In 1883 that wonderful series of 'Ingatherings' Arber's "English Garner" reprinted Robert Lyde's 1693 "Account of the Retaking of a ship called the Friends' Adventure of Topsham, from the French; after She had been taken six days, and they were on the coast of France with it four days. When one Englishman and a Boy set upon seven Frenchmen, and brought the said Ship and them safe to England &c." With a title like that the story is more or less already told!
Stevenson,s "Kidnapped" was first published in 1885 and I'm wondering if he had been reading "An English Garner" and the account of this bloody battle on board ship between one man and a boy and a ship's company before he dreamed up his famous Battle of the Round House.
Lyde was a great adventurer and in 1693 was, "a lusty young man aged about twenty three years". The boy, John Wright, was "about sixteen years" and they were both from Topsham. Their adventures on the high seas are worth reading but they take place far from the Estuary. Lyde, however, after meeting many challenges, brought his ship, almost single handed and with prisoners battened down below decks to the mouth of the Exe.
"After three, I bore away for the bar of Topsham, thinking to go in over the bar in the morning tide; but by five the wind lynned. At six, I sent up the boy to loose the maintopsail. At seven, I let out the reefs of both topsails, and made all the sail I could: but the wind dying away so, I did not fetch the bar before ten of the clock; which was too late for that tide. At which time, the Pilot was coming; but seeing no colours, nor no men on deck but myself and the boy, they were afraid: and were rowing away from me. But I being in hail of them, I asked them, "What they were afraid of? and why they should not come on board?" They hearing me call to them in English, they lay still upon their oars till I came up with them: and seeing me and the boy, whom they knew; they inquired for the Master. I told them, "He might be carried into France by this time,"
And after they came on board, I gave them an account of all the proceedings, which made them all in a maze; and they would hardly believe it: but to put them out of doubt, I showed them the five prisoners. Whom the Pilots would have had me let them out to work: but I refused to do that till the ship was over the bar. Because they should not see how the bar did lie; for fear they might become pilots, and go in with their boats hereafter, and so burn or carry away our ships. This discourse being ended, the Pilots would have me sleep, for they perceived by my countenance, that I stood in need of it: but the joy of having six Englishmen on board banished all sleepiness from me.
Half an hour after ten, I sent two of the Pilot's ashore. One to bring me some help on board. And the other to ride to Exeter with a letter which I wrote to the owners of the ship....
I stayed without the bar till four in the afternoon; and then we went for the bar. After I was got over in safety and landlocked, and there were many people on board, who were desirous to see the Frenchmen: I ript off the plank which was nailed over the hold; and the prisoners came up, to the confirmation of the truth of this Relation. By five, I was at anchor at Stair cross; and there were as many people on board as could well stand. Immediately I sent the prisoners to Topsham, in the Custom House wherry, that the doctors might take care of their wounds. At six I put all the people ashore except the boy and Their Majesties' Officers; whom I left on board.
I went to Topsham ...."
And there let us leave him, at least for tonight.