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Royal Naval Biography/Walpole, William

[Post-Captain of 1819.]

We first find this officer serving as midshipman of the Ajax 80, in the expedition against Constantinople. After the destruction of that ship by fire. Fob. 14, 1807[1], he joined the Endymion frigate. Captain the Hon. Thomas Bladen Capel; and continued in her until his promotion to the rank of lieutenant, Aug. 8, 1808. During the last four years of the war with France, he served under Captain the Hon. Henry Duncan, in the Imperieuse 38, on the Mediterranean station. We have before stated that he received a wound on the 27th June, 1812, while assisting at the destruction of the enemy’s batteries and shipping at Languilla and Alassio, in the gulf of Genoa[2]. The official account of that service has been given at p. 217.

Captain Walpole’s commission as commander bears date June 15, 1814[3]. His next appointments were, May 13, 1815, to the Thames 38, armed en flûte, which ship he re-commissioned in Sept. following; and Feb. 10, 1818, to the Curlew 18, fitting for the East India station.

In 1819, the Bombay government fitted out an expedition to destroy the pirates of the Persian Gulf, who, forgetting the chastisement inflicted on them by Captain Wainwright and Lieutenant-colonel Smith, in Nov. 1809[4], had begun again to follow their former atrocious practices. The command of the troops was entrusted to Major-general Sir William Grant Keir, Knt. K.M.T.; and the naval part was placed under the directions of Captain Francis Augustus Collier, C.B. whose force consisted of his own ship, the Liverpool 50; the Eden 26, Captain Francis Erskine Loch; the Curlew sloop, Captain Walpole; several of the Hon. Company’s cruisers; and a number of gun and mortar-boats. The following is an outline of the operations before Ras-al-Khyma, by an officer of the squadron:

“On the 2nd December, the expedition cast anchor off Ras-al-Khyma. On the passage thither, we had been joined by several frigates belonging to his Highness the Imaum of Muscat. At 4 o’clock in the morning of the 4th, the first division of troops effected a landing two miles S.W. of the place. The gun-boats and an armed pinnace covered the debarkation: no opposition was made. Captain Loch acted as beach-master, and Captain Walpole commanded the flotilla. The men immediately commenced the formation of a camp. During the day, the remainder of the army landed, and parties of seamen were sent on shore to assist in the erection of the batteries.

“Ras-al-Khyma appeared of considerable extent; the buildings large and flat-roofed; the fortifications in good repair, with high walls built of mud and stone, and flanked by heavy ramparts. It stood upon a sandy peninsula, the isthmus of which was defended by a well flanked battery, whilst the line towards the sea was fortified throughout the space of one mile and a quarter by batteries mounting only one gun each, ranged at regular intervals. A suburb of bamboo huts adjoined the town, immediately behind which lies a capacious basin, unapproachable to large vessels, in consequence of a bar of sand stretching across its mouth, so that large ships must discharge their cargoes previous to crossing the bar. The batteries of the town bore directly on the entrance of the port; – the harbour was full of shipping. The main land on the opposite coast appeared picturesque and verdant, with innumerable date-trees: the mountains of Arabia reared their dim, hazy outline in the back-ground. The place of our encampment, and the soil of the tongue of laud, was parched, sandy, and herbless. Two thousand of the Imaum’s troops joined us; they had forced the passes in the hills, deemed impregnable, and brought in some prisoners.

“On the 4th Dec. the Curlew weighed, and stood nearer the shore, opening her fire on the town. Smart skirmishing took place during the day. The rifle company of the 65th advanced within twenty yards of the largest groharrie, and reconnoitred. The gun-boats particularly distinguished themselves by their activity.

“The first line of trenches having been made by means of sand-bags, an advanced battery opened on the place, at the distance of three hundred yards. A mortar battery to the right was served very effectively. There was a gun from one of the enemy’s batteries which enfiladed the trenches, whilst we could get none of our artillery to bear on it. It did considerable execution among the men. Major Molesworth, of the 47th, mounted the parapet of the trench, to reconnoitre more minutely, and to ascertain how that formidable gun could be silenced. ‘I see them loading it now,’ said he; ‘now, now, they are running it out! Look to yourselves, my lads?’ In an instant he fell back in the trench, his head blown to atoms. At length, however, we succeeded in silencing that annoyance, and disabled the piece.

“The Liverpool and Eden having approached nearer the town, in conjunction with our butteries, opened a most vigorous fire on the morning of the 5th. Shells were thrown with evident effect; the gun-boats contributed, as before, their powerful assistance. Towards the close of that day’s work, a Joasinee spy was brought in prisoner; he informed us that the enemy had suffered great loss, nearly ninety killed, besides wounded. The Sheikh’s brother had lost his log by a cannon-shot.

“The duties of the seamen in the trenches were severe and unremitting. Whilst the soldiers were relieved every four hours, the sailors remained frequently twenty four hours, without any rest or respite. Jack grumbled a good deal at this unfair distribution, though he did not work the less strenuously. It was not a little vexatious to be saluted with a ‘Good night’ by several parties in succession as they quitted the trenches, with the prospect of comparative comfort in the camp, whilst the poor devils left behind had to pass the time as they best could.

“The firing from the ships and batteries still continued on the 6th; that of the Arabs was very faintly returned and ill-directed. They evidently did not possess the requisite and proper materials of ammunition; large stone shot came hailing in upon us, but often wide of the mark. As soon as a discharge was made from our guns, the Arabs were seen leaping out of the embrasures to pick up the round-shot, which they immediately returned. There was no mistake in this; for to satisfy ourselves, we examined the balls, and found they bore the King’s mark. The walls and towers did not exhibit any very decided traces of the efficiency of this day’s cannonade.

“The firing had terminated for the day, the men had been relieved, silence reigned in the batteries, the night was very dark, and the pickets, as usual, on the alert. About one, a dark object, like a large black dog, was seen creeping along on all fours, several similar objects following. The advanced pickets were instantly cut down; all was hurry, shout, and bustle. The trenches were filling with a large party of Arabs, engaged in close contest with our men, who were speared and stabbed in a twinkling. Already the Arabs had succeeded in dragging away a howitzer in triumph. The alarm spread like wildfire through the trenches. A party of the 65th foot, under Major Warren, instantly advanced in double quick time, attacked the assailants, drove them out of the trenches, and recaptured the howitzer. A desperate conflict ensued; the Arabs fought like furies, but they were soon bayoneted; nearly all of them, ninety in number, were found lying in the trenches. They had divested themselves of their upper garments to facilitate their onset, and their bodies seemed anointed with oil.

“It being found that our 12 and 18-pounders produced but a slight impression on the walls and towers, while the enemy availed themselves of our own shot to annoy us greatly, as they fitted exactly the calibre of their guns, it was resolved that several 24-pounders should be erected as a breaching battery. Two 24-pounders were accordingly landed with considerable exertion from the Liverpool, and had to be dragged a long way through heavy deep sand. The battery was erected nearer the town, and a party of seamen and marines was landed to work the guns. Lieutenant (John Norman) Campbell, of the Liverpool, commanded the whole of the seamen on shore.

“The 24-pounders opened on the 8th with astonishing effect. The walls and towers appeared to shake and totter under the force of the shot. The enemy found, too, that the balls were rather bulky for their guns, and were therefore under the necessity of having recourse to their own stone and grape shot. Ere night-fall, repeated flags of truce were dispatched from the town, but to these no attention was given, and darkness put an end to the firing.

“The cannonade was recommenced at an early hour on the next morning; the progress of the breach became hourly more apparent and practicable; orders were therefore issued to prepare for the storm. The announcement was received with great satisfaction, and every usual preparation was made with alacrity. A sharp tussle was looked for, and plunder undoubtedly expected. About 100 seamen were assembled in the trenches; to draw them up in line was out of the question – all life and talk and drollery. Col. Elrington and the gallant 47th, with the grenadier and flank companies of the other regiments, composed the party appointed to storm. On a signal being given, the whole rushed from the trenches in sight of the enemy, and advanced rapidly towards the breach; the enemy disappeared from the walls on our approach. The breach was soon mounted, and the place was entered; not a man disputed the entrance, not an Arab was visible. They were seen scampering from the town in the opposite direction, bending their route towards the hills. The disappointment of the men was excessive. The result of their search ever the town ended in the finding of four decrepid hags, whom the ungallant Arabs did not deem it necessary to carry off, trusting to their age and ugliness as safeguards against the attentions and gallantry of our men. But they reckoned without their host in that instance. Plunder there was none. Towards the close of the siege, the garrison had been employed in secretly removing all their effects out of the place; bullocks and goats only were left, and these Jack was seen driving in herds of five, ten, and twenty, down to the beach, jealous of any interference with his flock, and conveying as many of the goats on board as he could stow away.

“The union flag was immediately hoisted in the room of the bloody flag of the pirates, and orders were issued to dismantle the whole fortifications, and raze the place. The walls of the several groharries and towers were five and a half feet thick, and so strong and well built as to render them impregnable to all, except European artillery. Our total loss in this tedious siege was, one major, and four rank and file, killed; one lieutenant (royal navy), one captain, one subaltern, two Serjeants, one drummer, and forty-six rank and file, wounded. We learned afterwards that the enemy lost nearly one thousand killed; the number of wounded was unknown.

“The town of Raumps, near the sea, surrendered on the 18th. It was taken possession of by the 65th, and some native corps; the Shiekh Hassan Ben Ramah, Chief of Ras-al-Khyma, surrendering himself prisoner, with nearly one thousand of his followers. He stated, that during the siege, whilst he was holding a divan, a shell from our batteries burst into the room, and instantly exploding, killed and wounded about one hundred of his fighting men, and created infinite consternation throughout the garrison.

“A strong fort on a neighbouring hill, called Zaire, still held out. The duty undertaken by the seamen was most arduous in this case; two 24-pounders were dragged by the poor fellows for a space of two miles over rough and swampy ground. After batteries had been erected, a brisk cannonade was kept up against the fort, and shells were thrown without intermission. The firing was unremitting and tremendous. The fort was deemed quite impregnable by the natives, but they had soon speedy reason for entertaining a mortifying belief to the contrary; they accordingly manifested a wish to capitulate. The general offered unconditional surrender, which after an hour’s deliberation was acceded to. Shiekh Hassan Ben Ally, the chief, was sent prisoner on board one of the transports; he was the most active, the most cruel of the whole pirates, about thirty-six years of age, handsome in person, mild in demeanour, but with a look of sullen, tiger-like ferocity lurking in his restless eye.

“On our return to Ras-al-Khyma, we found the place totally in ruins; the forts and towers having been blown up by the indefatigable soldiers and seamen employed in that duty. Some inconsiderable portion of plunder had been found secreted in various places, which of course fell to the share of the men. A strong work was in a state of forwardness for such of oar troops as it might be deemed requisite and expedient to leave behind for the entire prevention of future piracies, and a check upon the Arabs in their attempts to rebuild their forts and strongholds.

“On the 3d January, we quitted the coast, and proceeded to the different harbours in the vicinity, in order to capture and destroy all the piratical vessels and small craft. This operation was carried into complete effect, and it is hoped has succeeded effectually in destroying the roots and nipping the branches of piracy for a long period to come[5].”

Captain Walpole brought home the Seringapatam, a new 46-gun frigate, loaded with the frame of another ship of the same class, and arrived in England, Oct. 16, 1820. He now commands the Ranger 28, on the West India station. His post commission bears date Dec. 7, 1819.

Agent.– J. Hinxman, Esq.