Sunday, November 4, 2007

Admiral Recalls Naval Battle in the Nile

From: Copies of original letters from the army of General Bonaparte in Egypt, intercepted by the fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson. With an English translation (London, J. Wright, 1798-1800, 3 vols.), vol. 1, pp. 118-121.


Grand Cairo, July 28th.

Rear Admiral PERRE’E, commanding the Flotilla of the Nile, to his Friend, LE JOILLE(1), Chief of Division, and Captain of the Genereux.

I TAKE the opportunity of the sailing of the Cisalpine, my dear comrade, to give thee some account of myself, as I promised to do in my last.

I arrived here the day after our army, after experiencing every degree of misery. We were six days without any thing to eat but water-melons—water-melons for our dinner, and water-melons for our desert! The peasantry of the country, commanded by Arabs or Bedouins, kept up a firing all day long about our ears. I can assure thee, that if these people knew how to level a musket, not a man of us would return alive. They have been a little more complaisant since the capture of Cairo. I now consider the Nile as open; our communication will, therefore, be more regular in future.

Thou wilt hear with pleasure that I was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral on the field of battle, immediately after the affair of the 13th. I am certain that if I had been supported by one gun-boat more, we should have seen the last of their flotilla, though they had seven and I had but six, three, of which were deserted by the crews, and in the possession of the enemy, who had the audacity to seize them within pistol-shot of my boat; it was then that I exerted myself to the utmost, sunk the flag-vessel, and compelled them to abandon my boats; which I afterwards put into a state of service. I had besides, two batteries of six field-pieces each opened upon me, at a very trifling distance; and the army was too remote to lend me any succour(2). The engagement began at a quarter before nine in the morning, and finished about half after one, when they fled on all sides.

I can assure thee that we have been miserably deceived respecting the navigation of the Nile. No vessel that draws more than five feet can ascend it at the period that I did; with respect to the fertility of the country too, great deductions must be made, or I am mightily mistaken(3). The ferocity of the inhabitants exceeds that of savages; most of them appear to be covered with reeds or straw. In a word, the country is not at all to my taste; however, after pain, pleasure, as the proverb says. At present I am tolerably well situated, both with respect to my table and my other amusements. The Beys have left us some pretty Armenian and Georgian wenches, whom we have confiscated to the profit of the nation. Do, prithee, my dear friend, send me a cask of wine; thou wilt confer an obligation on thy friend.


Assure all my friends of my best regards


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)Le Joille escaped from the hands of Lord Nelson, and had the good fortune, in his flight to Corfou, to fall in, and after an engagement of six hours and a half, to capture the Leander, a vessel at no time of half his force, and then enfeebled by her recent engagement, and with scarce two thirds of her complement.

This is all well known:--what is not so notorious, though it well deserves to be so, is the brutal behaviour of Joille to the brave men, whose invincible courage (for they did not strike till the Leander was absolutely ungovernable) would have entitled them to the respect of a generous enemy. Would it be believed, that the wounds of the gallant commander were not suffered to be dressed for several days, and that the surgeon of the ship has his instruments taken from him while he was employed in performing an operation upon one of our unfortunate countrymen!!! Yet all this, and more than all this, is perfectly true.

We are at a loss to know on what principle of sound policy, or in conformity to what chapter in the code of candour, these and other traits of wanton barbarity, of ferocious rapacity, on the part of the French, are suppressed in our public statements. We have heard of one council abroad, in which it was taken seriously proposed to soften or conceal the insults of France, lest that country should be irritated! And we have seen one paper at home, which advised the same conduct.—Whether this was done through design or ignorance is not worth inquiry. We are surely too powerful to be insulted by the French, and we have too many means of retaliation in our hands to dread this irritation.

Let it also be considered, that the publicity for which we content, is due to the brave men who are fighting our battles—it is also due to the civilized world, of whom the French are the terror and the pest—since there cannot be a more effectual method of counteracting a nation, which derives much of its influence, and more of its power, from the base and hypocritical cant of superior justice and humanity, than unfolding every act of unnecessary cruelty, which their innate thirst of plunder, and of blood, induces them to perpetrate.

We have gone out of our way to make these remarks; but we hope the importance of them will excuse us.

To return to Joille.—We are happy to add, that he had not the satisfaction of possessing himself of the colours which Lord Nelson had put on board the Leander. They were sunk previous to the surrender of the vessel, together with the dispatches, and letters of every kind.

(2)This is not the fact: it was the appearance of the army (though it might not be actually engaged) that saved him from absolute destruction.

(3)It is curious to mark the progress of conviction amongst the French. Alexandria is universally allowed to be detestable,--there are no doubts expressed of that—“Oh! But then it will be delightful when we get to Rosetta!” “No,” say those who are stationed there, “Rosetta is not delightful at all, it is only a little less wretched than Alexandria.” “True! But then the Delta! That is surely rich and beautiful; and then there is Cairo, the wealthiest, the largest, and the most magnificent city in the world!” “As for the Delta,” says Perre’e, “I have just passed through it, and I can assure you, that it is any thing but rich and beautiful.” “And as for Cairo,” exclaim a thousand voices in concert, “it is the vilest and most miserable dog-hole on the face of the earth!” Thus delusion after delusion passes away, and the French, who are as sanguine as they are credulous, are finally resigned to disappointment and despair.

No comments: