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Henry Norton Sulivan on the Baltic campaign of the Russian War of 1854-1856 (1/10)
(See also the account by W.L. Clowes)
WAR WITH RUSSIA, 1854.
Towards the close of 1853 it became evident that we should soon become involved in a war with Russia. In December Captain Sulivan wrote to the Times, cautioning the public against the absurd expectations put forward in the newspapers that the combined British and French fleets would not only quickly destroy Sevastopol, but also the Russian fleet of equal size anchored in the harbour under the fortifications. He pointed out that it was unlikely the admirals would be so foolish as to risk their fleets, and in consequence their naval superiority, by such an attempt. He reminded the public that neither Nelson, Collingwood, nor Exmouth ever thought of attacking a French fleet in Toulon, however inferior in force. The recent improvements in weapons and shells were more favourable to batteries than to ships. He recalled the saying of the Duke of Wellington, that it must not be supposed that ships could contend successfully with stone walls. He explained that at Acre the gunners in the batteries could not hit a line-of-battle ship at eight hundred yards, and the advantages there were entirely in favour of the fleet. At Algiers the enemy made the mistake of allowing the ships to come close to the forts before firing. Yet the ships were in no condition next day to contend with a force half their strength. Their ammunition was nearly expended, several of trip ships seriously damaged, and the loss of men was very heavy. He pointed out the more rapid approach of a screw-ship might enable her to get close up to the fort before being injured, but there was the danger of a mast being shot away and the wreckage fouling the screw (a point, perhaps, not noted previously). Cases cited were the Amphion in the Tagus, when only the jib-boom was carried away, and the Melbourne of Spain, when her main-top fell and disabled her screw. He concluded by assuring the public that the admirals would attempt as much as any men in their situation would be justified in doing.
These remarks are interesting, read in the light of afterevents.
As soon as there appeared a possibility of a war, Captain Sulivan wrote to the First Lord, Sir James Graham, requesting employment in the event of hostilities. He sent copies of the letters he had received from his former superior officers, and pointed out the fact that he had received his captain's commission for special service in action. He was afterwards told by Lord Hotham that Sir C. Hotham had gone to the First Lord and stated that, if he were offered a command for the war, he would make it his first object that Captain Sulivan should be employed under him. What was Sulivan's disappointment and vexation to find ship after ship given away, officers junior to him being given commands, but he himself overlooked. Just as the fleet was ready for sea, the senior Naval Lord said to him, "You have no chance of a ship, for all the frigates are given away, and you are too junior for a line-of-battle ship", On complaining of this to his very kind and warm friend Admiral Beaufort, the Hydrographer, the latter said, "Never mind; if the fleet goes to the Baltic, there must be a surveying captain, and I will take care no one is appointed but you". So the very neglect of his claims was eventually the cause of his being given exactly the post he could best fill, and in which his ability and energy could have most scope. But it was so long before the Hydrographer could succeed in his efforts that the fleet had sailed before the two surveying-ships granted were ready, and they were not out in time to assist in getting the fleet through the Belt. Thus whatever benefit was derived from the services of the surveying officers was owing, as Captain Sulivan always said, to Sir Francis Beaufort. Yet long before, in China, as well as in the Parana, the great value of their services had been proved and recognised.
There had been lying for some years in the pigeonholes of the Amiralty Sulivan's scheme of organisation for training seamen to serve on shore, and for the formation of seamen-battalions by a pro rata contribution of men from each ship, so that an admiral, on taking command of a fleet, would know at once how many men he could rely upon for a naval brigade. This plan lay neglected until war broke out, and then Sulivan received a letter from Captain Hamilton at the Admiralty approving of his plan, giving him a list of the ships that would form the two fleets, and asking him to adapt his plan accordingly. This he did, and a copy was forwarded to the commanders-in-chief in the Baltic and Black Seas.
The command of the Baltic fleet was given to Admiral Sir Charles Napier, an officer of great service and ability. But it is doubtful whether at the age of sixty-eight an officer, however able he may have been, retains the power of prompt decision and readiness to undertake responsibility so necessary in a commander-in-chief. There was no lack of ships to compose the fleet, but seamen to man them were wanting. This has been clearly shown in the "History of the Baltic Campaign", published under the authority of Napier himself. I remember my father saying that the deficiency of seamen was made up by shipping cabmen and others who had never been to sea before. The state of the fleet was thus described by him in his evidence before the Royal Commission for Manning the Navy in 1858:-
While the ships that had been in commission prior to the war were very fairly manned, some only pretty well so, the newly commissioned ones were very badly manned. The whole state of the fleet proved, without doubt, that we were utterly without any means of fitting out a war-fleet in an emergency. After a few months, by great effort on the part of those in command, they were brought rapidly and wonderfully into a fairly efficient state, considering the material. He considered that a newly commissioned British ship was not fit to be got into action with either a newly commissioned French ship or a Russian ship of equal size for three months. One captain told him his ship, in his opinion, would not have been ready for six months!
Fortunately we had the French on our side. Had we had to contend against the French and Russian fleets combined, there would have been nothing but ruin before us. Further, had we had to contend against the Russian ships alone, with their well-trained crews, it was only the advantage we possessed in having the new screw-frigates that would have given us the slightest chance of being able to hold our own. They had twenty-five sail of the line which had been with their crews training in the Baltic for years. We had only sixteen sail of-the line, five or six of which were at first scarcely fit to go into action. The Russians, with their vessels all lying prepared for sea when the ice broke up, would hardly have allowed our ships to keep the command of the Baltic, if they had come out to attack us; but the advantage of our steam-ships in a comparatively calm sea secured us against that danger.
In Appendix F "manning the navy" is referred to and the danger we are still running from the want of an adequate reserve of trained seamen pointed out.
It will be well here to give an outline of the plan of operations suggested by the Admiralty, with some remarks upon how this was followed by Admiral Napier, so that the description given in the journals of what was actually done or left undone may be more readily comprehended.
The fleet was ordered first to Wingo Sound. The sealed orders, there opened, instructed Napier to take up a good position at the entrance to the Baltic, and to prevent any Russian ship escaping from the Baltic into the German Ocean. After the ice had cleared away, he was to shut up the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Finland ("Napier," p. 51); to turn his attention to the Aland Islands (p. 57); not to undertake any desperate work. He therefore wisely disposed his fleet to prevent Russian ships passing the Belt, and yet he in consequence received a reprimand. My father makes a note on "Napier," p. 78: "Sir Charles was perfectly right on this point, and it ought never to have been raked up as an error on his part. The orders further instructed Napier to ascertain the exact strength of Bomarsund and the nature of its approaches; to report if Bomarsund was open for attack, etc.; to look into Revel and other fortified places. In reply to Napier's request for pilots he was informed, "You must grope your way in your own surveying-vessels " (p. 93). (In order that the points in question may be looked at in the light of the evidence given in the journals, I here mention that Admiral Napier, on his return home, was severely criticised by the Press and by the Admiralty, being attacked in Parliament by Admiral Berkeley, Sir Robert Peel, etc. Sulivan upheld Napier on most questions, especially for his firmness in resisting the pressure put upon him to attack the Russian fortresses with his ships, the very thing the Russians were hoping he would do! Also, it is evident the Admiralty blamed him unjustly on many trivial matters. Sulivan, however, held that where Napier was to blame was in his delay in examining Bomarsund and Sweaborg. Had the latter been reconnoitred earlier, there would have been time to have sent home for mortars, and for the bombardment to have taken place the first year. Again, whilst Napier was brave enough under fire or in personal danger, he was terribly nervous about the safety of his ships at sea, etc.; and when broken down in health (chiefly from the attacks made upon him by the Press) owing to this anxiety, he brought home the fleet earlier than he need have done.)
The following are the instructions issued by the Hydrographer, Sir Francis Beaufort, to Captain Sulivan:-
Hydrographic Office, Admiralty,
March l8th, 1854.
Sir,- My Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty having selected you to the command of H.M. vessel Lightning, to join Vice-Admiral Napier for the purpose of assisting with the important operations of the Baltic fleet, by making such skilful and rapid reconnaissances, as well as occasional hydrographic surveys, wherever it may be considered necessary, I scarcely consider myself warranted in supplying you with any special instructions as to the service on which you will be employed; still, for the sake of preserving that connection which has so long subsisted between you and this office, and I may add with such beneficial results to H.M. service, I would exhort you to keep all our surveying rules and habits always in your mind, so as to render everything you do more or less subservient to the great object of improving our charts; never to defer to the following day writing the remarks and observations that you may have collected, as they may be of lasting value long after the campaign in which you are engaged has passed away; to give descriptions of the characteristic features of the land, or of the leading peculiarities of the different districts of the Baltic navigation. Perhaps you will, have an opportunity of tracing the usual course of the changes of the wind, the connection between those changes and the comparative temperatures of the air and water, and the prevalence of fogs in the different bights and gulfs of that mediterranean sea. All these are fit subjects for careful attention, if guided by your experience and love of general knowledge.
In your partial and desultory surveys take great care to establish the connection of some one permanent and conspicuous object with your triangulation or bearings, by which you may subsequently adjust any new work, or by which any new labourers may bring every fragment of fresh information into harmonious agreement with former acquisitions.
The most immediate service you can do this office will be to keep our charts perpetually under your eyes, correcting their coast-line, inserting soundings day and night, with the nature of the bottom, studying the niceties of the sea-marks, and representing them by drawings, marking convenient landing-places, and in correcting the nomenclature of the places, not only in their orthography, but in their vernacular appellations.
You will, of course, keep up a regular correspondence with me, informing me of everything appertaining to general surveying proceedings as opportunities may offer, and transmitting tracings not only of those surveys, but also of such as you may have made under the special direction of the commander-in-chief, unless he may have intimated his desire that they should for the present be kept secret.
Considering you as one of the admiral's eyes, and knowing that through it he will see everything that he ought to see, I feel sure that at the end of the campaign he will exclaim, as Sir William Parker did in the China Sea, 'Without those admirable surveyors I should have done nothing.'
I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
A sketch of Captain Sulivan, sent me by Captain Richard C. Dyer, who served under him as master of the Merlin during the campaign of 1855, may be inserted here to convey some idea of his personality at this period of his life.
Stoke, Devonport, October 5th, 1893.
I am safe in asserting that every officer who had the good fortune to serve under Sir B.J. Sulivan looked up to and appreciated him as the best surveyor of his age, a most gallant officer and good Christian. Speaking for myself, I was a young and very inexperienced officer when with him; but during that time he taught me more than I ever knew before, and was the main cause of my own success in that branch of the service to which I belonged.
In accordance with your request I give you some reminiscences of your late father. To begin with, I may describe his reception of me on joining the Merlin at Greenhithe in March 1855, I being then a perfect stranger to him. I arrived on board on a Sunday forenoon. The quartermaster on duty informed me that service was being performed on the lower deck, and I waited until it was over. On Captain Sulivan coming up, I reported myself to him, but to my consternation he received me in the most chilling manner, saying, 'I do not want you; I asked for and arranged to have another officer appointed, who has been with me before'. This was rather a damper, and left me in a state of uncertainty as to what I should do. It occurred to me that I ought to go to the Admiralty for an explanation, but before doing so I put the question quite blank to him, 'Am I to go up and say it is a mistake?' He said, 'Certainly not; now that you are here you will remain'. From that moment to the paying-off I received at all times the greatest kindness and consideration from him, and had reason to congratulate myself on the mistake the Admiralty had made. Captain Sulivan was impulsive, but it was momentary and in small matters only - his natural kindliness of heart soon overcame these occasional little outbursts; but, in all affairs of importance and on really serious occasions, no man was more cooler had clearer judgment than he.
I remember in the Baltic some gun and other boats were running soundings under his immediate direction from the stern of the Merlin. Gold bands were worn on the caps in those days, and, in waving to the boats which way to go, the bands went flying in all directions, until he had none left. His brother-captains used to quiz him on this point.
When the commander-in-chief, with other admirals and captains, came on board for a trip, which was apparently to examine channels and passages which he had surveyed, but really to gain information and experience, Sullivan would become so absorbed in his subject and so energetic in his descriptions as to lose sight of the ship's head. It then became my duty to look out for him and to be on the qui vive, watching his every movement to find out what he intended to do or in what direction to go next.
When surveying coasts I was always struck with his profound knowledge and the rapid conclusions he arrived at. Indeed, it was a common remark amongst his officers that he had an instinctive knowledge of the bottom. He always knew where to place buoys and beacons long before those around him had completed their calculations. As a pioneer on a coast in time of war he had no equal. ...
Captain Sulivan perfectly understood the art of organisation; and, whilst discipline was firmly and consistently carried out, he endeared himself to the men by his earnest consideration for their comfort, physical and moral.
The Merlin was a thoroughly happy ship, and, from the position and status our accomplished captain took in the fleet with the admirals and captains who were always seeking his opinion and advice, we were all proud of belonging to her. I used to derive much information from him during the night watches on the bridge, when he would discuss our present position and relate many of his former surveying experiences, and also thrilling incidents connected with the river Plata and Parana expedition of 1845. The late Sir James Hope and Sir Astley Cooper Key, who were also in that campaign and had the highest respect for his great, abilities, were constantly on board with him when oppprtunity offered.
The commander-in-chief, Sir R. Dundas, kept him as much as possible at his elbow, and did nothing without consulting him. At the conclusion of the Russian war the great naval review was held at Spithead, when the Merlin took her old Baltic station as leader of the weather line. This was our last service, and to our general regret we were soon after paid off. At this time Captain Sulivan had some idea of going as commodore to the Cape station, and I was under promise to go with him. But the Board of Trade appointment became vacant and was, given to him. Thus, to my sorrow and that of many others, terminated his naval career.
From a later letter:-
Being a surveying-ship, the men had many advantages, and were not at all of the ordinary man-of-war type. Everything went on smoothly and without friction of any sort. Discipline was maintained strictly and firmly, and there was a remarkable absence of crime and punishment. The utmost attention was paid to the comfort and well-being of the men in every detail, the result being that our captain was universally beloved and respected.
I remember many commanding officers coming on board for information, the ship being looked on as a model of comfort and order. Sulivan had great moral weight with officers and men, and seemed to impart his activity and energy to all those around him. Some officers believed that his energy bordered on rashness and would lead to disaster, but the more senior and experienced men were his friends and appreciated him better.
The Lightning sailed from Lowestoft on March 25th. The following is a list of the officers who sailed in her:-
Lieutenants - F.A. Cudlip, A. T. A. Bullock.
Master - Fred T.O. Evans (afterwards Hydrographer).
Surgeon - J.F. Johnson.
Clerk - E.S. Cooke.
I will now quote from the journals which my father sent home to my mother for circulation among some of the family, with strict injunctions that no remarks made about the fleet, etc., were to be mentioned beyond the family circle. He also sent to my mother private letters containing interesting, personal information for her own perusal only. Although some might be thought to savour of egotism, they must be understood as having only been intended to interest the wife about her husband's personal doings; and what more natural that that flattering remarks should have been repeated, without any idea of their being ever published?
On the 29th we ran through the Great Belt. ... We had run about half-way across Kiel Bay, when we saw the Duke of Wellington through the haze, leading the fleet under sail, standing to the eastward. We then ran to the eastward for two hours, and anchored about 6 p.m.
Sulivan went on board the admiral's ship, taking the despatches and his appointment for "surveying and pilotage duties." (See Captain Sulivan's evidence as to his advice to Napier to use his ships as rams, Appendix D.) The admiral thereupon told him before several officers that he did not know what he had come out for, or what was the use of a surveying-ship, unless to make a fire-vessel of!
(Thursday, March 30th.)- The fleet is going to Kiöge Bay, the admiral fearing that in Kiel Bay he would be less able to watch both passages out of the Baltic. ... We were ordered alongside the Odin to get some coal. On the 30th it was too thick to see the land. The pilot in the Duke would not start, and with a light, fair wind we lost the day at anchor. I assured the captain of the fleet that we could run round the coast by the lead, and this evening it has been decided that, thick or not, we start in the morning, and that I am to lead round the coast of Femern Belt, the fleet following half a mile on our off-shore quarter. The paddle-steamers with Admiral Plumridge had gone on before, to lay at the end of the reef off Giedser Point.
Some of the ships are a terrible distance off, and they are all sadly out of line and distance. I fear there is sad want of regularity and attention on these points. Mind any remarks I make about the fleet or ships for the naval portion of the readers of this must on no account be mentioned beyond our own party, or I should be afraid to say anything on the subject. There has been plenty of practice all day with the guns and Minié rifles.
(Friday, 31st.)- We started at daylight, and soon after I saw the low land on the south coast of Femern Belt. We ran all day, the latter part of it the fleet being under steam. We passed the steamers anchored off Giedser Reef, Admiral Plumridge joining us in Leopard, and we ran on by night, making the light of Moen Head, and getting about three o'clock on Saturday morning near the entrance of Kiöge Bay, when a dense fog came on, so thick that at a cable's length we could not see the admiral's light. We ran on a little and heard the admiral anchor. In the morning it cleared, and the fleet were all pretty well up, except one or two stray sheep. Cressy had carried away her fore-yard by running into the Princess Royal. We then steamed on and anchored in Kiöge Bay about 10 a.m.
This lead the Lightning gave to the fleet ought to have made the admiral see that there was some use in a surveying-ship after all!
'Lightning', Kiöge Bay, April 2nd, 1854.
I was leaving the admiral about three when a steamer hove in sight. Shortly after the vessel signalised, 'Have minister on board with declaration of war'. So all hope of peace is over. It was sad to think to-day that the line of beautiful ships surrounded by boats with pleasure-parties of the Danes and with steam-boats from Copenhagen full of spectators, with a most lovely calm day, might so soon be acting such a different part. I believe the paddle-steamers are to start directly for the Gulf of Finland to reconnoitre; but I suppose the admiral will think us so well adapted to act as his despatch-boat that he will keep us here.
Monday, a.m. - In the middle of the night I was called by an officer of flag-ship to say they had heard a number of guns in the direction of the Copenhagen channel, and the admiral wanted me to go directly in that direction to see what it was. We were away in about ten minutes, as our fires were banked up, and we ran round the light-vessel in the Copenhagen channel, but they had heard no guns at all, so we returned. You may suppose that Lightning is improving when I tell you that we ran the ten and a half miles there and the same back in two and a half hours, or more than at the rate of eight knots, and we had to ease several times to prevent running over vessels, and were a few minutes speaking the Gorgon, the guard-steamer, so that we must have gone nine knots; but the boilers had just been cleaned well, and the steam was well up at starting - it gradually fell from eight to five pounds on the square inch, so that in another hour we should have been going slow. This shows that if they had put boilers in her that could keep up steam she would be a very fast vessel, considering she was the first steamer built. The admiral sent to say I was to go very cautiously by the lead. I suppose he thought it terrible to be near banks in the night, but I know now the charts are good and the bearings of the light-vessel are quite sufficient to run up the channel with.
April 3rd, p.m. - At anchor at Copenhagen with a furious gale. Brought the minister and party, travellers, and every steward of all the messes in the fleet, and all the mails. We coal and hasten back to-morrow to go with Admiral Plumridge and the advanced squadron to the entrance of the Gulf of Finland. ...
I was in the admiral's cabin this morning with Admiral Plumridge and the captain of fleet, and we were discussing some of the charts. Admiral Plumridge had given me a very cordial reception, and, when the chief asked him if he would like to take Lightning with him, I gave him a nod behind Napier's back, so he said he would, and it was settled that I leave all the officers and captains' stewards here for Buckle to take back, and then coal and water and return to join Admiral Plumridge's division before he leaves. I believe Leopard, St. Jean d'Acre, Tribune, Dauntless, and Lightning go to the ice in the Gulf of Finland, to see how open it is and to commence hostilities if we have a chance. This trip will try if Lightning is fit for the work, or whether she is a clog on those with her. I fear if there is bad weather we shall never be able to keep company with the large ships without their losing much time. There is no chance of any of their ports being open yet, so that it will merely be a reconnoitring trip, and after this gale we are likely to have fine weather. The moon is also getting well on, so that it is a nice time and the days are getting much longer.
Directly we returned to the fleet Admiral Plumridge weighed, and we joined him. He took Evans from me to assist as pilot, he having been up in Munder to the ice before. We ran with a fair wind past the north end of Bornholm, made the south end of Oland and Gothland, and on the second day (6th) the admiral anchored under the land to complete our coal, and sent me to examine Faro Sound to see if it would do for the colliers, and then to return and report to the commander-in-chief. I found that, instead of having to anchor in an exposed place under an island, there was an excellent inner harbour, to which the charts only gave a passage of nine feet, but we found it had twenty-four feet, and anchorage inside in good depth and muddy bottom. It blew a hard gale the two days we were there, so that I had to sound the harbour in the vessel, and I only landed once. It is a poor, barren place, with a stony soil, thickly covered in most places by woods of dwarf pines, with patches of cultivation here and there. ... The Swedes greatly feared that the Russian fleet might pounce on Gothland before ours got up, as the Emperor had long desired it for winter harbours for his fleet, and tried all he could to get it by money and other means. The Swedes had lately increased the troops on the island to fourteen thousand men, and they seemed very glad our fleet was so near. The officer told me every Swede was with us in heart.
A great many more ships have joined the fleet this last week, chiefly small ones; but Boscawen and Caesar have joined, and the James Watt is in the Belt; so we have now, with the French ships, fifteen sail of the line. Our fleet in all musters thirty pennants; but most of the large ships want time to get in anything like order. The admiral and captain of the fleet are not particular enough; they let ships form a bad line anchoring, and do not make them move again; but they work them hard at the guns, and Admiral Chads works ship after ship. At sea they want a great deal of work to get them to move in order; and even with the four frigates with Admiral Plumridge, though he allowed them open order (four cables apart), they seemed afraid to get so close. ... Impérieuse, with Watson, is a beautiful ship, and ran all the time under topsails, and those sometimes lowered. Admiral Plumridge seems most active and fit for work. I am very glad I escaped being off the ice with them in this heavy weather. The fleet is now, I believe, going to lie off Gothland, to be ready for the gulf being clear of ice. The longer it remains closed the better, as it shortens the time of hostilities and shuts the enemy up better than we could.
On Tuesday night, April 11th, after reaching the fleet, I was ordered back again to Copenhagen to send up a collier for the James Watt, just arrived, and to bring back the master of the fleet. I could not get things arranged to return the same evening, so I started early Wednesday morning. The day before, the British minister, with about a hundred people of the first rank, were to have gone in the Dragon to see the fleet and to see it sail; but the wind prevented the party going off from the shore, so I had to tell the admiral they were coming on Wednesday at eight; but at seven, when I reached Kioge Bay, the fleet was under way and standing out.
Off Gothland, April 14th, 1854.
We are now getting near Faro Sound, and I thought the fleet would anchor to-night in the bay between it and Ostergarn Island, which we have just rounded; but it has fallen so calm that we are scarcely moving. We came away in such a hurry on Wednesday morning in consequence of the Dauntless having returned from Admiral Plumridge, who found up to Helsingfors clear of ice: they counted seven sail of the line there with topgallant-masts struck. I hope it is not clear at Cronstadt yet, for we have only twelve sail of the line with us, and they could send two to our one, which would be too long odds. ... We had been since noon standing to north-west, till we made the distant land of Sweden about four o'clock and tacked to the southward, the admiral giving Landsort Island as the rendezvous. Besides the James Watt, the Monarch was there, and we heard of three large ships in the Belt. If they join us, thus making eighteen sail, with the French ship nineteen, we are strong enough to be secure against any force the enemy can bring out; in fact, he will not attempt to come out if we have more than sixteen ships. We sadly want large frigates, for we have not more than five or six, including some small ones, and I believe they have twenty frigates, which, as some of them are heavy ones, would tell against our line-of-battle ships. ...
The Amphion sails beautifully, particularly off the wind, when the old block-ships have difficulty in keeping up under all sail; but to-day, blowing a good topgallant breeze, on a wind, she did not spare others much canvas, and Edinburgh and Hogue nearly kept way with her. St. Jean d'Acre running free comes nearly up to Duke of Wellington; but on a wind the St. Jean d'Acre had to set nearly the same sail as the blocks. Neptune is an astonishing ship; though an old 'one hundred and twenty', like Britannia and Trafalgar, she sails nearly equally with Duke, and is one of the fastest in the fleet, and having Regent's old crew is certainly the crack ship of the fleet. Boscawen is also one of the fastest, and keeps up the credit of the Symondites. I doubt if any ship in the fleet would beat her, judging by the sail she is generally under, and she is very creditable for a new ship, always in her station, and apparently with little trouble. Cressy, the ship of Chatfield and Reed, does not, I think, sail equal to several others; certainly Duke of Wellington, Neptune, Boscawen, St. Jean d'Acre, and I think Princess Royal, spare her canvas. Ajax and Blenheim are the slowest, Edinburgh and Hogue having a great advantage over them. Edinburgh is in good order and does well.
He speaks of Euryalus as the most beautiful ship he ever saw (except Impérieuse). The first lieutenant, Luckraft (later governor of Lewes Naval Prison), said she was perfection in sailing and steaming. Sulivan calls her "the finest vessel in the world " - Luckraft, "such a good first lieutenant."
Hogue has two or three times had a desire to run over us. The morning we left Kiöge Bay, as we were rounding under Duke's stern to put the master of fleet on board, she ran up out of her station on the lee quarter so close that I had no alternative but to risk running alongside the Duke, or be run right over by Hogue. I roared at her to the no small damage of my throat, and she got a sharp hail from Duke. So close did she jam us that I had to close Duke till our masts were inside her lower yard-arms, and we were nearly striking her lower-deck ports, and I thought we could not possibly save our main-topmast in steering out; but we never touched a thing in either ship, and they allowed in the flag-ship it was no fault of mine, and that I saved a smash well. The officers of watch in Hogue got a reprimand. Their lower yard-arms were very little clear, and poor little Lightning between them, Hogue going seven or eight knots. If she had given us a crack, they would certainly have had to send me out another vessel or send me home, for there would have been an end of Lightning.
Monday, April 17th. - On Saturday we rounded Gothland and Gottska-Sandö, and hauled up for the Swedish coast to rendezvous and meet other ships off Landsort Island; but when about thirty miles off my signal and Admiral Plumridge's were made, and I found the admiral was going with half the fleet to look into Helsingfors, and 1 was to go with a Swedish lieutenant, Theorell, who has joined our service, to Stockholm about pilots, and to see Mr. Grey, the chargé d'affaires.
The following is from a later note by Captain Sulivan:-
Sir C. Napier's only idea of nagivating the fleet was through pilots; and, as it was soon found that the Baltic pilots supplied to the fleet in England knew nothing of the shores, harbours, etc., having simply made voyages to and from Cronstadt, he wanted to obtain Swedish ones. On his ordering me to Stockholm to bring down pilots hired there, I pointed out to him that they might be paid by the Russians to run us on shore, and urged him to let the surveying officers and the captains and masters take care of the ships; but he would not listen to my objections, and ordered me to go for the pilots. When speaking to our minister about the pilots to be engaged, I asked him what security we had that they had not been tampered with. He replied, 'None whatever'; and I found that a Russian agent, said to be well supplied with funds, was a near relation of one of the pilots; so I determined not to take any of them, and returned to the admiral without them. He then seemed satisfied that I was right, and by degrees his confidence in his own officers increased.
In Admiral Napier's book ("History of the Baltic Campaign of 1854 " (G. Butler Earp).) is shown his great anxiety about pilots. His cry is continually for "pilots, pilots, pilots." Eight pilots were sent for the sixteen ships when in the Downs. Sulivan remarks: "The pilots we had were quite useless, and did nothing but learn the pilotage they were supposed to have learnt before." Yet, notwithstanding the admiral's anxiety, when Sulivan arrived in the Lightning with his appointment for "surveying and piloting duties", his services were not made proper use of.
Again, the charts of the Baltic - chiefly Russian - were excellent, those of the Aland Islands excepted, and the ships ought to have been navigated by these without pilots.
For the passage up the Baltic from Kiöge Bay to Revel, pilots were not more necessary than in many of the ordinary passages made by men-of-war. The charts were more to be depended on than many pilots, who would only have known the direct route to Cronstadt. They knew nothing of the inshore pilotage.
I must here reluctantly explain the true cause of the admiral's disregard of the services of his officers appointed for surveying duties and of his fatal waste of time in not having Bomarsund, Sweaborg, and other places surveyed before the fleet moved up. The master of the fleet [George Biddlecombe] appeared jealous of the arrival of surveyors, presumably thinking that it was an encroachment upon the duties of his department, and he attempted to perform himself the work for which they had been specially appointed. Being the only officer who had served previously under Napier, and being with him in the Duke, he had much influence with the admiral at first. It was not until the admiral learnt to distinguish between the official capacities that he began to appreciate the importance of the surveyors' work.
The necessity for throwing light on the conduct of the campaign alone induces me to touch upon this petty jealousy, and to blame one, now no more, who was a good officer in his proper capacity.
Admiral Plumridge having taken off Evans and found him too useful to return, Captain Sulivan had night and day work alone whilst suffering from sore throat, which was increased by constantly hailing other ships. Although there were other small steamers under commanders and lieutenants, the senior surveying officer, a post-captain, was made to run about for all kinds of work, towing boats, carrying letters and beef, whilst the admiral was complaining of having no pilots.
In "Napier", p. 115, it is stated that the admiral went with his squadron towards Hango Head, with the intention of running up to Sweaborg. He complains of the situation - "No pilots, no buoys, no beacons" - and he fears for the safety of his fleet. So he retired without seeing Sweaborg or sending any one to reconnoitre. But he had been informed that the Russian fleet was outside Sweaborg in the ice. If so, he might have got at them, and therefore there was no excuse for turning back without setting the point at rest.
Again, the admiral speaks of the dangers of the fleet without pilots, yet does not take his surveying-ships with him. On p. 139 the same complaints are made of the absence of marks and of there being only two surveying-ships! Yet neither was utilised, nor were the buoys, specially supplied by the Admiralty for the purpose of placing on the shoals, etc.
Off Elgsnabben, April 23rd, 1854.
On returning from Stockholm, when thirty miles only on our road back, we fortunately heard the fleet firing, and soon after saw the upper sails of some large ships off our deck. The mirage was very extraordinary and distorted everything on the horizon. One would have supposed that nothing could be seen at any distance, but to my surprise we ran towards the ships twenty-five miles by patent log after seeing them off deck, they being becalmed all the time. On joining the flag-ship, I was instantly sent to tow boats and take admirals to their ships. The next day we were near Landsort, the admiral meaning to anchor in this place. I was sent on ahead to get pilots, and, taking five out of the first boat, hurried back, knowing it was of importance to save daylight, as there is no anchorage in any part of the channel for miles except at this spot. But the admiral seemed afraid of going on unless every ship had a pilot. I advised him to let two ships without pilots follow each ship with one, and I offered to take all the frigates and smaller vessels; but he would have a pilot for every ship, and ordered me to put these five on board his division and go for more. Knowing the risk, if much delay took place, I thought it right to tell him this, that if the last ships waited they might lose their daylight, and there was no anchorage in the channel for the twenty miles from Landsort to Elgsnabben. All I got was a sharp answer and an order to get more pilots. By some more coming out and meeting the ships, Gorgon having a signal flying that pilots were there, we lost little time, and I got in and got four more out, and then the last ships did not reach the anchorage till after dark, which was hardly safe; while if he would have listened to me and to his own master, who agreed with me, all would have been at anchor an hour before dark, with no risk. Thinking it might be as well to let the admiral know the sort of duties it was considered I was appointed for, I took my instructions from Admiral Beaufort and asked the captain of the fleet to read them, and, if he thought proper, to show them to the admiral. Whether he did or not I do not know, but last night I was ordered to start at 3.30 this morning with the purser of the flag-ship to Dalaro and wait his directions - in fact, putting me under the orders of the purser for the time. You will see how thick the islands are near Dalaro; but we went without a pilot, and the purser, meeting the man about beef coming down in another steamer, returned to the flag-ship with him, and told me he did not require me any more, and I might return, and by eight we were back again. That part of the channel is ten times more intricate than anything the fleet came through, and that proves that I could easily have brought any of the ships here. The Duke of Wellington might have gone with us to-day among all the small islands in perfect safety, for we never had any shallow water the whole way. We had evening service in the cabin this evening, and about fourteen attended. I merely read a very nice prayer for Sunday evening out of the book Otter sent me, and then one of the nice cottage sermons: they were very attentive. I have asked all who wish to come every evening at eight. ... Otter has very nice work piloting the French ships through the Great Belt: he has brought one through, and is looking out for the others. That would be much better than being 'boots' to the fleet, and beef-boat also. To-night Admiral Plumridge has joined, and I shall make a row about Evans not coming back.
I have written a semi-official letter to the Hydrographer, explaining exactly the way I have been employed, the work I am kept at, and the little chance there is of my being able to carry out the intentions of himself and the Board so long as I am in this vessel, which the admiral finds so handy for a tender, and I have requested, as the only way of freeing me from it, that they will give me a larger vessel and leave this one either as tender to the admiral or as a lieutenant's command; that I cannot go on receiving pay and nominally holding a position I am not allowed to do the work of; that it would be unjust to myself or to the service to do so; and that, rather than continue in this way, I would prefer being superseded, even if I had to return to half-pay, if the Board would not give me a frigate as a regular ship. I found last night from a brother-captain that others have expressed their opinions respecting the way I am employed and the want of consideration for my rank and position shown by the admiral, and it has even been remarked on in his presence, for I am told he said that she ought to have been sent out as a lieutenant's command, showing that he is utterly unable to understand the position or use of a surveying officer, or he would not consider solely her requisite as an admiral's tender. ... My own firm conviction is that it has been a great mistake appointing our present chief; he is evidently very nervous, afraid of the land, and, I think, seems weighed down with the responsibility (he always has a very nervous twitching of his lips and face), and yet he will not be easily advised by those around him, but will have his own way. That he will do any fighting work when it comes very well I dare say, but others would do it as well, and perhaps with more judgment and forethought. Up to this time I have never seen the fleet perform one single evolution, except tacking when necessary, so that any changes of position from divisions into line or from line into sailing columns have never been attempted. They are well worked at guns. Chads (Described by Sulivan as the best gunnery officer in the service) and the captain of the fleet go from ship to ship, working them at quick and horizontal firing, supplying powder quickly, etc., etc., and there is so much practice that many are beginning to ask where a fresh supply of powder, shot, and shell is to come from!
Elgsnabben, April 27th.
Yesterday the admiral returned from Stockholm, and I had a talk with him about my work; he was more civil than usual, and asked me to dinner with him, but he told me that Admiral Plumridge was going with paddle-steamers to the Aland Islands, that he could not send me, as my vessel could not carry enough coal, had no speed to keep up with the others, and would be a clog on them. Unfortunately I could not dispute these facts. I told him I had asked for a larger vessel, and he said he hoped I should get one, but that Lightning could not even defend herself against a gun-boat, and that as he could not let Mr. Evans' services be lost also, the latter must remain with Admiral Plumridge till the fleet was up there and I had my work to do, when he should rejoin me. I asked him if he would allow me to go also in one of the other steamers, as I should then be able to acquire knowledge that would be useful by-and-by, and that there could be no necessity for my remaining with Lightning. He made some objections about my leaving my ship without her captain. I told him that, when piloting a squadron before, I had hardly been on board my own ship for eight months, and for three months never saw her, but I could not get a decided answer from him; and we are now, I believe, about to sail, having just got a cargo of bullocks we have been waiting for, and I shall not know if I go till we are outside. Buckle wants me to go with him in Valorous. This morning I was going to breakfast with him at seven, and we were going to beat up an island where blackcock, hares, and woodcock were seen, and some shot yesterday; and just as I was going the signal was made, 'Annul all leave' - so we are done.
James Watt has joined, and now we have fourteen sail of the line. The French Austerlitz is outside somewhere, making fifteen. The impression here is that the Russian fleet will come out, if possible, before more ships join and try their fate. We ought to have twenty sail of the line to make us secure, as, besides twenty-seven sail, they have about twenty heavy frigates, while we have only three and two smaller ones. In paddle-steamers we should have the advantage, and in small screws. They have three screw-frigates like Arrogant"
The following was the reply from the Hydrographic Office:-
Admiralty, April 24th, 1854.
Dear Sulivan, - Both Sir F. Beaufort and myself are especially mortified to find that you are running about with messages when you ought to be making yourself acquainted with the Gulf of Finland and buoying its shoals. Sooner or later the running one or more ships on shore will prove that your time has been wasted and your services and knowledge misapplied. Under all the circumstances of the case we think it better not to move officially in the affair, but to give a little more time, feeling convinced that ere long it will be found that you must take your natural position. It is all very well for Admiral Plumridge to dash on to the entrance of the gulf, but directly the fleet gets farther advanced they will find their mistake, regret not having allowed you to do your proper work, and bitterly regret having sent home pilots who had been twenty times at Cronstadt.
Thus much is certain, that the commander-in-chief must admit that you have been extremely useful to him, although not in the way intended.
I quite agree with you as to the Swedish pilots, and I hope you will say to Sir C. Napier every word you have written to me. It is of no use blinking the truth; there are times in which one must speak out. There seems to me mighty little wisdom in some quarters in Stockholm; the ridiculous accounts that have come home from time to time would be ludicrous if they did not involve a great stake. The moment I heard the rumour of the evacuation of the Aland Isles I said it was a case of double deceit; not only did the Russians not intend to evacuate, but they meant to throw in more troops, and so it now appears they have done. And this in the face of a British fleet in the Baltic!
Your pilot has just called on me; he speaks of your kindness to him and of Mr. Cudlip's, and that he would be ready to go round the world with you. We have just heard of poor Foote's death; it is very sad, and I hope will be a warning to the officers of the fleet that bar harbours are not to be trifled with in the wretched boats supplied to our ships.
With best wishes,
Elgsnabben, Saturday, April 29th.
We have had great part of yesterday and all to-day a north-east gale, with rain, sleet, and snow mixed, and the thermometer below the freezing-point at night and very little higher by day. It is just like a very bad winter's day at Falklands. The land is patched with white and looking very miserable, and yet this ought to be spring, if they have such a thing here. The people on shore will be very glad, for the weather has been so dry for the last month that they feared their growing crops failing. I have not been sorry to avoid this dirty weather outside, but we should look very foolish if a batch of Russian frigates were to push out while we are here and get through the Sound, dispersing over the Atlantic. We must be very careful now, as the ice must be nearly clear up to Cronstadt. There is a report of our going to attack some batteries at Hango, the north entrance to the Gulf of Finland; but I can hardly fancy it is true, for there is little advantage to be gained; and, though there are only three batteries, mounting less than forty guns, yet before they were destroyed we might have two or three ships crippled in their masts at least, and with only fourteen sail we cannot afford to risk any of them being disabled, when a Russian fleet so superior in number may take advantage of it and come out. We cannot afford to weaken our force either by loss of ships or men, for we have now ships with very reduced crews through sickness. The Royal George has sixty short of complement and a hundred and twenty on the sick-list; other ships vary from sixty to forty sick; but all are improving. The lower decks of the large ships must be bitterly cold. Our men with their comfortable stove on the lower deck are, I think, the best off of all, and the officers coming here from the large ships' large ward-rooms with no stove envy our officers their warm, snug gun-room. Yesterday I dined with Buckle in Valorous; we had a regular Falkland evening, for the master was there in Champion. ...
There are now no less than forty-one captains commanding ships in the Baltic, including those we know are on their way out, and of these I come twenty-second in seniority.
There is very little done in the fleet in the way of exercise, except at the guns. The smartest ship in the fleet takes four minutes to take in two reefs and furl, but they work their guns much smarter. Shot are flying among the ships through every opening, and firing goes on nearly all day. I have been trying our shrapnel-shells from our eighteen-pounders, and at eleven hundred yards burst them beautifully at the target; so I would not advise a gun-boat to come as close as that to us. But I believe their favourite range is fifteen hundred yards, and they-use ricochet firing, their guns being close to the water, and not elevating much. I saw some similar gunboats at Stockholm; they mount one eight-inch gun aft and one thirty-two-pounder forward; they can only fire directly ahead or astern, and they point the gun with the oars; but a Swedish officer told me they fire very correctly with them. The guns are so low that if the water is smooth the ricochet fire would be very effective, but if there is any sea it must be difficult to fire them at all correctly. They carry sixty men each, who are terribly exposed to shell, but, at a distance at which they could strike a large ship every shot, it would be very difficult to hit them if they were spread far apart, each giving only a small object to fire at. If they came close to us, which they would only do if we got on shore, I think our Minié rifles would tell. Some of our men are getting very good shots with them up to four hundred yards; our best shots are the stokers, and our best shot with the long guns is a man not long in the navy, who never fired a gun before.
Sunday, April 30th. - It seems we are never to have a quiet Sunday. This morning, about four, our signal was made to get up steam, and shortly after the master of the fleet came on board and gave me verbal orders from the chief to take him with a pilot to examine another channel out; in fact, I was to take a junior officer in this vessel to do the very duty I was sent out to perform, without being consulted or even knowing what channel we were going to till I got there. This is certainly the climax of indignity, and if I could do it I would not remain here an hour longer. Not liking to let my feelings influence my conduct to the master of the fleet privately, or of course to delay for a moment the service, I did everything I could to assist him in the work. I found that the channel was one that I had mentioned to the chief the last time I dined with him as a better one - I thought - for the fleet to go out by than that by which they entered, and that of course led to his wishing it examined; it was therefore more extraordinary his not sending me. I had a long talk with Commodore Seymour; he also seemed quite to feel that I have been treated very differently from what my position entitled me. I told him plainly that I could not continue much longer to retain the command if I were treated so that, even in my special piloting duties, a junior officer, who is not a surveyor, was sent in my vessel to do work of the kind without my being consulted in the slightest way or my opinion asked; in fact, exactly as he would be sent in an admiral's tender or a lieutenant's command. I am not sorry for it, for it must bring things to a crisis, and anything is better than going on as I am. I mean to send the captain of the fleet extracts from Hotham's letters to the Admiralty, asking him to lay them before the chief, in hope that, when he knows how I did similar work before, he may be induced to put more confidence in me, for that if he does not I cannot possibly be the assistance in piloting the fleet that I ought, and that I know the Admiralty expect of me. This is the least I can do, and if that has no effect I must apply to him officially on the subject.
You may suppose it has not been very much like Sunday, though we had our regular services before dinner and a very attentive congregation. We go on very steadily - no complaints - and I have not heard an oath in her since I spoke to them about it at Woolwich.
Monday, May 1st. - I have just heard the sad news of poor Foote of Conflict being drowned with four of his boat's crew off Memel. He is generally lamented, for he was one of the finest fellows in the service. To-day we have had very threatening weather with an exceedingly low glass, and we have wisely kept at anchor. The French ship Austerlitz arrived to day; she is a lump of a ship, not nearly so handsome as our ninety-gun ships; she looks like one of our block-ships enlarged.
May 2nd. - Still detained by dirty weather. Arrogant is watching Gulf of Finland; Esperance off Dager Ort with Archer; Key with Amphion and Cruiser off southern entrance to Riga; Euryalus and one or two others somewhere else.
Evening, 2nd.- Buckle in Valorous and Glasse in Vulture were off early to examine the Aland Islands, reconnoitre Bomarsund, and intercept gun-boats, the very work that Washington in his last letter supposes I have some paddle-steamers doing. Buckle was very anxious to have me with him either in his ship or Lightning, as he said such work was quite new both to him and to Glasse. Every officer commanding steamers but myself has now been detached on such work, whilst I am the only one appointed for the purpose! We are the only vessel that has no pilot at high pay ...
Captain Sulivan had been supplied by the Hydrographer with information and plans respecting Bomarsund, and had received a letter from him soon after the fleet had entered the Baltic with the expression, "We hope by this time you have found your way to Bomarsund and reported on it." The ships sent were too large for the work, and had ultimately to return without accomplishing anything. As mentioned, Captain Buckle had asked the admiral to send Sulivan to pilot his ships. Captain Sulivan told the admiral he had been sent out for these special duties, and tried to explain how useful the surveyors had been in China and in the Parana. But it was all useless. Commodore Seymour's support was likewise in vain. Thus, as will be seen, a whole month's valuable time was lost.
Admiralty, May 15th 1854.
My Dear Sulivan, - Your note of the 30th is indeed very grievous: to bear slights of that kind is often more difficult than to bear injustice. Yet I say to thee, Bear on, submit, and do so moreover with a good grace and with a smiling face. It is, I well know, hard to do so, but you must handcuff your feelings whether the cuffs are hard or not. Things will soon come round. Washington and I are on the look-out; but you must endure. The thought of asking for supersession would in the present position of la chose publique be destruction to you. I ave a clear second sight that prejudice and dulness will clear away, and allow your light to shine unshorn by either of those misty clouds. But again I say, or rather entreat you, to bear and forbear.
May 16th. - Since writing the above Sir James Graham has seen and read your note; and though, as you must well be aware, he cannot interfere in a direct manner, you may be confident that he will not lose sight of your position.
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