1004. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1804

1004. Robert Southey to Thomas Southey, 17 December 1804 ⁠* 

Dec. 17. 1804

Dear Tom

In spite of the information your letter contains it is the most welcome one that I have received for many a long month. it has this minute reached me – plague on the length of time that has elapsed – & must elapse before you can receive the answer. I write but these few lines – for we have company whom I expect every instant – to tell you to draw on Danvers for thirty pounds if you want it – which you will needs do unless you very speedily get an appointment. I wish to God I could say for a larger sum but you know how the world stands with me. & this will stop a gap till something better may turn up.

I have been in much distress about you owing to the affair of the Lilly. [1]  it was said in the Whitehaven paper [2]  that the first Lieutenant was killed – I am never in the habit of overhastily believing tidings whether evil or good – the paragraph stated that the Lieutenant of Marines, the Master, Surgeon & thirty men fell also. Hall I thought would have been with you, but it seemed an absurdity to imagine that the Master & the Surgeon should be in the boats. [3]  I got Bedford to inquire at Admiralty, & found that some Lieutenant – who I now suppose may have stept into your place – was also in your place when the ball came which might else have borne a billet for you. [4]  God be praised! all is for the best. If Commodore Hood [5]  should not appoint you come to Keswick. One of the new Lords of the Admiralty was a schoolfellow of mine, [6]  who, tho we have no intercourse with one another, would I believe willingly do me a kindness if it came in his way. & I have little doubt that thro him I could get you an appointment. He it was who gave that rascal Edward a birth, who after costing my Uncle 150 £, runs up a bill in my name at a brothel – goes begging of his poor Aunt Mary – & is now I believe at Bristol dashing away, in his uniforms. Whether he ever went on board, or was turned out God knows – to the gallows he must come & I only wish it was over. Dont fret about him – he does not deserve it.

They are not yet come so that I have time to ask you if Michael Birbeck fell in the affair of the Lilly? [7]  his father lives at Whitehaven & has reason to hope the account of his death is not true by what the Admiralty says. the paragraph which mentioned your death was particularly about him, calling him Master – but I & the printer, who have had some communication in consequence [8]  fear he was only Masters Mate – & if so we may have raised the old mans hopes only to make him suffer more severely at last. – You now see why I have not written by the last mail. – moreover the accounts of the hurricane said at first that a frigate was lost at Dominica, & that also alarmed me. Do write for the future let what will turn up. Plague on these people! they are below – & I will not lose a post in the hope that this may reach you in time to be of use –

God bless you

yrs very affectionately



* Address: To/ Lieutenant Southey./ at Nathan Jacksons Esqr/ Barbadoes
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
Postmark: E/ DEC20/ 1804
MS: British Library, Add MS 47890. ALS; 3p.
Note: Nathan Jackson is unidentified. BACK

[1] Thomas Southey’s ship, HMS Galatea, a fifth-rate 32-gun frigate, had, on 14 August 1804, made an unsuccessful attempt to cut out the French privateer General Ernouf (formerly the British sloop of war Lilly) lying at the Saintes near Guadeloupe. 65 of the 90 men sent on the mission were killed or wounded. Southey had suspected that his brother was among them because the first lieutenant had been reported as dead, but he was absent from the raid because he had been placed under arrest. BACK

[2] The Cumberland Pacquet and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. BACK

[3] Hall (first name and dates unknown) was the Lieutenant of Marines on board HMS Galatea. BACK

[4] Charles Hayman (d. 1804) was made first lieutenant in place of Thomas and he died in the attack. BACK

[5] Commodore (later Vice-Admiral) Sir Samuel Hood, 1st Baronet (1762–1814; DNB), in command of the fleet in which Thomas Southey served. BACK

[6] William Dickinson (1771–1837), a pupil at Westminster School, who later went on to Christ Church, Oxford (BA 1793, MA 1795) and was Civil Lord of the Admiralty, 1804–1806. BACK

[7] Michael Birbeck (dates unknown) was killed in the action, according to William James (d. 1827), The Naval History of Great Britain, 5 vols (London, 1822–1824), III, pp. 274–276. BACK

[8] This correspondence has not survived. BACK

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