Article MT192

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No 23: 'Duncan, Jarvis and Lord Howe …'1

[Adam Duncan] [John Jervis] [Lord Howe]


The following piece fills out remarks made in association with Nelson on this site.  The Nelson material illustrated a collective point that, generally speaking, ballads about heroes came and went with the fortunes and misfortunes of the principals concerned.2  Here, in the phrase found in the song Deeds of Napoleon, the name of three admirals: 'Duncan, Jarvis and Lord Howe …'3 are used to uncover relevant ballads; and the first thing to note is that these ballads are, indeed, relatively speaking, uncommon manifestations, contrasting with the prolonged attention given to Nelson (apart from Nelson, as it happens, in ballad material concerning the two other major figures on the European stage at the turn of the eighteenth century, Wellington occupies a sort of middle ground, neither rare nor overblown … and, as is well known, Napoleon elicited numbers of ballads, like Deeds … above - even now the phenomenon is somewhat surprising in terms of an English context).

Duncan: Hero of Camperdown, 1797

The first of the admirals, Adam Duncan (1746-1804), son of a Dundee merchant, was a career sailor during the middle and latter years of the eighteenth century and is rightly famous for a victory over the Dutch, commanded by de Winter, offshore the village of Camperdown, in 1797.  Duncan (promoted admiral in 1785) hoisted his flag in the Venerable, blockading the Dutch at the mouth of the Texel, until forced by storms to sail back to Yarmouth for refitting, whereupon de Winter ventured out (October 7th 1797).  Duncan returned to block any Dutch return into the Texel and on October 11th signalled that his sixteen ships should pass through the Dutch lines to leeward and engage (one notes Nelson's similar tactics implemented later at the Nile).  Vice-admiral Onslow attacked the Dutch rear and Duncan himself sailed through the lines at great cost, his ship becoming almost unmanageable (as example of the fury of the fighting, note the fate of the crew of Ardent noted below).  It could be argued that Onslow saved the day since, after smashing the Dutch rear, he came to Duncan's assistance.  Victory was gained, nine Dutch ships sunk and many damaged: yet others ran for it.  Dutch hopes of an invasion of England were ruined.  Duncan was awarded a pension and created Baron Duncan of Lundie and Viscount Duncan of Camperdown.4

Duncan literature is sparse (incidentally, nothing has emerged - so far - about Onslow).  Pitts printed Duncan and Victory, a Dibdin song appearing in a whole set of Dibdin patriotic verse.5  This piece perfectly illustrates the difference in expression as found in what has, in this series of articles and notes, been described as 'scribbledom' as opposed to ballad convention.  There is nothing in ballad literature approaching the relatively convoluted and high-sounding phraseology, elongated for effect as it is by constant adjectival adornment, as this:

Again the willing trumph of fame,
Receives from bounteous heaven
        a claim,
Around glad nature's son's to call,
And make with wonder the terrestial
        ball,                        (Spain,
Strike shuddering France and harrow'd
With Duncan's thunder and Britan-
        nia's reign,
Confirm'd a new her empire o'er, the
This is also sustained panegyric, emphasised in a chorus:
                … prizing what fate
        has given,
Union, content, and gratitude to
        heaven …
Apart from 'Dismay to France' and 'horror to Spain':
Three hours nine ships saw captur'd
Vain Holland's dream of powr's no
        more …
Again, 'Droop fearful France' and 'sink trembling Spain' for:
Duncan in thunder greets Britannia's
        reign,                        (main.
Proclaim anew the sovereign of the
There is nary a thing in this that refers to the actuality of events at Camperdown in 1797 except for that total of nine ships captured. 

Duncan is, in fact, mentioned in two other pieces in the same Dibdin assemblage - in Naval Victories, where we find 'Brave Duncan so nobly Dutch treachery requiting', and in Yo Heave Ho (a piece in which a character known as Tom Tough speaks - Tom Tough is also the name of another jolly tar piece … wheels within wheels appearing):

I sail'd with valiant Howe, I sail'd with
        noble Jarvis,
And in gallant Duncan's fleet sang
        out yo heave ho …
Duncan also appears in yet another Dibdin piece, A Salt Eel For Mynheer, a very generalised and predictably cavalier dismissal of foreign arms:
WHY, Jack, my fine fellow, here's glorious news, -
    Lord, I could have told 'em as much,
That the devil himself durst not stand in their shoes,
    If Duncan fell in with the Dutch …
The piece refers to 'Nine sail of the line' thus more than suggesting that the ostensible subject is Camperdown, after which 'How the Mounseers will jabber at this'.

Eventually, in lines meant, it seems, to be taken as a chorus, Dibdin concludes his first stanza, emphasising generality in that:

        We'll bang the Spaniards,
        Belabour the Dutch,
And block up and laugh at the French.
The French, indeed, are castigated for not coming out of harbour to fight and the reason is given - it was:
Lest from Bridport they get such another salt eel
        As brave Duncan prepared for Mynheer …
Similarly, whilst the French, Spanish and Dutch might lay their heads together in order to 'sail up the Thames, take us all in our beds' and then 'hoist on the Tower their flag', yet:
… when Jervis, or Duncan, or Bridport come on,
They are damnably sick in the crew …
Finally, there is a general admonition to the 'audience' - English - to sing its nation's praises and take care of wife, family and king …
        The man, then, so blest, who disseminates strife,
    Deserves, while he sinks in disgrace,
Neither king to protect him, to move him a wife,
    Nor children to smile in his face …
Nothing is said of the events in Camperdown.  This is in the line of fodder for the nation's appetite for victory.  The piece appears on one broadside.6

It might have been hoped that two 'New' songs 'in praise of Admiral Duncan' would give us a better clue as to the course of events but this is hardly the case in the first which, in phraseology, immediately sets a ballad tone, adopting a 'Come-all-ye' invitation:

Good people of England I pray now attend,
Unto these few lines which lately I've penn'd,
Concerning bold Duncan, an admiral by fea,
How him and his tars have gain'd the victory.
One notes the epithet 'bold'.  The same is found in much ballad literature as evidenced in pieces about Nelson on this site.  After a chorus, the epithet is repeated …
It's come my bold Britons be of good cheer,
The wars will be o'er by and by, never fear;
Had they all been Duncan's (sic) fince the wars begun,
They would have been o'er, and the victory won …
- an empty enough gesture.

And so the piece proceeds, with few concessions to actuality.  It invites the reader to wait awhile because, perhaps, the 'bold Duncan the French may beguile' … Duncan is, in fact, set in the panoply of admirals (though they are un-named) who would never give up 'to the proud Monfieurs'.  And, similarly, 'I wish that the Spaniards would heave out to fea' so that the admirals and especially Duncan would 'bring them to England'.  Further still, 'I hope' that yet another Duncan will arise to fight against the French:

And then in a battle to beat them full fore,
As Duncan as (sic) done the Myniers (sic) before.
So a health is proposed to Duncan and 'his jolly tars', the last another predictable description.  The piece does, though, spare a thought 'likewife to Onflow that brave admiral' - and to the rest of 'our brave Commanders' ('brave' is another well-worn adjective in the context of naval encounters).

And there is a somewhat curious stanza, presumably best understood by a strictly contemporary audience, describing an 'illumination' - which would probably mean a general rejoicing - during which even Jacobins, 'However treacherous they be', joined in the celebrations.  The piece concludes rather lamely (to our eyes):

So now to conclude, here's an end of my fong,
I think I have faid nothing here that is wrong:
I hope we shall have a peace without long delay,
And then but trade will go merrily they say.
In the final two lines, a general hope as found in other ballads emerges - for example, in England's Glory Or Bonaparte's Downfall and in Nelson's Glorious Victory at Trafalgar.  Of the action at Camperdown itself we learn practically nothing.  This is conventional ballad text.7

A second 'New' song, this time from a named author, a J Prat, succumbs somewhat to the Dibdin treatment but is perhaps a little constrained by being set to the tune of Arethusa8:

TO tame the Dutch, our treacherous foes,
    And give Mynheers a bloody nofe,
Brave Duncan to the Texel goes,
        Expecting they would meet him …
Again, one notes the word 'brave' used to describe Duncan - later, he is described as an 'admiral bold' (just like Nelson) and then as 'our brave admiral'.

In fact, the author does allow us a glimpse of some detail if not at first intimately connected with the action … how the Dutch would not venture but tried to keep secure at home; and then, more in accord with actuality, how 'we' went to Yarmouth roads in order to take on board 'Frefh ftores our ifle afford' and how ships 'quickly were refitted'.  Following on:

Our Admiral foon a fignal fpies,
Prepare my lads! He loudly cries,
The proud Mynheer from the Texel steers …
Then the piece allows a glimpse of the battle:
All hands then to their quarters run,
Each tar with courage feiz'd his gun,
At twelve the bloody fight begun,
At every fire our foes expire,
We drum'd them to our heart's defire:
        God prosper Britifh sailors …
The time given - twelve o'clock - is accurate enough.  Duncan had given the signal to engage the enemy closely at around ten minutes past eleven but firing did not commence until just before noon.

Further, according to the ballad, eleven Dutch ships engaged three British ships but they were made to surrender.  De Winter 'haul'd his colours down', and the British were victorious.  Of eleven other ships, only four escaped.  Two admirals were made prisoner.  Nine ships of the line were captured (a true figure). 

In a curious passage, the author records that on board Ardent, 'Brave captain Burgel's nobly fell'.  Actually, the name is mis-spelled, the captain of Ardent being named Richard Burgess.  He was killed alright, along with Ardent's master, some thirty-three seamen and six marines.  There were around a hundred wounded as well.  On the British side alone, there were, in fact, two hundred and twenty-eight men killed in the battle and over a thousand injured.9

All this 'On the glorious eleventh of October'.  Then:

Let every loyal Briton fing,
God fave great George our king!
And in her train lay victory bring,
        Long peace unto our nation.
To Duncan and his tars fuccefs …
And Vincent bold, who Spain controul'd;
With Howe also, who arm'd ablow,
That brought the fleet of Galla low:
        Succefs to all true Britons
Duncan, just as he was in the first 'New' song, is thus set within the usual panoply of British naval heroes, an admiral much like any other admiral, in the manner of many Nelson ballads.  The important point seems to have been to keep up British spirits, emphasising and re-emphasising success in well-known terms and with less regard to exact detail of either fight or character.  J Prat is not that removed in his literary style from anonymous ballad convention.

Much later (1891), John Ashton printed a piece in his Real Sailor Songs10 entitled A Song In Praise Of Admiral Duncan and this, too, differs little from the foregoing examples:

Come all you bold Tars who long for glory and renown,
See your Courage and Conduct with Victory crown'd,
Commanded by DUNCAN, the bravest of men,
We will conquer the Dutch again and again.
A chorus includes generic images (my italics):
For such valour would soon put an end to the wars,
As Admiral Duncan, and his brave British Tars,
Who boldly fought like heroes bright for honour and
And defie the French and Dutch for to alter the Laws.
There is, though, an individual perspective in the piece … the Dutch stealing away from the Texel at night in order to assist 'the proud French' who, it seems, 'Old Scotland intending to take and subdue'.  The mystery of this reference remains.

The battle itself is hardly described: 'On the eleventh of October we had them in sight' and 'Our valorous forces compell'd them to fight', whereupon the Dutch called for quarter and 'Three cheers, showed the British had gain'd their desire'.  'Brave' Duncan took 'D'Winter' and '12 more were tane (sic)', one sunk and thousands of Dutchmen 'slain'.

Again there is an individual touch as the 'valour' of 'Brave Captain Trollope' is mentioned … fighting 'like a Hero of Fame and Renown'.  Henry Trollope commanded the 74-gun Russell and had kept watch with a small squadron over the Texel when Duncan was in Yarmouth refitting.  Duncan received early information from Trollope about the Dutch being at sea.

Finally, thousands of people, with tears in their eyes, watched the fight 'From the banks of Old Holland'.  Duncan achieved 'Victory Complete'.

The piece is hardly enlightening and one must assume that, like the other pieces, and whenever it was first issued, it was designed to remind the British of their immediate heritage, to rally them to the continuing cause.  The administration often needed a boost when the wars became unpopular through loss and privation; ballads discussed here would seem to have fitted the bill.  Further, Ashton's ballad, the tone very much in keeping with that of other ballads noted above, might suggest that the piece made its first appearance nearer to rather than further from events than the original publishing date of Real Sailor Songs in 1891 would indicate.  Printers, of course, were ever open to commercial consideration.

Duncan (and others) remain as shadowy figures … or, rather, figureheads.  And, after the small eruption as discussed above, there is no further sign of Duncan in printed balladry as the century progressed.  Nor did he survive in song (except in passing in, say, Deeds… and in Bold Nelson's Praise).11  In this he is lost to view as were the vast majority of heroes.

John Jervis: Hero of Cape St Vincent in 1797

The second of these admirals, John Jervis (1735-1823) was born in Staffordshire, son of a barrister who gave him a small gift of money when Jervis joined the Royal Navy at the age of fourteen and thereafter offered no support to his son.  Jervis served with Cook and Wolfe during the siege of Quebec in 1759, in the war of American independence and then in the Mediterranean fleet.  As he rose through the ranks he became known for his efficiency in all matters but also for a ruthlessness, never failing to reprimand or replace officers and most intent on the full subordination of his crews - to the extent that he banned the use of the Irish language when Ireland threatened to rebel during the late 1790s; but, in contrast, amongst his more obviously humane actions, an insistence on regular airing of bedding and swabbing of accommodation; and, not least, in a precise naval context, for regular exercise at gunnery.

Jervis eventually became Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, in November 1796 at a time when the British had been expelled from the Mediterranean unable to counter the build-up of French naval power and the declaration of war on Britain by the Spanish; and his most notable achievement came during the action off Cape St Vincent in 1797.  Jervis found that a Spanish fleet under its admiral Don José Cordoba Y Ramos was out from Cartagena (1st February) bound for the safety of Cadiz; and though outnumbered (his own despatches perhaps exaggerated the proportion just a little) Jervis - aboard Victory - 'happily formed in the most compact order of sailing in two lines' whilst the Spanish had separated into two sections.  He felt 'justified in parting from the regular system' and passed through the Spanish lines, aided by a fog which helped blanket his movements, tacked and came up to leeward (as Duncan, be it noted, had done before him).  Four ships were captured, including San José (see below).

This is not quite the full story.  It had been Nelson on reconnaissance in Minerve who had found the Spanish fleet and who had sailed through Spanish lines (11th February) so as to give Jervis the vital information and enable battle on 14th February.  The Spanish fleet was sailing in two groups and the larger of them attempted to sail away.  Jervis gave pursuit.  Nelson, meanwhile, back in his own ship, Captain, had come close to the fleeing larger group and, disregarding Jervis's orders to turn and engage the smaller group, placed his ship across the track of the bigger proportion of the Spanish fleet.  Jervis immediately ordered Excellent (under Collingwood's command) to make the same manoeuvre across the rear of the Spanish fleet.  Captain received the brunt of Spanish fire, becoming virtually disabled, so Nelson ran alongside the enemy in the shape of San Nicolas and boarded.  Collingwood, in Excellent, laying alongside San José, found the latter entangling itself with San Nicolas and Nelson was able to cross that ship and board San José thus enabling the capture of both: an action famously known afterwards as 'Nelson's Bridge'.

Jervis made a show of reprimanding Nelson for ignoring his orders and it seems that if the Spaniards had proved as able as the British then Nelson's gesture might have had another result.  However, the Spanish fleet withdrew and never threatened again.  The immediate upshot of the action was that the British could once more enter the Mediterranean which they had been forced to quit in 1796.  From this position, not long after, came the battle of the Nile.

After the battle at Cape St Vincent Jervis was elevated to the peerage as Earl St Vincent.  Nelson was knighted.  The two men went on to share mutual respect and activity.

Where ballads and songs are concerned, we begin with a broadside entitled England's Glory, Or the Downfall of Spain. A NEW SONG12 that continues in something of the vein discovered in discussion of Duncan, listing previous admirals:

BRAVE Anson and Hawke were fam'd heroes
          of old,
And of Rodney and Howe mighty deeds have been
Next the glory of Jervis to you I'll unfold.

O the gay tars of Old England,
And O the bold brave Englifh tars.
The scansion makes it pretty certain that a known tune was being invoked - The Roast Beef of Old England, a Richard Leveridge composition dating from 1735 setting words by Henry Fielding from The Grub-Street Opera which was first performed in 1731.  One notes the spelling 'Jarvis' in the title whereas in the body of the text it is spelled 'Jervis' … the same pronunciation is assumed.

The battle at Cape St Vincent is described, actually in detail that progresses logically time-wise; how on 'valentine's Day', Jervis encountered a 'spanifh fleet' and how, at eleven, 'he bore down upon their main line' (battle was actually joined at around eleven-thirty), attacking with 'Fifteen againft twenty and seven of their line'.  Jervis 'pour'd in fuch broadsides to the Trinidad' that she was forced out of the battle and:

The Sa'vador del mundo unto us did ftrike,
The San Jofeph to fight us no longer did like,
The reft of their fleet in confusion did [pike] …
Then, 'The San Nicholas, and San Isidro we've got' … ; and 'Don Winthuyfen, their General, was kill'd' together with a great many others.
By acting fo glorious a beating they've got'.
For the record, the ships mentioned above were actually Santissima Trinidad (120 guns); San José (112 guns) on board of which was the admiral F J Winthuysen who, with both legs shot off, surrendered his sword to Nelson before being carried below deck to die; Salvador del Mundo (112 guns); San Nicolas (80 guns); and San Ysidro (74 guns).  San José, captured, later entered the British fleet as San Josef - perhaps the ballad-maker took a cue from that occurrence.  At Trafalgar (21 October 1805), flying the flag of Rear Admiral Don Baltazar de Cisneros, Santissima Trinidad (it is thought that she carried 136 guns by then) was targetted by the British and eventually surrendered to Neptune, commanded by Nelson's close friend Captain Thomas Fremantle; was taken in tow by Prince; but, being badly damaged, sank in the storm that followed Trafalgar.

The ballad continued: the British 'wooden walls' took, sank or disabled the Spanish fleet, 'Whilst commerce and trade plenty brings to our table' - we have found such hopes before.  The final two stanzas are almost illegible on copy but appear to praise the king, damn the Spaniards and 'give merit' to Jervis and his 'brave crew'.

There is another broadside, this time entitled Jervis Taking The Spanish Fleet.13 In it, after an appropriate opening - 'Once more, you British heroes' that immediately implies a succession of British feats of arms - the piece recounts events in one continuous set of lines - that is, without being divided into stanzas.  It pinpoints 'The fourteenth day of February' and states that 'Brave Jervis' (our favourite epithet) 'Gave orders to pursue'.

Now this was off Cape St. Vincent,
    We had them close engag'd;
Full twenty-seven Spanish ships,
    They did us more enrage …
The British fleet is numbered at fifteen.


We made them spread the ocean
    All o'er with crimson dye …
And then:
While Britons they lay bleeding,
    While Spaniards they lay slain,
And Britain sounds the trumpet,
    We're masters of the main.
A health is called for Jervis and his officers and crew and, with a certain quirkiness in wording, this particular broadside declares:
Spain, with your surprising force,
    We've made you for to rue,
Two of your hundred-and-twenties
    And two of eighty-four,
By Britons brave were soon con-
    Safe to Old England's shore.
As indicated above the numbers refer to how ships were rated. Of course, in the ballad, it is hoped that, for Britons:
… may your glorious actions
In British annals shine.
Apart from these broadsides, Dibdin enters the scene with a piece entitled Jervis For Ever.14 In terms of similarities and contrast with other such songs and with broadsides, we know more or less what to expect - and Dibdin, given that there are some very individual expressions in his work, conforms.  A lively opening stanza reads as follows:
I've sail'd the salt seas pretty much,
    And rough'd it in all weathers,
The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch,
    To buckle to their tethers,
And in each voyage I must need
    You see, have known some service,
But all I've know'd and all I've seed
    Is now outdone by Jervis!
We pause to remark the fourth individual line; and the deliberate inclusion of 'authentic' expression in 'know'd', for example, and 'seed'.  Otherwise, the piece moves along in familiar vein, chiefly in listing the achievements of previous admirals and then producing Jervis as the trump … Benbow, Boscawen, Russell, Rodney, Blake, Howe - who 'made the Frenchmen dance a tune' …
But twenty-seven beat with fifteen
    None ever did but Jervis.
There is a particularly interesting reference in the very next stanza in with the observation that 'All praise this noble service', where Dibdin added:
And ballad-singers in the streets
    Roars - Admirable Jervis!
Obviously, Dibdin was sufficiently self-aware to distinguish such a genre and the general run of his piece here and, indeed, of other pieces, as noted in the last Enthusiasms survey - of Duncan - underlines his own position, first off, in the pantheon of 'scribbledom' (would Dibdin have disputed such an epithet or been content to be so placed?) whether or not some of his work was subsequently adopted by 'ballad-singers'.

Jervis For Ever, at length, describes how the admiral 'he's become a lord' although always 'a king aboard'.  There follow more references to more admirals - Nelson included but some now quite obscure - and then to a desire to down 'a feight of grog'; and blessings on all - the king, the queen, 'the fam'ly royal':

Let Frenchmen come, 'twill soon be seen
    That British hearts are loyal.
The piece ends up with:
Zounds! Who's afraid, while England boasts
    Such admirals as Jervis.
There is nothing about any actual encounter between Jervis and the French.  Clearly the piece, a potboiler if ever there was one, relied for its success on contemporary apprehension of a contemporary event.  Dibdin must have been confident that his piece had an immediate application. 

Afterwards, the piece was reprinted in the Vocal Library of 1818, under the title Admiral Jervis, evidence of a certain continued interest.15

All the same, other than in these three pieces and as a name in the Pitts piece, The Chapter of Admirals16 and, of course, in Deeds of Napoleon, Jervis appears to fade from the ballad and sung scene.  The above material is a meagre haul, indeed.

Lord Howe and the Glorious First of June

Richard Howe, the third admiral of our list from the song Deeds of Napoleon, enjoyed a long career and his name evokes many of the conflicts that wracked the eighteenth century until the final flourish of the Napoleonic French wars, as well as many of the personalities involved in British naval history.  His first voyage, for instance, was in Severn, one of a squadron of ships sent into the south seas with Anson in 1740 when Severn, failing to round the Horn, returned home. 

Howe next served in the West Indies being made acting-lieutenant in 1742 with this rank confirmed in 1744.  During the Jacobite Rising of 1745, he commanded the sloop Baltimore in the North Sea and in 1746, became post-captain, commanding Triton in the West Indies.  Then, as captain of Cornwall, the flagship of Sir Charles Knowles, he was in the battle with the Spaniards off Havana on October 2nd 1748.  While the peace between the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War lasted, Howe held commands at home and on the west coast of Africa.  In 1755, he went with Boscawen to North America as captain of Dunkirk, and from this date until the peace of 1763, he served in the Channel in various expeditions against the coast of France (none of which achieved any great measure of success), with a personal increase of reputation as a firm and skilful officer.  On November 20 1759 he led Hawke's fleet as captain of Magnanime in the victory at Quiberon (but, as will be seen, is not mentioned in ballads for this).

As a result of the death of his elder brother, killed near Ticonderoga during the land operations of the North American campaigns in 1758, Howe became a Viscount; and in 1762, he was elected MP for Dartmouth.  During 1763 and 1765, he was a member of the Admiralty board, and, from 1765 to 1770, was treasurer of the navy.  At the end of this tenure, Howe was promoted to Rear-admiral, and then again, in 1775, to Vice-admiral.  The following year, he was appointed to the command of the North American station.

He was joined by his brother, General Sir William Howe, head of the land forces, in an effort to bring about conciliation - without success.  Then, the appointment of a new peace commission in 1778 upset Howe so deeply that he sent in a resignation of his command.  It was reluctantly accepted by Lord Sandwich, then First Lord, but before it could take effect France declared war, and a French squadron was sent to America under the Comte d'Estaing.  Howe managed to acquit himself well but still left his station in September 1778.  After that, he refused to serve, citing distrust of Lord North and a lack of support during his command in America.  His situation was not helped by the decision to replace himself and his brother as peace commissioners and when sections of the press influenced by government made several attacks on his reputation.

It was not until the fall of Lord North's ministry in March 1782 that Howe once again came to prominence, serving between 1783 and 1788 as First Lord of the Admiralty.  When the French Revolution erupted in 1793 Howe was again given command of the Channel and this is when his greatest moment came.  Howe's active service ended after the 1794 campaign although he held nominal command by decree of the king and after the Glorious First … , Howe was made a Knight of the Garter.  In 1797 he was one of those called on to try to meet the mutineers at Spithead.

We can see that Howe enjoyed a genuinely distinguished career - almost continuously at war - and the Glorious First of June can be seen as something a grand climax despite misgivings over the practical outcome of the battle.  The action came about during the most prolonged of wars between Britain and France and when the French people, suffering the effects both directly through war and of a terrible harvest the year before, sent for grain from the Americas whereupon a convoy of some 117 ships set sail for France.  There were four months of slack before news of the convoy began to circulate although manoeuvrings between French and British fleets continued as a daily part of hostilities.

Then, between 4th of May and 28th May 1794, there were moves and counter moves to intercept and to protect the grain convoy with French ships coming out of and going back into Brest and British ships trying to guess exactly where the grain convoy would appear in the Atlantic.  At one point the two battle fleets sailed past each other in thick fog.  And all the time, there were engagements where one side or the other captured and sometimes recaptured ships.

The major action began on the 28th May with the British and the French vying for the weather gauge and various encounters taking place, during one of which the French Revolutionnaire was dismasted and had to be towed in to Rochefort by Audacieux.  At the same time, the British Audacious had been crippled and had to return to Plymouth.  The following day each fleet renewed its tactics and again there were brief encounters and not a few blunders on the British side before Howe himself sailed his flagship, Queen Charlotte, through the French line, cutting off two rear French ships; and he was followed by other British vessels.  The French admiral, Villaret-Joyeuse, immediately wore all his ships together to help those ships at the rear of his column.  Whilst both fleets had been thrown into confusion by these movements the British had gained the weather-gauge and Villaret-Joyeuse, although he was able to save the two ships, had fallen to leeward so that the advantage lay with Howe.  As well as this two damaged French ships, Montagnard and Indomtable, were forced to return to port.

The struggle for tactical dominance continued throughout the 30th of June and at one point the two fleets lost sight of one another.  The French, who had four ships crippled, had been reinforced by four others, and were again 26 in number.  A further day went by whilst the two fleets dealt with thick weather but by the evening the British were close and to windward of the French.  Howe, without full confidence in all his captains, waited until the following morning, keeping the French under observation by frigates, before seeking to join battle.

At about a quarter past eight on the morning of Ist June Howe was able to bear down on the French, throwing his whole line on them at once from end to end, ordering his captains to pass through from windward to leeward, and so to place the British ships on the French ships' line of retreat.  We have already seen how Duncan and Jervis adopted the same sort of tactics and whilst historians continue to write about established tradition - placing your fleet broadside to broadside with the opposing fleet - it is clear that British admirals, including Howe, were adapting rapidly.  One recalls that the tactic described here - dividing the enemy fleet - was also essentially that employed by Nelson at Trafalgar and Nelson enjoyed the benefit of more highly trained squadrons.  What happened on 1st June 1794 was that there was no discernible, decisive pattern to British action but rather an opportunity in a general mêlée to bring to bear the suprior gunnery and seamanship of the British fleet.  Again, it seems, Howe's orders were not fully obeyed by all his captains, but, during the course of the day, the French ships Sans-Pareil, Juste, America, Impétueux, Northumberland and Achille were taken and Vengeur du Peuple sunk after a four-hour duel with the British Brunswick.  Some named ships appear in the ballads discussed below.

British naval power, then, was seen to triumph but the British fleet itself was too damaged to take advantage - Defence and Marlborough being dismasted and having to be towed back to port - and the avowed intention of the French to get food ships through the British blockade, was fulfilled.  The French grain convoy, the object of pursuit in the first place, escaped capture, having sailed on 29th May through the area where the previous day's action had taken place; and apart from a ship lost in heavy weather, the convoy anchored at Brest on the 3rd of June.  Any breaking of the British blockade was a minor triumph for the French.  And, at the same time, in the general rejoicing in Britain, Howe's failure to stop the convoy appears to have been forgotten.

Apart from the six ships captured by the British and the loss of Vengeur du Peuple, sunk, the French had another thirteen ships badly damaged.  There were around 1,500 French sailors killed, 2,000 wounded and 3,000 captured.  The British had eight ships seriously damaged even if the butcher's bill was small in comparison to that if the French.  Clearly, British tactics had prevailed against the French fleet even if the grain convoy evaded capture.  And it is true that the French Navy never again tried to fight a convoy through the British blockade, France resorting instead to blockade-running, privateering and trade through neutral countries.  This aftermath, though, would never have been known to the ballad-makers surveyed below.  We are left with celebration, with a familiar parade of British confidence.

As far as quantity of printed material is concerned Howe just about shades Duncan and there is no point in rehearsing entirely the usual discrepancy between actuality and ballad perspective.  Of course certain images and expressions will stand out but we know full well that the objective of ballad printing on naval histories was not necessarily to give an accurate account but to boost morale and British arms.  In this, a tone is perceptible (although the printing is hardly legible) in Britannia Triumphant: Or The Glorious Victory Gained Over The French Fleet, By Lord Howe17:

Behold from afar what glad tidings are brought,
What glorious exploits in the Channel are wrought …
how (in a chorus):
Gallia's proud fons fhall trembling own
The glorious deeds by Britain done.
Like Duncan and Jervis, Howe is set in a list of successful admirals:
In the late glorious war, noble conquests were made,
And [Strachan], and Hawke, Britifh valour difplayed,
They fought and they conquer'd, true glory to fhare,
But the glory of Howe is [past] all compare …
The names of Hawke and Strachan suggest that the particular reference is to the battle of Quiberon Bay against the French on 20th November 1759 which effectively ended French ambitions in the Seven Years War as well as offering a roll of honour as context for Howe.  It might seem strange, all the same, that Howe's part at Quiberon, a major one, is not mentioned.

And there is no account of the battle on the first of June 1794 which, as indicated above, extended over three days: simply praise for Howe (whilst it has not been possible to decipher all the words exactly there is enough evidence to dispel any doubt about this).  It must be assumed that the piece could not fail to find an audience conversant with contemporary events.

It is difficult here to pinpoint issue and it was not necessarily Britannia Triumphant … that appeared first off.  Indeed, it seems that the Glorious First … provoked almost instantaneous reaction from more than one source but Evans, as we have copy, would seem to have been one of the most eager to issue material.

In respect of Evans, there are two different 'New' songs, both 'Sold at No. 42, Long-Lane', and both claiming to have been 'Printed in June, 1794'.  How 'new' then?  Was it a matter of days only? 

The first (reprinted much later by Firth in his Naval Songs and Ballads) has a short prose introduction:

A New Song

      On the Sea Engagement fought the firft
of June 1aft, when Lord Howe beat the
French Fleet, and took feven of their
Ships, viz. La Jufte, Sans Pareilkle, both
of 80 Guns, L'America, L'Achille,
Northumberland, L'Impetieur, and the
Vengeur, all 74 Gun Ships; but the
Vengeur funk very foon after she was
There is the usual invitation to 'Come all ye Britifh hearts of gold … ' and a 'glorious tale' is unfolded:
The Charlotte, with Lord Howe therein,
This fierce encounter did begin,
So bravely threw her broadfides in,
      Against the French commander …
He found it too 'hot' that day; deciding that he could not 'ftay' and, therefore, bearing away.  'He was no falamander':


They left us feven fhips that day,
So crippl'd could not get away,
Like logs they on the fea did lay,
      So hot was their reception …
And 'Huzza! huzza! Their Admiral runs'.

The piece lists some casualties - 'Brave Bowyer, Palfrey, Captain Hutt' who each 'loft a leg' and 'Poor Montague' who was killed: a somewhat unusual list amid the familiar praise.  Then there is a claim that twenty-six French ships fought twenty-five British but, naturally:

We being Britifh failors bold,
Who value honour more than gold,
Our courage has been try'd of old,
      We ever will prevail.
So the French ships 'are brought' in honour of 'great George our King' and, further:
In praife of failors let us fing,
And drink to each brave tar …
and 'drive the boafting French away'.18

The second 'New' song, 'Compofed on the glorious Victory obtained by Lord HOWE'19, is set to the tune Hearts of Oak and even echoes some of the words:

COME cheer up, ye Britons, attend to my lay,
And join in my chorus, on this happy day,
Let faction and difcord no longer appear,
Since Howe is a Briton, to Britons moft dear.


Heart of oak is brave Howe, hearts of oak are his men,
To fight he is ready, fteady, boys! Fteady!
He'll conquer the proud French again, and again.
The process of linking one song with another mirrors common practice, often when a suitably martial or patriotic air is invoked, and seen at length in the procession of songs using the air of Arethusa, as described previously on this site.20  Sometimes the air might be quite different, of course, as with the first Howe piece cited here, the suggestion on copy being to sing it to A full yield to Mulbery Tree but even if this tune is unfamiliar to us we could not doubt that it had currency at the time of the issue of the Howe piece.  The words of Heart of Oak, incidentally, were written by David Garrick in 1759 and the music composed by William Boyce - it is not clear exactly when but there had been plenty of time (Boyce died in 1779) before Howe's battle for the song to have circulated and to have been adopted and adapted.

In the Howe piece the familiar adjectives roll - 'brave' (for the British); later 'valiant' and 'bold'; 'proud' (for the French) … as 'On the firft day of June this brave victory was won'.  Two stanzas remind us of lines in one of the Duncan piece, referring, as they do, to how:

Tho' Jacobites rail, and difloyal fools rife,
All fenfible men do their actions defpife,
With Equality - Liberty - fuch fort of ftuff,
Our neighbours, the French, are made wretched
                  enough …
- suitably conservative and patriotic sentiments that indicate how the government of the time may well have felt at a time of great anxiety in Britain in the face of assaults from more than one quarter, the French representing the most obvious threat but discontent with war and problems in Ireland (even if the British populace was not particularly aware of them) adding to discomfiture:
So let grumblers rail on, without reafon or caufe,
Still we'll honour our King, our religion, and laws,
We've no guillotine here, but without it are free,
And for liberty look not on tops of a tree.
The last, presumably, is a reference to the Tree of Liberty as embraced by several groups to whom the sniff of French ideas gave heady impulse.  But it had been Thomas Jefferson, writing from Paris in 1787, who gave a certain notoriety to the symbol as needing to be refreshed by 'the blood of patriots and tyrants' and he was writing in the context of the late American revolution when the symbol was adopted.  French Jacobins first planted their own tree in 1790.  In 1848 the same potent symbol was adopted by the Italians in their revolution.  At the time of Howe's triumph there was great suspicion in Britain of any notion encouraged by revolution; hence the tenor of the reference here.21

So in opposition to French ideas a gesture towards the panoply of the British state is made: 'Courts to determine', and 'a King to redrefs” and 'Not forgetting 'good Charlotte, our amiable Queen'.

Then, quite suddenly, the piece reverts to the battle scene:

After an engagement of several hours,
We took two noble eighties, and four feventy-fours …
bringing them to Spithead.  'Our brave British tars ftill the Frenchmen fhall dread'.

But instead of more details of the battle a quite new note appears:

The twenty-fourth day of June what a fight will be
Spithead will be honour'd by our King and Queen,
Likewife the Prinfceffes …
So Britons are urged to charge their glasses to toast the King:
And when angels take him, may George his fon reign,
And the Brunfwick's (sic) rule o'er us, again and again …
Howe, in this scenario, disappears from view, his victory no more than an occasion for patriotic outpouring.

There are yet two more 'New' songs, both 'Sold at No. 42, Long Lane', but this time to be taken literally as songs, each having had a public airing.  The first was:

Sung by Mr. Sedgwick,
in the 1ft of June,

Performed at Drury Lane, for the
Benefit of Sailor's Widows.

Written by the Earl of Mulgrave.22
This turns out to offer a personal story, told by a seaman who has left his girl behind:
OUR line was form'd, the French lay to,
One figh I gave to Poll on shore,
Too cold I thought our laft adieu,
Our arting kiffes feem'd too few,
      If we fhould meet no more.
Nonetheless, Howe's 'daring fignal' flew 'on high' and through the cannon smoke the French are seen to break: 'They ftrike! They fink! They fly!'.  And there is a chorus:
Now, danger paft, we'll drink and joke,
Sing, Rule, Britannia! Hearts of oak!
And toaft before each martial tune,
Howe, and the glorious firft of June!
This particular seaman has his foot 'ftruck off' but the chance of war would be explanation to Poll; and the seaman is proud of his loss, feeling no smart:
But as it wrings my Polly's heart
      With fympathetic pain.
Each scar is 'a beauty in my face' and 'all my limp a grace'.


Farewell to every- fea delight,
The cruise (sic) with eager wa tchful days,
The fkilful chace by glim'ring night,
The well-work'd fhip, the gallant fight,
      The lov'd Commander's praife …
And Polly's love and constancy are welcomed instead - 'with prattling babes' as well, who, in their turn, will go to sea:
Follow great Howe a victory,
      And ferve our noble King.
The second piece is:
                  A New Song,
Sung by Mr. Bannifter, in
                  The 1ft of June,
Performed at Drury Lane, for the
Benefit of Sailors Widows.

      Written by the Duke of Leeds.23
It begins:
O'er the vaft surface of the deep
Britain shall ftill her empire keep,
Her heaven defended charter, long
The fav'rite theme of Glory's song,
Shall full proclaim the bleft decree,
That “Britons ever fhall be free.”
Though hostile bands dare to dispute, though 'savage Fury nurs'd in gore', hopes to despoil, yet Heaven supports the decree still:
'Twas thus with Howe, illuftrious name!
Still adding to a life of fame,
Thro' Gallias' proud Armada broke,
And Albion's wrath in thunder fpoke …
Victory was gained and the decree 'sanction'd':
Hail happy Britain, favour's ifle!
Where Freedom, Arts, and Commerfe fmile!
Long may thy George in glory prove
The tranfports of a nation's love!
And prove that “Britons ever fhall be free”.

One would suppose that the two songs formed part of a programme, perhaps an illumination, certainly much removed from Howe's battle except for impulse.  This mix of 'scribbledom' - one recalls Dibdin - and broadside issue is typical of how events were celebrated.  Broadside printers as a whole often took material from the theatre as well as from poets, past and present; the case of Besley in Exeter, as described on this site, provides an excellent example.24

A Pitts issue some filling in of the picture: a piece entitled Battle On The First Of June.25

ON the glorious first of June, early in the forenoon,
      Of seventeen hundred and ninety and four,
Our anchors was (sic) weigh'd, British colours displayed,
      And a cruising 'sic) along the French shore,
                        My brave boys, &c.
Pitts is both general 'Well victual'd, well man'd, all things at command' and particular, listing beef, pork, 'good butter and peas', brandy and 'good beer'.  It appears that only one ship is being described, on which there were 'six hundred and ten' of Britain's bravest, 'stout and bold', as well as seventy-nine guns.  The ship was set for honour and gold ('my brave boys, &c.')

And 'We fell in with those bold Monsieurs' who 'bore down with pride'.  The 'Britons bold', of course, 'fired our shot as smart and as hot'.  In fact 'Our canister shot flew like hail'.  The Frenchmen tried to run but 'it could not be done' because the British 'clap'd such a sting in their tails'.

We soon jumpt on board with pistols, guns and swords
Saying, where is (sic) those heroes?  We cryed,
That, says they, will kill us all, but now indeed ye shall
Be punished ann (sic) paid for your pride, my French
The British found that the French 'had money great store' (we do not learn this anywhere else in Howe literature) and they were put on shore:
At Portsmouth we left six sail of them, bereft
Of all their bright silver and gold.
Then the British sailed away because they were bound to meet the French again.

It is a peculiarly garbled piece in some ways, more a tall story than an account of an event. 

As it happens, it carries the name of Mantz in Finsbury at its foot and, casting a glance at the top of the piece, we note that it was 'Printed for and sold by J. Pitts', one of those small links that give a slightly different idea of how certain broadside printers functioned 5like Catnach's nexus of agents as noted before on this site).26

A further piece, without imprint, Lord Howe Triumphant, carries a subtitle: 'His valiant Tars and the British Fleet Victorious'.27  There is a conventional appeal to 'Come every true and lawful friend' whilst British fame against the French is promoted and there is a short chorus:

Brave Howe, brave Howe victorious on the seas,
Our British tars victorious be.
In this piece we have numbers and names; 'twenty-five fhips compos'd our fleet' and the French had twenty-six.  On Sunday the fight began on the British side with Charlotte, Carfax, Queen, Royal George and so on - ten ships are named in all.  The piece then concentrates on Brunswick and its fight with 'Le Vengeur', ' a dreaful fcene of flaughter', over 'three hours'.
But Britifh tars, in glory's caufe,
Would fooner die than lofe applaufe,
The fhip Le Vengeur they funk in the deep,
And configned the Frenchmen there to fleep.
Vengeur du Peuple, it should be reiterated in view of the conflicting times given in these ballads, actually sank after a four-hour battle with Brunswick.

In the end, 'We Britons did the French defeat', taking six of their ships amidst scenes of 'fhocking flaughter'.  'Brave Montague', though, fell, crying 'fight on, my lads' because 'my brother ' will 'revenge my caufe'.

The sea was 'ting'd with crimson gore' for 'Blood from the fcupper holes did pour'.  And Neptune, rising the 'glorious fight to fee', was able to proclaim Britannia's victory.  So the British boys could rejoice and make 'Great George's foes' quake …

May our British arms by land and fea
Be always crown'd with victory,
Brave commanders, valiant men,
Health and conqueft them attend.
The selection of detail is individual enough in a piece where the sentiments are as one would expect them to be and it is interesting to find Montague's name mentioned since he appeared in one of the 'New' songs described above and one might be forgiven for a degree of confusion over actual historical occurrence when first contemplating the hierarchy.  The Montague so-named was James, a Captain of the vessel Montague, son of Admiral Montague who had been prominent in the first search for the grain convoy and the first encounters with the French fleets.

Much later, there is a Howe piece in Firth's Naval Songs and ballads of 1908, The Downfall Of The French Fleet.28  Here, the text is much more in line with actuality although the sentiments are recognisable from the pieces described above - without, that is, the purely personal-seeming stories of the two songs from the Earl of Mulgrave and the Duke of Leeds.  A first stanza notes that 'The 28th of May the French fleet hove in sight' and that 'Lord Howe he made a signal, resolv'd he was to fight.' His ships drew in line and firing began 'Resolv'd the French dogs to subdue' - 'Like brave British boys … '.  'On the 29th again', the ships were drawn in line, the action renewed 'And Admiral Gardiner then the line he broke' in order to 'make you smoke', 'like true British boys'.  Then, 'At last the glorious day, call'd the first of June' arrived and 'So well I do remember, it was about noon', the British fleet, to windward of the French, 'Resolv'd our courage to display,' 'Like brave British boys.' And so it goes on, Brunswick lying alongside and fighting with Vengeur for two hours under 'Brave Captain Harvey', who fir'ed nine shots into the Vengeur's copper, the crew the while 'Crying out, 'Monsieur, we'll sink you all'.  Then another vessel drew alongside Brunswick, 'the America by name'.  Brunswick fired three broadsides and America's 'three masts on board did lie'.


Success to Lord Howe, and all his noble fleet;
Such a set of fighting fellows together ne'er did meet.
May they together still remain,
And brave Lord Howe still rule the main
For to subdue Monsieur again
                  Like brave British boys.
Success to King George, likewise our royal Queen,
And may they be happy throughout their glorious reign …
and God be on their side …

The epithets are standard and few ('glorious', for instance, and 'brave') and the sentiments are predictable enough all following very much in the line already examined and we would expect that the piece was put together long before Firth's assemblage.

Finally, we note Howe's name in those lists of admirals such as A Chapter … and remind ourselves of his reappearance in Deeds of Napoleon.  But between the issue of the pieces noted above and Firth's book, Howe, like Duncan and Jervis, dropped from view.  We may look back on Howe's victory as an occasion for general joy in pieces from which, collectively, we do learn quite a bit about the battle but perhaps even more so of the enfolding sentiments, the need for a boost to the morale of the nation, which the two songs as sung - by Mr Sedgwick and Mr Bannister - illustrate well, neither being especially noteworthy as elevating Howe himself.

Roly Brown - 27.10.06
Oradour sur Vayres, France


[Adam Duncan] [John Jervis] [Richard, Lord Howe]

Article MT192

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