|Naval history of Great Britain
||Phœnix and Didon
who had been picked for Captain J Jerome Buonaparte's frigate, the Pomone, and had been in service since the commencement of the war ; and they were commanded by officers remarkable for their professional skill and gallant demeanour. Captain Milius himself possessed these qualities in an eminent degree. His personal valour during the heat of the battle excited the admiration of his enemy ; and the high sense of honour, of which he subsequently, on an occasion quite unconnected with this action, * gave unequivocal proofs, established the greatness of his character.
A contest between two frigates, manned and appointed like the Phœnix and Didon, would naturally afford the display of much individual heroism. Our means of information are of course restricted to occurrences on board the former ; and even there we cannot do more than recite one or two of the more prominent instances. The purser's station in action is in the cockpit ; but Mr. John Collman, the acting purser of the Phœnix, scorned to remain in safety below, while the lives of his brother officers and comrades were exposed to danger on deck. With a brace of pistols in his belt and a broadsword in his hand, did this young man, in the hottest of the fire, take post on the quarterdeck there, by his gesture and language, he animated the crew to do their duty as British seamen. " Give it her, my lads ! " was an exhortation, as well understood as it was obeyed, and the guns of the Phœnix dealt increased destruction upon the decks of the Didon. As the action proceeded, the loss by death or wounds of officers from the quarterdeck, and the temporary absence of the captain to assist in fixing the gun in his cabin, gave additional importance to the noble part which the acting purser had chosen. And what could have been the summit of Mr. Collman's expectations, in a professional way, for being thus prodigal of his person? - A purser's warrant.
There were two or three youngsters among the midshipmen, who also distinguished themselves. One, named Edward Phillips, saved the life of Captain Baker. On that occasion, while the ships were foul, a man upon the Didon's bowsprit-end was taking a deliberate aim at him, when young Phillips, who, armed with a musket, stood close to his captain, unceremoniously thrust him on one side and fired. The discharge of the piece was instantly followed by the splash of the Frenchman's body in the water ; and the ball from the musket of the latter, instead of passing through the captain's head, did but tear off the rim of his hat. Several of the sick seamen also left their cots, and assisted in filling and carrying powder for the use of their more efficient comrades. Instances of this kind would frequently occur, did every naval captain understand the difficult art, to maintain the rules of discipline, and yet win and preserve the affections of his crew.
* See parliamentary proceedings on the abolition of the slave trade.
^ back to top ^