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Reduction of the Castle of San Juan.
On the 11th of April, the assailants appeared before the castle of San Juan ; and Nelson, not less prompt in thought than bold in action, knowing that the unhealthy season was at hand, and that there was no time to be lost, advised that it should be carried immediately by assault. His recommendation was overruled by the military commander, who determined on reducing it by siege. During this operation, not a gun was fired that was not pointed either by him or by Captain Despard, chief engineer to the expedition. Meanwhile, so great was the want of provisions, that the troops were obliged to subsist on the broth of boiled monkeys-a kind of food which Nelson often declared nothing could induce him to touch, after seeing their appearance in the copper*. This cause, combined with fatigue and the climate, began to undermine the health of the men ; and, on the 24th of April, when the castle surrendered, so general was the illness, that, exclusively of the few who were well enough to do garrison duty, there were not orderly men sufficient to attend the sick. The want of medicines tended to aggravate their wretched situation; for, though the expedition had been amply provided with hospital stores, these had been left at the mouth of the river, for want of craft to carry them up.
The reduction of the castle procured for the conquerors none of the accommodations ich they so much needed; the sickness and mortality continued to increase till the living became incapable of burying the dead, who were left a prey to the rapacious beasts and birds. After keeping possession of the castle till October, the miserable remnant of the expedition re-embarked for Bluefields,
* A fat roasted monkey is considered a dainty by the Indians of South America. Its appearance resembles that of a burnt child. I have, however, in the course of my life eaten much worse food.–The Old SAILOR.
Nelson is obliged by ill health to return to England.
an English settlement about twenty leagues to the northward, but a great number of the men died on the passage:
A few who seemed most healthy were left behind in the castle, which was retaken by the Spaniards as soon as the season permitted. Out of eighteen hundred men composing the expedition, only three hundred and eighty-four returned, and of the crew of the Hinchinbrooke, amounting to two hundred, no more than ten survived.*
During the siege of the castle, Nelson himself had been seized with the prevailing dysentery, and in this state he received intelligence by the Victor sloop, which arrived from Jamaica with a reinforcement, that he had been appointed by Sir Peter Parker to succeed Captain Glover in the Janus, of 44 guns. The day before the surrender of the castle he sailed for Bluefields, (Collingwood being made post into the Hinchinbrooke,) and embarked in the Victor for Jamaica. On his arrival at Port Royal, so completely was he reduced by the disorder, that it was found necessary to take him ashore in his cot. As soon as his health permitted he undertook his new command, but, experiencing a relapse, could retain it only for a short time. Towards the end of August, his indisposition had increased to such a degree that he was compelled to solicit leave to return to Europe, as the only means of recovery. He sailed for England in the Lion, of 64 guns, commanded by the
How much better would it have been to have acted upon the advice of Nelson, and assaulted the place at once, than to have suffered the men to perish by disease. A brave man in an attack knows the risk he runs, and meets it fearlessly; but both seamen and soldiers shrink with apprehension from the thoughts of sickness wasting their strength, and dying by inches. It was too frequently the case, during the war, that military pride overcame the prompt decision of naval
Had the place been stormed, there would have been less sacrifice of life.-The Old SAILOR.
He solicits Employment.
Hon. Captain Cornwallis ;* and the kindness and attention of that officer to the patient, both during the voyage and on their arrival in England, were beneficial to Nelson, that he often afterwards declared that, under Providence, he considered Captain Cornwallis as the second preserver of his life.
On his arrival in England, though barely alive, and almost wholly deprived of the use of his limbs, such was the ardour of his mind for employ, that nothing could prevent him from being immediately carried to the Admiralty and applying for a ship. “This they readily promised me," he jocosely observed soon afterwards to one of his relations,
thinking it not possible for me to live.” He then repaired to Bath, where he was at first under the necessity of being carried to the springs and whereever else he wanted to go, and then to use crutches for many week's. These, however, he threw aside much sooner than his friends at the Admiralty anticipated, though it was nearly three months before he entirely recovered the use of his limbs. On calling to settle with his physician, Dr. Woodward, the smallness of the demand produced a generous altercation between them. “Indeed, Captain Nelson," exclaimed the worthy physician, "you must allow me to follow what I consider to be my professional duty. Your illness has been brought on by serving your king and country; and, believe me, I love both too well to be able to receive any more.”+
Immediately on his recovery he hastened to London, and repeated his application for employment; and, after an interval of four months, during which
* Afterwards celebrated for his admirable retreat before a French feet of a vastly superior force.
# To the honour of the medical profession, this is highly characteristic of their universal generosity under similar circumstances.—THE OLD SAILOR.
Appointed to the Albemarle frigate. he paid a visit to his father and other relations in Norfolk, he was appointed, in August, 1781, to the Albemarle frigate, of 28 guns. This ship, a captured French merchantman, had been purchased for the king's service, and was a bad sailer, except when going directly before the wind, on which account Nelson always humorously insisted that the French had taught her to run away.
Whilst fitting her out, he again became so ill as to be scarcely able to keep from his bed. The service upon which he was ordered was also a trying one for his constitution, debilitated by the effects of a hot climate. He was directed, towards the end of October, in the worst season of the year, to proceed with one or two other vessels to Elsineur, and to convoy home the fleet of merchantmen collected there. This unsuitable appointment is known to have made a deep impression on Nelson's mind, for, in a Memoir of his Life, written by him long afterwards, when mentioning this circumstance, he adds, “and, it would almost be supposed to try my constitution, I was kept the whole winter in the North Sea.”
On the 4th of November, he arrived at Elsineur. It was during the period of the armed neutrality entered into by the northern powers from jealousy of Great Britain. When the English vessels anchored off Elsineur, the Danish admiral sent a midshipman on board the Albemarle, desiring to be informed what ships had arrived, and to have their force specified in writing. Nelson, piqued at the slight that seemed to be implied by the mission of an officer of the very lowest rank, replied: “The Albemarle is one of his Britannic Majesty's ships; you are at liberty, sir, to count her guns as you go down the side, and you may assure the Danish admiral that, if necessary, they shall all be well served.” In the course of the same month, Captain Dickson, in the Samp
Sails with a Convoy for Quebec. son, 64, took the command of the squadron,"which, on the gth of December, left Elsineur with 260 sail of merchantmen, and arrived in safety in Yarmouth Roads. During this voyage Nelson gained a considerable knowledge of that part of the Danish coast and its soundings, which at a later period proved of essential advantage to his country.
On the anchoring of the Albemarle in the Downs, Nelson went on shore to report her arrival to the senior officer. During his absence, there came on so severe a gale that almost all the vessels on that station drove, and the Brilliant, an ordnance store-ship, came athwart-hawse of the Albemarle. Nelson was apprehensive that she would drive on the Goodwin Sands. He hurried to the beach, but such was the violence of the storm, that even the Deal boatmen thought it impossible to get on board. Some of the most daring of them were at length induced by the offer of fifteen guineas to make the attempt. To the astonishment of all the spectators, he embarked during the height of the tempest : and, at the imminent peril of his life, he with great difficulty reached his ship, which had lost her bowsprit and foremast.
As soon as the damages were repaired, Captain Nelson was ordered to Cork for the purpose of sailing with a convoy to Quebec. Though his medical advisers represented the injurious effect which a Canadian winter was likely to have upon his health, and his naval friends urged him to represent his situation to Admiral Keppel, who then presided at the Admiralty, and who would no doubt have changed his destination, he could not be prevailed upon to take this step, conceiving that, as he had received his orders from Lord Sandwich,* it might appear indelicate in him to apply to his successor to alter them. The Albemarle accordingly joined the convoy at Cork,
* Portrait in the Council Room of Greenwich Hospital.