Royal Naval Biography/Slaughter, William
WILLIAM SLAUGHTER, Esq.
Was made a lieutenant on the 18th Sept. 1806; and distinguished himself whilst serving as third of the Amphion frigate, Captain William Hoste, at the capture and destruction of an enemy’s convoy, moored in a strong position under a battery of four 24 pounders, in sight of the Italian squadron at Venice. The official details of this “very gallant and well-conducted” enterprise will be found under the head of Captain Charles G. R. Phillott, in Suppl. Part IV. The service for which Mr. Slaughter was promoted to his present rank, Nov. 21st, 1810, is thus described in the London Gazette:–
“Amphion, Gulf of Trieste, June 29th, 1810.
“Sir,– A convoy of several vessels from Trieste were chased into the harbour of Grao by the boats of the Amphion yesterday morning, and the officer (Lieutenant Slaughter), on his return, reported that they were laden with naval stores for the arsenal at Venice. As the Italian Government are making great exertions at the present moment to fit out their marine at that port, the capture of this convoy became an object of importance; and I was the more induced to attempt it, as its protection (it was said) consisted only in twenty-five soldiers stationed at Grao, an open town in the Friule; the sequel will shew that we were deceived both as to the number of the garrison and the strength of the place; and if I should enter too much into detail in relating to you the circumstances attending its capture, I trust, Sir, you will consider it on my part as only an anxious desire to do justice to the gallant exertions of those who were employed on the occasion.
“The shoals of Grao prevent the near approach of shipping of burthen; the capture of the convoy therefore was necessarily confined to boat service, and I telegraphed to H.M. ships Cerberus and Active on the evening of the 28th, that their boats and marines should assemble alongside the Amphion by twelve o’clock that night. It fell calm in the early part of the evening; and conceiving, from our distance from Grao, that the boats of the Active (who was considerably in the offing) would not arrive in time, I wrote to Captain Gordon to request they might be sent immediately: I mention this, as it will account why that ship’s boats and marines were not in the station assigned them in the attack, and that no possible blame can be imputed to the officers and men employed in them for their not being present, as distance alone prevented them. Captain Whitby, of the Cerberus, very handsomely volunteered his services on this occasion; but I considered it as a fair opportunity for my second lieutenant (Slaughter), (the first lieutenant being absent, having been detached on other service in the barge the day before,) to distinguish himself, and he has fully in every way justified the confidence I had in him.
“The convoy were moored in a river above the town of Grao, and it was absolutely necessary to be first in possession of it. The defences of the town were two old castles, almost in ruins, with loopholes for musketry, and a deep ditch in their front, extending from one castle to the other. The boats from the Amphion and Cerberus put off from the ship about forty minutes past eleven, and the marines of both ships, under Lieutenants (Thomas) Moore and (Jeremiah) Brattle (of marines), and Lieutenant (James) Dickenson of the Cerberus, the whole under the command of Lieutenant Slaughter, landed without musket-shot to the right of the town before day-light, and instantly advanced to the attack, the launches with carronades under Lieutenant (Donat Henchy) O’Brien (third of the Amphion) accompanying them along shore. It had been intended that the Amphion’s and Active’s should have landed to the right of the town, and the Cerberus to the left; but the former boats not arriving. Lieutenant Slaughter very properly took the Cerberus’s with him, and left the gig to direct the Active’s to the left; of course they had much further to row, and, much to the regret of all, did not get on shore till after the place was taken. A very heavy firing commenced about dawn of day. The enemy considerably stronger than was imagined, and assisted by a numerous peasantry, kept up a very destructive fire upon our men whilst advancing, who purposely retired a little to the left, taking shelter under some hillocks, and what the unevenness of the ground afforded; they were followed by the French troops, who, conceiving this to be a retreat on the boats, quitted their advantageous position and charged with the bayonet. It no longer became a contest to be decided by musketry; they were received with the steadiness and bravery inherent in Englishmen. Both officers and men were personally engaged hand to hand, and out of the number killed of the enemy in this encounter, eight were bayonet wounds, which will convince you. Sir, of the nature of the attack.
“A struggle of this kind could not last long, and the French troops endeavoured, in great confusion, to regain their former position. They were closely pursued, and charged in their turn, which decided the business; and the whole detachment of the enemy, consisting of a lieutenant, serjeant, and thirty-eight privates of the 81st regiment (all Frenchmen) were made prisoners, leaving our brave men in possession of the town, and thirty-five vessels laden with stores and merchandize. The Active’s boats landed at this moment, to the left, and her marines, under Lieutenant Foley, were of great use in completely securing the advantages gained. Every exertion was now made to get the convoy out of the river; but it being almost low water, it was late in the evening before they could be got afloat, and much labour and fatigue was occasioned, being obliged to shift the cargoes into smaller vessels, to get them over the bar. About eleven o’clock in the forenoon, an attack was made on the town by a party of French troops coming from Maran, a village in the interior. The force nearest them, under Lieutenants Slaughter, Moore, and Mears, of the Active, instantly attacked, assisted by the launches in the river; and the enemy, finding all resistance ineffectual, after losing two killed, threw down their arms and surrendered. In this latter business, a lieutenant and twenty-two men of the 5th regiment of light infantry (all French troops) were made prisoners. The same intrepidity which had ensured success before, was equally conspicuous on this second occasion. About seven in the evening I had the satisfaction of seeing the whole detachment coming off to the squadron, which I had anchored about four miles from the town, directly the wind allowed, and every thing was secured by eight o’clock. A service of this nature has not been performed without loss; but every thing considered, it falls short of what might have been expected from the obstinate resistance met with. Lieutenant Brattle, of the royal marines, of the Cerberus, is severely wounded in the thigh, but will, I trust, recover. He has (with every officer and man in the party) distinguished himself greatly. No credit can attach itself to me, Sir, for the success of this enterprise; but I hope I may be allowed to point out those to whose gallant exertions it is owing: nor can I sufficiently express my thanks to the commanding lieutenant. Slaughter, who has on this, and on many frequent instances before, given proofs of courage and conduct, which merit every encouragement; and I beg leave to recommend him, in the strongest terms, to your consideration. He expresses himself in the handsomest manner of Lieutenant Dickenson, of the Cerberus, and Moore and Brattle, of the marines, and of every petty officer and man employed.
“It is hard to particularize where all distinguish themselves; but the conduct of Lieutenant Moore, who commanded the marines (till the Active’s landed), is spoken of in such high terms by all, that I feel it a duty to mention him; and I do it in that confidence of his worth, which his exemplary behaviour, during five years’ service together, has long insured him.
“Opportunities do not often occur where officers are personally engaged; but in the one I have endeavoured to describe, the commanding lieutenant, and his two gallant associates (Moore and Dickenson), owe their lives to their own individual bravery and strength. Indeed, the conduct of every one employed merits the warmest encomiums; and I regret I cannot have it in my power to particularize them.
“The vessels captured are chiefly laden with steel, iron, and merchandize. The prisoners in all are two lieutenants, two serjeants, and fifty-six privates, of the 6th and 81st regiments, which composed part of General Marmont’s army, and distinguished themselves in the late war with Austria, at the battle of Wagram.
“I enclose returns of the killed and wounded, and have to regret four valuable marines amongst the former. I also forward the returns of officers employed on this service, with the vessels captured; and I have, &c.
“To Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, Bart.
&c. &c. &c.”
The loss sustained by the attacking party amounted to four men killed and eight wounded. The petty-officers, &c. employed under Lieutenant Slaughter, whose names are not given above, were Mr. Charles H. Ross, master’s-mate ; Messrs. Joseph Gape, Thomas Edward Hoste, Charles Bruce, and Cornwallis Paley, midshipmen; Mr. Samuel Jeffery, volunteer; and Mr. James Leonard Few, schoolmaster; of the Amphion: Messrs. John Miller, George Farenden, Joseph Stoney, George Fowler, William Sherwood, Charles Mackey, and Lewis Rollier, midshipmen; and Mr. John Johnson, gunner; of the Cerberus.
In Dec. 1812, Commander Slaughter was appointed to the Archer sloop, in which vessel he continued during the remainder of the war.