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Sir Sidney enters the Swedish service- The Battle of the
Galleys—The Battle of the 9th and 10th of June-Anecdote of Captain Dennison-Some reflections on British officers serving foreign powers.
With increasing ardour for a profession in which he had already given so great a promise of future excellence, and impatient of a life of inactivity, our officer, in 1788, upon a prospect of a rupture between Sweden and Russia, with a generous sympathy for the party which appeared to be the weaker, entered into the naval service of the former.
His distinguished bravery and very superior naval science drew upon him the general attention, and purchased for him the gratitude of the Swedish nation. It was a severe service in stormy regions, and an inclement climate. Captain Smith had first to discipline before he fought his crews.
In the several severe encounters
which proved the more bloody and disastrous in wreck, on account of the ignorance of the belligerents, the fleets of the Empress Catherine had bitterly to deplore the assistance that was brought to their opponents in the person of our officer. .
The digression can hardly be thought to be unwarrantable, when it gives an abstract of some of the encounters between the naval armament of these rival northern powers. It was in those that Captain Sidney Smith saw some most severe service, and gained great knowledge and experience in the desperate school of actual fight. We will select from among these transactions a short account of the battle of the Galleys, which may not be unacceptable to the admirers of our hero's character.
Just as the stormy April of 1790 was terminating, the grand fleet of Sweden — for Sweden then had a grand fleet, and was a considerable
. naval power-under the command of the Duke of Sudermania, consisting of twenty-three ships of the line and eighteen frigates, sailed from Carlscrona, in the province of Smaland.
This expedition was well planned. Its pretended object was that of preventing the junction of two divisions of the Russian fleet, one of which was then riding at anchor in the port of Revel, the other in the port of Cronstadt. The real views, however, were much more extensive, being to attack in detail, by first capturing the port of Revel, and destroying the fleet there, when the other division, it was confidently believed, would fall an easy sacrifice.
This design was bravely attempted, but it was not attended with that success that might have been hoped from the strength of the armament, the bravery of the seamen, and the skill and intrepidity of the native and foreign officers employed. The result of the attack brought no tarnish to the glory of those who conducted it.
In most maritime expeditions, and more especially those which are destined to act against fortresses and batteries on shore, the elements may prove the most potential allies, or the most formidable enemies. The truth of this was fully exemplified in this attack upon Revel and the Russian fleet. This fleet, then lying at anchor, consisted of eleven sail of the line, three of which were three-decked ships, and four large frigates. Independently of their own guns, this powerful fleet was defended in a very advantageous manner by numerous batteries in the harbour, and by the fortifications about the town, all of which were mounted with heavy cannon.
The Swedes approached boldly, receiving and returning a tremendous fire. Under all these
disadvantages, which became the more apparent as they were the more closely encountered, the Duke continued this desperate attack with unabating intrepidity, and when he was, to all appearance, on the very threshold of success, the wind suddenly changed, and so violent a storm ensued, that his vessels were obliged to close their lower-deck ports, thus rendering the tiers of his heaviest metal useless, and reducing his attacking power by one half.
The adverse hurricane also prevented many of his ships from taking any share in the action whatever, so that, after proving courage, conduct, and good seamanship, he was obliged to return with his fleet, at the moment when the enemy appeared all but defeated.
This was not the extent of his disasters. The wind setting dead in upon the shore, the fury of the elements drove the Prince Charles, of sixty guns, after being dismasted, into the hands of the Russians. The Ricket Stander, of the same force, was wrecked, abandoned, and set fire to by orders of the Duke ; and the Valeur, another line-ofbattle ship, was drifted on shore, but was afterwards enabled to escape, and get to sea again, by throwing overboard a part of her guns.
Amidst all these misfortunes, it was soon discovered that English officers were on board, and
Captain Sidney Smith in personal command in this discomfited fleet, by the rapidity with which its damages were repaired. On the very next day, such were the zeal and diligence of the Duke of Sudermania, and the commanders under his direction, that the fleet was again under sail a league and a half from Norglon, and so completely repaired from its recent damages, that it waited with impatience to make a second attack.
On the 3rd and 4th of June, 1790, two more desperate battles were fought in the Gulf of Wilbourg, in which the party that our hero espoused was again defeated; the Swedes losing seven slips, three frigates, six galleys, and about sixty armed small craft. The Russians also suffered severely.
. The slaughter, as might reasonably be expected, was particularly fatal to the English officers in the Russian service. In these affairs the point of the utmost danger was the point of honour. Captains Dawson and Trevenor were slain, and Captain Marshall also lost his life on the same occasion. Being mortally wounded, he had the agony, in the bitterness of the hour of death, to see the ship that he had commanded, and the crew that he had disciplined, sink with him, his colours still flying in melancholy defiance. Captains Aikin and Miller were also grievously wounded.