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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Our trial by court martial for the loss of the Psyche


The

race proved an exceedingly interesting and exciting event, for all the vessels were fast. The wind being off the land, the water was smooth for the first three or four hours of the race; and during that time there was scarcely a pin to choose between the _Josefa_ and the brigantine, first one and then the other contriving to get the lead by a length or two, while the brig and the barque also made a neck-and-neck race of it but very gradually dropped astern until, by the time that we had run the land out of sight, the _Josefa_ and the brigantine were leading by nearly a mile, which lead we very gradually increased. By this time, however, the breeze had freshened up considerably, and the sea had got up, whereupon the _Josefa_ displayed so marked a superiority that she had to take in all three royals and her mizzen topgallantsail to avoid running away from the rest of us. But, contrary to my expectations, _El Caiman_, which was an exceedingly beamy, shallow vessel, behaved so well under the new conditions that we also could spare the barque and brig our royal and still keep ahead of them.

The weather remained fine, and we made a very quick and pleasant passage to Sierra Leone, where our arrival under such unusual conditions, and the report of our doings and adventures, created quite a sensation. Also we happened to arrive at a most opportune moment; for there were three British men-o'-war in harbour at the time, and we were, therefore, able to

undergo at once, and on the spot, our trial by court-martial for the loss of the _Psyche_, instead of being obliged to return to England for the ordeal.

The trial took place on the fourth day after our arrival; and, as a matter of course, those of us who had been away in the boats at the time of the wreck were acquitted and exonerated from all blame. But poor Purchase, who had been left in charge of the ship, was not so fortunate, the Court finding that, in the first place, he had been negligent in that he had not maintained a sufficiently careful look-out to preserve the ship from being maliciously cut adrift; and that, in the second place, he had let go the two stream anchors prematurely and before the actual necessity for such a precaution arose, but for which act he would have had the stream anchors available to let go when he discovered that the ship was adrift, and might thus have checked her shoreward drift long enough to permit of other measures being taken for the safety of the ship, even if the streams had not brought her up altogether. For these acts of negligence the prisoner was sentenced to be reprimanded, to lose two years' seniority, and to be dismissed his ship! Fortunately for Purchase, the sentence was not quite so severe as it sounded, for the _Osprey_--one of the men-o'-war in harbour--happened to have a vacancy for a lieutenant, and the Commodore, after hearing Purchase's story of the disaster from his own lips, unhesitatingly gave him the appointment.

The fact of the three ships being in port also suggested to me the possibility of getting through my examination, forthwith; I therefore ventured to speak to Captain Perry about it, who very kindly explained my desire to the Commodore. The Commodore, in turn, caused a few inquiries to be made, when it was ascertained that, among the three ships, there were sufficient midshipmen desirous of passing to justify the arrangement of an examination; and within the next fortnight I had the satisfaction of finding myself a full-blown lieutenant.

Meanwhile, the Mixed Commission had condemned all four of our prizes--as indeed they could not avoid doing--and the crews were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment with hard labour in chains upon the roads. Then there arose the question of replacing the _Psyche_ on the station; and at the earnest representation of Captain Perry the Commodore was induced to take upon himself the responsibility of purchasing the _Josefa_ into the service, rechristening her the _Eros_, and commissioning her under the command of Captain Perry, who at once arranged for the whole of the officers and crew of the _Psyche_ to accompany him.


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