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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Eleanor Reid and the sad story of the Kent

Interestingly, Mrs Reid met two gentlemen, one the purser, Robert Morris, who were survivors of the capture of the East Indiaman Kent by the French privateer Confiance, commanded by Robert Surcouf, just the previous month.  The Kent had been lying off the Sand Heads, and was easily surprised, because everyone thought the small craft that was approaching them was a pilot boat. It was common knowledge that the corsair crews were fired up with liquor, and therefore mad for plunder, but the East Indiaman should not have been so easily taken. As the young man related, it was probably because everyone was disheartened by the death of Captain Rivington. The atrocities reported were not typical of Robert Surcouf, who had the reputation of a gentleman.

The report above is from the Gentleman's Magazine, March 1801

Towards the end of November, we dined with Mr. C[harles]— L[aw]— at Howrah, where I was introduced to his sister Miss L—, who was to proceed with us to England. I found her very agreeable in her manners. At table was a young gentleman who had been in the Kent Indiaman at the time of her capture. In reply to some questions about that unfortunate affair, he surprised us by saying that if the sailors and soldiers on board had only been armed with knives and forks they might have cut the enemy, who boarded them, to pieces; but from his account it appeared that all was confusion after the death of the captain. 

The prisoners had come to Calcutta on board an Arab ship, where they were put by the enemy. We expected that Mr. R[obert] M[orris], the purser of the Kent, would come home with us, as my husband offered him a free passage; but his affairs prevented his leaving India so soon.  When the gentlemen joined us after dinner, I was surprised to observe many spots of blood upon the stockings of the young man; I soon understood that the musquitos had been feasting upon his legs under the table during dinner, and indeed I did not escape their merciless stings myself. He had not taken the precaution of having a bag made for each leg, which is often necessary. New comers are generally much annoyed with these plagues, and instances have been known of the loss of limbs, and even of life, from the effect of the bites of these little insects.

We had to cross the river to Calcutta, and were obliged to retire earlier than usual. It would have been fortunate, however, if we had been half an hour later, for just as the boat put off from the shore we heard a great noise fast approaching us; this was what is called the bore Our boatmen appeared in great consternation; my husband desired them to land us again immediately, but they disregarded his orders, and pulled with all their might into the middle of the stream: this, as we afterwards understood, was the best way to avoid the danger. The night was very dark, which increased the awful aspect of the immense white foaming waves, as it advanced with vast rapidity, rolling over the sand, causing the boat, although one of large dimensions, to tumble and toss about in the most violent manner, and nearly filling her with water; this, however, appeared to us of little consequence, we were truly thankful for the preservation of our lives. These bores do much damage on the river, causing the loss of many lives and much property.

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