In the Gazette of July 1804 it appeared that Robert
Blakeney, gentleman, was appointed to an ensigncy in
the 28th Regiment of infantry. Relying on the delusive
promise that zeal would meet certain reward, I immediately
joined my regiment near Cork, where they lay encamped,
forming part of a corps under command of Sir Eyre Coote.
On the second day after my joining, the whole of the troops
marched to Kinsale, and having taken up a position on
some high ground looking down on the bay, the men
commenced firing ball with as much anxiety as if the
whole French flotilla, filled with ruthless invaders and
headed by Napoleon in person, were attempting a landing
underneath. Some seagulls were seen to fall, and it was
confidently reported that many others were wounded.
As soon as the fight was over, the men sat down to dine
with all those proud feelings which soldiers are wont to
entertain after a victory. Never shall I forget the thrilling
emotion which agitated my whole frame at seeing the
blood fall from the hand of one of the soldiers, wounded
through the clumsy manner in which he fixed his flint.
I eyed each precious drop that fell with glowing sensations
such as would blaze in the breast of a Napoleon on
beholding an old dynasty diadem, or inflame the heart
of a Scot in contemplating a new place in the Treasury.
I now became on the effective strength of the 1st
Battalion, which I joined the next year. Both battalions
of the regiment were removed to Parsonstown, and thence
proceeded to the Curragh of Kildare, where twenty
thousand men were encamped under the command of Lord
Second lieutenants were now given to all first
battalion companies, so that immediately on our arrival
here the three senior ensigns of the regiment, Robert
Johnson, Robert Blakeney and Charles Cadell, were
promoted; and thus I again joined the 2nd Battalion in
On the breaking up of this encampment, the two
battalions of the regiment were separated. The 1st
proceeded to Mallow and thence to Monkstown, where they
shortly after embarked for Germany in the expedition
commanded by the above-mentioned nobleman. The 2nd
Battalion, to which I now again belonged, were ordered to
do garrison duty in Dublin.
In the December of this year, being ordered to proceed
to Exeter on the recruiting service, I embarked on board
the mercantile brig Britannia, Captain Burrows, bound
from Dublin to Bristol; and a more ignorant drunken
lubber never commanded a vessel.
The wind, which might be considered a fresh breeze at leaving the port, blew
hard as we entered the Bristol Channel, when our ignorant
master nearly ran us foul of Lundy Island, which more
through good luck than able seamanship we fortunately
As we proceeded the gale became tremendous;
the billows rolled in majestic, yet horrific, grandeur over our
heads, sweeping everything off deck; and then the master,
far from encouraging the crew and by good example
inspiring them with a due sense of the duty which they had
to perform, added to their terror and dispirited all by
his degrading and worse than useless lamentation, calling
aloud on his wife and children, then in Bristol.
An attempt was made to run the vessel into the small port of
Ilfracombe, but this failed through the ignorance and terror
of the master. Still impetuously driven forward, we
approached the small village of Combemartin, when a loud
crash was heard, caused, if I recollect right, by striking
against a sandbank; and then the captain, in his usual
consolatory language, cried out that all was lost and every
soul on board must perish.
A gentleman passenger now came down to the cabin, and, vainly endeavouring to
restrain his unwilling yet manly tears, embraced his wife
and two young children, who lay helpless in one of the
berths. The innocent little babes clung round his neck,
beseeching him to take their mamma and them on shore.
He endeavoured to soothe their grief; but that which he
considered it to be his painful duty to impart was most
heartrending. He recommended them and his wife to
remain tranquil in their berths, saying that it was totally
useless to attempt going on deck, for all hope was lost, and
that they should turn all their thoughts to Heaven alone.
The scene was excessively affecting, and acted, I confess,
more powerfully on my feelings than all the dangers with
which we were surrounded; for although I had lain the
whole time in my berth so overpowered with sea-sickness
as to be incapable of any exertion, I now started up and
hurried on deck just as the brutal drunken skipper was
knocked down by a blow from the tiller whilst trying to
Urged by the impulse of the moment, I seized
the abandoned tiller, and moved it in the direction which I
saw the late occupant attempt. At this critical moment
we descried a person on horseback making signals. This
gentleman, having witnessed our failure to enter Ilfracombe,
and foreseeing our inevitable destruction should we
be driven past Combemartin, rode at full speed along the
shore, waving his hat sometimes in one direction, sometimes
Assisted by one of the passengers - I think a
Mr. Bunbury (all the sailors were now drunk) - I moved the
tiller in conformity with the signals made by the gentleman
on shore, and in a short time we succeeded in guiding the
vessel through a very intricate and narrow passage between
rocks and banks, and finally ran her aground on a shoal of
The storm still continuing to blow furiously, the
vessel beat violently from side to side against the sandbanks;
but some men having contrived to come off from
the village, to which we were now close, and fastening ropes
to the mast, bound her fast down on one side, when the whole
crew got safe to land. We subsequently learned that eight
vessels were that morning wrecked in the Bristol Channel.
It must be allowed that much credit was due to the
fishermen of Combemartin for the alacrity they showed in
giving us their assistance; but it must also be confessed
that while we remained for a few hours in the village they
appeared to be the rudest and most uncouth people I ever
met with in Great Britain.
Every man in the village claimed to be the first who came to assist us, and as such
demanded a suitable reward. Much of our luggage disappeared in being removed from the vessel to the shore,
and was heard of no more.
The greater part of my own goods, through my own ignorance of voyaging and the carelessness
and inattention of the master being left exposed on deck,
was washed away during the storm; but what money I
possessed was luckily hoarded up in my trousers pocket;
and in truth my trousers were the only part of my dress
had on during the whole time I was on deck assuming the
functions of pilot and captain, the skipper being in a state
of torpidity from fright and drunkenness.
As soon as we could procure means of transport, which took some hours,
we proceeded to Ilfracombe; for Combemartin was incapable
of affording accommodation for so large a party.
Credit was given to me for having saved the crew, but
I took none to myself. It was the first time I had ever
been on board of any vessel larger than an open fishing-boat,
and I was consequently as ignorant of steering a ship as
of training an elephant.
Any part I took, therefore, was perfectly mechanical, and the inventive and true merit was
solely due to the gentleman on shore, by whose directions
I was guided. Being subservient to the will of another,
I could have as little claim to credit for judgment or
plan, principle or reflection, as could a wine-wagged billy-punch
or a tail-voter in the House.
"wine-wagged billy-punch" This may be the 19th century equivalent of a half-drunk blow-hard
Next morning I proceeded to Exeter, but previous to my
departure my attention was called to two Dublin ladies,
fellow passengers, who, being bound direct for Bristol, were
not prepared to meet the expenses of a land journey thither.
They appeared much distressed in mind, and declared they
would rather die than leave any part of their luggage in
I lent them a few guineas out of my own small
stock, upon which they took my address, promising to remit
the money as soon as they arrived at Bristol; but, gaining
experience as I advanced, I found that I should have taken
their address, for I never after heard of or from them.
After having remained some months in Devonshire on the
recruiting service, I was ordered to join the 1st Battalion
of the regiment, then quartered at Colchester, after
their return from the fruitless expedition into Germany.
We did not long remain here.
On July 24th of the next year the regiment marched from Colchester to Harwich,
and there embarked to join a second expedition, commanded
by Lord Cathcart. So profoundly was our destination
kept secret, and so ignorant were we all of the object
in view, that we could not even conjecture whither we
were going, until on August 8th we arrived in the Sound,
and anchored late that night close under Elsinore Castle,
during the loudest storm of thunder, accompanied by the
most brilliant lightning, I ever witnessed.
At intervals the immense fleet, consisting of men-of-war, transports
and merchantmen, the islands of Zealand, the extent of
the Sound, together with the opposite Swedish coast, as
if suddenly emerged from darkest chaos, instantly became
more visible than if lighted by the noonday sun in all
These astonishing elemental crashes and
dazzling shows were as suddenly succeeded by deathlike
silence and darkness so impenetrable that not an individual
could be distinguished even by those who stood nearest on
Yet, although the ground of the night was perfectly
dark, still, guided by the vivid flashes with which it was
relieved, every vessel of this apparently unwieldy fleet fell
into her proper berth, and, duly measuring the appropriate
length of cable, swung securely to her anchor; and, strange
to say, not a single casualty took place through the whole.
The scene altogether was excessively grand, and truly
presented what in hackneyed poetic phrase is termed
sublime. The jarring elements seemed to portend evil to
the descendants of Odin, nor were there wanting some
with evil eye who foreboded something rotten in the
state of Denmark.
Researched & Compiled by Way-Mark.