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My father, Josceline Percy,1 was born in 1784. At thirteen years of age he was appointed as a volunteer of the first class to H.M.S. Sans Pareil, carrying Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour's flag, and joined her at the Nore. His uncle and aunt, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, having given him, the former a chest of plate, and the latter a medicine-chest, to take to sea with him, the boy was so laughed at for bringing such luxuries that he threw the medicine-chest overboard, and the plate would have shared the same fate had it not been handed over to the charge of the ship's purser. The Sans Pareil was ironically called the
1 Admiral Percy was a son of the Earl of Beverley. His eldest brother subsequently succeeded to the dukedom of Northumberland, on the death, in 1865, of his first cousin, Algernon, the fourth duke. 2 H
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own hands. The Queen presented him with two magnificent old silver lamps; and, on his return from Naples to rejoin H.M.S. Victory, Lord Nelson gave him a sword, saying to him, "Young man, I envy you! at your age, and in these times, you ought to have a fine career before you."
After the Convention Cintra, when the French agreed to evacuate Portugal, he had orders to convey General Junot, then a prisoner in the hands of the English, to La Rochelle. Junot and my father became great friends. He meant to have made himself King of Portugal. He told my father that he was the son of an avocat, and owed his advance to being able to read and write, which in those days was an honourable distinction in the French line regiments. He acted as Secretary to Napoleon, when the latter was the colonel of the regiment in which he, Junot, was a sergeant. On one occasion (I forget at which battle the incident occurred) he was writing on a drum-head at Napoleon's dictation, when a cannon - ball struck the earth close to them. "Nous ne manquerons pas de la poussière, mon colonel," he remarked, calmly. He began his brilliant career from that day, and, when talking of it to my father, said, "Now Napoleon is an emperor, and I am a duke!"
"We do not acknowledge in England that General Bonaparte is an emperor," replied my father to this remark; "neither do we admit that he has a right to confer titles in
another kingdom, more especially when that title and position is already held by a native of that kingdom."
At that time there was a Portuguese Marquis d'Abrantès. Every morning Junot used to take out a miniature of his wife and kiss it. She was a very beautiful woman.
On leaving my father's ship, Junot gave him a magnificent dressing-case with gold fittings. Whilst at La Rochelle, my father was invited to dine with the French naval officers there, but he thought it more prudent to decline the invitation, lest he might not be permitted to return to his ship.
Junot himself came to urge him to accept it, and pledged his honour that all would be well, and that no deception was intended. pledge your honour that, should orders arrive from Paris to seize me and detain my ship, you would not feel obliged to obey them?" asked my father.
Junot replied that he could not do so, should such orders arrive, and retired. His visit was followed by one from the French Admiral, who also urged him to accept their invitation. My father told him that, though he had implicit confidence in the honour of the French officers, he could not accept their hospitality. "Because," said he, "I do not acknowledge your Emperor, and will not trust his Government."
My father always spoke of Lord Nelson as having a singular power of attaching all under his command to himself, from
the highest officers to the lowest cabin - boy serving under his flag. Lord Nelson's sense of religion was sincere and strong. He brought it with him into his profession, and it never left him. My father, who knew him intimately, said, Though it" (his religious feeling) "did not keep him from the great error of his life, it ought to be remembered that few were ever so strongly tempted; and I believe that had Nelson's home been made to him what a wife of good temper and judgment would have made it, never would he have forsaken it." A great cause of quarrel and dissension between Lord and Lady Nelson was the latter's son by a former marriage, who was not a satisfactory person from Lord Nelson's point of view.
My father never forgave Captain Hardy for turning up all hands, and ordering the ship's tailor to sew up his pockets on the quarter-deck. My father had had the early morning midshipman's watch; it was in the North Sea, the weather was bitterly cold, and Hardy had found him with his hands in his pockets.
When Lord Nelson was commanding the Mediterranean Fleet, and was lying off the Spanish coast, the captains of two Spanish frigates, just arrived from America, sent to entreat an audience of him, merely to give themselves the gratification of seeing a person whom they considered to be
the greatest seaman in the world. Captain Hardy took their request to Lord Nelson, and urged him to comply with it. Notwithstanding the Admiral's peevish reply of "What in the world is there to see in an old withered fellow like myself?" he ordered that they should be admitted.
Lord Nelson always wore short breeches and silk stockings, and at that moment his legs were bound up at the knees and ankles with pieces of brown paper soaked in vinegar, and tied on with red tape. This had been done to allay the irritation arising from mosquito-bites. Quite forgetting his attire and the extraordinary appearance which it presented, Lord Nelson went on deck and conducted the interview with the Spanish captains with such perfect courtesy that his singular appearance was quite obliterated by the charm of his manner, and the Spaniards left the ship with their high opinion of him thoroughly confirmed.
He was very peevish about trifles, and would sometimes say to Captain Hardy, "Hardy, it is very hard that I cannot have my breakfast punctually when I order it!"
Nelson subsequently got my father his lieutenancy, and he was appointed to the Diadem, whose boats he commanded at the capture of the Cape of Good Hope. In 1810 he was given, appropriately enough, the command of H.M.S. Hotspur.
I recollect hearing from him that on one occasion, when the Hotspur was ordered to destroy
fight abated, and the din and smoke diminished, that my father's repeated demands as to who the informant was could be answered, and it was discovered that the voice proceeded from the drunken man in the galley. When he was ordered down, it was found that he had been completely sobered when the action commenced, but that, true to discipline, he had not ventured to move from his position, whence he had been able to see much that was invisible to those on the deck below him. The galley in which he had been placed was riddled with shot, but he himself had escaped untouched. At the beginning of the action my father selected the two youngest boys on board to be his aides-de-camp, hoping thereby to keep them by his side on the poop. He chaffed them when they ducked their heads at the sound of the shot whizzing over them, and they soon became calm and steady.
At one moment he was obliged to send one of these lads to take charge of a gun on the quarter-deck, the firing of which was flagging, and the poor boy had barely reached the post which he was so proud to fill when a 24-pounder ball killed him instantly. The remaining little A.D.C., a young Hay, one of the Kinnoul Hays, my father was reluctantly compelled to send from his side on some errand, and, as he turned away to give an order to his first lieutenant, he heard a groan, and poor Hay fell, shot through the lungs. He was carried down below by the first lieutenant, and placed only when the violence of the next to a marine whose leg had
some French gunboats which threatened the island of Guernsey, the French pilot purposely took her under the enemy's forts. An officer of the vessel, whose name I cannot remember, told me that my father was in such a rage when he discovered the treachery, that had his arms not been held he would have shot the pilot there and then with his pistol. The story of this engagement may be worth relating as typical of the many encounters at sea between the English and the French in those stirring days.
The Hotspur engaged, singlehanded, three French gunboats and several forts. Owing to the pilot's treachery she had been almost run aground within easy range of the land fortifications, and was thus exposed to a cross-fire. The action was a hard-fought one, and lasted from six o'clock on a September evening until midnight.
Before going into action the ship's company was mustered in order to ascertain that the men were ready and fit for the work before them. Only one man was missing, and he was subsequently brought up by his mess - mates in an intoxicated condition. My father ordered the man to be placed inside the captain's galley, which had been hoisted up amidships, and there he was laid, nothing more being thought about him. During the heat of the action a voice was frequently heard nouncing in what direction the French were firing, and where the Hotspur's shots fell short or wide of their mark. It was
to be amputated. This man, regardless of his own sufferings, supported the boy's head on his shoulder, and gave him all the water which had been brought to him. Hay lived an hour after he was struck, and just at the end he heard the cheering from the decks above which greeted the sinking of the French gunboats. With struggling breath he joined in it, giving a last faint hurrah for the honour of England, and so died. The bodies of the two boys were laid together, covered with a UnionJack, at the door of the forecabin. On leaving the cabin next morning, my father found the flag partially removed, and the faces of the young heroes exposed. By their side were kneeling some old Frenchmen praying over their bodies. These men had been taken prisoners from some coasting vessel the day before the action, and it seemed that the boys had been very kind to them. They said to my father, "Not all the injury you can do our countrymen will compensate you for the loss of such lives as these!"
My father told me that after the three gunboats had been sunk and the forts destroyed, the surgeon insisted on his going down to have some food, which he did. On sitting down at the table, however, he kicked something underneath it, and, stooping down to see what it might be, he saw a sight which effectually prevented him from having any desire to eat, for he had kicked a mass of amputated arms and legs.
to Portsmouth, for she had lost many men, and others were seriously wounded. The frigate herself was badly damaged. Her bulwarks were shot away, and she presented almost the appearance of a raft. During the anxious voyage home the men who had to undergo amputations at the surgeon's hands would not allow the latter to operate unless they were previously assured that the captain would be present. They declared that if he were there they would undergo anything, and so, of course, my father made a point of acceding to their wishes, though to do so was a great trial to him.
After this engagement the Hotspur had to proceed at once
When the Hotspur made her number at Spithead she had to be taken into harbour for repairs. Crowds lined the shores and cheered her all the way to her moorings, and the ships saluted her as she was towed slowly by in her damaged and battered condition. My father subsequently received the thanks of the Admiralty on his quarterdeck, but he always said that not all the honours accorded to the Hotspur could compensate him for the sorrow he felt at the death of young Hay.
The sword that Nelson gave my father, and a beautiful model of the Hotspur-which the carpenter on board carved with a penknife, losing his eyesight in the process-are now preserved at my son's place, Levens. With these are the Duke of Wellington's gloves which he wore at Waterloo, and which his sisterin-law, Lady Mornington, my husband's grandmother, took off his hands when he returned to