The Coastguard goes to War. 1854

The Coastguard goes to War. 1854.

When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, the country was, as usual, totally unprepared for a struggle with the colossal might of Imperial Russia, and the value of the Coastguard as a naval reserve was clearly shown. Every man who was available was drafted to the fleet. During the war 3,000 men were drafted to the Fleet. The Revenue cruisers were sent to intercept the enemy’s shipping in the Channel and in this they were remarkably successful. Parliament was told in 1856 that the cruisers had captured eleven vessels and that eight had been condemned.

The vacant places in the coastguard were filled by pensioners and ‘extra men’. These were civilians engaged for temporary service – a practice which had grown up over many years when men were absent from stations because of illness or other duties. It was often suspected that the extra men worked for smuggling gangs when they were not required to protect the revenue.

The success of the revenue cruisers in intercepting Russian ships in the Channel was due to information supplied by British Ambassadors and consular officials in neutral countries.

Lord Pakenham who was stationed in Lisbon reported, in a letter to the Earl of Clarendon, on 28th March 1854, that ten vessels under Russian colours had left the Tagus. He enclosed a letter from the British consul in Oporto which added the information that ‘during the last six months four vessels arrived under the Russian flag and left under the Hanoverian flag, without a change of master or crew’ The Ambasador’s list of ship’s names with others from intelligence officers were sent to the Comptroller General who issued a memorandum listing fourteen Russian ships sailing under Hanoverian colours. Inspecting Commanders were instructed to order the commanders of the Revenue cruisers to detain the vessels and take them into port.

Two weeks later Commander Grey Skipworth, Inspecting Commander of the Coastguard at Folkestone reported that one of his boats commanded by Lieutenant George Durbin had detained the Russian ship Kamschatka and sailed her to London docks. The ship, one of the ten reported from Lisbon, and its cargo was condemned and sold for £2,230 17s.9d.

On the 21st April 1854 a message was sent to Coastguard H.Q. from the Argus revenue cruiser Spithead;

Having during last night guarded the eastern entrance of the Wight with this steamer and a boat at a suspected spot inside; and nothing suspicious seen, I steamed out after daylight to the offing in search of smuggling craft, and to examine vessels likely to have on board contraband stores of war. At noon, after examining several vessels, I boarded the Russian barque Froija of Lisbon bound for the Baltic laden with salt; and I have detained her and towed her to this port. J.S.W. Grandy, Commander. The Froija was condemned and sold with her cargo for £3,144 15s. 0d.

Four days later H.M. Revenue Steamer Argus made another capture. Commander Grandy reported that while cruising between Beachy Head and the Owers he fell in with the Russian brig Livonia from Lisbon with salt, the property of the merchants of Riga. ‘I detained her and towed her to Portsmouth’.

The Livonia was condemned and sold for £2,010.

Two days later on 27th April H.M. Revenue Cruiser Petrel reported ‘While cruising in the Channel in the cruiser under my command, yesterday at 11 a.m. St.Catherine’s Point, I boarded the Prussian barque Fama of Wasa from Sardinia, laden with salt, bound for some part of Russia as was first stated by the master John Ostman; afterwards the mate stated Elsinore, and after which they informed me they did not know where they were bound, being bound wherever they thought proper; I took charge of her and brought her to this port, john Hughes, Commander, Portsmouth.’ The barque was sold for £2,418 8s. 9d.

The revenue cruiser Lion captured the Russian brigantine Johannes, from Cadiz bound for Elsinore with a cargo of salt, off Folkestone and towed it to Dover. The ship was sold for £854 6s. 0d.

This brought the total captures in one week to four and deprived the Russians if not of contraband stores of war, of a large quantity of salt. Before the war ended the enemy had lost another seven vessels to the revenue cruiser patrols, again mainly loaded with salt.

Reference; “Shipminder” by Bernard Scarlett.

1 Comment · 7350 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Tony on June 08 2009


#1 | nikogdat on 03/02/2010 12:41:00
Tony, this is a very informative post! I didn't know almost anything about War 1854, till I came across your article. Here I've learnt much interesting facts and afterwards even downloaded a film about the Crimean War by means of rapidshare SE . I am sure we need to know as much as possible about those past events in order not to make the same mistakes now.

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