It was known, moreover, that he was going to sea, always a ground of pre-eminence with schoolboys; and in his case the glory was not altogether future, it wore a present form when he came driving to Rye behind four horses in the same carriage with an admiral. 'I was not a little proud, you may believe,' says he.

In 1814, when he was thirteen years of age, he was carried by his father to Chichester to the Bishop's Palace. The Bishop had heard from his brother the Admiral that Charles was likely to do well, and had an order from Lord Melville for the lad's admission to the Royal Naval College at Portsmouth. Both the Bishop and the Admiral patted him on the head and said, 'Charles will restore the old family'; by which I gather with some surprise that, even in these days of open house at Northiam and golden hope of my aunt's fortune, the family was supposed to stand in need of restoration. But the past is apt to look brighter than nature, above all to those enamoured of their genealogy; and the ravages of Stephen and Thomas must have always given matter of alarm.

What with the flattery of bishops and admirals, the fine company in which he found himself at Portsmouth, his visits home, with their gaiety and greatness of life, his visits to Mrs. Buckner (soon a widow) at Windsor, where he had a pony kept for him, and visited at Lord Melville's and Lord Harcourt's and the Leveson-Gowers, he began to have 'bumptious notions,' and his head was 'somewhat turned with fine people'; as to some extent it remained throughout his innocent and honourable life.

In this frame of mind the boy was appointed to the CONQUEROR, Captain Davie, humorously known as Gentle Johnnie. The captain had earned this name by his style of discipline, which would have figured well in the pages of Marryat: 'Put the prisoner's head in a bag and give him another dozen!' survives as a specimen of his commands; and the men were often punished twice or thrice in a week. On board the ship of this disciplinarian, Charles and his father were carried in a billy-boat from Sheerness in December, 1816: Charles with an outfit suitable to his pretensions, a twenty-guinea sextant and 120 dollars in silver, which were ordered into the care of the gunner. 'The old clerks and mates,' he writes, 'used to laugh and jeer me for joining the ship in a billy- boat, and when they found I was from Kent, vowed I was an old Kentish smuggler. This to my pride, you will believe, was not a little offensive.'

THE CONQUEROR carried the flag of Vice-Admiral Plampin, commanding at the Cape and St. Helena; and at that all-important islet, in July, 1817, she relieved the flagship of Sir Pulteney Malcolm. Thus it befel that Charles Jenkin, coming too late for the epic of the French wars, played a small part in the dreary and disgraceful afterpiece of St. Helena. Life on the guard-ship was onerous and irksome. The anchor was never lifted, sail never made, the great guns were silent; none was allowed on shore except on duty; all day the movements of the imperial captive were signalled to and fro; all night the boats rowed guard around the accessible portions of the coast. This prolonged stagnation and petty watchfulness in what Napoleon himself called that 'unchristian' climate, told cruelly on the health of the ship's company. In eighteen months, according to O'Meara, the CONQUEROR had lost one hundred and ten men and invalided home one hundred and seven, being more than a third of her complement. It does not seem that our young midshipman so much as once set eyes on Bonaparte; and yet in other ways Jenkin was more fortunate than some of his comrades. He drew in water-colour; not so badly as his father, yet ill enough; and this art was so rare aboard the CONQUEROR that even his humble proficiency marked him out and procured him some alleviations. Admiral Plampin had succeeded Napoleon at the Briars; and here he had young Jenkin staying with him to make sketches of the historic house. One of these is before me as I write, and gives a strange notion of the arts in our old English Navy.

Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin Page 06

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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