Attack on Gibraltar Captain Curtis, HMS Brilliant, to Mr. Stephens

The Defence of Gibraltar on the Night of 13 September 1782, with the Spanish Gunboats Ablaze
Chrono date: 
1782 Sep 15

Gibraltar, 15 September 1782

Be pleased to acquaint my Lords Commissioners that the Combined Fleet of France and Spain, consisting of thirty-eight sail of the line, arrived in this bay on the 12th instant: six sail of the line were here before.

At eight o'clock in the morning of the 13th, the ten battering ships of the enemy lying at the head of the bay, under the command of Admiral Moreno, began to get under sail in order to come against the garrison; everything was in readiness for their reception. At ten the admiral's ship was placed about one thousand yards from the King's Bastion, and commenced his fire. The others were very shortly afterwards posted to the north and south of him, at small distances asunder, and began their cannonade. They were all fixed to the stations allotted them in a masterly manner. Our batteries opened as the enemy came before them: the fire was very heavy on both sides; the red-hot shot were sent with such precision from the garrison, that in the afternoon the smoke was seen to issue from the upper part of the Admiral, and one other, and men were perceived to be using fire engines and pouring water into the holds, endeavouring to extinguish the fire. Their efforts proved ineffectual; by one o'clock in the morning the two before mentioned were in flames, and several others acutally on fire, though as yet not in so great a degree. Confusion was now plainly observed among them, and the numerous rockets thrown up from each of the ships, was a clear demonstration of their great distress: their signals were answered from the enemy's fleet, and they immediately began to take away the men, it being impossible to move the ships. I thought this a fit opportunity to employ my gun-boats, and I advanced with the whole (12 in number, each carrying a twenty-four or eighteen-pounder) and drew them up so as to flank the line of the enemy's battering-ships, while they were annoyed extremely by an eccessive heavy and well-directed fire from the garrison. The fire from the gun-boats was kept up with great vigour and effect. The boats of the enemy durst not approach; they abandoned their ships and the men left in them to our mercy; or to the flames. The day-light now appeared, and two felucas, which had not yet escaped, endeavoured to get away; but a shot from a gun-boat, killing five men on board one of them, they submitted. The scene at this time before me was dreadful to a high degree; numbers of men crying from amidst the flames, some upon pieces of wood in the water, others appearing in the ships where the fire had as yet made but little progress, all expressing by speech and gesture the deepest distress, and all imploring assistance, formed a spectacle of horror not easily to be described. Every exertion was made to relieve them; and I have inexpressible happiness in informing my lords, that the number saved amounts to 13 officers and 344 men. One officer and 29 wounded (some of them dreadfully) taken from among the slain in the holds, are in our hospital, and many of them in a fair way. The flowing up of the ships around us, as the fire got to the magazines, and the firing of the cannon of others, as the metal became heated by the flames, rendered this a very perilous employment; but we felt it as much a duty to make every effort to relieve our enemies from so shocking a situation, as an hour before we did to assist in conquering them. The loss of the enemy must have been very considerable. Great numbers were killed on board, and in boats. Several launches were sunk. In one of them were fourscore men, who were all drowned, except an officer and twelve of them, who were floated under our walls upon the wreck. It was impossible that greater exertions could have been made to prevent it, but there is every reason to believe that a great many wounded perished in the flames. All the battering ships were set on fire by our hot shot except one, which we afterwards burnt. The admiral left his flag flying, and it was consumed with the ship.

A large hole was beat in the bottom of my boat; my coxswain was killed, and two of the crew were wounded by pieces of timber falling on her when one of the battering ships blew up. The same cause sunk one of my gun-boats and damaged another....

A considerable detachment of seamen did duty as artillerists upon the batteries, and gave great satisfaction.

The officers and men of the brigade of seamen under my command, in whatever situations they were placed, behaved in a manner highly becoming them.


Letter from Captain Curtis of HMS Brilliant to Mr. Stephens, dated Camp at Europa, Gibraltar, 15 September 1782, Annual Register 1782.

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