1780 - John MacDonald – Eliott’s Butler
Colonel Mackenzie and Andrew Cairncross - Donald Ross and Brigadier-General Ross
Captain Curtis and General Eliott – General O’Hara and Major Hardy
General Eliott and Colonel Rigby
Quite a few people who took part in the Great Siege of Gibraltar also took the trouble to write about their experiences – John Drinkwater with his celebrated History (see LINK), John Spilsbury with his Journal (see LINK) and Samuel Ancell (see LINK) with his “Circumstantial” account to name a few. The Autobiographical Journal of John MacDonald was written by yet another military man who was also there on the day. He introduces himself as follows at the start of his autobiography.
I was born in the parish of Craignish, in the shire of Argyle, North Britain. My predecessors for some years back were gardeners to a very ancient family of the names of Campbell, whose seat gave name to the parish . . . My father had ten children and of whom I was the youngest.
The author then continued with a very short history of his first years in Scotland and his joining of the 73rd Regiment of Foot. The autobiography should, of course, be read in its entirety but my real interest is on the sections that deal with his experiences as a regimental Highland piper who took part in the Great Siege of Gibraltar.
A sombre looking north face of the Rock from the Neutral Ground ( From the book )
Setting Sail for Gibraltar - We sailed from Plymouth Sound under convoy of six sail of the line and two frigates, and joined the grand fleet under the command of Admiral Sir George Bridges Rodney off the Ram-head that same evening. The fleet was really a very pretty sight, consisting of about twenty-four sail of the line, nine frigates, with a considerable number of armed ships, store ships, and a great many merchantmen, to the amount of one hundred and fifty.Then after a series of successful skirmishes and fully fledged encounters against Spanish opposition . . .
. . we . . .arrived in the Bay of Gibraltar on the 23rd of January 1780, having been for some days driven by contrary winds behind the Rock as far as Tetuan
Admiral Rodney’s fleet anchored in the Bay ( Dominic Serres )
Arrival at Gibraltar - The First Relief On the 29th January 1780 the 73rd Regiment landed at the New Mole (see LINK) and were marched to Irishtown, a part of the town of Gibraltar so called. The inhabitants for the most part having never seen a Highland regiment were very much surprised at our dress, and more so at the bagpipes. At this time all the necessaries of life were sold at an exorbitant price, and several poor families were upon the brink of perishing before we came, but were soon relieved by the supplies brought by the fleet. (See LINK)
Soon after our arrival at Gibraltar Colonel Mackenzie thought proper to send me to the hospital to take care of the sick, under the direction of Mr Andrew Cairncross, head surgeon of the regiment, an able surgeon and a humane gentleman, with whom I continued during the time the regiment stayed at Gibraltar.
It is quite possible that Macdonald and Cairncross worked in the old Naval Hospital. It had been built in the south in the early 19th century and was presumed to be a relatively safe place as it was a good distance from the enemy lines. Unfortunately by the time of the Great Siege the presumption proved wrong. Enemy shells and cannon balls often managed to reach the hospital and according the Drinkwater quite a few people in it were either killed or injured.
The Naval Hospital in the late 19th century and as planned by James Montressor (See LINK)
In his compendium – Medical Commentaries for the year 1781 – which was published in 1785, Andrew Cairncross includes a lengthy description of an impressive surgery on a soldier named Donald Ross who was badly injured after a heavy cannonade by the enemy while on night duty in the Kings Lines in Gibraltar. As Cairncross explains in the title of the corresponding chapter:
A curious Case of a very remarkable and surprising Recovery in a Private Soldier of the second Battalion, 73rd Regiment, serving in Gibraltar, 1781,- attended with a Fracture of the Cranium, requiring the Trephine, - a compound Fracture of the lower Extremity, requiring amputation, and several other wounds.
According to Drinkwater, Ross ended up with a pension of one shilling a day for life although Thomas Nelson in his Gibraltar and its Sieges reduces the figure to a less generous “ninepence a day”. The Siege incidentally was already nearly six month old by the time MacDonald arrived.
The change of climate and likewise of diet had such an effect upon our men that a great many of them fell sick of the flux, of which numbers died. From the beginning of the month of March to the end of June, we never had fewer than one hundred or hundred and twenty or thirty men sick in the regimental hospital.
Nothing material happened in the garrison till the 7th of June 1780, when the enemy sent nine fire-ships under full sail from Algeziras, about one o’clock in the morning, with the intent of burning our shipping and navy stores, there being in the New Mole at that time over twenty vessels. But by the vigilance of the "Enterprize" frigate and a few more armed vessels lying in the New Mole, they were all towed round and no harm sustained.
The wood of the remaining parts of these nine ships proved a good supply, as we were scarce of fuel at the time. We expected a bombardment by land at the same time if their scheme had taken effect, for Barceló, the Spanish admiral, had his squadron under sail to intercept our shipping in case any of them should be under the necessity of quitting their anchors and going to sea; but contrary to his expectations all the attempts proved fruitless, which he had the mortification to behold next morning upon his return to Algeziras.
Macdonald does not mention Antoni Barceló, again in his narrative. He should have. The Spanish admiral, who was probably past retirement age by now, caused endless problems to the British. It has been suggested that had he been given more support by his superiors the outcome of the Great Siege might have been different.
Si el rey de España tuviera
cuatro como Barceló,
Gibraltar fuera de España
que de los ingleses no.
Antoni Barceló as a young man of twenty-one battling against two Algerian galleys in 1738 (1902 – Ángel Cortellini y Sanchez )
In the beginning of October 1780, the enemy began to break new ground in front of their new lines, and carried on a line of communication between the old lines and their intended new trenches, which line and trenches they completed in spite of all the annoyance we gave them, although with considerable loss. The enemy continued to work on the isthmus erecting batteries, notwithstanding our fire on their working parties, who were often dispersed by our shells from Willis’ and other batteries up the heights.
Spanish forces “breaking new ground in front of the new lines” which are labelled la Linea – 2 is probably Willis’ Battery – Among other things the engraving claims that one million seven hundred thousand bags of earth were used in the new fortifications ( Unknown )
At that time the garrison was very much distressed for want of provisions; the troops were all put on short allowance, and were paid the deficiency in money. The poor inhabitants were in a much worse situation, having no other prospect than starvation before them unless the place should be speedily relieved.
Second Relief - On the 12th of April 1781 the long expected English fleet made its appearance in the Gut very early in the morning, and as they came round Cabrita point the enemy’s gunboats attacked some of the ships that sailed close to the Spanish shores, but were soon obliged to retreat under shelter of their batteries.
But no sooner had the first ship cast anchor in the bay than the Spanish opened all their batteries, firing with all the fury imaginable both on the fleet and on the town – the latter they soon set on fire with their bombshells, some of which fell into the inhabitants’ houses killing and wounding diverse, others they threw as far as south shed-guard, and a great many fell harmless among the shipping. The inhabitants fled from the town to the south in the utmost confusion, exhibiting a most shocking scene of misery, while the soldiery were for the most part plunged in the deepest excess of riot, drunkenness, and plunder, notwithstanding the utmost exertions of the officers.
The inhabitants were furnished with tents and formed a sort of camp near Blacktown, where they afterwards built themselves huts with the wood the ruins of the houses in town afforded. The troops then in town, viz., the 12th, 39th, 56th, and 72nd, together with three Hanoverian regiments, viz., Hardenburgh’s, Reden’s, and La Motte’s, were ordered to the south, except the 72nd, which was quartered in the King’s Bastion bomb-proofs. All the rest were encamped on the face of the hill, all along from the end of the south barracks to Europa Gate.
Blacktown, Black Town, Hardy Town or New Jerusalem, was a temporary civilian settlement established near the south end of the Gibraltar during the Great Siege. Conditions in this camp eventually became so intolerable that Major Hardy - a British quartermaster - was put in charge of the place - hence Hardy Town. It has been suggested that the fourth alternative name refers to the large number of Jewish residents who were among those who took refuge there. The Garrison troops called it "the Cowards Retreat" or "the Female Camp".
These last derogatory descriptive names were perhaps unjustifiable. It was not just the local civilians who lived in the “town” – a large proportion of the soldiers and officers did so too. Enemy bombardment made the town – which was in the northern part of the Rock - indiscriminately uninhabitable.
New Jerusalem ( 1779 - John Spilsbury )
The south and Hardy Town ( 1799 - Barbie du Bocage – Detail )
In the month of September 1781 the enemy began to fire from a battery advanced a great way in front of their old lines, which annoyed us very much, for they threw some of their shells as far as the Navy hospital and our camp. This battery was named the Mill battery.
The Sortie - The governor, having received some intelligence of the number of troops kept in this battery by some deserters, thought a sally was practicable. Accordingly, on the evening of the 26th November, an order was issued for all the wine-houses to be shut up, and all the troops to repair to their different quarters, where they were to remain till further orders.
The 12th regiment and Hardenburgh’s, with all the flank companies of the other regiments, were ordered to parade on the Red Sands together with a detachment of the artillery, another of the artificers, and about one hundred and fifty seamen. At twelve o’clock at night they all sallied out through Landport, under the command of Brigadier-General Ross and no sooner had they passed Lower Forbes than the Spanish patrols fired on them, but not minding them they advanced very quietly.
The patrols, however, alarmed the Mill battery; and they, thinking that the whole troops of the garrison had sallied out, left their posts in great confusion, while those that remained were all killed or taken prisoner. (See LINK)
Brigadier-General Ross commanded the 72nd regiment, otherwise known as the Manchester Volunteers. This was also John Drinkwater’s regiment
The artificers, being provided with materials and combustibles for setting the battery on fire, soon had it in flames while the artillery were busied spiking up ten mortars and eighteen pieces of cannon. The officer who had the keys of the magazines was taken prisoner and obliged to deliver them, and then the magazines were instantly blown up. Thus the great works which cost the Spaniards so much labour and expense, taking eighteen months to complete, were all totally destroyed in about an hour.
This being done, the troops returned to garrison in perfect order and without interruption, with the loss of only four men killed, and one officer, two sergeants, and twenty-two rank and file wounded, and one missing.
Two officers and ten men were taken prisoner, but one of the officers having lost a leg died of his wounds on the 29th December following. It was computed that the Mill battery stood the enemy upwards of twelve million dollars. The detachment that stormed and burned the above battery consisted of 1 colonel, 3 lieutenant-colonels, 3 majors, 26 captains, 65 lieutenants, 14 ensigns, 2 surgeon’s mates, 144 sergeants, 3 drummers, and upwards of 2,000 rank and file.
On the 11th June 1782, a shell from the enemy fell into St Ann’s battery, broke through a splinter-proof that covered a magazine door, burst open and blew up the magazine, killing fourteen and wounding seventeen men.
The Mill Battery was a shorthand name for a complex series of fortifications more of less midway between the Spanish Lines and the North Front of the Rock - was so called because they were constructed around an ancient windmill. (See LINK) Over the years the monetary cost of the loss of these forts to the Spaniards has gradually increase. MacDonald’s estimate is preposterously high and almost certainly incorrect.
The Sortie - and its military and psychological importance in the context of the Great Siege - has been dealt with both critically and more fully elsewhere. (See LINK) The twelve million dollars given by MacDonald is somewhat less that the thirteen million insisted upon by John Drinkwater in his definitive History of the Siege. It still adds up to the equivalent of about 4 billion US dollars and is equally unbelievable. The casualties are very similar to those given by both Drinkwater and Captain John Spilsbury in his journal of the Siege.
The Floating Batteries - We had different accounts by deserters that the enemy were preparing ten large battering ships that were to be proof against shot and shell; these battering ships were intended to make a breach in the wall and then the enemy were to storm us. Accordingly, on the 13th September 1782, they brought these ships to their moorings about half-past nine o’clock in the morning, when a dreadful cannonading commenced from the land battering ships, which they kept up very briskly till four in the afternoon when we could observe them in confusion, on account of their ships taking fire from our red-hot balls.
When first we began to fire at them our shot and shell rebounded from their sides and had not the least effect, but having heated our shot in large stoves prepared for that purpose, and taking a good aim, our artillery sent their red-hot balls into their port holes, which having lodged in the opposite side by degrees set them on fire.
They still kept up incessant fire until eight at night, when they slackened greatly, and at ten ceased firing entirely, their ships being all on fire notwithstanding they had engines to quench it; but all their schemes proving abortive, they made several signals for assistance to their fleet, which lay at anchor at Algeziras.
One man's version of the "Floating Batteries" fiasco ( 1782 - Georg Balthasar Probst )
When about midnight boats came from the fleet to carry away these poor wretches, the garrison fired grape among them which must have done great damage; but two large boats full of men were picked up, and some on rafts and broken pieces of timber. Very early in the morning of the 14th Captain Curtis went with our twelve gunboats to save the poor wretches that were left to perish in the burning ships, and took on shore about four hundred including officers and men. Before noon they all blew up one after another, with such a terrible shock that several doors and windows were forced open and the whole bay was covered with wreckage.
Captain Roger Curtis rescuing the enemy in distress
On the 14th I was ordered to go with four men to bring a wounded man to the hospital from upper All’s Well. Soon after they took up the wounded man a shell was fired from the enemy which seemed to be directed to the place where we were, and in escaping from it I fell over a rock, which hurt my left side, thigh, and knee very considerably. I made shift, however, to get the wounded man to the hospital. He soon recovered and was discharged fit for duty, but my hurt was such that I never will get the better of it.
On the night of the 10th October 1782 the combined fleets of France and Spain lay at anchor at Algeziras, consisting of fifty sail of the line. The wind blew very hard and drove many of them from their moorings; some ran ashore on their own coast, other lost their masts, &c. Very early in the morning of the 11th we perceived a large ship displaying Spanish colours within a few yards of our walls, and after we had fired a few shots at her she struck.
Captain Curtis went immediately on board of her and had her moored as well as the weather would permit. The prisoners were instantly brought ashore, consisting of about six hundred and fifty men besides officers. The ship proved to be the "St Miguel" of seventy guns, and known now in the English navy by the name of the "Gibraltar."
The Third Relief - That very evening the English fleet under the command of Lord Howe appeared in the mouth of the Straits, but only a few light ships and some transports came to anchor – the rest stood to the eastward. Next day the combined fleet got under weigh (sic) and stood to the eastward likewise.
A great concourse of people of all ranks and denominations assembled on the different eminences expecting a general engagement, but the combined fleet declined it. The rest of our transports gave the enemy the slip and unloaded at the Rosia Bay; (see LINK) the 25th and 59th regiments were also landed to reinforce the garrison - as also some artificers and artillery, and drafts for the different regiments then in the garrison.
“Lord Howe appeared in the mouth of the Straights” - the third relief ( Dominic Serres )
On the 21st the British fleet, after completing what was their main design – I mean the relief of Gibraltar – repassed the mouth of the Straits with the combined fleet close behind. A running flight ensued off the Straits mouth, but no ships were taken or destroyed on either side. Nothing of note happened from that time to the 2nd of February 1783, when the firing from the enemy ceased, and the following day a final period was put to this long and tedious siege by a cessation of arms on both sides. And during the whole siege I met with no other hurt than what I have already mentioned on the 14th September 1782.
Being intimately acquainted with the clerks of the different regiments then in garrison, I procured from them a complete return of their different losses during the siege, which I have collected together as follows:
After the conclusion of the war the 73rd regiment was ordered to hold themselves in readiness to embark for Britain in order to be discharged, and about the beginning of June 1783 an order was issued from the Government for all such as chose to enlist out of the 72nd, 73rd, and 97th (being all to be disbanded) to enter into any regiment they liked best.
I being sensible that no provision had been made for me at home, and having then no otherwise but to continue in the army, agreed with the commanding officer of the 25th regiment to teach school in the regiment for three years. This agreement took place on the 24th June 1783, but I did not give up the charge of the hospital till the 6th of July following, which day the 72nd and 73rd regiments, embarked for Britain.The 25th was also known as the Scottish Borderers.
That evening I joined the 25th and soon after set up school, which I continued to carry on with good success, and was in every respect very well used by the officers and the regiment in general. On the 24th of January 1784 I got the payment of Major Edgar’s company (the sergeant that paid that company being discharged), and on the 13th February following the payment of the light infantry company, to which I myself did belong.
Discharge from the Army - Both these companies I paid until the 27th of February 1785, when I resigned the office in consequence of an order from the War Office to discharge all three years’ men who did not choose to enlist for life, and to reduce the regiments to two sergeants, three corporals, one drummer, and forty-two privates to each company.I being one of the number to be discharged as being unfit for service and a three years’ man too, left off keeping school in daily expectation of the governor’s order to be sent home, but time slipped away without a word of leaving the Rock.
At last, on the 12th of June, Colonel Rigby, commanding officer of the 25th regiment, thought proper to send me to take charge of the regimental hospital, which I continued to do till the 14th November following, at which time the reduction of the army took place in Gibraltar. I was then discharged, and recommended in consequence of the hurt I received on the 14th September already described.
Eliott’s Butler - Just at that time Sir George Augustus Eliott, Governor of Gibraltar, wanted a butler, the old man who served him formerly in that capacity being quite infirm and superannuate; and I being well recommended to the governor by his steward, with whom I was intimately acquainted, was immediately hired to come to the family as soon as I had passed the Board.
Eliott in heroic pose during the attack by the “land battering ships” ( Unknown )
On the 15th November 1785 all the discharged men were put on board the "Admiral Parker" and "Jane" transports, and sailing that same day for England landed at Portsmouth on the 7th December, after riding six days’ quarantine at Mother-Bank. After four days’ stay at Portsmouth, I set out for London, where I arrived on the 12th December. On the 22nd I passed the Board, and on the 6th of January 1786 I received my first pension.
Return to Gibraltar - Having settled my little business in London, I waited very impatiently for a ship for Gibraltar till the 6th of February, and that day went on board the "Mercury," Captain Stocker, which sailed down the River Thames and landed at Gibraltar on the 13th of March, after a tedious and dangerous passage of five weeks. Immediately after landing I was joyfully received by my friend, Mr Mackay the steward, and on the 17th March entered on the office of butler to General Eliott, in which station I continued during his lifetime.
A less than heroic looking Eliott post Great Siege
O’Hara - About the beginning of May 1787 General O’Hara arrived from England to take the command of the garrison of Gibraltar, General Eliott being then called home. The "Mercury," Captain Stocker, being then in the bay, was hired to take the governor and his family home; and having been fitted out for that purpose and everything got on board, General O’Hara took the command on the 29th May, while General Eliott embarked that same day at the New Mole, and setting sail immediately we were out of sight of Gibraltar in a few hours.
Major General-O’Hara’s role in the administration of Gibraltar (see LINK) is too complex to go into here. Suffice to say that he took over as military commander of the Garrison in 1787 and continued in this role until 1790 looking after the shop for Eliott spent for most of his last years as an absentee Governor. He was still in effect commander during the first two years of Sir Robert Boyd’s turn as Governor although he was officially made Lieutenant-Governor in 1782. When Boyd died the following year O’Hara – at last – was able to enjoy whatever fruits were available as the next Governor of the Rock
General Charles O'Hara ( Christopher Bryant )
When we got out to sea the general turned sea-sick and went below to his cabin, where he continued during the rest of the passage. We had a very pleasant passage, arriving at Spithead on the 17th of June and the day following came into Portsmouth harbour, where the general and his retinue landed and proceeded to London, I being ordered to go round with the ship and baggage to the River Thames.
Accordingly, on the 23rd June we sailed from Portsmouth, and on the 28th arrived at Horsley Down, but we landed none of the baggage until the 7th of July on account of the press of business at the Custom House. Having got all that baggage, &c., examined and passed at the Custom House, I was ordered to land, and then went to the general’s house at No. 21 Charles Street, Berkley Square (sic) . . . . .
Lord Heathfield - On the 6th July 1787 General Eliott was created Lord Heathfield, and took his seat in the House of Peers accordingly. I remained at my lord’s house in town until the 12th of August, and then was ordered to a country house he had taken at Brentford End, near Sion House, the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, about seven miles and half from Hyde Park Corner.
July 8th, 1788. – His lordship being in town was suddenly seized with a paralytic stroke which almost immediately deprived him of the use of his left side, from the top of his head to the sole of his foot. He was seized at the door of his town house, and being helped into his carriage ordered it to be driven to his country house immediately. He was for some days a little delirious, which soon subsided into a settled sickness. About the middle of September his lordship gave up the country house and lived constantly in his town house – which was then at No. 21 Great Marlborough Street – for the convenience of being nigh the physician who attended him.In the beginning of March 1789 his lordship began to get a little better and bought a large house with a garden and about twelve acres of pleasure grounds at Turnham Green, five miles from Hyde Park Corner. His lordship had a second paralytic stroke very soon after coming to this house, which brought him very low, but he soon recovered a little strength and seemed much inclined to go to Bath for the benefit of the waters. Accordingly, on the 24th of March we set off for Bath and stayed there for two months. . . .Having received some benefit by drinking the water and bathing at Bath, his lordship ordered things to be got in readiness for a trip to the Continent to try the efficacy of the waters at Aix-la-Chapelle in Germany. We set out for this place in the beginning of June 1789, and having landed at Calais in France we travelled through part of France, Flanders, and Brabant, and arrived at Aix-la-Chapelle about the 12th of June.
Soon after he took a country house at a place called Kalkhofen about a mile from the town to have the purer air. And from this place his lordship came very morning to town to bathe and drink the water. We stayed there until October and then returned to his lordship’s house at Turnham Green, where we spent the winter at home.
In the latter end of April 1790 his lordship applied to his Majesty for leave to go to Gibraltar to take the command of the garrison, which was granted to him infirm though he was, for he had often expressed a great desire to end his days in the place where he had gained such immortal honour and universal applause.
The Rock of Gibraltar ( Early 19th century - - William Ashford )
The Death of General Eliott - We left England with an intention of going to Gibraltar over land and arrived at Aix-la-Chapelle about the 12th of May. Here his lordship attended the baths and water as before until the 5th July, but that day he felt unwell and towards the evening grew worse. About ten o’clock at night he was seized with a third paralytic stroke attended with strong convulsion, and was at once deprived of speech and motion, in which state he continued until one o’clock the following afternoon, when he expired, 6th July 1790.
His lordship’s body was embalmed a few days after his death and conveyed to England, when it was laid in a vault made on purpose in Heathfield Church in Sussex, [Although buried in England Lord Heathfield was a native of the south of Scotland, and of the Border Elliots.] on the 2nd September 1790, in the seventy-second year of his age. After the death of Lord Heathfield, his son, the present lord, discharged all his father’s servants, I among the rest.