The surrender of Libau in 1854 
The surrender of Libau in 1854 

Royal NavyMiscellaneous  

On 17 May 1854 Amphion (screw frigate, 34 guns, Captain Astley Cooper Key) and Conflict (screw sloop, 8 guns, Captain Arthur Cumming), entered Libau in the Baltic without firing a shot, and captured all the shipping in the port.

Captain Key to Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Napier.

Amphion, Coast of Courland, May 18, 1854.


I HAVE the honour to inform you that I arrived off the port of Libau on the evening of May 10, in company with Her Majesty's ship Conflict, and having received information from various sources that the town was defended by only 500 or 600 soldiers, and two or three guns, and that several Russian merchant-vessels lay dismantled in the port, I determined to bring them out.

On the morning of the 17th we stood in towards the entrance of the river, and by careful sounding with boats ahead succeeded in anchoring both ships within gun-shot of part of the town. I then directed Captain Cumming to take a summons to the Governor, under a flag of truce, calling on him to surrender the merchant-vessels within three hours. The Governor refused; but said that a final answer would be sent before the time specified in my letter. At 3.30 P.M. Captain Cumming, who had informed me that there was a considerable body of troops in the town, again landed to receive the answer, a letter which I inclose; on ascertaining its contents, I took the armed boats of both ships, with Captain Cumming in command of those of Conflict, into the river, with the exception of one or two; the soldiers kept out of sight, and not a shot was fired; it was well for us that they did so, as we pulled up the creek, which was fifty yards broad, for one and a half miles, before arriving at the shipping. I desired the authorities to point out the Russian vessels, of which I then directed Captain Cumming, and Lieutenants Wodehouse and Hore, to take possession. I detained a small steamer (originally Russian, now owned by a Dane), got her steam up, and kept her as a refuge for the boats in case of an attack.

The magistrates stated that they were induced to yield thus submissively from their being convinced that if they were to overpower us a large force would be sent, and the town perhaps destroyed.

The boats captured eight merchant-vessels, all new and well-found, but dismantled, sails unbent, some scuttled and aground; nevertheless they were all brought out and taken in tow by Amphion and Conflict before 9 P.M.

The private property found on board was restored to the owners on application for it.

Although I had the opportunity of destroying a large amount of the enemy's property, such as their houses, vessels on the stocks, and vessels repairing, I did not consider it right to do so, as the troops had left the town so pitifully to its fate, and the people had assisted in getting the vessels out by opening the bridge, &c., which would have detained us some considerable time had we been obliged to blow it up, though I was prepared to do so.

The fact of the town of Libau containing 10,000 inhabitants, and formed by nature with unusual facilities for defence, being temporarily taken possession of by 130 men, without a shot being fired, I attribute almost entirely to the judicious conduct of Captain Cumming during his conference with the magistrates when he landed with a flag of truce.

I have great pleasure in testifying to the exemplary behaviour of all the officers, seamen, and marines, employed on this service.

I have, &c.
(Signed) A. COOPER KEY.

Inclosure 1.

Captain Key to the Governor of Libau.

Amphion, off Libau, May 17, 1854.


THE duty of summoning you to surrender the merchant-vessels in the port of Libau has fallen upon me.

I would willingly spare the town and the lives of the inhabitants; if, therefore, the steam-vessel, and all the Russian merchant-vessels in the port (above and below the bridge) are sent out in their present condition, within three hours after the receipt of this letter, not a shot shall be fired. The men bringing them out shall be landed under a flag of truce.

If at the expiration of that time this demand is not complied with, the consequences rest with you. In which case I trust that you will cause the women and children to leave the town, and the invalids to be removed to some conspicuous building, which, if indicated by a flag, will be respected.

I have, &c.
(Signed) A. COOPER KEY.

Inclosure 3.

The Burgomaster of Libau to Captain Key. (Translation.)

Libau Town Hall, May 5/17, 1854.


THE notification addressed by Her Britannic Majesty's Commander of the Amphion, to deliver up the Russian merchant-vessels in the port of Libau, has been received by the magistrates of this town, there being no Military or Civil Governor.

The town of Libau being in a defenceless state, has no power to resist the demand.

The peaceable inhabitants are compelled to submit themselves to any demands put to them; they expect, however, that Her Britannic Majesty's power will only undertake that which is consistent with humanity and honour.

The ships demanded can and will not be refused, but it is entirely impossible to deliver them in the time prescribed, as the most of them are unrigged, and lying on a swampy ground.

Under these circumstances the magistrate can only reply that Her Majesty's parliamentary should convince himself of the impossibility, and resolve in which way the said merchant-vessels are to be brought out of harbour.

Trusting that meantime no hostilities will be undertaken against the town and its inhabitants, I have, &c.

In the name of the Magistrate of Libau,
the presiding Burgomaster,

Inclosure 4.

Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Napier to Captain Key.

Duke of Wellington, Hango Bay, May 23, 1854.


I HAVE received your letter, giving an account of the surrender of the town of Libau, and the delivery of the shipping in that port, and I much approve of the prompt and judicious steps you took to accomplish this, and the humanity you showed in not injuring the town.

I am, &c.
(Signed) CHAS. NAPIER.

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