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seeing the son of the King of England acting as a common midshipman, and he remarked to Admiral Digby, that Great Britain merited the empire of the seas, when the humblest stations in her navy were filled by Princes of the blood.
The above anecdote is recorded on the authority of Colonel Drinkwater, in his history of the siege of Gibraltar ; but its authenticity has been questioned by those who have a thorough knowledge of the Spanish character, and particularly that of Don Juan Langara, who was, perhaps, the last man in Spain, who would publicly state that Great Britain possessed the empire of the seas.
The pride of the Spaniard, however, was not to be humbled by the hearty drubbing which he had received, and when he made the report to his government of the result of the battle, he did not attribute the loss of it to any superior bravery or seamanship on the part of the English, but to the elements, that would not let him fight, as it was his wish to do. His government believed him, and awarded to him its thanks for having fought so well, considering that the elements had allied themselves with the English against him. It is, however, certain that the Saints and Saintesses, after whom the greater number of the Spanish ships were christened, fell many degrees in the good opinion of the Spaniards, under the persuasion, that if they had performed their duty, as Saints and Saintesses ought to have done, the English ships would have been blown out of the water. It was, however, no little satisfaction to the Spanish nation to find that not one of the ships named after their favourite saints, was carried into an English port, and it is certainly a curious coincidence, that all the Sans and Santas escaped or were lost, and only those ships which bore a common name, reached the English shores as prizes.
It was not only during the battle, but in his conduct after it, that Prince William gained the good opinion not only of his superior officers, but of the crew in general. Amongst the latter, there was an old weather-beaten tar, whose visage was bronzed with the sun of a hundred different climes, and to whom Prince William particularly attached himself, on account of the bluffness, and general eccentricity of his character, by which he obtained the soubriquet of “the old Commodore.” At the age of six he entered as a cabin boy on board the Royal William, and remained in that ship, until she was declared unfit for service, and was converted into a sheer hulk at Plymouth. Contrary to the general habit of the sailor, an oath was seldom or never heard to issue from his mouth, “by the Royal William,” being the utmost extent to which his swearing was carried. It was undoubtedly this association of the name of his old favourite ship, with that of the royal midshipman on board, that prompted him on every occasion which presented itself, to be the foremost, to render Prince William any service, which could render his berth comfortable to him. His general manner of accosting him was, “Well my Royal William, what can I do for you?” It was this characteristic bluntness of the sailor that pleased Prince William, and when the ship's crew were mustered after the action to ascertain the number of the killed and wounded, he missed the old commodore in the ranks, and on inquiry, he found that he had been severely wounded, having one of his legs shot off. Prince William immediately hastened to the berth of his old favourite, who no sooner saw his Royal Highness, than he exclaimed, “ well, my Royal William, I am now a sheer hulk for life, my starboard timber's gone, and I shall go no more aloft.” Prince William took the old veteran by the hand, and told him not to despond, for he would take care that he had a comfortable berth found him for the remainder of his life; and he kept his word, for on the arrival of his ship in port, he made immediate application for the reception of the old Commodore into Greenwich hospital, into which he was received as soon as his wound was sufficiently healed to admit of his removal. Prince William allowed him five shillings a week, which was punctually paid him to the hour of his death; and to the last, he continued to swear, “ by the Royal William,” that Prince William Henry was the trump of a sailor.
In his general conduct on board, Prince William distinguished himself by his condescension and affability, at the
same time, it must be admitted, that his companions in the cockpit soon gave him very distinctly to understand, that they considered him as their equal, as far as their character as sailors was concerned; and on one occasion, in a moment of ill humour, when he shewed a disposition to give himself some high airs, and made an allusion to the dignity of his rank, as the son of the king, one of the midshipmen exclaimed, “ Avast there, my hearty, the son of a w-eis as good a fellow here, as the son of a King.” This we believe was the only instance in which he inet with any rebuke on account of an allusion to his rank. His manliness of bearing and general affability gained him the respect and esteem of all his superiors and messmates, and with the common sailors, his very presence on board, appeared to instil into theni a spirit of enthusiasm and patriotic pride, which rendered them doubly formidable to any foe, who might be so unfortunate as to come within reach of their cannon.
Those persons who are in the least acquainted with the cockpit of a man of war, as it was arranged at the time when Prince William entered the service, must know well, that it was no place for practical joking, without receiving a return of the compliment, and frequently in a rougher manner than that in which it was given. It was a place in which all consideration of personal rank was entirely laid aside. Etiquette in the cockpit of a man of war was as much out of place, as in one of the lodginghouses in St. Giles', nor in many respects was even that common degree of gentility or good breeding observed, which might have been expected from youths, who belonged to some of the first families of the kingdom; but who considered that coarseness and vulgarity became them better as sailors, than the refined and polished manners of the gentleman. The place itself was not the most inviting in the world, and the scenes which were generally exhibited in it was a perfect chaos of those articles generally worn by its inhabitants, upon which the cheering light of day never shone. The lamp was like the everlasting burning one of the vestal, or the holy one in the cathedral of Rheims, with this difference only, that the flame of the latter is kept
alive by some miracle known only to the holy purveyors of oil, and the lamp in the cockpit of a man of war requires to be replenished, unless the inmates prefer to live in a state of cimmerian darkness. At a subsequent period the berth of the midshipmen was changed to the gun-room, for it was found that the air of the cockpit, which was never renewed by ventilation, was highly prejudicial to the health of the embryo heroes, and was in itself sufficient to instil a disgust of the service into the breasts of the young midshipmen on their first introduction to such a real dungeon. In the gun-room, however, there was the same confusion of lumber, living and dead, and whilst one midshipman was comfortably snoring in his hammock, the remainder were playing at all sorts of games, and exercising their tricks upon each other, and in regard to the latter, no one showed greater adroitness then Prince William, in fact, he was always full of fun and mischief. He, however, frequently caught "a Tartar," and generally received "a Rowland for his Oliver.” One of the tricks he played, nearly ended in a pugilistic encounter, at the prospect of which all the youngsters were highly delighted. The antagonist of the Prince was named Sturt, the son of a gentleman of property, in Dorsetshire. “ I'd teach you better maners, sir, if you were not the king's son,” said
“ That shan't stand in the way,” replied the Prince, “I'll fight you over a chest.” Sturt declined the contest, because he was very much the Prince's superior in age and strength. On this a reconciliation took place immediately, and they shook each other by the hand.
From the various anecdotes related of the young Prince, he appears to have been rather of a pugnacious disposition. One day or rather night, the Prince stole in the dark to the hammock of a tough young sailor boy, and cut it down by the head, so that the slumbering inmate found himself with his feet elevated in the air and his head on the ground. The lad, however, soon gained his natural position, and resolutely attacked the Prince before he could make his escape.
A regular battle ensued in the dark, his Royal Highness making an obstinate resistance. The boy at length found out who was his antago
pist, and the Prince on the following day made him a present of some money for his alacrity in attacking him, and as a compensation for the mischief he had done. His Royal Highness had also a regular set-too with Lieutenant Moodie of the Royal Marines, the lieutenant having said upon some provocation, “ If it was not for your coat, I would give you a basting.” Upon which the Prince replied, " My coat shall not stain my honour,” and pulled it off. They then fought desperately, until a supe. rior officer interfered, and ordered them to desist. They then shook hands, and his Royal Highness, with the true spirit of a sailor, said, “ You are a brave fellow, though you are a marine, you may always count me as a friend.”
We give the latter anecdote on the authority of cominon rumour, we, however, cannot refrain from expressing our strong disbelief of that part of it, in which the Prince is made to cast an unjust and illiberal imputation on his antagonist, on the score of his being a marine. At the close of the contest, it was not likely that Prince William would make use of such an offensive remark, which an officer of that truly noble corps would have considered himself bound to resent, under whatever circumstances it might have been uttered. It may, indeed, be true that the marines did not, at that time, stand so high in public estimation, as they do at present; but still, in our opinion we totally exonerate Prince William, from having uttered the ungracious speech imputed to him.
During the stay of the fleet at Gibraltar, Prince William went frequently on shore, having been introduced to the governor, and other high authorities of the place. That celebrated fortress was then undergoing a complete survey, and several improvements were making for the defence of it, on the supposition that it might have to entertain a long siege by the Spaniards. Prince William carefully inspected all these improvements, and particularly the batteries, which had been erected during the blockade, previously to the relief of the fortress by Sir George Rodney.
It may easily be conceived that in the unguarded moments of