Royal Naval Biography/Collier, George Ralph
SIR GEORGE RALPH COLLIER, Bart.
[Post-Captain of 1802.]
Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath; a Groom of the Bedchamber to H.R.H. the Duke of Gloucester; and a Member of the African Institution.
This lamented officer was the second son of the late Ralph Collier, Esq., many years chief Clerk in the Victualling department of the Royal Navy. He was born in 1774, and being intended for his Majesty’s naval service, received a suitable education at the Maritime Academy, Chelsea. During the Dutch and Spanish armaments we find him serving as a Midshipman on board the Carysfort frigate, commanded by Captain Matthew Smith; and we have been told by an officer who was his schoolfellow and messmate, that he was then not only a good astronomer, marine-surveyor, and draftsman, but that he was also very well acquainted with the French, Spanish, and Italian languages a combination of qualifications rarely to be met with in a young sea-officer at that period of our naval history.
We have no certain information respecting Mr, Collier’s services previous to 1799, in which year he served as first Lieutenant of the Isis, a 50-gun ship, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral Mitchell, at the capture of a Dutch squadron in the Texel; and being sent to England with that officer’s despatches, he was promoted to the rank of Commander, and appointed to the Victor of 18 guns and 120 men, in which vessel he greatly distinguished himself by his gallant and persevering action with la Fleche, a French corvette of 22 guns, which had recently landed a number of banished Frenchmen on the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, and was proceeding to cruise against our commerce in the Bay of Bengal. The following is a copy of his official letter on the occasion:
“H.M. Sloop Victor, Mahé Roads, Sept. 19, 1801.
“Sir,– The state of the crew of life Majesty’s sloop under my command, after leaving the Red Sea, induced me to put into the island of Diego Garcia. After procuring a large supply of turtle, and good water, I left that harbour on the 27th Aug., and proceeded on the execution of the particular service pointed out in your orders of the 22d July; and on the 2d instant, in sight of these islands, H.M. sloop fell in with a French national corvette, and after a few ineffectual manoeuvres on her part, from the superior sailing of the Victor when going large, I had the pleasure of bringing her to a close action at 6 h 45> P.M. The disguised state of the Victor did not long deceive the enemy. The second broadside proved sufficient, the corvette hauling her wind and endeavouring to escape, which, in about twenty minutes, I was sorry to observe, by having almost solely directed her fire at our masts and sails, she had a fair prospect of effecting; for, on her tacking under our lee, I endeavoured to wear, with the hope of boarding on her bow, when I had the mortification to find both lower and top-sail braces shot away on the starboard side, as well as the preventer ones and bowlines; and before others could be rove, the corvette was half a mile to windward. Night fast approaching, added to the chagrin I felt on observing the enemy sail better than the Victor on a wind. The chase continued all night, frequently within gun-shot; and at sunset the following day, from the wind having favoured the cdrvette, she was four or five miles to windward. In the night of the 4th we lost sight of her; when, probably by tacking, she escaped. In this affair I had one man wounded with 2 musket-balls, and Mr. Middleton, Master’s Mate, slightly; the damage sustained in the hull was trifling, but the fore-mast was shot through, and our sails and rigging were much cut.
“Judging from the course the corvette was steering when first seen, she must be bound to these islands, I pushed for them, and towards sunset on the 5th she was again seen, running in for this anchorage. I kept under easy sail till dark, when the Victor was anchored; and at day-light I had the satisfaction of seeing the enemy moored with springs in the basin, or inner harbour, with a red flag at the fore (as a signal of defiance). Being unacquainted with the channel, and having no pilot, Mr. Crawford, the Master, though ill of a fever, and Mr. Middleton, being volunteers, were sent to sound, which service they completely performed; nor did the latter gentleman desist, till repeatedly fired at by a boat from the corvette.
“The extreme narrowness of the channel, added to the wind not being very favourable, compelled me to use warps and the stay-sails only, which exposed the ship to a raking fire for some minutes, till shoaling our water, I was obliged to bring up. Having two springs on the cable, our broadside was soon brought to bear; and at 11h 45' A.M. a well-directed fire was opened, which was kept up incessantly from both vessels till 2h 20' P.M. when I plainly perceived the enemy was going down; in a few minutes her cable was cut, she cast round, and her bow grounded on a coral-reef.
“Mr. M‘Lean, the first Lieutenant, with a party of officers and men, were sent on board; though scarce had they put off, ere we discovered the enemy to be on fire. Lieutenant Smith, and other officers, were then sent with proper assistance; but just as they and succeeded in extinguishing the fire, she fell on her larboard bilge into deeper water and sank.
“She proves to have been the French national corvette la Fleché, mounting twenty long French 8-pounders, answering to English nines, with 2 stern-chasers, though it appears that all her guns were not mounted in the first action . She was larger than the Victor in dimensions, perfectly new, a remarkably fast sailer, and not four months from France, commanded by Captain Bonamy, Lieutenant de Vaisseau with four Lieutenants, and a complement of 145 men, some of whom had been left sick at Bourbon.
“From a number of dead and dying men reported to have been found on her forecastle as well as 2 alongside, I am induced to believe the carnage was great, although only 4 are acknowledged by the French captain. She had 20 men to assist at her guns, forming a part of the crew of la Chiffone French frigate, captured here a few days since by H.M. ship Sybille, Captain Adam. The obstinate defence made by la Fleché was on the supposition of the Victor being a privateer.
“From the length of time elapsed ere this business was brought to a close, I have felt it necessary to be thus particular in my details; and I trust for your excuse should I dwell longer, as I feel I should do an injustice to every officer and man on board did I neglect paying a just tribute to the cool undetermined bravery they evinced; even men labouring under a lingering fever (of whom I had unfortunately 30) felt a proportionate zeal * * * *. In this action I most fortunately had not a man either killed or wounded; but our hull, rigging, and boats, have suffered much, besides having some shot between wind and water. I am, &c. &c. &c.
(Signed)“George R. Collier.”
“To Sir Home Popham, K.M. &c.”
Capt Collier’s unremitting perseverance under every trying circumstance, and his determined conduct in warping the Victor into Mahé Harbour, was so highly approved by the Admiralty, that Earl St. Vincent, who then presided at the board, directed a post commission to be made out for him, and antedated, so as to give him precedence over the whole of those officers who had been included in the general promotion of April 29, 1802; he was the same time appointed to the Leopard of 50 guns, in which ship he returned to England on the 24th Feb. 1808.
Captain Collier subsequently commanded the Champion 24, and Leopard 50. His next appointment was about Feb, 1806, to la Minerve frigate, employed on the coast of Spain, where he captured several of the enemy’s armed vessels, privateers, and merchantmen. In 1807 he removed into the Surveillante, and accompanied the expedition sent against Copenhagen, from whence he returned to England with Admiral Gambier’s despatches, announcing the surrender of the Danish capital and fleet. On his arrival with this important intelligence he received the honor of knighthood from his late Majesty.
From this period Sir George Collier was principally employed cruising on the French coast and in the Bay of Biscay, where he captured, among other vessels, le Milan, national corvette, of 18 guns and 115 men; la Comtesse Laure, and la Creole French privateers, of 14 guns each, the former having a complement of 55, the latter 115 men; the Tom, American letter of marque, of 6 guns and 36 men; and the Orders in Council, a schooner of similar description and force. On the 7th Sept. 1810, a party belonging to the Surveillante destroyed a battery and guard-house, which had recently been erected for the protection of the entrance into Crach river; and although opposed by nearly double their force, and exposed to a fire from the opposite bank, returned to their ship without having a man hurt.
Sir George Collier’s active co-operation with the patriots on the north coast of Spain has already been alluded to in the course of this work; we shall now present our readers with his account of the recapture of Bermeo, a sea-port town near Bilboa, and a sketch of the subsequent transactions in which he was engaged.
“Surveillante, Bermeo Roads, Oct. 20, 1811.
Sir,– I proceeded off Anchove on the 18th instant, where I was joined by 200 guerillas, under the command of their chief. Pastor, by whose exertion, in conjunction with my pilot, a sufficient number of fishing-boats were impressed to receive an equal number of guerillas I had previously embarked from the coast.
Soon afterwards the Iris joined to leeward, when the whole party, accompanied by the marines of the two frigates, under the command of Lieutenant Cupples, pushed off for the river Mundaca, where a landing was effected about two miles from Bermeo, the object of our attack. The French guard, stationed in the town of Mundaca, evacuated it immediately.
“The frigates advancing with a light breeze towards Bermeo, while the party which had landed appeared on the hills turning the enemy’s right, gave him but little time to hesitate; and Mons. Dedier, the commandant, took the short, though rugged road, over the mountains for Bilboa. The next morning at day-break Mr. Kingdom, Masters-Mate, was despatched to blow up the guard-house, and destroy the signal-station on the heights of Machichaco, which service he executed perfectly.
“In the course of the day every thing that could be ascertained to be public property belonging to the French was either brought off or destroyed; the guard-house, store-house, and stabling on the hill, blown up and burnt; and its battery, consisting of four IS-pounders, destroyed, the guns broken, the gunpowder given to Pastor, and the shot thrown into the sea. Two other small batteries, commanding the high road and molehead, sharing the same fate.
“The utmost possible annoyance having been given to the enemy, and all the vessels brought out from the mole, the marines and guerillas were re-embarked; and this morning I despatched the latter, under protection, of the Iris, to land at a spot agreed upon with Pastor, remaining here myself until I have adjusted the claims of several Spaniards respecting their vessels. I have the satisfaction to state, that yesterday a small division of 50 men, despatched from Bilboa to succour the garrison, approached the town, and were met by the advanced guerilla guard, of trifling numerical superiority, and immediately put to flight. Some few of the enemy were killed, though only one prisoner was brought in, who owes his life to his having fallen into the hands of a Guerilla recruit.
“I have only to add, that the most perfect cordiality prevailed among our men and the Spaniards; that no loss whatever was sustained by us; and that the steady conduct of Lieutenant Cupples, the officers, and royal marines, would have decided the business of the day had the enemy given them the meeting; and I feel considerable obligation to my first Lieutenant, O’Reilly, and the officers and crews of both ships. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“George R. Collier.”
“To Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, Bart.”
“Surveillante, at Corunna, Nov. 16, 1811.
“I have the honor to enclose Captain Christian’s report of his proceedings since my parting with him off Bermeo; by which you will perceive how seriously the guerillas annoy the enemy in the province of Biscay and Guipuscoa. It appears that, with the assistance of the Iris, Don Caspar, after effecting his landing, completely blocked up the garrison of Deba in their fortified house, which, not being able to resist the fire from the launch, surrendered, amounting to 54 men. From hence Gaspar immediately proceeded to the neighbouring town of Motrieo, where, by the united exertions of Captain Christian, the same number of the enemy were obliged to an unconditional surrender. In this service two of the enemy’s launches were taken, and whatever French public property could be found was taken and destroyed.
“In the Iris have also arrived upwards of 300 French prisoners, with a proportion of officers; among which number it is said is an aide-de-camp of Buonaparte, Colonel Cenopieri. They form a part of the remains of the hist, corps, which was so entirely defeated by the indefatigable guerilla,, Mina; 500 of the enemy were killed or wounded, and the remainder, 600, made prisoners. Captain Christian speaks in very favourable terms of the activity and zeal of his first Lieutenant, Mr. Collingwood, on the late service; and I have pleasure in adding my testimony to the same on former occasions.”
In June 1812, the Surveillante formed part of the squadron under Sir Home Popham at the reduction of Lequitio, on which occasion Sir George Collier commanded a battery on Shore: the particulars of that service are thus detailed by the former officer:
“The enemy had possession of a hill-fort commanding the town, calculated to resist any body of infantry, and also 200 men posted in a fortified convent within the town, the walls of which vvere impervious to any thing less than an 18-pounder.
“The convent might have been destroyed by the ships; but as the town would have materially suffered, and as the guns of the Venerable 74 made no visible impression on the fort, it was determined to erect a battery on a hill opposite to the latter, which the enemy considered as quite inaccessible to cannon, and -in that confidence rested his security. A gun was accordingly landed in the forenoon of the 20th, (chiefly by the exertions of Lieutenant Groves, of the Venerable), notwithstanding the sea was breaking with such violence against the rocks at the foot of the hill, that it was doubtful whether a boat could get near enough for that purpose. It was then hove up a short distance by a moveable capstern; but this was found so tedious that men and bullocks were sent for to draw it; and it was at length dragged to the summit of the hill by thirty-six pair of bullocks, 400 guerillas, and 100 seamen, headed by the Hon. Captain Bouverie. It was immediately mounted, and fired its first shot at 4 P.M.
“The gun was so admirably served, that at sunset a practicable breach was made in the wall of the fort, and the guerillas volunteered to storm it. The. first party was repulsed, but the second gained possession without any considerable loss. Several of the enemy escaped on the opposite side, and got into the convent.
“In the course of the evening the sea abated a little, and a landing, upon the island of St. Nicholas was effected, though with some difficulty, by Lieutenant O’Reilly, of the Surveillante; marines were also landed from that frigate, the Medusa, and Rhin, with a carronade from each ahip; and Captain Malcolm took the command of the island during the night, whilst Sir George Collier was in the Venerable’s battery on the hill.
“At dawn of day (21st) a 24-pounder was brought to the east side of the town, within two hundred yards of the convent, and another was in the act of being landed upon St. Nicholas to bombard it, when the.French commandant beat a parley, and surrendered with the remainder of his party, consisting of 290 men of the 119th regiment. The enemy’s loss was supposed to be considerable, as the guerillas, who were better posted, and fired with more celerity, had 56 men killed or wounded. Not a man was hurt in the British squadron, either by the surf or the enemy, There were two 18-pounders mounted on the fort, and 3 smaller guns in the barracks; the latter, with the muskets, were given to the guerillas, who were also supplied with every description of military stores of which they stood in need. The 18-pounders were rendered useless, the fort destroyed, and the convent blown up.”
The enemy had by this time collected about 1100 men in the neighbourhood of Lequitio; but on hearing from the peasantry that 2000 men had been landed from the English squadron they retired; and intercepted letters were transmitted to Sir Home Popham, by which the commandant of Guernico was instructed to prepare rations for a French General and 2600 of the Imperial Guards.
On the 23d in the afternoon, the squadron being on its way to co-operate in an attack intended to be made by a Spanish General upon Bilboa, and the wind being unfavourable for getting round Machichaco, part of the ships anchored off Bermeo, and parties were prepared to land by 6 P.M. The enemy having retired, a small magazine of provisions left by them in a fortified convent was taken possession of and distributed to the poor, and the ships in want of water were completed. The battery on the hill of Bermeo, consisting of five 18-pounders, and all the fortified places of which the enemy had had possession, were at the same time blown up, and the guns rendered useless.
On the 24th the Venerable arrived off Plencia, where Captains Bouverie and Malcolm were destroying the works; and some vessels were immediately despatched to dismantle the batteries and destroy the guns on each side of the inlet below the bar of the Bilboa river.
In the afternoon of the same day Sir Home Popham, the Captains of the squadron, General Carrol, and Sir Howard Douglas, landed at Algorta with a detachment of royal marines; but as the country was particularly close, and calculated for a surprise, they re-embarked before night. The castle of Galea, and the batteries of Algorta, Begona, El Campillo las Quersas, and Xebiles, mounting in the whole twentyeight 18 and 24-pounders, were destroyed by parties under the orders of Captain Bloye, and Lieutenants Groves, O’Reilly, Coleman, and Arbuthnot, the guard-house of the castle burnt, and the trunnions knocked off all the guns.
On the 25th, at dawn, parties of the enemy were seen advancing, and at five o’clock they entered the ruins of Algorta, but soon retired from thence on observing the squadron about to stand up the inlet. They afterwards formed on the plain, and were found to consist of 2400 men, 400 of whom were sent to Puerta Galetta. Three sloops of war closed with the fort at the latter place, silenced it, and drove the enemy out. This corps was the one for which rations had been ordered at Guernico, and which was therefore completely diverted from its original destination.
On the 2d July, the squadron being off Guateria, an attack was intended to be made upon that place, and two companies of royal marines were landed under Major Williams, accompanied by General Carrol, for the purpose of reconnoitring; but some parties of the enemy being discovered crossing the hills, and the guerillas, whose co-operation had been expected, being engaged with the enemy in a different quarter, the plan of attack was relinquished, and the marines re-embarked, but without loss.
On the 6th Sir Home Popham arrived off Castro, where a 24-pounder, and a company of marines had been landed by Sir George Collier to assist Colonel Longa in an attack on the place. Information was, however, received of the approach of 2500 French troops, whose arrival obliged the Spanish commander to retire, and the parties landed from the squadron were reimbarked. In the evening the enemy were seen marching into the town.
On the 7th the enemy were driven out of Castro by the fire of the squadron, and preparations were made for a landing and an attack on the castle, which accordingly took place on the 8th, when the commandant surrendered with 150 men, the remainder of the enemy’s force having marched towards Larido. Twenty-six guns of different sizes were found in the town and castle of Castro; those in the former were withdrawn, and the latter was put into a state of defence, and garrisoned by the marines and Spanish artillerymen of the Iris. The further proceedings of the allied forces are thus described in the London Gazette:
“On the 10th the squadron proceeded off Puerta Galetta, to co-operate in an attack upon it with the Spanish troops under Longa, and on the llth much firing was kept up against the batteries; but the enemy being found stronger than the Spaniards had expected, the attack was abandoned. During the morning, Captain Bloye of the Lyra, landed with a party of marines, and knocked off the trunnions of the guns in the Bagona battery, and destroyed one mounted on a height. On the 12th the Venerable anchored off Castro, which had been, feebly attacked by the enemy the evening before. One of the Imperial guards was -wounded and brought in a prisoner.
“On the 15th, the enemy’s moveable column having been drawn by a feint to Santona, from whence it could not reach Guetaria in less than four days, another attack was intended to be made upon the latter place, in concert with the guerillas under Don Caspar, and with the: promised aid of one of the battalions under General Mina. Early in the morning of the 13th, one 24-pounder under Lieutenant Groves, and a howitzer under Lieutenant Lawrence, of the marine-artillery, were landed from the Venerable, and mounted on a hill to the westward of Guetaria, under the directions of Captain Malcolm, while the Hon. Captain Bouverie landed with 2 guns from the Medusa, and after many difficulties in drawing them up, mounted them on the top of a hill to the eastward. The Venerable’s guns began firing at noon, and continued till sunset, when those of the enemy on that side were silenced, and the Medusa’s were put in readiness to open on the following morning. During the night, however, intelligence was received of the approach of a body of French troops, which afterwards proved to he a division of between 2000 and 3000 men, that had just arrived at St. Sebastian’s from France, and was immediately sent forward by forced marches to Guetaria.
“The uncertainty with respect to the enemy’s force, and the disposition of the guerillas to oppose their advance, prevented the re-embarkation of the guns and men landed from the squadron, until the retreat of the Spaniards, after skirmishing with the superior numbers of the French, in which the latter are stated to have suffered severely. Captain Bouverie then destroyed the 2 guns from the Medusa, and re-embarked with all his men, and every thing belonging to the guns. Captain Malcolm was detained longer, by a message brought to him by one of Don Caspar’s akle-de-camps, stating that the enemy had been beaten back, and urging him to remain in his battery. Finding, however, that the enemy was advancing fast, he gave orders to re-embark, and brought off his party, with the exception of 3 Midshipmen and 29 men, who were taken prisoners, but fortunately without having a man killed or wounded. The Spaniards lost a Captain of artillery, and had a serjeant and 10 men badly wounded. The detachment expected from General Mina’s army arrived the morning after the action, and joined Don Gaspar, having marched eighteen Spanish leagues in two days.”
Subsequent to the affair of Guetaria, Sir George Collier served on shore with a detachment of seamen and marines landed to co-operate with a guerilla regiment in an attack upon the castle of St. Ano, and received a wound when pursuing the French garrison from thence towards Santander. In the following year he was appointed Commodore of the squadron employed in that quarter, where he contributed iii no small degree to the success of Lord Wellington’s army, then approaching the French frontier.
By a letter addressed to Lord Keith, June 25, 1813, we are informed that the whole line of coast, from Guetaria to Santona, had already been evacuated by the enemy; and on the 1st of the following month Sir George Collier reports the retreat of the French from Guetaria in the following terms:
“Guetaria was evacuated by the enemy this morning at day-break, and soon afterwards occupied by a division under Baron de Menglana. The enemy appears to have been so pressed by the appearance of the shipping, after his determination had been taken, that most of the^cannon were left serviceable, and all his provisions, calculated for some months; but it is with regret I mention, that about three P.M. we witnessed a most awful explosion, which, by a refinement in cruelty, appears to have been intended to destroy all the poor inhabitants at a blow. The magazine, containing near 200 barrels of gunpowder, and dug in the solid rock connected with the mole where the fishing-boats lay, had been prepared, and a lighted match left within it. Two casks of wine, previously broached, were also left by the wall, offering a temptation to the lower classes ot the inhabitants, but this circumstance most providentially proved their great preservation. The Spanish commandant on entering, observing the confusion likely to ensue, ordered the inhabitants from the mole into the town; and while means were taken to force the door, the explosion took place, and destroyed about 20 of the garrison and fishermen, as well as all the boats in or near the mole.
“I have the pleasure to acquaint your Lordship that the castle, town, and port of Passages, were recovered from the enemy yesterday, and its garrison of 136 men, cut off from St. Sebastian’s, were taken by a part of the Spanish brigade of Longa, under the immediate orders of Don Gaspar, attached to Sir Thomas Graham’s division. The Spaniards’ loss on this occasion was very trifling.”
During the warfare in the Pyrenees, between Lord Wellington and Marshal Soult, the siege of St. Sebastian was undertaken and prosecuted by Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Graham, who received the most effectual assistance from the naval force under Sir George Collier, whose official letters Furnish us with the following information:
“July 22, 1813.
“The breaching batteries raised on the Chofra sand-hills, were opened against the walls of St. Sebastian on the 20th at ten A.M., under most unfavourable circumstances of weather, and this evening there is a considerable breach; but a second will, I understand from General Graham, be made before the storm is attempted. A gun has been thought necessary at the light-house hill. Captain Tayler, of the Sparrow, has prepared a battery; and had the weather permitted, a 24-pounder would have been dragged up, and mounted ere this. I have the pleasure to say, the good conduct of the detachment landed under Lieutenant O’Reilly, has been the admiration of the artillery officers in command of the batteries.”
“July 27 and 28.
“A successful attack was made upon the island of Santa Clara, at the mouth of the harbour of St. Sebastian, at three o’clock on the morning of the 27th, by the boats of the squadron under the command of Lieutenant the Hon. James Arbuthnot, of H.M.S. Surveillante. The boats were manned by the seamen and marines, and by a party of soldiers under the command of Captain Cameron, of the 9th regiment. The only landing place was under a flight of steps, commanded by a small entrenchment thrown up on the west point, and completely exposed to the fire from grape of the whole range of works on the west side of the rock and walls of St. Sebastian. These local circumstances enabled a very small garrison, of an officer and 24 men, to make a serious resistance, by which 2 of our men were killed, and 1 officer of the army, another of the marines, one Midshipman, and 14 seamen and marines were wounded.”
“Arrangements being made, as agreed upon by Lord Wellington, for a demonstration on the back of the rock of St. Sebastian, the two divisions of ships’ boats were placed under the command of Captain Gallwey, of the Dispatch, and Captain Bloye, of the Lyra; and I understand their appearance had the complete effect intended, by diverting a large proportion of the garrison from the defence of the breach; the boats were warmly fired on from the batteries at the back of St. Sebastian, but no lives were lost. The sloops of war weighed with a light breeze, and the Dispatch suffered in a trifling degree in her sails; the gun-boats, Nos. 14 and 16, were equipped in time to offer annoyance to the enemy, and to attract his attention.
"At 11 A.M., the tide having ebbed sufficiently, the assault by the breach took place; and if the resistance made by the enemy, considering the natural defences, as well as the artificial ones thrown up by him, is to be considered gallant and obstinate, the attack must be ranked still higher. Never perhaps was an affair more obstinately maintained, but British courage and perseverance ultimately succeeded; and. after a lodgment had been effected on the breach, the town was entered and possessed about 1h 30' P.M. in defiance of mines and every obstacle which the ingenuity of the governor could invent. A heavy firing was maintained till late in the evening; but the rock still holds out, and may probablyfor some days. A large part of the town has been unavoidably destroyed, and more must inevitably suffer from the means still in possession of the. enemy.
“The opportunity afforded to the navy for evincing the zeal and good will of British seamen, has been necessarily confined to a few individuals: but I know of no officer more indefatigable in the various duties which have fallen to him, than Captain Bloye of the Lyra: he hasendeavoured to anticipate every wish of the army. Lieutenant O’Reilly, with his former companions in the batteries, was conspicuously active; every ship in the squadron sent a proportion of seamen, under their respective officers, and they behaved uniformly well. The loss on both sides during the assault, must have been considerable, as artillery of all descriptions was playing on the enemy while disputing the breach and walls. Captain John Smith, of the Beagle, who was slightly wounded on the island, has the command of the seamen there landed.”
On this occasion the appearance of the breach proved fallacious; for when the combined column of British and Portuguese troops ordered to the assault, after being exposed to a heavy fire of shot and shells, arrived at the foot of the wall, it proved a perpendicular scarp of twenty feet to the level of the streets, with only one accessible point, which merely admitted an entrance by single files. In this situation, the assailants made repeated, but fruitless exertions, to gain an entrance; no man surviving the attempt to mount the narrow ridge. In this desperate state, Sir Thomas Graham adopted the venturous expedient of ordering the guns to be turned against the curtain, the shot of which passed only a few feet over the heads of the men at the foot of the breach. In the mean time a Portuguese brigade forded the river, near its mouth, and made a successful attack upon a small breach, to the right of the great one. This latter manoeuvre, joined to the effect of the batteries upon the curtain, at length gave an opportunity for the troops to establish themselves upon the narrow pass, and in an hour more the defenders, driven from all their complicated works, retired to the castle, leaving the town in full possession of the allies, whose loss amounted to 2,300 men, killed and wounded. The success in this quarter was rendered complete by the surrender of the castle on the 8th September, as will be seen by the following letter from the Commodore to Lord Keith:
“Surveillante, of Passages, St. Sebastian, Sept. 9, 1813.
“My Lord,– It is with sincere pleasure that I do myself the honor to report to your Lordship the fall of St. Sebastian, the northern Gibraltar of Spain. Yesterday at 10 A.M. the breaching and mortar-batteries opened a most ruinous fire against the castle of La Motte, situated on the crown of the hill, and the adjoining works. In a very short time General Key, the governor, sent out a flag of truce to propose terms of capitulation, which were concluded at 5 P.M. when the battery du Gouverneur and the Mirador were immediately taken possession of by our troops. The garrison, still upwards of 1700, became prisoners of war, and are to be conveyed to England from Passages. At this season of the year the possession of St. Sebastian becomes doubly valuable; it may be considered the western key of the Pyrenees, and its importance as to the future operations of the allied army is incalculable. The town and works have suffered considerably, and it must be a long time before the former can recover its original splendour; I cannot, however, avoid congratulating your Lordship on its fall on any terms, as the gales now blow home, and the sea is prodigious; all the squadron were yesterday forced to sea, with the exception of the Surveillante and President. The former good conduct and gallantry of the seamen lauded from the squadron, under Lieutenant O’Reilly, and serving in the breaching batteries, have been most conspicuously maintained. Lieutenant Dunlop, as well as Mr. Marsh, (having sufficiently recovered from his wounds), were also at their former post. The Surveillante’s 24-pounders, mounted on Santa Clara, and dragged up by Captain Smith, of the Beagle, were admirably served by a party landed from the Revolutionaire, Magicienne, and Challenger; their fire had totally silenced, the enemy’s guns opposed to them. Captain Smith speaks in high terms of the general zeal evinced by all under his orders. The most perfect cordiality was maintained between the officers and seamen under Captain Smith, and the party of the 9th regiment, under Captain Cameron, The Captains and Commanders of the ships, &c. named in the margin, have all been usefully employed, and the situation many of them have been unavoidably placed in, has called forth proofs of professional skill and perseverance seldom surpassed: and I have the highest satisfaction in being able to report that in no instance has it been more tryingly evinced, than in the conduct of Lieutenant the Hon, James Arbuthnot, of the Surveillante, which he has proved himself fully equal to. Messrs. Marsh, Harvey, Bloye, and Lawson (wounded), have been constantly on shore. There are others of the squadron, who, though not wounded, are no less deserving. Captain Bloye’s services have been repeatedly noticed by me to your Lordship; and as he has been employed from the very commencement of our operations on this coast, and has a perfect knowledge of the localities of this harbour, as well as that of St. Sebastian, I have felt it important to send him to England, as he will, from his having been particularly attached to the duties connected with this port and the army, be able to give your Lordship much useful information. Lieutenant Stokes, in the Constant, has scarcely ever quitted the mouth of the Bidassoa; the utility of his position is, I believe, felt by the army; it has been a station of considerable anxiety. I have the honor to be, &c.
(Signed)“George R. Collier.”
“To the Right Hon. Admiral Lord Keith, &c.
The great event of Lord Wellington’s entry into France took place on the 7th Oct., by his troops crossing the Bidassoa, at different fords, after a series of spirited actions, which cost the allies between 1500 and 1700 men killed, wounded, and missing. The surrender of Pamplona to Don Carlos d’Espana, on the 31st of the same month, having disengaged the right of the allied army from the service of blockading that strong fortress, his Lordship resolved to put in execution a meditated operation against the French troops posted near St. Jean de Luz, the object of which was to force their centre, and establish his own troops in the rear of their right. Heavy rains obliged him to defer this attempt till the 10th Nov. on which day it was made in columns of divisions, each led by a General Officer, and having its own reserve; a detachment from Sir George Collier’s squadron at the same time making a naval demonstration in the rear of Socoa, and keeping the enemy employed in the batteries, from the fire of which the Sparrow, Captain Lock, received some slight damage in her hull and sails. After a variety of actions, which occupied the whole day, the allies obtained the desired position, and the enemy were obliged to retreat to an entrenched camp near Bayonne. The result of this operation was the ejectment of the French from positions they had been fortifying with great labour for three months, and taking from them 51 pieces of cannon, and 1400 prisoners.
Soon after this important event, Sir George Collier was appointed in succession to the Newcastle, and Leander, ships built of pitch pine, mounting 58 guns each, and intended to cope with the large American frigates. During his first cruise on the Halifax station, he captured the United States’ brig Rattlesnake, pierced for 20 guns, with a complement of 131 men.
For several months from this period, Sir George Collier was employed off Boston, watching the Constitution of 56 guns, and using every endeavour to induce her to come out and fight the Leander. His anxiety to engage the enemy, is proved by the following authentic anecdote:
One day a fishing boat came off with several Americans, who asked permission to visit the Leander, which was immediately granted. Sir George Collier and his first Lieutenant accompanied them round the decks, when one of them observed, “You are a larger ship, but I do not think your men are so stout as ours on board the Constitution.” To which Sir George replied, “They may be very little, but their hearts are in the right place; and I will thank you to inform the American Captain, that if he will come out and meet the Leander, I will pledge my word and honor that no British ship shall be within twenty leagues; and further, if my ship mounts more guns than the Constitution, I will throw the additional guns overboard.” This challenge the American visitor, who we have no doubt was an officer belonging to the Constitution, promised to convey; but we do not venture to assert that the Captain of that ship actually received it.
The Leander was at length obliged to return to Halifax for the purpose of completing her stores, provisions, and water, and Sir George Collier, when returning to his station, had the mortification to. hear that the Constitution had succeeded in putting to sea unobserved. This information was communicated to him by Lord George Stuart and Captain Alexander R. Kerr, of the Newcastle and Acasta, who at the same time expressed their belief that the ship which he had long been so eager to get alongside of, was gone on a cruise in company with two other heavy frigates, and that they were to be joined on a certain rendezvous by the Hornet sloop of war. Sir George Collier at this time had orders from Rear Admiral Griffith to send the Acasta into port, she being much in want of a refit; but yielding to the entreaties of her commander, he determined to deviate from his instructions, and allow her to accompany the Leander and Newcastle in pursuit of the ertemy, whom he expected to fall in with near the Western Islands, imagining that their first object would be to intercept our homeward bound trade. He shortly after captured the Prince de Neufchatel, a remarkably fine American privateer schooner, mounting 18, and pierced for 22 guns; which vessel, instead of being sent to Bermuda or Halifax, where she would have sold for a very handsome sum, and from whence it is very probable she would have passed again into the hands of her original owners, was immediately despatched to England with the intelligence of an enemy’s squadron being at sea, by which means;the Admiralty were enabled to make timely arrangements for the protection of the valuable fleets then on their passage home.
Continuing his search for the enemy, Sir George Collier discovered a large brig, which he approached under easy sail, so as not to show any particular anxiety, suspecting from circumstances that she was a British vessel in the possession of the enemy, and being desirous of obtaining information from the prize-master by imposing the Leander upon him as an American ship. Nothing could have happened better: the brig proved to be the John, of Liverpool, lately captured by the Perry privateer; and the person in charge of her went on board the Leander, in his own boat, without the slightest hesitation. The moment he got upon deck, he congratulated the officers on the squadron being at sea, and in a situation where they would do “a tarnation share of mischief to the d___d English sarpents, and play the devil’s game with their rag of a flag.” He then observed, that he knew the Leander the moment he saw her, by her black painted masts and sides, and the cut of her sails, to be the President, as he was in New York just before she sailed: after these observations he walked up to Sir George Collier, and making his bow, addressed him as Commodore Decatur, reminding him at the same time of having once seen him at New York. He then presented the John’s papers, and complained of his men, whom he described as a mutinous set of fellows, in whose hands his life was not safe, at the same time requesting that some of them might be changed for so many of the President’s crew, and that one in particular might have a sound flogging. All this Sir George Collier promised, with great gravity, should be done, and the first Lieutenant was ordered to have as many men ready in exchange as those complained of. Jonathan was then asked into the cabin, and Sir George, after retiring for a moment, returned with a chart, in which the Leander’s track was marked, over which was written, “President, from New York, on a cruise;” and placing his finger upon these words, as if by accident, they immediately caught the eye of the American, who repeated that he knew the President the moment he saw her, and “Nick” himself could not deceive him. He was then asked by Sir George, pointing to the Acasta, if he knew her; his reply was, “she is the Macedonian”; but when asked what the Newcastle was, he said he did not know her; on which Sir George told him she was the Constitution: he replied, he recollected she was, though not painted as she used to be. After pumping him as much as possible, his papers were returned to him in great form, and Sir George Collier, wishing him a good voyage, desired he would not forget to let it be known that he left Commodore Decatur and his squadron in good health and spirits. The Yankee took his leave with great apparent satisfaction; but when about to quit the Leander her first Lieutenant apprised him of his real situation, and on seeing the British Captain come up in his uniform, he became almost frantic.
Sir George Collier, convinced that there was no probability of meeting with the Constitution and her supposed consorts so far to the northward, now resolved to search for them in the neighbourhood of the Cape de Verds. The following account of his conduct in presence of the enemy on the 11th Mar. 1815, written by his first Lieutenant, and corroborated by the logs of the Leander, Newcastle, and Acasta, copies of which are in our possession, will effectually rescue his memory from any illiberal reflections that an incorrect passage in a late publication may have given rise to.
“P.M. Moderate and hazy weather. At 12h 20' saw the land of St. Jago from E.N.E. to N.W. by N. At 12h 25' observed three ships, apparently frigates, getting under weigh in Porto Praya: the Newcastle and Acasta about half a mile on the weather quarter. On the strangers being reported to Sir George Collier, who was then coming out of his cabin, he immediately called, ‘down with the main tack.’ – I submitted, as they appeared very close to us, from the haziness of the weather, and we laying up for them, to beat to quarters first: he said, ‘No, no, make sail, I will lay him on board!’ Shortly afterwards we fell off, and on bringing them abeam, tacked. Weather very thick and hazy – took the two sternmost ships for frigates, the headmost, from appearance, a much larger ship, for the Guerriere, who we understood had long 32-pounders on her main-deck. Made private signal, which was not answered – hoisted our colours and fired a shot to windward. Shortly afterwards the sternmost ship tacked, and Sir George directed the Acasta’s signal to be made to tack after her; but countermanded the order on observing that she would gain the anchorage before the Acasta could close with her. At this time Sir George called me aft, took hold of my arm, and desired I would see every thing properly cleared for action; adding, ‘We shall, I dare say, have sharp work, but I would not give a fig for our fellows unless they knock them up in half an hour – we must secure them all, or John Bull will not be satisfied, although they have Guerriere with them. I am seldom under fire without getting a lick; if I am so unfortunate this time as to be hit hard, recollect the charge that devolves upon you, and in God’s name don’t think of striking, let the consequences be what they will. I have now every confidence in the crew, and they handle their guns to my satisfaction, but I should like to take the enemy by boarding!’
“Shortly after this conversation, the other ship tacked, and Sir George Collier ordered the Acasta’ s signal to be made to tack after her . In making the signal the Acasta’s distinguishing pendants got foul, and before they could be cleared the Newcastle mistook it for a general signal. Fearing the consequences of such a mistake, Sir George desired the optional signal to be hoisted with the Newcastle’s pendants, and I am positive that he never intended her to tack.
“When the Acasta had filled on the starboard tack, I observed to Sir George, that if the ships standing in shore were really frigates, which it was impossible to ascertain, owing to the haziness of the weather, they would be more than a match for the Acasta. He replied, “It is true, Kerr can do wonders, but not impossibilities; and I believe I must go round, as when the ship that tacked first hears the Acasta engaged, she will naturally come to her consort’s assistance.” Sir George then asked me if I saw the headmost ship and the Newcastle. I went with my glass to look, and observed the latter but could not see the former. He then, after looking through his glass, ordered the helm to be put down; and shortly after we had filled the Newcastle was observed to tack, which circumstance displeased him very much; but he remarked that he was satisfied if she had been gaining upon the enemy’s ship and keeping her in sight, Lord George would never have discontinued the chace: shortly afterwards we opened our fire upon the ship we had tacked after, and to our great mortification observed she was a corvette or 20-gun ship. She ran in shore and let go her anchor, and the Acasta’s signal was made to take possession of her. We were obliged to anchor to communicate with the Governor, in consequence of several of our shot having gone on shore amongst the houses. About 9 or 10 P.M. it fell calm, and continued so during most of the night. On leaving the anchorage Sir George Collier displayed the greatest zeal and anxiety to meet the Constitution; and if we had not fallen in with an American vessel that gave us authentic information of the peace, there is little doubt but the Leander would have met her singly, having taken up the exact position that would have ensured a junction.
(Signed)“I. M‘Dougall, Commander, R.N. and late first Lieutenant of the Leander.”
The ship taken on this occasion proved to be the Levant of 20 guns, captured, in company with the Cyane 32, by the Constitution, off Porto Santo, on the 20th of the preceding month.
From St. Jago the British squadron made all sail for the West Indies, still hoping to intercept the fugitives on their return to America. Leaving the Newcastle and Acasta to windward of Barbadoes, Sir George Collier took up a cruising ground off the north end of Cayenne, with the intention of remaining there ten days; but only four had elapsed when he fell in with an American schooner, the master of which gave him an authentic account of the peace between Great Britain and the United States. It afterwards appeared by the Constitution’s log, that she made the north end of Cayenne, only two days after the Leander had left that spot to rejoin the other ships; so that had she not met with the above schooner, her crew would have had an excellent opportunity of shewing, under their gallant commander, whether they were not capable of taking an American forty-four single-handed. Captains M‘Dougall and Fead, have done Sir George Collier and his men such ample justice as renders any further comment unnecessary.
The Leander returned to England with 52 transports, and 12,000 troops under her convoy, from Canada, in July 1815. Sir George Collier had previously been raised to the dignity of a Baronet of Great Britain, and honored with the insignia of a K.C.B., as a reward for his long and meritorious services. In May 1818, he was appointed Commodore on the coast of Africa; and he continued to hold that command, with his broad pendant on board the Tartar frigate till Sept. 21, 1819, during which period he did all that it was possible for humanity, zeal, and superior intelligence to effect, under the existing national treaties, with a view to the suppression or mitigation of that abominable traffic, the Slave Trade. The country at large duly appreciate his excellent conduct in this respect, and regret, as we most sincerely do, his melancholy and untimely death, the particulars of which are too well known to require repetition. No officer of his standing in the service was Vnore generally known or higher in estimation, as a brave, experienced, clever seaman, and most generous, warm-hearted, friendly man. “As well,” said an officer of high rank, on a late painful occasion, “might fear be attributed to Lord Nelson, as to Sir George Collier.” It is certainly as impossible to impute to his conduct the want of personal courage, as to deny the natural urbanity and courteousness of his manners. No British sailor was ever more anxious to fight the enemies of his country – in private life, no individual was ever more universally esteemed.
The subject of this memoir married, May 18, 1805, Maria, daughter of John Lyon, M.D. of Liverpool; but he has left no issue by that amiable lady, who still survives to deplore his loss.
- See Vol. I. note at p. 414, et seq.
- The Victor had been employed conveying the troops sent from India to co-operate with the British army in Egypt: see Vol. II. part I. p. 467.
- The Victor mounted 16 32–pounder carronades and two long sixes.
- See Vol. II. part I, page 222, et seq.
- Le Fleché was afterwards weighed by the French, and captured from them by the present Rear-Admiral Bingham. See Vol. I. page 724.
- Sir Home Popham’s letter, enclosing Captain Collier’s account of the action, was received at the Admiralty July 20, 1802. Captain Collier’s post commission best date April 22, 1802.
- Sir Home Popham commended in high terms the conduct of all the officers and men employed on this occasion; and expressed his sense of the assistance rendered by Sir Howard Douglas and General Carrol, who had embarked in the Venerable, and volunteered their services wherever they could be employed.
- The guerillas had been employed in an action with a detachment of the enemy conducting 80 prisoners from Asturias; 130 of the French were killed, and 50 left on the field of battle wounded. The Spanish prisoners were liberated.
- See Vol. I, p. 708.
- See Captain Joseph Needham Tayler, C.B.
- On the 25th July three breaches were effected in the walls, two of which being practicable, the order was given for an assault. This was executed with great gallantry, and some of the troops penetrated into the town, but the defences raised by the enemy were so strong and numerous, and the fire of musketry and grape was so destructive, that the assailants were obliged to retreat with a heavy loss, especially in officers. Lord Wellington was upon the spot during part of the assault; but was soon called away in consequence of the advance of Marshal Soult, which gave occasion to the battles of Roncesvalles (or St. Jean Pied de Port) and the Pyrenees.
- Lieutenant Robert Graham Dunlop was wounded on shore, previous to July 21.
- Andromache, President, Revolutionaire, and Magicienne, at anchor off St. Sebastian; Sparrow and Challenger off the Bidassoa; Constant gun-brig, and Nimble cutter, in that river; Juniper and Holly, stationed west of Cape Higuera.
- The enemy had thrown their guns overboard during the chase.
- So highly was the Prince de Neufchatel admired, that orders were given for her model to be taken and preserved in Deptford dock-yard; but owing to some accident or other her back was broken whilst there, and she was afterwards sold for a mere trifle.
- See James’s Naval History, vol. 5. p. 547, et seq.
- The British squadron was at this time standing in for the land with starboard tacks on board. The enemy, it appear, cut their cables, fearing they should be attacked at anchor, although in a neutral port.
- The Newcastle was now two miles ahead of the Leander, and one mile on the lee-bow of the Acasta. The enemy standing to the eastward.
- The Guerriere, rated as a 44-gun frigate, was a new ship, mounting 56 guns, 28 of which were 32-pounders, called Columbians, resembling those used in the British navy under the names of their inventors, Gover and Congreve.
- Mr. James tells us that the Leander possessed one of the worst crews in the service; and adds, “Well was it, indeed, that she never fell in with one of the American 44’s.“The Morning Chronicle of March 30, 1824, contains a letter from Captain Francis Fead, asserting that the Leander had as fine a ship’s company as ever he would wish to command.
- The enemy’s second ship, hove in stays on the Leander’s weather beam. The Acasta then bore N.E. and Newcastle S.E. by E. The headmost American, then 5 or 6 miles to windward of the Newcastle, was forereaching on the squadron, and nearly out of sight from the Leander’s deck; the Newcastle was dropping fast to leeward, and the Acasta weathering on the Commodore.
- Sir George Collier, confiding in the zeal and judgment of the Captains under his orders, had previously informed them that whenever a certain flag was hoisted with any signal addressed to either of them, they were at liberty to disregard the signal, if they considered that by following the order conveyed thereby the object in view was not so likely to be attained, as by acting in contrariety thereto. The flag alluded to was entered pro tempore in the signal books, under the designation of the “optional flag.” On its being hoisted with the Newcastle’s pendants, as above stated, that ship made answer by signal, “the flags are not distinguishable.”
- The Acasta’s log informs us that the enemy’s force was discovered to consist of one large frigate and two sloops, so early as 1 P.M. the time when the British squadron first tacked to the eastward. If so, we are sorry that a signal to that effect was not made, by which Sir George Collier’s mind would have been set at ease as to the capability of the Acasta to cope with the two ships which had put back; and the Leander, having nothing else to engage her attention, would of course have continued in pursuit of the other. It is very natural for junior Captains to feel a delicacy in addressing signals to their commanding officer when in presence of an enemy; but as Sir George Collier had formed his opinion of the Americans’ force from the report of Captain Kerr and Lord George Stuart, he certainly could not have taken offence had he been informed that the Acasta alone was more than capable of annihilating the two ships which she had tacked after.
- The Newcastle, according to her log, lost sight of the headmost American, in thick hazy weather, at 2h 50' P.M.
- See Captains Hon. George Douglas, and Gordon Thomas Falcon.
- July 30, 1814.
- Jan. 2, 1815.
- Sir George Collier was elected an honorary Life Member of the African Institution, May 17, 1820. His Annual Reports to the Admiralty on the state of the Slave Trade were printed by order of the House of Commons, and laid before Parliament. It is almost superfluous to say that they are very much valued. He died 24th March, 1824.