The following is a newly translated and never before published (in English and/or in the last century, anyway) set of letters describing the Siege of Gibralter from the Devon Records Office. Very exciting
Ref No: 346M/F/160 – 1782 – ‘Noticias de Europa y America’, manuscript book in Spanish describing the siege of Gibraltar
Letter written in Cadiz by someone who witnessed what it is related, to a friend of his in Havana dated 26th of October 1782
It will cause horror and wonder in the world, the news of the fire and destruction of the floating battery [vessels]: terror to consider the sacrifice of about 1480 brave soldiers; killed, wounded and made prisoners in this fatal enterprise and, disbelief that in a matter of two hours machinery classed by its author and, adopted by the ministers in Madrid and Versailles, as unsinkable and fireproof, would have been burnt.
Giving feelings of humanity and benevolence due vent, we should feel sorry for the unfortunate yet courageous victims otherwise worthy of a fortunate and glorious life, the highest rewards for having faced this with heroism comparable to the more celebrated deeds in history not only in the execution of the action but also facing the imminent danger of either perishing in the flames or drowning at sea.
It is only natural that numerous enquiries should be made about this misfortune to find out the cause of the unfortunate event considering that it had been deemed infallible and, that detailed information should be required regarding the project itself, its execution and of the consequences and subsequent disposition of the cabinet in Madrid, in the most critical and interesting moment for all Europe which believed that the seige of Gibraltar would signify the end of the war. Because of this, it seems to me that an accurate and impartial narration of the matter, with the reflections that could be drawn from it, will serve to dispel the shadows caused by either national concerns or the first impressions of fear or due to the confusion and the variety of opinions expressed, with the aim of aiding whoever saw this narration to be able to make a fair and right judgement in relation to the disaster.
The 12th of the month (August, 1782), the combined squadron entered the bay of Algeciras, it was made up of fifty ship and [drop anchor] stretching from the end of Europe till the bridge of Mayorga, forming a line opposite the mont of Gibraltar. (This position was taken by express order of the Court, having been requested by the duke of Crillon, and some say the count of Artois, with the intention to frighten with its impressive presence the resolve of the [garrison] making more difficult the hope of a prompt rescue). It must be said that this situation not only would not have had the desired effect of preventing the aid of the garrison but also, it would have put the combined squadron into the considerable disadvantage of preventing it from changing its position when firing at the enemy.
The morning of the 13th, the duke of Crillon eager to execute the persistent orders from the Court to launch an attack at sea with the ten floating vessels, seeing that the weather conditions were favorable with westerly wind and calm sea, sent one of his helpers to Senor Don Ventura Moreno, commanding officer of the force concerned with the attack, with the orders to get the vessels closer to their agreed position. Senor Moreno, who was responsible for finding the best anchorage for the vessels, and in many ways showing signs of fatigue as a result of the significance of the task, had not slept for the previous three nights, and who overtaken with tiredness, was in bed, replied to the orders of the duke with the aforementioned reasons, and seeing that at five in the morning there was no sign of weighing anchor, the duke with irritation sent the Prince Maserano, one of his first helpers, with new and precise orders to Senor Moreno to move the vessels forward, whom replied that the delay in its execution was due to the fact that the cables of the warships anchored next to the Mayorga Bridge became tangled with those from the vessels anchored in the same spot, and suggested that seeing that the wind and swell were increasing, it was likely that the operation would be delayed for another day. But afterwards, we learned that the delay, till later that day, was with the intention of dispelling the signs of confussion and lack of morale of the navy. In that way giving the multitude of people who were there congregated, the chance of seeing for themselves the testimony [proof] that he was going to give about his operations.
He was seen to have set sail at 8 am with fresh westerly wind and choppy sea, his [battery] and that commanded by the Prince of Nassau were the firsts to [touch bottom] at 350 toesas away from the wall of the old wharf and the side of the Bastion Real, the remaining ones followed suit situating themselves in parallel nonetheless with some disorder and delay due to the fact that some of them were either poorly managed or their commanders were less well-informed. At 10 am those commanded by Moreno, Nasau and Cayetano Sangara opened fire with intensity and admirable skill at a time when the others [se acoderaban].
To repay for all the batteries, Eliot fired a stream of red bullets, bombs and grenades and in particular for that bastion situated next to the new wharf, that precisely flanked our batteries, the red bullets penetrated and latched onto its parapets and caught light which for most part was put out as a result of the fearlessness and zeal of the crew however, because of the intense heat that the red bullet retains and multiplying because of the incessant attack, it spread so much that by 6 pm the three batteries already mentioned were burning like coal however without igniting flame. Likewise, the other seven caught a bright lively fire, in particular those commanded by Senor Gravina and Senor Munoz affected, like the first three aforementioned, by the relentless fire of the garrison and extinguishing it in several ways with real courage and heroism. The remaining five, either because of their size or because of their location were less exposed or better said, considered of lesser importance by the English, remained almost intact.
At 1 pm Don Federico Gravina sent one of his helpers to the duque of Crillon letting him know that he had put the fire from the bullets out, over forty times, and asking him for reinforcements. At 5 o’clock, the Prince Nassau disembarked, leaving the duque in charge and, at seven the same afternoon, Senor Moreno was summoned by the Duque of Crillon. The army was deployed, and more than twenty thousand curious people who gathered anticipating a happy and safe spectacle on the contrary, witnessed with sorrow and distress a scene that could not end in anything but tragedy.
It was not possible to put out the fire on the main five batteries, due to the fact that the bombs were poorly proportioned, and because of the danger of water getting into them which, dampening the gunpowder and ammunition, prevented the use of the own [said] artillery. The enemies increased their fire everywhere with such lucidity and amazing aim that the granades and red bullets entered the [portas] of the cannons causing excessive havoc among the crew. Because of the choppy sea and fresher air, the gunboats could not get close enough to divert the attention of the enemy and in that way help the ten batteries. The ground fire and advance also ceased, without a doubt because, having started with such an intensity, they used up the munitions.
One cannot understand why these fatal oversights were completely overlooked. The more basic precautions by the generals to guarantee the retreat in case of disaster striking were not observed. Such preventative measures aimed at sending small vessels and boats to come to the aid at the first sign of trouble were not put into place. Even so, the small number of those boats which were available were not sent by officers so that, their crew overcome by fear and concerned about their own safety rather than risking going through the bullets being shot everywhere in the aid of others, remained in their positions or ran away abandoning their ships. In that way, those who maintained that the ten batteries had been sent from the beginning to the more inhuman of sacrifices, were not far from the truth.
The duque of Crillon, commander in chief of both sea and land operations, seeing the impossibility of saving the batteries and fearing that even those that seemed undamaged were likely to end up in enemy hands, ordered the commanders, at 4 am of the 14th, to open fire to all [with tar shirts?], after the crew was made safe. But the delay in aiding the ships, and the relentless shrapnell fire from the enemy towards those retreating, caused such confussion that it truly caused more losses than the ones that could have been expected from the enemy artillery, being many those who wanting to swim to safety, ended up drowning and even more those who overcrowded the lifeboats provided and caused them to sink.
It was no luck that in the middle of this disaster the squadron had been archored in Algeciras Bay. Senor Moreno had asked Srs. Cordoba and Guichen help at 9 pm., both gave all their lifeboats commanded by officers but because of the darkness and the distance to the anchorage, the prompt landing of the 7,000 men was impossible and the misfortune of many could not be avoided.
The batteries commanded by Moreno and Nassau were the first to be destroyed as a result of the concentration of red bullets on them to
which the others followed suit. So that by 6 am, the sea was covered in burning wood. The only remains of machinery for which construction Spain had used up a mount of trees and for which the most beautiful bronze artillery had been used as weaponry. Eliot who was aware of this unfortunate outcome[mess] either for humanity or to raise his profile, in the strenuous defense of the garrison town, sent several armed lifeboats to the rescue of 355 prisoners.
Following this honest account, wanting without a doubt to rise to the origin of the project and to descend to the moment in which disaster stroke, one can make the following assertions. I agree with all those who believed Mr D’Arcon to have been one of the most capable engineers in France, that he may have so much insight, and that similarly, he may have been a very sensible man and that he may have inspired confidence. I also agree that his idea of attacking Gibraltar by sea with safer machines than the ones available, may have been the only way to accomplish this. Finally I will agree that his plans were backed by an apparently sound theory which could have persuaded and seduced the Minister, predisposing this to prefer him over any other who may have suggested such enterprise. All this seems only natural, but we have also seen prominent men to [build up] chimeras and to defend them with more fervor than the one used to uncover the most evident truths, and all those who are not versed in a science, or who only possess a veneer, is no wonder that he would adopt the ideas of those who he presumes as having a theoretical and practical knowledge on the subject but, the thing that surprises me most is that the Count of Floridablanca and that monsignor de Vergenes had not only accepted the project with the sole explanation given by its author, without having consulted it with the experts, but also, that they had prevented the Navy from giving its opinion on the matter and rejected the initial concerns it raised over the defects in the construction of such machinery. Consequently, the danger that the red or incendiary bullets posed was exposed and consequently this experience was rejected.
It was guaranteed that the floating batteries built on the blueprints provided by Mr D’Arcon would be fireproof as he had maintained in the detailed manual that accompanied their plans. Regarding its construction, how many mistakes have been made! Firstly, considering the quantities and weight that they had to carry and the use they were going to be given, the vessels chosen were not only old but also small. The supervision of the project had been left in its entirety to Mr D’Arcon who knows nothing about construction, consequently it turned out to be so much different from the initial plan, that one can truly say they were bearly similar to the machines proposed. This variation may have seemed easier in paper but in its execution, it turn out to be impractical. Mr D’Arcon should have asked for a formal experiment, but either due to an incomprehensible error of judgement or because of the sheer confidence inspired by the epithets fireproof and unsinkable, only its own artillery and the [velegear] were tested. What were the precautions taken against fire and immersion? To have piled a heap of logs over the hull of an old vessel, reinforcing its upper and lateral [resistance] and arranging inside some pumps and pipes to direct the water; these pumps, pipes and heaps of logs were badly conceived in the first place as it turned out, once the water inside the pipes overflew, it ended up making the ammunitions wet so much so that the batteries ceased to use the pumps which incidentally, neither the pumps nor the pipes were enough to put down the fire from a red bullet inlaid in the wood. Finally, even when the parapet and lining of the batteries had been fire proof, Mr D’Arcon was mistaken when he asserted that his machines would be fire proof and impregnable and that at the utmost, 100 men would be lost. The red bullets and grenades found their way in through the outlets for the cannons; the formers causing fires, the latters wreaking havoc. This should have been foreseen since in the 2 liners, the openings of the [portas] were bigger than the whole of the [chazas] and that out of one hundred bullets aimed at the flanks, approximately one third would have entered through the [portas].
The pronect was ill-conceived; unforgivably lightly undertaken, the construction of the machines was carelessly done; the execution of the attack could not have been planned and managed with more imprudence and inexperience, the main events cannot be thought of or even mentioned without a slight tinge of amazement; the least suitable day is chosen to carry out such enterprise. Fresh western wind and choppy sea which prevented the gunboats from accompanying and backing the batteries up, ceasing the fire from the boats at the most crucial time, giving way for the enemy to aim all its artillery to the batteries, and then the [crew] gets confused when it realises the strength and activity of the enemy fire, placing itself badly and randomly due to having overlooked some preventative measures; situating itself at last,and starting the fire.
Who would imagine that the duque of Crillon would not have thought of what every general thinks, before victory, in the retreat, if fortune did not favor him? Even when there were many who had warned him and even suggested the means. The navy did not propose them so that his worth would not be questioned. But those in charge should not disregard the sensible and well-intentioned warnings only to come across as bold.
That [Cortes] would be willing to burn his vessels leading his comrades to victory or death could be considered a heroic action depending on the circumstances, but to send seven thousand men on machinery which effective functioning had not been properly tested and send them on their own to endure the constant fire from a garrison town such as Gibraltar without having conceived the slightest retreat plan, is a decision that can be regarded as foolish. The astonishment is even greater when one realises that not only the retreat and escape from the batteries was not properly planned but also that at a time of eminent danger, the means to diminish at least the damages caused by an excessive and blind confidence were not available. By 4 pm of the 13th, the duke of Crillon was aware that Mr D’Arcon’s machines were combustible and sinkable, he knew that his men were mostly employed in putting down the fire caused by the red bullets, he knew that the fire was difficult to extinguish because it was concentrated and hidden and, it spread everywhere. He was aware that the few lifeboats available were not being deployed by officers and, he could not have failed to notice that any hope of launching a successful attack with such machinery were slim and to top it all, by 9 pm, it was not requested of the combined squadron the aid of the lifeboats so that the confusion already mentioned was inevitable and likewise, inevitable were the tragic consequences that it had.
To make the above behaviour even more absurd and incomprehensible, the following Sunday, the duke of Crillon maintained in front of several officers that he had never had the least confidence in the floating batteries, that he had opposed the plan and that he had not done more than to obey orders from the court. With this declaration, his responsibility regarding the lack of precautions taken increases and I do not know how this could be justified in front of the court, unless it is carried out with the intention to revive the spirit of the troops with its quiet confidence adding in the same meeting that he was confident of the success of the project from which he would pay otherwise with his own head.
I conclude my meditations over this ill-fated enterprise with the pronouncement of those more experienced in the attack and defense of garrison towns and who practically know that of Gibraltar, that had the batteries of Mr D’Arcon been fireproof and unsinkable, had the attack been well executed, that it had had the desired effect of pulling down the ramparts they were aiming at and that the assault had been finally carried out, that does not mean that Gibraltar had been captured or that it will be now in Spanish hands.
It is believed that the English have built endless entrenchments on the inside, mining all the passages and aiming their fire in such a way that anyone who had turned up would have been the victim of a false courage. As a result, they regard the failure of the batteries as a painful event and that it could have been diminished but that even when unfortunate it has avoided a greater disaster.
In spite of all that I have already related, I think that the king, with his stubborn nature, would not desist from the idea of continuing the siege for we have to await several attempts. It has been suggested that the plan conceived by the famous engineer La Valiere, the [vauban de] Louis XV would be revived. But it does not cross their minds that when La Valiere first proposed the plan of attack of Gibraltar there may have been half the fortifications and defences than the ones recently discovered at the expense of so many treasures and lives lost. The idea then, to take Gibraltar presented as infallible by the French ministry at the outset of the war in order to engage Spain in it, has been the barrier against which so much effort has gone into and failed and will continue to be made even when well founded hopes it may have of retaining and increasing the gains obtained in other places, there is no doubt that Spain has badly invested almost all its power in the blockade and siege of this garrison town at the expense of other more feasible enterprises having been generally agreed, and more politically sound, since the beginning of the war that Gibraltar in Jamaica should have been seiged [instead?].
The events regarding the combined squadron and the English one at that time became known and as a result the latter came escorting a big convoy with aid and reinforcements for the said garrison town (Gibraltar).
Admiral Howe arrived at the strait on the 12th (October 1782) when there was a heavy storm, commanding 34 warships and 60 freight. Our combined squadron consisting of 49 warships was anchored at the time in Algeciras Bay, awaiting the enemy whose proximity had been announced. The night of the 11th to the 12th, many of our ships, in close proximity to each other, were close to breaking down as a result of an increasing south westernly wind and the St Miguel commanded by Mr Juan Moreno weighed anchor and ended up in the Gibraltar bay and could not help ending up in enemy’s hand which added this ship to its fleet and is one of the fastest, the St Pablo, with 2 frigates was compelled to cut the cables and to set sail, entering the Mediterranean almost at the same time as Howe’s squadron and was lucky enough to reach Cartagena safely.
The warship lost its mast but the other 45 remained in good condition and it was believed that the following day, when the news that the English had successfully penetrated in the Gibraltar bay with ten freight, 2 frigates and 1 ship of 64, being forced to proceed towards the Mediterranean, they would depart soon, leaving 40 hours or more on preparations and not setting sail till the day 14th with the aim of making the enterprise a more useful and glorious than the ones the ages had witnessed before, and as far as the elements and fate could have allowed if our superiors had taken advantage of the opportunity, but friend, there is no need to go as far as that, and once lost one should not regret or complain that this would have done much in our favour.
Instead of remaining static with our heavy squadron, near the strait, and certain that the English would have had to use this entrance again, and to give them their worth, we endeavored to, I do not know whether compelled by our fervour or because of our lack of knowledge, chase them.
They who run like the wind and are cunning like foxes, the first day sailed in such a way, so as to make us think that we could overtake them, until we reached the open sea, when they revealed their trick [intention] of catching [us behind] at night and placing themselves in the position we should have occupied. It has been said that they [English] were like Barbarian who approached the coasts of Berberia risking getting lost in them in order to pursue the wind, but because of this impudence, they managed to make the most of the eastern wind that blew on the 18th to introduce all their convoy in Gibraltar, having gained a bit more territory than the one Howe had taken while [in sail] near Tetuan to later return to the ocean before the combined squadron could fire a single cannonshot.
By attempting to chase them, we made a mistake and, even when afterwards, we tried to put things right, the wind did not favour us. Once into the open ocean, we did not have to think of forcing the enemy to take a decisive action. However, our lighter division was able to reach them in time and in the end, 32 confronted the entire squadron commanded by Howe, 14 of those belonging to Bonet and Gaston’s divisions remaining leeward and left behind.
When the shooting began, those in command of the combined squadron were feeling brave and willing to continue but Howe, who had already achieved his main objective and in so doing, given the greatest satisfaction to his country, realising that the continuation of the fight could not achieve anything else but to contribute to the deterioration of a squadron otherwise necessary to carry out other projects, after a while ordered his men to leave and left us with the grief of knowing that we could not reach them, after the loss in such brief and useless action of about 80 men and ending up with 300 injured. The present time now is 11pm, the combined squadron was entering and, considering the cannon shots they were firing, there must have been some run aground even when the sea and wind could not have been more favourable.
Friend, the account that I give is truthful and in line with the opinion of sensible people. You will very often hear others, it could be that Mazarredo could not justify the chase and that he had founded reasons for wanting to validate his maneuver, since he [Howe] is a man who is [believed to be] as the best English admiral. I admire him and even now some defend him but we cannot ignore the evidence that the English were the first to enter in the Mediterranean, that we were about to catch them in the mousetrap and that instead of entering in it with them , we could have waited for them at the door and because we did not do it that way, the mice have run away and will gnaw possibly where we do not have anybody to look after our larder.
It is a great misfortune that Spain has not succeeded on any of its endevours. It looks like the war will continue since the French will be sending troops to America and it is expected that our squadron, otherwise idle in Europe, will end up in that hemisphere. It is to expect that those winds would do them good and that our luck changes for the better, those neutral will refrain from mediating in favour of peace since they benefit from the war. Similarly the belligerent can allocate to themselves a [composicion] otherwise I trust all of them will end up without the prize [or energy].
Answer to the former, Havana 5th of May 1783
The navigation from that bay, undertaken on the 28th of April of the year after 1780 to this North America, was very successful. Despite being over the 100 sails the convoy that was escorting the squadron commanded by Mr Joseph Solano consisting of 12 ship liners and other minor warships, we recognised straight away the islands Barlovento, Marigalante and Deseada the morning of the following 7th of June thankful for having avoided the superior British squadron that (aware of our arrival) was awaiting us on cape Salinas, windward of the Martinique Island which was the meeting point with the French squadron commanded by the Count of Guichen and consisted of 17 ships and some minor vessels, without making a landfall to the said cape [Salinas], the night of the 11th we recognised Mr Guichen. There were several attempts to take Royal Fort on Martinique and being unsuccessful, several vessels entered the port at Dominica, some on the bay of Grand-Once on the same island, just as they took Martinique and the remaining towards Guadalupe, where following a meeting of generals and chiefs, all the seriously injured were left with commisioners, rising their number of those to 1000 in a short period of time.
We continued jointed with the French till the island of Santo Domingo (disembarking on our way to Puerto Rico the Crown regiment, having lost in the getting off of corporal Rojo the merchant ship El Gallardo, registered at Veracruz) in which cove of the French cape (alias Guarico) Mr Guichen stayed with his squadron, following us to this port to which it arrived on the 13th of the following August, finding in it the ship ”El Dragon”and the frigate Rosalia del Rey together with 19 vessels belonging to the convoy that was split when we caught sight of the Barlorto Islands.
On the arrival of this squadron and disembarkment of the army Don Bernardo de Galvez planned the conquest of Pensacola and in order to do that he asked for the aid of Mr Navia ,commander in chief of the said army, to Mr Navarro governor and field marshall of this garrison town and island, and to Mr Bonet commander in chief of the navy for this Northern part of America whom considering the order given by S. M. to give Mr Galvez all the aid he needed, they were all cleared and because the preparation of the necessary vessels was delayed, once the time for departure arrived, it was already the wintering period which brought a severe storm that separated all the ships on which Mr Galvez and his army were carried, and caused even the ships of 80 to lose their spars, each of them ending up everywhere and nowhere resulting in the loss of a warship and ending up on the cost of San Bernardo (which is inhabited by fierce Indians who slaughtered everyone of them) a merchant brigantine which carried a chaplain and army troops. When Mr Galvez returned to this [island], his army which came back to get ready for the project, successively verified everything. He established his second departure for the 1st of February, 1781 taking with him [the main line to batter?]and campaign which came from Spain with the army commanded by Mr Navia, at the same time supplying him with the best post he had.
This expedition gladly arrived to the island of Sta Rosa opposite the port of Pensacola which entrance could not make the ship of 64, San Ramon, even when it reached as far as 19 feet having tried it twice through the canal that the waters made up in that harbour however, it always touched the bottom, for that reason the army was introduced in minor vessels without any other strong ship than the frigate Matilde.
The brigantine el Galvez (alias Galveztown) being one of the first to try out the entrance, in which its commander and army chief who after having being seen disembarking by the commander of the San Ramon, left with his ship for this harbour. Meanwhile Mr Galvez operated in Pensacola, Mr Navia who was told by the Court that Spanish and French land and sea forces would arrive at [Guarico], was getting ready to meet with them and verify the position of the island of Jamaica, as fast as possible, bloquing it with the combined squadron at that time far superior than the British one. In this interval, the night of the 7th of April they were warned from the cape of San Antonio that warlike vessels had been discovered and fearing that they would be aimed at reinforcing the Pensacola and cut off Mr Galvez, the meeting held by our generals (with the assistance of Don Francisco Saavedra who had it by order of the King) determined to send all the Spanish vessels to the aid of Mr Galvez and in so doing transferring 1500 army men, at the command of Mr Cagigal so that with this reinforcement it could accelerate the conquest. Indeed the squadron commanded by Mr Solano left (with whom Mr Monteuill, commander in chief of the French squadron also left with 4 ships, 2 frigates and 3 sloops from his nation which were accidentally in this port) the 9th of said April, gladly arriving to its destination where the rendition of Pensacola on the 8th of the following May was
verified. In light of such success, the said squadron and reinforcement returned, entering in this harbour on the 29th of the same month, to which arrival they found on this, documents by Court which ordered Mr Navia to give up the command of his army to Mr Galvez and on his absence to Mr Cagigal, to whom the command and general captaincy of this garrison and island was given, separating Mr Navarro from him, and it conferred the command of the navy to Mr Solano taking this away from Mr Bonet and that these three deposed generals should leave for Europe immediately (as this was verified by the end of the following June on the ships commanded by Mr Morales that were escorting a convoy for Europe) That Mr Wahen field marshal and [directly] subordinate to Mr Navia, should go to Mexico and await for orders from the King over there (who did not have any other option than to return to Europe once a peace deal was agreed) sending Mr Arredondo major general of the army, as governor of the city of Santiago de Cuba.
Having undergone such metamorphosis, Mr Galvez arrived, applauded, to this garrison and took charge of the army, and from that moment on the conquest of Jamaica was considered and in order to do that, he said that he was going to Guarico to receive the reinforcement of 4000 men who had departed from Europe in 4 warships commanded by Don Francisco de Borja.
The departure of Mr Galvez took place the following December on the San Juan [ship] only following him after some days Mr Solano and his squadron, escorting the vessels that were carrying the army. Many of which were dispersed and one after another were arriving to this port, or [sandbanks] and harbours of the coast of this island. They left together by February 1782 accompanied by the ship El Velasco (on which Mr Galvez’s wife was carried) arriving without delay to the [guarico] where Mr Borja’s vessels were awaiting with the already mentioned troops. At that time the count of Grasse who was in charge of 32 French vessels found himself in Martinique in order to meet with Mr Solano precisely at the agreed time. Mr Cagigal who was convinced that with such combined naval forces, far superior to the enemy’s, together with those windward, he had an unbeatable [antemural] of the island at his command, he decided to go himself to lead the small amount of veteran soldiers that were left in this garrison (because Mr Galvez had taken the rest of them) reduced to one Spanish battalion and another from Guadalajara that in order to take them to their full potential, he made use of 6 companies from the New Spain Crown regiment, that arrived to this after their flags were left. With this short number of veteran troops and a squad of militias, one made up of black and another of mixed race men, this governor set sail on 22 of April of the same 1782 in a war frigate from the united provinces of North [America] in charge of 5 other brigantines from his home country, armed, escorting 42 sails on which this army, intended for the conquest of the Lacayas Islands and Providence (because of its location very damaging to it as it has been the experience during this war) was carried. Which surrender was agreed to, without any hostility on the 8th of the following May. Mr Cagigal who had been notified of the defeat suffered by Mr Grasse’s squadron at the hands of the British admiral Rodney, returned immediately to this [island], leaving 300 men from the squadron in the conquered garrison town and with the order to his direct subordinate rear admiral Don Joseph Manriquez, to go back immediately to this garrison town with the rest of the army as he promptly did (in spite of coming with neither the frigate nor the American brigantines) [rather] than with brigantine that the Florida corsairs had captured. The disaster affecting the French was known by Mr Galvez in the [guarico], and fearing some [resultas] in Puerto Rico and this garrison town, he sent to this 500 men, commanded by colonel Don Pedro Mendinueta, transported in the San Juan and to this Soria’s regiment (with the exception of his grenadiers) on the orders of his colonel, rear admiral Don Manuel de Pineda accidentally in charge of the troops belonging to the army in operation. In July 1782, Mr Solano left the [guarico] with his squadron to which was included the French one commanded by the chief of this squadron Vaudreull who made his way to the port of Boston, also entering Mr Solano’s the same July.
In mid August [N. S] to this port 3 miles away, a British squadron turn up made up of 25 liners and other minor vessels commanded by admiral Pigot, who blocked it for 13 days, [finding himself defeated?] landing briefly in Rio [de Janeiro?], 10 leagues windward from this, looting some sugar and burning the one left in the warehouse.
In October the major general of the operation ordered his rear admiral to go and join the army with as many troops belonging to him as he could, which did not realise until the 6th of March of the following year in the 9 ships which made their way to the [guarico] commanded by Mr Borja. A few days after the departure of this squadron news broke that from Paris the [guarico] had been ordered to prepare for peace which prompted them to stop war preparations and hostilities. Then those appointed by our court arrived and as a result, all the army remaining in the [guarico] was ordered to leave. Entering this [guarico] the last days of the following April field marshal Mr Geronimo Giron to whom the command had been handed over . [his second in chief?] arriving a few days after his generalissimo whom soon after his arrival received the title of Count of Galvez and commander of Bolanos, news which arrived the day before yesterday.
The account that I am giving you of events taking place in the last 3 years that we haven’t seen each other is, as the scribes say, [before in the presence of ] me and mostly in the presence of my faithful friends and confidants from which you will draw your own conclusions, as you have already done with yours as you have told me, I will content myself with saying that having met on the 11th of June 1780 in such an advantageous and well proportioned place as the French Barlovento Islands, the formidable forces till then in this hemisphere made up of 29 liners with enough minor vessels to be sent for assignments and 14.000 veterans formerly commanded by Mr Navia with another 4 or 5.000 belonging to the French among their islands and squadron. Despite our hemispheres [distance], a big army would have been formed, with more than 16.000 men and if with these, and the 29 vessels we would have gone to Jamaica straight away, without any other garrison in Kingstown and Spanish town (the only fortified garrison towns) than 3 veteran battalions and some white and mixed race militia, nor without more maritime forces than the fugitive ones remaining in St Lucia, it is plausible (at least more so than the [vonds] at Gibraltar) that the conquest of the said island of Jamaica would have been achieved, that according to what you said in the last paragraph of the tragic narration regarding the batteries, was the incentive for the siege of Gibraltar, and in order to make a prompt and advantageous peace agreement, so that it would have enabled us to at least avoid the loss of between 6 and 8.000 men that with the change in the weather (and other reasons that are better kept secret) they have died and would have saved more than 100 millions of pesos, that with the failed blockade and siege and these unsuccessful enterprises, have been spent, without even mentioning the sad loss of that brilliant artillery, mounts of wood and as you explained to me, have been badly used in the attack with the D’Arconicas.
The thing is that the failure to have started the siege of Jamaica from Barlovento and planning from this, was an inexcusable mistake or the omission from the generals if they were capable to discuss it, or of unforgivable ignorance from the ministry if, once deciding to send the mission here and before operating, since there is no Catalan skipper [de Saetia] foolish enough that was not aware of the fact that from the said Barlovento islands to Jamaica it will take eight days and that from these at least 30 would be needed without been able to use as an excuse the relief of the people and the supply of provisions necessary before such enterprise since he is aware of (the limitless amount of coastguard vessels that operate on the coasts of Guaira and inland Caracas) the amount of smuggled goods supplied to those from that coast, coming from the surrounding areas of these islands; whereas well in advance, the necessary things needed by both the army and the squadron could have been easily provided for, the only reason why they came to this, whereas it is true that they got them, but only by causing a substantial deterioration of the island that had not been seen in years, which rather than doing it on its soil, the sale of its abundant cattle would have been preferable and at the same time it would have encouraged a new comercial vein.
We cannot speculate that the decision to remove Mr Navia from the leadership of the army could have been possible if [because of Jamaica] since its omission (if indeed was) had nothing to do with Mr Bonet and anyway, if anything, with Mr Solano; as we can see the latter took over the leadership from Mr Navia, so it is only natural that we should believe that the dismissal of Mr Navia and the positioning of Mr Galvez instead was done purely to justify the massive promotion given to him, whom having been captain of Seville in 75′s by the year 81 found himself as the lieutenant general (even when violently and at the expense of Mr Navia’s well deserved reputation and other reputable oficials). It is not my intention to work out whether those promotions had been given taking into account specific aptitud, zeal, courage or military experience, since you know him better than me, and I acknowledge that even when still young, God has endowed him with limitless abilities and even if he did not have a good education or enough experience, nature has favoured him by having been born nephew to the minister of these Indias, [to whom] has extended so much the limits of his ministry with his hasty conquests, which you will find out later if you check the [relationship?] our gazzettes have against topographical description in the atlas. I am convinced that the ministry believes, or at least claims to believe that with such conquests it has achieved, if no more, as much as Gibraltar, even when one cannot deny that with this one would have achieved not only a tangible and useful advantage but also the worthy satisfaction of fulfilling the desire and yearnings of our monarch to which end I believed all the efforts from his ministers were aimed at, but as I have realised, I was mistaken.
You are brighter and more able than me to draw these political conclussions, so that, I have only touched the surface regarding the management afforded by the major general, I have just added more reflections, making sure that you will indulge me in sending me yours on what I have just told you.
Less shocking was the mission given to Mr Solano, than that of Mr Galvez, which for the same reason his inaction was noticed the most and arose more criticism, who not only did not plan a escape route, but also shamefully, calmly endured the sight of the English crossing in front of this port and sailing several convoys with weak escorts, without even leaving it, parading up and down on our coasts, capturing several vessels, neither been intercepted nor chased away from our warships, causing this watchful and courageous governor on several occasions to arm American vessels manning them with troops from his own garrison to facilitate the arrival of the special delivery mail boats relentlessly coming from Europe, and if this useful decision would not have been taken, many would have ended up into the enemy’s hands in our very doorsteps.
The squadron is laden with treasures and rich objects to be reinstated to that hemisphere, which I believe will be very soon, since a peace agreement is already in place, there will be a lot of activity and urge to set sail, as they say, in such a haste, that to avoid waiting the 15 days required by the major general to finish, and in order to rush them and transfer them to those domains, I believe they will leave without them, exposing it to great dangers considering the bad state in which all the transports are, which are likely to be used for such means and in that way, increasing the sum to be payed to transport them.
Translation by Paula Reyes. Courtesy of Ren Jackaman and the Devon Record Office.
Image: Map of the Siege of Gibralter, 1705 (Gibralter has been besieged so many times it’s crazy!)
Dr. Maturin suggests further reading: