The Ceuta papers contain a large number of hints about our author and his role both in Ceuta and Cadiz. Although we think we may be homing in on his identity, we have yet to confirm this.
We started with the muster rolls of HMS Antelope which are held at the National Archives.1 as our author records in his diary that he came home from Cadiz in the Antelope in company with Captain Ross Donelly.
The Rolls show the transport of Henry Wellesley and suite out to Cadiz as ambassador. They also record the names of ten people who were carried as Supernumaries on the return voyage.
There is then a long list of names of names of people ‘taken out of the Maria Primiera Portuguese 74 gun ship wrecked at Cadiz‘ and released to HMS Triumph a few days later.
This is followed by a list of others being invalided back to Portsmouth:
Our author was of sufficiently good standing to dine (in company?) with the Governor of Ceuta which suggests that he was either an Officer or Warrant Officer.
He expresses concern ‘of course’ about the Zaragosa during the Cadiz storm. We know that the Saragossa, McKessock, was a Danish prize operating as a merchant vessel and that she was in Cadiz ‘bound to Lima’2. The ‘of course’ is tantalising: what was our author’s connection with the Saragossa (or Zaragosa)?
On arrival in Cadiz our author ‘avoided Quarantine … by declaring we brought letters of importance to the Commander in Chief which was true as far as By order of Admiral Viners (to whom an hour before delivered them) but not in the way they understood it …‘ It is unclear from this whether our author or his fellow-travellers (‘we’) was on a specific mission.
Our current hypothesis is that our author was probably the Joseph, Ja(mes?), Humphryes/Humphries3 whose name appears below that of Captain Donelly in the Antelope‘s Muster Rolls.
In late January 1809 HMS Resistance, a 44 gun frigate, Captain Charles Adam, was in Falmouth, rounding up the remnants of a convoy which had been scattered on its return from Cadiz. The Purser, a Joseph Mumford was accused of supplying ‘several of the ship’s company with spirits and charged the men or caused them to be charged with slops in order to reimburse himself.’ He then became ill.4
On 3 February 1809 Mumford was replaced aboard Resistance by the Purser of HMS Experiment, the guard ship at Falmouth, one Joseph Humphryes.5
We have been able to track Joseph’s trip on the Resistance, which was part of the Mediterranean fleet, along the coast of Spain and into the Mediterranean.6 On 22 December 1809 he was superceded aboard Resistance and transferred to HMS Spider, a 10-gun sloop, while in Messina ‘For a passage to England’.7. As a Warrant Officer, a Purser was attached to a specific ship and was not a ‘mobile grade’ and so he would have expected to make his way home to his ‘home port’ (possibly Falmouth in this case) at the end of his temporary secondment.
There the trail goes cold until Joseph appears on the Muster Roll for the Antelope at the beginning of March 1809. What happened in the two missing months, Jan/Feb 1810? Did he travel from Messina to Cadiz via Ceuta?
The Antelope Muster Roll records Joseph as leaving the ship at Portsmouth on 28 March 1810. On 3 April he is recorded as being transferred to HMS Tromp, the hospital ship in Plymouth, ‘by Warrant’. He joined Tromp on 18th.8
The Ceuta papers and journal were written for a third party. Did that third party – perhaps a wife – live in, or near Falmouth and did he retire to Falmouth where his papers became part of a family’s archive for over 150 years before making their way to a car boot sale?
One small wrinkle in this theory is the handwriting. Joseph signed the Muster Rolls with a beautifully crafted and elegant signature. The Notes and journal, however, are very roughly written and there are few similarities with the signature.
Two curious coincidences have appeared during this work.
Captain Adam of the Resistance had once commanded HMS Sybille 48, the ship which later took the elusive d’Alvimart to Ceuta some time after 1810.
The Captain Donelly who travelled from Cadiz to Portsmouth with Joseph Humphryes in HMS Antelope, was replaced as captain of HMS Invincible on 6 April 1810 by none other than Captain Adam of HMS Resistance. We wonder whether Joseph Humphryes spoke with Donelly about his former captain on the voyage home, little knowing that he was telling Donelly about his successor.