The Destruction Of The Algerine Navy

On the conclusion of the Dutch war it became necessary to restore order

on the high seas by destroying the pirates who had taken advantage of

the disturbed condition of things to prey upon English and Dutch

commerce; and with this view Charles II. sent Sir Thomas Allen with a

stout squadron into the Mediterranean to repress the Algerines, and the

Dutch sent Admiral Van Ghent with a squadron to secure their trade. Van

ent having engaged six corsairs, forced them to fly to their own

coasts, where probably they would have escaped if Commodore Beach with

four English frigates had not fallen upon them, and, after a close

chase, obliged them to run aground. In this situation they were attacked

by the English and Dutch in their boats; and, being abandoned by their

respective crews, were all taken, and a great number of Christian slaves

of different nations released. The English commodore presented sixteen

Dutch slaves to Admiral Van Ghent, and received from him twenty English

by way of exchange; but the Algerine ships being leaky, they were burnt.

The same year some of our frigates attacked seven of the enemy's best

ships near Cape Gaeta. The admiral and vice-admiral of the Algerines

carried fifty-six guns each; their rear-admiral, the biggest ship in the

squadron, carried sixty, and the least forty. Yet after a sharp

engagement the vice-admiral sank, and the rest were forced to retire,

most of them miserably disabled. At the close of the year 1669 Captain

Kempthorne, afterwards Sir John, in the Mary Rose, a small frigate,

engaged seven Algerine men-of-war; and, after a very warm action,

forced them to sheer off, being in no condition to continue the fight

any longer.

It is somewhat extraordinary that, considering the Dutch, as well as the

English, were concerned in attacking these pirates, we have no better

account of the war that was carried on against them, or of the force

they employed, than we are left to collect as we can, from scattered

accounts of particular engagements. In 1668 their navy only consisted of

twenty-four ships, great and small--that is, from about fifty to twenty

guns: and they had likewise six new ships of force upon the stocks. Yet

this pitiful enemy continued to disturb, and even to distress the

commerce of both the maritime powers for several years.

At last Sir Edward Spragge was sent with a strong squadron of men-of-war

and frigates to put an end to the war.

Spragge sailed from England, on this expedition, in the spring of the

year 1671, with five frigates and three fire-ships, uniting his fleet

with a squadron of as many more ships already at sea; so that, in all,

his fleet consisted of about twelve sail. In the latter end of the month

of April he had intelligence that there were several Algerine men-of-war

in Bugia Bay; on which he called a council of war, when it was resolved

that he ought immediately to attack them. In pursuance of this

resolution he sailed thither, but, in his passage, had the misfortune to

have the Eagle fire-ship disabled by a storm; and soon after, one of

his ships springing her main mast, was obliged to bear away for the

Spanish shore. Sir Edward, however, persisted in his design, refitted

the Eagle, and bore into the bay of Bugia with a brisk gale, not

doubting that he should be able to fire the ships; but by the time they

got within half-shot of the castle and forts it fell a dead calm, and

when the wind rose again it proved contrary.

On May 2nd they were able to do nothing for the same reason, the wind

changing every half hour; upon which, Sir Edward resolved to make an

attempt upon them in the night with his boats and the smallest of his

fire-ships, which rowed as well as a long-boat. About twelve o'clock

that night he executed his project, sending in all his boats, and the

Eagle fire-ship, under the command of his eldest lieutenant, Mr.

Nugent; but the night proving very dark, and the high land obscuring the

ships as they drew near them, they passed by; and Lieutenant Nugent

leaving one of the boats with the fire-ships, besides her own, rowed in

to discover the enemy leaving orders with the captain of the fire-ship

to come to an anchor in case he found shoal water. The lieutenant had

not left them a minute before he perceived himself within pistol-shot of

the ships; and, concluding the business now as good as done, steered off

again to find the fire-ship, and, to his amazement, saw her in flames.

The enemy taking the alarm at this, the lieutenant was forced to retire

with his boats; and so this promising enterprise, which had given hopes

of burning the Algerine men-of-war, without the loss of a man,

miscarried. The next day the enemy unrigged all their ships and made a

strong boom with their yards, top masts, and cables, buoyed up with

casks, for which they had all the leisure and convenience they could

wish, the wind hindering the English from doing anything; and, to try

the admiral's patience to the very utmost, it so fell out that a drunken

gunner firing a pistol, his other small fire-ship was destroyed; so that

he had now none left but the Little Victory, which drew too much water

to enter that part of the bay where the Algerines lay.

On Monday, May 8th, 1671, there appeared a considerable body of horse

and foot in the neighbourhood of the bay, and this was soon after

discovered to be an escort to a very large convoy of ammunition sent

from Algiers to the ships; on the safe arrival of which they fired all

their cannon, to testify their joy. Sir Edward Spragge considering this,

and not knowing what future reinforcements they might receive, resolved

to take the earliest opportunity of making his last and utmost effort;

and, in order thereto, directed the Victory to be lightened, so that

she might not draw above eight feet. About noon there sprang up a fine

breeze to the east; upon which the admiral gave the signal for the

men-of-war to draw into a line and bear up into the bay; but

immediately after the wind sank again, and they began to despair of

doing anything.

About two the gale sprang up again, and the ships bore in as they were

directed. The admiral came to an anchor in four fathom of water, close

under the walls of their castle, which fired upon him continually for

two hours. In this interim he sent in his own pinnace and those of the

Mary and the Dragon; these cut the boom, though not without

considerable loss. The lieutenant who commanded the Mary's boat's crew

had eight wounded with himself; Lieutenant Pierce of the Dragon was

also wounded, with ten of his men, and one killed. In the admiral's own

pinnace there were seven killed, and all the rest wounded, except Mr.

Harman, who commanded it.

The boom being cut, the fire-ship went in, and getting up athwart their

bowsprits, their ships being a-ground, and fast to the castles, she

burnt very well and destroyed them all. Captain Harris, who commanded

her, his master's mate, gunner, and one of his seamen were desperately

wounded with small shot, and this at their entrance; so that probably

the whole design would have proved abortive if the admiral had not with

great prudence commissioned Henry Williams, then one of his master's

mates, but who had formerly commanded the Rose fire-ship, to take the

charge of the vessel in case the captain was disabled; which he did

accordingly, and performed all that could be expected from him.

This loss was irreparable to the Algerines, who had picked out the seven

men-of-war that were here burnt, on purpose to fight Sir Edward Spragge,

and furnished them with their best brass ordnance from on board all the

rest of their vessels, and between eighteen and nineteen hundred chosen

men double-officered, under the command of old Terkey, their admiral. Of

this force between three and four hundred men were killed; the castle

and town were miserably shattered; and a vast number of people slain and

wounded; and, what much increased the misfortune, all their surgeons'

chests were burnt on board their ships, so that numbers died for want

of having their wounds dressed. Besides the men-of-war there were burnt

a Genoese ship, a small English prize, and a settee.

In this engagement Sir Edward Spragge had only seventeen men killed and

forty-one wounded. This and other misfortunes caused such a tumult among

the Algerines that they murdered their dey and chose another, by whom

peace was concluded to the satisfaction of the English on December 9th,