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The Diary of William Laycock


Gothenborg, 1808

6th June. Was visited by Colonel Wood and three other officers. I had all the frames on deck and put the men through the different positions at the frames. They asked many questions.

12th June. Three non-comm[issione]d officers and twelve gunners attend drill 4 hours each day.

27th June. Captain Drummond came with the men this morning and stayed till they went through the exercise of the field carriage. [He] said good morning and went his way.

Portugal, 1808,

10th October. I was ordered to march to [Bonafado?] for the experiment proposed to be fired by our General Boorard and Sir John Moore, and the 13th was appointed for the experiment. At 1 o’clock all things being ready the word fire was given. The carcass rocket ranged 2,300 yards and to the right of the range 7 yards. [The] 2nd carcass rocket ranged 2,330 yards, right of the range 13 yards. [The] 3rd carcass rocket ranged 2,700 yards, left of the range 70 yards. [The] 4th carcass rocket nor the 2 shell rockets could not be found. These all from the bombarding frames. When orders were given to advance down the valley and fire from the field carriage at 15° or 20° elevation, Colonel Robe advanced with me. I then laid the field carriage at 20° elevation with difficulty owing to the ground, and when the colonel looked over it he gave the word fire. The shell rocket grazed and took a direction to the left, struck a house, and made a large dent in the wall. The shell exploded and broke 4 or 5 panes of glass without any other damage. The Commander-in-Chief ordered the firing to cease.

The first experiment expended: carcass rockets, 4; shell rockets, 3.

10th November. I received orders to get everything in readiness for an experiment, which I did. But on the date appointed the weather was so bad that it could not be carried on and was put off until the 14th inst. when the weather proved favourable.

14th November. I fired another experiment before General Boorard and another general, the admiral, and a great number of land and sea officers without deviating from Colonel Congreve’s plan any further than only one 32 pdr. carcass rocket was burnt upright against a post, and only one 18 pdr. case shot rocket lashed horizontally, which broke the target all in bits and [a] number of balls lodged in the broken boards, which I carried [and] showed to the admiral and generals, which they were surprised to see. I also fired 6 case shot over the plain, laid down 2 rounds at 20° elevation and 1 at 11° elevation, which grazed along the water some 3 or 4 times. I am happy to say that out of 39 rockets I have fired there has not been one burst nor one bad amongst the whole.

2nd experiment expended: carcass rockets, 7; shell rockets, 12; 8pdr. case shot rockets, 13.


1st February. This day I issued the following stores for Cadiz by order of Colonel Robe; carcass rockets, 48 in 8 boxes; shell rockets, 24 in 4 boxes; iron cylinders, 2; rockets sticks, 74; bombarding frame complete, 1; small store box complete, fire buckets,2; sponge, 1; carpenter’s chest complete, 1.

Robert Cann, carpenter, was also ordered on board the Richards with the formation stores, supposed for Cadiz. N.B. The Richards No. 321.

16th March. The Richards returned from Cadiz this day. Robert Cann and the stores detached to Cadiz was returned on board the Ceres, none being expended.

Walcheren Expedition, 1809.

27th July. This day Colonel Congreve arrived at the Nore in the Pelucca and the Golga and other ships under his command. The colonel and Mr. Reid came on board us the same night.

29th July. This day we sailed from the Nore and arrived off Flushing on the 30th, where the Pelucca and Golga got aground. But both got off at flood without damage.

30th July. This day we sailed for the stone deep where we arrived on the 1st August, and on the 2nd proceeded up the river towards the town of Camphir

Ter Vere which had surrendered and Middleburgh on this day to our troops.

From the 2nd until the 11th we were employed in getting our waggons and stores on shore and forwarding them to the lines, where we arrived on this day, and we had the honour to commence the bombarding from 5 frames by order of Colonel Congreve which was present all the time. Soon after a 3 gun battery opened and a mortar battery mounting 4 mortars, which all ceased firing at the same time we did that night.

13th August. This day all the batteries opened from right to left. This day we had the pleasure to see the town on fire in three places by 2 o’clock. The batteries and our frames continued all night.

14th August. This day the firing continues by land and sea till about 6 o’clock in the evening when a flag of truce was hoisted and all firing ceased till 10 o’clock when the firing commenced again and continued all night.

15th August. This morning the flag of truce was again hoisted and all hostilities ceased.

20th August. This day I was removed from the Ceres to the headquarter ship for the purpose of going to England with the colonel. On the 23rd we sailed.

26th August. This day we arrived at Woolwich and in the course of the next day the Pelucca came alongside for the purpose of unloading the stores remaining, and when she found her own weight she sprung a leak occasioned by her grounding at Flushing.

Cadiz, 1810

24th May. This day myself and a party embarked at Woolwich on board of the Savannah No. 284 and sailed for Portsmouth, where we arrived on the 29th inst. Sailed on the 30th May for Cadiz, where we arrived on the 11th June. We fitted up a launch on the 15th inst, with a howitzer and rocket frame for the inspection of the admiral.

22nd August. This day we made an attack on the enemy’s fort with our launches, from which we expended about 200 shells.

2nd October. This night we made an attack on the enemy’s fort with three launches of Colonel Congreve’s construction, with 4 flats fitted up for Colonel Congreve rockets, which answered the purpose very well. We expended from the flats 76 rounds. There was fire to [be] seen 3 or 4 times in the fort for the space of an hour. Expended on 2nd October: 32 pdr. carcass rockets, 78; 32pdr, shell rockets, 2; 12 pdr. case shot rockets, 4.

23rd November. This day there was an attack made on a fort called Catalona and a town called St. Mary’s with 4 launches and 2 flats with Colonel Congreve howitzers on board of each, and 3 flats with a rocket frame on board of each, with gunboats and 3 bomb vessels, in which Lieutenant Worth and Lieutenant Barkland were killed on the spot. Both these gentlemen belonged to the rocket equipment.

25th November. This day the remains of the unfortunate and much lamented gentlemen were interred decently in one grave with the honours of war, as was also a midshipman who fell in the action.

13th December. This day we fired three rockets from the shore to the enemy’s lines in the presence of Sir R. Keith and General Graham. They were both well pleased.

15th December. This day we expended 6 12pdr, case shot rockets of different elevation, which answered very well. We fired the 1st at 45° elevation, which burst high; the others at 35° and from that as low as 28° did not burst, which upon the whole Lieutenant Campbell seemed very pleased. They took the heads off 32 pdr. carcass rockets for the use of signal, I believe, by order of Lieutenant Campbell.

26th December. This day there was an attack made on the enemy’s batteries and gunboats by the gunboats, mortar vessels and 5 flats with a frame on board of each for the purpose of firing, Colonel Congreve rockets, which completely burnt 4 French gunboats. Deserters said that the enemy lost 200 men killed this day.


16th February. I sent on board the Betsey Cain carcass rockets, 86, in 14 boxes; shell rockets, 68, in 12 boxes; case shot, 384, in 32 boxes.

5th April. This day I received the stores from the Betsey Cain in a most ruinous state, being all over rust, chamber locks and screws, also 3 empty rocket boxes are missing.

5th December. This day the Stately, Thunder, and Thomas Mary sailed for Tarifa with Lieutenant Mell, 2 N.C.O s. and 8 gunners, with 2 of Colonel Congreve’s howitzers and 200 shells and rounds of ammunition.


9th January. This day Lieutenant Mell returned from Tarifa, expending about 300 shells to a very good purpose, and in getting the howitzers and ammunition on board the Betsey Cain the tackle fall broke and the howitzer went over the side. The howitzer was got up with the loss of the bed.

Port Mahon, Minorca, 1813.

26th June. This day I landed all the rockets and gave them a week’s air, painted the chambers, cleaned the locks, and oiled them. Also cleaned the screws of the sticks and oiled them. Also cleaned the iron work of the bombarding frames and oiled them. Also painted the portable frames. I found 51 of the shell rockets unfit for service, the straps being eaten through by means of the rust.

Waterloo Campaign, 1815.

25th May. This day disembarked the rockets and put them into store in a church in the citadel.

18th June. This day all in a bustle with men and women and children running away from Brussels, occasioned by a false alarm giving that the French were coming into town.

19th June. This day the wounded men begin to come in and the men that left Brussels through a fright returned back again.

8th July. This day the Blue Eyed Lass arrived with some rockets and no orders for unloading as yet.

23rd September. This day Sir William Congreve arrived here from Brussels.

25th September. This day Sir William Congreve left this place after examining the field carriages, etc.


6th September. This day, having the stores all on board, myself and a party embarked on board the Rising Sun, a Dutch ship, at Antwerp, and on the 19th sailed for England.

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