Short account of Bonaparte's cruel conduct in Syria

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Short Account of Bonaparte's Cruel Conduct in Syria (1806)
by Robert Thomas Wilson
3283938Short Account of Bonaparte's Cruel Conduct in Syria1806Robert Thomas Wilson






Taken from Sir Robert Wilſon's hiſtory of
Britiſh expedition in Egypt, &c.
lately publiſhed.

Stirling, Printed for the Bookſellers. 1806





BONAPARTE having carried the town of Jaffa by aſſault, many of the garriſon were set to ſword; but the greater part flying into the moſques, and imploring mercy from their pursuers, were granted their lives; and let it be well remembered, that an exaſperated army in the moment of revenge, when the laws of war juſtified the rage, yet heard the voice of pity, received its expreſſion, and proudly refuſed to be any longer the executioners of an unreſiſting enemy Soldiers of the Italian army, this is a laurel wreath worthy of your fame, a trophy of which the ſubsequent treaſon of an individual ſhall not deprive (illegible text)

Three days afterwards, Bonaparte, who had expreſſed much reſentment at the compaſſion maniſested by his troops, and determined to relieve himself from the maintenance and care of three thouſand eight hundred priſoners,[1] ordered them to be marched to a riſing ground near Jaffa, where a diviſion of French infantry formed againſt them When the Turks had entered into their fatal alignement, and the mournful preparations were completed, the ſignal gun fired. Vollies of muſquetry and grape inſtantly played againſt them; and Bonaparte, who had been regarding the ſcene through a teleſcope, when he ſaw the ſmoke aſcending, could not reſtrain his joy, but broke out into exclamations of approval; indeed, he had juſt reaſons to dread the refuſal of his troops thus to diſhonour themſelves. Kleber had remonſtrated in the moſt ſtrenuous manner, and the officer of the Etat Major who commanded (for the general to whom the diviſion belonged was abſent) even refuſed to execute the order without a written inſtruction, but Bonaparte was too cautious, and ſent Berthier to enforce obedience

When the Turks had all fallen, the French troops humanly endeavoured to put a period to the ſuſſerings of the wounded but ſome time elapſed before the bayonet could finiſh what the fire had not deſtroyed and probably many languiſhed whole days in agony. Several French officers, by whom partly theſe details are furniſhed declared that this was a ſcene, the retroſpect of which tormented their recollection, and that they could not reflect on it without horror; accuſtomed as they had been to fights of cruelty! Theſe were the priſoners, whom (illegible text)ſſalini, in his very able work on the plague, alluded to, when he ſays, that for three days the Turks ſhewed no ſymptoms of that diſeaſe, and it was their putrifying remains which produced the peſtilential malady which he deſcribes as afterwards making ſuch ravages in the French army. The bones ſtill lie in heaps, and are ſhewn to every traveller who arrives nor can they be confounded with thoſe who periſhed in the aſſault, ſince this field of butchery lies a mile from the town.

Such a fact ſhould not, however, he alledged without ſome peoof, or leading circumſtance it onger than aſſertion, being produced to ſupport it; but there would be a want of generoſity in naming individuals, and branding them to the lateſt poſterity, with infamy, for obey a command, when their ſubmiſſion became an act of neceſſity; therefore to eſtabliſh further the authority of the relation, this only can be mentioned,—that it was Born's diviſion which fired, and thus every one is afforded the opportunity of ſatisfying themſelves reſpecting the truth, by enquiring of officers ſerving in the different brigades compoſing this diviſion

The next circumſtance is of nature which requires, indeed, the moſt particular details to eſtabliſh, ſince the idea can ſcarce be entertained, that the commander of an army ſhould or, his own countrymen (or it not immediately ſuch, thoſe amongſt whom he had been naturalized) to be deprived of exiſtence, when in a ſtate which required the kindeſt conſideration. But the annals of Francerecord the frightful crimes of a Robeſpierre, a Carrier; and hiſtorical truth muſt now recite one equal to any which has blackened its page!

Bonaparte finding that his hoſpitals at Jaffa were crowded with ſick, ſent for a phyſician, whoſe name ſhould be inſcribed in letters of gold, but which from weighty reaſons cannot be here inſerted: on his arrival he entered in a long, converſation with him reſpecting the danger of contagion, concluding at laſt, with the remark, that ſomething muſt be done to remedy the evil, and that the deſtruction of the ſick at preſent in the hoſpital was the only meaſure which could be adopted! The phyſician, alarmed at the propoſal, bold in the confidence of virtue and the cauſe of humanity, remonſtrated vehemently, repreſenting the cruelty, as well as the attrocity, of ſuch a murder but finding that Bonaparte preſerved and menaced, he indignantly left the tent, with this memorable obſervation, 'Neither my principles, nor the character of my profeſſion, will allow me to become a human butcher; and, General, if ſuch qualities as you inſinuate, are neceſſary to form a great man, I thank my God that I do not poſſeſs them."

Bonaparte was not to be diverted from his object by moral conſideration; he perſevered, and found an apothecary, who dreading the weight of power, but who ſince has made an atonement of his mind, by unequivocally confeſſing the facts conſented to become his agent and to adminiſter poiſon to the ſick! Opium at night was diſtributed in gratifying food, the wretched unſuſpecting victims banqueted, and in a few hours five hundred and eighty ſoldiers, who had ſuffered ſo much for their country, periſhed thus miſerably by order of its Idol!

Is there not a Frenchman whoſe blood does not chill with horrror at the recital of ſuch a fact; Surely the manes of theſe murdered, unoffending people, muſt be now hovering round the ſeat of government, and *****

If a doubt ſhould ſtill exiſt, as to the veracity of this ſtatement, let the members of the Inſtitute at Cario be aſked, what paſſed at the fitting after the return of Bonaparte from Syria: they will relate, that the ſame virtuous phyſician, who refuſed to become the deſtroyer of thoſe committed to his protection, accuſed Bonaparte of high treaſon in the full aſſembly againſt the honour of France, her children, and humanity; that he entered into the full details of the poiſoning of the ſick, and the maſſacre of the garriſon, aggravating theſe crimes, by charging Bonaparte with ſtrangling, previouſly at Roſetta, a number of French and Copts who were ill of the plague; thus proving, that this diſpofal of the ſick was a premediated plan. In vain Bonaparte attempted to juſtify himſelf;[2] the members ſat petrified with terror, and almoſt doubted whether the ſcene paſting before their eyes was no illuſion:—There are reords which remain, and which in due ſeaſon, will be produced. In the interim this repreſentation will be ſufficient to ſtimulate inquiry; and Frenchmen, your honis, indeed, intereſted in the examination

Let us hope, that in no country will there be found another man of ſuch Machiavelian principles, as by ſophiſtry to palliate ſuch tractions.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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  1. Bonaparte had in perſon, inſpected previouſly the whole body, amounting to near 8000 men, with the object of ſaving thoſe who belonged to the towns he was preparing to attack The age and noble phyſiognomy of a veteran Janiſſary attracted his obſervation and he aſked him ſharply, "Old man, what did you do here" The Janiſſary undaunted replied, "I muſt anſwer you that queſtion by aſking you the ſame your anſwer will be that you came to ſerve your Sultan; ſo do I mine." The entrepid frankneſs of the reply excited univerſal intereſt in his favour. Bonaparte even ſmiled. "He is ſaved," whiſpered ſome of the aids de camp 'You know not Bonaparte obſerved one who had ſerved with him in Italy "the ſmile, I ſpeak from experience does not proceed from benevolence; remember what I ſay.' The opinion was too true! The Janiſſary was left in the rank doomed to death, and ſuffered!
  2. Bonaparte pleaded, that he ordered the garriſon to be deſtroyed, becauſe he had not proviſions to maintain them, or ſtrength enough to guard them, and that he deſtroyed the ſick to prevent contagion, and ſave themſelves from falling into the hands of the Turks; But theſe arguments were refuted directly, and Bonaparte was obliged to reſt his defence on the poſitions of Machiavel. When he afterwards left Egypt, the Savans were ſo angry at being left behind, that they elected the phyſician preſident of the Inſtitute, an act which ſpeaks for itſelf fully.