Over the next couple of weeks I shall be posting a series of poems about the exploits of Sir Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth. He is probably Teignmouth’s most famous historical figure and was the inspiration behind the C S Forester Hornblower novels. Through a rare combination of extraordinary courage and seamanship he progressed rapidly through the naval ranks to follow in Nelson’s footsteps as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean Fleet and subsequently Vice-Admiral UK. Not bad for someone who ran away to sea at age 13!
His principal family home was at Canonteign in the Teign valley but the last twenty years of his life was spent at Westcliffe House (now Bitton House) in Teignmouth.
So why have I waited to post about him until now? One of his most famous naval engagements was the Bombardment of Algiers which is remembered in Teignmouth on 27th August.
This first piece of verse is actually just an extract from a much larger piece of work (an epic running to 130 odd pages) by Josiah Walker in 1803. The work is essentially a eulogy of Britain’s role in maintaining world order, a large part through its naval supremacy from the 16th century onwards. It’s interesting that Pellew, who would have been in his forties at the time, had gained such heroic recognition as to be included in this massive work.
The defence of order
Josiah Walker, (Jan 1 1803)
Nor second brave Pellew, in whom were joined
Valour as firm and clemency as kind.
Oh! For a bard, in deathless tints, to trace
His double form, as now, with dreadful grace,
In midnight flames, on hostile shores, it shone,
Now, in the beams of mercy, on his own(1)
Wild raved the storm, the waves, with thundering roar,
And crash astounding, heaved against the shore
The blackened fragment of a mighty wreck,
Where shrieking wretches clasped the rifted deck,
And, through the surge, the water daemon rushed,
His bony cheek with ravenous rapture flushed.
Swift flew the hero, pained, possessed alone
By others’ danger, heedless of his own,
Plunged in the gulph of death, with proud disdain,
Grappled the monster in the boiling main,
And, from his grasp, the trembling victims bore,
Mid shouting thousands to the echoing shore.
How glowed his breast, as each dim eye, upraised,
On him, with faint returning lustre, gazed!
Oh! For an hour of such supreme delight!
The rich repose, the dreams of such a night!
Yes, bold Pellew! Though first on Gallia’s brow
To stamp dismay, even then less glorious thou,
Than, when retired, on victory’s proudest eve,
The widowed parent’s anguish to relieve(2);
To praise a fallen foe with noble zeal,
And tell how Britain’s boisterous tars can feel.
Yet ah! Illustrious guardians of her doom!
Why send the brave, unhonoured, to the tomb?
Why the maimed rite to hostile valour paid?
Why wreak resentment on a soldier’s shade?
Or dream, by funeral insult, to debase
The dust of him, Pellew had deigned to praise?
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