Jerseymen and the War of Jenkins' Ear

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This article by Marguerite Syvret was first published in the 1982 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Capt Jenkins shows his severed ear to Prime Minister Robert Walpole
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Take the War of Jenkins' Ear, Smollett's Roderick Random, the adventures of Alexander Selkirk and Anson's voyage round the world in the Centurion, and you have the ingredients of a drama which, like so many treasures of local history, has emerged from a Jersey attic. The story is told within the covers of a manuscript book bound in the vertical half of a Letter of Marque; these were common at a time when the dream of most Jersey seamen was to share the prize money and treasure of captured Spanish galleons.

Spanish asiento

In the early years of the 18th century the British West Indies were a centre of contraband trade and a great slave market. Spain, incapable of supplying her vast dominions, had granted to Great Britain in 1713 the asiento, or right to furnish African slaves to the Spanish empire, and the exclusive privilege of sending a single merchantman once a year to a Spanish colonial port. This privilege had been abused and smuggling had become a national industry in which France and Great Britain competed for illicit trade.

To parry the danger, Spain enlarged her fleet and clashes became more frequent on the ill-defined frontier between Florida (then a Spanish possession) and Georgia and on the coast of Honduras, where the British were exploiting the rare woods of the tropical forests. Spanish excisemen became increasingly troublesome, while the British continued to seize galleons laden with gold. Matters came to a head when a certain Captain Jenkins took his ear (in pickle) to the House of Commons and complained that it had been lopped off by the Spaniards.

In May 1739 Spain denounced the asiento, and Walpole, pressed by a belligerent lobby, unwillingly declared war. The marine and colonial struggle thus launched was to merge with the War of the Austrian Succession and to last for 24 years.

Outbreak of war

At the outbreak of hostilities an expedition to the West Indies was entrusted to Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon, while another, under Captain George Anson, was prepared for the Pacific, but did not sail until the autumn of 1740. Our story is set against this background and concerns the Tyger (Tigre to the Jerseymen), which was commissioned in June 1739 with a complement of 300 men; it also involves a number of Jersey boys and men serving in the Navy as able-bodied seamen or midshipmen.

In March 1740/41 she was stationed at Sheerness. On the 20th two months advance wages and bounty money were paid to 'volunteer seamen and able-bodied landmen', and in April she left the Nore for Spithead. Most of the Jerseymen who appear in the muster lists joined the ship at Portsmouth, and it is here that our narrative dovetails into the official record. Whereas the muster lists contain the names of those who died on the outward voyage, our document clothes the dry statistics with details of their suffering. In a French of uncertain spelling and punctuation, but with graphic impact, the opening words tell of their departure:

"Remarque du voyage que j'ay fait dans les Indes du oueste abord du vaisseaux le Tygre commende par Capiten herbert le vesseaux etait de 50 cannon nous partimes de Spithead le 30e jour de may l'an 1741 avec deux autres vaisseaux et une grande quantile de marchand et nous etions leur convois."

Contrary winds forced them into Falmouth where they remained for 22 days attacked by a virulent infection from which soldiers and sailors were to die almost instantly: sitot pris, sitot mort. These were buried at sea, but, although the captain, faced with the loss of many men, begged the admiral to delay their departure, he was ordered to sail immediately. There were further deaths in mid-Atlantic, but, after four or five days of rough weather, they finally encountered favourable trade winds and on 22 August 1741 they reached la Haute Espagne (was this Hispaniola?).

Jacques Balleine

They reported to Admiral Vernon at Cumberland Bay in Cuba and were sent to Jamaica to convoy a Dutch and a French vessel. The author, in recording their arrival at Port Royal, reveals the names of Jerseymen aboard; Jean Henry, Jean Le Maistre and Philippe Perchard, all of whom had been ill for about six weeks, Josué Blampied, incapacitated ever since leaving England, and Edouard Dawson, who died on the last day of September. All these men appear in the muster list. The narrator does not reveal his own name until later in the story, where he emerges as moi, Jacques Balleine, fils Philippe.

Soon we hear of another Jacques Balleine, fils Jacques, a midshipman on his second round of service on the Tyger. Jacques fils Philippe spent twenty-two days in hospital at Port Royal while the ship was being fitted with a new brace. They then sailed back to Cuba whence they were ordered to patrol waters between 18° and 20° North.

While on patrol they came upon a number of men fishing for turtles, which were kept alive in a cove until there was a sufficient supply to take to the Spanish fleet at Havana. Men from the Tyger captured five Spaniards, their boats, a barge, a yawl and a number of turtles, and sailed on. At this point the narrative takes on its own grim individuality and a human story once again clothes the skeletal outline traceable in the muster list. The captain had negroes aboard, whom he hoped to sell on the mainland of America, so he sailed too far north. Just before the Tyger was expected to report back to base, she ran aground on a sandbank in the Bahamas. According to the muster list, she was wrecked off Tortugas or Turtle Island. This lies to the north-west of Hispaniola, but one suspects that the entry is falsified to cover the illicit venture northwards.

Crew and marines abandon Tyger

Marooned on sandbank

Despite hard pumping, the crew and marines had finally to abandon ship, taking with them as much bread, meat, oil, rice and water as they could stow in seven boats. The men remained in these boats for four or five days while the master set off in the long-boat and found, about two leagues from the wreck, a sandbank where they might land. This was to be their home for several months. Here they began a Robinson Crusoe existence of great severity.

There was brushwood but no fresh water on the island, and immediately one is made aware of the gulf which existed at that period between officers and men. First they built a little hut and made tents from sail-cloth: one for the captain, another for the officers and one for those before the mast, who slept on bare sand and were severely rationed. On one day they were allowed a quarter of a pound of bread and a noggin (usually a quarter of a pint) of rum and water, and on the alternate day a pound of rice and the same quantity of liquor. They had meat once or twice a week.

The narrative is at times obscure, but it seems that some of these rations had to be shared among eight men. Seal-meat (loup-marin) was available and salad made from purslane (pourpier}, but, for lack of a proper bercaille, the pigs they had rescued were tampered with; by what or by whom is not made clear. One man, who said it would be better to surrender to the enemy than to die of hunger, had his hands tied behind his back and would have been shot in the head on the captain's orders, had not the other men begged for clemency. Another, who stole two potatoes from the food store, was drummed round the island with a rope round his neck.

When the carpenters had repaired the long-boat, she was sent to New Providence with ten men as crew, including the master and Jacques Balleine, fils Jacques, who acted as boatswain. He is recorded as having stolen from his namesake a watch, two pairs of buckles for his shoes and knee-breeches, another for his neck and buttons from the cuffs of his shirt. These were the days before the Navy had a regular uniform. Nothing was heard of this crew for three weeks, so a yawl was sent out with ten men (presumably marines) and a crew of 20. They returned within a week and reported that, although they had failed to find New Providence, they had discovered another island where lay a schooner and a capre (a type of privateer used by the Dutch). It was their intention to return with more men and, with this in mind, they made a barge by lashing two boats together. They then set out with 60 men and provisions for 13 days. Included in this party were the first and second lieutenant and Robert de l'Isle of Guernsey.

As this party also failed to return, those left behind began to work on the remaining boats. Skilled men used tools, others collected driftwood and brush. They dug trenches around the island, which they manned with guns from the wreck. This was hard work, particularly as they had so little to eat. They had also to mount guard over their supplies to see that no one took more than his ration: one cup of water with each meal. For five weeks they returned daily to the wreck to gather further supplies. Bread, which had been in barrels below the water line, was dried and spread with fat from the seal meat, often it was full of sand. But despite these forays, there was so little to eat that they were often more hungry after a meal than before.

Boats sighted

On 20 February 1742 a sail was sighted, a Spanish galleon making for the wreck, but the men left ashore were not sufficiently well armed to capture the enemy vessel. Next came a sloop, which anchored off the wreck hoping to replenish supplies. The intruders pillaged what remained on deck, removing a topmast, hawsers from the shrouds and a coat left aboard by one of the gunners. Rather than lose any food to the enemy, the stranded sailors put out in a boat and set fire to the Tyger. Then they decided to parley with the enemy.

We now get a glimpse of the civilities of war in the Caribbean. The sloop had been flying an English flag, but ran up Spanish colours as the Tyger's boat approached. The Spaniards sent out their own boat and the captain of the Tyger produced a flag of truce and a cannée of drink; for tradition required that one drank with the enemy before parleying. The men from the Tyger were then told that they must expect no immediate help, if they did not wish to surrender, as their men in the long-boat had been attacked by savages who had killed three of them, though their names were not known. The muster list records that on 24 February Jacques Balleine, midshipman, was 'taken prisoner by the Spaniards'.

The lieutenant assured the Spaniards that they had sufficient food and did not wish to surrender, but this merely underlines the discrepancy between the rations allowed the officers and the near starvation of the men. It seems that, once a ship was lost, survivors were placed on the victualling list and received no further wages. The muster book entry reads: 'list of men late belonging to His Majesty's ship the Tyger lost 12 January 1742 on the Tortugas, borne for victuals only to take their passage to Jamaica in order to be disposed of as the Commander-in-Chief shall think proper'. Balleine records that by 23 February, dying of hunger and without wages (these would have been of little use on their desert island), they were reduced to scavenging and to eating impure meat.

Yet they were sent to the burnt out hulk to salvage pieces of iron. Hopes were raised when they found on the shore white cockles de La grosseur d'un sixtonnier, but dashed when the officers discovered this new source of food; for the latter filled pitchers and puncheons with cockles and pickled them for future use. Balleine reports that the resultant stench was enough to infect the whole island, so the cockles had to be thrown into the sea, to the anger of the hungry men.

Lack of drink was a major problem. On 25 February another sloop arrived with 17 or 18 puncheons of potatoes. These were unloaded so that the vessel could be repaired before rescuing the stranded men. But, while the officers bragged and got drunk with the newcomers, the men remained on meagre rations and those who tried to drink while unloading were whipped. Yet they were still required to work on the boat they were building.

Petition

A lieutenant of the marines generously offered to take a petition from the men to the captain, asking for more water. He hoped to have the support of the Irish marines, but, when questioned by the captain, they denied all knowledge of the petition and the lieutenant was taken prisoner and threatened with a later court martial. Then the first lieutenant took pity on the men and made them a hash of boiled rice, fresh water, a little salt meat and a large turtle; a much appreciated meal. He also refused to eat with the officers while the men starved; this resulted in a feud between him and the captain, who, according to Balleine, did not care how many died, as he wanted as few witnesses as possible when accounting for the loss of his ship.

One day, as Balleine was cooking his dinner (a little seal meat in an old piece of suet and in grease normally reserved for rubbing on the bottom of boats), the marines lit a fire too near to the hut they had built and strong winds set it alight, dinner and all. However there were occasional compensations; three boats sent fishing one day returned with a sizeable catch, and, during a shower, the men drank rain water from their cupped hands: on La beuvait par delicatesse comme sy seus ete autant du meilleur vin d'espagne.

Although the superstructure of the Tyger had been burnt, the men continued to visit the wreck for water and rum stored below the waterline. Indeed, on one occasion, an Irishman drank so much that it required four men to bring him ashore. Work on the boat continued, but, though the carpenter was doing his utmost to get her finished, the captain was in no hurry to sail. He hoped that, by delaying his departure, the loss of the Tyger would not be reported in Jamaica until Admiral Vernon had victualled his fleet and departed.

Nor was the captain above treachery. One afternoon he sent the barge to explore the possibility of surprising the Spanish sloop at night. The result was an engagement, shooting and carnage. An Irishman ran amok, killing more of his men than of the enemy, and the barge was sunk. Three men were killed by hand grenades and several more wounded. This, too, is recorded in the muster list. The men in the sloop asked for quarter and then, in their turn, broke the truce. The English returned to their island and both sides were back to square one. The carpenter resumed his boat-building and the men their caulking.

They blamed the officers for not showing sufficient courage and enterprise to capture the sloop as a prize, though they admitted that they themselves would have been too weak to support such a move. The Spanish lieutenant was captured by the boatswain, Mr Trumble, whose signature appears at intervals in the muster lists with that of Captain Herbert. Two other prisoners are entered as Marcus and Pedro. These had to share the rations, but, as was customary, their allowance was two-thirds of that allotted to the men.

Departure

Finally, in March 1742 they were ready to sail for Jamaica. The newly-built boat was christened the Jolie Marie and the island they at last were leaving Benany or place de douleurs. This has not been identified, unless it be Bimini, far to the west of Tortugas. The captain boarded the sloop that had come to rescue them. He ordered the men to make bundles of their clothes and the negroes to put these on board the sloop, so that the men were left with one shirt and a pair of toile breeches. Sixty-two men were then put on the Jolie Marie with food for 27 days; this allowed between five men one pound of bread, three pints of water and three noggins of rum every 24 hours.

There was some contrivance by which they could be towed by the sloop in bad weather, and on 2 April this ill-assorted pair of vessels reached the north-westerly point of Cuba. Having run out of water, they replenished supplies and set sail for Jamaica, but contrary winds forced them to within 20 leagues of Cape Santa Cruz, the south-easterly point of Cuba. But now they had nothing but rum to live on, and, realising that the improvised boat could go no further, the captain supplied them with a bushel of lard and a puncheon of rum, allowed each man a gun, powder and shot, placed them in charge of his erstwhile prisoner, their champion the lieutenant, and set them adrift, while he proceeded to Port Royal in the sloop.

On 19 April the Jolie Marie, when close in shore in search of game and water, came upon two Frenchmen fishing for turtle in a small dory, who agreed to pilot the boat to Cape Santa Cruz, as this was in direct line north of Pointe de Negresse, (Negril Point) in Jamaica. They also gave the men bread and six fat turtles, and showed them where they could find food and water. On 2 May they left for Jamaica, arriving at St James' Bay on the 8th and Montego Bay on the 10th. Advised that a sudden squall would surely overturn their small craft, if they attempted to make Port Royal, the lieutenant hired a sloop which brought them safely back to base. They then set off for Blue Fields, some 15 leagues away, to report their plight to Admiral Vernon, who assured them that the captain of the Tyger would be sent to England to stand trial. The men were dispersed to various ships, Jacques Balleine, fils Philippe joining the Duke of York on 18 May 1742. So ended his Robinson Crusoe existence.

There is no space to dwell in detail on the wealth of material between those parchment covers still to be sifted, but, as when a stone is thrown into still water, ripples spread in all directions.

Turtles

For the naturalist there is a description of the nesting habits of turtles: they come ashore, make a hollow about three feet deep and cover their eggs with sand. If not disturbed they are hatched in three weeks. The vegetation of the islands is described as the men gather from the shores of Cuba and Jamaica plantains, sugar cane, tobacco, citrus fruits and yams. They also pick leaves from the cabbage palm (caboche), which grows to a height of some 50 feet.

For the linguist there are interesting measures of food and nautical terms, which owe something to Jersey Norman French: deux cantes de pain, une cannée de boisson and bourgoos, a hybrid of burgout, defined by Dr Le Maistre as 'warmed up soup', and burgoo, a nautical term for porridge seasoned with salt, sugar and butter, often the sole evening meal of a sailor and once a favourite dish with Jersey seamen ashore. Nous frettiment is used when they freight a ship and le perroquet turns out to be, not the pet bird of captain or crew, but the topgallant sail hoisted when the Jolie Marie is on tow.

The geographer can trace ports of call and the voyage back to Jamaica, though he will not find Cumberland Bay, a name given by Admiral Vernon to the deep inlet once known to English navigators as Waltenham, and now marked on maps of Cuba as Bahia de Guatanamo.

For the historian there are thumbnail portraits of the guilty officers, as well as of those who acted more humanely. There is an account of Admiral Vernon's court of enquiry, which reveals that the captain of the Tyger forfeited his salary and was fined £50,000 sterling, a staggering sum by any standard. Sadly, Lieutenant Scott, who had espoused the men's cause, though at first set free, was accused by a fellow officer of lying and challenged to a duel which resulted in his death. We are given the rules for a duel a la magniere de la jamaique.

There is also a detailed account of the siege of Cartagena and Balleine mentions in passing that Jean d'Auvergne, fils Jean, de la Grande Vingtaine (St Peter) is with Anson on the Centurion, but that is another story.

Genealogy

There is much for the genealogist to pursue. Jacques Balleine himself was the son of a murderer; for, on 22 October 1722, Philippe Balleine, fils Jean, a substantial landowner at Les Nièmes, St Peter, was arrested for the murder of Umfrey(sic) Towning, an intruder into his home whom he shot and mortally wounded. The grim story is recorded in the Rolls of the Court. Philippe's widow brought up the five children. The eldest son Philippe, who at 12 had witnessed the murder, settled in America and founded a vast family which is well documented there.

Jacques was the third son and was about 25 when he joined the Tyger. He was obviously well educated and strictly brought up in Calvinist ways. At intervals in his narrative he breaks off to reflect in religious terms on his plight. Just as Robinson Crusoe, weighing the good and the bad, concluded that there was 'scarce any condition in the world so miserable, but there was something negative or positive to be thankful for in it', so Balleine thought that, though the shipwrecked men were miserable sinners deserving of punishment, God would surely have compassion on them and send help in His good time. Who were they to suffer less than Christ had done for forty days in the wilderness?

One genealogical mystery remains to be solved. How did the book come into the hands of Philippe Le Roux and by whom was it actually written? There can be no doubt about the authenticity of Balleine's story. It is followed by other material of a later date, including the poem attributed to Josue Guille on the earthquake which occurred in Jersey in 1773. After the account of the court held by Vernon is a delightful and sensitive sketch in ink of three boats rowing away from the wreck of the Tyger, whose hull is fully submerged. Around the portrait of George II which adorns the Letter of Marque, is the inscription: Philippe Le Raux, son livre lui a par tien le 16 septembre 1796. At the end of the book are exercises in hand-writing, signed: Philippe Le Raux, 1800, Ecole du Sauveur, and some cruder sketches of ships. The final page bears the words: Philippe Le Raux est man nom, angle terre est ma nation, Jersey est ma demeure, Jesus Christ est man Sauveur. This is dated 21ieme mars, 1802.

Did Balleine write the story in old age? This would account for some inconsistencies in the narrative. If not Balleine, who transcribed it and where is the original? Jacques Balleine was the great-great-grandson of Jean Balleine and Genette Le Petivin dit Le Roux. At least one other Balleine at a later date married into the Le Roux family, and it is the descendants of Philippe Le Roux who have preserved the document we have to-day, but this is all we know.

The admirals who took part in the War of Jenkins' Ear are assured of a place in history books, but, apart from rare occasions when a manuscript emerges from an attic, the men who served under them remain unsung except in the dusty pages of a muster book preserved in the Public Record Office, where their life is summarized in the accounts of the paltry sums they owe for tobacco or 'dead men's clothes', or the stark letters R and DD which indicate that they 'ran' from the horrors of life at sea or were 'discharged dead'.

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