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Henry Norton Sulivan on the Baltic campaign of the Russian War of 1854-1856 (3/10)


RECONNOITRING BOMARSUND.

These letters, from two distinguished officers who accompanied Captain Sulivan on the expedition about to be recorded, may be inserted here. The following extracts of a letter from Admiral the Hon. Sir A. A. Cochrane refer to this expedition:-

United Service Club, London,
March 24th, 1894.

Dear Mr Sulivan,- It has afforded me much gratification to learn that you are about to publish the biography of your father.

After giving a short account of the survey of Bomarsund, he adds:-

Throughout the whole affair, the élan, coolness, and courage of Captain Sulivan, bravely and skilfully seconded by the officers of Engineers, will always be remembered by me with admiration and respect. Captain Sulivan's able reports upon the batteries and the approaches to them enabled the Baltic fleets, English and French, under the pilotage or instructions of Captain Sulivan, to anchor in Bomarsund Bay. ...

I entertained the very highest opinion - as did, I believe, all my brother-officers - of Captain Sulivan's ability and devotion to the service, and of his sound judgment and for his coup-d'oeil in naval and military matters. He was a truly pious and good man, and was alike courteous, cool, and brave.

His death caused me sincere regret; and when the hour arrives that England is involved in war and requires brilliant services, our navy will be fortunate if it possesses a few officers as resourceful and as modest as your late distinguished father, who served his country well, and who has now, alas ! passed from us.

I am yours,
Arthur A. Cochrane.

From the late General Sir John Cowell, K.C.B., Master of Her Majesty's Household:-

Windsor, March 10th, 1890.

Dear mr Sulivan,- It is probable that no one but those who have served with the late Admiral Sir B.J. Sulivan could form a correct conception of his character and ability, for he was of a most retiring disposition, and was seldom heard of, except in times of action. Yet there must be many living who have had opportunities of observing his qualities for command, either in the difficulties met with in the navigation of unknown or indifferently surveyed waters, or those incidental to every seaman or in the operations of maritime warfare.

Sir James's services were of a various character, and in each of these his abilities were conspicuous and universally acknowledged. ... His ardent temperament was combined with a judgment which inspired confidence, and there was nothing more remarkable in the career of this truly good man than his utter forgetfulness of self and his desire to reward merit wherever he met with it.

Having been with him on many occasions during the Russian war in '54, when he was what may be termed 'pilot' to the Baltic fleet, as his father had been to that of Nelson, I had opportunities of learning what he was, and I was often surprised at the accuracy of his forecasts as to what the soundings and lay of the land would be from a few casts of the lead. This intuitive power was remarkable, but he never presumed upon it beyond what he considered justifiable. ...

That England may never be without such men is the fervent hope and belief of,
Yours very truly,
J.C. Cowell.

H.N. Sulivan, Esq.

Sir John Cowell, alas! has not lived to see this letter of his in print. Nor have several other friends who have sent me letters about their old comrade-in-arms. Unavoidable delay in publishing this memoir has lost me the pleasure of being able to send them copies. It may be interesting here to add an extract from a letter written by Captain Sulivan from Led Sound on September 5th, 1854. Cowell had accidentally shot himself in the thigh with a revolver my father had lent to him.

I have been spending two hours with Cowell in the hospital-ship. He is the most intelligent of all the engineers, and I like talking over the professional questions' with him better than with any one.


Near Bomarsund, Aland Islands, June 4th.

I have been so hard at work that I have been unable to write, and yet it has been the most interesting cruise I have yet had. On Sunday last (28th) the chief told me he wanted me to go to the Aland Islands at once; but as he could hardly spare me two steamers, I asked for Driver, just come in. She draws only fourteen feet six inches. He gave me her, and I made a good selection, for she is far handier than any large steamer I have seen, is well handled, and her commander, Cochrane, a son of Lord Dundonald, is a most zealous, pleasant assistant, and I could not have hit on a better. Knowing that the admiral ought to have sent the senior engineer officer with me, as we were going to reconnoitre forts, I asked him to come with me, and the captain of the fleet got permission for him. Strange to say, the chief never seems to think of them, and at Hango even he never sent one till I asked for Nugent to go with me, and they say they never get out of the flag-ship except when I ask for them. I find Nugent a most pleasant messmate, and I hope he is seriously inclined. There is never a day passes without his Bible being on the table among his plans, etc. I received orders to examine the channels to Bomarsund, to examine the forts, and to sound alongside them. Rather an amusing order, considering it is daylight all night, and it is an instance of the way the chief gives orders, for he never meant it, as he cautioned me against going too near, particularly to avoid the gun-boats, thirty of which were said to be here, and said he would 'have no fighting for fighting sake'. I assured him I was not so fond of it as that, and that he might rely upon my taking every care. A thick fog prevented our starting, so I had to run in the fog from ship to ship carrying messages. However, in the evening we were at anchor, and at six I had service on the lower deck. When it was over the fog had gone, so we had to start. It was a beautiful evening, and nearly calm. In the night we met three large boats running to the eastward for Hango, with six or seven men in each, and provisions. I thought they were men sent from the island to work at Hango or Eckness, and perhaps I ought to have stopped them; but I could not find the heart to interfere with them, their boats being perhaps their all; so I let them go. In the chart you will see 'Led Sound' on the south side of the Aland Islands: to the eastward of that there is another passage into the same channel. We entered through that, as there is a track marked in the large chart, but found very bad rocks: once, with a boat near us, we saw the rocks under just in time to go astern, Driver being always close astern of us. At last we got in and found the sound, besides a fine clear anchorage for some miles. Just near an east point of Lemland Island we saw a boat going in; and wanting information about which islands had soldiers on them, and where their gun-boats were, we went in three boats after her; but we only found the deserted boat and their provisions. There was a pretty farm, fine pasture, and cows, and we walked some way in, but only found barns. I left a shilling in the boat's head-sheets, to prove to them we did not want to injure them, and we then weighed and threaded our way through very intricate places, till we got in the evening off a village on the east side of the sound. The Swedish lieutenant was with us as interpreter in Driver. I pulled in in the gig with six hands and Nugent after several boats we saw pulling away from the village. I wanted as soon as possible to show them we were not their enemies, and they need not fear us; but we found the village deserted, and the boats gone out of sight among the islands. After pulling some way, we saw two men in a large boat with wood. I waved a white handkerchief to them, but they left their boat, jumped into a skiff, and pulled for their lives, as they thought. Just as we got near them, they got through an intricate passage where we could not follow, and, as we pulled round, we had just time to see them land on the large island and run into the wood.

On pulling round the next point, we came on a fine large village (Degerby), where in a moment there were men, women, and children running in every direction. Several apparently respectable men halted at some nice houses a quarter of a mile off; and as we pulled in, waving my white handkerchief, one old man, much too feeble to run, came to the jetty: Seeing no soldiers among the twenty or twenty-five men in the distance, we landed; and after I had made friends with the 'old man' a few others joined us, and those in the distance, seeing we did not murder these, mustered courage to come near. Among the first were two ladies, very nice looking and well dressed. There was a second large house, and the young ladies told me with great glee that the lady it belonged to was putting up some things to run away as fast as she could. At first we could only understand them through one gentleman, who spoke a little bad English; but soon I sent for Theorell, the Swedish lieutenant, who was with Cochrane in his gig. They had gone to the first village I had passed, and found every house deserted but one, and in that there was a crippled man, and he had made two women of his family remain with him: these promised to have milk ready as we returned. When Theorell came, I found that one of the large buildings was a Russian custom-house, and one of my friends was the collector, and in fact a government officer, and it became a question whether I ought not to seize him and the custom-house; but after the way I had made friends with him, I could not think of it without giving him reason to consider I had broken faith, so I would not molest him. Some of the women brought out baskets of eggs, of which I bought about two hundred at one halfpenny each, dividing them afterwards with Driver and our officers. After staying about two hours, we parted the best of friends, they promising to let the other islanders know we should not injure them or their property. We got some milk from women at the other village on our return, and promised to send back their nice white pails, which we did, and I put a little coffee and sugar in them. The next morning we worked our way through most intricate passages (but I think I can get a line-of-battle ship through them), till we passed the narrow passage leading to Bomarsund, which is in the north-east corner of Lumpar Bay, the passage being round the north end of the island. But as that passage is so near the forts, where they have a regiment of Rifles of the Guard, and is only three hundred yards wide, with high wooded rocks on each side, I thought I would try to get in by one of the channels among the islands farther north. We got Lightning through a very narrow one, with, I thought, three and a half fathoms water; but the Driver following, touched in fourteen feet on a little point, and hung a few minutes. I then took her back outside, and went on with Lightning. We anchored a little inside, with one of the high tower forts about two miles from us over an island. I then ran in with my gig and three boats of Driver to the southward of Kalfholm Island, keeping a sharp look-out on all the wooded points, and as we went passing not very flattering remarks on the talents or folly of the governor for letting us pass in this way, when a few rifles would have stopped us. We passed a nice village on Michelso Island, and then seeing no one, and there being a fine rocky cliff accessible on the west side of Michelso, we landed there to get a good look at and sketch of the forts.

Bomarsund

The large one, mounting ninety-two guns in casemates, exactly resembles a new terrace in a fashionable watering-place, the top having no guns, but a wooden roof to protect it from the weather. The long windows on the west side are all dwellings, I think. The dots show the casemates for guns, like square windows. The towers are just like two or three squares of the fort: there are three of them, each capable of mounting twenty-four guns, but having, I believe, only from ten to sixteen. I anchored a cutter off to look out and cover our retreat if necessary, sent another sounding, and we landed in the two gigs. I then planted four men as sentries a little inland among the trees, and Nugent, Cochrane, and I were lying down with glasses watching the forts and sketching. We were two thousand five hundred yards off, so I wonder they did not disturb us with a gun. We had nearly got all we wanted, when the cutter gave the alarm that a large party of men had landed on the island in our rear, where I have marked the A [see p. 222], and had boats there. I thought this the very thing they ought to do, as it must oblige us to fight our way back. Cochrane and Nugent hurried to the boats, and I went to bring in my sentries, expecting to see the heads of these men appear every moment. We then hurried to the boats in anything but a dignified way, recalled the other cutter, and pulled back, but to my surprise saw no men on the shore, till I saw about five on the small island, so that instead of being cut off ourselves, we had a chance of cutting them off. We gave way in the gig, and soon left the other boats, and saw three men start in a little skiff and land opposite, and the skiff go back with one man, and, just before we reached the island, pushed off again with two others, one a person of some position by his dress; but he appeared in a frantic state. I thought we had him, for we turned him from the first point, and I, only wishing to speak to him, waved a white handkerchief; he waved another, but pulled the harder for another point. We gained every moment, and, when not thirty yards off, he was foolish enough to level a pistol at us. I had a rifle in my hand, thinking whether I should fire ahead of him to bring him to, but did not show it to him, and feared I should make him think I intended treating him as an enemy; but had he fired the pistol I must certainly have shot him. However, I saw the boat was getting among stones, and I could catch him without firing, which I did not like to do, so I stopped and hailed him, showing him the white handkerchief; but it was no use - he reached the shore, and after laughing at us a minute took to his heels with his two men. That was close to the village; so thinking he lived there, we pulled to it, leaving the large boats outside, and I landed and walked up with Theorell. We saw a number of men and women leaving; but on getting near, could only see one man, who came to us on Theorell's hailing him, in great fear and trembling; soon a second came, and the wife of the first, who was watching behind a house, was induced by his hailing her to come also, but crying and in a great fright. They told us these people we had chased were from the fort and not belonging to the village: had I known that, I would certainly have been less delicate as to bringing them to at all hazards. We then returned on board, and moved the vessel out alongside our big brother, that we might be under his protection.

The next morning we ran back to the entrance of the Ango Passage, as I felt confident they had taken no steps to oppose us there; in fact, the governor seemed entirely to neglect his means to annoy us; but as he had no gun-boats, he had no power afloat. The steamers under Buckle and Admiral Plumridge had been seen round the islands, and they had burnt some vessels, which, I suppose, prevented the gun-boats crossing from Abo. I forgot to say that just as we left our position on the rocks, and had started back in the boats, the fort fired a gun at us, but the shot did not come near us. At the entrance of the Ango Passage we had great difficulty in finding a channel between two islands, a rock with six feet of water on it nearly blocking it up. At last, by shaving very close, we led the Driver through; but it was anxious work. We then ran up in a fine clear channel to Lumpar Bay, and anchored about three thousand yards from the forts. We then had a capital view of them, both from the Driver's mast-head and from the rocks on the cliff, our old position, and we got some soundings in the bay. I ran a line in the gig across at two thousand yards from the fort, and yet they did not fire at me, which I cannot account for; and then, wishing to cut off a small vessel, I stopped her at two thousand yards from the fort, and turned her head towards the ship, to the great consternation of the six men and two women in her; yet the fort never fired a shot to protect her. After getting all the information we could, we let her go, to their surprise, and we ran out again before dark, in case the governor should recover his senses and send some rifle-men to the shores of the channel in the night.

The next day we made our way to the northward, past our old anchorage. On our way to try and get down from the northward to the back of Bomarsund, and so see the forts and towers both sides, I wanted to get near behind the two towers. When near the large island to the north-east of Lumpar Bay, we found very shallow water, and had to anchor. There was a large village close by, so I went up to it; and after getting one or two men not to run away, and Theorell talking to them, all soon came back, about twenty men, with plenty of women and children. We found that two steamers, probably Buckle and Glasse's, had been there, and burnt two vessels. The ships had anchored outside in the open, but sent their boats in. We found several coasting-vessels sunk in a cove to save them from the English, and one nice schooner afloat, but empty. I found that the chief wealth of the poor people consists of these little vessels, and I assured them I would not injure or take one of them; even the vessel afloat would not be worth the sending away men in her, and it would be, I think, cruel to burn her, particularly as all these islanders are much attached to Sweden and hate the Russians. I wanted a man to show us the best channel, but all were afraid; so at last Theorell told me one seemed to know more than the others. I determined to take him; so I put my hand on his arm and told him he must go with me, but that when I had done with him he should be landed and paid. He seemed terribly alarmed, but did not attempt to get away, and his young wife was in a sad fuss. His mother was the best: she advised him not to be afraid, and went for his jacket, but he said another man - pointing to him - knew best, so I took him also, but would not excuse the first. When we got them in the boat, they seemed quite satisfied. We found a good but very narrow channel for the ships for some miles, so we returned on board and started, but first landed the men. [The Lightning then ran on a rock.] She came off quite easily. We then went on to a good sheltered anchorage near the K in the word 'Kumblinge' in the chart, and I tried hard to find a passage through the numerous islands to the westward, but found so many lumps of rock sticking up one and two fathoms that I could not attempt it; so we remained there for the night.

The next morning (Friday, June 2nd) we ran out to clear water in the north-east, or what appears on the chart clear water, but is really dotted with islands and rocks. The glass being very low, and the beautiful weather we had before evidently changing, I got into a good anchorage to the northward of two larger islands, where there seemed a narrow but deep passage to the westward. It freshened to a sharp breeze, so I did not like to leave our snug berth, as in a sea-way it is impossible to see the rocks under water in time to avoid them. As it seemed a nice island near us, and there were plenty of ducks about, we determined to have a half-holiday for the forenoon; so Nugent and I, in my gig, and Cochrane and Theorell in his, started. We explored one island, saw cattle, horses, and fences, but could not find a. house ; we then went back (I having shot two ducks, our only game bagged), intending to try the passage to the westward, but it blew so hard that we gave it up, and crossed to a low rocky island with little wood. In the afternoon it moderated, and we proceeded through the passage, which we found very good. After running over one rock without touching, with only twelve feet over it, and just having time to save Driver going on it, and two more failures to find water enough where we wanted to go, we got quite round to the shore of the main island, on which 'Bomar Sound' is written in the chart; but the channel we must pass through again to go out is commanded by a fine rocky and wooded point, a thousand yards off, and as it is only eight miles from the forts, and the governor has twelve horse-artillery guns, if he does not try to annoy us from there going back I shall have a worse opinion of him. The wind was freshening into a gale, and I was glad to get a nice safe anchorage under the south side of the same two islands we had before anchored the north side of, and about six miles from the forts.

Yesterday was a very dirty day, and blowing a gale at north, but in the evening it moderated a little, and we landed at a village, where no one ran away or seemed afraid; but a nice family, father, mother, and daughter, received us with smiles, and we found that the news had come of our having treated the people well at the other islands. This family had a nice new log-house, very clean, like all the others, and with bed-places one above the other, built to one wall like berths in a ship, in the same room where they live and cook. This is the general plan with these little farmers, who have a few cattle and sheep), and a few acres of land in rye and potatoes, with plenty of good log barns, cow-sheds, etc., for their stock. A print of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert preparing for a ball, she putting her gloves on, hung alongside the King of Prussia and the Prince and Princess of Sweden. We bought a few sheep at four shillings and sixpence each. I got a very decent one. They have plenty of young lambs. You recollect Moresby, whom we saw at Falklands - Prevost's brother-in-law: he is first lieutenant of Driver, and a very nice fellow. I see much of him. He was with us on shore; and he and I, being, I suppose, west-country men, hunted out a pan of the most delicious cream. I am sure you will allow this is much the nicest way to be making war! The most singular thing is, we got the best information about the forts from the eldest girl: she had been pressed with the rest of the population to work there, carrying up sand on to the top of the fort, - they have sand laid to the depth of three feet. The people we|e forced to work, but were all paid. We left in the evening, all well pleased.

This morning was very fine - the gale over. I had decided not to take the ships any farther, as the channels are intricate, but to sound them in the boats, and go as near as we could to the forts in the boats also, as we might have to put the ships near the main island within reach of their field-guns. The more I see of them, the more I am interested in the people. It is a pleasure to be able to establish such a feeling with them when they were taught to look upon us as enemies, who would treat them ill and plunder them. I hope to induce the admiral to order that no more of their vessels shall be burnt or their property injured. I much fear the French coming, as they will take all their stock at least, if they do no worse. I shall try to get the French admiral to give an order on the subject. To-morrow morning we start at 5 a.m. with four boats, and I trust we shall be protected and spared all bloodshed, as we have hitherto been; but they are building a very large new fort nearer the deep water than the others, and I must ask the admiral to let me have two steamers, and prevent it by knocking their new work to pieces, which we can easily do at long range, as at two thousand yards from it the nearest guns they have will be two thousand five hundred yards off.

I have been so hard at work, also having much 'remark' writing to do at night. I have therefore been obliged to write this on Sunday. The inconsistency of the chief is clearly shown by his refusing to allow me to go with Buckle and two steamers who were sent to do this very work a month since, 'because my vessel was unfit'. Now he sends me with one steamer, and we do all required; while the others, we find, had never got into the inside channels, which I do not wonder at, for they are enough to deter any one not used to such work. ...

The gale lasted till Wednesday (7th), when, being moderate in the morning, we started with four boats, and got down to a good position two miles from the forts, but we were prevented sounding nearer by the gale freshening again; and as it blew right towards the forts with a bad sea I did not like to risk it, and we had to pull back six miles against it, dodging among the islands for shelter, our friend the governor again being very civil, for he did not even send a rifle near to the point of the main island which we had to pass. On our way back we stopped to rest on a small island. I let the men have a run.

In the evening it moderated, so we started and retraced our steps back to Ango Passage, going through the channels that had taken us so long to find in a few hours at full speed. We anchored off Ango Passage for the night, wishing to look for deeper water into it. This we found the next morning, and then we ran down the sound to the southward, sounding the parts we did not pass coming up, but the track through the clusters of islands marked on the chart as the usual route was more intricate and had less water than the one we had found on our way up. We saw a new vessel building on Huland, and two others lying near the southern channel you will see into Lumpar Bay. I landed at one building with Cochrane, and was received by about twenty men, who made a temporary jetty of logs for our boats to come alongside: she was a nice vessel of about a hundred and fifty tons. The others were island vessels of about the same size; so I did not like to take them. I then crossed over towards Degerby, thinking I might get some stock there to take back to the fleet with us. I wished to take both our vessels up to the village, but the channel we first tried had only twelve feet between rocks a few yards apart; so I anchored Driver and went on in Lightning, and anchored close off the custom-house, which was also the dwelling of our fat friend the collector, his wife being the lady who was packing up to start on our former visit. We told him that we must have stock, and would take them, paying the people for them. He said of course we could take what we liked, and even told us the parties he thought would be best to apply to. I could not resist the fun of frightening him a little, and told him that, the house being a public building, we must seize it, and he, being a government officer, we must take him prisoner. He seemed to allow that it would not be surprising if I did; but he was evidently terribly alarmed, so I asked him if he thought we could carry the house with us; and as he allowed we could, not, he also allowed it would be our easiest way to burn it. But he said, though it was government property, it was also his residence, and a good deal inside was his, and that there were no goods belonging to the government, so he hoped we would not. After getting up rather a laugh against him among his friends present, I satisfied him that he and his house were quite safe. A party of us from both ships then started with a guide for a village inland, where they thought we could get stock; but when we got there we found only a few lean sheep, except the ewes with lambs. Some of the lambs were just the size for eating and in nice order, but we could not persuade the people to sell them. They had killed off so many last winter from the want of fodder that they were now anxious to save all they could to get up their stocks again. About five, having got all we could, we wished them good-bye, and ran out to join Driver again. They told us before leaving that they wished we could have taken the government policeman away with us, but that he was away that day; that he was a regular spy on them, and that he was one they could well spare; and that if he had been there they would have pointed him out to us, that we might relieve them of him. This I have promised to do if I ever go. there again.

The next day (Friday, 9th), after completing some soundings and finding a good channel out for large ships, we returned to Hango, our little Lightning doing pretty well, as she averaged eight and a half knots back, and obliged Driver to light all her fires to keep up with us. We found the fleet had left Hango; but Penelope and Alban were there, so I spent a couple of hours with Caffin and Otter, and then came on to this place - Baro Sound - the barometer being lower than ever we have had it. I was surprised to find the admiral outside at anchor off the Benskar Lighthouse: he received me very kindly, and seemed much pleased with all I had done, and after reading my report he said that it was a very good and complete one, and he was only sorry it did not give him better hopes of destroying Bomarsund with ships alone. I told him that as the bay in front was so narrow only three large ships could get within six hundred yards, and they would be exposed to the fire of all the towers at about fourteen hundred yards, in addition to the direct fire of the large fort. I thought the ships would not succeed, and the guns being all in casemates, and the tops bomb-proof, shelling at long range was useless; but I asked him to send three or four steamers to knock down the new work they are at, which is intended for a very large fort to command the anchorage. We could knock it down at two thousand yards with solid shot, as it is new brickwork, and we see all the arches and the interior, and the other guns would be two thousand five hundred yards off, and could not hurt the steamers. They might bring their field-guns down on the point, but they would be easily silenced. If that fort is completed, the place will be doubly strong next year. The admiral asked me if I thought the bad weather over. I told him no, because the barometer was so very low, and we must have a breeze from the southward before it cleared off. He said that they thought it was all over, but I stuck to the barometer. Certainly it was a most injudicious thing to come out of a good port -Baro Sound - and anchor in the open gulf with a hospital-ship in company, with the glass lower than it has ever been since we entered the Baltic."

Captain Sulivan's official report of his examination of the Aland Island passages and the fortress of Bomarsund is given almost in full in "Napier," p. 333, so it is needless to repeat it here. The conclusion is as follows:-

I trust, sir, that you will approve of my having refrained from destroying any of the coasting-vessels, the property of these islanders, and of my having assured them that they need not look upon us as enemies so long as they do not take up arms against us.

I cannot conclude this report without adding that I am much indebted to the assistance that I have received from Commander Cochrane and the boats of the Driver in getting the vessel through such very intricate passages, and the way in which that ship has been handled in this very difficult navigation reflects great credit on her commander."

The opinion he formed was that "an attack by ships would be attended by a loss and risk too great to warrant the attempt, unless aided by a sufficient land-force to assist, first carrying the tower by assault or by regular approaches". This was the scheme ultimately adopted.

"Baro Sound, Monday, June 12th.

Yesterday about 4 a.m. our signal was made wait, as I thought proper. It was blowing strong from south-west, and I gladly availed myself of it by running in here for shelter. We were in before eight, three steamers being anchored on the shoals to point out the entrance. We had a quiet Sunday until the evening, when all Admiral Corry's squadron came in, led by Alban. All the fleet are now here or outside, except Majestic and Boscawen. The French admiral is in sight, about twenty miles off, with seven sail of the line, etc.


"Baro Sound, June 18th, sent June 20th.

"Since my last we have had little occurring worth mentioning. The fleet weighed from off Helsingfors (the chief's squadron) when I took the news up of the French fleet being near. We joined off this anchorage, and with French flags at our main and English ones at theirs we went into the sound where Corry's division was at anchor. I had the captain of fleet on board, and we went to pay our respects to the French chief, having two other steamers with us to tow, as the French vessels were all sailing line-of-battle ships and frigates, and they only had five steamers of their own; so when our screw fleet had passed, our steamers helped to tow the French ships, and Lightning led them in. The same day Magicienne arrived from Dantzig without a mail, but with plenty of bullocks; and the next morning, our steam being up, but there being also a thick fog, I was told to take beef to the ships off Helsingfors, a note from the captain of the fleet saying the admiral wished him to say how sorry he was he was obliged to send me on such a duty!! On our return we felt our way in, and got alongside the flag-ship, the fog as dense as ever. When I went on board her, the chief was sitting in the stern gallery with the admiral and captains that had been dining there standing round him; he drew a chair alongside him, made me sit down on it, and mmediately apologised for having had to send me on such a duty. I told him that I was very glad he had, for a larger steamer would not have been safe running in such a fog. Hardly a day passes now that he does not send for me, and we have a tête-a-tête discussion on different points, and I begin sometimes to get rather fearful that I shall be getting too much his adviser on some points for a junior officer. However, it is very pleasant, after being treated as I was, to find him treating me so differently. It has merely been from his liking my report of the Aland Islands, and of the opinions I have given him on points he has asked me about. And yet I never consider for a moment what I know he wishes, but give him my candid opinion, however differing from his. At present I think I may say I possess his entire confidence. A few evenings ago a small sloop was stealing along the channels. ... We found her full of hay, and the crew consisted of husband, wife, and son, a boy about ten. We soon quieted the poor woman's fears by releasing the vessel. I was surprised to see in such a little vessel such a nice clean cabin, and a woman doing such work, yet neatly dressed, with a regular fashionable lady's monkey-jacket over-all, and very clean. She was very fair and clear-skinned, with auburn hair like many English women. She had in the cabin a small Testament and Psalter in one case. It is certainly not creditable to us as a nation that we should be so behind in education those we have previously considered half-barbarous Finns. They can hardly believe that numbers of people in England cannot read. (We have improved in this respect since this was written. - Ed.)

"A few days since the fleet was rather startled by three cases of cholera occurring in Duke of Wellington, and one man being dead and buried in six hours; but no case has occurred since, several cases of diarrhoea having been checked at once. The fleet is really more healthy than at any previous time. Neptune's small-pox and scarlet fever have ceased, and all the ships' sick-lists are reduced. That the hot weather will bring more or less cholera in such a fleet I have little doubt, as it seems hanging about all the northern nations. The only wonder is that men whose skins rarely make acquaintance with cold water are as well as they are. If we could force every man to have a bucket of cold water poured over him daily, we should have much less sickness. We had one man in the sick-list for some days from no other cause than his neglect of cleanliness: they think when they have washed head, neck, and feet they are clean. The weather is now getting very warm and mosquitoes are coming. A few days since the thermometer was 40°, and I warmed my feet over a fire; now I have got rid of the stove and got my carpet down, and with the skylight open the thermometer is 72°.

"The Vulture arrived yesterday, bringing the sad account of her boats and those of Odin being beaten off with a loss of forty-six killed, wounded, and missing. Plumridge, with the four steamers, had taken possession of several places in the Gulf of Bothnia, and destroyed a good deal of property, in one place twenty thousand barrels of tar, and met no resistance till the two steamers sent by him reached that place. I think it is called Great Carleby. The steamers could not get within five miles of it, and the boats, with a hundred and eighty men under Lieutenant Wise of Vulture, pulled up. The accounts are very conflicting, and in the papers you may perhaps see the best news; but from all I can gather he pulled in with a flag-of-truce first, and summoned them to surrender public property, and asked them to point out which was public and which private (they had concealed their force); but they refused to surrender or show him anything, and said they could defend the place, and would do so. Yet with this warning he returned to the boats, and pulled in for the large store-house without throwing a single shell from his howitzers to clear the way. The Odin's cutter was within twenty yards of the large wooden store, several hundred feet long, when a plank the whole length was let fall or removed, and out came a long tier of muskets or rifles. Ten men fell in the cutter the first volley; but it appears Odin's other cutter dashed in and towed her out, their boats losing six killed and sixteen wounded - Lieutenant Carrington, Mr. Montague, a mate, and a mid killed. The Vulture's paddle-box boat was seen after the first fire with about eight oars pulling; the other boats were pulling in to bring her out, when, on the smoke clearing a second time, they saw her drifting on shore without a man standing. It is feared they are all (twenty-two) killed or wounded. A mate named Murphy commanded her. Nothing has been heard of her since; but of course her gun and flag were taken with her. The boats then did all the damage they could with their guns. Had they done it first, they might have saved such a disaster. It will be a good lesson against rashness and holding the enemy cheap. Perhaps the ease with which they had destroyed other places made them too confident. At some former place some men - and, it is said, a mid - got drunk, and they set fire, among other things, to a house in which one of their own party lay drunk, and the next day they could only find a few of his bones and his knife.

"Tuesday, 20th. - Otter came in - or rather out - in Alban to-day: he has been up among the bays at the head of the anchorage. Last night he landed with thirty men on the mainland, marched three miles to the telegraph, caught the three men stationed there, blew up the house, and brought back all the books and registers. It was rather a hazardous thing to do, as there was a party of Cossacks near, and they (Albans) came on the spot where they had been bivouacking.

"We landed yesterday on an island 3,200 marines, besides artillery and seamen, with field-guns, of which we had about twenty: quite a little army. We can land nearly 4,000 seamen besides, and the French 3,000 troops and 2,000 seamen, making an army of 12,000 men, with guns, sappers, and all complete. I wish they were better trained. We have not landed the seamen at all yet, though my plan is adopted for the organisation, and all is arranged.

"A few days since I dined with Glanville. There were four captains present, all complaining of the disregard of the Sabbath, and three out of the four had tracts for distribution to the Finns and Russians. The chaplain of Boscawen completed our party - a good man. They have daily prayers and two Sunday services. It is a pleasure to meet so many in the fleet attending to these things."

On June 11th Captain Sulivan returned from his reconnaissance of Bomarsund, and made his report to the admiral. On the 20th Sir Charles Napier wrote to the Admiralty (see "Napier," p. 186) on the subject of future operations. He says, referring to Bomarsund: "To attempt this, as we have no troops, it would be necessary for the whole fleet to proceed to the anchorage pointed out in Captain Sulivan's chart, leaving vessels in the entrance of the gulf only, to watch the Helsingfors squadron, land all the marines and the French troops, which would amount to five thousand men, land a great number of heavy guns, and lay siege to Bomarsund, attacking at the same time in front, if found practicable; if not, land five thousand seamen and make soldiers of them. I lean to this, and shall propose it to the French admiral. ... Since writing thus far, I have been on board the French admiral. He has some doubts about the policy of attacking Bomarsuns, as well as the propriety of doing it without troops."

My father's note to this says: "This plan was the admiral's own. I told him it was quite practicable, and drew up a plan for the whole proceedings, in which Lieutenant Nugent, R.E., agreed. The admiral talked of carrying it by storm, but I persuaded him that we must land guns and knock the hill forts down, when the large fort could not hold out. Admirals Chads and Seymour quite approved, and urged the admiral to do it; he had quite decided on it till he went to the French admiral, when, on account of orders to maintain a force in the Gulf of Finland, they decided on writing home and asking for permission to take the fleet to Aland." On p. 188 is recorded the approval of the Admiralty to Napier's waiting for authority. Sulivan remarks: "The Admiralty having approved of our not attacking it with the fleet alone, and their agreeing to send out troops, ought to have prevented the Government blaming the admiral for not taking the responsibility of going there with all his fleet without leave! When the French admiral declined to attack Bomarsund without leave, he agreed that they should send home directly for permission to do it with the fleet, and he applied direct to his government. But the Emperor saw the chance of gaining military success by sending a division of troops, and our Government yielded and supplied ships to take the French soldiers out. The French general tried to prevent the navy taking any share in it, and, being supreme over both French services, he would not allow a French sailor or ship's gun to be landed; but Napier insisted on landing his men and guns to share in the work. The French navy were bitter about it, and they felt they owed it to their admiral, who would not agree to Napier's plan in the first instance."

The following notes are from a letter to a friend, written by Sulivan in 1856:-

The only thing that prevented the attempt was, I believe, that both French and English admirals were ordered to keep up a strict blockade of the Russian fleet, and particularly to prevent the Sweaborg division getting to Cronstadt, which must have been risked if the fleet went to Bomarsund.

The admirals therefore wrote home, offering to do it with the fleet, if allowed to withdraw it from the gulf. As their governments would not give their consent to this, but preferred sending out a land-force to do it, they must have considered the admirals did right in not withdrawing the fleet on their own responsibility; and the two governments are therefore solely answerable for having sent an additional force out.

It must not be forgotten that the opinion of the governments on the importance of preventing the Sweaborg division getting to Cronstadt was strongly supported by the English engineers (?). It cannot therefore be wondered at that the two admirals hesitated to withdraw the fleet without obtaining the sanction of their governments.

Without taking the whole of the large ships to the Aland Islands, we could not have landed men enough to carry on the siege. The screw-ships were all required, as the channels were so intricate; and to have taken the marines from twelve or fourteen sailing-ships of the line, not very well manned, and to have left them to blockade twenty-six Russian ships of equal force, would have been running a risk that no admiral dare venture on.

It is therefore evident that the whole fleet must have gone to Led Sound, leaving a frigate squadron to watch the Gulf of Finland; the screw-ships and steamers with the marines and some seamen from all the ships must have gone up to Bomarsund and commenced the siege, all being ready to embark at a moment's notice, leaving the heavy guns on land, in case the Russian fleet came far enough down the gulf to give a chance of catching them with the screw-ships; after which the siege could have been proceeded with, and our guns of course recovered. This was the plan approved of by Sir C. Napier, and it only required the sanction of the Home Government to have been carried out successfully.

While awaiting the answer of the two governments to their proposal, the two admirals resolved to have a look at Cronstadt. As will be seen, the secret of a pending attack on Bomarsund was well kept.


Source: Henry Norton Sulivan: "The Life and Letters of Admiral Sir B.J. Sulivan K.C.B.", John Murray, 1896, 164 - 184.
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