Maritime Art

The Bombardment of Algiers, 1816: The Quarterdeck of the Queen Charlotte

By J. Jenkins, 1816

This dramatic aquatint shows the action on board the 104-gun First Rate Queen Charlotte, Lord Exmouth’s flagship at the Battle of Algiers. The ending of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 created an opportunity for the British to tackle head-on a problem which had been causing significant trouble for more than 300 years: the North African Barbary States preying on European merchantmen and capturing and enslaving European citizens. Throughout the eighteenth century the problem was side-stepped as the Barbary States were an important source of supplies for British naval squadrons operating against the French and Spanish in the Mediterranean. A diplomatic mission in 1816 won the Deys of Tunis and Tripoli over but the Dey of Algiers was less reluctant to agree. A subsequent massacre by the Algerians of Corsican, Sicilian and Sardinian fishermen under British protection caused more outrage, and Edward Pellew, Lord Exmouth was sent with a powerful fleet to punish the Algerians. As a result, the Algerian navy was destroyed, much of the city of Algiers, 3000 slaves were set free and an indemnity paid. In the long run, however, Algerian slaving continued.

The relationship between the British and Algiers has a long history and is explored in numerous articles published in the Mariner’s Mirror.

The Battle of Algiers explores in detail Exmouth’s attack in 1816.

The Corsairs of North Africa explores the broad history of the operations of north African corsairs from the 15th to 19th centuries, from Algiers, Salé and Tunis and European operations against them. The article gives names, dates and achievements of principal Rais and pay and prize money distribution arrangements. From early 17th century corsairs moved from galleys, often with paid rowers, to larger, sailing vessels and ranged as far as Newfoundland Banks, Nova Scotia, Southern Ireland and St Georges Channel. In later centuries most ships were state owned. Corsairs were privateers operating under a state flag and rigid code. The French captured Algiers in 1830. Privateering continued from Tunis until 1843.

Keppel At Algiers: Diplomacy and the Limitations of Naval Power explores how,  in March 1749, the seizure of a British Post Office packet, the Prince Fredrick, sparked a confrontation which twenty-six year-old Hon. Augustus Keppel, Commodore of the Royal Navyís Mediterranean was charged to resolve through diplomacy. In the event neither the ship nor its cargo of bullion and diamonds were restored to the British and relatively minor concessions were made by the Bey of Algiers. The British side were slow to realise that the Bey was essentially powerless to stand against his Janissaries on the issue so they eventually settled for an agreement to overhaul the system of Mediterranean passes issued to British merchant ships in preferance to resorting to force.

‘It will be a Charge to the King with No Effect’: the Failed Attempt to Burn the Algerine Fleet in 1679 explores how, in 1679, four escaped prisoners proposed a plan to burn the corsair fleet at anchor in Algiers harbour. Charles II agreed. Two men-of-war, a sloop and two fire barks sailed from Cadiz for Algiers, via Tangiers.  At Tangiers, the ships’ companies fought the Moors. Then, off Algiers, attempts were made to bring the fire barks into the harbour. Lack of resolve in the undertakers, and weather, were blamed for the failure of the undertaking. No further attempts were made and a peace treaty eventually ended the corsairs’ depredations.

 

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