Home » Uncategorized » “Your Lordship does not consider me as a Friend”: Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan, January 1810

“Your Lordship does not consider me as a Friend”: Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan, January 1810

One of the most infamous aspects of the Walcheren Campaign, apart of course from the spectacular scale of the sickness that swept through the British Army and helped hasten the campaign’s end, was the complete breakdown of working relations between the military and naval commanders. Walcheren had been designed as an amphibious, or “combined”, operation. Close cooperation between Lord Chatham, the military Commander of the Forces, and Sir Richard Strachan, the naval commander, was vital for success. The Secretary of State for War, Castlereagh, had sent Chatham off with the hope “that the utmost Spirit of Concert and Harmony will prevail … between the respective Services”.[1]

 

chathamturner

Lord Chatham, engraved by Charles Turner (1809)

This harmony was already in jeopardy before the expedition had even sailed, and on 27 July Chatham was already having to “assure” his worried cabinet colleagues “that I have had on all occasions the most unreserved and confidential intercourse with Sir Richard Strachan, who is a man I particularly like, and as far, as I can judge, I should say that we are upon ye most friendly and cordial footing possible”.[2] The troubled course of the campaign, during which military requirements and naval realities clashed repeatedly, did nothing to reconcile the two men. By the time the campaign was suspended on 27 August 1809, Chatham and Strachan were barely speaking.

Strachan and Chatham were polar opposites in terms of character. Much has been made of Strachan’s famed impulsiveness (he was known as “Mad Dick”) and Chatham’s notorious lethargy, and that didn’t help, but a lot of the problems between the two men stemmed to the difficulties they had in communicating. Chatham was tight-lipped and taciturn; he preferred not to put important things down on paper, and was most comfortable in a face-to-face situation. Strachan, to judge from his confused, repetitive letters, was simply incapable of getting his thoughts and ideas across in a coherent manner. The problem was the necessities of the campaign kept the two men separate, and Strachan was often very difficult to track down. Miscommunication gave rise to friction, and this eventually became outright dislike.

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Sir Richard Strachan (detail from “The Grand Duke of Middleburg”, caricature, 1809)

The last straw came on 27 August 1809, the day Chatham decided to suspend the campaign. Strachan wrote a letter to the Admiralty which he claimed should have remained private, but which was published (in extract) in the London Gazette on 3 September. In the letter he appeared to claim that he had urged not to suspend the campaign in the face of Chatham’s stubborn refusal to listen. The letter had an undeniable impact on public opinion in Britain, and from the moment Chatham heard about the existence of this letter, he and Strachan found themselves “in a state of Hostility”.[3]

This is why I was so surprised to find the following letter in the Chatham Papers at the National Archives. It was written by Andrew Snape Hamond, an old colleague and friend from Chatham’s days as First Lord of the Admiralty. On 26 January 1810 the Commons had voted to form a committee of the whole House to inquiry into the planning and conduct of the Walcheren Expedition. Both Chatham and Strachan were likely to come out badly from such an inquiry, and Strachan clearly made one last attempt to patch things up and make common cause, using Hamond as an intermediary.

769px-captain_sir_andrew_snape_hamond_-_m-_colnaghi-_1830

Sir Andrew Snape Hamond

Hamond’s letter to Chatham is as follows:

Fitzroy Square, Sunday

28th Jany. 1810

Dear Lord Chatham

I wish very much to see you, to communicate what has passed between Sir Richard Strachan & myself. In short he has an apprehension that your Lordship does not consider him as a Friend, but has authorized me to assure you that he is perfectly so, and that he will most readyly [sic] wait upon you whenever you send to him. He lives at Blakes Hotel Jermyn St.

Any time tomorrow that it might be convenient for your Lordship to see me, I will wait upon you, in the mean time I beg leave to assure that I ever am

Yr Lordship’s most faithful

& sincerely attached

Friend

A.S. Hammond [4]

The letter shows a great deal about Strachan’s character. He was clearly very brave, expressing himself ready to meet face to face with Chatham and make his explanations. He must also have been generous and open-hearted: few people would have made such a move under the same circumstances. But he was also obviously not the brightest spark, or he would have realised that the time for explanations were long past.

At any rate, he had completely misread Chatham’s own character. Chatham was stinging from the buffeting he had received over the last four months from the newspapers. A common theme of these newspaper articles was to compare Chatham’s attitude to the suspension of the Walcheren campaign with that of Strachan’s as put across in the 27 August extract. By the end of January 1810, Chatham was under no illusions: his reputation and career were at stake, and Strachan had been strongly instrumental in undermining him.

Chatham replied to Hamond:

Private: Hill Street, Jan. 28th 1810

My Dear Sir

I shall be extremely happy to see you to morrow, a little after twelve o’clock, if that hour is perfectly convenient to you. I shall be particularly glad to know what may have passed between you and Sir Richard Strachan, as I can not disguise from you, that I have certainly considered him (tho’ utterly at a loss to guess the reason) as very unfriendly to me. His publick letter from Batz [of 27 August 1809], which to this moment remains unexplained, and which, as you know, has been the foundation of all the clamour* raised against me in ye Country, as well as the language he has been reported to me to have held since is return has led me, to form this opinion. As to the latter part he may perhaps have been misrepresented and I shou’d have great pleasure in finding it so. You and I, as old Friends can talk this business over, but what I assure you  I am most anxious about is the apprehension that any difference on the present occasion between myself and the Admiral, may lead to any unpleasant feelings between [the] two Services, to both of which, you well know my sincere attachment.

Believe me

My Dear Sir

Always Most Truly Yours

Chatham [5]

*Chatham initially wrote “abuse”.

Chatham’s response to Hamond could not have been clearer had he written “No, sod off” across the page in three-inch-tall red letters. Chatham certainly never made any attempt to meet with Strachan, and the course of the inquiry — and Chatham’s attempts to defend himself — showed Strachan had been right to suspect the Earl did “not consider him as a Friend”.

References

[1] Lord Castlereagh to Chatham, 16 July 1809, PRONI D3030/3175

[2] Chatham to Lord Camden, 27 July 1809, Kent Heritage Centre U840 C86/5/1

[3] Sir Robert Brownrigg to Colonel J.W. Gordon, 8 September 1809, BL Add MSS 49505 f 69

[4] A.S. Hamond to Chatham, 28 January 1810, TNA PRO 30/8/367 f 1

[5] Chatham to A.S. Hamond, 28 January 1810, TNA PRO 30/8/364 f 16

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5 thoughts on ““Your Lordship does not consider me as a Friend”: Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan, January 1810

  1. Rings true to me. A particularly ticklish situation, nicely explained. Given the realities of what happened to the erstwhile ‘coup de main’ against Antwerp, the differences between the commanders of the navy and the army components of the expedition should not surprise us. Supporters of each service would probably have blamed the other for the failure of the operation, even without the unfortunate public release of Strachan’s take on the abandonment of the ultimate objectives, and Chatham’s report to the king. Civilians should not overlook the underlying, almost ubiquitous, lack of understanding of the other armed services by military and naval personnel. Today, of course, we can add the air force to the mix. Fortunately, 21st century armed forces seem to have overcome much of the inter-service misunderstanding and suspicion. They generally work well together, as their personnel have a better understanding of one another’s problems than in the past. Working with the other services on operations has become the ‘in’ thing for many armed services today. Unfortunately, back in 1809, the instructions issued to Chatham and Strachan, the army and the navy commanders, failed to emphasize the crucial importance of service co-operation. Carl A. Christie (PhD, University of Dundee, 1975; thesis: ‘The Walcheren Expedition of 1809’)

  2. Indeed. Although the need for such cooperation had been recognised, and repeatedly emphasised, before the expedition sailed. Nobody could agree on who had been the first to jeopardise that cooperation, though. 😉

  3. As I recall – but it has been a long time since I read them – neither the instructions to Chatham nor those to Strachan properly stressed the importance of co-operation and gave no indication of how it might be achieved. This was, unfortunately, not particularly unusual. Too many ‘conjunct expeditions’ – as this 1809 operation was tagged at the time – before and after seem to have been planned with no reference to any pool of knowledge, or lessons learned, about such complicated enterprises. Again, this is not unusual in military and naval history. Soldiers and sailors, their commanders and political masters, have had to learn the hard way the same lessons their predecessors learned the same way. In addition to combined operations, see, for example, the sad story of convoys, invariably eschewed at the start of a war, until those planning the naval strategy realize the need to gather transports together to help in their defence and thus lessen the loss of shipping.

  4. I’d say the “official” instructions were pretty vague, yes — Strachan’s slightly less so than Chatham’s. You may recall, though, that Chatham was given separate “unofficial” instructions by Castlereagh (well, he was *shown* them — as with a lot of the documents that later became crucial during the inquiry, for some reason he wasn’t allowed to keep them). I’m fairly sure there was something in there about the cooperation. Every single plan produced by Horseguards kept banging on about the fact the plan hinged on cooperation (usually in an “and that’s never going to work out” kind of way).

    But no, you’re right — nowhere did anyone explain how that cooperation might best be achieved.

    I shall have to reread Castlereagh’s memoranda for Chatham and check precise wording. It’s awkward because there are two versions — the ones at PRONI and the ones printed in the official proceedings — and they are markedly different in content. I’m not sure which ones Chatham saw. The PRONI ones are drafts, but the dates are different. Alas this was common for lots of the printed papers.

  5. Pingback: All Things History – Monthly Roundup for September – All Things Georgian

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