1799 - Surrender of El-Arich by Treachery


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol II
1799 Surrender of El-Arich by Treachery 305

Alexandria, until on or about the 29th of December ; and almost immediately afterwards a heavy gale of wind drove the ship and the negotiators out to sea.

In the mean while the French had been dispossessed of one of their Syrian fortresses, in a manner quite sudden and unexpected ; nominally by the advanced body of the grand vizier's and a detachment of British marines under Major Douglas of that corps, but really by the treachery of the garrison. The army of the grand vizier, it appears, marched from Gaza to El-Arich on the 20th of December, and immediately summoned the fort to surrender. This being refused, Major Douglas and some other British officers reconnoitred the defences ; and on the 25th the batteries opened upon El-Arich. The firing continued, without producing any sensible effect, until the morning of the 29th ; at which time the French garrison, "presque toute entiére," revolted, and let down a rope for Major Douglas to ascend into the fort.

When we read of a fortress, after a hard struggle, being carried by storm, and of the brave garrison, instead of being crowned with chaplets, put to the sword, we cannot withhold our pity, and feel a difficulty in suppressing our indignation ; but the official announcement, that 300 of the garrison of El-Arich fell beneath the sabres of the mussulmans, moves us not at all. We only regret that any British officer should have been present, to reap a benefit from the crimes of a traitor, and, " by means of a rope which was let down for him," to possess himself of that which can only be honourably acquired by fair fighting or fair cession. Operations carrying on in a more northern quarter now demand our attention.

An alleged change in the public mind in Holland, favourable to the views of the dethroned stadtholder, induced the British cabinet, early in the summer of the present year, to plan an expedition against that country, upon a much more enlarged scale than that which had failed in the second year of the war. On account of the unshackled state of her press, and the activity and intelligence of her journalists, England, of all countries in the world, is the least adapted for carrying into effect a secret expedition. In this instance, however, the British government had, in a most surprising manner, concealed its designs, until the expedition, which was upon an immense scale, was on the eve of departure.

The British North-Sea fleet was still under the command of Admiral Lord Duncan; and a suitable detachment from it had for a long time blocked up in the Texel the following Dutch squadron:

* Victoires et Conquêtes, tome xii., p. 43.
See London Gazette.

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