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AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNAL Of JOHN MACDONALD
Part II


The next morning about five o’clock we discovered our own fleet bearing down very much increased, and soon after we had the happiness of being informed of the capture of the enemy’s whole fleet, consisting of one sixty-four ship, five frigates, and twenty-three sail of merchantmen, called the Carraca fleet, all belonging to Spain, not one of them being able to escape the vigilance of our brave British tars. The sixty-four is now in our service and is known by the name of the "Prince William," that young prince [Afterwards known as King William the Fourth.] being then on board the "Prince George" as midshipman, and an eye-witness of the first grand stroke given to the united forces of France and Spain, then joined against us. On the 10th January 1780 the 73rd Regiment was ordered to serve on board the men-of-war on account of the vast number of prisoners taken in the above fleet.

The troops being shifted, the prisoners properly secured, and everything being got in readiness to pursue our voyage, we proceeded for Gibraltar. But our enemies, being fully resolved to intercept us, again made their appearance in a more formidable manner with twelve sail [This Spanish war fleet was cruising to the south-east of Cape St Vincent for the express purpose of intercepting British supplies intended for Gibraltar (Mahan’s "Sea Power").] of the line on the 16th January 1780. About twelve o’clock they were observed, and at four in the afternoon the two headmost of our ships, viz., the "Edgar" and the "Bedford," engaged them and resisted their fire for a considerable time until some more of our ships came to their assistance, and then the engagement became general. Just about this time the "St Domingo," a Spanish ship of eighty guns, was blown up and every soul on board perished, to the number of six hundred, among whom were many of the flower of Spain. In the morning of the 17th victory declared herself on our side by adding to our fleet five sail of the line, driving two on shore, and blowing up one, the rest remaining shocking examples of British bravery. After the ships we had taken were manned and the prisoners properly secured, we set sail and arrived in the Bay of Gibraltar on the 23rd of January 1780, having been for some days driven by contrary winds behind the Rock, as far as Tetuan.

Gibraltar

On the 29th January 1780 the 73rd Regiment landed at the New Mole and were marched to Irishtown, a part of the town of Gibraltar so called. The inhabitants for the most part having never seen a Highland regiment were very much surprised at our dress, and more so at the bagpipes. At this time all the necessaries of life were sold at an exorbitant price, and several poor families were upon the brink of perishing before we came, but were soon relieved by the supplies brought by the fleet. Soon after our arrival at Gibraltar Colonel Mackenzie thought proper to send me to the hospital to take care of the sick, under the direction of Mr Andrew Cairncross, head surgeon of the regiment, an able surgeon and a humane gentleman, with whom I continued during the time the regiment stayed at Gibraltar.

The change of climate and likewise of diet had such an effect upon our men that a great many of them fell sick of the flux, of which numbers died. From the beginning of the month of March to the end of June, we never had fewer than one hundred or hundred and twenty or thirty men sick in the regimental hospital. Nothing material happened in the garrison till the 7th of June 1780, when the enemy sent nine fire-ships under full sail from Algeziras, about one o’clock in the morning, with the intent of burning our shipping and navy stores, there being in the New Mole at that time over twenty vessels. But by the vigilance of the "Enterprize" frigate and a few more armed vessels lying in the New Mole, they were all towed round and no harm sustained. The wood of the remaining parts of these nine ships proved a good supply, as we were scarce of fuel at the time. We expected a bombardment by land at the same time if their scheme had taken effect, for Barcello, the Spanish admiral, had his squadron under sail to intercept our shipping in case any of them should be under the necessity of quitting their anchors and going to sea; but contrary to his expectations all the attempts proved fruitless, which he had the mortification to behold next morning upon his return to Algeziras.

In the beginning of October 1780, the enemy began to break new ground in front of their new lines, and carried on a line of communication between the old lines and their intended new trenches, which line and trenches they completed in spite of all the annoyance we gave them, although with considerable loss. The enemy continued to work on the isthmus erecting batteries, notwithstanding our fire on their working parties, who were often dispersed by our shells from Willis’ and other batteries up the heights. At that time the garrison was very much distressed for want of provisions; the troops were all put on short allowance, and were paid the deficiency in money. The poor inhabitants [The civil inhabitants of Gibraltar were a mixed lot of foreigners.] were in a much worse situation, having no other prospect than starvation before them unless the place should be speedily relieved.

On the 12th of April 1781 the long expected English fleet made its appearance in the Gutt very early in the morning, and as they came round Cabrita point the enemy’s gunboats attacked some of the ships that sailed close to the Spanish shores, but were soon obliged to retreat under shelter of their batteries. But no sooner had the first ship cast anchor in the bay than the Spanish opened all their batteries, firing with all the fury imaginable both on the fleet and on the town – the latter they soon set on fire with their bombshells, some of which fell into the inhabitants’ houses killing and wounding diverse, others they threw as far as south shed-guard, and a great many fell harmless among the shipping. The inhabitants fled from the town to the south in the utmost confusion, exhibiting a most shocking scene of misery, while the soldiery were for the most part plunged in the deepest excess of riot, drunkenness, and plunder, notwithstanding the utmost exertions of the officers.

The inhabitants were furnished with tents and formed a sort of camp near Blacktown, where they afterwards built themselves huts with the wood the ruins of the houses in town afforded. The troops then in town, viz., the 12th, 39th, 56th, and 72nd, together with three Hanoverian regiments, viz., Hardenburgh’s, Reden’s, and La Motte’s, were ordered to the south, except the 72nd, which was quartered in the King’s Bastion bomb-proofs. All the rest were encamped on the face of the hill, all along from the end of the south barracks to Europa Gate.

In the month of September 1781 the enemy began to fire from a battery advanced a great way in front of their old lines, which annoyed us very much, for they threw some of their shells as far as the Navy hospital and our camp. This battery was named the Mill [In the "Siege of Gibraltar" it is called the Windmill battery, as an old windmill stood in the neighbourhood.] battery. The governor, having received some intelligence of the number of troops kept in this battery by some deserters, thought a sally was practicable. Accordingly, on the evening of the 26th November, an order was issued for all the wine-houses to be shut up, and all the troops to repair to their different quarters, where they were to remain till further orders. The 12th regiment and Hardenburgh’s, with all the flank companies of the other regiments, were ordered to parade on the Red Sands together with a detachment of the artillery, another of the artificers, and about one hundred and fifty seamen. At twelve o’clock at night they all sallied out through Landport, under the command of Brigadier-General Ross; [Ross commanded the 72nd regiment, otherwise the Manchester Volunteers. The regiment was afterwards disbanded.] and no sooner had they passed Lower Forbes than the Spanish patrols fired on them, but not minding them they advanced very quietly. The patrols, however, alarmed the Mill battery; and they, thinking that the whole troops of the garrison had sallied out, left their posts in great confusion, while those that remained were all killed or taken prisoner.

The artificers, being provided with materials and combustibles for setting the battery on fire, soon had it in flames while the artillery were busied spiking up ten mortars and eighteen pieces of cannon. The officer who had the keys of the magazines was taken prisoner and obliged to deliver them, and then the magazines were instantly blown up. Thus the great works which cost the Spaniards so much labour and expense, taking eighteen months to complete, were all totally destroyed in about an hour. This being done, the troops returned to garrison in perfect order and without interruption, with the loss of only four men killed, and one officer, two sergeants, and twenty-two rank and file wounded, and one missing.

Two officers and ten men were taken prisoner, but one of the officers having lost a leg died of his wounds on the 29th December following. It was computed that the Mill battery stood the enemy upwards of twelve million dollars. The detachment that stormed and burned the above battery consisted of 1 colonel, 3 lieutenant-colonels, 3 majors, 26 captains, 65 lieutenants, 14 ensigns, 2 surgeon’s mates, 144 sergeants, 3 drummers, and upwards of 2,000 rank and file.

On the 11th June 1782, a shell from the enemy fell into St Ann’s battery, broke through a splinter-proof that covered a magazine door, burst open and blew up the magazine, killing fourteen and wounding seventeen men.

We had different accounts by deserters that the enemy were preparing ten large battering ships that were to be proof against shot and shell; these battering ships were intended to make a breach in the wall and then the enemy were to storm us. Accordingly, on the 13th September 1782, they brought these ships to their moorings about half-past nine o’clock in the morning, when a dreadful cannonading commenced from the land battering ships, which they kept up very briskly till four in the afternoon when we could observe them in confusion, on account of their ships taking fire from our red-hot balls. When first we began to fire at them our shot and shell rebounded from their sides and had not the least effect, but having heated our shot in large stoves prepared for that purpose, and taking a good aim, our artillery sent their red-hot balls into their port holes, which having lodged in the opposite side by degrees set them on fire.

They still kept up incessant fire until eight at night, when they slackened greatly, and at ten ceased firing entirely, their ships being all on fire notwithstanding they had engines to quench it; but all their schemes proving abortive, they made several signals for assistance to their fleet, which lay at anchor at Algeziras. When about midnight boats came from the fleet to carry away these poor wretches, the garrison fired grape among them which must have done great damage; but two large boats full of men were picked up, and some on rafts and broken pieces of timber. Very early in the morning of the 14th Captain Curtis went with our twelve gunboats to save the poor wretches that were left to perish in the burning ships, and took on shore about four hundred including officers and men. Before noon they all blew up one after another, with such a terrible shock that several doors and windows were forced open and the whole bay was covered with wreckage.

On the 14th I was ordered to go with four men to bring a wounded man to the hospital from upper All’s Well. Soon after they took up the wounded man a shell was fired from the enemy which seemed to be directed to the place where we were, and in escaping from it I fell over a rock, which hurt my left side, thigh, and knee very considerably. I made shift, however, to get the wounded man to the hospital. He soon recovered and was discharged fit for duty, but my hurt was such that I never will get the better of it.

On the night of the 10th October 1782 the combined fleets of France and Spain lay at anchor at Algeziras, consisting of fifty sail of the line. The wind blew very hard and drove many of them from their moorings; some ran ashore on their own coast, other lost their masts, &c. Very early in the morning of the 11th we perceived a large ship displaying Spanish colours within a few yards of our walls, and after we had fired a few shots at her she struck. Captain Curtis went immediately on board of her and had her moored as well as the weather would permit. The prisoners were instantly brought ashore, consisting of about six hundred and fifty men besides officers. The ship proved to be the "St Miguel" of seventy guns, and known now in the English navy by the name of the "Gibraltar."

That very evening the English fleet under the command of Lord Howe appeared in the mouth of the Straits, but only a few light ships and some transports came to anchor – the rest stood to the eastward. Next day the combined fleet got under weigh and stood to the eastward likewise. A great concourse of people of all ranks and denominations assembled on the different eminences expecting a general engagement, but the combined fleet declined it. The rest of our transports gave the enemy the slip and unloaded at the Rosia Bay; the 25th and 59th regiments were also landed to reinforce the garrison. As also some artificers and artillery, and drafts for the different regiments then in the garrison.

On the 21st the British fleet, after completing what was their main design – I mean the relief of Gibraltar – repassed the mouth of the Straits with the combined fleet close behind. A running flight ensued off the Straits mouth, but no ships were taken or destroyed on either side. Nothing of note happened from that time to the 2nd of February 1783, when the firing from the enemy ceased, and the following day a final period was put to this long and tedious siege by a cessation of arms on both sides. And during the whole siege I met with no other hurt than what I have already mentioned on the 14th September 1782.

Being intimately acquainted with the clerks of the different regiments then in garrison, I procured from them a complete return of their different losses during the siege, which I have collected together as follows: -

losses during the siege

After the conclusion of the war the 73rd regiment was ordered to hold themselves in readiness to embark for Britain in order to be discharged, and about the beginning of June 1783 an order was issued from the Government for all such as chose to enlist out of the 72nd, 73rd, and 97th (being all to be disbanded) to enter into any regiment they liked best. I being sensible that no provision had been made for me at home, and having then no otherwise but to continue in the army, agreed with the commanding officer of the 25th [The 25th regiment or the Scottish Borderers.] regiment to teach school in the regiment for three years. This agreement took place on the 24th June 1783, but I did not give up the charge of the hospital till the 6th of July following, which day the 72nd and 73rd regiments, embarked for Britain.

That evening I joined the 25th and soon after set up school, which I continued to carry on with good success, and was in every respect very well used by the officers and the regiment in general. On the 24th of January 1784 I got the payment of Major Edgar’s company (the sergeant that paid that company being discharged), and on the 13th February following the payment of the light infantry company, to which I myself did belong. Both these companies I paid until the 27th of February 1785, when I resigned the office in consequence of an order from the War Office to discharge all three years’ men who did not choose to enlist for life, and to reduce the regiments to two sergeants, three corporals, one drummer, and forty-two privates to each company.

I being one of the number to be discharged as being unfit for service and a three years’ man too, left off keeping school in daily expectation of the governor’s order to be sent home, but time slipped away without a word of leaving the Rock. At last, on the 12th of June, Colonel Rigby, commanding officer of the 25th regiment, thought proper to send me to take charge of the regimental hospital, which I continued to do till the 14th November following, at which time the reduction of the army took place in Gibraltar. I was then discharged, and recommended in consequence of the hurt I received on the 14th September already described.


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