In the most recent issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, there is an essay by Emily Brand on “Foul-weather Jack,” a tale about poet Byron’s grandfather Vice-Admiral John Byron (1723-1786). Brand has recently published her book on the Byron family, The Fall of the House of Byron (John Murray, 2020), and it looks like a compelling read about a family that seemed to be cursed with all manner of misfortune through at least three generations.
[You can hear about the book on several episodes at BBC Sounds – only good for a few more days.]
What caught my eye was Brand’s reference to the Godmersham Park Library and three narratives of sea-faring adventures involving a John Byron apparently housed there – so my GLOSS view of the world went into high-gear to see what books are listed in the 1818 library catalogue and if they are Lost Sheep. And from there, down the research rabbit-hole… here are the results:
First, a bit about John Byron:
Byron was a British Royal Navy officer and explorer. He earned the nickname ‘Foul-Weather Jack’ because of his frequent encounters with bad weather at sea. At the age of 16 he was a midshipman on the ship HMS Wager, part of George Anson’s squadron intending to circumnavigate the globe – Byron made it only to southern Chile, when the Wager shipwrecked, a mutiny ensued and it took Byron more than five years to get back to England. The story of this adventure has been told in various accounts, including Byron’s own Narrative published in 1768 (more on this below).
Vice-Admiral The Hon. John Byron – by Joshua Reynolds, 1759,
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
You can read more about Byron and his further sea adventures circumnavigating the globe (which he did as commodore with his own squadron in 1764–1766), to a stint as Governor of Newfoundland, action in the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution here. He rose to Vice Admiral of the White before his death in 1786. He fathered nine children (three died in infancy), his son John the father of Byron. Admiral Byron died two years before our poet was born, but Byron was familiar with his grandfather’s adventures and paid tribute to him in his shipwreck scene in Don Juan. He wrote to his half-sister Augusta Leigh that his own turbulent, unlucky life was similar to his grandfather’s: “he had no rest at sea, nor I on shore.”
But as compelling as Admiral Byron’s life may be, our interest is in the books in the 1818 GPL catalogue – there are three books in the collection that relate to Byron and his voyages, and all are LOST SHEEP:
Two works are about the 1764-66 voyage of the Dolphin with Byron as Commodore:
1. A Voyage Round the World, In His Majesty’s ship The Dolphin, Commanded by the Honourable Commodore Byron. In which is Contained, A faithful Account of the several Places, People, Plants, Animals, &c. seen on the voyage: And faithful Account of the several Places, People, Plants, Animals, &c. seen on the voyage: And, among other Particulars, A minute and exact Description of the Streights of Magellan, and of the Gigantic People called Patagonians. Together with An Account of Seven Islands lately discovered. In the South Seas. By an Officer on Board the said Ship. The second edition.
Printed for J. Newbery, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard; and F. Newbery, in Pater-noster Row, 1767.
The author as stated on the title page reads: By an Officer on Board the said Ship, and the book has been attributed to Byron himself – indeed this copy is listed in the GPL catalogue as “Byron’s Voyages” and Byron is listed as the author in the 1908 catalogue. As the author remains unknown it is now listed and catalogued in libraries under the publisher Newbery. It is for us a LOST SHEEP.
At the time, there was controversy about the unknown author(s) : I find this (rather lengthy) in The Gentleman’s and London Magazine for May, 1767:
A Voyage round the World in his Majesty’s Ship the Dolphin, commanded by the Honourable Commodore Byron
SOON after the publication of this book, the following paragraph appeared in the Daily Advertiser:
“We are authorised by the undermentioned officers of the Dolphin man of war, to assure the public, in relation to a book lately published for Mr. Newbery, bookseller, in St. Paul’s Church-yard, entitled, “A voyage round the world in his Majesty’s ship the Dolphin, under the command of the Hon. Commodore Byron, and said to be wrote by an officer of the said ship,” that neither of them is the author thereof; that they will not presume to publish the voyage without obtaining leave for that purpose; and that the said bookseller is entirely unknown to them ; P. Mouat, captain; John Marshal, 2d lieutenant; George Robertson, 3d lieutenant, Henry Stacy, purser. The first lieutenant has been abroad seven months, the master three months, and both are still absent, which with the surgeon (who is at present out of town) and those whose names are signed above, were the principal officers of the Dolphin.”
To this paragraph the following answer was published two days afterwards in the Gazetteer.
“Some of the officers belonging to the ship, from motives, perhaps, of a private nature, have disavowed their having any concern in the publication of this volume, and asserted, that they neither know the author or the bookseller. But this amounts to nothing. The author is an officer; but the same motives that induced them to publish their advertisement, obliges him to keep himself conceal’d. All we pretended to was, that the book we published contained a faithful and true account of what was seen on the voyage, and was written by an officer on board the said ship. This is true, and is a truth which these gentlemen will not contradićt, nor, indeed, have they attempted it. Could the author have prefixed his name to the volume without incurring the displeasure of his superiors, he would; but, as that cannot be done, he hopes that so slight a circumstance will not be suffered to invalidate that truth, which the opposers of this publication, and, indeed, all the world cannot contradict.”
The truth seems to be, that the book in question is made from one of the ship journals, kept on board the Dolphin, in consequence of the curiosity excited by a report of some gigantic savages having been discovered in the course of the voyage on the coast of Patagonia. It is undoubtedly genuine, and contains innumerable facts and incidents that it would have been impossible to feign; the account of the Patagonians, however, does not fill quite seven pages of the work, in which, as the editor candidly acknowledges, the reader must not look for that entertainment which many books of the same kind afford, as, fortunately for the adventurers, but unfortunately for the reader, they met with no considerable distress during the voyage, and lost but 12 men out of both ships* [the other ship was the Tama]. The book is adorned with three cuts, not ill designed or executed, two representing the Patagonians, which were certainly drawn from fancy, aided by a verbal description ; and one representing a very picturesque scene in one of the islands of the South-Seas, said in the title to be seven in number, but appears, by the account, to be eight. It is to be wished that instead of one of them at least there had been a chart of the Straits of Magellan, and of the coasts of the principal places mentioned in the narrative; for, without this, the reader has so imperfect and confused a notion of the course, that his imagination cannot accompany the adventurers.
The discovery of the islands in the South-Seas was the object of the voyage, and the editor has, with great propriety, suppressed the latitudes and longitudes of them, in obedience to government, and to prevent any other nation from availing itself of our discovery.
The Commodore left Masa Fuero, called by the Spaniards the lesser Juan Fernandes, an island lying in latitude 33 deg 28 min. south, and in longitude 84 deg 27 min. west from London, and after a passage of 36 days, steering northward, discovered two small islands, which afforded a very delightful prospect, and perfumed the air with the fragrance of their fruits, but the people were prevented from landing by the Indians, who crowded in an hostile manner to the shore, and ran along the coast watching the boat. To these islands, therefore, they gave the name of the Islands of Disappointment. At the distance of about 67 leagues to the W. S. W. they discovered a third island, which all round next the sea was covered with beautiful red and white coral, fine shells and pearls. This they called Coral-Island; it is about, 11 leagues long, and near three broad, but has little fresh water. In the middle of it, however, there is a lake, where the Indians catch turtle, of which they saw many shells. They found also great quantities of fish hanging on the limbs….
[etc. it goes on for a few more pages outlining their discovery of a few more islands, one of which they name Byron after the Commodore. No more is said about the authorship…]
You can read more here [scroll down to the May issue]: The_Gentleman_s_and_London_Magazine-p257
A sale at Christies of this title in 2009 lists the author as Byron, with this note: “This work is normally ascribed to midshipman Charles Clerke” (which is a whole other story … about the Patagonian giants). You can see said giants in this frontispiece from the 1st edition of Voyage:
2. John Hawkesworth. An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, And successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, In the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour: Drawn up From the Journals which were kept by the several Commanders, And from the Papers of Joseph Banks, Esq; By John Hawkesworth, LL. D. In Three Volumes. Illustrated with Cuts, and a great Variety of Charts and Maps relative to Countries now first discovered, or hitherto but imperfectly known.
London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell in the Strand, 1773
This title is listed in the 1908 catalogue but is not in the Knight Collection – so another LOST SHEEP.
You can read this account here [Byron’s voyages take up the first 14 chapters].
[UPDATE: Jocelyn Harris in a comment below reminds us that Jane Austen would have certainly been familiar with this Hawkesworth account of the voyages: notice the names of Wallis and Carteret; there is also a Dalrymple and an Elliot – all names Austen uses in her Persuasion. See Harris’s brilliant book A Revolution Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s Persuasion (U of Delaware P, 2007). A future post will discuss the other books in the GPL about James Cook’s voyages, where we will discover additional LOST SHEEP.]
3. The third work in the GPL tells the tale of Byron’s first voyage as a midshipman on the HMS Wager, in 1740-41, its shipwreck and mutiny of some of the crew. It was published in 1743.
John Bulkeley and John Cummins, Late Gunner and Carpenter of the Wager.
A Voyage to the South-Seas, In the Years 1740-1. Containing, A faithful Narrative of the Loss of his Majesty’s Ship the Wager on a desolate Island in the Latitude 47 South, Longitude 81:40 West: With the Proceedings and Conduct of the Officers and Crew, and the Hardships they endured in the said Island for the Space of five Months; their bold Attempt for Liberty, in Coasting the Southern Part of the vast Region of Patagonia; setting out with upwards of Eighty Souls in their Boats; the Loss of the Cutter; their Passage through the Streights of Magellan; an Account of their Manner of living in the Voyage on Seals, Wild Horses, Dogs, &c. and the incredible Hardships they frequently underwent for Want of Food of any Kind; a Description of the several Places where they touch’d in the Streights of Magellan, with an Account of the Inhabitants, &c. and their safe Arrival to the Brazil, after sailing one thousand Leagues in a Long-Boat; their Reception from the Portuguese; an Account of the Disturbances at Rio Grand; their Arrival at Rio Janeiro; their Passage and Usage on Board a Portuguese Ship to Lisbon; and their Return to England. Interspersed with many entertaining and curious Observations, not taken Notice of by Sir John Narborough, or any other Journalist. The Whole compiled by Persons concerned in the Facts related, viz. John Bulkeley and John Cummins, Late Gunner and Carpenter of the Wager.
London: Printed for Jacob Robinson, Publisher, at the Golden-Lion in Ludgate-Street, 1743.
This title was in the GPL, listed in the 1908 catalogue (but has been crossed- out), and has gone missing, so a LOST SHEEP.
You can read it here.
It is this 1740-41 voyage that Byron writes about in his own Narrative in 1768, interestingly enough the year after the “By an Officer on Board the said Ship” author-disputed voyage of the Dolphin (#1 above) was published.
John Byron. The narrative of the Honourable John Byron (commodore in a late expedition round the world) containing an account of the great distresses suffered by himself and his companions on the coast of Patagonia, from the year 1740, till their arrival in England, 1746. : With a description of St. Jago de Chili, and the manners and customs of the inhabitants. : Also a relation of the loss of the Wager man of war, one of Admiral Anson’s squadron. / Written by himself and now first published. London: Printed for S. Baker and G. Leigh; and T. Davies, 1768.
His book sold well enough and went into several editions. [And a little aside: this narrative forms the basis of the novel The Unknown Shore by Patrick O’Brian*]. Byron’s account was the only one which in any way defended Captain Cheap.
This book is not in the GPL, which I find interesting since the library contained the other three titles concerning Byron – it is not listed in 1908 or in the Knight Collection either. But I find Byron’s “Preface” worth a read, as he mentions the 1743 Bulkeley account of this voyage (#3 above):
As the greatest pain I feel in committing the following sheets to the press, arises from an apprehension that many of my readers will accuse me of egotism; I will not incur that charge in my preface, by detaining them with the reasons which have induced me, at this time, to yield to the desire of my friends. It is equally indifferent to the public to be told how it happened, that nothing should have got the better of my indolence and reluctance to comply with the same requests, for the space of twenty years.
I will employ these few introductory pages merely to shew what pretensions this work may have to the notice of the world, after those publications which have preceded it. It is well known that the Wager, one of lord Anson’s squadron, was cast away upon a desolate island in the South-seas. The subject of this book is a relation of the extraordinary difficulties and hard-ships through which, by the assistance of Divine Providence, a small part of her crew escaped to their native land; and a very small proportion of those made their way in a new and unheard-of manner, over a large and desert tract of land between the western mouth of the Magellanic streight and the capital of’ Chili; a country scarce to be paralleled in any part of the globe, in that it affords neither fruits, grain, nor even roots proper for the sustenance of man; and what is still more rare, the very sea, which yields a plentiful support to many a barren coast, on this tempestuous and inhospitable shore is found to be almost as barren as the land; and it must be confessed, that to those who cannot interest themselves with seeing human nature labouring, from day to day, to preserve its existence under the continual want of such real necessaries as food and shelter from the most rigorous climate, the following sheets will afford but little entertainment.
Yet, after all, it must be allowed there can be no other way of ascertaining the geography and natural history of a country which is altogether morass and rock, incapable of products or culture, than by setting down every minute circumstance which was observed in traversing it. The same may be said of the inhabitants, their manners, religion, and language. What fruits could an European reap from a more intimate acquaintance with them, than what he will find in the following accidental observations? We saw the most unprofitable spot on the globe of the earth, and such it is described and ascertained to be.
It is to be hoped some little amends may be made by such an insight as is given into the interior part of the country; and I find what I have put down has had the good fortune to be pleasing to some of my friends; insomuch that the only fault I have yet had laid to my papers is, that of being too short in the article of the Spanish settlements. But here I must say, I have been dubious of the partiality of my friends; and, as I think, justly fearful lest the world in general, who may perhaps find compassion and indulgence for a protracted tale of distress, may not give the fame allowance to a luxurious imagination triumphing in a change of fortune, and sudden transition from the most dismal to the gayest scenes in the universe, and thereby indulging an egotism equally offensive to the envious and censorious.
I speak as briefly as possible of matters previous to our final separation from the rest of lord Anson’s squadron; for it is from this epocha that the train of our misfortunes properly commences: and though Mr. Bulkeley, one of the warrant officers of the Wager, has long since published a Journal and Account of the return of that part of the ship’s company, which, dissenting from captain Cheap’s proposal of endeavouring to regain their native country by way of the great continent of South America, took their passage home in the long-boar, through the Streights of Magellan; our transactions during our abode on the island have been related by him in so concise a manner as to leave many particulars unnoticed, and others touched so slightly, that they appear evidently to have been put together with the purpose of justifying those proceedings which could not be considered in any other light than that of direct mutiny. Accordingly, we find that the main substance of his Journal is employed in scrutinizing the conduct of captain Cheap, and setting forth the conferences which passed between him and the seceders relative to the way and measures they were to take for their return home. I have, therefore, taken some pains to review those early passages of the unfortunate scene I am to represent, and to enter into a detail, without which no found judgment can be formed of any disputed point, especially when it has been carried so far as to end in personal resentment. When contests and dissensions shall be found to have gone that length, it will be obvious to every reader, why a licentious crew should hearken to any factious leader rather than to the solidity of their captain’s advice, who made it evident to every unprejudiced understanding, that their fairest chance for safety and a better fortune, was to proceed with the long-boat till they should make prize of some vessel of the enemy, and thereby be enabled to bring to the commodore a supply of stout fellows to assist in his conquests, and share in the honour and rewards.
And yet it is but justice even to this ungovernable herd to explain, that though I have said above they appeared in the light of mutineers, they were not actually such in the eye of the law; for till a subsequent act, made, indeed, on this occasion, the pay of a ship’s crew ceased immediately upon her wreck, and consequently the officers authority and command.
Having explained the foregoing particulars, I hope I may flatter myself there are few things in the following sheets, which will not be readily understood by the greatest part of my readers; therefore I will not detain them any longer.
You can read Byron’s whole narrative here.
So three Lost Sheep – keep your eyes open GLOSSers!
* Patrick O’Brian’s The Unknown Shore (1959), a sort of sequel to his The Golden Ocean (1956), is neither part of his well-known Aubrey-Maturin Napoleonic War series that started with Master and Commander in 1969, but rather a precursor. The Unknown Shore tells the story of a Jack Byron and Tobias Barrow, who sail aboard HMS Wager as part of the voyage around the world led by Anson in 1740 (sound familiar?) These two characters are considered the prototypes of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin – the series of course was O’Brian’s literary tribute to Jane Austen (notice the JA in both names) – so proof once again, that everything does come back to Jane Austen, no matter how far afield we think we are…