Thomas Manby

1769-1834. He was born in Hilgay Norfolk on 1 January 1769 to a family originating from Manby, Lincolnshire, the son of Captain Matthew Pepper Manby, an aide-de-camp to the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and of his wife, Mary Woodcock. He was the younger brother of Captain George Manby FRS, the inventor of a mortar-fired grapnel to be used in the saving of vessels stuck on a lee shore, and he was a protégé of the politician and soldier, Field Marshal Lord George Townshend.

Resigning from a lucrative position as one of the stationers in the Ordnance Department presided over by the Master-General of the Ordnance, Lord Townshend, Manby entered the Navy in 1783 aboard the frigate Hyaena 28, Captain Patrick Sinclair, seeing service off Ireland for several years. In 1787 he was aboard the sloop Cygnet 14, Captain Henry Nicholls, going out to Jamaica where she patrolled the Mosquito Shore, and he later joined this officer aboard the Amphion 32, which returned to England to be paid off at Plymouth in early July 1790. He then served for a very short while aboard the Illustrious 74, Captain Alexander Edgar, flying the flag in the Spanish Armament of Rear-Admiral Hon. John Leveson-Gower, an officer who looked to his interests.

Manby served upon the Discovery during the Vancouver Expedition that left England in 1791

Once the dispute with Spain had been resolved Manby joined the Discovery as a master’s mate and participated in her voyage to the Pacific Ocean which sailed from England on 1 April 1791 under Commander George Vancouver. In the early part of 1793 he was appointed the master of the brig Chatham, the Discovery’s consort, and two years later he returned to the command vessel as an acting-lieutenant. After reaching England his lieutenant’s commission was confirmed on 27 October 1795. Manby would suffer all of his life from the lasting effects of the rheumatism that afflicted him during his time in the northern Pacific, not least because of a harrowing fall of 85 degrees in a three week period whilst sailing to survey the Cooks River in Alaska.

In 1796 Manby was appointed to the Juste 80, Captain Hon Thomas Pakenham, seeing service in the Channel, and on 15 February 1797 he was promoted commander of the Charon 44, which was fitted out as a storeship to attend a mission commanded by Rear-Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour to the South Seas, this being another officer who would have a great influence on his career over the next few years. In the event the mission did not take place, but when the Charon embarked eleven hundred French prisoners at Portsmouth for Kings Lynn in April it was in the expectation that she would be sent on her return to the Pacific Ocean to unite with Captain William Broughton of the Providence, who at the time was engaged in surveys in the China Sea and off Japan. Again, Manby was to be disappointed of undertaking this venture.

When the fleet mutinies reached Plymouth on 26 May 1797 the Charon was the only vessel not to mutiny, and after she had proceeded with a convoy for the Downs she again refused to join the mutiny at the Nore. Regrettably, although Manby was advised that he would be posted captain this did not occur for another two years, but in the meantime, as a reward for their loyalty, all his quartermasters, boatswain’s mates, gunner’s mates and captains of the forecastle were promoted to the rank of warrant officer. Thereafter the Charon was engaged on convoy duty in home waters before taking a convoy out to Ireland in August and then returning for more convoy duty in home waters.

On 2 March 1798 Manby’s command captured the small Brest-based privateer lugger Alexandrine to the west of the Lizard after a three hour chase, taking her into Plymouth. Thereafter he was again involved in convoy duty in home waters and to Guernsey, and it became a celebrated fact that having escorted over four thousand seven hundred vessels he did not lost a single ship under his charge to the enemy.

In June 1798 the Charon embarked troops at Portsmouth for Ireland where a rebellion had broken out, and after depositing them at Waterford she sailed home again on 21 June to collect more troops from Great Yarmouth. She was still carrying troops to Ireland in September, and on several occasions Manby and his crew went ashore to tackle Irish rebels near the Waterford River, allowing him to present captured pikes to the King when he attended him at Weymouth on a later date. In the late autumn the Charon was with Captain Sir Francis Laforey’s light squadron of Le Havre, where on 13 November Manby took his vessel to within three miles of the port to reconnoitre the enemy.

At the end of November 1798 the Charon retired to Woolwich for a refit, and whilst waiting for his next command Manby was called to attest to the good character of his friend Lord Camelford, who had attempted to undertake a clandestine and controversial visit to France when due to replace Manby on the Charon, but had been apprehended at Dover and hauled back under arrest to London.

On 22 January 1799, having finally left the Charon, Manby was posted captain, but he then spent nearly a year out of employment until appointed to the Bourdelais 24 at Plymouth in February 1800, this being a beautiful, prolific, sleek ex-French privateer which had been captured by the Révolutionnaire 38, Captain Thomas Twysden. Shortly after his taking command she went aground off Ireland but was saved by the jettisoning of her guns and stores, an incident that apparently gave Manby’s brother George, who was serving aboard as a lay chaplain, the idea for his invention of a mortar grapnel. Having returned to Plymouth for docking the Bourdelais came out on 15 May and was sent on a two month cruise off the Azores. In July Manby poked his head into the Spanish port of Coruna where he was able to report on the number of Spanish sail of the line and frigates ready for sea, and off Cape Ortegal shortly afterwards he made a prize of the schooner Phoenix, laden with coffee and sugar, which he carried into Plymouth in early August.

During the autumn of 1800 the Bourdelais assisted at the blockade of Flushing, but during this posting Manby found that his low-slung command was unsuitable for dealing with the vagaries of the North Sea, and as a consequence his men suffered many illnesses due to the continual damp. When she returned to Portsmouth in the middle of November it was evident that she would need to be sent to a foreign station where the weather and sea conditions were more benign.

In December 1800, and in consort with the frigate Andromeda 32, Captain James Bradby, the Bourdelais left Portsmouth with a merchant

Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales, with whom Manby was falsely alleged to have fathered a child.

convoy bound for the West Indies. Soon the convoy became dispersed and prey to enemy privateers, but the Bourdelais was able to re-take two of the prizes, the second after a long chase off Tenerife in early January 1801 conducted in the ships boats by Lieutenant Robert Barrie. On 29 January, whilst still escorting the remains of the convoy, the Bourdelais engaged two French brigs and a schooner to the east of Barbados, which although smaller carried far more men. Manby managed to capture one of them, the Curieux 18, within thirty minutes, and the others fled, resulting in the safety of his convoy. The Curieux later sunk with fifty casualties still on board, also taking with her two midshipmen and five British seamen who had been attempting to rescue the crew, these latter casualties adding to the one man killed and seven wounded in the action.

Manby’s command then sailed for the Jamaican station with the trade, and in a cruise in the Mona Passage she took many prizes before she was cut up badly in trying to take a privateer schooner under a battery in Aguadilla Bay, resulting in her return to Port Royal for repairs. Whilst the Bourdelais was in the Mona Passage a Spaniard confessed to the murder of his officer at Puerto Rico and sought refuge aboard, but Manby furiously detained him and sent him back to the Spanish authorities with a typically laconic message that read ‘The British colours disdain to protect a murderer: I send you one, and hope he will meet the fate he merits’. In return the delighted Spanish governor despatched a missive full of approbation to Manby, supplementing it with a bountiful supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.

At the time of the peace in the spring of 1802, and whilst still on the Jamaican station, Manby transferred to the Juno 32, in which he was briefly employed off Saint-Domingue monitoring the slave rebellion against the French colonial masters. This vessel returned to England on 8 July with despatches before sailing on to the Thames to be paid off in August.

Despite the fact that the country was at peace, Manby remained an officer very much in demand, and in October 1802 he was appointed to the crack frigate Africaine 38 by the first lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Earl of St. Vincent, which vessel was fitting out at Deptford. During this period he became a frequent visitor to Montagu House, Blackheath, the residence of Caroline of Brunswick, the Princess of Wales, to whom he had recently been introduced by Lord Townshend. Rumours would later abound that he became the favourite amongst the princess’s many apparent lovers, at one particular dinner sharing her feet-pressing favours with Captain Sir William Sidney Smith, and supplanting that officer in her favour. She subsequently showered him with presents and money, which were reciprocated by the gifting of articles from the far side of the world that had been collected by Manby during the Vancouver Expedition. In a flagrant display of affection she allegedly asked for his frigate to be attendant on her whilst she rented a house in Ramsgate for the summer, and here he would become a frequent visitor One event to which it was reported that he conducted the Princess of Wales was a grand dinner given on board the East Indiaman Warren Hastings at Deptford in the last week of November.

Fulfilling the Africaine’s complement with the astonishing impressment of three hundred and ninety-four prime seamen at Gravesend in one night, Manby was ordered to blockade Helvoetsluys on the resumption of hostilities in May 1803, two French frigates being holed up there. On 20 July his first lieutenant, William Henry Dillon, was scandalously taken prisoner by the Dutch in the process of approaching under a flag of truce, and in August the Africaine was struck by lightning with the loss of two men killed and three wounded. To compound matters she was then dismasted following a severe gale off Yarmouth whilst returning for repairs, and Manby had to take her into Sheerness for a complete refit. In November Manby himself had a fortunate escape when his barge upset in rough weather off Yarmouth, to which port his command was often driven through the difficulties of his posting off Helvoetsluys, but from where he could visit the Princess of Wales at a residence she had taken in Southend.

In early March 1804 the Africaine was docked after springing a leak, but she was back on station and actually anchored at the entrance to Helvoetsluys by May, with her officers raging that the three enemy frigates now within would not come out to tackle their own comparative force. In June Manby had the small gratification of discomforting the enemy when his boat containing five men was fired upon by the French whilst collecting shrimps, to which he responded by seizing sixty fishing boats and sending them off to Yarmouth, allowing him to tell the French that if they would not allow him shrimps with his turbot then he would not allow them turbot with their shrimps.

In early July the Africaine returned to Yarmouth after four continuous months at sea, and at the end of that month Manby was one of the officers attendant on the Princess of Wales when she took passage from her residence at Southend to Sheerness in Commissioner Hon. George Grey’s yacht. Midway through the excursion she decided to debark into Admiral Rear-Admiral Bartholomew Rowley’s barge in order to join that officer and Manby, suggesting that their relationship was far from over.

HMS Africaine

The enemy frigates at Helvoetsluys having been dismantled and carried away overland, the Africaine next joined Rear-Admiral Thomas Macnamara Russell off the Texel, where on 23 November she was fortunate to survive when a storm dashed her rudder to pieces. Fortunately her anchor held, but having cut all her masts away she had to be escorted back to Yarmouth by the Glatton 54, Captain James Colnett. On 31 January 1805 another disaster struck Manby when he was dining with Captain Adrian Renou of the Zealand 64 in the garrison at Sheerness and that officer suddenly slumped back in his chair and died.

On 8 March 1805 the Africaine arrived off St. Helens before sailing towards to the end of the month for Cove in Ireland, and on 19 June she departed Cork with a convoy for the Leeward Islands. At Barbados a yellow fever broke out on board when a number of invalids were embarked from the local hospital to be returned to England, and within forty-eight hours of returning to sea the surgeon and his assistant had died, as well as many of their patients. Whilst Lieutenant James Anderson took command of the Africaine Manby himself assumed the role of nursing the sick, being assisted with advice from a doctor at St Kitts, which island the frigate left on 28 August. Such close proximity to the outbreak took its toll when Manby too became ill, and he was temporarily placed aboard the merchant ship Severn. A surgeon was eventually found at Tortola, but during this period and the subsequent six-week voyage home a third of the Africaine’s complement of three hundred and forty men died. After arriving at Falmouth on 17 November the Africaine was sent to the Scilly Islands for a period of quarantine totalling forty days, and she was eventually paid off on 22 January 1806.

There followed for Manby some personal difficulties of a rather perilous nature, accompanying the possibility of a charge of high treason and capital punishment, when he was accused of having enjoyed an adulterous relationship with the Princess of Wales on or at about the time of his appointment to the Africaine. The accusations included one that Manby was the prime suspect as the father of a child she had allegedly bore. Of the latter charge the princess was exonerated by the five-man committee of noblemen who had been commissioned by the King to undertake the so-called secret ‘Delicate Investigation’, it being proved that a child had in fact been adopted. Nevertheless, she was avowed to have been guilty of ‘great levity and impropriety of conduct’ with Manby, although adultery could not be proved. For Manby’s part he strenuously denied any improper conduct, and he swore an affidavit on 22 September 1806 to the effect that the rumours were false.

In August 1807 Manby briefly commanded the Uranie 38 in succession to Captain Christopher Laroche, but she was paid off that month at Portsmouth when her timbers were found to be beyond salvation. During October he joined the Thalia 36 off Jersey, capturing the privateer Requin 14 off Cherbourg whilst under the orders of Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez, and he was still on the Channel Islands station in the following spring.

On 16 April 1808, following an altercation in Portsmouth that was described as an accidental but ‘sharp and angry meeting’, Manby and a Captain Ramsay of the Royal Marines met on Southsea Common to fight a duel, and were actually in the process of deciding the distance from which they should fire when Captain Hon. Courtenay Boyle of the flagship appeared on the ground and placed Manby under arrest on the orders of the local commander-in-chief, Admiral Sir George Montagu. Some further words were exchanged as Manby was removed from the common, and he also fired off a furious complaint to the local newspaper over its apparently false assertion that Ramsay had labelled him a liar. Thereafter Admiral Montagu and the general commanding the marines at Portsmouth quickly settled the issue and the Thalia was given new orders that would remove Manby from the town.

Shortly afterwards Manby’s frigate sailed in company with the Medusa 32, Captain Hon. Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie, and the brig Locust, Lieutenant John Gedge, on a voyage to the Davis Straits to protect the whaling industry from the hostile intentions of two French frigates. Over the next three months, during which time he was able to wood and water on the coast of Labrador and name Port Manvers, the Arctic fog and icebergs played havoc with Manby’s fragile health. He returned to England via Newfoundland and Cadiz, eventually reaching Portsmouth in December from Gibraltar with despatches, but his health was so impaired that he was obliged to resign his commission, being succeeded in the command of the Africaine by Captain James Giles Vashon.

In 1813, and again in 1820, Manby’s alleged infidelities with the Princess of Wales were discussed widely in the newspapers.

In February 1813 Manby’s name reappeared in the public eye when the papers relating to the ‘Delicate Investigation’ into his alleged adultery and unethical behaviour with the Princess of Wales appeared in the press, and a sharp division soon arose in society between those who considered their relationship perfectly innocent, and those who felt that there had been adultery between the pair. Even so, many people considered that the previous accusations and the new reports were falsehoods aimed at further embarrassing the already ostracised princess.

After some five years of convalescence Manby declared himself fit for service, but by then the war was drawing to a close and he instead spent his time on his newly acquired estate at Northwold, Norfolk, or at a residence in Montague Square, Marylebone, London. In the late summer of 1820 the subject of his relationship with Princess Caroline was revisited with great interest by the newspapers, and at her funeral in August of the following year he wept openly and refused to leave the pier when her body was embarked at Harwich for its return to Brunswick. Even so, in April 1824 he was received at a levee by her erstwhile husband, King George IV.

Manby became a rear-admiral on 27 May 1825 and shortly afterwards sold off a great deal of his property at Northwold, having let his house prior to departing for the continent. In August, to a chorus of good wishes from many attendant officers, he and his family departed Portsmouth in the steam vessel Camilla for Paris, where his knowledge of the Pacific Islands was soon used to help ascertain the fate of the great French explorer, the Comte de La Pérouse, whose exploratory vessel had been lost forty years before.

Admiral Manby continued to be a popular figure amongst the elite levels of society, it being reported in the autumn of 1828 that he had arrived at Hastings from the Continent, in the spring of 1829 that he and his wife had taken a hotel at Tunbridge Wells, in 1830 that they were at their residence in Marine Square, Brighton, and in early 1831 that they had arrived at Portsmouth from Paris. By January 1834 the Manby family was living at Somerford Grange, Christchurch, Dorset, where a huge soiree was held that month.

Not long afterwards, on 18 June 1834, Manby died of an opium overdose at the George Hotel, Southampton, having just arrived from London, and apparently having long suffered from what would now be termed depression. He was buried in South Stoneham, Southampton.

In 1810 he married Judith Hamond of Northwold, twenty years his junior, with whom he had two daughters. He also had a natural daughter born in 1807. At the age of sixteen his eldest daughter, Mary Harcourt, was married at the British ambassador’s chapel in Paris at the beginning of 1827, with a sumptuous feast and ball being staged at the Palais Bourbon. Her English husband, James Dawes, became a baron of France in the following year.

A bold and daring officer with a pithy sense of humour, Manby was a friend of the future Admiral Sir William Henry Dillon, and was well regarded by Admiral the Earl St. Vincent. He received many substantial offers to reveal all about his relationship with Princess Caroline but turned them down. He remained a great friend to a shipmate from the Guardian, the notorious Lord Camelford.

During the time that he was at Tahiti Manby became a favourite of the local king and queen who ‘invested’ him with a tattoo below the left knee consisting of a star in the shape of a Maltese Cross, and a garter, as well as several other tattoos. These were then deciphered in the Sandwich Islands, three thousand miles away, which caused much amusement to that island’s king who in turn showered Manby with many gifts, some of which he later passed onto the Princess of Wales. Such was the interest in his tattoos that the populace on other islands would often try to watch Manby bathe. During his retirement he worked on a chart of the South Seas which attempted to prove that the various islanders were genetically related, and that their hieroglyphic characters were universal.