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West Indies:


The attack on Puerto Rico marked the end of British offensive operations in the Caribbean during the French Revolutionary War. General Cuyler was sent to replace Abercromby, and he was told to secure Britain’s already existing possessions. As one historian has commented, ‘the heyday of Caribbean warfare was over.’

Throughout the French Revolutionary Wars, Britain may have lost as many as 80,000 men in the West Indies, and the vast majority succumbed to disease. Attempts were made to protect the health of the troops, but medical knowledge remained primitive and little could be done to alleviate the spread of epidemics. Some physicians that travelled with British army to the Caribbean tried to analyse the spread of disease, and produced revolutionary studies on the topic. Robert Jackson, for example, who served in the Caribbean at the same time as Abercromby, produced a comprehensive study that advocated a number of reforms that he felt would help prevent sickness in the British army, such as regular exercise and the instant quarantine of any man who began to show symptoms of particular diseases. These reforms provided intelligent suggestions for the prevention of disease and if they had been fully instituted, they would have undoubtedly reduced mortality amongst troops. This preventative approach to medicine was stimulated particularly by Caribbean operations during the wars of 1793-1801.

The enourmous casualties that the British army endured in the late 18th century had a real impact on her military prowess. The quality and ability of her recruits suffered, because Britain lost some of her best and most experienced soldiers in the West Indies. That being said, recruitment for the army gathered pace from 1795 onwards, and over 100,000 men had enlisted for the home garrisons by 1799. Britain’s army remained small in comparison to her European neighbours, and her land forces would have struggled to have made a significant impact on the continent.


Dundas believed that the West Indies could be a decisive theatre in the war with France. However, peripheral operations could not have a pivotal impact on a war of this scale. The centre of gravity of the French Revolutionary Wars remained in Europe. Consequently, many historians have concluded

that the Caribbean expeditions were a waste of time, money and manpower. While this is true to an extent, operations in the region also led to an upsurge in West Indian trade. Merchant shipping in the area increased enormously, and Britain’s Caribbean economy grew as a result. This fiscal growth increased financier's confidence in the City of London, and Britain was able to ride out a financial crisis in the late 18th century by continuing to borrow large sums at low interest rates. The 1793-1801 expeditions could therefore be viewed as a military success, the cost of which was extremely high.

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