Memoirs of Lord Charles Beresford – 1864 – The Falkland Islands

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Lord Charles Beresford (1846-1919) was a British Admiral and Member of Parliament, he was a hero in battle and a champion of the Navy in Parliament.  Below is another installment in our series of his memoirs – taken from ‘The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford’ written by himself and published in 1914.

This excerpt covers his time onboard HMS Clio.

Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here.

Memoirs of Lord Charles Beresford – 1864 – The Falkland Islands

We put in at the Falkland Islands in November. The population consisted of ex-Royal Marines and their families. It was considered necessary to populate the Islands; and we always send for the Royal Marines in any difficulty. There were also South American guachos and ranchers. The governor came on board to ask for the captain’s help. The governor wanted a man to be hanged, and his trouble was that he was afraid to hang him. The prisoner was a guacho, who had murdered a rancher, whom he had cast into the river and then shot to death. The governor was afraid that if he executed the murderer, the other guachos would rise in rebellion. So he wanted the captain to bring the murderer on board and hang him to the yardarm. The captain refused this request; but he offered to hang him on shore, a proposal to which the governor agreed. The boatswain’s mate piped: “Volunteers for a hangman fall in.” To my surprise, half the ship’s company fell in. The sergeant of Marines was chosen to be executioner. He took a party on shore, and they constructed a curious kind of box, like a wardrobe, having a trap-door in the top, above which projected the beam. The man dropped through the trap door into the box and was no more seen, until the body was taken out under cover of night and buried.

The shooting on that island was naturally an intense delight to a boy of my age. We midshipmen used to go away shooting the upland geese. I managed to bring aboard more than the others, because I cut off the wings, heads and necks, cleaned the birds, and secured them by toggling the legs together, so that I was able to sling four birds over each shoulder. The whole island being clothed in high pampas grass, it was impossible to see one’s way. Officers used to be lost in the Falklands. The body of a paymaster who was thus lost was not discovered for eight years. The cold induced sleep, and a sleeping man might freeze to death.

Admiral Penrose Fitzgerald, in his Memories of the Sea, relating his experience as a midshipman in the Falkland Islands, says, “Everybody has heard of the Falkland Island geese, and they may be seen to-day in St James’s Park. The upland geese;  as they are generally called;  are excellent eating; but there are also immense numbers and different varieties of other geese and these are known as ‘kelp geese.’ Alas! our ornithological education had been so sadly neglected that we did not know the difference with the feathers on, though we soon found it out, when we came to cook and eat them. All the birds we shot were kelp geese, about as fishy as cormorants; but they were not wasted, for we gave them to our Marine servants, who ate them all and declared them to be excellent ‘Some flavour about them,’ as they said.”

While we lay at the Falkland Islands a merchant ship came in whose whole company was down with scurvy. When I joined the Navy, lime-juice, the prophylactic, was served out under the regulation; but in the mercantile marine scurvy was still prevalent. It is a most repulsive disease. The sufferer rots into putrid decay while he is yet alive. If you pressed a finger upon his flesh the dent would remain. He is so sunk in lethargy that if he were told the ship was sinking he would decline to move. His teeth drop out and his hair falls off. It is worthy of remembrance that the use of lime-juice as a prophylactic was discovered, or at least largely introduced, by Captain James Cook the navigator; whose statue, erected at Whitby, I had the privilege of unveiling in [1912]. Historically, I believe that Captain Lancaster, commanding the Dragon, in the service of the Honourable East India Company in the time of James I, was the first to cure scurvy by administering three spoonfuls of lemon to each patient, with his breakfast.

Excerpt from The Memoirs of Admiral Lord Charles Beresford written by himself and published in 1914.

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Further Reading and External Links

Lord Charles Beresford on Wikipedia

Lord Charles Beresford on The Dreadnought Project