Thursday, December 6, 2007

Commissary Discusses British Blockade

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. 3, pp. 74-80.



Alexandria, October 1, 1799.

LE ROY, Commissary to the Marine in Egypt, to the Minister of Marine and of the Colonies.

Citizen Minister,

I MOST anxiously wish that the safe arrival of the four vessels under the command of Rear-admiral Ganteaume may have put you in possession of the short letter which I had just time to dispatch; duplicates of which were put on board them on the 22d of August, the day of their departure.

At all events, however, I send you a list of the names, &c. of those vessels:

Le Murion, of 28 guns, 18-pounders on the main-deck. Ganteaume, Rear-admiral; De la Rue, Captain.

Le Carrere, of 28 guns, 12-pounders. Dumanoir’le Pelley, General of Division.

(Both of these frigates are Venetian built; bolted with iron, and coppered here; the first on the 24th of October, and the second the 15th of November last.)

L’independent, Advice-boat, 4 six-pounders. Gaftaud, Ensign.

La Revanche, Advice-boat, 4 three-pounders. Picard, Ensign.

General Bonaparte took his passage on board Le Muiron. The Proclamations, which I enclose, first announced to the army his departure, and the appointment of General Kleber in his stead.

I should have been happy to send you a correct list of the passengers on board these four vessels; but the secrecy of their departure prevented the names from being entered on the registers of the proper office; and I have asked in vain for information from the officers of the present staff. You will find at the conclusion of my letter the only list which the first clerk of the Navy Office was able to procure me; and another made up on conjecture.

General Bonaparte and Rear-admiral Ganteaume will have given you better information than I can pretend to do on our internal situation. I shall merely confine myself to hazarding a few brief observations on the port of Alexandria.

Deprived of nearly all correspondence with France since our arrival in this country, we have the most undoubted proofs of the successful activity of the enemy in intercepting our communications. It strikes me therefore, that it would be exceedingly proper to dispatch, by a swift-sailing vessel, a cipher that would at once enable me to send you more detailed accounts.

From the time that General Bonaparte left us, the men on the look-out have discovered but three ships in the offing; and a boat which was suspected to have dispatches on board. We might easily have taken it, had we been provided with a few light, copper-bottomed vessels. It certainly does not fall within my department to say any thing respecting the naval forces. The sole means of giving effect to the successes of the land army; but I must, notwithstanding, do myself the honour to hint to you, that during those periods when the blockade is accidentally raised, a few corvettes, carrying from 12 to 16 guns, and coppered, might be successfully employed on expeditions of the utmost utility to the colony.

Here is the copy of a report made to the Directory by the Commander in Chief: “We have a confused account of an army collecting in Syria, under the immediate command of the Grand Vizier, composed first, of the troops which followed him from Constantinople; secondly, of those of Djezzar, Pashaw of Acre, and, thirdly, of the remainder of the Mameloucs, under Ibrahim, ancient Cheik-el-beled, or chief of the Beys.”

Whatever, Citizen Minister, may be the issue of our military operations, I cannot but think it of the utmost moment that the Executive Directory should appoint a commissary, with the requisite powers, to supply the void of the inspection, formerly confided to the ambassador at the Ottoman Porte. They should also consult on the means, either of diminishing the losses of the Levant trade; or rather of reproducing and invigorating it, at the period of peace: the employment and the subsistence of the fourteen provinces imperiously call for something of this kind.

These useful functions, Citizen Minister, should be confided in some former manager of these establishments; one habituated to repair the evils which a war of invasion, and its attendant consequences, inevitably bring on foreign trade. It will be also essentially necessary to define with rigorous exactness the limits of authority in each department. Military ardour enters little into the system of a counterpoising power: it sacrifices every thing to the calls of the moment; it lays its hands on the civil officers of every description. Soldiers forget what influence a respect for the laws and a love of order has on the event of things; they listen only to an interested ambition, and occasion, without intending it, disorders of the most irreparable kind. I have seen myself, an officer, in other respects a valuable character, insist upon commanding the harbour, the troops, and the workmen! Did a Rear admiral chance to drop in; their authorities instantly clashed: confusion succeeded to confusion; and private interest, which alone pursues its object with steadiness, took advantage of these multiplied pretensions of the different orders in the Mediterranean, and the re-establishment of trade in that sea, cal for the most prompt, decisive, and judicious measures.

Health and respect.


P.S. Since my letter was finished, I have had an opportunity of procuring some information form the captain of a ship, who has frequented the ports of the Levant. The merchants have constantly rejected my application.

Our merchandise was usually exchanged in Egypt for the merchandise of the country, which consisted of the productions of Yemen, and those of the interior of Africa.

The Beys took from the traders the articles of which they stood in need; but always on credit. They paid for them at their leisure; so that there are considerable debts still out-standing in most of the commercial towns of the country; some arising from exchanges which have not been completed, and others from former demands.

In the present situation of things, it would seem to be no less an act of prudence than of justice to empower an agent of Government to lay before them the account-books of the different houses in advance, that an estimate may be formed of what is due to the whole body, and proper measures taken to recover it.

With respect to the other ports of the Levant, nothing but peace can enable the merchants to get in what is due to them. The object of Government should be to furnish them with the degree of protection necessary to support and enforce their claims.


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