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Henry Norton Sulivan on the Baltic campaign of the Russian War of 1854-1856 (7/10)
RECONNOITRING CRONSTADT - INFERNAL MACHINES.
On Captain Sulivan's return to England in 1854, the First Lord (Sir James Graham) and Admiral Sir M. Berkeley asked his opinion as to what could be done in the Baltic the next season. After verbally explaining his views of attacking Cronstadt and Sweaborg, he was requested by the First Lord to draw up a report on the subject, dividing it into three heads: (i) What would be possible with a naval force alone? (2) What if a combined naval and military force were to be employed? (3) And what force of ships would be required for the Baltic, if it were decided to confine the work there to a simple blockade? Sir M. Berkeley asked him to bring his portions of the report as it was written; and when the last sheets were finished and Sulivan was to have gone with the admiral to read it to the First Lord, he found that Sir James Graham had resigned that morning.
As soon as Sir C. Wood commenced his duties as First Lord, he went into the subject, and had the report printed in the Secret Department. A proof was given to Sulivan to correct, but he could not obtain a copy for himself, as he was told that only six were to be printed, one to be given to each of the following: the Queen, the First Lord, the Minister of War, the English admiral, the Emperor, and the French admiral.
The plan afterwards carried out for bombarding Sweaborg formed one portion of the report, but it was recommended that this should be quite secondary to an attack on Cronstadt, which should first be attempted. This could be done only with the floating batteries then building, while Sweaborg could be attacked without them.
His plan for attacking Cronstadt was the following: He saw at once that the Russians, whilst making Cronstadt almost impregnable by way of the main channel, had totally neglected to protect it from attack on the north side, trusting only to the shoalness of the water and the barrier they had made across the only channel that existed. Sulivan saw the only chance lay in this direction, and proposed that a bombardment should be attempted from mortar-vessels and floating batteries of light draught, protected from the attack of the large Russian flotilla of gun-vessels by a force of light-draught gun-boats, etc. He saw the possibility of destroying the dockyard, the fleet, and possibly the fortifications themselves. The only things wanting for the carrying out of the plan were floating batteries and gun-boats.
Preparations were being made in the winter of 1855 for an attack, which would have been carried out the following season, had not peace intervened. The Admiralty had sanctioned Sulivan's scheme of attack. As it would have been necessary to survey the channel nearly up to the walls of Cronstadt, with the object of moving the attacking vessels nearer, after the first bombardment, Sulivan had proposed a plan, and, I believe, prepared the material for carrying this out in a novel way. He and his brother were to survey the channel in a small double canoe. (His brother, now Admiral George L. Sulivan, a noted swimmer, had distinguished himself by receiving three medals and parchments from the Royal Humane Society. When the Jasper was wrecked in the Sea of Azoff, he had dived down to place charges under her to blow her up, remaining sometimes two minutes under water. It was thought he might in a similar way undermine the barrier.) As it was necessary to go so close that even the canoe would have attracted observation, they were later to trust to their swimming powers, clad in oilskin dresses, lined with wool to resist the cold, with pockets for holding small sounding-lines and lead. The Russians must at this time have noticed the defencelessness of this side of Cronstadt, for they began erecting forts to protect the north side, which, however, would not have been ready in time. (See p. 367.)
When Captain Sulivan left England in 1855, he understood that his proposals had been approval of by both the British and French Governments, and that the necessary means would be provided. Whilst waiting for these off Cronstadt, he was chiefly employed in sounding its approaches. As a barrier was known to exist on the north side, and a successful attack could only be made by getting gun-boats, mortar-boats, and floating batteries through it, it became necessary to find out the depth of water at and inside it, especially as the depths on the banks were invariably found to be less than those shown in the Russian charts.
As later it became doubtful whether the French Government would send any of their floating batteries, and therefore whether the whole of the ten calculated on might be available, Sulivan gave it as his opinion that if only six could be sent the attack might be tried with fair prospects of success, as the depth of water at the barrier had been found sufficient; but as it was finally decided to send the floating batteries to the Black Sea, the idea of attacking Cronstadt had to be abandoned, and the gun-boats and mortar-vessels that were coming out could then be used only against Sweaborg.
|There were-||planned for.||forthcoming.|
Admiral Dundas, though very anxious to do all that was possible, felt much doubt about succeeding in this latter plan, and much influence was used in an important quarter in the fleet to convince him that it could not succeed, and that the small mortar-vessels could not safely lay at anchor under the fire of such a strong place. Captain Sulivan had great difficulty in successfully opposing this view. He compared the difficulty of hitting such small vessels at such a range to that of hitting a sparrow at a distance with a pistol-bullet. Whilst waiting at Nargen for the arrival of the mortar-vessels, it seemed probable that the attempt would be given up, and some minor points on the coast attacked instead. On one visit to the flag-ship, Sulivan was told by the admiral that he had decided not to attempt it; and it was only after using every argument to combat the adverse view, and pressing his opinion also on the French admiral, who generally supported him, that Sulivan got Admiral Dundas to alter his decision and make up his mind to carry out the plan; but he made this condition - that Sulivan should agree to place the mortar-vessels three thousand three hundred yards from the fortress, instead of three thousand, as proposed by him. It was only after the mortar-vessels had arrived, and he had consulted Captain Wemyss, of the Marine Artillery, who thought that even at that distance the mortars would be able to cover all the fortress, that Sulivan yielded the point, pointing out, however, that it would make a serious difference in their range for reaching the farther portions of the fortress; which extended nine hundred yards in the rear of the batteries.
When about to go to Sweaborg, Admiral Dundas said to an officer, who repeated the remark to Captain Sulivan, "I am going to court defeat by attempting what I have not the means of succeeding in" - or words to this effect.
It will thus be seen that this, the only important event of the year in the Baltic, and the only important purely naval success of the war (i.e. one in which the military were not also concerned), was entirely owing to the plan and to the determined stand made by Captain Sulivan.
With this introduction, I go on with the ordinary account and journals.
Sulivan had been given a larger and more powerful vessel than the Lightning - namely, the paddle-steamer Merlin (six guns instead of three; three hundred and twelve horse-power instead of only a hundred).
His officers were as follows: Richard B. Creyke, commander (assistant surveyor), who, besides having been at the bombardment of Acre, had done good surveying service and boat action against pirates on the west coast of Africa; lieutenants - William Hewett, Charles J. Bullock; staff-commander - Richard C. Dyer; surgeon - J.F. Johnson; paymaster - R.W. Warrick.
'Merlin,' April 12th, 1855.
Running down the Kattegat, Thursday, April 12th, 4 p.m. Fine weather. How I shall ever write, except at anchor, I do not know; for the vessel shakes so much, even in dead smooth water, from the engines alone, that plates, glasses, etc., dance on the table, and the chair and table are now dancing to the tune of the paddle-wheel. We left Sheerness at i p.m. on Monday, April 9th.
They had heavy weather from the south-west, and the powerful engines in the weak vessel, combined with the heavy head-sea, caused so much vibration and motion that almost all on board were ill.
The weather moderated in the evening of the 11th, and we had made the worst of our passage, having entered the mouth of the Baltic, after a run of four hundred and thirty miles, in about two days and seven hours. The day it blew so hard against us part of the time, we made a hundred and seventy miles, so that we ought to be very well satisfied with Merlin's performance.
We reached Wingo Sound at twelve to-day, under three days from Sheerness. I found no colliers in the sound, but saw some vessels inside a channel blocked up by ice. As, if they were colliers, we should lose time by going round to look for another passage, I determined to push on to Elsinore for coal, having only twenty-four hours' supply left. Her consumption of coal is tremendous, and yet we cannot keep up steam enough for the engines at full power: the boilers hardly seem large enough. We have been steaming to-day about nine knots against a moderate breeze.
Elsinore, Friday, 13th.
Arrived this morning, having got into a bight at anchor (in the thick, dark weather at midnight) about ten miles from this. And fortunate it was for our paddles we did so, for this morning we saw fields of ice passing down the channel outside, and several vessels in it. On reaching this through several fields of ice, we found nearly every vessel had gone adrift in them last night. To-day Yelverton, with seven vessels, got clear of ice that had shut them up for a week in Landschrona in the heart of the town, where the Swedes gave them a grand ball last night. Several ships have lost anchors, and the three frigates Impérieuse, Arrogant, and Amphion have been aground since they came out.
Running for Kiel, April 19th, 1855.
We left Nyborg on Sunday at 5 p.m. with only one pilot, leaving Firefly (Captain Otter) to bring others, if she could get them. We pushed on all night, and Monday morning the weather was so thick that we had to feel our way from rock to rock on the Swedish coast till we got to Wingo. There we met two steamers, and heard the fleet was at anchor near the Scaw, having arrived the evening before. We reached it at 5 p.m., blowing hard from the north-west, but then clear. I proposed starting at once, running down by the light-vessels, and the chief wished it also; but the pilots, some of whom came from near the Scaw to the fleet, preferred waiting till next morning.
We started early on Tuesday, 17th, with a rattling northwest wind - fleet under sail, fires banked up; and we led them all day. After passing Anholt, the wind very scant, we got up steam, furled sails, and at 9 p.m. anchored near Foreness. At daylight yesterday I went on with Vulture and Bulldog to place them as guides for the two narrowest passages, at Nyborg and the Veryeam shoal, and I then returned a few miles, met the fleet steaming, and led again till we cleared all the Belt shoals by 5 p.m., and at 7 p.m. anchored half-way down Langeland Island. The day was lovely, nearly calm, and too warm for a great-coat. Otter joined us last evening from Nyborg, having been unable to get any pilots.
This morning we started an hour before daylight to get pilots off ready to meet the fleet off Kiel. We are now near there. A lovely day, but we have just passed through much drift-ice, and the thermometer at 6 a.m. was only 36°.
3 p.m. - Sent off pilots, went in for letters, went out to the fleet, led them into Kiel, just anchored, and have to dine with the commander-in-chief. Lovely weather. Face and lips all sore and burnt with sun for want of beard.
Kiel, April 20th, 1855.
Yesterday I was at a court-martial all day, and dined with Robb in Caesar. The general feeling and attention shown me are most gratifying; and Robinson, my old shipmate in Undaunted, told me how pleased he was to hear from all quarters such things said of me.
We hear nothing either way about peace. I fear there is little hope of it now, but I will not give up the hope that God will yet overrule the congress, and put it into their hearts to agree to terms.
At sea, Saturday, May 5th, 1855.
We sailed, or rather steamed, with the fleet from Kiel on the morning of the 3rd, and we have been under steam nearly ever since, the wind either foul or a calm; but there is nothing to interest except the comparative merits of the different ships, which are chiefly shown by the daily consumption of fuel. The old Royal George does wonders - never drops - always close to Duke; while the block-ships half her size, but same power, cannot keep up, and her consumption of coal is less than many of the others. Among similar ships, the James Watt, built especially for screw, has expended forty-five tons to keep her station during the last twenty-four hours; whereas the old lump of a three-decker has only expended thirty-three tons, though under sail a slower ship. We have done much the best of the paddles, having, with three hundred and twelve horsepower, only used twelve tons; Firefly, of two hundred and forty horse-gower, sixteen tons; and Locust, of a hundred horse-power, ten tons; little Lightning, a hundred horse-power, five tons. So we shall evidently have a much smaller consumption than is usual (when working at slow speed) for our power.
Faro Sound, Tuesday, May 8th.
We are off in a hurry, as the wind is coming in strong, and the large ships are at anchor outside. We came here on Sunday, and I am glad to say all the coaling was postponed till Monday morning, a new thing in the Baltic fleet. The ice is gone from the gulf, and all is open. We are all well and going on comfortably.
Off Sweaborg, Thursday, May 10th.
We sailed from Faro Sound, Tuesday, 8th; had a strong gale all day, which nearly shook Merlin loose, and made me very ill. Yesterday it was finer, and we entered the gulf, seeing neither ice nor snow on the land, and, strange to say, not one ship of our blockading squadron; so that we have broken the blockade with nine sail of the line, which will raise a laugh at Watson's party. To-day, at 5 a.m., the fleet anchored at Nargen, and I started to look into Faro Sound, to see if any of Watson's ships were there, and what the state of the ice was. To my surprise, not a vestige of ice was to be seen, nor any ships either; so, before returning, I ran up to my old haunt off Sweaborg, to see if the Russian ships were still there. I did not go very close in, having no vessel to back me if I got on shore. I could only see three ships, all dismantled and laid up in creeks; so I suppose it is true the others went to Cronstadt last autumn. The day is beautiful, quite like summer.
'Merlin,' Nargen, May 13th, 1855.
With regard to our proceedings, I think all seems to indicate a decided opinion in favour of my plans. I do trust the simple thing yet wanted, and without which nothing can be done, will not any longer be neglected. I had the admiral alone in my cabin yesterday for some time, urging it all on him; he is very kind, and seems to rely greatly on my views, etc., which is very gratifying; but of course I am obliged to be careful not to appear to take too much on myself, being a junior. I fear we have not a sufficient force of vessels of good armament under a certain draught of water. More exertions ought to have been made to have every such vessel within reach recalled in time to send here; but even one at home, particularly pointed out by me as of the greatest value to us, has been sent to the coast of Africa. I am satisfied that all will be done that ought to be attempted with our present means, but I regret that more exertions were not made to provide every possible means to ensure success after such an enormous outlay in different classes of vessels. We have only three screw-vessels of any armament drawing the water required, and unfortunately one of those has just been cut down and her main-mast carried away by Impérieuse running into her. Both are going to Sheerness to repair. Of course you know how secret all this must be kept. I believe few men have such perfect confidence in the secrecy and judgment of their wives as I can show to my darling wife on these points. I fear sometimes that our chief is likely to speak to too many about his plans, instead of keeping everything quite close. There is great curiosity of course, and my brother-captains are constantly trying to get things out of me, as if they considered I had all to do with it. Sometimes a more prudent one says, 'Now of course I do not expect you to tell me what you are going to do, as your tongue must be, to a certain extent, tied; but now can you tell this much?' etc., etc. Then others say very quietly, some even seriously, 'Do think of me and get me a share in what is to be done.' Then another very confidentially says, 'Do recollect that my vessel or ship only draws so much water when light, and that she mounts heavy guns; do put in a word for her.' The fact is, if I were at all inclined to be conceited, I have enough to make me so; but I can assure you the effect is to make me feel more the anxiety and the responsibility of my duties, and, I trust, lead me to pray for more grace and strength to enable me to go through with it all, if the Almighty does not think fit to put an end to the war before the time comes for active operations. I believe there is no idea in any quarter of there being any possible way of acting with a chance of success except by my plan. My chief anxiety is lest I may not have the power to carry it all out as I wish, or lest I may not have all the means to ensure success I asked for, and yet get the blame of any failure. I like all I see of our chief - cautious and careful, but with much judgment, and, I should think, firmness; but I wish I could instil a little more activity into his disposition - I mean activity of mind. Oh, how thankful should I be to have all my plans frustrated at the eleventh hour by peace! I know it is, apparently, impossible now; but I recollect how impossible it seemed that the scene of slaughter arranged for the next day at Bomarsund could be avoided, and yet in half an hour it was prevented by the surrender. If war is still to go on, then we must endeavour to feel that God has some wise purpose in permitting it, and that all is for the best.
Here follow minute directions for his wife to come out to him, should he be wounded, knowing she would, in that case, be less anxious with him than at a distance.
Nargen, Tuesday, May 15th, 1855.
Since we arrived here, our missing vessels and Watson's squadron have been dropping in; but for some days we gave the Russians a chance of coming down if they wanted to try their chance, as we had at one time only nine sail of the line and Merlin. They have about twenty-two good ships of the line at Cronstadt and one screw 'eighty' ready, with a screw-frigate, and, they say, twenty-four steamers of all sizes, but only sixteen, I think, really war-steamers, four very heavy ones.
On Friday the admirals and staffs went in with us to have a look at Revel - the weather beautiful. We saw three new earthen batteries, with about thirty guns, in addition to the three hundred and thirty-eight guns on the sea defences seen last year. There are also posts along the hill, evidently for an electric telegraph, which we hear they have got the wires for. In the evening I dined with the chief, and arranged for leaving at 5 a.m. on Saturday with the same party for Sweaborg, taking Euryalus and Cossack as body-guard. We had a beautiful day; ran up the passage among the rocks close to the spot where I so nearly ran the Driver on shore with all the admirals and generals last year. There I anchored the two frigates, and, leaving Merlin under way, I took the admirals, etc., in two boats to a rocky islet, just out of gunshot, that I thought would give us a very good view of everything. We remained there a long time, evidently affording amusement to thousands of both sexes at Helsingfors, and the soldiers in the fortresses, - every hill and rise were crowded with people. We saw about seven new batteries in different parts, in addition to those of last year, mounting between them about sixty guns. They are all in the very best positions, and are entirely of earth, with apparently heavy guns. Only four line-of-battle ships are left there, three dismantled; the fourth has her masts out, and is housed over in dock; also one frigate and two small steamers. After getting a good look at everything, we returned, and, when half-way back to Merlin, saw a small steamer towing out a gun-boat towards the islet we had left, evidently intending to drive us off. Having gone up to another position in Merlin to get a further look at the east side, we joined our ships and returned to Nargen."
Friday, May 18th, 1855.
On Wednesday the admiral left in the Duke for Faro Sound to land the sick, in consequence of the rapid spread of small-pox (fifteen cases in three days). So, I suppose to guard against any dash of the Russian fleet on the ten sail left at Nargen, Ramsay was ordered with Euryalus, Merlin, and Magicienne to cruise to the eastward till Saturday, going beyond Hogland. We were also to put a buoy on the Kalbaden Rock, about half-way between Helsingfors and Hogland. We sailed on Wednesday afternoon, and just as we were leading the others round the Nargen shoals, going out on the east side of the bay, a hail-storm came on with a squall from the southward that beat all I ever saw. The stones were as large as marbles. It did not last long, and was fine afterwards; but soon after we got outside the first of the May fogs came on, and we could only keep near each other all night by the aid of muskets, bells, etc. We lay till the afternoon by our kedges, when it cleared a little, till we could see the Kokskar lighthouse, and then ran across for the Kalbaden. It soon became very thick again, so that we lost sight of ships and everything, but hit the rock exactly, just stopping as we shoaled to five fathoms. Just after it cleared on the north side we saw a lighthouse, which ensured our being on the right rock. We put down a large Trinity buoy left in one of the ships from last year, and, rejoining our friends, stood up the gulf; but the fog was so thick that we only showed them our positions ahead by muskets, and occasionally by masthead light showing over the fog. At midnight it became so dense that Ramsay made the signal to anchor, and we remained quietly anchored with the kedge till six this morning, when a breeze sprang up too strong for the light anchors, but it blew off the fog a little. Ramsay thought it too thick to attempt going higher up, as we were ordered to be back to-morrow, and I agreed with him; but having steamed back about twenty miles, the fog gradually lifted, and we had a beautiful clear day; so I hailed Ramsay, and said I thought we might rely on having it clear now, and there would be time to go round Hogland after all and return in time. I was anxious to find out if the people were left on the island. So we turned round again, and steamed full speed up the gulf.
They saw a number of women and children at the southern village, and a boat - " manned, as Paddy would say, by women" - came off to Merlin.
We then ran up to the northern village, and stood into the cove, Euryalus coming close alongside us. Again there were plenty of women, boys, and children looking at us (the old women told us that every man had been taken away from the island); and on the opposite side of the cove to the village, where there is a pretty country house in the trees close to the point, and within about three hundred yards of Merlin, a young lady, nicely dressed in a pink skirt and black jacket, with a shawl over her head, came out close to the shore, and watched us till we were going out, when she tripped away towards the house. Fancy the ladies of any of the villages on the eastward of England or Scotland coming down to watch three Russian frigates standing into the cove! I wish we had had time to land there, where also I am anxious to establish friendly intercourse with the poor people, because I think it may be very desirable to have our hospitals in that island, if we have any wounded at Cronstadt. It would be a very healthy island - high hills - different from every other land here, and in the middle of the gulf, free from all the marshes of Finland.
We are now (10 p.m.) steaming back to Nargen, where we shall be to-morrow morning. The Grand Duke Constantine might have had a chance of saying he had driven off the English ships, if he had been looking out below Cronstadt with his steam force, which would have obliged us to retire. I do not think he will have a chance again, as when we next go up it will be with a much larger force.
Nargen, Sunday, May 20th.
Yesterday I landed for the first time here to pay a visit to some of my friends of last year. I found the mother of the little child I saw dead, and to whom I gave the Bible, looking very much better, and her three little girls grown much and seeming in better health. She seemed very glad to see me. The children, though the youngest could not be more than six, could all read. Only a few of the families read and speak Swedish; the others are Esthonian, which is nearer German than Swedish or Russian. If you get 'Letters from the Baltic, by a Lady', (By the late Lady Eastlake, then Miss Rigby.) from the library, it will give you an entertaining account of Esthonia, Revel, etc. Yesterday was lovely - the woods so quiet and still. On the village green a cricket match was going on between the officers of the Cressy and the Royal George, nearly all in red, pink, or blue flannel shirts, which have generally superseded white ones in the fleet. At other parts there were games of quoits going on. All looked so cheerful and pretty, with the fine buildings and towers of Revel in front of us, that I could not help thinking, 'Can this be wartime?' The weather and the whole scene were much too lovely to be broken in on by the horrors of war. What a mercy it will be if yet at the eleventh hour we have peace!
I found that scarcely one of the Swedish families, or rather those speaking Swedish, had Bibles; and when they heard that I could give them some, I had several applications. The old woman (mother of my friend) who recollects the fleets here in 1802 and 1809 is as well as last year.
I have had a long confab with the chief this morning about our future movements. We shall probably be off in a day or two with the fleet to look at Cronstadt. If they have their twenty-two sail ready for sea, with their steamers to tow many of them, they ought to come out and try their chance with us. We have twelve screw-ships and one frigate, and not nearly so strong a paddle force as they have; but I do not expect to find many of their ships fitted out, and they will, I think, merely moor them as block-ships. The Duke landed no less than thirty-eight men with small-pox at Faro Sound, but no dangerous cases. Arrogant still has cases occurring; so with Impérieuse gone home, we lose our two fine frigates.
'Merlin,' Monday, May 28h, 1855.
We left Nargen on Saturday with the fleet, and yesterday at 8 a.m., off Sommars Island, we were sent with Magicienne under my orders to the north-west entrance of Biörkö Sound, to see if there were any gunboats or defences in the place. On entering Viborg Bay, we saw a schooner going into the sound, and, on rounding the north point of Biskops Island, came suddenly on several small vessels working up the channel. You may fancy their consternation. Some anchored, and their crews-pulled on shore; the largest pushed back before a fresh breeze towards the narrow part of the sound at Koivasto, where the troops are stationed; but only a few light ones escaped us. We secured seven. Three small ones, empty or with a little wood in, and evidently belonging to poor people, I would not touch; but the four largest proved to be all loaded with flour, provisions, etc.; and as they have about four hundred and fifty tons of cargo among them, it becomes one of the best takes made yet; and, what is more pleasant, is, that nearly all, if not quite all, is Russian Government property, probably provisions for the troops at the out-stations. Three or four little light coasters got into the cove, where in all there were six or seven little craft; but we heard from the men in one vessel we took that there are fifteen hundred troops there with a battery of six field-guns, and I saw breast-works thrown up in more places than last year. To get the vessels out we must expose the men in boats close to thick woods, where we could not protect them from musket fire. I would not risk a single man's life for the sake of a few empty small craft, such as those I would not take before.
Having secured the four vessels, I towed them out to Magicienne, and then left them with her, while I returned to the admiral to know what should be done with them. ... I went back to the chief at midnight, breakfasted with him this morning, and then started to bring Magicienne and prizes round to the south end of Biörkö Sound, to be near the fleet in case of being wanted. I then returned to the fleet, to go with the chief to-morrow to reconnoitre Cronstadt. Erskine went up in Orion yesterday, and anchored near the lighthouse. He reports six sail of the line fitted out, and about eight steamers lying near the outer forts. It does not say much for them that their eight steamers like Orion - four very heavy ones - lay there all night without attacking her. All firing from different points with heavy guns ought to tease a line-of-battle ship very much.
On reaching Magicienne to-day, I found she had taken and burnt two fine galliots. They proved full of fine Squared blocks of granite, of great size, for Cronstadt.
(Merlin had caught another vessel) She turns out a Russian Finnish vessel, but unfortunately in ballast, belonging to an old lady, but the master is in great distress at having to go to England. She is a snug little craft, and looks just fit for what we wanted - one that is to take the cargo of our smallest craft that is not seaworthy. He says his wife will die if she hears he is sent to England. I have tried to comfort him, and have just had him down to tea with me. There are four Russians on board, taken in a wood vessel by Otter last night, and I am going to land them. They really seem to appreciate kindness, and it is some comfort to be able to brighten their trouble. The vessel went to pieces in tow of Firefly, or else she would have been returned to them after taking the wood out.
If I get £150 prize-money I shall be lucky, but they may give us something for the two government vessels full of granite. This was in blocks six feet cube, numbered ready for placing, evidently for forts at Cronstadt, and we ought to be paid as for government property destroyed."
On the way to Viborg Bay Merlin captured three vessels laden with wood for the Russian troops. One vessel, containing birch, was kept; the others, with fir, burning too quickly for the stoves, were burnt. Another prize was taken laden with rye-flour.
Off Cronstadt, Friday, June 1st, 1855.
Not having had more than two hours' sleep Monday night, and having been up all this night till 5 a.m., I went to bed and slept till nine, when our signal was made to join the admiral.
On Thursday morning we all got under way for Cronstadt, Merlin, Amphion, and Euryalus looking out ahead of the fleet. On getting near, I saw some people at the lighthouse, and a boat; so we pushed on, and by sending the whale-boat after her when we got in two and a half fathoms water we caught her, but she proved to be the private boat of a poor man with his son, and a boy and girl about fourteen, going from Cronstadt across to the north shore, with a bag of sugar and a bag of salt, which they had purchased with milk and butter brought from home, and they had been two days wind-bound at the lighthouse. They seemed terribly frightened; but after I gave them some biscuits and tobacco and a Finnish Bible, they became quite reassured, and I sent them away quite happy. The fleet anchored in line across the gulf about three miles below the lighthouse; and in the afternoon, when the sun, being to the westward, threw a nice light on everything at Cronstadt, the admiral and staff with Admiral Seymour came with us. Attended by Euryalus, Amphion, Dragon, and Magicienne, we went in to the lighthouse, and anchored close to it in Merlin. We then landed and got to our old station on the balcony round the top. We found it in beautiful order, very clean, and all the rooms in nicer order than last year.
We saw that only five sail of the line are fitted out and have sails bent; of these three only are moored in the passage as last year. These, with a screw-frigate and nine steamers of good size (four of which are heavy ones), were outside the basins; all the rest, including the two fitted, and thirteen or fourteen with lower masts only, are moored along the basin walls inside. On Cronstadt Island, two miles from the town, a series of large earthen batteries have been built, extending right across the island, and adding greatly to the strength of the place, as no ships can get near them, and no army could get within range of Cronstadt till these works were taken. It was a beautiful evening, and the sun lit up the gilded steeples of Cronstadt, St. Petersburg (very distant, just seen), and the palace at Peterhoff most beautifully. After finishing our view from the lighthouse, we sent back all ships but Amphion, and then ran up towards the forts till we were three thousand one hundred yards off, when we rounded to and had another good look. The steamer that watched us so close in Lightning was again just outside the forts as a guard-boat; there were two others inside with their steam up, but they did not attempt to drive us off. We had heard so much of additional machines put farther out, that we were speculating on the chance of finding one; but as they have to blow you up by connecting the galvanic wires on shore as you pass over the machine, by going full speed there would be little chance of their catching you at the moment, even if you did pass one near enough. So we got back without being blown up. But, joking apart, I am confident there are none outside the forts; they would only be in the narrow channel inside.
This morning we again started with the admirals, Dragon in attendance, and we went around the north side of the island till we got well round the north-east side, where we found four sail of the line, six frigates, and two corvettes moored as block-ships inside the barrier, which extends from the island to the mainland. My prisoner, says it is so shallow there that no coaster has passed that way for five years, and they have been throwing more stones down since last summer. We stood in towards the block-ships, leaving Dragon outside, till we shoaled to less than three fathoms, then anchored above four thousand yards from the nearest block-ships. There were twenty-four gun-boats just inside the point of the town, and they ought to have come out near the barrier and driven us off, which they could easily have done; but though we lay there an hour, they took no notice of us, and we had a capital look at everything (A). The northern end of the new lines across the island is very strong - two immense earth-works, the outer one finished, the inner one worked at by thousands of men, like ants on an anthill. On our way out we went closer in to have a good look at these lines, and we stopped as close as I dared go to the edge of the bank, just three thousand yards from the forts, not having less than three and a half fathoms; but just as we were going on again we suddenly shoaled to two fathoms (six inches more than we drew), and for some minutes we could not get any more water either ahead or astern (B), and I certainly expected every moment to get fast; but turning her gently round with the jib, we at length began to deepen, and went right off shore till we were quite safe again. I wonder that they did not fire at us, as they had nearly twenty guns bearing our way; and though it would be difficult to strike a vessel at that distance, yet they might have dropped shot round us. I cannot understand how it is that we have never found them in the Baltic fire a very long-range shot: the longest I saw was the one over Lightning at Bomarsund, at about two thousand seven hundred yards; yet at Sevastopol they threw shot over our steamers up to four thousand yards, when the steamers' longest guns, ranging three thousand six hundred yards, could not reach the shore.
We got back to the fleet at five, just as the French squadron of three liners and one frigate, all screws, joined us, with the usual saluting, hoisting French colours, etc., and after that I dined with the admiral.
Sunday, June 3rd.
I must write a little to-day, though Sunday. I have to be all to-morrow preparing a chart for the admiral to send home with the positions of the forts, dam, etc. Yesterday at noon we went in again, with Dragon to back us, as close as we could to the north-east corner, and anchored in eighteen feet water - quite close enough; for we afterwards found six feet outside us in one place, and three feet a cable from us inside. It was rather unfavourable for us, as a fresh wind made a bubble of a sea for the boats; but no steamers or gun-boats inside were moving, and we shoved off, the admiral going with me in the gig, Admiral Seymour with Creyke in the whale-boat, and we pulled direct for the town. We carried in very regular soundings, shoaling gradually from eighteen up to nine feet near the bank of stones, on which once stood a fort. We ought to have passed the dam outside this, but never shoaled to less than eleven feet; and as we pulled a little farther in, to two thousand eight hundred yards from the town, a good bombarding distance, and had no less than eleven feet there, I thought it was all right, and that we had no dam to contend with, and I congratulated the admiral on the certainty of being able to get in any distance he liked with small craft. We then pulled out, and, when outside the patch of stones came on the dam nearly up to the surface. It being made in detached blocks, we had passed between two of them without seeing them or shoaling the water. Each block is about twenty feet long by eight feet wide, and is made by piles forming a kind of box, braced together with pieces of wood and filled with stones, the intervals between each box being about fifteen feet; and on going in we had passed through one of these intervals.
We then pulled in and out and along the dam for above a mile, going within two thousand five hundred yards of the town (C), and about the same from the nearest block-ship, a two-decker; but they did not molest us for some time. A small steamer with two boats in tow lay between us and the block-ship, and nearer than Merlin was. We saw her getting under way, and we turned out all ready to pull for it; but to our surprise, instead of coming out, she turned the other way and ran in; but soon after Merlin hoisted the signal arranged for 'boats coming out,' and we saw two large boats coming out fast under sail; so we gave it up and pulled out, having done much more than we expected.
Having put the chiefs on board their ships, I returned to get some more angles from the lighthouse to fix our work well. Mundy of Nile, Nugent, the engineer officer, and the master of the fleet remained with us, and had a hurried dinner with me going in. After finishing at the lighthouse, we ran in to look at the north end of the new works, our little Russian steamer friend of last year watching us at a respectful distance. The admiral sent Dragon in to join us. We got back to the fleet about nine, and I felt thoroughly tired with standing on the paddle-box so many days running, and quite glad to think this was to be a day of rest, which, I am happy to say, our Sundays now are. Both admirals and Pelham, captain of fleet, wish to make them so: no coaling or other work goes on. My whole afternoon has been broken in upon by callers. I had put off calling on the French admiral and captains till to-morrow, so as not to have to go to-day; but three of the French captains came here, two new ones, introduced by Laurenston of Austerlitz, and they paid me many compliments on the way my name is known in the French navy. Then Key came, with whom I was enjoying a quiet talk, when we had an addition of Erskine, Caldwell, and captain of fleet; and in this way the whole afternoon has been spun out, so that I have not had the boys in as usual. However, they are all gone now, and I shall have my tea in time for the evening service at seven.
The weather set in so hot to-day - the water like glass, not a breath of wind.
Cronstadt, June 10th, 1855.
Through the kind providence of God we have been preserved from what might have been a great danger. Yesterday we went to show the defences, etc., to the French admiral and captains, and about ten English captains, besides many junior officers. We went as close up to the north-east side as we could, till we got in three fathoms water, higher up than we went before, but not so near the town. Inside the dam, where we before sounded in the boats, were two of their new steam gun-boats. We went to another place purposely to draw their attention from the point we examined before. Just as we were turning round, one of the gun-boats fired a gun at us, so far off that the shot did not come within half a mile. As they do not generally fire in that random way, I am now sure they wanted to provoke us to go in towards them, where they had laid another trap for us. We have heard much of the 'infernal machines' that were to blow us all up, and last year much speculation and some amusement were caused by the Driver fishing up a beacon-moorings for one. This year we hear of one blowing a wood vessel to pieces accidentally, and of their having been laying down many off Sweaborg since we went in there the other day with the admiral, and that for an experiment they blew a small vessel there into pieces; but we have hitherto rather joked about them.
We had left that part and were steaming about two and a quarter miles outside the island along the shore to show our party the new batteries. Firefly was following us, and Dragon and the French Dapas keeping farther off, when suddenly the vessel received a heavy shock, which shook her more than any running on shore, and in a different manner. I thought some large part of the engine or the boilers had broken, and ran to the engine-room. Seeing them working well, I stopped her; and as we were still going fast, and still had five fathoms water, I knew she could not have struck the ground. Some said that it was an explosion, and that we had hit an infernal machine. When stopped and going astern very slightly, Erskine called to me from the port paddle-box that he could see a stone. I crossed over, and saw just under the paddle-beam what appeared to be the head of a large pile three feet under water. We were just watching for it to come under the leadsman, who had still five fathoms water, when a second and much sharper explosion took place, just before the starboard paddle-box, where the artist of the Illustrated London News was sitting sketching, having just before expressed his fears that it was a shot that had struck us. The second threw a mass of water three feet above our hammock-netting, and gave us a terrible shake; the vessel seemed jerked on one side, and heeled over a little, the masts shaking so that some ran from under them. A strong smell of sulphur left no doubt that it was a veritable infernal machine. We had warned Otter off, and he had stopped and hauled inside us a cable-length, when a third exploded under their bow, but with much slighter effect than ours. The thing we saw under the port paddle-box must have been another one, as it answered the description exactly, but not being in near contact we were saved from it. Had two burst at the same moment, one on each side, as the ship could not have given to it, it would have been very serious.
I went down to see if she made water, and was told it was coming in fast, but we soon found it was only the pipe of the engineers' bath broken, through which a stream poured. When plugged up, she was quite tight. But the blow had driven her side in for the moment, over an extent of many feet each way, and everything inside in contact with the side suffered. The engineers' mess-place and storeroom under it got the full benefit. Their mess-place was a wreck; their lockers with their private stores, and their sideboard, etc., with all their mess-traps, being next the side, everything was smashed and scattered over the place - lockers, plates, cups, glasses, sauces, pickles, and the bottles containing them, all smashed up, not a thing left. Below in the engine store-room, where the full blow had struck four feet below water, a heavy tank of fallow, fixed and cleated to the side, weighing twelve hundredweight, together with all the paint-tanks, casks, etc., were torn from the side and thrown about three feet against the opposite bulkhead. A large wooden diagonal girder and a diagonal iron one crossed each other there: the wooden one was broken and the iron one bent in. The shelf-piece under the deck was split and broken, and the bulkheads drawn away from the side, copper linings, etc., torn off, but the vessel's side had resumed its proper position, and seemed uninjured, showing that the blow had driven it in for a moment, and afterwards it sprang back as before. The iron girder crossing just there, and the resistance afforded by the heavy tank against it, I have no doubt greatly deadened the blow and prevented the side giving in. The bulkheads across the ship, including the one where you sat at church, are broken or crushed a little by the lateral pressure, and the pitch in the beams in the lower deck is crushed up, showing how great the pressure must have been for the moment. The first explosion on the port side did nothing but break some men's mess-traps and knock down their tables. The second one smashed all the things in the after-mess - the marines'. It is evident that the first machine was not so close to the side as the second, as the copper is not injured. Now we do not know how close either was, and the second may have been far enough off for the water to deaden the blow; whilst, had it been in contact, it might have blown the side in. We cannot decide how far they are dangerous, from not knowing how close they were. Otter had the sail-binns next the side on the orlop-deck driven quite away; but his copper, like our port side, is uninjured.
And now I have a much more serious thing to mention, that will cause great excitement in England. The two masters of the prizes we took, who were so anxious to be landed, and the two men with them, as well as two other prisoners taken in merchant-vessels, were sent in Cossack to be landed. The man who, you will recollect, told me it would kill his wife if he were sent to England, Fanshaw had previously landed at Hango Point, and said there were no batteries or troops there. I said at the time it would not do to depend on it and land on the mainland, or we should be played a trick. He went off Hango, but not close enough even to see the boat land, and she pulled in with a flag-of-truce, taking the six prisoners, the third lieutenant, surgeon, assistant master, and mid, the captain's and the gunroom stewards with their baskets, in all seventeen besides the six prisoners. On pulling in to a pier - so says the only survivor - they saw several hundred men, dressed as riflemen, close down. They went alongside the pier, and the officers and two Russian masters went up on the pier with the flag-of-truce. The poor little man who so feared his wife dying if he went to England hailed them, and pointed to the flag-of-truce. An officer who spoke English well answered, 'We don't care for your flag-of-truce; we will teach you to fight against Russians'; and instantly a volley was fired, which killed all who had landed, friends as well as enemies, and then everybody in the boat was shot down. When every one had fallen, they rushed into the boat and began to search her for the arms, throwing overboard all the dead and dying in their way. Having found the arms under the thwarts, they left the boat with five still laying in her, four dead, the only survivor having three bad wounds. The next morning the ship stood in to look for her boat, and saw her with one man sculling off. This poor wounded fellow had actually got her away, and was trying to scull her back to the ship. Even if they could not acknowledge the flag-of-truce, they had our men in their power, and could have made them prisoners if they had chosen. A nice return for liberating their poor countrymen, all Finns; while these were, I expect to find, the new Finnish militia rifles raised this winter. We have heard the Finns are terribly exasperated against us, through the destruction of their private property by Admiral Plumridge last year in so wanton a manner. The Gamla Carleby slaughter of last year was the first effect of that un-English and un-Christian proceeding, and I have no doubt this may be traced to the same feeling. So terribly do unjust acts lead to retribution. I think Admiral Dundas is going to send me to Sweaborg with a flag-of-truce about it. I do not think any of their regular troops would have been allowed by their officers to act so. How little my poor prisoner could have thought that his safety would have been in going to England! I trust there may be a chance of some few that fell on shore having been only wounded. (The explanation given by the Russian general showed that it was a real mistake, the flag-of-truce not being observed. - Ed.)
5 p.m. - Just as my boys were coming down for our afternoon school and singing, there came a succession of visitors to see the wonderful effects of the explosion - Admiral Dundas and Pelham, two French captains, and Admiral Seymour (who apologised for coming on Sunday) and his flag-captain. ...
I have been disturbed by three more curious friends wishing to see the whole after we had cleared everything away, they having been with us at the time. Erskine is one of them. The more I see of him, the more I am convinced that he is one of our very best officers. You will be surprised at my having had the artist of the Illustrated London News on board. But just as we were leaving, a lieutenant of the flag-ship brought him with the captain of the fleet's compliments to me, and asked if I would take him in with us; so as I did not ask him to come, I was not sorry to have him! He first sketched the quarter-deck with all the big men grouped on it, and I had then recommended him to sit on the steps of the fore-side of the paddle-box, where he could rest his book on his knees and have a good clear look. After the gunboat fired, he was rather anxious that 'the captain should not go too close.' When the first shock struck us, Mundy was talking to him, and he exclaimed, 'There! a shot has struck us,' and looked very pale. As he was getting over it, the second explosion took place, close under his nose, driving up the water just before him, so that he had the nearest and clearest view of it; but I think he was not quite able to sketch it! His great delight seemed to be in the engineers' mess-place, with all the smashed crockery and mess-things; and I expect you will see a sketch of it in all its glory. He is going to show me the drawings. I want to prevent any exaggeration. The smash in the store-room, where the real damage was done, and the heavy tank thrown away, he could not, he said, make a point of - that is, I suppose, it was not picturesque enough; but the smashed crockery seemed to have a great charm for him. He kept some fragments of cups and glasses as relics of it, and I think you may see a wonderful sketch of broken tea-cups.
We find that our timber on the side, just under where the iron rider was bent in, is broken, but the diver has been down outside, and reports the planking quite perfect, though for twelve feet long and eight feet deep the copper is all torn off and twisted up.
'Merlin,' Sunday, June 10th.
Though it will by-and-by disappoint the public at home, you will not be unhappy at knowing now that the more we see of this place, the less likely it is that we can do or even attempt anything. Had they sent out here everything first intended, and concentrated all their efforts on Cronstadt, it must, I think, have been destroyed; but a portion of the force will not do. The enemy have not been idle, and out of the thirty-four steam screw gun-boats we heard they were preparing, fifteen showed yesterday, all ready and manned, and they have a much heavier flotilla than we can bring against them. Besides, all their steamers are able to act inside, whilst ours cannot get near to help our gun-boats. I can see the admiral is very doubtful, and I dare not urge him on to try it, unless with a force sufficient to give every probability of success. We may perhaps have a chance of a distant bombardment of Sweaborg; and if managed well with the necessary means sent out, we may do great injury to the enemy without the loss of a man to us: that we can do even with the smaller force said to be coming out.
You will see in the journal the particulars of the wonderful escape we had yesterday from a very great danger: it is the nine days' wonder of the fleet, and the numbers coming to-day to see the sight below where the damage was done have quite broken in on our Sunday. But we have not lost our service, and I have had two good half-hours morning and evening with the boys singing. It was warm, and all the skylights open; so I think, as we are close to the English and French admirals, and the transport under our stern, our singing must have been heard by many. I tried to point out to the boys that it was not merely singing, but every verse was either prayer or praise, and they must be thinking of that when singing.
We had a grand dinner in the French flag-ship - the admirals, two of our senior captains, and myself. The French officers are very complimentary, particularly the French admiral; it seems as if they could not make too much of me.
I begin to think and almost to hope that we shall have a bloodless campaign. We may perhaps bombard Sweaborg.
I see that a French paper mentions the plan for the future conduct of the war as positively agreed on between the Emperor and our Government. It is that, after some decided success in the Crimea to enable us to do so with credit, the armies will be withdrawn entirely, and the future operations be confined to a close blockade of all the Russian coasts till they choose to ask for peace. We might do that with very reduced forces and little expense, and I wish we had done it and nothing more from the first. It is our truest policy. It would never have raised in Russia the national feeling for the war caused by their good defence of Sevastopol, and it would only have made the war felt by all classes by stopping all trade and ruining their merchants and rich families. We should in future want only about four combined line-of-battle ships and some small craft in the Black Sea, and ten screw-liners and a lot of small craft in the Baltic. Both nations might reduce their line-of-battle ships more than one-half, and all transport expense would be saved. The expenses might be nearly reduced to our peace establishment.
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