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Edward Pellew - By Parkinson, C. Northcote, London, 1934
(465) AT noon on the day following the battle Exmouth sent the Dey a well-worded message, offering him peace on the terms which had been proposed the day before. 'As England does not war for the destruction of cities,' he wrote, 'I am unwilling to visit your personal cruelties upon the inoffensive inhabitants of the country;' but, should the terms be refused, 'I shall renew my operations at my own convenience.' As if to lend colour to the threat, the bomb-vessels began to resume their position in a very expert manner. They had hardly done so before three guns were fired to signify that the terms were accepted.
It was exceedingly fortunate for Exmouth that the Dey submitted, for his message had been mere bluff. As a fact, he had shot his bolt. England may not, as a rule, war for the destruction of cities; but on this occasion she had certainly done so - and the city was still there. It might well be questioned whether Algiers contained any inoffensive inhabitants; but if it did, they were mostly still alive and likely to remain so, as far as Exmouth was concerned. The fleet was incapable of renewing operations. There was practically no ammunition left.
Penrose arrived on the 29th, too late for the battle but in time to conduct the negotiations. Milne and Brisbane departed for England with dispatches. One thousand and eighty-three slaves were liberated and put on board the transports. The money was repaid which had gone to ransom those previously liberated, the consul received an apology from the Dey, and a treaty was signed in which the Dey promised not to enslave Christians in future. Exmouth reported progress to Lord Sidmouth.
Queen Charlotte, Algiers Bay, 29th Aug. 1816
I perfectly remember in your office pledging myself to you for the destruction of the Algerian Navy.
I am happy to inform you that I have redeemed my pledge and am in whole bones, and so is my Rascally opponent the (466) Dey. His chastisement has humbled him to the Dust and he would receive me if I chose it on the Wharf on his knees. You know, my dear Lord, my faithful and sincere attachment and will believe that I regret the sad lofs we have sustained - 883 out of 6500 is a large proportion: but we were exposed to a Compleat Circle of fire.
I can only enclose you the copy of my memorandum to-day to the Fleet, and beg you to believe that I consider this the happiest point of my fortunate Life. 1000 Slaves are now Cheering on the Mole, just arrived from the Country, where he had driven them. The Consul has been cruelly treated and the Dey humbled to beg pardon in his full Court, by the dictation of my Captain, when the Interpreter I bro't from Lord C[astlereagh]'s office overheard the Prince [say] - That yellow (red) haired fellow will now be higher than Ever - they hate red hair.
God blefs you, My Dear Lord, I hope to reach England
before October, and I am ever
your most faithful friend and Ser't
So the campaign ended. The fleet sailed for England on September 3rd and arrived at Spithead on October 5th. On the 8th, Exmouth reported to the Admiralty that he had struck his flag. He never went to sea again. His forty years of service afloat were over.
Queen Charlotte, Portsm. 6 Oct : 1816
It will afford you great pleasure to hear we are all arrived in old England, having finish'd our work and left all in peace and tranquility, in a few days more than three months from the date of my Commifsion.
I wish our good citizens of London may be as satisfied with me as I am with myself. I feel that I have done my Duty and fully accomplished all I promised you I would or could do. Depend upon it, my dear Lord, the Dey will not break the peace - he knows now what a British Squadron can do, and a pretty severe lesson he has received. Capt. Dundas was there 14 days after we left it; he found thousands of Jews at work filling up the holes in the Walls with clay and white washing it afterwards, mounting Guns and weighing Gun boats sunk, and all sorts of work, as he said, for the reception of the Americans. But nothing could be more civil or friendly than the Dey to her Officers; and in the streets and Marketts where they uniformedly abused you pafsing, if they did not spit at you, They now draw up to the Wall to let you pafs and make Salaam. What good a little correction does (467) when given in time, and this had been long wanting. I know your warm heart will rejoice at it. I wish a friend of ours near you could imbibe a little of your superfluous heart. I shall be in Town at Warner Hotel, Conduit Street, as soon as horses can bring me, after I am released from Quarantine and wait on you as soon as pofsible.
I am, my Dear Lord, your most Sincerely attached
and faithfully Devoted Servant
[To Viscount Sidmouth]
In saying that he had done all that he set out to do, Exmouth was entirely justified. He had brought the Dey to terms, punished him, and proved to him that he was liable to further punishment. He had also attained the object of the expedition. As a gesture, for the benefit of Europe, the battle was a success. Castlereagh, at least, was quite satisfied, and the following letter gives the reason for his satisfaction.
London 30th Sept.
I cannot refrain myself the Satisfaction, before I set off for Ireland, of leaving a few lines to thank you for your private letter, and to offer you my grateful acknowledgements as well as Congratulations upon the unqualified succefs of your Enterprize at Algiers, which may be clafsed with the first of our Naval Exploits - You have contributed to place the Character of the Country above all suspicion of mercenary policy, the great atchievements of the War had not eradicated some lurking suspicion that we cherish'd Piracy as a commercial Ally; you have dispelled this cloud and I have no doubt the National Character in Europe will be Efsentially Enobled by your Services.
Believe me, my Dear Lord
in haste, your faithful
and obedient Ser't
THE VISCOUNT EXMOUTH
The diplomatic object of the expedition may be said, then, to have been gained. Again, it is true to say that Exmouth was successful in putting an end to Christian slavery in Barbary. It was questioned at the time whether the Dey's promise was worth very much; but it is clear that he and his successors observed the treaty tolerably well. (468) Complaints in future were less to do with infringements of the agreement than with a different matter - that the Algerians killed their prisoners instead of enslaving them. Christian slavery, at any rate, had been abolished.
But while it is true that Exmouth did what he set out to do, it is very essential that no mistake be made with regard to his aims. It is too often stated that he was sent to suppress piracy. Occasionally the error has been made of supposing that he actually suppressed it. The truth is that he neither suppressed it nor attempted to suppress it. It was never intended that he should. His punitive raid marked no change in the English policy. The piracy went on as before and the damaged fortifications were rebuilt in a couple of months. In October, it is true, the Dey felt unable to resist the American squadron which came to take advantage of the situation; and so had to sign a treaty with one he persisted in calling 'the most glorious amongst the princes, elected amongst many lords and nobles, the happy, the great, the amiable James Madison, Emperor of America.' Nevertheless, the fortifications were said to be stronger than ever by the end of the year, by which time the Dey had equipped four new cruisers. More startling than this speedy recovery of Algiers was the behaviour of Tunis. Early in 1817, a Tunisian corsair appeared in the Channel and actually took a prize within sight of Dover. In 1818 the depredations of the pirates were such as to bring on them a solemn warning from the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. In 1824 England had to send another fleet to Algiers. In 1830 the French solved the problem by conquering and annexing the whole district.
Regarded as a naval operation, the Battle of Algiers was the hottest engagement and one of the most brilliant victories of the classic age in English naval history. By itself, it would place Exmouth very high among the captains of his time. It was brilliantly planned and, as far as he could. ensure it, exactly executed. As an instance of English courage and endurance, it ranks far above the other battles of the period. In no other action did the ships empty their magazines; in few other actions did the fighting last so long. The firing made, it was said, a continuous roar rather than a succession of sounds. There was pandemonium for five hours on end - pandemonium which could be heard sixty miles away. The expenditure of ammunition was incredible. In nine hours, the allied squadrons fired more than fifty thousand round shot. The casualties were (469) in proportion. In the English ships, 818 men were wounded or killed; some 16 per cent, that is to say, of those engaged. Even at Copenhagen, the proportion was only 12.5 per cent; while the percentage of losses at the Nile was 11 per cent, and at Trafalgar less still - 9 per cent.
Algiers was, on the whole, a popular victory. It was a battle for those that liked battles; it was philanthropy for those that liked philanthropy. There was some grumbling at the expense, but it was agreed that 'never was so daring and desperate an attack undertaken by shipping.' 'Thus nobly,' The Times concluded, 'has Great Britain replied to the insinuation of selfishness in her policy, and of interestedness in her views.'
The battle was instrumental in adding much to English literature. The ballads and verses written to celebrate it were remarkably numerous. A sailor of the Superb sang of 'how we fought like any lions bold to set the Christians free.' The Leander, to which ship Exmouth sent a message of thanks in the middle of the action, shared the flagship's honours. A bard on board the Leander strained the resources of the English tongue in requiring twenty-five different words to rhyme with 'Algiers.'
The Queen Charlotte with bold Lord Red
The foremost ship appears
- so begins the thirteenth verse; and the ballad ends
Wilberforce' s goodly tongue
Afric from bondage clears
And Exmouth has redress'd each wrong
Of Christians at Algiers.
Other, and more ambitious efforts ignored rhyme altogether.
Hark ! how the thunders awe-diffusing voice
Loudly rebellows from the arched air . . . .
Exmouth ! disarmer of the pirate bands
With force Promethean snatch'd the weak away.
The following, written by the author of 'My heart is devoted,' may be sung to the tune of 'Hearts of Oak' :
Amid the dread conflict which Exmouth sustain'd
When o'er the Barbarians a vict'ry he gain'd
Humanity wept at the carnage awhile
Then sweetly bestow'd on her Champion a smile !
(Chorus, in which all may join)
And when on the Foe the loud thunder was hurl'd
His hopes quickly vanish'd
His chains were all banish'd
For, Britain gives Freedom and Peace to the World !
Some reference is contained in the following poem to an attempt of the French Press to ridicule the expedition,
Hark ! again the whole ocean resounds,
While the vengeance of Britain descends !
It is Nelson in battle confounds !
It is Nelson, himself, that contends !
It is Nelson, I know, by the French,
Who are trembling at what he has done;
Who with all their cold water wou'd quench
The renown of Britannia and Son.
Those who fought at Algiers were rewarded on a generous scale. There were more promotions than after Trafalgar. Exmouth arrived in London on October 9th, and honours began to shower upon him at once. He was made a viscount. The heralds fell on his coat of arms again. The officers who fought under him presented him with a silver-gilt trophy of surprising dimensions. He received the thanks of Parliament. Freedoms of cities, honorary degrees, and presentation swords may be left to the imagination. When all was over, he and Lady Exmouth went to recuperate by drinking the waters at Cheltenham. Apart from three years as port-admiral at Plymouth, he never served again.
Any discussion of Exmouth's professional character must begin with a quotation from the Life of Sir Edward Codrington, the Victor of Navarino.
In a conversation with an old friend (on 5th December 1835), Sir Edward Codrington was describing the personal agility of Lord Exmouth, who, when a captain would defy any man in his ship to a race to he mast-head and down again, giving him to the main top. He went on to say that he was remarkable for that gift of ready resource and wonderful personal activity 'which we look for in what we call a good seaman;' but he was not born to command a fleet. Lord Nelson; on the contrary, was no seaman; even in the earlier stages of the profession his (471) genius soared higher, and all his energies were turned to becoming a great commander. He had probably been always occupied in planning manoeuvres and modes of attack with a fleet - while it is equally probable that at the time Lord Exmouth was appointed to a command, the subject of the management of a fleet had never engaged his attention. Lord Exmouth was not liked by his fleet, and Lord Nelson was adored by his; he never met with a distressed sailor without assisting him with his purse, or attention, or advice; nor did he ever neglect to encourage merit; he was easy. of access, and his manner was particularly agreeable and kind. No man was ever afraid of displeasing him, but everybody was afraid of not Pleasing him.
In this comparison between Nelson and Exmouth, Codrington seems to miss the reason for Exmouth's inferiority. He is almost certainly right in saying that Exmouth never gave a thought to tactical problems until he came to command a fleet. There is, for that matter, no record of his ever having pondered over them after he came to command a fleet. He was not given to propounding theories. One cannot conceive him explaining his tactical views. On the other hand, he was clearly a skilful tactician.
The planning of the bombardment of Algiers was not inferior to the planning of the bombardment of Copenhagen. Croker, who called Exmouth 'the greatest Sea Officer of his time ' was very near the truth. But where Codrington's criticism is just is in his reference to Exmouth's lack of popularity. Nelson was liked and Exmouth was not. And a study of war may tend to show that popularity matters more than tactics. Nelson was less remarkable as a tactician than as a man for whom men would die.
A great captain must be either loved or feared. Men would perform miracles in the hope of pleasing Nelson. They would do their duty from fear of displeasing St. Vincent. Exmouth was loved by few, and in later life was not greatly feared by any. It was his misfortune to combine the highest abilities with an inability to gain the devotion of men. He thus came to rely on himself. As a captain, he was his own lieutenant, and often his own boatswain and carpenter as well. Too often, he did himself what he should have left to others. While he commanded a ship, no harm came of this. Once given a fleet, the habit proved fatal.
Here is Salamé's description of Exmouth during the battle of Algiers. (472)
I cannot, indeed, express in any terms my admiration of the judgment and activity which I remarked in his Lordship; for, although in my travels I have seen and served several persons in the diplomatic line, as well as officers, I never saw any body so active and attentive to every point; - moreover, my astonishment was increased, to see his Lordship, who is about sixty-five years old, and of a stout body, during the battle, with a round hat on his head, a telescope in his hand, and a white handkerchief round his body; running from one place to another, directing all the people, as actively as any young man on board.
Salamé thought Exmouth five years older than he was, but his admiration was not misplaced. Energy is a useful virtue at any age. What Salamé did not realize, however, was that 'directing all the people' and 'being attentive to every point' is no part of an admiral's business. What Exmouth did 'as actively as any young man,' he might well have left to a young man to do. There is no reason to suppose that any harm came of Exmouth being absent from the poop. But absent he was. He must have been as far from his post as the lower gun-deck, or Salamé, who was stationed there, would not have seen him. One wonders what Captain Brisbane had to do while the admiral was fighting his ship for him. To the end, it is clear, Exmouth never learnt how to entrust work to others. When, therefore, he had to rely on others, they often failed him.
With Exmouth's life after his retirement this work has nothing to do. He lived on indignantly into an age of sedition and reform and all manner of evil, outliving his generation and despising the ways of younger men. He attended the House of Lords with regularity, content to support Lord Sidmouth in any cause and trusting the Duke of Wellington in all things saving the Catholic question - on which his views were strong. He received a final honour in being made Vice-Admiral of England. And then, on January 23rd, 1833, to all temporal honours and to all his battles, there came at last an end. The mortal part of him was laid in a church he had hardly known, near that country house in which he had never lived. The booming of the guns at Plymouth marked the passing of a great captain.