Royal Naval Biography/Croker, Walter
WALTER CROKER, Esq.
Son of the late Edward Croker, of Lisnabrin House, near Tallow, co. Cork, Esq., by Thomasine, daughter of the Rev. Charles Philips, Rector of Magoorney, in the same county. He is collaterally descended from one of the old Saxon families, settled at Lynham (or Lineham) Hall, in Devonshire, long before the Norman conquest. Two of the younger sons of that house, both of whom were officers of rank in the army, went over to Ireland in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; the eldest of them settling at Ballinagar, co. Limerick; and the other (Hugh Crocker) uniting himself in marriage to Lucretia, daughter and sole heiress of Sir Walter Coppinger, of Lisnabrin, whose ancestors had possessed that property for several centuries. From Hugh Crocker, the subject of this memoir is lineally descended. His great-grandfather. Colonel Richard Croker, (who, we believe, was the first that ceased to use the middle letter in the patronimic of his fore-fathers, retaining, however, the same arms and crest), was likewise possessed of the noble estate of Madrid, and another called Rovesmore, both in the county of Cork, of which he was twice High Sheriff, in very troublesome times.
From the houses of Ballinagar and Lisnabrin, are probably descended, however distantly, every one of the name of Croker, who is entitled to wear the arms and crest of the ancient Crocker family: the latter mark of distinction, we should observe, was given by King Edward the Fourth, to his cup-bearer, Sir John Crocker, Mayor of Exeter.
Mr. Walter Croker was born on the 9th Mar. 1784, and commenced his highly honorable career early in 1798, as midshipman, on board the Galatea frigate, commanded by Captain George Byng, under whom he served for a period of four years, Daring the peace of Amiens, we find him in the Culloden 74, Captain Charles Henry Lane (afterwards Commissioner at Antigua); and in Mar 1803, joining the Plantagenet of similar force, Captain (now Sir Graham Eden) Hamond, from whom, at a subsequent period, he received the following testimonial of his early gallantry and zeal:–
“Dear Sir,– In answer to yours of yesterday, requesting I will give you a certificate of an occurrence that happened while you were under my command in the Plantagenet, I beg to say, that although it is so long ago, I have a perfect recollection of it, which I believe is nearly as follows: – In the month of July, 1803, I captured (after a very arduous chase) l’Atalante, a ship privateer of Bourdeaux, of 22 guns and 120 men. The night coming on, together with a gale of wind, one boat load of prisoners could only be received on board the Plantagenet, and Lieutenant Batt, yourself, and another midshipman, with about fifteen seamen and marines, remained on board the privateer; you parted company in the night, and I never saw the Atalante again. After your parting from the Plantagenet, the French crew, then consisting of upwards of a hundred, rose upon you, more than once, and nothing but great courage and perseverance on the part of yourself. Lieutenant Batt, and the few men he had with him, succeeded in getting the privateer into Falmouth; from whence a detachment of soldiers from the garrison of Pendennis Castle, were given to assist your taking the privateer to Plymouth.
“Lieutenant Batt, in reporting the circumstance to me afterwards, made high comments on your personal gallantry, and the assistance he received from you on the occasion.
“I hope this statement will sufficiently answer your purpose: for dates, I have nothing by me to refer to. I remain, dear Sir, yours very faithfully,
(Signed)“Graham E. Hamond.”
L’Atalante was captured on the 27th of July, and Mr. Croker and his companions continued seven days and nights in the perilous situation described by Sir Graham E. Hamond. One morning, an enemy’s lugger was seen at some distance; but most fortunately she was deterred from approaching nearer, by the prize’s head being instantly put towards her, although the numerous Frenchmen below were then trying at every hatchway to gain the deck.
The Plantagenet was subsequently commanded by Captain (afterwards Admiral) the Hon. Michael De Courcy, under whom Mr. Croker completed his time and servitude as midshipman, and in whose own hand writing we find it stated, on his leaving that ship to pass the usual examination at Somerset House, that he had “always conducted himself with great activity, vigilance, and correctness; shewing himself forward for any enterprise, and setting an admirable example to those around him.”
In 1804 and 1805, Mr. Croker was successively appointed to act as lieutenant of the Topaze 36, Captain W. T. Lake; Amsterdam 32, Captain William Ferris; and Centaur 74, Captain Murray Maxwell; the two latter ships employed in the West Indies, to which station he had been sent out on promotion.
On the 29th July, 1805, the Centaur, then commanded by Captain Henry Whitby, and in company with a squadron under Captain De Courcy, sent from Jamaica to join Lord Nelson in his pursuit of the combined fleets of France and Spain, encountered one of the tremendous hurricanes which commence so suddenly, and increase to such dreadful violence, in those seas. Of the squadron, the Centaur suffered most from its destructive rage, in consequence of her having recently run on shore in the West Indies. She was thrown on her beam-ends; her masts all went, one after the other, like mere twigs; her boats were all stove and washed overboard; her rudder was carried away; and for sixteen hours, the chain-pumps could scarcely keep her from foundering, the wreck of the mainmast having caused a most alarming leak, by starting a butt-end under the starboard quarter. In order to save this mast. Lieutenant Croker had exerted himself to get the wreck of the top-mast cut away; but he had not descended from the main-top above five minutes before it went by the board. By the mercy of Providence, however, the fury of the wind and waves at length abated, a thrummed sail was got under the ship’s bottom, as well as hawsers to frap her shattered frame together, and in this state, with only about a dozen guns remaining, she was safely towed to Halifax by the Eagle 74, Captain David Colby.
Upon the above occasion, the crew of the Centaur afforded a striking proof of their high state of discipline; one man only was guilty of resorting to liquor, – either to drown his apprehensions of approaching death, or to gratify with impunity a strong propensity to drunkenness. When prayers and thanksgivings were offered up to the Almighty for their signal deliverance from the waves, the officers, seamen, and marines, almost to a man, were dissolved in tears. But for this hurricane, they would, in all probability, have been amongst the foremost at the battle of Trafalgar.
On her approaching Halifax harbour, the Centaur was supposed to be a French 74, captured by the Eagle, and numerous yachts and boats were soon seen coming out, to welcome the captors of so noble a prize. The first person who got on board the dismasted ship was Commissioner Inglefield, whose miraculous escape from the wreck of the old Centaur, in 1782, We have recorded in Vol. II. Part I., and whose feelings on this occasion may be much more readily conceived than described. He had no sooner reached the quarter-deck, and cast one hasty look around him, than he burst into tears, raised his hands to his forehead, and rushed into Captain Whitby’s cabin, exclaiming “my poor Centaur, at the moment when I left her, presented the same appearance.” Captain Whitby, than whom a better officer was scarcely ever to be found, had not long before been promoted to post rank for saving the Santa Margaritta frigate, under similar circumstances. An attachment now soon took place between him and the commissioner’s youngest daughter, which led to their union about the close of the same year.
On his return home in the Centaur, then commanded by Captain (now Sir John) Talbot, Mr. Croker was promoted into the Active frigate, Captain (now Hear-Admiral) Moubray, by commission dated Feb. 6th, 1800. The high opinion entertained of him by that distinguished officer is shewn in a recently written letter, of which we happen to have a copy:–
“My dear Sir,– I have much pleasure in complying with your wish, that I should state my opinion of your services, whilst you were a lieutenant in the Active under my command, since I can, with truth, declare they were such as did you infinite credit. Your eagerness on all occasions to be employed on enterprises of danger, gave me the highest satisfaction; and your gallant conduct, immediately under my eye, in leading the boarders when the Turkish frigate was destroyed by the Active in the Dardanelles, strongly impressed me with a sense of your cool, intrepid character in action.
“I beg to assure you that I shall be extremely glad to hoar of your promotion to the next most desirable step, and that I am ever, my dear Sir, yours most faithfully,
(Signed)“R. H. Moubray.”
“To Commander Walter Croker, R.N.”
The Turkish frigate here spoken of was a fine noble ship of 56 guns, and had on board at least 450 men. She formed part of the squadron attacked and destroyed by the rear division of the force under Sir John T. Duckworth, at the forcing of the passage of the Dardanelles, Feb. 19th, 1807. Having cut her cables and run over from Point Pesquies to the European side, she was instantly followed and soon driven on shore by the Active; but still she would not strike her colours, and persisted in occasionally firing a gun. In order to obtain possession of and destroy her. Captain Moubray at length sent all his boats under Lieutenants Willes and Croker the latter of whom was the first person who boarded, and had the honor of cutting down the Ottoman colours with his own hand. The Turkish crew resisted until the last moment, and even pelted the boats with shot by hand. Two days after this event, Lieutenant Croker commanded a party of the Active’s seamen employed in completing the demolition of the formidable battery on Point Pesquies, under the orders of Lieutenant Carroll, of the Pompée 74. He subsequently obtained the following testimonial from Admiral Sir W. Sidney Smith:–
“These are to certify that Lieutenant Waltor Croker being detached from His Majesty’s ship Active, which ship formed part of my division, destined by Vice Admiral Sir John Duckworth to destroy the Turkish men of war defending the passage of the Dardanelles, February 19th, 1807, succeeded with the boats of that ship in boarding and burning the Turkish frigate which ran on shore on the European side, shewing on this occasion the greatest intrepidity, intelligence, and skill, and performing the service committed to him hy Captain Moubray, to my entire satisfaction.
(Signed)“W. Sidney Smith, Admiral of the Blue.”
In the beginning of 1808, Lieutenant Croker joined the Thames frigate, commanded by his most revered and deeply lamented friend, the late Captain Bridges Watkinson Taylor, a truly amiable and noble-minded officer, with whom he had before served on board the Galatea. The following is the copy of a letter from Captain Taylor to the senior officer in the Adriatic, dated off Manfredonia, Feb. 27th, 1808:–
“From the rendezvous off Sansego, we the 23d instant chased and captured a large trabaccolo, with oil and almonds, from Barrie to Trieste; returning the following day, recaptured an Austrian brig from Messina, then another trabaccolo (Papal) from Zara, with wool; the latter led us near Ancona. I intended carrying these vessels to the rendezvous, hut on the morning of the 25th a most heavy gale came on from the N.E.; the first had parted for the night, and, I trust, then ran for Malta, otherwise, although a fine new vessel, I fear those on hoard perished, or, my only hopes are, that she bore up into an enemy’s port; the brig I ordered to Malta, being able to weather Ancona. The other trabaccolo broke her rudder, had her bow and quarter stove in, and was sinking; the sea being tremendous: under these circumstances, we tried to get her alongside to save the people (as we doubted our boats living), but without effect. Then Lieutenant Croker, with six good men, volunteered attempting it in the cutter, and it is with the most heartfelt gratitude I acquaint you, that all were saved by their exertions, – a woman, child, six of the Thames’s, and four Romans; the vessels drifted so fast whilst this was performing, that we had to wear six times under fore stay-sails only; the hazard ran in happily effecting the above, induces me to wish the commander-in-chief may be acquainted with it; and besides Lieutenant Croker, I beg you will have the goodness to mention the men whose names are in the margin, for their great humanity on this occasion.
“In accomplishing the above we got so far to leeward, that, on the following morning, it was only by the great mercy of Providence we escaped being wrecked near Ancona; we weathered it by carrying a press of sail without topsails, and were driven along a lee shore as far as Manfredonia, off which place we anchored to gammon the bowsprit, which had given way in the gale. I have the honor to be,
(Signed)“B. W. Taylor.”
“To Captain Campbell, H.M.S. Unité.”
On this occasion the officers of the Thames were all consulted, and, with the exception of Lieutenant Croker, they were unanimously of opinion, that no boat could possibly live in the tremendous sea then running. Even the gallant fellows who accompanied him began to give way to despair, long before the trabaccolo could be closely approached, but were again rallied by the animating example and exhortations of their humane and intrepid officer, whose conduct on the 25th Feb. 1808 was truly deserving of a civic crown. The time spent in saving the lives of so many people, under such extremely dangerous circumstances, was at least three hours and a half, during which the main-stay-sail of the Thames, although scarcely ever before set, was actually blown out of its bolt-rope.
Some time after this event, the Thames and a sloop of war (Minstrel, Commander John Hollinworth) were employed in blockading two French frigates, lying in the harbour of Corfu. During a heavy gale, the sloop telegraphed, that her hanging ports were stove in, and that she must bear up. The storm being very violent, Captain Taylor, suggested thereto by Lieutenant Croker, resolved to seek shelter at the mouth of the harbour of Cephalonia, the only anchorage which he could possibly obtain without altogether abandoning his station. There the Thames and Minstrel brought up under French colours, within range of the enemy’s batteries, and succeeded in outwitting the garrison, by making pretended signals with some new flags recently found on board a prize.
On the second day after their arrival at this anchorage. Lieutenant Croker discovered, from the mast-head, a large ship at the very head of the harbour, and hauled as close as possible to the shore. He immediately volunteered his services to bring her out; and soon after midnight, the barge and large cutter of the Thames, and the Minstrel’s pinnace and cutter, the whole containing about fifty men, left the frigate, under his command. The sea was still running high, and nearly three hours elapsed before he got near the eneujy. On being hailed by the batteries at the entrance of the harbour, he intimated that his boats were employed in fishing; but, to the challenges received from the sentinels on board his intended prize, he returned only a few hearty cheers. She was then promptly boarded, instantaneously carried, and triumphantly brought out, under a heavy fire from the batteries. Soon after day-light, the Thames and Minstrel were joined by the ship thus gallantly captured, and which proved to be laden with provisions and military stores for the garrison of Cephalonia.
In April 1809, Captain Taylor was removed to the Apollo 38, on which occasion he did all that delicacy would permit, to induce the first lieutenant of that ship to exchange with Mr. Croker; but the officers of the Apollo were too sensible of their new commander’s worth, to leave him on any terms whatever. Failing in his endeavours. Captain Taylor was obliged to content himself with writing a strong recommendatory letter to the Admiralty, at the same time giving Mr. Croker a private one to his brother, the present Sir Herbert Taylor, and presenting him with a drawing of the perilous situation in which he had so voluntarily placed himself on the 25th Feb. 1808: this drawing Captain Taylor had executed with his own hand.
The Thames returned home under the command of Captain the Hon. G. G. Waldegrave (now Lord Radstock), and Lieutenant Croker was soon afterwards sent out to the West Indies, on the Admiralty list for promotion. He there served in the Melampus frigate, under the command of Captain Edward Hawker; and was with that officer when he captured le Beauharnois of 16 guns and 109 men, laden with flour and warlike stores, from Bayonne bound to Guadaloupe. The commander of this French ship, Mons, Mont-Bazon, was a truly gallant fellow, and did not surrender until it became utterly impossible for him to effect his escape: during a close running fight of twenty minutes he kept up a most spirited fire from his stern-chasers; occasionally yawing his vessel and giving the Melampus a broadside of grape. On surrendering his sword he said, partly in his own language and partly in broken English, “If my scoundrels had done their duty, you would not get this from me.”
After assisting at the reduction of Guadaloupe, Mr. Croker was appointed first lieutenant of the Papillon sloop, Captain James Hay, by which vessel some important despatches were subsequently brought to England. We next find him proceeding to the East Indies, as second of the Leda frigate, Captain (afterwards Rear-Admiral) George Sayer; from which station he returned, in ill-health, first of the Diomede 50, Captain Hugh Cook. In the beginning of Nov. 1811, he was appointed senior lieutenant of the Furieuse frigate, Captain William Mounsey, who spoke highly of his conduct at the reduction of Ponza, an island near the Neapolitan coast, Feb. 26th, 1813. He had previously assisted in capturing two French privateers, each mounting four guns; and the subjoined documents will shew, that he afterwards commanded the boats of the Furieuse, at the capture and destruction of a national xebec, two gun-boats, a land battery of two long 24-pounders, an armed merchant vessel, and thirteen settees deeply laden with valuable cargoes.
“H.M.S. Furieuse, off Orbitello, May 7th, 1813.
“Sir,– I have the honor to inform you of the capture of the French national xebec la Conception, with two long 9-pounders, mounted and pierced for twelve guns, by the boats of H.M. ship under the command of Lieutenant Walter Croker (1st) and Lieutenant Williams Random (2d) of this ship. Nothing could surpass the undaunted and determined spirit with which she was boarded and hove off the shore, and towed out from under a most galling fire of musketry, and from a battery of eleven 24-pounders, which she had run under. This service was most arduous, and could not be performed without a loss (comparatively small), viz. Mr. John Webb (midshipman), a most promising young officer, shot through the body (since dead), and five seamen badly wounded. Lieutenant Croker” (who had both lappels of his coat shot away) “has reported to me, in the strongest terms of praise, the very gallant support he received from Lieutenant Sandom, and every petty officer, seaman, and marine, employed under his command. I have the honor to be, &c.
“To Captain the Hon. Henry Duncan,
“H.M.S. Furieuse at Sea, Oct. 8th, l813.
“Sir,– I beg leave to acquaint you, that on the 4th instant, running along the coast to the Island of Ponza, at one p.m., I observed a convoy of nineteen vessels in the harbour of Marinelo (about six miles to the eastward of Civita Vecchia), protected by two gun-boats, a fort of two long 24-pounders, and a strong fortified castle and tower; and it appearing practicable to cut them out, as the wind was fair for that purpose. Lieutenants Croker and Lester, with Lieutenants Whylock and Davies, R.M., gallantly volunteered to storm the fort on the land side, with the whole of the marines and boats’ crews, whilst the ship anchored before it, which service was promptly performed; and, after a few broadsides, I had the satisfaction of seeing the battery carried and guns spiked by our gallant party on shore.
“The enemy retreated and took the strong positions of the castle and tower overlooking the harbour, where they kept up a constant fire of musketry, through loop-holes, without the possibility of being dislodged; although I weighed and moved in, so that the whole fire of the ship was directed against it, nothing could damp the ardour of the party on shore, who, together with Lieutenant Lester in the boats, lost not a moment in hoarding and cutting the cables of sixteen vessels, under a most galling fire; two of which were sunk in the entrance of the harbour, and fourteen got out.
“I have to regret the loss of twelve brave men, killed and wounded, which is less than might have been expected, as more than 500 regular troops arrived from Civita Vecchia; but were kept in check in coming along, and forced to take a circuitous route, by a well directed fire from the ship, which allowed sufficient time for all our men to embark.
“It is now a pleasing duty to pay a just tribute of praise to the very gallant and determined conduct of Mr. Croker, first lieutenant, whose zeal on this and on every other occasion, merits my warmest commendation; and he speaks in the highest terms of admiration of the determined bravery of Lieutenants Lester, Whylock, and Davies, the petty officers, seamen, and royal marines, under his command.
“The whole of this service was most successfully accomplished in three hours, and fourteen vessels, deeply laden, gut clear off, which I was obliged to take in tow, as their sails had all been unbent and taken on shore, to prevent our getting them out. I have the honor to be, &e.
“To Captain the Hon. Henry Duncan,
&c. &c. &c.”
The vessels sunk were two gun-boats, each armed with one long brass 24-pounder and four swivels. The loss sustained by the British consisted of two men killed, three dangerously wounded, and seven very severely.
The Furieuse formed part of the squadron under Sir Josias Rowley, at the unsuccessful attempt upon Leghorn, in Dec. 1813. The following is an extract of that officer’s official despatch, reporting the capture of Fort Santa Maria and the other sea defences of the Gulf of Spezzia, in March, 1814:–
“To Captain Flin, Lieutenants Bazalgette, Mapleton, Croker, and Molesworth, Mr. Glen, master of the America, and Mr. Breary, mate of the Edinburgh, who had the direction of the guns in the batteries, much credit is due: the condition of the fort on its surrender plainly evinced the etTect of their fire.”
Lieutenant Croker also assisted at the reduction of Genoa and its dependencies, in the month of April following. His promotion to the rank of commander took place Nov. 2d, 1814; on which occasion he was appointed to the Wizard sloop, in the Mediterranean: and soon after the flight of Napoleon Buonaparte from Elba, we find him receiving a letter to the following effect from his commander-in-chief, dated at Palermo, Mar. 28th, 1815:–
“Sir,– In acknowledging your letter of the 24th instant, communicating your transactions in the execution of my order of the 12th, I have great satisfaction in expressing to you my entire approbation of your proceedings, and of the very dear and satisfactory manner in which you hare collected and conveyed to me much interesting and important intelligence. I am, &c.
(Signed)“C. V. Penrose, Rear-Admiral.”
About this period. Captain Croker detained seven French vessels, some of them under Buonapartean colours; but, at the particular request of the Due d’Angoulême, they were liberated by him about a month previous to the battle of Waterloo. He likewise embarked the Dauphin’s principal aide-de-camp, the Marquis (afterwards Duc) de Rivière, with the whole of his suite, whom he had on very particular service for several weeks. This nobleman subsequently requested Lord Exmouth, then at Marseilles, to promote Captain Croker, and was gratified with a favorable answer. Instigated, however, by feelings of the most benevolent nature, the commander of the Wizard sacrificed his private interest, for the purpose of making known to the world the miserable situation of many hundreds of his fellow Christians at Algiers, whose liberation might then have been effected with very trifling loss compared to that which was afterwards sustained by the combined squadrons under his lordship’s orders. On the 7th Aug. 1815, he received a letter from the commander-in-chief, of which we here give an extract:–
“I am very sorry your brig is so defective, as I shall he sorry to lose your personal services, having every reason to be satisfied with your good conduct. I have ordered her to be surveyed at Gibraltar, and sent home, if found as represented, of which there is, however, no doubt. You will go as soon as our letters are ready. Believe me, dear Sir, your very faithful humble servant,
Five days previous to the date of this communication, Captain Croker, then returning from Algiers to Marseilles, drew up a memoir on the subject of the sufferings of the Christian slaves in Barbary, and addressed it to “a Member of Parliament.” As we believe this memoir to have been the very origin of the expeditions afterwards sent to Algiers, we cannot, in justice to the author, refrain from giving the principal part of it a place in our pages.
After describing a rencontre between a Dutch squadron and an Algerine corvette, which took place in his presence, on the 25th of the preceding month. Captain Croker proceeds as follows:–
“I have finished that part of my letter which, from a professional spectator, I presume will not be unacceptable to you. The subject and descriptions I now would treat of, deserve, indeed, a more able pen, and, though I must here fall short, yet, when I remember the few opportunities likely to offer to men of greater talent, to witness and describe the scenes of horror which I have lately seen, I humbly hope that my faithful relation of these facts will not be considered presumptuous, nor proceeding from any other motive than the fulfilment of a duty, which I feel that I owe to my poor suffering fellow-creatures, and to the honor of my country. It will also be an excuse, if excuse be necessary, that my feelings were called into action by a circumstance which rather singularly happened, only the day after my arrival at Algiers. On inquiry into the purport of a paper which I saw in the hands of the vice-consul, I found it to be a subscription for the relief of nearly three hundred Christian slaves, just arrived from Bona, after a journey of many days; and who, after the usual ceremony of bringing them to the Dey’s feet, were ordered to their different destinations: such as were able to go to their bani, or prison, were sent there; but the far greater number were found objects for the hospital, which Spain, in her better days, humanely established for the relief of Christian slaves at Algiers; it is the only one in that city.
“I naturally wished to know the particulars of the capture of those wretched persons. the Christians in Algiers, who are not slaves, are very far from numerous, being only the consuls of the Christian states, at peace with Algiers, and their families, with a very few dependents on their different protection: on the authority of them all, I learnt, that these last Christian slaves, three hundred and fifty-seven in number, were taken by two Algerine pirates, which presumed to carry the English colours, and, by so doing, decoyed those unhappy beings within their reach.
“They were landed at Bona, whence they were driven to Algiers like a herd of cattle. Those who were no longer able to walk were tied on mules, and if they became still more enfeebled, they were murdered. On their journey, fifty-nine expired, and one youth fell dead at the very moment they brought him to the feel of the Dey. Since their arrival, an interval of only six days, near seventy more have died!
“I was, on a subsequent day, at the public quarries, and saw the Christian slaves and the mules driven promiscuously to the same labor, by their infidel masters. I at once anxiously and patiently heard the melancholy tales of their misery. I tasted of their bread, and, I most own, I tasted of sorrow. Yon will conceive, Sir, my sad surprise, when many of them referred me to our own consul, to prove that they were actually made slaves while under English passports, and for the very purpose of supplying our armies with grain!
“The second instance I shall introduce to your attention, is one in which the honor and the faith of the British nation have been most notoriously insulted by those detestable pirates.
“When the island of Ponza was added to the conquests of the British arms, the great addition of the English garrison, and our squadron, occasioned considerable anxiety for the means of maintenance of the inhabitants themselves, as well as of the necessary refreshments and supplies for their new masters and benefactors, as they called us. It was also a consideration of such moment to the commanding officer of our forces, that he encouraged the spirit of commerce, which had already shewn itself in the natives, by requesting English passports to different places, for grain, for the use of the island. These passports were not only willingly granted, but an intended support was also given them; namely, a permission to wear the British flag.
“Some of these poor unfortunate men, returning from one of their little enterprizes, were, within sight of their own island, boarded by six boats belonging to two Algerine pirates; – the colors which they vainly looked to for protection, were, by these assailants, torn in pieces and cast into the sea, and the unhappy crew were dragged to slavery. Such was the fate of poor Vicenzo Avelino, and his unoffending crew of eleven or twelve men, who surely were as much entitled to English protection as the inhabitants of any other island which wore the English colors!
“You will judge what an English officer’s feelings must have been, when surrounded by these miserable men, who, with tears, inquired, if England knew their fate? or if they were to expect any mercy from our all powerful nation ?
“I own I cannot but wish that some of those English gentlemen who travel in search of pleasure in the Mediterranean, would pay Algier a visit, even for one week; I am sure they could not fail to feel, like me, the degradation to which the Christian name is exposed, and to endeavour, on their return home, to exert their abilities and influence in a cause which no one doubts to be meritorious; but which actual inspection would make every man feel to be a solemn, religions, and moral duty.
“I should add, that on the arrival of these new slaves, our consul sent his interpreter to the bani and hospital, to find out if any of them had claims on the English protection. The infidels would not permit him to enter either place. All I have told you, and ten times more, will be confirmed by your taking the trouble to inquire into it, and there are two gentlemen who will attend in person, if it be necessary.
“Our own consul, a worthy man, confirmed all I had heard from these people, and gladly gave me every information on the subject; and I plainly saw that he had used all his influence to effect their release, but to no purpose; his influence, which is much greater than that of the consul of any other nation, extends to being able to avoid insult to his person and house, and barely that. A short time ago, a Turk came to rob his garden – Mr. M‘Donald had him secured until be heard from Algiers respecting it. The next day an order arrived for all the consuls to leave their country-houses, and only to be allowed to live in the city! This they promptly refused doing, saying, that nothing but force should make them leave their habitations.
“The Danish consul, a respectable and amiable man, was once actually taken to the bani, and irons put on him, until his nation paid some tributary debt! The Swedes are obliged to furnish artists for making gunpowder for them. The French government have sent them a builder for their navy: he told me so himself! The Spanish vice-consul either of Bona or Oran I myself saw in heavy irons, working with the other slaves! Thus, these infidels trample equally on all the rights of nations and of nature.
“The next case is that of the two Messieurs Tereni; they are brothers, and were respectable inhabitants of Leghorn, taken by these pirates, made slaves of, and two thousand pounds worth of property taken from them, although in possession of a passport from General Oakes, and returning from England to their own country. Their history has long been known to our government, and, by command of the secretary of state, our consul has endeavoured to use his influence for their release; but he has been many times refused, and all he has been able to obtain for them, is permission for their living under his protection, on condition that they pay a dollar per month for not working in the mines. This is the very greatest indulgence which consular influence is able to obtain at Algiers. With great satisfaction I bear witness that the English, Danish, and Swedish consuls, treat Christian slaves with the utmost humanity, I might almost say, politeness.
“The very many other cases I could state of insult to the English nation, by treating the passports of her governors with contempt, &c. I will reserve for your farther information, should you require it; but one recent and flagrant insult I must here mention. There are at this moment, in irons and in slavery at Algiers, the captain and crew of a Gibraltar trader. Their little vessel was taken and confiscated, and our consul has been many times refused their release, although proofs of their being English subjects have been as many times offered by him.
“Permit me now to give you a description of the bani, or prison, the only house they have, and of the hospital. I visited them both, in company with the surgeon of this sloop, another officer, and an amiable man who resides with our consul.
“The hani, or bagnio, is in one of the narrow streets of Algiers, has nothing remarkable in its outside appearance, but inside it is the most remarkable house of misery imagination can conceive;. On entering the gate, there is a small square yard for the slaves to walk about in; there they are, on every Friday, locked up, and, as they do not work on that day, they are allowed nothing but water from the Algerine government. We then ascended a stone stair-case, and round the galleries were rooms with naked earthen floors, and damp stone walls. They have an iron grated window, and a strong door; two of these rooms have, in each of them, twenty-four things, like cot-frames, with twigs interwoven in the middle. These are hung up, one above another, round the room, and those slaves, who are able to pay for the luxury of such a bed, are alone admitted.
“I am happy in wanting a comparison in any part of the world where I have been, for this abominable prison, and those deadly cells; but, if they had a little more light, I think they would most resemble a house where the negroes of the West India islands keep their pigs. I must add, that the pestilential smell made Mr. Stanburg so ill, that he nearly fainted, and Doctor M‘Connell and myself were not much less affected.
“The food of the slaves consists of two black loaves, of half a pound each, which are their daily bread: neither meat nor vegetables do they ever taste, those excepted who work at the Marina, who get ten olives per day with their bread; and others in the Spanish hospital, which the Spanish government to this day supports, as well perhaps as it is able. In visiting this hospital, the floors of which were covered with unhappy beings of every age and either sex, I saw some men who looked almost sixty, and some children, who could not be more than eight years old; the whole of them had their legs swelled and cut in such a horrid manner, that we all thought they could not recover. There also we saw some young Sicilian girls, and some women. One poor woman burst into tears, told us that she was the mother of eight children and desired us to look at six of them who had been slaves with her for thirteen years. We left these scenes of horror, and, on going into the country, I met the slaves returning from their labor. The clang of the chains of those who were heavily ironed, called my attention to their extreme fatigue and dejection; they were attended by infidels with large whips.
“During my stay at Algiers, I employed every moment in gaining information as to the practicability of any attack upon that place; and, having taken the opportunity of examining all the forts, batteries, and every possible means of defence, both internally and externally, I will mention some particulars on this head.
“The state of Algiers is divided into four governments; viz. Constantine, a town and its environs, about forty miles inland from Algiers; Tittery, another very small inland town, &c.; Bona, its eastern government and sea-port; and Orun, the westernmost. The entire population of all these places, as well as the adjacent parts of the country, and the eighty thousand Moors, Arabs, and Jews, which are the population of the city of Algiers, are kept in subjection by, at the utmost, four thousand Janizaries: indeed, no other armed force is allowed, except in cases of the greatest emergency, when the Arabs and Moors are called to their support. From among the Janizaries, the Dey is chosen, or rather put on the throne by the strongest party of them: and, so far from the office being hereditary, the sons of the Dey are no more than common soldiers. As a yet stronger proof of the insignificance of this government, the Cabailes, or resident Arabs, are in possession of their own independent state, which is in sight of Algiers, and they make the subjects of Dey pay them tribute; so you will see that it; is not the natives of Algiers who commit these tyrannical horrid crimes, but only as many Janizaries as there are in the state. As for its sea defence, it has nothing but the formidable appearance of its white washed batteries, which have too long been the bugbear of Europe, to prevent its being razed to the ground in a very short time, by any power which sends a proper force. The Tunisians are at war with Algiers, which never yet was so weak as at this moment; so that if England only command them to release the Christian slaves, and not to make any more, I have no doubt, from what I have heard and seen, that it will be immediately complied with: it is surely worth trying.
“I have read their new treaty with the Americans: it is certainly, in all respects as good as America could wish, save and except the emancipation of all the Christian slaves. The captured Algerine frigate and brig were restored, not by that treaty, but at the humble request of the Dey, to save his head.
“I have found myself obliged to make this letter much longer than was my intention, and I hope I may have excited some interest on a subject, which ought, I think, to be even nearer to the heart of a Christian than the abolition of the African slave trade. I have the honor to subscribe myself. &c.
(Signed)“Walter Croker, Commander, R.N.”
“P.S. It is but justice to the memory of one humane Turk, that I add this postscript, to state that before he died, he left his whole fortune for the purpose of providing one small loaf for each christian slave in the bani, on Friday, the day they get nothing to eat from the Algerine government.
In Sept. 1815, this memoir was sent to the gentleman for whom it was originally intended, who then held an important office under Government, and who undertook to lay it before His Majesty’s ministers; observing at the same time, that it might “possibly be conducive to the accomplishment of the great object its writer had in view.” On the 2d Jan. 1816, but not until then, he acquainted Captain Croker, that it had been received by Government, and that he had “every reason to believe that it was favorably considered.”
Chagrined at the delay which had already taken place, and fearing that his representations were not likely to be attended to by those in power, Captain Croker now determined to publish his memoir of Algiers, which Was no sooner done than the present Lord High Chancellor made use of it in the House of Commons, declared it to be “a clear, substantial, and authentic document;” and succeeded in eliciting from Viscount Castlereagh an assurance that the case of the Christian slaves was actually under consideration. On the 21st March, 1816, Lord Exmouth, then off Port Mahon, informed the fleet under his command, that he had “been instructed and directed by H.R.H. the Prince Regent to proceed to Algiers, and there make certain arrangements for diminishing at least the piratical excursions of the Barbary States, by which thousands of our fellow creatures, innocently following their commercial pursuits, have been dragged into the most wretched and revolting state of slavery.”
After considerable hesitation on the part of the Dey, who boasted much of the strength of his “warlike city,” a treaty was at length concluded, but which failed of giving general satisfaction. Even the philanthropic Mr. Wilberforce, in a letter to Captain Croker, expressed his decided opinion, that the liberation of the Christians then in slavery should have been effected rather by “cannon balls” than by the “payment of a single piastre” as ransom. This gentleman was one of the first to whom a copy of Captain Croker’s pamphlet had been sent; and after perusing it, he declared that the author “had kindled, even in the mind of such an old stager as himself in politics, a flame, which, he trusted, would never be extinguished, till the evils which, to the disgrace of the great European powers, and more especially of Great Britain, had been so long tolerated, were at an end.” The glorious results of Lord Exmouth’s second visit to Algiers is well known, and we have only to deplore the policy which restrained that determined officer from inflicting upon the barbarians an equally signal chastisement at a period when it might have been done with much less sacrifice of British blood and treasure, instead of allowing them a full year (from the date of Captain Croker’s memoir) to prepare for a more sanguinary conflict.
On its being determined to send a second expedition against Algiers, with orders to fight if negociation failed, Captain Croker made an instant tender of his services, but had the mortification to find his applications for employment utterly disregarded. He even followed the fleet from Portsmouth to Plymouth, in the vain hope of being allowed to embark as a volunteer: the necessary permission was withheld; and he consequently returned to his home in disgust, at such neglect and treatment as he was quite conscious of not deserving. Since then, he has, at various periods, used every exertion in his power to obtain an appointment, but always without success. Early in the spring of 1827, he proceeded to Paris, for the purpose of requesting a recommendation from the Duc d’Angouleme to Viscount Melville, when his Royal Highness was pleased to give him an autograph letter addressed to Prince de Polignac, and desiring that nobleman, who was then Ambassador at the British Court, to make an application in his favor. On this occasion, although twelve years had elapsed since they last met, the Due de Rivière did not fail to remember and most heartily welcome his old friend, whom he informed, that the Dauphin had commanded him to be entertained at the table of the Due de Bourdeaux, during his stay at Paris. The following is the translation of a letter which he received immediately on his arrival in that capital:
“My dear Captain, – I have spoken to the Dauphin; and I have the little word (petit mot) which you are desirous of. Come and dine with us, at six o’clock to day, and I will give it you, as also a letter for Prince de Polignac. A thousand caresses from, yours sincerely,
(Signed)“Duc de Riviere.”
“Thursday, 22d March.”
The letter written by the Duc d’Angouleme was presented to Viscount Melville, who expressed a wish to retain it, and promised that attention should he paid to the wishes of H.R.H. On his lordship going out of office, in 1827, Captain Croker was naturally anxious to have it restored to him, in order that it might he laid before H.R.H. the Lord High Admiral; hut he was informed by the Viscount himself, as well as by his private secretary, that it had been sent to Scotland in one of many chests of papers, and could not he got at for a considerable time. Finding this to be the case, he paid Paris a second visit, and returned from thence with another letter for Prince de Polignac, of which we now give the translation:
24th May, 1827.
“My dear Prince, – His Royal Highness the Dauphin formerly authorized you to recommend Captain Walter Croker to Lord Melville, and also directed me to request you to exert your best efforts with his lordship in favor of the captain, he having evinced much zeal in our King’s cause, whilst His Royal Highness was at Barcelona, and also released, at the request of the Dauphin, seven vessels, which he had detained and sent into Port Mahon, before the battle of Waterloo. The Dauphin desires that you, dear Prince, will repeat the same efforts with H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence, if you see no objection; the same, I say, which you have used with Lord Melville, so that Captain Walter Croker’s object may at length be accomplished. Receive, dear Prince, the assurance of my devotedness.
Governor to H.R.H. the Duc de Bourdeaux.”
“To the Prince de Polignac.”
Together with this letter, the French Ambassador forwarded to the Lord High Admiral a certificate, as follows;
“I certify, that the expressions above mentioned are the same as those in the original paper, now in the hands of Lord Melville; and that the Duc de Rivièire communicated to me, by command of the Dauphin, his Royal Highness’s desire, that the interest which he has condescended to take in the advancement of Captain Walter Croker should reach the knowledge of His Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence.
(Signed)“The Prince de Polignac.”
“Portland Place, 30th May, 1827.”
At an interview with which Captain Croker was subsequently honored, the Lord High Admiral was most graciously pleased to signify his intention of promoting him; which promise was afterwards repeated in a letter from his private secretary, and undoubtedly would have been fulfilled had His Royal Highness remained in office. His Majesty has recently been pleased to receive a second memorial of Captain Croker’s services, and it will be seen by the subjoined letter, that the same is now under the consideration of the Admiralty. We have only to add, that Captain Croker, previous to the late French revolution, possessed so much interest at that Court, that, had not his wishes been confined to the attainment of promotion in a service of which he is so great an ornament, he might have almost commanded any mark of distinction or other favor which the then Dauphin could possibly have obtained for him.
“Windsor Castle, Aug. 29th, 1831.
“Sir,– I have not delayed to submit your memorial, and the accompanying papers, to the King, who has honored me with his commands to refer them for the consideration of Sir James Graham. I shall be happy to hear that your application has been successful. I have the honor to be, &c.
“To Capt. Croker, R.N.”
Captain Croker is the present possessor of his paternal estate, Lisnabrin, and also of one half of Rovesmore. He married Mary, daughter of the Rev. Ponsonby May Carew, rector of Ardmore, co. Waterford, and has had issue five children, of whom four are now living. Two of his brothers are physicians, and another a captain on the half pay of H.M. 84th regiment. One of his sisters, now deceased, was married to Counsellor Walter Giles.
Agents.– Sir F. M. Ommanney and Son.
- See “Prince’s Worthies of Devonshire.”
- The recently deceased and much lamented Viscount Torrington.
- See Nav. Chron. xxviii, 270.
- Samuel Baker and William Brown, boatswain’s mates; J. Fordyce, captain of the forecastle; J. Clarke and Benjamin M‘Clean, captains of tops; and George Brown, fore-castle-man.
- See Suppl. Part II. p. 5 et seq.
- The above is an exact copy of the letter written by Captain Mounsey, but which was much curtailed in the London Gazette. See Captain Williams Sandom.
- See Vol. II. Part I. pp. 424–430.