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Sir Sidney Smith proceeds on his perilous service-Fires the arsenals-The misconduct, or the treachery, of the Spaniards-Explosion of the powder-ships-He re-embarks safely-His despatch.
Ar the crisis mentioned in the last chapter, Sir William Sidney Smith, having delivered up his troublesome charge to the commander-inchief Lord Hood, was, as his guest on board of the Victory, then waiting for a passage to England. At this anxious moment he volunteered his services to burn the French fleet, magazines, and everything that could at all be of service to the naval or military equipments of the enemy. This was deemed almost visionary, certainly impracticable with the slender means that could then be afforded to our hero. It was, however, one of those possible impracticabilities in which his genius rejoiced. Against the almost universal opinion, he accomplished the undertaking in a manner that justified his appointment
to so forlorn an enterprise,-ten ships of the line, and several frigates, in the arsenal and inner harbour, with the mast-house, great storehouse, and other buildings, being completely destroyed.
It is well understood and confessed by all impartial men, that the fortifications surrounding Toulon were, owing to the treachery and imbecility of our allies, ill defended, and the evacuation of the place too long deferred. Had neither of these contingencies happened, the immense naval force, with all its appointments, would have passed over quietly into the possession of the English, and thousands of the royalist Frenchmen saved, who were slain on the republicans taking the place, or who afterwards fell victims to the ruthless guillotine, or the still more ruthless noyades. This was at the acme of the reign of
The proximate cause of this disaster, which spread confusion and almost terror throughout the English fleet, was, as before related, the permitting the enemy to gain possession of an elevated battery, on a point of land that laid open the British naval force to a destructive cannonade. This post, so commanding, so all-important, was strangely neglected by the military; hence all the confusion, disarray, and misery that ensued.
It was the high destiny of Sir Sidney Smith
gallantly to remedy some of the consequences of this mistake. Already was a large portion of the enemy in the town; plunder and murder had commenced their savage orgies, and, to increase this infliction upon the distracted inhabitants, the galley-slaves had obtained their liberty, when, with his officers and the few men under his command, and surrounded by a tremendous conflagration, he found that he had nearly completed his dangerous service.
But little more remained to be done, when the loud shouts and the republican songs of the enemy announced their approach to the spot where Sir Sidney and his small band were spreading around them destruction. The scene became terrible; for the screams of the wounded, and the roaring and the hissing of the voluminous flames, were drowned, at rapid intervals, by the rattling volleys of musketry, the terrific explosion of shells, and the thunder-emulating booming of the artillery. War revelled in rapine, and whilst his feet were saturated with human blood, his many-toned and hideous voice seemed to shake the smoke-obscured firmament.
Whilst all these horrors were enacting, and which seemed even so terrible to the vindictive and exasperated enemy that their progress was, for a space, arrested, a most overwhelming ex
plosion of many thousand barrels of gunpowder, on board of the Iris frigate, lying in the inner road, stunned at once the pursuing and the flying, and inflicted a transient stupor upon everything then and there living. The solid ground reeled under the unstable foot, and the waves of the sea undulated menacingly as if they would overwhelm the trembling land. The scene could have been likened only to the horrors of an earthquake, combined with a volcanic eruption.
Below were the tottering and falling houses, the crash of glass, and the cries of the maimed and crushed; above was one vast canopy of lurid fire, from which were descending bursting bombs, fragments of burning timber, and every description of fiery-pointed missiles,--the whole interspersed with flashes of intense and variously coloured light. Every one near the spot seemed to be threatened with instant destruction.
Fortunately, however, only three of Sir Sidney's party lost their lives on this terrible
It is a lamentable thing, and history will confirm the assertion, that in all combined movements, where men of different nations have to carry them into effect, the most egregious blunders will ensue. The Spaniards have always
been reckoned to be a gallant and brave peoplebut with more than their share of that parent of all mistakes and misfortunes, obstinacy. A party of these self-willed Spaniards, who were too proud fully to consider the purport of their positive and distinct orders, or too treacherous to obey them, were the cause of all this terror and calamity. They were commanded to go and scuttle and sink the powder-laden frigate-they went and set fire to her.
Now the reader must understand that, up to this period, Sir Sidney went first into the inner harbour, where he destroyed all the shipping he found there, and afterwards repaired on a similar service on shore to the arsenal. When he had completed the destruction of everything in his reach, to his astonishment he first discovered that our fear-paralysed or perfidious allies had not set fire to any one of the ships then lying in the basin before the town; he therefore hastened thither with his boat, to counteract the treachery or the cowardice of the Spaniards. But he was too late. Already had the republicans gained possession of these vessels; already had the boom been laid across the entrance to the basin; already he found that those but just now defenceless hulks were converted into formidable batteries. He was forced to desist from his endeavours to cut the boom, from