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Royal Naval Biography/Tinling, Charles

[Post-Captain of 1801.]

This officer entered the naval service as a Midshipman on board the Porcupine frigate, commanded by Sir Charles H. Knowles, Bart. Mar. 15, 1780; and on the 22d July following bore a part in an action between that ship and two Spanish men of war, near the coast of Valencia[1]. He was subsequently appointed to the command of a gun-boat, forming part of the flotilla employed in the defence of Gibraltar, under the late Sir Roger Curtis, and greatly distinguished himself during the memorable attack made on that fortress by the combined forces of France and Spain, in September 1782; the following account of which we have extracted from a work now out of print:

“The Spanish monarch expressed so much joy at the reduction of the island of Minorca, (Feb. 5, 1782) that he appointed the Duc de Crillon Captain-General of the Spanish armies; and Don R. Moreno, who commanded the naval expedition, was advanced in rank; these officers were destined to command his forces against Gibraltar, where the Spaniards and French had collected upwards of 40,000 troops, and forty-seven sail of the line, besides floating batteries, frigates, and other vessels of war. For the more effectual means of reducing the fortress, the Chevalier D’Arçon, a French engineer of high repute and abilities, made a proposition to the Spanish Court to project floating batteries, that should be constructed on such a principle that they could neither be sunk nor set on fire by shot. The first of these properties was to be acquired by the extraordinary thickness of timber with which their keels and batteries were to be fortified; and which was to render them proof to all danger in that respect, whether from external or internal violence. The second danger was to be opposed by securing the sides of the ships wherever they were exposed to shot, with a strong wall composed of timber and cork, a long time soaked in water, and including between a large body of wet sand; the whole being of such a thickness and density, that no cannon ball could penetrate within two feet of the inner partition. A constant supply of water was to keep the parts exposed to the action of fire always wet; and the cork was to act as a sponge in retaining the moisture.

“For this purpose, ten large ships, from 600 to 1400 tons burden, were cut down to the state required by the plan, and 200,000 cubic feet of timber, with infinite labour, worked into their construction. To protect them from bombs, and the men at the batteries from grape, or descending shot, a hanging roof was contrived, which was to be worked up and down by springs, with ease and at pleasure: the roof was composed of a strong rope-work netting, laid over with a thick covering of wet hides; while its sloping position was calculated to prevent the shells from lodging, and to throw them off into the sea before they could take effect. To render the fire of these batteries the more rapid and instantaneous, the ingenious projector had contrived a kind of match to be placed, so that all the guns on the battery were to go off at the same instant.

“But as the red hot shot from the fortress was what the enemy most dreaded, the nicest part of this plan seems to have been the contrivance for communicating water in every direction, to lessen their effect. In imitation of the circulation of the blood, a great variety of pipes and canals perforated all the solid workmanship in such a manner, that a continued succession of water was to be conveyed to every part of the vessels, a number of pumps being adapted to the purpose of an unlimited supply. By those means it was expected that the red hot shot would operate to the remedy of its own mischief; as the very action of cutting through those pipes would procure its immediate extinction. So that these terrible machines, teeming with every source of outward destruction, seemed in themselves invulnerable, and entirely secure from all danger.

“General Elliot having observed that the enemy’s works were nearly completed on the land side, and some of them pretty far advanced towards the fortress, resolved to try how far a vigorous cannonade and bombardment, with red hot balls, carcasses, and shells, might operate to their destruction. Accordingly, at seven o’clock in the morning on the 8th September, he opened a most tremendous and admirably directed fire, the effect of which far exceeded his expectations; and was supported through the day with the usual unrivalled skill and dexterity of the artillery officers. At ten o’clock the Mahon battery, with the one adjoining to it, were observed to be in flames; and by five in the evening they were entirely consumed, together with their gun-carriages, platforms, and magazines, the last of which were bomb proof. A great part of the eastern parallel, and of the trenches and parapet for musketry, were likewise destroyed. A large battery near the bay was so much damaged by having been repeatedly set on fire, that the enemy were under the necessity of taking down the greater part of it. The loss the combined armies sustained, in their endeavours to extinguish the flames, must have been immense, as the troops were exposed to a dreadful and incessant fire from the garrison. This fresh insult irritated the allied commanders to such a degree, that the next morning at day-break they opened a new battery of 64 heavy cannon, which, with the artillery from the lines, and 60 mortars, continued to play upon the garrison without intermission the whole day. At the same time seven Spanish ships of the line, and two French, with some frigates and small vessels, got under way from the Orange Grove, and passed along the works under an easy sail, discharging their broadsides, until they had cleared Europa Point and got into the Mediterranean. The Spanish Admiral then formed his squadron in order of battle, leading himself, and stood in to the attack of the batteries at Europa.

“The small naval force, by the vast superiority of the enemy, had been for some time rendered entirely inactive. The seamen were therefore lauded and formed into a brigade, under the command of Captain Curtis, of the Brilliant frigate. General Elliot conferred on him the temporary rank of Brigadier, and entrusted the defence of the batteries at Europa to his particular care; a trust which was go ably discharged by himself, and the brave fellows under his command, that they soon compelled the Spanish squadron to retire oat of reach of their shot. Two of the line-of-battle ships were so much disabled, that they were under the necessity of running into Algeziras to repair. The enemy, notwithstanding the rough treatment they had received, made repeated attacks on Europa, but scarcely ever approached near enough for the shot to produce much effect.

“For several days they were observed to be extremely busy in making the necessary preparations for the grand attack by land and sea. It was said that no less than 1200 pieces of heavy ordnance of various kinds had been accumulated before the place. The quantity of shot, shells, powder, military stores and provisions, were so immense as to exceed all credibility. The gunpowder alone amounted to 83,000 barrels. Above 12,000 French troops reinforced the already enormous army. The Count D’Artois, Duc de Bourbon, and many others of the most distinguished nobility of France, were assembled in the allied camp, in order to partake in the glory which was expected to be derived from so illustrious an enterprise as the reduction of this fortress. Besides the combined fleet, forty gunboats with heavy cannon, as many bomb-vessels, with each a twelve-inch mortar, and five large bomb-ketches on the usual construction, were destined to second the powerful efforts of the battering ships; 300 large boats were collected from every part of Spain, which were to be employed in landing the troops so soon as the breach should be made.

“About eight o’clock on the morning of the 13th September, the battering ships lying at the head of the bay, under the command of Rear-Admiral Moreno, were observed to be getting under sail, and proceeded to the attack of the garrison. At ten o’clock, that officer having taken his station opposite the capital of the King’s bastion, the other ships extended them, selves at moderate distances from the Old to the New Mole, in a line parallel with the rock, at the distance of about 1000 yards, and immediately commenced a heavy cannonade, supported by the cannon and mortars from the enemy’s lines. The garrison at the same time opened a tremendous fire; the red hot shot were thrown with such precision, that about two o’clock in the afternoon smoke was seen to issue from the Spanish Admiral, and another ship; and men were perceived pouring water into the holes, endeavouring to extinguish the fire. Their efforts proved ineffectual: by one o’clock in the morning those two ships were in flames, and seven more took fire in succession. Evident marks of confusion appeared among them; and repeated signals of distress were made by throwing up rockets. The launches, feluccas, and boats of their fleet, were observed to be taking the men out of the burning ships, it being impossible to remove them. Captain Curtis availed himself of this favourable opportunity to employ his gun-boats, twelve in number, each carrying a 24 or 18-pounder, with which he advanced, and drew them up so as to flank the enemy’s battering ships, while they were extremely annoyed by an incessant, heavy, and well-directed fire from the garrison. The Spanish boats were so assailed by showers of shot and shells, that they dared no longer to approach, and were compelled to abandon their ships and friends to the flames, or to the mercy of their enemy. Several of the enemy’s boats were sunk before they submitted to this necessity; in one of these were fourscore men, who were all drowned excepting an officer and twelve of them, who floated on the wreck under the walls, and were taken up by the garrison. At day-light two Spanish feluccas, which had not escaped, submitted upon a shot being fired from a gun-boat, which killed some of their men. Nothing can exceed the horrors of the scene which now appeared: numbers of men were seen in the midst of the. flames, imploring relief; others floating on pieces of timber; even those on board the ships where the fire had made but little progress, expressed the deepest distress and despair, and were equally urgent in soliciting assistance. The number saved amounted to 13 officers and 344 men, 29 of whom were wounded, and taken from among the slain in the holds of the ships. Upon a moderate estimate, it is supposed that the Spaniards lost in their attack by sea not less than 1500 men. The intrepidity, conduct, and generous humanity of Captain Curtis, and the marine brigade, reflect on them immortal honour. Exposed to the most imminent danger, they eagerly boarded the burning ships, to rescue from inevitable destruction that enemy to whom they had just before been opposed. While engaged in this glorious service, one of the largest of the ships blew up, spreading its wreck to a vast extent, by which qne of the English gun-boats was sunk, and another considerably damaged. A piece of the falling timber struck a hole through the bottom of the barge in which was Captain Curtis his coxswain was killed, and two of the crew wounded: the rest were saved from perishing by the seamen stuffing their jackets into the hole, which kept her afloat until relieved by other boats. Nine of these battering ships were burnt; the tenth shared the same fate, as it was found impracticable to bring her off. Rear-Admiral Moreno left his flag flying, and it was consumed with the ship.”

Shortly after this celebrated event, the San Miguel, a Spanish two-decker, was driven under the walls of Gibraltar, and captured by the garrison[2]. This ship being commissioned by Sir Charles H. Knowles, Mr. Tinling served in her till the conclusion of the war.

During the ensuing long peace we find him successively employed as Midshipman and Master’s-Mate, in the Ganges and Bedford, third rates; Aquilon frigate; Formidable, of 98 guns; and Spitfire sloop of war; under the respective commands of Captains Sir Roger Curtis, Robert Mann, Robert Montagu, Henry Nicholls, and John Woodley.

On the 28th Dec. 1792, Mr. Tinling joined the Queen, a second rate, fitting for the flag of Rear-Admiral (afterwards Lord) Gardner, with whom he proceeded to the West Indies, where he served for some time as acting Lieutenant of that ship; but his appointment to her not being confirmed, he was subsequently removed into the Orion 74, in which ship he assisted at the defeat of the French fleet under M. Villaret de Joyeuse on the 1st June, 1794[3].

A vacancy at length occurring in the Queen, Lieutenant Tinling was appointed to fill it, at the particular request of Sir Alan Gardner; and on the 23d June, 1795, we find him present at the capture of three French two-deckers off l’Orient. He afterwards accompanied his patron into the Royal Sovereign of 110 guns, and became first Lieutenant of that ship previous to his being made a Commander in the Scorpion sloop of war, Sept 7, 1797; from which time he was actively employed on the North Sea and West India stations till Nov. J800, when his vessel, being found unfit for further service, was paid off and broke up.

Captain Tinling was appointed to the Snake sloop, Jan. 1, 1801; and advanced to post rank on the 14th of the following month. His last appointment was, Nov. 23, 1803, to the Dictator 64, stationed in the King’s Channel, the command of which ship he retained till April 28, 1804.

Agent.– William Marsh, Esq.

  1. See Vol. I. p. 114.
  2. See Vol. I, note † at p. 114.
  3. We believe that Mr. Tinling was fourth Lieutenant of the Orion in the great battle of June 1, and preceding actions of May 28 and 29, 1794. His commander, the late Sir John Thomas Duckworth, was one of the Captains who were specially named by Earl Howe, as having particular claim to his Lordship’s attention. To this it is only necessary to add, that the Orion was much cut up by the enemy’s fire, and sustained a loss of 29 men killed and wounded.