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My Diary in India, in the year 1858 - 9

by Will. Howard Russell


It was late on a winter's evening as we glided into the smaller harbour of Malta, and cast anchor off the lazaretto. The last time I, outward bound, saw the anchorage, it was full of French and English ships laden with full freightage of gallant soldiers, of whom but very few are now alive. There were the Zouaves, about to commence that great military career in Europe which has made their names famous by every hearth, then unknown warriors of Algerine skirmishes, and the local heroes of obscure victories. There were the Guards, then 2500 strong, the sons of British Anak, who, having added the glorious words "Alma" and "Inkerman" to the roll of their triumphs, left a few poor winter and fever-stricken survivors to march down in sad and scanty file from the front to the refuge of Balaklava. Even of the veterans who did not succumb to pestilence, to battle, to Russian lead and iron, or to the slow process of disease, how small are those in number who can be found in the ranks or in service! The whole of the gaudy flotilla, full of life and tumult, was at present replaced by half-adozen coaljbrigs, and Moorish zebecs, or Sicilian trabocoli, laden with fruit and Marsala wine. As soon as a wise-looking little man, in spectacles, had looked over a paper by" the light of his boat's lantern, and had pronounced us to be quite "clean," most of us got afloat and scuffled on shore in the dark to the stairs, where there is a certainty of finding a relay of guides, who are firmly persuaded that the main object of every passenger's existence is to buy gloves, Maltese crapes and lace; or, if not these, to get his hair cut, and to discover the Strada Reale. I had intended to call on Lord Lyons in memory of old days on board the Agamemnon, and more recently up that delightful estuary beyond the Spit of Kinburn, where we were glad to get sea-gulls for dinner, and fancied they were as tender and as wra-fishy as canvas-backed ducks, but we heard with regret that the gallant old admiral was in great affliction on account of the loss of a near relative. I never saw him more: old as he was, there were no signs of mental or bodily decay in him when last I met with him, and he appeared as if he were likely to live till he might be wanted.

It would be unprofitable and painful to revive an old and almost forgotten controversy — fully four years' old, but one cannot help remembering the great expectations which were entertained from Sir Edmund Lyons' ability and dash when he assumed the command of the fleet before Sebastopol, and how many after a few weeks shook their heads and said, "It's the old story — the second in command is always better than his chief till the change comes." But it would be unjust to the memory of the gallant sailor SIR EDMUND LYONS AND BALAKLAVA. 13

to forget, even while second in command, what abiding strength he gave to the councils of our army, what life and energy he infused into our operations, what enthusiasm and zeal into the whole naval service. He told me one day, iu reply to a question which I founded on a very secret rumour (confidential at the time), that it was quite true he prevented the abandonment of Balaklava by our generals after the action of the 25th October. "The day after," he said, "I was on my way to head-quarters, to see Lord Raglan, when I heard that orders had been given to prepare for the abandonment of Balaklava. I was astonished and incredulous—I went to head-quarters and found it was quite true. I ventured to expostulate, but Lord Raglan said that he, and Airey, and all of them were of opinion the line was too extended and too weak, and that he had ordered everything to be moved so as to evacuate the place. 'Good God/ I exclaimed, 'do reconsider this decision! Why, if you give up Balaklava, how will you feed your army, or land your ammunition and your siege material?' I urged his lordship strongly; and at last I said that if he let me I would engage to hold Balaklava with my own men, and Lord Raglan yielded—the orders were countermanded, and our position saved." Such, as nearly as I recollect, was his account of a very remarkable transaction, narrated with that fire of utterance, that light of the eye, and expressive action which gave the admiral a peculiar interest when he was excited—it was then that his resemblance to the best portraits of Nelson became exceedingly striking—a resemblance which extended even to the slight and almost meagre figure. He used to complain greatly of the way in which he was hampered by the French, whose vigilance as to joint operation amounted to an annoying surveillance. "1 can't so much as send out a gun-boat with my mails but mon cher amiral telegraphs to ask me where she is going to, and what her errand is." But when off Odessa for the second time he gave great credit to the Emperor for his sagacity. The admirals telegraphed to their governments for instructions as to a bombardment of Odessa. Sir James Graham telegraphed, "Don't, unless you think you will succeed." The Emperor returned the answer, "I am radically opposed to an attack." "And," said Sir Edmund, " the Emperor's quite right—that's a proper sort of answer. How the deuce is a man to attempt a thing and be sure of succeeding? Who can tell what may happen?" The admiral's opinion, however, was, very decidedly, that a bombardment of Odessa would be a failure. No doubt great damage could be done to parts of the town, but the houses are incombustible, and those parts of the town which could be damaged are private residences or stores, and inconsiderable government stores, whilst from their position it would scarce be possible to silence the guns of the petty defences altogether; and if the Russians could have fired but one gun as we withdrew, they would have claimed the credit of beating-us off.

I know more than one ardent admirer and devoted officer of Sir Edmund Lyons who regretted, and still speak with regret of, the evidence he gave before the Chelsea Commission, because in it he seemed to forget the expressions and opinions he had frequently uttered. There is one still living who can bear witSIR JOHN PENNEFATHER. 15

ness that ere the admiral became Lord Lyons, he once, at all events, entertained very different notions of the nature of the arrangements in 1854-5 and of the management of the army; but whatever may have been the change and the nature of it in that point, none could have taken place in his kindly gallant nature, or in his zeal and devotion to the service, and his thorough English feelings.

I saw Mr. Cleeve, his indefatigable and efficient secretary, who had then received no reward for his laborious services. I hope that he has had reason to be better satisfied long ago. At the best of times the office of admiral's secretary is difficult, laborious, and thankless.

Although our time was short on shore, and the hour was late, I could not leave Malta without seeing General Pennefather. Who can be insensible to that warm Irish welcome that is worth a thousand cead mille failtha of. the tongue? To the frankness of the soldier the brigadier of the "fighting brigade" of the old second division adds a charm of manner, united with much humour, fine subtlety of apprehension, abundance of anecdote, and allusion, and "love of fun" that give wonderful interest to one who is known to be a stern, sharp officer, resolute and daring in danger, and never so cool as when he is in action. All the General's thoughts were fixed on China, and he was evidently pining for another look at the flowery land. As to India, he regarded the work as done. "Delhi is gone/' [said he, "and Colin Campbell is sure to relieve Lucknow, and to do it well. The rest is all a work of time,"but it is sure to be done." They are strange beings those old soldiers. They tell you war is a dreadful thing; that it is a terrible trade—a curse to the earth; but still they are never so happy as when they are at it. I don't mean that any of those veterans who have seen warfare and its results really would, of their own free will, deliberately do any thing which would cause its advent, but that when war is going on they are all anxious to be engaged in it. ff,Tis their vocation, Hal!" And so it was that the good, kind, and Christian General, who was quietly situated at Malta, in command of its peaceable garrison, who would not hurt a fly (and they are very irritating at Malta), and who on Sunday enjoys deeply and wisely the holy repose it brings, was now burning "to see what they were at in China." And surely had he been sent there it may be said, without disparagement to General Straubenzee, that the work would have been done in a much more complete and soldier-like manner; for there was no ofiicer in the service, as I have heard from those who ought to know, who could handle British soldiers with greater skill and consideration, or who could temper the most brilliant courage with skill and judgment better than Sir John Pennefather. In his hands Malta ought to be safe, but it must be remembered that, formidable as the works look, and as they undoubtedly were in the days of Napoleon, the armament has not been renovated so as to bring it to A level with the means of attack which could be brought to bear upon the place. General Reid did much to improve the defences. In his time the face of the works, and in some instances, the profile was improved. Light guns were replaced by heavy, and the old and dangerous cast-iron gun-carriages THE FORTIFICATIONS AT MALTA. 17

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