Page images

of the English captain. By a sudden turn of the helm he so shifted his course that the enemy's galley, instead of striking his stern, was brought suddenly up alongside the frigate, with a violence that shattered all the oars on that side the galley. At the same moment, and before the enemy could recover from the shock, the Englishman let down his grapnels, with which he had been previously prepared, and made the galley fast to the frigate's side. Holding his enemy thus locked in his grasp, he poured down upon the low and exposed deck of the galley the point-blank fire of his guns, loaded with grape, which caused the most deadly execution. In a few minutes the galley was covered with dead and wounded, and the survivors, seized with panic, threw themselves on their faces and made no resistance, while a party of the English crew, jumping on board with their cutlasses, cut down every one who came in their way, sparing only the unresisting galley-slaves. All that the French commander was able to do was to hoist, with his own hand, a signal of distress, calling back the other galleys to his assistance. The consort of the distressed galley quickly came up; and the other four, seeing the signal and the imminent danger of their commander, quitted the merchantmen of which they were just about to make prize, and which, finding the coast clear, steered with all speed for the Thames. The whole squadron of galleys now surrounded the frigate, and with their swarming crews, and large force of soldiers and marines, in a short time changed the fortune of the day. After every resource of skill and courage had been exhausted in the defence, the numerical force of the assailants prevailed; the crew of the Nightingale,' and, with one exception, all the officers on board, were disabled or taken prisoners. That exception, however, was the captain. From first to last the object of this gallant officer, whose name unfortunately has not been preserved, was to secure the escape of his With that noble devotion to duty which stamps the convoy. English sailor, he had pledged himself, and was prepared to immolate himself and his frigate, and all on board, in order to save the vessels committed to his charge. So, when all his ship's company were in the hands of the enemy, he fortified himself in the poop, with a number of loaded guns and pistols by his side, with which he threatened destruction to any one who dared to approach. A serjeant and twelve men being sent to dislodge him, he shot down the former, and kept the rest at bay, no one of the party being willing to enter first at the peril of sharing their leader's fate. Meanwhile the officers of the Nightingale who had been taken on board the commander's galley magnified, though perhaps not beyond the truth, the reckless daring of their

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


captain, who they declared would not hesitate to blow his own vessel into the air, involving all the galleys in the same destruction, rather than strike his flag. Alarmed at the consequences of such an act of desperation, the French commander now tried the effect of a parley, which the captain, still anxious to gain time for his merchantmen, prolonged as much as possible. At length, when he calculated that all the vessels for whose welfare he was concerned were safe in the Thames, he announced his surrender, and went on board the French commander's galley to give up his sword. De Langeron was surprised to find this lion of the quarterdeck a man of small stature, and deformed in person. Addressing him in courteous terms, he promised his prisoner honourable treatment, and strove to console him for the loss of his ship. 'I feel no regret,' replied the Englishman, 'for the capture of my frigate, since I have gained the only object I had in view, which was to save the vessels under my convoy; and I had resolved, as soon as I came in sight of you, to sacrifice my ship and my life also for their preservation. You will find,' added he, 'some small quantity of ammunition on board, which I had not time or opportunity to discharge; besides that, you will discover nothing of any value in the frigate. As for myself, if you treat me as a man of honour, I or some other of my countrymen may have an opportunity before long to return the favour.' Charmed with the lofty spirit of his adversary, De Langeron, with much courtesy, returned him his sword. 'Receive back your sword, sir,' he said; 'you deserve too well to wear it; and consider yourself my prisoner only in name.'

Meanwhile, what was the fate of the oarsmen of the galley which had first engaged the frigate? One of the guns of the latter being pointed directly down upon the bench to which Marteilhe and his fellow rowers were chained, his comrades had thrown themselves flat down, hoping thus best to avoid the discharge. A more careful observation convinced Marteilhe that he had a better chance of escaping the contents of the gun by keeping upright; and with great presence of mind he maintained that position, commending his soul with a fervent prayer to God, as he watched the English gunner approach the piece, and apply his match to the touch-hole. Stunned and insensible, he was thrown by the shock of the discharge as far as the length of his chain would allow across the gangway which divided the two tiers of oars. When he came to his senses it was night, and he could see nothing around him; but supposing that his comrades were still lying below their bench, he called out to them that the danger was past, but received no answer. At the same time he found himself bathed in blood, from three severe wounds which he


had received in different parts of his body. But there was no help or succour to be had, for all around him had been killed, both on his own bench, and the benches immediately before and behind him; so that out of the eighteen persons who had manned these three benches, he, wounded as he was, had alone escaped with life.

The first thing done after the action was over was to throw overboard the dead, and to carry the wounded down into the hold. But in the confusion and darkness which prevailed, there was little discrimination between one and the other, and some, doubtless, were consigned to the deep who had only fainted from loss of blood. Marteilhe himself was in this state when the superintendent approached to unrivet his chain, previously to throwing the body into the sea. The chain was attached to the left leg, and in that limb Marteilhe had received a severe wound. In endeavouring to take off the chain the officer pressed his hand roughly against the wounded part, and the sharp pain brought the exhausted man to his senses, and made him utter a loud cry. Perceiving that he was not dead they carried him into the hold, and threw him down upon a coil of rope among a number of other wounded wretches, too numerous for the surgeon to attend to. In this hole the sufferers, untended and poisoned with stench and foul air, died like flies, of the gangrene which supervened upon their wounds. Marteilhe, however, survived to get into Dunkirk, where, more dead than alive, he was placed in the sailor's hospital. From the severe injuries and ill-treatment thus received he could scarcely have recovered had it not been for the personal attention and pains bestowed upon his case by the surgeon-major, who, through the friendly intervention of a banker at Dunkirk, well-affected towards the Protestants, was interested in his favour. To the skill and kindness of this good surgeon he acknowledges that he owed his life. For three months he was well treated in the hospital-was again offered his liberty on condition of abjurationagain refused to belie his faith-and was once more sent back to his galley; but the surgeon having certified that he was unable to bear the labour of the oar, he was employed in another department of service on board the vessel. It should be mentioned here that had he been under sentence for any other crime than heresy he would now have been entitled to his discharge, for such was the rule with regard to galley-slaves wounded in action with the enemy; but the Hugonots were, by special exception, excluded from this privilege. But even the rude comite who had charge of Marteilhe, in assigning him his new and easier post in the galley, could not refrain from bearing testimony, though in a somewhat

somewhat peculiar form of compliment, to the blameless conduct of his heretical prisoners. 'I am very glad,' he said, 'to have this occasion of showing you the respect I feel for you and those of your religion, for you have done no wrong to any one, and if you are to be damned for your religion, you will have punishment enough in the next world.' Not long afterwards it happened that De Langeron, his captain, was in want of a secretary, and Marteilhe, through the recommendation of this same comite, was appointed to the situation, in which he gained the entire confidence of that officer, and received good food and lenient treatment for nearly four years of his term of captivity.

This respite was, however, succeeded by a season of terrible suffering to himself and his co-religionists. In 1712 the peace of Utrecht was made; and it was one of the stipulations of that treaty that the fortifications of Dunkirk should be razed, and the harbour blocked up, and that the town should be placed, meanwhile, in the hands of the English. In consequence an English governor and a force of 4000 or 5000 men were established in the place. It was permitted, however, to the French Government to keep their galleys for a time in the harbour until the demolition of the works had begun, and in consequence Marteilhe and his Protestant brethren remained there to witness the arrival of the

English detachment. The galleys in the harbour became naturally an object of interest to the new comers. Both officers and men were permitted to go on board; and it followed naturally enough that the sympathies of both alike were warmly excited on behalf of their persecuted fellow Protestants whom they found groaning under such cruel bondage. The English officers testified the warmest interest on their behalf, and paid them frequent visits; but the indignation of the soldiers was roused to such a pitch at the barbarous treatment sustained by these innocent men, that it was apprehended that some violent attempt would be made on their part to rescue the prisoners. To guard against such an outbreak the French commander resolved to place his prisoners beyond the reach of deliverance, and accordingly he smuggled them away suddenly by night in a small vessel, and carried them off to Calais. From thence they were marched in chains to Havre, and after a stay there of some days, during which they received many testimonies of sympathy from their co-religionists in that city, they proceeded by way of Rouen, where also they found numerous friends, to Paris.

Our space will not permit us to notice further the adventures which befel them by the way. Arrived at the capital, they were consigned to the prison of La Tournelle, once a Royal residence, but then turned into an entrepôt for condemned criminals


destined for the galleys. The aspect of the vast and dismal dungeon to which they were now consigned, shook for a moment even the well-tried fortitude of Marteilhe and his brethren. "I acknowledge,' he says, that, inured as I had been to prisons, chains, fetters, and other engines which tyranny or crime have devised, I could not overcome the shuddering that seized me, and the terror with which I was struck when I first saw this place.' He describes it as a vast cavern traversed from end to end by thick beams of timber riveted to the floor. To each of these beams, at a distance of two feet apart, the convicts were secured by a chain a foot and a half long, attached to an iron collar, encircling their necks. The beam rising about two and a half feet from the floor, the position of the convict was such that he could neither lie down, nor sit, nor stand upright, but was kept constantly in a half-lying, half-sitting posture, with his head against the beam. The sight of the wretched beings, of whom no less than 500 were thus kept chained down day and night, of whom some were aged, others suffering from pain and sickness, as they writhed in the torture of their constrained position, was distressing beyond description. Many sunk under the weight of their misery, others endured anguish difficult to be imagined. Groans and cries enough to melt the most savage heart arose from this den of horrors, but even these expressions of a misery which could not be endured were repressed as far as possible by their merciless overseers, who punished all such infractions of discipline with the whip. For three days and nights Marteilhe and his brother Hugonots had to endure this dreadful treatment; after that time the friendly offices of a wealthy Protestant merchant in Paris procured for them, by means of a present to the governor of the prison, a release from the frightful position in which they had been placed, their chain being transferred from the neck to the leg, and in this state they remained about a month, until the time came for dispatching them to Marseilles.

The journey from Paris to that port, which was made towards the end of December, 1712, was signalised by a treatment of these unhappy galley slaves more barbarous than any before related, insomuch that Marteilhe declares that in the whole of his previous twelve years of bondage and misery, he had never undergone so great a trial of fortitude. The prisoners were marched in double file, heavily chained, one chain connecting each couple, another passing transversely through rings placed in the centre of the coupling chains, and so fastening the whole gang together. Thus entrammelled they had to march each day a distance of ten or twelve miles, being usually lodged in stables


« PreviousContinue »