Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/An old story of old Gibraltar


Between Gibraltar and Malaga, on one of the spurs of the mountains which run from the mainland to the sea, is situated the castle of Fuengerola. It is an old Moorish building, with walls of great thickness, cemented with mortar, which has hardened into a substance more durable than the stone. Previously to the French occupation, our engineers attempted to destroy it, but failed. The general feature of the surrounding country is alternate ridge and ravine; all sufficiently rugged; very pretty for skirmishing, but little adapted to the regular movements of a line.

I was quartered at Gibraltar in the year l8—, and for some reason or other—I never could understand exactly why—the Deputy-Governor of Gibraltar appears to have set his heart on the capture of this place. I never saw that it could do us much harm in the hands of an enemy, and I am sure that it would never do us any good in our own. But to reduce it would make a “diversion,” a favourite proceeding in the tactics of the day; in pursuance of which we lost more men in petty operations than would have furnished a powerful army in the field. General Campbell resolved upon having a diversion!—and we had two.

The first expedition was placed under the command of Major-General Bowles, a very disagreeable, but not very effective officer. He failed at Fueugerola—he died gallantly at Albucra. The next trial was confided to the guidance of Major-General Lord Blayney—a very pleasant companion, an excellent judge of cookery, but not destined to become a great general. The only regular troops employed were a very weak battalion of the 89th regiment—of which Lord Blayney himself was the lieut.-colonel—commanded by one major, four or five captains (one of whom was on the staff), and a very insufficient corps of subalterns. The troops were accompanied by two six-pounders; and there were detachments, principally composed of foreign deserters, whose British officers, appointed for the occasion, had joined them a few days before the expedition sailed. These were not probable elements of success; the end turned out worthy of the means.

The troops, having been landed at a short distance from the castle, were marched by their noble commander to the summit of the ridge nearest to it. There they were halted, and in due course the word “Dress” was given; but the rocks did not hear the command. The general called out, “Why do you not dress your battalion, Major Grant?” Major Grant moved to the front, and was immediately picked off by a rifleman from the walls of the fort.

About this time an important event was pending—dinner! The noble commander withdrew his men down the ravine for refreshment—the enemy, who perhaps had already dined, made a sally, and captured our pippin-squeezers; but they did not hold them long. Our men reascended the height, and retook the guns. This point of time is important to my story. The guns were on the right of the line, next to them the Grenadier company; Lord Blayney was on the extreme left; from which position he saw a body of troops approaching his flank.

“Here come the Spaniards,” said the noble commander.

“I think they are French,” said some officers about him.

“I’ll soon show you they are Spaniards,” said the lord, and advancing, he took off his hat, and courteously saluted them. They were French! and Major-General Lord Blayney was a prisoner! He was taken to France, where he remained till the peace, and in the interim greatly improved his knowledge of cookery.

As soon as the general was thus unaccountably taken a panic seized the troops. Commencing on the left of the line, it spread to the right, and the whole body in utter disorder rushed down into the ravine, from which they were rescued and re-embarked by the boats of the men-of-war.

Thus ended the military incidents of the raid of Fuengerola. But the consequences were not yet. In all such cases of failure it becomes necessary to look out for a scapegoat. Lord Blayney (even if it had been permissible in those days to bring a lord to a court-martial) was a prisoner of war. Major Grant was killed. Captain Annesley—who ought to have taken the command, at least of the 89th, but did not—was also in the hands of the enemy. The next officer in regimental succession was Barnes, the Captain of Grenadiers—on him the lot fell. He had come from the 10th Hussars, a bad school under a bad master. He brought with him all the coxcombries and vexations of minutiæ which, even to this day, distinguish the martinets of crack cavalry regiments. He made himself specially unpopular among the non-commissioned officers. Hence it was said that a conspiracy was formed against him. It did not break out at once. Several weeks elapsed after the defeat, before rumours began to fly about, and it was determined to bring him to a court-martial on the charge of cowardice; and if the evidence of several sergeants was to be believed, there would be no doubt that he was guilty. They swore, with singular unanimity, that they had seen Captain Barnes running away down the ravine before Lord Blayney was taken, and before any disorder had commenced from the left of the battalion. Now, their duty was to look to their front, and so, to account for their looking to their rear instead of to their front, each was anxious to give some reason for his being able to see down the ravine. One or two accounted for it in this way: they swore that before Lord Blayney was taken, a mounted officer’s horse was shot in rear of the centre, and in falling knocked them down. In rising, one of them declared that he saw the Captain of Grenadiers half-way down the ravine, and quite alone. On the other hand, two captains of Artillery—Lloyd and Faede—deposed that before Lord Blayney was taken they had seen Captain Barnes at his post, on the extreme right of the regiment, that he had spoken to them, congratulating them on the re-capture of the guns, and that Colonel Warrington,[1] the mounted officer (whose horse had been shot), could corroborate this evidence; but unfortunately Colonel Warrington was absent in England on leave. The weight of positive evidence was thus in favour of the non-commissioned officers. They spoke as to an unmistakeable fact—that they had seen Captain Barnes running down the ravine before Lord Blayney was taken; Captains Lloyd and Faede swore that they had spoken to him afterwards. But without doubting their veracity, the majority of the court formed the opinion that they had been mistaken as to the time; while the witnesses for the prosecution[2] could not have been mistaken as to the fact.

I had assisted Barnes in his defence, and retained a strong opinion that he was not guilty.

In the usual course, the proceedings had to be sent to England for confirmation. A considerable time elapsed, when one morning very early an orderly woke me, and told me that Colonel Sewell, the commanding officer of the 89th, to which I was temporarily attached, wished to see me immediately. “You know, F——,” he said, “that the packet came in last night, and has brought the sentence of Barnes’s court-martial. He is cashiered. I cannot bear to tell him. You know him more intimately; I shall be obliged to you if you will break it to him before it appears in orders.” The task was not a pleasant one, but I could hardly decline it.

I did not go direct to his quarters, where his wife had been confined a day or two previously; but I sent him a message to meet me on the South Bastion. This rendezvous somewhat prepared him. After a few words I told him the truth. He never moved, he never spoke;—a fit of catalepsy could not have made him more rigid. I expected every instant to see him fall. At length sounds issued from his motionless lips. “My wife has her first child, and I have not a shilling.”

That night I went to the rooms of the unfortunate couple. It was a melancholy meeting, but it was relieved by an unexpected incident.

A Colonel Wright, of the Artillery, had been a member of the court-martial. He had the reputation of being a hard, harsh man, and I looked to him with some apprehension; nor was I alone in my fear. Of course his opinion of the verdict is a secret to me to this day. I can only guess it.

A servant brought in a little parcel, like a pillbox, and a note from Colonel Wright. I opened the parcel first. It contained five or six doubloons. The note said, that Colonel Wright, having heard that Captain Barnes was in pecuniary difficulties, begged his acceptance of a trifling assistance.

Many days had not elapsed when I heard that Colonel Warrington had returned. I hastened to him, and begged him to write down for me the substance of a conversation we had had immediately after the event, and long before proceedings against Barnes had been contemplated.

He did so, stating that he perfectly well recollected that after Lord Blayney was taken on the left, he proceeded by the rear of the 89th towards the right; that his horse was shot in rear of the centre; that in its struggles it knocked down some men; that he then proceeded on foot to the right of the battalion, and there found Captains Barnes, Lloyd, and Faede. The confusion then ensued, then the general retreat, and he lost sight of those officers.

This I considered so conclusive that I embodied the statement in a deposition, which I annexed to a memorial to the Prince Regent.

Barnes was restored to his rank, and joined the 89th again in Canada, where, in the action at Christler’s Farm, he so distinguished himself as to be noticed in General Orders, and consequently obtained the brevet rank of major.

J. S. M. F.

  1. Afterwards Consul-General in Morocco.
  2. The leading witness and informant for the prosecution was the sergeant of Light Infantry—a smart clever fellow, who had been clerk to an attorney in Ireland. He became so conceited on the result of Barnes’s conviction that he principally employed his time in collecting notes for charges against other officers. Carrying this a little too far, he was himself brought to a court-martial, reduced to the ranks, and flogged.