The Keith Papers

Part I: Channel and North Sea, 1803-1807; 1. Operations; 27. Keith to Secretary of Admiralty

The Document

27. Keith to Secretary of Admiralty

Monarch, in the Downs,
September 11, 1803.

Sir, I request you will be pleased to acquaint their Lordships that since quitting Deal on the 8th inst. I have proceeded to the westward as far as the limits of my command extend in that direction for the purpose of making myself better acquainted with the state of the coast; and that you will submit for their information the following remarks.

It is practicable to land in all parts of Wear Bay, but the access to ascend the cliffs is limited to a small space to the west end of it near Folkestone. That place is ill defended, there being only two guns and they are not mounted on carriages. At St. Stephens signal post there is a gun well placed, but it is without a platform and should be furnished with at least 20 rounds of ammunition and 10 of grape shot. On the whole the bay would be very easily defended.

The whole of Sandgate Bay affords a good beach to land on at high water in fine weather with the wind off shore; but at half flood and at low water there are rocks and shoals. It is equally impracticable to land with the wind at any point from S.E. to S.W., for a moderate breeze produces a heavy surf. In Hythe Bay the beach is good and may be landed on at half tides with the wind off the land; but with the wind from S. to N.N.W. produces much surf. There are three batteries which defend a part of the beach in this bay; and there is about 20 ft. of water at the distance of only half a mile from the shore.

From Hythe to Dymchurch Wall the beach is good for landing at half tide. A small tower or battery at the end of the wall would be useful for its defence.1 The wall is formed entirely of piles or stakes to preserve it, which would render it impossible for any considerable number of men to be landed there. It is flat and runs out to the distance of nearly a mile at half ebb. There is about three fathoms water one mile distant from the beach. At New Romney the beach is bad to land on because it sinks, but from that place to Dungeness it is steep and covered with loose shingle. On that part of it I saw some large boats land without difficulty. I sounded all over the Near Shoal. Within it small vessels may ride in 3 fathoms water. Ships of any size may ride in safety off the South Barrack during westerly winds in from 7 to 10 fathoms with the lighthouse bearing SW. to W., but not with the wind from the eastward or southward, for although the ground is good yet with a strong southerly wind ships ought not to remain there for long. On the western side of Dungeness the pilots deny the existence of a shoal called Dungeness shoal and believe it to be the Boulder. I think it advisable that this anchorage should be quitted early in a gale.
In Rye Bay to the eastward of Beachy Head there is shelter in westerly winds, but there are rocks and foul ground which would not render it advisable for a large ship to ride there. Off Brighton there is a good beach with a northerly wind and deep water close to the shore, but to the eastward as far as Newhaven there are high cliffs over the beach which are difficult of access. Off Seaford the beach is good and smooth with easterly winds and the water is deep close into the shore. There is good riding for any ships with the wind from north to east, but not when it is to the southward of that. For the space of two miles this beach is well defended.

Upon mature consideration I am of opinion that the way in which the coast between Portsmouth and the Downs, where there are no harbours, can be most effectually defended would be to appropriate cruising ships for that purpose, directing their commanders to take advantage of the change of wind to shelter under different promontories in bad weather and to put to sea as soon as the gale subsided. If one or more small vessels could ride within the Owers in the Park it would be of advantage. It would also be desirable to have a small disposable force always kept in readiness at St. Helens or Spithead in case an enemy should come from Cherbourg or Havre with a S.W. wind after bad weather when a ship has been driven from her station into the Downs for shelter, as such a force might be employed with a westerly wind in pursuit of the enemy, or if the enemy should steer their course for a western point they would be equally able with an easterly wind to follow and give protection to the coast as far as Portland. I have &c.


See Also

Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars | Napoleonic Homepage

How to cite this article

LLoyd, C . (eds.) (1955) The Keith Papers, vol III, 1803-1815. Navy Records Society, pp. 35-36

Web Page: Rickard, J (24 July 2006), Keith to Secretary of Admiralty,

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