Smuggling the Consul’s Family

In early August 1816, a growing number of British warships were assembling under the command of Admiral Edward Pellow, Lord Exmouth aboard HMS Queen Charlotte in the Mediterranean. Among their number was HMS Prometheus, an 18-gun sloop commissioned nine years previously. Despite being a relatively young vessel in the Royal Navy at a time when it was not uncommon for ships to serve for several decades, the Prometheus had already seen a good deal of action in the service of King George III.

During the Anglo-Russian War 1807–12, the Prometheus was part of a force that on July 7th 1809 captured six Russian gunboats, sank a seventh and captured 12 cargo ships laden with supplies for the Russian Army. The Prometheus had also encountered a number of privateers – armed ships owned and crewed by private individuals holding a government commission to capture or sink merchant shipping – the first being the French vessel Messilina off the coast of Pillau, Russia on August 2nd 1810. The Prometheus then fought an action against the French privateer Vengeur off Belize in 1812 and against an American privateer off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1814.

In 1816, the British government had turned their attention toward the problem of the Barbary States of North Africa who frequently took to kidnapping Europeans and forcing them in to slavery. Known as “the White Slaves”, their plight was largely ignored during the Napoleonic Wars which had ended a year earlier in 1815 because the British had worked with the Barbary States such as Algiers against Napoleon. Now, the situation had become a source of embarrassment for the British who felt compelled to respond not just on behalf of Britain but of the Christian world itself.

Barbary DeyThe Barbary States were ruled by a series of Deys; a term given to those who ruled over their people. There were three Deys spread along the Barbary Coast in 1816 whom the British had to confront in their efforts to free the “White Slaves” and prevent further kidnappings. They were located at Algiers (modern-day Algeria), Tripoli (Libya) and Tunis (Tunisia). Lord Exmouth had undertaken a diplomatic mission to the three Deys in early 1816 to negotiate for the “White slaves” release. He took with him a small force of Royal Navy ships to show that the British were prepared to take action if necessary and this was enough to convince the Deys of Tripoli and Tunis but the Dey of Algiers was not so easily swayed. Nevertheless, he did agree to release British-born slaves but refused to abolish the practice of taking Christian slaves altogether.

Exmouth returned to England believing his mission was a success but those beliefs were seemingly destroyed when on June 20th the first reports began to reach London of forces belonging to the Dey of Algiers having massacred Italian fishermen at Bona the previous month. The Italians were under the protection of the British which the Dey knew and his agreement with Exmouth should have extended to them. It would later transpire that the soldiers who carried out the atrocity had received confused orders but by then the desire for retribution amongst the British people had to be satisfied. Exmouth himself had to make amends for what was seen as being the failure of his diplomatic mission and so he sailed in force from Portsmouth on July 28th 1816.

Royal Navy gibraltar battle of algiers bombardmentAs his fleet assembled, Exmouth began to realise that some sort of action against the Dey was unavoidable and he had drilled his fleet intensively to prepare but this did present him with a problem. The British had established a consulate in Algiers and it was feared that the British consul, Mr Hugh M’Donell and his family would suffer immediate and likely brutal retaliation once the British fleet began their bombardment. Exmouth therefore ordered that one of his ships should enter Algiers and essentially smuggle Mr M’Donell and his family out the day before hostilities began. He selected HMS Prometheus to carry out the operation since sloops were frequent visitors to African ports and would not attract as much attention as a larger type such as a cruiser.

Prometheus was at that time under the command of Captain W. B. Dashwood and with the last diplomatic efforts exhausted, the Prometheus sailed for the North African city. With hostilities having not yet broken out, the ship was allowed to make anchor without interference but Dashwood and his men could sense the Algerian’s suspicion of them regarding their sudden visit. Indeed, the Dey’s men had interrogated numerous merchant captains over the preceding days and one Dutch trader had even told them of a force of British ships assembling out at sea.

With little time to waste, Dashwood ordered his men to begin the operation and two boats were sent ashore with 18 men each including the ship’s surgeon. The family had been secretly briefed on what to do when the Prometheus arrived and Mr M’Donell, his wife, his eldest daughter and infant made their way to a prearranged location to meet the men from the British warship. There they were split in to two groups, one for each boat. The two ladies found themselves being handed male sailor’s clothes in order to disguise them as two midshipmen and as they made their way to their boat they tried their best to mingle in amongst the men. The deception worked and the two women made it to their designated boat where they were rowed out to the safety of the Prometheus.

It was not so easy for the second group however for they had to contend with a baby which would surely arouse suspicion from the Dey’s men around the city as they made their way to their boat. The Prometheus’ surgeon therefore gave the baby a tonic to make her sleep very soundly and hid her in a basket of fruit which they then carried down to the shore. However, as they neared their boat the baby woke up and started crying. The game was up and the men found themselves swarmed by the Dey’s men who seized the surgeon, Mr M’Donell, the baby and seventeen of the Prometheus’ crew.

The fact they had been caught trying to smuggle Mr M’Donell and his family out left the Dey with no doubt that the British planned to attack and he threw the Prometheus’ men in to prison while Mr M’Donell himself was chained up in his own house. It was suspected at the time that a Jewish nurse employed by the family had betrayed them to the Dey although this was unsubstantiated. The Prometheus remained anchored in Algiers overnight in the hope the men would be returned but in the morning the Dey sent out a single boat to the warship. The boat carried Mr M’Donell’s baby daughter alive and well and much to the relief of Mrs M’Donell she was handed over to them without hesitation but they did have a message for Dashwood; his men the Dey had seized and Mr M’Donell would not be released.

Knowing that the British fleet, now supported by a small Dutch contingent, would be sailing in to Algiers in the coming days, Dashwood sailed the Prometheus out of Algiers to report back to Lord Exmouth that his rescue mission had only been partially successful. He had however used his time at anchor to conduct reconnaissance on the Dey’s defences to make sure that Exmouth’s fleet had the most up to date intelligence.

Royal Navy night battle of algiers bombardment

On August 27th 1816, Exmouth’s force of 27 warships sailed in to Algiers and carried out an intensive bombardment of the Dey’s ships and the harbour’s defences. The Dey lost a sizeable portion of his fleet and sustained heavy casualties amongst his men (exact figures are unknown since there was little in the way of record-keeping in Algiers at that time but it is believed to be in the hundreds). The Dey was forced to concede to British and Dutch demands and over 3,000 Christian slaves were freed as well as promises by the Dey to end the practice. His supporters blamed him for the disaster and he was overthrown a year later; the first of several coups in Algiers through the 1820s until it was colonised by the French in 1830.

Mr M’Donell would return to Algiers after the bombardment to continue his role as Consul-General and would survive a rather creative assassination attempt by one of the Dey’s successors when he was draped in a cloak by a plague-stricken woman.



A New Year Message

Hello everybody,

As you probably expect this is where I wish you all a Happy New Year and thank you again for your support. I do genuinely wish you all the very best and thank you but I wanted the last post on Defence of the Realm for 2015 to have an important message and today I decided on what that message should be.

I want you all to remember that being Muslim does not make someone a terrorist.

That sentence is probably the most important one I have ever written on the site because I am continually seeing Islam confused with terrorism because of ISIS and I am saddened by that. Their twisted ideology is confusing the real situation and it is breeding an atmosphere of hate and distrust that if we embrace will mean we are no better than ISIS.

I am a Christian man who has Muslim friends. I do not view them as my enemy and in 2016 I believe it will be more important than ever to make sure we see that difference.

The video below was taken in the wake of the Paris attacks last month. It shows a Muslim man in Paris who has blindfolded himself and put his trust in the good nature of Parisians offering them hugs of friendship to show that Daesh ISIS does not speak for the Islamic world at large. It is beautiful to behold and reflects the message I am trying to send out.

Happy New Year

-Tony Wilkins

NEWS: MoD questioned over same-sex military marriages

MoD RAF Halton chapelLabour MP Madeleine Moon has put forward in writing a question to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces at the MoD, Penny Mordaunt, asking for clarification on the state of same-sex marriages within the military.

Mordaunt, herself a Royal Navy reservist, issued a statement saying;

The Ministry of Defence allows same-sex marriages in military chapels, but none of the sending Churches using the chapels currently allows same-sex marriages to be conducted there.

The “sending churches” that Mordaunt is referring to are the churches that provide the chaplain. Chaplains are themselves military officers who have been ordained in their recognised religion before serving in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines of Royal Air Force. They command the authority of their rank but do not bear arms instead providing religious and often morale services.

At present the chaplains of the British armed forces feature representatives from the following faiths;

  • The Church of England
  • The Church of Scotland
  • The Roman Catholic church
  • The Methodistchurch
  • The Presbyterian church
  • The Baptist church
  • The United Reformed and Congregational churches
  • There are also chaplains of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh faiths

Mordaunt is therefore effectively putting the blame on these faiths for the lack of same-sex weddings in military chapels. At present military chapels or places of worship are shared with other denominations and can only host gay marriages if every denomination sharing the building agrees, something which is highly unlikely.

NEWS: Lieutenant Colonel Quinn – “Christianity Has No Place In British Army”


A senior British Army officer who commanded British troops during the withdrawal from Afghanistan has sparked a heated debate about the future of the Christian religion in the British Army. Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Quinn claims the Army should dispense with tradition and no longer have a dominant religion namely the Christian faith. In an interview with The Mirror newspaper he said;

Lt Col Quinn“For some time I have felt ill at ease with the way religion is tied up in what we do in the Army. Troops should be able to practise their religion, and I think we should facilitate that, but it shouldn’t be bound up in our business. I regularly attended vigils in Afghanistan and they were so sad. But when we pray and say ‘the Lord is with you’, for me that represents a made-up narrative. It also seems insensitive to other belief systems. When I was a commanding officer I came to appreciate chaplains – I think they do an invaluable job – but I think we would be better served by them being secular.”

The question here is how much is the British Army willing to change at its fundamental core? The British Army is an institution that stretches back as far as 1707 when the regiments of the English (including Welsh) and Scottish armies joined together under the union. At the time Britain was a deeply Christian country albeit one that was still torn between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. While the Army has changed dramatically since then in both its nature and organization one thing has remained the same and that is it’s ties to the Church of England. It has been as much a part of the British Army as marching.

But Britain has changed since 1707.

The fact of the matter is we are now a deeply multi-cultural society and even then of those who claim to be of the Anglican church many do not either attend services or are in fact simply atheists. Should the Army, and indeed all the other armed services of the United Kingdom, therefore dispense with religion?

This is not a question that can be easily answered. It must be remembered that in the modern British military the Chaplaincy is more than simply responsible for the spiritual well being of the troops. They offer psychological support to men and women who are in extremely difficult situations away from loved ones who they may never see again. However they are still grounded in the Anglican Church and this begs the question of whether Catholic, Muslim or Sikh soldiers feel at ease dealing with Chaplains under these circumstances. In their defence the Army has done much to promote multi-culturism in the ranks but is this enough if you are of a faith other than the Anglican church?

The real question that will come of Lt. Col. Quinn’s remarks is will the Army cater for other religions more in their services or will religious services be dropped altogether for a less religious alternative such as “moral councillors” as he recommends? How would a non-religious Army affect its troops? How will the men and women on the frontline feel at a memorial service for a fallen comrade that has no religious aspect to it promoting eternal life?

One thing is certain however; Lieutenant Colonel Quinn has asked a far reaching question that will not be answered easily and no doubt whatever decision the Army will reach will not please everyone.