Monkey or Midshipmen tricks?


William Stanhope Lovell served as a midshipman in the days leading up to Trafalgar and served in the Americas during the War of 1812. He participated in the campaign on the Chesapeake Bay and the burning of Washington. Here he describes an amusing yarn of his early service in the Royal Navy.

One of the marine officers had a monkey on board, who used to amuse us with his gambols but was rather fond of biting, for which he received occasionally a beating from us youngsters. This brought on a coolness between his master and us, and led at last to open war.

A cabal was formed to get Jacko a licking from his own master, by letting him loose from his chain in the marine officer's cabin, that he might do some mischief and the time chosen was when his best clothes were put out ready for him to dine with the captain. We knew F. was invited that day, because we had seen the captain's steward ask him, and his own servant go into the marine officer's berth (he had one in the gun-room, on the lower-deck, where we messed), and layout his best coat, epaulet, white trousers, etc. and after making all other preparations necessary for the toilet, leave the cabin, lock the door, put the key in his pocket, and go away.

Now was the time for action. A mid of the name of 0., the leader of all mischief, undertook to get into the cabin through the lower-deck port, by going on deck, then into the mizen chains, and from thence by a rope's end made fast under his arms. We let him down through the port on the lower-deck into the cabin, and he untied the monkey. This being done, we returned into the gun-room, and peeped through the key-hole and cracks to see. 

Jacko's manceuvres after jumping about and chattering to himself for some little time, he commenced operations. Unfortunately for his owner, he found a bottle of ink, which he let fall, and it broke in pieces, splashing the ink on the deck. The monkey was now in his glory he seized upon the new red coat and epaulet, and began mopping up the wet, then chattering to himself, jumping about and appearing to feel quite delighted with his performance, particularly when he saw the marks of his hands and feet, stained with black, upon the red uniform. Not contented with his exploits on the coat, he lugged down the pair of smart inexpressibles, that looked so temptingly white, hanging over the chair, and finished the housemaid's work by wiping up the remainder of the ink with them. This feat having been done, we thought we had seen enough, and went most innocently to give information to the lieutenant of Marines, and his servant, that Jacko was loose in the cabin, and, we were afraid, was after some mischief, for we heard something break, and by peeping through the key-hole, saw he had his master's coat on the deck, and dragging it about.

Down ran the poor marine officer, calling his servant to bring the key. The moment the door was opened, the first glance showed the havoc committed on the dinner dress. Jacko, perceiving his frolic was over, retreated into his cage, from whence he was dragged to get a good beating. 

The poor servant was scolded because the monkey had got loose, who very truly said it was tied up safe when he left the cabin. The officer swore, stamped, and raved like a madman. His dress was so completely messed for the day, he could not dine with the captain; and we innocent young rascals stood looking very demure, and condoling with him on his misfortune, all the time laughing in our sleeves at the trick we had played. We had paid off the master and monkey, who between the two had got us sent to the mast-head occasionally for being saucy to the marine officer, because we did not like being bitten, without licking Jacko for it. A reward was offered to find out who let it loose, that F. might make the person or persons pay the damage; but it was never found out, and on the earliest opportunity the monkey was sent out of the ship, on board a merchant vessel we fell in with, bound to Malta, his master having had quite enough of monkey tricks.(Lovell 34-36)


Lovell, William Stanhope

2003 From Tralfalgar to the Chesapeake. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis.

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