Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

the worst time for such an expedition ; the river was consequently low : Indians were sent forward through narrow channels between shoals and sand banks, and the men were frequently obliged to quit the boats, and exert their utmost strength to drag or thrust them along. This labour continued for several days: when they came into deeper water, they had then currents and rapids to contend with, which would have been insurmountable, but for the skill of the Indians in such difficulties. The brunt of the labour was borne by them and by the sailors -men never accustomed to stand aloof when any exertion of strength or hardihood is required. The soldiers, less accustomed to rely upon themselves, were of little use. But all equally endured the violent heat of the sun, rendered more intense by being reflected from the white shoals, while the high woods, on both sides of the river, were frequently so close, as to prevent any refreshing circulation of air; and during the night all were equally exposed to the heavy and unwholesome dews.

On the 9th of April they reached an island in the river, called San Bartolomeo, which the Spaniards had fortified, as an out-post, with a small semicircular battery, mounting nine or ten swivels, and manned with sixteen or eighteen men.

It commanded the river in a rapid and difficult part of the navigation. Nelson, at the head of a few of his seamen, leaped upon the beach. The ground upon which he sprung was so muddy, that he had some difficulty in extricating himself, and lost his shoes : bare-footed, however, he advanced, and, in his own phrase, boarded the battery. In this resolute attempt he was bravely supported by Des

[graphic][merged small]

pard, at that time a captain in the army, afterward unhappily known for his schemes of revolutionary treason. The castle of San Juan is situated about sixteen miles higher up: the stores and ammunition, however, were landed a few miles below the castle, and the men had to march through woods almost impassable. One of the men was bitten under the eye by a snake, which darted upon him from the bough of a tree. He was unable to proceed from the violence of the pain : and when, after a short while, some of his comrades were sent back to assist him, he was dead, and the body already putrid. Nelson himself narrowly escaped a similar fate. He had ordered his hammock to be slung under some trees, being excessively fatigued, and was sleeping when a monitory lizard passed across his face. The Indians happily observed the reptile,

and, knowing what it indicated, awoke him. He started up, and found one of the deadliest serpents of the country coiled up at his feet. He suffered from poison of another kind; for, drinking at a spring in which some boughs of the manchineel had been thrown, the effects were so severe, as, in the opinion of some of his friends, to inflict a lasting injury upon his constitution.

The castle of San Juan is thirty-two miles below the point where the river issues from the Lake of Nicaragua, and sixty-nine from its mouth. Boats reach the sea from thence in a day and a half; but their navigation back, even when unladen, is the labour of nine days. The English appeared before it on the 11th, two days after they had taken San Bartolomeo. Nelson's advice was, that it should instantly be carried by assault: but Nelson was not the commander; and it was thought proper to observe all the formalities of a siege. Ten days were wasted before this could be commenced: it was a work more of fatigue than of danger; but fatigue was more to be dreaded than the enemy; the rains set in: and, could the garrison have held out a little longer, diseases would have rid them of their invaders. Even the Indians sunk under it, the victims of unusual exertion, and of their own excessos. The place surrendered on the 24th. But victory procured to the conquerors none of that relief which had been expected; the castle was worse than a prison; and it contained nothing which could contribute to the recovery of the sick, or the preservation of those who were yet unaffected. The huts, which served for hospitals, were surrounded with filth, and with the putrefying hides of slaughtered

cattle—almost sufficient of themselves to have engendered pestilence: and when, at last, orders were given to erect a convenient hospital, the contagion had become so general, that there were none who could work at it; for, besides the few who were able to perform garrison duty, there were not orderly men enough to assist the sick. Added to these evils, there was the want of all needful remedies; for, though the expedition had been amply provided with hospital stores, river craft enough had not been procured for transporting the requisite baggage; and when much was to be left behind, provision for sickness was that which of all things men in health would be most ready to leave. Now, when these medicines were required, the river was swoln, and so turbulent, that its upward navigation was almost impracticable. At length even the task of burying the dead was more than the living could perform, and the bodies were tost into the stream, or left for beasts of prey, and for the gallinazos— those dreadful carrion birds, which do not always wait for death before they begin their work. Five months the English persisted in what may be called this war against nature; they then left a few men, who seemed proof against the climate, to retain the castle till the Spaniards should choose to retake it, and make them prisoners. The rest abandoned their baleful conquest. Eighteen hundred men were sent to different posts upon this wretched expedition : not more than three hundred and eighty ever returned.

The Hinchinbrook's complement consisted of two hundred men; eighty-seven took to their beds in one night; and of the whole crew not more than ten survived.

The transports' men all died, and some of the ships, having none left to take care of them, sunk in the harbour: but transport ships were not wanted, for the troops which they had brought were no more: they had fallen, not by the hand of an enemy, but by the deadly influence of the climate.

Nelson himself was saved by a timely removal. In a few days after the commencement of the siege he was seized with the prevailing dysentery; meantime Capt. Glover (son of the author of Leonidas) died, and Nelson was appointed to succeed him in the Janus, of forty-four guns; Collingwood being then made post into the Hinchinbrook. He returned to the harbour the day before San Juan surrendered, and immediately sailed for Jamaica in the sloop which brought the news of his appointment. H was, however, so greatly reduced by the disorder, that when they reached Port Royal he was carried ashore in his cot; and finding himself, after a partial amendment, unable to retain the command of his new ship, he was compelled to ask leave to return to England, as the only means of recovery. Capt. (afterwards Admiral) Cornwallis took him home in the Lion; and to his care and kindness Nelson believed himself indebted for his life. He went immediately to Bath, in a miserable state; so helpless, that he was carried to and from his bed; and the act of moving him produced the most violent pain. In three months he recovered, and immediately hastened to London, and applied for employment. After an interval of about four months he was appointed to the Albemarle, of twenty-eight guns, a French merchant-man, which had been purchased from the captors for the king's service,

« ПредишнаНапред »