By Janet Sloss
Britain’s Last Conquest of Menorca 1798 - 1802
© 2002 Bonaventura Press
By 1801, the tide of war was sweeping in Britain’s direction. Nelson’s blockade of Malta had succeeded in the island’s surrender the previous September. No ship had been able to enter or leave its port for two years and the French garrison was starving. As were the French army in Egypt. It was not Napoleon’s policy to keep his troops supplied with food and clothing. They were ordered to survive on pillage and looting, but there was little to loot in Egypt.
Lord Keith met General Sir Ralph Abercromby in Mahon to organise an assault on Alexandria with the regiments available and a handful of Menorcan volunteers. 32
At the beginning of March, they made an unopposed landing in Aboukir Bay and by the end of June, the French forces in Egypt surrendered. Farther north, an alliance between Russia, Denmark and Sweden was threatening British shipping in the Baltic. Nelson was immediately given a squadron and destroyed the Danish fleet in the Battle of Copenhagen in April.
In February that year, Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli joined the British side. Menorca was no longer threatened, and when Governor Fox was given command of all British naval forces in the Mediterranean, with the exception of Gibraltar, he felt free to send regiments and warships to Naples and Malta, leaving only 3,500 troops on the island. Then, under a new minister of war in London, he was commanded to transfer his headquarters to Malta. He was also given permission to name his own vicar general when the bishop left for Rome in July, and new staff for the Mahon Board of Health, finally ending his long disputes with both. When Fox sailed for Malta on September 18th, he left Brigadier General Brodrick in charge of Menorca. Only two warships were left at Mahon and three and a half thousand troops.
Brodrick left for England in October and Major General William Clephane was given command. He took over on October 22nd, 1801, at the same time as the first news of peace negotiations came from Downing Street: “I have the pleasure to acquaint you that the ratification of the preliminary articles of peace between His Majesty and the government of France has been exchanged in the accustomed forms, between Lord Hawkesbury and the accredited minister of France. Cease all acts of hostility against the subjects of France or of her allies.” Admiral Warren, commander of the English squadron in Mahon, and General Clephane were to send troops and military supplies to Malta and to stop work at Fort George.
Both Britain and France were exhausted by war. Britain had paid the expenses; Napoleon had lost allies and campaigns. There was a definite feeling that the end was in sight. On Menorca, all the staff asked to have their commissions re-confirmed and, most importantly, to be paid. Captain d’Arcy had written to London: “The expedition I was obliged to use to arrive in Minorca with the army in 1798 gave me no time to solicit the ordnance for the usual appointments, and the extent of the duty I had to carry on caused me for a long time afterwards to delay my own affairs. Please get a warrant from the treasury so that I can be paid here in this island.” The surveyor general told him in June that instead of ordnance extra pay of ten shillings a day, he would receive thirty shillings a day from the Treasury, a just recognition of his careful work.
Fox ordered that Nicolas Orfila’s position as civil assessor be renewed, with more pay, since he was “a gentleman of great merit and professional abilities” and had worked faithfully for the British administration since first appointed by Sir Charles Stuart. Orfila felt that his future on the island was doubtful. He wrote that he had tried to get justice done in the affairs of the church and its abuse of funds, but that the priests had ‘indisposed’ him to several powerful families of the island who wanted the abuses to continue. If, after the peace, the island were returned to Spain, they would use their influence at court in Madrid to lose him his job, and persecute and ruin his family. He asked Fox to intercede on his behalf with the king of Spain.
In January 1802, Major General Clephane repeated the request to London. “In the event of the cession of this island to the Spanish government, there are several individuals that, I am afraid, will suffer considerably for their attachment and good will towards the English. The civil assessor, Don Nicholas Orfila, appears to me in every respect a most upright judge, and a real patriot, studying only to administer public justice without being in the least influenced by any improper motives. I wish I could say as much of the other judges.
“During the time that the misguided bishop gave so much trouble to government here, Orfila acted with firmness and temper, explaining the law as it stands, and showing the bishop the illegality of many of his demands and proceedings. This, unfortunately, is a crime not to be forgiven, especially by the church party. Orfila has reason to believe that already a representation has been sent to the court of Spain accusing him of being a traitor, heretic, enemy to God and man, etc…. I promised him that I should lay his case before Your Lordship and the ambassador, whenever His Majesty was pleased to appoint me to the Court of Madrid. Orfila would like his commission from Stuart to be made stronger by another one from the king himself. I suppose he is encouraged in asking for this as it was by the recommendation of General Quesada who surrendered the island that Sir Charles Stuart gave him the appointment.” 33
Charles Viale, the governor’s secretary from the beginning, also
asked for a fixed salary and pension, and for an appointment as consul
in some port of Italy or Spain. He was recommended by Fox. “I should
not do justice to Mr. Viale if I did not state that I conceive him a man
of abilities of the strictest integrity. And that from his perfectly possessing
the English, French, Italian and Spanish languages he may be always useful
to the British government to which he is zealously attached. He is a native
of Gibraltar and is, on his mother’s side, descended from a most
respectable English family.” 34
32 Add.mss. 34,914, folio 151
Rear-Admiral James Saumarez.
The Peace Treaty (Tratado Definitivo de Paz)
Town Hall, Amiens,
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