Exit Britannia

By Janet Sloss


Chapter 12


Britain’s Last Conquest of Menorca 1798 - 1802

© 2002 Bonaventura Press

  Chapter 1 Chapter 5 Chapter9
Introduction Chapter 2 Chapter 6 Chapter10
Acknowledgments Chapter 3 Chapter 7 Chapter11
Bibliography Chapter 4 Chapter 8 Chapter12

Chapter 12

Yet another English admiral now enters the affairs of Menorca. Sir James de Saumarez, granted the Order of the Bath for distinguished naval service, was stationed in Gibraltar that winter, reporting to London on the ships that passed through the straits. In January, 1802, he advised that four French battle ships had come through sailing in a westward direction. He assumed that they were heading for St. Domingo in the West Indies and immediately prepared four 74-gun battleships to follow them, the Warrior, Defence, Bellona and Zealous. At the same time, he received in the harbour several transport and troop ships that were bringing men back from the successful reduction of Alexandria, and sent them to England.

All the while, he was expecting news that a peace treaty had been signed. Three months went by without an authentic report and it was only on April 24th that he received orders from Lord Keith to proceed to Minorca on the Caesar. Keith’s orders were: “You will enter into immediate communication with the officer commanding His Majesty’s land forces, and co-operate with him on all necessary occasions for carrying the evacuation into effect; and you will furnish to him, and to other officers of rank and their families, the best accommodation of which the disposable room in the ships will admit… and it will be incumbent on you to obtain, without a moment’s loss of time, an exact estimate of the tonnage that will be required as well for the embarkation of the troops as of the stores.” 38

On the same day, he received a letter from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty with a ‘Gazette Extraordinary’ giving an account of the signing of a definitive treaty of peace at Amiens on March 27th, signed by the Plenipotentiaries of Britain, France, Spain and the Batavian Republic. De Saumarez sailed from Gibraltar in the Caesar on May 1st and arrived at Mahon on the 6th. The ratification of the peace treaty arrived on May 17th.

De Saumarez immediately conferred with General Clephane on the evacuation of the island and the two began to make arduous preparations, collecting men-of-war and merchant ships from wherever they could to transport the 6,529 men and the military stores back to Britain.

Clephane had also received orders to deliver up Menorca to Spain. “It being stipulated by the twelfth article of the said treaty that the evacuations, cessions and restitution stipulated for by the present treaty… shall take place in Europe within one month after the ratification thereof, and the ratifications having been exchanged at Paris on the 23rd instant, you will fix the most early time for your restoring the said island of Minorca to such person as shall be properly authorized by His Catholic Majesty to receive the same…and you will immediately bring away with you all His Majesty’s troops, and any of His Majesty’s subjects who may be upon the said island of Minorca, together with all the artillery, stores and other efrects now there belonging to the king or any of His Majesty’s subjects.”

The 79th regiment, with ordnance stores, sailed for Gibraltar with the first transports, ten ships convoyed by the Dreadnought and the Genereux. The second battalion of the 40th regiment, together with troops from Elba and Porto Ferrajo, sailed in the Dreadnought, but with orders to proceed direct to England. The evacuation continued, with transport ships ferrying men and supplies back and forth between Gibraltar and Mahon.

The island of Menorca was handed over to the Spanish crown on June 16th, under the following orders:
“Rear-admiral Sir James Saumarez, commanding his Britannic Majesty’s squadron in the port of Mahon, and Major-general William Douglas Maclean Clephane, commanding the troops upon the island of Minorca, being duly authorised on the part of his Britannic Majesty by his royal sign manual, and Don Juan Miguel de Nines y Felia, having communicated his power and authority to receive the same, have agreed to the following arrangements, viz.
1st. Brigadier-general Moncrieff is appointed to arrange with his Excellency the Captain-general, the speediest time for admitting his Catholic Majesty’s troops by the gate at Ciudadela, and the troops of his Britannic Majesty will evacuate at the same time by the gate of Mahon.
2nd. On the following day, Major-general Clephane will be ready to receive his Excellency the Captain-general upon the glacis of Fort George, and deliver the keys thereof in due form; immediately after which the British troops will embark.
3rd. The fort of Fornells, and the towers on the coast, will be given up in due time to the engineer, Don Raman.
4th. Captain Framingham, Royal Artillery, will deliver up the ordnance and the ammunition found on the island at the time of the capture thereof as nearly as possible, and now collected at the following places, Fornells, Buffera, Addaya and Fort George.
5th. The royal arsenal shall be given up in its present state. Two line-of-battle ships’ lower masts and bowsprits, British property, will be left in store until means be furnished by the British Government to remove them.
6th. The papers found in the secretary’s office will be restored.
7th. The revenues of the island are to belong to his Catholic Majesty from the 23rd day of May last, that being the day appointed by the definitive treaty for the cession of the island. (Clephane reported to Lord Hobart that the civil revenue had been very productive and the balance in the Treasury Fund amounted to 12,000 pounds sterling.) In consequence of the judge and other civil officers having been employed by the British Government, their salaries have been paid up to the 17th June.
Signed and sealed at Mahon, the 14th day of June, 1802. James Saumarez”

Before leaving the island, de Saumarez advised the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that Menorca was given up to the Spanish Government on the 16th of June, that Major-general Clephane, with the last division of troops, had embarked immediately after having put them in possession of Fort George, and that “the utmost good order and harmony has prevailed between the forces of our respective nations.” Great tact was shown when the keys to Fort George were handed to the Spanish commander. The British flag was mounted on a cannon and put on board a warship without being lowered at the same moment as the Spanish flag was raised on the flag-staff of the fort. De Saumarez could claim that there here had been not the smallest cause of complaint of any irregularity whatever, and he praised Clephane for the alacrity with which he had cleared the harbours of the island of men and stores.
Thus ended the third and last British occupation of Menorca. During the first period, under Richard Kane, Britain had tried to anglicize Menorca as much as possible. During the second period, the island provided Britain with a useful harbour on its trade routes, under governors who were mainly looking after their own interests. For the third occupation, Britain was not interested in Menorca as an English county, nor as a colony to provide income - ever an impossibility - but as a useful harbour that could be quickly taken in wartime. They changed nothing in local administration or traditions, but did bring a brief prosperity and spirited cultural exchanges. For an island that had never been able to support its inhabitants, let alone provide funds for the conqueror, the people of Menorca had nothing to regret in its last occupation.


38 “Memoirs and Correspondence of Admiral Lord de Saumarez”, Vol. 2, by Sir John Ross; London, Richard Bentley, 1838

Fornells Fort

“Capture of the ‘Mahonesa”,
Engraving by Sutherland from oil painting by Whitcombe. Courtesy of the Hernandez Sanz Museum, Mahon

Admiral John Jervis

Captain Sir Edward Berry

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