John Fea: Lock Keeper
The Indefatigible was built in 1784 and reconstructed in 1795 by removing the forecastle and quarter deck and altering what was the upper deck. Her 18 pounder long guns were replaced by 42 pounder carronades. These changes apparently came about due to unfounded rumours that there were French super frigates with 24 pounder long guns being produced in large numbers. In fact only four of these French frigates were built.
In 1796, Sir Edward Pellow was captain. On 13th April of that year, the Indefatigible gave chase to a frigate. She signalled to the Revolutionaire, astern, to tack and cut her off from the shore. After the second broadside from the Revolutionaire, the Unite 32, from l’Orient surrendered.
In January 1797, the Indefatigable and the Amazon discovered the French Droits de L’Homme returning from an abortive attempt at Bantry Bay. After action in a heavy gale, which lasted throughout the night of the 13th, the enemy ship went aground with large loss of life. Of 1,300 men, 100 were killed, 150 wounded and of the rest, all bar 200 were drowned.
On 31st December 1798, the Indefatigable captured the French privateer,
In the beginning of 1802, the Indefatigable was cruising among smugglers and in 1803 was under repair in Plymouth. In July 1803, the she was under the command of Captain Graham Moore, the captain mentioned in John Fea’s obituary.
John Fea appears in the muster list covering the period from 1st July to 31st August 1804. There is no entry against “Bounty Paid”. It is noted that for some of the other sailors, £5 was paid. For others £1.10.0
Date of entry is given as 20th January and the year, 1804 with appearance 5th February. Unfortunately, the entry against “whence and whether prest or not” is unclear. The place and county where born is given as Falkirk, which is where John would have come from although his death certificate does indicate that he was born in Sanday, Orkney.
The identification number “315” continues with him during his time on the ship. His age at the time of entry is given as 27, which would suggest that he was born around 1777.
Essentially the same information gets repeated at two monthly intervals in the muster log. In the period from 1st September to 31st October 1804, there is nothing against “Slop Clothes Supplied by Navy” but 9/6 for tobacco.
Payment of £2,571.2.1 was made to the ship’s crew on 16th July 1804 of which details for John Fea are given under his identifying number 315
Life must have been hard on board ship and discipline strict. Examination of the Captain’s log indicates lashings were common, perhaps every second or third day.
Drunkeness was common. Theft was dealt with particularly severely.
It was in September, 1804 that the government had received information that the French had been given permission to march through Spain to man ships lying at Ferrol and a blockade was set up. On 22nd September, Captain Moore on the Indefatigable had received orders to search for and detain two Spanish frigates expected with treasure from South America. He arrived off Cadiz on 29th September and took the Lively under his orders on 2nd October. The Medusa brought the Amphion, the following day and all four frigates cruised between Cadiz and Gibraltar.
On 5th October, the Medusa sighted four Spanish frigates S.W. of Cape St Mary and the British frigates came along side as they formed a battle line. Captain Moore fired a shot ahead of the Spanish Admiral, when he failed to shorten sail. He sent lieutenant Ascott to the Spanish Admiral by boat to explain his orders but the Spanish Admiral was not impressed. When the Indefatigable fired a second shot, the Mercedes unfortunately fired into the Amphion.
The Spanish Admiral fired at the Indefatigable and a general fight began. The Mercedes blew up alongside of the Amphion and only 40 of her crew were rescued by the Amphion’s boats. Within half an hour, the Spanish frigates Fama and Clara, had surrendered and the Spanish Admiral’s 40 gun frigate, Medea, had fled.
The Captain’s long is not that easy to decipher. One can imagine the conditions under which it was written.
The Spanish frigates had been carrying treasure: 1,307,634 dollars in silver with wool, bars of tin and pigs of copper belonging to the Spanish king; 1,859,216 dollars in silver 1,119,658 dollars in gold and 150,011 gold ingots belonging to merchants, and seal skins and oil belonging to the Marine company. 1,111,949 silver dollars, half the copper and quarter of the tin went down with the Mercedes. The prizes were taken into Gibraltar.
In the muster book for the period from 1st September to 31st October 1804, the names include sailors from the Spanish frigates, Medea and Clara as well as the Amphion
The Indefatigable returned to Plymouth on 4th January 1805 and lay to for two hours awaiting the return of a boat from shore. The Naval Chronicle indicates that a man did set off at top speed without divulging anything other than he was anxious to start his journey.
John Fea continues in both the muster list and pay book for the Indefatigable for more than two years. For the pay period 16th July to 30th April 1805 the following entry is noted:
The last reference to John Fea in the Pay Book of the Indefatigable is in 1807
The meaning of the entry against "whence and whether Prest or volunteered" is unclear. There is no entry for full or net wages. John Fea does not appear in the next wages period beginning 1st December 1807.