Paul Baker

Paul Baker has 3 articles published.

Tribute to Lord Nelson

in Features

All those that took part in the Battle of Trafalgar
October 21st 1805

Part 2 of 2


At noon precisely the action commenced by the Fougeux and Monarca opening fire on the Royal Sovereign. 

Now follows an extract from our log:

Royal Sovereign opened fire on the enemy’s centre. 

answered 16 general signal.

Royal Sovereign, at the head of the larboard division, broke the enemy’s line astern of a Spanish three-decker, and engaged her to leeward, being followed by the Mars, Belleisle, and Tonnant, who engaged their respective opponents.

opened our fire on the enemy.

Victory, at the head of the starboard division, opened her fire on the enemy.

engaging both sides in passing through the enemy’s line, astern of a Spanish two-decker (El Monarca.)—1235, fell on board the French two-deck ship 1’Aigle, whilst hauling to the wind, our fore-yard locking with her main one, kept up a brisk fire both on her, on our starboard bow, and a Spanish two-decker (El Monarca) on the larboard bow, at the same time receiving and returning fire with a Spanish two- decker (Bahama) on the larboard quarter, and receiving the fire of a Spanish two-decker (St. Juan Nepomuceno) athwart our stern, and a French two-decker (La Swiftsure) on the starboard quarter: the action soon after became general. 

the main and mizen- top-masts fell over the starboard side, main-top-sail and top-gallant-sail caught fire.

the Master, Midshipman and the Captain fell, still foul of L’Aigle, and keeping up a brisk fire from the main and lower decks; quarter-deck, poop, and forecastle being nearly cleared by the enemy’s musketry, chiefly from troops on board L’Aigle.

the jib-boom was shot away.

L’Aigle dropped astern under a raking fire from us as she fell off, our ship at this time quite unmanageable from braces, bow- lines, etc. shot away.

1345 L’Aigle was engaged by the Defiance.

she struck.— On the smoke clearing up, observed several of the enemy’s ships had struck.—Fired several shot at El Monarca, our first opponent, when she struck.

sent an officer and party of men to take possession of her.

the ship being ungovernable, and in danger of falling on board of Tonnant, Temeraire, and prizes,    

Made 318 (signal) to Sirius, out boats and sent them ahead to tow, towed and swept the ship clear of them (the enemy ships); received prisoners from our prizes.

answered 101. (a signal code)

opened our fire on five French ships making off to windward, the sternmost of which was cut off, and struck to the Minotaur.

the fighting ceased, thirteen sail of the enemy’s ships making off to leeward, four of their line to windward.—

answered 90 general. (a signal)

took possession of El Bahama, Spanish 

Sunset, one of the prizes sunk, another blew up.” Thus far our log ; but it will not be amiss to mention, that whilst engaged with the fire ships in this situation, L’Aigle twice attempted to board us, and hove several grenades into our lower deck, which burst and wounded several of our people most, dreadfully; she likewise set fire to our fore chains; our fire was so hot, that we soon drove them from the lower deck, after which our people took the (quoins)coins out, and elevated their guns, so as to tear her decks and sides to pieces: when she got clear of us, she did not return a single shot whilst we raked her, her starboard quarter was entirely beaten in, and, as we afterwards learnt, 400 men hors de combat, so that she was an easy conquest for the Defiance, a fresh ship: we were well matched, the being the best manned ship in the Combined, and we in the British fleet. Unfortunately situated as we were, I have no doubt she would have struck, had we been able to follow and engage her for a quarter of an hour longer; but had we been fairly alongside of her, half an hour would have decided the contest; for I must say I was astonished at the coolness and undaunted bravery displayed by our gallant and veteran crew, when surrounded by five enemy’s ships, and for a length of time unassisted by any of ours. Our loss, as might be expected, was considerable, and fell chiefly on our prime seamen, who were foremost in distinguishing themselves; twenty-eight, including the Captain, Master, and a Midshipman, were killed outright; and 137, including the Captain of Marines, who had eight balls in his body, and his right arm shot off, before he quitted the deck; Boatswain, and five Midshipmen, were badly wounded, and about forty more slightly, so as not to be incapable of duty; nineteen of the wounded had already died before we left Gibraltar. I consider myself as very fortunate in having escaped unhurt, as our class suffered so severely. 

Following the battle, Admiral Collingwood sent a despatch to the Governor of Gibraltar telling him of the victory. This news arrived on the war schooner Flying Fish on October 23rd and was published in the Gibraltar chronicle on October 24th. 

Gibraltar Chronicle extraordinary


Yesterday a battle was fought by His Majesty’s fleet, with the combined fleets of Spain and France, and a victory gained, which will stand recorded as one of the most brilliant and decisive that ever distinguished the British Navy.

The enemy’s fleet sailed from Cadiz, on the 9th, in the morning, thirty three sail of the line in number, for the purpose of giving battle to the British Squadron of twenty seven and yesterday at eleven am., the contest began, close in with the Shoals of Trafalgar

At Five pm. seventeen of the enemy has surrendered, and one (L’Achille) burnt, amongst which is the Sta. Ana, the Spanish Admiral Don D’Aleva, mortally wounded, and the Santisima Trinidad. The French Admiral Villeneuve is now a prisoner on board the Mars; I believe three Admirals are captured. Our loss has been great in men; but, what is irreparable, and the cause of universal lamentation, is the death of the noble Commander Chief, who died in the Arms of Victory. I’ve not yet any reports from the ships, but have heard that Captains Duff and Cook fell in the action.

I have to congratulate you upon the great event, and have the Honour to be, &c. 

(Signed) C. Collingwood

To Hon: Gen. H E Fox, &c. &c. (Governor of Gibraltar)

The Chronicle continues:

In addition to the above particulars of the late glorious Victory, we are assured that 18 Sail of the Line were counted in our possession, before the vessel, which brought the above dispatches, left the Fleet; and that three more of the enemy vessels were seen driving about, perfect wrecks, at the mercy of the waves, on the Barbary shore, and which will probably also fall into our hands.

Admiral Collingwood in the Dreadnought, led the van of the British Fleet most gallantly into action, without firing a shot, till his yardarms were locked with those of the Santisima Trinidad, when he opened so tremendous a fire, that in fifteen minutes, she was completely dismasted, and obliged to surrender. Lord Nelson, in the Victory, engaged the French Admiral most closely; during the heat the action, his Lordship was severely wounded with a grape shot, in the side, and was obliged to be carried below. Immediately on his wound being dressed, he insisted upon being again brought upon deck, when, shortly afterwards, he received a shot through his body; he survived however, till the evening; long enough to be informed of the capture of the French Admiral and of the extent of The Glorious Victory he had won.– His last words were, “Thank God I have outlived this day, and now I die content”

A despatch was sent to the Admiralty in London on board the schooner Pickle

The Pickle passed the news to Captain Sykes on the Nautilus which he met off Portugal. This ship sped to Lisbon to give the tidings to the Consul there. Meanwhile the Pickle continued on to the Channel where it met up with the Mouse Hole fishing fleet. They immediately left for Penzance with the news which was passed to the Mayor who was attending a function at the Union Hotel.

Captain Lapenotiere of Pickle landed at Falmouth where he took a Post-Chaise for London. On route he passed through Truro, Tavistock, Exeter, Axminster and Basingstoke, giving the tidings as he went.

The despatches were delivered to the Secretary to the Board, William Marsden who was still working as the Captain arrived at one in the morning. He woke Lord Barnham, who studied the message and sent a messenger to the King at five am.

The Pickle was a schooner in the rear guard of the fleet and is unlikely to have taken part in the fighting but was used as a messenger.

Article supplied by History Society Gibraltar.

USS Ophir

in Features

The burning quesiton

Many of us remember the devastating explosion which rocked Gibraltar in April 1951 when the British ammunition ship Bedenham exploded on the Gun Wharf. A similar incident nearly occurred in 1918 when US navy cargo ship the USS Ophir returned to Gibraltar on fire carrying a flammable cargo.

The USS Ophir was built by the Dutch Kon. Masts de Schelde in Flushing in 1904. This 8905 ton cargo passenger ship was operated by the Rotterdamsche Lloyd Line on the Pacific run. The ship was seized in Hawaii by customs officials under a Presidential Proclamation of the 20th of March 1918 and was turned over to the US Navy on the 21st of March 1918 and commissioned on the 25th on that month as a NOTS (Navy Overseas Transportation Service) under the command of Lt. Cdr. M P Nash USNRF (US Navy Reserve Force). 

The Ophir left port on the 2nd of April heading for New York where she arrived on May 14th. Leaving again in the company of four other ships on the 1st of June. They carried sailors and tugboat men, 500 mail sacks and other cargo, heading for La Pallance in France, to supply the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) there.  She arrived on June 7th    (GHQ AEF France report dated June 9th) and set sail again for Verdun on the 27th and then returned to New York. The General Headquarters AEF shows the Ophir arriving in New York on July 30th. She continued to operate on this sector and on the 25th of October set out for Gibraltar and onward to the southern French ports. The Ophir arrived in Gibraltar on November 8th. Soon after sailing for Marseille she caught fire and turned back to Gibraltar. In the afternoon of the 10th a telephone call was received by the Senior Naval Officer (SNO) in the Gibraltar Dockyard which stated that the Ophir was on fire and would be arriving about 1500hrs. A berth was prepared on the North Mole. The question of tugs was raised but was informed that the HM Tug Crocodile, which had the necessary pumping equipment, was laid up and only the Marsden and Heroine were available with limited pumping capacity but that the Kings Harbour Master and Commander Remington had the matter in hand. At 1930hrs the ship was reported to be rounding Europa Point. The SNO boarded the vessel on arrival and was informed by the Captain that he thought the fire was in No2 lower hold which held some 500 tons of coal. The Ophir was anchored off North Mole. The fire was kept under control during the night using the ship’s firefighting equipment. At 1930 hrs on the 11th an explosion blew off the hatches of No2 hold and the ship continued burning furiously. The water from the fire hoses had passed from the hold into the boiler room and was in danger of extinguishing the furnaces. The SNO was on board when the Captain requested that the ship be beached. This was agreed and the Pilot, Pelizza, took the ship into the shallows and she was run aground in four and a half fathoms. The fire continued, the boilers were put out of action and the Ophir burned out with all the hold full of water. The 11th of November 1818, being the day that the Armistice was signed which ended the First World War. 

Two sailors perished in the fire, they were Guy Alston Comstock, an Engineman, 2nd Class of the USNRF and Oscar Wilson, Engineman 1st Class USNRF. Both these sailors were buried at the North Front Cemetery on the 16th of November. The bodies were repatriated to the United States on the 3rd of June 1919.

Her cargo consisted of drums of Aviation Oil, which in those days was probably of castor oil base and highly flammable. Reports in the US media talk of shell holes but there is no evidence that she carried ammunition. She also carried a number of ambulances, coal and provisions, no doubt for the troops at her original destination. 

The Crocodile, obviously now repaired, started to pump out the holds and in a report from the Captain of the Port, dated 18th January 1919, the fore hold was now dry and No 2 hold had three feet of water and the after hold was reduced to about the same level. Tests were being carried out to see if the ship could be pumped dry without damage. The hull seemed watertight but some concern was raised over the after bulkhead. The iron deck aft of the dining saloon on the port side was split right across and it was hoped this was not a structural failure. A US destroyer was anchored just north of the Ophir and keeping an eye on developments. For security reasons, the night patrol was ordered to make several tours around the ship while on patrol. An inventory had been taken of everything on the ship including all brass and copper fittings and orders given that the correct night lights should be on during darkness. Nevertheless by the 4th of December the Captain of the Port reported that fittings had been stolen from the ship. Captain Nash was lodged with the American Consul while the ship was being raised. Captain Asserson USN was in Gibraltar as part of the diplomatic team and was involved in the decision to raise the Ophir, which was reported to the Colonial Secretary on January 18th 1919.  The US Navy survivors were repatriated and a team was sent to Gibraltar to refloat and repair the vessel. 

No doubt the provisions were spoiled and probably dumped at sea under the sanitary inspector’s control. The vehicles had been under 16ft of water but the five Quad trucks were salvaged and sold to Alexander Ivison of Cadiz under the authority of US Base 9, the Patrol Squadron based in Gibraltar on the 22nd of May 1919. The US media reported that the vessel was under water for five months but this does not appear to be the case as she was pumped dry within weeks.

Only enough work was done to make her able to sail back to the United States. A skeleton crew of six officers and sixty eight men were sent out to bring the ship back

On the 25th of November 1920, she set sail still full of holes and hardly seaworthy. Incredibly, despite her condition, eight wives of enlisted men were permitted to sail with the ship. Only three of her boilers were operational and two days out of the Azores, they broke down and she was given a tow by the USS Bob-O-Link off Bermuda. About 100 miles off Cape Henry, they hit a severe storm and the tow rope parted. For thirty six hours the Ophir drifted in 100 mile an hour wind and heavy seas but finally the storm abated and she was able to get under way on her own, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia on the 9th of January 1920. The Ophir was decommissioned and turned over to the War Department on the 16th of January 1920.

It is curious to note that there is no reference to this incident in the Gibraltar Chronicle, and were it not for the records of the North Front Cemetery and the official Government correspondence, there would be doubt as to whether it ever happened. The fact that it occurred on the 11th of November 1918, the day that the armistice was declared, which ended the First World War, might account for the lack of interest. Research is still going on to establish the details of how the vessel was raised by the US Navy.


Stand by your Beds

in Features

Based on
“Standing Orders in the Garrison of Gibraltar 1803”

Most of us of a certain age will remember the ridiculous lengths to which we were made to go in preparing our beds, boots and equipment for inspection to please overzealous, tradition bound officers and NCO’s in the Gibraltar Defence Force, now The Royal Gibraltar Regiment. Many evenings were spent in burnishing our boot toecaps into mirrors and polishing our cap badges, buttons and brasses, only to be criticizes by some little napoleon for having a spot on the webbing, or a blanket not quite folded to the correct thickness.

BUT, if you think this was ridiculous give a thought to our predecessors in the same boat. 

In the barracks, each room was approximately 18 x 36 feet and would accommodate nineteen man. Lack of space in some cases made it necessary to provide folding beds. In this area the men would also eat their meals and spend their off duty time when not in town.

Each man would be issued with a straw mattress, a box for his personal articles. Wooden tables, benches, a stove and wood would complete the barrack room. His personal uniform and accoutrements are listed below.    

Following are some of the “Standing Orders“ in the Garrison of Gibraltar in 1803 during the Governorship of the Duke of Kent. 

Every NCO, Drummer and Private is to rise at latest, at half past three in the Summer months and half past four in the Spring and half past five in the Winter when a long roll is to beat at the front door of every barracks, at which time they are immediately to commence folding up their beds, according to the following mode. The bolster (pillow) laid at the bottom of the flock mattress, which is to be doubled over twice, so as to make it lay in three folds with the bolster in the centre; the sheets, blankets and rug to be once doubled from the length, and then turned together in three folds also, the sheets to be first laid on the bed, the blankets on the sheets and the rug on the blankets; at the same time the berths (area around the bed) or platforms (wooden plank beds) are to be swept perfectly clean.

At the hour established for breakfast, the quartermaster is directed to visit the rooms and see that they are clean, and the beds folded up as ordered for the first morning inspection, and cleaned, the caps of the NCOs and men hung upon the pegs fixed up for the purpose, the accoutrements on the racks, with the bayonet belts, the arms neatly and uniformly upon the racks, with the cocks let down and good flints in them, the name of every man and the number of his arms written on a card and placed on the top of the arms exactly over the owner’s firelock, the greatcoat neatly rolled up, and with the knapsack hung over the berth or platform.

At one and a half hours before the evening gun, the whole, except for the sick, and half of the attendants on them, will parade in open column of Companies with their arms, accoutrements, greatcoats and knapsacks, when the Commanding Officer of Companies are to minutely examine the state and number of every Sergeant’s pike, sword and sword belt; the flintlock, bayonet, ramrod, pouch, pouch belt, bayonet belt, frog (the bayonet scabbard) and sling of every Rank and File; the drums, swords, sword belts and slings of the Drummers; the fifes, fife cases, swords, belts and slings of the Fifers and the hatchets, saws, aprons and slings of the Pioneers; and see that the whole of each man’s arms and accoutrement are marked with the Company’s letter and that the whole set has the same number, that every man has his own, and that none of the marks and numbers are defaced.


The top or brush to be cut as close as the scissors can catch it, allowing the comb between that and the head; the under part immediately behind the ear to be left somewhat longer so as, when rubbed up with soap and grease and combed upwards, to look as if it was frizzed after being turned with a small curling iron. The hind hair is to be parted from the brush with a string passed from ear to ear, vertically over the top of the head. Every part of the hair that comes behind the string being combed back so as to go into the queue, that which comes before forming the brush. No whiskers to be allowed of but for Drum Majors and Pioneers, but the beard to be always shaved up to the top of the ear; where the side hair is to be left perfectly square and level with the corner of the eye. No part of the beard below the top of the ear or in the neck to be permitted to grow.

NB. The top hair is to be regularly cut in the first week of every month by one established Hair Dresser.

DRESSING THE HAIR.                                                                                   

In order to prepare the hair to receive the queue, it is first to be moderately thickened with powder and grease, both well combed into the roots; a small pad or cushion covered with black sheepskin and stuffed with bran, about two inches and a half in length and of thickness proportionable to the man’s hair, (known by soldiers as a mouse) is next to be placed inside, above the tie, so as to make it appear full and round, without spreading it too much, and in order to prevent it from splitting; but this is on no account to be placed so high as to touch the head, as that would occasion the queue to stand off from it, or make it bag at the tie, which are the two greatest faults that can be found in any soldier’s head dress. After this, the hair is to be tied exactly level with bottom of the stock and particular care must be taken that the tie sets close to the neck; the top hair is then well rubbed up with soap, flour and grease and combed from the ears straight upwards, so as to have the appearance as if turned by curling irons, the back hair is next to be covered with soap lather, well beat up with flour in a box, until it becomes a stiff paste which is laid on with a small brush (commonly called by House Painter, a Sash Tool), and then regularly and neatly marked with a comb the teeth of which should be about ten to the inch, each mark coming directly down from the crown, where the hind hair is parted off from the top to the tie, after which the whole hair is to be lightly powdered with a thread or cotton puff until it is perfectly white; but not so as to fill up the marks of the comb. When this is done, all loose powder that has not attached itself to the paste where it is directed to be laid on the hind hair is to be blown off so that none may by chance fall on the clothes. The queue which is to be made to receive the whole of the man’s hair and to cover the string with which it is tied, is to be fixed on so that, when the man has his coat on, the queue may be even with the lower row of lace on the collar, and lastly the flash is to be fixed on so as to cover the top of the queue. 


The hair is to be done according to the foregoing directions, except that the soap, lather and powder are to be altogether omitted and no part to show at all  white; the marks of the comb which is used for combing the hair, to be left without being smoothed down, although the marking comb is not to be used

The Duke of Kent preserved hair powder and queues for those under his command until much later, even though the practice had been abolished in 1808. As Governor of Gibraltar, he issued a series of orders that- 

” The first person who boarded every ship coming into the harbour was his Royal Highness’s hairdresser, and no officer was allowed to land until he had submitted his head to be operated on by this functionary. On the top it was to be cut into a horseshoe form; a string put round the ear and held in the mouth decided the termination of the whiskers”

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