P. H. (Philip Howard) Colomb.

Memoirs of Admiral the Right Honble. Sir Astley Cooper Key, G.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S., Etc. online

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its own with regard to the Russian action. Key writes
on the 10th March —

"The Russians are stronger than we imagined, having 35 sail-of-the-line. 1
I am told Sir B. Walker 2 says that they will most certainly come out to fight us,
which will be the best thing for the squadron. Of course, so long as they
remain behind Cronstadt, we can do nothing."

Here the view was clear enough as to the impotence
of our fleet to deal with anything but the enemy's ships ;
but, on the other hand, the idea of the Russian Fleet showing
itself at sea and offering battle was really preposterous.

1 That is, sailing ships.

2 Admiral Sir Baldwin Wake Walker, Bart., Controller of the Navy. Died
K.C.B. in 1876.


They had not a single steam line-of-battle ship, while we
were sending up eight as a first instalment. They had few
steamers of any kind, and scarcely any of power. They
knew very well that a steam line-of-battle ship, fighting a
sailing line-of-battle ship, had only to take up and main-
tain a particular relative position, to enable her to keep her
broadside bearing on the bow or the stern of the sailing
ship, and then to destroy her, with perfect immunity to her-
self. But the English navy had not realised the power of
steam. It was to the last full of the idea of fighting under
sail as in old days, and it required the stimulus of war to
enlighten it.

On the 9th Her Majesty passed through the fleet, and
was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. On the 1 1 th
the Neptune sailing line-of-battle ship arrived, bearing the
flag of Rear-Admiral Corry, and Rear-Admiral Plumridge
hoisted his flag in the Leopard. In the afternoon the
Fairy, with the Queen on board, came from Osborne to the
fleet. All the flag-officers and captains went on board and
took leave of Her Majesty. At twenty minutes to two the
fleet weighed and proceeded under sail to sea, led out by
Her Majesty, and at half-past two the ships passed her in
succession, cheering as they passed. Next day the fleet
anchored in the Downs, and on the 1 3th it again proceeded,
and, moving in three columns, sometimes sailing and some-
times steaming, crossed the North Sea and arrived at Vinga
Sound, an open anchorage on the coast of Sweden, nearly
opposite the Skaw, on the 1 8th of March.

Of the passage out, as it was that of the largest purely
steam fleet ever got together, a word or two may be
usefully recorded. Practically it was an auxiliary steam
passage. An attempt was made during the first day to
proceed with sail alone, but, the wind falling light, the fleet
got under steam at eight on the morning of the 12th, after
which, to the Downs, the highest speed reached was 6.6
knots. On leaving the Downs, sail was again resorted
to alone, but, the speed falling to one knot only, steam was
employed to assist, and was so used up to the time of
arrival in Vinga Sound. The Amphion notes herself occa-

THE AMPIffON—iS 5 $~iS 54 233

sionally as " using steam to keep station," and that no
doubt was the case in other ships. The winds were gener-
ally light from the south-east, so that sail could be employed
throughout. The little voyage of some 650 miles, accom-
plished in five days, was not without its adventures, nor
without disclosing the risks to which a fleet depending
in great degree on its sails was liable —

" On Wednesday and Thursday (the 15th and 16th) we had the thickest fog
I ever saw. On Thursday morning, of our fine squadron, only five were present.
The two admirals, Napier and Chads, St. Jean a" Acre, Hogue, and Amphion.
One admiral and eleven ships missing. Certainly it was not easy work to keep
company, but I hope the admiral will keep us in better order than this."

The fleet only once appears to have reached the speed
of 7 knots, and it was generally 5 knots or less.

This advanced guard of the Baltic fleet consisted entirely
of steam ships, and the number of screw ships shows the
immense progress steam propulsion had made since Key
had quitted his paddle ship.

The fleet anchored at Vinga Sound embraced the Duke
of Wellington (flag of Vice- Admiral Sir C. Napier), St. Jean
d'Acre, Princess Royal, Royal George, Cressy, Edinburgh,
Hogue, Ajax, Blenheim, — 9 screw line-of-battle ships; Impe'ri-
euse, Euryalus, Arrogant, Tribune, and Amphion, — 5 screw
frigates ; Leopard, Valorous, and Dragon, — 3 paddle-wheel
steam ships. Making 17 sail in all.

Colliers had been sent on before the fleet, and the ships
while at Vinga Sound were employed in coaling and firing
at targets, as to which Key did not like so much expen-
diture of ammunition. The commander-in-chief had gone
to Copenhagen in the Valorous. On 23rd March, Key
writes —

" Admiral Chads came on board and inspected us, made us fire shot, etc.
After he had worked us up a bit, Commodore Seymour l came on board and went
round the ship. What a contrast these two men offer ! Both good in their
way _I should rather say, both excellent. The first all fire and energy, combined
with a thorough knowledge of his profession, and devoted to it exclusively. The
other of a cautious, penetrating mind, highly cultivated and deep thinking ; but,
I should imagine, too cautious to take responsibility on himself when it is
perhaps needed."

1 Then captain of the fleet, afterwards Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, G.C.B.
Died 1870.


On the 22nd Sir C. Napier returned from Copenhagen ;
on the 23rd at daylight the whole fleet weighed under
steam, and at 1.20 the next morning it anchored off
Forness Point, at the entrance to the Belts. Admiral
Plumridge, with some of the smaller vessels, was now sent
ahead to mark the dangers of the Belt, and thus aided, the
fleet, having picked up the Neptune and Monarch sailing
line-of-battle ships, with the Bulldog and Vulture paddle
steamers, on the 2 3rd, got as far as Reef Ness, at the entrance
to the Great Belt, by the evening of the 24th.

The navigation this day had been somewhat intricate
and difficult, although the marks were admirable ; but with
steam, and the precaution of marking the shoals by ships,
the risks were reduced to a minimum, and there was no
mishap ; but it blew a heavy gale from the north-west on
the 25 th, and it became necessary to strike topmasts. On
the 26th the fleet passed the narrowest part of the Belt
— between Knud's Head and the Sprogo patches — and
anchored in the afternoon off Vengeance Shoal. Weighing
again at seven the next morning, signal was made to
rendezvous at Kiel, the commander-in-chief parted com-
pany, and the fleet anchored in Kiel Bay after dark. The
progress was no doubt leisurely, but notice of the declara-
tion of war had not yet reached them.

Key writes on 27th —

"We are just anchoring in Kiel Bay (Denmark), having safely passed the
Great Belt with beautiful weather. Oh ! how my pride is fallen ! On Thursday
evening (the 23rd) I turned in, satisfied with myself and all the world. Admiral
Chads having been on board and inspected us with our guns, firing shot at a
mark, etc. He told me, and he told Sir C. Napier, that ' he had not seen any-
thing so good for a long time ; and he wished his own ship only approached us.'
So I was very happy, and very proud. On Friday it had been blowing very
hard during the night, and I had to let go a second anchor. So, when the signal
was made to weigh, I was somewhat behindhand, and the admiral made the
signal, ' Very slack ! ' Think of that ! The other ships were without a second
anchor. I know we were not slack, and shall explain it to Sir C. N. when I see
him, but meanwhile the signal weighs on me. But it has done me good. I feel
it has. I know that we are the smartest ship in the fleet, and I will make him
own it.

" Tuesday, March 28M. — I must send this off at once, as a signal is made to
do so. It is a melancholy letter, but I am all right now. We have manned and
armed all the boats of the fleet, and the admiral has signalled, ' Amphion first ! ' "

THE AMP/f/ON—iS5 3 -iS 54r 235

The whole fleet moved out of Kiel Bay on the 29th of
March, did some little manoeuvring under sail, and anchored
again in the evening. Early on the morning of the 31st
the fleet again weighed, and made sail for Kioge Bay. At
midnight Key wrote —

"We have heard through Kiel and Hamburg that war is declared with
Russia, 1 and I imagine that the admiral heard it officially this afternoon, for he
bestirred himself on reading his despatches, and made the signal to get steam
up without loss of time.

"April 1st. — Evening, Copenhagen. After I had finished writing to you
last night, a thick fog came on which compelled the fleet to anchor ; 2 not, how-
ever, without two of them running on board of each other, breaking numerous
spars, destroying two boats, and killing two men. The fog was wonderfully
thick. This morning at eight we weighed and stood towards Kioge Bay. By the
bye, after weighing, the admiral hoisted the signal, ' Amphion very smart' — not
smart in the female sense, but man-of-war like. Well ! just before the fleet
anchored, he signalled for Tribune, Dauntless, and Amphion to proceed to
Copenhagen to water and coal, about which we are now employed, and shall be,
I fear, all to-morrow — Sunday. I believe it is in contemplation to send a small
squadron to the Gulf of Finland at once. This will be delicious ; as it is in
detached service only that frigates can find decent work to do. But I fear that
our want of speed may prevent this ship from being sent.

April 2nd. — Ryder 3 passed the evening with me yesterday. He has done a
great deal in his ship in a short time. I am happy to say that Cruiser* is to join
our fleet. . . . We are all anxiety for the official declaration of war, which has
not yet arrived."

Rejoining the fleet at Kioge Bay on the afternoon of the
3rd of April, war being declared, Captain Key received
orders on the 5 th to cruise, until further orders, off the north-
west end of the island of Bornholm, that is, in a channel 20
miles wide, about 90 miles farther up the Baltic than the
fleet lay, between the island and the south-east part of
Sweden, being in the track of vessels trading between the
Sound and Baltic ports. His duty was to examine all
vessels bound to any Russian port, and to detain such as
were found with contraband of war on board. He was to

1 It was declared on 27th March.

2 We may note here one of the disabilities of a sailing fleet. A steam fleet
would now proceed, unless there were dangers in the way, and order would be
preserved by means of signals made with the steam syrens.

3 Afterwards Admiral of the Fleet Sir A. P. Ryder, K.C.B. Drowned in the
Thames in 1888.

4 The Cruiser •, a 1 7 -gun screw corvette, commanded by Commander Hon.
G. Douglas.


see that no Russian war vessels passed, but was furnished
with the Queen's Order in Council, which allowed Russian
vessels a limited time of freedom from capture, provided
they had no contraband of war on board.

The Amphion had a busy, if profitless, time on her new
station till the 13th, in constant chase and boarding of
merchant ships of various nations, none of which were
detained. On the 1 3th the fleet came up in three columns,
consisting of 1 1 sail-of-the-line and 11 frigates. Amphion
took her station as fifth ship in the rear squadron. 1 She
thus proceeded forwards with the fleet, every now and then
being detached to chase various sail without result, though
on the 17th the Gorgon — Key's old ship — took possession
of a Russian brig. On the 21st the fleet was up towards
the entrance to the Gulf of Finland, and Key was detached
to cruise between the north part of the island of Gothland
and Dagerort, at the southern part of the entrance to the
Gulf of Finland, and the Cruiser and Conflict were placed
under his orders. He writes on the 30th —

" I think I told you that the admiral had detached me to cruise between
Gothland and Dagerort. Well ! I heard there was a frigate in the Gulf of Riga,
off Riga, and that the ice, which still filled the whole of the bay, would prevent
merchant vessels from getting up to the town ; so, although I am afraid it is a
long way off my station, as I knew that the admiral would not send any ship up
there on account of the difficulties of the navigation, and the ease with which the
Russians could send a force down to intercept any ships in the gulf, I wrote to tell
the admiral that I intended to go in, and trusted for his approval. On Thursday
evening (the 27th of April) I met the Cruiser and took her with me, since which
we have been night and day in the ice. I got off the town ; no man-of-war
was there ; the forts fired on us — a few shot, but a long way off. I took two
merchant vessels (of which Cruiser will share), had a shot at a gunboat — very
nearly fixed in the ice immovably, but got clear and came out with my prizes in
tow, and Cruiser, last night and this morning, through the most intricate part of
the navigation in a regular London fog. What the admiral will say I have yet to
hear, and will not fail to tell you. It puts some money in his pocket, — that's one
reason for pacifying him, and I know I have done a very proper thing. Douglas 2
is going to Memel this evening, and will take this. He is a good hand to have as
second. I really am so knocked up that I cannot write more. I have not heard
from home for an age, and the last paper I have seen is April 1st, but I hope to

1 The squadrons of a fleet were still called, as in the old time, "van,"
"centre," and "rear," although when sailing in three columns they were abreast
of each other, and in line, the rear might be the van.

2 The commander of the Cruiser.

THE AMPHION— 1853-1854 237

get our letters at Faro, where I am now going. By the bye, we had a narrow
escape of being wrecked there ten days ago in a gale of wind. But don't imagine
the old Amphion is going to leave her bones in the Baltic."

But there is many a slip between cup and lip, and " old
Amphion " took the ground on the way to Faro Sound
no later than two days after thus writing. Happily, she did
not strike hard, and by shifting guns and backing sails she
got off into deep water, and anchored at Faro Sound a
couple of hours after. Going out again in tow of the
Rosamond on the 5 th of May, she again took the ground,
and remained ashore from a quarter to eight that morning
until three o'clock on the morning of the 6th. The fleet,
under Sir C. Napier, was then cruising north of Gothland,
and early on the morning of the 7th the Amphion joined
them and took her place in the " order of sailing." The
Conflict, one of the ships under Captain Key's command,
had had the misfortune to lose her captain — Foote — who
was drowned in the surf on the bar at Memel early in the
cruise. Captain Arthur Cumming, 1 already distinguished
for his enterprise and gallantry, had been sent out to assume
the command of the Conflict, and now, much to Captain
Key's contentment, joined the Amphion bag and baggage
for conveyance to his ship on the 8th of May. 2 Key met
the Conflict off Libau on the 10th, and Cumming assumed
command of her. Amphion went on to Memel, and thence
on the 1 3th Key wrote —

" I told M to answer my letter to her to Memel, but you had better not do

so now, as the weather is clearing up, and I imagine that the admiral must attack
Revel or Sveaborg shortly, when he has promised to send for us. I think I told

1 Afterwards Admiral Sir A. Cumming, K.C.B. Died 1893.
* Captain Key's new orders ran as follows : —

" Duke of Wellington, off Gatska Sando,
" fth May 1854.
"Memo.— You will take under your orders II. M. ships Conflict, Cruiser,
and Archer, and blockade the Russian coast between Filsand light and Memel.
Any prizes you may take you will send into Memel, and endeavour to get crews
to take them to Sheerness.

" Whilst you are employed on this service, you can look into the Gulf of
Riga, but you are not to run any risk in so doing. . . .

"Chas. Napier,
" Vice- Admiral and Commander-in-Chief,"


M that I have to blockade the whole Russian coast with five ships. This

gives me ample occupation, especially as my instructions are vague, and there
are so many conflicting interests among the neutral nations that I have hard work
to steer clear of misunderstandings. But I enjoy the work thoroughly, especially
as my spare moments are occupied in planning an expedition of my own which
I have not yet divulged to a soul. If it takes place you will hear of it in time.
I am anxious to ' get our hands in.' None of us as yet realise the war. A few
nights ago I was running down this coast looking for Cruiser ; we saw her about
10 p.m., a thick, hazy night. I made the private signal and hove-to. She
hoisted something, not the proper signal, and hove-to also, about three-quarters
of a mile to windward. I intended to wait till daylight, and thought, of course,
that she understood that. At daylight she bore down towards us under steam
and sail (I had turned in for two hours), and Douglas 1 hailed to say that he had
been at quarters all night, guns double-shotted and primed, the men with trigger
lines in their hands waiting for the order to fire, he taking us for a Russian
frigate. Had I been hasty and ordered a gun to be fired to enforce private
signal, it is most probable that the Crtiiser would have fired into us without
orders. He came to breakfast with me, and we had a hearty laugh over it. He
said that he never spent such a night in his life. ... Is it not cruel the way
they increase the premium for insurance on a life in the Baltic ? ... If they
knew how safe we consider ourselves under our chief (entre nous) they would not
charge so high. ... I wish I could tell you something of our prospects in this
part of the world, but I cannot. The admiral has not determined on anything
— certainly will not do anything till the French arrive. Of one thing I feel
pretty confident : whatever we attempt will be successful ; but caution seems the
order of the day."

The next letter describes the result of the " expedition
of his own." It is dated Memel, 1 8th May —

" I am very sleepy, but I must let off some of my wrath against the Times before
I go to bed. I have just read that we, the Amphion, are Russian prisoners, prob-
ably en route for Siberia, or enjoying the knout. Well ! I hope by this time
they will have had to register what we have been about. Meanwhile I will tell
you. There is a town and harbour on this coast called Libau. It contains
10,000 inhabitants, and has a considerable trade, second to Riga in this part of
the world. It is well defended by nature, but not fortified, having two or three
guns mounted, and 400 or 500 soldiers quartered there. ... I knew that there
were several Russian merchant vessels there, and I was determined to have them
out. The day after I left Memel, where I wrote to you last, I boarded a Swedish
brig, and she told us that it had been very strongly fortified and thousands of
troops sent there. This was startling ; nevertheless I had made my mind up, and
stood in for Libau, where I found Conflict about four miles off shore. I had
ordered Cumming to meet me there that evening. We discussed a plan of attack,
and I showed him my letter, which I intended to send to the governor by him
(Cumming) under a flag of truce. He proposed one or two slight judicious altera-
tions, which I made, and next morning (the 17th) we stood in for the town, sounding
carefully by boats, as the approach is dangerous. We succeeded in getting within
good gunshot of the town, which I had scarcely hoped for. Then I sent in the

1 Commander Hon. Geo. H. Douglas, now (1898) admiral.

THE AMPHION— 1*53-1*54 239

letter, which gave them three hours to send out the merchant vessels, or the con-
sequences would be serious. You may imagine my anxiety during the three
hours. He refused, but said he would send a final answer before the time specified
had expired. Meanwhile troops were on the move, marching and galloping
about, and we were preparing our boats, arming the crews and making all ready
for a serious encounter. At the appointed time the governor sent off to say that
the troops had left him, and that, though it was out of his power to send the
vessels out, we might send our boats to fetch them. l I thereupon took our boats
in armed, and told them that the first shot fired at us would be the signal for us
to open fire, otherwise I should not do so. We pulled up the creek, which is only
50 or 60 yards broad ! for I £ mile before arriving at the bridge, both banks
being crowded with people the whole way. I found all the vessels above the
bridge, and so, as I was prepared with ■ blasting apparatus,' I told the people
that unless they removed the bridge, or part of it, I should blow it to pieces. I
took possession of a steamer for the day only, as she was a Dane, but I got the
steam up and kept her ready as a refuge for the boats in case of a sudden attack.
And there we were, with 1 10 men in possession of an enemy's town with 10,000
inhabitants and 400 or 500 soldiers, taking their property from them in the
quietest way, nearly three miles from our ships ! We took possession of eight
new vessels, some of which were aground. I would not allow anything to be
destroyed. What we could not take we left, and the private property of the
captains of the vessels was given up to them. They made a passage through the
bridge for us, and we brought them all down, took them in tow of the ship, and
brought them to Memel. I am anxious to let the admiral know, and shall send
Archer to acquaint him.

"The French squadron has not yet arrived, and until that takes place
nothing serious will be done. I have been fortunate in having the opportunity of

1 The " governor's " reply was in German, translated as follows : —

"Libau Town Hall,

"J/^5/17, 1854.

"Sir, — The notification addressed by Her Britannic Majesty's commander of
the Amphion to deliver up the Russian merchant vessels in the port of Libau has
been received by the magistrates of this town, there being no military or civil
governor here.

"The town of Libau being in a defenceless state, has no power to resist the

"The peaceable inhabitants are compelled to submit themselves to any
demands put to them. They expect, however, that Her Britannic Majesty's
power will only undertake that which is consistent with humanity and honour.

" The ships demanded can and will not be refused, but it is entirely impossible
to deliver them in the time prescribed, as the most of them are unrigged and lying
on a swampy ground.

" Under these circumstances the magistrates can only reply that Her Majesty's
Parlementaire should convince himself of the impossibility, and resolve in which
way the said merchant vessels are to be brought out of the harbour. Trusting
that meanwhile no hostilities will be undertaken against the town,— I have the
honour to be, sir, your obedient servant,

" In the name of the magistrates of Libau, the presiding burgomaster,

"Fried. Zunther."


keeping our men employed, and in this case specially fortunate in having a man
like Cumming to second me."

Off Oesil, Captain Key wrote, on 22nd May —

"lam sending Cruiser up to the admiral on her way to Faro, and to tell him
about Libau. ... I am not anxious about the result, as, whether he approves of
the act or not, he cannot but say that it was well executed. Nothing was omitted,
nothing went otherwise than I could have wished. But I am anxious to hear
from the admiral, — in the first place to get our letters, and because I have been
doing many things concerning the blockade on which I wish to have his

The next letter is dated 6th June, from Memel —

"The admiral approves most highly of the prompt and judicious measures,
etc. etc., at Libau, and also of all that has been done since he entrusted me with
this command. 1 Douglas tells me that they have been making partial attempts
on some forts at Hango, but that there appears no prospect of any serious
work, and Commodore Seymour confirms this. So I am to remain on

this station for the present. . . . My dear , Charlie Napier won't do. He

has nothing in him on a large scale, and his nerve is gone. This is between our-
selves. If this war continues we must change our commander-in-chief, or our
prestige is gone ! . . . We have had such wretched weather here. No communi-
cation with the shore for three days, and thermometer at 42 at noon. My roses

Online LibraryP. H. (Philip Howard) ColombMemoirs of Admiral the Right Honble. Sir Astley Cooper Key, G.C.B., D.C.L., F.R.S., Etc. → online text (page 26 of 55)