Lord Nelson’s letter to Emperor Paul I of Russia – Nov. 1798

Lord Nelson’s letter to Emperor Paul I of Russia – Nov. 1798

Lord Nelson’s letter to Emperor Paul I of Russia – Nov. 1798

Palermo, 3lst October 1799.

To His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Russia.

SIRE, As Grand Master of the Order of Malta, I presume to detail to Your Majesty what has been done to prevent the French from re-possessing themselves of the Island, blockading them closely in La Valetta, and what means are now pursuing to force them to surrender. On the 2nd September 1798 the inhabitants of Malta rose against the French robbers, who, having taken all the money in the Island, levied contributions ; and Vaubois, as a last act of villainy, said, as baptism was of no use he had sent for all the Church plate. On the 9th, I received a letter from the Deputies of the Island praying assistance to drive the French from La Valetta.

I immediately directed the Marquis di Niza, with four sail of the line, to support the Islanders. At this time the crippled ships from Egypt were passing near it, and 2,000 stand of arms, complete with all the musket-ball cartridges, were landed from them, and 200 barrels of powder.

On the 24th October I relieved the Marquis from the station and took the Island of Gozo-a measure absolutely necessary, in order to form the complete blockade of La Valetta, the garrison of which at this time was composed of 7,000 French, including the seamen and some few Maltese ; the inhabitants in the town, about 30,000 ; the Maltese in arms, volunteers, never exceeded 3,000 1. I entrusted the blockade to Captain Alexander John Ball, of the Alexander, 74, an officer not only of the greatest merit, but of the most conciliating manners. From that period to this time it has fell to my lot to arrange for the feeding of 60,000 people, the population of Malta and Gozo ; the arming the peasantry ; and, the most difficult task, that of keeping up harmony between the Deputies of the Island. Hunger, fatigue, and corruption appeared several times in the Island, and amongst the Deputies. The situation of Italy, in particular this kingdom (the Two Sicilies), oftentimes reduced me to the greatest difficulties where to find food. Their Sicilian Majesties at different times have given more, I believe, than £40,000 in money and corn. The blockade in the expense of keeping the ships destined alone for this service (cost) full £180,000 sterling. It has pleased God hitherto to bless our endeavours to prevent supplies getting to the French, except one frigate and two small vessels with a small portion of salt provisions. Your Majesty will have the goodness to observe, that until it was known that you were elected Grand Master, and that the Order was to be restored in Malta, I never allowed an idea to go abroad that Great Britain had any wish to keep it. I therefore directed His Sicilian Majesty’s flag to be hoisted, as I am told, had the Order not been restored, that he is the legitimate Sovereign of the Island.

Never less than 500 men have been landed from the squadron, which, although with the volunteers not sufficient to commence a siege, have yet kept posts and battery not more than 400 yards from the works. The quarrels of the nobles and misconduct of the chiefs rendered it absolutely necessary that some proper person should be placed at the head of the Island.

His Sicilian Majesty, therefore, by the united request of the whole Island, named Captain Ball for their chief director, and he will hold it till Your Majesty as Grand Master appoints a person to the office. Now the French are nearly expelled from Italy, by the valour and skill of your generals and army, all my thoughts are turned towards the placing the Grand Master and the Order of Malta in security in La Valetta, for which purpose I have just been at Minorca, and arranged with the English General a force of 2,500 British troops, cannon, bombs, &c., &c., for the siege. I have wrote to Your Majesty’s Admiral, and His Sicilian Majesty joins cordially in the good work of endeavouring to drive the French from Malta.