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Royal Naval Biography/Wolseley, William

Admiral of the Blue.

The appellation of Wolseley was first assumed from Wolseley, in Staffordshire, where Siwardus, from whom the subject of the following sketch is descended, fixed his residence, and became lord thereof; which place still belongs to the family, in the person of Sir Charles Wolseley, Bart., the the elder branch of all the Wolseleys both in England and Ireland. Robert, the fifth in descent from Siwardus, was lord of Wolseley, and lived 1281. Ralph, another descendant, was one of the Barons of Exchequer, temp. Edw. IV.

The officer whom we. are now about to present to the reader’s notice, is a son of the late Robert Wolseley, Esq. (great grandson of Robert, who was created a Baronet Nov. 28, 1628; and great uncle of the present possessor of the title), by Miss Warren, of Kilkenny in the kingdom of Ireland. He obtained the rank of Post-Captain Sept. 14, 1782[1], on which occasion he was appointed to the Alarm frigate; and soon after the commencement of the war with France, 1793, we find him commanding the Lowestoffe of 32 guns, under the orders of Lord Hood, on the Mediterranean station.

Early in 1794, the Commander-in-Chief having received intelligence that the French forces at Corsica were much straitened for provisions, resolved to attempt their expulsion from that island, and accordingly despatched Commodore Linzee with, a squadron, consisting of the Alcide, Egmont, and Fortitude, 74’s, Lowestoffe and Juno frigates, accompanied by several transports, having on board a body of troops, to co-operate with the patriotic General Paoli, who had promised, if the English would make an attack upon the town of St. Fiorenzo from the sea, he would make a simultaneous movement by land. This promise he was unable to perform; and on the 9th Feb. the Fortitude and Juno, after cannonading the tower of Mortella for two hours and a half, without having made any impression on the enemy’s works, were obliged to haul off[2]. The next day, however, some guns, which were brought to bear upon the tower from a commanding height, obliged it to surrender[3]. On the 17th, at night, the heights of Fornelli were carried by assault, and the enemy retired into St. Fiorenzo, with considerable loss. On the 19th they evacuated that town and retreated towards Bastia, the capital of the island, having previously set fire to la Fortunée, a 40 gun frigate, and leaving la Minerve, of the same force, sunk, and to all appearance destroyed by the shot from the British. She was, however, soon after weighed, and added to the navy, by the name of the place at which she was taken[4].

At a conference previously held with General Paoli, it had been agreed upon, that in consideration of the succours, both naval and military, which his Britannic Majesty should afford for the purpose of expelling the French, the island of Corsica should be delivered into his possession, and bind itself to acquiesce in any settlement he might approve of concerning its government and future relation with Great Britain. After the capture of St. Fiorenzo, Lord Hood submitted to General Dundas, who commanded the land forces, a plan for the reduction of Bastia; that officer, however, declined co-operating, thinking the attempt impracticable without a reinforcement of 2000 men, which he expected from Gibraltar[5]. Upon this the Admiral determined to reduce it with the naval force alone; and leaving part of his fleet to watch the port of Toulon, he sailed with the rest to Bastia[6], and on the 22d May, after a siege of thirty-seven and a negociation of four days, the town and citadel, with the several posts upon the neighbouring heights, surrendered to the British arms.

The landing of the guns, mortars, and ordnance stores, was under the immediate direction of Captain, afterwards Viscount, Nelson, who occasionally commanded at the batteries. That gallant officer was ably assisted by Captains Hunt, Bullen, and Serecold; Lieutenants Gore, Hotham, Stiles, Andrews, and Brisbane. Captain Wolseley, who had particularly distinguished himself at the capture of St. Fiorenzo, and been recently appointed to the Imperieuse, a fine prize frigate, kept a diligent watch upon the island of Capraja, where the enemy had magazines of provisions and stores; whilst Captain Young, in the Fortitude, guarded the port of Bastia. Captain Hallowell displayed great perseverance, by the unwearied attention which he paid to the difficult and fatiguing service of guarding the harbour’s mouth during the night, with the gun-boats and armed launches, whilst the smaller boats were very judiciously placed in the intervals between, and rather without the ships, which were moored in a crescent, just out of reach of the enemy’s guns.

The total number of British serving on shore at the siege of Bastia was 1433 officers and men; the Corsicans, under Paoli, were in number about the same. The enemy’s garrison consisted of 1000 regulars, 1500 national guards, and a large party of Corsican troops. The loss sustained by the British amounted to 14 killed, 34 wounded, and 8 missing.

The expected reinforcement of troops from Gibraltar having arrived, under the command of Lieutenant-General Stuart, immediate preparations were made for attacking Calvi, and thus completing the reduction of Corsica. This was effected on the 10th August, after a siege of fifty-one days, during which the place was defended with the greatest bravery. Lord Hood, in his despatches relative to this important event, speaks highly of the meritorious conduct of Captains Wolseley, Hood, Sir C. Hamilton, Sir H. Burrard, Cunningham, Macnamara, and Robinson, for their steady perseverance in preserving their respective stations under manifest difficulties, which prevented succours being thrown into the garrison. The casualties at the siege of Calvi were 31 killed and 60 wounded; among the latter was Captain Nelson, who lost the sight of an eye. Captain Serecold, who served with him in the batteries, fell by a grape shot whilst mounting a gun. In him the service lost a brave and promising officer.

Among the vessels taken in the port of Calvi, were the French frigates Melpomene, of 40 guns, and Mignonne 32. A considerable quantity of naval stores also fell into the hands of the British.

Towards the end of the same year, Captain Wolseley returned to England in the Imperieuse, and his next appointment appears to have been to the Impress service in Ireland, where he continued until February 1799, when he obtained the command of the Terrible, a 74-gun ship, attached to the Channel fleet. In the following year he accompanied the expedition against the French coast, under Sir John B. Warren[7]; and on his return from that service, was sent to join Vice-Admiral Dickson, who had sailed for Copenhagen with a strong squadron, to give weight to the remonstrances of the British Ambassador on the subject of examining neutral vessels[8].

Captain Wolseley was subsequently removed into the St. George of 98 guns; and at the conclusion of the war, in 1801, commanded the San Josef, a first rate; since which he does not appear to have served a-float. He was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, April 23, 1804; Vice-Admiral, Oct. 25, 1809; and Admiral, Aug. 12, 1819.

Our officer married Miss Moore, of Dublin.


ADMIRAL WOLSELEY, (p. 249.) Is a nephew of the late Admiral Phillips Cosby, and distantly related to the ducal family of Grafton. He commanded the Ferret sloop of war previous to his being made a Post-Captain.

  1. A Lieutenant of the name of Wolseley commanded a party of seamen, and was among the wounded, at the capture of Trincomalee, which was taken by assault, Jan. 11, 1781.
  2. The Fortitude received several hot shot in her hull, which were with difficulty cut out, and the fire occasioned thereby extinguished; she was otherwise much disabled, and sustained a loss of 6 men killed and 56 wounded. The Juno came off with very little damage, and had not a man hurt.
  3. The tower mounted only one 6, and two 18-pounders; the carriage of one of which had been rendered unserviceable in the course of the cannonade. It was garrisoned by 38 men, two of whom were mortally wounded.
  4. A remarkable instance of the intrepidity and perseverance so truly characteristic of British seamen, occurred at the attack of Fornelli. It was perceived that a rocky elevation, deemed inaccessible near the summit, commanded the Convention redoubt. Desperate as the attempt was, a party of seamen volunteered their services to gain the top of this hill, the approach to which is in many places almost perpendicular; by means of blocks and ropes they succeeded in dragging three cannon of the calibre of 18 pounders, with their carriages, up this craggy steep, where the pieces were mounted at the distance of a full mile from the sea.

    The path along which these spirited fellows crept, would admit in most places only one person at a time; on the right was a descent of many thousand feet, and one false step would have led to eternity. On the left of the path were stupendous overhanging rocks, which occasionally served as fixed points for the tackle employed in raising the guns, each of which weighed about 42 cwt.

    When these guns were directed against the tower, the enemy were covered with astonishment; and to a constant and well-directed fire kept up from the height, the early surrender of this stronghold is to be attributed.

  5. After mature consideration” said General Dundas, in a letter to Lord Hood, “and a personal inspection for several days of all circumstances, local as well as others, I consider the siege of Bastia, with our present means and force, to be a most visionary and rash attempt, such as no officer would be justified in undertaking.” Lord Hood replied, that nothing would be more gratifying to his feelings than to have the whole responsibility upon himself; and that he was ready and willing to undertake the reduction of the place at his own risk, with the force and means then at command. General d’Aubant, who succeeded at this time to the command of the army, coincided in opinion with his predecessor, and did not think it right to furnish his Lordship with a single soldier, cannon, or any stores.
  6. The only troops employed on this enterprise, in addition to 2 officers and 30 privates of artillery, were those who had originally been ordered to serve on board the fleet as marines.
  7. See p. 169.
  8. See Vice-Admiral Robert Devereux Fencourt.