steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Butler Records - Part 2

Considering that pens were made by hand, and type had to be set up laboriously in print shops, how did the eighteenth century come to be so prolix? You'd think the technology would enourage brevity, but no. Take this short extract from a letter to my great*4 grandfather Weeden from his younger brother (and near anagram) Edwin. Note that, at the time, Weeden was 21, and Edwin 19.

To Mr Butler at The Revd. Mr Dodd’s, West Ham, Essex, August 12th 1764

‘Twas with the expected satisfaction I read and received yours of the 7th.: considering it as an ample amends for not writing before, as I therein found not only my former opinion agreeably confirmed, namely, that “No absence shall in the least abate our affections”, but that I had been instrumental of administering consolation with respect to dear sister Southwell [their sister Jane], and exciting that gratitude which is and ever will be due to the Divine Author of her recovery. She is now much better and was at brother Southwell’s, but not to stay as yet.

The rest and principal part of the kind letter is devoted to a spiritual and religious subject—a theme which I could wish oftener employed the pen of those who in their most familiar epistles are ever complaining of their want of matter and subject. Here, if the mind were in the least disposed, I think they might find sufficient matter, and copious subject too: and yet I’m not for having it dwelt upon impertinently, or unseasonably either; that I think would be wrong, and not always to the use of edifying. But as it is far from being so here, I shall go on with my observations: [and so he does, for four more pages, before concluding]...

May we both be inclined to aid and assist each other, to help each other forward, to build each other up, to bear each other’s burdens till aid and assistance be no more needful, but praise be the sole employment of every enlarged faculty. Adieu. Your affectionate brother

Edwin Butler

PS I hope Mr and Mrs Dodd with the family are in good health, whom I’ve great reason to respect on your account.
Excuse the rude style and writing and accept the sincerity of the writer.

Shall we excuse Edwin’s rude style? I think we should, given his tender age. The first half of the postscript is also worth mentioning; for, just as brave brother Daniel served under John Byng (shot by firing squad “pour encourager les autres”), so Weeden’s employer and patron, the Rev. William Dodd, was also destined for an untimely and infamous end. In 1777, suffering from financial difficulties, Dodd forged the Earl of Chesterfield’s signature on a bond and cashed it. When this was discovered, and despite a campaign for his pardon by Samuel Johnson amongst many others, Dodd became the last person ever to be publicly hanged for fraud at Tyburn. The Butlers’ employers seem to be rather unlucky that way (you listening, UWE?).

What’s become of sailor Daniel, since we last met him? In the comments to my previous post I did him (or the Admiralty) wrong in saying that he failed get promotion after his heroic actions: it turns out that was how he got his Lieutenantship. Afterwards he seems to have been ashore for a while, for on 14th August 1767, Weeden writes to him (care of Mr Howell's, The Queen's Head, near the Dock-Gates, Portsmouth) of a return to sea:

Dear Brother,
I had your last letter, which gave me a sincere pleasure from the apparent high spirits, and satisfaction of mind in which you wrote. Methinks I see you now, in your old and almost native element, and scouring away the rust of a long vacation in the laudable exercise of duty, and the use of those talents and that understanding wherewith God hath so singularly blessed you. They are His gift. How happy you must feel, now that you are awake to action, and your arms unbound, I can conceive better than my pen need to express to you. My avocations have not allowed me to call on my dear sister, or our little doves, since I last wrote to you; but I will endeavour to do so—perhaps to-morrow, —or on Sunday at furthest.

I daresay it will give you equal pleasure with the rest of their friends, to hear that the little Weeden and Daniel Southwell are well recovered from that nauseous and troublesome disorder the small-pox. This is a sort of insurance for life, which I am glad to find their parents had courage and faith to apply to: and what happy effects, my dear brother, will not those great and noble principles necessarily produce?...

This intrigues me. What did little Weeden and Daniel’s parents do that was courageous and faithful? Was it simply never losing hope of recovery? Or did they consciously expose their sons to the risk of infection, knowing that it would be better to get the disease young if at all? Google tells me that people did hold pox parties even then, despite the risks being much higher than with chicken pox today.

The safely pocked little Weeden and Daniel Southwell are big Weeden and Daniel’s nephews, and in due course the younger Daniel followed his namesake into the Navy. It’s not quite as personal as the earlier account, but his letter written to (big) Weeden just after the battle of the Glorious First of June 1794, is appealing because he was clearly dipping his quill in pure adrenaline:

Scilly—E.N.E. about 125 leagues, being June 1st, 1794, the day of the victory
To The Rev. W. Butler
Honoured Sir,
This bears to you in a few words an account of the most signal victory that perhaps ever was gained over the enemies of old England at sea. We fell in with the fleet of France on the 29th. May, and after engaging them three different days, the first of June brought home to them the greatest defeat that any naval equipment yet experienced, with a force so nearly equal. Ten of them we dismasted, and left merely hulks upon the water; two of these we sunk, and six we have in tow, one of which the Gibraltar (particular prize, and of heavier metal) is now dragging after us at our stern by our sheet anchor cable. The rest of their fleet is most miserably mauled, and I much doubt their ability to get home. They fought with a courage so determined, as to call for our utmost admiration, and for seven or eight hours all were engaged, almost without intermission. I cannot find words adequate to a scene so tremendous as was here exhibited, crowned on one side with a victory so transcendently glorious. Only two of our ships were so completely dismantled, as to masts, as theirs were; and the Gibraltar (let me add) shone conspicuous in her masterly display of gunnery, in knocking away the masts of several out of the many with which we were successively engaged. As to bravery, it is equal share with the rest; and that of our enemy, had it been exerted in a wiser and better cause, was so obstinately maintained, under the most disheartening and dreadful circumstances, would (must) do him honour, whilst it staggers conception. Much damage must naturally be received on our own side: we, the Gibraltar, are fortunate beyond belief, considering the part we took in it. My left arm, &c, I have already given my sister Betsy an exact account of, &c, &c. Glorious as is this event for all, how particularly so must it be to the “Commander in Chief”, Lord Howe! His sun, though lately clouded by disappointment, and untoward circumstances, as unavoidable in their nature as they must have been contrary to his wishes, is now setting, and that most gloriously as it may be slowly. How grateful, in the decline of life, to be thus cheered with the inexpressibly pleasing reflection of having served his country! He is finishing a noble career of long tried service, in a manner that must go to the bosom of this worthy veteran leader of our victorious navies, and warm it with inexpressibly pleasing satisfaction.
I am,
Honoured Sir
&c &c,
Daniel Southwell.
God bless the King!

I have to admit that I’d not heard of this stupendous victory, and Wiki paints a rather different picture of it, as a being more of a points victory for the British that left both fleets shattered. “In the immediate aftermath both sides claimed victory and the outcome of the battle was seized upon by the press of both nations as a demonstration of the prowess and bravery of their respective navies.” As for the Gibraltar, so far from shining “conspicuous in her masterly display of gunnery”, it’s said to have fired “at random” into the smoke surrounding the British flagship, damaging it in the process. Whom do we believe? Daniel, of course! After all – he was there.
Tags: family history
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