When, after twenty-two years of almost continuous global conflict, the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars finally ended in 1815, Great Britain found herself at last able to give her attention to a problem which had plagued the Christian maritime nations for centuries, namely the so-called Barbary Corsairs, Based in several citadels along the North African seaboard, the reign of terror - through piracy and the enslavement of prisoners - that these corsairs had inflicted upon all those seafaring countries trading in and around the Mediterranean had reached a level which, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, could no longer be tolerated by the civilised world. Accordingly, Lord Liverpool's government sent orders to Admiral Lord Exmouth, Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterrranean, to take a squadron to stand off the city states concerned and demand that their activities as pirates should cease forthwith. Proceeding first to Tunis and Tripoli, both of which immediately acceded to his demands, Exmouth then sailed on to Algiers only to find that the Dey was not only totally unreceptive but supremely confident that the apparently impregnable fortifications of the city would protect him from any British interference. Without the fire-power to enforce his demands, Exmouth had no alternative but to withdraw and make for England where he requested permission for a full-scale assault by a powerful naval force, a recommendation quickly endorsed by the government. Unusually, Exmouth was given carte blanche to select what ships he needed and the fleet he assembled, led by the 100-gun flagship Queen Charlotte, sailed from Plymouth Sound on 28th June 1816.
When he arrived at Gibraltar, Exmouth was met by a Dutch squadron of frigates under Vice-Admiral Van de Cappellen which requested permission to join the expedition. This was an offer Exmouth could hardly refuse and the combined Anglo-Dutch fleet, comprising about thirty ships but including many small specialised craft such as bomb vessels and rocket or gunboats, hove-to off Algiers early on 27th August. For most of the morning there was a dead calm and Exmouth used this interval to send a party ashore, under a flag of truce, to demand the release of the British Consul, the permanent abolition of Christian slavery and the freeing of all European captives. Receiving no answer after the expiry of his two-hour deadline, Exmouth took advantage of the rising breeze and ordered the fleet into the bay. H.M.S. Queen Charlotte led the column and anchored just after 2.30pm.; Implacable and Superb followed and, as each ship took up her station, Exmouth gave the order to open fire. Opposing him, the various batteries protecting the citadel were formidable and, it was later calculated, mounted over 1,000 guns manned by 4,000 fanatical troops eager to guard their faith. Thus, when the firing commenced from both sides, men everywhere were soon engulfed in the clouds of dense acrid smoke which hid the hellish inferno of shattering cannon shot and exploding rockets. The furious bombardment lasted for eight hours during which time several of the larger ships suffered damage. By comparison however, by 10.00p.m. the city's fortifications lay in ruins and much of the city itself was ablaze, including the arsenal and the harbour's storehouses. Seeing no more to be done that night, Exmouth ordered Queen Charlotte to cut her cables and stand out to sea, the fleet was signalled to follow her and by 2.00a.m. the next morning, it was safely at anchor out of reach of the few remaining enemy guns.
On the next day, 29th August, Captain Brisbane, Exmouth's flag captain, met the Dey to discuss terms who conceded all of Exmouth's demands. Over 1,200 Christian slaves were released from their captivity, monetary compensation was paid to the British Consul and others, and Algiers agreed to take no more Christian prisoners in the future. Despite the significant casualties in both the English and Dutch squadrons, the operation was a singular success and Lord Exmouth returned to England in triumph. Created a Viscount at home, he was also showered with honours and rewards from almost every country in Christendom, most of which were Catholic. Later in the nineteenth century there would be other fleet bombardments, including those at Sebastopol and Alexandria, but none was so spectacular as the event in Algiers which took Lord Exmouth to the pinnacle of his career.
Edward Pellew, later Viscount Exmouth, one of the greatest frigate captains of his time, was born in 1757, the son of Samuel Pellew, the commander of a Dover packet. Entering the Royal Navy in 1770, he served in the American War of Independence and, in 1793, captured the first French frigate of the Revolutionary War for which exploit he was knighted. Created a baronet for his gallantry in saving the crew and passengers of a transport wrecked in Plymouth Sound in 1796, the next year he achieved considerable fame for his daring frigate attack on the French 74-gun Droits de l'Homme which resulted in her complete destruction. Earning official recognition by preventing a mutiny in the Bantry Bay squadron in 1799, he was later promoted Rear-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies in 1804 where he destroyed the Dutch fleet in 1807. Subsequently Commander-in-Chief in both the North Sea (1810) and the Mediterranean (1811), he was appointed Admiral of the Blue in 1814 and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath the next year. Created Viscount after his success at Algiers in 1816, his last post was as Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth from 1817-21. Promoted Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom in 1832, he died the following year.