Royal Naval Biography/Wolley, Isaac
ISAAC WOLLEY, Esq
Deputy Chairman of the Victualling Board.
This officer, a brother of Vice-Admiral Thomas Wolley, was educated at the celebrated maritime school formerly established at Chelsea, and which furnished the navy with many excellent officers. At the commencement of the French war in 1793, we find him holding the rank of Lieutenant, and commanding a large ship in the West India trade. He subsequently joined the Santa Margaritta frigate, commanded by the present Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey, with whom he served on shore at the reduction of Martinique by the naval and military forces under Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey.
From the Santa Margaritta, Lieutenant Wolley removed into the Boyne, a second rate, bearing the flag of Sir John Jervis, by whom he was entrusted with the command of 180 seamen landed from that ship to co-operate with the British army in the island of Gaudaloupe, after the recapture of that colony by the republican forces.
On the 22d June 1794, whilst the main body of the troops were employed in erecting batteries against Fort Fleur d’Epée, the Hon. Captain Stewart commanding the 9th grenadiers, and Lieutenant Wolley with a party of sailors, marched from Grozier to attack St Ann’s fort, a strong post about twelve or fourteen miles to windward. After a most fatiguing march, during which some heavy showers of rain rendered the roads almost impassable, they reached the foot of the hill on which the fort was situated; up which they scrambled so leisurely, and such a profound silence reigned among their people, that they approached within fifteen or twenty paces of the centinel before he perceived them, though he was apparently alert on his post. The French guide was now so terrified that he fired his pistol at the centinel, which gave the alarm; when the British party instantly rushed forward, and with three cheers began to storm the works. The enemy were completely surprised, and not more than two of them escaped. During this the French royalists who had accompanied Captain Stewart and Lieutenant Wolley, marched into the town, where they began the most brutal excesses; but the humane exertions of those officers soon put a stop to their mischievous proceedings. In this attack Hear 400 republican soldiers were killed, and one prisoner taken: on the side of the British only one man was wounded, but Lieutenant Wolley and his followers had some narrow escapes. The commanding officer of the fort rushed out of the guard-room on the alarm being given, with a lighted match in his hand. He first fired a gun which was luckily pointed in an opposite direction; he then three times attempted to fire a 24-pounder as Lieutenant Wolley and his men were advancing to the muzzle of it; but fortunately, either from the dampness of the priming, or trepidation of the man, it missed taking effect; on which he flung down his match, and retreated to the further end of the fort, pursued by Lieutenant Wolley, who, owing to the darkness of the night, soon lost sight of him, and as he returned was met by some of his own party, who, taking him for an enemy, were about to put him to death, when his voice discovered to them their mistake. Had the gun in the first instance gone off, it must have made considerable havock among the assailants, as it was loaded with a bag of musket-balls. Several light sloops and schooners were found in the bay, one of which was sent by the commanding officers with an account of their success to the Admiral and General. It being impossible to keep possession of this post, from the small number of our troops, and intelligence being brought that a large detachment of the enemy were on their way to cut off the retreat of the party, it was determined to return to the camp without loss of time, all the ammunition having been previously destroyed, and the guns of the fort dismounted. The day proving unusually hot, and the roads being deep and slippery in consequence of the heavy rains that had fallen during the preceding night, they were not able to reach the camp without halting; they therefore took post at a planter’s house on an eminence, where they were received with great hospitality. By three P.M., the men who had dropped down on the road through fatigue, were brought in, except two, who reached the camp next morning, and the party proceeded to their different stations without further accidents.
From this period the operations carried on against the French republicans in Guadeloupe, are thus described by the Rev. Cooper Willyams, late Chaplain of the Boyne, in his interesting narrative, which we have already alluded to in the course of this memoir:–
“On Tuesday the 24th of June, General Grey opened his batteries, which he had erected near Grozier, against Fleur d’Epée; at the same time Brigadier-General Dundas kept up a smart fire on Point a Pitre, where the enemy seemed to be making preparations against the hurricane months, now approaching, by stripping the ships in the harbour of their sails and rigging. On the 26th, early in the morning, the enemy, to the number of three hundred, made a sortie from Fleur d’Epée, on our advanced post, consisting of one hundred men, but were soon obliged to retreat; we lost one man killed and eight wounded: at the same time our batteries and gun-boats cannonaded the fort; in the latter two seamen were wounded. On the 27th, the batteries at Grozier having opened as usual on Fleur d’Epée, a detachment of our troops under Brigadier-General Fisher inarched forward to attack a piquet of the enemy posted on Morne Mascot, from whence they drove them after a sharp contest, and established themselves, as our advanced post, within musket-shot of the fort. During the preceding night the light infantry at camp Berville were sent by Brigadier-General Dundas, under command of Major Ross of the 25th regiment, to Petit Bourg, where they embarked, and joined the army at Grozier. This movement, by which the main body was much strengthened, was effected unperceived by the enemy, and the 39th and 43d regiments only left at Berville.
“Several skirmishes now daily took place, and many fell on both sides; though, from want of steadiness at the last, the enemy were always greater losers than ourselves. On the morning of the 29th of June, a large body of the enemy, to the number of one thousand, marched out of Fort Fleur d’Epée, and seemed to meditate an attack on a detachment of light infantry under Colonel Gomm, posted to the right of the grenadiers who were on Morne Mascot, under Brigadier-General Fisher. By this false movement, they hoped that a detachment of the grenadiers would be sent to reinforce the light infantry, and thereby weaken the force on Morne Mascot, which was their real object of attack. In a short time, however, they were perceived mounting the side of Mascot heights, with colours flying and singing the national songs, covered by a heavy fire of round and grape-shot from Fleur d’Epée, which prevented our grenadiers from shewing themselves till the enemy were close to them; on which General Fisher made them prostrate themselves on the ground, and wait the approack of the enemy in that posture. The instant the republicans came within a few yards of them they started up, and an obstinate engagement commenced, which terminated at length by the grenadiers advancing to the charge j on which the enemy fled, and were pursued down the hill with great slaughter. Our loss amounted to thirty killed and wounded: among the former was Lieutenant Toosey of the 65th regiment; of the latter, Captain De Rivigne of the artillery, received a ball in the side of his neck. Brigadier-General Fisher was hit three times by grape-shot, which caused contusions only, and his horse was killed under him. In the evening the enemy sent in a flag of truce, requesting permission to bury their dead and carry off their wounded, which was granted them; yet they left a number of both, on the side of the hill, to the great annoyance of our piquet, which during the following night was disturbed by the groans of the dying and wounded. The day following the enemy again made an attempt, in equal force, against our post on Mascot, and was again repulsed with great loss. The rainy season being already set in, and the hurricane months now approaching, determined the Commander-in-Chief to make an effort to finish the campaign at once. From his success in the two last engagements, and the excellent manner in which he had planned the attack, it would no doubt have succeeded, had his orders been punctually obeyed. The plan he had laid down was, for a large body of troops under General Symes, to march during the night, and make themselves masters of Morne Government, and the other commanding heights round the town of Point & Pitre, whilst himself, at the head of the rest of his army, was in readiness on the heights of Mascot to storm Fort Fleur d’Epée, on receiving a signal from General Symes; but, from some unfortunate misapprehension, the whole of General Grey’s well-concerted plan was rendered abortive, and the almost total destruction of our exhausted forces ensued: but it is my business to detail the events of this unfortunate affair as accurately as the confused accounts I have received will permit. Brigadier-General Symes, having under his command the first battalion of grenadiers, commanded by Brigadier-General Fisher, and the first and second light infantry, led by Colonel Gomm, with a detachment of seamen from the Boyne and Veteran, commanded by Captain Robertson of the Veteran, marched from the heights of Mascot at about nine o’clock at night, on the 1st of July. They first descended into a deep ravine thick planted with coffee bushes, through which there was no road, the seamen bringing up the rear. The night was uncommonly dark, which rendered their march both dangerous and fatiguing. After proceeding about a mile they halted on a road, and were joined by two small field-pieces, which were put under the charge of Lieutenants Thomson and Maitland, to be dragged by their seamen. During the halt some people, who were heard to speak French, were seen near the rear; Lieutenant Wolley endeavoured to secure them, but they escaped through the bushes, and no further notice was taken of this. The army moved forward about two miles further, on a road leading through deep ravines, and made a second hall for about an hour; the march was then re-commenced, but no orders ever passed during the time: they now proceeded for some miles without meeting with any obstruction, when an order came for the seamen in the rear to advance to the attack, which they did by running as fast as they could for upwards of a mile. The parties they passed were not in the best order, owing to the quickness of the march, until they came to the grenadiers, who were drawn up as a corps de reserve. About this time the bugle horn sounded to advance, and soon after a heavy firing of round and grape-shot from Morne Government, and also from several other batteries of the enemy, commenced, as also from some twelve-pounders, landed from the shipping in the harbour, which were placed in tiers, and entirely enfiladed the road along which the troops were advancing. After passing the grenadiers, the seamen were halted for a few minutes to form, they being perfectly out of order from running; but scarce thirty of them were got together, when Lieutenant Wolley was ordered to advance with them, and Captain Robertson remained to form and bring up the rest. The cannonading from the enemy’s guns was the most severe the oldest soldier ever witnessed, especially from the guns which were on the road; two or three tiers of which were planted behind each other, from which the enemy were driven by the bayonets of our gallant fellows, who no sooner had taken one battery, but another opened on them from behind. The whole now became a scene of confusion impossible to describe. Instead of any of the heights being attempted, the greater part of the troops and the seamen were got into the town, where they were mowed down by the grape-shot, which played upon them in every direction, as well as musketry from the windows of the houses. Wherever our men perceived this, they broke open the doors, putting all they found in them to death; and those who could not stand the bayonet were shot as they leaped from the windows. General Symes was by this time badly wounded, and his horse killed under him. Colonel Gomm (who led the light infantry), with several other officers, was killed, and a great many more desperately wounded; and Captain Robertson, who commanded the seamen, was blown up. At length General Fisher (the second in command, who, as well as every other officer on this service, was ignorant of General Syme’s plans) sounded a retreat, and the miserable remains of this gallant party marched off, the enemy harassing them in their retreat, though kept at bay by the gallant exertions of the Honourable Captain Stewart with a party of Grenadiers, assisted by Lieutenant Wolley and the seamen of the Boyne, who covered the retreat; till at length the latter fell by a musket-ball through his leg, and was brought off by his men. When the remains of this unfortunate detachment got back to Mascot, General Grey found it in vain to attempt any thing against Fleur d’Epée, being obliged to detach the second battalion of grenadiers to cover the retreat, and his troops being all so much reduced and exhausted, yet from the effect of the batteries he had erected to cover his attack of Fleur d’Epée, which opened on that fort in the evening, there could have been no doubt of success had not the above-related misfortune taken place. It being totally impossible to attempt any thing further at this season, the General that night began to re-imbark his cannon and mortars, and in two days had got off the whole of his troops without loss; he then strengthened the posts on Basse Terre, and having made the best arrangements possible to maintain them, and to enable him to renew his attacks on Point a Pitre and Fleur d’Epée after the hurricane months, in case any reinforcements should arrive (without which it would be totally impossible), he embarked on board the Boyne, leaving Brigadier-General Colin Graham to command on Basse Terre, and then repaired to St. Pierre in the island of Martinique, where he established his head-quarters. The Boyne proceeded to Fort Royal Bay, where she was laid up for the hurricane months in a snug harbour, called Trois Islet Bay, and the sick and wounded were landed for the benefit of fresh air, and every attention paid to them that could alleviate their sufferings.
“During the whole time of this latter campaign the fever, which had been so destructive the preceding year, continued to rage in our navy and army with unabated violence. General Grey lost all the servants he brought from England by it, including two who had lived with him for many years. It first broke out with violence when the former campaign ended.”
Towards the close of 1813, Captain Wolley, who had for some time before superintended the Naval Yard at Jamaica, was appointed Resident Commissioner at Gibraltar, from whence he removed to Malta in 1818. He has recently returned to England, and entered on the duties of his new appointment as Deputy Chairman of the Victualling Board. The Commissioner enjoys a pension of 250l.per annum, for the severe wound he received at Guadaloupe in 1795.
- After the investiture of Fort Bourbon by the British, Captain Harvey landed at the head of 300 seamen and a party of marines from his own ship, the Solebay, and Nautilus, and instantly began to proceed with a 24-pounder and two other guns from the wharf in the Cul de sac Cohée towards Sourier, a post recently taken by Sir Charles Grey, and near which that General had established his head-quarters. After cutting a road through a thick wood for nearly a mile; making a sort of bridge, or rather passage, across a river, which they effected by filling it up with large stones and branches of trees; and levelling the banks of another river by the removal of immense fragments of rock, this persevering party, on the third day, to the astonishment of the whole army, got the 24-pounder to the heights of Sourier before the night shut in, and two howitzers within a mile of it. On the following day they got two other 24-pounders and the howitzers to the heights, the distance from which to the wharf where they landed is near five miles. When we consider that the road was to be formed for near four miles of the way, one of which was through a very thick wood, and that, as they approached Sourier, for near a mile, the road was so steep, that a loaded mule could not walk directly up it, it seems scarcely credible that so small a number of men should be able to have undergone such severe fatigue, considering the climate and the nature of the soil, which was a very stiff clay intermixed with large stones. The assistance thus rendered to the army by these brave fellows was invaluable; and the compliments paid them in general orders for their spirited conduct, is a convincing proof that they never once relaxed from their first exertions during the whole siege of Fort Bourbon, a period of five weeks. Indeed their astonishing exertions were almost beyond probability: after rain, which fell frequently, the steep parts of the road were so slippery, that a man even with the greatest care would often slip back tea and sometimes twenty feet at a time: but so determined were the honest tars not to fail in what they undertook, that when once they set out with a gun after heavy raiu, and found it impossible to keep their footing, they have crawled up as they dragged the ponderous engine of destruction, and kept themselves from falling back by sticking their fingers in the ground. Bat among the many ’compliments paid the seamen, none pleased them so much as having a battery appointed solely for them, where they used to relieve one another by turns, without even an additional allowance of grog as an encouragement. The following anecdote is related by a gentleman who published an account of the West India campaign in the year 1794:–
“One day, when the Commander-in-Chief of the army met Captain Harvey’s detachment of seamen on the road, they, being ignorant that a battery was appointed for them to serve in, surrounded the General, and offered him their services, swearing they thought it d–––d hard to have all work and no fighting; and hoped his honour would let them have some share in it. Upon the General replying, “Well, my lads, you shall have a battery to yourselves,” they saluted him with three hearty cheers, and went readily to their work again.”
Previous to the surrender of Fort Bourbon, Lord Garlies, now Earl of Galloway, joined the naval detachment at Sourier, with a reinforcement of seamen and marines.
- See Vol. I. note at p. 841.
- Lieutenant Wolley of the Boyne, was appointed acting major of brigade; and Lieutenants Thomson and Maitland, and Mr. Oswald, commanded the three companies of seamen.
- One of the frigates in the harbour did great execution; by a single discharge of grape-shot, killing three officers and thirty-six privates of the light infantry, who were unfortunately drawn up in a street effectually commanded by her guns.
- Our loss in killed, wounded, and missing, amounted to thirty-eight officers, forty-three Serjeants, and six hundred and eleven privates.
- See Vol. I. p. 79, et seq.