to her beam ends and tore away her top and mizen masts. When the order was given to cut away the main-yard in order to save the main mast, there was a natural reluctance to attempt anything so dangerous until Marryat led the way. His bravery was praised by the captain. As might be expected he also saved one of AEOLUS’s men from the sea.
On 17 November 1811 he moved to the SPARTAN frigate, which was commanded by Captain Edward Brenton, and continued off the American coast. In July 1812 she captured three American privateers:- the schooners ACTIVE, 2, and INTENTION, 1 gun and 3 swivels, and the sloop ACTRESS, 4. Early in August Marryat was engaged in two boat attacks at Haycock’s Harbor and Little River in the Bay of Fundy where six American armed vessels were captured: The MORNING STAR, POLLY, MADISON, OLIVE, SPENCE and COMMODORE BARRY. The latter was a revenue cutter, pierced for ten, but only mounting six, guns. A few days later he sailed for home in the INDIAN sloop. He was promoted to lieutenant on 26 December 1812. At this time it was customary for newly appointed lieutenants to be sent to a ship on a foreign station but Marryat was obviously regarded as a promising officer and two weeks later he was appointed to the ESPIÈGLE sloop, Capt. John Taylor, which sailed for Surinam on 22 January. On the 8 February he went after another seaman, Jacob Small, who had gone overboard in a heavy sea. It took time to bring the sloop to, and Marryat was picked up almost senseless over a mile astern.
On 24 February ESPIÈGLE, mending her rigging amid the shoals of the Demerara river, parted from the brig PEACOCK and then, five hours later, watched her being sunk by the American sloop HORNET on the other side of the sandbanks. Cdr. Taylor made no effort to go to the aid of his consort but finished his repairs before going into the port. At a court martial in 1814 he was dismissed the service for oppressive conduct towards his officers and severity to his crew, “unlike that of an officer and a gentleman”. Many thought at the time that he was lucky to escape conviction on the capital charge of neglect of duty over the HORNET affair. As it was he was to face more ignominy. He was restored to the Navy List in 1818 as the “Junior Commander” and he remained, so named, on half pay, right at the bottom of the seniority list until he retired. He died in 1853. ESPIÈGLE was remarkable in having two commanding officers dismissed the service by the sentence of a court martial. I’ll append that story at the end.
Marryat was still suffering from the effects of the Walcheren fever so he left the sloop at New Providence in the Bahamas and took passage to the sick quarters in Halifax. He returned home as a passenger in Spartan.
At the end of January 1814 he joined NEWCASTLE, Capt. Lord George Stuart, and took part in the capture of the American privateers IDA, 10, and PRINCE DE NEUFCHATEL, 18, You can read about the Admiralty Prize Court proceedings regarding the latter on Michael Dun’s page at St. Andrew’s University.
On 19 December, in the ship’s barge, he cut four vessels out of Boston Bay, but lost eleven of his crew killed and wounded. Still dogged by ill-health he left the ship at Madeira in February 1815. He was promoted to commander on 13 June the same year.
During the peace which followed the ending of the American War Marryat devoted himself to scientific studies. He adapted Sir Home Popham’s code of signals for merchant vessels which came into general use throughout the world. This brought him membership of the Royal Society in 1817 and the French Legion of Honour in 1833. He continued his interest in lifesaving, inventing a lifeboat, for which he was presented with the gold medal of the Royal Humane Society. Towards the end of 1818 it was suggested that he join a Mr. Ritchie in a government sponsored expedition to central Africa, but other circumstances intervened, particularly his marriage in January 1819 to Catharine, the second daughter of Sir Stephen Shairp, who was for many years the consul-general in Russia. They were to have four sons and seven daughters, but three of the sons predeceased him, the youngest, Frank, dying at the age of 28 in 1855.
He was appointed to command the BEAVER sloop in June 1820 and, after visiting Madeira, Teneriffe, Trinidad and Tristan da Cunha, he was employed cruising to the windward of St. Helena, as part of the standing naval force patrolling off the island until the death of Napoleon. When the ex-emperor died he exchanged commands with William Hendry of ROSARIO and brought home the dispatches announcing the death. ROSARIO had some success against smugglers in the English Channel before she was declared unseaworthy in February 1822.
On 23 March 1823 he was appointed to the 6th Rate LARNE, 20, which was fitting out for the Far East station. In May 1824 LARNE joined the fleet of transports and Hon. East India Company cruisers which was assembling at Port Cornwallis in the Andaman Islands for an expedition to Burma after aggressive acts by the Burmese against the Hon. East India Company. The whole force was under the command of Commodore Charles Grant. He directed LARNE and SOPHIE, 18, to accompany the main force of troops against Rangoon. Marryat suggested the purchase of the little paddle-wheeler DIANA, and she, the first steamer seen in India, was added to the force. Rangoon is about 28 miles from one of the many mouths of the Irrawaddy and was protected by palisades and a battery of 14 guns. On 11 May LARNE led the way up river and quickly silenced the battery which had fired a few random shots at her. The troops were then landed and occupied a largely deserted city. Five days later troops accompanied by ship’s boats from the squadron carried more stockades further up river. Commodore Grant, mortally ill, left for Penang on the 21st, leaving Marryat, himself a sick man, in naval command in the Irrawaddy. The troops continued to make successful attacks but the Burmese, realising that the climate was going to be their best ally, kept their main army 60 miles to the north and allowed cholera and other diseases to weaken the attacking force. LARNE was forced to drop down river on 13 July to allow the crew to recuperate. When she returned 14 days later the attacks up river were continued with the navy assisting the troops with mortar and gun boats. By September the European part of the army was down to 1500 men, 750 having died of disease. SOPHIE lost a quarter of her crew and LARNE had only 27 men of her original crew remaining. Marryat had to take her to Penang to allow the survivors to recover. He was back in the river by the end of December and led an expedition which captured the Burmese magazines at Bassein in February. In April he was promoted by the C-in-C to command the TEES, 28, and this, a post captain’s commission, was confirmed in London later in July. He left Burma in May [1825?] [and] returned to England at the beginning of 1826.
He spent most of 1829 in the frigate ARIADNE searching for supposed dangerous shoals in the vicinity of Madeira and the Canary Islands and tiring of this pointless exercise resigned his command in November 1830 on the nominal grounds of “private affairs”. While in ARIADNE he wrote and published a 3 volume novel “The Naval Officer” or “Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay”. He received immediate payment of 400 pounds and soon the book was a literary and financial success as the public enjoyed the authentic accounts of naval adventures based on his own experiences. A book he had written earlier, “The King’s Own”, was published a year later.
He settled down to a literary career. Between 1830 and 1835 he not only published four more books: “Newton Forster” 1832, “Peter Simple” 1834, “Jacob Faithful” 1834, and “The Pacha of Many Tales” 1835, but he also acted as editor of the Metropolitan Magazine. He continued a close connection with the magazine, and many of his best known books and numerous articles first appeared in its pages including “Mr. Midshipman Easy” in 1836. In 1836 he moved to Brussels where, with his fluent French and fund of humorous stories, he was very popular. For the next two years he travelled in Canada and America, producing six volumes of a diary.
On his return he lived in or near London until in 1843 he moved to Langley, [?Langham, 1000 acres] a small farm in Norfolk. In spite of the money he inherited from his wealthy father and the large income from his writing he seems to have been extravagant and the failure of property in the West Indies had put a strain on his resources. He found it difficult to continue producing two or three long novels a year but found a new market with books for children. Two of these, “Masterman Ready” and “Children of the New Forest”, are the best known.
In spite of his poor health he thought that some sea-service would revitalise him and was so furious with Admiralty when it rejected his application that he broke a blood vessel in the lungs. The loss of his eldest son, Frederick, in the paddle frigate AVENGER off the north coast of Africa on 20 December 1847 proved too much of a shock, and he died on 9 August 1848.
Now the story I promised about ESPIÈGLE’s other captain.
In 1823 Isham Fleming Chapman from Cowes in the Isle of Wight had shown great bravery, as a young lieutenant, in the defence of Cadiz against the encircling French armies.
In 1810, as a commander, he was appointed to ESPIÈGLE, operating off the east coast of Africa. On 16 August 1824 he bought himself a young native girl at Zanzibar, and she disappeared while the ship was lying at anchor off Mombassa.
In October 1824 Chapman was promoted into ARIADNE, 20, but the purser of ESPIÈGLE, Alexander McCoy, refused to sign the customary certificate to say that all the finances were in order. This led to Chapman facing a court martial in Portsmouth on 19 January 1826.
Some of the charges proved were:—
The captain had appropriated part of the bread-room to make himself a staircase; the bread, which was on the purser’s charge, was then stored between decks where it was trampled on by seamen getting in and out of their hammocks; that he had ordered the purser to give him, for private use, fifty dollars of public money; that he had not kept a slop (clothing) book, which meant that the purser had to pay out of his own pocket for clothing that the crew denied receiving, and that he had taken up more than 2000 lb. of best beef more than his allowance. On the purchase of the young female the court made no comments on morality, so the conclusion is that it was not too uncommon. They did decide that, although her disappearance was not accounted for, she probably escaped through the stern port while the ship was at anchor.
Capt. Chapman too was dismissed from the service but he was restored to his former rank in 1828. He died in the summer of 1852.