Saturday, October 6, 2007

French Soldiers Taken Prisoner and Executed

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. 2, pp. 202-208


Alexandria (18 Fructidor), September 4th.

The Inspector of the Marine, to Vice-admiral THEVENARD

Citizen General,

I DO not know whether any of my letters have reached you, but 'tis now a very long time since any of yours have reached me; which I attribute entirely to the interception, or rather to the difficulty of our communications. Of all the vessels which you have dispatched, the Corsican brig Egalite, the Vif, and the Lodi, are the only ones which have been fortunate enough to arrive here. The Leger was taken within sight of the port, on the 22nd ult.; and the Anemone, chased by the English, was forced(1) to run aground the day before yesterday. Some of the unhappy passengers and crew were murdered by the Arabs, others were made prisoners by them, and have since been ransomed, ad the rest, we presume, were taken by the English.

General Ganteaume has undoubtedly sent you, Citizen General, a detailed account of the fatal event of the first of August. Suffer me to join my heartfelt sorrow to that which you must so poignantly experience, both as a lover of your country, and as a father. Your youngest son has had the happiness to escape(2): he is now on board the vessel of Captain Capousique.

Let me intreat you, Citizen General, to Remember me to Citizen Giraudi. It will not be amiss, I think, to stop the sailing of the papers which you have undertaken to send us, till it can be done with less hazard. Accept the assurances of my respectful attachment.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)No, Mr. Inspector, the Anemone was not forced to run aground,--but as we probably know more of this circumstance than you do, and as it touches upon a matter which we have very much at heart, we will take the opportunity of enlarging upon it. On the 2d of September (the day mentioned by Le Roy) two of our frigates chased the Anemone, of four guns, and sixty men, into shallow water, in the road of Marabout. As escape was impossible, and resistance totally out of the question, the boats were sent to take possession of her, as a matter of course. On their approach, she first fired at them, and then, dreading their resentment for such an unauthorized display of hostility, cut her cable, and ran ashore. Here her crew was immediately seized by the Arabs; all who attempted resistance were cut down on the spot, and the rest stripped entirely naked. In this condition, seven of them, among whom was the captain, contrived to slip from their hands, and ran down to the beach, where, falling on their knees in the water, the begged to be taken on board by the men, whom, with a degree of insolence and rancour to be found only in the modern French, they had just before wantonly attempted to destroy! To say that those men were English, is sufficient. “I AM HAPPY,” says the brave commander of the Zealous, “to add, that the humanity of our people extended so far as to swim on shore with lines and small casks to save them. One young gentleman (midshipman of the Emerald) particularly distinguished himself: he brought off the commander, Gardon, at the hazard of his own life!” Gazette, Nov. 13th.

This was great, this was noble, this was truly English! Gardon deserved to be run up to the yard-arm for a murderer; yet we see the very youth, whose life he had treacherously endangered, risking it again to save him!

And the men who could do this, are termed, by the Morning Chronicle, “disgraced cowards!”

We proceed without apology. We feel, we confess, an inexpressible pleasure in dwelling on the merits of our brace tars; and think, that whenever we have an opportunity of thwarting the base attempts of the Jacobin prints to sacrifice their honour to France, it is an indispensable duty to seize it with avidity.

Every one knows the cruelties inflicted upon such of our countrymen as had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the French. They were confined (See the Report of the House of Commons) in pestilent dungeons, starved, and sometimes poisoned. This the Morning Chronicle (for the other Jacobin prints are beneath notice) denied, as long as denial was possible; and when it was no longer so, insinuated, as the last piece of service it could render the Directory, that “if the truth could be fairly come at, we should find we had no great reason to complain!!!”

The TRUTH, happily, may be fairly come at; and we earnestly intreat the reader to follow us with care through the important documents we are about to lay on him; after which we will trust him to form his own conclusions on the “reason we have to complain.”

We have just seen the conduct of the English to the French. Let us now see that of the French to the English; when, not as in the former case, after an unjustifiable assault,--but after gallantly and honourably contending for victory, they were at length obliged to yield superiority of force and numbers.

“When the French” (we quote from the letter of Captain Berry, which we mentioned above) “took possession of the leander, they plundered the officers of all their clothes, even the surgeon’s instruments did not escape them. My sword was torn out of my hand; but I recovered it, by insisting that I would deliver it to Le Joille myself. He said to Captain Thomson and me, you have fought well, I will only take care of your swords till you quit the Genereux: but in this instance, as in every other, he broke his word with me.”

“I did not save a coat but the one I had on, nor any other article,--when I remonstrated, he said he would lend me one.” &c. &c.

But this, the Morning Chronicle will say, was immediately after the heat of action:--let us see then how these “generous” victors conducted themselves after their arrival at Corfou, where they had leisure to deliberate coolly on the conduct of the men whom they had captured, and whose unprecedented gallantry would have extorted pity and respect from the wildest savages. Here, again, “the TRUTH may be fairly come at,” as our readers will readily allow, we believe, after perusing the following dispatch.

Trieste, 3d Dec. 1798.

My Lords,

THIRTY seamen of the Leander which was taken and carried into Corfou, arrived here from that island, the 20th ultimo; these poor men were forced away in three small inconvenient vessels, 10 in each, some more of them badly wounded, and in a very weak state, being obliged to lie on the decks, exposed to the inclemency of the season 17 days. On Friday, 10 more arrived from the same place. The first 30, having finished their quarantine of 13 days, came out this morning, much recovered, from the attentions to their health and food. The last 10, have suffered more than the others, being 23 days on their passage, and so short of provisions, that, had not some passengers taken compassion on them, they must have perished. I am sorry to observe, the French behaved very badly to them in the shortness of provision. I hope, by proper care, to restore these valuable meritorious men to their country and families.

I have the honour to be, &c.


British Council at Trieste.

Right Hon. Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

If the perusal of this dispatch awakes the same feelings in our readers that it did in the breast of those to whom it is addressed, our gallant countrymen will not have suffered in vain.

But while the French were thus exposing their prisoners, with their wounds yet open, to the almost certain hazard of perishing by shipwreck, or hunger, what was the conduct of the English to theirs! It fortunately happens, that here too “the TRUTH may be fairly come at;”—and when we say that it proceeds from the mouth of Mons. NIOU, we presume that the Morning Chronicle itself will acquiesce in the testimony.

London, November 12th, 1798. (O.S.)
NIOU, Commissary of the French Government in England, for every thing which relates to the Exchange, and the Maintenance of the Prisoners of War.

To Messrs. The Commissioners of the Board of Transports.


I AM arrived this morning after a long and troublesome journey which I have just made to the different depots of the French prisoners of war in England.

I have the honour to return you the passport which was forwarded to me at Edinburgh, to enable me to proceed to Norman Cross, and from thence to London. Be pleased to accept my thanks for the punctuality with which you transmitted me this paper.

A slight indisposition prevents my coming abroad this morning; I cannot, therefore, wait on you at this instant,--but I beg of you to allow me to call on you to-morrow morning, at any hour which may suit you, as I want to have some conversation on a variety of objects of the first importance.


I have the honour to be, &c.


We make no apology; as we have already observed, for the length of this note; indeed, it does not need it. If there be an Englishman whose breast does not glow at reading such testimonies to the unwearied humanity of this country, contrasted, as it here is, with the insolence, the rapacity, the rancour, and the cruelty of France, he is unworthy of it,--and we resign him, with ineffable contempt, to the friendship of the M.C. With that paper he may turn with a malignant scowl from conviction, and exclaim, with equal baseness and stupidity, that “if the TRUTH could be fairly come at, we should find we had no great reason to complain.”

(2)Admiral Thevenard’s eldest son commanded the Aquilon, of 74 guns (one of the captured ships) and was killed in the engagement.

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