24 September 1835: Death of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

24 September is the anniversary of the death of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, subject of my book The Late Lord. I have already written a post about his death and funeral, but I wanted to mark the occasion again with a new post.

Chatham (or, as I have started referring to him on social media, “Johnboy”) was two weeks off his 79th birthday when he died. He’d become increasingly frail in his last years. Famously, his father (William Pitt the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham) had been felled by a stroke in the House of Lords in 1778; Johnboy went the same way, although rather less spectacularly. Like his father, he’d had a few warm-up events in recent years: one in 1831 nearly killed him (people started fighting over his sinecures, not realising he was not, in fact, dead yet). The effects of the stroke on his faculties can be most clearly seen from his handwriting, which went from confident to remarkably shaky in the space of a few months.

Lord Chatham’s writing before his stroke, 21 January 1831, Huntington Library Townshend MSS, TD288
Lord Chatham’s writing after his stroke, 1 January 1832, Huntington Library Townshend MSS TD287

I didn’t manage to find any specific details about his last illness, but a lot of it can be deduced from a letter written to one of Chatham’s two heirs (William Stanhope Taylor, his great-nephew) by John Henry, Duke of Rutland. Rutland was the son of one of Chatham’s closest friends (the 4th Duke of Rutland, who had died in 1787): he was also probably the closest thing Chatham had to a son of his own. It sounds as though William Stanhope Taylor had some trouble tracking Rutland down, as Rutland was writing on 2 October 1835, the day before Chatham’s funeral. I referred to the letter in The Late Lord, but wanted to quote it in full because it really is the closest thing to a family letter I could have found:

Sir

Your Letter to me is on a most painful & distressing Subject, but I cannot help acknowledging your attention in favouring me with it. My Acquaintance with poor Lord Chatham was of longer Standing than any of which I am in the Enjoyment, and I should have been of all men the most ungrateful, if I had not loved him most sincerely, for I do not believe he has left behind him one single Person, who surpassed him in Attachment to my Family & to myself.

Every detail which you give of the last Days of his valuable Life, is to me most interesting. I sat with Lord Chatham for a short time on the day before I left London, & though he then complained of being ill, yet I did not perceive any Change in him, to occasion any Alarm or uneasiness to his Friends. It is a Consolation to find that he did not suffer much during the few Days of his last Seizure. I regret that I had not known till to day, that the Funeral is to take place tomorrow; for I am prevented from the capability of making Arrangements to enable me, to shew by attendance at the last mournful Ceremony, the extent of my Respect & Affection towards my poor deceased Friend.

I am very much gratified by the Intelligence that the Remains of poor Lord Chatham are to be deposited with those of his Father and Brother.

I have the Honor to be

Sir

Your very Faithful Servant Rutland

John, 5th Duke of Rutland to William Stanhope Taylor, The National Archives PRO 30/70/6 f. 429

Thus ended a family connection between the Pitt and Manners families lasting about 60 years.

Who’s responsible for the fences? Back to Lord Chatham and Abington Hall

A few days ago I discovered that Cambridgeshire Archives had updated their catalogue, including a half-dozen letters from the 2nd Earl of Chatham I had not seen. As I’ve been a very good girl, I gave myself some time off from Popham to revisit Lord Chatham for an hour.

Lord Chatham’s seal on an 1816 letter (Cambridgeshire Archives)

It was a very good morning. Cambs Archives have moved since I last visited them, so this involved a train journey to Ely, which (as I’ve not been on a train in seven months) was far more exciting than it should have been. When I arrived at the archives my documents were already waiting for me.

The documents consisted mostly of correspondence with Thomas Mortlock, son of the man who founded what became Barclays Bank. Mortlock was Lord Chatham’s landlord. Lord Chatham rented Abington Hall, near Cambridge, from 1816 until he left for Gibraltar in 1821, although he seems not to have vacated the place completely until his return in 1825.

Abington Hall (photo by me)

For some of the period he was away, he sublet to William Wellesley Pole, Lord Maryborough, an old political contact and the Duke of Wellington’s brother. Abington was well known as prime hunting ground, and Maryborough seems to have enjoyed tormenting Lord Chatham about all the game he was missing out on while in Gibraltar:

We have commenced the Shooting Season with as good success as our Neighbours, and I have every reason to believe we are much better off for game this year than we were last Season. … To give you an idea of the quantity of Birds, I found in Mr Holt’s Pastures by the River and in the Field belonging to Mr Barlow bounded by the Lenford Road Nine Large Covies. … I have not yet been on Mr Lyell’s Farm but he says there are double the quantity than there were last year. … We have every appearance of its being a good year for Pheasants. I really think we have Four for every one we had last Season, and the Hares & Rabbits seem to be endless …’

PRO 30/8/368, ff. 17-22, 6 September 1822

And so on, for several pages, by which time Lord Chatham – in his words ‘chained to the Rock’ (he wasn’t subtle about his feelings) – must have been shouting ‘Stop! Please stop! I WANT TO GO HOME!’

All this talk of shooting, however, brings me back to my visit to Cambridgeshire Archives. Much of what I read was pretty tame: Chatham was writing to his landlord, who was neither a friend nor a social equal. The correspondence was curt and business-like. Chatham often wrote in the third person: ‘Lord Chatham presents his Compliments to Mr [Thomas] Mortlock…’. For his part, Mortlock usually replied in terms that stressed their unequal relationship: ‘I promise myself the pleasure of waiting upon you Tomorrow at the hour Your Lordship appoints.’[1] Chatham always signed off ‘Your Very Faithful Humble Servant’; Mortlock, in contrast, was always ‘Obedient’ rather than ‘Faithful’.

I’ve blogged elsewhere on how Lord Chatham wasn’t always a careful tenant. A survey of dilapidations (effectively a checkout inventory) carried out on Abington Hall in 1824 and 1826 compiled a list of £109 14s 6d worth of repairs to be carried out on the house and grounds (rented for £300 a year, so a sizeable sum). The gardens, the survey recorded, were ‘in a bad state’, with unpruned trees and uncropped soil. [2]

Abington Hall, from here

The estate seems to have been problematic for Chatham, and its state may have reflected a disagreement about the terms of his tenancy.

Chatham’s lease with Mortlock was signed on 15 March 1816 [509/T158]. In addition to maintaining the house itself, Chatham had to keep ‘the Mounds Walls Fences Hedges Ditches Gates Bridges Stiles Rails Pales Posts and Drains’ in good repair, which seems like a pretty comprehensive list. Apparently, however, there was wriggle-room.

On 11 October 1816, Thomas Mortlock wrote to Chatham from Cambridge. It’s clear this discussion was already running, and Mortlock was replying to a letter Chatham had sent him (now lost). From context, it seems Chatham had been asked to repair some fences – an inventory of the house had last been taken in August – but demurred.

Mortlock, therefore, had looked into the matter further. ‘Upon referring to the lease,’ he wrote, ‘I find that the Schedule concludes with the words “repair the gates & fences where injured”.’ This certainly concurs with what I saw. Aware he was dealing with a high-ranking and potentially prickly character, however, Mortlock sugared the pill a little: ‘It appears to deserve some further consideration & I cannot but wish that when next I have the honour of waiting upon your Lordship you may be in possession of a Copy of the Lease’. [3]

Chatham’s response is utterly typical of a man who never liked to say anything without being absolutely sure of ALL the facts (it’s also utterly typical in the number of commas, which tended to multiply the more embarrassed Chatham felt himself to be): ‘I conceive it will be difficult to form any judgement, as to, how the concluding words of the Schedule apply, without having the whole subject before me, and I will endeavour to get such further information, with respect to it, as may be necessary, before I have the pleasure of seeing you again.’ [4]

So far, so much an impasse. Nothing much happened for a while, except that the man responsible for repairs to the estate, Mr Harrison, turned up at the end of November, so maybe Chatham won this round and Mortlock caved in? [5]

Or then again, maybe not, and this letter from Chatham to Mortlock in February 1818 suggests an ongoing dispute over a neighbour due to the inadequate fencing: ‘I have completed a small Plantation by ye water side, but it is really so narrow as to be scarcely worth the fencing in. Cou’d it be made broader, and of course a different form, It wou’d not only be much better for Game, but as great an advantage in point of look, to the Place, that if you were [to] see it, I can not but think you wou’d be induced to make some effort with Mr Ewin …  I really do not see, how he can be allowed to continue so very unaccommodating.’ [6]

‘Mr Ewin’ was John Ewin, who appears to have owned much of the land next door to Abington Hall. [7] However, note the point about the game and the fences. It’s subtly made here, but Chatham picked up on it a little more stridently a few days later:

I cannot help troubling you, in order to call your attention, to the deplorable state of the fences round the Belt, which is now almost entirely open, and I fear, besides the injury to the Plantations, I shall lose all the Game I have been endeavouring to rear. The slight temporary repairs done last year were of little avail, and ye stuff has been carried away.

Lord Chatham to Mortlock, 12 February 1818, 509/3/3/4/7

The remainder of Chatham’s letter is all about how ‘there is no time to lose’, which, by the way, is not the first time I’ve seen the famously slothful Chatham chivvying someone else to move faster (and the focus on hunting is absolutely on brand).

Mortlock’s response suggests he really just wanted to fling a copy of the contract in Chatham’s face at this point, and he must have taken a very deep breath before answering: ‘I purposed riding over to Abington to have some conversation with Mr Ewin [Lord Chatham: ‘Yes!’] … but I was unexpectedly called into Suffolk from whence I am just returned. [Lord Chatham: ‘No!’] … [However,] I hope early in next week to ride over to Abington and to call upon your Lordship if not prevented.’ [8]

Did Chatham’s fences ever get fixed? Did Chatham lose all his game? I don’t know, but I can tell you the dispute rumbled on for TWO MORE YEARS before Mortlock did eventually lose patience. The last letter on the subject is dated 14 February 1820 and is very short and to the point:

Mr Mortlock presents his respectful Compliments to Lord Chatham & begs to inform his Lordship that upon referring to the Lease it appears that the repairs which Lord Chatham spoke of to Mr Mortlock on Saturday as partially necessary are therein covenanted to be made by Lord Chatham.’

Mortlock to Chatham, 14 February 1820, Notebook 3, 509/3/3/1/3

Which translates, as far as I can see, to: FOR GOD’S SAKE CHECK THE FLIPPING CONTRACT!

Having said all this, my visit to the archives did help me answer one question. I’ve often wondered whether Chatham actually did ‘well and truly pay or cause to be paid unto the said John Mortlock his Heirs or assigns the said Yearly Rents of Three hundred pounds’, as per his contract. According to Mortlock’s rent book, [9] the answer is, perhaps surprisingly (given Chatham’s notorious financial problems) … yes, he did, in cash, and he was only late with it once.

I wonder if, despite all the damage to his property and the passive-aggressive correspondence about fences, Mortlock realised just how lucky he was?

References

[1] Chatham to Mortlock, 26 Nov 1816, and 27 Nov reply, 509/3/3/2/24

[2] ‘Survey of Dilapidations committed on the Mansion House, Offices, Buildings & Premises at Abington, Cambridge’, Cambridgeshire Archives: January 1824, 296/B29; May 1826: 296/B60, ff. 46-56

[3] Notebook 1, 509/3/3/1/1

[4] Chatham to Mortlock, 8 October 1816, 509/3/3/2/15

[5] Chatham to Mortlock, 26 November 1816, 509/3/3/2/24

[6] Lord Chatham to Mortlock, 6 February 1818, 509/3/3/4/7

[7] Lease, 15 March 1816, 509/T158

[8] Mortlock to Chatham, 14 February 1818, Notebook 3, 509/3/3/1/3

[9] Rent book, 509/7/1/6, ff. 7-8

Walcheren 1809: the mystery of the missing memorandum

walcheren_sick

The Walcheren Expedition of 1809, which Lord Chatham infamously commanded, was unquestionably a disaster. Although the British managed to take the islands of Walcheren and South Beveland, they failed to get to Antwerp, the ultimate objective, to destroy the fortifications there and the French and Dutch fleet.

Most seriously of all, the army was rendered completely useless by a violent illness known as “Walcheren Fever”, thought to be a combination of malaria, typhoid, typhus and dysentery. Of the 39,219 men sent to the Scheldt River basin, 11,296 were on the sick lists by the time the inquiry was underway. 3,960 were dead. The British Army suffered from the recurring effects of “Walcheren fever” until the end of the war.

Not long after the last soldier had been landed back in Britain in January 1810, the House of Commons formed itself into committee to inquire into whose bright idea it had been to send nearly 40,000 of Britain’s best (i.e., only) troops to a pestilential swamp at the height of the unhealthy season.

Careers were at stake, and nobody wanted to own up. Chatham, the military commander, was nevertheless pretty sure he knew who was most to blame for what had happened. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t him. Contrary to what nearly every historian of the campaign has tried to argue, however, it wasn’t his naval counterpart, Sir Richard Strachan, either.

Chatham wasn’t very successful at fighting accusations of his sloth and incompetence, and he eventually ended up with most of the blame for the campaign’s failure, even if the Walcheren inquiry technically cleared him of wrongdoing. In my opinion, however, one aspect of Chatham’s evidence has been overlooked: his indictment of the Board of Admiralty, under the First Lord, Earl Mulgrave.

Henry Lord Mulgrave

Lord Mulgrave

After the inquiry was over, Chatham wrote a series of memoranda defending his conduct on Walcheren and during the parliamentary proceedings that followed. These memoranda reveal Chatham’s conviction that Mulgrave had been trying to cover up the Admiralty’s role in planning the expedition for months.

By April 1810, when he probably wrote these memoranda, Chatham was as paranoid as it is possible for a man to be. Nor was he the least bit impartial in the matter. And yet there is some evidence that the Admiralty – a highly organised political body, and one with which Chatham (a former First Lord himself) was extremely familiar – did indeed try to conceal evidence from the inquiry.

One very important piece of information was only laid before the inquiry at all on 1 March 1810, and only because Chatham’s testimony had drawn public attention to it. This was a memorandum, written on 19 June 1809 at the Admiralty Office, entitled “Respecting the Practicability of effecting a Landing between Sandfleet [Sandvliet] and Fort Lillo”. (Sandfleet, or Sandvliet, being the place where the British Army was meant to land on the continent, nine miles from Antwerp; Lillo being one of the two forts straddling the point at which the Scheldt River narrowed before the dockyards.)

CaptureThe belatedly-published memorandum quoted two naval officers, Sir Home Popham (one of the planners of the expedition) and Captain Robert Plampin, both saying they had both been to Antwerp in the 1790s and thought there would be no problem in landing a large body of men between Lillo and Sandvliet. On that basis, the Opinion made the following statement:

The Board of Admiralty having made inquiry respecting the practicability of effecting a Landing between the point of Sandfleet and Fort Lillo … are prepared … to undertake that the troops shall be conveyed, when the Island of Beveland, including Bathz is in our possession, to the Dyke between Fort Lillo and Sandfleet, and landed, as far as the question of Landing depends on the nature of the place, with relation to the approach to the shore of boats and other vessels capable of receiving troops.[1]

Why was this so mysterious? Because Chatham remembered this memorandum rather differently from the form in which it was published for the inquiry.

According to Chatham, the Cabinet had only approved the expedition in the first place after the Admiralty Board had issued this Opinion as a guarantee that a large fleet could carry twenty thousand men up the West Scheldt and land them at Sandvliet. This was in response to doubts voiced by Chatham himself – doubts formed after discussions with military officers who had been to Sandvliet and told him an army could not be landed there. Since the whole plan hinged on landing at Sandvliet, Chatham rather reasonably told the Cabinet he would not undertake to sanction his own expedition unless the Admiralty could prove the military men wrong: “This last Point I considered as a sine qua non [which] … must be placed beyond all doubt, to warrant the undertaking the enterprize [sic].”[2] Mulgrave’s response was the 19 June memorandum, which circulated through the Cabinet the day after it was drawn up.

Chatham remembered it as being signed by the three professional Lords of the Admiralty. In 1809, these would have been Sir Richard Bickerton, William Domett, and Robert Moorsom.

Chatham’s assertions are to an extent backed up by official correspondence. Following the mid-June cabinet meeting, Castlereagh informed the King of the need to postpone preparing for the expedition until “the practicability of a Landing at Sandfleet [sic] can be assured”. Two days after the circulation of the 19 June Opinion, Castlereagh wrote: “Under the sanction of this opinion … Your Majesty’s confidential servants … feel it their duty humbly to recommend to Your Majesty that the operation should be undertaken”. Castlereagh edited out the line “should the Immediate object be abandon’d”, which suggests that the viability of a Sandvliet landing was indeed the make-or-break feature – to borrow Chatham’s words, the sine qua non – of the expedition going ahead.[3]

All this corroborates Chatham’s account completely, except for one detail. Three copies of the Opinion exist, one in the Castlereagh MSS at PRONI (D3030/3241-3) and two in the National Archives (ADM 3/168). None is signed. The copies of the Opinion that remain are therefore no more than that – an opinion. They were unofficial, and could not be claimed to form the basis of any Cabinet decision to undertake the expedition.

Did Chatham simply misremember the opinion? This is the opinion of Carl Christie, who deals with the 19 June Opinion thoroughly in his excellent thesis on the Walcheren expedition. “The suspicion is that his memory was playing tricks on him”, Christie writes, and concludes that he “misinterpreted the Admiralty opinion”.[4] But Chatham clearly wasn’t the only one who did so, as Castlereagh’s letters to the King show above.

The question, therefore, is whether a signed Opinion ever existed. We only have Chatham’s word for this; but it does seem unlikely that the Cabinet would have made the important decision to proceed with the expedition on the basis of the opinion of two subordinate naval officers. (Popham in particular had a track record of leading British troops into madcap schemes that often went wrong, as the Buenos Aires expedition of 1806 demonstrates).

Castlereagh later played down the importance of the opinion: at the inquiry, when questioned about it, he seemed confused as to which memorandum Chatham had intended to single out, and fudged the issue by saying there was a paper “which I may have seen in circulation, with the names of three [Admiralty] lords attached to it, but I rather imagine that it is the same paper as that which is dated the 9th of June”. But the Admiralty opinion of 9 June 1809 was on a completely different topic, and had also been drawn up prior to the Cabinet meeting to which Chatham referred.[5]

There is, however, one further possibility: that Chatham’s memory was not faulty at all, and that the opinion he saw was different from the printed version. The accusation that the Admiralty later cherry-picked the evidence laid before the Walcheren inquiry to play down its role in the planning, indeed, seems to form the thrust of Chatham’s memorandum. He did not come outright and say so, but he came close when he asserted:

An attempt was made in the course of the Enquiry, to question the existence of this Document, and they [the Admiralty] never would produce it, but they did not venture to call the Sea Lords [to give evidence], and with them the question whether they had not signed such a Paper and delivered to Lord Mulgrave, to be shewn to ye Cabinet.[6]

So where is the signed version of the Opinion the Admiralty failed to produce? Did it ever exist? Castlereagh’s evidence, vague as it was, certainly suggests that it did. Chatham was certainly convinced the Admiralty was covering its back at his expense. Was he right?

We will probably never know.

References

[1] Parliamentary Papers 1810 (89), “Respecting the Practicability of effecting a Landing between Sandfleet and Fort Lillo”

[2] Memorandum by Chatham, PRO 30/8/260 f. 100

[3] Castlereagh to the King, draft, 14 June 1809, PRONI Castlereagh MSS D3030/3137. The 15 June copy that was sent is printed in Aspinall V, 298

[4] Carl A. Christie, “The Walcheren Expedition of 1809” (PhD, University of Dundee, 1975), pp. 126, 131

[5] Testimony of Lord Castlereagh, 13 March 1810, Parliamentary Debates XV, Appendix 5xxii-iv

[6] Memorandum by Chatham, undated, National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/260 f 100

The Diary of Colonel Thomas Carey, 27 February 1810

an00686648_001_l

Image from here

And now for something (not entirely) completely different… I wrote this short fiction piece as a guest post for another blog a couple of years ago. I had hoped to put it up yesterday (27 February), as the anniversary of the event in question, but it took a little while to find the document.

Those of you who’ve read The Late Lord will know Thomas Carey was Lord Chatham’s military secretary at Walcheren. I’d much like to know more about him.

Oh, and I didn’t make any of this up.

***

Lord Chatham was called up again to appear before the Committee. He had been dreading it very much; certain members of the Committee had previously fastened upon His Lordship’s explanatory narrative of his conduct, which he had delivered to the King without submitting to the Secretary of State for War. This action the opposition to government supposed to be unconstitutional.

I saw His Lordship after breakfast. He had eaten nothing; I suppose he could not. “Will they mention it again, do you suppose?”

I had no doubt they would, but I said only, “I understand from Mr Huskisson the intention is to examine matters of strategy today.”

In the afternoon I accompanied His Lordship to the House. He was called almost immediately to the Bar, where a chair had been set up for him beneath the galleries, as before. The tiny chamber was full to bursting. The Chairman, Sir John Anstruther, settled his spectacles on his thin hooked nose and began.

I watched from the lobby. I could not see Lord Chatham’s face but I could tell from his stiff shoulders he was uncomfortable. Still, the questioning began well enough.

“At the start of the expedition, did Your Lordship believe Antwerp might be taken by a coup-de-main?”

“Might Antwerp have been taken by assault?”

“Did Your Lordship confer with your general officers on the adviseability of advancing on Antwerp?”

His Lordship answered all of them, rather curtly, but sensibly. And then the strange gentleman rose, on the left of the empty Speaker’s chair. He looked like he had slept in his clothes. I am fairly certain, from the slurring of his words, that he was drunk.

“I know Antwerp could have been taken by two men and a blunderbuss. Was Your Lordship not aware?”

A silence. My Lord looked across at the gentleman who had spoken. The Chairman coughed and said, “Are there any more questions?”

“Two men and a blunderbuss,” the man repeated, then added, “playing the penny whistle.”

Someone laughed. Lord Chatham shifted visibly in his chair. He took a sip from the wineglass he kept under his chair to wet his dry mouth during the questioning.

“Next question,” the Chairman said, firmly.

“Maybe three men, if one had a wooden leg.”

“Will you be quiet?” Sir John shouted.

I fear it was a mistake.

“God Damn me, sir,” the drunk man said, rising unsteadily to his feet and waving a finger, “I have as much right to be heard as any man who is paid for filling the place he holds.”

The silence was so deep I could hear my own heartbeat. Every man on the Treasury Bench looked as though they were wondering if they had heard aright. The opposition was blank-faced. One of the men standing next to me leaned forwards and muttered to himself, gleefully, “And I thought this would be dull.”

“I fear that language is unparliamentary,” Sir John Anstruther said at last. “Gentlemen, I think the Committee ought to interrupt its proceedings to allow the Speaker back to the chair. He will, no doubt, wish to name this gentleman.”

As I understand, naming a Member of Parliament involves entering their name into the Journals for to record poor behaviour. This gentleman, however, remained ufazed. “You need not be diffident, Sir. My name is Jack Fuller.”

Open laughter now. But when the Speaker returned and ordered the man to withdraw, he refused. The Serjeant at Arms came forward with two assistants to remove him; and then Jack Fuller threw a punch, missed his target, and struck the Member for Wool Downs in the back of the head, knocking him off the bench with a cry.

“Take this man into your custody, Serjeant,” the Speaker called.

Eventually Mr Fuller was carried from the chamber, calling back over his shoulder, “Two men I say! Did you hear me, my lord? Two!”

“Any further questions?” Sir John Anstruther said loudly, when the Speaker had retreated once more.

I hoped the questions would be kind, for I knew Lord Chatham’s nerves were under considerable strain as it was, but unfortunately the first person to stand was Mr Whitbread, from the opposition bench. “When you submitted your narrative to His Majesty, my lord, did you enter into any correspondence with him?”

I had hoped the subject would not come up. I closed my eyes. Lord Chatham replied, tensely, “Merely a cover letter. I have no copy.”

“Did you–” Mr Whitbread began, but he was interrupted. Someone pushed past me roughly, reeking of brandy. It was Mr Fuller. He rushed back into the Chamber, shouting, “You have no authority to take me away! Who do you think you are?”

For once Mr Fuller had perfect timing, and I was almost glad for Lord Chatham’s sake that the course of the questioning had been stalled. He stood and swayed, jabbing his finger at the empty Speaker’s chair. “Where is he? Where is that insignificant little fellow in the silly wig?”

“Serjeant!” Anstruther bellowed.

Before the Serjeant could appear Fuller put his head down and rushed at Sir John. Unfortunately Lord Chatham’s chair was in Fuller’s path. His Lordship had to dive out of the way in alarm; I would wager he would much rather have been fighting the French on Walcheren than facing this mad beast.

The Serjeant-at-Arms ran in with his assistants, and started to chase Jack Fuller round the chamber. Four Messengers followed. Mr Fuller picked up Lord Chatham’s vacant chair and waved it at them.

I do not know how long it took them to catch the man; he was surprisingly nimble for a man in his cups. With the assistance of several gentlemen of the House they eventually managed to draw him out. I could hear him shouting as they dragged him down the stairs to the Serjeant’s chamber: “I only wanted to ask a question!”

“Lord Chatham may withdraw,” Sir John Anstruther said, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “The Committee will now adjourn.”

His Lordship found me in the Lobby. His face was white and I think, had he not had that glass of wine to support him, his legs may well have collapsed beneath him.

“I think that went well,” I said, aiming to encourage him.

He merely looked at me, and did not reply.

Lord Chatham returns to Gibraltar!

And he’s not entirely happy about it (although I reckon he looks quite resigned to his fate!).

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As I explain in The Late Lord, Chatham wasn’t hugely fond of Gibraltar. He was Governor from 1820 till his death, but served there in person between 1821 and 1825, and couldn’t wait to leave the place. See pp. 186-7:

The much-vaunted beauties of Gibraltar could not outweigh his conviction that he was ‘chained to ye Rock, instead … of being among my friends.’ … Chatham never forgot he was the master of a godforsaken rock half-sunk into the sea, about five square miles in size. His private letters home reeked of claustrophobia and intense homesickness, coloured with the depression he had not managed to shake off since his wife’s death.

Suit yourself, Lord C… I loved Gibraltar when I went there on my research trip.

Photo by a friend of mine, who is actually on the spot (lucky thing).

“The shadow of inquiry”: Robert Waithman, the City of London and the Address to the Crown, December 1809

ahinttoministers

Right now I’m (painstakingly) working on a paper I will be giving in January at the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference in Oxford. Entitled ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me: the Walcheren Inquiry, Lord Chatham’s Narrative, and the politics of blame’, the paper will investigate just how Chatham’s infamous narrative explaining his conduct during the Walcheren Expedition nearly caused a massive constitutional crisis, threatened the stability of Spencer Perceval’s ministry and led directly to the end of Chatham’s political career. The Walcheren Inquiry is therefore much on my mind, and it ocurred to me that today — 5 December — is the anniversary of a very important factor in the lead-up to the parliamentary investigation.

On 5 December 1809, Alderman Robert Waithman moved an Address to the King in the City of London’s Court of Common Council. Waithman is an interesting figure in his own right.

waithman

He had a trade background (he was a linen draper): rising to become a City of London liveryman, he made his reputation as a supporter of radical political reform and a violent opponent of the war with France. True to his political track record, he had already led the City in petitioning the King for an inquiry into the Convention of Cintra in 1808, which had thrown away the advantages gained in Portugal by Sir Arthur Wellesley’s victory at Vimeiro by allowing the surrendering French to evacuate in British ships with their spoils of war. Now, following the abject failure of the Walcheren expedition, he decided to do the same thing again.

Waithman pulled no punches with his language. “The armament,” he informed the Court, “was, he believed, the greatest ever sent out from this country.” Its failure had been proportionate to its size: “This disgraceful and calamitous expedition had already cost this ill-used country not less than £8 millions of money, and six thousand of our men, without reckoning those who are suffering, or dying of the diseases to which they have been thus improvidently subjected. Could the people of England patiently bear this wasteful and profligate expenditure of their treasure and loss of their blood?”

common-council-chamber-guildhall

The Court of Common Council in Session, from here

Waithman, like the good radical he was, thought the City had a duty to speak up because Parliament would not. Recalling his experience with Cintra, Waithman said “he was sorry indeed that he could not look with hope to Parliament for such an inquiry, for what had he seen … that could lead him to expect such an inquiry from the votes of the majority in Parliament? On all occasions such inquiries were negatived by overwhelming majorities.”[1]

The proposal was controversial, and the Court did not automatically accept Waithman’s suggestion. When the Address was put to the vote, however, it squeaked through by 68 votes to 67. A subsequent vote on the text passed by five votes. On the 13th some pro-government members of the Council tried to have the original text amended on the pretext that many of the members had been absent due to the lateness of the hour at which it was passed, and they managed to get some of the more offensive paragraphs struck out. The end result, nevertheless, struck a disapproving note:

Most Gracious Sovereign

… We have witnessed with deep regret the disastrous failure of the late Expedition, as the magnitude of its equipment had raised the just hopes and expectations of the Country to some permanent benefit.

… Your Majesty’s faithful Citizens, actuated by loyal attachment to your Sacred Person and Illustrious House, and solicitous for the honour of your Majesty’s arms and the dignity and solidity of your Majesty’s Councils, are deeply impressed with the necessity of an early and strict Inquiry into the causes of the failure of the late Expedition, therefore, pray your Majesty will direct Inquiry to be forthwith instituted, in order to ascertain the causes which have occasioned it.[2]

Notably, there was nothing here to suggest the need for a parliamentary inquiry. In fact the form of the inquiry was left pretty much open to the King (and, through him, his ministers) to decide. The official Answer to the Address, however (which was delivered on 20 December 1809), pretty much fixed the parliamentary tone of the inquiry:

The recent Expedition to the Scheldt was directed to several objects of great importance to the interests of my Allies, and to the security of my dominions. I regret, that of these objects a part only has been accomplished. I have not judged it to be necessary to direct any Military Inquiry into the Conduct of my Commanders by Sea or Land in this conjoint Service. It will be for my Parliament, in their wisdom, to ask for such information, or to take such measures upon this subject as they shall judge most conducive to the public good.[3]

Unsurprisingly, this was not what Chatham had hoped to hear. He was too proud to ask “for an enquiry before a Military Tribunal”, which he thought would show he felt his conduct required justification, but he recognised that “some opportunity of my conduct being inquired into” would come sooner or later, probably around the time Parliament was due to convene in January.[4] Nevertheless, “a Court Martial … was what, under all circumstances, I felt wou’d be most advantageous for me,” and given the precedent of the military inquiry into the Conventi0n of Cintra, Chatham had good reason to expect this was the form an inquiry would take.[5]

proceedingsonenq00dalr

The King’s Answer to the Address put that out of the question. Chatham immediately spotted that the King’s Answer had expressly rejected that option and on the contrary “directly pointed to a Proceeding in Parliament”.[6]

This was perhaps the point at which Chatham realised it was actually going to happen. Richard Ryder, the Home Secretary, heard that “he says that he had disregarded former charges till the Address of the City — that then the charge appeared to wear a more serious appearance and to require some recorded testimony on his part of his desire to meet enquiry”.[7]

Chatham’s course of action, indeed the only one he could well take under the circumstances, was to write to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Liverpool, to put his willingness to face an inquiry — any inquiry — down in the official record. There was some toing and froing over the exact wording, particularly Chatham’s original phrase of being “most earnestly and anxiously desirous” for an inquiry, but the end result was as follows:

My Lord,

Having perused the Address of the City of London … together with the answer with His Majesty’s Answer thereto, I see it my duty to represent to Your Lordship, as one of His Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, in order to its being laid before His Majesty, that I am most entirely ready to submit every Part of my Conduct to such Military Investigation as His Majesty may be pleased to direct, and that I shall not be less so, whenever Parliament may assemble, to meet any Enquiry, which in their Wisdom they may judge it fit to institute into my Conduct, being perfectly conscious of having discharged with zeal and with fidelity, the important trust which His Majesty was graciously pleased to confide to me.[8]

The die was cast. Parliament met on 23 January 1810. Three days later, the oppositionist Lord Porchester moved for the inevitable inquiry. Its final form — a committee of the whole House of Commons — cannot have been foreseen by Chatham (or anyone else) at the time of Waithman’s Common Council motion on 5 December. Had Waithman not tried to seize the Commons’ initiative, however, perhaps Chatham might have got his military tribunal after all.

 

References

[1] Speech by Waithman, recorded in the Times, 6 December 1809

[2] Cobbett’s Political Register, vol. XVI, July-December 1809, cols. 983-4

[3] Ibid.

[4] Chatham to Charles Yorke, 27 October 1809, BL Add MSS 45042 f. 57

[5] Undated memorandum by Chatham, NA PRO 30/8/260 f. 112

[6] Chatham to Lord Liverpool, 31 December 1809, NA PRO 30/8/364 f. 32

[7] Ryder to Lord Harrowby, 5 January 1810, quoted in A. Aspinall, The Later Correspondence of George III, vol. 5, p. 480 n. 1

[8] Chatham to Lord Liverpool, 22 December 1809, A Collection of Papers relating to the Expedition to the Scheldt, presented to Parliament in 1810 (London, 1811), pp. 126-7

Reviews, Courts Martial and Guards of Honour (and the occasional murder): the Gibraltar Orderly Books, 1821-25

Some time ago (but long after I finished the draft of The Late Lord… shhh, don’t tell anyone) I went to the National Archives to check out the Gibraltar orderly books from 1821-25 in the War Office papers.

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(Wikimedia Commons)

The reason I hadn’t used them before was mostly that I just didn’t know they existed. I do wish a little I had discovered them earlier, though, as they shed fascinating – if somewhat repetitive – light on what my boy Chatham’s day consisted of during his four years as active Governor of the Rock. Of the underlying political and social tensions there was little sign: but then everything here seems to have been ticking over like a well-oiled military machine.

The entries were always structured in the same manner. They began by assigning various officers to their duties overseeing Gibraltar’s several military districts, then separated the military garrison into details and assigned them to whatever tasks needed doing. Occasionally something out of the ordinary would happen and be recorded, and the Governor’s movements about the peninsula (headquarters followed him, obviously) were meticulously recorded.

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Governor’s Cottage, Europa Point, where Chatham stayed July-November every year (Wikimedia Commons)

From these, I was able to deduce a number of interesting things, none of which will end up in the biography as it’s way too late for that.

  1. Chatham was late arriving in Gibraltar

But of course he was. And I kind of knew this already, as he had been expecting to go out since at least May. But the first reference to his imminent arrival was on 19 October 1821: “The arrival of General The Earl of Chatham, Governor of this Fortress may be daily expected…” (WO 284/24) Arrangements were made for the salute to be fired on his arrival and the Guards of Honour (more on those in due course) which would greet him. Of course Chatham didn’t actually show up until 15 November.

the_cruise_of_the_steam_yacht_north_star_a_narrative_of_the_excursion_of_mr-_vanderbilts_party_to_england_russia_denmark_france_spain_malta_turkey_madeira_etc_1854_14766653704

(Wikimedia Commons)

  1. When Chatham did arrive, nobody recognised him …

I’d guess this was because he swanned around in civvies, but I can’t explain the following order any other way:

“Whenever His Excellency the Governor or the Lieutenant Governor, passes the Guards, whether dressed in uniform or otherwise, the Guards are imediately [sic] to turn out in the usual way” (25 November 1821, WO 284/24)

  1. …. and Chatham was a stickler for ceremony

I knew this too, but again, the following order speaks volumes (presumably General Don, his lieutenant-governor and deputy, had allowed ceremonies to slip):

“On the termination of the Troop [for the guard mounting] the Senior Field Officer will arm A General Salute, with presented arms, Band playing ‘God Save the King’ if the Governor or Lieutenant Governor shall be on the Ground.” (30 November 1821, WO 284/24)

  1. Chatham really, really, really liked his Guards of Honour

Yes, he was the King’s representative in Gibraltar (hence the band playing “God save the King” whenever he turned up… see No. 3), but still, whenever he did anything public, orders go out for a Guard of Honour: always consisting of one captain, three subalterns, four sergeants and four corporals, and 100 privates, usually from one of the four regiments in the garrison, along with two ensigns to carry the colours and a full band and drums.

Except, apparently, when it rained. (11 January 1825, WO 284/27)

  1. Chatham liked his parades

Big shock here. Don continued to review the troops bi-annually, although Chatham also reviewed each regiment separately. But the troops turned out to celebrate the King’s official birthday (George IV, 23 April) every year, with the manoeuvres and review order meticulously planned out each time, and Chatham always attended those.

Except when he was ill, as he was in April 1822. (22 April 1822, WO 284/24)

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19th century military review (Wikimedia Commons)

  1. Courts martials were held regularly and recorded in the garrison order books

I was especially struck by the variety of the punishments, often for the same offence: I guess we don’t really know exactly what the details were, as the records are pretty po-faced, but still.

A lot of them seem to have been designed to make a point. The first court martial under Chatham’s watch, in January 1822, involved three acting corporals in the 75th Regiment refusing to undertake their duties and disobedience of orders. They were found guilty and the sentence was pretty harsh: five hundred lashes each in the presence of 410 soldiers, with a medical officer in attendance. Ouch. (6 January 1822, WO 284/24)

Lots of the courts martial dealt with drunkenness (with punishments ranging from one to two months in solitary confinement and a certain amount of forfeiting of pay), and a lot of soldiers deserted (punishments for this: either death by hanging, or transportation for 7 or 14 years).

Officers, unsurprisingly, came off rather more lightly. Captain B.J. Duhigg of the 27th was found guilty of “conduct subversive of Military Discipline” at a court of inquiry and at a parade, but he got off with a personal rebuke from the Governor on the first charge and an apology for the second. (18 April 1822, WO 284/24) When Ensign Joseph McLeod Tew, also of the 27th, was found guilty of “Scandalous and infamous conduct, such as is unbecoming the character of an Officer and a Gentleman” – he called another ensign “a damned pimping Scoundrel, and I will call my Servant to turn you downstairs” – his accuser, who was found to have perjured himself but was also an Ensign, was kept under “arrest at large” until the King’s pleasure on his conduct arrived. (7-14 July 1823, WO 284/25)

Chatham never attended, but he always signed the sentence and occasionally made comments on them. On one occasion he disagreed with the sentence and intervened, whereupon the court martial sat again and revised their sentence. This occurred on the occasion of the court martial of Lieutenant William Grove White of the 94th for “using grossly insulting and outrageous language to Ensign Coward”. The court had found him guilty, stripped him of his rank and placed him at the bottom of the list of lieutenants. Chatham agreed he was guilty, but found the punishment too lenient:

Approved, as far as the finding of the Court goes, but when I look at the sentence awarded, it appears to me, to be so wholly disproportioned to the serious charge, of which the Prisoner has been found Guilty, so little conducive to the ends of Justice, and the upholding the discipline of the British Army, that I feel it to be my indispensable duty, to order that the Court shall reassemble for the purpose of revising their sentence.

The next day the court duly reassembled and decided to discharge Lieutenant Grove White from military service entirely. They nevertheless recommended Lieutenant Grove White to the King’s clemency. This attempt to mitigate the sentence fell on deaf ears, and the Duke of York passed on the King’s “regret and Surprize” at the inadequacy of the court’s initial ruling, rejecting Lieutenant Grove White’s petition for clemency and confirming his removal. (12 July, 22 November 1824, WO 284/26)

  1. When you find an order like this, something really interesting must have happened…

The Reliefs of all Guards will until further Orders be paraded with their hammer Caps on, which are not to be taken off except the Sentries have occasion to fire.” (6 October 1824, WO 284/26)

What on earth happened here? I’d say it was odd to find an order going out specifically telling the guards not to fire unless they absolutely had to. Obviously someone fired when they weren’t meant to do so, with unfortunate results.

The answer comes a few days later on the occasion of a court martial, held 20 October 1824 (also in WO 284/26). The incident, predictably, had a tragic ending for all parties. A private of the 94th was accused of firing on Corporal Archibald Turner of the same regiment “by Discharging the contents of a loaded Musket at him” outside the barracks.

The private tried to make out his finger had slipped, but his case was not helped by the fact that Corporal Turner had died after lingering a fortnight or so. The court martial found the private guilty, and he was hanged on 22 October at 9am at Landport Glacis. The entire 94th regiment, in the meanwhile, was kept off duty – that’s an interesting touch: would this have been usual?

I wonder what the story was behind this incident…

  1. Chatham’s farewell to his garrison may not have been entirely candid

At the beginning of January 1825 Chatham had had enough of the endless round of reviews, court sessions, military trials, not being saluted properly, etc etc. He asked for a recall on the grounds of his poor health, and this was granted.

On 3 June 1825, four days before his embarkation, Chatham issued the following commendation to the garrison:

His Excellency before he embarks, is anxious to express to the Troops, his entire approbation of the orderly and soldierlike conduct they have evinced in the time they have been under his command.

He begs to offer, to the Officers, NCOs, and Privates composing this Garrison his cordial thanks, as well as particularly to acknowledge the sense he entertains of the unremitting and able exertions, of the Officers commanding the Corps, which have been so eminently led, both in the Field and in Quarters, to establish and maintain that high state of discipline, which reflects so much credit, upon the Regiments serving here, and it is with particular satisfaction, he has witnessed the rapid and efficient progress made by the 94th Regiment under the superintendence of Lt Col Allan. [Apart, obviously, from the occasional murder from within the ranks.]

His Excellency cannot separate himself from this Garrison without considerable regret, but he anticipates great satisfaction in the early occasion it will afford him, of personally representing their exemplary good conduct to HRH the Commander in Chief. (3 June 1825, WO 284/27)

Given Chatham had never made any secret of his homesickness and dislike of the garrison under his command, I don’t suppose this “considerable regret” fooled anyone – especially when he brought his embarkation forward by two hours (he clearly couldn’t wait to leave!). (7 June 1825, WO 284/27)

 

 

References

All quotations from TNA WO 284/24-27, Gibraltar Orderly Books 1821-25

The Walcheren Expedition: 2016 (Part 3/3)

A few days ago I posted about my trip to Walcheren in the Netherlands, where my other half and I cycle-camped for several days last week. I wanted to do some on-the-spot research for my upcoming biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, who commanded the military part of the abortive British expedition to Walcheren in 1809.

For a brief historical overview of the campaign, and an account of my visit to Vlissingen (Flushing) and Middelburg, please see Part 1. See Part 2 for my account of Arnemuiden, Grijpskerke, and Breezand. Otherwise, read on for Part 3 of my Walcheren peregrinations…

Day 5 (1 April): Breezand – Domburg – Zouteland – Vlissingen

This was our most beautiful day yet: about 20ºC and SUNNY. We left Breezand to cycle along the coast back to Vlissingen.

Our intention was to take in the two beaches where the British ought to have landed: Zouteland Bay (abandoned at the end of July at Strachan’s request) and Domburg (abandoned because of the weather).

We did not spend much time at Domburg, but I stopped to climb to the top of the tall seaward dyke to take a photograph of the beach.

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Domburg Beach

We then proceeded with all dispatch to Oostkapelle. Here we stopped for lunch, just outside the 1944 museum. There were a number of WWII museums on Walcheren. Obvious reasons for this, but I did find myself having the following conversation more than once:

Me: I’m here because I’m reasearching the Walcheren expedition.

Dutch person: The 1944 one?

Me: No. No, not that one.

Next stop was Zouteland Bay. By this time the sun was shining enthusiastically, and other half and I were both beginning to look a little pink about the ears. We decided to pause only briefly to take a photo or two of the beaches where the British really ought to have landed, had they not kept changing their landing plans every five seconds. Other half remained with the tandem, while I climbed to the top of the pretty high sandhills.

Minutes later I came down and fetched him, because the view was stunning.

I could see the whole island (OK, peninsula now) from the top of that dyke. On the distant horizon I could see the windmills along the Veere Dam, near Breezand. Further along were the steeples of Domburg and Grijpskerke churches. Veere was just about visible directly across. The Lange Jan at Middelburg could clearly be seen, as could the tall buildings at Vlissingen.

It was a salutary reminder of how small Walcheren actually is (we could have easily cycled round the whole thing in a day, had we not stopped to do the tourist thing). I imagine that when Chatham’s army had landed at Breezand and were marching in four columns through the interior, the various columns would have remained in sight of each other most of the time (barring more greenery on trees, and decreased visibility due to rain and mist, of course).

The beach was pretty, too. But, as my husband observed: “Thank goodness they didn’t land here, because they would have had a hard time fighting up their way up these sandhills.” They were the tallest sandhills we encountered on the whole island. In 1809 they were probably different, but I imagine not that much different, and topped with very prickly gorse. The French would probably have given a much stiffer resistance here, particularly as Zouteland is so much closer to Flushing.

As we discovered, since it took us only half an hour to cycle into Flushing after stopping for these photos. We stopped at De Nolle campsite, chosen by me mainly because it was clearly located somewhere between two of the British batteries erected outside Flushing during the bombardment (the Nolle and Vijgeter batteries).

In the postwar era, this area of Flushing has been completely levelled and rebuilt, so there is no real way of knowing exactly where the British batteries were (and in any case I had to leave all my books at home, since we were travelling light, so had no 1809 maps with me). But it was still pretty thrilling to be camping very close to where the British established their lines in 1809. It was a surprisingly long way from the old town itself, but then we were probably a little further out than the actual Nolle.

Day 6 (2 April): Vlissingen – Breskens – De Haan (Belgium)

The time had come to say goodbye to Walcheren. We packed up our tent and cycled to the Breskens ferry.

This was our last view on Flushing as we crossed over to the mainland:

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We were surprised to see dozens of enormous, heavily-laden cargo vessels sailing through the Flushing roads. Some of them actually crossed the path of our ferry, although I suspect their passage was well-timed to avoid any accidents!

The navigation of the West Scheldt was much better-known to the British than that of the East in 1809, hence the decision to attempt sailing down the West rather than the East Scheldt to reach Antwerp. The river is evidently much deeper here in parts, as the cargo boats showed. However, the navigation is clearly still very tricky. In 1809, during the bombardment of Flushing, Strachan’s flagship and that of one of his subordinates, Lord Gardner, ran aground on sandbanks. Even now every cargo vessel received the aid of a tiny pilot vessel (there were half a dozen of them sheltering in Flushing harbour at all times, zooming constantly in and out):

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Cargo vessel with pilot outside Flushing

By lunchtime we were back on the Cadzand shore. We cycled like the blazes and got across the border into Belgium in no time (uneventful, except for my husband dropping the tandem at one point as we came to a stop… ouch!).

We spent the next two days cycling back to Dunkerque. The return crossing was much less rough and we returned to Oxford at half past ten PM in the evening of Monday 4 April, having covered just over 450 km.

We had so much fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat — particularly as there is so much we did not see!

The Walcheren Expedition: 2016 (Part 2/3)

A few days ago I posted about my trip to Walcheren in the Netherlands, where my other half and I cycle-camped for several days last week. I wanted to do some on-the-spot research for my upcoming biography of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, who commanded the military part of the abortive British expedition to Walcheren in 1809.

For a brief historical overview of said campaign, and an account of my visit to Vlissingen (Flushing) and Middelburg, please see my previous post. Otherwise, read on for Part 2 of my Walcheren peregrinations…

Night 3 (30 March): Arnemuiden

We spent the night at a beautiful little farmhouse with the world’s most enormous barn, somewhere on the road between Middeburg and Arnemuiden. Thanks to land reclamation, Arnemuiden is no longer just off the Sloe Passage between Walcheren and the island of Suid-Beveland. In fact, as you can see by comparing the two maps at the top of this page, neither Walcheren nor Suid-Beveland is in fact an island any more at all. The Sloe, which caused so much tension between Chatham and Strachan, the naval commander, is no more, and Arnemuiden now looks out across acres of flat farmland studded with modern windmills. The whole 1809 expedition would have been much easier now than in 1809, when there were so many narrow watery bits and so many sandbanks to navigate between Walcheren and the “ultimate objective”, Antwerp. Now Chatham would just have been able to land and march.

In 1809, however, he did not have that luxury.* Arnemuiden was therefore an important place because the troops destined for Antwerp embarked here in the troop transports during the days after the fall of Flushing in August. Between 18 and 21 August, the 8000 reinforcements Chatham had landed on Walcheren to help cope with the increased French manpower in Flushing re-embarked under Generals Graham and Grosvenor. They spent the next four to six days stuck in the Sloe, twiddling their thumbs while the naval bods continually measured the depth of the channel and inched forwards (not helped by contrary wind and general poor weather).

A few days later Suid-Beveland was completely evacuated via Arnemuiden. A large proportion of the returning British were by this time very ill and the medical department, caught on the hop, had no resources to deal with them.


*Don’t even get me started on Strachan’s supposed suggestion of 1 August 1809 that Chatham land the men destined for Antwerp on Suid-Beveland and march them across the island to embark for Sandvliet, instead of sailing them through the Sloe Passage: “With him alone was there an option between a March of 36 hours, and a Voyage of an indefinite length”, etc etc (Strachan’s narrative, 5 March 1810, NA PRO 30/8/260 f 52). For more on that, see my book when it comes out.


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Evacuation of Suid-Beveland, 30 August 1809 (from here)

One of Sir Eyre Coote’s ADCs reported: “We are not sufficiently supplied with Medical Officers or Medicines … [the sick in Flushing are] laying on the bare boards without Paillasses & many without Blankets. By an unfortunate mistake the Hospital Stores were shipped [from Suid-Beveland] with those of the Quarter Master General’s Department, and the Vessels being off Batz [Bath], no supplies can be received for the Habitants on this island”. The sick who arrived at Arnemuiden were “moved in Waggons” to Flushing, which (having been so recently bombarded) had very little accommodation that was not bomb-damaged in some way. (Journal of the Walcheren Campaign, University of Michigan Coote MSS Box 29/3) Here they continued to lie, two or three in a bed under hastily-erected tarpaulins to keep out the weather, while Chatham waited for instructions to send the rising numbers of sick back to England. These took so long in coming he eventually had to start sending the sick home without orders.

We didn’t spend much time in Arnemuiden, which we entered only to purchase some food to cook, but (fittingly) I was eaten alive by mosquitoes during the night. There were clouds of the blighters everywhere we went on the island, even in late March. I swatted a fair few of them, which did little in the practical sense but made me feel a bit better as a historian.

Day 4 (31 March): Arnemuiden – Veere – Grijpskerke – Breezand

We had had some thoughts about going down to Bath on Suid-Beveland, which was the closest Chatham and his men ever got to Antwerp (about nine miles away), but although we would have had time, we heard there was little to see there: the fort where Chatham stayed was gone, and land reclamation meant the territory had changed beyond recognition. We decided to stay on Walcheren instead, and see more of the “important stuff”.

Next day we were up bright and early and cycled the short distance along the canal to Veere. Veere was one of the more important towns that fell to the British on 1 August 1809: without possession of Veere, which defended the entrance to the Sloe Passage, the British ships could not proceed from the East to the West Scheldt. (The final link in the chain, Fort Rammekens, surrendered on 3 August.)

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Veere, by the canal

The centre of Veere probably hasn’t changed a great deal since 1809, although the town itself has got a lot bigger. The houses along the harbour’s edge are all 16th-17th century types, many probably older, and the place with its cobbled streets and CONSTANT bell-ringing from the Town Hall bell-tower has a lovely old-school feel to it.

Mind you, it probably wasn’t such a nice place to be on 1 August 1809, when General Fraser laid siege to it and bombarded it into submission. He was assisted by Home Popham, who brought several gunboats into play from the sea side. Assaulted by both army and navy, Veere surrendered within the day.

Popham’s unauthorised use of gunboats got him (and Chatham) into trouble. When Sir Richard Strachan found out that his boats were being brought close to the town walls, he gave orders for them to fall back. He immediately Chatham an extremely irritated letter, which must really have started things off between the two commanders on a great footing:

I cannot approve of the manner in which the Naval force has been applied this Morning to the great waste of Ammunition & Stores, without effecting one good purpose. I shall be most happy my Lord at all times to meet your wishes and to forward by every means in my power the operations of the rmy even if I did not feel that I was personally Concern’d in the Success of its operations, but I hope whenever your Lordship wishes to have the navy employ’d in a particular way that you would be pleased to signify your wishes to me. (NA PRO 30/8/369 f 70)

He may have had a point, as several gunboats sank during the bombardment.

Unlike Flushing, which shows no sign whatever of the British assault, a few of Veere’s houses on the canalfront have a few interesting architectural additions:

I’m fairly sure there has been a little “touching up” since 1809, but I am reliably informed these bad boys were launched either by Popham’s gunboats or Fraser’s batteries. There’s no fanfare about it, still less a plaque, but if you keep your eyes open you will see several houses with these interesting talking-points in various places.

Something else I found interesting in Veere was the Scottish connection. It seems one of the Lords of Veere in the 15th century married a daughter of the Scottish King. One of the clauses of the marriage contract was that Scots traders would have exclusive rights to trade from Veere, then a big commercial port (so long as they promised not to interfere with Dutch continental trade). In the 18th century, the Scots were still a big presence in Veere, and even had their own name for the place (“Cam Veere”). I had noticed one or two contemporary sources mentioning the Scots in Veere, but presumed they were talking about the 71st regiment, which I believe participated in besieging the place. It seems the reality was much more complicated.

Veere is no longer an atlantic trading station. It has been overtaken by bigger commercial centres, but the Veere Gat channel between Walcheren and Noord-Beveland has now been closed off by the Veere Dam, creating the Veere Sea. Had Home Popham attempted to sail the British fleet into the Veere Gat now, he’d have run into trouble fairly swiftly.

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On the Veere Dam, looking out towards the Veere Sea (and probaby standing right where Popham sailed the British fleet in 1809…)

We spent some time wandering the streets of Veere, visiting the museum, and being driven half-demented by the tinkling of the bells (I don’t think I have ever heard bells replicate a baroque trill before), before leaving for our accommodation at Breezand.

On our way up we passed through Grijpskerke, which was where Chatham established his second headquarters on Walcheren on the night of 31 July 1809. Chatham had never intended to set foot on Walcheren: according to the original plan (see my first post) he had meant to stay with the main part of the army sailing down the West Scheldt to Sandvliet and Antwerp. Due to the poor weather conditions that drove nearly the whole expedition into the Roompot, however, he ended up on the wrong side of the island, and decided instead to shadow Sir Eyre Coote’s siege of Flushing.

Coote wasn’t best pleased by the arrangement, particularly when Chatham and his staff kept stealing all the best accommodation everywhere they went: “The Commander of the Forces, with all his collateral Staff, arrived at Grypskerke at the same time as we did, and so crouded the place, that it was with difficulty, we could obtain a lodging”. (Journal of the Walcheren Campaign, University of Michigan Coote MSS Box 29/3)

I can see why, as Grijpskerke was, and still is, tiny tiny tiny. But it was very cute, and had a neat little Protestant church in the centre, which begged to be photographed.

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Church at Grijpskerke

We continued cycling to Breezand. I was looking forward to seeing the place where the British actually made their landing in the evening of 30 July 1809. Breezand was not the originally chosen landing place. The first landing place selected for the expedition, in July 1809, was the broad beaches at Zouteland, a couple of miles north of Flushing, but Strachan insisted on landing further away when the French brought their fleet out into the Flushing roads.

The plan was therefore changed in late July to land near Domburg, at the south-western tip of the island, further away from Flushing but still on the right side of the island. Due to the south-westerly gale on 29 July, however, Domburg became unsafe for landing. The only viable place was Breezand, sheltered by the Roompot and by nearby Noord-Beveland, where the French were in any case not expecting the Brits (… and why would they have been? Breezand was at the WRONG BLOODY END OF THE BLOODY ISLAND).

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Breezand, looking towards Veere Dam (formerly the Veere Gat)

The British landed in the evening of 30 July 1809, once the storm had calmed down a little bit. They encountered minimal resistance and swiftly beat back the French through the scrubland along the top of the dunes, taking Fort Den Haak in short order and chasing the fort’s garrison to the gates of Veere (where they were fired on and forced to retreat).

Fort Den Haak no longer stands (destroyed by the British before they left in December 1809), but there is a plaque. This was the only obvious recognition I saw anywhere on the peninsula acknowledging that the 1809 expedition had taken place. Poor Lt-Gen Fraser, though (the highest-ranking casualty of “Walcheren Fever”) gets saddled with responsibility for the whole expedition, just because he happened to command the taking of the fort. Not sure who’d be more annoyed about that, Fraser or Chatham!

Breezand is now a holiday resort, so we were spoiled for choice in terms of campsites. The one we chose had direct access to a private area of beach, only a half kilometre or so from Fort Den Haak. The beach was broad and very clean, fringed with shallow sandhills (they were not hard to climb) and topped with a tangle of prickly gorse and twisted birch.

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Road through the sandhills to Breezand

I visited there about 7pm on a beautiful evening. It was the last day of March, so not the end of July by any means, and of course the British landed after a storm when the sea was still very choppy, so the conditions were in no way alike. Still, I was almost entirely alone, and I felt there was very little but time separating me from the landing two hundred years previously.

I even saw some riders on the beach, and wondered whether it was an echo through the ages of Chatham and his staff riding to Fort Den Haak for the night.

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Horse riders on Breezand

Apparently the night following the landing was wet and cold. Ours was definitely cold, but beautifully clear. I saw a shooting star over Middelburg (which, in daylight, you could just make out on the horizon from the top of the dunes).

Part 3/3 follows shortly, taking us all the way round the island and back to Flushing…

The Walcheren Expedition: 2016 (Part 1/3)

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In the new year I suggested to my husband that I would like to visit Walcheren before finishing my book. He looked interested, but not that interested, so I decided to up the ante.

Me: We could cycle it.

Husband (perking up): What, you mean the whole way?

Me: Why not?

Husband: And camp?

Me: ………. All right.

Husband: You’re on.

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How we travelled

And so we planned an Easter trip (because, you know, Russian roulette with the weather is all part of the fun). Arrangements were made for the kids to go to their grandparents; I made a suggested itinerary, compiled a long list of likely campsites, booked train tickets and ferries, and we packed. As lightly as possible, as we would be cycling 450 km (280 miles) on a tandem.

Our whole trip, including trains between Oxford and West Folkestone (with some cycling in London between stations) and the ferries across the Channel, looked something like this:

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Map data ©2016 Google

A (brief) historical note

For those of you who are not au fait with the Walcheren Expedition of 1809, this, in a rather rotten nutshell, is what happened.

walcheren map from flickr

Map from Fortescue, History of the British Army VII (supplement). Image from here

The Walcheren expedition was Britain’s contribution to the Fifth Coalition with Austria. Austria would conduct the main continental campaign against Napoleon while Britain engaged in a diversionary attack in an area of her own choosing. Britain chose a “coup de main” against Antwerp, which was a huge French dockyard and commercial centre. Destroying Antwerp would be a cheap way for Britain to neutralise the danger of French invasion, pierce Napoleon’s Continental System which was damaging British trade, and draw Napoleon’s attention away from Austrian action inland. Unfortunately the Battle of Wagram put Austria out of the war before the Walcheren expedition even started, but the campaign continued anyway in the hope that victory would keep Austria in the war.

Lord Chatham was appointed to command the military part of the biggest expeditionary force fielded by Britain so far during the war: about 40,000 soldiers and over 600 vessels, more than 200 of which were warships. Sir Richard Strachan commanded the naval part of the expedition.

The expedition consisted of four parts. The smallest, under Lord Huntly, would land on the Cadzand shore and neutralise the French battery at Breskens, allowing the main part of the fleet to enter the West Scheldt. Meanwhile, 12,000 men under Chatham’s second-in-command, Sir Eyre Coote, would lay siege to Vlissingen (Flushing). The reserve under Sir John Hope would take control of the neighbouring island of Suid-Beveland, allowing the remaining 20,000 men under Chatham himself to sail all the way to Sandvliet, reduce the largest forts protecting the narrow part of the Scheldt (Lillo and Liefkenshoek), and march on to destroy the dockyards of Antwerp.

Things went wrong almost immediately. The expedition sailed (late) at the end of July, and ran into a storm. Home Popham, the unofficial Captain of the Fleet, saved the expedition by sailing it into the sheltered Roompot and through the Veere Gat at the furthest point of Walcheren, but this meant most of the expedition (except for Huntly) were now in the East rather than the West Scheldt. Meanwhile, Lord Huntly failed to land at Cadzand, which meant the Breskens battery remained active and continued to reinforce Flushing by boat. This meant the British ships could only enter the West Scheldt through the sandbank-filled Sloe Passage separating Walcheren and Suid-Beveland. Understandably, it took time and effort to get hundreds of troop and supply transports through to the West Scheldt.

Chatham and Coote landed on Walcheren on 30 July 1809 at Breezand and initially made swift progress. By 3 August, all Walcheren except Flushing and all Suid Beveland were in British hands. At this stage the campaign stalled. The British fleet could not get into position to complete the siege of Flushing because of unfavourable winds, and the French continued reinforcing the town until 7 or 8 August. Because of this Chatham was forced to reinforce Coote from the men destined for Antwerp, putting that part of the plan on hold until Flushing fell. With no time for a slow siege, bombardment was the only option, but the British batteries were slow to build due to poor weather and did not open until 13 August. After two days of intensive bombardment Flushing fell, and after a short delay Chatham moved onto Suid-Beveland to continue to Antwerp.

By this time, however, the French had managed to bring 35,000 men to the area, removed their fleet further upriver, and repaired their fortifications. At about this time, sickness also broke out among the British troops. By the end of August a quarter of the army was out of action with a crippling combination of malaria, dysentery, typhus, and typhoid. Chatham called off the expedition on 27 August, and returned to England in mid-September with the bulk of the army.  The politicians had hoped to retain the valuable commercial base of Walcheren, and 16,000 men remained there with that in mind, but by December it was clear possessing the island was not worth the cost of defending it and it was evacuated.

Thankfully, our expedition was rather more successful, although we didn’t get to Antwerp either………..

The Walcheren Expedition of 1809 2016: Days 1-2

The first two days were, essentially, spent just getting there. We left Oxford at 3:00 am on 28 March, caught the train to West Folkestone, and cycled the remaining distance across the cliffs to Dover (grrrmbllr engineering works grrmmbbllr). The beginning of our journey was considerably enlivened by Storm Katie, which decided to break the night before we left. We had one cancelled train because of a tree on the line, and some delays, but apart from that Katie did little but give us a very rough ferry journey and then a tailwind on the other side (wheeeeeeeeeee).

We spent the first night in De Panne (Belgium), and on the second day reached Cadzand.

From here on, here’s a more detailed map of our Walcheren cycling:

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Map data ©2016 Google

Day 3 (30 March): Cadzand – Breskens – Vlissingen – Middelburg – Arnemuiden

We hit the coast pretty quickly after leaving Cadzand, and pretty much immediately we had our first sight of Walcheren:

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First sight of Walcheren!

If you consult the map at the top of this page, you can see we were approaching Vlissingen (Flushing) along the Wielingen Channel, which forms the opening to the West Scheldt. This was where Lord Huntly failed to land and disable the Breskens battery, which continued reinforcing Flushing for most of the siege. Flushing, incidentally, is the town on the right with the tall buildings.

We proceeded to Breskens, where we caught the ferry across to Flushing. I thought about the French reinforcements for Flushing making the same journey in 1809 under the nose of the British ships, rendered completely inactive by the contrary winds. I wonder if they indulged in a few rounds of “Your mother was a hamster, &c” as they went. I imagine they probably did.

 

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Once in Flushing, I was expecting to find the place looking very new and shiny with very few pre-1809 buildings surviving. The devastation of Chatham’s August 1809 bombardment was, by all accounts, pretty extensive.

 

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Flushing Town Hall during the bombardment, from here

I was agreeably surprised to find the town full of 16th and 17th century buildings. I daresay most of them lost their roof in 1809, and probably again in 1944, when the British returned to flatten Flushing a second time (this time by RAF bombing). There is quite a lot about the role of Walcheren in WWII on the island: several plaques, statues, monuments, museums, etc etc etc. There is virtually no sign of the 1809 expedition, however, which goes to show that victories are much more likely to be remembered than failures, particularly when said victories occurred within living memory.

Some of the fortifications were 16th century, although most dated from 1812, when the damage the British made to the harbour on leaving in 1809 was repaired. There was a windmill from 1699 on the seafront though, which appears in many prints of the bombardment of Flushing.

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British assault on Flushing from “France Militaire”, showing the 1699 windmill

After leaving Flushing, we made our way to Middelburg. Middelburg was where Chatham established his main headquarters, from 1 August 1809 until he moved to Suid-Beveland on 21 August. He returned there at the beginning of September.

Middelburg is still the capital of Zeeland, and a mighty pretty place it is too. The anonymous author of Letters from Flushing (London, 1809, pp. 109, 145, 207) described it as “an Amsterdam in miniature”, a fortified town with eight gates and twelve basions “with large and deep ditches filled with water”. Another source (Journal of the Walcheren Campaign, University of Michigan Coote MSS Box 29/3) wrote:

Middelburg, the Capital of Dutch Zealand, is a very handsome opulent town, well paved & lighted. The streets are pretty regular, and the houses very well built. … The appearance of the Town denotes a great degree of ease & opulence. … The Town is surrounded with a wide wet ditch of regular Bastions, but there are no Guns mounted on the Ramparts & the environs are so covered wth habitations & Plantations, that It could make no defence, so long as they were suffered to exist. The Groote Kercke, or principal church has a handsome steeple & very melodious chimes, which are for ever in play.

I can testify to the church chimes being “very melodious” and “for ever in play”. I could imagine Chatham being kept awake by them at *cough* ten o’clock in the morning *cough*.

He stayed in the Abbey while in Middelburg. The “Lange Jan” (“Long John”) church tower is attached to this. It is now the Zeeuws Museum, and therefore accessible to the public, although it was gutted during WWII. Some of the fixtures seem to be original, though:

Yes, I probably spent more time looking at the fixtures than at the museum exhibits (those were interesting too).

The Abbey itself (it closed in 1574) is a magnificent building, and I can totally understand why Chatham spent so much time there.

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Middelburg Abbey

We wandered about Middelburg for a couple of happy hours.  I should mention that at this stage of the trip I had not yet fully realised where we were yet and so the full import of our location had not yet penetrated. I suppose on some level I was kind of aware I was in the place I had been reading about for so long, but I think it was only when we reached Veere, the next day, that I truly realised WE WERE ON WALCHEREN.

But that is for Part 2

(And, as it turns out, because I’m utterly incapable of concision, Part 3)