An Affecting Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures and Sufferings of Six Deserters from the Artillery of the Garrison of St. Helena, in the Year 1799. Delivered on Oath, Before a Court of Enquiry, Held at St. Helena, on the 12th of December, 1801. John Browne.
An Affecting Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures and Sufferings of Six Deserters from the Artillery of the Garrison of St. Helena, in the Year 1799. Delivered on Oath, Before a Court of Enquiry, Held at St. Helena, on the 12th of December, 1801.
An Affecting Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures and Sufferings of Six Deserters from the Artillery of the Garrison of St. Helena, in the Year 1799. Delivered on Oath, Before a Court of Enquiry, Held at St. Helena, on the 12th of December, 1801.

An Affecting Narrative of the Extraordinary Adventures and Sufferings of Six Deserters from the Artillery of the Garrison of St. Helena, in the Year 1799. Delivered on Oath, Before a Court of Enquiry, Held at St. Helena, on the 12th of December, 1801.

London: J. Smeeton, 1802. 8vo, disbound. Frontis. engraving, 44 pp.

Enthralling narrative of Englishman John Browne, detailing his journey with five fellow military deserters from St. Helena Island, three of whom make their way to Brazil, ending with Browne’s visit to Cape Town and return to St. Helena where he delivers this narrative under oath

.

John Browne’s narrative—the veracity of which was apparently confirmed by deposition—commences in St. Helena in 1799. Populated with 2,000 inhabitants, including 600 slaves, and a garrison of 500 men, St. Helena is supplied with European manufactures by the Company’s ships in exchange for “various kinds of refreshments.” Browne, who belongs to the first company of artillery at the garrison, explains that while on St. Helena his friend William M’Kinnon—“a Scotch highlander” and “gunner of the second company”—frequently expressed his dissatisfaction with being “banished from the world, and cooped up, as he called it, in a little isle; and he avowed, that he would willingly run any risk to effect his return to Great Britain.” After Browne fails to dissuade M’Kinnon from trying to escape, M’Kinnon is able to persuade Browne to accompany him; in turn, they convince four of their military comrades to desert with them. Upon the arrival of the American ship Columbia in the bay, which “seemed propitious to an enterprise,” the six men secure the assistance of the Americans, who furnish them with a whaleboat, rather than running the risk of having them on board in the bay. The escapees row out to sea with “25 pounds of bread and a keg of 13 gallons of water with a compass and quadrant,” to await the Columbia, which fails to appear, then head N.N.W. toward the island of Ascension, located six hundred miles from St. Helena; after passing Ascension, they make their way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

By the 26th of June they have consumed all their provisions. M’Kinnon subsequently proposes “to cast lots for one of us to die in order to save the rest.” Tragically, M’Kinnon’s number is drawn and he heroically bleeds out within a quarter of an hour. Browne pauses: “To describe our feelings at this trying moment would be impossible. We joined our ejaculation, with those of our expiring victim, and hid our faces as he lay convulsed by the final pangs of nature.” On the 8th of July, Browne and two others—Conway and Carr—make it ashore, yet not after two of their emaciated friends drown on their way to land. They are promptly taken captive by Indians in Brazil but are released as soon as they are discovered to be Englishmen, following which they are brought to the Governor of Belmont’s house where the three men regain health. Browne’s narrative details his time in the area of Belmont, during which he accompanies Loyola, a servant of the Governor’s, to his native village to witness the Festival of the Moon. Browne writes, “[n]ever did I behold a more inchanting scene.”

The Governor of Belmont subsequently arranges for the three men to sail to the city of Saint Salvador to meet the Governor there. Parr, one of Browne’s fellow deserters, fabricates a “well-invented tale” for the Governor of Saint Salvador, “carefully concealing our desertion.” The Governor Don Antonio subsequently raises six hundred pounds sterling for them, “to which the citizens most readily and liberally contributed.”

After rescuing Olympia Alvarez—an heiress to one of the richest merchants of St. Salvador—in a boating accident, Parr soon thereafter weds Olympia in secret. Apprehensive of her father’s anger upon hearing of her marriage, Olympia convinces Parr to secretly leave the city with her, into “the interior regions, where her faithful Indian servant, Rolla, will procure us an asylum among his tribe.” Finding Olympia missing, the Governor dispatches a search party to find the newlyweds. Browne accompanies a detachment of thirty calvary and finds Parr and Olympia stuck in “a majestic palm-tree,” “with the fierce and venomous Ibibaboka coiled round the trunk”—the serpent twenty-seven feet in length and twenty inches in circumference (dramatically depicted in the frontispiece). Browne guns down the serpent, saving the unscathed newlyweds. Returning to the city, Parr and Olympia remain husband and wife (Olympia’s father does not disapprove). After a night at the opera with Olympia, Browne and Parr are surrounded and assailed by a group of masked ruffians. Browne wounds two of the boys, but not until after he and Parr are both wounded. The two wounded ruffians confess they have been bribed by a former lover of Olympia to assassinate Parr and him. It takes Browne weeks to recover, having suffered a “great loss of blood.”

After restoring his health, Browne is “pressed into his Majesty’s Service” after being deemed a “suspected deserter,” and “proceed[s] to the Admiral at the Cape of Good Hope,” being put “in irons” for the duration of the voyage to Cape Town. Upon arrival, Browne offers a detailed “sketch of the present state of the settlement at the Cape of Good Hope.” The English have taken possession of the Dutch colony in 1795 after the surrender of the Dutch to British arms. During his visit, Browne makes observations on the English and Dutch Settlers, and offers ethnographies of the Hottentots and the Caffres as well.

During the summer of 1801, he enters as a seaman on board the Duke of Clarence on a cruise through the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually they travel to St. Helena, “where on my arrival I surrendered myself in order to give faithful account of my sufferings to the garrison […] It is to be hoped that my disastrous adventures and the sad fate of some of my fellow sufferers will deter the men who compose the garrison of this island from engaging in so foolish an enterprise.” Browne’s predictions come true and he is able to return to England:

my officers treated me with the greatest lenity; generously forgave my desertion, as they said that my subsequent hardships were a sufficient punishment, and in consequence of my enfeebled state, I have received their permission to return to my native land by the first homeward bound East Indiaman that touches at St. Helena.

A rare and fascinating deserter narrative. OCLC records just six copies.

CONDITION: Good, disbound, early ownership inscriptions in ink on title-page.

Item #4194

Price: $900.00

See all items in Rare Books
See all items by