British Foreign Policy 1815-65

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The first day of the bombardment and early news of the battle of Balaclava.

The French account from The Times, Monday 6 November 1854, p. 7.

This document has been shared, most graciously, with the Victorian Web by David Kelsey ; it has been taken from his website. Copyright, of course, remains with Mr Kelsey. This document has been copied from its primary location on The Victorian Web.

The Moniteur of Saturday publishes the following letter from Constantinople, dated the 21st ult:-

The establishment of the siege batteries, which was much retarded by the nature of the ground, and annoyed during the 14th and 16th by the enemy's fire, was not completed until the evening of the 16th, except one battery of eight 50-pounders, intended to take the Quarantine Battery in the rear. The number of heavy guns in position is about 250. The fire commenced at half-past six in the morning of the 17th, and was well kept up on both sides until 10 o'clock. On the morning of the same day the fleets, anchored part at Katcha and others off the bay of Kamiech, began to advance on the batteries at the entrance of Sebastopol, the steam-frigates having the sailing vessels in tow. The English squadron were to fire on the north side and the French on the south and the Quarantine batteries. The French squadron advanced under the fire of all the batteries, and was in position at 1 o'clock, four three-deckers and three steam vessels forming the first line. The other vessels forming the second line arrived in succession, as well as two Ottoman ships of the line. About half-past 2 the English squadron took up its position to the north. The fire opened at 1 o'clock, and was warmly kept up on both sides until 3 o'clock, when that of the Russian batteries gradually fell off. They afterwards only fired occasional shots until 6 o'clock, at the moment when the squadrons, which for five hours had kept up a warm and uninterrupted fire, resumed their former anchorage. The smoke during the combat and the night which interrupted it prevented an exact judgment being formed of the damage caused to the enemy. The French siege batteries discontinued their fire about noon on the same day, in consequence of the explosion of a powder magazine which damaged the batteries near it. The English batteries continued their fire, and appeared to profit by the diversion made by ruining the works which were opposed to them. On the morning of the 18th the fire of all the siege batteries recommenced, and was continued during the whole day, and caused several fires in the town; at 1 o'clock a Russian powder magazine blew up. General Canrobert sent word on the 18th to Admiral Hamelin that the bombardment of the previous day appeared to have very much injured the Quarantine Battery, which much impeded the French operations. The large forts at the entrance, without being entirely demolished, are much damaged.

A letter from Therapia, of the 20th ult, in the Moniteur, says -

You will hear from all sides that our sailors fought valiantly; everyone did his duty, and in the most noble manner. The Charlemagne arrived at her station the first, and for half an hour supported alone the fire of all the Russian forts, returning their fire with a vigour which was the admiration of both squadrons. A shell burst on the stern of the Ville de Paris, and the poop was knocked to pieces. By a kind of miracle Admiral Hamelin was not injured, but of his four Aides-de-Camps, one, M. Sommeiller, was killed, and the others were wounded, as well as several other persons who were standing near. M. Bouet-Willaumez, the chief of the staff, escaped as fortunately as the Admiral.

The Government received today the following telegraph, addressed to Lord Westmorland by the British Consul-General at Varna:-

VARNA, Oct 28th

On the 25th an imposing force suddenly attacked three Turkish batteries near Balaklava, and carried them by storm. The Turks retreated, after spiking some of their guns. The Russian artillery and infantry continuing to advance, our light brigade of cavalry charged them, but sustained a considerable loss. The regiment of Scots Grays, however, coming to their assistance, with the 5th Dragoons, the enemy was completely routed, and withdrew behind the batteries taken from the Turks. The French took part in the affair with admirable bravery. In the evening of the 26th the Russians sallied out of Sebastopol, and attacked the division of General de Lacy Evans; but in less than half-an-hour they were repulsed, with a loss of 1,000 men left on the field. The loss of the English in this second action consists of one officer killed and a few men wounded. The fire from the city had considerably slackened. The allies were fully confident of the proximate fall of Sebastopol.

The Courier de Marseilles quotes the following, under date Constantinople, the 20th ult:-

The French steamer Ajaccio arrived this morning from the Crimea with the mails from the armies and fleets. The letters are of the 18th. The bombardment of Sebastopol commenced on the 17th, at 6 o'clock a.m., by land, and at 10 o'clock the combined fleets took part in the action, by attacking the outer batteries of the Marine, and particularly that of the Quarantine. Two small batteries close to the latter had ceased firing, and were partly demolished at noon, but the principal battery continued to fire. The guns used by the Russians carried to a great distance, and several of the ships were more or less damaged. Among those which suffered most were, on the English side, the Sanspareil, which had 12 killed and 60 wounded; Albion, nearly the same number of killed and wounded; Agamemnon, four killed and 22 wounded; Queen, one killed and 11 wounded, &c. On the side of the French, the Ville de Paris, ten killed and 30 wounded; Valmy, four killed and 30 wounded; Montebello, ten killed and 30 wounded. The four aides-de-camp of Admiral Hamelin were put hors de combat. One of them was cut in two by a cannon ball; another, M. Zédé, had his two legs shattered; the other two were not dangerously wounded. At nightfall the fleets suspended their firing, and returned to their anchorage. The result obtained on the land side is not exactly known. The Russians defend themselves with an obstinacy bordering on despair. But, notwithstanding the 3,000 guns mounted on the ramparts, the fall of the place is considered certain in the allied camp. The resistance, however, will be longer and more sanguinary than was at first supposed. The occupation of Eupatoria by the Russians, which caused so much joy to the Greeks at Constantinople, was of short duration. The village was guarded by a few seamen and marines, who, on the approach of a considerable body of Cossacks, retired on board their ships. The next day, however, they landed with reinforcements and drove the Russians out of the place.

The Moniteur of yesterday contains the following articles:-

The Marshal Minister of War has received from General Canrobert, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the East, the following report, dated from the headquarters before Sebastopol, the 18th of October, and forming a continuation of that of the 13th, inserted in the Moniteur of the 28th of October -

'Monsieur le Marechal - Yesterday, at sunrise, we opened our fire in concert with the English army. Matters were proceeding favourably, when the explosion of the powder magazine of a battery, which unfortunately was of a serious character, threw our attack into disorder. This explosion produced greater effect from the fact that our batteries were accumulated round the point where it took place. The enemy profited by it to increase his fire, and, in accord with the General commanding the Artillery, I was of opinion that it was necessary for us to suspend ours in order to make repairs, and to complete towards our right, by fresh batteries connected with those of the English army, the system of our attack. This delay is no doubt to be regretted, but we must resign ourselves to it, and I am taking every necessary step to render it as short as possible.

The place kept up the fire better than was expected. The circle is of such formidable development in a right line, and comprises guns of such large calibre, that it can prolong the struggle. On the 17th our troops took possession of the height before the point of attack called the Bastion of the Mat, and occupied it. This evening we shall raise upon it a masked battery of 12 pieces, and, if it be possible, also a second battery at the extreme right above the ravine.

All the means of attack are concentrated upon this bastion, and will enable us, I hope, soon to take possession of it, with the assistance of the English batteries, which are directed against its left face.

Yesterday, about 10 o'clock in the morning, the English fleet attacked the external batteries of the place, but I have not yet received any particulars to enable me to give you an account of the result of this attack.

The English batteries are in the best possible condition. Eight new mortars have been placed in them, calculated to produce great effect. Yesterday there was, in the battery which surrounds the tower situated to the left of the place, a tremendous explosion, which must have done much injury to the enemy. Since then this battery has fired very little, and this morning there are only two or three guns which can fire.

I have no precise information about the Russian army. There is nothing to indicate that it has changed the positions it occupied, where it awaits reinforcements.

I have received almost the whole of right reinforcement of artillery which I expected from Gallipoli and Varna. General Levaillant has just arrived with his staff, which increases to five divisions the effective force of infantry which I have under my orders. Their state of health is satisfactory and their discipline excellent, and we are all full of confidence.

The French Government has received from Vice-Admiral Hamelin the following despatch:-

Ville de Paris, before Katcha, Oct 18th.

Monsieur le Ministre, - In my letter of the 13th of October I announced to your excellency that I had embarked with all my staff on board the frigate Mogador, in order to anchor as near as possible to the French headquarters, and arrange with the General-in-Chief a general attack by the land and sea forces against Sebastopol on the day when the fire of the siege batteries should commence. On the 14th I had an interview with General Canrobert, whose views were in conformity with mine. On the 15th a meeting of the Admirals of the allied squadrons took place on board the frigate Mogador, and the arrangements for the general attack were made with common accord, and were then submitted to the Generals of the land forces, who heartily agreed to them. This general attack was fixed for the 17th, the day of the opening of the fire of the siege batteries.

With respect to the squadrons, they were to effect what follows: - The French squadron undertook to place itself towards the rocks to the south, and at about 7 cables' length to operate against the 350 guns of the Quarantine Battery, the two batteries of Fort Alexander, and the battery of the Artillery.

The English squadron had to attack towards the rocks to the north, at about the same distance, the 130 guns of the Constantine Battery, the Telegraph Battery, and the Maximilian Tower to the north.

If your Excellency would imagine a line traced along the entry to Sebastopol from the east to the west, that line would separate into two parts the locality of the attack which devolved upon each squadron.

The Turkish Admiral with two vessels, all that he retained at the time, was to cast anchor to the north of the two French lines - that is to say in an intermediate position between the English and French vessels. On the morning of the 17th the attack of the siege batteries commenced; but, as the weather was calm, it was necessary to attach the ships of the line to the steam frigates before developing against Sebastopol the line of the 26 ships of the allied squadrons. Nevertheless, in spite of this difficulty, and the separation which had taken place between the ships of the allied squadrons, a part of which had anchored at Kamisch and part before the Katcha, I have the satisfaction to announce to your Excellency that the ships of our first line advanced about half-past 12 in the day under the fire of the batteries of Sebastopol, which they stood against at first during more than half-an-hour without replying. A few minutes afterwards they replied vigorously to the fire, which did not fail to incommode them, from their small number. Afterwards the other French and English vessels successively arrived, and the attack became general.

Towards half-past 2 o'clock the fire of the Russian batteries slackened; it was stopped at the Quarantine Battery. This was the exact object desired by the French squadron, but our firing was redoubled and continued without interruption till night.

At the time I am writing to your Excellency I am not aware of what was the success of our siege batteries, whose fire had commenced before ours, and which attacked the Russian fortifications on the land side.

If the Russians had not closed the entrance to Sebastopol by sinking two ships of the line and two frigates, I do not doubt that the vessels of the squadrons, after the first fire, would have been able successfully to enter the port and place themselves in communication with the army. Perhaps they would not have lost many more men in doing this than we have now to regret; but the extreme measure which the enemy adopted of sacrificing a portion of his ships forced us to confine ourselves to attacking for five hours the sea batteries of Sebastopol, with the object of silencing them more or less, of occupying a great many men of the garrison at the guns, and of giving thus to our army material as well as moral assistance.

Today, the 18th, I have only time to give a hasty sketch to your Excellency of this affair, which, in my opinion, does great honour to the French navy.

I subjoin to this sketch a list of the men killed and wounded on board of each ship. Without delay I shall send you a detailed report upon all the phases of the attack, and in reference to the part, more or less active, which each ship took in it.

At the commencement of the affair the enthusiasm was extreme. During the combat the tenacity of everyone was not less so. Before commencing the fire I signalled to the squadron "France has her eyes upon you," a signal which was received with cries of Vive l'Empereur!

I am, with deep respect, Monsieur le Minister, your Excellency's very obedient servant, the Vice-Admiral Commander-in-Chief of the squadron of the Mediterranean,


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