Vignettes from many engagements of the Victorian Royal Navy
For many, the great age of sail, typified by Nelson and his Royal Navy was the finest hour of British sea power. In its struggle with Napoleonic France it fought its greatest battles, brought to ruin its greatest foe and finally did rule the waves. The issue, perhaps, for those interested in naval warfare is that a navy so dominant does not have great sea battles to fight. The British Empire now expanded quickly due in no small measure to this naval superiority. The Royal Navy was constantly employed, but now its role was the bombardment of troublesome coastal ports and batteries, the suppression of piracy and slavery, exploration and the provision of Naval Brigades and their big guns to fight on land alongside the British Army in the few major and many minor wars of the Queen Empress's long reign. So whilst sea battles like Trafalgar would not come again until Jutland, this was a period full of diversity that took sailors and marines all over the globe in the service of the Empire. We join them in a host of engagements within this book's pages—bombarding the Syrian coast, with Rajah Brooke in Borneo, to Burma, through the Crimea, with the Shannon Brigade in the Indian Mutiny, to polar wastes and afoot in Ashanti, Egypt, against the Mahdi in the Sudan, in collision with the Zulus, the Boers and the Chinese Boxers among many others. This is a fascinating overview of more than half a century of naval warfare as it entered the modern age.
On the 2nd of January 1858, the naval brigade were engaged at the battle of Kallee-Nuddee. A party of seamen, under Lieutenant Vaughan, had been repairing the bridge across that river, when the Sepoys opened fire on him from a small gun in the opposite village. He returned it, and, crossing the bridge with three guns, held in check a body of the enemy’s cavalry visible beyond the village. Brigadier Greathed’s division and other troops were engaged all the time. Lieutenant Vaughan now pointed and fired one of his guns at a small gun of the enemy, which was concealed behind the corner of a house. His first shot struck the roof of the house; his second struck the angle of the wall about half-way down; and a third dismounted the gun, and destroyed the carriage. Captain Peel, who was standing by, said, “Thank you, Mr Vaughan; perhaps you will now be so good as to blow up the tumbrel.” Lieutenant Vaughan fired a fourth shot, which passed near it, and a fifth, which blew it up, and killed several of the enemy. “Thank you,” said Captain Peel, in his blandest and most courteous tones; “I will now go and report to Sir Colin.” <br>
The village was stormed and the enemy driven out by the 53rd Regiment, when the cavalry pursued and cut up the rebels terribly, capturing all their guns.<br>
Soon after this, as Captain Peel and Captain Oliver Jones with three men of the 53rd were passing through the battery, five Sepoys jumped out of a ditch, and attacked them frantically. All were killed, Captain Jones shooting the last with his revolver,—one man of the 53rd, however, being dangerously wounded.<br>
Eighteen or twenty bluejackets were attached to each gun, and with drag-ropes ran them about with the greatest rapidity. On the march they were dragged by bullocks; but if a gun stuck, the animals were taken out, and the wheels and drag-ropes manned by bluejackets; and having an elephant to push behind with his forehead, they never failed to extricate a gun from the worst position. This was carrying out to perfection the principle of a “steady pull and pull together.”<br>
On the 3rd of March the brigade were before Lucknow, and engaged in the taking of the Dilkoosah, when two were mortally wounded.<br>
Captain Oliver Jones was at this time serving as a volunteer with HM 53rd Regiment. He was the second to mount a breach at the capture of one of the forts, when he received a wound on the knuckles, but cut down the fellow who gave it him.<br>
The naval brigade guns were now posted to the right of the Dilkoosah, and near the river Goomtee. Mr Verney had a narrow escape. The enemy brought two guns down to the corner of the Martiniere, and opened on them. A shot struck the ground close to where he was standing, and so completely surrounded him with dust that his comrades supposed he had been killed, and were surprised to see him standing in the same place when the dust cleared off.<br>
Lieutenant Vaughan was now made a commander, but resumed his former duties.<br>
On the 9th of March, the brigade’s six eight-inch guns and two twenty-four pounders went down in front of the Dilkoosah, with four rocket-hackeries, the whole under command of Captain Vaughan, accompanied by Lieutenants Young, Salmon, Wratislaw, Mr Daniel, and Lords Walter Kerr and Arthur Clinton, midshipmen. Captain Peel was also there, with his two aides-de-camp, Watson and Lascelles. Unhappily, while looking out for a suitable spot in which to post some guns for breaching the Martiniere, he was severely wounded in the thigh by a musket-ball. The brave captain was carried to the Dilkoosah, where the bullet was extracted by the surgeon of the 93rd Highlanders. The brigade’s guns were most actively engaged in battering the Begum’s palace; and it was here, on the 12th, that Mr Garvey, mate, as he was riding fast on in front of a row of cohorns to deliver a message, and not perceiving that the quick-matches were alight, was struck dead by one of the shells. He was the second officer of the brigade killed, and a most promising young man.<br>
All the guns of the brigade were on that memorable day very hotly engaged. Several had been posted behind some earthworks thrown up by the enemy. As the men could not see over the bank to point their guns, Captain Oliver Jones placed himself at the top, and, though thus becoming a clear mark for the enemy, with the greatest coolness directed their fire.<br>
On the 13th the naval guns were placed in a more advanced battery. While warmly engaged with the enemy, some sand-bags forming the front of the battery caught fire. A coloured man of the name of Hall, a Canadian, under a heavy fire of bullets from loopholes not forty yards distant, gallantly jumped out and extinguished some, and threw away others that were burning. In the performance of this service he was severely wounded. He was a man of athletic frame, and always remarkable for his steady good conduct. He afterwards received the Victoria Cross.<br>
The next day, after Sir James Outram had, by his admirable manoeuvre, driven the rebels from their lines, Captain Vaughan being in front, Sir Colin Campbell met him, and desired him to bring up a gun’s crew of bluejackets to man an abandoned gun, which was to be turned against the retreating enemy. Lord Walter Kerr was sent back for the gun’s crew, and Captain Vaughan and Mr Verney proceeded to the gun itself, which was at the gate of an outer court of the Kaiser Bagh. They found that a body of Sepoys were defending themselves in an adjoining court, and that it was necessary to blow away the gate of it, that the troops might storm. It was for this object that Sir Colin ordered the guns to be turned against them. In the meanwhile, however, they kept a continual fire on the little band of British, from the walls and over and round the gate, whenever they approached the gun. Captain Vaughan then fired a few rounds at the gate, Mr Verney loading and sponging, three of the Shannon’s bandsmen bringing up the powder and shot, and some of the men of the 38th, under command of Lieutenant Elles, running the gun up after every round. Near them, all the time, was a house full of loose gunpowder, while close to it was another in flames. A sentry, however, was posted to give warning in time, should the flames approach the loose powder. Captain Vaughan now went back to meet the gun’s crew that had been sent for, and to show them the way, leaving orders with Mr Verney to keep up the fire. He discovered that the Sepoy charges were so heavy that the shot went clean through the solid gate every time he fired. By reducing the charges, the firing at last began to tell; and when the bluejackets came up, under command of Lieutenant Hay, the gate was blown open, and the court captured by the company of the 38th.