FOUR MANUSCRIPT LETTERS ADDRESSED TO CAPTAIN WALTER BATHURST, R.N., FROM (1) : CHARLES MANNERS-SUTTON, 1ST VISCOUNT CANTERBURY, JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL. (2) J. A. OLDHAM, JUDGE ADVOCATE GENERAL’S OFFICE. (3) WILLIAM CARNEGIE, EARL OF NORTHESK, THIRD-IN-COM
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ALL CONCERNING CAPTAIN BATHURST’S CALL TO BE A WITNESS AT THE COURT-MARTIAL IN 1815 OF LIEUTENANT GENERAL SIR JOHN MURRAY, EIGHTH BARONET, WHOSE CONDUCT IN 1813 WAS CONDEMNED BY WELLINGTON AND ADMIRAL BENJAMIN HALLOWELL. 2 ALSs (Autograph Letter, Signed) & 2 LSs (Letter, Signed). (1) : Manners-Sutton, L.S., folio, 28/12/1814. 1 side, with subject & date in Bathurst’s hand on verso. (2) : Oldham, A.L.S., 23 x 18cm. 31/12/1814. 1 side, with subject & date in Bathurst’s hand on verso. (3) : Northesk, A.L.S., 24 x 19cm. N.D. “Rec’d. 1815” (Bathurst). 1 side, 2 blank sides, + address panel, Bathurst’s note, & part of Northesk’s seal. (4) : Palmerston, L.S., folio. 27/3/1815. 1 ½ sides + Bathurst’s note. ALL : 2 closed tears (Northesk & Palmerston) without loss, o/w fox-free (except for very slight browning around a couple of edges) ;fresh, crisp & V.G. +. Sir John Murray (1768?-1827) was an army officer with extensive service behind him by 1813. He had commanded the 84th foot at the capture of the Cape in 1796, saw service in India and the Red Sea, and while in Aden in 1800 he was appointed quartermaster-general of the Indian army and proceeded to Egypt, crossing the desert to Cairo and descending the Nile. He served under Wellesley at Poona in 1803 but his superior found he lacked self-confidence and was inefficient. After service with Sir John Moore, he again joined Wellesley’s army in Portugal in 1809. Wellington rejected Murray’s application to join the Peninsular army, and in 1812 was appointed to the army in Sicily under Lord William Bentinck. In late February 1813 Murray arrived at Alicante and took command of a motley force of British, Sicilians, and others. Wellington suggested he recapture Tarragona but Murray delayed indecisively. The French attacked Murray at Castalla and Murray defeated them but failed to take advantage of his victory. On 31st May he disembarked his force of some 12,000, chiefly Spaniards (only 4,500 were British and German) before reaching Tarragona. He displayed nervous indecision before hastily re-embarking his troops on 12th June, leaving some guns and stores behind. Instead of obeying instructions to proceed to Valencia to support the Spaniards, he landed his men at the Col de Balaguer where Bentinck arrived four days later and assumed command. Wellington (and the public back home) was furious with Murray’s disregard of his instructions, and with his sacrifice of guns and stores. Admiral Hallowell, who commanded naval forces at Tarragona, also complained of Murray’s conduct, and government ordered a court-martial and Murray was sent home. After a long delay Murray was arraigned at Winchester on the 16th January 1815 before a number of distinguished officers. He was charged with alleged unmilitary conduct, neglect of duty and disobedience to Wellington’s written instructions, and neglect of proper preparations for re-embarking his troops. Murray tried to lie his way out of it and to blame others. After sitting for 15 days, Murray’s falsehoods, apparently paralysing his accusers, he was acquitted on all charges except for abandoning the guns and stores, for which he was sentenced to be admonished. The Prince Regent, however, dispensed with the admonition and in 1816 Murray was awarded a GCH and he demanded a medal for Castalla and a red riband ‘to cancel former injuries’. Sir John Fortescue (in his British Army) suggests that from the start, Murray had been under the protection of the Court, and confirms the verdict of contemporary critics : ‘He (Murray) must be pilloried by history without mercy as a cowardly and dishonourable man, unworthy to hold his Sovereign’s commission, or to wear the red coat of a British soldier.’ To this piece of theatre, Captain Walter Bathurst, RN (1764?-1827) was called as a witness. Bathurst had a long and distinguished naval career (see his ODNB entry) and, under Codrington at Navarino in 1827, his ship in the heart of the battle, sustained considerably more dead and wounded than any other ship. Bathurst himself was killed on the quarter-deck and was hailed as ‘a brave and kindly captain, beloved of his entire crew’. The first letter from the Judge Advocate General’s Office in Downing Street, 28th December 1814, is from Charles Manners-Sutton, 1st Viscount Canterbury (1780-1845), a Tory politician who held this post from 1809 to 1817, and went on to become a Speaker of the House of Commons, 1817-1835. He writes to Captain Bathurst : “Sir, A General Court Martial being appointed to be holden at Winchester on Monday the 16th day of January next at 10 o’clock in the morning for the trial of Lieutenant General Sir John Murray Bart. upon charges preferred against him, and it having been represented that your testimony will be material in support of the Prosecution, I am to desire you and you are hereby summoned to give your Attendance at the said Court Martial in order to your being examined as a Witness …” The letter is addressed to ‘Captain Bathurst late of H.M. Ship Fame.’ The second letter, also addressed from Downing Street, this one dated 31st December 1814, is from J. A. Oldham, an official at the Judge’s office, acknowledging Bathurst’s reply to the first letter, and advising Bathurst that any application for expenses must be made to the Secretary at War after the trial is over. The third letter is the most important in that it is written and signed by William Carnegie, 7th Earl of Northesk (1756-1831), a naval officer who was third in command under Nelson and Collingwood at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In command of the BRITANNIA, in the weather line led by Nelson, he was early in the action and remained closely engaged to the end, sustaining a loss of 52 killed and wounded. Northesk, for his conduct during the fight, and subsequently rescuing crews from prizes ordered to be destroyed in the rising storm, brought him high praise from Collingwood and the award of Knight of the Bath. He made Admiral in June 1814. He writes to Bathurst hoping he will be able to accompany him after the Court Martial is over (for the week), “and I will bring you in again early on Monday morning (to Winchester). I am dear Sir, Most Sincerely Yours, Northesk.” Upon his death in 1831, Lord Northesk was laid to rest in the crypt of St. Paul’s near to Nelson and Collingwood. The final letter is from John Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865), dated War Office, 27th March 1815. Palmerston, later a Prime Minster in the Victorian era, was at this time Secretary at War, and writes to Captain Bathurst at 4, Crawford Street, Portman Square. Palmerston is acknowledging Bathurst’s letter regarding his expenses for attending Murray’s trial – “the hire of a Post Chaise, including Drivers & Turnpikes, to Winchester, & half the expense of one on returning, when you were accompanied by Capt. Withers, and likewise for an allowance of fifteen shillings a day from 15th January to 8th February last.” Palmerston adds that as these rate are calculated for Field Officers of the Army, Bathurst’s claim should by made through the Lords of the Admiralty. The letter is signed “Palmerston”. An interesting batch of letters to a distinguished captain in the Royal Navy – the only British captain to be killed at Navarino – from three politicians (including, subsequently, a Prime Minster), and a high-ranking veteran of Trafalgar from whom any letters are scarce – all concerning the infamous military Court-Martial of Lt.Gen. Sir John Murray.