This priceless anecdote is taken from Marshall’s Royal Naval Biography and relates to John McKerlie, former midshipman of HMS Indefatigable. McKerlie served aboard the Indefatigable at the time of the famous Droit de L’Homme engagement, during which he was severely injured in the thigh and lost his right arm. McKerlie recovered from his injuries and continued in the service, following his captain, Sir Edward Pellew, to his subsequent command, the mutinous ship of the line Impetueux. While serving aboard the Impetueux, McKerlie participated in numerous boat actions during the Quiberon expedition in 1800, and was present during the planning of a proposed attack on Belleisle. Marshall relates that McKerlie…
…not having heard how he was to be employed, went up to Sir Edward, interrupted him in a conversation with Major-General Maitland, and asking what part he was to act in the event of a debarkation taking place? The answer was ‘McKerlie you have lost one hand already, and if you loose the other you will not have anything to wipe your b******* with; you will remain on board with the first lieutenant and fight the ship as she is to engage an 8-gun battery.’
(The asterisks are Marshall’s, I’m inclined to be less coy 😉
The loss of his arm did little to hold McKerlie back. He had a successful naval career, was a talented surveyor and draftsman and was regarded as being an excellent shot. In addition to serving as lieutenant of the Spartiate at Trafalgar, McKerlie participated in the capture of Flushing and the Walcheren expedition, he commanded a squadron of ships stationed off Heligoland, oversaw the defence and retreat from Cuxhaven, and was responsible for destroying enemy shipping on the Braak. McKerlie was also seconded from the navy from 1806 to 1808 to work with Thomas Telford surveying access to ports and harbours. Unable to get a command after 1813, McKerlie retired from active naval service and returned to his native Wigtonshire where he married, had one daughter and served as a local magistrate. After almost twenty years ashore, McKerlie made one last unlikely return to the navy as captain of the experimental frigate Vernon between 1834 and 1837. Thankfully, he never did loose his other hand.