First Battle of Sevastopol

As described by Paymaster Frederic LUCAS, RN,

In a letter to his fiancée

From 1854 - 1856 Frederic LUCAS, Paymaster RN, saw active service in the Crimean War on board the paddle sloop "Spiteful". He wrote a letter to his wife to be, (Emily EDGCOME - he was 33 and she was 18) with graphic details of the battle. To get the most from the letter paper, he wrote both ways on each page. An image of part of that letter follows, and a transcript. The original letter is still held by his great grandson, Ken Lucas, living in Victoria, Australia [2009].

(Click on image for full size)

"Spiteful", near Sevastopol,
20 October 1854
Dearest Emmy

As it is yet uncertain whether we again attack the sea defences of Sevastopol, and it must take some days to repair the steamer after our previous hammering, I may as well take the opportunity of scribbling a few more lines because I don't like to cheat you out of a letter; the few hasty lines I wrote the day after the scrimmage can hardly be considered in the light of a regular letter - I had but a few minutes given me the other day, and I was anxious you should hear from me because yourself, Matty and the dear old mither might have run away with the notion that I had received a quietus from one of the Russian shot - During the afternoon of the 16th the whole of the Captains of ships were ordered to repair on board the Flag Ship and it was then arranged that the attack was to take place the following day, all hands were busily employed till late that night preparing for the morrow piling sails, bags of coal and all sorts of things around the funnel immediately over the boilers, to prevent a shot or shell going through the deck into the boilers, an event ]p.2[ that would have disabled the ship besides scalding to death everyone in the engine room. The next morning 17th we were ordered to take the "Rodney" an 84 gun ship in tow, lashing ourselves along side of her, each of the other steamers doing the same with another line of battle ship, the French and the Turks doing the same. About 12 everything was ready, splinter nettings up to prevent spars, when shot away, falling on and encumbering the decks and injuring our men. It was an imposing sight, some thirty line of battleships moving majestically along with their top gallant masts and yards on deck and all looking mischief, the people in the best of spirits and eager for the struggle.

(Click on image for full size)

The French were the first in action but the shot from the forts opened far too soon and fell short, ploughing up the water like so many young water spouts. The French three-decker and a two-decker poured in several broadsides without much effect, nearly all their shot falling short, they however gradually approached nearer and the cannon balls and shell fell like hail about them. We now were closing, and first a shot ahead and then another on our quarter throwing up the water like foam. Just as we got well into the fire ]p.3[ an explosion was observed to take place in fort Constantine which was greeted with a cheer from the ships as the fire from that particular fort slackened - but the others made up for it, two shot passed rather unpleasantly close over my head cutting in two a chain that supports the davit to which the boat is hoisted on our quarter; the other divided some ropes close to it; it was now getting pretty hot the shot and shell falling very thick and making a terrible row. During this time we were more exposed than our huge friend alongside of us and were hit in many places.

The "Rodney", English fashion, reserved her fire till close in and then poured in a tremendous broadside, the other ships hammering away in a most persevering manner; the smoke now was so dense that very little could be seen any distance from us and so it continued, and I suspect no one knew much what was going on or the mischief done. We had now been in action for about three quarters of an hour and I could not but think it most marvellous no one was injured; the shot positively fell about like hail and the bursting of the shells lashing up the sea into a foam - however, I did not marvel long, for we had again become ]p.4[ very much exposed, the ship was hit rapidly and then down went two poor devils nearly blown to atoms.

The Surgeon having no assistant on board made a formal request that I would come down into the cockpit just as we were going into action. I got off by telling him that I would not come then as I wanted to see some of the firing but, that as soon as anyone was hit I would assist, so then I went down with the wounded. Both were horribly mutilated - each had a hand and part of an arm completely blown off, their faces covered with blood and gunpowder. One was in a desperate condition from which he never rallied and expired about 20 minutes after being brought below. The arm of the other was taken off but before the operation was finished another poor fellow came down almost divided by a round shot. He of course was dead - his backbone was cut through.

About this time, a little after four, the "Rodney" was directed to go to the assistance of two of our 90 gun ships which were suffering severely, so in we went, the "Spiteful" getting a terrible mauling; the two 90's went out of the fire and the poor "Rodney" and ourselves had the whole of the guns upon us that had so cut up the two other ships. The shot were now plumping into us ]p.5[ very briskly making our sides rattle again, and the shell and rockets passing over our heads like mad - as ill luck would have it the "Rodney" in going so very close in took the ground, and snap went the hawsers. Now were we in a fix indeed. Another cable was got on board and we went ahead full speed to tow her off and snap again went the cable. Two more wounded were passed below - it was now getting dusk, nearly all the other ships had hauled out of action without perceiving our critical situation, and we were in a terribly dangerous situation, shell bursting around us, and rockets playing on us in great numbers.

The main object of the Russians appeared to be to disable us and then the "Rodney" would have been at their mercy. As it was she was at one time on fire in three places, on shore and under the fire of a terrific battery. It's difficult to imagine a ship in a worse predicament - however the little "Spiteful" stuck to her and after an immense deal of tugging at last got her off - and commenced towing her under a perfect torrent of rockets, one of which burst and inflicted a terribly nasty ]p.6[ wound in the fleshy part of the thigh of a Midshipman - the Commander also received a cut on the breast from part of a shell - We were not clear of the fire till about 1/2 past 7, having been about 4 1/2 hours in as hot a fire as seldom falls to the lot of anyone to be in.

The "Rodney's" were profuse in their admiration of the gallant manner in which we had stuck to them, and Admiral Lyons gave us no small praise - we remained alongside "Rodney" that night, pumping away to keep the ship clear of water, which was pouring into us through our numerous shot holes. Next morning we found ourselves in a pretty pickle, four or more holes below the water line, our decks ploughed up in various directions, the hull hit in many places, a shot having gone right through the Commander's cabin amongst the rest, our foremast nearly cut asunder, main mast hit in two places, main topmast shot away, main gaff the same besides other spars wounded, and our rigging cut to pieces - I don't know what account you will have in the papers, but all agree here that the "Spiteful" had the hottest fire of any steamer engaged and there can be no doubt we were ]p.7[ the closest in, as the "Rodney" took the ground. She is a good deal cut up, her foremast is destroyed, a shell having stuck into it and then burst.

So much my dear little Em. for my first general action in which, as far as seeing what was going on, I might just as well have been a hundred miles away. No one in action knows what is going on. You are completely hid with smoke and all one has to do is to hammer away as fast as possible and I rather guess our big guns did their part - we have, no doubt, done a vast deal of mischief but its hardly a fair match - wooden ships against granite batteries of two or three tiers of heavy guns each.

We have knocked two forts into one in some places and there is a report that the principal of port has a rent running from top to bottom. We should have done much better if the ships could have been taken in closer, but the Russians prevented that by sinking some four or five of their largest ships at the harbour mouth. That we were aware of and so no one had a notion we could or should take the place - our object was to create a diversion from the besieging army, and a diversion it was, but of such a description that sometimes ends unpleasantly, as some 300 of our fellows bear witness; our killed and wounded amount ]p.8[ to more than that number.

Well thank goodness it is over for the present and I must trust to good luck to bring me through the next diversion, At present we are repairing damages, trying to stop leaks, but ineffectually, so I suppose we must soon go to Malta or some other place to be put to rights - we are hardly safe in our present state - I went up to the Camp the other day, such seedy chaps, but at other times gay soldiers. They are progressing slowly but surely, the Russians keeping up incessant fire upon the works but doing little damage - it appears the only way to take Sevastopol, the place is so strong that nothing but a regular seige will reduce it.

There appeared a terrible blow up towards the French camp yesterday and this afternoon there was an immense fire somewhere in Sevastopol, the guns are booming away now - 8 pm - the flashing of the guns and fiery tracks of rockets continually passing has a singular effect.

There Emmy dear, is not this a long yarn - I have hardly reserved room to send best love and lots of kisses to yourself the dear Mither and Matty with a good hug in addition for Mary - Tell Patty I am alright and will write soon.

Good night dear Emmy and God bless you all.

Your old Fred.

With many thanks to Ken.

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