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The Alexander Colville Diaries, Part I: 1758

Posted by Chris Durbin, on June 19th, 2019


This is the first of three extracts from the journals of Alexander Colville, who commanded British naval forces in North America in the 1760s. The Colville family papers were recently given to the National Maritime Museum’s Caird Library, and NRS members were recently shown a selection during a special visit. Lord Colville’s career is recounted, the last decade of which was spent sparring with the French for control of the St Lawrence River, Quebec and Newfoundland. In 1758, as captain of the third-rate Northumberland, he took part in the siege and capture of the coastal fortress of Louisbourg, which protected French supplies into Quebec. The excerpts from Colville’s journal featured in this post highlight the terrible sickness suffered by his crew, who at one point were too incapacitated to weigh anchor. Nearly a third of them died. On the voyage home, the survivors recovered remarkably while French prisoners on board were dying ‘like rotten sheep.’ These events led a year later to the fall of Quebec and Colville’s appointment as Commander-in-Chief North America, a position he held (with a short interruption) until his retirement as Rear Admiral in 1766.

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