Contents Back Conclusion Home Exmouth
Edward Pellew - By Parkinson, C. Northcote, London, 1934
CHAPTER XII - Algiers
It is he that saith not Rismet ; it is he that knows not Fate. It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate! ' - 'Lepanto,' G. K. Chesterton.
(416) IT was not with Exmouth's approval that Napoleon was taken to Elba. He was always resolutely in favour of executing the tyrant. So that, if annoyed in a general way at Napoleon's escape, he had the satisfaction of seeing his prophecies fulfilled. He was still, apparently, at West Cliff House in January 1815, when the Order of the Bath was extended. The extension, while making him a K.C.B., and shortly afterwards G.C.B., put for ever beyond his reach the coveted title of K.B. Soon after he received this honour his duties as a member of the House of Lords brought him to London. It was from there that he wrote to Sir Richard Keats on the subject of Napoleon's escape.
Harley Street 23rd March 1815
MY DEAR FRIEND
As you may not hear all that's going forward I sit down to give you the general feeling of Official People. Your intensive and reflecting Mind will not be filled with alarm as all people are here on the extraordinary Events which are pafsing. We have lived through wonderful times and when they will end is not to be foreseen. But no Person So years hence will credit what we have to relate of the escape of this Monster from Elba, or the extreme folly of not securing him in the first instance from the power of doing Mischief. I am not myself without great hopes that France will awaken to her dreadful situation and of her own accord drive this Waster from her Soil, particularly when she sees the Allies entering the Country and exposing it to all the sad events of War. It is generally thought we must begin again and Lord M[elville] has given me two strings, meaning I shall go to my old Station if we arm or relieve Bickerton if we remain at Peace. I do not know how I shall like to be harnefsed as Port Admiral or if (417) there will be more to do than I shall find pleasant, but if it is, I shall cut, and at once, give up Public pursuits and fix myself at Teignmouth for the remainder of my term, for it is time to rest and make the most of the few Years left to me ....
Exmouth was not destined to rest at this time. He received his reappointment as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean on the day after that on which this letter was written. Hoisting his flag in the Boyne (98), he proceeded at once to his station. Penrose was the flag-officer he came to supersede, an efficient man who had made a very proper disposition of the fleet before Exmouth arrived. The south of France was inclined to remain loyal to the Bourbons, so that Exmouth did not expect to encounter the Toulon fleet. He went straight to Sicily and Naples with a view to assisting in the downfall of Murat.
On the commencement of the Hundred Days, Murat, who had been left in possession of the kingdom of Naples, made a wild attempt to conquer all Italy. He was beaten by the Austrians and threatened by a force under Bentinck, who was preparing to attack Naples from the southward. The city of Naples itself was watched by a squadron Penrose had sent there as soon as the war began, and was only saved from bombardment by Murat's wife, Caroline, who surrendered the Neapolitan navy to the English. On returning to Naples, utterly defeated, Murat found that the populace was on the brink of rising against him. He accordingly set out secretly for France on the evening of May 19th, leaving his wife to ask a safe-conduct from the English. Captain Campbell, commanding the squadron before the town, not only granted her the protection of his flag but also agreed to convey her and her suite to France. Exmouth arrived on the evening of the 2oth and promptly annulled the agreement. He would allow her to go to England or Trieste, but not to France.
Naples contained at this time a number of English pleasure-seekers, including the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Oxford. It was the former who, on the gist, urged Exmouth to land his marines to keep order in the city until the Austrian troops should appear. The queen was already on board H.M.S. Tremendous. The marines were duly landed and remained in possession until the Austrian advance-guard marched in on the 23rd. Now, it seems that Queen Caroline had made herself extremely pleasant to the English visitors, for a number of them now began to (418) champion her cause, accusing Exmouth of brutality in refusing to take her to France. The Duke of Bedford announced his intention of proceeding home in order to attack Exmouth in the House of Lords. The Earl of Oxford made similar threats. The Countess of Oxford went further. Accompanied by her daughters, she forced her way into his cabin and besieged the startled admiral with tearful entreaties. For perhaps the first time in his life, Exmouth was at a loss what to do. Luckily, that invaluable man John Gaze came to his rescue. His entry was apparently accidental, but it was extremely apt. He came in to find the scene at its climax, with Lady Oxford kneeling with dishevelled hair before the embarrassed admiral. On catching sight of his faithful follower, Exmouth muttered something about urgent business and fled. Captain Brisbane was then sent to see the lady over the side. One pictures his lordship cautiously emerging from the after-hold and asking. whether she had really gone.
From Naples Exmouth sailed to Genoa where be embarked Sir Hudson Lowe and a part of the garrison. These troops were landed at Marseille - which had risen for the Bourbons and expelled Marshal Brune. At the time of the landing Brune was marching on the city with a body of troops from Toulon. The 4,000 troops, marines, and seamen, however, joined by as many of the National Guard of Marseille, marched out to meet this attack, led by Lord Exmouth himself on horseback. Whereupon Brune went back to Toulon, which presently surrendered in its turn. A notable feature of this campaign was the friendly relationship between Exmouth and his military colleague. In writing to Sir Hudson, Exmouth assured him: ` I have never heretofore met a man with whom I could more cordially and pleasantly make war.' But there was very little war to make and Sir Hudson was presently appointed as jailer at St. Helena.
While still at Marseille, Exmouth wrote to Lord Sidmouth and congratulated him upon the ending of the war.
27th Sept. 1815
MY DEAR LORD
If I had not expected to have paid you a visit before this, I should certainly have made you acquainted with our progrefs since the happy change in Public affairs, which brought me and my Fleet here. It is now too late to attempt anything (419) more than exprefs my Congratulations and Satisfaction that your Lordship has borne so large a share in the good and wise Councils which have saved our Country from the Grasp of that base Usurper; and at last doom'd him to be secured, I hope, from all power to do further mischief. I wish most heartily his life had been made to answer for all the Murders and Misery he has Entail'd upon the World, and I did hope that such a Sentence would have overtaken him, well knowing the firmnefs of your enlightened Mind. I may venture to believe you would not have shrunk from your share of responsibility, or have impeded so just a retribution; I profefs myself quite ready and willing to have lent my feeble voice to such a decision; as it is, we must hope he is Secure ....
I have received orders to send Home great part of my force. But I dont know when I am to return myself ....
The reason why the Admiralty did not recall Exmouth at once at the conclusion of the war soon became apparent. Orders arrived directing him to conclude certain treaties with the Barbary States. This meant remaining in the Mediterranean throughout the winter, for it was not thought possible to conduct operations on the Barbary Coast during that season. This intention of visiting Barbary was kept secret for the time being, but Exmouth made preparations for his mission by sending Gaze ashore to consult such books and maps as Marseille contained. Then he took his squadron to winter at Leghorn.
Before describing his further proceedings, it seems essential to give some account of the Barbary States. In particular is it necessary to explain the object of the intended mission, the reasons for undertaking it at that particular time, and the reasons why it was not undertaken sooner.
The north coast of Africa, the ribbon of habitable land dividing the Sahara from the sea, became a province of Europe as a result of the Punic Wars. A part of Europe it remained until the fall of the Roman Empire, when a Vandal invasion produced a state of anarchy which lasted, with negligible interruption, until the seventh century, when the Arab raids began to bring about a general conversion of the inhabitants to Islam. Christianity and European culture had long since been more or less completely extinguished in the province, and the Arabs met with no coherent resistance either to their arms or doctrines. The inhabitants, although white men, became, in effect, Orientals. North Africa became, in the eighth century, the base for Islamic raids on Spain; while fresh Arab invasions still further secured (420) the conquered province in the course of the Middle Ages. The tide, however, had turned, and the end of the fifteenth century saw the return to Africa of the Islamic invaders of Spain. These brought with them a strong disinclination for productive labour combined with a taste for warfare, or at any rate for successful warfare. They also brought with them the Spaniards, in hot pursuit of their late guests. This Spanish counter-attack was not of long duration. By the middle of the sixteenth century Christendom and Islam faced each other across the Mediterranean and warfare between the two forces became chiefly naval.
One set of savages is like another, and the course of events by which North Africa came under the rule of the Turks is of no particular interest. Nor need their political institutions detain us. It is sufficient to say that the various states of Barbary, as North Africa was then called, were now ruled by bands of Turks, largely of Greek extraction, who made it their business to wage perpetual warfare against the commerce of the Mediterranean. Of these pirate states the chief was Djezair, usually known as Algiers, a town built on the ruins of the ancient Icosium.
Now, where Europe, or any possession of Europe, has on its borders a hostile uncivilized state, divided in spirit from the sources of our culture, there are three policies open to the Europeans. The first and best policy is that of conquest. The next in order of preference is that of localization. The last is that of negotiation, which must as a rule take the form of menace and bribery. As examples of these three possible courses of action, one might take the Roman treatment of England, the medieval treatment of Wales, and the modern treatment of Afghanistan. Or one might instance the Cromwellian, the Roman, and the Elizabethan treatment of Scotland. To write a history of the relations between Europe and Barbary would be to relate how the kingdoms of Christendom adopted now one, now another of these policies. Such a history would include Charles V's attempt to achieve conquest and the modern French achievement of it; the Spanish attempt to confine the corsairs by seizing their ports ; the Dutch attempts to punish and to bribe. But the strangest part of the story would be that played by England. For, between England and Barbary there was a long-standing alliance.
The reason why seventeenth-century English pirates and naval officers found it convenient to be on good terms with Barbary is sufficiently clear. Ever since the Reformation, (421) the English could never depend upon having a Christian ally in the Mediterranean. Catholic France was as unfriendly as Catholic Spain or Catholic Italy. The English seaman, therefore, who entered the Straits, turned to the Barbarians for water and provisions. There were frequent sources of dispute. On one occasion a special mystery-ship was designed to sink the corsairs without prejudice to the alliance. But, in the main, friendly relations were preserved. A formal treaty existed long before the end of the seventeenth century, and a consul was appointed to reside at Algiers.
In the eighteenth century there were additional reasons for avoiding any serious quarrel with the Barbary States. For, while France and Spain were still likely to be hostile, the provisioning of Gibraltar made a new problem. In order to secure food for the garrison, which could only come from the African coast, numberless insults were overlooked and countless presents made. With the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars, the need for procuring supplies in Barbary became intensified as the English forces in the Mediterranean grew in numbers. It will be remembered that Midshipman Easy had hardly joined the Mediterranean fleet before he was sent to fetch bullocks from Tetuan. The fact is symbolic. Fetching bullocks from Bona or Tetuan was a service to which special vessels and officers were permanently dedicated. The Peninsula War rather intensified than lessened the demand for supplies from Africa, and to the very end of the war the English Government would make any sacrifice to preserve the alliance with Algiers, Tunis and Morocco. With the end of the fighting, the situation altered. Troops and ships were withdrawn from the Mediterranean, and there was no longer any need for supplies. England had, besides, a variety of allies from whom future supplies could be obtained. The Algerines had, without knowing it, suddenly ceased to be useful. It was not long before they were made to realize the fact.
France, at Algiers, stood on much the same footing as England. Both French and English shipping enjoyed almost complete immunity from outrage. France, like England, treated the Barbary States with alternate threats and bribes; but, in her case, the bribes were less essential in that a sound instinct made the barbarians careful to avoid angering such near neighbours. The French had no particular motive for encouraging piracy-beyond the advantage their merchants derived from sharing with England a monopoly of safety - but neither had they any particular (422) motive for suppressing it. Could the pirates have been destroyed with ease, the French would probably have destroyed them at an early date. But the destruction of Algiers was unlikely to be either easy or profitable and was certain to be expensive. The altruism of the French stopped short of such an enterprise, and the pirates were allowed to prey on the commerce of all nations other than England and France.
It may not be at first apparent why the conquest of Barbary seemed so unattractive. But here it must be remembered that the blight of Islam had rendered that land almost useless to Europeans. Deforestation had ruined much of the arable land, and teetotalism had abolished the type of cultivation for which the land was most suited. The fanaticism of the Moslems promised endless warfare in the interior. The expense was certain and the profit more than doubtful. Algeria is now a province of France, but it would be interesting to know how many generations it took to render the possession a useful one. It is not to be wondered at that both French and English shrank from adopting a policy of conquest.
Why, then, was no effort made to confine the pirates to their own homes by occupying the few harbours they possessed ? Here again the question of expense decided the matter. Neither England nor France was prepared to keep up garrisons for the protection of Europe as a whole, and England had her own motive for leaving the pirates alone. The only remaining policy was that of negotiation intrigue, menace and bribery. And this policy was adopted by both countries.
France and England frequently threatened the pirates but only rarely attempted to punish them. Punishing them was too difficult, and the effect produced was not sufficiently lasting. Sinking their ships and bombarding their harbours, even when possible, merely prevented their doing further mischief for a few months. They could always find more ships and recruit fresh pirates. As long as their harbours existed, it was impossible to prevent them being used for piracy. The Turks knew no other trade and were bound to return to it. They could be brushed off, like flies; but like flies they returned.
Even supposing that any power could have afforded to undertake periodical raids on the corsair strongholds, there was another difficulty. For the greatest of these strongholds, Algiers, was very strong indeed. It was strong by nature (423) in that it was impossible to approach in winter-being a dangerous lee-shore; and difficult to approach in summer because of the frequent lack of wind. It was strong by fortification because various Europeans had been bribed or intimidated into building the works. 'Algiers hath a mould within which Ships ride and great store of singular good Ordnance' wrote a seventeenth-century English pirate. And another expert of the period wrote that 'Whoever knows Algiers, cannot be ignorant of the strength of it.' As for taking an army there - ' we shall no sooner land, but be welcomed by three or four score thousand of these ungodly people.' Algiers was thought almost impregnable.
Throughout the eighteenth century the Mediterranean was continually harried by the corsairs. Their activities might have been more profitable had they ever succeeded in learning their business thoroughly. The English pirates of the early seventeenth century had taught them what they knew, but the Moslems never did their teachers much credit. They were always more or less ignorant of navigation and shipbuilding. When overtaken by a gale, they were usually seen' running wildly about the ship, imploring Allah for protection.' Considering their ignorance, however, they did very well. The crews of the ships they took were, as a rule, enslaved and made to work either for the State or for private purchasers - usually the former. These Christian slaves were sometimes ransomed. Most, however, were poor fishermen from Sicily Naples, and Sardinia, or from equally powerless States. These were seldom released. Many minor Powers, such as Holland, Sweden, Denmark and the United States, bought immunity for their subjects by paying annual tribute. Tribute of this kind was generally paid in naval stores, guns and small-arms. The vessels these stores went to equip were sometimes captured merchantmen, sometimes old men-of-war purchased from the English or received as gifts from the Porte.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars it was to be expected that the Powers in Conference would sooner or later consider the problem of how to deal with the Barbary States. Once raised, however, the question instantly became a pawn in a diplomatic debate about something entirely different. This came about through Castlereagh pressing the ministers of the other Powers to follow England's example in suppressing the negro slave-trade. Rightly or wrongly, the ministers of the Powers most nearly concerned saw in this proposal yet another instance of English hypocrisy. They scented (424) sharp practice. When assured that the English attitude was purely philanthropic, they asked why English philanthropy only concerned itself with black slaves ? They wished to know what the foremost naval power had done to abolish white slavery in North Africa. To these unkind questions Castlereagh had no immediate reply. But he was resolved that the questions should not be asked again when he next returned to the charge.
Now, as we have seen, the Barbary States were no longer of importance to England. Their period of usefulness was over. There was no reason at all why they should not be produced in a slightly mangled condition as evidence of English altruism. Thus it came about that Exmouth had his orders to visit them in force. Any violence used was to have as its object the release of Christian slaves. He was not instructed to punish the pirates. Castlereagh was not thinking of them. All that was wanted was an instance of disinterested conduct which might prove useful in the next debate on negro emancipation. Such was the background of the crusade.
The battle of Algiers was not regarded as a crusade by those who fought there; least of all was it so regarded by the captain of the Christian host. But the word is used deliberately. For, whatever men thought at the time, the passage' of a hundred years allows us to view the matter in a clearer light. To us, the fight must appear, not as an isolated, accidental, and pointless cannonade, but as one battle in a great series of battles; as a single incident in a vast campaign. The campaign of which it forms a part began at Tours and continued at Roncevaux and at Lepanto; nor did it end at Gallipoli.
Before Exmouth could begin to 'battle the watch' along the Barbary coast, it was necessary for him to order a careful reconnaissance of Algiers. His first impulse was to send Gaze on this service. But, on second thoughts, he decided to send some one else. It was his object as far as possible to take the Algerian's by surprise. To this end he was careful that no hint of his intentions should reach McDonnell, the consul at Algiers. Having no very high opinion of that gentleman's intelligence, he feared that the consul would arouse the Algerian's suspicions by preparing to depart. To have sent an avowed expert to survey the fortifications would have frightened the consul. Instead, therefore, of sending Gaze, he sent Captain Warde with the Banterer sloop. Warde was given detailed instructions to take (425) soundings, count the batteries, estimate distances - and, above all, avoid any appearance of curiosity. If questioned, he was to lie. No one in the fleet knew of this mission except Exmouth and his secretary, and the Banterer went to Algiers by a circuitous route to avert suspicion. Warde left Leghorn on January 23rd, 1816.
At this time the Princess Caroline, who was living apart from the Regent, was in the Mediterranean on a pleasure cruise. She had gone to Palermo in November 1815, in the Leviathan, and proposed to extend her tour to Greece, Tunis and Constantinople. Exmouth told her that she could not do so without danger until the following spring, at the same time detailing a frigate to attend her. The conduct of the princess was open to criticism in certain respects. If innocent of the sins imputed to her, she was at once eccentric and undignified. Two of her suite, for instance, were seen dressed in bright yellow pantaloons, red half-boots, and slashed coats in the old Spanish style. The effect of this raffish attire on naval officers was naturally electrical. But even had she behaved with extreme propriety, the known wishes of the Regent prevented her receiving more than mere politeness from Exmouth and his captains. Exmouth knew that the ice was thin, and was not at all ready to take any risks. An officer who was seen with her at a dance - or who was rumoured to have been seen with herwas deliberately ruined. Exmouth cancelled his promotion, and he was never employed again. The Regent was searching for possible co-respondents, and to treat Princess Caroline with anything more than cold civility meant certain ruin.
Captain Pechell was the luckless officer detailed to attend the princess with the frigate Clorinde. He succeeded, however, in warding off possible danger by making her uncomfortable.
On my arrival at Mefsina, Captain Briggs having informed me of the uneasinefs which her Royal Highnefs had expresfed at the prospect of keeping her own table on board the Clorinde, I requested him to speak to Her Royal Highnefs in my name, and to say I was ready to do everything in my power to make Her Royal Highness comfortable while on board the Clorinde, provided Her Highnefs would be pleased to make a sacrifice which my duty and feelings as an officer compelled me to exact, by her not insisting on the admifsion to my table of a person of the name of Bergemi, who, tho' he is now admitted to her Royal (426) Highnefses Society, was when last Her Royal Highnefs embarked on board the Clorinde in the capacity of a Footman ....
Eventually the princess declared that she would rather sail in a transport than ever go on board the Clorinde again whereupon Pechell breathed a sigh of relief. The state of cold perspiration in which she had kept him was ended. Nor did he greatly care when he received a horribly correct rebuke from Exmouth. The chief himself had been glad to be able to refuse her a battleship when she asked for one instead of a frigate. Her hiring an Italian polacre in the early spring of 1816 was a relief to every one. But her decision to begin her tour by going to Tunis was unfortunate, and might easily have been disastrous. For Exmouth also intended to visit Tunis. Pechell reconnoitred that town just as Warde reconnoitred Algiers - and with the same object of preparing for a possible bombardment.
Exmouth left Leghorn on March 4th, called at Genoa, and arrived at Port Mahon on the 16th. The squadron finally sailed for Algiers on the 23rd - five sail of the line and seven frigates and sloops. Sir Israel Pellew was still with his brother but Admiral Penrose was the second-in-command, and destined to succeed Exmouth as commander-in-chief. The squadron appeared off Algiers on the following day and the Dey was warned that Exmouth had orders to conclude certain arrangements with him. These arrangements were merely the ransoming of the slaves of certain nationalities. Three hundred and fifty-seven Sicilians and Neapolitans were ransomed - 1,000 Spanish dollars being paid for each person by the governments concerned. Fifty-one Sardinians and Genoese were ransomed at 500 dollars each. Twenty-three men of different nationalities were released without ransom as under the protection of England at the time of their capture. In ransoming the slaves Exmouth was merely acting as mediator for their respective countries - the theory being that a display of force lessened the expense. It is doubtful, however, whether Exmouth paid less than the market price. What he did do was to hasten their release. Those ransomed were taken at once on board the four transports which accompanied the squadron for that purpose. Not all the slaves were ransomed. Perhaps owing to the poverty of the Neapolitan Government, 714 of the Sicilians and Neapolitans were left in captivity until their ransoms could be paid. Peace, finally, was made for the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, for (427) Sardinia, and for the Ionian Islands, It is to be noted that the first two treaties were on a tributary basis and that nothing was said about piracy in general. An American squadron arrived on April 3rd - three frigates and two corvettes - and this force was left in possession of the bay on the 7th, when Exmouth sailed for Tunis.
The squadron had approached Algiers on this occasion fully prepared to engage the batteries. On March 31st the ships had been cleared for action in preparation for an attack on the morrow, and the Algerians had made corresponding arrangements. The peaceful outcome of the mission was therefore a disappointment to many. One officer committed his annoyance to paper: 'Barbarians should be treated with at the muzzles of their guns' he thought. To a large number of hotheads the message 'All settled' telegraphed from the flagship was a source of irritation. But Exmouth had won his spurs before many of them were born, and he quite clearly knew what he was about. The wind was too light and variable for the fleet to approach the town; and, as it was, the wind had dropped as the fleet stood in, with the result that one solitary frigate had found herself becalmed under the muzzles of the batteries. Exmouth was not anxious to fight under these conditions, and the more experienced officers thought as he did. Penrose, for example, his second-in-command, thought that the fleet was too small for the task. 'It was well 'he wrote' that matters were not on this occasion carried to extremities inasmuch as the impression which could have been made .... would have been feeble . . .'
Exmouth reached Tunis on the 12th and instantly made two somewhat startling discoveries. The Barbary coast had never been properly surveyed, and it now appeared that the water was too shallow to allow a ship of the line to approach within range of the Goletta. This was the source of some consternation. But the second shock, caused by the sight of Princess Caroline's polacre in the harbour, must have been infinitely the worse of the two. It was subsequently found that she was living ashore as the guest of the potentate the fleet had come to chastise. Fortunately, the Bey of Tunis was unaware of his advantage in the one respect and too good a Moslem to make use of his advantage in the other. He was also hampered by the fact that the envoy from the Porte, bearing the Sultan's confirmation of his office, was detained at Syracuse by the Neapolitan Government, pending the result of Exmouth's mission.
(428) At Tunis, as at Algiers, the negotiations were successful; so much so, indeed, that Exmouth heightened his demands. The Neapolitan and Sicilian slaves were ransomed at half the price paid for them at Algiers, while the Sardinians and Genoese were released without ransom. There were 524 slaves ransomed, and 257 set free unconditionally. Here, as at Algiers, there were some slaves left in captivity - some ninety Romans and Tuscans. Either through a mistake of the interpreter or a stroke of initiative on the part of Exmouth himself, the Bey was asked to discontinue his practice of enslaving his captives. After some hesitation, this was agreed to. Note, however, that no objection was made to piracy as such; the Bey did not engage to live in peace, but merely promised to treat Christian captives as prisoners of war. The slavery which was thus abolished for the future does not seem to have been particularly oppressive. None of the slaves released on this occasion looked either ill-fed or ill-clad, and some were known to have returned as freemen to the service of their masters. At the same time it must be remembered that their happiness or unhappiness does not really affect the question. Christian slavery was, properly regarded, an insult to Europe and the Faith. It was to be abolished, however well the slaves were treated. It would have been right to release them even if they did not want to be released.
Penrose left an interesting account of the visit he and Exmouth paid to the Palace of Bardo, where the Bey lived. The two admirals were made to sit on a commodious divan and were there regaled with coffee and sherbet.
. . . While we were enjoying this display of Turkish manners, the Princess of Wales, who was at this time on a visit to the Bey, was ushered with two of her attendants through part of the hall, and into a side door, to take her farewell of the ladies of the harem. The Princess embarked before our squadron left Tunis, and it was an odd scene that so considerable a force of ships of the line and frigates should have to salute the royal standard of Britain flying at the head of a little hired Italian polacre . . . .
The Bey, having complained of being subject to the gout, begged that the physician of the fleet might be sent to him. Doctor Denmark accordingly attended, and I was much amused when I heard that his advice was 'temperance and exercise.' The whole delight of the poor man was gluttony, and he never in his life was known to show any semblance of exertion, except one night when he got out of his bed to murder his brother ....
(429) Reading the above account, it is difficult not to conclude that the princess deliberately avoided speaking to Exmouth. He was not one of her admirers and she probably knew as much. A few years later he was one of the peers at her trial, and an unpopular man for being on the side of her husband.
The princess left Tunis on April 22nd. Penrose left on the 23rd, to take up his duties at Malta, and Exmouth sailed on the following day. His next task was to impose on Tripoli the terms he had imposed on Tunis. Here he found no difficulty. The example of submission set by the Bey of Tunis had its effect. In return for a present of 50,000 Spanish dollars, 414 Neapolitans and Sicilians were set free. One hundred and forty Sardinians and Genoese were released without ransom, and fourteen Romans and Hamburghers were given their freedom as a personal favour to Exmouth. Seven slaves remained, who had been taken in an Elbese privateer sailing under Napoleon's colours; consideration of their case was postponed, as their plight was not the concern of any existing government.
On leaving Tripoli, Exmouth sailed for Algiers. This was in accordance with orders received on the 20th. It appeared that the Americans had concluded an agreement with the Dey of Algiers which would clearly lead to infringements of the existing treaties with England. Exmouth was accordingly directed to protest against the application of a part of the American Treaty. His instructions were of so mild a character, and he had already so greatly exceeded them, that he returned to Algiers resolved to ignore them and bully that Regency into following the example of Tunis and Tripoli in abolishing Christian slavery. While on the way there he wrote to Lord Sidmouth, partly to report progress, partly to thank him for his promotion from K.C.B. to G.C.B.
Boyne off Tunis Bay 5th May 1816
Adverse wind and bad weather
MY DEAR LORD
I would not permit my last dispatch to depart, altho' blowing a gale of wind, without giving you a precis of the result of our late proceedings, but to judge of these you should also know my orders and instructions, which when you do, I am sure you will think I have done as much as Man could do; more heartily glad should I have been to have put down for ever all these States, had policy so recommended it to our Rulers; but of all Nations on the Earth we have the least to complain of; in fact therefore His Majesty's Ministers (430) deserve immortal Honor for directing what things have been done and I shall ever revere them for having stood forward in the cause of humanity even when Militating against their interest. I sincerely hope we have finally smoked the horrors of Christian Slavery, and that it has been attained by pure Conviction and fair reasoning from a People who have been supposed never to reason or hear reason. It is a very sensible gratification to me to have been so employed, and if my efforts meet the approbation of my Employers my pleasure and satisfaction will be complete. Of your good, opinion, My Dear Lord, you know I have always been ambitious, and will never forfeit. We have released 2500 poor Creatures and left the Dungeons empty - I hope for ever.
My Boy tells me I am again indebted to your great kindnefs in bringing me to the recollection of His R.H. ; for the Grand Crofs pray accept my best thanks, as all I have to offer for this additional proof of your friendship. We are on our way to Algiers, Gibraltar and Portsmouth, where I hope we shall arrive between the 10th and 20th of June, and soon afterwards the pleasure of afsuring you in Person,
My Dear Lord,
of the Sincere attachment
and faithful regard
of your ever obliged Servant
H.R.H. was at Tunis living in a Palace of the Bey's, the House kept, Carriages and Horses and Janissaries found. At first it annoyed me, but upon open explanation and proper understanding all most correctly. They Embarked the day after me in a Maltese hired Ship at 100l a Month for Zanta from whence they visit Ali Pacha at Jonini and proceed by land to Athens and Constantinople. The ship goes through to meet her. The Ship touch't at Malta from Tunis on her way - [H.R.H. is] in very good health but grown very large.
The fleet dropped anchor off Algiers on the evening of June 14th. Exmouth had with him five sail of the line and seven frigates and sloops. He went ashore on the following morning and had a long interview with the Dey. After arranging for the recognition of the flag of the Kingdom of Hanover, he delivered a formal protest against the practical application of the eighteenth article of the treaty between the United States and Algiers. The Dey replied that the protest was quite needless, as he had already annulled the American Treaty, and was about to declare war against the United States. The Americans, he explained, had taken an unfair advantage of him a year ago, or he would not have made that treaty.
(431) Having settled these two points, Exmouth now told the Dey of the indignation felt in Europe at his piratical practices and especially his custom of retaining prisoners in slavery. Only an alteration of this system could save him from having to meet the world in arms. If the Dey would sign the same declaration already obtained from the Beys of Tunis and Tripoli, he could then turn to promoting the prosperity of Algiers by commercial means. Exmouth hinted that it would be more honourable to do this voluntarily than under compulsion. The argument lasted three hours, at the end of which time the Dey said he would consult the Divan or Cabinet and renew the discussion on the following morning. Exmouth left under the impression that he had practically gained his point. The Dey, Omar Pashaw, had seemed an intelligent and moderate man; had asked questions as to the European customs with regard to prisoners of war; and appeared to be on the point of giving way.
Now, in thinking well of Omar, Exmouth was altogether justified. The Pashaw was a remarkable man, a Greek by birth, and probably the best ruler Algiers ever had under Moslem rule. The admiral's mistake was in thinking the Dey more powerful than he was. The throne of Algiers, it must be understood, was theoretically elective. The ruler was chosen from among the Turkish soldiery who ruled the town. In practice, however, he almost invariably took office as a result of a conspiracy and the murder of his predecessor. No Dey, in short, outlived his popularity with the troops. This being the case, the power of the. Dey was strictly circumscribed by public opinion; the opinion, that is to say, of his pretorian guard. Exmouth did not now it, but his proposals were fantastic. The Dey was powerless to alter the system under which he lived. Nothing short of conquest could alter that system. The Turks had never worked in their lives, and they were unlikely to begin simply because Omar wanted them to. Their trade was fighting preferably against the unarmed - and they knew no other. Indeed, they did not know very much about fighting. For Omar to have asked them to become peaceful traders would have been the signal for his death.
It is possible that Omar himself may have forgotten his lack of power during this interview with Exmouth. If so, the members of the Divan soon enlightened him. On Exmouth's return, the whole tone of the discussion seemed to be altered. Omar retracted all he had said the day before, and a warm argument followed 'in which much (432) misconception and difference of opinion was excited.' The upshot was that the Dey found it convenient suddenly to remember his allegiance to the Porte. He asked for six months in which to obtain the decision of the Grand Signior. Exmouth readily agreed to this, provided he would undertake to abide by the decision when it came. This the Dey refused to do - 'saying he should do as he pleased in a tone of voice evidently showing he meant that proposal for excuse only.' Although Exmouth asserted that 'no offensive exprefsion had dropped on either Side' it is clear that both men had lost their temper before the interview ended. The admiral stumped out of the palace, fuming with rage, and sent the consul back to inform the Dey of his intention to withdraw him. The reply was that the consul would not be allowed to leave until he had settled his accounts. Disregarding this threat, Exmouth took the consul under his arm and walked towards the wharf, accompanied by the officers forming his staff. The whole party was stopped at the gate, where a crowd had collected. The consul was not allowed to pass, and the Turkish soldiers debated as to whether Exmouth himself should be allowed to go through. The evident desire of the crowd to kill him outright made the situation distinctly ugly. In the end, the naval officers were allowed to return to their boat, and the consul forced to go to his house.
If there is anything in Exmouth's life for which he can justly be blamed, it is this interview with Omar Pashaw. Each disputant had fairly lost his temper by the end of the argument, and they were equally to blame for the result. At the moment when Exmouth reached the street, England and Algiers were neither at war nor at peace. The whole incident is a proof of the need for diplomats. Two oldish warriors lost their heads and there was chaos until they had recovered themselves. It was fortunate for Exmouth that the effects were no worse than they were. It will be seen that they were bad enough.
Perhaps owing to the incident at the gate, which added fuel to the admiral's wrath, it was the Dey who first regained his common sense. He made a step towards reconciliation within an hour or two after Exmouth had left him. Two of the English captains, Warde and Pechell, had been on a visit to the consul's country house. When Omar heard that these had been dragged from their horses, robbed, and brought into the town, he sent for them and treated them with great courtesy. Their property was largely traced (433) and restored to them, inquiries were made as to why those who had arrested them had exceeded their instructions, and the two officers were finally conducted to the beach and allowed to embark. This was how the Dey behaved as soon as his anger had cooled. But the damage had been done. During the few minutes of his fury he had taken it for granted that war had begun. Messengers had ridden out post-haste to warn the provincial governors. Orders had been given to detain all British subjects. Before the first two Englishmen were secured, he had changed his mind, as we have seen. But those messengers had gone, and the Dey seems for the moment to have forgotten he had sent them.
Exmouth, for his part, had hardly gained his own quarterdeck before the signal was made to clear for action. This signal was instantly followed by the signal to unmoor, Luckily for the admiral, the wind failed at that moment and the squadron merely drifted over to the east side of the bay. Exmouth had to anchor again and felt that his gesture had failed. For two days he strove to take up a commanding position, and on each day he had to anchor as far from the town as ever. Currents, calms, and a persistent off-shore breeze gave him ample time to recover his temper; and recover it, in the end, he did. His first thought was to save the consul's life. After repeated messages had each received the same reply, that the consul might go as soon as his debts were paid, Exmouth at last did the sensible thing. He sent an officer ashore to examine the public accounts. The result was that the Dey approached this officer and suggested that negotiations should re-open.
Exmouth did not go ashore in person. He quite rightly sent his brother, Sir Israel, who had been present at the former meeting. Nothing happened at the first interview beyond apologies on the Dey's part. On Sir Israel saying that satisfaction must be given for the insult received by the consul and the officers before discussion could be resumed, the Dey said that he would make the affair his own. The offenders had fled into the country. But they would not escape him. They would be pursued and punished in exemplary fashion. The aggrieved parties expressed their satisfaction, and a meeting was arranged for the following day.
Omar Pashaw began the second interview by explaining that he and Lord Exmouth had misunderstood each other owing to faulty interpretation. The interview lasted four hours, by the end of which period the Dey consented to (434) refer the matter to the Grand Signior. Within six months, whether he had heard from Constantinople or not, he would send an ambassador to England with full powers to treat on the question of white slavery. What exactly this meant, it is for the reader to decide.
It was at this point in the discussion that the fact emerged that those messengers had been sent to Oran and Bona. The Dey apologized profusely. The counter-orders were sealed and dispatched in the presence of Sir Israel and his staff. They were given to understand that these would arrive in time to prevent anything unpleasant taking place: 'and at all events every thing should be immediately restored on the same footing as before.' Omar had the reputation of an honest man, but it is impossible not to see in all this a certain anxiety to gain time. The distance from Algiers to Bona is about 250 miles, that to Oran something less. The first messengers were sent off on the 16th, those bearing the counter-orders on the 19th. And here we have a man saying that the second party would overtake the first. How could that happen ? The journey would take a week or less, and the first set of messengers had three days' start. There is a difference, we know, between the speed of one horse and the speed of another. But there is not as much difference as all that. One Barbe does not go twice as fast as another over a period of days. If the English officers saw nothing suspicious in this statement, they clearly should have done.
At the earnest request of the Dey, Exmouth went ashore for a parting scene of reconciliation. He reported the Dey as having said that 'there had been a fire between him and me which had heated us both and that he regretted exceedingly his warmth of temper had led him to such violent measures.' As a peace-offering, Exmouth was offered a horse and also an ostrich. He accepted the gift and furthermore exchanged swords with the Dey. What he did with the ostrich does not appear.
The squadron quitted the Bay of Algiers on the 20th, leaving behind a frigate destined to convey the Algerian ambassador to Constantinople. At Gibraltar, where he arrived ten days later, Exmouth heard rumours of certain happenings at Oran - rumours which he rightly discredited. He moored his squadron at Spithead on June 24th, and struck his flag on the 26th. Meanwhile, but three days after he had gone from before Algiers, the messengers had come to Bona.
(435) For drafting the instructions on which Exmouth acted the ministers may have expected the `immortal honour he said they deserved. If so, they were disappointed. The news of the admiral's proceedings aroused so little enthusiasm on the Continent that the ministers soon came to wish that his instructions had been worded more strongly. So far from blaming him for exceeding them, they almost blamed him for not exceeding them sufficiently. Europe as a whole was not at all impressed by such a demonstration. Newspapers and pamphlets indicated that public opinion in England was equally dissatisfied. 'The receipt of the news respecting the negotiations of the British admiral excited universal indignation,' wrote the American consul. 'The futility of our proceedings with the Barbary States, we trust, is now sufficiently evident,' chorused the opposition papers. The most extreme view was expressed in a letter to the Independent Whig:
You must know in England, long before this time, that our Admiral has been honoured with a mission to the Prince of Ruffians at Algiers, and that he has patched up a something, which is called a Treaty with him, as if the ringleader of a banditti of Corsairs would adhere to any treaty longer than necessity and a superior force compelled his observance of it. It is quite a farce to talk of a treaty with this rascal .... Then as to those countries, on which it was designed by our wise governors to be conferred as a favor, they are loud in reprobating it. They think the benefit small and temporary, and the expense burthensome and lasting: and they know that the execution of the treaty, after all, will be so capricious, that unless every demand be backed by a British fleet, it will be very soon a mere dead letter . . . .
To the laments of those who thought the expedition, peaceful as it had been, a waste of money, were added the execrations of those who regarded such trifling with the infidel as wicked. A certain number of people had caught something of a crusading spirit from Sir Sidney Smith. Many naval officers, even, would have liked to see him supersede Exmouth. But, while there were people to whom Sir Sidney Smith's chivalry appealed, there were more people to whom it did not. His schemes for dealing with the pirates were regarded by most people as absurd. The schemes were not absurd. They were unworkable, indeed; and the fact is the condemnation rather of the age than the schemes. Nevertheless, those who looked on Sir Sidney (436) Smith with the gravest suspicion had often their own remedy for Christian slavery, and agreed with him in wishing to abolish it. The views of such men may be represented by the following quotation
Success in war is not now so much connected with personal prowess as with scientific combination, and every scheme to rectify abuses by knights-errant, or otherwise, smacks a little Cervantic. As in the instance of the unrivalled Don, whenever the world hears of schemes like those of Sir Sidney Smith, it honours the heart, but entertains some small matter of doubt with respect to the head. No, no, it is by the improving sense of the relative duties of man . . . that the wrongs of the nineteenth century are to be righted . . . .
The pamphlet from which this is extracted is based on a letter written by one of Exmouth's captains 'to a Member of Parliament.' Two woodcuts serve as illustrations. They depict Christian slaves working in chains, with Captain Croker making appropriate gestures of horror. Croker had been in Algiers as recently as July 1815.
In alliance with those filled with an improving sense of the relative duties of man, and aroused by the contemplation of the same literature, were the more extreme Protestants. These were as little interested in the sufferings of slaves as in the conception of Christendom. Their chief objection to slavery, white or black, was that it afforded opportunity for Vice - and especially unnatural vice. The risk of apostasy was also present in their minds, but less prominently in that most of the slaves were Roman Catholics.
However divergent their views, those demanding stronger measures were numerous, vociferous, and amply represented in both Houses of Parliament. Questions were asked in a manner indicating disapproval of Exmouth's undue leniency. His proceedings found as little approval in London as in Paris. Such ship owners as there were who profited by the activities of the corsairs apparently bowed to the intense respectability of the new era about to dawn. Or else their voices were lost in the clamour raised by romantics, philanthropists, and moralists. Public opinion was against the Government.
Exmouth, as we have seen, came home half expecting to be blamed for his temerity. His astonishment at the trend of opinion must, therefore, have been profound. But it was fully equalled by that of the Ministers whom he served. Castlereagh was not greatly concerned with what (437) people thought in England. His gesture had not been intended for them. What worried him was the probable attitude of various Powers at the Congress of Aia-la-Chapelle. The dissatisfaction felt throughout Europe on this occasion placed him and the Government in an awkward position. What he and his colleagues eagerly desired was an excuse to order something more spectacular. Their wishes were granted.
On May 23rd, the Dey's messengers had reached Bona. That town was the centre of the coral-fishing industry on the Barbary coast. The natives did no coral-fishing, and the fisheries were farmed by England. It was the custom for the English consul to issue licences to the coral-fishermen, who came from Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia. While on the Barbary coast they were regarded as under the protection of the country which rented the fisheries. On the 23rd, then, Ascension Day, some hundreds of these fishermen were on shore for the purpose of hearing Mass. When the orders arrived for the detention of British subjects, a body of Turkish troops was sent to arrest the fishermen. Some, it is said. attempted to resist or escape. The result was that 200 of them were massacred.
News of this event reached England shortly after Exmouth's return to Portsmouth. The effect produced may be imagined. The Government was soberly delighted, and the public properly horrified, and the Press plunged in an orgy of 'I told you so.' All regarded it as proof of Algerian faithlessness, as a deliberate breaking of the treaty concluded a few days before the massacre took place. The reader is in a position to grasp how mistaken this attitude was. In no sense was this outrage a violation of the recent treaty. On the other hand, those inclined to exonerate the Algerians on such technical grounds are equally mistaken. The Dey had committed no new offence since the signing of the treaty, it is true. But a Government must be held responsible for the conduct of its servants. The phrase 'to resist arrest' may mean several things. Even supposing, however, that the fishermen really required coercion, it is not to be supposed that they were armed; and if unarmed, they cannot have resisted effectively. To say, as the American consul said, that the massacre might have happened anywhere, is nonsense. But to say that the Algerians were punished on an occasion when they were, for them, comparatively innocent, is true.
So eagerly did the Government grasp the opportunity of (438) dealing with Algiers in memorable fashion, that Exmouth had hardly reached Charing Cross before he was posting back to Portsmouth. He had offered to make an end of the task he had begun, and the Admiralty had accepted the offer, allowing him to have what force he thought necessary. He might have what ships he wanted. But the difficulty was to find the men. He had just brought a squadron into port and the men had not been paid off. It might be supposed from this that all he had to do was to put to sea once more. He was prevented from doing this, however, by the law of the land. At the conclusion of a war, all seamen were legally entitled to their discharge. None of the men in his squadron could be compelled to serve again. It was therefore his first task to persuade them to volunteer; and for this purpose he was immediately sent to hoist his flag again in the Boyne.
As five line of battleships had been, apart from frigates and sloops, the extent of his demands, he could have completed most of his force at once, if only the crews of his squadron would volunteer bodily. But here his lack of popularity stood in his way. It was not that he aroused any active dislike so much as that he failed to inspire. There was little about him to appeal to the imagination. Despite his fifty-nine years he was still impressive in a somewhat heavy fashion. His appearance aroused a certain respect. What it did not arouse was enthusiasm. Apart from a handful of men who were devoted to him, he had few admirers. It must be remembered that his early reputation had been obscured by the great sea-fights which had taken place since - battles in which he had played no part. His gallant record as a frigate captain was almost forgotten. His last exploit had been an event in the boyhood of most seamen - many, many years ago. It would have needed a dazzling personality to persuade those war-weary sailors to volunteer for fresh service. If the list of flag-officers contained such a man -which may be questioned it was some one other than Lord Exmouth.
On July 1st Exmouth came on board the Boyne and made a speech to the ship's company. It apparently fell flat. Hardly a man volunteered. On his other ships, the Bombay, Montagu and Ajax, he was equally unsuccessful. All four were accordingly paid off. His flag was then shifted to the Queen Charlotte and strenuous efforts made to raise a crew. Officers were sent ashore to beat up the taverns and recruit from among the men who had already spent all their wages. (439) A bounty of two months' pay was offered to seamen who would volunteer for this particular service. By these and other means the flagship was manned. The remainder of the squadron was composed of ships commissioned since the peace, the crews of which had no option in the matter. Ships intended for other parts of the world were borrowed for the time being, and at length five sail of the line, a fifty-gun ship, four frigates and a number of smaller craft were collected at various ports. All were hastily fitted for sea.
As soon as the preparations had begun Exmouth seems to have returned to London to lay his plans before the Admiralty. He was not altogether successful in convincing their lordships that his force was sufficient to bombard Algiers with effect. But he had so completely convinced himself of the fact that he shouldered the entire responsibility for the result, sending to the Admiralty a letter acknowledging that all his demands had been met.
Difficult as it had been to raise lower-deck men, Exmouth had almost as great difficulty in resisting the applications of officers. All could grasp that this was their last chance of distinction. The navy was quite obviously to endure a long period of peace. The officer who failed to join the squadron bound for Algiers might never see any fighting for a lifetime. Exmouth was accordingly besieged with petitioners of every rank. Thinking the service a dangerous one, he refused all his relations and most of his followers. Apart from Gaze, Captain Kempthorne, and a number of young officers whom he took to oblige their fathers, his squadron was manned by strangers. Penrose, indeed, who was expected to join him at Gibraltar as second-in-command, was not exactly a stranger. But the only other flag-officer, Rear-Admiral Milne, was not even an acquaintance. Nor was Brisbane, his flag-captain, previously known to him. Even his secretary was new to the post.
Partly because of peculiar features in the action likely to take place, and partly because it was a last opportunity for experiment, various new devices were fitted in the ships of the squadron. After-bitts were made for the ships of the line, to enable them to anchor by the stern. Chain-cables were issued for the first time. Carronades of a new pattern were introduced for the Queen Charlotte's quarter-deck. New gun-sights were fitted on all the guns.
On July 10th the squadron moved to Spithead, and Exmouth arrived to take command ten days later. The (440) following letter was written by an officer who took part in the expedition.
H.M.S. Albion, Spithead,
July 20, 1816
We have been beating about in the Channel for the last week against heavy gales of wind, and arrived here yesterday. We are to be one of the ships employed in the holy war, or crusade, to proceed against the infidels of Algiers to abolish Christian slavery, and to chastise those barbarians for the outrages they have been committing in the Mediterranean . . . .
As soon as every thing is settled, Lord Exmouth returns to England; and we remain in the Mediterranean as flag-ship of Admiral Penrose. Lord Exmouth arrived from London thus morning, and the Queen Charlotte, his flag-ship, is now under weigh. There is a vessel now alongside with 4000 cannon shot for us. We expect to go out to St. Helen's this evening, to-morrow morning we start for Plymouth, where I suppose we shall only stay a few hours, and then proceed to the Mediterranean.
Portsmouth July 20
Had not the wind blown so unseasonably violent, Lord Exmouth would have cleared the Channel 'ere this: but it was not until today that his Lordship's hopes of sailing had any prospect of being realized - He embarked at noon, intending to proceed to St. Helen's with the following ships: Queen Charlotte, Minden, Albion, Britomart, Cordelia, Infernal, Fury, and Hecla: the Albion and Hecla only joined his Lordship last night, from the River: and he now waits to be joined by the Severn and Glasgow, whose arrival is hourly expected. Rear-Admiral Milne, who hoisted his flag on Wednesday, in the Leander 50, Captain Chetham, sailed to-day for Plymouth, for the purpose of shifting into the Impregnable, and getting ready to join Lord Exmouth, with the ships at that port, on his arrival off there.
Exmouth seems to have embarked on this expedition with the greatest confidence of success but with some idea that he himself would be killed. In case that should happen, he asked Sir Richard Keats to break the news to Lady Exmouth; and, on the day he embarked, he wrote a letter which was to be sent to his eldest son, should the occasion arise.
Charlotte 20th July 1816
MY VERY DEAR POWNOLL
When this reaches you the Father who loves you will be no more - I depart with the sweet reflexion that my Life has been (441) useful - to my children -respect my Memory and above all respect and honour the best of Mothers.
Be a protector to your family and may God's blefsing attend you. I trust you will all be united in the closest bonds of love and friendship, united you will all be invulnerable, Divided ruined.
I have left you Nothing Until your Mother Dyes because I conclude the pension will be yours. After her Death I hope you will find something considerable, besides the house etc. at Teignmouth - and altho you will not be Rich you will not be poor. Stick by your profefsion, you are not tramelled as I was by weight of obligation and will be able to make your own way in Politicks. Loyal you must ever be.
I afsure you My dear Pownoll
you are all alike dear to me.
Your Mother will do all She can for you and I hope you will enjoy
her confidence and afsist her affairs. She will be able to do
much for you and you know how deeply she feels for you all.
I believe I have been basely & vilely BELIED but Truth will at last prevail for I am innocent.
God blefs you, My Dear Pownoll, be virtuous and you will be happy, so prays
Your affectionate Father
On the 21st, Exmouth wrote to thank Sir Byam Martin, the comptroller of the navy, for the speed with which the squadron was equipped.
Many thanks for your care of my wants; I think you have completely equipped us, and with a rapidity which does you and the Country honour. I hope I shall make good use of the means I am entrusted with. I have no doubt of success, although I will [not] despise my enemy. We shall work hard to learn the use of our arms, and I hope this horrible foul wind and bad weather will give us a short voyage to Gibraltar. The Queen C. are in good spirits and I like their looks at quarters.
[N.R.S. Vol. xxiv.]
Originally there had been some mild attempt to keep Exmouth's destination a secret. He was officially supposed to be going ` on a particular service.' Actually, the secret was known to every one in England, and very rapidly became known to most people in France. As the news would soon spread from France to Algiers, Exmouth was naturally anxious to get to sea before all element of surprise should have been thrown away. He had no expectation of finding (442) Algiers unprepared for battle, for his last visit had resulted in a very complete repair of the fortifications. The Dutch, moreover, had been threatening the place since, so that there was no chance of finding half the garrison out of town. What he did hope to do was to save the consul's life. If he could send a ship to Algiers before the Dey had news of his coming, there would be some chance of bringing the consul away. Otherwise, he might be held as a hostage - he and his family. This was the chief reason for Exmouth's impatience.
Throughout England the general feeling with regard to the expedition was one of complete confidence. His force was regarded as overwhelming. In curious contrast to this feeling was the opinion of the experts. At the Admiralty it was thought that five sail of the line was insufficient. Memories of Copenhagen made most naval officers very doubtful of the result - those who knew Algiers were especially dubious. Throughout the wars, the navy had always been rather afraid of land batteries behind stone walls. In the squadron itself this feeling was rife. In after years, the officer of engineers, Major Reid, said that he spent most of his time on the voyage trying to convince the naval officers that they were not on their way to certain defeat. 'Wooden walls against stone' was the catch phrase they used, and it was afterwards said that Exmouth had been alone in expecting a victory. Even he qualified his expectations: 'All will go well,' he wrote, but added: 'as far at least as it depends on me.' Results amply justified the qualification.
It was July 24th before Exmouth managed to put to sea. On that day he sailed with ten men-of-war and two transports, heading for Plymouth, where the rest of the squadron awaited him. On the way there his ships were seen from Teignmouth, where he was already the local hero. Eleven more vessels joined his flag in Plymouth Sound, and the whole fleet sailed at noon on the 28th. The Minden (74) was sent on ahead to make arrangements at Gibraltar.
Napier, the author of the 'Letters from a Post Captain to Lord Melville' was convinced that the squadron at Algiers was exceptionally well trained in gunnery. In his opinion, the re-manning of the ships was a distinct advantage.
Had Lord Exmouth gone to Algiers direct from Toulon, with five ships, the chances are, he would have been beat. I believe the squadron he took to Algiers, though fitted out in a hurry, (443) knew more about their guns than ships that had been in commission all the war: they knew they were going to fight, and took pains to qualify themselves: the fleet in the war never expected it, and never were prepared, and the officers generally were too old to exert themselves without a stimulus. The Government also were not without their share of blame, for allowing so small a proportion of powder and shot for exercise . . . .
The immediate prospect of a battle probably had less to do with the improvement in gunnery than the increased allowance of ammunition for practice. Exmouth issued a general order on the subject as soon as the fleet left Plymouth. There was to be gunnery exercise twice a day and firing practice twice a week, six broadsides to be fired from each ship at every practice. The passage to Gibraltar was short, lasting less than a fortnight, but the crews improved daily during that period.
On board the Queen Charlotte, a genius was found in the person of Lieutenant Crichton, who introduced target practice while the fleet lay at Gibraltar. The details of his invention for producing accuracy of fire may be read in their proper place. But he claimed afterwards to have increased the rate of fire. How he did this does not appear. As events turned out, no great precision of aim was possible in the battle. So that the new sights and target practice did not matter very much. If he had found some method, however, for ensuring rapidity of fire, his discovery was very important. It must be noted, however, that he only trained one ship, and that the rest of the fleet fired exceedingly well. Practice may have had more to do with the results than gadgets.
Exmouth came into Gibraltar Bay on August 9th, to find a Dutch vice-admiral waiting to co-operate with him. The Baron Van de Capellan had with him five frigates and a corvette. The reinforcement was especially welcome in that Admiral Penrose and his squadron had not appeared. As matters stood, the Dutch made up the deficiency as regards ships. What they could not make up for was the absence of Penrose himself - for the absence, that is to say, of an efficient second-in-command. Milne, who now became second-in-command, was a Scotch nonentity whom Exmouth had never seen before. It may be well at this point to explain why Penrose did not arrive.
Penrose was stationed at Malta, a frigate bearing his flag until the Albion should arrive from England. The Admiralty (444) wished to send him news of Exmouth's coming so as to enable the two admirals to join forces. It was obviously useless to send him a dispatch by sea, as the vessel carrying it could not sail much faster than Exmouth, and so could not arrive in time. The intelligence was accordingly sent overland to the various diplomatic representatives in order that some of them could find means of sending to Malta. By this arrangement it fell to the English minister at Florence to request the captain of an English frigate to take the news to his commander-in-chief. What happened then is so wildly improbable that many historians would hesitate to repeat the story. Truth, however, should not be suppressed; least of all when it goes to confute the ideas of those who ignore the accidental in history.
When the captain of the Euphrates had read the dispatch from Florence, he remarked simply: "Is this all ?" and handed it to his first lieutenant. "I thought," he continued, "it might have come from Corfu. What have I to do with fleets and admirals ?" The captain, it should be explained, was insane. Further urgent messages resulted in his proceeding to Marseille. The eccentric behaviour of his frigate culminated in her entering that devotedly royalist port to the strains of Napoleon's coronation march, and saluting in such a way as to break all the windows in one of the streets. The captain died in a raving fit of lunacy very shortly afterwards. Penrose did not hear the news until it was too late.
Djezairi-gharb (Algiers of Barbary), also known as Elmahroucet (well-guarded) and Dar-el-djihad (the warlike city), takes its name from the little island which forms the old harbour. Indeed, it was the island which brought the town into existence. The stretch of shore behind the island, sheltered by it from the Levanter, is one of the few natural harbours on the Barbary coast. The place is sheltered from the west by its position, facing east, on the west side of the bay; from the east by the island. It only required a breakwater connecting the island with the shore to make a tolerably secure harbour, open only to the south. The town existed, however, for many centuries before the breakwater was built. In the sixteenth century the Spaniards took and fortified the island, in order that the corsairs might be deprived of the harbour. The Castle, or Peñon of Algiers, was besieged and taken by Khair-ed-din in 1529. Don Martin de Vargas, the knight who defended it, was put to death. The pier joining the island to the mainland was (445) the outcome of this siege. It was perfected with the original intention of preventing another occupation of the island. Once made, a sheltered and fortified harbour had come into existence. The fortifications intended to make the anchorage useless were, as it were, made to face the other way and make the anchorage more secure. The well guarded city had come into being.
The hills rise steeply from the shore at the. place where Algiers was built, so that the whole city is tipped forwards towards the sea, every part being visible from the bay. At the time of which we are speaking, it was a walled town of whitewashed houses, huddled together in narrow winding lanes. From the sea, it was said to resemble, in shape and
ALGIERS FROM THE SEA
in colour, a ship's topsail spread out in a green field. The place was roughly triangular, a mile of coastline forming the base, a citadel on the landward side forming the apex. The population may have been about fifty thousand, but no reliable figures existed at that time. The garrison of Turks was thought to number about eight thousand, but auxiliaries and sailors probably brought the total nearer fifteen thousand. An unknown number of Arabs could be gathered when need arose from the surrounding district, and the whole male population of the town was expected to join in its defence. No purpose would be served by repeating the guesses made as to the number of armed men at the Dey's disposal. No one knew how many there were, least of all the Dey himself. There were, at any rate, more than was needed to man the batteries. And, as Exmouth had no intention (446) of fighting a land-battle, it is with the batteries that we are concerned.
Centuries of bombardments and threatened bombardments, wars and rumours of wars, had made the waterside of Algiers exceedingly strong. The city itself was not walled towards the sea, but depended for its defence on the batteries; and, above all, on the fortified island which covered the harbour. Actually, its first line of defence was the climate, as we have seen. But the second line, composed of cannon, was formidable enough. Nearly two hundred guns were disposed along the coast outside the town, and along the waterside within the walls. An unknown number of guns in the landward forts could be brought to bear on the bay by firing over the town. Over two hundred cannon were massed on the island, arranged in tiers ; sixty-two of these formed the lighthouse battery and 112 formed the batteries to the south and west of it. The lighthouse battery and the guns on the mole were the core of the defence. The guns were mostly 18 or 24-pounders with a certain number of heavier cannon in the lower tiers. Those on the upper tier, the top of the mole, fired through embrasures; these below fired through casemates - arched openings in the five-foot-thick stonework. Altogether, there may have been as many as four hundred and fifty cannon able to bear upon an attacking squadron. Of these a great proportion fired through masonry and were therefore very difficult to silence. The guns on the mole were at about the same height from the water as those of a line of battleship ; some of those in the lighthouse battery, and all of those on the landward side of the town, had some advantage from their descending trajectory. All the batteries were well provided with shot, and the powder supply was said to be ample.
Within the mole lay the Algerian navy, laid up in ordinary. There were three large frigates, two small ones, three large corvettes, one small corvette, a brig, a schooner, and an old galley. With these were between twenty and thirty gunboats. Of the whole squadron only the gunboats were fit for action. The other vessels were mainly unarmed, their guns being on shore.
Before closing this account of the town and referring the reader to the accompanying plans and diagrams, it is proper to explain that the rule of Islam had deforested the whole of Barbary, with the result that none of the houses in Algiers were roofed with timber. The inhabitants had (447) inherited from the Romans the art of making concrete, and it was with this material that they made their roofs. The Romans had used it for certain specialized purposes, such as the lining of cisterns. Their pupils, as befitted savages, used it for building. Not only were the roofs made of concrete, but also many of the walls. This characteristic of the city, while it stamped it as Barbarian, had one advantage, from the point of view of the inhabitants. The houses would not burn.
The fleet under Exmouth's orders consisted of the following vessels: Queen Charlotte (100), Impregnable (98), Superb (74), Minden (74), and Albion (74) - five sail of the line, including two three-deckers. Half-way between these and the frigates must come the Leander (50). There were four frigates: Severn (40), Glasgow (40), Granicus (36), and Hebrus (36). The sloops apparently numbered seven, some of eighteen, some of ten guns. The bomb-vessels were four in number. The Dutch squadron consisted of five frigates and a corvette: Melampus (40), Frederica (40), Diana (4o), Amstel (40), Dageraad (30), and Eendragt (18). Three transports came with the fleet to carry the slaves it was hoped to liberate. One of the sloops was fitted as an explosion vessel, in case it should be needed. Five gunboats hastily fitted out at Gibraltar brought the total number of vessels up to thirty-five. But the departure of a sloop with dispatches for England lessened the total by one before Algiers was reached.
Certain special arrangements were made in the hope that an opportunity would arise for occupying the mole. The marines of the fleet, a thousand in number, were divided into two battalions and elaborate plans made for landing them. A rehearsal of the landing took place at Gibraltar, and launches were fitted with carronades from which to give covering fire. To co-operate with the marines, the flagship carried a company of Royal Sappers and Miners under the command of Major Gossett and Captain Reid. A supply of Congreve rockets was brought, to be used from flat-boats and carried by the marines, in the event of a landing.
Although circumstances greatly modified the strength of the force sent on this service, it would be a mistake to suppose that no calculations had been made as to the force necessary. Exmouth probably asked for five sail of the line, five frigates, five sloops and five bomb-vessels. It will be seen that the force he had with him corresponded closely to these figures. No doubt, however, he was allowing for (448) the reinforcement he expected Penrose to bring. Taking this into account, it is clear that he had -that he had designed to have - a force exactly equal to the work it had to perform. It was afterwards said that the bombardment of 1816 fixed the minimum force required for an attack on Algiers. With as good reason it might have been said that it fixed the maximum of force necessary. A smaller number of ships would have been beaten, a larger number would not have had room to fight. Exmouth knew how many ships he wanted because he knew the place he was going to attack. He had, to begin with, ordered a thorough survey to be made. Warde had secretly gone over the ground and reconnoitred every obstacle. He had explored the harbour by night, sounding with a boat-hook. He had carelessly wandered about the mole by day and counted the guns. Then again, the commander-in-chief had known the town ever since his boyhood, and had quite recently been ashore there himself. It is not to be wondered at that he knew what he was doing.
For a proper appreciation of any action, the first thing to know is what the respective commanding officers were trying to do. In this case the part played by one side was purely passive, so that only Exmouth's intentions need concern us. It is not known what verbal instructions he may have been given, but it seems probable that he was ordered, in effect, to fight a battle. The ministers who sent him knew that the Dey had not violated the treaty. They were not seeking vengeance for an imaginary offence. They were merely playing to the (Continental) gallery. For this reason, any kind of battle would suit their purpose equally well. So it is unlikely that they hampered Exmouth with instructions.
Left to his own devices, Exmouth's wishes may be reduced to three. He wanted to liberate the remaining slaves. He wanted to punish the Dey for past offences. He wanted to convince the Algerians that their fortifications were not impregnable. To attain his first object, it was necessary to frighten the inhabitants into seeking terms. This was a simple matter. By itself, this object was easily to be gained. All that was required was to knock down some of the houses and kill a few of the inmates. The town was not to be injured by shot. To damage it, bombs would be needed. Hence his demand for bomb-vessels. These could smash the town from a safe distance of two thousand yards or more. This operation could have been performed without any fighting at all.
(449) To attain his second object, it was necessary to inflict a loss on the government as such. His only method of doing this was to burn the Algerian navy. There was nothing else in the town which would burn. But here his difficulties began. His mortars were not weapons of precision. They could hit a town but they could not hit a ship at long range. To destroy the ships, he had to place a man-of-war in the harbour mouth. A single ship was sufficient, but she had to be there and nowhere else because the mole was too high to fire over.
To attain his third object, it was necessary to silence some
Figs. A, H, C.
THE BATTERIES AT ALGIERS.
of the batteries. Nothing smaller than a ship of the line could hope to do this. Bomb-vessels protected by frigates could have tortured the town into releasing slaves. Frigates alone could have burnt the Algerian navy at its moorings. But the batteries were a different matter. They were so nearly impregnable that it was exceedingly difficult to prove that they were not impregnable. This object could only be attained in a carefully planned attack by well-trained line of battleships.
Impressing the Algerians with the vulnerability of their port was the essential object of silencing any batteries. The batteries to be dealt with had therefore to be those on the mole. These were, besides, the only ones it was possible to engage at close range. Now, the advantage enjoyed by (450)
men defending fortifications is the security, or the feeling of security, derived from the strength of the works. The advantage enjoyed by men attacking fortifications is that they know where the enemy is. By reconnoitring Algiers, Exmouth knew how many guns there were, and he also knew where to find them. Guns which are embedded in masonry can be relied upon to stay where they are. Exmouth was accordingly able to attack the mole at Algiers as Nelson attacked the French fleet at Aboukir - but with even greater certainty that his opponents would remain in position. He could, in short, throw all his force on one point. As he had a choice in the matter, he naturally chose the weakest point.
The diagrams will give the reader some idea of the general position. The rough sketch may suffice to show how the strength of the mole centred on the lighthouse. Only in the lighthouse battery itself, and in the battery immediately to the south of it, are there three tiers of cannon, as in Fig. C. Throughout the stretch of fortifications on the left, there are only two tiers, as in Fig. B; and this part of the mole is lower than the quarter-deck of a three-decker. The mole batteries are all closed in the rear, but Fig. B shows the system of smoke-vents.
In attacking the mole, it was clearly best to avoid the fire of the lighthouse and the three-tiered battery. Fig. A shows how this was to be done. Here the most formidable works are marked in black, and their arcs of fire indicated by shading. It will be seen that there is a central triangle of water on which the heavy batteries will not bear. The same is true of the area marked Z; but the water there is shallow, and a line of storehouses on the pier prevents firing into the harbour. Therefore, it is at X that the attack must be made. The position at X has several advantages, one being a sufficient depth of water close inshore, and another being that the mole itself is high enough to protect a ship from all the batteries above the town. Exmouth saw that there was only room for three sail of the line in the patch of 'dead-ground' at X. In case these three should fail to overpower the batteries, he arranged to make assurance doubly sure. The southern end of the mole could be outflanked. A fourth line of battleship at V could destroy the upper tier of guns from the flank and rear. A three-decker would be needed for this post. By the fire of these four ships the weaker batteries could be silenced. Exmouth asked for five sail of the line because (451) he wanted a fifth to deal with a fort to the south of the town.
For the destruction of the Algerian navy, it would be necessary to place a heavy frigate at Y, to fire into the harbour. At this point there arises the difficulty of the fish-market battery, and the other batteries along the waterside. These all bear on, and some enfilade, the positions at Y and V. Exmouth provided for this difficulty in the only possible way. To stop the guns in the direction
THE ATTACK - AS PLANNED
of W firing on Y and V, he had merely to give them something else to fire at. For this purpose, he asked for three or four more frigates. There were several more batteries further to the south, but he relied upon Penrose bringing enough ships to keep these fully occupied. In Penrose's absence, this task was allotted to the Dutch. The sloops were required to act as tenders to the ships of the line.
Here then, is the explanation of Exmouth's demands on the Admiralty, and his obstinate refusal to take a larger force. The numbers of ships he asked for were the exact numbers which his plan of attack implied. Fig. D represents the (452) attack, as planned. By keeping to the left of the line B - D, the Superb, Impregnable and Albion were to concentrate their fire on the mole between A and B, while the Queen Charlotte raked the fortifications from the flank. The lighthouse battery and the battery at B - C were to be left without a target. The Leander was to be warped still nearer the Queen Charlotte, so as to destroy everything in the harbour. The Glasgow and Severn were to engage the batteries along the waterside. The bomb-vessels were to be far out in the bay towards the north and east. The Dutch were to find occupation for the forts to the south.
One flaw in this scientific scheme, a flaw which was painfully patent to every one in the fleet, was the need for passing through the danger zone on the way in; and again, on the way out. The positions assigned to the various ships were relatively safe. But would the ships ever reach them ? It seemed to many that the ships of the line, at any rate would run a grave risk. They might be dismasted. Indeed, they might be blown out of the water. Exmouth alone denied the probability of this. He had the best of reasons for doing so, but probably kept them to himself. The fact was that Omar Pashaw would not fire the first shot. He had said as much at the end of that stormy interview in June. He may even have sworn it. Exmouth knew him to be a man of his word, and was ready to act accordingly. He did not incidentally, mean to fire the first shot himself. His belief was that the Algerians would eventually lose their heads and fire without orders. He was not worried by the prospect of retiring through the danger zone because his withdrawal was likely to be at night, and because he hoped to leave the town in no condition to speed his departure. There was, for that matter, no need to retire at all until the Dey came to terms -so long as the batteries on the mole were silenced.
Soon after arriving at Gibraltar, Exmouth reported progress to Lord Sidmouth.
Queen Charlotte, Gibraltar 10th Aug. 1816
. . . every moment of my time and indeed that of every Soul in the Fleet is occupied in making arrangements for the Service we have to perform, which I know to be arduous and demanding all our attention that no advantage may be afforded our Enemy for want of due precaution, as I hold it good to treat your Enemy, however ignorant, with respect and not hold his efforts too Cheap.
(453) You will be pleased to hear that, altho' hastily gathered together, I have found in good will and good heart ample means to produce in our Young Recruits all the knowledge of their Arms and Duties I can wish. And I shall enter in our task with more real satisfaction than I should have with the old and trained People who prefer'd their Congee to the honor of embracing the Cause of their suffering fellow Creatures. I have found a good auxiliary in five good Gun and Mortar boats which in 36 hours we have fitted out and Equipped. And Marines out of our own Ships to proceed with us. My only fear is that my friend the Dey will not hazard the chance of a good beating but give into the terms by which he can be saved.
I have also found here, or rather waylaying me, the Dutch Vice Admiral Van Capelfan with six Frigates, most anxious to join us in this chosen work, and on his prefsing the point with considerable eagernefs, and afsuring me it is the wish of his Sovereign and his Government, I have as I am instructed to do, accepted his offer, and he very good humoredly afsured me I should have no reason to find fault with his not fighting close enough, if I would afsign him a post. We are at this moment all ready to Weigh Anchor after 48 hours only to prepare and fill up our Water. The wind is now adverse but I hope will soon change and lead us to our anchorage under the Walls of our Adversary. A fortunate breeze when we arrive will I hope present for taking our situations at once - and the only respite I will give shall be occasioned by failure of such a wind as will lead us to a chosen distance, when I trust the Wooden Walls of Old England will be found a match for all the Walls of Algiers - as to all appearance we may sail to-morrow, I will close my letter with the strongest afsurance of my unabated and unceasing friendship,
you to believe me, My Dear Lord
Your faithfully attached
Exmouth did not sail on the day following that on which the above letter was written, for calms and adverse winds kept the fleet at Gibraltar rather longer than was intended. Much, however, was done during those few days.
The ships had, first of all, to be cleared for action. All furniture that is to say, and baggage was sent below. Livestock was landed, cabin bulkheads struck and, sent ashore to the dockyard. Then the five mortar and gunboats were prepared for service, the launches armed with carronades and the flat-boats equipped for firing Congreve rockets. The whole flotilla was organized, officered, trained by target practice, and made to rehearse the intended (454) landing. The batteries on the Rock carried out an experiment to determine the effects of shell-fire. The sloop destined to act as explosion-vessel was crammed with 143 barrels of gunpowder. Every captain was issued with a detailed plan of the fortifications to be attacked, with an explanation of the part he was to play in attacking them. No preparation, no precaution was forgotten.
Meanwhile, the sloop Prometheus was attempting privately to remove the consul from Algiers. Mainly through the consul's stupidity, the attempt failed. His wife and daughter were rescued by stratagem, but he himself was confined to his house under a guard. Some eighteen of the crew of the Prometheus were made prisoner in the course of this affair, and the Dey's refusal to release them made it clear that he knew of Exmouth's coming. Certain Jewish merchants in Algiers had taken alarm at an early period, and their fears had been fully confirmed by French newspapers. A French corvette which Exmouth found off Algiers was thought to have given the Dey the most detailed information. The Algerians had ample time to assemble the Moorish chiefs of the interior, who brought, it was said, 30,000 followers to reinforce the garrison.
The fleet sailed on the 14th and encountered the Prometheus two days later. Captain Blackwood's tale of woe did away with any particular need for haste, but aroused impatience to avenge this fresh insult. The wind was adverse, however, and the fleet made no progress for some days. The seamen, during this delay, were urged to yet more remarkable feats of gun-laying, and Exmouth explained his plans afresh to his subordinates. Capellan, Milne, and the assembled captains of the fleet were all duly instructed in the need for avoiding the lighthouse battery until there seemed to be no loophole for error. All knew what they had to do. It only remained to be seen whether they would all do it.
The Barbary coast was first sighted on the evening of the 26th. In spite of hazy weather, the fleet was seen from the shore as soon as it made its landfall. Watchers had been posted on the mountains, and these, when they saw the ships, lit great fires to warn the city. Alarm guns were fired by the garrison, and before darkness fell it was known to all that the English were approaching . The contrary wind died away in the course of that night, and a light westerly breeze sprang up. The wind was light, but a strong current swept the fleet to the east and south, so that the leading ships were within six miles of Algiers when day (455) broke. As the sun rose, the town was seen white and beautiful against the hills. Many red, and striped, and crimson flags were flying, and thin columns of smoke rose from the camp-fires of the chieftains gathered to defend the ramparts.
At a quarter past five the frigate Severn was detached from the fleet and sent in under a flag of truce. The fleet lay to, a mile and a half from the town, while a boat from the Severn approached the mole. After a brief parley between Salamé, Exmouth's Jewish interpreter, and the captain of the port, the latter agreed to take the English ultimatum to the Dey. Salamé demanded an answer within two hours, but was persuaded to extend the time to three hours. The terms of the ultimatum included the total abolition of Christian slavery and the repayment of the money recently paid in ransoms.
The day was far spent before the three hours' grace had expired. It was nine before the boat left the Severn, and eleven before the ultimatum was delivered. It would be two before the action could begin. The time which elapsed while the boat awaited the Dey's reply was not, however, wasted. Exmouth's first concern was to see that every one fed before fighting. At 10.10 he telegraphed the signal: ' Cooks & meals may go on as usual, altho Signal for battle is made.' This was followed, just before midday, by the signal: 'that ships would have time for dinner.' Soon afterwards, the bomb-vessels were ordered to take up their position, rather more than a mile from the Algerian batteries.
An officer who came on deck after a belated lunch in the ward-room of the flagship, saw Lord Exmouth standing at the break of the poop - 'attired, as usual, in an undress uniform coat without epaulets, white cravat and waistcoat, with nankeen trousers, gaiters, and shoes, having a spy-glass in his hand.' The crew being called aft, he spoke to them 'in a few clear and expressive sentences,' which were answered by a short cheer. The men then ran back to their quarters.
At about 2.30 half an hour after the Dey's answer was due, the boat waiting near the mole hoisted the signa 'no answer has been given,' and this was immediately repeated by the Severn. The flagship at once made the general signal 'are you ready,' to which every ship replied 'ready.' Exmouth then gave the order 'annul the truce'; and then 'hoist the jib.' The Queen Charlotte paid off and stood slowly towards the mole before a moderate breeze from the north.
Exmouth's column of five sail of the line went into action (456) in line ahead, the Impregnable being the third. The Dutch frigates formed a separate line, heading farther to the south. The Leander and the other English ships stood in independently for their allotted stations. At this prompt movement the Algerians were thrown into some confusion. It was clearly not what they expected. Indeed, Exmouth had not expected it himself. It was only the accident of the wind holding which made it possible. The Dey, by his own account, was still considering what reply to make. And whether this be true or not, he was certainly undecided in some respects. As a result, perhaps, of his determination not to fire the first shot, he had planned to allow the English to approach. When they were close inshore, he meant to board their ships. A crowd of rowing-boats were collected inside the mole, and it was planned that these should attack while the English were furling their sails. But either through his own indecision, or his followers' lack of discipline, this plan was not strictly adhered to. Apparently to ensure its success, the cannon on the mole were not loaded. As, however, the English bore down, the troops took fright or received contrary orders. They began to load the guns, and were still loading them long after they had lost their chance of using them with effect against the Queen Charlotte.
Seeing the crowd of soldiery on the mole, Captain Brisbane ascended a few steps of the starboard poop-ladder and asked Exmouth whether the men should he down at their quarters. "If the enemy do open any fire, the men can lie down as we run in; however, I don't think they will." This reply goes far to explain Exmouth's confidence. Presently there came to him the interpreter Salamé, who had returned on board to report himself. Although half-dead with fright, he could not help noticing something he had never seen before in the admiral's looks. 'I was quite surprised to see how his Lordship was altered from what I left him in the morning; for I knew his manner was in general very mild, and now he seemed to me all fightful, as a fierce lion, which had been chained in its cage, and was set at liberty.' There was perhaps more truth in his metaphor than he knew. When Salamé had made his report, Exmouth muttered, more, probably, to himself than any one else: "Never mind, we shall see now." Turning then to his officers, he said "Be ready." The ship was now close to the batteries.
The breeze died away as the Queen Charlotte approached the mole-head, and the great three-decker slid more and more slowly towards its chosen position. The silence was (457) tense, every man awaiting the order to fire. There was a hum of activity on shore, but the only sound on board the flagship was the flapping of the idle sails, and, perhaps, the call of the leadsman in the fore-chains: "By the deep, nine" - "Seven" - "Six." Gaze was conning , the ship nearer and nearer the rocks on which the batteries stood. There was only two feet of water under the flagship's keel by the time the anchors were dropped. The ship brought up by the stern, immediately after rounding the mole-head, and the cable was veered and checked without a word spoken, by means of a telegraph operated by a wheel rigged close to the helm. There was only fifty yards between the Queen Charlotte and the mole at this time, but Exmouth had the chain lashed to the hempen-cable and veered out a few fathoms to protect the latter from shot. The final position of the ship was perhaps eighty yards from the enemy's guns.
Men on the flagship noticed the sudden glow of heat, and wave of stench, arising from their proximity to the Turks. They could see the enemies' faces, their eyes, and the frowning muzzles of their guns. The mole was packed with people. As the Queen Charlotte brought up, the Leander, up till then on her larboard quarter, passed her and took up her position just ahead. The ships in the rear were still under sail. It was just 2.48.
Inside the mole, some thirty-seven boats, filled with troops, lay on their oars, ready for the moment when the English should leave their guns to take in sail. The moment never came. There was so little wind that Exmouth dropped anchor with sails set. And when he thought the proper time had come, his sails were not furled, but clewed up - as had been arranged beforehand. The men never left their guns at all. They waited until the ship was stationary, and then gave the enemy three cheers. After that there was silence until one side or the other should fire. The mole was still crowded with people, all gaping stupidly at the Queen Charlotte. According to one observer, they were 'thick as hops.' Exmouth was seen to wave his hat to them to get out of the way. - Some three hundred of them paid with their lives for failing to take his advice.
Both Exmouth and the Dey were determined, as we have seen, to allow the other to begin. But here the Dey was at a disadvantage. His men were not well under control. A little before three o'clock there was a puff of smoke from the fish-market battery, a jarring thud, and the hiss of a shot passing to starboard of the flagship. Exmouth had (458) gained his point. He would not be the one to commence hostilities. A second shot boomed past, and one who was watching him intently' saw his countenance light up (which before was thoughtful), and it appeared to me that an expression of triumph shone in his face as he said: "You may fire away now." With that, the Queen Charlotte and Leander fired their broadsides simultaneously. There was a deafening roar, and the battle had begun. It was almost exactly three o'clock.
The difficulty, in those days, of engaging at anchor - and especially in a dead calm - was the smoke. A ship like the Queen Charlotte burned more than a thousand pounds of powder every minute during an action. If there was no wind, the resulting smoke accumulated between the decks in a thick fog. After that, the officers might have the guns trained fore or aft if it pleased them, but they were 'as much in the dark as to the external objects, as if they were blindfolded.' A midshipman who fought at Algiers wrote that 'Jonah in the whale's belly knew as much about a gale of wind, as a Middy in a three-decker does of an action' ; but, in fact, the admiral himself was little better off. The smoke was too dense for any one to see anything. It was like 'twenty Vauxhalls at the end of fireworks on a cloudy night.' This being the case, Exmouth lost control of the battle soon after it began. An hour, probably, passed before he knew where every ship was. Before three o'clock he was presumably too much occupied with the movements of the enemy to notice what his rear ships were doing, even if they were visible-which they may not have been. It is therefore doubtful how soon he began to suspect that something was amiss. His. last signal was the word 'Infallible.' It soon appeared that Rear-Admiral Milne was not only fallible but had failed.
The frigates were not all in position when the action began, but the Severn and Glasgow dropped anchor very shortly afterwards. By comparing Fig. E with Fig. D, it will be seen that both frigates gained their proper station, and that the Dutch were equally successful. The bomb vessels had been in position from the beginning. The sloops were merely to make themselves useful to the ships of the line; it did not greatly matter where they placed themselves. There remain to be considered the line of battleships.
Through a signalling error, the Superb, the ship astern of the Queen Charlotte, anchored sooner than she should have done. Had she been making for the exact position (459) assigned her, this would have left her about her own length short of it. Unfortunately, she was too far to port. Exmouth signalled her to keep further to starboard - but in vain. The result was that the Superb brought up some two hundred yards out of position, and twice her proper distance from the batteries. She opened fire at about a hundred and fifty yards range, at the same time as the flagship. Ekins, who commanded her, was slightly at fault; but all
THE ATTACK - AS EXECUTED
would have gone well enough if every ship had been as skilfully handled as the Superb.
The Impregnable was the third ship in the column, but lagging behind in a disgraceful manner. The great gap between her and the Superb was not due to her bad sailing qualities. Milne had taken in his fore and mizen-topsails at 2.15, with the natural result that he dropped astern. The ships behind him were forced to do the same. As if this was not bad enough, he anchored as soon as he saw the flagship anchor - without making up the distance. The Impregnable was thus placed on the wrong side of the line Exmouth had drawn on his chart, more than four hundred yards out of position, and well within the arc of (460) fire of the lighthouse battery. According to Milne, his ship was about three hundred and fifty yards from the nearest batteries. Judging more impartially, Exmouth thought the distance nearer four hundred and fifty.
The official excuse for this appalling blunder was that the smoke prevented Milne from seeing where he was. This cannot have been the case. Although he did not, for some reason, open fire until 3.15, Milne took in his main-topsail and dropped anchor at 2.50 - ten minutes before a gun went off. This is the time given in Milne's own journal.
Captain Paterson, of the Minden, the next ship astern, saw what had happened to the Impregnable and promptly deserted his position in the line. Exmouth had ordered this to be done, if need arose. The Minden went on and anchored in the wake of the Superb - well beyond the danger zone. This was probably at about 3.5. Paterson apparently knew where he was even after the firing had begun.
Captain Coode, of the Albion, who brought up the rear, steered past the Impregnable and anchored just ahead of her, in the position shown in Fig. E. Finding himself exposed to the fire of the lighthouse and eastern batteries, he instantly made sail again, finally bringing up close astern of the Minden. A cable passed out of the Minden's stern-port dragged him clear of the danger zone.
The remaining vessels were, on the whole, well handled. The Hebrus, it is true, took up a bad position. But the Granicus nobly tried to fill the gap astern of the Queen Charlotte, and the sloop Heron earned Exmouth's applause by anchoring ahead of the Granicus. The other sloops attended their respective ships of the line, some remaining under sail so as to present a more difficult target. It was important that the sloops should keep their rigging intact, in case the ships of the line should require towing out. Thus, the Martin loyally stood by the Impregnable, and intelligently took cover behind her.
To attempt any explanation of why Rear-Admiral Milne behaved in so extraordinary a manner is hardly possible. Extreme caution may have led him to shorten sail while the ships in front of him were crowding on every inch of canvas they had. Some vague idea of copying the admiral's motions may have induced him to anchor when he did. But why did he stay there ? That his captain did not advise him to any purpose is easier to understand. Milne was an obstinate man; and Lord Melville considered Captain Brace 'the most impracticable and unreasonable person in H.M.'s Service.' (461) The results of what Milne and Brace succeeded in doing between them were dreadful. The Impregnable came under a terrific fire at a range which was all in favour of the batteries. Her starboard side was almost riddled. Two hundred and thirty-three shot-holes were found at the end of the action. Most of her spars were wounded and all her rigging cut to pieces. A dozen guns were dismounted and half as many put out of action for want of men. She had almost as many men killed as all the other vessels put together. Her crew fought magnificently. They double-shotted the guns and almost silenced the lighthouse battery, after an expenditure of eighteen tons of gunpowder and 7,000 rounds of shot-besides canister, shrapnel and case-shot.
Meanwhile, Exmouth was fighting his battle in comparative safety. He had placed the Queen Charlotte in a position on which some five of the guns on the mole could bear. The raking fire from the fish-market battery could not stop him enfilading the mole from end to end. After his first broadside had crashed out, the Algerian gunboats made some attempt to run alongside the Leander and Queen Charlotte. As Gaze put it: 'they might as well have endeavoured to board the moon.' The Algerian flotilla was almost literally blown out of the water. Thirty-three boats went straight to the bottom.
The smoke hung so heavily round the ship that nothing could at first be seen of the mole. One of the Queen Charlotte's officers, however, saw something of the effect of the flagship's fire by climbing the mizen rigging. He saw that the guns in the upper tier were mostly dismounted and jammed in the ruins of the parapet. Those undamaged were deserted. Two 12-pounders, one in the main-top and the other in the fore-top, each crammed with musket balls, had sent the surviving soldiers to seek safety elsewhere. A few remained hidden behind some coils of cable on the mole-head, and from there kept up a troublesome fire. 'Lord Exmouth beckoned to an officer near him to come to the starboard gangway, where his lordship, fully exposed, very deliberately said: "You see we are a good deal annoyed by the musketry of these fellows," pointing to them - "Try if you can dislodge them with a few eight-inch shells from the howitzer that is in the launch alongside." ' Nothing came of this experiment and other means were found for dealing with the snipers. But the incident shows that Exmouth was not above displaying his personal courage. He was notable to do so with complete impunity. Before night (462) fell he had been slightly wounded several times. He received a scratch soon after the fighting began. 'The Admiral had a sore dowse on the chops, which did not 1 believe draw blood; if it did, he swabbed it up directly, without saying a word about it, though he must have had a good deal of jaw of his own, to have been able to stand such a thump.'
After twenty minutes' firing, the mole batteries were largely silenced. In another half-hour they were partly in ruins. At 3.35 Exmouth ordered the flagship's crew to cease fire. It was probably at this moment as the smoke cleared away, that he saw what Milne had done. There was, of course, no remedy for the situation. All he could do was to console himself with the success of his own operations. A glance at the mole was enough to show him that one object of the attack had been gained. The Algerians could, and did, open fire again from that quarter. But they could no longer think their fortifications impregnable. He was for the moment free to turn his attention elsewhere. He had still to burn their shipping and level their houses.
At about four o'clock a boat from the Queen Charlotte was sent to burn the vessel moored across the entrance to the harbour, and thus enable the Leander to fire more effectively upon the other ships. At 4.24 the signal was made for the flotilla to assemble alongside the flagship. All the launches, gunboats and rocket-boats were then sent to take up their positions for bombarding the harbour and town. By 7.30 most of the Dey's fleet was ablaze. An hour later, it was utterly destroyed.
The bombardment of the town was both a success and a failure. It had the effect of frightening the inhabitants, but it failed to destroy the houses. The buildings would neither burn nor collapse. Although the Congreve rockets mostly missed the town altogether, and although many of the shells failed to explode, the amount of ammunition poured into the streets must have been enormous. The American consul minuted that 'shells and rockets fly over and by my house like hail;' nor did the consulate escape injury five shells burst inside it. Should the reader suppose that this was done purposely, and that most houses suffered less, he would be mistaken. No less than thirty shots passed through the house of the English consul - and nine of them entered the room where he would have been, had not the Dey put him in jail. But the point to notice about this is that both these houses were still standing at the end of the day. The fact is that their thin concrete walls (463) made no resistance. Each shot merely made a neat hole as it went through. Nor were many people killed in the process. All the male inhabitants had been driven to the batteries, all the women and children had been sent out of the town, and all the slaves had been sent inland.
At 7.30 the Queen Charlotte was hove round with her head to the south-east, in order to avoid the burning Algerian frigates, which were drifting out of the harbour. In this new position, her guns bore on the fish-market battery. This fort had been particularly troublesome because its cannon were light and could be fired more often than the heavy guns in the other batteries, some of which could only fire three or four times in the hour. By 8.30 the cannonade began to slacken, and men were surprised, on looking up from their guns, to see the stars and realize that the evening had come.
Milne had several times sent to inform Exmouth of his plight, and had finally asked that the explosion vessel should be used against the lighthouse battery. Wishing to use Vesuvius, since he had been at the pains of bringing it, and knowing that he would never be able to send it into the harbour, Exmouth consented. This was at about eight o'clock, by which time he had done all that he had set out to do, so that he ordered Milne to haul off as soon as the explosion had taken place.
At 9.10, owing to the officer in charge saying 'port' when he meant to say 'starboard,' the explosion vessel had to be fired off opposite the wrong battery. It did no harm, even to the comparatively harmless battery near which it exploded; and the Algerians cheered wildly under the impression that they had done it themselves. After this, the firing began to die away. Nearly all the Algerian guns had been silenced by ten o'clock, and now the ships began to cut their cables and haul off. In spite of the land breeze springing up, the withdrawal was very slow. Few ships had much rigging left. Warping and towing, they gradually struggled out into the bay. At 10.15 Exmouth ordered the Minden to cover the retirement of the other ships of the line. That ship then opened a brisk fire, which lasted until 11.30, when the gunner reported that the magazine was empty. The bay was lighted up by the blazing ships and store-houses about the harbour, and the retiring fleet made an excellent target for a few guns in a fort on the landward side of the town. The growling of cannon did not altogether cease until long after midnight.
(464) At about 11.30 the interpreter Salamé came on deck to see how the battle had fared. He presently found his way aft to the poop in order to congratulate Exmouth on the victory.
When I met his Lordship, on the poop, his voice was quite hoarse, and he had two slight wounds, one in the cheek, and the other in his leg. Before I paid him my respects, he said to me, with his usual gracious and mild manner, 'Well, my fine fellow Salamé, what think you now ? ' In reply I shook hands with his Lordship, and said, 'My Lord, I am extremely happy to see your Lordship safe, and I am so much rejoiced with this glorious victory, that I am not able to express, in any terms, the degree of my happiness.'
It was indeed astonishing to see the coat of his Lordship, how it was all cut up by musket balls, and by grape; it was behind, as if a person had taken a pair of scissors and cut it all to pieces. We were all surprised at the narrow escape of his Lordship.
The Queen Charlotte came to anchor out of range of the batteries at 1.30. As soon as the anchor had been let go, and the sails furled, Exmouth said to Captain Brisbane: "No officer or man to rest until the middle deck is cleaned up and every wounded man in his cot." The middle deck was where the wounded were placed. Some of the crew attended to this, some secured the guns and magazine, others knotted the rigging or helped the carpenter to fish the wounded masts and spars. A few of the officers, with Exmouth, Gaze, and the chaplain, gathered in the admiral's cabin for prayers and rendered thanks for the victory. Soon afterwards, Van Capellan came on board, full of congratulations. Milne arrived, and was well received. Exmouth was satisfied with what had been done, and in no mood to ask questions. Neither at this nor at any other time did he blame any one for displaying incompetence at Algiers. He was pleased with himself, and ready - perhaps too ready - to forgive his blundering subordinates. Their mistakes were never mentioned by him. The conclusion of the battle of Algiers is thus described by Salamé.
After we had anchored, his Lordship, having ordered his steward in the morning, to keep several dishes ready, gave a grand supper to the officers of the ship, and drank to the health of every brave man in the fleet.
We also drank to his Lordship's health, and then every body went to sleep, almost like dead men.