Fire & Retire !

First hand accounts from
the Napoleonic Wars.

Typical implements of a Surgeon of the period.
Journal of an Army Surgeon.
during the Peninsular War

Journal. (1809 August)


A slight, but positive, misquote from Virgil's "The Aeneid" when Aeneas philosophically consoles his ship-wrecked comrades on their interrupted journey from Troy, saying "Perhaps it will be a joy later to remember these things." - Here, the two commencing words "Forsan et" ('Perhaps') have been omitted, thus making the pleasant recall of the memories more certain.


August 1809.
As this Journal is undertaken at the request of one or two very dear Friends, and as it will certainly never come under the inspection of many others, I trust they will deem this some Apology for the Egotisms that will naturally prevail in it.

On the 10th August, 1809, I embarked on Board the Thomas Transport in order to join the 40th RegimentSee the Box with Green text below. with Sir Arthur Wellesly. It was intended we should sail the following Morning, but the wind getting round to the westward prevented us.

Full title: the " 40th (2nd Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot".

In the course of the 11th was introduced to Capn. Rodney, of H.M.S. Fylla,See the Box with Green text below. under Orders for Lisbon with Money. Capn. R. very politely offered me a Passage. An offer so agreeable I immediately availed myself of, and lost no time in removing my Luggage from the Thomas to the Fylla. I had particular pleasure in bidding adieu to the former Vessel, as, besides the inconvenience naturally resulting from her smallness, the Officers on board her were from what I could ascertain in so very short a period generally exceptionable.

HMS Fylla was one of the many ships of the Dano-Norwegian fleet that was surrendered to the British after the Danes surrendered in the Battle of Copenhagen. It retained its Danish name of " Fylla" and was subsequently absorbed, with the prefix 'HMS', into the British Navy.

Very strong westerly winds prevented our sailing till the 15th, on which day we received the particulars of the Memorable Battle of Talavera.See the Box with Green text below. It was a source of some regret to us that we could not convey to our friends in Spain & Portugal an account of the Capture of Flushing.

The Battle of Talavera was fought and won by the British in Spain on July 27-28, 1809. It was a significant victory, sufficiently so that Wellington was created Viscount Wellington of Talavera as a result. The fact that such a spectacular and important piece of news took over a fortnight to travel from central Spain to England shows the difficulties of communication prevalent in those days.

On this day I recollected that my dear & revered Father completed his seventy-third Year, and, while I offered up a Prayer to the Almighty that his valuable Life might yet be spared to his Family and Friends, I had a sensation of severe pain originating in the idea that from his advanced age I should never see him more. Having been now three days on board the Fylla I had an opportunity of observing the several characters of those who were to form my Society for the next Week or ten Days.

Prior to my introduction to Capn. Rodney, he had received into his Cabin as many as he could conveniently accommodate; it was therefore necessary that I should take my Passage in the Gun Room with the Officers of the Ship. The day subsequent to Capn. R.'s offer I had the good fortune to be particularly introduced to the Second Lieutenant, from whom in consequence I received the most marked attention.

Capn. R. is the son of the celebrated Lord Rodney. He is six and twenty years of age, and has been at Sea almost from his infancy; he appears very fond of his profession, and certainly is remarkably attentive to everything that relates to the safety of the Ship, arising less, I believe, from any personal fear of danger, than from a due Sense of the serious responsibility that attaches to the Situation of a Captain of a Man of War.

His Education, from a reason above stated, has been much neglected, added to which his Talents are certainly not above Mediocrity. His disposition, however, is very good, and I should certainly form an unfavourable Opinion of an Officer who could not live pleasantly under his Command.

Capn. R. had two Gentlemen with him in his Cabin, one of them Brigr. Genl. Madden going out to command a Brigade of Portuguese Troops. He was formerly Major of the 12th Dragns., and served with them in Egypt, but was subsequently dismissed the Service, by the Sentence of a General Court Martial; tho' the crimes were undoubtedly a breach of Military Discipline, it does not appear that his reputation either as an Officer or Gentleman suffered in consequence, having been since almost constantly employed in England as an Inspecting Field Officer, and in his present employment he is evidently thought worthy of a high command.

He is a Man of superior Abilities, and possesses a general knowledge of Men and Manners. He has visited more than once almost every Court in Europe, &, having a perfect knowledge of nearly all the modern languages, he has been enabled to form more accurate conclusions of what came under his observation than the generality of tliose who travel. From his conversation, of which I very much availed myself during the Passage, I derived both information and amusement.

The only other Passenger in the Cabin was a Mr. Vanzeleer, who may justly be styled a " vrai-Portugues," being possessed of all the prejudice which so eminently distinguishes that Nation. He had come to England for the purpose of investing a considerable sum of money in the English Funds, justly considering that every species of property is become very unsafe in Portugal.

He had been six months in England, and, never having been out of his own Country before, anyone would have naturally supposed that he would have been both astonished and delighted with what he had seen, as, according to his own account, he had visited everything worth seeing in London and its environs, but on the contrary nothing appeared to have pleased him. Prejudiced, as he certainly is, I verily believe that Envy had no small share in the dissatisfaction he constantly expressed when speaking of England.

A Portuguese who has never travelled thinks there is nothing in the world equal to Lisbon; disappointed, however, on arriving in other Countries to find that he has been all his Life mistaken, he has not ingenuousness sufficient to avow what it is impossible but he must be so well acquainted with.

Our Number in the Gun Room consisted of seven; namely, two Lieutenants, the Purser, Lieutenant of Marines, a Young Gentleman going out as a Volunteer to General Beresford, the Surgeon of the Ship, and myself.

To the whole of the Officers I feel indebted for their attentions, and particularly to the 2nd Lieutenant, to whom, as I before stated, I had the good fortune to be particularly introduced. This Officer possesses a highly cultivated Mind, and has so great a taste for reading, that during the whole Passage when not on duty I scarcely once observed him without a Book in his hand.

His Library consisted of upwards of three hundred Volumes of the most approved Authors in the English, French, Spanish, & Italian Languages, of all of which he has attained considerable knowledge. His disposition appears to be naturally of the sombre cast, the the recent death of his Father may probably have given it that turn. We passed many hours in conversation together, and he succeeded so completely in gaining my esteem and regard that it was with much reluctance I bade him adieu. Good fortune will, I trust, bring us together again, when I shall renew my intimacy with him with unfeigned pleasure.

On the 15th while beating down Channel saw H.M.S. ArgoSee the Box with Green text below. with Convoy from the West Indies. From a recollection of my own Sensations on former occasions I had an idea of the happiness they were enjoying on being so near their Native Shore.

HMS Argo (1781), like all the " Argo" ships, was named after the Argo - the ship of Jason and the Argonauts fame; she was a 44-gun fifth rate launched in 1781 and sold in 1816.

17th. Fired two shots at a strange Sail to bring her to. She proved to be a Revenue Cutter from Guernsey on a Cruise. The Master of her came on board the Fylla, and, his manner being such as gave Capn. Rodney great offence, much altercation ensued. Capn. R. at length let him go, previously writing across his Warrant an account of his disrespectful Conduct for the information of any other Captain of a Man-of-war who might board him.

On the 18th, notwithstanding the continuous contrary winds, we found ourselves at 9 a.m. off the Lizard. In the afternoon were boarded by a Fishing Boat belonging to Mount's Bay, which not only supplied us with fresh Fish for Dinner, but was also the bearer of some Letters ashore. I availed myself of this opportunity to write to my inestimable friend Mrs. B. At dusk the same Evening I lost sight of the Land's End.

How torpid the Bosom, and how unworthy the name of Britain must he be, who can quit his country without offering up a fervent Prayer for its welfare. In taking a last look of its fading shores a variety of Sensations occupied my Mind, some of them painful; but I think the contrary predominated.

A thousand instances of its many blessings and general Superiority over other Nations rushed upon my recollection, and it was not without a feeling of conscious pride that I called myself an Englishman. The night proved stormy, and I suffered much from sea-sickness till the morning of the 21st. It is somewhat strange that my susceptibility for that Complaint appears to increase with each succeeding voyage I make.

On the 20th we chased a ship under suspicious circumstances. Prize Money was the Order of the Day. On coming up with her, however, she proved to be a Merchant Man from London bound to Malta. She ran from us under the idea that we were a French Privateer.

The wind still continued contrary. On the 23rd we made Cape Finisterre, but were so far in the Bay that we found it impossible to weather it. We were consequently obliged to tack and stand out to Sea. In the Afternoon the wind fortunately shifted sufficiently to enable our getting round it.

On the 24th run down the coast of Spain, passing Vigo and the River Minho, which divides that country from Portugal.

25th, had the wind fair but little of it; in the Afternoon came in site of the Burlings, Rocks perfectly well known to all who have navigated this Coast. The wind freshening this Evening gave us every hope of being in Lisbon the following Morning about eleven. At night being in the Latitude of Lisbon we lay to till Daylight the following Morning, when we again got under weigh, and stood in shore; having to beat up the Tagus it was twelve o'clock before we came to an Anchor, having had a Passage of eleven Days, and, with the exception of the two or three Days' bad weather, to me as pleasant a one as anything could be in a Ship.

During our voyage I read Mdme. De Stael Holstein's Corinna in the Original, and also Robertson's History of the Reign of Charles V. The former is doubtless a work of considerable ability; to the story the Authoress has very happily added an Acct. of the chief Paintings, Sculpture, & other Works of Art, at present remaining in Italy, which, at the same time it appears to say everything necessary on the Subject, never fatigues by saying more than is necessary.

The characters of Lord Nelvil and Corinna are finely drawn and are perhaps faithful delineations difference existing in the two Nations. In writing this work however I think an Englishwoman would not have tarnished so many good Qualities (as Madame S. bestowed on Lord N.), by his unpardonable, and as appears to me his unjustifiable, inconstancy. The Character of Lucilia is in my opinion highly natural. Of the latter work, there has never been any difference of Sentiment as to the Ability with which it is written.

Most People in reading it, however they may admire the Political ingenuity and the firmness with which he (Charles) carried into effect everything likely to conduce to the great objects of his Ambition, will I doubt not feel more interested for his less fortunate but certainly more principled Rival, Francis, the King of France; the subtle cunning & perfidy of Charles form a striking contrast to the open and unsuspicious disposition of Francis, and whatever the former may gain of our Admiration, the latter has the Superior Merit of commanding our Esteem.

The Spanish Monarch to me never appeared so dignified and great, as when cultivating his garden at his retirement at Saint Just, and I closed his History, fully determined, if possible, to visit that celebrated spot during my sojourn in Spain.

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