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The Alexander Colville Diaries, Part II: The West Indies, 1740-1

Posted by Alexander Nicoll, on July 18th, 2019


The second excerpt from Alexander Colville’s journals takes us back 17 years to his time as a 24-year-old lieutenant on the bomb vessel Alderney. The particular role played by the bomb ketches Alderney and Terrible in the attack on Cartagena in 1741 is described. The expedition under Admiral Edward Vernon was intended to capture Spanish territories in the so-called War of Jenkins’ Ear. Vernon, a national hero after his capture of Portobello in 1739, had reservations about this amphibious venture and fumed at the soldiers’ slowness in capturing the fort of Boca Chica which guarded Cartagena’s lagoon. While the admiral waited, the bomb ketches, small two-masted ships each equipped with two mortars, were his only means of inflicting damage on the fort. Colville’s journal vividly describes the action over 17 days as the ketches exchanged mortar fire with the castle, which was visible only from the masthead. Finally, Colville went ashore in an attack on a nearby island and heard the ‘huzza’s’ as British troops overran Boca Chica castle. But celebrations proved short-lived, as disaster for the expedition and personal tragedy for Colville were to follow, as the next excerpt will describe.

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