Throughout his career, Edward Pellew had a reputation not just for for his fighting prowess, but also for his gallantry and heroism. His most famous humanitarian endeavour while captain of HMS Indefatigable was the rescue of hundreds of souls from the wreck of the Dutton East Indiaman, which ran aground beneath the citadel in Plymouth in January 1796. However the Dutton was only one of a number of stricken vessels that Pellew and his crew assisted at this time. In this letter to his mother, thirteen-year-old Indefatigable midshipman Nicholas Pateshall relates the events of another dramatic rescue at sea, which took place several months before the Dutton.
Indefatigable at Scilly, October 12th 1795
My dear Mama
I write to inform you that we sailed from Falmouth on Wednesday the 7th October …but by stress of weather we were put in here and in our passage we met with a large merchant ship which sailed from the West Indies about a month ago. She had her three masts carried away in a gale of wind. The owner was aboard her. She was all but going to the bottom when we met her for it was very heavy weather. All her men, her captain, her mate were in their hammocks and had been for three weeks and so had the ship been drifting. All but the poor owner, who has a wife and eight children. We immediately sent a boat aboard her where they found them in the above sorry state the owner crying and working at the pump leaving the ship to the mercy of the waves, thinking the ship was going to the bottom every minute.
We immediately sent a number of men aboard and made a rope fast to her and towed her in to the harbour. It was a pitiful sight to see that man (the owner of the ship) it was like a man who had the rope about his neck and then reprieved, we thought he would have dyed but thank God he and his ship are both well. We are going to sail tomorrow to look for the other frigates and to add something to this wonderful year, but all with great joy.
Pateshall, joined the Indefatigable in 1795 at the age of thirteen and he is unique in that he left an extensive archive of private correspondence which provides a first hand account of his time aboard the famous frigate.
Many more of Pateshall’s previously unpublished letters, including a dramatic eye witness account of the celebrated Droits de L’Homme engagement, will appear in Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates: The lives and naval careers of the Young Gentlemen of Pellew’s Indefatigable, which will be published by Boydell and Brewer later this summer.