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Alceste (38) 1806-1817
British 38 Gun
5th Rate Frigate
In 1815, Lord Amherst's famous embassy to China was decided upon. The mission, which sailed in February, 1816, was escorted by the Alceste, 46, Captain Murray Maxwell, C.B., and Lyra, 10, Commander Basil Hall. During Lord Amherst's presence on Chinese soil, Maxwell occupied part of his time in carrying out some very useful surveys. When, on November 2nd, 1816, he anchored off the island of Lin-tin, he learnt that the Ambassador had been dismissed in disgrace, and that the British Government's presents to the Emperor had been contumeliously refused. He desired a pass to enable him to proceed up the Canton River, where he wished to effect some necessary repairs. Insults and evasions were the sole answers vouchsafed to him, and he therefore determined to run up without permission. At Bocca Tigris he was informed that, if he advanced, he would be instantly sunk. This was in the evening of November 13th. The river is there about as wide as the Thames at London, but the banks are high, and they were then guarded by works which with those on Wangtong Island, mounted 110 guns. Above, off Chuenpee, was a line of small war junks. As the Alceste did not bring to, some blank cartridges were fired at her. Maxwell feigned to regard the firing as a salute, and, as such, returned it. He then anchored, and, on the following morning, weighed again and passed the junks.
Immediately afterwards, both junks and forts opened with shotted guns. Maxwell, who, owing to the lightness of the breeze, was obliged to anchor again, returned only a single shot, aimed at the Chinese admiral, and considerately fired it himself, so that, in case of the enemy demanding the man who had fired, he might take all the responsibility. Either the shot, or the fact that the frigate had anchored, satisfied the Chinese for the moment; but when, in the evening, the Alceste weighed once more to run higher up, she was greeted with a heavy yet ill-directed fire from both banks. Maxwell returned it coolly, until, getting within half pistol shot of the largest battery, he delivered an entire broadside, which silenced that work. The effect of this was that resistance presently ceased, and that, by daylight on the 15th, the Alceste found herself in a secure anchorage, with no one hurt, and only a couple of shot in her hull. No further insult was offered to the flag, and all responsibility for the affair was afterwards disavowed by the Chinese authorities, who, when Maxwell reached Whampoa, congratulated him effusively. Lord Amherst safely re-embarked in the river, and quitted it without further incident, but was unfortunately wrecked, on February 18th, 1817, on a reef near Pulo Leat, in the Strait of Gaspar. The Ambassador was enabled to reached Batavia almost immediately. Maxwell, having landed with the greater part of his officers and crew on Pulo Leat, there fortified himself against the Malays, who burnt the remains of the wreck on February 22nd. In face of several attacks, he maintained himself, until, on March 3rd, he was relieved by the Company's cruiser, Ternate, which conveyed the whole party to Batavia.