3295. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [written between c. 14 May and c. 21 May 1819]

3295. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [written between c. 14 May and c. 21 May 1819]⁠* 

My dear Wynn

As you took a wise & decided part upon the question respecting our conduct toward the Spanish Americans, [1]  – perhaps it may be of use to you to know the following statement when the matter is debated further. I have just received it from Henry Koster <who is> at Pernambuco.

The Duke of Wellington, British ship, Malcolm Ross [2]  Master, bound from the Rio to Maranham fell in off Cape S Augustus [3]  Feby 28 last, with an insurgent privateer. [4]  The usual questions were asked from the privateer by the Captain [5]  himself, all in English. Ross was then ordered to lower his boat & go on board. He answered that his boat was very leaky & would not swim. The Commander of the privateer replied that if he did not come on board he would fire into him; & without waiting for any thing farther, immediately he gave the word to fire, altho Capt. Ross had given orders to lay the vessel too. The gun was loaded with grape, & killed Ross on the spot, he was struck by several balls, & indeed the vessels were so close that the wadding laid open his breast. The Commander came on board in a few minutes, with a boat well manned. One of his men set his foot upon the dead body & said he should like to kill an Englishman every day, another boasted that he had fired the gun, & had aimed it at the Captain. The Surgeon [6]  was the only man who seemed sorry for what had happened, & said he would gladly give a thousand dollars that the affair had not occurred, the Captain replied that he would not have given half a dollar to have prevented it. The mate [7]  was required to sign a paper stating that the Captain had been killed owing to his own obstinacy, but this he refused to do. He was asked whether the property was British or Portugueze, & not giving a satisfactory answer was told to put into Recife (the nearest port) & obtain a certificate from the British Consul, [8]  or from his owner or consignee that the property was British; the privateer would wait for him, & if he did not bring such a certificate would capture the vessel as carrying property belonging to Portugueze subject. The vessel came in to bury the Captain & obtain the certificate, which was given by Mr Wm Kenworthy [9]  one of the owners. She was then allowed to proceed on her destination. – A subscription was entered into at Recife for the widow & family of Ross, who was well known there.

The privateers which infest that coast, & almost blockade Pernambuco, all sail under commission from Artigas, [10]  who if he were to be acknowledged at all, could have no possible pretensions to be a maritime power, & the vessel under his flag are owned, commanded & principally manned by subjects of the United States (or Englishmen I suppose) – not by persons who acknowledge him as their chief, or have any connection with him, or the territory to which he pretends. And the evil is becoming very serious, if British vessels carrying Portugueze property are to be liable to capture, because many English & Portugueze houses are intimately connected in trade.

I send you this as tending to show what sort of system is going on under colour of that cause, for which such men as Lord Cochrane & Sir R. Wilson [11]  are so zealous. – If vigorous measures are not soon taken it will become no easy matter to put down the piratical power which is gaining strength every day.

God bless you



* MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4813D. ALS; 3p.
Dating note: This letter refers to Wynn’s speech on the Foreign Enlistment Bill on 13 May 1819 and was written before Wynn’s reply on 22 May 1819. BACK

[1] On 13 May 1819 Wynn had spoken in favour of the Foreign Enlistment Bill, which was designed to prevent British subjects fighting on the side of the revolutionaries in Spanish America. The Bill was, at this time, proceeding through the House of Commons and Wynn spoke again in its support in the Second Reading debate on 3 June 1819. BACK

[2] Captain Malcolm Ross (d. 1819). BACK

[3] The Cape of St Augustine, south of Recife in Pernambuco, Brazil. BACK

[4] The Irresistible, from Baltimore. This incident led to a court hearing in Baltimore on 29–30 November 1819, at which a rather different account of events was put forward, Niles Weekly Register, 11 December 1819. The American crew were all acquitted on the grounds that Captain Ross’s death was an accident. BACK

[5] John Daniel Danels (1783–1855), American privateer. BACK

[6] Unidentified. BACK

[7] Unidentified. BACK

[8] John Lemprière (c. 1758–1839), British Consul in Pernambuco 1809–1826. BACK

[9] William Kenworthy (b. 1768) was a member of a family of cotton merchants and manufacturers from Ashton-under-Lyne, who were trading in north-eastern Brazil. BACK

[10] José Gervasio Artigas (1764–1850), who was at this time fighting forces from Brazil and Buenos Aires in order to try and establish the independence of Uruguay. BACK

[11] Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (1775–1860; DNB), naval hero and radical MP for Westminster 1807–1818, Commander of the Chilean Navy 1818–1822, Commander of the Brazilian Navy 1823–1825. General Sir Robert Wilson (1777–1849; DNB), commander of the Loyal Lusitanian Legion during the Peninsular War and radical MP for Southwark 1818–1831. BACK

People mentioned

Koster, Henry (1793–1820) (mentioned 1 time)