Royal Naval Biography/Harper, John
JOHN HARPER, Esq.
A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath, and Knight of the Imperial Austrian Order of Leopold.
[Post-Captain of 1814.]
This officer was born at Chatham, in Kent, Sept. 18, 1772; and he appears to have entered the navy, as midshipman, on board the Britannia, a first-rate, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral the Hon. Samuel Barrington, early in 1782. His father, who was an officer of the same ship, received a mortal wound, in the partial action between Lord Howe’s fleet and the combined forces of France and Spain, off Cape Spartel, Oct. 20, 1782. Upon the death of that gentleman being announced to the Vice-Admiral, he immediately answered,
“I will take the youngster under my protection – if he makes only half as good a man as his parent, he will be an honour to the British navy.”
During the long period of peace that succeeded the struggle between Great Britain and her revolted colonies, Mr. Harper’s patron kept him constantly afloat, in the Triumph 74, Barfleur 98, and Pomona 28; the latter ship commanded by Captain Henry Savage, and successively employed on the African and Channel stations. At the commencement of the French revolutionary war, he was strongly recommended by the same distinguished officer to Sir John Jervis, with whom he sailed for the West Indies, in the Boyne 98, Nov. 26, 1793. Mr. Harper commanded a flat-bottomed boat, employed in landing the British troops at Martinique, and was promoted into the Avenger sloop for his conduct on that occasion. His first commission as lieutenant bears date Feb. 21, 1794.
During the siege of St. Lucia, Mr. Harper was one night ordered to row guard, in a 6-oared boat, off the Carenage, which harbour he entered, and, taking advantage of a heavy shower of rain, boarded and captured a French schooner privateer, mounting ten guns, fully manned, and perfectly ready for sea. The crew of this vessel had gone below for shelter; and so complete was the surprise, that they were secured under hatches, the cables cut, sail made, and the vessel brought safe out past all the forts, without the least alarm being given. We subsequently find him serving on shore with the army under Sir Charles Grey, at the reduction of Guadaloupe.
In Oct. 1794, the Avenger being then paid off at Portsmouth, Lieutenant Harper received an appointment to the Defence 74, Captain Thomas Wells, which ship formed part of the fleet under Vice-Admiral Hotham, and was one of the first that got into action, July 13, 1795. Her loss on that occasion was one killed and six wounded.
The Defence was afterwards stationed off Cadiz, where we find Lieutenant Harper engaged in all the various boat services that took place in the summer of 1797. He also bore a part at the glorious battle of the Nile, on which occasion the Defence was commanded by Captain John Peyton, and sustained a loss of 15 men killed and wounded. Previous to that ever memorable conflict, many of her crew had died of fever, occasioned by alternate exposure to the sun and dews, for several successive days and nights, while watering at Syracuse. Among those severely attacked, and whose recovery the medical men long despaired of, was Mr. Harper, then second lieutenant, who had volunteered to superintend the performance of that extremely fatiguing duty. It is worthy of remark, that the first lieutenant of the Defence was only five days senior to him in rank: the one was made commander immediately after the brilliant victory in Aboukir bay; but the other did not obtain promotion until nearly twelve years subsequent thereto.
In Jan. 1800, Lieutenant Harper removed to the Glory 98, Captain Thomas Wells, from which ship he was paid off, at Chatham, in April 1802. He afterwards served as flag-lieutenant to Rear-Admiral Barthomolew S. Rowley, who placed him in command of the Admiral Mitchell cutter, and sent him to the coast of France, on a very confidential service, under the orders of Captain Wright. Whilst in that vessel, he received the thanks of Rear-Admiral Robert Montagu for his gallant conduct in an action with the Boulogne flotilla.
Lieutenant Harper’s next appointment was to be first of the Wasp sloop. Captain John Simpson, the remarkable escape of which vessel, from the Rochefort squadron, in Aug. 1805, has been recorded at p. 55 of Suppl. Part II. In Jan. 1806, being then senior lieutenant of the Star sloop, off Oporto, he boarded and captured, with two boats containing about 20 men, a Spanish lugger privateer, of 1 long 6-pounder, 6 swivels, and 45 men.
At the commencement of 1807, Lieutenant Harper joined the Excellent 74, Captain John West, under whom he served, on the Mediterranean station, upwards of three years.
After cruising for a considerable time off Cadiz, the Excellent was sent to co-operate with the Spanish patriots on the coast of Catalonia. Some of the events that occurred at Rosas, previous to the fall of that important post, are related by Captain West, in an official letter to Lord Collingwood, of which the following are extracts:–
“H.M.S. Excellent, Rosas Bay, Nov. 21, 1808.
“My Lord,– I have anxiously waited an opportunity to inform your lordship of the investment of Rosas by the enemy, with a force computed at 5000 or 6000 men.
“On the evening of the 6th instant, the enemy was first observed in motion, between Figueras and Castillera, and, on the following morning, was in complete possession of the heights that encompass this bay. On the same day, at noon, a small body of the enemy entered the town of Rosas, which, in an instant, was cleared of its inhabitants, who either fled to their boats or the citadel for protection; but a well-directed Are from the Excellent and Meteor, bomb, both within point-blank shot of the town, obliged the enemy precipitately to retire. On the first appearance of the enemy. Colonel O’Daly, governor of this fortress, made application to me for assistance, when I immediately reinforced his garrison with the marines of the Excellent, (with the exception of an officer and 25 men, who had been previously detached to fort Trinity) and an officer and 50 seamen. On the 7th, the enemy took possession of several houses and ruins in the rear of the town as an advanced post, from which he has been repeatedly dislodged by the citadel, and the guns and shells of H.M. ships in the bay. On the 8th, at noon, observing a body of miqueleta hard pressed by the enemy, I was induced to make a sortie from the citadel with the seamen and marines, and the officers commanding them; but the very superior force of the enemy, who endeavoured to surround us, obliged us to retire; not, however, till my officers and men had displayed a spirit and courage which gave me the most lively satisfaction. * * * *
“Late on the evening of the 9th, I received from the governor the unpleasant advice, that a large breach was made in the rampart of the citadel, by a part of the bulwark falling down, sufficiently capacious to admit 25 men abreast. I proffered to the governor every assistance that the urgency of the moment required, and directed Captain Collins to immediately weigh and place the Meteor as near the shoal as possible, to flank the breach in the event of an attack. I sent at the same time two boats to enfilade the beach with carronades; but, fortunately, the lateness of the hour precluded the enemy gaining information of the event. The following morning I sent an officer and a party of seamen to assist in repairing the breach, directing the seamen and marines in the citadel to be employed in the same service. By every exertion the rampart was placed in a state of security for the night, the defence of which was entrusted to an officer and 40 seamen, whom I sent on shore for that purpose. On the 3d day I was happy to see the repair completed, and the work as defensible as it was previous to the disaster.
“On the morning of the 15th instant, at 8 o’clock, the enemy made a most resolute assault on Fort Trinity with about 200 men, and a reserve of 2000 to support them. They were bravely repulsed; but in a moment again advanced in greater force, when two of the outer gates were broke open. By a most galling and steady fire of musketry and hand-grenades from the fort, the enemy was a second time obliged to retire with great loss, leaving their leader, a chief of brigade, and many others, dead under its walls; the second in command was carried off desperately wounded. Expecting a third assault would be made, I threw in a reinforcement of 30 marines, with a captain and a subaltern, by means of a rope ladder, which was effected without loss, and with one man but slightly wounded, during an incessant fire of musketry.
“I cannot speak in terms of sufficient praise of the officers and men in their glorious defence of Fort Trinity, on which occasion 5 marines were wounded, and 1 Spaniard. * * * *
“No further attempt was made on this fort till the 20th instant, when the enemy opened a battery of 3 heavy guns, from a height commanding it; but as yet has made no impression on its walls. The Lucifer bomb had been throwing shells the two preceding days, to prevent the enemy making a lodgment on this height; but was compelled to retire after being struck three times by the battery. During the previous night, the enemy threw up an extensive entrenchment 300 yards from the citadel, and at day-break opened a fire upon the ships in the bay from three large mortars, which obliged us to retire out of their reach: the bomb-vessels, from having a longer range of shells than the enemy, were enabled to throw them with effect.
“Fort Trinity, from its insulated situation and strength, I am of opinion, may stand a long siege; but I am not so sanguine with respect to the citadel, the garrison of which is very inadequate to its defence. * * * *
“I beg leave to express how highly satisfied I have been with the conduct of the officers and company of this ship, as likewise those of the Meteor and Lucifer bombs, commanded by Captains Collins and Hall, whose great exertions, during the arduous and most fatiguing service they have imperiously been called upon to perform, reflect the greatest credit upon them.
During these operations, the Excellent had 19 men wounded, one of whom died before she left the bay. The subsequent capitulation of the citadel of Rosas, and the evacuation of Fort Trinity, will be noticed in our memoir of Captain Frederick Marryatt, C.B.
On the 29th July, 1809, Captain West reported to the senior officer in the Adriatic, the capture of 6 heavy gunboats belonging to the Italian marine, and 10 trabacolas laden with brandy, flour, rice, and wheat; lying under the guns of a castle, and protected by a pier lined with musketry. We shall here give an extract of his public letter:–
“An enemy’s convoy was observed yesterday morning standing along the northern shore towards Trieste; and being of opinion, that by anchoring the Excellent as near that shore as her safety would admit, might enable me to cut off the enemy from his destined port, I immediately weighed and took up a position accordingly. This movement had the desired effect, obliging the enemy to take shelter in Douin, a port 4 leagues to the N.W. of Trieste, in the afternoon, a coaster was brought on board by the Excellent’s boat, which informed me the enemy’s convoy was composed of 6 gun-boats, and several vessels laden with grain.
“Conceiving it very practicable to capture or destroy them in their present situation, at 10 p.m. I detached H.M. sloops Acorn and Bustard, with all the boats of the Excellent, under the direction of Mr. John Harper, the first lieutenant, to perform this service. At midnight, a very heavy cannonade was seen in that direction, which in a short hour ceased, when I had the satisfaction of seeing a rocket go up, which announced to me a favorable issue to the enterprise. At noon this day, H.M. sloops and boats returned, having with them the whole of the enemy’s convoy. Enclosed I have the honor to transmit you a letter from Captain Clephane, of H.M. sloop Acorn, the senior officer in the command of this expedition. The very masterly and complete manner in which the service has been performed by Captains Clephane and Markland, and Lieutenant John Harper, excites my highest admiration; every officer, seaman, and marine, I am assured, individually distinguished himself.
“On the merits of Lieutenant John Harper, an officer of fifteen years standing, I cannot speak in terms of sufficient praise; his conduct on this, as on many former occasions, teas that of a most experienced and enterprising officer.”
“H.M.S. Acorn, off Trieste, July 29, 1809.
“Sir,– It is with the greatest satisfaction I have to inform you, that the service you did me the honor to put under my direction, has been completely executed by the boarding and bringing away, under a very heavy fire, all the gun-boats and merchant vessels which had taken shelter under the castle of Douin.
“Covered by the fire of H.M. sloops Acorn and Bustard, the detachment of boats, under the orders of Lieutenant John Harper, pushed on shore, and, in about half-an-hour, had complete possession of the enemy’s vessels.
“I take the liberty to express my high sense of the conduct of Captain Markland, both by his leading into a place so little known, and by the well-directed fire he kept up.
“It would be the highest presumption in me to attempt, by any praise of mine, to add to the merits of Lieutenant Harper, which are so well known to you; yet I conceive it a most indispensable, and likewise a most pleasant duty, to express my greatest admiration of the prompt, gallant, and determined manner in which he performed the above service, with so inferior a force; and likewise of the judicious and soldier-like conduct of Captain Cummings, R.M., who by taking post on shore with a small party of his men, entirely prevented the enemy annoying our people, from the rugged precipices surrounding the port, while in the act of launching the vessels. Lieutenant Harper speaks highly of the great attention and good conduct of every officer and man under his orders. Permit me to add, how much pleased I am with the conduct of the officers and ship’s company of the Acorn, it being the first time I have bad the honor to carry them before an enemy.
“The loss the enemy sustained could not be ascertained, but it is conjectured they had from 20 to 30 killed and wounded. Our loss, though comparatively small, I much regret.
“To John West, Esq. Captain H.M.S. Excellent.”
“This enterprise” says Lord Collingwood, “was well devised, and gallantly executed. The manner in which Captain Clephane speaks of the conduct and skill of Lieutenant Harper, is only a repetition of what he has ever been entitled to when he goes upon service. Every account of him that has come to me describes him as an admirable officer.”
In Sept. 1809, Lieutenant Harper was sent with two boats to attack a large armed schooner, lying close to the beach near Brindisi. On approaching her, he discovered that she was aground, and in possession of the enemy’s troops; notwithstanding which he continued to advance, and had the satisfaction to see the Frenchmen fly before him. The vessel was then boarded; but being close to some heavy batteries, and the whole coast alarmed, he found it impracticable to get her afloat, and consequently set her on fire.
Shortly after this. Lieutenant Harper received the thanks of the Admiralty for his gallant conduct at Douin, but he does not appear to have obtained any more substantial mark of their lordships’ approbation until April 1810. His promotion to the rank of commander took place on the 17th of that month.
In Aug. 1812, Captain Harper was appointed to the Saracen, a fine 18-gun brig, which vessel he completely equipped with only his marines and a few worn-out sailors, retained for harbour duty. On the 23d of the ensuing month, he addressed the following letter to Sir Richard Bickerton, commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth: –
“Sir,- Whilst proceeding, in compliance with your order of the 21st instant, last evening, at sun-set, thick hazy weather, Beachy Head bearing N. by W. distant seven or eight miles, I observed in the S.S.E. two large luggers, in chase of and very near capturing three deep-laden English vessels. I instantly made sail for their protection, and, after a short but anxious chace, succeeded in capturing le Coureur French privateer, of 14 guns and 50 men, belonging to Calais, commanded by Mon. Joreun, who tried us on every point of sailing; but by the uncommon exertion of my officers, although manned with only the marines and a few harbour-duty men, we completely out-manoeuvred, ran alongside of, and boarded him, without any loss on our part. The French captain and two of his crew were desperately wounded before he would surrender.
“I feel great pleasure in reporting the capture of this vessel, she being nearly new, and one of the fastest sailing privateers out of France, commanded by an able and enterprising man, who has been very successful in annoying our trade. The other lugger, la Honoria, of equal force, having got to a great distance whilst we were securing le Coureur, and night coming on, I am sorry it was not in my power to capture; but I completely drove her off the coast, and I have every reason to think the vessels they were in chase of escaped. They had sailed from Dieppe, only 8 hours before, in company with another, and had made no capture. The wind coming strong from the eastward, and not having men sufficient on board, after manning the prize, to guard the prisoners and navigate the Saracen, I have thought it prudent to return to Spithead with the lugger, which I hope will meet your approbation. I have the honor to be, &c.
The Saracen, when manned, was sent to the Mediterranean, and in Feb. 1813, Captain Harper received orders to escort the trade from Malta to the Archipelago: he was at the same time directed to remain on the Smyrna station, but soon afterwards permitted to proceed up the Adriatic, at his own particular request. During the remainder of the war with France, we find him very actively and successfully employed, chiefly under the orders of Rear-Admiral Freemantle, to whom he made the following report, June 18, 1813:–
“Sir,– Upon reconnoitring the coast and islands, on the station you did me the honor of appointing me to, the harbour in the island of Zupano appeared the only place where there were vessels of any burthen, and from information received, it was supposed that some of the last convoy, with grain for Ragusa, was still detained there.
“As it was only guarded by a captain’s party of about 60 men, last night, it blowing and raining excessive hard, with thunder and lightning, I conceived it a most favorable opportunity of making an attack; at 9 p.m. I put off from the brig, with the boats, and at 11, landed with the small-arm men and marines, to the number of 40 men. After a very difficult march of nearly 3 miles, we surprised and took prisoners the corporal’s guard in advance, without their being able to give the alarm. We then Instantly pushed for the guard-house and commandant’s quarters, which were carried by the bayonet, and took prisoners, with their arms and ammunition, the captain commanding the islands of Zupano and Mezzo, 2 Serjeants, 3 corporals, and 33 privates, belonging to the 4th light infantry regiment (the lieutenant and 15 privates escaping), which completely put the whole of the island in our possession, and I am happy to say without loss, and only a few slight bayonet wounds. The determined conduct of the seamen and marines, headed by Lieutenants Holmes and Hancock, made all their resistance ineffectual. On examining the harbour, there were no vessels found there bound to Ragusa; and I have every reason to think, no vessel, however small, has escaped from Stagno since I have been on this station, the boats of the Saracen being kept constantly on the lookout, at different stations, during the night. I am informed, that the lieutenant and his party made their escape in a boat, and went towards Ragusa. The island I have left in the quiet possession of the inhabitants, who appear much attached to the English. I have the honor to be, &c.
Zupano was one of three islands which the enemy had garrisoned for the protection of vessels conveying supplies from Stagno to Ragusa, and thence to Boco di Cattaro. Constantly expecting an attack, the soldiers composing the garrison were always under arms, by night, in the market-place, which was surrounded by a breast-work. When Captain Harper arrived in the square of the town, his men were completely drenched with rain; many of them had lost their shoes in the mud, and all their ammunition was unserviceable. The alarm had then been given, and the enemy were prepared to receive him. To retreat or hesitate would have been certain destruction. He instantly charged, and, after a doubtful struggle of 10 minutes, carried every thing before him.
The island was well cultivated, and produced great quantities of oil and wine. Captain Harper immediately hoisted British colours, disbanded and re-organized the national guard, dismissed the mayor from his office, and requested the Count Natali, a much respected nobleman, to assume that of civil governor, – arrangements which completely put down the French party, and gave universal satisfaction to the loyal inhabitants.
One of the other fortified islands was Mezzo, situated between Zupano and Ragusa, garrisoned by an officer and 59 regular troops, including artillery-men, and defended by a strong castle and the pinnacle of an almost inaccessible hill. The French general at Ragusa, when informed that Zupano had been captured, immediately sent strict orders to the commandant of this island, “to be on his guard, or the captain of the English brig would take him also;” which prediction was soon verified, as will be seen by the following letter:
“H.M. sloop Saracen, Harbour of Mezzo, July 23, 1813.
“Sir,– Having received information, that the enemy at Ragusa had prepared 200 troops, and 2 long guns, as a reinforcement for the island of Mezzo, they knowing it to be of the greatest consequence in protecting their convoys, and annoying the British cruisers, I determined, with Captain Black, of the Weazle, on instantly besieging it, and, on the 15th instant, declared the island to be in a state of strict blockade. On the 16th, the Weazle’s boats succeeded in surprising and taking prisoners two advance parties of the enemy. On the 17th, I landed with the marines of both brigs, and, at midnight, took possession of the town and convent, the latter a very strong place, the enemy retreating into a large castle, situated on a very high hill, and strongly fortified. On the 18th, in the morning, the enemy sent out a strong party to the town for provisions; I attacked them with the marines, drove them back, and took a corporal and three privates prisoners. The 12-pounder carronade was landed from the Saracen, and opened on the castle in the afternoon, apparently with good effect. I then determined to erect a battery on the top of a high rocky mountain, which commanded the castle, although it appeared almost impossible, from the difficulty of access. Captain Black, in the most handsome manner, volunteered to perform this service. On the 19th, we reconnoitred and marked out the battery, which was instantly begun. In the evening I sailed for Curzola, according to your orders. On my return, in the evening of the 21st, I found that Captain Black had, in the most able and persevering manner, got the battery ready with three small brass guns, and had been indefatigable in annoying the enemy. On the 22d, at day-light, the battery opened a well-directed tire on the castle, which was returned with shot and shells. The enemy finding himself hard pressed on all sides, his foraging parties being constantly attacked and driven back with loss, at 11, a.m., sent a flag of truce, offering to surrender, on the terms marked No. 1, which Captain Black and myself thought quite inadmissible; but knowing the enemy had bread for 12 or 14 days longer, and that a reinforcement of 100 troops, with supplies of every kind for them, had arrived at the island of Calamotta, only one mile distant, I sent back our terms, marked No. 2, allowing them 16 minutes to consider. On these terms they surrendered, and we took possession of the castle at 3 p.m. I feel happy in informing you, it has been acquired with the loss only of the marine, belonging to the Saracen, killed, and two of the Weazle’s wounded. The exertions and fatigue of the crews of both brigs have been great; every officer and man performing the duty allotted to him with that cheerfulness so characteristic of Englishmen when in the presence of their enemy.
“To Captain Black, of the Weazle, I owe much for his advice and cordial co-operation; his zeal and indefatigable exertions made all difficulties to appear trifles: his merits as an officer are well known to you. Lieutenant Holmes, senior of the Saracen, who had the command of the convent, was constantly on the alert with his piquets, and entirely prevented the enemy getting supplies from the town or villages; his conduct on this, as on former occasions, has been that of a most zealous and enterprising officer. Mr. Brien, gunner of the Weazle, who constructed and commanded the battery on the mountain, proved himself a brave and experienced man. I hope the terms I granted the enemy, and my conduct, will meet your approbation. The inhabitants arc delighted to see the English. I have ordered every thing to remain the same until your pleasure is known. I have the honor to be, &c.
“To Rear-admiral Freemantle, &c. &c. &c.”
No. 1. – Terms demanded by the enemy.
“The troops comprising the garrison of Mezzo to be permitted to go to Ragusa, taking with them their arms and ammunition, and not to be considered prisoners of war.” – Refused.
No. 2. – Terms offered by Captain Harper.
“The officer commanding the castle of Mezzo shall be allowed his parole of honour, not to serve against Great Britain or her allies until regularly exchanged.
“The troops to march out of the castle with shouldered arms, and to ground them on the glacis; to be considered prisoners of war, to be landed near Ragusa, and nut to serve against Great Britain or her allies until regularly exchanged.
“The officers to keep their swords.
“The castle, with all the ordnance, arms, ammunition, stores, &c. to be given up in the state it now is.” – All accepted.
Return of Ordnance, &c, taken.
“Five long 9-pounders, one brass 51/2-inch howitzer, 500 round shot, 30 shells, 8000 musket-ball cartridges, and four barrels of gunpowder.”
The capture of Mezzo was a great annoyance to the French general at Ragusa, who immediately withdrew his troops from Calamotta, saying “nothing in the shape of an island was secure from the English brigs.“On the other hand. Rear-Admiral Freemantle was so well pleased with the conduct of Captain Harper, that he gave him the entire direction of the blockade of Ragusa and Boco di Cattaro, with orders to keep military possession of his last conquest; for which purpose the marines of the Saracen and Wizard (brig) were placed in the castle as a garrison, under the command of Lieutenant Holmes. A telegraph was also erected there, from whence the enemy’s movements both by land and water could be plainly seen, and immediately made known. The destruction of the French batteries at the entrance of Boco di Cattaro is thus officially described by Captain Harper:–
“H.M. sloop Saracen, Aug. 18, 1813.
“Sir. – Having, on the 13th instant, well reconnoitred the harbour of Boco di Cattaro, I conceived it of great consequence destroying the batteries at the entrance, situated on two elevated and commanding points, as they protected the enemy’s gun-vessels, &c. from being attacked by our boats. Having, on the 17th, joined H.M. sloop Wizard, which you did me the honor to put under my command, I determined to attempt their destruction next morning at day-light. At sun-set the Weazle joined with your despatches. Having light airs and calms during the night, she could not proceed 10 the S.E. faster than we did. Captain Black, knowing our situation respecting men (the senior lieutenant of the Saracen and the marines of both brigs being on shore at Mezzo, and the master of the Saracen and 10 men in a tender, blockading Stagno, and surveying the coast), most handsomely offered his marines and small-arm men, which I gladly accepted. This morning, at 3-30, the boats left the brigs, under the command of Captain Moresby, who volunteered his services, pulled into the Boco, landed under a heavy fire of round-shot and musketry, and in the most gallant manner stormed the batteries, the French gunners and troops flying in confusion. The enemy was so intimidated by the determined conduct of the boats, that, could the brigs, which were detained by a vexatious calm, have got into the harbour in time to cover the landing, as was intended, I do not know where our success would have terminated; but the alarm being given, and troops collecting in every direction, prudence would not allow me to attempt more than destroying the batteries we had already taken, and which had been constructed with great labour. The three guns, 18-pounders, in the left-hand battery were spiked, and, with shot and shells, thrown over the cliffs into deep water; the carriages and platforms burnt; the furnace for heating shot, the magazines, and other buildings destroyed; as was also the battery on the right hand, of larger dimensions than the other, but only just finished, and the guns not yet mounted. In the execution of this service. Lieutenant Hancock, of the Saracen, was attacked by a party of soldiers, and, in a cool manner, he allowed them to come very near, when his men opened a well-directed fire of musketry, and the enemy made a hasty retreat, apparently with loss. At 4 p.m. having completed the destruction of the batteries, we weighed and made sail out of the harbour. Although the brigs and boats were much exposed to the enemy’s shot and shells, two seamen of the Saracen only were wounded, and part of her rudder shot away is the only damage sustained. From Captain Black, of the Weazle, I received every assistance. To the conduct of Captain Moresby is to be attributed our success without loss: the order in which the boats advanced, his judgment in landing, and his determined manner of leading the men up to the batteries, so intimidated the enemy, that they did not wait for the charge, but hastily fired and fled. He speaks in the highest terms of Lieutenants Quin and Hancock, and every man employed under him. I have the honor to be, &c.
“To Rear-Admiral Freemantle, &c. &c. &c.”
The Weazle and Wizard were now required for other service, and the Saracen alone was left to blockade the enemy’s ports. Captain Harper, however, manned several small prizes as tenders, and, with them and his boats, he managed to keep the whole coast in a constant state of alarm; often landing at various places to the westward of Ragusa during the night, and returning to his anchorage between that town and Cattaro before day-break. On these occasions, he generally withdrew his marines from Mezzo after dark, leaving only a lame man in the castle, who was ordered always to fire the morning and evening gun, to make plenty of smoke in the cooking-room, and to keep the telegraph constantly at work. This so completely deceived the enemy, 100 of whom were encamped directly opposite, looking out for an opportunity to attack the island, that they never bad the least suspicion of the defenceless state of the castle, the man left in charge of which was ever afterwards facetiously styled “his excellency the governor”.
One night in Sept. 1813, Captain Harper received information that 50 oxen were about to leave Ragusa under a very weak escort, the French general thinking they would go perfectly safe, as the Saracen, when last seen at the close of the day, was lying about 4 leagues to the westward. At daylight, Captain Harper landed three miles to the eastward, with the master, boatswain, and 20 men (all he had on board), gained the military road, and intercepted the convoy, taking prisoner the commissary in charge of the cattle, on whom was found a letter from the commandant at Ragusa to Baron Gauthier, at Cattaro, informing him that these were the last he could possibly send, “for the captain of the English brig rendered it impossible to forward supplies by sea, and very difficult to do so by land.” The guard and drivers ran away; the oxen were all embarked in fishing boats, and brought safe alongside the Saracen.
On the 12th Oct. 1813, Captain Hoste arrived off Ragusa, in the Bacchante frigate, and was there joined by the Saracen and three Sicilian gun-boats, with 50 soldiers on board, sent by the governor of Lissa to co-operate with Captain Harper. On the 13th, in the morning, the passage between Castel Nuova and the fort of Rosa was forced; and, after some firing, a capital anchorage secured for the squadron, about 3 miles above the former. In the evening. Captain Hoste detached several boats and two gun-vessels, “under the orders of Captain Harper, who very handsomely volunteered his services, to capture the enemy’s armed naval force, said to be lying between Isle St. George and the town of Cattaro. Captain Harper completely succeeded: the enemy deserted their boats on his approach, and, having manned them, he most gallantly attacked and carried the island, the commandant and his garrison surrendering at discretion.” The following is Captain Harper’s report of this affair:
“Saracen, off Castel Nuova, Boco di Cattaro, Oct. 14, 1813.
“At 10 p.m., I left the Saracen with the two gun-boats, the launch and barge of the Bacchante, and the boats of the sloop under my command, and pulled towards Cattaro. On going through the passage of Cadoriee, the enemy in the island of St. George opened a heavy fire on us. We fortunately escaped without damage. At midnight, within 4 miles of Cattaro, I found the enemy’s four gun-boats in a state of revolt. I instantly took possession of them. The appearance of the English at this moment had the happiest effect. I landed at the different places, and summoned the principal inhabitants, who immediately, at my request, armed en masse against the French. As there was not a moment to be lost in carrying into execution your further orders respecting the island of St. George, I hoisted the English and Austrian flags in the captured gun-boats, manned them with part English and-the remainder inhabitants, volunteers, and proceeded down to the attack of that place. At day-light, I landed at the town of Persate, and found the inhabitants had taken possession of a small castle of 3 guns. Seeing these might be employed with advantage against the fortifications of St. George, and the inhabitants putting themselves under my orders, I hoisted the British and Imperial colours, and assumed the command. I then ordered Lieutenant Gostling to bring up the gun-boats to the attack, which he did in the most handsome manner. At 6 A.M., a heavy and well-directed fire was opened at the island, and returned from it. In 15 minutes, the enemy was driven from his guns, when he displayed a flag of truce and offered to capitulate. I insisted on the garrison surrendering at discretion, the whole to be prisoners, and allowed them 5 minutes only before I commenced firing again; to which they submitted, when I took possession of the island, and hoisted English colours. I am happy to say, this strong place has been reduced without any loss on our side.
“It is with the greatest pleasure I have to report the good conduct of every officer and man employed; and if I had been obliged to storm the island, as I intended, I feel confident the result would have been complete success.
“Lieutenant Francis Gostling, of the Bacchante, to whom I gave the command of the gun-boats, brought them up to the attack under a heavy fire from the enemy, in the most cool and determined manner. I have landed the marines, and given him the command of the island until your pleasure is known. It is not in my power to describe the joy and enthusiasm of the inhabitants at seeing the English flag flying. In two hours I had the whole population under my command, and ready to execute any thing I might order. The prize gun-boats I have ordered to blockade the town and castle of Cattaro by sea, and the armed inhabitants by land, which they are doing in the strictest manner.
“To Captain Wm. Hoste, H.M.S. Bacchante.”
The gun-boats taken on this occasion had each a long 24-pounder mounted in the bow: two of them also carried a 12-pounder carronade in the stern: their joint crews amounted to 136 men, of whom 24 were soldiers. The following is an abstract of the prisoners and ordnance stores taken at the island of St. George:–
1 Captain-commandant, 1 captain of engineers, 2 lieutenants, 9 gunners, 2 Serjeants, 4 corporals, 120 privates, 1 brass 24-pounder, 4 brass 18-pounders, 1 iron 18-pounder, 3 guns of smaller calibre, 1 brass 6i-inch mortar, a furnace for heating shot, a large quantity of shot and shells, 66 barrels of gunpowder, 8 cases of musket-balls, 3 ditto of hand grenades, and I case of live shells. In the gun-boats were found 4 brass 24-pounders, intended to be mounted on the fortifications at Cattaro.
“The capture of Isle St. George was represented by Captain Hoste as a point of the utmost importance to his future operations: it commands and fronts the narrow channel to the branch of the river that leads up to Cattaro; and, fortified as it is,” says he, “it would have been with difficulty, if at all, the ships of war could have passed it.”
On the 16th Oct. 1813, Captain Hoste reported to Rear-Admiral Freemantle the surrender by capitulation of Castel Nuova and Fort Espagnol, mounting 6 brass guns, 19 iron ditto, and 7 swivels, and garrisoned by 299 officers and men. He also informed him, that General Gauthier, with about 600 men, had retired into Fort St. John, a very strong place about 15 miles up the river, and the only one in the Boco di Cattaro, then possessed by the enemy. “I cannot mention in too warm terms,” he added, “the conduct of Captain Harper; he is ever ready, and most indefatigable: the capture of Isle St. George does him, the officers, and men, the greatest credit.”
Captain Harper now received directions to blockade Fort St. John; but owing to a foul wind, with heavy flaws off the land, and the current setting constantly against him, he found it quite impossible either to beat or warp the Saracen up the river. A hawser was, therefore, made fast to her fore-masthead, the inhabitants were called upon to man it, and, to the astonishment of every body, the brig was thus tracked 3 miles along a rugged and rocky shore. On the morning of the 20th she anchored near Cattaro, and preparations were immediately made for erecting a battery on the opposite heights of Theodore, although they could not even be climbed without difficulty, and that only in a zigzag manner. After closely reconnoitring the city, in company with Captain Harper, the senior officer took his departure for a time, leaving the Saracen to trust to her own resources.
Whilst Captain Harper was proceeding to besiege Cattaro, his tenders were employed protecting Mezzo, watching Ragusa, and looking out for a favorable opportunity to attack Stagno, through which town all the supplies for the blockaded garrisons were necessarily forwarded. On the 23d Oct. his first lieutenant addressed to him the following letter:–
“Sir,– I have the honor of informing you, that I proceeded on the 19th instant, with a detachment of 300 Croats, against Stagno. We arrived at Broche at 4 p.m., and succeeded in taking the advance guard of 30 men. I then marched on for Stagno, occupying both sides of the canal, and summoned the castle to surrender. the enemy refusing all communication, I closely blockaded the town, keeping up a constant fire of musketry: they also opened a heavy fire from 11 pieces of cannon and 1 howitzer. At 8 p.m., I proceeded with 100 men against Little Stagno, and took possession of it, the garrison, 60 in number, with 2 captains. making no resistance. On the 20th, I took possession of the heights commanding the castle, and, by the great exertions of the officers and soldiers, got a 4-pounder mounted at the back of the town. At 1 p.m. we opened a well-directed fire from it, and musketry in all positions. The enemy kept up a heavy fire of shot and shells. On the 21st, finding we made but little impression on the castle, and not being provided with ladders for scaling the two high walls surrounding the town, I employed Mr. Charles Gamage, with a party of men, to undermine them, and at daybreak on the 22nd, he had succeeded in making a breach in the outer one, which we entered with 100 men. It taking time to make a breach in the inner wall, I was not able to enter the town till 3 p.m., when we took possession of it without resistance, the troops all retiring to the castle. I immediately pushed for it with all the force I could collect, not exceeding 100 men; and the enemy, finding us determined to storm, proposed terms of capitulation, which, with some little alteration, I agreed to, as nearly the whole of my ammunition was expended. At 6 p.m. they marched out, and I took possession. The castle is defended by a moat, and has three strong gates: its garrison consisted of 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 4 gunners, 8 gens d’armes, and 40 soldiers, under the command of Mons. Bellair. I have the honor to be, &c.
When General Baron Gauthier was informed, that Captain Harper intended to get a heavy gun up Mount Theodore, he laughed at the idea, and sent an officer to say, he believed him to be an active fellow, but he would give him six months at least to accomplish his object: the arduous undertaking was commenced on the 29th Nov., and, after three weeks of great exertion, fatigue, and privation, an 18-pounder was safely lodged on the summit, so determined were the Saracen’s crew to shew the enemy what English sailors could perform. During the whole of that period the rain fell in torrents, and it frequently happened that the gun was lower down the mountain at the setting of the sun than it had been at its rising, sometimes occasioned by the rock giving way that the end of the cable used as a jack-stay was fastened to, and at others by the breaking of the purchase falls, block straps, &c. A road was subsequently made for nearly a mile, along a narrow ridge of pinnacled rocks, by breaking them with mauls and hammers; a work not only difficult, but extremely dangerous, as one false step would have precipitated the person making it into eternity, the side of the mountain being perpendicular, and 1000 yards in height. On the 23d Dec. the gun was mounted with three cheers, and, as Captain Hoste expresses himself, “to the astonishment of friends and foes.”
Meanwhile, the Bacchante had returned to the Boco di Cattaro, and her officers and men were employed in getting other pieces of ordnance mounted. At day-light on the morning of Christmas-day, a fire was opened from four different points; and on the 1st Jan. 1814, two additional batteries of 18 and 32-pounders, began to play against the castle. On the 3d, every thing was arranged for a general assault, and Captain Harper had already taken the command of a storming party, when Baron Gauthier sent out, expressing his wish to capitulate. The terms granted to the enemy were, to lay down their arms on the marina, to be conveyed to some port in Italy, to be considered prisoners of war, and not to serve against Great Britain or their allies till regularly exchanged.
The capitulation for the surrender of Fort St. John, was signed Jan. 5th, 1814 on which occasion Captain Hoste magnanimously said to his indefatigable second, “Come, Harper, you were the first to conceive the expedition; let the Saracen take possession of Cattaro”. In his official letter of that date, addressed to Rear-Admiral Freemantle, he says, “we have received no assistance but from a few Montenegrins. * * * The zeal and activity of Captain Harper are well known to you, and I assure you, Sir, in no instance have they been more conspicuous than on the present occasion – He is a most invaluable officer.”
Captain Harper took possession of Cattaro, and retained the command there until arrangements were made for attacking Ragusa, the fall of which place, Jan. 28, 1814, made the allies masters of every strong hold in Dalmatia, Croatia, Istria, and the Frioul, with all the islands in the Adriatic, The official account of that conquest is given at p. 480 et seq. of Vol. II. Part I. Rear-Admiral Freemantle’s despatches state, that Cattaro and Ragusa, together, contained 268 guns, and were garrisoned by 1400 officers and men. Baron Gauthier and his staff were conveyed to Ancona by the Saracen.
We next find Captain Harper serving under the orders of Sir John Gore, and employed in the blockade of Venice, until its surrender. On the 14th May, 1814, he entered that harbour, sailed up the canal nearly 12 miles, and anchored in the middle of the city, near St. Mark’s palace, agreeably to an invitation from the Austrian general. Three days afterwards he was visited on board the Saracen by Prince Reuss, who said he had come “to wait upon the representative of the British nation,” and expressed himself highly pleased with his reception and treatment.
All active service in the Adriatic being now at an end> Captain Harper received directions to proceed to North America; on which occasion, not having an opportunity of taking personal leave of his old friends near Ragusa, he wrote the following letter to the Count Natoli, who still held the government of Zupano:–
“Dear Count, – The orders of my government call me from this country to the post of honor. I am going to America as fast as possible; I must for a time take my leave of you and your brave countrymen, the Ragusians, and beg you to assure them, I have constantly done every thing in my power to promote their interest and welfare; and still hope, as a reward for their attachment to the British nation, they will have their most sanguine wishes and expectations realized. It is not in my power to particularize any one, when all have shown the same loyalty and patriotism; but you, my dear Count, as being the first man who assisted the English, and declared against the common enemy, at the imminent risk of your life and property, I shall never forget, and hope I shall have it in my power to convince you the English nation is as grateful as it is powerful. Adieu, wishing you every happiness this world affords,
In addition to the services already enumerated, Captain Harper captured, whilst in the Adriatic, numerous small vessels laden with arms, ammunition, ordnance stores, clothing, provisions, &c. Including deserters, and the garrisons of Zupan , Mezzo, Isle St.George, and Stagno, he deprived the French army of nearly 1,000 regular troops. Previous to his departure from that station, the Emperor of Austria sent him the order of Leopold, accompanied with a very flattering letter, stating that it was conferred upon him for his highly distinguished conduct at Cattaro and Ragusa. His promotion to post rank, of which he received official notice on the Saracen’s arrival at Gibraltar, took place June 7, 1814.
Captain Harper returned home from America, Oct. 26, 1814; obtained the command of the Tyne 24, on the 12th of the following month; sailed for the East Indies, with despatches, ten days after his appointment to that ship; and was removed to the Wellesley, a new teak-built 74, at Bombay, June 19, 1815. The insignia of a C.B. appears to have been conferred upon him about Sept. in the latter year.
The Wellesley was loaded with the frame timber of an 80-gun ship and two brigs, and had already reached Ceylon, on her way to Europe, when intelligence arrived in India, that Napoleon Buonaparte had left Elba and usurped the government of France. Her cargo was, thereupon, landed at Trincomalee, and her armament and crew were completed; but she had not long been converted into an effective line-of-battle ship before Captain Harper was unwarrantably removed to the Doris frigate, and charged with despatches for England.
Captain Harper’s last appointment was, Feb. 12, 1816, to the Wye 26, in which ship he served for a period of three years, on the Halifax station.
This officer married, in Oct. 1805, and has a large family. His eldest son, John Horatio Harper, was educated at the Royal Naval College, and, we believe, perished in the Arab. His younger brother obtained the rank of lieutenant, R.N. at an early age, and was drowned in la Lutine frigate, Oct. 9, 1799.
Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.
- See Vol. II. Part II. p. 912.
- See Vol. I. Part I. note at p. 254.
- See Captain James Wallis.
- Excellent, 2 killed, 2 slightly wounded; Bustard, Mr. Kalty Robinson, master, severely, 1 seaman, mortally, and the pilot and 1 marine, slightly wounded.
- To the Nore, for the purpose of getting manned.
- Lieutenant Holmes obtained the rank of commander, Aug. 19, 1815; and perished in the Arab sloop, on the N.W. coast of Ireland, Dec. 12, 1823.
- United Service Journal, No. I. p. 8.
- See Suppl. Part II. p. 483..
- Vol. II. Part II. small type at p. 881.