One of the sons of 19th-century MP Edward Stillingfleet Cayley was Charles Digby Cayley (1827-1844). His life was a short one. After being educated at Eton, he joined the Royal Navy, and saw action on the Levant coast on HMS Rodney in 1840 in what is known as the ‘Oriental Crisis’. He was awarded a medal for his part In May 1844 he was serving as a midshipman on a surveying steamer, HMS Shearwater. On 17 May it was stationed off Largs in the Firth of Clyde.
That day Charles Digby Cayley and a fellow midshipman William Jewell went out in a sailing boat. A sudden squall caused the boat to capsize as it was rounding the North end of the island of Cumbrae, and both of them were drowned. Another steamer, HMS Vulcan, rushed to the rescue but found only the two men’s caps.
On Cumbrae is a monument to them, with the inscription, “To the memory of Mr Charles D Cayley, aged 17 years and Mr William N Jewall, aged 19 years, Midshipmen of HMS Shearwater. Promising young officers, drowned in the upsetting of their boat near this place, 17 May, 1844. This monument is erected in token of their worth by: Captain Robinson and Officers of the above named vessel.”
The Oriental Crisis of 1840 was not something with which I was familiar, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Muhammad Ali, who had taken control of Egypt from the Ottomans and had ambitions to seize much of the Ottoman Empire, had demanded parts of Syria in return for giving the Ottomans help against the Greeks in the Greek War of Independence. When, after that war ended, the Ottomans failed to hand over Syrian territory, he seized large parts of Syria. In 1839 the Ottomans tried unsuccessfully to recover the territory. In the summer of 1840 the whole Ottoman navy went over to Muhammad Ali. A few weeks later the major European powers offered Muhammad Ali Egypt, Sudan and the area round Acre provided he withdrew from the other areas he had occupied and agreed that his lands would nominally remain part of the Ottoman Empire.
When diplomacy failed to persuade Muhammad Ali to accept these terms, the French at first sided with him, but quickly changed their minds and supported the other European powers. In September 1840 Britain and Austria embarked on military action, blockading the Nile delta, shelling Sidon and Beirut, and capturing Acre. After this Muhammad Ali made peace, and agreed to reduce his army and navy, and handed back the main Ottoman fleet, with the agreement that he and his heirs would be hereditary rulers of Egypt and Sudan.
It was in naval actions of late summer 1840 that Charles Digby Cayley was involved. It all happened while Palmerston, known for gunboat diplomacy, was British Foreign Secretary.
To see how Charles Digby Cayley fits into the family tree, go to Low Hall Cayleys.