Jeffrey, immaculately uniformed, marooned – another Victorian illustration
HMS Recruit now headed for Barbados to join the squadron there under Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane. The story of the marooning began to leak out, causing general outrage, and Lake was ordered to explain himself. Cochrane, enraged, reprimanded Lake for brutality and ordered him back to Sombrero with HMS Recruit to find Jeffrey. On landing, no sign of him was found other than a pair of trousers – apparently not Jeffrey’s – and a tomahawk (a common boarding weapon). When HMS Recruit returned empty-handed the Admiral assumed that Jeffrey had been picked up by a passing ship.
Anger was widespread when the story reached Britain and Lake was court-martialled on board HMS Gladiator in Portsmouth in February 1810. Despite an attempt to pass some of the blame to his lieutenants, the court found him guilty and dismissed him from the navy.
Jeffrey’s whereabouts were now the subject of impassioned interest, questions being asked in the House of Commons and the Government kept under pressure on the case. It finally emerged that he was in the Beverley and Marblehead area in Massachusetts and a ship was sent to bring him back, arriving in Portsmouth shortly after Lake’s court martial. Jeffrey had survived nine days on the rock, in extreme privation, before a passing ship, the American Adams, had spotted him. He had been unable to kill any of the abundant sea birds (the rock was later mined for guano) and he had been saved from death by thirst by a rain shower, having sucked up water from crevices through a quill.
Jeffrey – who had been unlawfully pressed in the first place, was discharged from the navy, was given his arrears of pay and was taken to his home at Polperro by a naval officer. The entire community turned out to welcome him and an eyewitness reported that “the meeting between the mother and her son was extremely affecting and impassioned.” He accepted a payment of from Lake of £600 – a fortune in those days, when a domestic servant might earn £10 per year – on condition that he would not press legal action against him. He told his story in London theatres and thereafter bought a coasting schooner. He did not however prosper and he died young of consumption, leaving a wife and daughter in poverty.