Exit Britannia

By Janet Sloss

BONAVENTURA
PRESS

Chapter 3

EXIT BRITANNIA

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 3

On the 7th of November, Commodore Duckworth, with a squadron of 25 English ships, approached the island from the south, heading for the north coast. Sir Charles Stuart was in command of the troops. They made a feint at Fornells, while the real landing took place at Addaya. When they saw that the Spanish battery at the entrance of the bay had been evacuated and the powder magazine blown up, 800 British troops went on shore. At that moment, 2,000 Spanish troops approached from different directions, but were repulsed on the left and checked on the right by the guns of the Argo. The 800 men kept their positions until more divisions were put on shore. As darkness fell, the Spanish troops disappeared.

“The strength of the ground, the passes, and the badness of the roads in Minorca are scarcely to be equalled in the most mountainous parts of Europe,” Stuart reported to London as he described the taking of the island on November 18th. However, the English had accurate maps of the island and were familiar with its geography. Stuart had little time to decide on his next move. 100 German soldiers from Yann's regiment defected to the British side, but could give no information on the movements of the Spanish. Stuart decided to march his men to Mercadal, to separate the enemy forces, and from there to advance on Mahon and Ciudadela at the same time. A Colonel Graham quick-marched 600 men to Mercadal, arriving only a few hours after the departure of the Spanish troops to Ciudadela. Only a few Spanish officers and men were taken prisoner.

On the 9th, Stuart's main force arrived at Mercadal. All night, 250 seamen had pushed and pulled the battalion guns over the rough roads from Addaya. At Mercadal, they learned that Mahon had been nearly evacuated. Stuart immediately sent a Colonel Paget with 300 men to take possession of the capital. Paget, described as young, handsome and courteous, found the councillors of Mahon waiting for him in front of the San Francisco church, with the keys to the city in their hands. Although they were officially prisoners of war, he let them return to their own homes. A company of artillery and 160 men were taken prisoner. The next morning, a capitulation was signed, the British flag was hoisted, and the chain barring entrance to the harbour removed. Immediately, the frigates Cormorant and Aurora sailed into Port Mahon. “But these were not the only advantages immediately resulting from this movement. It favoured desertion, intercepted all stragglers, and enabled the different departments of the army to procure beasts of burden for the further progress of His Majesty's arms,” reported Stuart.
[Details of Governor Quesada's intractable problems are not given here since they are fully described in Jose Cotrina Ferrer's “El Desastre de 1798; Perdida de la Isla de Menorca” and Micaela Mata's “Conquests and Reconquests of Menorca”.]

In Mahon, Stuart learned that the main Spanish force were entrenching themselves in front of Ciudadela, erecting barriers outside the old city walls. Stuart immediately sent troops across the island in two parallel lines. One, under Colonel Moncrieff, marched along the old road via Ferrerias, the other along Kane's Road. At the sight of two columns of men approaching, the Spanish dropped their tools and withdrew inside the walls. A third English detachment took the Torre d'en Quart to the north of the city and at daybreak of the 14th it looked to the Spanish as if three columns were advancing on them. However, they were not convinced that the English force was superior to theirs, so that night the English erected two batteries of guns within 800 yards of the walls, and on the following morning lined up in order of battle. The Spanish fired two 18 pound shot, but when they saw the English squadron approaching the harbour, they agreed to a parlay.

Terms of capitulation were negotiated by Major General Sir James St. Clair Erskine:
“The garrison shall not be considered as prisoners of war but shall march out free with their arms, drums beating, colours flying, with twelve rounds of cartridge per man.
“The said garrison shall be sent with all due convenience to Spain at the expense of His Britannic Majesty to one of the nearest ports of the Peninsula, excepting the first battalion of the Swiss regiment of Yann and the detachment of dragoons to Numancia. Deserters will be restored to the British army. The inhabitants of this island shall be allowed to live in the free exercise of their religion, enjoying peaceably the revenues, property and privileges which they possess and enjoy at present.
“The ‘universities’ or Corporation of the Island shall be maintained in the enjoyment of the particular privileges and franchises which have been granted to them by the ancient Kings of Spain as they now possess them, and as they have been allowed to them in the treaties which have taken place as often as this island has passed from one dominion to another.
(signed) Governor Juan Nepomuseno de Quesada, General and Commander in Chief Sir Charles Stuart, Commodore and Naval Commander in Chief, Duckworth” 7

On the same day, Stuart signalled the Minister for War in London that his forces were in possession of the Island of Menorca without the loss of a single man. However, he gave more details in a letter to Nelson, who had just defeated the French on the coast of Egypt. “To fortune alone we owe the possession of Minorca, while I sincerely and from the bottom of my heart congratulate you upon a victory which does such credit to your judgement and resolution. My situation is extremely critical for I learn that the whole of the Spanish army has approached the court in consequence of the surrender of this island, and that they mean to make a descent before a reinforcement arrives…In regard to troops, I have scarcely 3,000 men. St Philip’s Castle is demolished, and… Ciudadela sound (bay, ed.)by no means answers the purpose of securing either of the ports of this island… Consequently, I shall resist their landing in the first instance and, if I have time, erect temporary posts at the mouth of the harbour of Mahon, to which I will retire… and await a reinforcement or effect a retreat.” 8

According to the historian, J. W. Fortescue, it was not to fortune alone that Stuart owed his capture of the island. “The general, in fact, simply cowed his enemy into surrender by rapidity of movement and confidence of bearing. The carriages of the six battalion-guns were so rotten that they all broke down before they reached Mahon.”

As was their habit, the jurats of Mahon congratulated Stuart “on the most happy event of the British arms having completed the conquest of this island under Your Excellency's command. You have the strongest assurances of our fidelity, and we offer ourselves with all the people of this town and termino to contribute for our part in anything that may be of the royal service.” 9

Footnotes

7 WO1/297
8 Add.mss.34908, f.320, Stuart to Nelson, 15 December 1798
9 WO1/297

Minorcan Towers photo by Michael Pugh, Courtesy of the Menorca Military Museum, Es Castell.

Port of Fornells
Watercolour by Antonio Schranz, Courtesy of the Hernandez Sanz Museum, Mahon

Sir Charles Stuart
Engaving by Grozer after an oil portrain by Romney, 1794. Courtesy of Hernandez Sanz Museum, Mahon

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