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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 7


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It was not in America or in the West Indies alone that France, and Spain, and Holland were, by combined and gigantic efforts, endeavouring to pull down Great Britain, and for ever crush her proud and envied power. Besides the transactions that we have narrated, La Perouse, the unfortunate French officer who afterwards left his bones on the desert coast of the New Hebrides, revisited and destroyed the defenceless trading stations of the Hudson's Bay Company. The Spaniards took the Bahama Isles, soon again to lose them, and we, on our part, captured the Spanish settlements on the Mosquito shore. These, however, were small matters; this stupendous war was waging round the whole globe. Every Dutch settlement on the African coast, except the Cape of Good Hope, had fallen into our hands. Still more did we punish the French and Dutch in the East Indies, where they had also, at enormous cost, attacked our power, and both these nations were now contemplating, in astonishment and dismay, the triumphs of the people whom they had so fondly hoped to reduce to utter insignificance. We shall immediately come to the great details of our Indian campaigns, but we must now narrate one of the most extraordinary, as it was one of the last, transactions of the war, which, more than almost any other, convinced the numerous enemies of this country that England had still in her ages of inextinguishable valour.

The tide of our maritime success appeared running adversely during the summer of 1782. The prizes of Rodney, including the great Ville de Paris, on their way home were assailed with a violent tempest, and went down, so that the English people had not the gratification of seeing the greatest ship in the world, which had been captured by Rodney. Besides the Ville de Paris, the Glorieux, the Centaur, the Hector, and an English ship, the Ramifies, all went down. The Dutch were encouraged to attempt coming out of the Texel, and waylaying our Baltic merchant fleet, but lord Howe, with twelve sail-of-the-line, was sent after them, and they quickly ran back into the Texel. His lordship remained there blockading them till the 28th of June, when he was compelled to leave his post and sail westward, with twenty-one ships-of-the-line and some frigates, to watch the great combined fleet of France and Spain, which had issued from Cadiz. On his cruise he had under him vice-admiral Barrington and rear-admiral Kempenfelt. The great combined fleet - thirty-six sail-of- the-line, besides frigates - kept aloof, and allowed him safely to convoy home the Jamaica merchant fleet, guarded by Sir Peter Parker.

No sooner did Howe return to port than he had orders to sail in aid of Gibraltar, which was not only greatly in need of stores and provisions, but was menaced by the combined armies and fleets of France and Spain with one great and overwhelming attack. The evil fortune of England did not yet, however, seem to have disappeared. The Royal George, the finest vessel in the British service, carrying one hundred and eight guns, was the flag-ship of Kempenfelt, as it had been of lord Hawke in his celebrated action on the coast of Brittany, and of several others of our admirals. This magnificent ship on its return, lying off Portsmouth, was crowded not only with its own crew, but with numbers of other people who had gone on board, including three hundred women and many children. On the 29th of

August the carpenters were busy caulking a seam, previous to her going out again on the voyage to Gibraltar. The ship was therefore laid somewhat on her side, but not so much as to inconvenience any one. The admiral and his officers remained on board. The brave Kempenfelt was writing in his cabin, the bulk of the people were between decks, when a sudden squall plunged the open gun-ports under water on the lowered side, and as, it is said, the guns, in the process of cleaning the ship, being unlashed, ran all to that side, the great vessel went down in a moment, with all in her. The admiral, officers, all who were between decks, perished, as did also, it is supposed, upwards of one thousand persons in number. A victualler lying alongside was swallowed up in the whirlpool occasioned by the sinking of so vast a body. All in and about her perished, except about three hundred men, chiefly sailors, who escaped by swimming, or were taken up by boats.

But this awful catastrophe did not hinder the sailing of lord Howe. He had by great exertion mustered a fleet of thirty-four sail-of-the-line, and on the 11th of September steered out for Gibraltar. For upwards of three years this famous rock had now been beleaguered. In the summer of 1779 the Spaniards had sate down before the place at San Roque with a powerful camp, and had sent out a fleet to cut off all supplies. We have seen how the place had been stoutly defended by the gallant old general George Augustus Elliot, an officer who had learned originally the art of war at La Fere, in France, but had completed his military experience in Germany, had fought at Dettingen under George II., and afterwards in Germany under the duke of Cumberland and prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. We have also seen the united efforts of the Spaniards and French - both by sea and land - to take it, and the successful endeavours of Rodney, Digby, and Darby to throw) supplies at successive periods. To such distress was this undaunted garrison sometimes reduced that the price of a pound of the mouldy crumbs of biscuit was one shilling, and such luxuries as geese one pound ten shillings each - turkeys two pounds eight shillings each. The consequent ravages of scurvy and other disease were dreadful. After the relief thrown in by admiral Darby, the Spaniards, despairing of reducing the garrison by blockade, determined to destroy the town and works by a terrific bombardment. This bombardment was, accordingly, opened with unexampled fury, and continued incessantly for days and weeks. The town was set on fire, and numbers of houses consumed; the damage done to the ramparts and public buildings was appalling. Vast masses of rock, loosened by the balls and shells, came toppling down on the houses, and thus were laid open many magazines of provisions, secreted by base traders, to be dealt out at famine prices in the moments of deepest distress. The soldiers and inhabitants, enraged at the discovery, seized the goods and appropriated them; others drank freely of the discovered stores of wine and spirits, and in their intoxication committed other excesses. Captain Drinkwater, in his able history of the siege, describes many singular features of this wild extravagance; such as seeing a party of soldiers roasting a pig at a fire of cinnamon!

General Elliot displayed the utmost temper and skill through this bombardment, as he did through the whole siege. He continued by night, and at all other opportunities, to repair actively the damages done; and, reserving his fire for occasions when he saw a chance of doing particular damage, he caused the enemy to wonder at the little impression that they made.

But, in the autumn of 1781, they resolved on a renewed attack of the most vigorous kind. Elliot received information of this, and determined to anticipate the plan. At midnight of the 26th of November he ordered out all his grenadiers and light infantry, including the two veteran regiments with which he had seen service in Germany so many years ago, the 12th, and the regiment of general Hardenberg. These amounted to about two thousand men, under the command of brigadier-general Ross. Three hundred sailors volunteered to accompany them, and the brave old general himself could not stay behind. The detachment marched silently through the soft sand, and entered the fourth line almost before the Spanish sentinel was aware of them. In a very few minutes the enemy was in full flight towards the village of Campo, and the English set to work, under direction of the engineer officers, to destroy the works which had cost the Spaniards such enormous labour to erect. They spiked the cannon, dug mines, and blew the fourth line, with all its bastions and magazines of gunpowder, into the air. They then marched back in perfect order into their own defences, having lost not a single musket, spade, or tool of any kind. There were only four men killed, twenty-six wounded, and one missing. In the quarters of one of the officers a report was found drawn up, to be dispatched to the general the next morning, saying, " nothing particular had occurred." The news that morning was rather different; and the Spaniards for several days appeared so stupefied that they allowed their works to burn without any attempt to check the fire. In the following month of December, however, they slowly resumed their bombardment. It was not till the spring of the present year, 1782, that the Spaniards were cheered by the news that the duke of Crillon was on his way to join them with the army which had conquered Minorca.

In April, De Crillon arrived, and was followed by the Spanish and French troops from Minorca. From eighteen to twenty thousand men were added to the army already encamped before the place, and the most able engineers were engaged from almost all countries of Europe, at extravagant salaries, and great rewards were offered for inventions which might demolish the formidable works of the English on the rock. Nearly forty thousand troops were now congregated against the old fortress, and vast numbers of French princes and Spanish nobles flocked to St. Roque to witness the anticipated triumph over Gibraltar, as over Fort St. Philip in Minorca. One hundred and seventy pieces of heavy artillery were directed against it, and immense stores of ammunition were accumulated for this final and triumphant achievement. On the other hand, general Elliot had now repaired and strengthened his defences more than ever. His garrison was augmented to seven thousand men, including a marine brigade; eighty pieces of cannon frowned from the walls, and the bulk of his men were of the best and most seasoned kind. At this conjuncture, the Corsican general, Paoli, with sixty volunteers, joined the garrison, and two princes of the blood, the comte D'Artois and the due de Bourbon, were, on the other hand, with the French troops.

The coming encounter fixed the attention of all Europe, and at length roared forth such an inferno of fire, and balls, and shells against the fortress, that its continued resistance appeared impossible. Charles III., the king of Spain, a man whom nothing had ever appeared capable of rousing into anything like life and interest, was now so much excited that he asked every morning, "Is it taken? " and, on being answered in the negative, always added, "Well, but it soon must be."

The French prince and general displayed the same high courtesy towards their brave antagonists as they had done in America. The duke de Crillon sent to general Elliot a plentiful supply of fruit, vegetables, and game for his own table, and promised that if he would let him know what he liked best he would continue to furnish them. The general replied with equal expressions of politeness and obligation, but assured the duke that it was a point of honour with him to indulge himself in nothing better than his soldiers could get, and therefore entreated him to send no more. The comte D'Artois al-so sent in by the same opportunity a packet of letters, which had been seized by the Spaniards, written by the wives and relatives of the officers and soldiers. He had got them from the king of Spain, who intended no such civility.

De Crillon, seeing that his bombardment from shore produced little effect, determined to make the attack also from the sea. Amongst the multiplicity of inventions which the offered rewards had produced, the chevalier D'Arcon, a French engineer, had produced a scheme which excited the most confident expectations. The plan was to construct ten monster floating batteries of such capacity that they should carry the heaviest artillery, and so made and defended that they could be neither sunk nor burnt. The neighbouring fort of Algesiras was already in an unprecedented bustle in the construction of these engines, under the direction of the chevalier D'Arcon himself. Loud was the clangour of hammer and saw, and, as the secret could not be long preserved, equally busy was the garrison within, preparing furnaces, and laying ready huge piles of balls, to be discharged red-hot at these machines as soon as they arrived. 'The idea of the hot balls was said to be that of the lieutenant-governor Boyd, which had been at once eagerly adopted by general Elliot; the soldiers luxuriating in the expected effect of what they named "the hot potatoes."

To constitute the intended batteries, ten large ships of from six hundred to one thousand four hundred tons burthen were cut down, and made bomb-proof on the top. They were to be prevented sinking by the enormous thickness of the timber in their bottoms, and their sides, which were to be six or seven feet thick, bolted, and covered with raw hides. They were to be rendered more buoyant by thicknesses of cork, and the interstices were to be filled with wet sand to prevent combustion. There were to be plentiful supplies, by means of pumps, pipes, and cisterns, of water, everywhere, to put out fire, for they seem to have been aware of the burning balls preparing for them. To defend the assailants on these batteries, they were furnished with hanging roofs, constructed of strong rope netting covered with thick layers of wet hides, and these so sloping that it was calculated that the balls and shells would glance off into the water. Two hundred thousand feet of timber were consumed in the construction of these invincible batteries, and the whole country round was drained of hides of horses and cattle for their covering. They were then supplied with brass cannon, so managed that a whole broadside could be fired at once.

As a rumour of the approaching visit of lord Howe had reached the Spanish camp, all was in haste to anticipate his arrival, and take the great fortress before he could succour it. Accordingly the great united fleet of Spain and France, which so lately had paraded in the British Channel, sailed into Algesiras Bay, and on the 13th of September the great floating batteries were hauled out by a number of the ships, and anchored at regular distances, within six hundred yards of the English works. There they were supported by forty gun-boats, with long guns; forty bomb-boats, mounted with twelve-inch mortars; five large bomb- ketches, and an immense raft, also mounted as a battery. There were also a dozen of frigates and lesser vessels acting as tenders, and three hundred row-boats busy supplying them with ammunition.

Whilst this extraordinary armada was approaching and arranging, the most tremendous fire was kept up from the land, with three hundred long guns and mortars, to divert the attention of the garrison; but old general Elliot was ready with his red-hot balls, and, the moment the floating batteries came within gunshot distance, he poured into them a most destructive fire-hail. The Spaniards, notwithstanding, placed and secured their monster machines in a very short time, and then four hundred cannon from land and sea played on the old rock simultaneously and incessantly. The spectacle at this moment, perhaps, never was exceeded in intense interest and sublimity. There was not a summit or slope of the Spanish hills all round, including those of Algesiras and Cabareta Point, but was thronged with spectators. For some time, the hot balls appeared to do no damage. The timbers, being of green wood, closed up after the balls, and so prevented their immediate ignition. In other cases, where smoke appeared, the water-engines dashed in deluges, and extinguished the nascent fire. But anon the fire from the batteries began to slacken; it was discovered that the balls - which had many of them pierced into the timbers three feet deep - were doing their work. The floating battery, commanded by the prince of Nassau, on board of which was also the engineer, D'Arcon, himself, was found smoking on the side of the garrison, at two o'clock in the day. No water could reach the seat of the mischief, and by seven o'clock it had become so extensive as to cause the firing to cease, and to turn the thoughts of all to endeavours for escape. Rockets were thrown up as signals for the vessels to come up and take off the crews. But this was found impracticable. The garrison actually rained deluges of fire, and all approach to the monster machines was cut off. No vessel could approach, except at the penalty of instant destruction. For four more hours, the vaunted floating batteries remained exposed to the pitiless pelting of the garrison. Before midnight, the Talla Piedra, the greatest of the monster machines, and the flag-ship, Pastora, at her side, were in full flame, and, by their light, the indefatigable Elliot could see, with the more precision, to point his guns. The flames of the burning batteries and the fiery sweep of the blazing balls illuminated the whole scene with a terribly sublime splendour. Seven of the ten floating machines were now on fire; the guns aboard them had entirely ceased, and those on land, as if struck with wonder and despair, ceased too. Then were heard the shrieks of the unfortunate crews on board the burning machines, and the English general, ceasing his fire, sent out captain Curtis, with his marine brigade of gun-boats, our only naval force there, to save the shrieking Spaniards. Before this could be accomplished, two of them blew up; but the English sailors dashed amongst the flaming wrecks, picking off their horrified enemies, or gathering them from floating fragments of timber to which they were clinging. At the utmost peril of their lives, they managed to bring off about two hundred and fifty of the sufferers, but not without considerable injury to themselves. Captain Curtis had an almost miraculous escape. One of the machines exploding when he was actually lifting men from it, involved him and his boatswain in the cloud of fire and smoke. General Elliot, who saw the occurrence, believed the whole boat's crew destroyed; but presently the pinnace emerged from the smoke, with the coxswain killed, several of her crew injured, but the captain alive. The bottom of the boat, however, was driven in by some of the falling timber, and the sailors only kept her afloat by stuffing their jackets into the hole. Thus vanished all the proud hopes built on the invention of the chevalier D'Arcon. That sanguine engineer was on board the Talla Piedra till the last moment. In the morning, he saw the whole of his leviathan machines destroyed, his one hundred and fifty fine brass cannon, with an immense amount of property beside, were all at the bottom of the sea; the whole scheme had vanished like a dream, and one thousand poor wretches had been killed, more than six hundred besides, were wounded or prisoners. In the first agony of his thoughts, he wrote to the French ambassador at Madrid: - "I have burnt the temple of Ephesus! Everything is gone, and through my fault. What comforts me under my calamity is, that the honour of the two kings remains untarnished."

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