A Brief Sketch of Causes—The Second Battalion at Toulon,
Corsica and Elba—The First Battalion in St. Domingo —Ireland and the
We have seen that The Royals took a successful part in
wresting Canada from the French, but none will regret that they had no share
in the long campaigns against the American colonists, forced on them by the
stupidity of George III and his advisers, and culminating in the Declaration
of Independence. The story fills the least attractive pages in our annals,
and as The Royals were on service at home or in the West Indies all the
time, this bare reference to the American War of Independence is enough for
our purposes. For a like reason we pass over the Indian campaigns under Eyre
Coote and Cornwallis, and proceed to the war of the French Revolution.
In 1789 the long and grievous misgovernment of France, the
ineptitude of Louis XVI, the corruption of the aristocracy, the exactions of
a horde of officials, a year of terrible famine, the disorganization of the
army and impending bankruptcy, brought things to a crisis.
The three Estates of the Realm met amidst a whirl of rioting,
and in June the Commons House declared itself a National Assembly. Power had
passed from the King to the people. Lafayette, who had fought on the side of
the American colonists and was full of windy notions of the Rights of Man,
found himself at the head of a new army of National Guards, but without the
solid genuis of a Washington to control the storm.
The state of France went from bad to worse, the wise counsels
of Mirabeau were disregarded, and the extremists, with their doctrines of
blood and violence, gained an increasing influence.
In June 1791 the King made his ineffectual attempt to escape
from Paris. By November the Girondists were threatening death to all emigres who
did not return, and sought for a foreign war to divert attention from their
follies at home.
Meanwhile, the rest of the monarchs of Europe were profoundly
uneasy at the success of the revolution and were assisting the Royalists as
far as they could. Leopold of Austria was prominent in this movement, and
proposed a European Concert to re-establish the position of the French king
and to crush the revolution. By March 1792 he had died, and his successor,
Francis, failed to secure immediate aid in pursuing his father’s schemes.
The Empress Catherine of Russia and Frederick William of Prussia found it a
convenient time to begin a scheme for the partition of Poland, and to leave
Austria to fight it out with France. England, under Pitt’s guidance,
remained watchfully neutral.
On April 20 France declared war on Austria, but her armies
effected nothing. The failure embittered the situation in Paris; the
Girondists were succeeded in power by the more violent Jacobins, and King
Louis was thrown into prison. By July, Prussia, sufficiently bribed by
Austria to join in the war against France, w'as marching on Paris, but the
Allies were soon quarrelling, and by October France was freed from her
peril, and began to dream of retaliatory conquest and plunder. Preparations
were made to attack in turn the Austrian Netherlands, Spain, Sardinia, and
Naples. Meanwhile Pitt was considering the probable outcome of French
operations in Flanders, viz. the absorption of Belgium into France and an
attack on Holland, whose safety we had guaranteed. Then, as to-day, it was
an imperative feature of British policy that Holland's ports should not be
at the service of a naval enemy of England, and that Belgium should be a
buffer state between France and Germany. The only difference was that the
danger then was from the west frontier of Belgium, whereas now it is from
the east. He was watchful, too, of the French attempt to spread
revolutionary doctrines in England, fostered as they were by Fox.
On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was executed, and the news
filled England with horror. Pitt expelled the French ambassador, and on
February 1 the Convention declared war against England and Holland.
The French had their hands full, for they had also to deal
with the Prussians and Austrians. England sent a Brigade of Guards to
Holland, but the defeat of the French under Dumouriez was the work of the
Austrians under Coburg, and the first round ended with their being driven
helter-skelter out of the Austrian Netherlands and back within their own
borders. With the following campaigns in the Low Countries we are not
concerned, and can only note that the Duke of York proved unequal to the
thankless task as commander of the British contingent of the allied armies.
The War Secretary, Dundas, exceeded all precedents in ineptitude and
administration, and Pitt’s war policy was hopelessly wrong. By the beginning
of 1795 he saw the folly of continuing the effort, and the Expeditionary
Force returned to England in April.
We must now look back to the starting-point of the war early
in 1793. In France the Jacobins did not hold sway undisputed. The revolt of
La Vendee gathered all the elements which still held to Church and King, but
by the end of the year it had been crushed. In the south of France the
movement promised to do better, the more so because Admiral Hood, with the
British fleet in the Mediterranean, was available to help the monarchists.
Marseilles, Lyons, and Toulon declared for Louis XVII. The Republicans soon
dealt with Marseilles, and marched on Toulon. In August, Hood took
possession of the port, and a motley mixture of troops was gathered to
defend it. Spaniards, Sardinians, Neapolitans, Piedmontese and French
Royalists were reinforced from Gibraltar in October by fifteen hundred
British, including The Second Royals, only four hundred and twenty strong.
The battalion was engaged in the defence of Fort Mulgrave with a detachment
of artillery, and beat back a strong body of Republicans, getting little
help from their various allies. A later assault on a battery on the heights
of Arenes was so impetuously done that it carried the attackers into the
arms of strong enemy supports, and they lost heavily. By December the
difficulty of holding fifteen miles of defences with so motley a collection
of forces became too great; the Republicans broke through, and Hood decided
to destroy the shipping and arsenal and to embark his troops to a pleasanter
climate. The Royals covered the evacuation, and Lieut. Ironmonger was the
last officer to quit the dockyard gates. An extra aide-de-camp to Lord
Mulgrave, who commanded the British land forces, was Mr. Thomas Graham, of
Bal-gowan, a gentleman of over forty, who had taken to soldiering at that
ripe age to assuage a private grief. He afterwards became Lord Lynedoch and
Colonel of The Royals, with whom he thus made acquaintance at the outset of
his remarkable career.
With the besieging army was a young lieutenant-colonel of
artillery, Napoleon Bonaparte by name, to whose brilliant capacity the
Republican success was mainly due.
From Toulon the fleet moved to Hy&res Bay with its burden of
disheartened troops, and by February 7 had begun an assault on the French in
Corsica destined to prove of rather more military value than the bungle at
Toulon. The Corsicans under Paoli had already invited British protection,
and Lieut.-Colonel (afterwards Sir John) Moore had surveyed the French
strength, not very accurately as events proved. The first task for the
landing party, which included The Second Royals, was to secure the shores of
the Gulf of San Fiorenzo, so that the fleet might ride there safely. On a
promontory commanding the entrance to the inlet stood a strong masonry
towrer called Martello, and another like it, called Fornali, stood by the
to the south of Martello. Behind Fornali was the powerful
Convention Redoubt. David Dundas, who was in command of the military arm,
failed in his first attack on the Martello, and Moore found the Convention
Redoubt (which he hoped to take from the rear) altogether too strong for an
assault. Two days later Dundas so damaged the Martello by artillery fire
that it surrendered, and Moore begged that the guns should be taken up the
rocks to batter down the Redoubt. It was a desperate labour, and the sailors
and The Royals between them carried the heavy pieces up the almost
perpendicular heights on their shoulders. After a heavy cannonade, Moore,
with The Royals and the Fifty-first, moved on the night of February 17 to
the assault. The Fiftieth, with the Twenty-fifth and some Corsicans,
attacked from other points. The Royals were the first to rush the French
works, and the Redoubt was captured.
Bastia, an important fortified town across the mountains on
the eastern shore, and Calvi were next besieged and taken, and the Corsicans
then solemnly declared themselves subjects of King George. The French were
no longer masters of Corsica, and The Royals were garrisoned at Bastia and
Calvi for nearly two years, John Drinkwater, a major of the battalion, being
Secretary of the Military Department of the Kingdom of Corsica.
But the island was not long a British possession. The French
threatened Elba, and The Royals were detached to hold it. The Corsicans
began to be proud of their compatriot Bonaparte, and plotted against the
British; so Corsica was evacuated and the rest of the troops joined The
Royals at Elba. Then Elba \vas given up, and the British regiments went by
way of Gibraltar to Lisbon. There they remained until June of 1799, when
they returned to England.
We must now return to the doings of the first battalion,
which had sailed for Jamaica in January 1790. One of the results of the
French Revolution was to spread republican principles to the French West
Indies, and particularly to the Island of St. Domingo (now the black
Republic of Hayti). Paris set going an organization called the “Negro's
Friends,” which preached the equality of black and white. Commissioners were
sent out by the Revolutionary Government to establish the rights of man, and
they supported the blacks against the whites, with the result that a bloody
rising followed. The white planters appealed for help to the British
Governor of Jamaica. The Home Government delayed action, but sent more
troops to Jamaica.
When war broke out between France and England, the unhappy
French Royalists in St. Domingo again pleaded for help, and in September
some battalions were sent from Jamaica to seize Jeremie and the Mole of St.
Nicholas in St. Domingo.
It was not until the next February that The Royals were sent
to join them at Jeremie and to help in the operations against the French
republican troops. They made a spirited and successful attack on the
fortress at L'Acal, and did heroic things in other small engagements. Yellow
fever proved a far more terrible foe than the French and the negroes. Only
four hundred strong when it landed in February, the battalion shrank until
there were only one hundred and twenty-three in September, and though drafts
from home brought the number up to two hundred and forty-seven by December
only one hundred and forty-eight were returned as fit for duty.
When the new year opened the seven battalions on the island
could muster only eleven hundred men in condition to fight. Despite all this
the troops managed to hold most of their positions in St. Domingo until the
end of 1796. Some idea of the horrible conditions may be gathered from a
report dated July, which tells of one hundred and twenty-nine officers and
five thousand seven hundred and twenty men (of all regiments) lost between
October 1793 and March 1796, whereas only one hundred fell in action. Of
this grim total The Royals contributed five officers and four hundred men.
It is difficult in these days of preventive medicine to realize what
campaigning in tropical countries meant during the eighteenth century. But
this terrible test of the regiment's constancy came to an end in the
following year, when the stricken remnant of The Royals returned to
England—ten officers, forty-five (!) sergeants, twelve drummers,
eighty-eight rank and file fit and a few sick. The next year the battalion
went to Ireland, but it does not appear that it took any direct part in the
unhappy task of stamping out the Irish Rebellion of ’ninety-eight.
In the last year of the century the ranks of the first
battalion were filled by recruits from the Irish Militia, and two hundred
and twenty-three joined The First Royals.
In order that we may round off the century in this chapter,
reference may be made to the part taken by the second battalion in the
campaign in North Holland of 1799.
The Dutch had been under French dominion since 1794, and as
Napoleon was busy in Egypt, the British and Russian Governments determined
to release Holland from her servitude and re-establish the Prince of Orange.
The Royals were included in Major-General John Moore's Brigade of the force
which landed in the north of Holland at the Helder. The disembarkation was
fiercely resisted by the French and Dutch, but was effected successfully,
and the menacing batteries of the Helder Fort were evacuated the same night.
The Dutch fleet hoisted the Orange flag and was transferred to Great
Britain. But the heart of the Dutch nation was not in the movement for its
own emancipation from the French yoke, and the campaign dragged on to an
inconclusive end. In one action however, that of Egmont-op-Zee, a struggle
amongst sandhills, The Royals did good service, and the name appears amongst
their battle honours. For all that, their losses were so trifling when
compared with those of the other regiments of the brigade that it is
difficult to think that they played a prominent part in that very
inconclusive battle. The brigade was not engaged in the heavy action which
took place four days later. An armistice soon followed, and a foolish
campaign was closed with the return of the whole army to England at the end
of the month.
So far the war of the French Revolution had given The Royals
work in various small and inglorious campaigns, but the dawn of the new
century was to see them on larger fields.