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1796 - Evacuation of Leghorn (Livorno)



In the latter end of February, or beginning of March, Sir John Jervis detached Vice-admiral the Honourable William Waldegrave, with the Barfleur 98, and four 74s, on a "particular mission" to Tunis ; or, in plain. words, to bring out, either by fair means or by foul, the late British 28-gun frigate Nemesis, and one of her captors, the French ship-corvette Sardine, which, with the French brig-corvette Postillon, had taken refuge in the harbour. On the night of the 9th of March the service was executed, with scarcely any opposition and no loss, by the boats of the squadron placed under the orders of Captain John Sutton of the Egmont, and covered in their approach by that ship and the Bombay-Castle. On the next day the vice-admiral quitted Tunis, and in a few days afterwards rejoined the commander-in-chief off Toulon.

Among the separate squadrons employed by Sir John Jervis, was one under Commodore Nelson, consisting of the Agamemnon and Diadem 64s, the latter commanded by Captain George Henry Towry, the 32-gun frigate Meleager, Captain George Cockburn, and ship-sloop Peterel, Captain John Temple, detached on the 23d of April, when the fleet was cruising off Vado, with orders to the commodore to harass the coast of Genoa, and blockade the port. On the 25th, in the afternoon,

the squadron steered for Laöna bay, the commodore having received intelligence that a large convoy, laden with stores for the French army, had cast anchor off the town of Finale at the bottom of the bay. On arriving in sight of the anchorage, however, four vessels only made their appearance, and these were moored under some batteries which opened on the Peterel as she was leading the boats of the squadron to the attack. The animated fire kept up from the ships in return effectually secured the boats, as they advanced to board and bring off the enemy's vessels ; a service which the British gallantly executed, notwithstanding a heavy fire opened upon them from the shore, close to which the vessels were lying. The detachments were commanded by Lieutenant Maurice W. Suckling, assisted by Lieutenants James Noble, Henry Compton, John Culverhouse, and Charles Ryder ; all of whom distinguished themselves. Lieutenant Noble was badly wounded by a musket-ball in the head, and two seamen of the Meleager, one of them the cockswain of her barge, were also wounded, but not dangerously.

On the 31st the commodore, then with his little squadron, to which the 32-gun frigate Blanche, Captain d'Arcy Preston, and 16-gun brig-sloop Speedy, Captain Thomas Elphinstone, had recently been added, cruising off Oneglia, chased six French vessels running along shore, until they anchored close under a battery. At 3 p.m. the Agamemnon, preceded by the Meleager and followed by the Peterel and Speedy, anchored in less than four fathoms' water. The Diadem and Blanche, meanwhile, to the regret of their officers and crews, were too far to leeward to co-operate. The smart cannonade of the three ships and brig soon silenced the batteries ; whereupon the boats of the squadron, in the face of the fire still kept up from three 18-pounders in a national ketch, the Génie, and one 18-pounder in a gun-boat, carried both vessels. The four transports in company had, in the mean time, run on shore ; but these, notwithstanding the musketry of the crews stationed on the beach, were finally brought off. The transports were laden with cannon, ordnance-stores, intrenching tools, and provisions ; which had been brought from Toulon, and were to have been landed at St.Pierre d'Acæne to be employed in the siege of Mantua. To the want of the artillery on board these vessels was attributed, in a great degree, the failure of the attack upon that city. The loss sustained by the British, in the important service just detailed, amounted to only one man killed and three wounded.

In the latter end of June the near approach of the French troops to Leghorn rendered the speedy removal of the British residents and their property, as well as of the stores and provisions lying there for the use of the British fleet, an object of immediate importance. Accordingly, the 36-gun frigate Inconstant, Captain Thomas Francis Fremantle, then with two or three store-ships in company at anchor in the road, succeeded,

on the morning of the 27th, in bringing away the English and emigrants, or such of them as were desirous to quit Tuscany ; also 23 merchant ships and brigs, and 14 tartans, lying in the mole ; the chief part of the valuable effects in the warehouses, and 240 oxen which had been purchased for the use of Sir John Jervis's fleet. At noon the French entered the town ; and at 1 p.m. the batteries opened on the Inconstant, who immediately got under way, and with the only vessel that remained, a brig laden with ship-timber, escaped without any damage or loss. Commodore Nelson, in the 74-gun ship Captain, to which he had just been promoted, anchored off the Malora, to be ready to stop any ships that might be uninformed of the change that had taken place. The remainder of the British squadron in this quarter, under the orders of Captain Lord Garlies, in the 32-gun frigate Lively, proceeded, with the merchants and emigrants, to San-Fiorenzo bay, where the British fleet was then lying.

It being well understood that one of the objects of France, in taking forcible possession of the neutral city of Leghorn, was to afford her the additional means of recovering possession of Corsica, no doubt could exist as to her intentions upon the neutral fortress of Porto-Ferrajo, in the isle of Elba, also belonging to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. To frustrate the attempt Sir Gilbert Elliot, the viceroy of Corsica, in conjunction with Sir John Jervis, made proposals to the governor of the town ; and on the 10th of July, in the morning, Commodore Nelson, with the Captain 74 and a small frigate-squadron, on board of which was Major Duncan of the engineers, with a detachment of troops, took quiet possession of Porto-Ferrajo, a place mounted with 100 pieces of cannon, and garrisoned by 400 regulars, exclusive of militia. Every preparation had been made to storm the town, had the governor refused the terms offered, among which was an assurance that the Tuscans should receive no injury whatever in their persons or property.

Letter from John Jervis, commander in chief in the Mediterranen to Evan Nepean

The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Year MDCCLXXXIII. to MDCCCXXXVI.

Naval History of Great Brittain - Vol. I

Leghorn Merchant Networks


Linked toEarl Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound; Capt. Gardiner Henry Guion; Admiral Earl John Jervis; Admiral Horatio Nelson

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