A Royal Achievement
The fleet continued to patrol along the coast of North Africa, looking out for merchantmen that needed convoying through the straits into the Atlantic Ocean.
When they were within sight of Gibraltar, a swift frigate dashed out to intercept them.
It brought orders for Lord Montagu to undertake a mission to the King of Algiers.
He was ordered to discover whether the King submitted to the terms of the treaty that His Majesty the King of England had sent to him.
The Admiral was to inform the King of Algiers that if he failed to accept the terms then the fleet just off his shore was commissioned to make war upon him.
The King of Algiers was less than enthusiastic to comply. If he accepted, he would be unable to take English ships but, worse yet, because ships of many countries flew false English flags to deter the Turks, Algiers would be unable to take the risk of attacking them too… just in case the flag wasn’t false.
He had been in the habit of taking occasional English prizes, just not too often. He hadn’t wanted to attract unwanted attention.
Overall, it seemed to him that an alliance with England at this moment served no useful purpose for Algiers. The question he had to ask himself was… would he be able to fight off the English?
The answer remained to be seen.
Admiral Lord Montagu now had a problem. He was as certain as he could be that if the boys stayed on board during whatever came next, they would use the broadest of interpretations to justify taking a full part in the battle. The chances that they would stay below decks with Saucy, below the waterline and out of reach of shot was… somewhere between remote and wishful thinking.
He needed a ruse that would allow them to be safe, but also make them feel useful… daring even. He slept on it overnight and when he woke, the answer was clear in his head…
The Augustaine! The repair and stores ship. That would be out of the way, but now he had to sell the idea to two boys with heroism and daring in mind.
After breakfast, which the boys often took with him and a few senior officers, he told them to stay….
“Now then boys, I have a task for you and its not the easiest nor is it the nicest of tasks, but it will produce information that your Uncle Samuel…, “ He looked at Jeremy. “will find very valuable in his planning.”
The boys perked up.
“It’s espionage! Rather like what you did for us before we collected His Majesty.”
That, they remembered, had earned them great favour with the King and something approaching envy from the other officers. They listened now with great interest.
“I need to send a number of ships into the harbour to smoke out the King of Algiers. They will come under the shore-guns. Some will become dis-masted, others will lose sail and spars.” The boys looked excited, it sounded dangerous.
“Repairs will be needed, stores will be expended, the whole exercise will be expensive. Now, tell me… What happens when stores are drawn after a sea-battle? What happens when stores are drawn at the best of times?”
“Wastage?” Jeremy offered.
“Theft?” David followed.
“Fraud!” Jeremy capped both.
“Exactly… I knew I had the right men… wastage, theft and fraud!”
“What I want to do is transfer you two to the Augustaine… I want you to act as liaison between myself and the captains of the fleet for all matters of repair. I want you to sit in the crows-nest of the Augustaine with a couple of bring-em-nears and make a note of damage as it happens, mast, spar, sail?… and which ship. Your official task is to make lists for the captain and master of the Augustaine so that they can prepare for the repairs that will be needed.”
He paused for effect, the boys were not looking excited, it no longer sounded dangerous… or even espionage!
“Your real task, the secret one… I want you to watch what actually happens. I want you to watch for ships that need one spar replaced… perhaps the Augustaine will actually report two, and sell the other when we next make port.”
“If I need to flog a master’s-mate or two to achieve honesty in their accounting, then it will be your evidence that does for them!”
He hoped he had pitched it just right.
“Are you sure Sir? We are very junior” David said. He hesitated to say young.
“Hang and flog men on our evidence?, on just our word?” Jeremy seemed even more doubtful.
“No, not on your word. Once I know what I’m looking for, and what actually happened, more senior, older heads will know what evidence to look for in the Augustaine’s books. But, it’s your notes that will tell the older heads where to look, and what to look for.”
“But… Sir.” David had worked out the real defect in Lord Montagu’s cunning scheme… “Sir, we shall miss the battle! The Augustaine with all the stores will be staying well out of the fight!”
“What I want done is neither safe nor simple. That’s why I need two of you over there. Stay together at all times. If they realise what you are doing, you could easily disappear over the side. Watch each other’s back! Remember what happened to young Edward Barlow!”
“What I need you to do is far more valuable than running about on the Royal James. In any case, the Admiral wont be anywhere near the firing. I shouldn’t be able to see for smoke if she was. I don’t intend to be in the crow’s-nest of my own flagship just to be able to see what my captains are doing.”
He didn’t want to lay it on too thick, so he cut to the chase.
“If you want something useful and dangerous to do… then get yourselves over to the Augustaine. Allow half an hour for my secretary to draft orders for you to act as liaison with the flagship regarding repairs following the battle.”
“Aye-aye, Sir!” The two boys chorused. No gunnery, no battle, no excitement… But… danger and espionage… just maybe. Maybe it was indeed what a boy seeks.
Lord Montagu despatched a few frigates to check out the harbour and judge the range capability of the shore battery. They observed a great deal of activity on shore, at the various forts and batteries that guarded the town and coastline. The town and fort were ready for them… and so was the harbour. This was not going to be a walkover.
The King of Algiers had gathered all his ships within the mole of the harbour. His men had set a barrage across the harbour entrance, a barrier of floating masts and spars joined together with chains. There was no way for the Royal Navy to sail into the harbour now without stopping to dismantle the barrier… and every Algerian gun was trained on that small area.
The King of Algiers was well able to keep the English fleet out.
Then he started firing his heavy guns.
The fleet moved in close to the barrier and fired back with broadsides, there was a lot of noise, but all to no great effect. When Admiral Montagu realised it was just a waste of powder and shot, he warped the fleet out of range.
Although the fleet had achieved nothing useful in firing at the shore, the heavier shore battery’s success in firing at the fleet was another matter. A lot of masts and spars had been damaged and would need repair.
A number of men had been killed and injured. The surgeon and Toby were rowed from ship to ship. A hurrah went up at each ship as the surgeon pulled alongside. Every rated ship had some form of surgeon aboard but many were old and drunks, or young and inexperienced. The knowledge that the fleet had a truly great surgeon on the flagship, and that the Admiral was prepared to lend him to the fleet… well, this was a fleet well worth being a part of.
Not all fleets had such a surgeon, nor such an Admiral.
The Augustaine too was in great demand, for replacement masts and spars.
The smaller frigates, whose limited firepower meant that they had needed to be closest to the mole had actually suffered least damage. They were safest, because the shore batteries couldn’t depress their guns enough to reach them. The Admiral and the bigger ships further out had presented an unexpectedly tempting target, one that the elevation and range of the heavy guns of the batteries could reach.
The boys were, as ordered, in the crow’s-nest of the Augustaine, reading flag signals, passing information to the repair parties on-deck and noting what each ship reported as its repair requirement. A mast here, a mainspar there. Many needed a new sail, others reported that their mainsail was repairable but not by the ship’s crew, heavier tackle and skilled sailmakers would be needed.
The boys now knew exactly what each ship needed, and were waiting to see what was supplied.
They watched activity amidship as damaged spars arrived on the Augustaine’s barge. It was similar to the Admiral’s ornate barge but stripped to the minimum so that heavy gear could be accommodated on its deck between the oarsmen. Winching these heavy objects onto the deck of the Augustaine was a skilled job that the boys watched with morbid fascination. A spar could weigh many tons, and while the capstan and a block and tackle could make light work of the lift, the barge was full of men. A sudden roll of either vessel could cause a serious accident.
Our steadily hardening pair got into the habit of sending just the letter Z to the flagship. It was their laconic signal to the flagship that surgeon is needed. They had got tired of waiting for the main deck to run up a fully spelt out message. So, one day early on, David had a message sent… Z means send surgeon. Montagu.
The captain had tried to protest, but David informed him, somewhat firmly, that he was there as the personal-representative of the Admiral, and what he wanted sent to him was no concern of the Augustaine. After that he kept a Z flag in the crows-nest and on spotting a serious accident would simply heave it over the side, into the wind, without waiting for a request from the deck.
The boys had a low opinion of the skills of the Augustaine’s own surgeon. They had seen living examples of his bone-setting and suspected there were many more sewn in canvas with a shot at their feet at the bottom of the ocean.
David’s view was that every bone that was set well was a sailor that would return to duty as a useful hand. Jeremy’s view on the other hand was that the better the medical care, the faster a hand returned to useful duty and the less the accident had cost the Navy.
Their views reflected those of father and uncle rather neatly.
The men of the Augustaine saw and remembered the care with which David sought to look after their welfare, and word continued to spread…
“Follow David Montagu, he’ll look after you. He may get you killed, but you’ll have the best of care while he does it.”
The boys were indeed becoming genuine officers. Lord Montagu watched all this with approval. He knew that it was the opinion of the crew that determined who became a great officer… and who by contrast simply held a King’s Commission. It wasn’t who led that mattered, it was how many were willing to follow.
Meanwhile, once a spar had reached the Augustaine’s maindeck, the boys watched her skilled carpenters and shipwrights set to work, to do what they could with it. Spars beyond repair would be cut up for smaller cross-trees, as fuel for the galley or simply dumped over the side.
Realistically, most mainspars would be beyond repair. A spar needed to be perfect in order to cope with winter storms. But… what they could do in many cases was to cut out the damage, shorten the spar, adze and draw-knife it to be symmetrical about its new centre… and turn it into maybe a mizzenmast topspar.
The boys would note all this… a mainmast mainspar was taken from stock to repair a ship… but would the new mizzenmast topspar be entered into the Augustaine’s stock books, or was it to become bunce?… useful stock, but stock that had been declared as scrap that had been dumped in the sea, except that it hadn’t.
Once it became unaccounted stock it could be used for a repair, but the books would show that it’s replacement had been purchased at the next port. The money that hadn’t actually been spent could then be pocketed by the various mates… maybe even by the Master himself.
The boys quietly gathered evidence of what really happened in each repair. The Admiral would later ask to see the Augustaine’s books and find out what had been recorded… then… follow the money!
The peace was broken, and a stalemate had resulted. The fleet waited ten days to see if any Algerian ships would return to port unaware of the English blockade. If they did and ran into English guns out of range of the shore guns… there would be some good prize money to be had.
Frigates darted about, looking over the horizon, while the first-rate ships cruised slowly up and down about two miles off shore, away from shoals and out of range of shore batteries. The Augustaine plodded along behind the Admiral, because the Admiral made contact with most ships of the fleet and most ships needed stores. The other reason that Montagu had told them to was so that he could keep an eye on the safety of his son… and that of his nephew-once-removed, or whatever the relationship he shared with Jeremy was.
Really, he had ordered them to maintain formation with the Admiral because the Augustaine had a very poor reputation as a ship. She wasn’t really a fighting ship, her captain was a shipyard captain, with more knowledge of shipbuilding than navigation. The chances of David and Jeremy being killed by gunfire was nearly zero, but the chances of being drowned as a result of poor captaincy? That unfortunately was not even nearly-nearly zero. So the Admiral was keeping the Augustaine in sight, even if the captain of the Augustaine thought that he was the one following the Admiral.
The stalemate with the King of Algiers meant that there was not much left to do other than blockade him and take as prizes any ships that they caught heading for Algiers. There were bound to be Algerian ships that were unaware of the events that had taken place, so the blockade would be fruitful… for a while.
But, it was a large fleet to simply run a blockade, so Lord Montagu called a great Council of War, to discuss what should be done. The longer the fleet stayed in one place the less Algerian shipping was going to be unaware of their presence. It might be best if the African coast saw the fleet sail away, even if a part of it was only just over the horizon.
Taking prizes was important because the captains of the fleet depended on prize-money. A captain’s pay was not great and an officer’s even less. The Navy depended on the capture of prizes to supplement the income of senior officers. The important thing then was to divide what prize money there was among fewer ships, and find richer pickings elsewhere.
Lord Montagu ordered that part of the fleet was to stay with Vice Admiral Lawson.
As well as taking any Turks headed for Algiers, Lawson was tasked with convoying any merchantmen who needed protection from Turkish raiders. That wasn’t a task that would bring him much money, but a vengeful Lord Montagu was none too concerned about Vice-Admiral Lawson’s income… or lack of it.
By this time, they were in great need of supplies, so Lord Montagu decided to take a large part of the fleet back out through the Straits and set course for Lisbon. Samuel would have been the first to recognise that organising the purchase of supplies was going to make someone a lot of money and Lord Montagu was making sure that it was his chosen captains who made the money.
The ones left behind could blame Vice-admiral Lawson for their poor catch.
The other good fortune awaiting Lord Montagu’s chosen was the fact that the fleet could expect a warm welcome in Lisbon . Charles Stuart was in the process of finalising his marriage to the King of Portugal’s sister, the Infanta Catherine of Braganza. It was perhaps important to show the regard that England had for the marriage… and for her new husband. After all. Her predecessor in the role had been rather abruptly widowed.
Unfortunately, the sea had other ideas. When the Augustaine got into the bay at Gibraltar she anchored in nine fathoms, but then dragged her anchor into eighty fathoms of water. Her captain managed to sort things out and anchored again, but when they came to leave they found that their anchor was snagged on something solid. Eventually they had to cut the cable, losing both the anchor and a considerable length of cable. To add to their troubles they had sprung the mainmast and had to lower the main topmast to the deck, leaving them short of sail. David was seen carrying his Z, and saying in a good imitation of his father… “I am moving my flag to the mizzen!”
Lord Montagu decided to leave the Augustaine to follow on, and proceeded to Lisbon. It was only a short voyage, almost never out of sight of land, surely even the Augustaine couldn’t get into trouble again. The first-rates could manage without the supply ship for the time being. Once they reached Portugal, they would have access to the King of Portugal’s own shipyards and graving docks.
Meanwhile, if they sat and watched the chaos, the fleet and its admiral would add nothing other than bad nerves to the Augustaine. The latter would be better off if able to concentrate on getting herself sorted out.
The Admiral’s Royal James, the Mary and the greater part of the lesser-rated ships departed with him after taking on water from the Gibraltar coast and made it through the Straits safely before the wind turned westerly and a head wind through the narrow straits made tacking impossible. The Augustaine, a small frigate Colchester, the English Consul and two small ketches didn’t make it in time. Having given precedence to the major ships of the line, they were now prevented by the wind from following them. They would have to wait just inside the strait for the wind to change in their favour.
Eventually the wind changed but their problems were not over yet. When they finally reached Lisbon their luck had not improved and the Augustaine with all the fleet’s spare masts, yards, sail, ball and powder was nearly lost on the sandbanks at the entrance to the river. The fault was not entirely her captain’s. He was doing his best with a poor vessel. The Augustaine was reputed to sail badly because she was Flemish built.
Whatever the reason, she wasn’t able to make it through the straits unaided. She had needed to be towed and warped to get her through. She was indeed difficult to sail.
When she was at last, and to everyone’s relief, safely in Lisbon, she made her way to the King of Portugal’s mast-yard, so that the shipwrights of the Augustaine could fit a new mainmast on the Royal James.
Having unloaded enough masts for the fleet’s repairs at the mast-yard they went on up into the city, to the graving-yard near St. Polve’s Church to re-tallow the outside surface of her hull.
In the process of so much unloading they created a lot more space on board, and were now able to take on another thirty men, six more guns and supplies.
For our young heroes, one of the few good things about being on the Augustaine was that Edward Barlow was also there. That lad might be strange, but he was a mine of information. Some boys collected birds’ eggs. Our young men collected information.
David in particular, was fascinated by him. Despite being a simple seaman, Edward had taught himself to read and write and was keeping a journal of his voyages, full of detail of where he had been, and small paintings of everything there was to see. He seemed to spend all his spare money on his writing things. As Jeremy said, his Journal was kept on even better quality paper than Uncle Samuel’s diary. It seemed as if Edward intended it to last forever, and indeed it did. Ultimately it would tell history almost all that was to be known of life at sea at this time.
As seamen went he was decidedly unusual. The boys were fascinated and followed him round Lisbon, to see where he would lead them next.
Ashore, Edward would make a bee-line for the interesting things there were to see. He seemed to have a natural talent for knowing where the best fruit markets were and specialist markets with exotic produce; tobacco and rare-woods and spices.
As a result of one of his trips ashore with Edward, David managed to ingratiate himself with the master-carpenter of the Augustaine by taking him ashore to see a market that sold nothing but exotic woods from South America, Africa and the Indies.
There were things to be seen that simply didn’t happen at home. The boys were fascinated to see a bull fight. They were used to bull-baiting in England, most towns had somewhere set aside for the sport. In some towns it was actually illegal to sell beef from animals that hadn’t been baited. It was believed that meat was not properly prepared for butchering unless the animal had died in a state of pain and over-excitement. That, it was believed, released the flavour at its finest. There were schoolmasters who held a somewhat similar opinion.
David worked out how to buy tickets, and the three of them found themselves sitting in the sun in an arena that was filled with men on horse and on foot, in brightly coloured uniforms. In Lisbon the bulls were not tied to a post and baited with dogs as in England. In Portugal they ran free in a large arena and men on foot and on horseback took it in turns to face the bull, sweeping aside at the last minute and poking the animal with sword or pike in passing, making it angrier and angrier until it finally stood still in frustration at its inability to kill someone. Then a noble or senior person would step forward to have the honour of bringing the exhausted and confused animal to its knees with a thrust of their sword.
This generally didn’t kill the animal. Killing it was beneath the dignity of men senior enough to bring it to its knees. Instead, the common folk, the onlookers, were permitted to enter the arena and finish off the bull, the one who actually killed it getting to take home the carcass.
This was a rule that rapidly attracted the attention of the English sailors and the Augustaine’s sailors were quick to join in, getting one of the first two bulls. They then had the problem of working out how to drag it back to the dockyard to share amongst the ships. It had been a very profitable venture for the men involved. Our young heroes didn’t join in, but derived great entertainment from watching the ingenuity of ship-repairers in devising ways to move such an unwieldy dead-weight with ease.
They had no officer from the Augustaine with them to issue orders and David was quick to realise that faced with such a task, it was much better to tell the men what needed to be achieved, and then leave them to use their native wit to work out the best way to do it. His afternoon in the sun had taught him another useful lesson.
The youngsters returned to the arena later, to watch the third bullfight of the afternoon. It was a special event, the King of Portugal himself took part!
It would have been interesting enough if he had simply done clever moves and impressed the crowd with his horsemanship. But no, instead he was nearly unhorsed by the third bull. It was a particularly fierce one that ignored the script, and managed to get its horn under the King’s breeches. A King’s breeches are a serious matter, they conceal the source of the Royal line of succession. His nobles needed to intervene to rescue him and slaughter the bull.
Eventually, when they had exhausted Royal hospitality and purchased all the masts, cordage, sail, fruit and meat that they could possibly need… and a great deal of sweet wine that they might have been more efficient without, they set sail to rejoin the fleet in Tangiers.
Tangiers was, for the moment, a Portuguese port on the Atlantic side of the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar, very close to the straits themselves.
Montagu was tasked with waiting there for ships from England that were bringing soldiers. They were to garrison Tangiers because it was being ceded to England by Portugal as part of the marriage settlement between Charles Stuart and Catherine of Braganza.
It was to become known as English-Tangiers. The English were giving the city a garrison and a town-charter, the latter would make it equal to any other English town.
There were plans to improve the harbour by building a mole. With an improved harbour the town would be in a good position to play a great role in controlling the Straits. England expected to gain the ability to open and close the mouth of the Mediterranean, at will. Italy might call it Mare Nostrum, Our Sea, but England would control who entered and left it.
Just so that you know… The English eventually built a great mole at Tangiers that cost £340,000, a huge sum in those days. It reached 1,436 feet long, but only shortly after, was blown up during a later evacuation when the city was abandoned to its fate.
The boys’ Naval education was progressing. Ships arriving from Malaga needed convoying out of the Mediterranean, as far as Cape Finisterre . The ship’s Master who knew that Jeremy was interested in maps showed him that the cape at the north-west corner of Spain is very nearly the westerly most point of mainland Europe. He told the entranced boy at his elbow that, in Roman times, it was considered the end of the Earth… finis terrae in Latin, Finisterre on a map of Jeremy’s day.
There being little risk to the convoy from Turks this far north, the escorting warships could turn about at Finisterre, making course back to Tangiers.
There was much excitement in the night just before they reached Tangiers. A Turk sailed up to investigate the Augustaine… as usual, she was lagging a long way behind the rest. From her unusual Flemish profile, the Turks probably assumed her to be a lightly armed merchantman. The sailors on the Augustaine proceeded to create a great deal of noise, with much rolling out of cannon. The Turk fearing that they were mistaken, and were tackling a man-o-war, turned tail and hurried off into the night.
The Augustaine’s crew breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t just sailing that they weren’t very good at, you can add gunnery to the list of the Augustaine’s failings. Our boys were disappointed, another battle had slipped through their fingers.
Going ashore on the African coast under a flag of truce, the crew were permitted to cut firewood for two days. It was in short supply locally, so this was a great concession. After a fierce battle with the Moors, the locals had lost the majority of their fighting men. The local populace were now unable to cut wood, and were having to buy it by the bundle from the Spaniards across the straits.
The fleet’s diet became much improved when people from the countryside came to sell goods to them. They were offered; sheep, hens and a notably salty cheese about the size of a small cannon ball.
The locals seemed very exotic to our youngsters. They lived in tents, and their men wore long nightshirts and were mounted on Barbary horses, reputed to be the swiftest horses in the world.
The fleet crews treated the locals with great caution. They had a reputation for being quarrelsome. Fortunately, the various tribes didn’t cooperate in fleecing the foreigners, they were too busy being at war with one another
By this stage in his fleet’s affairs, Lord Montagu was having severe second thoughts about placing the boys on the Augustaine as a way to keep them safe. The truth was that no-one on the Augustaine was safe!
She was a pig to sail, and as her captain was more shipwright than sailor, he wasn’t the man to be in charge of such an unwieldy tub in difficult waters, and now they were spending a lot of time in the Atlantic and tacking through the Straits… difficult waters.
Lord Montagu didn’t have too many choices about what to do with his supply-ship, but he could retrieve the boys. He declared their services as liaison no longer necessary, and had them return to the flagship. He thanked them profusely for their hard work and set his clerk to collating the data they had gathered on repair costs.
Their return marked a point at which Lord Montagu… and the captain, considered them to be ready to become junior-officers. His Lordship decided that this was an opportune moment to stop referring to them as pages or personal servants. The boys had achieved the stature that deserved to be called officer.
He concluded that they would be safer on the Royal James in the midst of battle than far too close to sandbanks and rocks on the supply ship. The boys, who had always had suspicions that they had been deliberately side-lined for their own safety were delighted to be back where any right-thinking boy would want to be… on the flagship, the prime target in any future sea-battle.
Their King’s new African domain, or England’s new town on the African coast, depending on your viewpoint, was proving a problem. The Portuguese had perhaps been happy to add it to the Infanta’s dowry because it was in many ways more trouble than it was worth. As a port that controlled access to the Mediterranean it was of great strategic importance. But, as a source of dates and sub-tropical fruits, and wealth… the West Indies would be of greater value.
The current difficulty was the problem of defending it from the local Arabs.
When Lord Montagu took the boys ashore with him to inspect the defences, he found that, in reality, the defences were more or less non-existent. Perhaps the Portuguese had assumed that the English would rush in with troops. Maybe they had also reasoned that it might be better to remove their own men just in case fisticuffs resulted. Or perhaps there never had been more than token forces there in the first place. Given the state of the town walls and forts, that did seem just as likely.
Montagu returned to his flagship muttering darkly. He promptly convened a meeting of his captains, which the boys were able to attend from the comfort of their hammocks behind the panelling.
When the Admiral had explained that their gracious King’s dowry could disappear into Arab hands at any moment and become another pirate port, that the fleet would then have to contend with, everyone agreed that something needed to be done… urgently.
He led them round to what he had already decided to do.
The captains agreed that they would select their more robust and aggressive sailors as a fighting force. That amounted to about one in six of their crew. Most of their Marines would also go with them, to control and organise the garrison.
As well as the men ashore, the garrison would also be supported with heavy gunnery from the Navy ships in port, and for those corners of the new realm that were out of sight of the ships’ guns, a few heavy cannon would be sent ashore. They could, as necessary, take a heavy cannon from each first-rate ship, and install it as high as they could get it, in one or other of the forts that pretended to defend the town.
They managed to put together a respectable army, sufficient to convincingly garrison the town. At four hundred men armed with muskets and pikes it was quite a significant fighting force.
As Jeremy reminded Lord Montagu later, the Arabs’ natural tendency to be fractious and disorganised meant that the town would only ever face organised attack by one tribe at a time. The Admiral once again could only wonder whether the boy spent too much time reading his uncle’s library… and then took careful note of his advice.
The boys took every opportunity to go ashore to watch the fun. Every day unwary Arabs would approach, unaware of the new garrison, and with mayhem in mind. The sailors would, with varying success, take pot-shots at them. If they were successful then next day the Arabs’ relatives would return looking for revenge, only to find themselves adding to the sum total of their tribe’s grief and aggravation.
For two weeks they enjoyed the opportunity to take pot shots at any Moors who ventured close. Being Navy, they also used their heavier ordnance to harass those Moors on horseback who gathered a few miles off expecting to be out of musket range. The sailors’ aim was remarkably accurate, perhaps because the shore was not rolling in the way a warship would have… The Moors learned to stay at an even safer distance… Which was after all the whole purpose of the garrison being there.
Just occasionally one of Lord Montagu’s force would get into trouble, sometimes when a sailor fell on the crumbling fortress structure and sometimes when the crumbling structure fell on a sailor. Toby would be dispatched to do the honours. He was now becoming a very competent surgeon in his own right.
Ashore, the lack of formal paper from Barber Surgeons Hall didn’t matter. Toby wasn’t the senior loblolly boy when ashore. In Tangiers, he was Surgeon’s assistant and accepted as such by the men. He was certainly more competent than any surgeon they would have encountered on any ship other than the James. To his great pleasure, Surgeon had said that while working ashore he didn’t need supervision anymore.
Ashore, in Tangiers, Toby was already the surgeon that he had been training to be. Not yet the best in the fleet, but almost certainly the best in North Africa.
Time and bureaucracy would alter all that, as Tangiers steadily changed to become English Tangiers, but that was for the future, and just for now Jeremy could sit and watch his friend setting broken limbs and sewing up wounds, and learn something useful while resting in the shade.
For Jeremy, at that moment, life was as close to perfect as a boy could hope for.
Of course, all good things come to an end. Who said that? Almost certainly an adult.
One day, at mid-morning, with the Admiral’s fleet floating at anchor in the sun, a galley came racing out from the shore. It had an over-excited Jeremy aboard. The flag-waving small figure signalling as the sailors pulled hard was clearly asking for the Admiral.
Panic, or the more disciplined Naval version of panic, ensued. Had the Arabs attacked the city? But no… It was in fact excellent news when Jeremy came racing up the companionway to the quarterdeck where Lord Montagu and the James’s captain were waiting.
“Sir, Ships Sir. A fleet is approaching from the north.”
“Ours or theirs?” Montagu asked.
“Ours I believe Sir. They appeared first-rate, a few anyway, and pirates wouldn’t have any really good ships… would they?”
“The garrison at last!” Lord Montagu looked pleased.
The arrival of the garrison would allow the fleet to retrieve its men from ashore and get back to its real mission, chasing pirates on the high seas, capturing prizes and becoming wealthy. Despite Naval discipline, excitement reigned for a few minutes as the news spread and boys were despatched to the crows nest.
When calm was restored, and it has to be admitted that Jeremy had been a trifle over-excited, he explained that spotters high in the ramparts of the fort had reported that ships, a small fleet, were coming their way. He had run up to the highest tower with his own bring-em-near. It was a Christmas present sent by his Uncle Samuel, a beautiful instrument made by Dollonds in London. He had counted and rated the approaching fleet, about a dozen ships, some serious first and second rates and a lot of cargo ships.
He had realised when he looked towards the James that inactivity there suggested that with a headland in the way, the approaching fleet hadn’t yet been spotted by the Admiral’s fleet.
He hadn’t hesitated. At the quay-side he ran up to the Captain of a Naval-galley. “Quickly Sir, If you will, there’s a fleet approaching from the north and the James is unsighted. We need to warn them. Up anchor if you will Sir.”
The Captain was taken by surprise. He reacted with alacrity before he had time to ask himself whether a King’s Letter Boy had just brought news that he needed to report to his Admiral… or had he just been ordered to sea, by said boy?
He chose to stand on his small quarterdeck and look as if he was in charge.
When the arrivals were riding at anchor and could be seen for what they were, Montagu could see that he had acquired about a dozen ships. Four or five were men-of war of various rates and seven or so victuallers with men and supplies for the town.
The ships also carried soldiers, the garrison that was to protect the town, and that would release the sailors that had been guarding Tangiers. The new garrison consisted of five hundred horse and two thousand foot.
The ships had arrived full of men and supplies, and once empty, Lord Montagu put them to good use. Tangiers as given to the English had an existing Portuguese population.
Some quite welcomed the prosperity that the promised work on the mole would bring, as well as the money spent by captains and sailors each time a ship entered port. Others, as always, couldn’t see why they had to become English and wanted to leave. For preference they wanted a free ride to somewhere that felt more Portuguese.
Lord Montagu organised that any Portuguese citizens: men, women and children (and their goods and chattels) who wanted to leave English Tangiers, could board the now empty ships and return with them to Faro, in Portugal. Any who wished and were willing to serve the crown of His Majesty the King of England in the new Tangiers, were permitted to stay. There was a very great deal of to-ing and fro-ing and changing of minds.
Once again the boys lost their friend Edward Barlow to the vicissitudes of his travels. The Norwich and the galley Martaine carrying the much travelled Edward were sent to England with letters for the King.
Meanwhile Lord Montagu had set sail to show the English flag in Lisbon.
David was excited as could be. He had been sitting quietly with his father in Lord Montagu’s stateroom when Jeremy arrived with a message that had been carried from England by a sprightly light frigate that had come alongside, sent a boat across with the message and then disappeared again as quickly as it had come. Lord Montagu was a little disappointed, a visiting captain and first-officer would have been an excuse for a good dinner.
The boys were disappointed too, a captain and first-officer might have been accompanied by their King’s Letter Boys as they were now termed, since Samuel’s initiative with the King had been formalised and implemented. The boys had hoped that if the visiting officers were to get sufficiently drunk and the hour sufficiently late then the whole party, including their boys might have to spend the night on board the James, and who knows what larks that might have resulted in, behind the panelling.
Since his afternoon with the bosun’s rope-end, David tended to reserve his foolishnesses for after he and Jeremy had turned in for the night. What the world didn’t see, the world wouldn’t hold against him. Except… the cannon he slept alongside was, as luck would have it, the gunner’s-daughter. She sat there beside him when he slept, silently reproachful. She had seen him prostrate at the hands of the Marine and bosun… naked too for that matter.
Now? Now she again saw his nakedness, and now he was more frequently erect. The one constant factor was Jeremy, he lay alongside his friend beside the great cannon, and he too was erect as a result. Neither boy quite saw the irony of the situation. The Gunner’s Daughter kept her thoughts to herself.
But, back to the message… Lord Montagu read the brief letter and shot to his feet…
“At last! Action! The Barbary Coast… at last!”
“We are off to fight pirates?”