Extract of a letter from Captain Clarke of the SHIP Rein Deer to his Owners,


[Many thanks to Douglas Dashwood-Howard a family descendant of George Howard, who sent me the extract and his commentary on it]

Note:- The original spelling has been retained in the transcript. The translation of some of the more unusual nautical terms is shown in square brackets. The ship Rein Deer sailed from Liverpool on 7 June 1805 on a slaving voyage to Bonny, Africa, and thence to Kingston, Jamaica. She returned to Liverpool on 14 June 1806.



I have much pleasure in informing you of my arrival here, on the 20th. ult. with a very choice cargo of slaves, after a severe action of two hours with a French schooner privateer, of very superior force, of St. Domingo, and within twenty-four hours fall of this port. After a constant fire for an hour and a half within pistol shot, from our great guns and musquetry, we had the pleasure of seeing his fore and main-top masts and top-sails come tumbling down, and otherwise much disabled; the enemy being thus crippled, formed the desperate resolution of grapling, hoisting his bloody flag [a square red flag used to indicate readiness to go into battle], which was immediately answered by the Rein Deer hoisting hers also.

He succeeded in lashing [securing] himself with regular stoppers [short ropes tied in such a manner that they can be quickly released] to our fore and main-chains, conceiving our guns were of a length under which he might lay secure, while he attempted to carry [capture] the ship sword in hand, by his very superior numbers. Perceiving his intention, we had just time to prepare him a bill of fare; our twelve pounds carronades were filled with cannister shot, and so nicely pointed downwards, that their effect was tremendous.

His dexterity in getting discharged from such a reception was so great, that several of his crew were left in our chains, and jumped overboard, but very few of them reached the vessel. Our running rigging and braces being shot away, alone prevented our bringing him in; he took to his sweeps [long, heavy oars], and got out of our reach as fast as possible.

I cannot speak too highly of Mr. Howard, my first mate, and all my officers and men. Their steady and determined bravery displayed an honourable consciousness of their own credit, and of their duty towards the Owners and Underwriters, in the protection of a property placed in their hands. The slaves that I had taught on the passage the use of musquetry behaved extremely well, and did the enemy much mischief.

I am, however, extremely sorry to report the unavoidable consequence attendant to such obitinate occurrences. We had two men killed, and six wounded, mostly badly, with two slaves slightly. I have been unfortunate in having my right arm shattered most severely by a piece of iron, two inches long and an inch broad, which has been taken from it, and, untill within these few days, the amputating knife continued suspended. I thank God for a favourable change. At the same instant I had my arm shattered, the trumpet was knocked from my other in the act of bringing her broadside to bear.

By accounts received from St. Jago de Cuba, the privateer that engaged us arrived there a perfect wreck; tho’ they studiously[?] conceal the extent of their loss, they acknowledge 28 being killed, and a great many wounded; among the latter the Capt., who was wounded in one arm, and lost his fingers from off the other hand, and the Lieutenant, who had his right hand shot off. She was the same privateer that took the Chesterfield packet, and carrying -- guns and 130 men. Our complement had, by harsh impress of two frigates before the engagement, been reduced one half.


KILLED, -- John Peterson, John Williams

WOUNDED, -- James Whitehead, Gustavus Ek(?), John Hosman (gunner) &c. &c"





Edward Clarke refers in his letter to "Mr. Howard, my first mate". Mr. Howard was actually George Howard (1777 - 1820), who commanded the Rein Deer on her next voyage, Edward Clarke having been appointed to another vessel belonging to the same owners.

According to the Muster Roll of the Rein Deer, John Peterson and John Williams (named at the end of the letter), died on 17 November 1805. This must, therefore, have been the date on which the action took place. Although Captain Clarke states that his complement had been reduced one half before the engagement, the Muster Roll shows that only eight men of a total complement of forty had actually been impressed before 17 November. Fourteen were impressed the following day, and two after the vessel arrived at Kingston.

Of the wounded men, James (called John in the Muster Roll) Whitehead survived and was discharged at Liverpool. Gustavus (called Gustaf in the Muster Roll) Ek(?) succumbed to his wounds on 29 December 1805 and John Hosman on 7 January 1806. A further crew member died on 19 March 1806.

As the extract of the letter appeared in the "Liverpool Chronicle" almost three months before the return of the Rein Deer, it was obviously brought to Liverpool by the Master of another vessel.

The severe injury Captain Clarke received to his arm explains why he only put "his Mark" in the form of a cross rather than his signature at the bottom of the Muster Roll of the Rein Deer when he returned to Liverpool on 14 June 1806 after an unusually long stay (4˝ months) at Jamaica. The letter he sent to his owners from Kingston was presumably dictated by Captain Clarke but must have been written for him by another person, perhaps one of his officers.

In Chapter 8 of A Manx Note Book it is stated that

"Another well-known Manx navigator was Edward Clarke, Captain of the Rein Deer, who in 1806 was presented with a piece of plate by the Liverpool Underwriters for his gallant conduct in beating off a French privateer, after a conflict of two hours, on his voyage from Africa to Jamaica, in 1805, with a cargo of slaves. He afterwards commanded the Charlotte".

It has not yet been possible to trace the newspaper entry on which this statement was presumably based. Surprisingly, there is no record of the award in the Committee Minute Books of the Liverpool Underwriters’ Association.

From the Muster Roll (BT98 66/266) of the "Rein Deer" under Edward Clarke, three crew members are listed as being from IOM under the heading Place of Abode (this is unusual as the Musters normally only state England). The names are:

EDWARD GILLING [?Gelling], 2nd Mate, entered at Liverpool 7 June 1805, discharged at Liverpool 14 June 1806. He signed on again as 2nd Mate on the next voyage of the "Rein Deer" (23.9.1806 - 27.09.1807) under Capt. George Howard (BT98 67/455). The latter voyage was George Howard's, and therefore his, last one on a slave ship for the trade had been prohibited by the time he returned to Liverpool.

JOHN KELLY, 3rd Mate, entered at Liverpool 7 June 1805, IMPRESSED 18 November 1805.

ROBERT HOLMES, carpenter, entered at Liverpool 7 June 1805, DROWNED 28 April 1806.

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