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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 3: January 1781 to October 1788

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Editor’s NoteEditor’s Note623To Jeremiah Bentham28 July 1788 (Aet 40)

Hond. Sir

A pretty sort of a 'compleat victory' your's was: a victory with nothing to show for it but the destruction of 3 vessels out of 57, gained by small craft over small craft.2 I send you something like a victory 3: a victory, and that really a compleat one, gained over the pg 623Grand fleet of ships of the line: and what is better, by the same small craft, it should seem, that gained the former one. For you will observe that though two ships are taken with 3 or 4,000 prisoners, yet six, including the Admirals and the Vice Admirals, were burnt: so that the main of the business was done by burning: now burning is done by fireships. But the fireships /compose/ with the Bomb-vessels what Sam calls his division: therefore this capital and decisive victory is principally Sam's work. Q.E.D. It is the fate of the Turks to build fleets for the Russians to make bonfires of. You remember in their last war that was the way the whole fleet was destroy'd in the harbour of Chesmé or Tchesmi which I had a distant view of when I landed at the Island of Scio.

These fire-ships and bomb-vessels he made up out of the Empress's pleasure boats and other such riff-raff of which you may form a general idea from the extracts you have of old letters of his to me.4

Not only the business was done by fireships and gun-boats; but if it had not been done by such kind of irregular vessels, it never could have been done at all. In the open sea it was impossible the whole naval force of the Russians could have faced the half of the Turkish fleet, making every allowance for the difference betwixt the awkwardness of the Russians and the still greater awkwardness of the Turks. In the packet I returned you from Pole Carew was a state of the Russian force brought down to last Autumn5: from since then it is impossible the number of their ships of the line can have received any considerable additions, if any: and it has been diminished by one /of 74/ that was driven on shore some months ago in a storm not far from Constantinople, and there taken. The force the Captain-Bashaw took with him from Constantinople you may find, /I believe,/ by turning to the newspaper accounts about a month or six weeks back: to which is to be added the force the Turks had at Ochakoff before he came, which you will find in that letter of Sam's which gives an account of the commencement of hostilities. The expressions in Sam's letter to you are remarkable in this view. It is not merely for the Turkish Flotilla that he hopes his 'Flotilla' 'will pg 624be a match', but for the 'Turkish Fleet'.6 Accordingly the terms employ'd, on the account I send you, are, on the one hand, la Flotte Ottomane: on the other hand (not la Flotte de l'Imperatrice, but /in general)/ 'Les forces Navales de l'Imperatrice'. The Russians, as you may see from Sam's former letter above-mentioned, have, from the first commencement of hostilities, been wishing and hoping to see the Turks hamper themselves in some odd corner where they could not get away from fireships, but would be obliged to stand still to be burnt. It was on the strength of that idea that Sam wrote so sanguinely in his first letter above mentioned, upon finding the Turkish fleet venturing itself up the Dnieper, though the Russian force in ships of the line and frigates was next to nothing. It was in /pursuit of/ this idea that /in the autumn/ they formed the plan of that attack which appears to have been prevented by the hot-headedness of the Frenchman who took it into his head to break orders and plunge into the thick of the Turkish force with his own vessel alone, unsupported by the rest. Perhaps it was more fortunate upon the whole, that that project failed: had it succeded, the loss of the Turks if they had lost their all then would not have amounted to what they appear to have lost now; and the great fish, the Captain Pasha, would not have swum into the net. After all the Turks have lost more in reputation than in ships and men: the reputation of the Captain-Bashaw was the strength of their cause. Taking for granted the 8 ships captured or destroy'd were all of the line, I am very curious to know what became of the other 32: if they got out of the river safe and sound, the Russians had they twice or thrice the force they have could still never face them in the open sea. The Turkish Flotilla too? What is become of that?7 The Russians destroy'd 3 out of the 57 in the engagement of the 19th last: but in doing so, they left just double their own number. Possibly they have got altogether into some corner, where they will abide the fate of Ochakoff.

As to Sam, whatever publick rewards other people may get, I have no expectation that any of them will fall to his share.8 As /the pg 625fitting out for/ that kind of irregular service stands /more/ particularly in need of inventive abilities, to which I think it probable enough that nobody there has any pretensions to but himself, he was perhaps as great a contributor to the victory as the Prince of Nassau: but I believe it is not usual for the planners and fitters out to be much consider'd unless they have had a proportionable part in the execution. It may therefore be doubted, whether even Admiral Mordvinoff, though at the head of the naval department there, will have any notice taken of him: and still more, whether Sam will, who, though Mordvinoff's principal Counsellor, or rather instructor, acted in that line in no settled character, but rather as a volunteer. The Marines indeed of which Sam has the command must have been employ'd, I think in the business. But as he has had no military education nor experience, I think it not likely they should have sent him on the business, if there remained any thing for him to do at Cherson.

It should seem, though it is not expressly said so, that in this last engagement the Russians were the assailants, as the Turks had been in the first. For the business was done (says the Vienna account) as the Turkish fleet was occupied in taking post before the town of Ochakoff in order to protect it. This then was what they were employing themselves about, and not the making an attack. The experience the Russians had had of the unskilfulness of the Turks in the engagement between the flotillas, emboldened them to plan an attack upon the fleet itself.

How I do long to see particulars! but our curiosity, I doubt, will in this respect meet with but very imperfect satisfaction. The Russian accounts I think have always been very meagre.

I hope you have or will have got your book of Russian Maps at the Heath that we may talk over them when I come.

Intelligence concerning the Captain Bashaw's Fleet—extracted

from the Newspapers.

Apr. the beginning

He sailed for Bujukden (the mouth of the canal where it opens into the Black Sea) with a fair wind. (Extract of a letter from Constantinople Apr. 8.). Ledger June 14th.

pg 626_________________________________________________




where and when



of the


July 2
Lond. Gaz.
July 1


May 22

May 20

He sailed from Bujukden

for Sinope in the Black Sea.

(On the Asiatic side.)


July 11

Frontiers of Poland

June 16th

No day

nor month

He made his appearance off

Koslov in the Crimea with

an evident intention of

making a descent there.


July 23.

Lond. Gaz.

July 22.

Vienna July 9.

June 19 or 21*

*See Gaz.

du Leyde

July 22d.

This date

is the most


Being at anchor with his

fleet near Oczakoff, he

sent his small craft (57

sail) to attack the Russian

small craft (27 sail) and was

repulsed with the loss of 3

vessels. (The action continued

5 hours. Leyd. Gaz. July–)

Gaz. de


July 22.

Vienna July 9.

Express from

arrived July 7—

sent from Cherson

July 2. Letter

from Warsaw July 9,

received at the

Hague, July 21?

June 29

Being in the road of

Ochakoff otherwise called

the Liman, occupied in

posting himself to cover

that fortress from the

expected attack, his fleet was

attacked, it should seem, by

the Russian "naval force"

and defeated with the loss 6

ships burned (among which

were his own and his Vice-

Admiral's) and 2 taken

together with between 3 and

4,000 prisoners.


The 32nd day after his

sailing his small craft was

beat: and the 40th day his

Grand Fleet.


   Monday 28th July 1788.

I have just received your favour, and Farr's.9 I shall transmitt you this probably by Mr. Browne. Thanks to Far for his invitation but beg him not to look for me any day in particular. I have depending a flying engagement of business depending upon other people; and till that is over, as I hope it will be in the course of a few days, I can not call any day my own. When I called at Lincoln's Inn Fields this last time as well as the time before, it was only to pg 627enquire after the family, and without any expectation of seeing any part of it.

Advise Charles, if you seem [sic] when he is in Italy to lay in a stock of gloves made of Rabbits' wool. I bought a pair when at Leghorn that cost but 4 paolis about 2s. They were much warmer and better ⟨in⟩ every respect than the Beaver or Vigogna-wooll gloves I sent to ⟨you⟩ from Paris. There is none of us all I think but would find them vastly comfortable. But he can not stuff up his portmanteau with such articles. If however he should be at Leghorn, and find any means there of sending things by sea, by means of a Merchant here, I should be obliged to him for any number of pairs not exceeding a dozen: supposing them not to be contraband, and I do not think they are. It would not be worth while to send such small articles any otherwise than through a Merchant, that is in a package separately addressed to any of us, on account of the enormous charges at the Custom-House. It might answer indeed if Far chose to get his cheese and Macaroni that way, in which case I should be glad to join with him for ¼ of a 100 lb. or so. Parmesan I gave but 8d. a lb. for in Leghorn: Macaroni but 2d. at Genoa: but the Naples sort is rather the best. Here both articles are 2s. a lb.—What a difference!

No—upon second thoughts, it is not worth while. I have seen somewhat like those gloves, as I now recollect in a shop in Cheapside—and though they may be 3 times as dear, one shall have no more than one wants at a time and be sure of fitting—But, for comparison sake, if Charles can find room for a single pair in his Portmanteau, I shall be obliged to him.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
623. 1 B.M. IV: 473–6. Autograph. Docketed by Jeremiah Bentham: 'Fils Jeremy B. / Letter datd. Hendon July 28 / 1788.'
Addressed: 'Jeremiah Bentham Esqr. / at J. Far Abbot's Esqr. / Putney Heath.'
Editor’s Note
2 This would appear to be a reference to a letter from Bentham senior referring to the first of the series of Russo-Turkish naval engagements which took place during this summer in the Liman of Ochakov. Samuel Bentham thus described it: 'On the 7th of June [the 18th N.S.], when we had our first action, our flotilla consisted of about 35 vessels, counting 15 or 16 longboats carrying only one gun each: of these 22 only were in the action, when we were attacked by 57 Turkish vessels much superiour in the number of guns, but in general of less caliber than ours. They had besides a large fleet 5 or 6 times superiour to ours, who were waiting at the distance of a few versts; under the cover of which we obliged their small fleet to return, after having lost 2 or 3 we dont know which. On our part we suffered but very little; all the enemies shot went over us; we had not in all 50 men killed.' Samuel himself was fortunate not to be injured when a gun he was sighting burst, killing two and wounding another seven men of his crew (to Bentham, 12/23 October 1788, B.M. IV: 487–9). For a general account of the naval campaign of 1788 discussed in this and subsequent letters, see R. C. Anderson, Naval Wars in the Levant, 1559–1853, Liverpool, 1952, pp. 321–32.
Editor’s Note
3 Bentham forwarded newspaper accounts of the second engagement, which took place during the 17/28 and 18/29 June, in which a major part was played by the light vessels with which Samuel Bentham was serving. According to Samuel's account, in the first day's fighting the Turks withdrew in face of the attack by the Russian light craft, leaving two ships of the line aground, which were destroyed by fire. Next morning it became apparent that another seven of the Turkish warships had stuck on the treacherous sandbanks of the Liman and the Russian light flotilla went in once more to the attack. In the day's action the Turks lost one ship sunk, seven destroyed by fire started by shells, and one captured and subsequently refitted for Russian service. Over 3,000 Turkish prisoners were taken, and Samuel thought their dead probably exceeded this figure (B.M. IV: 487–9).
Editor’s Note
5 I.e., the letters and documents about the vermicular and about the outbreak of hostilities in the Liman, which Jeremiah Bentham had sent to Pole Carew for onward transmission to Lord Howe (see letter 620, n. 9).
Editor’s Note
6 On 22 May/2 June 1788 Samuel Bentham wrote a short note to his father, dated from 'Gluboka, 30 Versts below Cherson': 'I have told you that my Division consists of the Bomb and Fire Vessels. The Turkish Fleet at Ochakoff is augmenting every day; but our Flotilla, we trust, will be a match for them; I am afraid however it will be some time before any thing decisive be done' (B.M. IV: 466; endorsed by Jeremiah Bentham: 'reced. at Putney Heath / July 22 1788 / Entered in the Book of Commercial Letters, p. 67'. Copy by Jeremiah Bentham, ibid., 468. The letter-book copy, in the hand of Jeremiah Bentham, is B.M. XXII: 428).
Editor’s Note
8 This was an error of judgment. Samuel Bentham was rewarded with the Russian military order of St George, advance to the rank of full colonel, and a gold-hilted sword of honour (M.S. Bentham, Life of … Sir Samuel Bentham, p. 88).
Editor’s Note
9 Both missing.
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