Anthony Carter and the Admiral’s Daughter - Cover

Anthony Carter and the Admiral’s Daughter

Copyright© 2024 by Argon

Chapter 5: The Great South Sea

October 1801

Two days later and after a tearful farewell between Tony and Harriet, Medusa weighed anchor. Under the prevailing western breeze, sailing the frigate downriver from London was easy enough, but that changed once they reached the Channel. It took them four days of clawing up against westerly winds before they reached Plymouth where they were joined by four prison transports and three supply ships. A fifth transport was not yet ready, waiting for another consignment of convicts from a prison in the North Country. The four other captains insisted on sailing, saying that the prisoners were on board already and had to be fed. Tony pointed out to them that his orders were to escort five transports, but they plead their case with the port admiral who sent a semaphore message to London. New orders were made out for Medusa to sail with the five transports ready for sea. The sixth transport, the brig Pretty Jane was to sail later without escort. With direct orders from the Admiralty, Tony shrugged and readied his convoy for sailing. He assumed that the armistice negotiations with France were making headway, reducing the risk for British shipping.

Indeed, it was a day after the armistice with France was proclaimed when Medusa, followed by a convoy of five, weighed anchor and left Plymouth. En route on a westward course, they met the ships of the mid channel squadron. Those were already returning from the blockade of Brest, and their darkened, patched sails spoke of months of sustained duty in all sorts of weather. Medusa received signal from the flagship, Victory, 98, for Tony to report to the admiral. The convoy hove to, and Tony was rowed across to the flagship where he was led before Admiral Sir Charles Parker.

“Good day, Captain, and sorry to delay you.”

“Good day, Sir Charles.”

“To make this short, Captain, you still have your wartime crew, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Sir Charles.”

“Your pressed men couldn’t get a discharge, could they?”

“No, Sir Charles.”

“Here’s the deal, Captain. There’s a lot of sailors on board my flagship who’d prefer to stay in the service. Volunteers, you see? They’ll be more than happy to trade places with any of your ship’s company who want to have a discharge. That will leave you with a crew of volunteers, and I’ll know that my men won’t starve on the quays.”

Tony’s face brightened.

“I have over 140 pressed men, Sir Charles, but I am a bit under complement. I can accommodate up to fifteen additional crew.”

“I can easily find a hundred-fifty and more willing to muster in a frigate, Captain. Captain MacFarlane,” he spoke to his Chief of Staff, “be so kind and ask the squadron for volunteers. We can finish this within an hour. Thank you Captain! I appreciate your cooperation.”

“It is me who has to thank you, Sir Charles. Should I return to my ship to organise the exchange?”

“Yes by all means, Captain. Have a safe trip. You’re headed for New South Wales?”

Tony affirmed this.

“Great chance for you, Captain. Never had a chance myself of sailing the South Sea. Always the bloody blockade duty. Well, you better be on your way.”

Tony had himself rowed back to the Medusa. To his surprise, only 135 of the 143 pressed sailors wanted to leave the ship and the service. When the volunteers from the Mid Channel Squadron arrived, and those other men had left, Medusa had 15 men over her full complement, all volunteers. This was a rare luxury for a Navy captain. Only the purser, Mr. Matthews, made a long face, since he had to feed those extra men, upsetting his previous calculations.

They made good progress in the following days and weeks and finished the first leg of the journey to St. Helena in good time. They took water there and inevitably, the officers were invited to dine with the Governor. Tony was seated with the Governor whilst his officers sat with the officers of the garrison. They were grilled by their hosts about the newest gossip from England, but it was also nice to eat fresh food and drink cooled wine. Three days later, they sailed again. They sailed south past the Cape of Good Hope, and then made a straight east-northeastern dash for the Timor Straits south of Sumatra. Other convoys usually took the southern route along the Roaring Forties, but Tony’s orders specified to look into the situation along Timor and Torres Straits. This would delay them by weeks, but it might benefit the prisoners for whom the rough southern route had to be a horror.

The Timor Strait is a narrow stretch of water between the island of Timor and the Australian continent. It was a part of the journey where the greatest danger from pirates was looming. Tony kept his small convoy in close formation and his own ship to windward at all time. The captains of the convoy were civilian, but were experienced men, and they did their best to remain close to their escort.

They were off Melville Island when the lookout sang out his “Ship Ho!”. It was a Brigantine that was approaching the convoy from windward on a converging course. A brigantine was always bad news, because there were hardly any English ships with such a rigging. Tony’s suspicion was awakened instantly. When Medusa came to the wind to investigate the strange sail, the brigantine altered course too, clawing to windward, clearly avoiding the British frigate.

Tony resisted the temptation to give chase; his duty was with the transports after all, but he had misgivings about the suspicious sail.

The officers had assembled on the quarterdeck.

“Privateer or mebbe pirate, if you want my opinion,” the sailing master grumbled to nobody in particular.

“I dare say you’re correct, Mr. Boyle,” Tony conceded. “It’s a damned shame we cannot run her down, but our duty’s with the convoy. He may have an accomplice waiting for us to be lured away.”

“By God, you’re right, Sir. The pirates in these waters are damned cunning. It’s time for somebody to put a stop to them.”

“Not much of a chance for that, Mr. Boyle,” Tony sighed.

“I wonder where they may have their base, Sir. Must be one of the small islands to the North. Let’s hope the Pretty Jane will not run into them when she comes along this route.”

Tony thought about that. The Pretty Jane was the transport left behind in Plymouth, and she follow them a week or four later.

“I guess, we can try to find them at the entrance to the strait on our way back and escort them as far as the Torres Strait, just to make sure.”

Mr. Boyle nodded and more was not said. The strange sail disappeared over the horizon, and the convoy continued their journey through the Arafura Sea and the Torres Strait. From there, they ran south-easterly along the Great Barrier Reef, then past Cape Byron, before they cast anchor in Sydney Cove exactly half a year after they had sailed from Plymouth.

Sydney, during that time, was the centre of a penal colony and it looked the part. In addition, it was unbearably hot, even for those sailors who were used to the Caribbean climate. Provisions for the ships were also in scarce supply.

The transport captains were also unwilling to sail before they had collected enough cargo, and that would take time. Tony felt uneasy about the fate of Pretty Jane, and after a few days in which the crew replenished the water stores, he left Sydney Cove to rendezvous with the straggler.

With the next morning’s land breeze blowing, Medusa left Sydney Cove. On the northward journey along the Great Barrier Reef, no sign of the Pretty Jane was seen, but Tony had hoped to meet the straggler later, beyond the island of Timor. He planned to turn around and escort the transport to Sydney. This was the plan, but the Pretty Jane had still not been sighted when they turned westward and sailed through the Torres Strait. They had sailed close to 600 miles on their new course when the lookout in the masthead sighted a small boat.

Medusa bore down on the boat, which turned out to be a jolly boat. No movement could be seen, but there was a canvas-covered bundle near the stern sheets. Medusa backed her topsails and was neatly laid alongside the small boat. The boat was hooked, and a midshipman jumped down to investigate whilst everybody watched. He lifted the canvas and started with surprise.

“There’s two women, Sir!” he cried towards the quarterdeck. “They look dead, Sir!”

“Mr. Turner,” Tony addressed the ship’s surgeon. “Kindly get down into the boat and see what you can make of this.”

Turner, a portly man, descended the rope ladder with some difficulty whilst one of his mates followed him with a bag of instruments. Almost immediately, the doctor turned up to the Captain.

“We need some water down here, Sir. They both seem to be alive. Seems like they’ve been cast out in the boat with no provisions.”

“Mr. Bell!” the captain addressed the midshipman, “Is there any sign from which ship this boat comes?”

“There’s ‘PJ’ burnt into the oars, Sir. I reckon it’s the Pretty Jane’s jolly boat.”

“Very likely, Mr. Bell. Bosun! Have the boat hoisted up on deck!”

“Aye aye, Sir!” came the reply, and within a few minutes, the jolly boat rested on deck in makeshift hocks. Meanwhile, the doctor’s ministrations had some effect on one of the women. Her eyes were open already, and she tried to speak. She could not, however, and made a weak gesture to her mouth.

“Give her more water!” Tony ordered and sat on his haunches beside the boat. After the poor woman had another quart of water, this time with some rum in it, she was able to clear her throat and whisper a feeble ‘Thank you’.

“Madam,” Tony addressed her, “I am Captain Carter of His Majesty’s Ship Medusa. Can you tell me what happened? Is this the Pretty Jane’s boat?”

To both questions the young woman nodded. She cleared her throat again with an effort and drank another draught of water before she spoke.

“I am Clarissa Durning. My father is — was — Captain James Durning of the Pretty Jane. We were attacked by a pirate brigantine. My father was killed” — here, she swallowed hard — “defending the ship. The pirates were too many. They killed all the men.”

“How did you escape, then?” Tony enquired cautiously.

“There is a secret hold under the main cabin where I hid. It was horrible. The leader of the pirates used the cabin, and in the first night, he...” she swallowed and looked at the blond girl at her side, “ ... he had his way with Lucy here. I had to listen to all of it.” She shuddered with disgust. “When I heard him snoring later that night, I sneaked out of my hiding place. I had a cutlass, and I ... I cut his throat.”

Tony had to admire her. That had taken courage.

“How did you get into this boat?”

“They had left the jolly boat trailing. I roused Lucy, and we were able to reach it from the stern windows. We cut the line and drifted away. Then we took oars and rowed in a southward direction. We hoped to reach the main shipping route. We had no hope, really. But we thought, under the circumstances, that it was better to die at sea.”

“Just a moment, Miss Durning. Do you know which direction the pirates sailed?” Tony interjected.

“Northward, I think.”

“You are a brave young lady, Miss Durning. Did you hear anything about how far the hideout of the pirates may be away.”

“The leader bragged to Lucy that she would see her new home in two days.”

“Excellent, Miss Durning! That narrows down the possibilities. We’ll find that hideout and then you can watch the murderers of your father swing from a yardarm.”

Just about then, the second young woman slowly regained her consciousness. Clarissa Durning turned to her and hugged her tightly.

“Lucy, we’re safe! This is a King’s ship. We shan’t die.”

“You’re safe, I’ll still be transported,” the younger woman whispered hoarsely.

“Don’t say that, Lucy. I’ll do anything in my power to win you a pardon.”

“Would you ask her if she knows anything that may help us locate the pirates?” Tony interjected.

The blonde girl looked up at him and smiled as much as her crackling lips allowed.

“You can talk to me directly, Captain. I may be a convict but I can talk.”

“Sorry, girl. Why don’t you have some more water and then I shall ask my questions?”

“Yes, please. I can use some more water.”

After she had slaked her thirst, she looked up at him.

“Miss Durning has already given me the story of what happened. I just need to know whether there is anything you know that may help us find those pirates and free the other captives.”

The girl tried to think and started to crinkle her nose, but the sunburn hurt and she relaxed her features.

“One of the pirates said we’d be living with them on their island and that it has a good — I don’t remember the word, something with anchor...?”

“Anchorage?” Tony asked.

“Yes, anchorage. He said they have their own village where they live and that we were the women they needed to start families.”

“He did not say anything of the whereabouts of that island, did he?”

“No, Captain. That’s all I remember. They were not talking a lot to begin with.”

“Well, I guess I shall let you two young ladies have some rest. Grimm!”, he bellowed for his steward.


“See to it that the young ladies get the unused chamber on starboard. Have the master-at-arms fit a lock to the door and get two cots in there. In the meantime, let them rest in the after cabin and see to it that they have some food.”

“Aye aye, Sir.”

“And, Grimm, see that they get a gallon of fresh water each to clean up.”

Grimm nodded.

“Now if you will excuse me, ladies, and follow Grimm here? He’ll do his best to make you comfortable.”

The young women stumbled aft and Tony went to the chart room with the sailing master. Together, they studied the chart for a while.

“Must be that small island east of Timor, if you ask me, Sir.”

“Very likely, Mr. Boyle. The chart says it’s uninhabited, and there seems to be a good anchorage on the northwestern shore. We shall investigate it first.”

They set a course and Medusa came to the wind again on a northward course. The excitement of the encounter and the prospect of immediate action galvanised the crew, and it seemed as if Medusa herself was feeling the tension. The ship dashed across the waves on her new course as if she were eager to see action. The officers made use of the afternoon watch for a gun drill, and the small detachment of the Royal Marines exercised on the main deck under their Lieutenant Walker. The two young women did not show, but Grimm, the steward, reported that they were snoring in their chamber.

In the next morning, Tony invited them to share his breakfast, and when they showed, it became obvious that the sleep had done wonders. They had also used some tallow from the surgeon’s stores to moisten their parched lips. They were both a sight to behold.

Clarissa Durning was rather tall, likely just a shade under six feet, and whilst she was by no means skinny, she had a slender, sinewy appearance. The even features of her face were framed by straight dark brown hair that she had tied into a severe bun. She held herself upright, smiled little and did not behave like the 20 year old that she claimed she was.

Lucy Gutteridge, on the other hand, was apprehensive. That did not detract from the fact that she apparently had a sunny disposition. She was smaller, about five and a half feet, with blond curls, blue-grey eyes, a wide, full mouth and decidedly female forms. Out of necessity, both women wore men’s clothes, but there was no mistaking Lucy Gutteridge for a boy! From her first words the day before, Tony assumed that she was a convict deported to New South Wales, and he was interested in how such a lovely girl had earned such a harsh sentence.

“Miss Durning, you already told me a few things about yourself yesterday. But how come that you accompanied your father on this journey? This was hardly a pleasure cruise.”

“I am to meet my fiancé in Sydney. He is with the New South Wales regiment, Captain Crombie.”

“I think I met him at the governor’s house, Miss. He will be grateful for your escape from those pirates I’m sure. And you, Miss Gutteridge? What on earth did you do to warrant transportation?”

Lucy swallowed. “You’ll have to ask Judge Wilson, Captain. He sentenced me over an old loaf of bread that I took from the baker to feed my younger brothers and sister. My father died a year ago. He was an apothecary in Winchester. My mother had died five years earlier. We had used up all our savings and we were hungry.”

“Deportation for a loaf of bread seems like a harsh sentence to me. Does your family know where you are?”

“Yes, my uncle finally offered to help us, and tried to save me, but the judge had lost his fob watch to a pick pocket the day before, so I heard, and he wanted to set an example.”

Tony knew enough about the way some judges used their authority to realise that she was likely telling the truth.

“Please, Captain, what are you going to do with me now? Am I still being sent to New South Wales?”

“I have to think about the situation, Miss. I’m not promising anything. I have to try and free those other poor women first. Then we have to sail for Sydney, to pick up the rest of the convoy for the return journey. As for you, Miss Gutteridge, we shall discuss your situation in good time time. Bringing you back to England may be a bad idea, seeing how your transportation order still stands.”

“I would do whatever is necessary to help you, Lucy,” Clarissa Durning interjected, with a warm smile towards the other girl that completely altered her haughty appearance. She was actually quite pretty when she smiled, Tony realised.

“That’s good to hear, Miss Durning. Now, Miss Gutteridge, Miss Durning told me yesterday that you were violated by the pirate. I know that this is a private matter, but do you need any help from our surgeon?”

The girl Lucy looked down, blushing intensely.

“No,” she whispered, “I don’t hurt anymore. It wasn’t even as bad as the first times in prison.”

“You were violated in prison?” Tony asked incredulously.

The girl looked straight into Tony’s eyes.

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