Two letters by Charles Lock (1799)

Charles Lock was in the bay of Naples in July 1799. He was a critic of Nelson’s conduct, had a low opinion of Sir William Hamilton (whom he wished to replace as envoy to the Neapolitan court) and despised Lady Hamilton. His letters to General Graham at Messina list a number of criticisms of Nelson, and make some damning judgements on how Nelson treated the Neapolitan republicans. He was well-connected, but his primary source was John Rushout (who had spent much time in Naples and with the fleet). Rushout was friendly with many naval officers, and with the Russian commander, and the accusations against Nelson given her cannot simply be dismissed. The originals are in the National Library of Scotland (NLS MS.3598, ff.234-237, 19th July; NLS MS.3599, ff.50-53, 22nd August), these are transcriptions:

“Naples 19 July 1799
Dear Sir
I have to acknowledge the receipt of two of your letters, which have just come to my hands, the latest dates the 4th. I return you many thanks for the details you have taken the trouble to send me. I have been here about 10 days, and am going back to Palermo the first opportunity. Eight hundred of our marines march this evening for Capua, the siege of which is to commence immediately. Capt Trowbridge [sic] and Hollowell returned yesterday from reconnoitering its situation and have determined upon a spot within 150 yards of the works to erect a battery upon. The garrison is said to consist of 1200 French and 600 Neapolitans. I am apprehensive that our men will suffer from the unhealthiness of the place which is in the vicinity of a morass. Five hundred Russians, 400 Portuguese, six hundred Swiss, as many Neapolitan cavalry, a small corps of Albanians and a considerable detachment of those lawless and cowardly Calabrese march likewise.

About 3000 Calabrese under Rocoromano have for some time past formed a sort of blockade round the place. Gaeta is still in the hands of the French – 1090 French marched out of St Elmo leaving about 40 sick. 80 men with the pox, having lost all marks of virility, were carried down to the water side upon their comrades’ shoulder. Mejan, the commandant, affirmed that they had lost 2000 men by that disorder since the army entered Naples. The town is quiet and there is a general eagerness among all ranks to express their loyalty. The treatment however of those who capitulated in the castles of Uovo and Nuovo cannot but sink deep in the minds of the Jacobin party.
It would be folly to disguise as it would be meanness to gloss a fact which as it is notorious to all the world, so is there but one sentiment upon it in the fleet. These men relying upon British honour, had agreed to surrender the castles upon promise of immunity for themselves and properties and were to be transported to Toulon. Cardinal Ruffo and Captain Foote signed the articles. They were first demurred upon and afterwards ratified by the admiral. The men evacuated the castles, embarked on board vessels under the idea of going to Toulon, were made prisoners and their officers thrown into irons. This is the plain fact. Had the convention to be derogatory to His Sicilian Majesty’s honour and more advantageous than the circumstances of the Jacobins entitled them to expect, there was one obvious course, which was to replace affairs in status quo and to recommence hostilities. The officers charged with the ungrateful service of disarming these unhappy men engaged to reduce them in 24 hours if they might be permitted to reinstate them in their strongholds. That a stigma so disgraceful should be affixed to the British nation and for so paltry a consideration by making us the bait and the agents afterwards in this violation of what is most sacred, as it is the bond of society, is very mortifying. I write to you, my dear sir, à coeur ouvert and with a reliance upon your honour. I think it right you should be informed if you are not already of the naked truth of this transaction.

A tribunal is forming to try and condemn these men so cruelly entrapped. It is expected that many will suffer as there are several leading characters amongst them. The islands of Ventotene and Ponza are talked of for the remainder.

Our news from the armies is perplexed and difficult to detail, though the result is as good as we can wish. It appears that MacDonald who had a force of 18,000 men discomforted a body of 7 or 8,000 Austrians who opposed his entrance into Tuscany to form a junction with the French army of Piedmont. Suvarov however came down with 8,000 Russians and united with the Austrians gave him a complete defeat. MacDonald, wounded severely in the head and breast, was carried off by the remains of his army not exceeding 4,000 men who have shut themselves up in Pistoia. Leghorn has a garrison of 400 men. Alexandria and Tortona are still in the hands of the French, as appears by a letter from Spezia of the 12th. The French in Piedmont have been completely beaten by Melas, the citadel of Turin has surrendered, Genoa is supposed to have fallen by this time as the Austrians are in possession of the heights which command it. It is said the French purpose making a last stand at Vado. Great discontent and we hear insurrection have taken place in the southern provinces of France which now must feel heavily the weight of the war. It is said that a revolution at Paris in which four Directors have been deposed, has left Sieyes, the new Director and late minister at Berlin, sole dictator. The man is a notorious coward and it is probable that General Desaix is the person. You see what lame accounts, so wanting in their essence, I am able to send you. Take the will for the deed. I was sorry that our fleet was not in time to arrest the frigate which left Leghorn for Toulon laden with property of the Grand Duke, his medals and other plunder estimated at 7 millions of Ducats. We have no intelligence of them since the 29th, that Lord Keith was off Gorgona and the French fleet the 22nd off Cape Pallas sailing westwards. This is having near and forthright a start. The object of the French fleet’s appearance in the Gulf of Spezzia was to enforce a last contribution of 4 millions which they obtained. I understand the articles of the Russian treaty are to furnish 10 thousand men a month for 4 months. It is said the French army opposed to the archduke has taken a strong position in Franche Comte, that Switzerland is in the power of the Austrians whose headquarters are at Lausanne, and that an irruption into France is meditated by the Lyonnais which has been always ill affected to the Constitution. I fear with you that the operations are too extended. Could the Allied powers be content to dividing the French within their limits and exciting 2 or 3 internecine wars in her bowels which would consume her strength, the cause of Europe would be more effectually forwarded than by an invasion whilst would have the appearance of conquest and would unite all men to forget their animosities and join in repelling the foe.
Believe me dear Sir, very sincerely yours, Charles Lock.”

In this second letter, from August, Charles Lock writes to General Graham describing in detail Nelson’s violation of the treaty of surrender granted to the Neapolitan republicans, and the shock felt in the British fleet by the treachery of “having decoyed them on board the vessels under pretence of fulfilling the convention, by transporting them to Toulon, and then seizing upon their persons”.

“Al Generale Graham, Commandante di Messina
Dear Sir
As I hoped to have the pleasure of seeing you in a few days at Messina I deferred informing you that I have received the letter you alluded to in your last. And I believe the cause of its delay rested in the negligence of those who had in charge to forward Sir William Hamilton’s letters to him after his departure from Naples.
You desire a detail of the circumstances attending the treaty with the garrisons of the castles Nuovo and del Uovo. A few days after the return of the first expedition destined for Naples, the Count of Thurn, commanding the Neapolitan squadron in the bay, received at Procida a dispatch from General Acton informing him of the frustration of the enterprise, in consequence of certain intelligence obtained of the combined fleets being seen off the north end of Sardinia, and as the uncertainty of their intended object, which might be Naples, rendered it imprudent by persevering in their plan to subject the English fleet to the chance of being attacked in the bay by a very superior force, so prudence required that every sacrifice should be made to gain immediate possession of the two castles Nuovo and del Uovo and he authorized him in conjunction with Cardinal Ruffo to treat with the republicans upon any terms for the submission of those garrisons. The Count of Thurn forwarded the original dispatch to his Eminence and a copy of it to Captain Foot of the Sea Horse. The latter upon the receipt of which sent Captain Oswald to the cardinal to impart to him the information, and to learn which measures his Eminence proposed to adopt in consequence.

The cardinal acquainted Oswald that he had already upon the pressing injunction laid on him by the king’s minister, sent a flag of truce to St Elmo with proposals to Mejan, the French commander, for the surrender of the two castles. That Mejan had ridiculed the idea of treating with banditti, and would not hear of any terms for the surrender of places whose defences were hitherto unimpaired, and who had not yet been assailed in a regular manner. The cardinal, however, determined to summon the castles themselves, and entreated Captain Foote by Captain Oswald to summon Castel Uovo as himself would Castel Nuovo. The castles were accordingly called upon to submit, which they refused, but next morning they both hung out flags of truce, and in the course of eight and forty hours, articles of capitulation were adjusted between the king’s forces and the Jacobins in the castles, which were sent to Captain Foote for his signature. The treaty was no doubt most disgraceful to the King of Naples, as holding forth ample impunity to his rebellious subjects. It stipulated perfect immunity to the persons and properties of those contained in the castles. Permission for those who wished to remain in the country to reside. For those who chose to evacuate it, vessels to be provided at the king’s expense to transport them to Toulon. Unlimited time was allowed for the sale of their property, and whatever articles within the castles were claimed by the garrison as personal property, were ceded to them.  By this article the plunder of the king’s palaces was legalized, and the public sale of his furniture permitted in the Largo di Castello for the benefit of the rebels.
Captain Foote though fully aware how wounding to the honour of the king such a convention was, yet as in the capacity only of an ally, cooperating with and assisting the efforts of his servants to replace him on the throne, and knowing that this treaty had been made according to the tenor of express orders for that purpose, he thought himself as little justified in refusing his signature, as authorized to have dictated the terms of the capitulation. He therefore affixed his name to it. On the evening of the same day the English fleet appeared in the bay and a signal for annulling the armistice was instantly made by Lord Nelson. Upon the officers of Captain Foote’s squadron going onboard the Foudroyant, his Lordship with great warmth animadverted to the treaty which had been made, which he reprobated in the strongest terms, as the most dishonourable and said Ruffo had acted without orders, that Captain Foote had exceeded the limits of his authority in signing it, wondered at British officers stamping such a disgrace upon their arms, and swore the treaty should never take effect. Next morning, however, his Lordship sent for Major Bayley [Baillie] the Russian commandant, and after lamenting the indignity put upon the King of Naples by this convention with his republican subjects, added that as it had been ratified by the commanders of all the different powers, it could not now be done away, he therefore requested Major Bayley would superintend the embarkation of the Jacobins on board the polaccas destined for their convoy to Toulon, consonant with the letter of the treaty.

That officer in compliance with his directions embarked them all the same day. On the ensuing morning captains Hood and Hallowell were called on board the Foudroyant and there received orders from Lord Nelson to get the polaccas under weigh and station one under the stern of each line of battle ship. A list was at the same time given them consisting of the names of 15 pesrons to be selected from the Jacobins in the polaccas to be put in irons and confined on board line of battle ships named for that purpose. They delayed the execution of this ungrateful order till the arrival of Admiral Duckworth, who they sent to entreat would come instantly on board the Foudroyant, in hopes he might prevail upon his lordship to rescind it. Captain Hood in the mean time ventured to suggest to his Lordship, whether it would not be deemed an act of treachery, the having decoyed (his own word) them on board the vessels under pretence of fulfilling the convention, by transporting them to Toulon, and then seizing upon their persons? His Lordship affirmed that he acted under the King of Naples’s orders, that it was not his doing. Hollowell proposed with great earnestness, in which he was seconded by Hood, to reinstate the Jacobins in the castles and enjoyed with their lives to reduce them by force in 24 hours. His Lordship persisted in fulfilling his orders and when Admiral Duckworth’s presence and remonstrance emboldened them to press the matter more home to him, he said ‘I see you are all against me, I am determined to adhere to my orders, right or wrong it shall be done. I will be obeyed’. This shut their mouths and they proceeded to the execution of his Lordship’s commands. These are the chief circumstances of this much to be lamented violation of a sacred treaty, which the Jacobins repeatedly declared during the framing of they would never have entered into with their countrymen, did they not consider the part the English bore in it as a security to the fulfillment of it.

The king, before he left Naples, to give a colour of reason to this step declared that he had ratified the convention made by Captain Foote with the garrison of Castelamare (although there were amongst those people certain individuals particularly obnoxious to him), as having been framed by and under the simple authority of the English whose name he would not discredit by a disavowal of it. But the treaty with the garrisons of the two castles, being carried forward by his own subjects without his sanction, he did not hold himself bound to adhere to it. A memorial arrived here three days ago forwarded by Mr Compton and supported by an excellent letter from that worthy person begging the fulfillment of his majesty’s gracious intentions pronounced in favour of the garrison of Castelamare, previous to his departure from Naples, as the tribunal was proceeding to try them for having been in arms against their sovereign. Whether this act of treachery will be given remains yet to be known.
I do not despair of the pleasure of seeing you before it is long. I was to have gone to Etna with Mr Rushout and Stevenson, the illness of the latter has deferred our journey. I am going to Malta in the Principe Real and shall be absent a week or 10 days. My wife desires her best compliments to you. Believe me, dear Sir, with great kindness, your sincerely honourable servant, Charles Lock.
22 August, Palermo.”