32. Intelligence Reports from Holland
September 30, 1803The working at the different kinds of gunboats goes on with activity, and telegraphs are to be erected all along the coast to correspond from Zealand to the Texel. At Schevenigen the rudders are taken off the small boats, on account of three having gone to sea in the night with intelligence as supposed to our cruisers, and the fishing vessels are all obliged to be on shore before evening and not to be moved till after daylight in the morning.
The First Consul is expected to pay a second visit to Flushing andthe yachts of the Admiralty have orders to be in readiness to receive him.
The building of gunboats goes on very fast at Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Middleburg. Some of the schooners built last war have been rigged and armed and are gone by the inland navigation to Ostend. Should the expedition be really undertaken there will be no want of transports; the number of these in this country, great and small, is above 8,000. But the men of war are of no consequence; I only know of five ships of the line in commission to be manned with 375 men each. They are the Herstelder, Dogger Bank, Neptunus, Jean de Witt, Brutus, commanded by Admirals Gervais and Kebbert. A number of the men are still wanting and the recruiting goes on very badly. The Chatham and Peter Paulus remain still unrigged and are not put into commission; indeed it is impossible to do so, our finances are in so deplorable a state.
The projected expedition appears now to have become an object of serious occupation of the government, who purpose hiring the national vessels and give a premium to those who make a voluntary offer. The price is 9 florins per 2 tons monthly. The requisition extends to koffs, smacks and schuyts, and a considerable number are engaged. At Amsterdam and in the Texel above 300 vessels are actually put in requisition for the transporting of troops, artillery, horses etc. ; and are ordered to be ready and assembled at their places of rendezvous (still secret) before November 15. Since the fortunate cruise of the privateers Unic and Wraak and the brig Spion the fitting out of privateers is become an object of speculation at Amsterdam; there seems, however, but little ambition for the service.
The works at the Helder are considerably strengthened. They consist in a line across the isthmus, or from one dyke to the other, with some redoubts, and flanked by the heavy battery called the Revolution of 55 guns, and on the other side by what is called the New Work by two batteries of 30 guns. For the whole of the line the redoubts are palisaded and are enclosed by a wet ditch and would require at least 4,000 men to defend them. At present there are only about 1,400, nearly one-fourth of whom are sick. In the roads lie the following line of battle ships: Brutus, Jean de Witt, Dogger Bank, Neptunus, of which only the Jean de Witt has her full complement of men. Recruiting goes on but slowly. There are besides 3 or 4 brigs and small armed vessels. The building of gun-boats goes on continually. Over 20 are launched at Amsterdam. At Enkhuysen 109 boats are completely finished, proper for landing troops.
At Rotterdam the working of the gunboats goes on day and night. A considerable number are already finished and ordered immediately to Helvoet and from thence to Ostend. The French officers of rank, after inspecting a number of vessels at Rotterdam, have purchased 45 bommen, a species of stout sloop, which are to be sent to Ostend. The troops, both French and Batavian, said to be destined for the expedition, begin to concentrate in the neighbourhood of Utrecht, and General Victor is on the point of removing his headquarters to that place.
I have enclosed a part of the gazette of the Hague for the 21st containing the advertisement respecting a contract for forage. I reckon the quantity specified to be rations for 2,000 horses, for nearly three weeks, or for 3,000 for a fortnight. The escape of the French gunboats, or rather their movement in face of our new squadrons, from Calais and Dunkirk to Boulogne makes a great impression on the continent; and those who do not understand the danger of ships approaching too near a coast begin to think the gunboats more formidable that I hope they are. Pardon me, while so many brave and experienced officers are upon the spot, to advise whatever may be necessary for our defence, for expressing a wish that gunboats with British troops on board could be employed to meet the enemy on his own coast. I do not think he would have to boast of his manoeuvres in the face of our fleets.
LLoyd, C . (eds.) (1955) The Keith Papers, vol III, 1803-1815. Navy Records Society, pp. 38-40
Web Page: Rickard, J (24 July 2006), Keith to Secretary of Admiralty, http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/napoleonic/nrs1955/1_1_032.html