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British Battles

British Battles
 
   

Egypt, 1882

The bombardment of Alexandria

Riots in Alexandria

The arrival of the Anglo-French naval force only served to heighten tension in the city of Alexandria. On 11 June 1882 a row over a fare between an Egyptian donkey boy and a Maltese man triggered a riot in the city in which several hundred people were killed, including about 50 foreigners. British officials thought (almost certainly wrongly) that Urabi and his supporters were responsible for these events.

The British ultimatum

As relations between Britain and Egypt broke down, Urabi ordered the strengthening of Alexandria's defences with modern Krupp cannon. On 10 July, Admiral Seymour demanded that the Egyptians remove these guns, but the Egyptian government on the whole refused:

"[the forts and their guns] could not constitute a threat for the vessels which are in the western harbour….and the requirements of the Admiral are contrary to the laws of public international right. Nevertheless, in order to preserve the good relations which exist between the Khedive and the great British Empire, and to give manifest proof of the good intentions of the Egyptian government towards it, the council decides on dismounting three guns in the forts in which work may have been undertaken….If [the Admiral] refuses and persists in his intention to bombard the forts, these must not answer till after the fifth shot has been fired; they will then reply to the fire…"(quoted in Peter Mansfield's The British in Egypt)

At the same time, tension increased between Britain and France. The French refused to participate in this ultimatum and decided against armed intervention. The French ships duly withdrew, leaving Seymour in charge of 15 Royal Navy ships and under instructions from the British government to act as necessary.

The bombardment of Alexandria

With the Egyptian government refusing to remove all the guns, Seymour gave the order for the bombardment of the gun emplacements in the forts around Alexandria. At 07:00 on 11 July 1882 the first shell in the bombardment was fired by HMS Alexandra and aimed at Fort Adda (or Ada). The whole fleet was engaged by 07:10 and the bombardment lasted until 17:30, a total of 10 and a half hours.

 

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Photograph of HMS Alexandra

 

The log of HMS Condor - with transcript

 

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Israel Harding VC - with transcript

 

Report on the bombardment of Alexandria - with transcript

In many ways it is surprising that Britain allowed itself to be drawn into direct intervention in Egypt. The Prime Minister, William Gladstone, was well known for his reluctance to be drawn into imperial adventures. Historians have argued as to whether Admiral Seymour exaggerated the threat from the Egyptian batteries at Alexandria in order to force a reluctant government's hand. Whatever the truth, once the British had successfully attacked the city, a land invasion was their logical next step.

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