Bombardment of Algiers: Wikis


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Bombardment of Algiers
Part of the Barbary Wars
Martinus Schouman - Het bombardement van Algiers.jpg
Bombardment of Algiers, 1823, Martinus Schouman.
Date August 27, 1816
Location Algiers, Algeria
Result Allied victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Netherlands United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Ottoman Empire Barbary pirates
United Kingdom Admiral Lord Exmouth
Netherlands Vice-Admiral Theodorus Frederik van Capellen
27 ships 90+ ships, shore batteries
Casualties and losses
818 men were wounded or killed; some 16 per cent of those engaged 33 ships destroyed & a reported 7000 killed.

The Bombardment of Algiers (August 27, 1816) was an attempt by Britain to end the slavery practices of the Dey of Algiers. An Anglo-Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Exmouth bombarded ships and the harbour defences of Algiers.

Although there was a continuing campaign by various European and the American navies to suppress the piracy against Europeans by the North African Barbary states, the specific aim of this expedition was to free Christian slaves and to stop the practice of enslaving Europeans. To this end, it was partially successful as the Dey of Algiers freed around 3,000 slaves following the bombardment and signed a treaty against slavery of Europeans. However, the cessation of slavery did not last long.



Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Royal Navy no longer needed the Barbary states as a source of supplies for Gibraltar and their fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. There was considerable political pressure exerted to end the practice of enslaving Christians by the Barbary states.

In early 1816, Exmouth undertook a diplomatic mission, backed by a small squadron of ships of the line to Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers to convince the Deys to stop the practice and free the Christian slaves. The Deys of Tunis and Tripoli agreed without any resistance, but the Dey of Algiers was more recalcitrant and the negotiations were stormy. Exmouth believed that he had managed to negotiate a treaty to stop the slavery of Christians and returned to England. However, due to confused orders, Algerian troops massacred 200 Corsican, Sicilian and Sardinian fishermen who were under British protection just after the treaty was signed. This caused outrage in Britain and Europe and Exmouth's negotiations were seen as a failure.

As a result, Exmouth was ordered to sea again to complete the job and punish the Algerians. He gathered a squadron of five ships of the line, one 50-gun ship and four frigates. HMS Queen Charlotte, 100 guns, was his flagship and Admiral David Milne was his second in command aboard HMS Impregnable, 98 guns. This squadron was considered by many to be an insufficient force, but Exmouth had already surveyed the defences of Algiers unobtrusively, he was very familiar with the town and was aware of a weakness in the field of fire of the defensive batteries. More large ships would merely have interfered with each other without being able to bring much more fire to bear. In addition to the main fleet, there were some transports to carry the rescued slaves and some sloops for general duties.

On arrival in Gibraltar, a squadron of five Dutch frigates and a corvette led by Vice-Admiral Theodorus Frederik van Capellen offered to join the expedition. Exmouth decided to assign them to cover the main force from Algerian flanking batteries, as there was insufficient space in the Mole for the Dutch frigates[1]

Plan of attack

Sketch showing the positions of the fleet during the bombardment
Council of war on board the 'Queen Charlotte', 1818, Nicolaas Bauer.

The plan of attack was for the larger ships to approach in a column. They were to sail into the zone where the majority of the Algerian guns could not be brought to bear. Then, they were to come to anchor and bombard the batteries and fortifications on the mole to destroy the defences. Simultaneously, HMS Leander, 50 guns, was to anchor off the mouth of the harbour and bombard the shipping inside the mole. To protect Leander from the shore battery, two frigates, HMS Severn and HMS Glasgow were to sail inshore and bombard the battery.


Pellew in Queen Charlotte anchored approximately eighty yards off the mole facing the Algerian guns. However, most of the other ships, notably Admiral Milne aboard HMS Impregnable anchored out of position both reducing their effectiveness and exposing them to fiercer Algerian fire. Some of the other ships sailed past Impregnable and anchored in positions closer to the plan.

Painting of the action by Thomas Luny

In their earlier negotiations, both Exmouth and the Dey of Algiers had stated that they would not fire the first shot. The Dey's plan was to allow the fleet to anchor and then to sortie from the harbour and board the ships with large numbers of men in small boats. However, Algerian discipline was less effective and one Algerian gun shot fired at 3.15 pm. Exmouth immediately began the bombardment. The Algerian flotilla made an attempt to board but thirty three of their boats were sunk. After an hour, the cannon on the mole were effectively silenced and Exmouth turned his attention to the shipping in the harbour which was destroyed by 7.30 pm. Although the fleet also bombarded the city, there was comparatively little damage as the construction of the houses meant that cannon balls passed through the walls leaving a neat hole without destroying them. At 8.00 pm, Milne asked that the bomb vessel Vesuvius be used against the battery that was mauling his ship. The commander of the bomb made an error of navigation and she exploded ineffectively beside the wrong battery.

Despite this, the Algerian batteries were no longer able to maintain fire and by 10.15 pm, Exmouth gave the order for the fleet to weigh anchor and sail out of range, leaving HMS Minden to keep firing to suppress any further resistance. By 1.30 am, the fleet was anchored out of range and the wounded were treated and the crew cleared the damage caused by the Algerian guns. Casualties on the British side were 16 percent killed or wounded.

Ships involved


The following day at noon, Exmouth sent a peace offer of the same terms as he had presented earlier. He warned that if they were not accepted that he would continue the action. The Dey accepted the terms, not realising that they were a bluff as the fleet had already fired off all of its ammunition.

A treaty was signed on September 24, 1816. 1,083 Christian slaves and the British Consul were freed and the ransom money repaid.


  1. ^ Otridge et al., p. 233


  • The Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth, by William Osler, 1841
  • Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, by C. Northcote Parkinson, 1934
  • Mariner's Mirror (1941)
  • Otridge, J. et al. (1817), "Dispatches from Admiral Lord Exmouth, G.C.B., addressed to John Wilson Croker, Esq," in:The Annual Register, Or, A View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1816, pp. 230–240; and "Dutch official account of the battle", ibid., pp. 240–243

Pop Culture References

  • The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower: A Biography of C.S. Forester's Famous Naval Hero, by C. Northcote Parkinson,1970. Parkinson places Hornblower, by that time a Captain with considerable seniority and a Knight of the Bath, at Algiers as Lord Exmouth's Flag Captain, like a chief of staff. Exmouth appears in the earlier Hornblower stories as the captain who taught the youthful Hornblower in 1796–99 on the frigate Indefatigable.

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