Copy of a Letter received this day by Captain Downman, from Sir Home Popham, K.M., Captain of His Majesty's Ship Diadem, to W. Marsden, Esq.; dated on board the said Ship, in Table Bay, the 13th January 1806.
When I address you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, on an occasion of such public interest and importance as the capture of the Cape of Good Hope, which is now in possession of His Majesty's troops under that renowned General Sir David Baird, I consider it unnecessary to trouble their Lordships with a detailed account of the proceedings of the fleet from St. Salvador, which, however be conveyed in another dispatch.
On the 3d inst. we made Table Land; and, on the 4th, in the evening, we reached our preconcerted anchorage to the westward of Robben Island, though too late to do any thing but take a superficial view of Blue Berg Bay, where it was proposed to land the main body of the army, making, however, a demonstration off Green Point, with the Leda frigate, and the transports containing the 24th regiment, which was certainly well executed by Captain Honyman. On the 5th, at three o'clock in the morning, the troops were put in the boats, and assembled alongside of l'Espoir, but the surf ran so high, that a landing was deemed totally impracticable, and consequently the troops returned to their ships; and I immediately accompanied the General on board l'Espoir, for the purpose of making a close examination of the whole coast from Craig's Tower of Lospard's Bay; on no part of which did it appear possible to land a single boat without extreme danger.
To the evil consequence of delay in commencing operations on an enemy's coast, was to be added the very alarming possibility that some reinforcement might arrive by one of the various squadrons in motion when we left Europe; and therefore the General and myself were induced to consider, that however difficult the task might be of advancing from Saldanha Bay, yet it was an object of great moment to accomplish a safe and speedy landing for the troops; and the instant the decision was made, the Diomede, with the transports of the 38th regiment, the cavalry ships, and a proportion of artillery, under the orders of Brigadier General Beresford, sailed for Saldanha, preceded by Captain King in l'Espoir, having on board Captain Smyth of the Engineers, (an officer well acquainted with the country,) with a view of seizing the Postmaster, and as many cattle as possible. antecedent to the arrival of the advanced division of the fleet. Soon after the Diomede weighed the westerly wind began to abate, and on the 6th in the morning the officers examining the beach reported that the surf had considerably subsided during the night, which indeed was so evident from the Diadem when she stood in shore, that I requested Sir David Baird to permit General Fergusson, and Colonel Brownrigg, the Quarter-master General, to attend the officer on his second exammation [sic], that their feelings might in some measure be balanced against those of professional men, and to satisfy the army that no measure, in which its safety was so intimately connected, should be determined on without due and proper deliberation. In the mean time the Diadem, Leda, and Encounter, were placed in a situation to render the most effectual assistance; and the 71st and 72d regiments,with two field pieces and a howitzer ready mounted, in the boats of the Raisonable and Belliqueux, rendezvoused alongside the two former ships, manifesting the most ardent desire for the signal from General Fergusson. At this moment the Protector joined the squadron; and Captain Rowley, who was well acquainted with the anchorage, volunteered his services to place her to the northward, so as to cross the fire of the Encounter, and more effectually cover the landing of the troops. Captain Downman at the same time went in shore with a light transport brig, drawing only six feet, to run her on the beach as a break-water, if it would in any degree facilitate the debarkation of the troops.
At half past twelve, the Encounter conveyed, by signal, General Fergusson's opinion, that a landing might be effected, and the joy that was manifest in the countenance of every officer, heightened the characteristic ardour of the troops; and under an anxiety, probably, to be first on shore, induced them to urge the boats to extend their line of beach further than was prudent, and occasional the loss of one boat, with a party of the 93rd regiment. I report this event to their Lordships with the most unfeigned regret; and it is doubly painful to me, because, from all the efforts on an enemy posted on an advantageous height, the army had only two men wounded in landing. This circumstance must fully prove how well the covering vessels were placed, and how ably their guns were served; and I trust my Country will acquit me of not having applied every expedient that could be devised to prevent the occurrence of an accident which I so sincerely deplore. The surf increased considerably towards the close of the evening, and about eight o'clock the landing of any more troops was stopped, but recommenced in the morning, when all the men and prisoners, which the General judged necessary to take, were disembarked without a moment's loss of time. --Conceiving that a detachment of the squadron might be of service at the head of the Bay, I proceeded there with the Leda, Encounter, and Protector, and a division of transports; and I understand, from firing occasionally that evening over the bank towards the Salt Pan, that the enemy was obliged to move from an eligible situation which he had before occupied. On the following morning we discovered the British army advancing, with an unparalleled rapidity, over a heavy country, defended by a numerous train of well served artillery; and as I conceived a few fresh troops might be applied to advantage, I desired Capt. Downman to land with the marines of the squadron, and two field pieces, to await the arrival of Sir David Baird, at Reit Valley, whom I very soon after had the pleasure of personally congratulating on the victory he had obtained over a General of such high military fame as General Jansens. When the army was in motion to take up its position at Craig's Tower, and while I was proceeding up the Bay to anchor in the most convenient place for landing the battering train, a flag of truce was discovered coming towards the Diadem, by which I received the letter, No. 1, from the Commandant of the Town and Castle; and the next day, in conjunction with Sir David Baird, the Capitulation No. 2, was accepted, and at six a royal salute was fired from the squadron, on His Majesty's colours being once more hoisted on the Castle. Although their Lordships will perceive by the detailed account of our transactions here, and the accompanying plan of the different dispositions which were made, that no brilliant service fell to the lot of the squadron I have the honour to command, yet it is what I owe every officer and seamen to state, that under the most laborious duty I ever experienced, their zeal never abated. To Captain Rowley I feel personally indebted for his readiness on every occasion; and I have no doubt but the highest satisfaction will be expressed of the conduct of Captain Byng, who commanded the marine battalion, by an authority far exceeding mine. And I enclose, for their Lordships information, a copy of the report he made me on the conduct of the officers serving in that battalion; to which, exclusive of those belonging to the squadron, are added Captain Hardinge, of the Salsette>, and several other officers, now on their passage to India to join their ships. Captain Butterfield and Lieutenant Cochrane, of the transports, were on all occasions ready to forward the service, and we are particularly indebted to Captains Cameron, Christopher, and Moring, of the Honourable Company's ships Duchess of Gordon, Sir William Pulteney, and Comet, who particularly exerted themselves in assisting the troops through the surf. It is impossible for me to transmit any returns of the stores taken, by this opportunity, or of the state of the Bato, of 68 guns, in Seamen's Bay; but it is, however, so strongly reported, that the enemy has not completely succeeded in his attempt to burn her; that I have sent Captain Perry to take possession of her, and, if possible, to move her into safety, as the enemy has totally abandoned her. Captain Downman, of the Diadem, will have the honor of delivering this dispatch to their Lordships, and from the intelligent manner in which I am satisfied he will explain every movement, and the causes by which I have been actuated, I trust he will require no further recommendation to their Lordship's protection. I cannot, however, conclude this letter without assuring their Lordships, that I know no instance where a stronger degree of confidence and unanimity has been exemplified between the two professions, than on the present occasion; and I humbly hope this circumstance, coupled with the meritorious and successful issue of Sir David Baird's military dispositions, will recommend this armament to His Majesty's most gracious favour and protection.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,
Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius
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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.