Windsor Castle,

July 28, 1832.


I have not delayed to submit yr letter of 21st inst: to the King, and I have been honored with His Majesty's commands to acquaint you that he will have great satisfaction in taking the earliest opportunity of conferring upon you the Commander's Cross of the Guelphic Order, and to assure you that His Majesty is persuaded that he cannot grant this distinction to any individual who is more deserving of it or whose character and services will do more credit to the Order.

I have the honour

to be, yours ftly,

Herbert Tayler."

Note in the writing of Sir N. J. Willoughby—

"As His Majesty was a brother officer in my profession— Admiral and Lord High Admiral—I hope I am not vain in being proud of this letter, though aware I do not deserve it.

N. J. W."

Extract from a letter from the Heralds' College, 3rd September, 1832, in reply to one from Admiral Sir N. J. Willoughby asking if there had been any instance of the honour of knighthood being conferred twice on the same individual:—

" I beg to inform you that there is no precedent of such an instance upon record except your own case."

General Steinheil's letter is in French, as follows :—

" Monsieur le Capitaine N'ayant pas recju de vos nouvelles depuis le temps lorsque vous futes fait prisonier, votre lettre du cinq Mars qui m'apprit que vous etes parmi les vivants et que vous vous trouvez dans votre patrie, m' a cause une satisfaction particuliere.

Apres mon retour d'une inspection j'ai ordonne d'abord de faire une relation exacte de vos services, je l'ai communiquee sous le 31 Juillet, vieux style; au ministre fonctionnaire de la guerre, Monsieur le Prince de Gortchakoff avec la priere de demander a sa Majeste Imperiale pour vous en recom-penser de vos merites l'ordre de Ste Anne de la 2nde classe.

Je ne doute pas que sa Majeste Imperiale rende justice aux raisons que j'ai eu le plaisir de pouvoir alleguer en votre faveur, conformement a la verity.

En vous souhaitant une restitution parfaite de votre maladie, j'ai l'honheur d'etre avec estime, M. le Capitaine, votre tres humble et tres obeissant serviteur.


Abo ce 4. 6. Aout. 1815."

So the warrior was also prisoner in the Russian service !

I find an interesting account in Sir Nesbit's own writing of his being sent (February 20th, 1807), to land in Constantinople with a flag of truce, and a letter to the Grand Vizier, and through him to the Grand Seignor, who had hitherto treated with contempt dispatches sent by Mr. Arbuthnot, the British Ambassador. Nesbit left the " Royal George " about two o'clock a.m., so as to be off Seraglio Point at daybreak, and was fired at by passing boats and the very sentries as they neared land. He says the Turkish Government and people were in no very good humour at the destruction of their fleet a few days previous. However, feeling the great importance of his mission, he persevered, was allowed to land, and describes all he noted, with intelligent care. At last he was received by Ysak Bey, who kept him dawdling about, pretending to be ill—evidently to gain time—till Nesbit insisted on waiting no longer, and was finally conducted into a splendid saloon where the whole Divan, with the Grand Vizier, were assembled, and pipes, sherbet, and coffee were handed round. His whole impression was that they were trying to gain time, and he left as soon as possible, escorted to the boat by Ysak Bey, possibly with a view to their gaining more time by Ysak's slow walking; also, perhaps, to save the officer "the honor of being torn in pieces by Janissaries and wild Asiatic troops," a fate he could hardly have escaped did they know of the " demand of 7 ships of the line that 16 should be given up by the proudest and haughtiest potentate in Europe." However, the "Royal George " was safely reached, and history tells the sequel.

Another interesting story is the taking, by Lieut. Willoughby ("Leviathan"), of a French armed ship off Donna Maria, St. Domingo, on 17th July, 1803. He describes going off in a light boat and pulling along-side; seeing no signs of resistance, though aware she was well armed and manned. Nesbit, with his two midshipmen and five men, boarded her, announced to the astonished Captain that war between France and England was declared, and demanded surrender. Colours and pendants were struck, "with an ill grace," the captain muttering to himself that had he known it was war, he would not have suffered Nesbit to board. This "he could have done without much exertion as he was high out of water, had a tier of guns, and between 40 and 50 stout men and five or 6 officers on board! "Her name was the "Athenaise," from Jacquesnil to Port au Prince. "Took out of her that day 24 men; sent on board 8 seamen and do. marines to take her to Port Royal."

The poor French captain seemed to be much hurt at the way he was taken; but if he was unhappy, Nesbit says his feelings were horrid, as if they had resisted, there was nothing left for him but to have attacked and perhaps killed unarmed men.1

In 1824, Captain Nesbit J. Willoughby sends a memorial to the Colonial Office (Earl Bathurst), stating that in 1810 he commanded the frigate "Nereide," and Sir Robert Farquhar, governor of the Isle of Bourbon, requested him to distribute a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Isle of France, promising protection and support from Britain against France, on condition of peaceful submission to its rule; also, if possible, to communicate on the matter with the principal inhabitants.

This most delicate and difficult affair Nesbit undertook, and states that after the capture of the island he understood his services had been of the greatest value to His Majesty's government.

He says that, after accomplishing his object, he was on the point of leaving, when the French and English squadrons arrived, and the destruction of the latter took place. In the affair he lost an eye, was otherwise severely wounded, and sustained severe pecuniary losses. As the three other officers who had also lost their ships received almost immediate employ, Nesbit supposes, considering the handsome letters received from the Rt. Hon. Chas. Yorke and Lord Melville (First Lords), that the reason he was not employed for nine years was that they believed the severity of his wounds rendered him useless. So his friends advise him to lay his claims before the Colonial Office, as, had he been caught in the delicate service he undertook at Sir R. Farquhar's request, he would have been liable to the death penalty, as proved in the case of Major Andre and others.

He considers that he has a strong claim upon Lord Bathurst for compensations, but with no prejudice as to Lord Melville, the head of his own profession, in which he hopes to be again employed through Lord Bathurst's intervention, though his claim upon that (Colonial) minister is distinctly of a civil or diplomatic nature.

He says that previous to his (Nesbit's) landing and attacking various military positions on the island, no attack had ever been made upon it, and as he remained two days on shore (though embarking at night) and marched twenty miles through the country, with a force not exceeding 200 men, he must have proved the military weakness of an island till then deemed impregnable.

Copies are annexed of letters from Sir R. Farquhar, governor of the Isle of France, and General Keating, governor of the Isle of Bourbon.

" Governor Farquhar to Captain Willoughby.

Port Louis,

8th January, 1811.


The unfortunate tho' gallant affair in which you so eminintly distinguished yourself at Grand Port, and which for a short time interrupted all communications with you, prevented my replying immediately to your dispatch which I received on the 24th of August, informing me of your having landed in the Isle of France on the 17th and 18th of that month, of your having destroyed the batteries and magazines at Grand Port, and distributed the proclamations2 with which I had intrusted [you] for the Inhabitants of the Isle of France. I cannot however permit you to quit this colony without expressing to you my warmest acknowledgements for the very satisfactory manner in which you executed every part of this important duty. I feel it the more necessary now to make this Official Declaration of my sentiments to you from the more intimate knowledge I have acquired since I assumed this government, of the beneficial effects produced by those Proclamations on the minds of the Inhabitants. However much, therefore, I am disposed to admire that enterprising spirit and perseverence which dared to land at the second principal Port of the main Island at the Head of only 200 men, and so effect a long march of 20 miles for the purpose of destroying the Defences in the face of our enemy far superior to you, and however much I must commend that prudence and discretion wh enabled you to re-embark without the loss of a single man, after you had effected every object you had in view, it is still more my indispensible Duty as being in my immediate province to bear this public testimony of (?) the prompt and efficient execution of the delicate and dangerous service you undertook of issuing my Proclamations to the Inhabitants of a neighbouring hostile colony.

I feel convinced that this amongst the many other brilliant services in which you have been engaged, and of which you bear so many honorable marks, will speedily replace you in a situation—which will afford ample scope for the excercise of the distinguished Talents and undaunted Heroism which your countrymen as well as the Enemy unanimously bear Testimony of (?) your possessing.

I have the honour, &c., &c.,

R. J. Farquhar."

With this is an extract from Hansard's Parliamentary Debates :—

" House of Commons, June 3rd, 1825.

Sir Robert Farquhar said that the House would excuse his intruding himself.....In 1810 he proceeded with the expedition to the capture of the Isle of Bourbon, accompanied by that meritorious officer, Captain N.J. Willoughby, who had shed his blood so often in the service of his country, and who distributed the proclamations, &c., &c....."

Lieut. Governor Keating's letter is a magnificent tribute indeed. Dating from St. Denis, Isle of Bourbon, 27th December, 1810, the governor says that he cannot allow Nesbit to leave the islands that have so often witnessed with wonder the intrepid daring valour of his conduct,

"Among the applauses of your own service and the admiration of ours . . . without .... stating how large a share is due to you in the conquest of these Islands.

When we captured St. Paul's you then fought by my side, leading by your example 80 seamen in the most daring achievements."

He states how, at Jacolet, Nesbit's gallantry surprised even his friends, and his conduct at the conquest of Bourbon is also recorded—that Nesbit, while others were refreshing themselves after the hardships, all underwent, volunteered to take the island. His gallantry and success at Port du Diable, the strongest port in south Mauritius, distribution of proclamations, &c., were services of no ordinary character. He continues—

"I now approach that period of your services which will hand your name to posterity among those consecrated by the admiration of your country. Here you displayed a heroism almost fabulous, and acquired a glory of too transcendent a character to be reaped by other than the seamen and soldiers of our own nation. . . I must take leave—you quit these scenes where we have fought together and bled for our country, but you return to no ungrateful country, &c., &c. . .

Henry S. Keating." I have only given a brief summary of this most laudatory letter, but the following seems to me even a higher tribute, as coming from an enemy.

In the admiral's own hand-writing, outside the roughed-out memorial, I find:—

"A few weeks after the ' Nereide' was captured General De Caen ordered a Court to assemble, consisting of Admiral Duperre (?) Bellone Hamelin Venus Breton Manche Bouvet Minerve, and Mr Gee, or name like it,3 to try Capt. N. J. W. [himself] for acting against the law of nations in spreading Proclamation, &c. The Court decided that whatever was his previous liability, that as he had been taken in honourable battle, he should be treated as a prisoner of war."

A report from the College of Surgeons, with eleven signatures, says they find Captain N. J. Willoughby has lost one eye, that the sight of the other eye is impaired, and that his jaw has been very much shattered, which prevents him opening his mouth to any great extent, and after eating, distressing feelings ensue which continue some time. Date, 7th June, 1811.

Of the fight in which the "Nereide" was captured, there are many accounts and frequent mention. I append a very brief and matter of fact relation of that wonderful affair.

From a MS.

20th August, 1810. While the "Nereide" was lying off the Isle de la Passe, which island she had been ordered to protect, Capt. Willoughby observed a strange squadron, which proved to be "La Bellone" and "Minerve," French frigates, and the 18-gun corvette "Le Victor," in charge of two prize Indiamen. Knowing that if these three men-of-war, which had but just arrived from Europe, were suffered to form a junction with three others of the enemy's frigates and a fine corvette then at Port Louis, they would prove far too strong for the British force off the island, which only consisted, besides the "Nereide," of the frigates "Sirius," "Iphigenia," and "Magicienne," he endeavoured, by a ruse de guerre, to draw them into Grand Port.

Succeeding in the latter object, Captain Willoughby, whose position rendered it necessary that the enemy should pass close to him, compelled the "Victor" to haul down her colours, and exchanged broadsides with the " Minerve."

Captain Willoughby next, on being joined by his consorts, to whom he had sent intelligence of the latter event, took part in a series of desperate operations, which, by the 28th of August, terminated in the self-destruction of the "Magicienne" and "Sirius," and the capture, by the French ships above named, of the "Nereide" (which had led the squadron into action) and the "Iphigenia." The "Nereide" was taken on the 23rd, after she had been reduced to a mere wreck, and had incurred a loss—out of 281 persons—of about 230, killed and wounded. Among the latter was Captain Willoughby, who had one eye torn completely out of its socket, and received a severe splinter wound on the cheek shortly after the commencement of the action. A few days after the capture of the "Nereide" a bone exfoliated in consequence of the wounds he re-received at Isle Platte.4 Being obliged in consequence to leave the deck, as were Lieuts. Burn and Deacon, and Lieut. Cox of the Marines, all of them severely wounded, the ship, during the remainder of the contest, was fought by Mr. Lesby, the master. On Captain Willoughby becoming a prisoner among the French, General de Caen held the council before mentioned as to the treatment of the "Nereide's " heroic defender.

Commodore Duperre writes to the Governor de Caen:

"26 Septembre, 1810.

Monsieur le lieutenant de Vaisseau Roussin fut envoye k mariner la Nereide, il la trouva dans un etat impossible a decrire, 100 morts ou mourants etaient sur les ponts; son Capitaine M. Willoughby etait blesse."

The ship was past repair, and never served again.

Captain Pym, senior officer of the British squadron captured, writes in his official despatch :—

"Poor Nereide neatly gained her port, and did in the most gallant manner maintain that and the one intended for Sirius until Bellone cut. All the enemy's ships being on shore, and finding Sirius could not get off, the whole of them opened their fire on Nereide, but notwithstanding this unequal contest, and being aground, she did not cease firing till 10 o'clock, and sorry am I to say that the Captain, every officer and man on board are killed or wounded."

There are many copies of, or extracts from, official and other documents relating to this fight, but I will only give Captain Basil Hall's brief account from his "Voyages and Travels."

In 1810 the Government of India resolved to send an expedition against the Isle of Prance under General Aber-crombie. The chief object of this expedition was to try to keep down the power of the French fleet by means of a close blockade by the English ships. Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir John) Rowley in the " Boadicea," was entrusted with the command. He was a man of experience and abilities and was well known in the service. The Isle of Bourbon was seized as a rendezvous. During Captain Rowley's absence, "the second in command, whom he had left in charge of the ships, conceived that a favourable opportunity had occurred for attacking the enemy's frigates lying in Port South East. . . . Two out of the four English frigates having grounded on unknown shoals, the French warped theirs into such a position that their broadsides acted with the precision of fixed batteries, and, co-operating with the land fortifications, at last effectually silenced the assailants. His Majesty's ship Sirius and Magicienne were burned, the Iphigenia and Nereide captured, and of all the crews of these prime frigates, only one officer and a dozen men escaped in the sole remaining boat to tell their unfortunate tale to the Commodore.

The defence made by H.M.S. Nereide, Captain (now Sir Nesbit) Willoughby is one of the finest things ever recorded; out of 277 men and boys, 85 were killed and 170 wounded. The Admiral in his dispatch says, ' The Nereide surrendered after a glorious defence, almost unparalleled even in the annals of the British Navy.' "5

Sir Nesbit was greatly against duelling, and in a newspaper cutting, mentioning that 326 gentlemen proposed to appeal to Her Majesty (Queen Victoria) to discountenance the practice, Sir Nesbit Willoughby's name is given as one of those whom no one could dream of calling to account for refusing a challenge, seeing that his reputation for courage was so great.

This little compilation is already too long, though it merely touches on the acts of a very remarkable career. I have had scarce time to glance through the little box with its worn hair cover and rounded lid, and the mere skimming of its contents, having no nautical knowledge, and being but ignorant of naval history, makes me a poor biographer. But material is there for better brains to work upon. Admiral Sir Nesbit Josias Willoughby wins my warm admiration, which is but a poor tribute, only I wonder, irony apart, how many D.S.O.'s and even V.C.'s, as awarded in the present day, were won in the 18th and 19th centuries by this glorious British seaman.


I find the following amusing correspondence on the subject of the " Victor."

" His Majesty's ship Nereide, at anchor off the Isle Passe,

21 August, 1810.

Sir, Trusting to the honor of the French flag and the laws of War, I demand that the Victor corvette shall be given up to my disposal, in consequence of having (yesterday) struck her colours to his Majesty's ship under my command, hailed, she had done so, and anchoring in obedience to my orders close to the Nereide.

Lieutents Burn and Pye whom I send with this letter were in a boat alongside the Victor to take possession of her when she cut and followed the " Minerve," being hailed and ordered to do so by her.

I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,

(Signed) N. J. Willoughby.

To Commander Dupere."

This sounds fairly cool ! and the Commander's answer is naive :—

"Aug. 21, 1810.

Sir—In answer to the letter you did me the honor of writing, I am commanded by His Excellency the Commander in Chief de Caen, to say that he objects to your extraordinary demand.

I have the honor to be, &c., &c.,

(Signed) Dupere."

But the account says she did "haul down her colours.

(1) He had five men and two middies ; the French ship had forty or fifty men and six officers, so his chances were surely small !
(2) N.B.—Various copies of the said proclamations are among the Admiral's papers.
(3) There are no stops between the names, so I leave it to readers to believe as I do—each officer's name precedes that of his ship.
(4) 15th June, 1810.—While on shore at Isle Platte, a small island at the northern extremity of the Mauritius, a musket in the hands of a Marine burst, inflicting upon Captain Willoughby two dreadful wounds, supposed at the time to be mortal. His lower jaw on the right side was badly fractured, and his neck so lacerated that the windpipe lay bare. For three weeks he could not speak. The wound, however, at length healed, but it was not till after a painful exfoliation of the jaw had taken place.
(5) The Court Martial on Captain Willoughby for the loss of his ship was " of opinion that His Majesty's late ship Nereide was carried into battle on the 23rd in a most judicious, officerlike, and gallant manner, and the Court cannot do otherwise than express its high admiration of the noble conduct of the captain, officers, and ship's company, during the whole of the unequal contest, and is further of opinion that the Nereide was not surrendered to the enemy until she was disabled in every respect......" Verdict, " Most honorably acquitted."