Len Swatton with the Glosters in Korea

This story will be the closest yet in terms of my direct relation to the subject. Leonard Frederick Swatton, my uncle (my father’s older brother), had been demobbed for less than two years after serving in World War 2 and Palestine and was still in the reserves when the Korean War kicked off in 1950.

Recalled to the colours, (on August Bank Holiday, 1950) he was posted to 12 Platoon, D Company, 1st Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment, commonly known as the “Glosters”. This was a regiment already with a proud tradition; it had more battle honours than any other regiment in the British Army, and had its origin with the 28th Regiment of Foot.

The 28th formed part of the British expeditionary force that landed at Aboukir Bay in Egypt in 1801 to oppose Napoleon’s Army of the East. On 21 March, during the Battle of Alexandria, French cavalry broke through the British lines, formed up behind the regiment, and began to charge. With the men still heavily engaged to their front, the order was given for the rear rank to turn about, and standing thus in two ranks back to back, the regiment successfully held the line. For this action the 28th Regiment was accorded the unique privilege of wearing the regimental number both on the front and the back of its headdress.

The Glosters formally came into being in 1881 with the amalgamation of 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot and the 61st (South Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot and, unbeknown to Len, they would enhance their fighting reputation in Korea beyond anyone’s expectations but at a cost beyond anyone’s wildest fears.

windrushThe Glosters’ Korean story began serenely enough as, with the rest of 29th Infantry Brigade, the regiment boarded ship in Southampton for the cruise to Korea. They embarked on HMT Empire Windrush in October 1950 for the voyage.

The ship is the very same one that was in the news in 2018 as it gave its name to the “Windrush Generation” of Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK in 1948 on the ship from Jamaica.

By the time the Glosters arrived in Korea, in November, the United Nations forces were in full chaotic retreat following the first major Chinese intervention in the war and their huge offensive that commenced that month. Only the winter, such a winter as the British Army had not had to endure since the Crimean War a century earlier, halted the Chinese advance. It was so cold that tea froze as it was poured into the mug. Even anti-freeze froze!

Come the new year (1951) with the Chinese over-extended and their logistics hampered by the sub-zero temperatures, the newly appointed UN 8th Army commander, Matthew Ridgway, counterattacked and the UN forces slowly began to push the Chinese back to the north.

glosters korea 3

Glosters moving up to their positions alongside Centurian tanks of the 8th Kings Royal Irish Hussars

The Glosters, in 29th Infantry Brigade, were attached to the US 3rd Division, part of 1 Corps, and by mid-April were holding a position on a bend of the Imjin River, north of Seoul, on a series of hills between the two major routes south towards the capital known as the Munsan and Uijeongbu “corridors”.

From intelligence gathered, UN commanders suspected a major Chinese offensive was being prepared and suspected it would strike the US 3rd Div and the Republic of Korea (ROK) 1st Div sitting astride the Munsan and Uijeongbu corridors. They also knew that the ability to hold these positions, or at least slow a potential Chinese offensive to prevent a quick breakthrough, was vital to the UN war effort.

A quick word on tactics…

The Chinese army was short on heavy artillery, tanks and, most significantly, airpower. They were a predominantly infantry-based army utilising small arms, machine guns and light artillery such as mortars. But what they lacked in military technology they made up for in numbers and the tactics they implemented sought to play to that strength.

Consequently, their approach to battle was to mass in secret, moving only at night so as to avoid UN air reconnaissance and when they launched an attack it was also inevitably at night to minimise the UN’s advantage of artillery and air support. Their tactics were to quietly infiltrate around the flanks of UN positions and then to launch mass “human wave” assaults on those positions, to close as fast as they could, and annihilate their opponents in close-quarters combat. Mao had said he would rather see a single enemy unit destroyed than see 10 defeated but allowed to retreat to fight again and the Chinese army faithfully adhered to this doctrine – infiltrate, surround, destroy.

…and a word on equipment

gloster kit

Glosters’ winter uniform during the campaign

The battle was to prove to be one of close contact; that’s what the Chinese excelled at and they were better equipped for it than the British and their allies. The Chinese had superior automatic weapons, particularly the Type 50 machine gun. The British were still largely armed with the Lee Enfield rifle which was an excellent rifle but required aiming at specific targets; not easy at night. The Sten machine gun used by the British had a slower rate of fire than the Chinese equivalent and was prone to jamming. Thankfully each infantry section was also armed with a Bren gun which was very reliable and was used to devastating effect. Where the British had a distinct advantage was in the quality of their grenades – the fragmentation and phosphorous grenades the British were armed with had a much bigger kill radius than their Chinese equivalents and the British had an ample supply of them

The other advantage the defenders had was in air and artillery support.

45 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery attached to the brigade with their 25 pounder guns were to prove life savers many times during the battle, as were the air strikes the Glosters could call in from US Air Force fighter bombers, at least during daylight hours.

glosters korea 1Lastly, a word on a specific weapon that is significant to the story – the 2” Mortar. This light mortar was very portable, weighing about 5kg and was fired by a two man crew – one to hold the tube and manually aim it, the other to load.

The guy second in line in the photo here is carrying one on his back.

Len Swatton was a section mortar firer in 12 Platoon, D Company.

The Eve of Battle

In the days leading up to the battle the Glosters and their companion battalions in the 29th Brigade had sent armoured patrols across the Imjin searching for the enemy and had come away empty-handed. The Chinese forces, experts at quietly assembling for an attack, evaded them and slowly but surely moved forwards to their jump off positions.

While the British suspected an attack was coming they thought the main body of the Chinese army was still 30 miles or so to the north. They had no idea an entire army comprising three divisions and totalling over 30,000 men would be launched at them.

The Battle

The first night: Sunday, 22 April / Monday, 23 April

map0111.30pm

A patrol under the command of 2nd Lt Guy Temple sent down to the river ford (later known as Gloster Crossing) in front of the Gloster’s position detected Chinese troops wading into the river – these were the lead elements of the Chinese 187th Division. When the Chinese were half way across the river his men unleashed on them. Calling in artillery support from 45 Field Regiment they massacred the first wave of enemy troops. But the Chinese kept coming and eventually Temple’s troops ran out of ammunition and retired back to the main battalion lines.

The Chinese, now having crossed the Imjin, began to mass troops at the base of Hill 148 preparing to attack the Glosters’ A Company and across the Route 5Y below the Hill 182 occupied by D Company where Len was positioned. They also began to infiltrate around the battalion position to cut them off.

Midnight

The Chinese launched their attacks on A and D Companies.

Both units poured small arms and mortar fire down their respective hillsides  and called in artillery support from 45 Field Regiment. In between firing high explosive rounds, Len’s mortars fired parachute flares so that the British could see something to shoot at. The carnage on the hillsides was appalling but somehow a Chinese machine gun unit managed to infiltrate through the A Company barrage to site themselves high on the hill from where they could pour fire onto the paths linking the forward platoons of A Company with their company HQ stopping them from being re-supplied with ammunition and preventing casualties from being removed.

Lt. Phil Curtis led 1 Platoon in an attack on the machine gun position and single-handedly destroyed it but was killed in the process, posthumously earning the Victoria Cross.

As the Chinese massed for another attack on A Company they were hit by a barrage from 45 Field Regiment that broke up the assault. Now the focus turned to Len’s  D Company on Hill 182. There the Chinese attacks got to within 35m of the British line before they were cut down. The attacks came in one after the other and the left flank 11 Platoon was hammered by particularly heavy attacks. Acting Company Commander Capt. Mike Harvey finally ordered 11 Platoon to fall back to a new line around the company HQ. By that time they had lost 23 out of 36 men in the platoon.

Dawn: Monday, 23 April (St. George’s Day)

A and D Companies had grimly held onto their positions on their respective hills all night but A Company could hold on no longer. Their CO Maj. Angier had been killed as had the Lieutenants in charge of 1 and 2 Platoons. All surviving officers were wounded and the company was now being commanded by the company sergeant-major.

7.50am

Both companies were still in close combat with the enemy and aerial reconnaissance reported about 1000 more Chinese troops readying to join the assault with others outflanking their positions. The companies had to be withdrawn but that was easier said than done.

Colonel Carne, the Glosters’ CO, decided to pull back the companies one at a time with A Company the first to go.

8.00 am

While Len’s D Company poured in covering fire across the valley that separated them, the survivors of A Company retreated down their hill to rendezvous with Oxford carriers (lightly armoured, tracked troop carriers) sent forward from battalion HQ to help move them back to Hill 235 where the battalion was concentrating.

Just minutes after A Company evacuated their positions atop Hill 148 the Chinese had occupied them but these troops were obliterated by a napalm strike from American F-80 Shooting Stars called in to pound the hill.

8.30am

With the remnants of A Company safely away D Company broke contact with the enemy and dashed down the rear slope of Hill 182 while every gun in 45 Field Regiment pounded the hilltop.

Whether because of exhaustion or the bombardment, the Chinese decided not to pursue the Glosters, and Len and his company reached Hill 235, soon to become famous as Gloster Hill.

C Company, not yet engaged in battle, occupied high ground directly to the front of Hill 235. B Company who would have been left isolated on their hill by the withdrawal of D Company were moved to Hill 314 a few hundred metres to the east of C Company on the same ridge line from where they had to drive away a Chinese occupying force with an old-fashioned bayonet charge. The whole battalion was now concentrated on high ground controlling route 5Y below them.

However, the Chinese had infiltrated around both flanks and now encircled the Glosters, cutting them off from all other allied forces. Carne discovered this when he sent for supplies from his rear echelon base 5 miles south to find it had been captured by the Chinese.

Knowing they were surrounded, the Glosters spent the day digging in for the attacks they knew would come after dark.

The second night: Monday, 23 April / Tuesday, 24 April

11.00pm

The fresh Chinese 189th Division arrived on the battlefield and began to launch attacks on B and C Companies.

The Chinese attacked in a human wave which the Glosters met with a hail of gunfire. As one wave would stall, they would fall back, re-group and come on again sustaining hundreds of casualties.

3.30am

The Chinese broke through the C Company perimeter and overran 8 and 9 Platoon’s positions. Colonel Carne ordered C Company to retreat to Hill 235 which left B Company isolated and the Chinese immediately concentrated their attacks on that beleaguered unit which would continue for the rest of the night.

Dawn: Tuesday, 24 April

B Company had reached breaking point; low on ammunition and with so many wounded they were lying on the floor of company HQ.

8.00am

The Chinese launched their seventh human wave attack, concentrating on 4 Platoon’s front where they outnumbered the defenders by ten to one and were able to overrun them by simple weight of numbers. B Company collapsed and was forced to retreat with every man fending for himself. Their route to the relative safety of the rest of the battalion was down the reverse slope of Hill 314, across the valley floor, crossing Route 5Y and up the steep slope of Hill 235. The other companies spotted the survivors emerging onto the valley floor and opened up a hail of covering fire on the hillside behind their fleeing comrades but just 15 men of B Company made it to the top of Hill 235. B Company was effectively destroyed as an effective fighting force.

10.00am

Col. Carne consolidated his remaining force within a smaller perimeter at the top of Hill 235 where they spent the hours of daylight digging in, knowing that come the darkness would come the attacks.

The third night: Tuesday, 24 April / Wednesday, 25th April

10.00pm

The first attacks hit the sections of the perimeter being held by the depleted A Company and a scratch force made up of the remnants of B and C Companies. As the Chinese scrambled up the slope, Len’s D Company positioned on the ridge at an angle to their approach could pour enfilading fire into their flank as they attacked causing massive damage. The series of attacks was driven off.

Midnight

The next series of attacks followed exactly the same pattern as before; massive human wave attacks supported by mortars and machine gun fire. This carried on throughout the night but each in turn was broken up by the stubborn Glosters.

Dawn: Wednesday, 25 April

6.05am

Brig. Brodie, in overall command of 29th Brigade, radioed the Glosters’ command post and gave them permission to try and break out.

Col. Carne gathered his surviving officers and briefed them. They knew that because of the overwhelming numerical superiority of the enemy, trying to break out as a single unit would be easily spotted and destroyed. Instead, he ordered the men to try and make their own way back to UN lines individually and in small groups. He also ordered the wounded to be left behind. The Glosters had over 100 wounded at the Regimental Aid Post who were in no shape to break out from behind enemy lines. These men would remain and become prisoners. The medical officer, several medical orderlies and the battalion chaplain volunteered to remain behind to look after them, knowing they too would be taken prisoner.

For the unwounded the prospects were poor – all had gone for three days with barely any sleep; food and water had run out.

Meanwhile, the Chinese attacks had increased in ferocity again, falling on A Company’s sector. D Company assisted by continuing to rake the attackers’ flank with enfilading fire but the situation remained desperate until the early morning mist began to clear when the American F-80s screamed through the valley to drench the Chinese troop concentrations at the base of the hill with napalm.

With daylight and the threat of air strikes the human wave attacks ceased.

10.00am

The Glosters began to evacuate the hill top.

map02Most men headed south but the Chinese on the hills surrounding could spot them moving along the valley floor. There were simply too many Chinese troops in the area and all the Glosters who headed directly south were captured quickly.

However, the fate of Len’s D Company was different.

Company CO Capt. Harvey decided to disregard the directive to split the men up and decided to keep his remaining 81 men together. He also decided to break out via a less predictable route – heading northwest further into enemy lines!

They scrambled down the steep scree slope below their position and formed a loose file with the best shots in the company at the front. After a few minutes five Chinese appeared in their path but the Glosters at the front of the file cut them down and the exhausted troops plodded on.

They turned south and channelled into a narrow defile through which a stream ran.

Suddenly machine guns opened up from the ridges either side of the defile they had entered. The men scrambled between rocks in the valley floor, their only cover. Some, who still had ammo returned fire into the hills but more and more started to be hit. The survivors couldn’t stop to help the wounded who had to be abandoned.  They struggled on, gradually being whittled down. It began to look like none of them would escape the gorge but ahead they suddenly saw the valley widen and there, on the flatter ground, they spotted tanks – Shermans of the US 73rd Heavy Tank Battalion.

The remaining Glosters broke cover and started running towards the tanks who turned their turrets towards them and opened fire – they hadn’t expected to see friendly forces in this sector and assumed they were Chinese. A squad of Glosters were mown down while the rest dived for cover again.

mike harvey

Mike Harvey, Len’s company CO

Desperately, Mike Harvey waved his Gloster beret on a stick above his head and it was riddled with machine gun fire from the tanks. Miraculously, an American spotter plane circling overhead had seen the Glosters escaping from Hill 235 and now swooped down on the tanks – the pilot dropping a message attached to a streamer to inform the American tanks of the true identity of their target. Realising their terrible mistake the American tanks turned their turrets towards the ridges overlooking the gorge and pounded the enemy machine gunners whereupon the surviving Glosters made a final dash down the valley.

Running forward they crouched behind the tanks, using them as shields as they slowly withdrew out of range of the Chinese machine guns.

It must have been at this last moment that Len was wounded. He couldn’t have been hit earlier or he would have been left behind to be captured so it must have been in the final dash for the tanks that he was hit; a bullet in the leg and shrapnel in his arm.

Once out of range of the Chinese small arms fire the exhausted surviving Glosters clambered aboard the tanks… it was 12.30.

Of the 81 men of Harvey’s breakout group just 41 made it out and of those 16, including Len, were wounded. Just 9% of the battalion got out – effectively the Glosters had been annihilated.  Capt. Mike Harvey was awarded the Military Cross for his leadership.

Aftermath…

The news of the last stand and ultimate destruction of the Glosters spread around the world. Len appeared in the local newspaper back home when he was still recuperating in hospital.

len in newspaperFor their heroic stand the Glosters were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest American award for collective gallantry in battle:

The Citation Reads

The 1st. Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, British Army and Troop C. 170th Independent Mortar Battery, Royal Artillery, attached, are cited for exceptionally outstanding performance of duty and extraordinary heroism in action against the armed enemy near Solma-ri, Korea on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of April 1951.

The 1st. Battalion and Troop C were defending a very critical sector of the battle front during a determined attack by the enemy. The defending units were overwhelmingly outnumbered.

The 63rd Chinese Communist Army drove the full force of its savage assault at the positions held by the 1st Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and attached unit. The route of supply ran southeast from the Battalion between two hills.

The hills dominated the surrounding terrain northwest to Imjin River.

Enemy pressure built up on the battalion front during the day, 23 April. On 24 April, the weight of the attack had driven the right flank of the battalion back. The pressure grew heavier and heavier and the battalion and attached unit were forced into a perimeter defense on Hill 235. During the night, heavy enemy forces had by-passed the staunch defenders and closed all avenues of escape. The courageous soldiers of the battalion and attached unit were holding the critical route selected by the enemy for one column of the general offensive designed to encircle and destroy I Corps. These gallant soldiers would not retreat. As they were compressed tighter and tighter in their perimeter defense, they called for close-in air strikes to assist in holding firm. Completely surrounded by tremendous numbers, these indomitable, resolute, and tenacious soldiers fought back with unsurpassed fortitude and courage. As ammunition ran low and the advancing hordes moved closer and closer, these splendid soldiers fought back viciously to prevent the enemy from overrunning the position and moving rapidly on the south.

Their heroic stand provided the critically needed time to regroup other I Corps units and block the southern advance of the enemy. Time and again efforts were made to reach the battalion, but the enemy strength blocked each effort. Without thought of defeat or surrender, this heroic force demonstrated superb battlefield courage and discipline. Every yard of ground they surrendered was covered with enemy dead until the last gallant soldier of the fighting battalion was overpowered by the final surge of the enemy masses.

The 1st. Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and Troop C. 170th. Independent Mortar Battery displayed such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing their mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set them apart and above other units participating in the same battle.

Their sustained brilliance in battle, their resoluteness, and extraordinary heroism are in keeping with the finest traditions of the renowned military forces of the British Commonwealth, and reflect unsurpassed credit on these courageous soldiers and their homeland.

BY COMMAND OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL VAN FLEET

len in koreaOf course, the version I have presented here focuses solely on the Glosters. It would be churlish not to point out the desperate and heroic fighting undertaken by the other elements of the 29th Brigade – but theirs is another story to tell.

Similarly I have said nothing about the hundreds of Glosters taken prisoner at the Imjin who went on to spend two years as PoWs, 28 of whom died in captivity; thankfully that was a fate Len was spared.

I remember as a kid that Len rarely spoke of his time in Korea but in his later years he became much more involved with veterans’ associations and was lucky enough to make a trip to South Korea with other 29th Brigade veterans. Apparently their South Korean hosts treated them like royalty – I’ll bet Len loved it!

Henry Charles Swatton – a military split personality

I will state from the outset that the story of Henry Charles Swatton is an odd one. He was my first cousin twice removed – that is, my great great uncle’s son.

He was born in Wandsworth, London in 1873; his father being a police constable in V (Wandsworth) Division of the Metropolitan Police.

enlistment papersOn 16th Sept 1891 he enlisted in the army at the age of 18 years and 5 months and became Private H C Swatton (Reg. Num.: 4184) of The Royal Scots infantry regiment.

From what survives of his record it looks like that was a mistake because he got himself into disciplinary problems pretty much straight away.

The litany of offences on his Company Defaulters record begins within a month of him enlisting and goes over two meticulously handwritten pages:

17th Oct 1891 – Improperly dressed on fatigues and losing by neglect 1 coal box – pay stopped to cover the cost of the coal box

28th Oct 1891 – Having articles of kit in his possession belonging to Private Kelly (by implication, stolen) – 7 days confined to barracks

5th Dec 1891 – Using improper language to an NCO – the sentence for that isn’t legible

30th Jan 1892 – the offense is not legible – sentenced to 7 days  imprisonment with hard labour

2nd May 1892 – Improperly dressed on parade – 4 days confined to barracks

20th May 1892 – Using improper language to an NCO – the sentence for that isn’t legible

15th Aug 1892 – Late falling in for inspection – 2 days confined to barracks

30th Nov 1892 – Absent from midnight until 8.30am – stopped 1 day’s pay and 5 days confined to barracks

7th Jan 1893 – Not complying with an order – 5 days confined to barracks

20th Apr 1893 – Dirty on parade – 2 days confined to barracks

But the following day he evidently decided he had had enough and matters took a serious turn for the worse when he deserted from the barracks in York where the regiment was stationed. He was reported missing on 21st April and was apprehended by the police in Sheffield on 9th May dressed in civilian clothes.

He was confined in HM Prison Wakefield pending collection by the military authorities and his prison entry survives:

wakefield prison record

He was taken back to York for court martial. His trial was held at Strensall Barracks in York on 20th May 1893. The record for this still exists and it is almost comedic that aside from desertion, the army records he was accused of “losing by neglect his equipment, clothing and regimental necessaries” and then goes on to list specific items and their cost which Henry had evidently dumped when he ran including trews, belt, haversack, boots, Glengarry cap, cap badge (separately listed) and “31 articles of necessaries”.

He was sentenced to 56 days hard labour and stoppages of pay to cover the cost of the lost equipment.

Once he had served his time in the military stockade he was back on the defaulters list:

15th Jul 1893 – Improperly dressed when parading for rations – 2 days confined to barracks

But it’s at that point that his service record ends. I haven’t found discharge papers for Henry so it is unclear how the remainder of his army service went.

All we can conclude from the documentation that still exists is that 4184 Private H C Swatton was really not a very good soldier which makes the second half of this tale even stranger….

When I was researching the service history of Henry Charles Swatton I started to get quite confused as there seemed to be two service histories for the same man. I assumed I must have made a mistake and went back to double and triple check because this was turning out to be a very strange tale.

I have already told the first half, the lamentable service history of 4184 Private H C Swatton of the Royal Scots… a not very good soldier by any measure. As I said, it is uncertain what happened to him in the second half of his original army service as his record is missing from the middle of 1893.

So all I can do is pick up the story a few years later…

enlistment papers boer warI found another set of Army enlistment papers for a Henry Charles Swatton dated March 1901. Initially I thought there must have been another Henry Charles Swatton (unlikely, but certainly possible), especially as some of the details of background in the second set of papers were at odds with what I knew of Henry.

Our HC Swatton was born in Wandsworth but the new papers said he was born in Ashtead near Birmingham in the county of Warwick.

The form also claims the new recruit had previous army experience in the Royal Anglia Reserves and the Manchester Regiment. So my first reaction was this must be another chap coincidentally having the same name as the one I had previously been researching.

However, later on in the enlistment forms he identifies his wife’s maiden name – Frances Mary Bowman – who I knew definitely to be our Henry’s wife (they having married in April 1899) and their address in Gosport like most of the other Swattons at that time.

Also, there is no place called Ashtead anywhere near Birmingham – the only place of that name in England is near Epsom in Surrey.

So here we had our defaulting deserter of 1893 re-enlisting in 1901, falsifying some of his details, to serve in the 93rd (Sharpshooter) Company, 23rd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry bound for South Africa and service in the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Just 12 days after enlisting he was on his way to South Africa where he served for the next 10 months.

imp yeoThe picture here is of the 21st Battalion raised at the same time as Henry’s 23rd so in appearance they would have looked very much the same. The 23rd were deployed around Bloemfontein, their usual role being to protect the lines of communication which stretched from Cape Town some 800 miles to Pretoria.

From his service record we know that he was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa medal for service in the war with two clasps (Cape Colony and Orange Free State) indicating the areas/campaigns in which he served.

henry charles swattonOne other oddity about this story is that another person researching their family posted a picture of a soldier on Ancestry which they asserted was Henry Charles Swatton and he is shown with corporal’s stripes (known at the time as Lance Sergeant). This posed a problem for me because the uniform is very specific – consulting experts on a Victorian military forum I found out only four regiments had sphinx collar patches as shown in the photo which included neither the Royal Scots nor the Imperial Yeomanry.

However, one of them that did was the Manchester Regiment, the very same regiment Henry asserted he had experience with on his second enlistment.

Perhaps, our Henry got a transfer to the Manchesters from the Royal Scots at some point and that part of his service record is missing – I don’t think we will ever know. But it looks like he managed to turn his career around and at least became a better soldier than his first couple of years demonstrated.

pubAnd after the Boer War, when Henry returned to Hampshire, he followed his father’s example and took over a pub – the West End Inn in Titchfield.  The 1911 census records him living on the premises with his wife and, by then, six children.

Unfortunately the pub closed a few years ago, otherwise I think I might have been tempted to go down there for a beer.

Thomas Swatton – a tale of drink and the lash…

This story will be another of a series of odd ones following on from that about Thomas Swatton of the 66th Foot. This is a tale of yet another Thomas Swatton ( a name seemingly as common as muck in our family) who joined the army and, like the former Thomas, I have no concrete evidence that he is a direct relation but reiterating how unusual the surname is and that he was born in the same region (around Hampshire/Wiltshire) as all the others, again I’m convinced there must be a familial link.
This tale, however, will be rather more depressing than Thomas of the 66th.
The Thomas Swatton of this tale was born in 1834 in Ogbourn, Wiltshire and at the age of just 16 or 17 he enlisted in the 38th Regiment of Foot in October 1851. The regiment had just returned from a three-year tour of duty in North America, landing back at Portsmouth in August of that year. The next couple of years, Thomas’ introduction to the army, saw it based in the UK but things would change with the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854.

38th foot light company 1855

1854 – Members of 38th Light company parading for Lieutenant-General Sir John Campbell

The strength of the Regiment on embarkation from England was 32 officers and 910 men and they sailed on two steam ships, the Megara and Melbourne, bound first for Gallipoli where they disembarked in the middle of May. In June they moved to Scutari (now in the outskirts of Istanbul) and then to Varna (now a city in Bulgaria), then still part of the Ottoman Empire.
For the following 10 weeks the 38th were to be involved in the loading and unloading of ships at Varna docks – a somewhat unglamorous start to the expedition to the East. Finally on the 14th September the 38th landed in the Crimea some twenty-eight miles march from Sebastopol – and the capture of Sebastopol was to be the main war aim of the Allies.
On the 19th September the whole Allied force of some 60,000 men began their advance on Sebastopol when, only some 12 miles from the city, the first major action of the war involving the British was to be fought near the Alma River the following day. The 38th would play little part in the battle, their commanding officer later complaining loudly about the delays that had prevented his regiment from being engaged.

38th veteran

38th Regiment veteran from the Crimea

In November, however, under foggy conditions the Russians made a huge sortie and launched a surprise attack on the British. This would become known as the battle of Inkerman. The superior firepower of the British, including the bulk of the 38th, inflicted heavy casualties on the Russians who, nevertheless, continued to pour men into the fight. But when the French arrived, attacking the Russian flank, they were forced to withdraw.

After this, the British troops were faced with the grim siege of Sebastopol dragging on through the Russian winter. The logistical support for the army failed utterly and the troops had no warm winter clothes, inadequate shelter and meagre rations. On top of this the army was ravaged by cholera and typhus.

A substantial number of men of the 38th were to lose their lives to disease. In fact far more men died of disease than in the actual fighting and the number of British troops quickly whittled away. Indeed numbers decreased so much that the British could not spare any for a major offensive against the Russians and it wasn’t until 18th June 1855 the men of the 38th were to find themselves in another major attack. Lord Raglan, with typical hubris, had chosen the anniversary of Waterloo to claim his final victory at Sebastopol so confident was he that the allies would carry the city. As part of the British assault on the Great Redan, the 38th were to fight a diversionary action to the left of the fort. The brigade of which the 38th was part captured the cemetery and went on to occupy some of the suburbs of Sebastopol but the main French attack on the fort got pinned down so Raglan ordered the British troops to attack the Redan directly. The result was a massacre.

But what of our Thomas Swatton?

After coming through the appalling winter of 54/55 and being promoted in the spring to corporal, he was promoted again, to sergeant, after the failed attack on the Great Redan in July.

floggingBut something finally broke Sergeant Thomas Swatton and in November he was disciplined, probably for drunkenness as that was by far the most common offense. His service record states that he was imprisoned for a month. Most likely this was on a prison ship in Balaklava harbour. He was broken back to the ranks and given 50 lashes…

What made flogging so powerful was the very thing objected to by reformers: it was a punishment designed to humiliate and degrade. As the government explained in 1834, ‘The object of the punishment was, to strike terror into others by the example.

To achieve that end, the army created a flogging ritual. To make the punishment even more degrading, the man wielding the cat was not a proper soldier: cavalrymen were whipped by the regimental farrier, while infantrymen were scourged by drummers. On the day of the flogging, the corps formed a square around a triangle of halberds to which the man was tied. All ranks were compelled to watch the punishment to the end but fainting was common and insensible spectators had to be carried to the rear. The image above shows a man in the foreground, who has been overcome and fainted. To see the flesh torn from a man’s back must have been a gruesome sight. But the gory horror of the flogging itself does not explain why ‘shame’ is a term that both advocates and critics of flogging used time and again. Why was it shameful, a disgrace, to be flogged?

slaveUndoubtedly, it was the flogging of slaves that associated the punishment with the utmost degradation in the British mind. Many soldiers must have had scars similar to this slave’s, particularly before the number of lashes was restricted.

In 1846, less than 10 years before Thomas’ experience, the case of the death of Trooper John White of the 9th Hussars brought flogging to the public’s attention. Following a post-mortem the jury brought in the verdict that Private White had died “from the mortal effects of a severe and cruel flogging of 150 lashes”.

The reporting of this case and many similar and often fatal lashings, in barracks, penal colonies and aboard ships caused the public to react. A petition demanding the end of flogging was presented to the House of Lords on 14th August 1846 obliging the government to devote a whole day’s debate to the subject of military floggings. As a concession, following the advice of the Duke of Wellington, the War Office altered its regulations, making fifty lashes the maximum punishment, soothing public opinion somewhat.

As for Thomas, after his experiences of the gruelling winter of 54/55, the death from cholera of many of his comrades and the actions at Inkerman and the Great Redan and the grinding attrition of the trenches around Sebastopol, we would these days probably put his lapse down to post-traumatic stress but it seems that after this first disciplinary episode his performance as a soldier fell apart, the consequence for him being grimly predictable.

The regiment embarked for England on the 26th of June 1856 after the peace treaty ending the Crimean War was signed in Paris. Landing back in England, Thomas Swatton, absconded and was listed as a deserter. For whatever reason, whether he was captured or returned voluntarily I don’t know, but the following month, with the regiment having moved to Ireland he was court martialled.

He was sentenced to receive 50 lashes once more and imprisoned for 84 days with hard labour.

Almost exactly a year later, the 38th embarked for India, the jewel of Empire that was in the midst of the horrific Mutiny.

Landing at Calcutta in November 1857, the 38th Foot marched on Cawnpore which had witnessed appalling atrocities perpetrated by the mutineers during the summer, and matched by the subsequent dreadful reprisals meted out by the British and East India Company troops. In December the city was threatened again by a mutineer force but they were defeated at the Second Battle of Cawnpore in which the 38th took part.

With the regiment billeted in Cawnpore, less than a month later Thomas was in trouble again, court martialled for being “Drunk on march. Violence towards a superior officer.” Found guilty he was sentenced to 42 days imprisonment with hard labour and yet another set of 50 lashes.

Just over a week after Thomas was released from this spell in confinement, his regiment marched with the force under the overall command of Sir Colin Campbell to recapture Lucknow that had be abandoned to the mutineers the previous November. The attack on the city began on 3rd March and by the 21st the city was declared clear of rebels.

As the majority of rebels escaped the city, the next months over the following summer and monsoon season were spent clearing the rebels from the surrounding countryside. As a result, the army suffered heavy casualties from heatstroke and other diseases.

The 38th used Lucknow as its base and Thomas once again managed to get himself into trouble. In July he was court martialled for the final time and, being found guilty of being drunk on duty, the sentence was the by now inevitable 50 lashes, bringing his total to 200 lashes in two and a half years.

Quite how long this sequence of behaviour could have gone on I don’t know but it wasn’t to be as in 1859, when the regiment was stationed at the Bareilly Cantonment, Thomas was badly injured. He was in the hospital hut there when the roof collapsed injuring his back which was assessed as being severe enough for him to be declared medically unfit for further service.

He was discharged from the service on 10 July 1860 and I’m afraid that’s where the trail ends; I can’t find any records that definitively relate to him after that… I’ll keep looking.

Peninsular War survivor and Napoleon’s jailer…

Private Thomas Swatton – 66th Regiment of Foot

This story will be one of a series of odd ones in the sense that I have no concrete evidence that the subject is a direct relation but there are a few strong indications that he really couldn’t be anything else. Firstly, my surname is unusual, there being less than 700 people sharing it in the UK, less than a 1000 in the world. Secondly, the name doesn’t come from a profession (like Smith or Cooper) or a physical characteristic (like Short or Brown) which could easily have very discrete origins for people sharing that name; rather it would seem it comes from a village name in Lincolnshire – a single root which, however remotely, we all seem to share. And thirdly, the Thomas Swatton here was born just a few miles down the road from where my own great-great-great grandfather was born… altogether, I’m convinced there must be a familial link.

So why is this Thomas Swatton of interest? Well, anyone who has read any of my articles will have picked up I am very interested in military history and it just so happens that this Thomas joined one of the more interesting regiments at just about the most interesting time in its history and he served through some of the most traumatic experiences any soldier would care to experience.

Thomas’ discharge papers somehow still exist and they reveal quite a story.

66th foot soldier

A private in the 66th Regiment light company

He enlisted in the 66th Regiment of Foot on 29th Aug 1804 at the age of nineteen. He would go on to serve in the same regiment for 20 years 270 days (the army is very specific when it comes to record keeping).

The early years of his service were spent in relatively uneventful garrison duty in southern Ireland but when the British government decided to send a land force to the continent to oppose the French armies of Napoleon, the 2nd Battalion of the 66th Regiment (2nd/66th) were assigned to the force that embarked for the Peninsular in March 1809, arriving at the mouth of the Tagus on 4th April, disembarking two days later and immediately marching north towards Oporto under the overall command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, not yet titled the Duke of Wellington.

Marshal Soult, commanding the French garrison in Oporto, had the bridges across the River Douro destroyed and mistakenly assumed his force was safe from attack across the wide, fast-flowing river. However, Wellesley pushed across the light companies of the 3rd, 28th and 66th regiments who were brigaded together in a few barges that had been cut out from the far bank. They secured a foothold in a seminary building on the French bank and the rest of the brigade followed across as quickly as they could.

The arrival of fresh troops enabled a portion of the brigade to assume the offensive, and advance against a 7-gun battery, which they carried in the face of a withering fire of grape and musketry.

oporto

Crossing the Douro

Shortly after noon, the French evacuated the lower town of Oporto, and the inhabitants rushing down to the now unguarded quays, jumped into boats and rowed across to the south bank.

Sherbrooke’s Brigade of Guards at once went over in these boats; and almost at the same time General Murray, who had crossed the river at a ferry point three miles upstream, was seen advancing down the right bank with the German Brigade and the 14th Light Dragoons.

At this the French broke and abandoned the city. In this action the French lost 500 men and 5 guns, (one of which was taken by the 66th) in the field, besides leaving 50 guns, a quantity of military stores, and all their sick at Oporto. The British casualties numbered 115 killed and wounded; the 6th alone lost 35 men, or nearly one-third of the total.

That same evening, Sir Arthur Wellesley issued the following Order : —

“G.O., Oporto, 12th May, 1809. The Commander of the Forces congratulates the troops upon the success that has attended the operations of the last four days; during which they have traversed above 80 miles of most difficult country, have carried some formidable positions, have beaten the enemy repeatedly, and have ended by forcing the passage of the Douro and defending the position so boldly taken, with a number far inferior to that by which they were attacked.

In the course of this short expedition the Commander of the Forces has had repeated opportunities of witnessing and applauding the gallantry of the officers and men.”

It had certainly been a baptism of fire for the 66th.

More was soon to come…

Two months after the crossing of the Douro at Oporto, the 66th was part of Rowland Hill’s division at the two-day battle of Talavera where the exhausted survivors witnessed the horror of many wounded troops, incapable of moving by themselves, being burned alive when the tinder-dry grassland caught fire towards the end of the battle. And their sacrifice had been for nought as the following day Wellington received intelligence that Marshal Soult was advancing with 30,000 troops to cut his lines of communication and so he was forced to retreat back to the Portuguese border.

After engaging the French again at Bussaco, Wellington then withdrew his forces into the prepared defences of Torres Vedras and it wasn’t until May 1811 that the 66th was involved in another major action, at Albuera, where they were all but annihilated.

The 66th had been assigned to the command of Marshal Beresford, leading a combined British, Portuguese and Spanish force besieging the city of Badajoz. When the French Marshal Soult marched up from Seville, with his Army of Andalusia, to relieve the garrison in Badajoz, Beresford broke off the siege to meet them in battle around the village of Albuera.

The main French attack fell on the Spanish brigades on the flank. In response, Beresford brought up Stewart’s 2nd Division to support the Spanish on their right. The leading brigade, Colborne’s, climbed the hill in the face of a blinding hail storm and went into action as each battalion reached the crest, only to be caught still deployed in line by the French light cavalry, the lancers of the Polish Vistula Legion and a regiment of hussars.

albuera

Massacre at Albuera

Three battalions of Colborne’s brigade, including 2nd / 66th Foot were virtually annihilated in just a few minutes as the French cavalry broke through them.

At this point in the battle, Soult failed to act to secure the victory by vigorous use of his overwhelming strength in cavalry and Beresford was given the opportunity to reform his line. The brigades of the 4th Division were brought up to relieve the Spanish and held the French back under a storm of artillery fire and musketry. In a twenty-minute exchange of fire these battalions were reduced to ruin but they held their ground.

When the Fusilier Brigade ascended the ridge and attacked the French with the Portuguese battalions of the 4th Division and Abercromby’s Brigade, Soult realised he had lost the initiative, abandoned his attack and withdrew.

After the battle, Wellington acknowledged that another such “victory” would ruin his army and Marshal Soult wrote: “There is no beating these troops… I had turned their right, pierced their centre and everywhere victory was mine – but they did not know how to run!”

And what of Thomas’ unit? The 66th had 16 officers and 310 men killed, wounded, and missing in the devastating attack by French cavalry. The battalion went into action 400 strong, and the following day only 53 bayonets mustered at parade.

If Thomas was one of the wounded we will never know but we know he survived to fight on, and much more fighting was yet to come.

Following the massacre at Albuera the 66th Foot struggled to replace its losses from its depot back in England and opinion was divided on what to do with seriously under-strength battalions as Sir Charles Oman wrote in his history of the war:

“What was to be done if a Peninsular battalion had got very low in numbers …and had few or no recruits at its British depot ready to be sent out?   This was the case in December 1812 with twelve good old battalions of the Peninsular Army.  The Duke of York maintained that since they all showed under 350 effectives…they must come home at once.  But Wellington had other views.  He held that a well-tried battalion acclimatised to Peninsular service was such a precious thing…that it would be best to combine the wasted units in pairs as ‘Provisional battalions’ of 600 to 700 bayonets.”

Thus was the situation with the 2nd / 66th Foot in June 1813 as Wellington faced up to Joseph Bonaparte at the Battle of Vitoria in northern Spain. They were combined with the 2nd / 31st Foot to create the 1st Provisional Battalion.

vitoria

Vitoria

Vitoria was to be the largest battle of Wellington’s career to date, he having 80,000 troops at his disposal which he used to devastating effect, completely routing the French and capturing all but one of their 150 guns. The aftermath of the battle was notorious for the looting which took place of Joseph Bonaparte’s baggage train full of the loot he has brought out of Madrid when he abandoned the capital. There being no evidence of any great wealth coming into the family I’m guessing that Thomas missed out on any rich pickings!

However, the victory at Vitoria opened the way for Wellington to cross the Pyrenees and invade France which he duly did.

As part of Wellington’s victorious army, the 66th pursued the French Army into France and fought at the Battle of the Pyrenees in July 1813, the Battle of Nivelle in November 1813 and the Battle of Nive in December 1813 as well as the Battle of Orthez in February 1814 and finally the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814, the last battle fought by the British before Napoleon abdicated.

When Napoleon escaped from Elba in the spring of 1815 and the 100 days campaign began which culminated in his final defeat at Waterloo, the 66th Foot played no part.

However, their experience of Napoleon was not quite over.

napoleonIn 1816 the 2nd / 66th sailed for St Helena to guard Napoleon, who had been sent there in exile following his defeat at Waterloo. For five long years the regiment was posted there guarding the emperor. In the well-known engraving of Napoleon staring forlornly out to sea there is a sentry standing guard in the background… just maybe that would be Thomas!

When Napoleon died in 1821 the whole regiment formally paraded past his coffin as a mark of respect. Finally, it was grenadiers of the 20th and 66th Regiments who bore the emperor’s body to the grave.

At last, the 66th could return home.

The final few years of Thomas’ service were uneventful and after almost 21 years of service he was honourably discharged, described as being “worn out from service in the Peninsular and St. Helena”. I think the poor bugger had done enough.

It’s all Greek to me..

This post concludes the story of my great-great-great-grandfather’s naval service that I started a couple of posts ago. On leaving HMS Atholl, he was posted to HMS Blonde.

'the_h._m._s._blonde',_by_robert_dampier,_1825,_washington_place

HMS Blonde by Robert Dampier (1825)

It is unclear how James got to the Blonde because at the time of his joining, the ship was already in the Med, its new captain, Edmund Lyons, arriving with it in Malta in May 1828.

HMS Blonde was a 46-gun frigate, considerably more powerful than either of the ships James Hubsdell had previously served on.

Edmund Lyons was a rising star in the service, described in letters to the fleet commander as “’a man of intelligence and great ability” who was “blessed’ with military competence”.

In October, after having for some time blockaded the port of Navarin (modern Pylos, Greece), Lyons was in charge of directing the movements of the naval part of an expedition ordered to co-operate with the French in the siege of Morea Castle, the last hold of the Turks in the Peloponnesus. During an arduous service of twelve days and nights, in very unfavourable weather, which preceded the castle’s unconditional surrender, he distinguished himself to the extent that he was invested with the insignia of the order of St. Louis of France and of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Redeemer of Greece.

In the summer of 1829 the Blonde conveyed Sir Robert Gordon as Ambassador to Constantinople and thereafter undertook a cruise around the Black Sea to become the first British warship to visit Sevastopol, the Caucasus, and Odessa: 25 years later, Lyons was the only senior officer involved in the Crimean War to have prior knowledge of the Black Sea.

In 1831 Lyons was appointed to command of the frigate HMS Madagascar at just about the time my ancestor James Hubsdell left the service.

After leaving the navy James Hubsdell went on to a number of manual jobs and he lived to a ripe old age for the time. He died just after the census of 1881, aged 80, at which time he was living in his son’s house and although in the intervening years he had described his occupation as everything from “general labourer” to “dairyman”, just before his death he described himself as “sail-maker”…. perhaps recalling a period of his life that meant more to him. Who knows?

An anti-slavery ancestor…

This post continues the story of James Hubsdell, my great-great-great-grandfather who enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1821. He served on three ships during his 10-year service – the Chanticleer, the Atholl and the Blonde. My previous post told of his time with the Chanticleer.

This time I will describe his action-packed time on the Atholl.

hms athollThe Atholl-class corvettes were a series of fourteen Royal Navy sixth-rate post ships built to an 1817 design by the Surveyors of the Navy. HMS Atholl, the first of the type, was built at Woolwich Dockyard. Ordered on 27 October 1816, she was laid down in November 1818, launched on 23 November 1820 and entered service on 9 February 1821.

When James Hubsdell joined her, as a sail-maker, on 6 Oct 1824 she was at Portsmouth.

From there she set off to join the West Africa Squadron based out of Freetown Sierra Leone.

So what was the West Africa Squadron?
In 1807 the British Parliament passed a bill prohibiting the slave trade. The act did nothing to end slavery within the nation’s borders, but did prohibit the overseas transportation and trade in slaves. To enforce the law, Britain patrolled the seas off the coast of Africa, stopping suspected slave traders and confiscating the ship when slaves were found. The human cargo was then transported back to Africa.

By 1818 the squadron had grown to six ships with a naval station established in 1819 at what is now Freetown and a supply base at Ascension Island, later moved to Cape Town in 1832.

The resources were further increased; in the middle of the 19th century there were around 25 vessels and 2,000 personnel with a further 1,000 local sailors. Between 1808 and 1860 the West Africa Squadron captured 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans.

Intercepting Slavers…

When the Atholl arrived on station off the West African Coast she immediately began to intercept suspected slave ships and the record of some of these actions survives in detail:

“7 Mar 1825, detained in lat. 5° 21′ N., long. 13° 13′ W., in the River Gallinas, the Spanish slave schooner Espanola, Francisco Ramon Roderiguez, Master, 270 slaves on board when detained, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Spanish Mixed Court of Justice, Sierra Leone, and sentenced to be condemned.

1 Sep 1825, detained in lat. 4° 12′ N. long. 5° 33′ W., off Cape Formosa, when bound from St. Thomas in the West Indies to the West Coast of Africa the Dutch slave schooner Venus, Andre Desbarbes, Master, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Netherlands Mixed Court of Justice, Sierra Leone and on 23 Sep 1825 sentenced to be condemned.

9 Sep 1825 the when in company with the Esk and Redwing, detained in lat. 2° 23′ N. long. 4° 17′ E., the Portuguese slave schooner Uniao, Jozé Ramos Gomis, Master, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission, Sierra Leone, and 21 Oct 1825 sentenced to be condemned.”

The Uniao was a notorious slaver that had made numerous runs across the Atlantic. After interception, the slaves being carried aboard were all listed and the first page of the list from the Uniao comprises entirely children.

uniao roster

The Atholl’s busy time on the African coast continued:

“15 Sep 1825 departed Prince’s Island in company with the Maidstone, Esk, Redwing and Conflict, who departed in execution of their various orders.

17 Oct 1825, detained off Whydah, the slave brig George and James, whch was sent for adjudication to the Vice-Admiralty Court and sentenced to be condemned.

11 Nov 1825 boarded the Activo off Elmina.

12 Nov 1825, detained off Elmina Castle, the Dutch slave schooner Amable Claudina, Claudio Picaluga, Master, with 36 slaves on board when detained, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Netherlands Mixed Court of Justice, Sierra Leone and sentenced to be condemned.

25 Nov 1825, detained in lat. 3° 31′ N. long. 0° 54′ E., when bound from Lagos to Bahia the Brazilian slave brigantine San Joao Segunda Rosalia, the late Amara Joze da Silva, Master, with 258 slaves on board when detained, 72 of whom died on the passage up to Sierra Leone. Was sent for adjudication to the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission, Sierra Leone, and was condemned on 9 Feb 1826.”

As an indication of the type of experience these bare facts describe, I thought I would include a couple of illustrations.

Below is a drawing of a slave ship detained in 1822, around the time of the Atholl’s patrols, showing how the slaves were housed:

slave ship vigilante 1822

The following excerpts are from an account by the Reverend Robert Walsh who served aboard one of the ships assigned to intercept the slavers off the African coast. On the morning of May 22, 1829, a suspected slaver was sighted and the naval vessel gave chase. The next day, a favorable wind allowed the interceptor to gain on its quarry and approach close enough to fire two shots across her bow. The slaver heaved to and an armed party from the interceptor scrambled aboard her. We join Reverend Walsh’s account as he boards the slave ship:

“When we mounted her decks we found her full of slaves. She was called the Feloz, commanded by Captain Jose’ Barbosa, bound to Bahia. She had taken in, on the coast of Africa, 336 males and 226 females, making in all 562, and had been out seventeen days, during which she had thrown overboard 55. The slaves were all enclosed under grated hatchways between decks. The space was so low that they sat between each other’s legs and were stowed so close together that there was no possibility of their lying down or at all changing their position by night or day. As they belonged to and were shipped on account of different individuals, they were all branded like sheep with the owner’s marks of different forms. These were impressed under their breasts or on their arms, and, as the mate informed me with perfect indifference ‘burnt with the red-hot iron’…

But the circumstance which struck us most forcibly was how it was possible for such a number of human beings to exist, packed up and wedged together as tight as they could cram, in low cells three feet high, the greater part of which, except that immediately under the grated hatchways, was shut out from light or air, and this when the thermometer, exposed to the open sky, was standing in the shade, on our deck, at 89 degrees. The space between decks was divided into two compartments 3 feet 3 inches high; the size of one was 16 feet by 18 and of the other 40 by 21; into the first were crammed the women and girls, into the second the men and boys: 226 fellow creatures were thus thrust into one space 288 feet square and 336 into another space 800 feet square, giving to the whole an average Of 23 inches and to each of the women not more than 13 inches…

It was not surprising that they should have endured much sickness and loss of life in their short passage. They had sailed from the coast of Africa on the 7th of May and had been out but seventeen days, and they had thrown overboard no less than fifty-five, who had died of dysentery and other complaints in that space of time, though they had left the coast in good health. Indeed, many of the survivors were seen lying about the decks in the last stage of emaciation and in a state of filth and misery not to be looked at…
While expressing my horror at what I saw and exclaiming against the state of this vessel for conveying human beings, I was informed by my friends, who had passed so long a time on the coast of Africa and visited so many ships, that this was one of the best they had seen. The height sometimes between decks was only eighteen inches, so that the unfortunate beings could not turn round or even on their sides, the elevation being less than the breadth of their shoulders; and here they are usually chained to the decks by the neck and legs. In such a place the sense of misery and suffocation is so great that the Negroes, like the English in the Black Hole at Calcutta, are driven to a frenzy…”

But even if such vessels were intercepted, their fate was still not certain as the last example from the Atholl’s log shows.

“1 Feb 1826, detained in Lat. 4° 24′ S. Long. 9° 37’ W., en route from Badagry to Pernambuco, the Brazilian slave brig Activo, 149 tons, José Pinto de Araujo, Master, with 166 slaves on board when detained, 2 of whom died on the passage up to Sierra Leone, which was sent for adjudication to the British and Portuguese Court of Mixed Commission, Sierra Leone on 17 Feb 1826 which was subsequently restored to her master, having been detained south of the Equator, despite the fact that the slaves were embarked north of that line.”

This last case shows how ridiculously complicated the rules were around slave trading during this period when different countries were gradually tightening their rules on the trade – the trade south of the equator was deemed still to be legitimate as Brazil had not signed up to any agreements and their trade was off limits to the Navy’s blockade. As a result of the inquiry into the capture of the Activo, Captain Murray of HMS Atholl was ordered by the court to pay the slavers over £11,000 compensation, the equivalent of  £1.2m today.

Shortly after this episode, the Atholl was detached from the West Africa Squadron and sent to the East Indies on diplomatic and anti-piracy duties. She was recorded as being in Madras on 29 May 1826 before departing for Rangoon on 14 June. It wasn’t until early 1827 that she set sail for home.

James Hubsdell left the ship in October 1827 and joined HMS Blonde the following year. But that is for another post.

The Chanticleer

James Hubsdell was my great-great-great-grandfather, born in about 1800 in Gosport who enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1821. He served on three ships during his 10-year service – the Chanticleer, the Atholl and the Blonde – as shown in his service record.

james hubsdell service record

During his time with each vessel it seems like he must have seen some “interesting” service and the first was HMS Chanticleer.

HMS Chanticleer was a Cherokee-class 10-gun brig and was launched on 26 July 1808. She served in European waters (mainly the North Sea) during the Napoleonic Wars and was paid off and laid up at Sheerness in July 1816 at the end of those wars. It is unclear when she was brought back into service but on 23 October 1821 Captain Henry Eden took command. He sailed her to the Mediterranean, where he was “very efficiently occupied during the revolution in Greece.”

Commander Burton MacNamara replaced him in July 1822 and for the next two years the ship was employed in a number of mostly diplomatic missions around the Mediterranean.

During that time her ship’s surgeon William Black wrote an account of the cruises and illustrated it himself. The following is from his book:

chanticleer

Chanticleer in the Port of Pireus, Athens

When piracy out of Algiers recommenced under Huseyn Dey the Chanticleer was sent to join the fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Neal which bombarded Algiers. This action was notable as the first recorded use of a steam ship in action.

Shortly afterwards, Charles James Hope Johnstone took command of the Chanticleer in September 1824 when my ancestor transferred to the Atholl, bound for the west coast of Africa….

…the subject of a separate post.