By Janet Sloss
Britain’s Last Conquest of Menorca 1798 - 1802
© 2002 Bonaventura Press
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:
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.
38 “Memoirs and Correspondence of Admiral Lord de Saumarez”, Vol. 2, by Sir John Ross; London, Richard Bentley, 1838
“Capture of the ‘Mahonesa”,
Admiral John Jervis
Captain Sir Edward Berry
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