THE TRINIDAD HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Publication No. 200.
The Secretary of State to Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.B.
Source :-Public Record Office. State Papers Colonial C.O. 153/31.
Published by the courtesy of the Master of the Rolls and the
Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
8th October, 1796.
SIR RALPH ABERCROMBY.
As we are now in the season for active operations in the
West Indies, it becomes necessary that I should not allow
you to proceed to resume your command in that quarter
without calling your attention to some observations which
have occurred to His Majesty's confidential servants with
respect to the state of the war and the general situation in
the Leeward Islands.
In order to avoid any possibility of your misunderstanding
whatever remarks my view of the subject may lead me to
in course of this dispatch, I must before I proceed further,
inform you that it is by no means my wish that you should
be induced by any consideration I have now to offer to over-
look the principles of security and defence for the Leeward
Islands established and explained to you in my instructions
of 8th July last and that it will not be desirable that any
proposals I may now make should be carried into effect
unless it shall appear to you compatible with these principles
or if acted upon by its execution, to increase the permanent
stability of the whole system than to expose any part thereof
to the imminent risk of even a momentary subversion.
The probable amount of reinforcements in the course
of the autumn are important. It is not impossible that two
complete regiments of British troops may be sent late in the
season. Before tiis, only recruits collected for the regiments
now on the station will be forwarded. About 500 men may
be expected in Barbados in November also the same number
of recruits for the foreign corps. Also ready are about 500
Darmstadt Light Infantry now in Trieste in the Mediterranean
who will reach Barbados about the first week in December.
Admitting all these reinforcements to have arrived,
I am sensible tih.t a disposable army adequate to an attempt
on Guadeloupe, could not be collected and withheld from
the garrisons of the Islands now in our possession during
such an operation without the greatest risk ; every suggestion
to this effect appears therefore under the present circumstances
The next object in point of importance in those seas
would be the reduction of the Spanish settlement of Trinidad.
It would not only be a desirable conquest considered either
with respect to the general state of the war and to its
continuance but also and more particularly on account of
its local situation, of the principles and persons which have
lately been introduced there which cannot fail to render it
a cause of just alarm and real danger to several of our most
The experience of the last two years has sufficiently
proved that the utmost vigilance of His Majesty's Naval
Forces cannot entirely guard our Colonies against the new
and destructive mode of warfare in part carried on from
this Island and which from the present politics of Spain will,
I apprehend, be continued with greater means and more
activity than could be employed as long as that Court professed
to act upon principles of alliance or neutrality towards this
The conclusions that I am disposed to draw from this
state of affairs is that it is a point highly deserving your
consideration whether the force which may be requisite for
driving the enemy from Trinidad can be collected for the
expedition without weakening the respective garrisons in
which the troops are now placed so as to leave them in danger
of being surprised or overpowered from any hostile quarters
before you can return to their relief.
In forming your opinion on this subject it will also be
necessary to make an allowance for the loss likely to be
incurred in the attempt and to bear in mind the time which
will probably be necessary for carrying it into effect.
A mature deliberation on all these points compared with
circumstances and the appearance of affairs on the spot must
govern your decision with respect to ihis operation. It must
rest with you to weigh the strong motives which may be
assigned in favour of the attempt and a due attention to the
inconveniences to which it might eventually lead and to
make your choice according to your judgement and discretion
without yielding to first impressions which the warmth of
your zeal on the one hand and the anxiety of an overcautious
responsibility on the other, may suggest on this occasion.
The proposed attack is liable to another strong objection
which I have purposely avoided in the foregoing discussion
as it appeared to me to require and admit of a separate
explanation. The objection to which I allude is that a
considerable proportion of force will be necessary to retain
the possession of Trinidad in the event of its falling into our
hands. I have no hesitation in stating to you my decided
opinion that should the attempt appear in other respects
advisable, it ought not to be overruled by this consideration,
for should you ifom the situation of affairs find it impossible
after the reduction of the Island to leave in it any garrison
whatever, you may in that case destroy all the works and
fortifications therein and bring away or render useless all
the artillery, small arms, military and naval stores found in
the Island and remove to proper places of confinement or
send prisoner to Europe, all persons found in arms whether
refugees from the French Islands or of any other description
connected with the hostile designs carried on from Trinidad
against the British or captured Islands or to be in any other
way dangerous to their safety or internal tranquillity.
By this advantage, should the expedition lead to no other,
the object I had principally in view, namely to provide for
the better security of our own Colonies would in a great
degree be attained.
Our success would certainly be more complete if a
garrison could be spared to preserve the sovereignty of the
Island and I have little doubt that should an effort be made
for this purpose, the whole number it would require could
be replaced by frl-e- troops from Europe as soon as possible
after the intelligence of the measure should have reached
With respect to naval operations on this occasion I must
inform you that three line of battleships and a frigate destined
for another service, will probably be on the Leeward Islands
Stations about the time of your arrival at Martinique and
that should the expedition be undertaken, the Commanding
Naval Officer will be authorised to detain and employ them
for that service only. You will not fail tc consult with him on
all the points connected with this service as mentioned in
this dispatch of which a copy will be transmitted to the
Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty and on this and
every other occasion to act in concert and maintain a good
understanding with His Majesty's Naval Forces.
I, have &c.,