Barbary Rovers: Peeps at History - John Finnemore

The Fall of the Corsairs

England had dealt a shattering blow at the Corsair power, but the evil, though scotched, was not killed. The Algerines repaired their broken fortifications, raised some of their sunken gunboats, built others, and crept abroad once more to attack the vessels of smaller powers.

The soldiery of Algiers were of opinion that the Dey had not handled affairs well at the time of the bombardment, and though he had displayed the greatest courage on that terrible day and night, they murmured at him. In the end they strangled him in 1817, and set up another Dey, named Ali, who proved one of the greatest monsters that had ever ruled in Algiers. Ali put an end to murmuring by cutting off the head of everyone who spoke against him, and he discovered offenders by means of a host of spies. At the same time he affected a great love of books and sought the name of a scholar. Mr. Shaler remarks that when Ali received the foreign consuls, the latter had to pass a score of corpses before reaching the Dey's presence, when they were sure to find him magnificently dressed, with a book in his hand, as if their entrance had disturbed him in his studies.

At this time the plague was raging in the city, and Ali took a great delight in spreading this awful distemper. He sent out plague-stricken cruisers, and bade them attack or visit the ships of other nations. In this manner the fell disease was carried far and wide. He even tried to get rid of Mr. M'Donell, whom he disliked, by this dreadful means. He ordered a poor wretch, who was suffering from the plague, to throw his cloak over the consul's shoulders. This was done, but Mr. M'Donell escaped the infection. This tyrant came to a most fitting end; for the plague struck him, and he died of it early in 1818.

Little by little the Algerines regained their old impudence. In 1819 they were ordered by England and France to refrain from piracy. They refused, and threw up earthworks in face of a combined English and French fleet. No attack was made, and the Dey boasted that he had set Europe at defiance. In 1823 the old custom of ill-treating consuls was resumed. The Algerines quarrelled with the Kabyles, a native tribe of the district, and they sought to seize all Kabyles in the city to hold as hostages for the good behaviour of their brethren in the country. Now there were many Kabyles engaged as servants by the consuls, for they are a people famous for their fidelity to their masters.

The Dey sent round to the consuls, ordering them to give up all Kabyles in their service. The English Consul, Mr. M'Donell, at once refused. The Dey had no right to take his servants from him, nor would he on any account deliver up to prison, chains, and ill-treatment, the men who had given him faithful service. The Dey sent a troop of soldiers to enforce his demands. Mr. M'Donell at once sealed his doors and ran up the British flag. By the Dey's express orders, the seals were broken, the house entered, and searched in the most insolent fashion, the soldiers even entering the apartments of the consul's wife and daughters. This was the greatest possible insult which the Dey could offer, for in a Mohammedan country the rooms occupied by the ladies of the house form a most sacred asylum.

The next step of the Dey was an open defiance of the Treaty of 1816. A Spanish prize was brought in and the crew sent to the bagnio as slaves. The people of the city were full of delight at this return to old customs, and there was general rejoicing when the Dey declared that Christian slavery should now begin again in Algiers. In a short time a British squadron appeared off the coast, and the commander entered upon a long parley with the Dey, and even did a little shooting, but all to no effect. The Dey said he would not have Mr. M'Donell any longer as English Consul, and he had his own way. Mr. M'Donell was recalled, the squadron sailed away, and the Dey was left to himself, filled with the pride that goeth before a fall.

A year or two later, in 1827, came the beginning of the end. A quarrel arose between the Dey and the French Consul. The consul made a bitter speech, and the Dey struck him with a fan. This led to trouble with France. A French squadron was sent to blockade Algiers, and lay for two years off the coast, but did not entirely prevent vessels from reaching the port. Now and again French prisoners were taken, and treated in so brutal a manner that a feeling of great indignation grew up in France. The Moors cut off the heads of the captives and exhibited them for a time in front of the Dey's palace. Then the heads were flung out of the city gates, and the mob kicked them about as footballs. On one occasion, Dr. Bowen, the surgeon of the British Consulate, hearing that this brutal sport was going on, went to the place and collected fifteen heads and had them properly buried. On another occasion eighty-five French heads were brought in at one time, and the bearers obtained rewards, the Dey giving one hundred dollars for each head.

Finally, the patience of France gave way under a most intolerable insult. In August 1829 a French envoy visited the Dey to offer terms. The Dey dismissed him, and as the envoy was retiring under a flag of truce the Algerine batteries opened on his ship and poured a hail of shot upon it while the flag of truce was still flying. To avenge this open insult to their nation the French prepared a strong army and a large fleet, and in June 1830 the expedition arrived before Algiers.

The Corsairs prepared for their last struggle, hoping to beat off this expedition as they had beaten off so many others. But their day was over, and their race was run. They had held their ground far too long for the fair fame of Europe, but France was now resolved to make an end of them, and she did. The French transports landed a strong force near Algiers, and the first engagement was fought on the 19th of June. The French won, inflicting severe loss on the enemy. The invaders now pressed steadily towards the walls of the town, beating back the Algerines who had swarmed out to defend their city. The Corsairs fought well, and proved game to the last, but the French were altogether too strong for them. By the 29th of June the French had seized the hills which overlook Algiers, and had placed themselves in a most commanding position. On the 4th of July the French guns began to play on the Emperor's Fort, an out-lying fort a short distance from the town. The fire was so severe that the Algerine troops abandoned it after setting fire to the powder magazine. The magazine blew up and shattered the fort, and almost before the smoke had blown away the French were in, and planting their banners on the ruins.

The Dey saw that all was over, that he could not hope to keep the French out of the city, and he made a prompt surrender. The French gave him good terms. They promised safety for life and property in Algiers, on condition that the town was given up next day. This was done. At one o'clock in the afternoon of the 5th of July 1830 the French troops marched into Algiers as conquerors, and took possession of the Dey's palace and the forts.

A few days later the Dey and his family left Algiers in a French frigate for Naples. As the last Mohammedan ruler was carried out of the bay, he must have looked back with a sigh to see the French flag floating proudly at every spot where he had known the Crescent to wave. The hated Christian was at last the lord and master of the pirate city. Algiers was a French possession, and the long and blood-stained story of the Barbary rovers was ended for ever.