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The Life of General The Hon. James Murray
Chapter II. The War with Spain, 1739


For three-quarters of a century a state of war constantly existed, and the "face of Europe changed like that of a fine lady," as was said at the time. "No former period was of a more transitional character than the first eighty years of the eighteenth century. The unhappy wars had almost continuously changed the territorial frontiers without being able to settle them permanently," and to this might be added, that in the great colonial empires of France and Spain, the wars resulted, after a succession of failures and successes, in the birth of the British Empire as we know it now.

Throughout the year 1739 the opposition in Parliament, led by Pulteney, and aided by the rising genius of Pitt, had done their utmost to precipitate war with Spain. Walpole, with clearer insight and greater knowledge of the resources of the kingdom, was content to acknowledge that the injuries complained of were by no means confined to one side, and steadfastly refused to rupture negotiations by which he hoped to preserve an honourable peace. In this c3iSG} as happened not infrequently, he failed to accomplish his object, for the reason that British Trade was affected: British merchants saw sources of profit in the hands of the Spaniards for which they claimed a monopoly, and irf every action of Spain, a determination to maintain treaty rights which limited the trading facilities of England with South America and gave the Spaniards right of search on British vessels suspected of infringing them. The City was inflamed, and pressure brought by powerful interests proved irresistible. In the words of Horace Walpole, "Ambition, avarice, distress, disappointment, and all the complicated vices that tend to render the minds of men uneasy are got out of Pandora's box and fill all places and all hearts in the nation."

In August the national clamour forced the government to extremities; naval reinforcements were sent to the West Indies under Admiral Vernon, and an ultimatum was sent to the Court of Madrid, claiming immediate renunciation of the right of search, a claim that was refused at once, as was expected. In December the City bells pealed joyously to proclaim the declaration of war, and "universal and rapturous joy and exultation spread from man to man." Walpole, whose hands had been forced, could not be expected to take the same view. "They may ring the bells to-day," he exclaimed, "before long they will wring their hands"; and so it came about.

It was one of the strange results of the political situation that the very party which cried aloud for war placed every obstacle in the way of providing means to carry it on. The most vehement "little Englander" or the most pronounced "anti-militarist " of to-day could not have been more strenuous than the party, which, while desiring all the benefits which come from strength, were yet disposed to tie the hands of the minister in that consistent preparation which can alone procure success in war. The navy was ill-manned and ill-found. The standing army quite insufficient for home defence, with schemes for colonial aggrandisement superadded. The king, denied the means of raising fresh battalions for the land forces, was driven to the expedient of raising new corps of marines, which by some occult quibble apparently did not come within the parliamentary veto. Thus on the outbreak of war hasty orders were issued to get together a force for the conquest of Spanish America, and six fresh battalions of marines were ordered to be formed to reap that triumph which in an evil hour the nation considered within its grasp.

It was in the fourth of these battalions, commanded by Colonel John Wynyard, that our hero received his commission as second-lieutenant on February 2, 1740. His brother, Lord Elibank, was appointed lieut.-colonel of the regiment, a post which gave little satisfaction to his mother, who regarded it as a job to get a person, whose political views had been too freely expressed, out of the way. "Ye are not much oblidged to those that has put you in such a situation," she wrote; "but I hope you are not such a fool as to risk your life in so desperate a way." The force assembled in the Isle of Wight in the spring of 1740, composed to a considerable extent of drafts from old regiments, probably not of the best quality, and also largely of raw recruits, "the product of the hard winter," and the result was "remarkable neither for drill nor discipline."

Lord Cathcart was appointed to the command, and his opinion of the efficiency of the force is summed up by the remark, "They may be useful a year hence, but at present they have not strength to handle their arms." At Lord Catheart's urgent request, which in fact he made a condition of continuing his command, two old regiments, the 15th Foot (Harrison's) and the 24th Foot (Wentworth's), were added to the command, and the colonel of the latter, Brigadier-General Wentworth, was appointed second in command in the expedition. Later on, a further addition of 3000 men, recruited from the British colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, was agreed to, to join the force, under Colonel Blakency (of the 27th Foot), at Jamaica. Strenuous work fell to the commanders of this raw force before any semblance of training could be imparted to it, but by August Cathcart reported it fit to embark, and indeed this was the latest date which all information indicated as that on which the expedition should have sailed to enable its operations to be carried on during the healthy season in the West Indies.

[The remaining battalions were commanded by Colonels Wolfe (father of the victor at Quebec), Robinson, Lowther, Douglas, and Moreton. The six battalions were later re-numbered as the 41th to 117th of the line, but were disbanded in 1748. The battalions row bearing those numbers, except the 49th, were raised in 1741, and Originally numbered 55th to 59th. The present 49th Regiment being raised in 1743 from companies formed in Jamaica and numbered 49th in 1748.]

Unfortunately further delays occurred, partly, it is said, due to unfavourable winds; but other evidence seems to indicate that this cause was less the deciding factor than the unprepared state of the fleet to undertake operations of the magnitude which it was soon apparent must be faced. The extensive preparations going forward in England were well known at the Spanish Court. Much blame was attached to the government for its want of secrecy, and by some accident even the proclamation intended to be published by Lord Cathcart in Spanish America became public ; probably secrecy would, in any case, have been impossible, and only swift and energetic action would have found the enemy unprepared, and this, as has been said, was impossible. The breathing time given to Spain was fully utilised, and reinforcements were sent, and, what is of more importance, assistance from France, then nominally at peace with England, was invoked and granted. A French fleet sailed from Brest and necessitated a corresponding augmentation of the English preparations.

"I need not tell you," writes Sir Charles Wager to Admiral Vernon, "how much time it takes to prepare and victual so large a squadron for a voyage to the West Indies, nor how difficult it very often is to get them out of the Channel when they are ready to sail, as this year we have experienced, and I thought it would not be amiss for both French and Spaniards to be a month or two in the West Indies before us . . . that they might be half-dead and half-roasted before our fleet arrived."

Sir Charles Wager's anticipations were, indeed, fulfilled, for the French fleet returned without effecting anything, decimated by disease. But it appears strange that no foreboding of a similar disaster to our own forces occurred to him, and his own experience in the West Indies in earlier years should have been sufficient to warn him of the great danger of delay.

To return, however, to Lord Cathcart, it was not until September 2 that he could report "the wind is at last favourable," but on the 14th he was still at Spithead, and writes—

"The troops having now been six weeks on board, and upon salt provisions, and the prospect we have of being so much longer here, obliges me to represent to your Grace f of what consequence it would be to the men's health if during our stay here they were ordered to be furnished with fresh provisions."

Comment on such a disclosure is scarcely necessary; as a preparation for young soldiers to face an unhealthy climate nothing worse could be imagined, and already sickness began to make its appearance before ever the expedition left harbour.

Throughout October the luckless troops were still kept on shipboard, always on the point of starting, and it was not until November 1 that the Armada sailed, consisting of 27 ships of the line and 143 transports and attached ships for the army, the whole land force being some 7000 men. There can be little doubt that the enthusiasm of the army had ebbed during the long period of waiting and the practical demonstration of the inefficiency of those responsible for preparing the expedition; moreover, the constant bickerings in Parliament, in which neither side spared the vilest accusations, led to a widespread feeling that the expedition, prepared under the pressure of popular clamour, was not receiving the whole-hearted support of the Government. An open letter, published in the style of the day by a member of the force, voices this general feeling, and purports to be addressed to some one who had the good fortune to be left behind.

"Give me leave to congratulate you on your deliverance from amongst us. I sincerely rejoice as well on your account as that it is no small satisfaction to find that there is one person likely to escape who is qualified to tell our unfortunate story. . . . Never forget that you owe it as a duty to your friends, to yourself, and to your country, to represent the execrable villainy of those at home, who, from avarice, and perhaps envy, have sacrificed us and the honour of their country, remember that you were destined for a victim, and that it is incumbent on you to show yourself worthy of a milder sentence than was pronounced against you . . ."

and much more to the same effect, which if, no doubt, exaggerated, exhibits the current of opinion that the shocking mismanagement had aroused.

Delayed and scattered by tempestuous weather, the ships began to assemble in St. Rupert's Bay, Dominica, on December 19, 1740. Scurvy and dysentery had already made terrible inroads on the strength of the force, and the day after arrival the commander-in-chief himself fell a victim to the epidemic.* The condition of the transports described in the Adventures of Roderick Random enables us to imagine the state of affairs. In the ship in which Smollett served as a surgeon's mate the hospital is thus described:—

"Fifty miserable distempered wretches, suspended in rows, so huddled upon one another that not more than fourteen inches of space was allotted for each with his bed and bedding, and deprived of the light of day, as well as of fresh air; breathing nothing but the noisome atmosphere of the morbid steams exhaling from their own diseased bodies, devoured by vermin hatched in the filth that surrounded them, and destitute of every convenience necessary for people in that helpless condition."

And this, be it noted, was the case while the fleet lay at anchor at Spithead! Add to this description, tropical heat and the horrors of an epidemic of dysentery, and a condition of affairs can be imagined which must have constituted a veritable hell.

Major-General Wentworth, second in command of the expedition, succeeded Lord Cathcart, and this change was in itself another serious blow to success. The new commander had shown energy in organising the force with the means at his disposal, but in the field he proved irresolute and incapable of taking responsibility or of adapting himself to circumstances. Although every day was of importance, it was not until January 9 that the fleet finally assembled at the rendezvous at Jamaica, and here they were met by the levies from the British-American colonies raised by General Blakeney—3500 men, "ill-equipped, ill-disciplined, and already very sickly." "We have buried nine officers and about 100 men," writes Blakeney, even before Wentworth's arrival, and before the end of the year out of the whole force, 17 officers and 600 men were dead and 1500 were on the sick list. With extraordinary fatuity, although the unhealthy rainy season was rapidly approaching, the fleet lay at anchor at Port Royal for more than a month. It was decided, chiefly at the dictation of Vernon, that Carthagena should be the first objective. Vernon had failed against this place in the previous year, and was burning to retrieve his laurels. Wentworth had not force of character to resist him, and thus this heterogeneous levy, principally of raw recruits, was brought against the strongest and best fortified place of any that belonged to Spain in America, to gain its first experiences of war.

Delays, in part due to apprehension of the French fleet, which was, however, found to have returned to Europe, prevented the arrival of the expedition off Carthagena until March 4, 1711. The town, which lies at the head of an inland lake, although itself strongly fortified, had the additional protection of the narrow and difficult approach from the sea to the lake, known as the Bocachica, defended on each side by forts, one being of considerable strength known as St. Louis.

It is unnecessary to detail the preliminary operations following the first landing, they are sufficiently described by Roderick Random and in Lord Elibank's Journal, preserved in the Public Record Office. They were so far successful that by April 5 the march on the main objective'—Carthagena, and its key, Fort. St. Lazarus—began. A small body of Spaniards was met with who fled; but Wentworth. who went in constant dread of ambuscades and surprises, decided to halt and form a camp a "small mile" from Fort St. Lazarus, though it remained the fixed belief of the Admirals Vernon and Ogle, who had watched the slow and clumsy movements of the land forces with unconcealed disgust, that a more energetic and capable commander should have advanced at once to Fort St. Lazarus, the key to the city, on the heels of the retreating enemy.

During this halt the troops, exposed as they were without shelter to the unhealthy miasmas arising from the surrounding swamps, and moreover already unfitted by their long imprisonment on shipboard to resist disease, fell ready victims to the terrible scourge of yellow fever, which had already made its appearance, but now assumed a violent epidemic form. Wentworth completely lost his head, and urged by the taunts of the admirals, as well as by the patent fact that his army was rapidly melting away, decided on the desperate plan of assaulting Fort St. Lazarus without waiting for artillery to be brought up. The fort itself was a square structure mounting six guns on each face, and situated at the top of a considerable eminence overlooking the city, and, though a comparatively small place, was the key of the position, and almost impregnable against infantry attack.

According to the diary left by Captain Watson, the army was drawn out for the attack in the early hours of April 9, 1741, in two columns, the design being to attack simultaneously the north and south sides of the fort. The first column, with nine companies of Grenadiers and the 15th Foot, under Colonel Wynyard, being told off to attack the southern face, while Colonel Grant, with the 24th and a mixed company of the 34th and 36th, attacked the northern. Colonel Daniel commanded a reserve of Wolfe's Marines completed to 400 men. The Americans were in charge of the scaling ladders and woolpacks for filling the ditches. With each column a Spanish deserter acted as guide.

In his comprehensive work on the British army, Fortescue has given a vivid and eloquent description of the affair.

"At four o'clock the march began, the fireflies still flickering overhead against the darkness. The air close and still, alive with the chirping, whistling, and croaking of the noisy tropic night. Within the camp men lying in scores under the scourge of yellow fever, some tossing and raving in delirium, some gasping in the agonies of the last fatal symptoms, some prostrate in helpless ghastly collapse, waiting only for the dead hour before dawn when they should die. . . . Before long Wynyard's men reached the foot of the hill and began the ascent, the ground being so steep that they were forced to climb on their hands and knees. The officers began to doubt that the guides had played them false. Still the Grenadiers scrambled on almost to the top of the hill, and then suddenly, at a range of thirty yards, the Spaniards opened a deadly fire."

The shortness of the range made every shot effective, and the ranks were torn by grape and round shot, and though the soldiers advanced steadily firing at the flashes of camion and musketry that blazed from the ramparts, direction of their efforts was wanting, the confusion resulting from the darkness and the climbing, combined with want of experience, prevented a lead being given which might possibly have succeeded. The defection of the Americans, who threw down the ladders and woolpacks and fled in all directions, brought the men to a standstill, though they still maintained their position undauntedly. On the northern attack a tragedy occurred. Grant was shot down early, and after his fall confusion reigned, but officers and men held on grimly with infinite heroism. At dawn the guns of Carthagena added to the carnage ; such light artillery as was available had been left by Wentworth in rear of the columns and was useless for reply. The complete incapacity of Wentworth prevented any movement of the reserves to the aid of their unfortunate companions, and it was not until a column of Spanish infantry was seen issuing from the city with intention to cut off the retreat that orders to retire were given at eight o'clock, and the remnant drew off in good order, covered by a party of 400 men under Lord Elibank.

Perhaps, taking into consideration the conditions in which the troops had passed the months preceding the attack on Fort St. Lazarus, the long period of inaction on the ships, with bad accommodation and worse food, the hourly fight with disease that had faced them during most of the time, and the nerve-shattering effect of the epidemic raging at the moment, combined with the incessant labour and hardship in a tropical climate since the first landing at Bocachica, it is not too much to say that no greater exhibition of undaunted eourage has ever been displayed by the British army than that of these young soldiers on the fatal April 9 before Fort St. Lazarus. The Spanish commander pronounced their eulogy, " C'etait dommage d'envoyer des hommes contre des murrailles, ils etaient de braves gens et ils ont mfcrites un meilleur sort." Wentworth was not so generous; in his despatch of April 2b, 1741, he discusses the disastrous night attack in a lew lines which do not even accurately describe the event, and nowhere does he yield any tribute to the gallantry of his soldiers. Out of 1300 men engaged. 43 officers and 600 men were killed or wounded, and the remnant of the army in terrible straits from the fatal results of the epidemic, and disheartened by defeat were in no way fit to renew the conflict. The force was literally rotting with disease, and of the 8000 men landed at Bocachica a month previously not 1500 remained fit for duty.

A council of war, held on April 23, determined to abandon the enterprise and return to Jamaica, and thus ended in utter failure this phase of the great expedition, which had caused consternation in Europe, and of which the English had felt so assured of success that medals commemorating the fall of Carthagena had been struck!

Details of the part taken by James Murray are wanting. He was present during the siege and attack of Fort St. Louis, of Bocachica, and also during the assault on Fort St. Lazarus, and escaped unscathed on both occasions. At St. Lazarus he was probably attached, or perhaps definitely appointed, to the 15th Foot, which, it will be remembered, formed part of the southern attack under Colonel Wynyard. That he bore himself well through all this long period of trial is certain, for we find that on November 20, 1741, his commission as a captain in the 15th Foot is confirmed, and it is probable that he had held that position by local appointment for some months previously;—it must be remembered that at this time appointments to the subaltern ranks of officers were almost invariably made on the recommendation of the commanding officers.

It was on May 19, 1741, that the fleet convoying the shattered remnant of the army arrived at Port Royal, and from there Vernon sent home seven ships and several frigates with a number of sick officers, among whom was Lord Elibank. James Murray, however, stayed with his new battalion, and saw the campaign through to the end, returning to England in December, 1742.

Crowded in the small transports, with improper treatment, the dead, the dying, and the sick literally heaped together in horrible surroundings, it is only possible to suppose that human nature must have vastly changed if the young soldier of the day was other than terribly tried to preserve his equanimity. Murray faced these conditions for three years, and it is not too much to draw from the fact that he was of an exceptionally hardy and enduring constitution; and although his subsequent career afforded plenty of the excitement of the soldier's life, there can be no doubt that no later experience could have equalled this one in demanding the highest qualities which a man can be called upon to exhibit. While his contemporaries were earning laurels in the leisurely continental wars, the force in this forgotten corner of the globe was showing greater claims to enduring fame by patient courage under unparalleled misfortunes.

The 15th Regiment of Foot, in which Murray passed the remainder of his regimental service, suffered severely in this campaign. It is of interest to note the losses amongst the officers by an examination of the Army Lists preserved in the Royal Artillery Institution and in the Record Office, for the years 1740 and onwards to 1743. Nothing can more clearly demonstrate the ordeal through which the survivors must have passed.

The dates given are those of the filling up of the death vacancy, and may not be the actual date of death.

The majority of the death vacancies occurred in April, 1741, and doubtless most of them should read "Killed in action" during the attack on Fort St. Lazarus; but the record does not distinguish between death from wounds or disease.

The name of James Murray does not appear, as he was not officially appointed to the regiment until November, 1743. It is shown in lists later than that date.

It is remarkable that among the younger officers there were many fewer casualties. It is possible that in some cases these officers had not joined during the operations in the West Indies, or at all events during the worst period.


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