Sir Nesbit Willoughby. Admiral of the Blue.
By The Lady Middleton.
Those who on glorious ancestry enlarge
Produce the debt ; we look for the discharge !"
SO quotes (from an Antient Scottish Chronicle) a connection of my own in a book she wrote on family genealogies.
It is a worthy text, and in giving a brief account of certain notable members of the Willoughby family I point out to the young members of that race the debt they owe, and confidently look to them for its discharge. How better can they discharge it than by living up to the best traditions of their own name ?
Rear-Admiral Sir Nesbit J Willoughby, C.B. K.C.H.
Sir Nesbit Josias Willoughby, styled the "Hero of the Mauritius," was son to Robert Willoughby, Esq., of Aspley and Cossall, co. Notts., and Kingsbury, in Warwickshire, by his second wife, Barbara, daughter of James Bruce, of Wester Kinloch, through whom Sir Nesbit claimed descent from the Earls of Lauderdale.
Robert Willoughby (born November, 1737, died May, 1802) had, according to some old papers in Sir Nesbit's sea-chest, &c., a large family by his three wives.
His eldest son (by Catherine Edge, first wife), Robert, of Kingsbury Cliff, was a Lieut.-Col., a J.P., and D.L. for Warwickshire. He, like his father, married thrice ; first, Cecilia Graham (?), by whom he had one son, Robert Lewis. The mother dying in 1798, he (R. W.) married a Miss Gresley, who died in 1804, leaving a boy, John, who was killed in 1811 by falling off the mast head. Robert married as third wife, in 1805, Miss Croxall, who had five children, Edward, Nesbit, Henry, Cecilia, and Francis, born between 1810-16. " The family are residing in Jersey," says the old manuscript from which I quote.
Robert Willoughby's second son, William, was also by the first marriage. He was a captain in the 50th Regiment, and was killed at the taking of Copenhagen in 1807. By his wife, Barbara Bruce, Robert had Charles Jean Jaques Rousseau, born 1773, died 1824; Moncrieffe, born 1775; Nesbit Josias (the subject of this memoir), born at Aspley 1777; another Charles, born 1779; Suttie, 1780. "Miss Barbara Bruce," (Mrs. R. Willoughby,) died in 1787, so that Thomas Ferriss, lost in the sloop " Sylph," 1814 or 1815, in a snow storm on the American coast, must have been a son of the third wife.
Of Nesbit's brothers, Moncrieffe, major in the 27th Regiment, was in general Colville's Division at Waterloo, and died at ? , near Cambria; Charles, captain in the same regiment, died in the West Indies; and Suttie, lieutenant in the 44th Regiment, died in Spain. The graves of that household were indeed far apart! Nesbit appears to have had only half-sisters. His half-brother, William, made a will on board a transport just before the siege of Copenhagen, wherein, among other legacies, he leaves fifty guineas to Nesbit and Rousseau.
A rough pedigree in Lord Middleton's possession gives the Willoughbys of Aspley, as descended from the fifth son of Sir Percival Willoughby de Kent, of the house of Eresby, and Bridget, heiress of Wollaton.
The descent of Nesbit's mother, Barbara Bruce, of Wester Kinloch, would be interesting to genealogists as to whether she claimed from the antient Earls of Carrick, &c., but anyhow there is enough fighting blood already in the great Admiral's ancestry.
Colonel J. D. Legard, of Welham Hall, Malton, Yorks., whose father, Captain Legard, R.N., was friend and executor to Sir Nesbit, gave us the Admiral's old sea-chest containing such old papers, letters, ship-logs, &c., as Captain Legard had not felt it incumbent upon him to destroy.
One has never had time to go thoroughly through these, many of which are technical, and many of which relate to a religious work Sir Nesbit published and seems to have distributed widely. But excerpts from some of the papers are included in this little memoir, which, of course, has to be brief.
The Hon. and Rev. Percival Willoughby has kindly sent copies of newspaper articles on Sir Nesbit's death, and a digest of these gives, succintly, the best idea of our old hero's career.
His portrait, by Barbour, of Nottingham, hangs in the dining room of Wollaton Hall. The firm, high-bred face, with its strong, square jaw, tells its own tale, and the patch over the eye, or rather cavity where eye should be, reminds one of the story that when a French bullet cut it from its socket, leaving it hanging by filaments on the warrior's cheek, he tore it away, flung it overboard, and crying "D-the fellow that fired that shot!" rushed again into the fight.
Another story of his daring is that during some siege he planted a seat for himself on the rampart in so exposed a position, the better to direct operations, that when he temporarily absented himself and another incautiously used it, the man was immediately shot.
The "Sailor King," before he came to the throne, had always vowed he would knight Nesbit Willoughby, and as king, fulfilled his intention, regardless of the fact that the honour, then rarer and more precious than thereafter, had been already conferred, and his most intimate friends were wont to call him " Sir Sir Nesbit."
Sir Hubert Jerningham, when Governor of Mauritius, wrote to the present Lord Middleton asking if some portrait of Sir Nesbit Willoughby could be sent him for hanging in a public room, as the Admiral's memory was greatly respected there. Sir Hubert said it was recorded of the French victor—also wounded—that he begged to have his gallant foeman in the same room with himself, that they might convalesce from their wounds in company.
From Newspaper Reports.
"Death of Rear Admiral Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby, C.B., K.C.H.
"This event has been officially reported to the Admiralty, and a braver man that board has never had upon its list of heros.....
"Sir Nesbit Willoughby rose to fame by a series of the most enterprising and gallant services—far too numerous and important to be more than glanced at in this brief memorial.
"Sir Nesbit was born in 1777, the son of Robert Willoughby, Esq., of Aspley House, Notts., by his second wife, a daughter of James Bruce, Esq., of Wester-Kinloch ; being thus descended—paternally from the same family as that of Lord Middleton, and maternally from the noble house of Lauderdale.
" Sir Nesbit was a lieutenant of 1803, commander of 1808, captain of 1810, and rear admiral of the Blue 1847. At the age of 13, he entered the Royal Navy, and in four years after served as midshipman of the ' Orpheus' at the capture of the French frigate ' Daguay Thonin,' 1794 (and in the 'Orpheus' boat at capture of two French brigs in Senegal in 1793).
"At Malacca, 1795, he, in company with Lord Camelford) boarded and carried the Dutch armed ship ' Constantia.' In 1796 he assisted at the reduction of Banda and Amboyna— lieutenant of the ' Sceptre,' and served in her boats at the capture of the French 10-gun privateer' Eclair' at Rodriques, 1799; lieutenant of the 'Russell' at Copenhagen, where he distinguished himself by boarding Danish blockship ' Prove-steen,' 1801 ; lieutenant of the ' Leviathan;' and in 1803, in a boat with two midshipmen and seven seamen captured the French national armed ship ' Athenaise,' having on board 50 men ; and at the evacuation of Cape Fran5oise preserved the French frigate ' Clorinde' (ashore upon the rocks, with 900 persons on board) from probable destruction.
" [He] commanded a battery in the attack upon Curagoa in 1804; and in the 'Hercules's' launch captured the French privateer ' Felicite.' In a disguised prize he entered the harbour of Santa Martha in search of a Spanish corvette in 1805.
"He was lieutenant of the ' Royal George,' and in a boat of that ship miraculously escaped destruction, in saving the lives of part of the crew [of the] 'Ajax' while on fire. In the same ship, at the passage of the Dardanelles, he conveyed the Ambassador's despatches to the Grand Seignor. Also at Bota he commanded a detachment of seamen and marines at the attack on the island, and was there severely wounded. He was commander of the 'Otter' (sloop) at the Isle of France, and in her boats destroyed an armed vessel under the batteries in Black River, in 1809; was in the same ship at the capture of St. Paul's, Isle of Bourbon; was captain of the 'Ner6ide' and attacked Jacotel (Isle of France), and rendered other important services (for which he received promotion), and was desperately wounded by an accident. (? sic) La Platte 1
"He captured the Isle de la Passe, and in an attack upon a French squadron in Port Sud Est engaged two French frigates1 and after a defence unparalleled during the war, was captured himself, being wounded, and four fifths of his crew killed or wounded."
("Subsequently," says paper No. 2, "he served as a volunteer with the Russian army and was taken prisoner.")
"He was gazetted for his gallantry in 1803, in 1807, 1809, and three times in 1810.
"He received both pecuniary and honorary rewards for his bravery from the Patriotic Fund; and for his many severe wounds, including the loss of an eye, he was in the receipt of £550 per annum pensions.
"He was nominated a Companion of the Bath in 1815, and a Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order in 1832. He became Rear Admiral of the Blue but a few days since. His frequent visits to Wollaton Hall caused him to be well known in this neighbourhood."
The other newspaper account says :— "The foregoing is but a slight outline of the eventful and brilliant career of one of England's most gallant seamen. Sir Nesbit received the honour of Knighthood in 1827,2 was appointed Naval Aide-de-Camp to the Queen in 1841, and became Rear Admiral in 1847.....His death occurred on the 10th ult., in Montagu Street, Portman Square. The gallant officer was never married."
Mr. Percival Willoughby, in a letter, says he thinks 1848 was the year of Sir Nesbit's death.
"Was my godfather, and used to send me religious books. . . . . May I add that I know he was not only brave, but also, a good Christian—and tried to influence others, supplying his ships with his 'Extract from Holy Writ,' when Bibles were not cheap as now."
Many letters in the old box thank Nesbit for this book—many ask for copies. Much of the correspondence relates to attempts (often successful ones) on the part of the gallant sailor to get services of others recognised, and to help on young men deserving of aid.
The following letter is one to this effect, which seems to have been written in his last years of life :—
Dear Captn. Eden,
In consequence of the gazette of last Friday, I am again obliged to trespass upon your kindness, but as so many officers have been killed and wounded under my command, two of whom I have lately communicated with—Captains Lloyd and Deacon—I feel it a duty I owe to the friends of the former [? killed], and also the latter [? wounded] to do all in my power to influence the Committee for Medals, to grant them to them, but unfortunately, to do so, I must bring myself forward as a principal actor; for tho' I have four distinct cases as plain as the above gazetteer can make them, I have others under peculiar circumstances which I feel more meritorious; yet the Committee may think they do not come under head of the classes in the gazette.
"I therefore naturally claim every patronage of the Rt. Honble Earl of Auckland, G.C.B., &c., as well as the Lords of the Admiralty, towards attaining my desirable end ; and therefore thro' your kindness beg to state to his Ldship that in 1827, at the recommendation of the Ld High Admiral H.R.H. Duke of Clarence, I was knighted by his most Gracious Majesty George 4th, and in the year 1832, I was again knighted by [King] William 4lh, and though perhaps there was no occasion for it, I was gratified by this unprecedented honor in the College of Heraldry, at a public Levee, yet I felt it my duty to write to the Lords of the Admiralty of the 2nd dignity conferred on me, and received a letter of acknowledgement, and a number of letters passed between Col. Tayler and myself, who informed me in one of his letters that there was no occasion for my paying a 2nd time for the patent, and for various reasons I never applied to the Lds of the Admiralty to take any notice of it in the Navy list, and the only notice I ever received except the above letter was one from Sir Thomas Hardy—then the leading lord at the Boad, who in writing to me gave me a new address to the letter (sic) but I never took any notice of it . . . . . . . but I feel the case is now very different, as it appears the medals granted will principally depend upon the approbation of the Lds of the Admiralty, and of course guided by the first lord, I feel it my duty to state my second knighthood to his Lordsp., as neither he nor any of the present board . . . . . . . was in . . . . . . . 1832 in the Commission, and most likely the above circumstance was never known to them or to the Committee to judge the medals.
"So far from having the slightest wish to have the honor conferred a 2nd time, I was some distance from His Majesty when I was called to return, and therefore as granting the medals to the officers under my command will depend so much on his Ldsps approbation and the Boards, I am forced to mention the extraordinary and unprecedented circumstance, and now regret that some notice was not taken in the Admiralty list.
" Twenty years ago I refused a Barony [? Baronetcy] for important civil services, by the Colonial Office, and should do the same now, and next August shall be the great age of 71, and yet writing this letter is a duty I cannot avoid . . . . . . . will forward the views of various officers under my command.
Yours most faithfully,
N. J. Willoughby.
"Of course I press upon you the 2nd knighthood, as it was for my naval and military services, &c."
There is a rough copy of another letter to the same effect from Sir Nesbit to H. G. Ward, Esq., M.P., July 13th, 1846, requesting copies of his letter announcing to the Admiralty "the unprecedented honour" (of his dual knighthood), and their answer, to send to the Committee of Medals. He ends—"I am now 71 years of age, very ill, and blind." The dear old man was working for his friends to the last ! 3
The following letters regarding these knighthoods will be found interesting, especially as referring to Nesbit's service with Russia:—
" 6 Chapel Street,
July 21, 1832.
As I am informed that all applications of the candidates for the honour of belonging to the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order must be addressed to you, I beg to inform you I only read this morning (for the first time) the Statutes respecting that Honorable Order, and if it is not presumption I humbly conceive that by the said Statutes I have some claim for His Gracious Majesty to appoint me to it. Permit me to inform you that in the year 1812, having the permission of the Lords of the Admiralty, I offered through the British Ambassador at St. Petersburgh, the Rt Honble General Earl Cathcart, etc., etc., my services to His Imperial Majesty of Russia to serve in his Army during the war against the enemy of any King and Country at my own expense which were accepted, and I was at first under the Governor of Riga and secondly attached to the Army General Steinheil. I beg to inclose a Letter I received from that distinguished General in answer to a Letter I wrote hirn, and beg to state that I was introduced to His Majesty the Emperor of Russia in Paris in 1814 when I quitted his service by General Earl Cathcart, etc., etc., to whom I beg to refer for any particulars that may be required, and feel confident that from his patronage and kindness to me upon all occasions they will be satisfactory. And as I had the high honour of corresponding with His Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence, &c., &c., His present Gracious Majesty during the short time I was in the Russian Army, and as His Majesty at a very early period after he was appointed Lord High Admiral recommended me to his late Majesty to the honour of Knighthood to compensate for my being passed over when the Order of the Bath was increased, and as I was ready to prove to His Royal Highness that I had won the C.B. ten times, I hope my tardy application may not appear indifferent about gaining this Honour and I am particularly solicitous that my application should be laid before His Gracious Majesty, as my numerous wounds will not allow me to attend his Majesty's Levees as often as I wish.
I have the honor to be Sir,
Your obedient humble Servant
N. J. Willoughby.4
General Sir H. Tayler
G.C.A., etc., etc., At."
(1) The second newspaper says " Singly .... and a corvette (the Victor ?) which latter struck, but finally escaped."
(2) This would be the first time.
(3) There is a letter to Lord Middleton from Lord Haddington dated "Admiralty, 14th Fehy, 43," about a Mr. Willoughby now serving on the Gorgon, saying he (Lord H.) " shall be happy.....to manifest once more the high estimation in which I hold his gallant and distinguished relative, Sir Nesbit Willoughby, as well as to promote a young officer of his honour and standing." This may have been a nephew, as there are a good many letters from and frequent mention is made of a young officer named Willoughby, in whom Sir Nesbit seems interested.
(4) In the second edition of Sir Nesbit's book—" Extracts from Holy Writ, and Various Authors, intended as Helps to Meditation and Prayer principally for Soldiers and Seamen," the following appears :—" In the year 1812, the compiler of this humble work was walking upon the esplanade at Ramsgate—so blind that he could not see two yards before him—H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence came up with a coterie of nearly 20 ladies and gentlemen .... after shaking him by the hand said— ' Before this company I offer you my friendship for life, and if it is not so to the last hour of it, it will be your fault and not mine.' And he kept his word, for though from the state of his wounds and sight it was not in the power of H.R.H. to give him [N. W.] any appointment, yet they never met but he was kind in the xtreme, and like a familiar friend, and on one occasion evinced it in so peculiar a manner that it puzzled the Heralds' College. He [N. Willoughby] had been knighted by King George IV. in 1827, when William IV. subsequently presented him with the Guelphic Order, and at the first levee afterwards ordered him to kneel, and again knighted him......."