THE TWELFTH MAN – EDWARD RIOU HMS GUARDIAN – AUSTRALIA’S TITANIC – COOK’S DEATH & BLIGH’S BOUNTY

‘In poor dear Riou the country has sustained an irreparable loss’. Lord Horatio Nelson.

A monument to Captain Edward Riou’s bravery stands in St Paul’s Cathedral London and his portrait, in the form of an engraving, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.

1789 – Christmas Eve: HMS Guardian, was en-route from England to Australia with relief supplies for famine ravaged Sydney, when she ran foul of an iceberg off the coast of Africa. See: Abandoned and Left To Starve at Sydney – January 1788 to June 1790

1790 – 21 February, Cape Town: The stricken ship was sighted by a French frigate and taken in tow. Those who remained on board, including twenty-one (21) convicts ‘bound for Botany Bay’, were back in Cape Town by 21st of February 1790.

When Lieutenant Riou stepped ashore from Guardian at Table Bay he was astonished to be greeted by William Peckover a shipmate from a previous venture in HMS Resolution on Captain James Cook’s fatal voyage to the southern oceans.

Early in the 1700s Edward Riou’s French grandparents were among  upwards of 50,000 ‘Huguenots who fled from the bigotry of the French king, Louis XIV’ to settle and prosper in Protestant England where Edward was born on 20 November 1762.

His father Stephen married into a military family and rose to Captain in the Grenadier Guards. One brother Phillip reached the rank of Colonel in an artillery regiment and his sister was widowed when her lieutenant-colonel husband died on active service in Ireland.

Edward Riou seemed destined for a military career, instead he chose the navy earning; ‘a reputation as the perfect naval officer and was much loved, especially by his peers’.

1801: During the first Battle of Copenhagen, Riou then in command of HMS Amazon, was wounded in the head by shrapnel. Unable to stand he sat atop a gun-carriage and continued to direct Amazon’s fire until cut in half  by a cannon-ball ‘dying [Nelson said] at the moment of victory’.

THE BACK STORY

1776 – July:  Riou had began his sea career in July 1776 aboard HMS Discovery on Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage of exploration.

The expedition comprised two (2) ships HMS Resolution, with Cook in command and Lieutenant William Bligh RN, a ‘talented surveyor and seaman’ as sailing master.

Lieutenant Charles Clerke RN, who too would die before the voyage’s end, commanded HMS Discovery where Edward Riou served as midshipman.

1779 – 14 February, Kealakeku Bay:  A decade earlier Riou and Peckover watched in horror as; one of the natives who stood directly behind Captain [James] Cook struck him with an iron dagger…first in the right shoulder, and then from the front, through the left side, into the heart.

Captain Cook fell to the ground dead….Several crewmen went ashore, burned down a village, caught two Hawaiians and decapitated them. They returned with the heads and strung them up for  everyone to see’. John Toohey, Captain Bligh’s Portable Nightmare, 1998

The Hawaiians returned what remained of James Cook; ‘a deboned thigh… scalp, the bones of his thighs, arms and legs, and his hands. The rest of the  body had been divided up. One chief received his head, another his hair, a third his lower jawbone. Nothing else remained’. op.cit. 

Following Cook’s death Clerke assumed command of the expedition, he transferred to Resolution and took young ‘Neddy’ Riou with him where Riou came to admire William Peckover. Dependable and trustworthy the experienced gunner had sailed on each of Cook’s three (3) voyages.

HMS GUARDIAN & LIEUTENANT RIOU

1789 – 14 September, England: A decade later – September 1789 – Lieutenant Edward Riou RN prepared his command for her maiden voyage. HMS Guardian a 44 gun frigate was to sail unescorted across 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ to Sydney, New South Wales.

Riou’s mission was urgent, Guardian was loaded with relief supplies for the Englishmen of the ‘First Fleet’ stranded at Sydney Cove since January 1788. See: HMS Guardian & Joseph Bank’s Garden

Riou made only one (1) stop, to buy wine at the Spanish island of Tenerife and take on water before pushing onto the Cape of Good Hope where he was to purchase flour, salted meats and live sheep from the Dutch.

1789 – 10 December, Africa: Fully laden with supplies worth £70,000 Guardian put to sea from Cape Town on the 10th of December on the final leg of her passage to Sydney.

1789 – 24 December: On Christmas Eve approximately 2000 km from the Cape while attempting to haul aboard free-floating ice to top up his dwindling reserves of water, a manoeuvre pioneered by Captain Cook, Guardian struck an iceberg. See: Australia’s Titanic – HMS Guardian – The Missing Link

25 December 1789: Holed below the starboard water-line Guardian began to sink. On Christmas Day Riou gave permission for approximately one-half of one hundred and thirty (130) persons on board to abandon the ship, of these only fourteen (14) survived.

The sixty (60) or so who remained on board, including twenty-one (21) of twenty-five (25) convicts being transported to their exile in Australia, were saved.

Guardian’s pumps, manned around the clock, kept her afloat. A make-shift replacement for the damaged rudder was fashioned from a damaged spar and enabled Riou regain control of the ship’s direction and plot a course to take his crippled charge back towards the Cape of Good Hope.

1790 – February, Table Bay:  As the vessel neared Cape Town in mid February a French vessel took HMS Guardian in tow. After two (2) months of extreme deprivation, their lives hanging by a thread, Riou and his men found safe anchorage in Table Bay at the Cape of Good Hope.

1790 – 21 February, Cape Town: Guardian docked in False Bay where Riou was gob-smacked to be greeted by William Peckover who had a most extraordinary tale to tell.

William Peckover RN – His Story

1789 – 18 April:  Nine (9) months before Guardian hit the iceberg – Captain William Bligh RN, along with eighteen (18) crew including Peckover, had been forced off HMS Bounty at gun-point in mid-ocean by Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, Bligh’s second-in-command.

With the aid of a sextant and quadrant Bligh and his men spent an extraordinary forty-eight (48) days with very little food and water rowing 3600 nautical miles to God knew where.

If seven (7) weeks in a cramped open row-boat without shelter was not bad enough Bligh’s relationship with many Bounty loyalists was toxic. He threatened to court-martial William Purcell and John Fryer, whose ‘watch’ allowed Bligh calculate longitude and in so doing did much to enable their survival.

1789 – 14 July, Timor: When they reached Coupang on West Timor Island in the early hours of the 14th of July 1789 the castaways, minus John Norton, stoned to death by a mob of Torfu islanders when the group watered at the volcanic island, were starving and exhausted

William Van Este the Dutch Governor of the trading-post, although very ill himself, received them graciously. They were fed, clothed and had their medical needs attended to.

1789 – 20 July, Coupang: But no amount of care could save David Nelson Bounty’s botanist. A protegé of Sir Joseph Banks he died within days of arrival and was buried on the island.

1789 – 20 August, Java: Meantime, as his men recovered their strength, Bligh collected fresh charts and made plans for the return to England. He chartered a vessel renamed it ‘HMS Resource’ and on 20 August the castaways departed Coupang for Surabaya, on the first  stage of the homeward voyage.

1789 – 12 September, Surabaya: Dissension between Bligh and many of the Bounty men marked the short stay in Java.

1789 – 17 September, Batavia: After a five-day hop ‘Resource’ reached Jakarta where the irascible Bligh arrested Fryer and Purcell.

1789 – 16 October, Jakarta:  Bligh set about sourcing a vessel for the next leg of the voyage. In mid October taking John Samuels his secretary and personal cook and servant John Smith, Bligh took passage on a Dutch ship and departed for England via Cape Town.

Bligh left the others, some too ill to travel and, those less favoured, including Robert Tinkler a boy aged eleven (11) when he joined Bounty, to fend for themselves. Quartermaster Peter Linkletter and William Elphinstone died before a suitable vessel became available to take the remainder of the crew.

By the time Riou arrived in Cape Town (February 1790) he found the Bounty survivors had managed to make it that far and were seeking a vessel to take them to England. Among them Peckover, Fryer, Purcell and Tinkler who were only too happy to tell Lieutenant Riou their troubles and help him in any way they could.

If Guardian could be repaired Riou intended resuming his voyage to Australia and to that end William Purcell a skilled carpenter organised a team to repair the damaged ship.

Earlier, in May 1788, when Bligh had been obliged to put into Cape Town to re-caulk a dangerously leaky Bounty Purcell employed skilled local workers to help with the repairs and he did so again.

1790 – 12 April: Steady progress was being made when – on 12 April 1790 – a fierce storm tore Guardian from her moorings and she broke up on the beach, but not all was lost.

Six (6) weeks earlier (1 March 1790) Lady Juliana one (1) of four (4) vessels comprising a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ en-route from England to Sydney, had arrived at Cape Town with two hundred and twenty-six (226) female prisoners and eight (8) children.  See: A Second Fleet – Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead

With the wreck of HMS Guardian went Riou’s ambition of resuming his voyage to New South Wales. He negotiated with Lieutenant Thomas Edgar RN Naval Agent for the Lady Juliana, who agreed to take aboard some flour, salted meats and a small flock of sheep salvaged from Guardian’s encounter with the iceberg.

Lady Juliana herself very nearly came to grief at Cape Town. Dubbed the ‘Brothel Ship’ her timbers, strained on an extended year-long voyage from England, were under repair when a container of molten pitch combusted setting fire to the freshly tarred ship. Despite choking, stinking black smoke her crew got the better of a fierce blaze, sheep and ship were saved.

4 June 1790:  Lady Juliana reached Sydney Cove at the beginning of June 1790. She was the first contact from England for the Englishmen, women and children of the ‘First Fleet’ who, three (3) years earlier (13 May 1787) had left their homeland, for an unknown land 13,000 miles (21,000 km) away on the other side of the planet. See: Buried Alive.

Lieutenant Riou finalised his affairs at Cape Town and returned home to acclaim and promotion.

EPILOGUE

The Admiralty gave Captain Edward Edwards RN of HMS Pandora orders to ‘search and apprehend’ all the Bounty mutineers

Fourteen (14) of them had broken with Fletcher Christain and settled happily at Tahiti. These Edwards found arrested and prepared to take them to England for court-martial. See: Pandora’s Box  & the Botany Bay Escapees

1792 – 12 September: Four (4) died when Pandora ran onto a Great Barrier coral reef and sank. Ten (10) mutineers – Michael Byrne,Thomas Burkett, Joseph Coleman, Thomas Ellision, Peter Heywood, Thomas McIntosh, John Millward, James Morrison, Charles Norman and William Muspratt in mid-September appeared before their peers on HMS Duke.

1792 – 18 September: A good deal of conflicting evidence was offered and a mixed verdict was brought down a week later.

Four (4) Byrne, Coleman, McIntosh and Norman were acquitted and six (6) sentenced to hang. Three (3) of the (6) had the benefit of expert legal representation.

Midshipman Peter Heywood’s principal support came from Fletcher Christian’s immediate and extended family, including the prominent William Wordsworth’s clan. As a result Heywood along with James Morrison and William Muspratt had their death sentence ‘forgiven’.

1792 – 29 October: Of course the piper had to be paid. At the end of October 1792 Thomas Burkett, John Millward and Thomas Ellision manacled and blindfolded paid the ultimate price hanged from the yard-arm of HMS Brunswick.

A week or so later Captain Bligh, called to account for the fate of HMS Bounty, was exonerated on a charge of ‘negligence’ leading to the ‘loss of a king’s ship’.

Soon after Bligh dropped charges against John Fryer but pursued William Purcell on six (6) separate points of insubordination. Purcell was found guilty as charged however the naval judges, perhaps aware the now Captain Edward Riou was waiting in the wings to support Purcell, anxious to avoid more unsavoury evidence against Bligh, recommended a ‘reprimand’.

The ‘Bounty’ court-martial, rightly or wrongly, had amounted to a character assassination of Captain Bligh and Purcell’s ‘reprimand’ a mere slap on the wrist left his mighty ego smarting and his career under a cloud.

1793 – February, Paris: France declared war on Britain at the beginning of February 1793 and so began a generation of global warfare (1793-1815) ending with the Duke of Wellington’s defeat of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo.

During the conflict John Fryer served as sailing master on Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s flagship and young Robert Tinkler, Fryers’s brother-in-law, now with the rank of Lieutenant, saw active service in HMS Isis. 

1806 – August, Sydney Cove: Governor William Bligh RN arrived far from home to take up his commission as Britain’s fourth naval Governor of Australia. It was a move that did not end well. See: Australia Day Rebellion 26 January 1808.  

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