1785 - Ellis Cornelia Knight - A Ball of Fire
Eliott, Koehler and Jenny Conaway
The Autobiography of Miss Cornelia Knight; Lady Companion to the Princess Charlotte was published in 1861. It was, in fact, a compilation of her letters and writing put together by J.W. Kaye
Ellis Cornelia Knight was born in 1757. She was a writer and a painter but her main claim to fame was her close acquaintance with many notable personalities of the day. She knew Nelson, worried about his relationship with Lady Hamilton, and hob-nobbed with the likes of Johnson, Burke, Reynolds, Goldsmith, Pitt, Charles X of France, the Prince Regent, the Princess of Wales and Princess Charlotte. More pertinently she was a good friend of Lieutenant Koehler, General Eliott's aid-de-camp during the Great Siege.
Ellis Cornelia Knight
At her death she left an incomplete autobiography and a journal - both of which Kaye used as his source for his 'Autobiography'. The book, in two volumes, includes several anecdotes that refer specifically to Gibraltar and these are quoted below.
The Floating Batteries - About this time I made the acquaintance of Lieutenant Koehler, General Elliott's aide-de-camp during the siege of Gibraltar. He said that the general used to rise every morning at four, but scarcely ever went to bed before twelve or one, and even then was continually awakened to hear the reports from the different batteries of every circumstance that happened in the enemy's camp.
While the floating batteries were burning, he exclaimed 'They will make us pay for them; for they have a hundred thousand witnesses to prove that it was we who set them on fire.' As he walked up and down, watching the conflagration, he caught himself humming one of his favourite airs : 'Le matelot brue au milieu des flots.'
The Sortie - While General Elliott was planning the great sortie that destroyed the Spanish works, he did not speak of it to anyone. But when he had arranged and decided upon every part of the manoeuvre, he sent for the commanding officers, and explained his intentions to them, appointing each to a particular duty.
British Officers planning the Great Sortie - I am not entirely sure whether General Eliott is in there among them ( 1785 - George Carter )
He then ordered all the suttling-houses to be closed, in order that the men might be quite sober, and even when they were under arms he kept them waiting for four hours, so that if any of them should happen to have been drinking they might have time to recover from the effects.
Brave Eliott - He then said he should accompany them to the gate, but no one knew that he meant to go any further, though his Aide-de-camp had observed that his great-coat - which he wore with a belt, and called his 'kitchen fire' — stuck out more than was usual over his ordinary small sword.
But when he arrived at the gate he threw off his coat, and ordered someone to carry it home, and it was then seen that he had his fighting sword on, slung by a belt over his shoulder. As the path was exceedingly difficult, many of the soldiers offered their arm to steady him, but he told them that they would have enough to do to take care of themselves, and so contented himself with leaning on his aide-de-camp's shoulder.
When they reached the Spanish lines he exclaimed : 'We have had a run for it, but it has been the right way.' After having completely destroyed the enemy's works, he walked with the slowest pace and most majestic demeanour.
The Sortie ( See LINK) ( 1781 - from A C Poggi )
Caring and Generous Eliott - If any man happened to be wounded, the general always inquired closely into the circumstances of the case, and severely rebuked any officer who did not take good care of the lives of his men.
If any man was killed, he always asked if he had left a wife or family, and made it his business that they should be provided for. Every morning he visited the hospital, to see that it was kept perfectly clean, and the patients properly attended to. The first lemons in his garden were always sent there, and whatever else was likely to contribute to the comfort of the sick and wounded.
Whenever he wanted to propose some new scheme which he had designed in his own mind, General Elliott used to go to the persons to whose department it belonged, and mention the matter to them as if asking their opinion. By degrees he would insinuate his own idea into their heads, and then applaud them for it, as if it were their own, and invite them to carry it out immediately. They would thus set about the performance with greater alacrity.
Humble and Hospitable Eliott - And the general never claimed any merit for his original idea, but generously relinquished the credit to others. He likewise banished all libertinism and dissipation from the garrison, setting himself a good moral example, as he did of activity and industry.
At the same time, he was particularly attentive to procure for his officers every comfort in his power, and his own table was remarkably elegant and agreeable. At dessert he always had vast quantities of natural flowers, and in the spring, when he gave the grand dinners after reviewing the regiments, he used to raise columns of hoops covered with canvas, all wreathed round with natural flowers. General Elliott was himself the most abstemious man in the Garrison, his diet being exclusively confined to vegetables, milk, puddings, and farinaceous food
Intellectual and Resourceful Eliott - He had a good library, and passed a portion of every evening in reading the works of ancient authors, particularly Caesar's Commentaries. In the early part of the siege there was a great dearth of firewood, until a violent storm drove towards them almost an entire forest, which the Spaniards had cut down. The garrison was occupied for three days in getting it in, and when this supply was nearly exhausted, some old fire-ships sent against them by the enemy were secured, which lasted them for the rest of the time.
The First Miracle - An officer was walking one day in his garden, which was a very beautiful one, and had been of great service to the men, and he thought with sorrow how soon everything in it must perish from want of water. He was a remarkably devout man, and began praying for rain. Suddenly a shell from the enemy flew over his head, and struck the rock at a few yards' distance. Instantly a plentiful stream of water gushed forth, which sufficed for the entire garrison, and never failed them.
The Second Miracle - At another time. General Elliott was walking in his own garden with two of his aides-de-camp. It was a few nights before the affair of the floating batteries, and a little after midnight He was conversing with his companions about these expected ships, wondering where they would be moored, and calculating the means of destroying them, when a ball of fire sprang from behind a certain part of the rock and fell into the sea.
Raising his hand with characteristic vivacity, he exclaimed, like a Roman of the ancient times, 'I accept the omen.' It was afterwards ascertained that the spot where the meteor first appeared was the site of the batteries that destroyed the ships, and that the spot where it fell was the exact part of the bay in which those ships were moored.
The general encouraged the country people to bring in provisions, by telling them to sell their things as dear as they could. In consequence of which, they would run any risk to supply the garrison. He used to say that it made his heart ache to see the great dinners that were carried to the batteries for the officers, while the children were dying of hunger in the streets. To set an example of abstinence, he himself lived for several days on six ounces of rice per diem.
Eliott and Floating Batteries ( 1782 - John Singleton Copley) (See LINK)
Eliott the Poet - The following parody on the old song of 'The Vicar of Bray' was a great favourite with the general:
And this is law I will maintain,
My tune it ne’er shall alter,
That whosoe’er is King of Spain,
We will keep Gibraltar.
This was not the only poetical effusion of the gallant general. he also composed the following lines on a young lady who died in consequences of dancing too much, and drinking too much lemonade at a ball;
'Do you know who's gone away?
Do you know who's gone away?
The masquerade and lemonade
Have done for Jenny Conaway.'
The depressing carriage gun that made Lieutenant Koehler famous - at least in Gibraltar
Like most Britons of the day - as well as those of other nations - Miss Knight was enraptured by General Augustus Eliott - whom she knew as Elliott - and everything to do with his famous defence of the Rock. The fact that most of her information came Koehler who probably admired his boss even more than her tends to give her anecdotes a rather one- sided slant.
As mentioned elsewhere Eliott was indeed an admirable man - but not quite the paragon of virtue Ms Ellis makes him out to be.