Essential Information

National Maritime Museum

29 Nov 2007

Continuing to work through the papers of Viscount Exmouth, Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (1757-1833), I have now reached the period immediately after the Napoleonic wars. But while Europe breathed a collective sigh of relief, the Admiralty had other plans for Pellew… Bombardment of Algiers In 1816, Pellew was sent to Algiers to negotiate a treaty for the end of Christian slavery and the release of prisoners. For hundreds of years the Barbary states, Algiers, Tunisia and Tripoli, had attacked European merchant ships and taken prisoners into slavery. Having negotiated treaties with Tripoli and Tunisia, Algiers was the last of the Barbary states to resist. As well as copies of the treaties made with Tripoli and Tunisia, the manuscript collection includes a full and fascinating report of the negotiations between Pellew and the Dey of Algiers. Pellew writes that he calls the Dey's attention to:
'the spirit of resistance that is rising in all Europe against the practices their squadrons have latterly indulged in and more especially the system pursued of retaining their prisoners in slavery and that such was the general feeling of indignation which this revolting practice had created that if persisted in he would have all the world in arms against him'.
Despite the discussions continuing with 'great animation for more than three hours' and being renewed again the next day, a satisfactory conclusion was not reached. Two and a half months later Pellew returned with a squadron and an ultimatum. The bombardment of Algiers was the result, finally breaking the power of the Algerines. Pellew was created Viscount Exmouth for this, the crowning exploit of his career. Fighting the Yankees In my second post I mentioned the Admiralty material which dominates the collection. Some of this is fairly routine in nature, concerning promotions, punishments, prizes and accounts. Much of the correspondence does not even concern Pellew directly, but offers insight into the wide ranging responsibilities of a commander in chief during the Napoleonic wars. For example, in 1813, war with the United States also meant ships of the infant American navy might make an appearance in the Mediterranean. The previous year 3 British frigates Guerierre, Macedonian and Java, had all been lost to the Americans, creating uproar in England. How could such losses occur to a navy barely heard of? The Java had been nowhere near American waters, merely on the way to India with the new Governor General of Bombay. The U.S. frigates were large, fine and well-armed, and the Admiralty struggled to find ships to match them. I was therefore not surprised to find in the collection the Admiralty order of 1813, warning that their Lordships 'do not conceive that any of his Majesty's frigates should attempt to engage single handed, the larger class of American ships, which though they may be called frigates, are of a size, complement and weight of metal much beyond that class and more ressembling a line of battle ship'. Their Lordships went on to advise that a captain ought to ' endeavour to manouvre and keep company with them, without coming to action, in the hope of falling in with some other of his Majesty's ships, with their assistance, the enemy might be attacked with a resaonable hope of success.'. All these things a commander-in-chief needed to be aware of, as well as keeping a weather eye on the French! Martin (Manuscripts cataloguer)