LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GEORGE AUGUSTUS ELIOTT (CONTINUED)

Staff January 13, 2021

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GEORGE AUGUSTUS ELIOTT (continued)

By the beginning of 1782, the besiegers had already started renovation work on those areas of the Spanish Lines destroyed during the Great Sortie of 26/27th November of the previous year, with new batteries constructed from a parallel that ran right across the isthmus. Then, by mid-February, news reached Gibraltar that Minorca had surrendered to a Franco-Spanish besieging army commanded by the Duc de Crillon; the latter had been created a Grandee of Spain and subsequently placed in charge of the joint French and Spanish force that had been besieging the Rock since 1779. It soon became obvious that there would now be greater impetus to capture the Rock, with the consequent release of additional troop reinforcements to besiege Gibraltar. In the circumstances, the Governor gave instructions for works to continue in earnest in renovating damaged fortifications and in improving existing ones.

On 1st April, Eliott reported to the authorities in England that there was increased naval activity in Algeciras, across the Bay, with about a dozen ships apparently being prepared as battering-vessels, describing them as ‘lined with cork and cables.’ In actual fact, several old men-of-war were cut down, their yards and topmasts struck, upperworks removed and their sides and decks strengthened with extra timbers. After they were cut down, a roof was formed over their top decks and made bombproof, with guns to be used on one broadside only. Eliott even conjectured in his report that they would probably by towed against the Old Mole and the northern part of the sea walls.

In May 1782, attended by the Chief Engineer and staff, he inspected the ruined batteries on the north which had suffered great havoc by the continuous enemy firing. It was said that, at the time, Governor Eliott stated “I will give a thousand dollars to anyone who can suggest how I am to get flanking fire upon the enemy’s works.” Sergeant-Major Henry Ince of the Corps of Military Artificers (later the Royal Engineers) stepped forward and suggested the idea of mining a gallery from a place above Farringdon’s Battery [Willis’s Battery] to communicate to the spur of rock known as the Notch, under the Royal Battery and to mount a gun on this projection. His plan was agreed to and work commenced on 25th May with the work carried out by engineers under the direct supervision of Lieutenant J Eveleigh.

Drinkwater recorded that on 15th July ‘an embrasure was opened in the face of the rock, communicating with the gallery above Farringdon’s: the mine was loaded with an unusual amount of powder, and the explosion was so amazingly loud, that almost the whole of the Enemy’s camp turned out at the report: but what must their surprise be, when they observed whence the smoke issued! The original intention of the opening, was to communicate air to the workmen, who before were almost suffocated with the smoke which remained after blowing the different mines: but, on examining the aperture more closely, an idea was conceived of mounting a gun to bear on all the Enemy’s batteries, excepting Fort Barbara: accordingly orders were given to enlarge the inner part for the recoil; and when finished, a twenty-four-pounder was mounted. This work was prosecuted with such success, that four, if not five guns were mounted in the Gallery, before the subsequent September, and in a little more than twelve months from the day the Engineers commenced, it was advanced to the projection of the Rock, where the Governor purposed to make a battery; which afterwards was effected, and is now distinguished by the name of St. George’s Hall.’

Whether Sergeant-Major Ince ever received the one thousand dollars he was supposedly promised by the Governor is not known. According to one story, he contracted for his subterranean work at the rate of one guinea per running foot; another has it that the total cost ran at one real per foot cube. Certainly, it appears that both Lieutenant Eveleigh and Sergeant-Major Ince were later rewarded by the conferment of plots of land in the upper part of the Rock, with Ince’s Farm continuing to uphold and honour the latter’s name.

Shortly after the arrival of the Comte d’Artois, brother of King Louis XVI of France, to participate in the siege, a boat with a crimson awning and flying a flag of truce arrived in the Bay on 19th August. A British boat put out to meet it and brought back a packet of captured letters for some members of the garrison, together with a gift of ice, fruit, game and vegetables for the Governor. This was accompanied by a letter from the Duc de Crillon informing Eliott of the arrival of the Prince and stated, inter alia, as follows: ‘Permit me, Sir, to offer a few trifles for your table, of which I am sure you must stand in need, as I know you live entirely upon vegetables: I should be glad to know what kind you like best. I shall add a few partridges for the Gentlemen of your household, and some ice, which I presume will not be disagreeable in the excessive heat of this climate at this season of the year…’

Eliott immediately despatched a reply the following day, thanking the Duke for the information regarding the arrival of the French prince and conveying his ‘most profound respects.’ The letter also very graciously and succinctly referred to the gift sent to him, as follows: ‘I return a thousand thanks to your Excellency for your handsome present of fruits, vegetables, and game. You will excuse me however, I trust, when I assure you, that in accepting your present I have broken through a resolution to which I had faithfully adhered since the beginning of the war; and that was, never to receive or procure, by any means whatever, any provisions or other commodity for my own private use: so that without any preference, everything is sold pubickly (sic.) here; and the private soldier, if he has the money, can become a purchaser, as well as the Governor. I confess, I make it a point of honour to partake both of plenty and scarcity in common with the lowest of my brave fellow soldiers. This furnishes me with an excuse for the liberty I now take, of entreating your Excellency not to heap any more favours on me of this kind, as in future I cannot convert your presents to my own private use. Indeed, to be plain with your Excellency, though vegetables at this season are scarce with us, every man has got a quantity proportioned to the labour which he has bestowed in raising them. The English are naturally fond of gardening and cultivation; and here we find our amusement in it, during the intervals of rest from public duty….’

(to be continued)

 

  

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