« PreviousContinue »
out for the old-established punishment. Solitary confinement on board ship is scarcely practicable, and if it were, is by no means advisable.
• Solitary confinement,' says Captain Hall, “ I take to be one of the most cruel, and, generally speaking, one of the most unjust of all punishments; for it is incapable of being correctly measured, and it almost always renders the offender worse. It is apt also to protract his sufferings far beyond all required bounds; while it not only prompts him and gives him time to brood over his most revengeful purposes, but irritates him against his officers and his duty, degrades him in his own eyes, and, if long continued, almost inevitably leads to insanity and suicide.'*
We entirely concur in the opinion of this distinguished officer, that the transient nature of the punishment at the gangway, as compared with the prolonged misery of solitary confinement, leaves no time for discontent to rankle, nor any permanent ill-will on the mind of a sailor, either towards his captain or towards the service. In point of fact, however, since that most beneticent and humane regulation of the Admiralty, which requires a written warrant to be issued by the captain for the punishment of a seaman, setting forth the offence, and also a quarterly return to be made of all such warrants and punishments, the lash has rarely been resorted to—more rarely in proportion to the sound discipline of the ship. But though the frequency of punishment be abated, the power of punishing must remain, otherwise there will soon be an end to that good discipline in the navy on which alone its efficiency can be maintained.
Asserting then, as we fearlessly do, the absolute necessity of continuing the power of impressment and the power of punishment, if we are to maintain in its vigour that arm of our strength and security—the navy—we at the same time as fearlessly deny that “a pressed man is a slave to the will of a despot.' Such a doctrine, we believe, has never been broached since the days of the mutiny in the feet, which, in the opinion of those best acquainted with the service, would never have happened had the just rights and reasonable claims of the seamen been then attended to. At that time there were, no doubt, commanders in the fleet, who carried
* The Third, and we are sorry to hear it called last, series of Captain Hall's Fragments of Voyages and Travels, from which we quote, does not present any features of novelty sufficient to demand another separate article ; but we take this opportunity of expressing the pleasure with which we have perused its many vivid descriptions and sagacions remarks. We sincerely hope the author will continue his lucubrations in some other form. It is a strong measure to advise any man now-a-days to try a novel - but there is such a power of life in Captain Hall's nautical portraitures, and such a gentlemanlike vein of fun withal, that we cannot but say we wish he would make the attempt to be the Smollett of our Vernons.
on the duty in a harsh, imperious, and insolent manner; but this, though it often disgusted the true seamen, created no disposition to mutiny; their open and honest hearts were taken advantage of and corrupted, and driven to a state of insubordination and disobedience, not by the conduct of their officers, but by a set of outcasts of the earth, disgorged from the common jails, and sent into the feet under the name of quota men.
At the time of this unfortunate event, the character of the English sailor was most faithfully drawn, by one who understood him well, in these striking sentences :
• The British sailor is thoughtless, and inattentive to what concerns his own happiness; but not indifferent either to the interest of his country, the glory of the navy, or the renown of the individual ship to which he belongs. He is cheerfully active, and prompt in the execution of his duty; patient of fatigue, as well as of the vicissitudes of weather and climate ; steady and collected at his post in the hour of danger; obedient, respectful, and attached to the officer worthy to command him; faithful and true to his king and country. He has an open, honest, and faithful heart; he is courageous in action, and humane in victory; he is the life and soul of our commerce, the guardian and bulwark of the nation : yet these men, the pride and safety of their country, are, for the most
part, pressed into the service.' It is of the seamen of this period that the author of The PortAdmiral' writes. Pressed as they were, could such men as these deserve to be called slaves ? - Yes, for one short but awful interval, they were indeed slaves,' and at the will of despots' composed of the very scum and scouring of society; but the moment these deluded men perceived they had been artfully led astray from their duty to their king and country, and that there was a disposition to listen to their real grievances on the part of the government, from that moment they deserted their leaders, who had assumed the name of delegates, and tendered submission and obedience to their officers. Most of these delegates, as well as Richard Parker, the chief conductor of the mutiny, were tried, and executed, complaining bitterly of the ingratitude of the seamen in deserting them and the cause !
We happen to have in our possession a striking letter, addressed by Parker, two days previous to his execution, to a person who had known him from his earliest infancy. As this dying declaration of the unfortunate man has never been published, we shall take this opportunity of placing it on record :-it is curious in itself, and may read a lesson to all pledge-bolting and pledgebound delegates, whether in or out of the feet,
Copy of the Dying Declaration of Richard Parker: *
• June 25th, 1797. • Dear Sir,—In my awful situation, I have great consolation to find that I still possess your esteem and merit your commiseration. Heaven grant you may long outlive the painful recollection of my unfortunate fate! A little while and I must depart from this world, and for ever close my eyes upon its vanity, deceitfulness, and ingratitude. My passage through it has been short but chequered ;--my departure from it will be extremely boisterous, but I seriously assure you, upon my part, by no means unwilling. The only comfortable reflection which I at present enjoy, is, that I am to die a martyr in the cause of humanity. I know the multitude think hard things of me, but this gives me no uneasiness, for my conscience testifies that the part which I have acted amongst the seamen has been right, although not to be justified by prudence. The latter consideration is the only compunction which I feel, under my doleful calamity : yes ! prudence urges that I ought to have known mankind better than blindfold to have plunged into certain destruction.
• Long since I had learnt that the miseries under which the lower classes groan are imputable in a great measure to their ignorance, cowardice, and duplicity; and that nothing short of a miracle could ever afford them any relief. This experience, prudence too late teaches me, should have been my guard against that fatal error which forfeits my life. However severe this reflection, still I preserve my fortitude, and I am enabled to do this, by considering that, as a human being, I stand subject to human passions, the noblest of which is a tender sensibility at every species of human woe : thus influenced, how could I indifferently stand by, and behold some of the best of my
fel. low-creatures cruelly treated by some of the very worst? I candidly confess I could not; and because I could not, fate consigns me to be a victim to the tenderest emotions of the human heart. Upon the word of a dying man, I solemnly declare, that I was not an original mover of the disturbances amongst those men who have treated me so very ungratefully. Also, that I was elected by my shipmates their delegate, wilhout my knowledge, and in the same manner, by the delegates, their president. I was compelled to accept those situations much against my inclination, by those who pushed me into them; and I did by no means attain them in the manner which has been scandalously reported, by persons who are purposely prejudiced or ignorant of the matter. It is well known what authority the seamen har over their delegates, and in what ferocious manner the delegates were frequently treated, for not according with every wild scheme which the sailors proposed to carry into practice. I further declare, that from the aggregate body originated every plan, and that during the time the delegates held their perilous situations, they always acted pursuant to, and obeyed the instructions of their constituents. How I and my unfortunate colleagues have been rewarded for our fidelity in The italics in this letter are Parker's own.
thus acting, those who have any sense of moral obligation will easily determine. The only instances in which the delegates acted of themselves, were in those of checking the violence and turpitude of their masters ; and this, God knows, we had hard work to do: but considering all circumstances, those who know anything of sailors will readily allow that we preserved much better order than could reasonably have been expected upon such an occasion. For not according with the preposterous ideas of the seamen, I and many more must suffer death. Had we been as decidedly violent as they were, we need not have died like dogs : for all the force which could have been muse tered would not have availed, and necessity would have obliged a compliance to our demands. Owing to the delegates' moderation, they have been overcome, and for my own part I cheerfully forgive the vanquishers, for the bloody use they intend to make of their victory: perhaps it is policy in them to do it. From the first moment that I understood the kindness which the delegates were to experience from their employers, I was prepared for the sacrifice; and may Heaven grant that I may be the last victim offered up in the cause of a treacherous and debased commonalty !
Many will ask, how an insignificant man like myself could merit the confidence of the multitude, so far as to induce them to thrust him forward upon such an occasion? If such inquirers will for a moment reflect, that in a popular commotion, any person who has the misfortune to be in repute for a trifling share of ability is liable to be forced into action, though much against his will, their inquiry will easily be solved, and this was precisely my case. Others will say, how could a man of his information be so indiscreet ? Tell such, that Richard PARKER, in his last moments, was pierced to the bottom of his soul with asking himself the same question : that he ingenuously owned he was indiscreet, but that it was, as he thought, from laudable motives. At the pressing application of my brother shipmates, I suffered humanity to surmount reason, and I hope my life is a sufficient atonement for my folly. I am the devoted scapegoat for the sins of many; and henceforth, when the oppressed groan under the stripes of the oppressors, let my example deter any man from risking himself as the victim to ameliorate their wretchedness. Having said thus much of my concerns with the seamen, I shall now take the liberty to offer my friend some advice; it is the result of dear-bought experience, and I hope he will profit by it. Remember never to make yourself the busybody of the lower classes, for they are cowardly, selfish, and ungrateful: the least trifle will intimidate them; and him whom they have exalted one moment as their demagogue, the next they will not scruple to exalt upon the gallows. I own that it is witla pain I make such a remark to you, but truth demands it: I have experimentally proved it, and very soon am to be made the example of it. There is nothing new in my treatment : compare it with the treatment of most of the advocates for the improvement of the condition of the multitude in all ages: nay, with reverence I write it, with the
treatment of Jesus Christ himself, when on earth,-and then declare, whether or not my advice is to be regarded.
• It is my opinion, that if government had not been too hasty, the Portsmouth mutiny would have been as readily overcome as that at Sheer
A very trifling forbearance on their part would have occasioned the Portsmouth delegates to have been delivered up like those at Sheerness, to have settled all the accounts; this is not mere supposition, but founded upon facts, though not generally known. The mutineers have been accused of disloyalty, but it is a false accusation,--they were only so to their ill-fated tools the delegates. Both army and
navy are, in my opinion, loyal ; and setting aside the liberties which they have lately taken with their superiors, were attached to the ruling powers. The ignorant and the violent will call me a criminal ; but when it is remembered what were the demands I made for my unprincipled employers, I know the discreet part of mankind will acquit me of criminality. I have reason to think the civil power would have acquitted me ; but by the articles of war my destruction was irremediable, and of this government was well aware, or I should not have been tried by a court-martial. By the laws of war I acknowledge myself to be legally convicted, but by the laws of humanity (which should be the basis of all laws) I die illegally. My judges were respectable, but not totally disinterested, for one of the demands had for its tendency the abridgment of their emoluments in prize-money.
Now, my dear friend, I take my leave of you, and may Providence amply return every kindness I have received from your hands! Oh! pray for me, that in the last scene I may act my part like a man, and that when I am on the point of being offered up, I may be inspired with charity sufficient to forgive those for whom I am sacrificed. The moment my body is suspended, the spectators will behold a wretch who is exposed as an example of his own frailty, and of the disgrace and dishonour of those men for whom I meet so ignominious a death. Parting with life is no more than going to sleep ; and God in his mercy grant I may sleep sweetly after my worldly toils, through the merits of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! Amen.
Adieu, eternally adieu!
RICHARD PARKER.' There are many things in this striking letter on which we could have wished to comment a little ; but we believe, on the whole, we may as well leave it to speak for itself. It will, at least, repay our readers for the disgust with which they must have considered our extracts from the mutinous parts of · The Port-Admiral;' perhaps it may read a lesson to the author of that scandalous production himself.