Henry Norton Sulivan on the Baltic campaign of the Russian War of 1854-1856 (2/10)
Off Gottska-Sandö, May 14th, 1854.
My last from Elgsnabben would not have led you to suppose that I should immediately after get into the chiefs good graces; but the vessel had hardly sailed when I was sent for, and the commodore told me the admiral had received a plan of mine for organising seamen-battalions which he was much pleased with, and was sorry it had not come before they did anything of the kind, and told me they wished me to adapt what had been done as well as I could to my plan. It is rather a hobby of the admiral's landing men as soldiers, so I suppose he was pleased to find others were interested in the same thing. He shortly after came out of his cabin, and, in a very different tone from what he had generally spoken to me, told me to go and read the letter from the Admiralty, as it was very complimentary to me, and then, for the first time since I joined him, spoke to me of my proper duties, asked me about buoying the shoals, and said he should soon want me at my work, and actually ordered Mr. Evans back to the ship - all, I believe, through the impulse of the moment, because he, was pleased with a thing that had no bearing in any way on my duties here. You will recollect in my last that I had suggested to the admiral to take the fleet out by the wide channel south of Danziger Gatt, where you will see 35 and 31 in the chart. Had he done so he would have saved himself and others plenty of anxiety and his fleet from a great risk that it is wonderful they all escaped from. We sailed, or rather steamed, on the 6th, losing the whole of a beautiful afternoon. After the steam was up, by making each ship's signal separately to weigh, when the one before had got about half a mile off, it took three hours to start the whole; and just after the last ship had started, and we were all spread over the length of the channel from Elgsnabben to Landsort, where there is either no anchorage or very deep water, one of these Baltic fogs rolled in from sea, and completely hid the ships from each other, with narrow passages between islands and rocks to find their way through. Half the fleet had passed my channel before it came on. Had the admiral taken my advice, they would have been out through it safely, instead of being caught in the very worst part with miles to go to Landsort passage. We kept sight of the flag-ship by keeping close on her bow, and when we were abreast of this channel they hailed me to haul out through it ahead of her. I hoped the next ship would see us and follow, and so on the others; but it was too thick, though James Watt and the French ship were close behind us. We were in a few minutes out of all danger and at sea, while the others were all going on through the very worst part, and, to add to our troubles, it came on to blow hard in the night, and at daylight only Lightning and Duke were together, and it was blowing a gale from S.S.E. right in on the passage. The chief has since told me he never passed such an anxious night in his life, as he thought it impossible all could escape; and so did I. About noon we saw several ships to windward, and the sea got up so heavily that, seeing we were half buried keeping alongside Duke, they made our signal, 'Act to the best of your judgment'. I instantly bore up again for the passage, thinking it much better to lie in a comfortable anchorage than knock about outside, and I was also anxious to know if any ships had got on shore. The barometer being very low, I thought the gale would last some time, and, the day following being Sunday, I hoped to lay quiet inside till Monday. We found a tremendous sea running in among the islands and the rocks forming the channel; but when I got inside I saw that several ships had put back and were lying comfortably in their old anchorage, and I also learnt that not the slightest accident had happened. Out of all the ships only three liners and one steamer failed to get out. How they escaped is most surprising. At the worst point of the channel the steamer towing Neptune, the James Watt, and the Frenchman found themselves huddled together, yet they kept clear; Neptune and the Frenchman got out safely, James Watt getting back to the anchorage. The steamer towing Monarch was running right on to a small island, and hauled off so suddenly that she snapped both hawsers; but the Monarch was got under sail quick enough to keep her clear, and she also got back to Elgsnabben. It is most creditable to so new a fleet that in such a trying position all managed to escape accident. There was so much sea running at the anchorage that I determined to try a nice little cove inside, and I found it a most excellent place, but so small that we had to moor.
A later note says:-
No fleet was ever in a more trying position, and the way every ship was taken care of in such a place in a thick fog shows that the officers were much more competent than the admiral allows. The badly manned Monarch was got out of great danger by skill and promptness, Captain Erskine being one of our best officers.
We rejoined the fleet in the afternoon of Sunday with most beautiful weather, and the chief ordered me to go and join Arrogant off Hango, and to examine the anchorage at Hango and Wormso, the one at the north entrance to the gulf, the other eastward of Dago Island on the south. In the middle of the night, when off Dago Island, we saw a vessel, evidently a steamer, standing to the westward about a mile from us, with three masts, but only a square fore-topsail. Knowing we had no steamer so rigged, and that no merchant-steamer could be coming down the gulf, I really feared she was a Russian on the. look-out for us, and my fears were not lessened when I twice made the first portion of the private night signal without her answering it. We were then passing her; but knowing I could not leave her without ascertaining if she was an enemy's vessel or not, I turned round, took our sails in, and went, to quarters. To add to my doubts, though she did not answer the signal, she fired a gun, and afterwards hoisted lights, but not the right ones. When we were quite ready we stood towards her, and in the half-light night, as we neared her, saw that she set a main-topsail, and was one of our own steamers cruising - Desperate. She had never noticed our signals, and she was making what she thought the private signal to us, but for the wrong day! I assure you I was not sorry to find her a friend, for there can be no Russian steamer that is not four times our force, so that we must have been taken had she been an enemy. (A seaman of the Desperate afterwards told my brother of the feeling of admiration the men entertained for the behaviour of Lightning on this occasion, the little vessel fearlessly dashing up close to her possible big antagonist! - Ed.) We joined Arrogant with my old messmate Henry (now called Yelverton) in Undaunted, Ryder in Dauntless and Hall in Hecla, all off Hango, and we all dined together with Henry, who is really a most excellent hand for all the work he has been doing. He has been for a long time keeping a look-out on the shores of the gulf on both sides as high as Revel, sometimes alone, occasionally with a second vessel, and one could not have a more excellent, pleasant senior officer to serve under. William Sulivan is gunnery lieutenant of her, and Henry speaks very well of him. In the evening it was arranged that I should keep Dauntless with me as a body-guard, and also to assist me in finding the rocks we want to put buoys on, by anchoring near, so that we could work round her. Henry (Yelverton), with Hall, was going to try to get into a place near, where they could stop vessels passing with material for new batteries at Hango. We spent several hours in sounding round the rock off Hango, and put a large red buoy on it. We afterwards got some soundings in the roads, and then anchored as near to the batteries as we could venture, to get a sketch of them. We were two thousand eight hundred yards off, but they did not fire at us, so I suppose they have no long-range guns. They all seemed in good order, and had sand-bags on the parapet on each side of every gun. This the sketch will explain to you; and if you look at the plan below, you will see how from our anchorage we saw the four forts in the position of the sketch. B fort is new, and I think not yet complete. Of course there is no strength beyond what a few of our ships could destroy in a short time, but it is a question whether any advantage is to be gained by it, worth even the damage done to a few ships, and the few lives that would be lost. The large fort could, I think, be destroyed by shell at a long range.
I then landed on an island the other side, and had a good shot at the fort with a four-inch - theodolite! Having seen all I wanted to see there, I left about 10 p.m. with Dauntless, and ran across for Wormso Sound, which is the anchorage inside the Stapelbotten bank off Wormso Island. Sir James Saumarez, with his fleet, used to lie there and get plenty of supplies from Dago Island. We spent the next day (11th) in sounding the banks and putting small buoys on their ends: I feared to put large ones till our ships go there, as they might be removed or sunk. In the evening, wishing to see if the passage by Wormso Island was protected by batteries, I stood in and saw them working very hard at telegraphs newly erected on every point; but I could see no guns or works of any kind, so we ran in close to the shore, where there is a large village of poor houses, I fear quite deserted. It was inhabited by a colony of Swedes. There was an officer at the telegraph, with a party of men who did not appear to be soldiers. I could easily have destroyed the telegraph, but did not wish to let them think I was firing at a few men in such a position; and, did we land to destroy it, we knew they would instantly remove all but the post and then bolt, as they did at a place nearer Revel, where Arrogant's men landed. They saw one man, whom they tried, by virtue of showing him a sovereign, to induce to bring two sheep. The man left, and the first lieutenant and doctor went a little way inland, till, seeing something shining over some bushes, they found themselves watched by two dragoons with brass helmets, who were behind the bushes. They made the best of their way to the boat, and were not pursued: perhaps a fear of their revolvers had something to do with it. In the morning Ryder, with the master of Dauntless, came on board before breakfast, and remained till we anchored with her inside the banks in the evening, when I dined with him. The difference between the work I had been at before, and such pleasant days at my proper work, with such pleasant men and old friends as Henry and Ryder, you may readily fancy. It made me wish to remain away altogether; though we had plenty of work, for with so little night we were obliged to be up early, and in three nights and days I only got nine hours' sleep.
The next morning (12th) being calm, I took Dauntless in tow, to take her out to the Apollon Shoal, which you will see ten miles outside. We spent all the day in sounding over it, and found it much longer than in the charts, the two ends being the worst parts, and three miles apart. It was very foggy nearly all day, so that we were delayed a little. We put one of the large cone-shaped buoys on the north end, with a large A painted in white on its head. I am going to put all black buoys on the south side of the gulf, and red on the north; and where different colours or marks are necessary, have them white and black on the south, and red and white on the north. I also put a small one on the other end. I think these are too far from the shore for any one to touch them or even find out they are there. Having finished about 5 p.m., I left Ryder to find his way back, when fog and calm allowed him (you must know that the screw-steamers never get up steam except in cases of emergency, and they act quite as sailing-vessels), and steamed through a dense fog back to Hango, guided by occasional guns that I thought must be fired by Arrogant as fog-signals. About ten at night I ran alongside Arrogant. Henry agreed with me that I had better return to the admiral, as there was no other place I could examine but Revel, or rather the Nargen anchorage off Revel, and it was not safe for me to go so near Helsingfors without a larger force. I think that is the best anchorage for our fleet; and Yelverton was also anxious to go there, and would have taken all four ships, but did not like to do so without the admiral's consent. ...
I find the comfort of having Evans back, as now I have a real assistant. The chief would not let me go to Nargen, but said we must go there with a large force. He asked me to dinner, and, as I have done before, I remained and dined in a frock-coat, so he is not overparticular.
I here add the following later note on this subject:-
We (Yelverton, etc.) knew that the ice had long disappeared, and that Sweaborg ought to be reconnoitred; but the admiral had given positive orders that we should not go above a certain point without his permission. I therefore returned to the fleet with a request from Captain Yelverton to the admiral that he would allow me to go up and reconnoitre Sweaborg, if he would not come up with the fleet; but urging him at the same time to bring the fleet up at once to the fine anchorage of Nargen opposite Sweaborg. This would, I am sure, have been done had not the officer to whom I have already alluded prevented it by assuring the admiral in my presence that it was not safe to take the fleet up yet. and that Nargen (which he knew nothing of) was an unsafe anchorage. It was in vain that I mentioned the Hydrographer having told me it was the finest anchorage for a fleet in the gulf, and that my father, (Rear-Admiral T. B. Sulivan, C.B.) who had been first lieutenant of the brig that led Nelson's fleet into it, had told me the same. The adverse influence was too strong, and thus the chance was lost of reconnoitring Sweaborg in good time to have sent home for mortars and bombarded it that year.
If Admiral Seymour had been allowed to exercise his proper influence as captain of the fleet from the commencement, or had any of such masters as Stokes Moriarty, Bodie, Hill, Allen, Blakey, Scott, or Evans been in the position of master of the fleet that year, working cordially with Captain Sulivan, as any one of them would have done, and as some did on many occasions, and as Mr. Baker, the master of the Gorgon, had done throughout the Parana expedition - for which he was made a commander - this loss of time would have been saved. Captain Sulivan said he never forgot the tremulous excitement of Sir Charles Napier, when, after listening to the opposite opinions of his two advisers, he said with trembling lips, "What am I to do when you two, whom I ought to trust to, give me directly opposite opinions?" It was a misfortune for the admiral and the service that he, had in such a position an officer who, instead of helping to give him confidence when he was so anxious about the safety of his ships, seemed to delay his movements and to encourage his weakness.
I have always tried to impress on the commodore, and once I spoke to the chief of, the power we possess of shelling at long range any large space, such as a fortress or mole, with the ships' long-shell guns, heavy sixty-pounders; that our ships would be comparatively safe from their fire, instancing Hope shelling a lamp out at nearly four thousand yards with his two sixty-eight-pounders. Directly the commodore read the account of Odessa, he turned to me and said, 'This proves the correctness of all you have been saying on the subject' I think; we shall be trying something of the same kind.
Hango Bay, May 22nd, 1854.
(There seems to have been a sketch attached to this letter, showing all the positions referred to. But this having been lost, some of the points mentioned cannot be marked on the plan of Hango Bay. -Ed.)
My last left us with the fleet off Gottska-Sandö. Soon after the screw-steamer left, the chief left Admiral Corry with half the fleet, and with nine sail of the screw-liners, including Austerlitz and some paddle-steamers, started for this place. On our way I went to examine an American vessel direct from Cronstadt three days before, and. the information we got from him was so important that the chief sent me back to bring him on board, with her owner, who was also there. They left twenty-one sail of the line ready for sea at Cronstadt, four more fitting, some frigates, etc., and thirteen steamers. They took their shot and powder the day before he left. At Helsingfors they have fifteen sail of the line and a proportion of other vessels, so that they have in all forty; but every harbour-ship has, I think, been fitted out to make a show, and they say that they are not coming out, as they cannot contend with the English ships, unless we first knock our ships to pieces against their batteries, and then they can finish us. ....
We reached this (Hango) three days since, and yesterday (Sunday), very early, I was ordered to go and put buoys down on the rocks outside the entrance, the enemy having cut away the one I put down a fortnight since. In going towards one rock we struck against the side of another, not in the chart, with only about five feet of water on it. The sun was ahead, so the man at the mast-head would not see the rock. We hit it a hard crack, but glanced off it, heeling over a good deal, at the time the man was hauling in the lead-line, having just had twenty-five fathoms, and we were going very slow.
On our return from this about midday, the chief said he wanted me to go and try to get in behind the island near the forts, to have a good look at them, and see if any ships could get behind them; but I must give you an idea of the place, so that you may put it before you as you read.
We went round from the fleet outside the outer Islands, and anchored where I have marked +, Lightning, and I then went in my gig to try and have a close look at the forts from the rocky islands, behind which the boat could lay out of sight. Not seeing anything as close as I could wish, I thought I would go on Ryson Island, close to the large fort of thirty-one guns, and as it is wooded I thought I might easily conceal myself from those in the fort. I thought there might be men watching me from the island, and had doubts about going there, until I saw on one of the highest of the low stunted trees a hawk perched - that made me think no one could be there, and I foolishly pulled round into a channel not fifty yards wide; but just as I was about to land, I felt that perhaps I was wrong, as there might be risk, and I could perhaps see what I wanted from another island. It was indeed Providence watching over me and the boat's crew; for as we went on and pulled out of the narrow channel, we saw a party of soldiers running along the shore of Ryson Island to cut us off. You may suppose we pulled hard, and they ran as hard; but by the time they reached the point of the island, we were nearly four hundred yards off. I feared they were riflemen; and when I saw them form up, and their muskets flashing in the sun, I thought they would give us a volley, and took up a Minié rifle in the stern-sheets to return it; but they never fired, so I took off my cap to them instead. Had we been three minutes later, we must have been all shot in the narrow channel, as the rocks quite overlooked it within thirty or forty yards. I ought to have known better than to put a boat in such a position. Even if I had landed, I ought to have pulled outside, and not risked the boat in a narrow creek. Had I landed, I must have been either killed or taken prisoner. It was indeed a most merciful Providence that made me turn away at the moment I was going to land. My boat had evidently been seen from the thirty-one-gun fort, and the men had been sent across: as I saw them go back in a large boat I counted twenty-two of them.
I then crossed to an island, where I had a capital look at the batteries. I crawled along to the summit, and, with the glass resting on the rock, saw everything beautifully. The soldiers were crowding on every high rock near them, but they never attempted to fire any of the guns. I took care to have a good steep rock at hand to get behind when I saw the flash, had they done so.
The forts marked 4 and 6 guns I had only seen that morning from the Duke's topmast-head. We had not known of them before; so wishing to have a good look at them, I went to the top of another little island, from which I saw into the rear of the forts, one pointing to the eastward, the other to the westward. As soon as they saw me, they shoved off a large boat full of soldiers, who landed on a small island opposite to where I was, so I wished them good-bye and got away before they reached the summit, as it was within musket-shot. I then returned, sounding as I came out, and we ran round to the fleet. I reported to the admiral that I could place four steamers, so that they could shell the thirty-one-gun battery, at a range of about two thousand two hundred yards, and that there would be only two guns bearing that way, while we could take all the chief fronts of the forts in flank and rear; that the same ships could afterwards shell the ten-gun battery; while two others, or two of the same, could move on, and shell the flank and rear of the six- and four-gun batteries, where not a gun would bear on the ship. I also pointed out a position from which the fort could be flanked by two vessels through an opening to the eastward of Ryson Island. He seemed determined to try it, and ordered me to go to the eastward and find Impéreuse, with the three paddle-steamers with her, and bring them back with me. Mind, I never gave any advice as to whether this place should be attacked or not - I have all along felt that if we did it most effectually it would be of little use to us, and not worth the risk, the loss, and the ammunition expended. All I have been anxious about is that, if it is to be attacked, care may be taken to do it in the most careful way, so as to have as little loss and damage as possible.
I returned this morning with the steamers, and was ordered by the chief to go round again and look at the channels and batteries. I took Nugent, the lieutenant of Engineers, with me, as he never gets sent anywhere, and has only got out of Duke when I have asked for him to come with me. We went round and anchored just out of shot, and pulled up in the gig under a little island, from which we got a capital look into the six- and four-gun batteries. When we were lying flat on the top of the island, peeping with our glasses over the ridge, we saw them all watching us, and at last turn a gun towards us. I had seen them do it the day before; but they did not elevate it enough to reach me - that I could see distinctly - so I did not move; but this time, while watching them, I saw its muzzle rise quite high enough; so I jumped up and called Nugent to come, and we walked back a few yards, giving them a full view of us, to a nice high over-hanging rock, which we were under before a shot could have reached us; but they did not fire - not I suppose, being ready in time. We were about twelve hundred yards off, and about a thousand yards from the other forts, but looking at their flanks. I wonder they did not try the Minié rifles. We then went on, when, to my surprise, I saw Dragon come in and anchor only sixteen hundred yards from the large fort, and shortly after begin to fire. I hurried back, supposing I should have to bring in more steamers, as it seemed madness placing one alone at a distance that the forts could so easily hit, and I saw the shot striking her, as we went back a little outside her. 1 was ordered to take Magicienne and Basilisk under my orders, and take them where I proposed. I went on in Magicienne (as the other had to get her steam up), and anchored her where she saw into the flank and rear of the large fort at two thousand one hundred yards. Two guns from that fort and the two on the flank of the ten-gun battery fired at her, but the shot fell a hundred yards short, while her large ten-inch gun threw the shell into the fort. They burst a few shells well over Magicienne - I think from a mortar; but none struck her. I then went back in my boat to meet Basilisk, and found Lightning close to Dragon. She had brought down the master of the fleet, who had first placed Dragon there, and certainly made a great mistake, as she was six hundred yards nearer than I proposed to place the shelling-steamers; and though she hit the fort well, her shell made no impression on the stone walls or the earthen parapet. If they had been fired a little farther off, and so dropped into the fort, they would have been more effective. She had then a number of shot in her hull, one man killed and one wounded, and one shot close to her shell-room under water. I waited in Lightning till the master of the fleet returned, and then went on in her to meet Basilisk; and just as I was taking her close to Magicienne, intending to place her so as to flank the six- and four-gun batteries, our signal was made to return, and mine to bring back Magicienne, and Dragon's to haul out. It was a perfect bungle, intended, I believe, only to try the range for shelling; but the Dragon having been improperly placed so close made it look like a serious attack. I hope it is not going to be attacked, for it is not worth to us the loss and damage the ships would meet with; and, if he sends smaller ships in, they will be beaten, and the large ships will be obliged to join, and so compromise the whole squadron, and then, perhaps, let the fifteen sail of the line from Helsingfors, sixty miles off, come down on us while our ten sail are damaged, and have expended half their powder and shot, etc.
Monday, 23rd. - I have just been hauling a prize (not ours) off the rocks, and I hear the chief is really going to send in the block-ships and smaller ones to silence the batteries. I hope not, for the heavy battery has the guns so well mounted, the men out of sight, and a high parapet, that it may do great damage to several ships, if not beat them. That we must destroy it in the end is certain, but at a loss and risk that it is not worth. I believe the fact of Arrogant and Hecla having silenced a battery on the coast and brought out a vessel makes him anxious to try it; but they were small guns badly mounted. They did it very well, and only suffered from rifle-balls from numerous troops. ...
I only wish the chief would try the effect of shelling the forts from every large gun in the fleet before putting ships alongside them. If we even silence the forts, and do not take possession and totally destroy them, we only do half our work, as they will soon repair them; and as they have the mainland commanding the inner roads, they may drive our ships out, even if we have totally destroyed the forts, by bringing guns on the rise of land thickly wooded, and firing at long range on the anchorage.
The great mistake in placing the Dragon was, I think, made by the master of the fleet, from his ignorance of the principles of gunnery; for when I gave the admiral the report in the morning, and pointed out that I would place two steamers in that line at two thousand two hundred yards' range, he said that the master of the fleet had found a place where a steamer could be sheltered from the fire of the fort behind an island, and that was the reason he placed her so near, and did not seem to understand it till I explained to him that a low island was no protection against guns on shore when they had the range, while it might prevent the ship hitting the fort from not seeing it with the sight, and that as the shot leaves the gun so much more horizontally than it falls, an island might actually prevent the ship firing, and yet the fort might hit her over it. ...
I am sorry he has done anything at all here, as it is a petty kind of warfare for such a fleet.
Hango, May 24th, 1854.
The admiral sent for me this morning, and I had a long talk with him about the forts, etc., and was glad to find that he had no intention of sending the ships in against them. But he seemed inclined still to try shelling at long range on the large fort, and asked me where the block-ships and steamers could be placed, so that he has fallen back on what I first suggested; and had not the Dragon been so imprudently placed where she was and so got mauled, it would have been all right, and I believe he would not have fired a shot at all, which is certainly his best plan. The master of the fleet was present part of the time, and said that I was right. I had advised two thousand two hundred yards, and it was entirely his own doing that the distance was altered. The poor chief is really too shaky, nervous, and borne down by the responsibility to have such a charge on him. He has no plans or system, but the impulse of the moment alone guides him, and I trust we may have no serious thing to do, requiring careful plans and system. He is now thinking of Bomarsund; but that is a stronger place, and would be far more difficult to attack.
I have been again with the chief for some time, and he has been asking me a great deal about attacking the batteries, where to place the ships, etc. Shortly after I was talking to the commodore about it, and telling him how I hoped the chief would not risk the ships for such a thing. I said that guns mounted as these were in their batteries would be very destructive to ships before they could be silenced. You recollect my dispute and correspondence about the Plymouth batteries, and my giving a decided opinion that guns mounted in a certain way ought to beat any ships. These guns are mounted exactly in the way I said was the best. They are thirty-three feet above the water, behind a high parapet, the upper part of which is earth, no embrasures, and the men's heads not seen. There would be nothing but the muzzles of the guns showing, and from their height the lower guns of the ships could hardly see them, while the upper part of the ships would get every shot. We could, of course, with our force, destroy them all, but with far greater injury and loss to us than they are worth, as the ships that went alongside them would probably have to go home to repair. The large ship that went against the chief fort could not expect to escape without a hundred killed and wounded, and we want every ship and every man, in case the Russian fleet comes out. The commodore said Admiral Chads' opinion coincided exactly with mine, and he hoped that I had told the admiral so. I said that I had not had a chance, as he had never asked me whether it was worth attacking, or if the ships would be much damaged, but merely where ships could be best placed to attack it, and that I had feared to volunteer an opinion on a point on which he had not asked it Just after the chief came up on the poop for me to point out more things to him, and he asked me plainly, 'Don't you think this ship would soon knock down that fort?' I said it would be very difficult, as the solid masonry of granite would be difficult to batter, and that I thought the damage and loss to the ships would be of more importance than the place was worth. He said that was the real question, and we had a long talk about it. I think he will not do anything more, as he must see that perfect success here can have no bearing on the important points of the war, whilst it might compromise our superiority at sea. We have here only ten sail of the line, and fifteen of theirs are at Helsingfors, six hours' sail off, and the Cronstadt ones, of which fifteen at least are sea-going ships, are only a few hours more with this strong easterly wind; so we certainly ought not to risk our ships. Had there been a squadron here inside, then it would be our duty to destroy the forts to get at them, and they are not too strong to prevent our doing it, if anything like the destruction of a squadron could be secured by it.
I hope none of you ever speak of anything I say about the admiral or the fleet out of the family. If I were not confident this would be attended to by all, I should be afraid to write one-half I do.
25th. - I have been again for hours with the chief, who is on board the ship, and sends for me every now and then. He is still reluctant to give up the idea of attacking this place. He asked me if I thought the large fort could stand out for a moment against the fire of the Duke. I said that of course she, with other ships, could soon destroy it, but that she would probably suffer severely first, and other ships also, and perhaps have to go home for repairs, particularly if her lower masts were disabled. He allowed that the fear of the ship's lower masts was the most against it; but as to going home for repairs, 'Why, no ship had to go home from Acre'. 'No, sir; but at Acre they could not hit a line-of-battle ship at eight hundred yards; here they hit the end of a small steamer at one thousand five hundred yards. We must compare it more with Algiers, where every ship was much damaged.' I then urged him, if he thought fit, to try every heavy gun in the squadron shelling at a long range, and so at least greatly shake it. I fear he will not be satisfied without trying it.
Two deserters came in a punt about twenty miles last night from near Degero, above Hango. The long creek to Baro above it is the place where Arrogant and Heda had their fight. I breakfasted with Yelverton and got all particulars. Arrogant grounded in the entrance just as she had destroyed the battery of four twenty-four-pounders. The Russian horse artillery had been most gallantly galloped down and unlimbered on the open beach under her fire within three hundred yards; but our ships knocked over so many men that they galloped the horses down again to try to limber up under fire, and two guns were upset, one in the water. Several horses were killed, and at last the Russians cut the traces and left the two guns. The Arrogant got her anchors out and hove off, keeping the fire of the rifles down with grape. They saw one officer on horseback cut in two by a round-snot, and the deserter says it was the major commanding. They brought out the one vessel; two others were aground, and they could have burnt them; but I was glad to hear Yelverton say that he had not the heart to do so, as it could do them no good, and only perhaps ruin a poor man. Ekness was at his mercy, and they saw women and children flying from it and collecting outside, many well-dressed ladies among them, and the people removing their things. I said I wished he had sent a flag-of-truce in to say they had nothing to fear, as we should not fire at a defenceless town; and he wishes he had done something of the kind. But I fear the old chief will not approve of any such Christian-like mode of conducting war, for he thinks Yelverton ought to have demanded the vessels on shore, or knocked the town down, if they were not given up; but he agreed with me that nothing should induce him to fire a shot at defenceless houses, women, and children. The deserters are from gun-boats sent down there, and they say that three hundred of their troops were killed (this perhaps included wounded), and the next day all the inhabitants were ordered out of the town, so that they might burn it if a ship came again.
Though several round-shot struck both vessels, no one was hurt, except by rifle-bullets. The man in Arrogant (the captain of the gun) was killed by a ball on the main-deck through the port. It seems to have been a well-done thing by Yelverton and Hall. Hall led, and got several shots from the battery in his bows; but when Arrogant got up in the narrow channel, and turned round about three hundred yards off, she gave it a broadside that completely silenced it. It was a temporary battery hastily constructed. Hall has certainly opened the business; and having a small but well-armed steamer, he will be in the best position possible. He said it was fortunate for us we had not remained with them, as having no bulwarks we must have been terribly exposed to the rifle-balls, which came like hail. It is a hint for us, and I shall take care, if we go near the shore, to have a good barricade of our hammocks, boxes, bags, etc., so as to be as much sheltered as if we had high bulwarks. (What about the small craft of the present day in this respect? - Ed.)
The deserters also said that on the island sheep and cattle may be bought, and that there are no soldiers or arms there. So the admiral ordered me to go directly, taking men with me and the purser of the flag-ship, on a foraging expedition, and the men recommended one of the large islands outside Degero. The admiral was very urgent that I should not go near any armed people or risk being fired on, and I assured him I was quite as anxious on that head, but that there was little fear of our not keeping out of the way, unless in a new place we got on shore and the gun-boats came out; so he has sent Gorgon with me, and we are only waiting till the weather moderates. There were poor Russian prisoners on board, taken in one of the merchant-ships, and the deserter Finn interpreted for them. They thought they were going to be shot, and the terror of a poor fellow in a sheep-skin coat was almost amusing: he said he had a mother, and he hoped we would let him go back to her. The poor fellow shook with terror, and pressed his hands to his chest as if in pain, and it was some time before we could convince him he was not to be shot, particularly as a party of marines were exercising on the deck above, and he could see them up the hatchway. They seemed to see that the officers with most stripes on their sleeves were the great men, and, directly one came near, down they went on their knees and put their heads on the deck; and when at last they were ordered into the chief's cabin, they went down with such a flop that I thought they had broken their knees and heads. They looked much less terrified when they came out, and had been assured that when we went higher up they should be landed near where they had been taken.
To return. We went up the channel to Elgo Island, and I soon found these men knew nothing about the place, and that on the island where they wanted me to go there were two Russian telegraph stations. So at last I sent them to see what they could get in their own punt, telling them to tell the people they should be paid for everything they liked to sell. I then went in the gig with six men and Evans (all of course well armed), to see what I could pick up myself, and we soon came to an island, where in a little cove I saw several cows. I thought I saw some one; so I landed and went in alone, thinking that would show they need not fear; but I could find nothing but cows, and no sign of dwellings. Feeling sure the people would not have left their cows behind if they had fled, we pulled round the island till we came to some sheep and lambs on a point, and shortly after to a pretty cove among islands, where were several boats and nets and four or five cottages. As we pulled in I waved a white handkerchief, and soon we saw some heads peeping through a window, and as I landed one young woman walked down and met me, evidently in great alarm, and she looked dreadfully frightened as I shook hands with her; then two more came out, equally frightened. (I had a good interpreter with me.) On going into the house, it was a most painful scene! One poor old woman got up in a corner, put up her hands in an agony of terror, and cried bitterly. On a bed in a corner, huddled up, were three young women, also crying, and in all there were about eight or nine, including one girl of about twelve. It took some time quite to reassure them. They said they had been told we should murder them all if we came, and destroy all their property. The men had all been taken to work at new batteries where Arrogant and Hecla had been; and, when the women saw me pulling in on the opposite side, they ran away, and all from the four houses collected in this one room for safety. They were in the act of heating a large brick oven to bake a batch of rye bread, enough to last a fortnight. The loaves are flat, about a foot in diameter, and have a hole in the middle, through which they are strung on a stick. The women soon went on raking out the fire and putting the loaves in, and I got some potatoes to roast in the ashes. They had a bullock and some sheep they would sell; so I sent off for the purser of the flag-ship, and a boat and the butcher from Basilisk. The women were all clean, modest-looking people, though very poor, and they were comfortably dressed, some in English materials, and some in home-made. They could read, but had only a Prayer Book and an English Psalter. Freshwater, my coxswain, just reminded me of the Swedish tracts, and that made me ask if they had a Bible, but they had only the Psalter, so while they were killing the bullock I went off and got a large Swedish Bible and some tracts. We gave them £3 10s. for their little bullock, but the sheep were too poor. We also bought some fresh and salt fish from them, and I bought one of their little wooden spoons, to their great amusement. I brought them also some tea, sugar, and biscuit; and when we left it was under very different circumstances than when we came. When I gave the old woman the Bible, she got hold of my hand and kissed it, and then all the others did the same. I thought they were going to give me other kisses, they got round me so. When I went off, I sent back some coffee in the punt, and they sent back some delicious cream, and we enjoyed a first-rate cup of tea with it. Egerton of Basilisk, the purser, Cudlip, and Evans dined with me, and then at 8 p.m. we weighed and ran out, getting here at 10.30 p.m. The chief was very civil, and I have been with him again to-day, and he now begins to treat me with some confidence. I heard that at his dinner-table a few days since the chief said to Admiral Chads that I was 'the most active man in the fleet'. So I hope I may be working myself into a position that may be useful to him. I believe he has quite given up all idea of attacking this place. I am glad to find that after all the Russian ships were not outside Helsingfors in the winter; they are frozen in, in their own basin between the forts.