“The Luck Of The HMS Bulldog” Part II

This is Part two of “The Luck Of The HMS Bulldog”.

Part one appeared in last week’s Fiction newsletter.

But these are only odds and ends of yarns; for a case of real genuine luck — well, luck an’ pluck an’ cheek together— there’s nothin’ to beat th’ yarn of th’ brig Bulldog, at least nothin’ in my experience, an’ I was in her an’ ought to know.

There was nothin’ of her so to speak; she was only 160 tons, an’ she carried a dozen 4-punders an’ a crew of 74, all told. An’ she was nothin’ to look at either, just a sort of dumpty little baby ship; an’ yet for a couple of years she was th’ terror of th’ Spanish Coast an’ of th’ Spanish ships, too; not to mention th’ Frenchies, who got a taste of her mettle once or twice.

She was at Minorca, refitting, when I was turned over to her — just a nipper I was — along with a dozen more hands, for she was short-handed just then, d’yer see, owin’ to an action with a Frenchy.

Cap’n Bruce Braiser was th’ commander, but we never called him anythin’ but Blue Blazes, for he was a fighter an’ no mistake.

As soon as we finished re-fittin’ off we goes; an’ th’ third day out we sighted seven British traders bein’ comfortably conducted as prizes by three Spanish gunboats an’ a privateer.

“Pipe to quarters!” says Blue Blazes, as soon as we come near enough. “Now, my lads,” says he, “there’s not many of us, so we’ll have to fight all th’ harder.

Remember that every shot you fire as doesn’t hit somethin’ is worse than wasted. Turn to — an’ God save th’ King!”

Th’ first to hand was th’ privateer; come prancin’ up she did, with as much impudence as fifty.

“All right, my lad,” says th’ Cap’n, “glad to make your acquaintance. Trim sails!”

We got to th’ weather side of her, an’ then th’ Cap’n gave th’ order to fire our little broadside, th’ foremost guns at her masts, an’ th’ after guns at her hull.

So we did, an’ not only fetched down her foretopmast an’ jib-boom, but knocked some holes in her below th’ waterline. She had fired just before us, but not a shot struck us.

“That’ll keep you busy for a while for a while, my lad!” says the Cap’n, rubbin’ his hands. “’Bout ship!”

Round we goes, just in time to tackle two of th’ gunboats; run right between ‘em, we did, an’ went at ‘em ding dong; while th’ third gunboat went struttin’ round an’ round tryin’ to get in a shot, but not bein’ able, owin’ to us three bein’ so close close together, d’yer see?

After we’d been fightin’ about half an hour we had another stroke of luck. Th’ third gunboat, which had been cruisin’ round an’ round, was passin’ out stern, an’ she fired a couple of guns, but missed us, an’ killed th’ Cap’n an’ another officer of th’ ship on our starboard side.

There was another thing as helped us, too. Both of th’ ships we was fightin’ was bigger than th’ little Bulldog, an’ as they wasn’t good gunners, many of their shots passed over us an’ hit th’ fellow on th’ other side, which Blue Blazes said was th’ best joke he’d played for a long time.

Well, what with these things an’ th’ hammerin’ we’d been givin’ ‘em, they presently sheered off; an’ when we went for number three she had no taste for it either, an’ cleared out, too. So we made off with our seven traders, like a bantam cock convoyin’ a fleet of Cochin China hens.

Well, talk about luck, we had wonderful luck, an’, what between it an’ pluck together, we got eight more prizes in th’ next two months, two of ‘em being Spanish war vessels.

After that not a month went by but we nabbed a prize or two, an’ th’ Spaniards got that riled about it that they sent out four of their vessels to capture us.

But they didn’t do it, an’ one night, when we’d disguised the Bulldog, we watched them into port an’ stole a prize from under their very noses.

Once, though, we had a near shave of bein’ nabbed by a Spanish frigate — found ourselves almost aboard of her one mornin’ at daybreak.

But we was disguised to represent a Danish brig, an’ when th’ frigate fired a shot we hove to, an’ they sent a boat to board us. Blue Blazes hailed her before she got alongside an’ told th’ officer we was two days out from Algiers, where th’ plague was ragin’. That settled him; he scuttled back again in a hurry, an’ so we got off clear.

But, bless you, that sort of thing didn’t suit th’ Bulldogs. They didn’t want no disguises; what they wanted was to fight that Spanish frigate, an’ th’ next day they sent a sort of round robin to th’ Cap’n askin’ him if he’d let them fight th’ next Spanish frigate they met.

Blue Blazes came up on deck laughin’ an’ holdin’ th’ letter in his hand, an’ mustered all hands aft.

“Why, my lads,” says he, lookin’ at th’ letter an’ then at them, “I thought I was doin’ you a good turn when I hoodwinked that frigate the other day. If I’d known you was such a lot of Kilkenny cats in th’ matter of fightin’ you should have had you belly full of it.

“But if you want th’ luxury of fightin’ a frigate you shall have it; or a three-decker either, if we run across one.”

Then he laughed again, an’ th’ men cheered an’ went off forrard.

Well, we got out wish. We’d been fightin’ day in day out for a month or more, capturin’ prizes an’ beatin’ off ships sent to catch us, when one day, while we was layin’ to repairin’ riggin’, here comes a Spanish frigate bearin’ down on us full speed.

Owin’ to sendin’ men aboard our prizes we was shorthanded again; less than fifty we had, all told, but th’ men tumbled up from below with a shout as soon as th’ news went round an’ began strippin’ for th’ fight.

“Did anybody ever see th’ like of this?” says Blue Blazes to th’ First Luff, as he rubbed his hands an’ laughed, which was a way he had when in a fightin’ humour.

“Just look at ‘em,” he says, “why, they’re harder to satisfy than Irishmen in th’ matter of fightin’. Steady there, my lads!” he shouts; “don’t cast th’ guns loose yet. Hands ‘bout ship!”

The Spaniard gave us a big broadside, but, with our usual luck, not a shot did us any damage worth speakin’ of, just goin’ over us an’ through our riggin’ for th’ most part; an’ when we got round we got under her lee, an’ with double-shotted guns gave her a broadside, killin’ her captain an’ a heap of men, for she had over 300 aboard, an’ her decks was crowded, d’yer see?

“Run us alongside of her, Mr Wells,” says Blue Blazes to th’ sailin’ master, an’ he did it so that our yards got locked in th’ frigate’s riggin’.

“Now, my lads, go at it!” says he. “Bite, ye beggars, bite, an’ do your shoutin’ afterwards!”

We elevated our guns, and every one of our shots told in their crowded decks; but the Spaniards couldn’t depress their guns enough to hit us, we lyin’ so low in th’ water beside their big hulk of a ship, d’yer see? So for some time we had it all our own way, an’ then they tried boardin’ us.

“Starboard guns, repel boarders!” shouts th’ Cap’n, who was in his glory, an’ I saw him tackle a couple of ‘em who came at him together. He ran his sword straight through one of ‘em, an’, not havin’ time to draw it out, knocked the other fellow down with his left fist, but not soon enough to stop this second chap’s boardin’-pike goin’ through his left arm.

He whipped off his coat, bound his han’kerchief round his arm, turns himself about an’ shouts: “Boarders away! All hands!”

Well, split my jib! If that wasn’t th’ pluckiest an’ th’ cheekiest thing I ever saw!

Six of our men laid dead, an’ ten too badly wounded to be of any use; so there we was with just about thirty men left, as far as I remember, to tackle th’ job of boardin’ that big frigate.

But they never stopped to think about it, just took it in as part of th’ day’s work, an’ in a brace of shakes ev’ry man an’ boy as could move was out of th’ Bulldog an’ aboard th’ frigate. As th’ last of us was jumpin’ aboard there came a puff of wind, an’ th’ little brig twisted herself clear of th’ Spaniard an’ sheered off.

A little Middy an’ me was th’ last to jump, just as th’ brig yawed away, an’ we missed it by a few inches an’ went overboard, me fallin’ against th’ Middy as we went in.

Well, as soon as ever he comes up he blows th’ water out of his mouth, an’ he says:

“Damme, sir, ain’t there room in th’ Mediterranean for you without jumpin’ on me?”

I couldn’t help laughin’, he was that serious, an’ at that he said he’d report me. Poor little beggar!

He had something else to think of, for almost as soon as we scrambled up th’ side a Spanish sailor laid his head open for him, an’ would have finished him outright but for me.

Well, when th’ Cap’n sees th’ brig sheer off he says:

“There’s nothin’ else for it now, lads; we’ve got to have her. Keep together an’ work aft!”

So we did, and presently th’ Cap’n himself hauls down th’ Spanish colours , an’ her crew, seein’ her colours hauled down and knowin’ their Cap’n was dead, an’ perhaps havin’ had enough fightin’ as well, threw up th’ sponge, an’ th’ day was ours.

Why, it was laughable to see our handful of men takin’ charge of that crowd of lubbers big enough to eat us! There was nearly 250 of ‘em alive an’ well, an’ we drove the whole bilin’ of ‘em into th’ hold an’ pointed acouple of guns down th’ hatchway with a man at each as a gentle hint to ‘em to keep quiet.

We soon caught th’ Bulldog, sent a few men aboard to work her; an’ so th’ two of us sailed into Port Mahon, to th’ great amusement of th’ Admiral, who said he thought the Admiralty might safely send th’ rest of th’ squadron to another station, as th’ Bulldog was quite capable of lookin’ after that one by herself.

I was aboard th’ Bulldog two years an’ seven months, an’ we had more prize money to take at the end of th’ commission than any other two ships’ crews put together. An’ what I says is, that while we had plenty of pluck, we had a slice of luck, too, all th’ way through, or we couldn’t have done what we did.

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Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.