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Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition, Volume 11, Slice 8 "Germany" to "Gibson, William"

The place had been strengthened since 1705


Gibraltar

was taken by the allied British and Dutch forces, after a three days' siege, on the 24th of July 1704 (see SPANISH SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE). The capture was made, as the war was being fought, in the interests of Charles, archduke of Austria, but Sir George Rooke (q.v.), the British admiral, on his own responsibility caused the British flag to be hoisted, and took possession in name of Queen Anne, whose government ratified the occupation. A great number of the inhabitants of the town of Gibraltar abandoned their homes rather than recognize the authority of the invaders. The Spaniards quickly assembled an army to recapture the place, and a new siege opened in October 1704 by troops of France and Spain under the marquess of Villadarias. The activity of the British admiral, Sir John Leake, and of the military governor, Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt (who had commanded the land forces in July), rendered the efforts of the besiegers useless. A notable incident of this siege was the gallant attempt made by 500 chosen volunteers to surprise the garrison (31st of October), an attempt which, at first successful, in the end failed disastrously. Finally, in April 1705 the French marshal de Tesse, who had replaced Villadarias, gave up the siege and retired. During the next twenty years there were endless negotiations for the peaceful surrender of the fortress, varied in 1720 by an abortive attempt at a _coup de main_, which was thwarted by the resourcefulness of the governor of Minorca (Colonel
Kane), who threw reinforcements and supplies into Gibraltar at the critical moment. In 1726 the Spaniards again appealed to arms. But the count of las Torres, who had the chief command, succeeded no better than his predecessors. The place had been strengthened since 1705, and the defence of the garrison under Brigadier Clayton, the lieutenant-governor, Brigadier Kane of Minorca, and the governor, the earl of Portmore, who arrived with reinforcements, was so effective that the armistice of the 12th of June practically put a close to the siege, though two years elapsed before the general pacification ensued.

Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783).

Neither in the War of the Austrian Succession nor in that of 1762 did Spain endeavour to besiege the rock, but the War of American Independence gave her better opportunities, and the great siege of 1779-1783 is justly regarded as one of the most memorable sieges of history. The governor, General Sir George Augustus Elliot (afterwards Lord Heathfield), was informed from England on the 6th of July 1779 that hostilities had begun. A short naval engagement in the straits took place on the 11th, and General Elliot made every preparation for resistance. It was not, however, until the month of August that the Spaniards became threatening. The method of the besiegers appeared to be starvation, but the interval between strained relations and war had been well employed by the ships, and supplies were, for the time at any rate, sufficient. While the Spanish siege batteries were being constructed the fortress fired, and many useful artillery experiments were carried out by the garrison at this time and subsequently throughout the siege. On the 14th of November there took place a spirited naval action in which the privateer "Buck," Captain Fagg, forced her way into harbour. This was one of many such incidents, which usually arose from the attempts made from time to time by vessels to introduce supplies from Tangier and elsewhere. December 1779, indeed, was a month of privation for the garrison, though of little actual fighting. In January 1780, on the rumour of an approaching convoy, the price of foods "fell more than two-thirds," and Admiral Sir George Rodney won a great victory over De Langara and entered the harbour. Prince William Henry (afterwards King William IV.) served on board the British fleet as a midshipman during this expedition. Supplies and reinforcements were thrown into the fortress by Rodney, and the whole affair was managed with the greatest address both by the home government and the royal navy. "The garrison," in spite of the scurvy, "might now be considered in a perfect state of defence," says Drinkwater.


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