HC Deb 03 February 1817 vol 35 cc177-82
Lord Casltereagh

said, he rose in pursuance of a notice which had been given by his right hon. friend during his absence, to call the attention of parliament to the late brilliant achievements of his Majesty's fleet before Algiers. During the last session, when the thanks of that House were given to several of our gallant officers for their conduct in the late war, he entertained an earnest hope that a long course of years would have elapsed, before it would be again necessary to perform that ceremony. But though that hope had been partially frustrated, it was at least satisfactory to reflect, that the interval of war which actually succeeded was of short duration, that it arose out of circumstances intimately connected with our honour as a nation; and that it was no less a war of justice and humanity, than one which causes had rendered necessary in defence of our own rights, as well as those of every other country. With respect to the splendid character of the transaction, there could be but one opinion, either in that House or throughout Europe, although perhaps in one point of view the enemy against whom we fought could not rank in the same scale of importance with other states. There never was a military transaction, the character of which, in all its bearings, redounded more to the honour of every individual concerned in it; for though the enemy might be inferior in scientific excellence, and in the knowledge of modern warfare, yet sufficient proof was given, during the battle, that the arm of this country was never turned against a foe more capable of opposing an obstinate and fierce resistance. That fact was proved by the loss we sustained, which, compared with the force employed, exceeded in proportion that of the greatest victories this country had achieved. He would not waste the time of the House, and detract from the glory of the action, by any details on his part, after the clear and explicit view given of it by the illustrious commander himself. But there was one feature connected with the transaction, which it would be injustice in him to omit. Before the expedition was undertaken, they had heard much in that House of the facility with which an attack might be made upon Algiers, and some persons of scientific authority had stated, that even a single line of battle ship would be sufficient. Other authorities, equally entitled to respect, declared, that it would not only be difficult, but so difficult, as to make it a matter of prudent consideration whether any thing should be undertaken against such formidable batteries. It was a duty he owed to lord Exmouth to say, that he stated his scientific opinion upon the subject to his noble friend at the head of the admiralty, and that he steered a middle course between the two extreme points, thus marking his great ability. He said he considered it a service which would be attended with a considerable degree of risk: and loss, but he felt confident he could perform it; at the same time pointing out precisely the very position in which he meant to place his own ship in particular, as well as the positions of all the rest of his fleet. He should not attempt to add any thing more to so glorious an action, both as to the principles upon which it was undertaken, and the mode of carding it into execution, but only observe, that he intended to extend the thanks to the officers and seamen of their brave ally the king of the Netherlands, whose co-operation had been so beneficial. He was sure the House would feel a peculiar gratification in seeing the arms of Holland united with ours for the general liberties of mankind, and be anxious to mark their sense of the services performed by the Dutch admiral, and his brave officers and sailors. The noble lord then moved, "That the thanks of this House be given to admiral lord viscount Exmouth, knight grand cross of the most honourable military order of the bath, for his able and gallant conduct in the successful and decisive attack on the batteries and naval force of Algiers on the 27th August 1816."

Mr. Law

rose to second the motion. He felt himself at all times incapable of doing justice to such a subject, for which no eulogies could be too great; yet he enjoyed such perfect satisfaction in contemplating the enterprise in question, which, considered under all its circumstances, reflected so much glory on all who were concerned in it, that he could not resist expressing what he thought of it. He had always considered lord Exmouth as possessing peculiar good fortune. So great were his professional abilities, that, whatever he undertook, he was sure to succeed in. Even from the commence-mencement of that series of great operations which arose out of the revolutionary war, success had uniformly marked his long career. With respect to the late brilliant enterprise, too much could not be said of it, and it was gratifying to know that the feelings of the House and the country were the same. It was not, as had been falsely and seditiously asserted in some of the petitions thrown on the table of that House, that the feelings of the people and their representatives were at variance. On the contrary, the late expedition proved, that the feelings of the people went fully with those of the House of Commons; for no sooner was the expedition resolved on, than the fleet was manned, not by sailors who had seen long and arduous service, but by persons who voluntarily offered themselves for the noble enterprise, convinced of the justice of the great cause for which they were about to fight. The assistance which the king of the Netherlands had given on the occasion could not be too highly applauded. His noble friend had justly observed, that the people of this country were not aware of the difficulty of the undertaking, and that many doubts were entertained of its succeeding. But he must observe, that public opinion was on such occasions a most severe tribunal; and he must say, in justice to lord Exmouth, that that man must have a mind framed in a most extraordinary mould, who would venture himself in a service so pregnant with danger, and yet pledge himself for the success of it: for had he failed, what horror must have arisen from the knowledge that all our brave combatants who might have fallen into the power of the enemy must have remained for life in the most infamous captivity, without the hope or chance of regaining their liberty. Yet lord Exmouth had duly calculated all the dangers to which he was exposed, and knowing the character of those by whom he was surrounded, he had ventured on a mode of attack perfectly novel in the naval history of this country. He had placed his ship within half pistol-shot of the tremendous batteries, venturing his life and venturing his fleet, but knowing that no other mode of attack would give him the smallest chance of the complete success with which the bold enterprise was ultimately crowned. If any one circumstance could be wished for which could give a higher zest to the transaction, it was that which took place in the unanimity which prevailed between two great nations, in the field of battle, a place where the unanimity of great nations could be best cemented. If after this splendid attack any circumstance could have added to the glory of the noble admiral's plan, it was his manner of negociating when the battle was over. It was a matter of peculiar satisfaction to find, that on that occasion the gallant admiral was capable of infusing so much of the firm character of the sailor into the character of the negociator. With the spirit of the former he dictated unconditional submission, and with the coolness of the latter he showed that he was as well calculated to ask satisfaction for an injury, as to demand submission for an insult.

Lord Cochrane

felt himself called upon to make a few observations upon what had fallen from the noble lord. When the question of an attack upon Algiers was before that House in another shape, he stated it as his opinion, that two British sail of the line would be sufficient to compel those barbarians to submit to any terms of peace which might be proposed; but he had never said that two sail would be able to cope with their batteries; for he knew too well what batteries could do against ships, when strongly manned, or even when imperfectly manned, to advance such an assertion. He spoke only in reference to the situation of Algiers, upon the border of the sea, and to the effect which would be produced upon that or any other city so placed, and inhabited by a numerous population of men, women and children, if cannonaded but for one hour. No one was better acquainted than himself with the power possessed by batteries over a fleet; and he would say, that the conduct of lord Exmouth and the fleet deserved all the praise which that House could bestow. The attack was nobly achieved, in a way that a British fleet always performed such services. He could only state, that the vote had his most cordial concurrence, for he never knew or had heard of any thing more gallant than the manner in which lord Exmouth laid his ships along side the Algerine batteries.

Mr. Money

said, that, as a very new member of the House, he felt some diffidence in obtruding himself on their attention, but he could not refrain from paying his humble tribute of admiration to the British navy, the pride and bulwark of this country; besides which, the high respect he entertained for lord Exmouth would not allow him to give a silent vote. The thanks proposed were for a victory, the shouts of joy for which had been re-echoed through all the nations of Europe. The noble lord, as had been already observed had continued a career of success from the beginning to the end of the war; he had had the felicity of striking the first and the last blow. Scarcely had a year passed since the commencement of hostilities with France, when the enemy, loudly boasting that, inspired by republican freedom, they would humble our pride and lower our flag, in which lord Exmouth had not had an opportunity of chastising them for their vain glorious insolence. The hon. gentleman proceeded to notice the different actions in which the noble lord had been engaged during the war, till he came to the period of his command in India. He alluded to the vigilance with which he chased the enemy from our extensive shores, and gave such powerful protection to our commerce in those seas, that property to the amount of millions had been saved, which would have otherwise fallen into their hands. Reverting to the results of the expedition to Algiers, he descanted on the happiness conferred on the unfortunate persons restored to liberty, and the benefits which all European nations must derive from the protection of our flag, which now waved triumphant in the Mediterranean. The humanity which lord Exmouth had shown during and after the action, was not the least noble trait in his character. He concluded with hoping that the thanks of the House would be followed by some more permanent testimony to the merits of that distinguished man.

The resolution was agreed to nem. con., as were also the following: "1. That the thanks of this House be given to rear admiral sir David Milne, k. b. and to the several captains and officers of the fleet employed on that memorable occasion. 2. That this House doth acknowledge and highly approve the services of the seamen and royal marines serving in the fleet before Algiers on the 27th August 1816. 3. That the thanks of this House be given to vice admiral baron Van de Cappellen, and the naval forces of his majesty the king of the Netherlands under the vice admiral's command, for their cordial assistance and co-operation in the attack on Algiers on the 27th of August 1816."