Such was the melancholy fate of many a brave officer and soldier of the 2d battalion of His Majesty’s 59th regiment on the 30th January, 1816- sad termination to the glories of the companions of Wellington and the liberators of Europe! Soon after the rupture of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, this corps was formed at Nottingham, under the superintendence of Colonel Fane, and in the autumn of 1808 it first went on service, as part of the army which sailed at that time for Corunna under Sir David Baird. Having joined Sir john Moore near Benevento in the following November, they shared in all the calamities of the subsequent disastrous retreat; and in the battle of Corunna, marked by so many traits of heroism, and memorable for the lamented fall of the inestimable Sir john Moore, the 59th though so lately formed, displayed the valour of veterans, and their conduct was noticed in terms of the warmest commendation by Gen, Leith, who commanded the division in which they served.
The gallant Col. Fane and several other officers were severely wounded upon this occasion. After enjoying but a few months repose in England, their services were again called for, and in July 1809, they joined the expedition to Walcheren, the melancholy consequences of which are indelibly impressed on the public mind. The limits of this sketch will not admit of a detail of the sufferings endured by them in common with the rest of the army, on that pestilential shore, where
The 59th returned to Ireland with many other corps of Lord Wellington’s army, and in this country they remained till the unexpected return of Bonaparte from Elba again disturbed the repose of Europe, and excited gloomy apprehensions, that the scourge of war might yet for a long time desolate the nations. This event called for their services once more under the hero who had so often led them to victory, and they accordingly embarked at Warren’s Point, near Newry, for England, and after a short stay at Dover, sailed for the Low Countries in May 1815. They remained in garrison at Oudenarde till the eve of the glorious battle of Waterloo, so justly termed the Thermopylae of Europe. The protection of the great road leading to Brussels through Halle was entrusted to the division of Gen. Colville, composed of the 14th, 23d, 35th, 51st, 54th, 59th and 91st regiments, with a corps of Hanoverians, but it did not fall to their lot to be seriously engaged, though menaced through the whole of the 18th of June by 5000 French Cavalry, till the remainder of the enemy’s army was put to flight. Had it fallen to their lot to be attacked, they would without doubt, have displayed equal valour with their brave comrades in other quarters of the field on that ever memorable day.
General Colville’s division now became the advanced-guard, crossing the French frontier near Cateau on the 22d, and storming Cambray with the greatest gallantry on the 24th, whence the whole army pursued its route for Paris, which speedily surrendered to the Allied Forces. From that period the 59th lay encamped for four months in the Bois-de-Boulogne, and were afterwards quartered at Montlery, near the French capital,* till the 6th of December, when the Definitive Treaty having been signed, they marched for Calais, and a few days after landed in England.
Ireland having been again fixed on as their ultimate destination, the regiment embarked on board the Sea-Horse and Lord Melville transports. The former, a vessel of 350 tons burthen, took on board five companies consisting of 16 officers and 287 men, with 33 women and 38 children, and sailed from Ramsgate on the 25th of January; but the evening falling calm, she came to anchor in the Downs. About 11 A. M. on the following morning, she again weighed anchor, with light breezes from the N. N. W. and about midnight she was off Dungeness. On the 27th Beachy-Head bearing about north-at seven in the evening off Dunnose, Isle of Wight, and about midnight Portland lights N. E. The 28th, very fine weather, the band playing on deck a great part of the day. Off the Start in the morning at day-light, with a fine breeze at N. N. E. and about 5 P. M. passed the Lizard lights. On the 29th in the morning a strong breeze sprung up at S. S. E. and freshened very much at noon; 4 P. M. observed Ballycotton Island about 12 miles distant. An event occurred on this day which, no doubt led in a great measure to the subsequent misfortunes of the hapless inmates of the Sea-Horse. John Sullivan, the mate, who was the only person on board acquainted with the coast, going up the fore-rigging to look at the land, fell down on the forecastle, broke both his legs and arms, and never spoke more; in about three hours he expired. As it now blew a strong gale, and was becoming very hazy and dark, Captain Gibbs hauled his wind for Kinsale light, intending when he saw it to run down along the land for the entrance of Cork Harbour, but not seeing the light, after a run of two hours, while the weather was becoming thick and hazy, and the most tremendous sea running, the Captain was unwilling to proceed any further, he therefore close-reefed his top-sails and hauled close to the wind, lying W.S.W.
The ship fell off about 8 p.m., and wore round on the other track- most of the night lying about S.E, wind S.S.W., but owing to the flood tide setting strong on the shore, and a heavy sea running, she drifted very fast in shore. About five in the morning of the 30th, Minehead, the south point of Dungarvan bay appeared on the lee beam, the vessel drifting very fast to leeward. At six, Captain Gibbs let a reef out of the top-sail, and set the mainsail; blowing then very hard. About half-past ten the fore-topmast went over the side, and a seaman in the foretop had his back and thigh broken. The wreck was scarcely cleared when the mainsail was torn to ribbons, and the vessel was still drifting so fast to leeward that though hook Tower, at the entrance to Waterford harbour, was seen under the lee bow, yet she was unable to weather Brown’s town Head. No resource now remained but to throw out the anchors; the sails were clewed up, and the ship brought up under the Head in seven fathoms with both anchors, and near 300 fathoms of cable ahead, the sea making breaches right over her from stem to stem. About 12 anchors dragged, the wind and sea still increasing, and at ten minutes past twelve she struck in Tramore Bay. The mizzen and mainmasts were instantly cut away, and at the second shock the rudder went off.
Although the spot where the vessel took the ground was not quite a mile from the shore, yet the tide being nearly at the ebb, while the sea ran mountains high, no assistance whatever could be afforded to the unhappy sufferers by the numerous spectators who lined the shore. The boats had been previously washed away, nor could they in such circumstances have been of any use. All hope of escape seemed now to forsake every breast; but after the first moment of alarm, a calm resignation to the will of Providence became the predominant sentiment, and prayer to heaven was heard in every quarter of the ship. The greater part remained on deck, numbers of whom were washed off by every returning wave, the children, in general, becoming the first victims. Major Douglas, a distinguished young officer, who was a relative of the Fortescue family, with great calmness, changed his coat for one less cumbersome, then exclaimed, “All is over!” and taking out his gold watch, offered it to any person who saw a possibility of escaping. He then took his station in the shrouds, from whence a wave soon washed him overboard, and he quickly disappeared. Captain McGregor, a gentleman much beloved by his gallant comrades, and brother to the colonel of the 1st battalion, being an excellent swimmer, bade adieu to his friend Lieutenant Macpherson, near whom he stood, then stripped off his jacket, and after buffeting for a considerable time with the tremendous surge, had nearly reached the shore, when a part of the wreck struck him on the head, and he sunk to rise no more. Adjutant Dent met his fate with the greatest intrepidity, shook hands with his brave companions, and bade them farewell; and the vessel parting at the main-hatchway about one o’clock, he was observed for some time in an erect position on a portion of the wreck containing sixty or seventy individuals, but a tremendous wave soon after struck it, and the greater part were overwhelmed. Lieutenant Geddes and Cowper hung for some time by the same rope, calmly promising that if either escaped, the survivor should write to the friends of the other. The former was speedily forced to relinquish his hold, and perished. Lieutenant Veall, a young man, who though only in his 20th year, had shared all the hardships and dangers of the Peninsular war, and whose amiable disposition had endeared him to all his friends, never left his station on the deck until he met his untimely fate. Ensign Ross, a youth of similar accomplishments, perished with equal composure. Illness had confined Lieutenant Gillespie to his berth until the danger became imminent, when he came on deck, and shared the misfortune with his companions. Ensign Hill, having served some years in the navy, it was expected that his former experience of the perils of the sea would have tended to his preservation; but, alas surrounded with such insuperable difficulties, neither skill nor courage could avail.
Surgeon Hagan, with filial affection, had on his entrance to the army, devoted a property which he possessed in the north of Ireland to the use of his mother and sisters. On perceiving that death was inevitable, he calmly remarked, “It is the will of the Almighty,” and expresses a wish that the officers should meet their fate together in the cabin. Assistant-Surgeon Lambe laid hold on a plank, but it being speedily washed away from him, he was seen no more. To describe the situation of Quarter-Master Baird, far exceeds the powers of language. This brave man could, with calmness, have shared the general calamity, had not the presence of an amiable wife, and two charming daughter, harrowed his very soul. His extreme agitation was evidenced, by his frequently coming on deck, to see if any possibility remained of rescuing from the impending ruin those dear objects of his affection; every return only presented to his view fresh victims of the inexorable tempest, and rendered the assurance of his woe doubly sure. His eldest daughter, a lovely girl, aged eleven, lay in her birth, in a dreadful state of alarm, entreating every officer that approached to remain with her, vainly hoping, with an anxiety natural to her tender years, that they could afford her some protection. Lieutenant Scott, to calm her perturbation, sat down beside her, and in that situation he is supposed to have remained, until the vessel was engulphed in the boisterous ocean. During this terrific scene, Mrs Baird never for a moment lost her firmness. With the patient resignation of a Christian, (her youngest child being in her lap), she sat in a corner of the cabin, while the rushing waters descended on her from the deck, and death approached in its most horrid form. Thus she contemplated her impending fate in silent meditation, broken only by the exhortations which she addressed to her afflicted daughter, and words of encouragement to her surrounding fellow-suffers.
We have thus carefully traced the demeanour of each of these unfortunate gentlemen at this dreadful moment, hoping it may prove some slight consolation to their afflicted relatives. We shall close the melancholy catalogue with some notice of Mr Allen, a young naval officer, who had taken his passage on board the Sea-Horse, for the purpose of joining his ship, the Tonnant, of 74 guns at Cork. The skill and activity which he displayed throughout the whole of the distressing scene, are spoken of by the few survivors in terms which do honour to his memory. Could human efforts or prudence have availed, his exertions, connected to the indefatigable labours of Captain Gibbs, must have ultimately proved successful. Mr Allen was on the same shrouds with Ensign Seward, and was one of the last washed off the wreck.
Were we called upon to select the period when the manly fortitude of the 59th shone brightest, we should certainly fix upon this closing scene. Here every surrounding object was calculated to inspire horror, dread, and trepidation, without a single ray of hope to enliven the gloom, or any adventitious circumstance to inspire an artificial courage: yet no unmanly fear was evidenced on the countenance, nor did a murmur or complaint escape the lips of a single individual. Your heroic deeds, brave warriors, will never be erased from the page of history; and though cypress instead of laurel encircle your temples, your cenotaph is erected in the bosoms of your countrymen; and the recollection of your noble achievements, and untimely fate, will be for ever imprinted on their hearts!
It yet remains to notice the providential escape of the few survivors of this dreadful catastrophe, who, clinging to the wreck until it went to pieces, were thrown into the sea, amidst the crash of falling timbers. Lieutenant MacPherson, after buffering for some time with the waves, fortunately caught a rope fastened to some planks of the quarter-deck, which had held together. He soon got on the float, but was several times washed off; he, however still held fast the rope, until a countryman, named Kirwan, rushed into the sea, and rescued him from a watery grave. Lieutenant Cowper was several times washed off a single plank that he had gained; he afterwards got on the part of the wreck which supported Mf MacPherson, but the violence of the waves again swept him off; he sunk to the bottom two or three times and would inevitably have perished, had he not providently got hold of a mast, which brought him near the shore. His situation was still extremely perilous, and he must have shared the fate of many of his brave companions, but for the intrepid conduct of Mr A.P. Hunt, a gentleman resident in Tramore, who, though in a delicate state of health, rushed through the foaming surge up to his neck, and effected his deliverance. The escape of lieutenant Hartford was truly singular: He was hurled from the wreck amidst a shower of timbers, but still retaining his presence of mind, he seized a plank under each arm, but of these he was soon deprived by a tremendous wave, which overwhelmed him: he seized another, which was also quickly carried from his feeble grasp, as he was now nearly exhausted by cold and fatigue. Hope had almost fled, when, through the goodness of providence, another plank came within his reach, and as it was full of iron spikes, there seemed a greater probability of his being able to retain his hold of it. Notwithstanding the torture it gave him, he clasped his arms twisted his legs firmly around it; and though he came to land in a state of perfect insensibility, the plank was with difficulty separated from his grasp. Not less providential was the deliverance of Ensign Seward, who was one of the last that left the wreck: he had ascended the foremast nearly to the round-top and fell with it into the sea, by which he was several times overwhelmed. Finding it impossible to retain his situation on the mast, he jumped from it to a plank, which he grasped so firmly in his arms, that his chest was afterwards discovered to be greatly bruised, and thus supported he reached the shore, though apparently lifeless.
These last mentioned officers were also indebted, under providence, for their preservation, to the intrepid exertions of Mr Hunt, as well as Captain Gibbs, the master of the Sea-Horse, who, with two seamen, and several soldiers, were washed on shore, nearly lifeless: but of these only 23 soldiers, the master, and the two seamen, were restored to life. The benevolent conduct of Mr Hunt ceased not until animation was revived in those whom his heroic benevolence had rescued from destruction. All that were brought to shore were removed to the only cottage on that part of the beach, the habitation of a humane and worthy peasant, named Dunn, where Mr Hunt had immense fires lighted, and bringing spirits from his own house, which was at a considerable distance, he continued with painful assiduity to apply them for some time both internally and externally until revived animation crowned his humane endeavours with complete success. To him as his brother-in-law, Mr Lane, as well as the kind family of Mr Duckett, MR T. Lvie, J.B. Trotter Esq. and the worthy Kirwan and Dunn, with some others whose names they have not learned, the survivors return their warmest acknowledgements; and it is hoped that a just and discriminating government will not suffer such exertions for the preservation of their brave defenders, to pass unnoticed. The surviving officers and men were removed to Waterford, six miles distant from the scene of their misfortunes, as soon as they were able to travel, and here they received all those attentions of which their destitute situation stood in need, the lord Bishop, the Mayor, the military gentlemen, and citizens in general, eagerly embraced every opportunity that could tend to alleviate their personal suffering, or console them for the loss of their brave comrades. Particularly conspicuous were the benevolent exertions of Lieutenant-Colonel Hawkshaw, Assistant Quarter-Master-General, and staff Adjutant Hill, whose son, a Lieutenant in the regiment, happily escaped from the wreck of the Lord Melville at Kinsale. On the arrival of the survivors in Waterford, they raised a subscription amongst the military for supplying them with warm clothing and other necessaries, to which the officers of the Wiltshire and East Suffolk regiments, who were then waiting for embarkation, and the Meath Regt. at New Geneva, most generously contributed. It would be a pleasing circumstance if this distressing narrative could be closed by stating that the example of Kirwan and Dunn had been imitated by the rest of the peasantry on the coast, but it is lamentable to state, that plunder was carried to an enormous pitch, all the chests that came on shore being broken open and pillaged. The loss of property must have been very great, as the Sea-Horse was the head-quarter ship, and the mess-plate alone was valued at from £1500 to £2000. One stand of colours has been washed on shore, and amongst the numerous dead bodies, those of Adjutant Dent, lieutenants Gillespie and Geddes, and Ensign Ross. They were interred in Drumcannon church-yard with military honours, as were the other bodies thrown up on the beach.
On the following day the brig Apollonia, John Parry, Master, from London, for Cork with a valuable cargo, was wrecked in the same bay, but by the indefatigable exertions of several gentlemen, who remained on the beach till twelve o’clock at night, the crew, seven in number, were happily preserved. Amongst those who thus nobly persevered in the cause of humanity, even at the loss of their lives, were James Wallace, Esq. Collector of the Port of Waterford, Cornelius Henry Bolton, Samuel S. Davis, Edward Courtney, William M. Ardagh, Richard Sargent, and Matthew Turner, Esqrs. The Rev. Mr. Frazer, William Morris, Esq. Bellelake, and Mr. T. Lane of Tramore, whom we have already had occasion to mention. The latter, we understand, was brought home nearly lifeless. Had it been possible to have given timely notice to these humane and active gentlemen, of the perilous situation on the preceding day, there can be little doubt, but the sufferers on board that ill-fated vessel would have been far less numerous.
Many instances of deliverance truly miraculous occurred besides those already mentioned, but one is too remarkable to be omitted. A soldier, when the ship was going to pieces violently grasped a piece of the wreck, in which was a large iron spike that entered his hand. He fainted with the pain, but the friendly nail proved the means of his preservation, for the plank never forsook him till it wafted him to the shore, though in a state of total insensibility. The manner in which the children were washed on the beach, evinced the anxiety for their souls which to the last animated the breasts of their unfortunate parents,, as they were generally enclosed in trunks or chests, four being found in one large chest. And the body of a soldier floated to the shore with his child clasped to his breast. We could enlarge to prolixity on the melancholy subject, but enough has been said to draw tears of sensibility from the most obdurate bosom. We cannot, however, conclude this part of the sad story without again referring to the heroic conduct of Mr Hunt. Twice he had nearly fallen a victim to his humanity, and was only rescued from the fate of those he sought to save by the intrepidity of his servant James Fennel, who undauntedly seconded his master in his benevolent labours. The exertion of Mr. Thomas Lane, brother-in-law to Mr. Hunt, who from having spent some years at sea, had acquired a contempt of danger so congenial to that profession, were truly conspicuous; nor should the just mead of praise be withheld from Mr T. Ivie, Coast Officer, and John Power, servant of Robert Lyon, Esq. for the manner in which at the hazard of their lives, they put forth all their energies to save their fellow-creatures from destruction.
Disasters also attended the remainder of the regiment, which had embarked on board the Lord Melville transport, together with a detachment of the 62d regiment. On the evening of the same day upon which the dreadful catastrophe took place in the Bay of Tramore, the Lord Melville, together with the Boadicea, a transport brig, having on board part of the 82d regiment, were observed in a perilous situation between the Seven Heads and the Old Head of Kinsale. Mr Meade, Collector of that Port, immediately sent a military party to their relief. The Boadicea had gone to pieces before the arrival of the party, and all on board perished except 60 who reached the rocks near Garretstown. Thirty more who had also gained the rocks, continued in this miserable situation for some hours; but, vainly hoping to reach the shore, they rushed into the water, and, dreadful to relate, they were all drowned.
The fortunate preservation of the passengers of the Lord Melville is clearly detailed in the following official letter:
My Lord,--I have the honour of availing myself of the earliest opportunity that has been allowed me since the disaster of our unfortunate ship, the Lord Melville, to report to your lordship the arrival of his Majesty’s troops that were embarked on board her under my command, accounting for the casualties that occurred by the wreck, and a brief statement of the misfortune. ---Upon making the land, about 11 o’clock AM on 31st ult (having laid to the previous night) it blowing nearly a gale of wind, a heavy sea running, and the atmosphere so thick and hazy, that, upon discerning the land, we found ourselves nearly embayed.
The master bore up to weather what was universally supposed the entrance into Cove, but which proved to be the Old Head of Kinsale, and after every assertion to weather that point, and run the ship into Kinsale harbour, he was compelled to bear away for some friendly looking strand upon which he might run up the vessel, and await the going out of the tide, in the hope of saving the lives of so many souls, very justly not holding in competition the ultimate security of the ship. In endeavouring most ardently to affect this object; the vessel was irrevocably driven upon a bed of rocks by the violence of the gale, distant from between three and four hundred yards from the shore, the tide then making in. No time was lost in passing a rope from the ship to the shore, and cutting away the fore and main masts, to ease the tremendous shocks of the ship against the rocks, by which her bottom was almost immediately stove in, and several feet of water in her cabin.
At this time, it was about three 0’clock PM, our situation becoming most critical, by the violence of the sea breaking into the cabin and over the stern, together with her continual dashing against the rocks, a boat was manned for the ladies on board, to endeavour making the shore: two Officer’s wives, with their servants, soldiers of the 59th regiment, six of the crew, together with Captain Radford, of the 62nd Regiment (who was in a week state of health0, got into the boat, and made for the shore; but; distressing to add, they had not reached half way, when the boat was swamped, and, with the exception of one sailor, all perished. Nothing possibly remained for those on board but to await, with hope of preservation, the falling of the tide, when, should the vessel keep together, it was determined to lash a long spar from the bow to the nearest dry rock, and pass every person over it, to make good their way across a range of rocks that extended to the shore. Between ten and eleven o’clock, the attempt appeared practicable, and to my greatest satisfaction, succeeded beyond our utmost hopes. After the lapse of some time, every individual having happily descended from the ship, without any accident, Lieut. Harty, of the neighbouring signal station, with a party of men, after the most praise worthy exertions, had arrange those men along the rocks, with lighted sticks, affording the most essential assistance, and thereby preventing the loss of the lives of several who would otherwise have certainly fallen into the many large recesses of deep water that encompassed and obstructed our progress to the main land, and over which the breakers occasionally washed.
Every person having at last safely reached the shore, Lieutenant Harty, with equal promptitude, had arrange for their being distributed amongst the neighbouring cabins, and they were marched off accordingly, to return early next morning, for the purpose of endeavouring to get out the arms and accoutrements; nothing, however, could possibly be affected towards that end by the early return of the tide, and consequent impossibility of access to the ship.. The few men and some officers that were enabled to return on board, reported to me the near total destruction of all the baggage, from the sea it was swimming in, and the pillaging that took place after the troops were got on shore. Finding the men much in need of repose, and the day advancing, I directed their proceeding to Kinsale, leaving two officers’ parties from the 59th and 62th regiments to remain in protection of the ship, conjointly with a party from the Limerick Militia, and with instructions to commence early next morning (1st Feb), in getting from on board, the arms and accoutrements. I have since dispatched a stronger relief to those parties and shall continue using every exertion until I shall succeed in securing, I hope as many stand of arms, &c as it is possible, which I shall have the honour of reporting for your Lordships information.
I beg leave to express to your Lordship the very great support and active assistance that have been afforded by Governor Browne, Collector Meade, and the Magistrates and Gentlemen of Kinsale. I am happy in concluding this, my Lord, by a report this moment received, that all the arms and accoutrements have been safely landed and will arrive here this evening. The troops have undergone much fatigue, and are making without necessaries; I therefore, hope time may be given to recover themselves and get into some order.
From the brig that has been wrecked (Boadicea) with part of the 82nd regiment on board, I understand that out of 280, only 50 have been saved and two officers.
Names of Officers
Thus miserably perished, within sight of their own shores, about five hundred brave men, who had nobly fought, and bled for the security of the British Empire, and the deliverance of Europe. A commiserating tear is the only tribute a grateful country can now pay for their renown. Small indeed is the consolation that can be administered to their afflicted relatives; yet some may be derived from the reflection, that their lives, though suddenly cut short, have been usefully employed, in defence of all that as Britons and as men we hold most dear; and though an awful stroke of providence, dark and mysterious to us dim-sighted mortals, has denied them that solace and repose in their native land, for which, after so many toils and dangers, they fondly hoped, yet the remembrance of their heroic actions shall illumine the historic page to the remotest posterity. May the few survivors never forget the hand that has preserved them in the general ruin! They cried unto God in their trouble, and he saved them from the destruction which environed them on every side. Abundant cause have they therefore, “to praise the Lord for his goodness, and to declare his wonderful works to the children of God”
The scene of death is clos’d, the mournful strains
Bidart, December 13th, 1813.
Early on the 10th Soult returned our visit, at the head of his whole disposable force on this side of the Nieve; and as our column had returned the night before to their original cantonments, there was nothing to oppose him but a Portuguese brigade and mine, with two six-pounders, and a squadron of the 10th light dragoons. The Portuguese, unfortunately, gave way immediately, and the 2d brigade took their place, which they maintained for four hours, under the heaviest fire of grape and musketry almost ever heard, and repeated charges to break us. The latter were always repulsed with the bayonet, and at length, without yielding a foot of ground, although not less than 10,000 men were in our front, and a swarm of sharp-shooters within twenty yards, we resigned our post when regularly relieved by the 1st brigade; and the rest of the column coming up late in the day, after excessive hard fighting, the enemy were driven back. I can say little of what passed after we were relieved, in consequence of having received a wound in my side, which compelled me to leave the field.